Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Chicken Chowder





It's not my intention to turn this into a musical blog, but lately I've been delighted to find some of my old piano recordings - - and I'm intent on inflicting them upon you, even if it's against your will.

A catalogue of my piano recordings indicates that I made nearly fifty recordings of ragtime music, including twenty pieces by Scott Joplin.
Unfortunately nearly all of these were lost.  

Last night I happened to find about half a dozen of my ragtime recordings, and I quickly slapped together a video that I could post here.

This long-forgotten piano gem is called the Chicken Chowder Rag. Amazingly, it was written by a sixteen-year-old girl named Irene M. Giblin (1888-1974) and was first published in 1905 when she was seventeen.

 Irene Mary Giblin

Giblin, who was from St. Louis, started playing the piano at an early age. By the time she was fourteen, she was hired to play the piano at the Grand Leader Department Store - where she performed all the latest hits from the Jerome H. Remick music catalogue.

Although Irene Giblin had a promising musical career and published numerous highly popular piano compositions, she abandoned her professional pursuits in 1908 when she married an accountant named Edward O'Brien. Her last published piano rag appeared in 1913. She died at the age of eighty-five in 1974.

Here's my performance of Chicken Chowder.



  

Sunday, March 26, 2017

SUNFLOWERS




When I first moved to the Tennessee wilderness I said "This is fantastic! I'll never have to do yard work again!"

Two and a half years later, I'm looking out my window at acres of weeds that are the size of small trees and torrential rains that only bother to cease a few times a month. 
I don't need a lawnmower or a gallon of weed killer. I need tractors, plows, and about a dozen able-bodied field hands.

I had initially wanted to cultivate an impressive garden but the sloping, impossibly hilly terrain has thwarted my plans - - not to mention the jungle of Mega Weeds (capitalized for emphasis).


 The photo on the right was taken when I first moved here, before the invasion of the monster weeds

Yesterday afternoon, during a heroic surge of rare energy, I crawled out onto the back porch and planted some sunflowers. It was a modest gesture in appreciation of the arrival of spring - and I might plant some more innocuous things next week.
If I can find a few more inches of level ground. 

An aside:
While I was crawling and planting, there was a sporadic barrage of gunfire in the forest behind my house, which lasted about half an hour (I stayed low just in case of stray bullets). Eventually the blasts moved farther away and dwindled.
Hunters? Or soused hillbillies with idle hours to kill? Heck if I know. 

I used to enjoy growing sunflowers when I lived in West Texas because it was a perfect climate for them. 




All the sunflowers on this post are ones that I grew in West Texas.

 

Here I am catering to the Texas sunflowers.

Note:
I initially wrote a different blog post for today, but when I tried to publish it the page wouldn't load and it was eventually lost forever. I've been having numerous frustrating problems with Blogger lately.

My other blog:
http://cabinetofcurioustreasures.blogspot.com 
  

Thursday, March 23, 2017

LALENA




We're going back in time, to the quasi-halcyonic regions of my youth.

It's after midnight on a warm, balmy summer night in Southern California - where a gentle breath of moisture has drifted in from the ocean and apathetic palm trees glisten in moon-glided droplets of dew.

The little piano bar on Fairfax in West Hollywood is a yawning haven for restless night owls, who languish over drinks in a smokey room drenched in soft amber light and the anonymous shadows of dreams and possibilities...

....and I - accompanied by occasional cigarettes and a generous glass of Sangria - sit at the piano and let my fingers wander through melancholy melodies and unintended improvisations.


One of my favorite songs of my youthful piano bar repertoire was Lalena (pronounced la-lane-ya).

It was written and originally performed by Donovan (Donovan Philips Leitch) in 1968. There were numerous subsequent versions, including popular ones by Deep Purple and Jane Olivor. In my opinion, Olivor's version is superb - by far the best - no one can surpass it.

I had always wondered about the origin of Lalena and what Donovan's intention was in writing it. I only recently found out.

 Lotte Lenya

The song was initially inspired by the German actress/singer Lotte Lenya  (1898-1981). Donovan was especially intrigued when he saw the 1931 film The Threepenny Opera - in which Lotte Lenya plays the role of a prostitute named Jenny Diver.

The name Lalena is derived from Lotte Lenya's name , and is (in Donovan's words) "a composite character of women who are outcasts on the edge of society: Bohemia".

I'm including a recording of my piano arrangement of Lalena, just as I used to play it long ago.


