Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I Have Been Tagged

My so-called friend Helena Bouchez has tagged me. I will try to be a good sport and play by the rules, which are:

The Rules

1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Bill's Eight Things:

1. I tend to overthink things....like this list.

2. When I was a kid, I played the accordion (and liked it).

3. I am street dyslexic. I cannot mentally distinguish between certain streets here in Chicago. I always confuse Touhy and Devon, for example. I have trouble with Wellington and Diversey too.

4. I have no tolerance for grandiose or pretentious people. King George, Dr. Phil, Rush Limbaugh and James Dobson come to mind.

5. No matter how much I try, I just cannot bring myself to like: music with banjos or bagpipes, fireworks, television, marshmallows or smooth jazz (I think the last two items may be synonymous).

6. I am a New Warrior. My animal name is Fierce Wolf.

7. In a parallel universe I am 6'2", 210 #, play second base for the Mets, drive a Miata, and can afford to own all the CDs, DVDs and books I want. Oh, yeah, and the hippest women find me irresistible.

8. The funniest, most interesting people I know are my own children.

Next tagging victims:

Baby Z
Jason Heath
Fred Simon
Susan Joy
Linda Clifford

I know I'm supposed to tag eight people, but I can't think of any others who are online. So sue me.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Open Letter from Art Lauer

A final piece of writing from my friend, composer Art Lauer, who died June 7th.

Having undergone a series of misfortunes beginning on July 4th, 2006, and which continue to this day, I must admit that ever-present friend Irony is comically complete. I smile with the corners of my mouth down.

Unusually fortunate, I have never been ill in seventy-three previous years. This causes deep consideration of what has and is yet occurring. The months have made me acutely aware of not only our capacity for empathy and sensitivity to others. It also brought to light that in more ordinary conditions we conceal that capacity - from even ourselves. I have many, many friends. They have been that for many years already, yet neither I nor they have been entirely aware of the depth it entailed. They have responded to all with an exhibition of their feelings of love and respect beyond measure. Add to those many from over the years, the many who responded in my immediate local venue and the result is overcoming, and yet it continues. As many have heard me say that, in a way, the disease has been worth having.

And so I dwell on beginnings, not endings. Whatever lives in my own heart, my entire scope of possibility is theirs as much as mine. If only we were always able to express our innermost feelings as they have been at this time, how altered - and decidedly better a world this might be. If there is such a thing as sin, it may be our reticence to allow others into our deepest being. For me, it is a supreme joy to know and be known. There are no thank yous for what I received each day and night.

- Art Lauer (July 31, 1932 - June 7, 2007)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Another Fun Gig

This is rare - two noteworthy (ouch) gigs in one month!

The night before last I played a last minute, thrown together gig at a beach-side park on the south side of Chicago. Our little band was subbing for a group whose leader had just suffered a heart attack, which is a helluva way to score a gig. This was a peculiar kind of job called a "trust fund" engagement.

If I understand it correctly (and that's a large if), several decades ago the musicians union established the Music Performance Trust Fund. This fund was a response by the American Federation of Musicians (our national organization) to the huge loss of jobs suffered in our industry by the advent of the phonograph record. Used to be that every radio show, TV show, theatre and corner tavern had live musicians of some sort. When recorded music became the norm lots of working class musicians had to scramble to either find other kinds of music gigs or get a new line of work. The MPTF is partially (or completely, I'm not certain) funded by the recording industry. The fund co-sponsors events for civic groups, non-profits, schools and other non-commercial outlets. The events are always, to my knowledge, admission free.

In this case the job was co-sponsored by the Chicago Park District. We were playing in a beach house pavilion at a pretty spiffy park right on the lakefront at 63rd Street, just off the famous Lake Shore Drive. The only bad news is that these gigs pay very little - way below our normal scale. But we do them to be good citizens and also, hopefully, for fun.

And this one was really fun. One of the best things about the freelance music biz is that I get to hang with people I've known for years. It's not like an office job because the cast of characters keeps changing. Sometimes I won't see a musician for a year or two or five but when we get together to play it is often magic - it's as if we never stopped playing together. So the other evening I got to see three folks I rarely get to play music with. Everyone was in a groovy mood, the handful of listeners we had seemed to be enjoying themselves and I must say that we sounded pretty darn good. I was playing my Lakland fretless bass, which I've been using more and more, and it was the right bass to bring for this outdoor gig.

