Another David McKnight Post

I posted yesterday about Durham/Raleigh/Chapel Hill violinist David McKnight, who passed away last night. In 2013 a reviewer from the IndyWeek newspaper called me “milquetoast.” David took umbrage and posted the following sweet and hilarious comment in my defense:

“I am really shocked by this “assessment” by the person who is privileged to serve as Music Editor of Independent Weekly. I am a free-lance writer myself and I respect the right of journalists to make critical comments in reviews, analysis pieces and commentaries in columns and articles so designated as opposed to straight news reporting.

But these editorial aspersions against the musicianship of Jason Harrod of Durham and New York are like ice hockey infractions such as cross-checking, interference and tripping. This journalistic slight is blatant, out of the blue, highly unjustified and not related to any thoughtful or sincere reviewing of the concert Jason Harrod brought to The ArtsCenter in Carrboro. Of course, the Indy Music Editor probably didn’t even attend the concert, no cierto? I don’t like press fights because they just make everybody feel miserable, but as one who has been playing music for many years in the clubs, coffee shops, restaurants and also showcasing “public arts in the streets” of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill as an ongoing protest against career-ending partisan political regulation of journalism in the Triangle, I am really upset that a star writer from such an important publication as Independent would “skate across the ice” to deliver a hit on such a creative, thoughtful and kind individual and marvelous singer-songwriter as Jason Harrod.

Maybe Independent has it in for songwriters and bands which can attract a following among the young people of the Triangle without subjecting them to the horrors of perdition and moral condemnation. Maybe Indy thinks that people such as Delta Rae and Jason Harrod should be targeted for ridicule because parents can bring their children to their concerts without fear or trepidation that their kids will be subjected to negative, abusive or violent song lyrics but instead wholesome sounds of songs about life, adventure, friendship, romance, discovery and personal fulfillment.

As for what Grayson Currin called Jason Harrod’s “milquetoast folk-rock,” I wish to state my view that Harrod’s songs are of the highest musical and harmonic sophistication. I was pleased to be invited to play violin on Jason’s great song “Carolina” at the Aug. 9 ArtsCenter concert. In fact, Jason also asked me to play on two other songs in the same concert, and I needed to call upon all the string music training I have acquired in playing classical orchestral music and “fiddle parts” for other folk, country, jazz and rock singer-songwriters in the Triangle in order to render a pleasing and harmonious “string section” parts for those inspiring Harrod originals. I wish we had had a “live recording” capability for this concert because then, as a violin-viola-mandolin-guitar player, I could put at least these three songs with violin accompaniment on a web site so that readers of Independent could listen and decide for themselves how these guitar-bass-violin-drum arrangements came together on the stage of the ArtsCenter auditorium. Then they could vote on whether the level of musical depth attained the level of good traditional “milquetoast folk-rock” or maybe even exceeded it!

I saw a number of people from the Triangle at the Jason Harrod concert who had heard me play in other settings but not with Jason, as we have only met a few times in the 20-plus years since Jason, as an aspiring young Durham singer-songwriter first jammed with our musicians on Ninth Street in Durham, including at the old Ninth Street Bar and Grill. Jason was well-received back in the early ’90s, and we are proud of his artistic and musical successes in going on the road all across this country in all the years since we first played on Ninth Street as well as his fine recordings through the first two decades of his music career.

Did Grayson Currin even listen to the most recent CD released by Jason Harrod? And as far as “wandering around on stage” is concerned, Harrod was anything but spaced out at his ArtsCenter concert. He was very focused, had excellent rapport with the audience, performed his two sets with great style, technical mastery and personal charm, and was enthusiastically received by those in attendance, answering their enthusiastic request for an encore at the close of the concert.

I wish I had seen this “pasting” of Jason Harrod by Independent before and not after I participated in the concert as a guest player at the acoustically pleasing ArtsCenter because I could have told my friends there that I would try to exceed the expectations of “milquetoast” fiddling and try at least for some crispier Melba Toast string work! Indeed, even in these later years of instrumental performance, I was just as “keyed up” for this show as for those “in the good ol’ days of the ’70s and ’80s.” I consider Jason Harrod’s great singing and guitar-playing, as well as his fine band accompaniment, as being on a similarly high level of artistic tone, quality, content and exposition as the music of other great Triangle musicians I have worked with including the late Brother Yusef Salim, Rebecca and the Hi-Tones, the Duke Street Dogs, Pattie and Jack LeSueur, Jewelsong, Bruce Emery, the David Spencer Band of Raleigh, Alan Wolf, David King, the Triangle Folk Jam, and Cleaver Smith & Swenson.

