Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Mad Peck Studios, 1969

Consider if you will, this radio piece on The Holy Modal Rounders. I've been listening to a lot of funny jazz and jugband music. My current interest was inspired by recent ukulele excursions, however, it's roots go back many years to my interest in the Holy Modal Rounders: the other example of genius to emerge from the great New York folk music scare of the 1960's.

Alright, I'm gonna try this shit, but I have seemingly angered the technology godz. Here, the evil ones willing is Happy Rolling Cowboy from a late iteration of the Rounders.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I'm watching The Wrestler. It's another movie set in New Jersey. I left New Jersey when I was a teenager. I've never regretted that decision. Every time I watch a movie from New Jersey, I get the sinking feeling that I am fooling no one and that I need to give up and go back to Jersey.

Monday, April 27, 2009


I wonder how many Mexicans died because of air pollution today. I wonder how many died trying to cross over into the United States. I wonder how many died because of respiratory irritations caused by living downwind from an industrial hog operation.

I am drained. I had a big fun Saturday. I went to my Saturday morning meeting of the friends o' Bill where we practiced the secret handshake. Then I went to the beginning of the big fundraiser for my friend, Rosanne. She has cancer. This is her third recurrence of cancer. She won't be with us much longer.

Things seemed under control there, so I went to my friend, Dave's big retirement party. I had a good time, ate free food and hung out with bus drivers. I listened to bus drivers play music. I watched a couple of bus drivers dance. I told jokes to bus drivers and bus drivers told me jokes. It was OK. More about that later.

Then I went back to Roseanne's fund raiser. The joint was jumpin'. I missed my friend, Cory, singing, but caught most of a set by a group of women whose name I never heard. They had flown in from North Carolina just to help Roseanne. They could really rock and they were tight as hell. Roseanne is a lesbian and it seemed like every sober lesbian in California was there. We boys, straight and gay, stood around the edges and smiled.

You know, I've known a lot of lesbians, but I haven't been to any social events organized by and for lesbian women. I'm pretty used to the gay men's scene, but this event was a little bit of an eye opener. I'm used to lesbians keeping their guard up in mixed company, but this was all about women, all kinds of women, being completely relaxed in their own element. It was really very pleasant to see. I didn't feel excluded. I knew a lot of women there, but this was party was not about me or people like me. More about that later.

Then I had to run to the store and drop off a cake for more friends o' Bill who were celebrating various lengths of time practicing the secret handshake. I couldn't stay for the meeting because next I went to Santa Rosa and saw Tippy Canoe and The Paddlemen and my new hero, Madame Pamita.

The event was held at recording studio/hang out/performance space called Atlas Studios. There was a group of really nice young people there. I had several people stop and introduce themselves. That was OK too.

My friend, Bob, met up with me. That's Bob G from Santa Rosa, not to be confused with my boyhood friend, Bob C, from SF. Even with a nice friendly crowd, it was good to have a friend along.

I got to meet Madame Pamita for the first time. She was friendly as could be. We talked about Tarot and old timey music. She introduced me to Tippy Canoe. Tippy is slightly famous in Bay Area club circles and fairly famous in ukulele circles. I'd never heard her music and was looking forward to her performance.

Tippy opened the show. She was accompanied by a guitarist, Mikie Lee Prasad. I think I've got his name right. They sang and played mostly original songs from Tippy's CD. The songs were simple enough, but beautifully carried off. To tell the truth, the club's PA did not do justice to her voice. I liked all of her songs. I'll try and post one and talk about the others, but that, too, will have to wait. Tippy was playing a beautiful custom ukulele built by our mutual friend, Peter Hurney. More about that uke later.

Let me pause here to say that Tippy reminded me, through her songs and performance, that it is a damn good thing to do art. I do not enjoy art that makes me feel passive. I like art that makes me want to do things. When I was a kid, The Beatles made me want to play music and Dadaists and Surrealists made me want to do art. When I was older punk rock made me want to start a band and Lester Bangs made me want to write. I do not have Tippy's talent, but she made me want to play music with people. That was OK too.

Next up was Madame Pamita. I've been a fan of the concept of Madame Pamita, but it was apparent that I would have to see her act to really see what was up. I've got to say that there is nothing fancy about her music or her act, but the woman is larger than life. She went from being a quiet presence to the center of attention in seconds. When she turns it on, she puts out thousands of watts of energy. She tells me that spiritual practice is part of what she does and there was a strong hint of magic in the room. If Tippy made me want to do art, Madame Pamita made that goal seem as though it was in my reach.

