Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Abandon Hope All Ye Who Anchor Here

I don't know what to make of the Anchor and Hope in Charlton, UK.

They have made some form of pact with the Devil and they get Glenn Tilbrook to play in there like a regular old busker. Am I missing something? I mean, I'm missing a lot, I understand that, but have I lost my perspective? What is he doing in this place, and what am I doing someplace else?

[Earlier on Sippican Cottage: Inside Baseball and the Beatles]

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Unorganized Hancock: Doing the Show So You Don't Have To

My two sons, AKA Unorganized Hancock, played for the Skowhegan Maple Festival on Saturday.

We like Skowhegan. Everyone is always really pleasant to us in the only way it's possible to be pleasant to us: They're nice to our children. The town simply has a nice vibe. It's a hardscrabble place, just like the town we live in, but there's more life in it somehow. It seems more forward-looking than a lot of western Maine. There are more children than I'm used to seeing. Children are always the most forward-looking thing you can have.

It takes an hour and a half to get to Skowhegan from our house. That's considered "close by" where we live. The GPS always intones directions like, "Proceed for 27 miles." After 27 miles is over, Nuvi's clipped diction advises you to,"Keep right," even though there's no turn, and then, "Proceed for 26 miles."

The ribbon of pavement seems like it was laid solely to get us from Rumford to Skowhegan, and when we don't need it anymore, they'll give it back to the alces alces. If you want to be alone with your thoughts in western Maine, drive down the middle of the road from my house to Skowhegan. That's why we were a little surprised to find every parking space occupied when we arrived two hours early for the show. I haven't been in a full parking lot in Maine since never, which is a long time indeed.

The town had lots of goings-on, some whoop-de-do, and other assorted activities to celebrate the maple sugaring season that might never happen this year. It was the coldest winter ever in western Maine, and that's saying something. The sap is still frozen in the ground. My friends and neighbors rely on seasonal things like maple sugar and firewood and blueberries and Christmas trees to get by, and I wonder if this winter will be enough to break them. Regular people will just remark in July that it's deuced difficult to find a pint of maple syrup for less than eight bucks.

The audience in Skowhegan likes my children. They tell me so, with words and applause. They like them without quite knowing why -- the only kind of like that matters in show business. We are pleased to offer a little late winter sunshine to the nice people in Skowhegan.

There were other performers, and they boxed the compass of entertainment. A brave soul took a run at Brahms Third Racket, and another executed Asturias. There were a troupe of tapdancing girlettes that could have melted an investment banker's heart. There's a local fellow that sings the kinds of Broadway/cruise ship songs I don't care for until he sings them, and then I do care for them a lot.

I noticed quite a bit of bravery on stage. When people perform despite being afraid, that's bravery. In my experience, most people on stage are afraid the whole time. I always was afraid when I performed, deservedly so because I never practiced, but even really accomplished performers are on edge when they're on stage. It's part of the contract, I think. The only people not afraid to be onstage don't belong there.

There was also a band of brigands who played too long, then made an enormous ruckus behind the curtains by taking their stuff apart so they could leave early, while a brave young man was on stage trying to sing and play the guitar over their "four men in a coal mine" accompaniment. For an encore, these people with somewhere more important to be unplugged my sons' recording device on their way out the door. The only thing my boys were able to capture was from the ambient microphone in the camera hidden onstage behind their sign. It's enough to tell how it went. The boys Did the Show, like the pros they are.

The early leaver band members live in Skowhegan. We drove home for 90 minutes in a blizzard. That's what pros do. Even eleven-year-old pros.

[Update: Many thanks to Kathleen M. from Connecticut for her generous hit on our tip jar]
[Additional Update: Many thanks to William O from Tejas for his generous support!]

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Longer Than the Road That Stretches Out Ahead

I am partly responsible for these two humans. If I never do anything else, I will be completely satisfied that my time on Earth was not wasted.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?

Al Wilson was one of those guys.

He's dead now. Died about seven years ago. A year before he died, there was a fire in his garage, and it burned all the master tapes of his recordings. He must have died wondering why the universe was trying to scrub itself of him.