Maybe it is Independent’s philosophy that people who simply live and work in Durham and the Triangle cannot be considered candidates for compelling vocal and instrumental musicianship. Oh well, all is not lost. It won’t be long before the Ciompi Quartet will be firing up on all cylinders for the 2013-14 season. The Ciompi Quartet will be teaming up in September with the highly popular folk duo, the Kruger Brothers, in the refurbished Baldwin Auditorium at Duke, and I already have a ticket, so I am hoping there will be plenty of wine and cheese, or at least some fancy milquetoast, at any receptions marking this promising classical-folk concert collaboration.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the three Jason Harrod songs I played on at The ArtsCenter were in the keys of F, G and A Flat. Just as the key of E Major has four sharps, the key of A-Flat Major has four flats. So if you play a major scale from bottom to top in A Flat Major, you will be these notes: A-Flat, B-Flat, C, D-Flat, E-Flat, F, G, A-Flat. If you start out on the G string of the violin, you play the low A-Flat note with the first finger just a half step away from the “open G,” then a full step to the B-Flat with the second finger, another full step to the C with the third finger, then a half step to the D Flat with the fourth finger, then cross over to the D string and do the same thing beginning with the first singer a half step up from the open D string without playing the open D itself!

Our friend Don Martin of Raleigh, a former clarinetist with the North Carolina Symphony, likes to play a lot of songs in B-Flat in his popular music combos. The key of B-Flat has two flats–B-Fat and E-Flat. So one time when guitarist David Spencer was bantering with Don Martin after another B-Flat song call, Spencer said, “I’ll see your two flats and raise you one to E-Flat.” (The key of E-Flat includes the notes E-Flat, A-Flat and B-Flat.)

For fans of bluegrass music, you’d have to wonder if even the great Lester Flatt himself would ask his band to play a song with four flats. Someone faced with four flats would be better off just getting a whole new set of tires. But for Durham-New York singer-songwriter Jason Harrod, a song can be arranged in any suitable key, and you can take your pick of sharps and flats.

If this is “milquetoast” instrumentation, then somebody please pass the chips and dip!
As for Jason Harriod’s new CD “Highliner,” I just hope all fair-minded friends of folk-rock music in the Triangle will give it a listen regardless of whether they prefer milquetoast, bagels or sausage-egg-and-cheese biscuits to start their day.

David P. McKnight

Dave played with a group called Cleaver, Smith, Swenson, and McKnight. They have a lot of streamable and downloadable music on their website, all of which features David. It’s great stuff.

David McKnight

I’m feeling a little bit wrecked on hearing of the passing of violinist David McKnight who was a fixture of the Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill music scene. In addition to being a gifted musician, he was one of the sweetest and smartest people I have known. He was a terrific writer and would occasionally email essays he had written on a variety of topics. David loved North Carolina and its people to his core. I will miss his kindness, trueness, and the ineffable twinkle in his eye (He was always “up to something”.) He was troubled, too. But he was rich in friends and music. I will miss him dearly. Please read this lovely tribute from the Charlotte Observer:

National Cash Register Store

Walking into Faerman’s National Cash Register store, which sells and repairs old cash registers, is like going back in time. It’s full of elegant antique cash registers that still say “ka-ching” and have rows and rows of buttons and cool florid designs. It’s got the kind of old hand-painted sign out front you don’t see much anymore. I found a 2009 NY times article on the store (Apparently the same article which is framed on the wall in the picture below). In the article Mr. Faerman is warming up one of the cash registers with a hair dryer “because machines need to be warm to work.” Apparently there used to be lots of cash register stores on and around the Bowery, but only this one remains. I took a lot of pictures inside, but only a couple turned out ok. The rest were too blurry to post.

Some thoughts on Blogging

As you may know, I announced that I was going to be posting once a day on this blog. I think subconsciously saw it almost as a kind of penance for not writing on here for 2 years. Which is a bit silly. Part of my puritan heritage or something (If it feels good, you’re not doing it right). But it is a good discipline, even if it’s not ideal. I think posting a couple of times a week would be better because it would give me more time to formulate quality posts and do more editing of those posts. People really seemed to like the post a week or so ago about my neighborhood in Flatbush. I believe I made 50 revisions on that post — spent a lot of time with it to get it just right. That’s not something I can do every day or even every couple of days. So posting every day will result in more meager posts. But maybe that’s ok. There are tumblr blogs with just photos and clippings and stuff. One guy just posts his favorite old Nancy panels (it’s fantastic. Ernie Bushmiller was fantastic. I try not to read comics because there are so many books I want to read and so little time, but I might have to indulge in some Nancy in the near future). Comedy and showbiz historian Kliph Nesteroff also has a minimalist tumblr. But I want to write more and so I hope to get some more meaty posts going in the near future. Today I mentioned to Jay and Jessica (college friends turned neighbors) that I read a Mary Karr poem (A Perfect Mess) this morning that I really enjoyed. (I try to remember when I read poems I like because I read a lot of poems that I don’t like or that are strictly ok). They asked if I had read any of Karr’s memoirs, and I haven’t, so they lent me The Liar’s Club, which I’m looking forward to getting into, and am about to get into now.