If this keeps up, I'm going to start expecting gigs to be a good time. This, of course, goes against one of my core principles of survival: If you keep your expectations low then there's a decent chance you might be pleasantly surprised on occasion. Hey, it could happen...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Brief Rant: "Awesome!"



1.inspiring awe: an awesome sight.
2.showing or characterized by awe.
3. expressing awe: stood in awesome silence before the ancient ruins.

From the root noun awe:

an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like: in awe of God; in awe of great political figures.

A mixed emotion of reverence, respect, dread, and wonder inspired by authority, genius, great beauty, sublimity, or might: We felt awe when contemplating the works of Bach. The observers were in awe of the destructive power of the new weapon.

My favorite use of the word was by oceanographer/filmmaker Jacques Cousteau who used to describe the undersea world by saying, in his thick French accent, "Eet is awww-some."

I hate to sound like an old curmudgeon, but the slang use of "awesome" drives me crazy. This word is too powerful to waste on the mundane, as this culture is now wont to do. Can we think of another way to express our delight or approval of an everyday event?

Back in the day we used the word "cool" for mild approbations. It worked nicely, I thought. "Cool" connotes casual acceptability combined with a certain hipness. "Dope" came and went pretty fast but I thought that had enough comic iconoclastic panache for this purpose. "Awesome" has stuck around WAY too long, and to me, it never felt or sounded right.

"Awesome" should be reserved for those rare, unforgettable, mind-blowing experiences like standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon, setting foot on the moon and falling in love. Think sublime, reverent, earth-shaking.

So I hereby challenge the awesome-dependent among us to come up with a more suitable expression for things that are good, nice, pleasant. alright, generally OK. Let me know what you come up with. That'd be really awesome.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Human Shadow

It has become clear to me that, because I have been emphasizing the idyllic dimension of people while underplaying the "shadow," some have been lulled into a highfalutin image of themselves and of myself which matches neither the reality of their being nor of mine, and brooks contradictions in how they handle situations. Anyone volunteering to embody the archetype representing people's higher self will have to choose between artfully concealing one's shadow and, when discovered, justifying it hypocritically, or alternatively, exposing oneself to scrutiny and criticism by all. Should one have the honesty and courage to confront one's shortcomings, one will better understand people's problems through seeing oneself in others and others in oneself, thus affording real help to those who also need to transmute their shadow elements.

-Sufi master Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Wildlife Tour

We were on time for the Bison-tenial.

Had a day off from driving today because we made like tourists and signed on to a guided tour primarily focused on the Upper Loop of the park. We were in a 20 seater van with huge windows being driven around for about 8 hours. So I'm a bit visually over-stimulated.

The idea of this tour was to go where the animals hang out and view them. We did see bison (not buffalo, technically), mule deer, elk, coyotes, bald eaglets, osprey but no bears. And, sadly but not unexpectedly, no wolves. I'll have to come back in the winter to see canis lupus at their best. We also saw some incredible views, learned about the great fire of 1988 and its aftermath, and got to compare the flora of a couple of different areas of Yellowstone.

This is a shot of Orange Mound (I think that's the name), which is a non-thermal formation in the northern half of the park. The colors are made by lichen which actually stain the white rock these remarkable colors.

I didn't realize how big a role the Grand Canyon and the 250 plus waterfalls play in Yellowstone. I guess, like most Americans, I thought this park is all about geysers; I was wrong. There is SO much to see and experience here that I'm rather overwhelmed (but you couldn't tell that...nah).

Here's a magnificent vista we were luck enough to view late in the afternoon today:

GPS and Hail

There's a great aerial photo of the Grand Prismatic Spring in the book Earth From Above. So Addie wanted us to have a look - and it was well worth stopping. Descriptions and pictures (even professional ones) don't do the colors justice. Don't even mention the smell!

