Wednesday, May 31, 2006

He Proves by Algebra

It is a shame that the world is so cruel to the penniless. This truism comes to mind because once early in my life I had the most inspiring, enjoyable and rewarding job that anyone ever had in all the world of space and time. But because I suffered the world's cold indifference to the penurious, I had to give it up for the comparatively princely paychecks on offer in the halls of paperback-book publishing.

The job, which, I liked to joke acidly, paid in the "high four figures" (this in New York City in the mid-Eighties -- not a fashionable time or place to be church-mouse-poor), was as a recording engineer for the Talking Books division of the American Foundation for the Blind. For four ninety-minute sessions a day, I would run a tape machine (marvelous old MCI mono jobs, quarter-inch tape) and follow along in the text as a narrator read a book aloud. In essence, I was the producer for the sessions, making sure no text was skipped, correcting pronunciation, researching foreign terminology, and offering only occasionally welcome advice on line-readings. To boil it down further, I was paid to read books all day. Not a half-bad gig.

The readers at AFB weren't your volunteers or your off-the-street hacks. The money AFB saved on paying their engineers was lavished opulently on them instead. Quite a few of them were among the top voiceover talents of their day, and even today I still hear their velvet pipes over commercials and films.

One such gifted reader was Patrick Horgan, a stage and television actor of amazingly wide experience -- he played a Nazi on an episode of Star Trek: TOS, had long-running roles on the soaps The Doctors and The Guiding Light, had a part in the original Thomas Crown Affair. If you've ever watched the great Woody Allen flick Zelig, for which he provided narration, you'll have experienced the wonderfulness of his plummy accent, so posh it verges on parody. A true Renaissance man, Horgan was also renowned in the world of James Joyce scholarship, and was considered quite a big noise among the devotees of Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes in particular -- he played Holmes onstage on numerous occasions and was a fixture in the world of Sherlockiana.

Horgan could be irascible with the hired help, if they slowed the session down by fumbling a tape or stopping the proceedings for some triviality. Because I was very good at my job, I think he enjoyed working with me. Once, owing to his expertise in Joyce, he was given both Finnegans Wake and Richard Ellman's magisterial Joyce biography to narrate, and as I enjoyed some seniority among the plebes, I leaned on the boss to slip me those sessions. Looking back on my life now, I can say that those months were unquestionably a high-water mark for me, even if I couldn't afford a new shirt.

Once during a break in those sessions, we chatted of this and that while I rewound a tape. He began to tell me of a research project he had embarked on, a "detective story" that he was unraveling to his enormous enjoyment. It was his contention that Arthur Conan Doyle, a known prankster who, it has been famously suggested, was the agent behind the Piltdown Man hoax, commited his greatest prank of all when he killed off Sherlock Holmes in 1893 and then resurrected him in 1903. Horgan's belief, which he based on evidence he'd found in the Holmes stories, novels and plays themelves, was that Doyle had always intended to kill off Holmes and resurrect him, and that he had planted clues as to this fact in the Holmes stories both before and after the Hiatus, as a hint to his readers, an invitation to use Holmes' "methods" to embark on a detective story of their own.

One of my life's great regrets is that I didn't immediately invite Horgan to a pub, buy him a beer or three, and prod him further on this audacious idea. In my stupid youthful shyness I didn't think Horgan would have accepted such an invitation from one so insignificant as I -- and besides, I couldn't afford a beer for myself, let alone a few for him.

As we were preparing to continue our session, Horgan gave me one hint about the nature of the clues he was uncovering in the Holmes Canon. He pointed out that The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes begins with the story "Silver Blaze" and ends with "The Final Problem," in which Holmes and Professor Moriarty appear to fall to their doom in the Reichenbach Falls. In "Silver Blaze," the horse at the center of the tale wins the Wessex Cup. In "The Final Problem," Holmes and Moriarty engage in their death-match on "the lip" of the Falls -- a very unorthodox word for Doyle to choose. Horgan continued, "Now surely the pairing of 'cup' and 'lip' suggests to you the proverb that comes to us from the tale of Jason and the Argonauts, doesn't it?" I confessed my classical education was woefully inadequate to answer. "There's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip!" he supplied triumphantly, clearly expecting some sort of lightbulb to appear over my head.

