Things I learned from the Billboard Music Awards

by Steve, May 23rd, 2011

  • Beyonce is friggin’ amazing. A show biz juggernaut at 29.
  • If you ain’t got much going on musically (Pitbull), hire some Vegas show girls to wiggle and strut.
  • If you got musical bona fides (Cee Lo Green), they gonna put you on a flying piano and flip you upside down while you sing a full version of an Al Green song and a truncated version of the censored version of your own smash hit. Ain’t that some shh…?
  • Brittney Spears is making a play to stay relevant, but I didn’t stay up long enough to see it. (From what I heard on the radio, she’s working hard to sound like Ke$ha.) DJ, turn it up…
  • thanked the thousands of software engineers and technicians who make it possible for him to perform and be a mega star. Cuz god knows the man can’t sing without auto-tune.
  • Fergie who?
  • Did I mention Beyonce is friggin’ AMAZING?

Also, did I mention my entire summer is being planned around pop culture events? Or that my tween daughter isn’t entirely comfortable with me becoming familiar with current pop music? Or that I can’t get Katy Perry’s weird Extraterrestrial out of my head? Take me, tay-tay-take me….

Enough… I gotta go listen to some vintage Nuyorican to cleanse my palate.

Bach Musette for clarinet quartet

by Steve, March 13th, 2011

E on 1st and 3rd, me on 2nd and 4th. This is our “rough take” baseline so we can see how we progress after some rehearsal. (E just started playing clarinet in September.) Please support music education for all students, taught by certified teachers as an academic subject, for credit.

[audio:Bach Musette.mp3]

A visual ode to musical wood

by Steve, October 10th, 2010

The sympathetic vibration of wood has brought me great pleasure on this plane. Even though its first purpose is aural, there is great visual beauty in a finely purposed slab of wood. Herewith is a photo appreciation.

Do me a favor; if you’re interested in these photos, view full screen. (After you press the play button, click on the little four-arrows icon in the lower right corner.)

My pensieve

by Steve, September 15th, 2010

Life is funny and time is fleet of foot.

Twenty-one years ago, I moved to Oregon with a band of hippies, trying to make my living playing the bass and singing country- and reggae-hued psychedelia.

That band broke up soon after we disembarked from the ’63 Chevy Step-Van in Portland, and life took me through some twists and turns, including work in the colorful world of organic produce and stints as a band instrument repair man, sheet music sales clerk, and side man in a tex mex band.

After about eight years of mix and match, scraping the rent together somehow or another, I got engaged and decided I needed a career with a future. I retired the axe and got a cubicle job shuffling bits on computers, and dedicated myself to raising my two children. When they hit school, I got ridiculously entrenched in school politics and citizen journalism, which eventually spilled over into way too much civic involvement. I also got back into skating and started playing a lot of pickup hockey, which I likened to music in many ways.

After deciding the City of Portland and Portland Public Schools are hopelessly anti-child, we moved to the suburbs, where it was decided I should withdraw from politics and return to my music.

The funny thing about my brain is that while I present as well-adjusted, I’m a little OCD. I’ve had a couple of unfinished songs going through my mind for nearly 20 years. So even though I had veered into cumbia, salsa and Latin jazz when I dropped my musical career on its head thirteen years ago, I was unable to get back to that without first going back further and purging my mind of the country- and reggae-flavored songs from the early 90s.

I set up my studio with a Macintosh and started using it as my pensieve (for you non-Harry Potter devotees, a pensieve is a place to store memories, thus uncluttering one’s mind).

First to be extracted and stored away was “Falling off the Mountain,” a song I started writing with my friend Tony on Thanksgiving circa 1990 while hiking and camping in Oregon’s Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness. I’m not much for lyrics, and Tony never did send me that second verse. So, as they say, “last verse, same as the first!”


It’s like magic… that song doesn’t go through my head anymore since I’ve committed it to bits!

Next up was a little flat-picking ditty I started writing after seeing Doc Watson at the Melody Ballroom, also in 1990, I think. It was right after Totem Soul broke up after our acoustic trio (the Holistic Ramblers) had a gig from hell at Portland’s Laurelthirst Public House.

Nancy‘s always saying she likes country music “cuz the men are always sorry and the women are always leaving.” With that in mind, I wrote a second verse and pulled “The Dark Desert Sky” out of my head and deposited it in the pensieve.


Now that those are out of my system, I want to write some stuff in this vein:

Banda Brothers (Ramon and Tony and friends) playing “Dime Caridad” (by trombonist/arranger/composer Francisco Torres) from their most excellent album Acting Up.

It’s amazing how much time I have, now that I’m not researching and writing in-depth exposes and going to school board meetings, urban planning meetings, community meetings and rallies. Now I can help my daughter discover the joy of wind instruments and ensemble playing. If you want to see me now, I’ll see you in the band room (not the board room), clarinet in hand.

