This Blog Is Closed.

So it’s not just me. When your favorite blogger says the blog is dead, at least you know you’re not alone.

For the purposes of documentation for the year 2013, I should say that this year has been probably the best year of my life, so it comes as something of a surprise that it’s the least documented year on this blog. Most importantly, I’ve gotten married. We had a lovely wedding party (pictures coming soon). We also went on a delightful honeymoon road trip.

Once upon a time I was quoted as saying “You have to have a life in the first place, in order to blog about it.” A caveat to this, I’ve discovered, is that once life accelerates, there simply isn’t much time to stop and document it. And life is about to accelerate even more.

Life Moves Pretty Fast

So a lot has happened. And every time I tell myself I’m going to sit down and update the blog to recap life events for my own future reference (which is basically the entire purpose of this blog, one that Facebook Timeline seems bent on demolishing), I find myself actively avoiding writing of any kind. Maybe it’s a passing phase, what with all the activity around here (Girlfriend moving in! Band rehearsals! Losing my job! Getting a new one!), but I find myself documenting my life less with words and more with photos (thanks, Instagram). I also find myself wondering about things less, and that was a primary reason for blogging in the beginning. It’s entirely possible that I’ve just figured most things out, I suppose. Anyway, here are the highlights of the last 10 months:

I have a few other bits of writing I need to finish up so hopefully the gap between blog entries won’t be quite so massive as the previous one.

Adventures in Jury Duty

No one seems to like jury duty. It interrupts peoples’ work schedules, certainly, but there seems to be more to it than that – the drudgery of dealing with randomly assembled people, the formal and vaguely threatening institutional setting, the paperwork, the bureaucracy. I don’t know if these things don’t bother me much because I’m generally fascinated by novel societal experiences or because my dad was a judge.

I was summoned to the Brooklyn Supreme Court building last Thursday at 8:30 a.m. As I exited the subway station, I was asked for directions by a guy looking for 320 Jay Street, my very same destination, so we walked together toward the courthouse. He was another prospective juror, a sharp-dressed black dude in a thick cream-colored sweater and Timberlands, named David. We exchanged ideas for getting exempted from jury service and generally commiserated as we entered the building and went through security.

We entered a large room on the second floor filled with rows of seats like pews but made of vinyl. We watched a spectacularly low-budget orientation video featuring historical re-enactments of medieval justice: a group of people in robes and rags tie up an accused person and toss him into a river to see if he floats. Then Ed Bradley from 60 Minutes circa 1992 came on and welcomed us to the world of the US justice system. Perry Mason clips were shown, after which Diane Sawyer appeared, explaining that courtrooms are seldom the high-drama arenas that we see in movies and on television.

The combination of the institutional setting and the irresistibly mockable video meant that I naturally reverted by small degrees to my smartass high school self. After the video, David and I joked around with a guy next to us (I didn’t get his name so I’ll just call him DJ Premier because he looked a lot like DJ Premier) about what might disqualify us: language difficulties, backward caps (Premier had his cocked to the side), hoodies, the sincere principles of our Amish-Rastafarian religious beliefs (Premier later remarked that it might be troublesome that his laptop smelled like weed).

The jury room was a terrific cross-section of New York City. Every archetype was present: Old Hasidic Jewish guy? Check. Three-piece suit dude? Check. Confused Asian and Caribbean ladies who didn’t understand much of what was being said? Check. Starbucks laptop guy doing graphic design work? Check. Rotund ladies with impeccable nails and hair of questionable authenticity? Check.

After a Cheese Danish and terrible coffee, I heard my name called, along with David’s, so we both went to the next room for a roll-call before heading up to the 19th floor along with our group of about 30 or so people.

The 19th floor had a nice view, so David and I stood by the window and talked. He’s 39, with a wife and four boys in Brownsville, and he works as a property manager in Queens. Originally from the island of Dominica in the Virgin Islands, he moved to New York when he was 10. We talked about moving from a rural area to the big city, the state of NY public schools, the real estate market, and raising kids in the city. Brownsville, for those who don’t know, is one of the rougher parts of Brooklyn, and David mentioned a local kid was recently shot in a domestic dispute. So he’s looking into moving the family elsewhere.

