Scratching Post and the Art of Loss/Woodworking 101

The Fillmore East show version is better but it goes on for like 20 minutes and I want you to listen to this jam. It connects to this post and my own life because it’s been a rough winter and I built a scratching post for my cat last Saturday night.

Each year my brother posts about his gardens and our Dad is another time I can firmly say I will never get over the loss of my father. I also do the gardening thing and need to step it up because the winter was long but finally over. I have turned my beds over, taken apart the broken wooden frames that are rotting and dragged them into the garage. I briefly mentioned the garage a few posts back because I have finally cleaned it out and organized it, to some extent, for the first time in over three years. Actually, for the first time ever because I never worked out there with my Dad as I should have. Regret is not helpful though so I am using it as fuel for my own projects.

The old man loved this tune but I think he liked the Bobby Darin version. I also want to be a carpenter. Well, at least a competent handy man.

The wood shop was where my father hung out. He may have kept the house relatively clean, although the more we had our more own homes the more we found fault in our parents’ mode of cleanliness, but the wood shop was a temple of organization. Even after three years of basically nothing being out there and stuff slowly accruing on the benches and shelves, you can still find damn near anything within five minutes. It’s a sad and happy feeling to go searching for tools because everything is labeled by black Sharpie in my Father’s almost indecipherable handwriting. Happy because I can find anything I need and sad because the feeling of him is so strong that I almost think he’s gonna pop into the door wearing his filthy woodworking clothes and spouting some of the worst profanity you have ever heard before cracking jokes on your expense that you will make you laugh for days.

Both my Dad and Merle smoked marijuana and I know he took at least a few trips on LSD, but this song was never about bashing hippies anyway. Merle wrote it making fun of the conservative Midwesterners he knew and my old man loved this song endlessly. In fact, it just occurred to me that part of my love for honky tonk music may have come from listening to this song on repeat in my Dad’s dirt covered Saturn station wagon as a middle schooler.

I have stayed away from the wood shop for three plus years for the reasons I have stated, which can be summed up succinctly by saying I wasn’t ready to be so close to the spirit of my Father even if I sleep in his house every day. Sure, I have used tools for various home improvement projects, but I haven’t cleaned it up and the sawdust on the floor was likely from his final projects. With the loss of my best dog friend Remy a few months back, the loss of Dad loomed even larger. One of the ways I chose to combat this, I got a two-year old orange cat from the refugee league named Hunk. He’s a great cat, although he poops more than I do and he quickly began dismantling an antique chair in my living room. He needed a scratching post fast and I wasn’t about to go buy one when we could build one in the wood shop. But first, it had to be cleaned out so it could actually be used.

I don’t know if my Dad liked the Carpenters, but I bet he did. I want to be a carpenter in my free time and also the first project will hopefully be only the beginning. Lastly, this song is delightfully cheesy, like ELO’S “Telephone Line” but not as awesome. 

With the help of one of my best friends, we cleaned out the garage over the course of several afternoons, removing a trashcan full of dust, dirt and grime off of the floor. We then destroyed several old pieces of furniture, half-made projects that must have been my Dad’s, and did a dump run. We were finally ready to make the scratching post. We sat around the work bench to make a list of materials and as we wrote each item down, we would see it already in the shop. Plywood for the base? There it was, stuck under the bench and half covered in sawdust. A post for the main component of this project? Already cut to length and residing in the overhead racks he had built for scrap wood. A rope to wrap around the post to sustain multiple scratches? Coiled up perfectly on the wall. All the tools we needed were already there, almost eerily set up for our use.

The old man always loved this song too, probably because it had his name in the title and had easy lyrics that he could remember to sing along. Now I don’t believe that ghosts can come back and avenge themselves and I don’t believe that the old man somehow knew we’d lose Remy then get a new cat down the road and need to build a scratching post. I think he just acquired tools for nearly any job and it was just a happy coincidence that all of the materials were already in stock. It did feel nice to feel close to him. 