Also, here's a "video" of Jane Olivor singing Lalena (this isn't my video - I got it from YouTube).


 

Monday, March 20, 2017

SPRING SONG



It has long been my tradition to attack the first day of spring with appropriate music and an interpretive dance alla Isadora Duncan.

Since I don't feel like dancing (I can hear your sighs of relief), I'll subject you to music.

Rustle of Spring by Christian Sinding seems an apt way to welcome the springtime season.  Sinding (1856 -1941) was a Norwegian composer. 
I would imagine that this composition depicts breezes rustling through treetops in restless breaths.
Who knows.....

This particular video is a shoddy rehearsal tape that I made in Texas when I was out of practice and way past my prime. 
Most of you have already seen this, but just be polite and pretend you haven't.

I should at least get kudos for successfully turning the pages....

If you don't like my music (which is a complete impossibility), you can marvel at the photos I took recently.


I took these pics from the back porch last Thursday, just after the sun came up. It was a frigid 14 degrees (Fahrenheit), very breezy, with a deep blue sky.



Actually, it's still too damn cold to be the first day of spring - - and I should probably be dancing simply to ward off a frostbite.

Warmer weather is predicted soon, but I won't hold my breath.

Keep cozy and enjoy the spring equinox.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

JON GOES TO TOWN



 St. Paddy's Day:
somber, gray, wet, damp, windy

On St. Patrick's Day I summoned the courage to drive into town. Actually, I was compelled to go because I wanted to personally get an erroneous bill straightened out (from my Internet provider/phone company).

They were extremely nice about the error, and now I'm straight.
So to speak.

After getting gas, going to the bank, and hauling my trash to the dump, I was ready to call it a day - but I had to go grocery shopping.

There are three shopping choices in this minuscule town: Walmart, the supermarket, and the Dollar Store. If you really want to  spice up your mundane existence and live dangerously you can always visit the Tractor Supply Company. 

Walmart is inevitably my first stop. That's the only place that has decent cat food and tolerable bread.

Bread?
Let me explain something: I've always enjoyed a wide variety of breads - rye, pumpernickel, sourdough, cheese bread, black bread, herbal bread, etc.

Rural Tennessee has white bread. That's it. Rye isn't in their vocabulary.  Either is hard Italian salami. Or wine. Or fine cheese or pastries. Or all the other things I crave and would actually kill for.

The local Walmart at least has some mediocre Italian bread and smoked ham - so that's what I always buy.

I'm also able to get Viennese coffee and Earl Grey tea - thank God. One of the very few pleasures I have left.

So, I'm in the coffee aisle at Walmart. The Viennese coffee that I always buy is on the very lowest shelf. In fact, it's actually level with the ground. I have to crawl to get it.

There's an extremely attractive young Amish woman looking at the coffee. Hey, Amish women turn me on. It has something to do with the way they dress.
Anyway, this chick is carefully reading every coffee label on the shelf - - and she's standing directly in front of the Viennese coffee that I desperately want.
She won't move. She just keeps reading.

I linger near her, trying not to look suspicious or perverted, trying to pretend I'm looking at other things. And I'm thinking:
How the hell am I going to get the damn Viennese coffee? I don't want to crawl around the hem of her dress.

She finally moves just enough for me to quickly dive and snatch the coffee - - -and believe me, diving and snatching is not an easy feat with my notoriously bad back.

Did I ever mention how much I hate store employees who are constantly in the way so you can't look at things?
Walmart wins First Prize for annoying employees....
...but....
it also happens here at the local supermarket.  

I'm trying to look at donuts and an extremely annoying but cutsie-looking male employee is blocking the entire area with a large cart while he carefully puts out loaves of bread. White bread.

I make a few strategic maneuvers around him to get to the donuts. While trying to grab one damn box of donuts, I inadvertently start an avalanche. At least half a dozen boxes tumble to the floor.

Holy shit!! (I think I said that out loud).
I quickly scramble to retrieve the errant donut boxes while hoping my ravaged spine won't snap in the process. I'm trying to look cool and nimble in the wake of profound embarrassment.

My life is like a Woody Allen movie. 

Did I mention the two employees blocking the frozen food aisle? They have a gigantic food cart in the middle of the aisle while they slowly and carefully stock the shelves. 

I stall around, hoping they'll eventually leave but they don't. Can't these Bozos stock shelves after hours??