At the end of her set, Madame Pamita encouraged everyone to join in with some audience participation. Tippy was accompanying her on the washboard. She motioned to me to take her ukulele and play along. I was really honored because this is a special instrument, built specially for her. It was like having Merle Travis hand me his guitar. It played like butter too. That was really fun.

I'll be putting up links to Tippy and Madame Pamita's CD's soon. I bought copies of both. Tippy's CD sleeve is a beautiful piece of Art Nouveau design that goes nicely with her music. If you can manage it, I would suggest buying the CD rather than downloading the songs.

Madame Pamita's CD was originally recorded acoustically on a wax cylinder recorder from 1898. It doesn't get any more lo fi, but the sound of crackles and the announcements at the beginning of each song are a part of the art. Again, I would suggest that you buy the CD direct from Madame Pamita. She packages each CD with a vintage piece of good luck, a wonderful magical device and a personal fortune with Tarot Card. This is the coolest record I've bought since Sergeant Pepper's came with all of those paper cutouts and The Who Live at Leeds came with a bundle of documents. That was a long time ago and I have bought a lot of records since then.

The last act of the night was a Santa Rosa band, The Spindles. I would have liked to see them, but I was too, too tired. They looked interesting and I hope to see them soon. I was so tired I was nodding at stop lights on the way home.

I had a real good time that day.

Now let me go back to earlier in the day. Before I left Dave's retirement party, I stopped to thank Dave for 20 years and a nice party at the end. He grabbed my arm and said something I will not soon forget: "Jon, there's nothing that great about that job, nothing special anyway. It could of been hell, the last twenty years, but we helped each other and watched out for each other, all of us, so it was heaven. We did a great thing." That pretty much sums up the day.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The grand experiment

Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant. The image was taken from If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger... Probably the coolest site on the entire web.

I had a visit from the great Doctor Wayne today. We were listening to music and railing against The Man. We both agreed that, if we lived in a free world, everyone would be free to be their truest selves. Your cultural identity, your gender, your sexuality would not have to meet anyone's expectations but rather be the truest and freest expression of your real self.

"Just think," I said, "There could be hillbillies playing Bebop! It would be magnificent!"

Of course, some of us have minds that will not be constrained. Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant gave us hillbilly bebop more than fifty years ago. Wayne Hancock continues the tradition to this very day.

So here's the deal on me, Dr Wayne, Speedy West, Jimmy Bryant and Wayne Hancock: I hate imeem as much as you do. Maybe more. I'm trying a little experiment here. Let me know if it works. OK?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Life is mostly hard and full of disappointments

Madame Pamita's Santa Rosa appearance was cancelled. But wait, it's been rescheduled! Saturday, April 25th, 8:00 PM. The new venue:

Atlas Studios
300 S. A Street, Santa Rosa, CA

Madame Pamita will be appearing with Bay Area legend, Tippy Canoe and a promising Santa Rosa band, The Spindles.

Madame Pamita has released her wax cylinder recordings as a CD. You may purchase a copy from CD baby, or download it at her web site.

Life is mostly fun and exciting. Even if you live very far away from Madame Pamita, I would recommend that you join her mailing list. Her emails are always entertaining and often quite charming. 
(The tattoo photo above is there because it's cool and fun. It has nothing to do with Madame Pamita, other than being cool and fun)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Thanks to Princess Sparkle Pony for this photo of a teabagging Ayn Rand fan.

So, today I was thinking why don't the Somali Coast Guardsmen, or if you will the evil, demonic, subhuman monstrous did I say evil, Somali Pirates try a little rebranding? Some eyepatches, some of those roll top boots and they can all change their names to Captain Jack Sparrow. Hey presto! From demonic global villains to lovable scamps!

" Why wouldn't that work?" I asked myself. Oh, right. Because they're not white.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Whoever Jesus might have been, he most certainly did not have blonde hair or blue eyes.

I went to Easter Mass today. I was at the early show. Rise and shine at 8 AM. It was OK. As I usually do, when I find myself at church, I asked myself, "What the hell am I doing here?"

The answer, as always, was, "Being one among many."