Completely flummoxed, all I could do was smile idiotically.

I have reread the Holmes Canon twice since those days -- I was a slavering devotee as a boy, read the stories incessantly -- but have never been able to discern any sort of pattern to the stories, any hint that Doyle was up to some sort of cosmic deviousness.

In a fit of nostalgia a few weeks ago, I Googled Horgan's name to see what he was up to these days. Not only was I able to find him immediately, but I also found that he'd written a book about his Holmes "detective story" project, titled The Detection of Sherlock Holmes. There appears to exist in print only an audio-book version of it, narrated by Horgan himself, but I ordered it immediately, with trembling fingers. It's not often that you're given the opportunity to clear up a twenty-year-old mystery, and I leaped at the chance.

Frankly, I think you should too.

When the CD arrived, I transferred it posthaste into my iPod, and spent a deliriously happy week and a half listening to it during my commute. My enjoyment was perhaps more nuanced than most peoples' might be, as it mingled the immediate pleasure of the detective story with a breathtaking plunge back into my mid-twenties in 1984, when the world was young and Wonder Woman and I were falling deeply in love. Once when I discerned a page rustling along about 3:55 into Chapter Eight, I had to fight the urge to reach to my right, stop the tape and start Horgan back at the top of the graf.

So what exactly had Horgan found in the Holmes stories that led him to believe that Doyle had killed Holmes and brought him back in the greatest literary prank ever pulled? Remember that I said that Horgan was a scholar -- a renowned one -- of both A. C. Doyle and James Joyce? What he did was to apply the sort of close textual analysis to Doyle that you might bring to the work of Joyce. Without revealing too much -- you should enjoy the "detective story" as much as I did -- Horgan has discerned Irish Bardic patterns in character- and place-names, found veiled references to highly specific incidents from English history, identified parallels between the Holmes stories and classical literature, and woven them all together in a series of diagrammatic summaries that are as fascinating as they are baffling.

To listen to Horgan's analysis is to swing violently between dismissiveness and grudging credulity. One moment you will find yourself pshaw-ing: "Oh, right! The housekeeper in "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" is a stand-in for Helen of Troy!" But the next you find yourself wondering, "Now why the hell would Doyle have chosen exactly that word?"

The a-ha! moment for me was when Horgan brings up the pedigree of Professor Moriarty. Holmes says of him in "The Final Problem," "At the age of twenty-one he wrote a treatise on the Binomial Theorem, which has had a European vogue. On the strength of it, he won the Mathematical Chair at one of our smaller universities...." What had never occurred to me before, but now smacks me across the face, is that the Binomial Theorem, by 1893 when this story takes place, had been locked down by Sir Isaac Newton! There hadn't been anything new to say about it for two hundred years! Doyle was a very erudite man, a doctor of medicine, and would have known this! This strongly suggests that Doyle wanted us to think of other meanings of the word binomial, and this leads us into -- well. Don't want to spoil the surprise.

Horgan's book is way-up-in-your-head, so-erudite-it's-just-stupid, HyperMegaUltraColossal Brainiac fun. Go for it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

For Goodness' Sake!

I got the hippy-hippy shake!
I got the shake!
The hippy-hippy shake!

You shake it at the bride
You shake it at the groom
Watch your newly severed leg
Go skitter 'cross the room!

Yes, well.

You remember all that bitching I was doing a few weeks ago about the bursitis in my hip?


It, er, wasn't bursitis.