We were all called into the courtroom for an initial introduction to the attorneys and the case. The defendant was accused of assault and robbery of a livery cab driver at knifepoint. The briefing was short, as it was already 12:45, so we were dismissed for lunch. David and I went to a pizza place, where we talked about music, in particular the decline of popular hip-hop. He spoke a little bit about New York City in 1982 though the crack era of the late 80s/early 90s, and how his father disapproved of rap music, and how much fun hip-hop used to be then compared to today. He’s the disapproving father these days, as the genre has descended into empty materialism. David didn’t get to see many shows in the 80s, but when I mentioned that I had been to Brownsville last summer to see Special Ed play Summerstage, he said that he once went to a car auction with Special Ed back in the day!

Back at the courthouse, we sat around listening to the dude with the loud earbuds (check!) leaking out tunes by Sade and Journey before we were all called back into the courtroom. Twenty folks were chosen for the initial round of inquiry; David was chosen but I was not. Each one was asked their name, job, living arrangement, neighborhood, criminal history (“have you or anyone close to you been the victim of a crime?”), and whether or not they could be impartial to the case, irrespective of any personal connections to crimes, livery cab drivers, or the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant where the alleged crime took place. It felt something like an AA meeting – getting to know strangers and their personal lives.

The rest of us were dismissed and later told that we would not be needed. We returned to the main jury room on the second floor. The time was around 4 p.m., so everyone in the room was told they could leave. Our obligation was over, and we would not be eligible for summons for another 6 years.

While most folks were all but celebrating their dismissal, I have to say I was kind of looking forward to the job. I was also bummed out by the fact that I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to David (and he doesn’t seem to be on Facebook). Looks like I’ll never know how it turned out for the knife-wielding suspect from Bed-Stuy. It’s probably just as well. Dude looked so guilty.

Sometimes Your Instincts Are Wrong

My birthday falls on St. Patrick’s Day. This would be fantastic if I were the sort of person who enjoys the many drunken activities that police officers file under the category of “disorderly conduct.” Maybe I’m just getting old, but St. Patrick’s Day seems to get less fun each year as more and more people have taken it as an excuse for binge drinking. It feels like one big frat party now. Ordinarily I’m insulated from the holiday by my annual trips to South by Southwest, where everyone is too busy listening to bands to get mercilessly hammered, or even notice that March 17th is a holiday.

So it was with some reluctance that I went downtown to Little Rock’s River Market (epicenter of public drinking) on St. Patrick’s Day to see my old college chum Hayes Carll play a show at Rev Room. It was a good show as usual, but I was really tired after a long day (friend’s wedding at which I was an usher/golf cart driver and then cousin’s BBQ afterward) so I left a little early. Walking back toward the Clinton Library where I had parked my rental car, I came up behind a girl having some trouble walking. She would veer into the wall of the Courtyard Hotel and rebound. I passed her, and I was about to round the last corner to the Clinton Library when I looked back and saw her attempting to get into her car. Fortunately she had become temporarily trapped in the game of drop keys-pick up-keys-drop-phone-pick-up-phone-drop keys, which gave me the time to ask myself if I was going to let this happen. Was I going to walk away? My instincts said to let her fate play itself out by her actions, but after 36 years on this Earth, I’ve discovered that my first instincts are generally wrong.

So I talked to her. I asked her if she needed help or if she had anyone she could call for a ride. She said she had tried to call people but no one was picking up, and her brother had abandoned her about an hour before; she had no idea where he was and it was likely that he was even further gone than she was. Neither of us knew any cab phone numbers or anything, so I offered her a ride home.

Naturally, she lived in Conway (a half-hour drive for you non-Arkansans). To make her feel better about being driven home by a total stranger, I told her I was staying with my sister in Vilonia, so it wouldn’t be too far out of my way (my sister lives Jacksonville). I also said not to worry about the degree of the favor – I told her about my birthday and how I was accustomed to the services that St. Patrick’s Day often requires. So I helped her to my car and off we went.

I’ll leave out her name, but she was a 27-year-old single mother of a 5-year-old with a “douchebag” ex living in Mayflower. She had been working at a local healthcare facility but couldn’t continue there because she’d have had to work some night shifts. This would be impossible for her, as her uncooperative ex would not take his child for any longer than the agreed-upon two weekends per month (he was at least, it should be noted, a dutiful payer of child support). She was considering going back to school for nursing, but the single-parent-with-douchey-ex lifestyle made that tricky. She couldn’t rely on her parents’ assistance, as both of them had died within the last two years (father from alcoholism, mother from a heart attack). Also making her employment difficult was her 6-year probation sentence for “possession of an instrument of crime” (specifically, rolling papers – one of the most egregiously nebulous charges available to law enforcement). So at this point I realized that not only did I prevent the disastrous consequences of her having an accident, but I also prevented her from getting a DUI which would have further complicated her already unnecessarily complex life. Perhaps the most likely outcome for her situation, though, would have been her sitting alone, in the dark parking lot, underneath the freeway – also a scenario best avoided.