With a hat tip to Moon of Alabama, an excellent blog on global politics, here's some poetry for Easter. Today's selection is an excerpt from Goethe's "Faust".

From the ice they are freed, the stream and brook,
By the Spring's enlivening, lovely look;
The valley's green with joys of hope;
The Winter old and weak ascends
Back to the rugged mountain slope.

From there, as he flees, he downward sends
An impotent shower of icy hail
Streaking over the verdant vale.
Ah! but the Sun will suffer no white,

Growth and formation stir everywhere,
'Twould fain with colours make all things bright,

Though in the landscape are no blossoms fair.
Instead it takes gay-decked humanity.

Now turn around and from this height,
Looking backward, townward see.

Forth from the cave-like, gloomy gate
Crowds a motley and swarming array.

Everyone suns himself gladly today.
The Risen Lord they celebrate,

For they themselves have now arisen
From lowly houses' mustiness,
From handicraft's and factory's prison,
From the roof and gables that oppress,

From the bystreets' crushing narrowness,
From the churches' venerable night,
They are all brought out into light.
See, only see, how quickly the masses
Scatter through gardens and fields remote;
How down and across the river passes
So many a merry pleasure-boat.
And over-laden, almost sinking,
The last full wherry moves away.
From yonder hill's far pathways blinking,
Flash to us colours of garments gay.

Hark! Sounds of village joy arise;
Here is the people's paradise,

Contented, great and small shout joyfully:
"Here I am Man, here dare it to be!"

I've been off work for two weeks. It's been swell. That's all over. I'll be back here sometime.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

While I'm Posting Stuff From Youtube

These guys are the fiercest ukulele players in the world. Really snappy dressers too.

I'm really happy about this. Jordan Barab has been appointed the acting head of OSHA. Most young workers have never heard of OSHA. It's the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA is supposed to enforce laws that guarantee the health and safety of workers.

For most of the last thirty years, that is, for most of it's existence, OSHA has been getting weaker and weaker and smaller and smaller. The free market crowd considers job injuries and illness to be a necessary cost of economic growth. As is always the case when those people start talking about necessary costs, they mean that someone else has to pay the price. So, nobody enforces workplace safety rules and all we ever hear on the subject is that Worker's Comp costs are "Out of control". It's those damn workers. If we would just stop whining about our damned agonizing injuries then the people who matter wouldn't have to worry about anything getting out of control.

So the bad news is that OSHA is understaffed and underfunded. The good news is that Jordan Barab is a real advocate for workers. He gave up his blog, Confined Space, a couple of years ago, but it is still worth looking over. I was a regular reader. Tammy Miser has continued one feature of his blog at her Weekly Toll Blogspot. It's a report on who died on the job this week. I intend to avoid farm labor, construction work or work in convenience stores.

Barab took it upon himself to tell the story of workplace fatalities because he really cares about people who work for a living. I'm not happy with Obama's expanded war plans. I'm dismayed, but not surprised that he is protecting the super rich. I'm moderately hopeful that Jordan Barab can save a few lives.

Which Side Are You On?n - Dropkick Murphys

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Joel might be the last bad ass bus driver on the West Coast. The rest of us have gone over to the unicorns, crystals and health food side.

People ask me about my job. They say, "I bet you've got some stories to tell, eh?"

Yeah, well, so does everybody else.

My job is mostly about knowing how to survive in a bureaucracy- like the military, or prison. You have to know who to watch and who to ignore. You have to know when to speak up and when to shut up. You have to know what you can get away with and what will get you in trouble. Beyond that, most of it is optional. You can make friends or be a loner. You can gossip or mind your own business. You can stick with your own race or make friends outside of it.

The part where you drive buses is kind of a lonesome thing that you do on your own. I try to avoid that part. It can drive you nuts. It took me many years, but the passengers really don't bother me anymore. Now it's the traffic that I hate. When the passengers were driving me nuts, I didn't have time to worry about the traffic. Other than that, I spend a lot of time wondering when I'll get a chance to piss. A lot of passengers tell me I'm good at my job. I hope I'm good at something.

As of this week, I've had my job for twenty one years. That seems like it might be too long. I'm pretty glad I've got it. I'd probably just sit home by myself if I didn't have a job.

This little routine is pretty close to what my job is like. I was surprised.