The Gods of Comedy have decided in their infinite wisdom that Your Humble and Ob't wasn't saddled with quite the requisite amount of Uninvited Irony, and with that quiet insouciance that is their stock in trade have been squeezing the blood supply to the ball of my left femur, resulting in what the orthopedic surgeon I have just consulted calls Stage Two Avascular Necrosis. I prefer to think of it as Bo Jackson's Disease, and will henceforth refer to it thus, in an effort to rehabilitate an otherwise pretty fuckin' dreary little syndrome.

I have spent the last two weeks under the decidedly uncheerful prospect of total hip replacement, but now Doctor Subtilis thinks the joint can be saved. There has as yet been no collapse of the surface of the ball of the femur, and in this early stage the accepted practice, which has about a 70% success rate, is to drill about four inches into the bone starting at the hip pointer and going up into the ball, cleaning out the edema that is squeezing my veins, relieving pressure on the ball and (it is hoped) restoring blood supply to the joint. You can see an example of what I'm talking about in the x-ray image at the top of this post -- see the straight line through that poor bastard's hip-joint? That's gonna be me.

The drilled hole will be filled with a bone graft, which led to the following knee-slapping interchange:

Me: So where does the bone for the graft come from? [Thinking, maybe it's taken from my tibia or something)

Doctor Subtilis: Dead guy.

Me: Ah.

See how the Gods of Comedy work? I'll be carrying a piece of John Allen Muhammad's flippin' anklebone around in my hip for the rest of my life -- or less, if I fall into the unlucky 30% for whom this procedure doesn't work, in which case I will insist that the old dead hip come home with me in a jar of formaldehyde for proud display on my mantelpiece. A capital conversation-piece.

I don't know yet when this thing is going to happen -- I'd rather it be sooner than later -- but I'll be certain sure to live-blog it for you. I'll be on my back, making a pest of myself to Wonder Woman and abusing my post-op painkillers for a week or so, then on crutches for six weeks.

Oh, I'm gonna milk for all it's worth. Dahhhling, be a love and fetch me the TV remote -- it's there, on the floor at my feet... I'd lean over and reach for it myself, but I do ache so!

Doctor Subtilis, by the way, is Orthopedic Surgeon to the Washington Redskins. He's already had his hooks in me twice -- once for a broken collarbone and once for a torn rotator cuff, so I know and trust the guy. What I don't trust any more is my own worthless body.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Tell of the Storm-tossed Man, O Muse!

Caution: Spoilers Galore. If you haven't watched the season-ender of Lost yet and you care about such things, go read Bobby Lightfoot or something.

I was prepared to watch Wednesday night's season finale of Lost curled up on the sofa with nothing in my mind, a fine young V&T at my elbow and a seraphic smile playing about my lips. The themes that had led to my earlier feverish theorizing about Enlightenment philosophy, predestination and free will seemed to have been largely downplayed by the show's writers this season. There have certainly been hints that the theme isn't dead, but the general trend has been away from the whole Enlightenment gestalt while the Castaways struggle to figure out the Hatch and deal with the Others.

My cheerful obliviousness lasted until approximately 30 seconds into this season-ending episode, when our new friend Desmond is speaking, in a flashback, to a contemptuous prison guard who is giving him back his pre-imprisonment possessions. The guard hands him his precious copy of Dickens' Our Mutual Friend. Desmond explains that he's saving Dickens' last complete novel as the last book he will ever read, something he will consume on his deathbed. "Nice idea," spits the soldier, "As long as you know when you're going to die." As long, that is to say, as your death is predestined.

The soldier then pronounces Desmond's full name: "Lance Corporal Desmond David Hume."

Ding, ding, ding! I sat bolt upright, and began beating on my laptop's keyboard, conveniently handy, and didn't stop until the show was over. Thanks be to Vishnu for TiVo.