Once we had cleaned the space and found the materials, building the thing didn’t take long. We had to cut down the plywood slightly using the table saw and then wrapped the rope around the post, putting in sheet rock nails every few wraps to keep it super tight. Then, I sunk a three-inch screw from under the base into the post with three additional two-inch screws to make sure it didn’t move. Lastly, I sprinkled cat nip all over the thing to make it appealing to the cat. We brought that beast right in and Hunk quickly took it on.

He has largely stopped abusing the old chair and spends most of his destructive time on the post, sometimes even sitting on top of it for a better vantage point from which to observe the living room. I’m sure my Dad is proud and I’m proud I got the garage cleaned up and my first project done. The best way to get through any hard time is to stay busy and this proven itself to me time and again. I can only hope to learn some more things so I can show my nephews and nieces some holiday and God willing, my own kids some day. I can’t go back in time but I can design my future.

This song is about nuclear war, but I’m taking it in the literal sense. I’m hopeful for my developing wood working skills, this growing season, and hopefully building some stuff with my family/friends. It’s one of the best ways to remember my Dad and utilizing this space and tools attached to my house.

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Stressed Out: Can’t get enough Hip Hop

I was hanging out and having a beer with an old friend who just moved back to Maine from Key West. We had on the music OnDemand old school hip hop channel and this funky little diddy came on.  It sounded very familiar but new. I love the organ flourishes and generally dig the old school production vibe. The Bulldogs did not sound familiar which is unfortunate. 

It’s been a stressful week and hip hop tunes have been helping me through it.  Last Tuesday, my 91-year-old paternal grandmother broke her leg while volunteering at an old folks home, the irony of which doesn’t escape any of us. I’m very close with my grandma and probably hyper-sensitive to most things since last Thursday was also the three-year anniversary of my father passing away which my brother mentioned in a post on that day. Seems like things happen in waves because just a few days later, one of my students ended up in a mental facility for some reasons I’m not going to share here and although she is physically ok, I’m not sure when she will be joining us again. Things are high stress right now and one thing that has been helping me is continuing my quest for new hip hop songs.

I think the big reason hip hop is a welcome distraction is I haven’t listened to it a lot again until recently and it’s like a three and half to four-minute respite from the current difficulties of life. I feel calm while listening to sick beats and I try to not think about any of the problems going on while it’s playing. This rarely works, but I get at least one minute of mental peace per roughly four minutes of music. 

Of course, some people have much bigger problems like extreme poverty, disease and violence. This fact doesn’t make me feel better.  My Grandma is already in a rehab center, I can’t do anything about my dad passing away except mourn him and continue trying to live well and I will support my student when/if she returns in every way I can. Of course, I can say these things until I’m blue in the face but it won’t erase the pain I feel or the regret from being able to take more action. So, I’ve been taking short mental vacations via hip hop and I try to just focus on the rhymes and beats, analyzing why one song works when another doesn’t. A pleasant surprise has been how much I’ve enjoyed listening to Kanye West, especially this epic jam.

I know he’s egotist and I know he’s a shameless self promoter, but I think I like him. His music is good and I suspect his whole act is a perfomance art type of thing not unlike Lady Gaga or any of these other pop stars doing weird shit to gain attention. The difference is that I like listening to Kanye’s music. I also kind of want to “run away” from some of these issues and I also think some people in my life who could help out more with stuff are douche bags. But of course, you can’t control anyone but your self and the best thing to do is lead by example. You can’t control what anyone does but yourself.

There are positive notes. My band was asked to do a benefit for four kids in high school whose father and his girlfriend just died in a car accident. I feel lucky to be able to help someone by organizing a show and playing bass.  I got my principal, a far more seasoned musician than myself, to come open for us and share in some jams. The whole community came out to support the cause, including many of our fellow teachers. The total money raised that day was something along the lines of $22,000 to help cover everyday bills for the kids and to do some repairs they needed on the house they just inherited. Like the irony of my Grandmother hurting herself while helping people younger than she is, I don’t lose the message that three years after my parent died traumatically, I got a chance to really help kids half my age deal with the abrupt loss of their parent.