Bus Driver- The Whitest Kids U' Know(buy)

Monday, April 6, 2009


This little guy is my good friend. He is the most gentlemanly rooster I have ever known. He is kind to his little flock of hens. He worries over them, will not eat until they know that there is food and will not go to sleep until he is sure that that are safely roosting. He trots over to visit with me when I walk out the door and he will eat out of my hand.

At some point in my life, I realized that everything, every single thing, that has ever happened to me has been a blessing. The only problem was whether or not I was willing to recognize and accept the blessing.

Today I read the following remarkable comment from Ask Aunt B, a regular reader at Frankie's Blog.

"There's always at least two ways of looking at any given situation, Frankie Darling. Might I mention something I happened to have learned?

You have to have gone through it to see it, to recognize it but believe it or not, you and I have been given a gift not all are privy to.

See, when a person goes to Prison, they come out one of two ways; Bitter or Blessed. Most will come out bitter and pissed off at the world for their demise. They have no idea of what personal accountability is, just for starters so how could they possibly appreciate a diddly damn thing?

When I walked out of prison, all I had to my name was a flippin plastic cup, plastic spoon and a little radio w/the ear bud. That and my donated clothes were it except for my undergarments a la prison wear with my name and number on it. Everything and almost my dignity had been stripped from me.

Yes, we had to start over from scratch, did we not? We started over mentally, physically, emotionally, even materially. What was born from that though was and is something most take for granted I was so very pleased when I got my first pay check. I went out and bought a brand new shiny metal travel mug and 4 real spoons. I also splurged and purchased a throw rug that brightened up my tiny room in the ghetto.

My parents mailed me a laptop. Which by the way was a miracle in itself that they had forgiven me. Parole did not allow us to have cell phones and although it took me a minute,I had cable/internet/phone turned on. I was happier than a pig in shit, life was good, really good. And I appreciated it all.

The gift came in the form of a knowledge, an awareness of all that I had taken for granted; love, life, even laughter as I had stopped laughing long before. What was there to laugh about in existing to shoot heroin?

Yes Frankie, you've been given that gift too or you'd have not shed a tear. Prison a gift, you say? Well, it saved our lives at a time when we were too sick to see. Way too sick to see.

Yes, we were hand picked for the mission as we'd already earned our degree, a PhD in Street, Crime and Drugs.

Now...watcha gonna do with it?"

If you want, your life can have meaning and purpose.

The Christians Hope - Densons Sacred Harp Singers of Arley, Alabama 13.11.1928

Thought for the day

I don't blog much about my spiritual life. That or everything here has something to do with my spiritual life. I definitely don't blog much about my off and on relationship with organized religion. I went to Palm Sunday mass yesterday. I left scratching my head. I couldn't tell if I'd gotten anything out of it or not. I will probably go to some of the other Holy Week services too.

So let me alienate my heathen readers with this quote from Paolo of Jamie Bakker's Revolution Church:

"Even the sin of unfaithfulness was covered by Christ on the cross. So go forth, and struggle with your faith, and have your doubts. And do it all without shame, and without guilt; because these things too were atoned for at Calvary. That’s all."

Is That You - Buddy Miller

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Last Speech

It took a while for me to understand the role of prophetic speech in King's ministry. I thought he was an ethnic politician who knew how to take the moral high ground and use it to his advantage.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Late breaking news: The new Handsome Family CD just arrived. Exciting. Gotta run.

Lorain, Ohio

I have an anonymous regular reader in Lorain, Ohio. I've been meaning to write about Lorain for a while now. I was only there once, thirty years ago.

I've been in three riots in my life. I'm not the riot type. Crowds make me anxious.

My first riot was in Paterson, New Jersey. The Paterson cops attacked a group of mostly Black high school kids. We were holding a prayer vigil to support their polite requests for improvements in the Paterson schools. The cops went crazy, firing tear gas, clubbing students and arresting one of my teachers and a friend's mom. I was only 14 and I was scared shitless. I have not had much respect for cops since then. The Paterson cops were notoriously lawless. They fire bombed the Paterson office of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and beat up a bunch of people. Then they claimed that the building was burnt in a "Negro riot". I also learned that racism is a racket that the rich and powerful use to stay rich and powerful. At least I learned that early and well.