I eventually have to force my way around them to get the damn frozen things that I desperately need.
I drove a hundred freaking miles (slight exaggeration) on perilous mountain roads to get to this raunchy supermarket and I'm not about to leave without my French fries and fish sticks.

As I was driving home on the narrow, winding, dangerous, slick - not to mention perilous - mountain roads, loose rocks started falling from the cliffs above. One of them bounced off my car but fortunately didn't do damage.

Five minutes after I got home it started pouring rain. I got drenched as I hauled the heavy stash of groceries up the muddy, slippery, annoyingly steep bank to my back door. 

As if on cue, my cat Scratch showed up out of nowhere and dropped a dead mouse directly in front of the back door.
I kid you not. A gift from a grateful feline.  
  


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

DEEP FREEZE WITH MUSICAL ACCOMPANIMENT

Five days until spring....
This is the coldest March I can remember. An Arctic blast descended from the north and I'm freezing my dinglezoobies off.

"Dinglezoobies" is a little-known medical term that refers to regions of the body of which we are reluctant to openly discuss.


The temp dropped to 12 degrees last night (that's Fahrenheit, for those of you in Jeddah). I'm in Tennessee, which is supposed to be a southern (mild) state. Today's landscape was encrusted in ice worthy of a Shackleton expedition.

I stayed up all night to make sure the water pipes didn't freeze. 
While babysitting with the pipes, I passed the frigid hours by transferring more of my old piano tapes to mp3 files. 

An extremely rare cassette tape of one of my recitals got caught in the recorder and was ripped apart (one of many reasons why I've always despised cassettes). I'm fairly adept at fixing them, but it requires disassembling the cassette and splicing the tape together with surgical precision.

I was sitting on my bed, messing around with the ravaged cassette tape. The headboard of my bed has a bookcase and there's a heavy metal lamp on it.
Somehow -
the lamp fell and hit me right on the head. Unfortunately it didn't knock any sense into me - but it hurt like hell.

So, where is the musical accompaniment?
Here it is. I just made two more quick "videos" from my old (ancient) piano recordings.


This first one is very short. It's the Prelude in C minor by Johann Sebastian Bach - one of my very oldest recordings, which I made when I was seventeen yrs. old. Holy crap, that was about a thousand years ago.

I used to perform a lot of Bach when I was a music student, but I personally never liked to play his music on a modern piano. The harsh and overpowering mechanisms of the pianoforte (and the pedal) are in complete contrast to Baroque music. Bach should ideally be played on a clavichord or harpsichord. 
I played a 17th century Dutch harpsichord when I was in college (at that time I was the only student allowed to play it).



 My second musical selection is  Polichinelle op.3 no.4 by Serge Rachmaninov.



Polichinelle is derived from the commedia dell 'arte character Pulcinella, which (in layman's terms) is Punch from Punch and Judy.
 Confused? Heck, so am I.


Anyway, this is an early composition by Rachmaninov - he wrote it in 1892 when he was nineteen.

It's also an early recording by me. I recorded this in Los Angeles when I was either twenty or twenty-one.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

WAITING




Two days ago I was waiting for spring. Today I'm waiting for a last kick in the ass from winter.

On Thursday (two days ago) the storm clouds finally parted, the sun appeared, and the temperature soared to 70 degrees (that's Fahrenheit, for those of you in North Korea). It was one of those rare glorious days that makes you want to drop everything and crawl out of your hibernation hole.

I dropped and crawled - - and basked in the warm sun like a lizard. The warmth was a sure promise of spring and I felt rejuvenated and almost human again.
Some of the trees at the edge of the forest were actually starting to bloom with delicate colors.



I should have known that bliss doesn't last long. Another horrendous storm ravaged Tennessee on Thursday night. By Friday the temperature was dropping rapidly. Today (which let's all assume is Saturday) it is bone-chillingly frigid....and snow is expected tonight.
Snow. With spring only a week away.
So:
After shaking my fist and cursing at the Weather Gods
I put the extra blankets back on the bed,
made some homemade potato soup,
lamented at the fact that the blossoms are dead,
and now I'm waiting for an extremely cold night (it's presently late afternoon).

While I'm sitting here with nothing to do but listen to my teeth chatter, I'll dump some photos on you.

 I took this photo from my bedroom window at dawn on Thursday morning. When the sun comes up it illuminates the neighboring mountain (okay, it's a hill - but we hillbillies call it a mountain). I can't see it in the summer, because all the leaves obscure it.