We now have three Enlightenment philosophes on the Island: Rousseau, the Noble Savage who lives by herself, refusing to join the castaways -- refusing, that is, to submit to her namesake's Social Contract; the by now painfully conflicted John Locke, who began by believing passionately in Calvinistic predestination but has fallen away from what he now believes to be a delusion; and now David Hume -- he of the Scottish Enlightenment, one of the founders of the modern Scientific Method. The historical David Hume, a hero to right-thinking people everywhere, was profoundly influenced by the empiricism of the historical John Locke, who died a few years before Hume was born. Hume also befriended, and then fell out with, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. From the Wikipedia article on the history of the Scientific Method:
[A]mong [Hume's] positions was that there is no logical necessity that the future should resemble the past, thus we are unable to justify inductive reasoning itself by appealing to its past success. Hume's arguments, of course, came on the heels of many, many centuries of excessive speculation upon excessive speculation not grounded in empirical observation and testing.
(The name Desmond, by the way, derives from the Irish: "Man of South Munster." While this is not particularly suggestive, reading it as a variant on the French du mond gives us "Man of the World," which is very evocative indeed: "Man of the World, David Hume.")

How does Hume's return to the Island play out in the season-ending episode?

Locke begins to act on his idée fixe that the "every-108-minutes" task is a lie, believing it now to be a Skinnerian psychological experiment on the Hatch-dwellers conducted by observers on another part of the Island. Remember, last season he was the Man of Faith against Jack's Man of Science. He has abandoned, it appears, his unreasoned belief that the events on the Island are predestined. But he has passed on the 108-minutes belief system to Mr. Eko, who now obsesses on it through a clearly religious filter. When Locke attempts to end the delusionary experiment, Eko strikes him across the face with the stick on which he has carved Bible verses, and expels him from the Hatch in what looks for all the world exactly like an excommunication.

The cast-out Locke, bereft of the grounding of his faith, is found weeping in the woods by Charlie, who facilitiates his reunion with Desmond David Hume.

Now, how have the Castaways been approaching the problem of their stranding? Has a single one of them attempted to apply to their situation cold, hard reasoning based on facts-as-they-are-known? Rather than think their way through their problem, they blunder about blindly from one disaster to the next. Have they tried to perform experiments to discern the exact nature of that electromagnetic whatever-the-hell-it-is behind that concrete wall in the Hatch? Have they attempted to use the principles of celestial navigation to fix their position in the world? Surely they have accurate watches that still function and that are still fixed to Sydney Time; has one of them thought to establish their longitude using one of these watches as a chronometer? Have they so much as followed the cables that link their computer to the other parts of the Island? Drawn a diagram of the pipes and electrical wiring in the Hatch to attempt to understand the Doomsday Machine it controls?

The answer, of course, is No. They have thrown in their lot with a clumsy, unelected leader, Jack, who appears to have forgotten anything he may once have known about the Scientific Method -- and when attacked by the Others, whose first thought is to raise an army to prepare for war against an unknowable enemy of indeterminate strength. (Golly, where have I heard that before?) Locke is acting on evidence gleaned from a mysterious map he briefly saw painted on a blast-door -- a map that, we now know, was placed there by people even more desperately deluded than he. Sayid gave up on Rousseau's tantalizingly substantial but slightly askew maps of the Island after a few minutes' consideration in the first season. Every one of them falls into the trap of "excessive speculation upon excessive speculation not grounded in empirical observation and testing."

And who is it, in the episode's final few minutes, who is finally able to act on actual, concrete evidence? Who does the hard brain-work, who slogs through a pile of computer logs, printed on endless reams of that antiquated printer-paper, and through inductive analysis of irrefutable, empirical data, actually solves the problem of the 108-minute task?

Desmond "Man of the World" David Hume.

Meanwhile, I was using the evidence of my senses to objectively conclude that Evangeline Lilly's pitties are as turkey as evarrr.

Desmond David Hume as Odysseus
  • The love of Hume's life is named Penelope. After he is separated from her, she is courted by other suitors, and appears in one scene to have made plans to marry one of them. However, in the last act, when Our Mutual Friend is finally opened, her note reads, "I will wait for you forever."