Presidential Dreams with a Little Stardust

I don’t usually remember my dreams, but every now and then I do. This is a series of dreams I had last year about political figures (except the one about Bowie, of course). Strangely there was no Bernie dream. Another Facebook cross-post (I didn’t update the blog last year, but I posted a *lot* on Facebook).

The Obamas:

I dreamed of Michelle Obama. I was in the backseat, she was in the front passenger seat, Barack behind the wheel. She was telling me I needed to finish the worship plan for church. “You should have done it by now.” I’m like, “all right Mrs. O. Is it ok to call you Mrs. O?” She didn’t answer. Barack was like, “yeah that’s all right.”

Hillary Clinton:

I dreamt I woke up in a bar, some musty, dusty old bar, in the early morning. For some reason I had slept there, in an old four-poster bed. I rose and was trying to gather my things and make the bed in a big hurry because I was late for a gig but it was dim and I couldn’t see very well. The ceiling was low and the floors were uneven and I kept banging into things. There were people milling about, and suddenly, there was Hillary Clinton, in a pants suit, smiling and pointing. Someone said to me, “Hillary owns a bar, she wants to talk to you about playing piano there” (In my dream I’m a fantastic piano player). I called across the room and said “I want to play your bar but I really have to go; just email me” making little texting motions with my thumbs. Then, remembering everything that’s going on, I thought better of it, and said “er, call me. Just call me,” making the thumb and pinky gesture near my ear. That felt even more wrong and the room fell silent. Mrs Clinton grimaced, and my cheeks felt hot. Trying to smooth things over, I approached. “Look I think I made things awkward back there and I was just kidding. Just get back to me whichever way is more convenient for you.” And I patted her on the back. But my hands were awkward paws and they made a clomping sound on her jacket, and I knew she wasn’t going to book me.

Donald Trump:

Last night I dreamed about Donald Trump. For some reason, he was supposed to sell my mom a used car so I needed to find him to give him money and get the car. I was running around cobblestone streets and abandoned wharfs and docks in a cold clammy mist. I kept seeing his wispy blond hair and navy blazer disappear around corners. At one point he jumped on a huge barge, loaded with boxcars. He was waving at me and laughing as the barge disappeared in the mist. Finally I looked in a golden hotel lobby and there he was just standing there. I walked right in and he said “you’re not supposed to be here.” I said, “I need the car.” As I walked closer to him I was surprised at how small and frightened he looked. I felt sorry for him.

David Bowie:

I dreamed David Bowie and I performed together for the high school talent show. We went over really well and I told him we should form a band. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve gotten used to home life, and I don’t relish going on the road again. Plus I have my prawn fishing.” “Prawn fishing?” I said. Jump-cut to David Bowie sitting on a high lifeguard chair facing a golden sun with prawns jumping into his outstretched arms which for some reason had turned into giant crab pincers. “Yes, prawn fishing!” he shouted over his shoulder, clacking his pincers. Suddenly the wet sand started moving and quivering beneath my feet: prawns — millions of them, moving toward Bowie’s lifeguard chair.


“My Top 10 Albums”

Oof it’s late. I just got home and it’s after 12 which means technically I missed another day of posting. But only technically. There’s a thing going around on Facebook where people are listing 10 formative albums from their high school days. After seeing my friend Jacob post a parody list which was really funny, I decided to make a parody list of my own because it seemed like it would be much more entertaining than an actual list of formative albums from high school, which would be pretty predictable (Beatles, Zeppelin, Police, Neil Young. Suzanne Vega’s “Solitude Standing” would be on there though. I guess that’s a curve ball).

So here’s my parody list of Top 10 Albums:

Monks in Cloaks – Cyrcle Cyrcle Dot Dot
Aloof Flames – Sizzle (a Little)
Ephemeral Anvil – Inscrutable Symbols
Amused by Gerunds – Things We’ve Flung
Falling off Couches – Oof!
The You Can’t Do Thats – Seriously Stop
The Gentle Misogynists – Girl, You’re Just Alright
Misspelled Animalz – Well, Here are the Animalz
Mario Flannegan – Songs your Grandmother Liked I Think
Leviticus – Live at Lancaster Bible College.


AAA Avacodos

In Chinatown, on Grand Street, there is a store called AAA Avacados that sells only avacados, at one dollar apiece. It sounds like the brainchild of a Seinfeld character (Jerry: “Really? nothing else? only the avacados?” George: “That’s right! Only avacados baby!”), or the punchline of a Mitch Hedberg Joke. A few doors down there’s a rather stinky store (Durian New York) that sells only Durian. I didn’t get a photo of that one though.


The End of the World

My sister and I threw my parents a 50th wedding anniversary party last December and one of my jobs was to put together a playlist of early-to-mid-60s music. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about 60s pop music but there were quite a few gems I had never heard before, like this one: “The End of the World” by Skeeter Davis (I’m not sure how I missed it, as it seems to have been featured in quite a few movies, TV shows, and video games). This song is simple but timeless – almost perfect, I’d say. And Skeeter Davis had one of the purest voices I’ve ever heard.