Tuesday, February 26, 2008

What the Heck Have I been doing with myself?

Those of you who know me, (and I think that very few people are reading this who don't know me personally), understand that I have a number of hobbies that I dabble in, and that I tend to fall into one or two for a time, then burn out a bit and turn to something else, then fall out of that and back to the other, or to something new for a time, eventually getting a little bored or antsy and on and on... It's something I kind of both like and dislike about myself, sometimes fighting against it, sometimes just letting myself drift with my fancies. I like exploring many different interests, but I also regret not accomplishing more by really devoting myself to one (or even just two or three!). I'm in the midst of a somewhat successful campaign to rectify this with some consistent efforts at writing fiction over the last three years, but even there I've had long down periods, uninspired, unmotivated, or just occupied with other things. Birding, cooking, music are other wide-ranging hobbies that I spend time jumping around in.

Currently, I'm absorbed in music-making. I just bought a new guitar, and have been trying to put together a set of favorite songs, sort of, with the chords and words memorized and an enjoyable performance worked out so that I can have fun with it, by myself or with singalongs, etc. A few choice Beatles numbers, of course, with Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Lucinda Williams, Roy Orbison, Beach Boys, The Band, etc in there as well. I'm also trying to learn some fingerstyle guitar, a hard boat to row for me. The ring finger on my right hand is incredibly weak and uncoordinated, but I'm trying to stick with it for now, as I see it slowly coming along (practice really does work, if you stick with it). If I could someday just work myself up to a few of the gentler John Fahey pieces (like Sligo River Blues) I would be ecstatic, though a smooth performance of Freight Train would make me happy right now.

I'm also falling again into a semi-obsessive exploration of Irish music, after not paying too much attention to it since the summer. There is really a lot of exciting music out there. Some favorites: The early Chieftains, for their gentle vibe and eerie echoes of ancient Ireland; Planxty, for their diverse, creative arrangements and virtuosic playing; Liz Carroll for the utterly infectious joy of her playing; Tommy Peoples, for his rustic, dense and uniquely percussive style; Paul Brady, for his spine-tingling voice... I've been learning a few new tunes as well, and have finally started to get the feel of jigs, I think. My favorite tune at the moment is a jig called Old Hag You Have Killed Me, which I've learned off of the Bothy Band's second album (titled Old Hag You Have Killed Me). I think I like the names of the tunes as much as the tunes themselves - The Banshee, the Rakes of Kildare, the Monahan Twig, Jennie's Welcome to Charlie, The Maid Behind the Bar, Junior Crehan's Favorite, Merrily Kissed the Quaker - so humorous, absurd or prosaic, simple, evocative, a symbolic little slice of life. I'm trying to motivate myself to start going to a few sessions here and there, which I know I would enjoy, but I'm just such a homebody.

I've also been going through some tutorials for GarageBand with my new MacBook, and hope to do some recording again soon, after not doing any for five or six years. Maybe even do some writing again (music, that is), though I'll probably start by just exploring a few favorite tunes (and maybe a song or two). I have a hankering to record Roy Orbison's Blue Bayou, for some reason, as if I could ever hope to even be a distant shadow of his voice (or Linda Ronstadt's, whose version of that song for the Muppet Show is an all-time favorite for me).

Writing-wise, I'm working on a short-story, a ghost-story of sorts, about a boy who encounters a barn owl in an old abandoned house, and is followed by it and begins to suspect... well it's a work in progress I guess.

Back to school, now...sorry for the rambling, self-involved post. What else are blogs for?


Monday, February 11, 2008

Some photos to share, new guitar and painting.

This is just a quick upload of some pictures.  One is a painting of my sister Esme done a few years ago by my then-roomate Matt Weinberg, who is quite a talented painter.  He has a knack for telling stories with his paintings and drawings, even within straightforward portraits and landscapes.  This was painted from a photograph.

The other pictures are of my new guitar, which I just got today.  Some of you may know that I was considering getting a new guitar.  There wasn't any problem with my old guitar, really, but I was looking for something smaller and a little easier to play, as my Martin J-40 was a big, loud guitar with a stiff action.  But a wonderful guitar nonetheless with a great, ringing bottom end, almost a piano-like sound.  For those interested, this is a Huss and Dalton CM Model guitar, made in Staunton, Virginia.  It's a 12 fret model (the body is built out to the twelfth fret instead of the more standard 14th) with a short scale length, and somewhere in between a 00 and dreadnaught depth.  Adirondack spruce top and Indian rosewood sides and back.  It's got a nicely balanced tone, quite crisp and punchy; I like it a lot, and it's definitely easier to play.  I've lost some of my finger strength now that I play more violin than guitar, and I wanted something a bit quieter for my voice, which is not very strong and had a hard time competing with the J-40.   Not too expensive either, especially given that I was trading in something of more or less equivalent value.  Anyway, it's a lot of fun.  Now I have to get out my violin and practice for my quartet rehearsal this evening.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Pictures of my apartment and New England day of weather

