Today I met up in Times Square with my friend Jody, whom I’ve known for 15 years. It’s the first time we’ve seen each other outside Washington State, where I go often on tour. After some initial scrambling around trying to find his colleague a place to charge her phone — scrambling which involved being seated in and perusing the menu of an Applebees, JOdy and I found a place to settle in and just talk. He was a sight for sore eyes, and it reminded me of all the great times I’ve had playing in Washington State — particularly in the State Parks, where Jody was a Ranger. Sometimes people ask me if touring is lonely, but in fact the opposite is true. When I’m tour I’m less lonely than when I’m at home, because I’m usually staying with and hanging out with friends or friends of friends. It’s one of the reasons I love being on tour, and one of the reasons it’s hard to come home.
Today was the day of the women’s march(es) in Washington and other places. I’m proud of my friends and family who went, who made signs, who got out of the house and marched. I’m also a little regretful that I didn’t go. I saw a lot of women, and some men, carrying signs on the subway. “Love Trumps Hate,” “Women’s Rights are Human Rights,” “Yuge Mistake,” and lots of signs riffing off the “P” word that is recently in the news thanks to the President. My favorite poster was a cartoon of Donald Trump being chased down the street by a rolling-pin-wielding Statue of Liberty.
Yeah so Donald Trump became president. I’m still a little stunned by that, and have a hard time believing that it’s an actual thing that happened, and not an element in the the plot of some movie in which someone goes back in time and inadvertently alters the future (Whoops, Donald Trump is president! Better go back and Fix it, McFly.) I was very vocal in my dismay over Trump on Facebook last year, and now I’m out of things to say. I feel a bit numb about it, but also am trying to practice acceptance, and am allowing myself some hope that it won’t be as bad as we think. I’m sure I will write more about this later. For now I’m going to go fall asleep while reading short stories. Oh yeah, I’m taking a fiction writing course! More on that later, too. Good night.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.