 This is the same mountain (from my bedroom window) at sunset. I took this pic Thursday evening, before the storms rolled in.
Hopefully you're not completely overwhelmed from the excitement. Few people get the privilege of seeing the view from my bedroom window....

 This morning it was bitterly cold and the feeble sun made a valiant but futile effort to emerge from the clouds (damn, I'm poetic when I least expect it).
The first photo on this post was also taken this morning.

Okay - you knew you wouldn't get away from here without seeing my cats.....

 Scruffy seldom sits long enough to be photographed. I captured her yesterday perched on my bedroom dresser next to the alpine painting.
(I suppose it's technically a chest of drawers - not a dresser. I'm in an Edwardian mode...)

 Bosco was in his very favorite spot at the foot of my bed.

 My eldest cat Scratch is eleven years old. Scruffy & Bosco are three yrs. old. When I first got them, Scratch absolutely HATED them. She growled (yes growled) all the time. Now, she has finally learned to live peacefully with them.
I took this pic of Scratch and Scruffy relaxing together a few days ago.

Scratch even lets Scruffy eat from her private personal food dish - - which is a milestone.....not to mention a miracle.
(I generally don't like to leave cat food on the floor, but with three demanding felines I gotta take liberties now & then).

I'm almost done. Wanna see my angel calendar? It's one of the few things the movers didn't lose...or steal.

 An angel for every month.
I'm not really "into" angels - - I'm more of a devil connoisseur.....but what the hell....
I had this calendar a long time. I'm trying to find a place to put it where the cats won't get it. 
Scratch never touches anything. But Scruffy and Bosco will rip it to shreds and sell the angel's wings for scrap....

Holy crap - this was a long post.
Wake me when it's spring.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

NOTHING MUCH, AND VICTORIA

Every time I reread a post that I write on this blog I'm completely dissatisfied. They're all crap. That's my self-critical alter ego speaking.

I do, however, truly appreciate your comments (even when I'm too lazy to respond to them, as in the previous post).
I've never appreciated the insults and (occasional) death threats - of course - but I think most of the bitter trolls have been successfully weeded out.
At least for the moment.

Lately I've been in a miserable mood - plagued with devastating aural migraines. I had several of them yesterday. I blame it on stress, lack of sleep, poor eating habits, eye strain, and the extreme changes in the weather. One day it's 70 degrees, the next day it's 35. With rain, rain, rain....
Did I mention stress?

Jenna Coleman as Victoria

Well, the first season of Victoria is finally over...and I'm not particularly looking forward to a second season.
I'm talking about Queen Victoria, the Victoria series on Masterpiece, PBS.

The costumes and settings are satisfying. The cast is doing their very best with the mediocre scripts they have to work with. But the potency of the series has dwindled with every new episode, and my interest is gone. Besides, I can't  get very enthused about a flimsy semi-biographical story that is strongly rooted in fiction.

Victoria is a combination of Upstairs, Downstairs and a Harlequin romance - - and the overly-glamorized queen often comes across as Kate Middleton in Victorian garb.

I realize that liberties have to be taken to enhance the plodding story line, but the deviations in this saga border on the ridiculous. It's great if you're merely looking for costume-drama entertainment.
If you want to know the real story of Queen Victoria, however, read a legitimate biography (such as the one by Stanley Weintraub) - not the fictional fantasy fluff devised by Daisy Goodwin (who created and wrote this series).

I suppose all good stories need subplots to hold interest, but the wacky antics and romantic shenanigans of the downstairs servants are grossly overdone - to the annoying point that it often overshadows the Queen and Albert.


 Queen Victoria and actress Jenna Coleman



Prince Albert and actor Tom Hughes


As for Queen Victoria (Jenna Coleman) and Prince Albert (Tom Hughes), both actors are very good in their roles - even though the characters they portray are a far cry from the real British monarch and her German consort.

I can overlook the fact that the cutsie German Prince Albert has a decidedly British accent. And that Queen Victoria is far less bitchy and demanding than the real woman was. 
Sometimes I grow weary of Albert's bumbling ineptness.....and the endless closeups of lovely Victoria's moon-like face.

But now I'm nitpicking and being bitchy. Politely overlook it if you can. Being bitchy is part of my charm.