She insisted she had not been this drunk in a very long time, as she only drank “once in a blue moon.” She seemed quite shamed by the situation. Her brother, a legitimate criminal miscreant on probation for terroristic threatening, had vanished during the evening’s festivities and eventually did call her; we were already as far as Morgan by then so he was SOL on getting home. Lesson learned: don’t go drinking in Little Rock if you live in Conway and haven’t planned for someone reasonably sober to get you home.

Additional important tip for this sort of thing: get your passenger’s address into your smart phone and map to it beforehand, just in case your passenger passes out. My fear early on was that I would be saddled with a sleeper. But she stayed coherent all the way back to her apartment in Conway, conveniently located close to the Hendrix campus so I didn’t have to worry about navigating any unfamiliar streets at night. I helped her to the door and she gave me a hug. She was probably as bewildered as I was that somebody would lend such a big hand to a total stranger.

Another St. Patrick’s Day, another year older, but for once I feel like I’ve actually grown a little. I’m generally a “no” person, so overcoming my instinct to leave things alone was a big step for me. I’m fairly certain I helped someone avoid a terrible fate, and an hourlong drive at 12 a.m. after a long day is a small price to pay for doing The Right Thing. Thanks, Saint Patrick, wherever you are.

Ode to a Guitar Shop

Recently I was informed that an old acquaintance of mine had died. Fred was a salesguy at the now-defunct Sigler Music Center in Little Rock who made me a great deal on my trusty Fender Eric Johnson strat. I bought it at their going-out-of-business sale, which reminded me of all the great guitar shops in Central Arkansas that are no more: Boyd Pro Sound, Atomic Guitars, Stonehenge (I & II), Starr’s Guitars, Music City, Maumelle Music. I thought it might be good if I wrote down a little about each of them while the memories are still relatively fresh.

Boyd Pro Sound. The oldest, the best. This was Little Rock’s hometown music store for decades. In addition to guitars and band instruments it was the main repair shop and PA store. My history with the store is limited; I don’t think I ever bought any guitars there, but I know that it was the hub for all the gigging musicians, church groups, and audio production people. I fondly recall impressing Mr. Boyd once with my guitar rendition of Aaron Copland’s “Hoe Down.” He was a traditional pianist of some renown and I got the feeling he had an uneasy relationship with the young guitar monkeys in his store.

The circumstances of the store’s demise still seem strange to me – Mr. Boyd closed up shop to sell the space to a nearby church, then opened up a branch of Sigler Music Center a year or so later. Alas, the store opened at nearly the precise moment Guitar Center arrived, so it only lasted a few years.

Stonehenge. The place your metalhead cousin learned to shred. Or play “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” There were two Stonehenges, one in North Little Rock and one in Little Rock down on Geyer Springs Road. Finding the latter location was initially a process of trial and error for me – I could never remember how to get there. But this was the store with the Ibanez and Jackson guitars. This was the Guitar Monkey Store. This was where I bought my first seven-string, a white Ibanez Universe that languished in the store apparently for years. I bought it around 1995 I think, and it was a 1990 model. Nobody knew what to do with a seven-string back then; Korn hadn’t hit it big yet. A year later their rise to prominence unleashed a tidal wave of seven- and now eight-string guitars onto the market.

Atomic Guitars. My neighborhood shop. I can’t tell you the many joys of a sunny day’s walk of a few blocks from my apartment to Atomic Guitars. Johnny Adams always had the coolest retro/vintage gear, and not just the expensive stuff – he had weird cheap gear as well. I bought a red 70s Kay strat from him for something like $80 once. Good guitar. I gave it to a friend a few years later. I think I also got my Fender Deluxe amp there. Atomic was really the only store that had a funky vibe to it, and that’s a tribute to Johnny’s style and interests – it was his store. It took a few years before I realized how rare that is in this world. Here are some pics from my old photoblog from way back when. Atomic lives on virtually, so visit the website.