  • Hume sets off on an around-the-world sailing competition. His boat crashes on the Island, where he is drawn into a strange, three-year-long imprisonment in a deep hole that bears more than a passing resemblance to Hades.

  • The Penelope of the Odyssey spent three years, the same amount of time as Hume spent in the Hatch/Hades, fending off suitors by the trick of pretending to weave a burial shroud, promising she will choose a suitor after the shroud is finished. Each night she unweaves what she has woven during the day.

  • He escapes from the island and sails west for two and a half weeks, only to arrive where he started. If one sails west, and only west, and arrives back at one's starting point, one must have circumnavigated the globe, a twisted mirroring of Hume's original Odyssey -- "We're stuck in a bloody snow-globe," he slurs drunkenly to Jack. From the Wikipedia summary of of Book X of The Odyssey: "Next we met Aeolus, the Keeper of the Winds, who sent us on our way with a steady breeze. He'd given me a leather bag, which my crew mistook for booty. They opened it and released a hurricane that blew us back to where we'd started."

  • In the episode's coda, Penelope is summoned.
The story is far from over yet, but it might be rewarding to watch Lost with a copy of The Odyssey at hand. How much do you want to bet that that weird four-toed ruin of a statue turns out to have only one eye?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Five Score and Seven Years Ago

While I work on my Magnum Opus about last night's season-ender of Lost (I need to watch it again to see if I missed any of what seemed like thousands of references and mirrorings of the issues at stake in Enlightenment thought -- "Lance Corporal Desmond David Hume," forsooth!), I'd like to take this short interval to make an Announcement.

Al Franken, in reaction to the Senate's profoundly silly vote to make English the official language of the United States, has proffered other laws that he feels should be passed. Among these are a statute making Base Ten the United States' official numeral system.

(I can't seem to type "United"; consistently rendering it instead "Untied." Hmm.)

As an act of civil disobedience against this proposed deeply unjust, discriminatory and ill-considered law, from this moment on, I, my family and my henchmen will conduct all our arithmetic business in Base Eight. I urge all my readers (all 12, old-style 10, of you) to follow suit. Yes, check-writing will be somewhat more complicated, but frankly I don't think most of you write all that many checks anyway.

2-4-6-10! Decimal digits is what we hate!
Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Two of these fingers got to go!

Monday, May 22, 2006


At 11:56:23 this morning, someone entered these genteel quarters by clicking on a search result at Using a penis pump correctly.

Leaving aside for a moment the question of why in the name of sixteen tumescent Harry Reemses my innocent li'l blue-eyed blog would find itself on the first page of returns for such a search term, I address the perhaps more fertile question: Dude, didn't the thing come with directions?
Oooooh owwwwwwww owie owie ow! Ohhhh Jesus that stings! Oh, Christ, it's turning black and blue! I better take stock, here, better review... OK, so slamming the thing up my nose didn't work, and putting it on the floor and scrabbling at it with my ass didn't work, and throwing it in the air and letting it land on my head was a bad idea, and on reflection bludgeoning my Johnson repeatedly with it was perhaps even a worse idea. Hindsight's twenty-twenty. Beginning to regret picking the thing up at at that yard sale... Why oh why didn't I just leave it on that table, when I damned well saw the sign: Price Reduced! Lost the User Manual? Me and my tiny, ridiculous little pecker! We'll always be losers! I couldn't -- just couldn't -- go to that adult bookstore at the edge of town and ask for a few pointers from the guys with the tattoos and headscarves. Oh, the mortification!