My other blog (as if one wasn't enough...)
Cabinet of Curious Treasures 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

TURN THE OTHER CHEEK AND YOU'RE DEAD




Were you ever bullied as a child? The world seems to be divided into two distinct camps: the bullies and the recipients of bullyism.

Unfortunately, the art of bullying often extends into adulthood. Little bullies become big bullies and big bullies eventually turn into old bullies. And there's nothing more unbecoming than an old bully.

I was never a fighter, never aggressive, and never an instigator of trouble - but I learned one thing at an early age:
if you back down and passively turn the other cheek, you're a jackass.

My father was not only a bully, he was the most viciously violent and abusive person I've ever known. My terror of him not only ravaged my entire childhood -  it extended well into adulthood. I was so completely, overwhelmingly consumed with fear of him that I would have never even considered fighting back.

When I was nineteen, my father flew into a rage over a trivial matter (trivial things always sparked him). He choked me into unconsciousness and knocked me through a sliding glass door. It took some time to physically recover - - but soon after that incident I got his handgun, sneaked into his bedroom late at night, and intended to kill him.

Rationality eventually assuaged the rage, and I lost my courage. Instead, I took off for Hollywood and learned the fine art of being streetwise and feigning toughness.

I am inherently very timid, passive, and completely unobtrusive - but there are two things that ignite an intense fury in my reticent nature: being bullied or being pummeled with unwarranted criticism. I blame both of these afflictions on my father, who was a champion bully and a relentless criticizer.

I have an unwholesome - and potentially dangerous -  habit of immediately attacking bullies and criticizers. If someone throws a handful of horse crap at me, I'll toss a shovelful of elephant shit right back. I certainly don't endorse this reaction, but it's unwittingly become part of my nature.

Flashback:
Junior High School. Anaheim, California. I was eleven years old in the seventh grade (nearly two years younger than most of my classmates).
I was constantly bullied by a smart ass named Elliot - who was a pompous, vain, decidedly effeminate bore. 

I was tall and skinny - but Elliot was extremely tall and skinny. He looked like a swishy anemic sunflower. One fateful day, I'd had enough of his condescending crap. I gave him an enthusiastically hard push and - to my amazement and his astonishment - he went down like the Hindenburg. Right in the mud. He never bullied me again.
I felt a keen sense of accomplishment....and unexpected power.

Fast Forward
A decade Later:
I happened to be in downtown Los Angeles at night. Hollywood can be tough. Downtown L.A. is brutal - even in the daylight.

I was just leaving the public library on 5th Street. Somewhere, in the heavy nightshadows outside, a small swarthy dude came out of nowhere and demanded me to turn over my wallet.

After initial shock and disbelief, I got angry. This little shit wasn't going to bully me. I instinctively pulled out my (safely concealed) switchblade and somehow managed to slash his hand.
Then I ran faster than a bunny out of hell and quickly ditched him. I think the guy was drugged. His reactions were damn slow.

L.A. Public Library
 scene of the crime

An Aside:
Switchblades were illegal in California (and undoubtedly still are). I had purchased mine at a dubious place in Mexico. I did things back then that I wouldn't even dream of doing now.  

Unfortunately, the ugly art of schoolyard bullying and street punk bullying has now extended into cyber bullying. Cyber bullies are rampant and especially bold because it's safe and anonymous. We've all encountered them, or at least saw the viciousness of their handiwork. 

One only needs to scan the comments on YouTube to see how shockingly vile, vulgar, and cruel humanity has become. And, of course, this viciousness has infiltrated blogging (I can certainly attest to that).

I prefer to encounter bullies in person - so the raw light of day can illuminate their pathetic insecurities.

I have many of my own flaws and faults - and there are things about myself that I've always loathed. But I have never had the need to belittle others in order to inflate my ego. And I am never purposefully cruel, caustic, or condescending. I'm a sensitive sweetheart most of the time.....but push me off the curb and I'll push you over a cliff. I've been taught by masters.

Afterthought: 
There's no specific reason for this post. I'm not presently being bullied - I just happened to be thinking about the subject.
And I realized that bullying - in one way or another - starts in childhood and extends into adulthood. We're bullied on many levels: by employers, relatives, neighbors, spouses, customer service representatives, even "friends". 

Turning the other cheek is admirable, and probably the most safe and effective form of resistance to bullies. But it's not my style. Hot Hungarian blood runs through my veins....and bitter past experiences have eroded my power of resistance and sharpened my methods of defense.
I seldom turn the other cheek.