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“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.

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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.

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2017.

2017. It’s here.  “I can’t believe it’s 2017,” I’ve said to .. pretty much everyone, and almost everyone has concurred. No one has said, “It seems right and good that it’s 2017. Here it is, right on time.” 2017 seems pretty close to being a year in a Sci-Fi film in which something momentous and possibly devastating occurs. The older I get, the busier I get, and the faster the years fly by.  I guess that’s something an old person would say. I should watch that, ’cause I’m not old yet, though sometimes I feel like it.

Anyway, Happy New Year.  For last New Year’s Eve — that is, one year ago,  I went to the Hamptons with a group of people, most of whom I did not know. They were friends of my friend Sean’s new girlfriend Rachel (new at the time; they’re married now), and Sean invited me along so that he’d know somebody besides his girlfriend. It was a fun time. We ate a lot, played games, journalled (we were all Christians; Christians like to journal) and did the polar plunge — that is, we jumped into the freezing cold Atlantic with a couple of hundred locals. After we got home and warmed up we had a dance party and then watched the ball drop on Ryan Seacrest’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. That was the weekend I developed an appreciation for Taylor Swift.

Usually I do want to see friends on New Years, and I want to stay up past midnight to make noise and celebrate. But this year, for the first time in a long time, I felt no inclination to be with people on New Year’s Eve, or to stay awake until midnight. I felt like spending a quiet evening alone and that’s what I did.   I was in the mood for some good old cheesy-but-not-terrible Sci-Fi  and searched this list of top 100 Sci-Fi films until I found  the 1956 classic “Forbidden Planet,” which fit the bill perfectly. It features a deadly serious Leslie Nielsen before he realized his true calling as the straight man in a dozen or so 80’s spy and cop spoofs. (I’ve also seen a more earnest Nielsen in a Columbo or two).

I haven’t posted here in the past two years, and I’m hoping to post more this year. I’ve written before about and marveled at how Seth Godin blogs every day.  How does he have the time?  How does he resist the urge to edit everything to death?  Well, I recently read an interview where he said something like, “If you have time to watch TV every day, then you have time to blog every day.”  And while I don’t watch TV every day, I take his point.  I certainly can take the time to post *something* each day, even if it’s not perfect or even that coherent.

So I’m going to try to post one thing each day in January, even if it’s just a photo (I take a picture of something almost every day).

(not sure why these photos are so small.  I’ll try to fix that tomorrow).

Here’s a picture I took yesterday just about dusk, of a lamp post emerging from a nest of London Plane tree roots.

According to this article, 15% of all NYC street trees are London Planes. I wouldn’t be surprised if the percentage is higher in Brooklyn. My neighborhood (Ditmas Park, sometimes called West Flatbush or Midwood) is full of them.

There are London Planes in this pic of my street from the first big snow we had in January of last year.

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation logo features a London Plane tree leaf. Here’s a good example from sign at Coney Island. I think they were repairing the boardwalk.

Well, that’s all for tonight. If you’re reading this, thanks, and See you soon, I hope.

 

“Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”

I have a vision for a hymns record, in which I record a bunch of hymns with some of the kick-ass musicians I’ve had the pleasure of working with in my capacity as music director (worship leader?  I never know what to call myself.  I prefer “music director” cause it sounds less Chris Tomlin-y) at Dwell Church.  My elevator pitch is:  “Fanny Crosby meets Bob Dylan and the Band in West Saugerties.”  Until that record happens (and in preparation), I’m going to record stuff on my iPhone and put it on Soundcloud.

The latest one I did is “Praise to the Lord the Almighty,” with vocals, acoustic guitar, and harmonica.

It’s of one of my favorite hymns, an English version of Joachim Neander’s German chorale “Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren,” published in 1680. The music was probably based on an old folk tune. The text paraphrases Psalm 103 and Psalm 150. (source: Wikipedia).

A Dictionary of Hymnology” lists at least 13 English translations of the text, but the only one I’ve ever heard is the translation by Catherine Winkworth, published in 1863. Apparently Ms. Winkworth inserted a slightly more Victorian ethos into her text (referencing “health” and “work,” where the original author apparently didn’t, and removing his exhortation to awaken the psaltery and harp). Still, she was faithful to the psalms and I think she did a pretty good job. (even though her line “Gladly for aye we adore him” is hard to sing without sounding like a pirate. somebody changed it to “Gladly fore’er we adore him” which isn’t better).

I’ll post her full translation below. She had a couple of dark stanzas (5 and 6) which I only discovered today (after making this recording), having never heard them in 37+ years of singing this hymn. Somehow these stanzas seem richer and more fitting than the others. Given today’s world of persistent unrest and unbridled violence, from Ferguson to Fallujah, I think they ought to be re-inserted. God have Mercy.

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near;
Praise Him in glad adoration.

Praise to the Lord, who over all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen how thy desires ever have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?