A corner of my cluttered kitchen; assorted cereals, herbs and aloe, chili pepper poster and paella pan.
My bed and bookshelves, with musical print and assorted gurus (Edgar the raven puppet, Spencer the bear, and buddha bear).
My computer station in my bedroom, with chinese moon guitar up in the corner.
My bedroom dresser (exciting!) with a nice print of the "Arkansas Traveler" above it.
A corner of my living room, with a painting of my sister Esme and a chinese print of some ducks from the Ho Toy Noodle Company calendar.
Another view of my living room, with plants and entertainment central.
This is a view of my living room, with my new couch front and center, and two nice pieces of fabric with chickens stitched into them.  I think they come from Thailand.

Today is one of those days that literally reflects that old New England aphorism (which is also applied to many other places as well) that goes something like "If you don't like the weather, wait ten minutes".  I woke up this morning to a beautiful day, if still soggy from last night's snow.  I took advantage of the nice weather to move a couch, and as soon as I finished getting it up into my apartment it started to rain.  Then it stopped, and the sun came out.  Out I went to do some more chores.  Pulling into the library the skies started turning a roiling gray and as I approached the library doors there was a crack of lightning and a loud roar of thunder that rumbled on for nearly half a minute.  By the time I reached the second floor (maybe a minute later) there was a thick, blowing snow, almost a blizzard, obscuring the streets and the skies.  I watched it for a few minutes and then went to get my books and my movies.  As I was leaving, the snow had stopped and it was starting to brighten.  Leaving the supermarket a half-hour later it was sunny and still, and I thought maybe I would put on my cold-weather action suit and go for a run.  By the time I got home it was raining again.  Now, an hour later, it is snowing lightly but blowing something fierce, pulling leaves from the trees and sending the house sparrows for shelter in the eaves and gutters.  But wait, now it has stopped and just a light breeze tugs at the tips of the trees, I kid you not.  

Regarding the pictures, I know they're not the most exciting, but my dad wanted to see what my apartment looks like and what I've done with some of the fabrics and prints he and Lisa sent me in the fall.  I'm happy to post them, though; I'm really enjoying my apartment right now. I did a major clean and straighten last weekend, and have been rearranging some furniture and artwork.  It's a pleasant, roomy place, though a little drafty in winter and swarming with bats in the summer.  Enjoy!!!  

Thursday, February 07, 2008

What I've Been Listening To


I thought maybe I'd try to fill some space on my blog by writing about some music I've been listening to lately. I don't feel too inspired right now to write about much else that might be going on in my personal life. Suffice it to say that I've been doing a bit of birding, some writing, and playing a spot of music here or there, along with eating a hearty pan of roasted root vegetables that I cooked up the other evening.

In that traditional folk world, the dominant genre of my attention the last few weeks, one particular album comes to mind. With some assistance (I won't name names) I was able to find a download of a long out of print album from the late '70's from Irish instrumental and singing wizards Andy Irvine and Paul Brady. The opening track is a stunner called "The Plains of Kildare", a rousing narrative about a racing pony named Stewball sung by Andy Irvine in his lively tenor voice. The instrumental arrangement, though, is the real star, constantly turning about with unexpected harmonic voicings, tempo changes, converging and diverging lines of guitar, mandolin and fiddle, and exciting stop/start rhythmic figures. The instrumental break near the end through into the final entry of the vocals is incredibly exciting. The next standout track is Paul Brady's version of "Arthur MacBride", a traditional Irish ballad that I'd previously known only from the first Planxty album. Planxty's version is livelier and more humorous, possibly more fitting with what I see to be the essential comedy of the lyric, but Brady brings his incredible voice and a ghostly, shimmering solo guitar accompaniment to his version that makes it simply a spellbinding, beautiful piece of music, complete with shivers down your spine and echoes of ancient Irish troubadours. The rest of the album is very worthwhile as well, and as luck would have it it has just been relreleased in a legal, commericial format with probably much better sound quality than the copy I have, which I may well replace with this legally-purchased version.

Of the little bit of rock and roll that I've been hearing, aside from my endless repetitions of the Beatles, I've been enjoying Joe Strummer's last album with the Mescalero's, Streetcore. It opens with a song called "Coma Girl", a rousing rock and roll number, exciting and well-crafted, that mixes driving guitars with interludes of ska beats and clever vocal harmonies. The track, and the album as a whole, lacks the anarchic noise of the Clash at their best (and worse), but that's not a criticism; this is a mature, assured album that keeps turning up surprises as I give it repeated listens. Joe Strummer was also just about the only artist out there that I would truly trust doing a cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song", which he does here in a simple, convincing and direct version.

That's all I'll mention for now. (The picture, by the way, is of Andy Irvine playing a bazouki).