We spent a more leisurely day investigating geothermal formations in the park yesterday. A lot of these geyser-ish sights are way more impressive than Old Faithful in terms of colors, smell, level of activity and other-worldliness.
If I ever figure out how to post video I'll put up some moving pictures of these things.

We also drove Grand Canyon loop through what felt like rush hour traffic. We managed a one mile hike with the payoff of this great view of the Lower Falls. The relatively steep climb nearly landed one or two of us (ahem) in the local ER but we lived to blog the tale, luckily.

More Yellowstone weather: On our way out of the park in the evening we got clobbered by a hailstorm that came out of absolutely nowhere. It began with two big thunks on the windshield and went from zero to sixty almost instantly. The temperature plummeted from the mid 80's to 52 in a matter of minutes. And then, just as suddenly, it was over. We drove out into West Yellowstone in lovely sunshine.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Around Every Turn A New Wonder

It is almost too much magnificence to take in, this Yellowstone National Park. The things I read and heard about its size, weather, and beauty are all true. It lives up to the hype, like so few things in life. As Hannah pointed out, in the first hour we were in the park we experienced: a grizzly bear calmly munching, uh, something by the side of the road, a fire in the back of some poor shlub's van, bright sun, overcast skies, a sun shower, heavy rainfall, temperatures ranging from 62-87 F, mountains, huge Lake Yellowstone, ravines, open meadows, forest. The place is indescribably complex and wonderful.

We spent a few too many hours in the car, which made the Old Faithful experience late in the afternoon not quite as thrilling as it might have been. This was partly due to my driving malfunction early in the day; somehow we left Worland this morning going in the wrong direction. The mistake cost us an hour or so of driving time, but we did get to drive through a canyon that knocked us all out which we would have otherwise missed. Since Yellowstone is so huge, there is a lot of driving just getting from an entrance to anywhere. We entered the park on the east side, through Cody, Wyoming. We drove around the eastern half of the lake then turned west to Geyser Country. Between the sheer distance, the wacky weather and the folks who like to stop dead in the middle of the road to observe wildlife it took a good long time to get to Old Faithful. Of course we got there just minutes after an eruption so we had to cool it for 90 minutes waiting for the next one. The dude is punctual, though. Quite a performer.

Then we drove to the town of West Yellowstone, Montana, checked into the lovely and very reasonable City Center Motel, ordered in some mediocre pizza (yes, being from Chicago we are pizza snobs) and generally fell out. We have requests to return to Geyserland tomorrow to see the Grand Prismatic Spring, the "paint pots" and the baby geysers surrounding Big Daddy O.F.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Mt. Rushbore

Yep, it was just like I remembered it from 1973 - a bunch of heads carved out of a mountaintop way up there. Can you say tourist trap? We luckily drove only an hour or so out of our way to spend ten minutes at the national monument which really IS much ado about nothing. Sure, incredible technology for its time and all that. But the question must be asked: why? So now the kids can say they've been to Mt. Rushmore (and they can take their kids there to be underwhelmed sometime in the distant future).

The exciting thing is that we're now only about 2 hours from the Eastern entrance of Yellowstone. Here's a lovely picture of the sky last night in Wall, SD:

This afternoon we wended our way through the Big Horn Mountains on our way to the western part of the state. For folks who live in Flatland USA driving through this contoured landscape was breathtaking. We're becoming visual gluttons!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Bad and the Beautiful

Wall, SD: We spent the better part of the day driving, but the effort paid off. The Badlands of South Dakota are eerie, otherworldly and magnificent. I snapped so many pictures that it was difficult to pick just one to post. I was last here around 1973 and we didn't do much more than drive through the "loop", which is the main road to and from I 90 that traverses the national park. Today we got out several times, clambered around, saw a film about the geology and history of the area and got a more complete feel for the landscape.

Here's Sam, Addie and Hannah in the heart of the Badlands. Tomorrow, on to Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone!

Monday, July 9, 2007

On the Road Again

Jackson, MN - Your intrepid reporter checks in this evening from a lovely Super 8 Motel (free wireless internet from every room!) just off I-90 in southwestern Minnesota. I'm on the first leg of a driving vacation from Chicago to Yellowstone with my three teens. I'll add pictures to these posts when I'm not quite as fried as I am at the moment.