I like reading about people like Al Wilson. He was a good singer, of course, but not gifted or anything. He learned to sing in church in Mississippi.  His family moved to San Berdoo, and Al got jobs as a janitor, a clerk of some sort, and a postman, according to Wikipedia. He taught himself to play drums for some reason. He joined the Navy. He tried to become a stand-up comedian, but only so he'd still have a job if singing didn't work out. He hustled. I admire people who hustle.

He ended up in various club groups in the sixties, and he had a minor hit which I don't remember, but I was in second grade, I think, so forgive me. Then, nothing.

Lots of people have that nothing on their CV for long periods of time. I'm sure it wasn't anything truly resembling nothing. It was the kind of nothing that regular people find necessary from time to time. Furious activity is nothing. Despair is a blip on a resume, sometimes. Many people plug away anyway, mostly because there's really no alternative. I imagine he never worked harder than he did when the Internet says he was busy doing nothing. I can only imagine the convergence of cupidity and caprice that made the someones that decide such things decide to make Al Wilson famous in 1973.

Look how happy he made the people in the audience, just to hear their favorite song one more time. He probably didn't feel like it at the time, but his garage gave him the Viking funeral he deserved.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Skowhegan Maple Fest 2015

My children, also known as Unorganized Hancock, are performing at the Skowhegan Maple Festival tomorrow, for the second year in a row. They'll be performing at the Skowhegan Opera House, which is a pretty neat theater. Here's a video of them performing there last year:

It's terrific to play on real stage with a curtain and footlights and all that jazz.

Skowhegan is a nice little city filled with pleasant people. Unorganized Hancock has performed in more places in Skowhegan than in the town we live in. They've performed at the Skowhegan Riverfest in the summer, and at the Pickup Cafe, and at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Skowhegan is a friendly place, and I hope we return the favor by bringing three friendly faces there -- The Heir, The Spare, and Slim McGillicuddy, the fellow holding the sign.

Skowhegan participates in a Main Street program that runs here and there around Maine. They do civic things to lure people out of their lairs, especially when the weather's good. The Maple Festival is supposed to celebrate the culmination of sugaring season in Maine. There's a problem.

There is no sugaring season in Maine, and there might not be one this year to speak of. During the Maple Festivals, the sugar houses of small to medium-sized maple syrup producers open their doors for a pseudo-open-house look at how they make syrup, and to sell their wares to the public. There are no wares this year because there is no sugar. In order to get the maple sap that gets boiled endlessly down into syrup, the temperature has to rise above 32 degrees Farenheit for more than ten minutes at a time, and it hasn't done so. The temperature at my house was below zero last night, and the temperature has been 5-10 degrees below normal every month for two years. I've read that sugar houses are opening up for the Maple Festival and simply boiling water from the tap to show people what maple sugar season would look like if we had one, which we don't.

We'll drive all day in the snow squalls tomorrow, and on Sunday the temperature will be 22 degrees below normal. But the show must -- it will --  go on. I don't know how the show can go on for my neighbors with the empty sap buckets, but I wish them well all the same.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Vocational Approach to Home Schooling

[Author's Note: Not my illustration. The grammar in it fits the topic perfectly, though]

My two sons call themselves Unorganized Hancock. 

They're a testament to what you can accomplish if you put your mind to it. Unorganized Hancock is the most organized band in Maine. They're able to play a real job -- an adult person job -- and do it with aplomb. They are/were homeschooled. The big one graduated from high school last year. He's continuing his education in the same manner post-high school. The little one is eleven.

I don't like the word homeschooled. No one asked me, so my opinion on the term doesn't count, along with my opinion on everything else. Homeschooling denotes some alternate version of an education. What we do is an alternative approach to education. That is not the same thing. If you ask me, public school is where you get an alternate version of an education. If you're interested in a real one, you better look elsewhere.

Our children's music education is entirely vocational. It's not that there are no artistic elements to learning music, but these elements are secondary to our efforts. The kids are as well-versed in music history and the creative artistic elements of music as any five regular students, each, but honestly, creativity can't be taught. Anyone that says they can teach creativity is claiming the equivalent of teaching you to be taller. You might get taller, and they might take credit for it, but that's about it.

