Sunday, December 30, 2007

Veseliyka @ Folklore Village

Somehow, I seem to have become a member of yet another band, at least temporarily. The name of the group is Veseliyka and they play traditional balkan music. Balkan music is, to me, some of the most exciting music in the world and it is a joy to have the opportunity to play this music in yet another band (The Reptile Palace Orchestra has a lot of balkan music in its repertoire, although RPO tends to "reptilize" most everything we do) and to play it on a different instrument. Veseliyka consists of David Kantor (gajda and kaval), Yulian Yordanov (vocals and tupan) and me (tambura.) David is an excellent musician and Yuli is a former professional dancer and dance instructor from Bulgaria who can also play a mean accordian and is a superb vocalist. The instrument I'm playing with this group, the tambura, is an instrument I had never played before. I must be insane. I don't know, exactly, the history of how they came to ask me to play with them, but they were in need of a tambura player for an imminent show at Folklore Village's annual Christmas Festival in Dodgeville, Wisconsin. I suspect I wasn't their first choice. Probably, they would have preferred Biff Blumfumgagnge, string player extraordinaire of the Reptile Palace Orchestra, The Gomers and numerous others. I believe they asked a few other people as well, including my brother Bill. Bill suggested that I would be a good candidate if they were looking for someone who could pick up an unfamiliar stringed instrument and learn a bunch of songs in a hurry. I decided it would be worth a try. I had about three weeks to practice the songs prior to the performance on December 29. On the night of the show, my mood was dampened a bit due to the fact that my family was not allowed to accompany me, the event having sold out. (I have been involved in very few gigs where my family was not welcome to attend, usually at no cost [we were prepared to pay for their admission on this one.] Families of musicians and other performers sacrifice a great deal. In addition to the time spent at actual gigs, there are countless hours spent at rehearsals, practicing, etc. With very few exceptions, it's sort of an unwritten rule in musical circles that performers often bring family members with them, and they are treated like any other guest. Add this to the fact that my family and I have been involved, on and off, with FV for over thirty years, and I have to say that there were some harsh words spoken in our house about the whole business. There is much more that could be written about this particular issue, but for now, I'll just say I may have had somewhat of a bad attitude during much of the festivities.)

Folklore Village had brought Yves Moreau to teach Bulgarian dances for the day and we had sent him a list of the songs we were going to play so he could teach dances to go with them if he thought that that would be the thing to do. I must admit I felt like somewhat of an impostor playing an instrument I didn't really know how to play in the lofty presence of Mr. Moreau. (Of course, I often feel like an impostor when I play. I just pretend I'm a real musician and nobody seems to know any different, so what the heck.) After the dinner, the folksy speeches and the cute skits, it was time to play. Lo and behold, people danced. And they thought we were great. I really enjoyed playing and, when we finished, the applause was quite loud and enthusiastic. Hah! Fooled 'em again! It looks like I will have at least one more opportunity to play with Veseliyka. Look for us at the Madison Folk Ball on January 25, 2008 at the Memorial Union on the University of Wisconsin campus! If you have the chance, check it out - the Folk Ball is a wonderful event which I have attended every year for the last ten years or so.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Happy holiday thingies!

Hello? Is there anybody out there? Five days of internet and telephone problems can give one a sense of disconnectedness in these times of electronic communication. Add to that the fact that this all started happening on the heels of a dual-gig Friday (one at 8:00 a.m. and another, out of town, at 10:00 p.m.) which saw me arriving home at about 3:30 a.m. on Saturday. Of course, after dragging myself out of bed on Saturday, there were christmas errands and a dinner engagement (I think - it all seems so long ago.) It rained all day Saturday, destroying so much of our beautiful snow, and later in the evening the temperature dropped and it all froze (I had to chisel my way into my car on Sunday morning.) Somewhere during the freeze is when our phone and internet connection went somewhere else. Many of our neighbors were in the same boat, so I assumed the weather conditions were responsible. I’ll skip the boring details, but I will say that it was particularly inconvenient to have all this take place while relatives were coming to town and plans were supposed to be taking shape for the ensuing days. It all seems to be working now and I’ve just finished catching up on the most important e-mails, so I thought I’d put a little something up so my readers (I think I have at least six "regulars" now) wouldn’t think I’d deserted them. Happy holiday thingies everyone! (Yes, I intentionally avoided saying “Merry Christmas”, partly because I enjoy pissing off those fundamentalists and partly because not everyone does christmas™.)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Reptile Palace Orchestra: Neenah, WI

I'll be playing with the Reptile Palace Orchestra at Cranky Pat's in Neenah, WI tomorrow night (12/21/07) at 10:00 pm. If you happen to be in the area, or know someone in the area, it should be a good time. I'm told they make a mean pizza.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