Hopsin has some ill jams and I keep finding new ones I can vibe to. I do need help and I’m getting it to some extent, but hip hop helps me beau coup right now and I’m happy I’m able to find little things like listening to these jams that assist me when I am stressed

My grandmother has spent her life helping others around here, creating a center of calm in a sea of chaos. I have encountered no one else yet in my life who can be so solid in their help of others with no desire or expectation of anything back. It tears a fucking hole in me to see her in this position of weakness because she has been one constant, perhaps one of two consistent ones, in my life. When my brother was away or my parents were unable, she was there to tell me how to be a good person and how to solve whatever problems came my way.  I sat with her and the dietician yesterday and we gently hassled her for not eating much at all and how she can’t heal up right if she doesn’t eat. I assume she will come out of this as she has survived multiple wars, two dead husbands, a dead son and a dead step daughter. She’s the toughest person I know and I’ve been to a lot of dive bars.

Believe it or not, Granna has seen the band several times. She gets a standing ovation whenever I announce my 91 year old grandmother is in the crowd and the one song she always requests is this jam by Dick Curless. Even though she grew up in the mid-west, she loves this song about the woods up in Maine and all the truckers who perished on the wintry roads.

It is possible that Granna doesn’t want to eat and probably not even the hand of God will change that if that is the case. My brother brought this point up to me last night, much to my chagrin, but he is a voice of reason as usual. As tough as the woman is, if she’s done fighting, then that is how it is and no amount of my tears or fears will change that. I will be there for her regardless, just as I was there for my Dad, there for my student who is in the hospital and the way my band was there for those kids in need. Maybe I take too much on but when my time is up, I want to feel like I did everything I could to be a good person and attempted to leave the world a better place than I found it.

This is my favorite song ever, at least in the instrumental format. I think I wrote on it a little on my post on guitar solos because Duane Allman is probably my favorite guitarist ever. No this isn’t hip hop, but it is very soothing to me and definitely what I want at my funeral if I ever have one.

Blackberry Smoke: Awesome or Average?

It sounds like Skynyrd and good 80’s country….not a bad thing as long as it’s more Dwight Yoakam than George Strait.  We learned to play this song and it’s my favorite so by the group.  The progenitors of southern rock were the Allman Brothers Band and you can certainly hear that influence in this song, the solo specifically.  Also, damn does the lead singer have some serious side burns. 

Blackberry Smoke is from Atlanta, Georgia and the man with the burns is Charlie Starr, an excellent guitar player and front man. I go between really liking this band and thinking that they sound too much like modern country (which I hate). I’ve mentioned my love of honky tonk many times and I still listen to artists like Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Sr. and Hank3 on the regular. I’m trying to find new bands I dig in any genre so I can start going to see live shows again more regularly. My band decided to all go see this band two weeks from today and, although I like a lot of what I hear from them, I am not completely sold.

Their covers, however, are basically amazing through and through so here’s a great example.

I think everyone who likes country of yesteryear likes George Jones, “the Possum”.  He passed away last April and his legacy will never die. “White Lightning” is one of his more famous songs and I think nearly everyone can agree that the occasional foray into moonshine is a good thing.

I think there is a real void in southern rock right now and a general lack of respect for it.  J. Roddy Walston and the Business come from the south, but are not what I would consider Southern Rock (but obviously they are still amazing).  Skynyrd has come to represent Southern conservatism and I believe that would make the late singer Ronnie Van Zandt roll in his grave. They toured a few years back for their album God and Guns which has a lot of thematic material on the loss of roots in America and things of that nature. I live in a small town in America and I feel the roots are deepening with the economic disparity. Also, they seem to forget the hippie leanings of the original incantation of the band and even the 70’s era song “Saturday Night Special” which suggests destroying all handguns because of their lack of application beyond murder, but I digress.

The Only D mentioned Manchester Orchestra as a possible Southern Rock band a while back and this song is not unlike a song such as “On the Hunt” from 70’s era Skynyrd.

I only hear a little Southern Rock influence in here, but a lot of excellent grunge motifs with a slice of down home Georgia grit.  Smoke is a lot more southern rock than these guys, but I can see some trappings of Southern musical sensibilities.  I will probably spend some time with this band and I thank you for the tip Only D.