Praise to the Lord, who hath fearfully, wondrously, made thee;
Health hath vouchsafed and, when heedlessly falling, hath stayed thee.
What need or grief ever hath failed of relief?
Wings of His mercy did shade thee.

Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee;
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee.
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
If with His love He befriend thee.

Praise to the Lord, who, when tempests their warfare are waging,
Who, when the elements madly around thee are raging,
Biddeth them cease, turneth their fury to peace,
Whirlwinds and waters assuaging.

Praise to the Lord, who, when darkness of sin is abounding,
Who, when the godless do triumph, all virtue confounding,
Sheddeth His light, chaseth the horrors of night,
Saints with His mercy surrounding.

Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him.
Let the Amen sound from His people again,
Gladly for aye we adore Him.

Recorded on my iPhone at home.

42

I’ve been wanting to post here for awhile, and yet corralling my thoughts has not been easy.  I’m trying to learn how to put those perfectionistic tendencies aside and pull the trigger and post.  It’s better than not posting.

Now I gotta restring the guitar and head (schlep, always with the schlepping) to Grand Central station to take a train to Greenwich, CT where a dear person is lending me his car to drive to gigs in Gloucester, MA and Burlington, VT (thank you Dave!).  A quick trip which I’m really looking forward to.

Here’s something I posted on Facebook after a flood of well-wishes on my 42nd birthday May 3rd.

Thanks for checking in here.

Thanks for all the birthday wishes, everybody. 42 felt like a big one for some reason (I guess I have Douglas Adams to blame for that), as it becomes apparent that each year I am considered “young” by fewer and fewer people (evidenced by the young man on the street yesterday who, asking for a light, addressed me as “Papi.”) 

Yesterday I grabbed a CitiBike and rode over the Brooklyn bridge. I parked the bike and walked to the drugstore. 15 minutes later I realized that I had left my jacket in the little basket/doohickey of the bike and raced back to find a young woman rifling through the pockets (looking for an i.d., she said). She handed me my jacket, and, with a sideways Ellen Barkin smile, said “I woulda made off with it, but it isn’t my size.” I chose to believe she was kidding.

In addition to the lovely facebook greetings, I was feted in the evening by real friends, in actual time (and on Fri too). I had buttery mussels and mac and cheese. I didn’t smoke or drink anything harder than a Coke. I went to bed early and alone (save with a good friend and a dog in the house). 

Indeed, each year I have fewer and fewer vices in which to indulge. Still, I have those old persistent standbys: speeding, being late, not paying my taxes, fear, indolence, hopelessness, imbibing from my strange vanity/self-loathing cocktail, losing harmonicas, jackets, glasses, and Faith, and cussin’. I hope to kick each and every one of those habits eventually. (Except for cussin’. I’ll probably always cuss, because I need *something* to remind me that I used to be a rebel). Until those habits are kicked, I will lean on and draw strength from you, my large, far-flung constellation of amazing friends, asking for and hopefully extending grace in return. And I will keep on writin’ and singin’!!! (Also I need to find a manager). 

Thanks for being my friend and family, hope to see you soon,

<3   J

Veteran’s Day Roundup

I’ve been on a real World War Two kick lately, precipitated by an old NPR interview I heard with author Rick Atkinson on the sadly now-defunct “Talk of the Nation” (I miss you, Neal Conan).  Atkinson was talking about his then-new book, “An Army At Dawn,” which discusses the entry of the US Armed forces into World War II, and their deadly sandy slog through North Africa.  I bought it and read it.  Then I read the follow-up volume, “The Day of Battle,” which is about the US Forces’ deadly mountainous trudge up the spine of Italy.  After reading this book, and while awaiting the third volume in the so-called “liberation trilogy,” I realized that, typical American that I am, I didn’t know much about WWII before the Americans got there.  I knew even less about any of the events or political machinations that led up to the war.  Thus I looked for something that could educate me about the very beginning of the whole mess and found a charming little book called “August ’39: The Last Four Weeks of Peace,” by Stephen Howarth, which you can buy from Amazon for 80 cents. Howarth paints portraits of British, German, Russian, Polish, Italian, and French diplomats scurrying to and fro trying to prevent all hell from breaking loose in Europe (with the exception of the Germans and Italians, who were, with a few exceptions, going along with whatever Hitler wanted, which was to loose Hell on Europe as soon as possible).  It’s a fascinating read, although I could do without so many of Howarth’s portraits of “common folk” — fishermen, farmer’s daughters, mail carriers, and schoolboys, who are not as interesting to read about, as, say, Admiral Sir Reginald Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, who must have gotten exhausted introducing himself at parties, as this was before the days of those little white “Hello My Name is” stickers.

Here is an old 18-part radio documentary on WWII.  The music is ponderous and melodramatic but over all it’s really top-drawer stuff.  Good for a roadtrip or a walk by the river.

Lastly, I discovered an fascinating blog and a new obsession: WW2today.com, which reports the war “as it happened, 70 years after the event.”

