Tremendous fun I had behind the scenes at the Triple S Alarm stage at Riverfest this weekend. I had the honor of picking up guitar heroes Sonny Landreth and Richard Thompson from the airport, fetching beer for Grease Factor, and stealing deli trays for 4th Avenue Jones. All the artists were excellent players and ego-free performers. This was the stage for the musicians. You can keep your REO Speedwagon, Black Crowes and Wallflowers, give me Richard and Danny Thompson, Sonny Landreth, Jeff Sipe, Shane Theriot, Timmy Shakes, and Gailybird. These are people for whom I would gladly dig out all the light brown M&M’s (not that they would ask me to, because that’s how great they are).

Richard and Danny Thompson (no relation) and their manager Simon were hilarious gents. Stuck in traffic coming back from the airport, the group’s conversational topics took on a very Spinal Tap dimension as Simon narrated the thoughts of a mockingbird hopping from car to car: “I think I’ll have a poop on this one now.” Also discussed were the vicissitudes of being a bail bondsman: “not a lot of work in the afternoons, really.”

As a musician I had a field day getting tips on slide playing from Sonny Landreth (the absolute master of the craft, in my book), pentatonic licks from Shane Theriot (the guy who won Dweezil Zappa’s guitar solo contest a couple years back), counterpoint ideas from Richard Thompson, and listening recommendations from Jeff Sipe. Oh, and pointers on the proper pronunciation of “half and half” from Danny Thompson: “auff and auff.” And to think it was all for the low, low price of absolutely free. All I had to do was stand around, drive a golf cart or a van, and get more beer for Johnny Neel[1].

The weather was unpredictable, as Friday gave us a scare with a good hour of downpour before clearing up just in time for Brave Combo. Saturday was unspeakably fantastic, with furry seeds raining down like snow. Sunday was overcast but the rain didn’t start until the final set. Trooper that he is, Sonny Landreth just kept on playing. Fortunately the brief storm was not electrical.

Good times. And to think I owe it all to my obsessive knowledge of musicians – I got this job through my friend Randall, who I met at a record convention when he asked a dealer who all was in Frank Zappa’s 1988 band, and I just started rattling off the names[2].

1) Johnny, though blind, hears everything. And since Grease Factor’s music is mostly improvised, he will make up his vocals as he goes. I had mentioned that the food out front was all good, but that the burgers were pretty bad. So, later while he’s onstage playing, he’s riffing on Little Rock and what he’s heard about it, “come to Little Rock, stay away from the cheeseburgers.”

2) Mike Keneally, Scott Thunes, Ike Willis, Chad Wackerman, Kurt McGettrick, Walt Fowler, Bruce Fowler, Ed Mann, etc. etc. I only know this because Frank introduces everyone on the first track of Make a Jazz Noise Here, the first or second Frank album I ever bought. That track was “Stinkfoot.”

Your All Fool’s

The Apostrophe Protection Society has a neat selection of photos showing improper apostrophe usage. If they really wanted to become huge, I’m sure they could align themselves with all the photobloggers and Flickr enthusiasts to start a truly massive archive but they’re content to stay small. They also take the time to school people on the dinstinction between “less” and “fewer” which my mother pointed out to me just the other day.

This Is Where I’m From, #3

In what’s slowly becoming a continuing series on this blog (click here for #1, here for #2), I offer a link to The Guardian‘s article on a Creation Museum in Eureka Springs, near my hometown of Harrison.

This new museum prominently features dinosaurs, thus reversing the earlier God-as-Merry-Prankster paradigm of Creationism, wherein God planted fossils throughout the planet as a way to challenge the faith of his beloved children. This new version presents Adam and Eve as Fred and Wilma Flintstone, living side by side with dinosaurs.

More Sithy Comments

From Heath via the The New Yorker, who described the Star Wars saga as:

“a morality tale in which both sides are bent on moral cleansing, and where their differences can be assuaged only by a triumphant circus of violence.”

Find me a heroic epic in the history of the world that isn’t a violent morality tale. Besides, applying the same standards of intellectual criticism to Star Wars as one would any other motion picture is somewhat like deconstructing the Brothers Grimm or Santa Claus. Trix are for kids; there are things that should not be taken so seriously, and that goes for the fanboys as well as the critics. Ding that, get a f@cking life, Skippy.

And to the startlingly elitist, effete author of that review in The New Yorker, who referred to Lucas’ work as “an art of flawless and irredeemable vulgarity,” I simply say, “well, duh.” Of course Star Wars is common and uncultivated in its sentiments. It’s the 21st Century equivalent of going to the circus: one goes to see strange, new things and feats of amazing skill, not for subtlety or nuance. Few things are as vulgar as the circus (Cirque du Soleil the notable exception), but if you can’t enjoy the circus, then you’re just a little less of a human being for it. I also take much exception to the “unredeemable” part. Star Wars gives children a far better morality play than anything else I was exposed to as a child, and this new trilogy attempts to illustrate the roots of evil: attachment, pride, greed. It gives kids a break from simplistic Western notions of good and evil and delivers a healthy dose of Eastern thought into their malleable minds. I defy you to find a better epic morality play for young people.