It has been a good year for icicles here in Madison. Unfortunately, while they look cool, they're can cause damage to property and can also be dangerous. Our next-door neighbors had a really impressive collection, but when I went out to get a picture, I found that their landlord had knocked them all off. Here are some others:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Another broken record

The Mighty Pack, still the only socialist team in major league sports, secured the 2nd seed in the playoffs with a 33-14 win over the
St. Louis Rams today. Thanks to Philadelphia, they have a shot at the top seed, although, in order for that to happen, Dallas needs to lose one game and the Packers need to win their last two. Probably the most notable event in this game was Brett Favre surpassing Dan Marino's record of 61,361 career passing yards. Favre now holds just about every record a quarterback can hold. Most consecutive starts by a quarterback (251), games won (160), career touchdown passes (440), pass attempts (8,715), pass completions (5,351), interceptions (438) and now passing yards (61,405). Pretty amazing.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Five Little Known Facts About Me

I’ve been tagged by Dr. Monkey von Monkerstein with the Five Little Known Facts About Me meme. Memememeeme. Me. So, here goes:

1) I have birthmarks on my stomach in the shape of the Big Dipper. Really. Okay, so one of the stars/marks is missing, but the other six are there and it definitely looks like the Dipper. Maybe I’ll have the seventh one tattooed some day.

2) I can roll my stomach. Like a bellydancer. I learned how to do it when I was but a wee bairn by using my rolling stomach to make waves in the bathtub. I've succeeded in teaching Sparkly Seacow to roll her stomach, too.

3) I used to work for a company that makes high-end electric guitars. One of the instruments that we made was cursed. Seriously. Maybe I’ll tell that story at a later date.

4) While a member of Appliances-SFB, I played at the legendary and now defunct CBGB. Oddly, it seems that just about everywhere that band played over the 17 years I was with them has either gone out of business or burned down. A-SFB was an exciting group with which to be involved. Most gigs were an experiment in controlled (or uncontrolled) chaos. Unfortunately, although we played a lot and released three albums, one of which was released in Germany, we never managed to achieve any commercial success. I choose to believe we were ahead of our time. I'd link to them, but there's not much to which to link. The albums can be purchased from Rockhaus (the third album is available now, and the first two should be re-issued any week, now). I found a YouTube video here, a review of our second album here and some poster art here.

5) I saw Jim Morrison’s gravestone in Paris not long before it was stolen. I must point out that I didn’t go to a lot of trouble to see it. It was merely coincidence that the friend that Ms. Ether and I were visiting while on our honeymoon lived about a block from the cemetery. It was something to do while walking around the neighborhood. Cemeteries in Paris are much more crowded than cemeteries in the U.S. We didn’t think it would be possible to find any particular grave without being lucky, simply because you couldn’t see more than a couple of graves from any one spot. Kind of like trying to find a building in New York city without knowing its address. Well, we found it all right, and it didn’t take much luck, either. Gathered around the grave, looking seriously bummed, were a handful of youngsters dressed as punks and goths: lots of black clothing, studded leather, spiked mohawks and black eyeliner. I felt like saying something like "Yup. He's still dead." But I didn't. The area surrounding the grave was littered with cut flowers in empty liquor bottles. While leaving the cemetery, we met a man (seemingly Indian or Pakistani, by his accent - due to my ignorance, I can’t be sure), heading the other way with a book that listed all the famous people buried there. I remember Victor Hugo was one. He asked us, in his melodic accent, “Excuse me. Do you know where is the grave of Jack Morrison?” Just follow the spray paint, dude. You can't miss it. Throughout the cemetery were graves defaced with spray paint that said “Jim” with an arrow pointing in the direction of Morrison’s grave. Unbelievable.

Now I tag Cinderbelle, Sparkly Seacow and Luminiferous Ether.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Way Things Go

I just got an e-mail from a friend of mine. You know the kind of e-mail I mean - obviously been making the rounds, a fair amount of hyperbole, etc. It was about this "Fantastic Machine" that took these people 13,029 hours to build, blah, blah. After looking at it, I was pretty sure it was fake, and sure enough, it was; no such machine exists. But, it reminded me of a great film called "The Way Things Go" made in 1987 by Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss. It's about half an hour long and the whole thing is just a Rube Goldberg type experiment. It has no point or function, but it certainly is fun. I give it two big, enthusiastic, well-lubricated thumbs way, way up. To see the whole thing, you have to buy or rent it. Or get it from your local library. Here's a little clip:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


So, last Saturday night, after all the insanity of the first part of the day was done, Ms. Geranium/Ether and I attended the Bereaved Parents Support Group's remembrance service. Ms. G/E wrote about it and did a much better job than I could. Every year, it seems that it falls on the same day as Sparkly Seacow's final play of the season which also means cast party, which in turn means preparing food for the party, buying last minute "Secret Buddy" gifts and either chauffeuring kids or making arrangements with other parents to do the chauffeuring. Then it's off in a mad rush to get to the service in time to tune up. Then we get to stop for an hour of stillness, listening, thinking about our daughter, Sophie, and also all the people around us who have also lost children. It's an intensely emotional experience.