I saw Blackberry Smoke on the Palladia live music channel playing at the Georgia Theater and that is how I learned who they were. I sat and watched the entire show, even recording it. The recording remains on my DVR list two years later and I still pick out tracks like the first one to listen to all the time. This band has the look of the third generation Allman Brother offspring and a sound that is country enough for Kenny Chesney fans and Outlaws enough for my tastes. They have some sweet slide solos as well as great guitar harmonies and a talented keys player with a solid rhythm section. Their sound dynamics are great and judging from their video, their live show will be fun.

This is like an exact homage to early 70’s Allman Brothers and Skynyrd and sounds almost perfect to my ears. Literally,  I hear parts of “Blue Sky” in there in the middle.  Lots of time to groove over to the beer tent and still be back for the second half of the song too.

More importantly, their live show seems great from the video and I think it’ll be a great time watching them. I think a band’s stage presence is equally if not more important than anything they record. I mentioned just recently, while confessing my love for J. Roddy, that I like the Rolling Stones more than the Beatles because the former has toured for most of their career while the latter hung up their live show spurs in the mid 1960’s after playing shows where the screaming fans made the music nearly impossible to hear.  You can have a band that produces true works of art in the studio, but if they can’t recreate it live, that’s a big turn-off for me. Kurt Cobain took special pains to not do a lot of overdubs while making Nevermind so they could still play all the jams out.

This sounds very much like the old country music I love and  references bourbon which I also love.

The music I’ve heard by this band is pretty good and I think their live show will sell me on whether I think they are highly average or awesome. I am going with the lead singer and lead guitarist in my band. It’s the first time we have all gone to see a show together since Waylon Speed and I’m really looking forward to it. My days of going to see shows all the time have been gone for a while and I think if I want to push my band forward and my musical tastes, I need to start doing this again. Thus,  I will provide you a full report of the Blackberry Smoke experience after I go and will leave you with a cover by them of quite possibly my favorite song by Willie Nelson.

The lead singer does repeat himself here and it must be a recording era, but you get the point that this song is great. I love the pedal steel and I wish they had it all the time.  They do an equally good job with honky tonk country as they do with southern rock. I hope this show has a lot of ladies who love country AND southern rock, I think we’d get along great.

Case of the Mondays

Peter Gibbons: Let me ask you something. When you come in on Monday and you’re not feeling real well, does anyone ever say to you, “Sounds like someone has a case of the Mondays?”
Lawrence: No. No, man. Shit, no, man. I believe you’d get your ass kicked sayin’ something like that, man.

Office Space (1999)

Working in a school, I hear this phrase at least once a Monday, Ok, I’ll admit, sometimes I say it to people who look like they had too much fun on Sunday

What a rough two Mondays I’ve had. Breaking Bad ended, the Patriots played late and lost a game and I ate nachos with a mixture of two different salsas after eating an entire serving of four-star Pad Thai noodles with fried tofu. Cross-continental ethnic cuisine seems like a great idea, but in this case, things did not settle well and my morning kicked off with some serious gastrointestinal issues. Although I was happy I hadn’t washed it down with a gallon of beer as I would have in my younger and irresponsible years, it still was a sour way to begin my work week.

After the first weekend in about two months that my band didn’t play a show, I had a relaxing weekend filled with monotonous lawn care that served like a Zen mental retreat following so many busy Friday nights and Saturdays. My harmony was in serious jeopardy of being destroyed.

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Rain Music

This band has been a mainstay in Maine since the mid 90‘s and I believe the Elder J once peed in a urinal next to the lead singer while at a battle of the bands in about 1995. I guess he was kind of a dick, so I didn’t like this band forever because I thought the singer was mean to my brother. Turns out they are pretty good. It’s shocking how many people, not just my 8th grade students, who can’t do long division by hand which is what I think every time I hear this song, beyond the whole groovy context. Clearly, we need to have math teachers work away from calculators and get those pencils back in hand!

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