Fun with machine translation

by Steve, September 10th, 2010

When I wrote about Bob Dylan’s concert in Troutdale, Ore., I got an unexpected link from a Dylan fan site… Bam! Our server got the most hits in one day since the days we used to write about stupid stripedy clothes-wearing white people and their penchant for trying to start charter schools rather than send their precious spawn to school with poor, black and/or Spanish speaking kids.

Anyway, that was interesting, but also interesting was when a Japanese Dylan fan site picked up my post and excerpted it in Japanese. I don’t speak Japanese, so I’ll assume the person who translated it did a decent job, and isn’t responsible for the hilarious machine translation back to the English:

It Is not You, Babe
This man, funny shit.

Come on people rose in Mellencamp started playing. We were just like my DMZ. Mellencamp while playing, but we were sitting, but started to stand in front of you. The screaming started throwing ice cubes on your back then. hit lesbian couples wearing torn chunks of ice that had preceded. they are whining because people are standing before. I I thought it would sit for two more songs about Sume, she would not. “Hey! Wine T-shirt there! Sit!! (poweredbyfinewine of youth shirts)” … the voice of one another Gatchiritaipu man …. next thing you are, “Sit down!” he said.

Mellencamp looks at his wife “feel good” he said. Does your wife is hot Mellencamp?

I’m not a rock critic. But let me say it ?Ere “JustLikeaWoman” were floating in tears in her eyes. The encore was two songs not good, great. We drive back to Beaverton, sober and happy.

What did you learn in school today?

by Steve, September 3rd, 2010

I love Pete Seeger, here singing a Tom Paxton song, apropos the start of a new school year:

It ain’t you, babe

by Steve, August 30th, 2010

Let me start off by saying that both the best rock concert (Alpine Valley, mid 80s) I’ve ever seen and the worst (Portland Civic Auditorium, early 90s) were both put on by Bob Dylan. I told my wife I’d settle for “pretty good” this time around, when Dylan headlined a show featuring John (nee Cougar, nee Cougar Mellencamp) Mellencamp on the lawn at McMenamin’s Edgefield in Troutdale.

And it was pretty good. Pretty, pretty, pretty good. And also very entertaining in some unexpected ways.

First off, the crowd. Mostly a middle-aged, middle class white crowd, of course, with a smattering of aging hippies and dead heads. We arrived early to pick up our tickets at will call. No line at the box office 20 minutes before the gates opened, and, at first glance no line at the gates. At second glance, there was a line. A really massive line snaking all the way back and around the parking lot, so we got a good look at the ticket holders. I was having some flashbacks to shows I saw in the 80s and 90s, and wondering where the freaks were.

I started saying “Doses. Doses.” under my breath to see if anybody would look. Nope. No pungent herbal smoke wafting through the air, either. Hmmm…. what kind of show was this going to be?

The venue was mostly full by the time we got in, and we secured a spot by a tree toward the back. It’s not an ideal venue, just a lawn on a hillside with so-so sight lines. Still, it was pleasant enough, and they’ve got their logistical act together. Food and beverage service lines move quickly, and they have plenty of honey buckets (which, it turns out, is where people smoke out during concerts these days — who knew?).

The opening act kind of pissed me off. The Dough Rollers, a couple of young white kids trying to sound like old black guys playing country blues covers. The best I can say is that they were well-dressed. They seemed uncomfortable playing with a P.A. and in front of a crowd. I remarked to my wife that the singer’s got maybe a year left in his career before his voice is totally destroyed from doing the gravelly voice shtick. Of course, Portland loves white blues, and gave them a warm reception. I was trying to figure out how the hell they got on the bill. This morning I figured it out: lead singer Malcolm Ford is Harrison Ford’s son. Whatever. Malcolm, I love the old country blues, and I appreciate you want to share your love with the people. But you got kind of an Elvis thing going on, all stealing the black man’s music and shit. I hope you got something else up your sleeve for when your voice gives out.

Then came Mr. Mellencamp, the guy who did a pretty good (if that’s the kind of thing you like) white-trashy mimic of Michael Jackson in the 80s, and is now all “back to the roots” and junk. (I’ll give him grudging props for being a pretty good straight ahead rocker (if that’s the kind of thing you like). This is when the crowd got fun.

People (gasp!) stood up when he started playing. We were in the kind of DMZ, where the top of the hill leveled out. We stayed sitting during John’s set, but the folks ahead of us were standing. The folks behind us were yelling and started throwing ice cubes. The tye-died lesbian couple ahead of us took a direct hit, and turned around to have words, explaining that they were only standing because the people in front of them were standing. I figured, given the age of the crowd, they’d all sit down after two songs, and that was mostly true, but there were some hold outs.

“Hey you! With the wine shirt! Sit down!” (To a young guy wearing a “powered by fine wine” t-shirt”.)

A different standing (kind of burly) guy turned around and shouted “You sit down!” His wife clapped her hand over his mouth.

“We are sitting down!” came the response.