Interesting Things About Drilling in Alaska

Here are some things I discovered in The Week today about the drilling that will most likely go on in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) soon:

  • “The oil will most likely not go to the U.S. Because the global oil market knows no national boundaries, oil is usually shipped to the most convenient market…probably to Japan, Korea, and other Asian markets.”
  • “Most of the big companies are dubious whether it will prove economically rewarding to pump oil in ANWR…Chevron Texaco, British Petroleum, and Conoco Phillips have stopped paying Artic Power, ANWR’s leading pro-drilling lobbying group; Exxon Mobil still contributes, but only minimally. ‘No oil company really cares about ANWR,’ one Bush administration official told The New York Times. ‘If the government gave them leases for free, they wouldn’t take them.'”

WTF? Why the hell are we doing this thing if not to help ease our reliance on foreign oil? Who benefits from this if even Big Oil isn’t excited about it? Who is pushing for this and why? This is seriously freaking me out.

Worst. Review. Ever.

Here with a special commentary on Salon’s review of Revenge of the Sith, please welcome Comic Book Guy!

Comic Book Guy
Thank you, Colter. Today I want to explain how so very wrong the normally delightful Ms. Stephanie Zacharek at Salon is about the 3rd Chapter in the Star Wars trilogy. Her primary complaint seems to be that the film rails against an absolutist black/white worldview while presenting only the simplest of dualistic characters and arguments. If Ms. Zacharek would pay closer attention, she would see that what George Lucas is trying to do is show how evil becomes evil. Evil does not simply arrive and say “hello, I’m Evil, I will be your enemy today.” No, it starts somewhere: a little boy corrupted by his own inadequacies, mother issues, and slimy surrogate father. If she wants to complain about a sci-fi/fantasy film being too reliant on good vs. evil dualities, then she should look at the overly applauded Lord of the Rings films. Why is Sauron so evil? It doesn’t matter – he just is. Now THAT’s simplistic [1].

Another problem she has, and that many reviewers have, is her insistence that this film takes swipes at the Bush administration. This film has been in the works since the 1970’s – how prescient can George Lucas be? If there are similarities between Palpatine and Bush II, then they are simply coincidental. Keep your leftist interpretations to yourself, young missy. You, like Castro, probably saw Jaws as a pro-Marxist statement.

Ordinarily I quite like Ms. Zacharek’s works, but here I find her off base and out of touch with the true audience for this film: children and Jedis such as myself. She would do well to stick to reviewing arty pretentious girlie films like Amelie and The Hours.

1) Of course, true Tolkien fans know that Sauron was corrupted by Melkor and became his most trusted lieutenant in the Wars of Beleriand, but that’s beside the point.

On the Fragmentation of Popular Culture

We now have an official zeitgeisty term for what the Internet brings to advertising/marketing and popular culture, The Long Tail. Where previously all forms of commercial creativity (be it movies, music, advertising, TV, etc.) were aimed at attracting the most people by appealing to the widest audience (the head), the Internet offers the ability to cater to the multifarious niche markets that pervade the periphery of our culture (the tail). In many ways, the traditional limitations of distribution can be done away with altogether: books need never go out of print, obscure movies need no longer gather dust (or get incinerated by savage evildoing behemoths). Ebay is the biggest example of Long Tail thinking – where else would you find a hideously rare Ibanez RB Jem? Only a few hundred were made and probably only a few hundred people would even care.

One of the biggest ramifications of this concept is the potential for breakdown in our popular culture. Not many people are old enough to remember the days before radio and television united us in a shared cultural experience[1]. Culture was previously more regionally derived[2]. Now, perhaps culture will be more individually determined. People with shared interests will be able to connect with each other more easily based on their own likes and dislikes. I’m seeing it even now as I have made new friends based entirely on our connection to this movie. I’m not saying pop culture will die out, but it will likely decline; a best case scenario would be that the stuff that survives will suck far less than the usual crap that’s handed out these days.

1) That statement sits somewhere between generous overstatement and hilarious irony.
2) For better or worse, this is probably why there are fewer barn dances these days.

Here’s an Unlikely Sentence

My brother had dinner last night with Jim Nabors.

Actually Jim (aka Gomer Pyle for those of you too young to know) was at the next table for a birthday dinner in honor of James “Dan-O” MacArthur of Hawaii Five-O fame. They needed someone to take a picture of the group, so my brother obliged.

This month my brother is in Hawaii, my dad is in Europe, and my mom and sister will be in New Zealand. When’s my turn?


The Alan Lomax Archive is now online. Well, most of it is. Well, 40 second cuts of most recordings are available. More is on the way. In case you’re not aware, Alan Lomax was the world’s leading field recording archivist. He has been all over the world recording the sounds and music of planet Earth in the mid 20th century. From prison field hollers in Mississippi to Moroccan spirituals, Lomax amassed an important library of historical audio. Naturally I’m partial to the Arkansas and Mississppi recordings. If you’re the type of person who enjoyed the period music of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? or Moby’s Play, then by all means sign up for a free account and log into the database.