We made 480 miles today, after having left at the crack of midday (11AM). We've already proved the old saw that "half the fun is getting there" by having lunch at Culver's, listening to Sam croon Civil War songs in the car, and laughing til it hurts over the extremely crunchy garlic bread at dinner (don't ask - you had to be there). Now we're tucked in for the night with great expectations of arriving at the Badlands of South Dakota on the morrow.


Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Why I Hate the 4th of July

The idea of Independence Day as a commemoration of the noble words set down in the Declaration of Independence has my full support. My disgust with the holiday is fueled by the ways we Americans have chosen to celebrate the creation of that document and the distortions of the basic values set forth therein that we have allowed. The 4th of July is like christmas without Santa; it's vacuous and irritating to those of us who actually look for meaning behind the symbolism, words and activities associated with the holiday.

Just to indicate how much this annoys me, I'll begin with the word "holiday", which is derived from "holy day". What on earth is "holy" about this anniversary (or christmas, for that matter)? The 4th of July serves as a reminder to me of all the things that are WRONG with the good ol' US of A. Call me the anti-christ if you like (I'll accept it as a term of endearment) but today I'm focused on the ills of patriotism, nationalism, oppression, imperialism, jingoism, demagoguery, theocracy and commercialism. How's that for curmudgeonly?

To be clear: I love my country, but I often dislike the actions taken by our government and the prevailing political, social, economic and (particularly) religious beliefs we espouse as a nation. The Declaration of Independence is, for the most part, an honorable and worthy expression created, it seems to me, out of intense frustration and desperation by a committee of remarkable men. In case you need a reminder, here's how the D of C begins (emphasis mine):

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

This is not the time or space for a long political rant (hey, I gotta go buy a Chevy and get home in time to start the grill...) but suffice it to say, that, in my opinion, we are currently living under the rule of a despot who we have somehow permitted to abuse and usurp our rights and to lead us into an unjust and wholly unnecessary war. Getting well rid of the present King George can't happen soon enough for me. But I'm rambling slightly off topic here...

Here, then, are my specific gripes about this over-hyped day:

Fireworks and firecrackers: Folks, what could possibly be more symbolic of our love affair with military might than these idiotic displays? Even my peacenik family and friends are somehow able to overlook this glorification of "might makes right" that is one of the unfortunate hallmarks of this nation. ("And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air...") That's a helluva way to celebrate life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yeah, let's go watch a rousing display of faux bombs and rockets while our soldiers continue to kill and be killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nice irony. Congratulations, fellow Americans.

Flag Waving and Jingoism: Look, the stars and stripes do make for a lovely little tapestry that well symbolizes the "united" nature of our states. But beyond that, how and why have we imbued this hunk of cloth with all of this quasi-religious power? This undeserved fervor is not the exclusive fault of the die-hard, redneck, stereotypical flag-wavers. The youth movement in the 1960's and 70's added an egregious measure to the power of the S and S by staging flag burnings. To me, all the flag worship is a painful reminder of the jingoistic nature of unbridled patriotism that is way too common in our beloved country. The enforcement of the "America: Love It or Leave It" point of view really makes me ill.

Commercialism, consumerism, waste: Again, think christmas or, better yet, the day after Thanksgiving. 'Nuff said?

One nation, under god: Finally, the all too pervasive thrall that christianity illegitimately holds over this country is never more fully expressed than on July 4th. The United States is NOT a christian nation, no matter how many times that idea is espoused. We are NOT a theocracy, although the present administration and the so-called "religious right" would have us believe and behave otherwise. Nothing infuriates me more than this allegation. There is no "one nation, under god". Our Constitution explicitly and unequivocally excludes all religious beliefs.

I have thusfar left out my usual complaints about the noise and danger of fireworks. In my neighborhood the 4th is an excuse for setting off cherry bombs and M80s at all hours of the day and night, starting around June 15 and ending early in August (if we're lucky). My kids are probably risking their fingers and hands as I write this. There is something admittedly primal and exhilarating about explosions, but it seems to me that this infantile fascination is something to grow out of at some point, like peeing in one's pants and eating with one's fingers. Oh, and like believing in some supernatural being who is watching over us.