John Mellencamp’s band was up there building a barn or something, and Wacky Mommy was standing in front of a tree to get a better look at him with the binoculars. “He’s aging well!” she said with a distinct trace of glee in her voice. My wife has a crush on John Mellencamp… who knew?

The standing and haranguing from behind continued. “Sit down!”

Wine shirt guy turned around and shouted “You stand up!” This is when the comic turned kind of tragic. Turns out the fenced off seating area we were sitting in front of wasn’t a VIP seating area, but a handicapped area (bad venue design).

“Some of us can’t stand up! We’re handicapped!”

I was worried the burly guy or wine guy were going to get into a wrestling match with wheel chair guy, but eventually most everybody sat down (to applause from the handicapped section). I decided to hit the head before intermission, which was when I discovered that “head” and porta-“pot” are the new concert smoking lounge, at least for the illicit stuff (not so much open passing of the pipe these days, though we did smell a few hits). Somebody left a burning joint in the effing urinal in the porta pot I picked. (“Couldn’t they have left it on a ledge or something?” asked Nancy when I told her.)

As I cried over the joint and pissed it into the holding tank, Mellencamp’s band was launching into “The walls came tumbling down,” and I was getting a better picture of “what kind of crowd”. Drunk, for the most part. I had to use my best hockey skating skills to avoid getting stumbled into by any number of blotto middle aged people on my way back to our blanket. When I got there, the tie-dyes in front of us were rocking hard, spilling beer, and making like they were going to throw it on the people ahead of them.

They didn’t make it three songs into Dylan’s set, which was a nice mix of old and new, before packing up their sodden blanket and heading for the gates.

Dylan played a lot of organ(!) and even some guitar solos early in the set. His current band features Charlie Sexton on lead guitar (another Wacky Mommy crush), who eventually got to stretch out with some tasty solos as the set progressed.


More and more people were picking up their blankets and leaving midway through. “It’s a long way back to Beaverton,” said Nancy. “Yeah,” I said, chuckling smugly. “Hey, wait a minute,” I said, “It is a long way back to Beaverton… for us!”

Dylan’s singing in a deep gravel these days, but he’s still hitting the notes, and his band was on the money. I’m no rock critic, but let’s just say the “Just Like a Woman” brought tears to my woman’s eyes, and ending the two-song encore with “Like a Rolling Stone” could have been trite, but it worked. I smiled a bunch and stood up for his whole set (in front of the tree, careful not to block the view of the handicapped section). We drove back to Beaverton happy and sober.

Garage Band sound check

by Steve, May 30th, 2010

I think I can get used to this, but why the heck doesn’t Garage Band come with a trombone (or any brass at all)?

Salsa Groove (Where’s my Bone?)


God help me, I drank the Kool-Aid

by Steve, May 23rd, 2010

Being a hard-core server guy, I always scoffed when people would ask “PC or Mac.” Neither, of course, I actually prefer Solaris. At home, I typically have maintained a Windows desktop or two for the fam, running on commodity intel hardware (the kind Dell and HP dump as loss leaders for $400-500 a pop, including a decent monitor). Our Web server runs Linux, of course, and it serves as yet another desktop, running OpenSUSE with the KDE desktop manager.

The kids have become equally comfortable logging on with their Linux accounts or using the Windows desktops. I always figured someday I’d just convert the Windows machines to Linux, but as long as they’re working, why borrow trouble.

Now, I’ve dabbled in digital recording, and I decided I’d set up the Web server to do double duty as a home recording machine. That didn’t work out so well, for a number of reasons.

  • Installed Rosegarden from packages using Yast.
  • Had to get a real-time kernel from a non-standard repository.
  • Had to get jackd properly installed, and talking to alsa
  • I think I’m finally getting somewhere, but alsa keeps forgetting about my sound card, and, worst of all…
  • I recently upgraded to OpenSUSE 11.2, and with that came KDE 4, which totally borked the desktop. Xorg will run at 100% CPU if you have more than one desktop session logged in. Tried to downgrade to KDE 3. That didn’t work. Tried to just switch to Gnome. That didn’t work. Tried to reinstall KDE 3. That didn’t work. Tried to reinstall KDE 4. That didn’t work. Removed monitor and put unit back under the desk to be a dedicated (headless) Web server. That works.

So, while I really appreciate the spirit of open source software, and have long been a proponent of it on the back end, I’ve also been patiently waiting for it to be ready for the desktop… it’s closer, but still not there.

On the other hand, Apple has had the creative arts as a captive market for decades. Since what I really want is a machine that I can plug in and use as a recording studio, Apple is the logical choice. From hardware to drivers to OS to apps, there are no disconnects or mismatches.

It comes loaded with RAM and a really nice, built-in monitor. It’s not the first Mac I’ve owned; I had a Quadra 604 in the 90s and the University put a first gen Mac in my dorm room way back when first gen Macs were brand new (yes, 1984).

Now do you think I’m cool?

One Toke Over the Line, Sweet Jesus

by Steve, November 17th, 2009