Time magazine said of this site: “The news at Martin Cherrett’s blog is precisely seventy years out of date — because he’s covering World War II one day at a time, with posts rich in photos, documents and eyewitness accounts. It’s an addictive daily read, and a reminder that even most of us who know how the war turned out are sketchy on many of its details.”

That’s what I’m into lately, y’all.  Happy Veteran’s Day!

(I took some pictures today of some kids who were marching around wearing military uniforms, and of the red white and blue Empire State building, but I can’t find the little thingie that connects my camera to my laptop.  So I’ll add them later).

 

 

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Marblehead, MA 5:41 a.m.

I woke up at 4:00 am today, which is a good thing, because I have to drive to Middlebury VT, about 4 hours away from where I played last night and am now (Marblehead, MA). I’m playing a couple of songs at the Memorial Baptist Church this morning.

I don’t like the adjective “perfect,” cause it’s lazy. “It was a perfect evening.” “The weather was perfect.” Those 2 statements don’t *tell* you anything. Rather you’re expected to read the mind of whoever says such things and assume you know what they think “perfect” means.

That said, the weather yesterday was perfect. The sun seemed like a late afternoon sun all day long, and I got to sit in it and watch the ocean with a friend. My hungry skin drank in all that sun and, staring at that ocean I used to write songs about but don’t anymore, I wondered why I ever left the North Shore. Why the hell would someone choose to live in NYC? (or Jersey City to put a finer point on it). Actually I can answer that, but it’s a good question nonetheless.

Last night I played my first solo show in a while. I missed all the folks I’ve been playing with lately. Toby, out in Ohio, Gerko, back in the Netherlands, and Paul, down in NYC, anticipating shoulder surgery. Paul played bass with me show before last, in NY, and it was fun and comfortable. Paul is a great musician and a super sweet guy. He’s one of those people who sees everything but doesn’t say a lot, so sometimes it’s hard to know what he’s thinking.  I wonder if there’s a great roiling sea of emotions underneath that amiable face.

Anyway, Paul messed up his shoulder falling off a motorcycle so, no Jason-Harrod-bass-playing, or any bass playing, for him for awhile (get better soon, Paul!) so i played last night solo.

And I wanna say more about that, but time is pressing and I must get in the car or drive, or else be late. “Time is a child-biting dog,” says the poet Charles Wright. ow. I can just feel my skin being nipped. nice job Charles, you earned your keep as a poet right there.

Interestingly, Wright describes time as a dog elsewhere. Here for instance:

“And time, black dog, will sniff you out,
and lick your lean cheeks,
And lie down beside you—warm, real close—and will not move.”

Hmm.  So which is it Charles? Is Time going to bite me or curl up beside me and keep me warm?  Make up your mind, man!

here’s another piece of loveliness from Charles Wright, from a 2009 collection called Sestets:

Sundown Blues

There are some things that can’t be conveyed—
description, for instance,
The sundown light on that dog hair lodge pole pine
and the dead branches of spruce trees.

They hold its brilliance close against them
For a tick or two
before it chameleons away. No one is able to describe this gold to bronze to charcoal, no one.
So move along, boy, just move along.

Back

I’m back. After 35 days, 22 shows, 14 states, and 7200 miles, we drove into New York City, exhausted and cheering. I dropped off my stuff, smoked 2 cigarettes even though I don’t smoke (and I mean that), said goodbye to my bandmates/friends, gave the ancient rented brown minivan a good washing, returned it to its owner, took the train back to Jersey City, hurried my sub-letter out the door, and slept. Oh goodness how I slept. I slept my face off as the rain poured on the black asphalt outside. Now the future is a glowing sun on the horizon, and I’m trying to figure out how to grab it and stuff it in my shirt pocket before it sinks.

Thanks to my amazing band/tourmates, Gerko, Rachelle, Paul, Toby, and Joan Marie! Thanks to everyone who hosted, housed, fed, put up with, and came out to hear us.

see you out there.

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(Lion Song, recorded at the Carrboro ArtsCenter, Friday, August 9th, 2013)

(top photo by Emanuel Brunson)

Drivin’

only 2 more dates to go. lots of driving. Durham to Charlotte to Durham to Charlottesville, to Durham to GA. Big trip from GA to NY coming. putting 4,000 miles on a strangers minivan. listening to the right music to stay pumped up: Ke$ha, MIA, Girl Talk, Dixie Dregs, Tom Petty, Rolling Stones, Phil Collins. Phil Collins and Philip Bailey especially, air drums, air guitar. Glowing cell phones in the night, skittles, cigarettes, gummy worms, trying on cowboy hats at the truck stop, looking for zinc, settling for “mentholyptus.” Sleeping in my parent’s basement, my big body splayed out on various sofa cushions. going to bed at 3, waking up at 6 and then at 9, buckets of coffee, ignoring a snarky “review,” trip to Music Loft to replenish harmonicas, good sister and nephew hang time, SHOW TONIGHT!