Starr’s Guitars. The Money Store. David Starr moved his operation up to Colorado after a few years in Little Rock’s River Market. It was the place to go if you wanted high-end, off-the-beaten path guitars like Godin, Brian Moore, or PRS. If you wanted a limited edition Turner Lindsay Buckingham model, he had one. Starr’s was new when I moved to town around 1999, and David ran ads on KARN Newsradio, where I had my first “real” job, post-college. I remember some mornings the late great Bob Harrison would be on the air with his Hofner Beatle bass in hand, reading ad copy for Starr’s during the morning show. Starr’s also hosted guitar repair legend Tim Quatermous (I’m probably spelling that wrong), who probably worked on every one of my guitars at some point. After Starr’s left, Tim moved over to Romco Drums before he passed away. And for awhile David ran a small music venue next door to the shop – I remember seeing some great shows there by folks like Ed Nicholson’s Outside the Lines and Chapman Stick player Greg Howard.

Music Makers. The suburbs store. They had some good guitars but I don’t have any real strong memories from here. I remember they had a cool Robin guitar for years that was always in the store but always beyond my price range or anyone else’s interest.

Music City. The Pawn Shop. There was a Music City back behind the Brandon House building on 12th at University and I think it eventually became the Music City out in Sherwood, which was really just a pawn shop with a lot of guitars. A lot of awesome guitars; in fact this was probably my favorite store to venture out to because all their inventory was used gear, and used gear is just consistently more interesting to me than new gear. Lots of great 80s relics – I remember almost buying a Steve Stevens Washburn there once. I did buy a $300 Epiphone Joe Pass from them. They’re in a new building in Sherwood by the freeway but every time I go by there, they’re never open. I wonder what the deal is.

Maumelle Music & More. My store. I taught guitar here for a few years between 2000 & 2004. When I moved to Little Rock in 1999, I’d heard a music store had opened up in the bedroom suburb of Maumelle. I went to check it out – it had a big selection of CDs, some t-shirts and they were a dealer for Ibanez, Alvarez and Crate. After picking around on a guitar for a bit, I was asked by the manager, Mike, if I’d be interested in teaching lessons. It worked out really well for me, because my radio gig was part-time. I’d work at KARN from 9 to noon, then teach from 4 to 7. When I left radio, I was part time at Epoch Online before I eventually moved up to fulltime. I still keep up with some of those kids.

Romco Drums. The drum shop with some acoustic guitars. The fact that this store is able to stay open dealing mainly in percussion is impressive. I took jazz guitar lessons there briefly with Perry Israel.

Saied Music. The high school band store. Some decent guitars, but mainly this is the store for the brass and woodwinds.

There was a store up in Sherwood in the early 2000s run by Randy Boyd – anybody remember the name? I used to go up there every so often.

I suppose I should say a few words about what killed these shops. It would be easy to just say “Guitar Center,” but the Internet and eBay are major factors as well. When any kid can try out a guitar at a store and then go buy it online for a lower price, that really hurts a store. It’s not digital-music-killing-record-stores damage, but it’s the 1 of a 1-2 punch. Punch 2 is Guitar Center, the Walmart of music stores. Any exclusive dealership contract a mom and pop store might have is effectively negated by Guitar Center’s special arrangements with every company. Their corporate pyramid also contains the website/catalog behemoth Musician’s Friend and several instrument companies like Fender (at the top of the pyramid? Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital), so financially it’s the Death Star of retail musical instrument stores. Only the small-town stores will survive (which is why I haven’t mentioned Jacksonville Guitar, still going strong), at least until Guitar Center decides to go everywhere that Walmart goes, or Walmart decides to carry a wider array of musical instruments. Or Walmart eats Guitar Center.

It should be said, though, that music stores are only as good as the people who run them. It’s really about people. A lot of sales guys in Little Rock had no place else to go but Guitar Center, so if I have a buddy at a Guitar Center, I’ll still buy from him if he’s got what I’m looking for (of course, given the choice, I will first order from GuitarSmiths in Harrison, not that I buy much gear brand new). I remember Little Rock’s Guitar Center being fun in the early days – I’ll never forget that time some kid was wailing on “Eruption” and Cody Short picked up the intercom and said “hey kid, can you play ’Eruption’”? Classic.