My last riot was in 1981 when IU won the NCAA men's basketball championship. No one called that a riot. It was a celebration. It was a celebration where white college boys smashed storefronts, raped coeds, tore down lamp posts and destroyed a cop car, but it was a celebration because it involved white college boys and sports. It was a manly celebration. About two AM I watched a drunk guy punching a parking meter until his hands were smashed and there was blood all over the parking meter. I decided it was time to go home and go to bed. The next day the papers all agreed that events had been "spirited". Kiss my ass.

In between I was in a little riot at the US Steel Mill in Lorain. I've been trying to write about that one for years. Not today though. Hi Lorain.

Hand made

This is a lovely little video tour of the Aquila string factory. Aquila gut strings are made by hand using a few simple machines. I like that.

I tend to dislike and distrust the modern world. Yes, I am using a computer to write this. I suppose you could argue that I contradict myself. That's what you call a paradox. Three of my ukuleles were built by individuals using hand tools. One of the reasons I like tattooing is that it is a craft that is passed down from master to apprentice. I do not look forward to the day when you can get a technically perfect tattoo from a computer guided machine. I would rather have a sloppy tattoo with a misspelled word. Mind you, I don't want (another) sloppy tattoo. I own a lot of typically American, Chinese made, "perfect" plastic crap. Hell, my "house" was built in a factory. It is nice to see something that is purely human, touched all over by human hands.

I have no idea what a perfect world would look like. This world kind of sucks.

Rainbow Stew - Merle Haggard


As far as I'm concerned the Obama honeymoon is over. Back to struggle as usual.

Job Action - Utah Phillips

Thanks to Amy Crehore's Little Hokum Rag. Published at the intersection of fine art and ukuleles.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I'm not good at April Fool's

Pictured above is my Atomic Ukulele. Click on the picture for a very large detail view. It was built by Peter Hurney, the owner of Pohaku Ukuleles. I bought the Atomic because it is so damn pretty, but it has turned into a favorite player.

Before I discovered the ukulele, I spent years struggling with the guitar. I never seemed to get anywhere with the guitar. When I play one now, it is like wrestling a piece of furniture with strings. The ukulele just seems like a friendlier alternative. I have no desire to be a professional musician. I think that anybody who talks as much about music as I do should be able to play a little bit of music.

Despite my feelings to the contrary, Ukulele Hunt, possibly the world's preeminent ukulele website has published a piece titled "Ten Reasons It's Easier to Learn the Guitar than the Ukulele"

"1) It’s easier to tune: The shorter scale length of the ukulele makes it decidedly tricky to get in tune. A slight tweak of tuner can send it wildly out of tune. Add to that the fact that strings take a couple of weeks to bed down and you’ve got a big problem. If even professional musicians like Amanda Palmer and Stephin Merritt can’t get their ukuleles in tune, what chance has a beginner got?
2) It’s possible to find a teacher: Google results for “guitar teacher” = 316,000. Google results for “ukulele teacher” = 1,480. The best way to learn a new instrument is sitting face to face with someone who is already an expert. It’s much easier to find those people with the guitar.
3) It’s easier to make it sound OK: Guitars naturally have a big sound which is generous to less careful playing. It takes a bit more experience to tease a good sound out of a ukulele. It’s all to easy to smother all the tone out of the poor thing.
4) You don’t have to worry about holding it: Sometimes ukeing standing up is a little like playing whilst juggling a sack of potatoes. And using a strap feels like giving in.
5) They don’t have friction tuners: The friction tuners on beginner level ukuleles are universally awful. I wonder how many people have given up on the ukulele because they couldn’t get the tuners to stick and didn’t realise you could tighten them.
6) It’s easier to find tabs and lessons online: There’s a whole lot more than there used to be. But the uke stuff still doesn’t come close to the amount (and, dare I say, quality) of guitar stuff.
7) You can buy a decent guitar in a shop: Imagine that. Walking into a shop and being able to try a wide range of instruments of playable quality and decide which one you like best. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a shop with more than one ukulele for sale. And I’ve never been in one with more than zero good ukuleles for sale.
8) No one cares what strumming pattern you use on the guitar: In my many years on the dark side, I don’t ever remember anyone discussing any strumming patterns.
9) The strings are in the right order: What the hell kind of sense does re-entrant tuning make anyway?
10) It’s physically possible to play and E chord on the guitar."

So now I'm supposed to post a ukulele song, right? Here's a song featuring the bass instead. It has four strings too.

Luqman - MeShell Ndegéocello

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