After the service, there was some time for socializing with the people we've come to know over the years, but then it was off to a gig with The Reptile Palace Orchestra. The service was on Madison's far west side and the gig on the not-too-far east side. And, of course, it was snowing, so visibility and road conditions weren't too good. Since I had stayed at the service a little longer than I had planned, I had to keep reminding myself to take it easy; I would make it with enough time to get set up and, even if I didn't, there was no need to hurry. Once I got there, of course there wasn't a parking spot anywhere near the house where we were playing, so I lug my gear through the snow, running late (although I had warned the rest of the group I would be showing up at the last minute) and feeling a little stressed once again. I had no idea for whom we were playing (this is not an unusual occurrence with this group - I go where they tell me to go and see what's what when I get there), I only knew it was a private party. Upon entering the building, which was a large old mansion, I found a wild party in full swing. We were playing on the third floor, so up the two flights of steps to a large, crowded remodeled attic, trying to politely work my way through all the party-goers with my bass and assorted pieces of equipment. Fortunately, I was able to do it in only two trips. The band before us was still playing, so I needn't have worried, after all. I stashed my stuff in a corner and looked around for the rest of my band mates, none of whom were anywhere in sight. When I found some of them (gathered around the food, of course!), I inquired as to the nature of the festivities. It turned out that it was the annual holiday party for a local hospital's emergency-room staff. I must say it was quite a contrast, going from the remembrance service with it's sober mood, to this gathering of people hell-bent on having fun. When I say wild, I don't mean the excessive drinking of a fraternity party, but there was a definite sense of people letting loose. Many were dressed to the nines (or maybe tens or elevens) and there was an impressive spread of food and drink that appeared to have been catered by an organization that hired young Russian women to keep the refreshments well-stocked. One band member thought the servers were volunteers from the hospital staff, but that seemed unlikely to me. Anyway, I was definitely feeling a bit overwhelmed by the extreme environmental juxtaposition. It must have been obvious since our singer approached me to make sure I was alright. It seemed like it was going to be a loooong night.

Now, please bear with me a moment while I go off on a tangent about what keeps me playing music despite the meager rewards. After most gigs, I can look back and think "that went pretty well," or "I had a good time tonight" or "that wasn't my best gig," or something along those lines. People tell me I'm a good bassist. I make no such claims, but, every now and then, for some reason that I'm not able to reproduce at will (the moon is in the seventh house, or something like that), I can have a sort of out-of-body experience while playing; I feel like I'm channeling some god (goddess?) or other, or I've somehow managed to tap into some primal force. It feels pretty good. Better than just about anything in the world, actually. I'm not saying that I do anything that anyone else couldn't do, or that anyone listening would even notice anything different from any other night, but when that happens it feels as if the music flows right through me without any interference from my brain. It's those moments that keep me playing through the times when I feel like a terrible bassist, it's too much work, I don't get paid enough, and all those other things that could cause one to hang it up. That probably doesn't make any sense at all, but it's the best I can do for now.

So, back to the party. Okay? Okay. Dreadfully hot, crowded and I feel like my head is going to explode from too much everything before we even start playing. Then, we start, and I have one of those nights. Maybe it was due to the spiritual nature of the remembrance service. Maybe the moon was in the seventh condo on the right. Maybe it was because everyone in attendance was flying high and I knew I could stray into uncharted territory and no one would notice or, if they did, care. Maybe it was some combination of all of the above. Or maybe it was just the weird mould on the unpronounceable cheese. I really don't know, but it seemed that the whole band was listening and responding to each other exceptionally well and at least some of the audience was really enjoying the music. It was great.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

What a week!

What a week it has been. Sparkly Seacow was in the last week of her play, Ali Baba and a Few Thieves, (which requires lots of driving kids around, preparing stuff for the cast party, etc) Ms. Geranium (aka Ms. Ether) was preparing (sewing like a mad woman) for the "No More Shopping Days 'Til Peace" sale she had dreamt up, she and I attended and played a song at the Bereaved Parents Support Group's remembrance service (I intend to write more on that, maybe tomorrow), I had three rehearsals and a gig (maybe more on that tomorrow, as well) and in-laws are visiting. It's all good stuff, but I'm tired.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Dang, it's cold!

I just got back from walking the dogs and my fingers are . . . wait a minute! Do I have fingers? Where are they? Uff da! It feels great, though. I loooove cold weather!