I’ll miss the Saturdays I used to spend in Little Rock going from guitar store to guitar store, talking to guys like Fred, seeing what’s new and what’s on sale. It’s something our culture will never get back, like retail record stores or cathedrals made by stonemasons. We gain convenience and low, low prices, but for everything we gain, we always lose something.

1,001 Meandering Blog Posts

The unicorn photo down the page represents my 1,000th blog entry. I admit posting photos from my phone is a lazy excuse for a blog entry, but cut me some slack. I’ve been doing this thing since 2003. I’ve been using WordPress so long, I’ve spurred innovation by complaining to Heath about the need for a better archiving solution, which he promptly wrote. Currently 16,718 downloads and counting.

Recently I asked Heath if he could develop a random entry RSS feed, and of course he did that as well[1]. See the third section in the sidebar on your right. So now you have an entirely new way to enjoy this blog by being randomly presented with deep cuts from the vault. At the risk of implicating myself as a narcissist, I have to confess it’s been very enjoyable to read my younger self. Many, many things I’ve forgotten, so coming across something like this entry broke my heart a little – that was 2006?!

So I’ve resolved to get back to writing more here. On the plane to Austin last month I thought of a great excuse to write: perfect songs. Lately as I’ve been meeting lots of new people and making mix CDs for them, I’ve discovered I have a library of songs I often use in mix discs for new friends. I should write about these songs. I might even be able to write about a song a day for a good long time.

Another reason to write more is to step up my game. I’ve been pestering my friend Molly to write more, and lo and behold her blog has not only exploded with delightful material, but a recent entry of hers went so far as to get picked up by and Andrew Sullivan! Understand that Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish is my CNN, so when I saw her name on his blog this week, my head exploded into candy. I’ll never write something worthy of The Dish. It’s just not what’s in my bag. Still, it’s inspiring. We’ll see what I make of it.

1.) Heath is the Mark Zuckerberg to my Winklevoss twins.

Dogsitting, Illnesses, Slayer and Cupcakes

The dog whose picture appears in the previous post belongs to my friend Brooke. I spent the weekend dogsitting for her in her loft in DUMBO. For the past week I’ve been sitting at about 75% power due to a cold, so I wasn’t able to go out and do anything for the weekend. I took the dog on some walks around DUMBO and Vinegar Hill and watched movies (The Hurt Locker, Sherlock Holmes, Adventureland again). The weather was so nice I was bummed I couldn’t do more with it, but it’s better than being totally ill. As it is I’m just tired and blurry. No nasal or throat symptoms, thanks to Zicam.

But Friday I sucked it up enough to go see Slayer/Megadeth/Anthrax out on Long Island with Caroline. We had such a great time being complete idiots; we were a two-person mosh pit, pushing each other around, using each other as air guitars, headbanging – it was therapeutic. I had to rent a car[1] just to get us out there after work, and we still missed Anthrax. The best part was after the show everybody is walking out chanting “Slayer! Slayer!” and Caroline and I pass by a cupcake stand (first of all WTF? cupcakes?) so she starts chanting “cupcake! cupcake!” and I join in louder, and we get a bunch of people chanting it, too. Then I bought us cupcakes and we drove home.

It’s probably the best concert experience I’ve had all year.

1.) Thankfully I have a friend who works at Enterprise, so he got me a great deal for an overnight car rental.

Facebook Killed the Blogging Star

A combination of factors leads me to wonder if this blog will survive the transitions churning daily in my life and in the world of technology:

1. Facebook satisfies my urge to pass along photos, links and smartass commentary. More people are on it than will ever be on this blog, and everything on that platform is so much more convenient to use for all involved.

2. I’m writing less. I find myself with fewer things to ponder as I get older. Rarely do I find thoughts that require developing and fleshing out. Maybe my brain is drying out with age and Facebook is forcing me into compressing my creativity to fit their bite-sized spaces; or maybe I’ve just got more things figured out.

3. I’m using Flickr more often; tracking the days of my life visually rather than in text. I even started a Tumblr because it’s so easy to post photos directly from my phone. Perhaps WordPress has some new tool for aggregating activity across Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, etc., that I can implement to keep this space useful. I’ll do some digging. Or maybe someone out there can tell me? Basically I’d like WordPress to do what Tumblr does – aggregate anything link-based: a YouTube favorite, a photo upload from my phone, an article, a Flickr photo.

Maybe I just need to use WordPress to do monthly summaries of everything. A Best-Of repository. Stay tuned.