A vocational approach to education was always considered inferior when I was younger, and past stupid now. It was where you were banished if you were cursed forever to be useful to other humans, instead of the entre to the world of lording it over other people that college represented. It's kind of funny, but if you go to medical school at an Ivy League college you have more in common with someone that attends a stripmall card-table welding school on nights and weekends than with other college students. Neither of you have much to do with anyone that goes to college to "learn to be creative."

My wife teaches our young son every day. I have little or nothing to do with it. I have little to do with their music education, too, because they are a watch that needs winding, not a watch that needs building. But I will claim one thing: I told them they had to be useful to other humans -- first, last, and always.

Almost all students who learn music in regular school have no desire to entertain anyone but themselves. The audience is an abstraction; or more likely, it is assembled from people who can't get out of it. The audience is there in order to amuse the people on the stage -- or more to the point, to amuse and enrich the teachers. All musicians produced by the puppy mills they call public schools assume that an audience will be provided for them, not that they're supposed to attract and then entertain one. The only other type of approach I see confines itself to contests. A music contest is too weird for words. That's going from not bothering to entertain an audience to not inviting them in the first place. It's a closed museum full of half-finished paintings.

If I taught my sons anything, I taught them this:

Organize. Prepare. Be Punctual. Be helpful. Know your role. Remember why you're on stage. Remember that you face the other way now, and embrace the difference.

It's not that strange that our boys are able to perform in front of a live audience, for a full three hours if necessary, and entertain the people in front of them. That's what a vocational approach to education produces. But don't get me wrong; we don't reserve the vocational approach to learning to this one subject. My wife teaches them everything the same way. They are taught to write in order to produce useful text. We haven't mistaken handing our children an Apple anything for "technology." Our children can fix a computer and write computer programs, not just stare blankly at one. It is our desire that they will be useful to others at everything. History class is to know history, not opinions. Spelling class is, well, it's the only spelling class left on planet Earth, so I can assure you it's the finest approach to spelling there is.

Our vocational approach to learning everything does present one problem for which which I have not yet figured out a suitable answer. The world doesn't seem to require useful people for anything I can observe anymore. I'm the most useful person in the world, so I oughta know.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ralph Bellamy, I'm in Love With You

I used to play in a Happy Hour band that played Stump the Band with the audience. We had to stop when Massachusetts made Happy Hour illegal. No, really, that happened. My life is one long list of vocations, jobs, life callings, and hobbies that were made illegal. If I were smart, I would have started out doing illegal things right from the get-go. Illegal pays better.

Anyway, we'd wait for the audience to get some tonsil polish in them to loosen them up a bit, and then I'd drag the microphone out front and start interviewing people like a game show host. If that wasn't working out -- because everyone was too rowdy, or not rowdy enough -- we'd play Stump the Band. The drummer would challenge the audience to call out the name of any one-hit wonder band that had had a top ten song in the past thirty years, and we pledged to play a minimum of ten recognizable seconds of it. A lot of times we'd play the whole thing if one of us knew half the words.

People would really, really, really try to stump us, which was a fool's errand. We were pros, and the 1910 Fruitgum Company, or Cannibal and the Headhunters held no terrors for us. Guys that had giant record collections and tape on their glasses would try to stump us over and over again, but that sucked for everyone. The rest of the audience had no idea what the song was even if we did play it, so we mostly ignored those guys and waited for a pretty girl to yell out TEE SET! or something. Truth be told, we always ignored guys for any number of reasons, and no girl ever asked for some dirge nobody would recognize. They asked for fun stuff, like THE TEE SET! PLAY THE TEE SETTTT WHOOOOOOOOO!!!!

They always asked for their favorite oldie, something their big sister or their mother listened to when they were little. And without fail, we'd ruin it utterly and forevermore for them by playing it perfectly but mucking around with the lyrics. Once you hear it perfectly wrong, you'll never hear it right again.