Rogue viral story

Okay, so I swiped the first bits of this from Dr. Monkey von Monkerstein. I admit, I wasn't tagged as one of The Three Chosen Participants, but WTF, it's all for fun, right? Now I'm going rogue. I copied what had been written so far and added my own. Nyaah, nyaah! I tag Luminiferous Ether, Cinderbelle, Sparkly Seacow, Crayons and Jess Wundrun. If you're not tagged and want to be, it's because I'm a moron, not because I believe you to be unworthy. Seeing as this story has already gone rogue at this point, why not be a little roguish yourself? As if you need my permission. The only problem I can see is, how does one follow the infinite directions this might take? Don't know. Maybe someone out there has the answer.

I woke up hungry. I pulled my bedroom curtain to the side and looked out on a hazy morning. I dragged myself into the kitchen, in search of something to eat. I reached for a jar of applesauce sitting next to the sink, and found it very cold to the touch. I opened the jar and realized it was frozen. (Splotchy)

"That's strange," I said out loud to no one in particular. My fingers slowly reached towards the jar again. My body experienced a wave of apprehension as weighted blanket covering me as I did so. The jar was completely frozen. I picked it up and stared at it, my fingers stung with little knives of chill. "What the..." again I spoke aloud. Then I realized what had happened with a shock. Suddenly the jar flew from my hand. It shattered creating a collage-like mixture of frozen applesauce and glass shards on my kitchen floor, the lid lazily rolling to a stop across the room.(FranIam)

She flicked the lid with her massive big toe. "So, I guess I'll be having another Camel for breakfast and you'll be having a breakfast date with the Electrolux." She lit her Camel cigarette as she turned to open the closet door where we kept the vacuum. "In case you're wondering how the applesauce got frozen, I seem to recall you insisting that I stick it in the freezer before we went to bed last night." She pushed the Electrolux at me and it squooshed through the rapidly unfreezing applesauce and the glass shards. "This kind of crap happens all the time when we go drinking with the Brazilians." (Dr. Monkey)

Suddenly, the front door erupted in an explosion of wood splinters. “Jesus in a bucket! They’ve found me!” I thought as I dove out the kitchen window. My experiments with frozen applesauce, Camel cigarettes and Electrolux vacuum cleaners were supposed to be a secret, but, apparently, they weren’t as secret as I had thought. What would happen if the formula fell into the wrong hands? All my work, for naught! Who had leaked the information? Was it her? Or possibly one of the Brazilians? “Now the damned Department of Homeland Security will ruin everything I’ve worked so hard to achieve!” was the last thing that went through my mind before I was surrounded. (Enriched Geranium)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Snow snow snow snow snow

Last Saturday's snowfall has now turned solid as concrete. Now we're getting some nice, light, fluffy snow to make it look all nice and soft and pretty like. Easy to shovel and no gigs to cancel! More snow! More snow!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

More biking!

Since even before becoming a deadbeat (read: unemployed), I've been trying to make more use of my bicycle. I can use the excercise, for one thing, and it sticks in my craw to give money to the rich bastards that control most of the world's petroleum. Even though I try to always fuel up at a Citgo (the only nationalised oil company owned by a democratically elected government: Venezuela), I also hate the fact that, every time I drive my car, environmentally speaking, I'm contributing to the problem and not the solution.

Here's the trusty steed parked on the Yahara River bike path. It's a Trek 750 (made in Wisconsin!) purchased in 1992 and recently modified by the good people at Revolution Cycles to make it a more comfortable ride.

Madison has truly become a great city for biking. This tunnel alone, finished about a year ago, has made bicycle access to and from my house so much easier. There are still a few parts of the city lacking adequate bike paths, but, for the most part, you can bike to so many places without needing to fight traffic. Many times, it's actually faster than driving.

I also love the fact that, when you bicycle somewhere, you're much less isolated from the things around you. I've driven past this part of Lake Mendota countless times, but rarely really look at it when in a car. I took these photos on a rainy day about two weeks ago while coming home from downtown. I got rather wet, but that was okay. I appreciated the weather more as a result of being out in it.

Now that winter has finally arrived, I will have to figure out how to continue bicycling. All this snow we just got makes it rather difficult, but once the streets are cleared, it should be mostly a matter of dressing properly. Last Friday I rode about 7 or 8 miles in 20 degree weather. My torso was too warm and my face, fingers and legs were numb by the time I got home. Clearly, I wasn't dressed properly.

Show canceled

Snow. Sleet. Freezing rain. Show canceled. Major bummer. I know it was the right thing to do, but I enjoy playing with this group so much that it's disappointing to have a gig canceled. I hate snow.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


It's snowing. Nine inches are predicted today, followed by freezing rain. I love snow. Lots of snow. But, I have a gig in Waukesha tonight. Hmmm....