But wait just a second! Eureka! I'll take advantage of the anonymity of the Internet to resolve my dilemma! Yes, that's it! Brilliant! No one will suspect I'm trying to turn my shameful willie into a powerful, raging love-beast but don't know how to employ this plastic hydraulic device to accomplish this end! Yes, yes!... fire up a browser... (they know all the answers!)... "using a penis pump correctly"... return... Yes! Results! Let's see... "Using Penis Pump including Penis Enlargement Video"... No, that doesn't look right... " How to Use Our Products"... No, couldn't be... A-HA! "By Neddie Jingo!" Yes, that's the link I'm going to click! Sounds like just the sort of fellow who can tell me in excruciating detail all about using a penis-pump correctly....
Good Samaritan Time:

Yo! of Richmond, Michigan, United States! STICK YOUR RISIBLE LITTLE COCK IN IT AND PUMP! It'll be gigantic -- like, four inches long! -- in no time flat! Never mind the blood-blisters, they'll go away with time... The femininas will swoon! Swoon, I tell you!

Good luck! And don't hesitate to let me know if you have any other burning questions that inadvertently reveal your deepest insecurities. We'll git 'er done.

(Later edit: Simultaneous congratulations and sympathies to (Charter Communications) of Riverside, California, United States for coming in this morning on the Google search, "Penis pump blood blister." Ooooooh, that's gotta hurt! Get thee to a doctor, stat!)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

David Mull

This will be long, but I promise it will be rewarding.

I've been waiting quite some time to write this post. It gives me an odd mixture of pleasure and sadness to have finally reached a point where I can write it: pleasure because a rather long and convoluted bit of detective work has finally paid off; but I admit to a touch of melancholy because now the journey is over and I no longer have the thrill of discovery to look forward to.

Some fifty yards southeast of my house, in woods so thick that you can't pass through them in the summer when the undergrowth is dense (not to mention tick- and snake-ridden) stands this pile of stones:

Note the lack of mortar. This is quite an old thing. It was the first thing that attracted me to this place when we were house-hunting two springs ago: who wouldn't be intrigued by a ruined chimney-stack like this? Just how old was it? What had stood here? What stories did it have to tell?

Then and there I resolved to find out exactly who had built it, and when. This, then, was the mystery I set for myself, the one that I am now with confidence able to say I have solved.

The first thing I was able to determine was that the log-cabin portion of my house once belonged to that chimney-stack. The cabin was disassembled and moved uphill fifty yards and reassembled over an 1870s foundation, where it stands today:

The interior was completely renovated in 1991 when the rest of the house was radically remodeled, and this is what it looks like today. (This has nothing to do with the detective story; I just love this room so much that I never resist a chance to show it off):

Since I am sure that the timbers from the old cabin are the ones that now constitute my walls (measurements of foundation-stones taken from the old site fit these timbers perfectly), I am also sure that the person who erected that old chimney made these adze marks on the logs:

(It's a German technique, brought over in the eighteenth century. You don't want cylindrical-log walls: That's trashy. Your walls should be flat, like the genteel people who live in the nice houses have. Secure the log so it won't move. Take your adze -- an ax with the head set perpendicular to the handle, looks a little like a rather deadly hoe -- chop-chop-chop into the log surface a few inches, then with a two-handled draw-knife you remove the chips made by the adze. What you're left with is what you see in the picture above: a nice flat, squared-off surface, but with adze-marks left over where you struck too deeply. For a very detailed discussion of German log-cabin construction techniques, see this Ph.D. thesis summary. The log cabin photographed and discussed on that page is just on the other side of Short Hill, about half a mile as the crow flies.)

So who was this guy, and when did he make those adze marks?

At the County Courthouse, whenever I had some minutes to spare on my commute home, I would stop in an make a pest of myself in the Land Records Room. I worked my way back through increasingly older deeds until I hit a brick wall in the 1870s --right when the cabin was moved uphill. The trail became very convoluted at that point, and I gave up trying to mine that frustrating vein.

My friend and neighbor Tom Bullock is earning a degree in historical preservation. Toward this aim, he's doing a mindbendingly detailed map of the farm properties around Lovettsville, with overlays going back in time: Here's how the property lines looked in 1890, here's how they looked in 1860, and so forth. He's reaching some very interesting and surprising conclusions about rural life in this part of Virginia a hundred, two hundred years ago, but that's a topic for another post. What's relevant here is that one day he excitedly told me he'd found an original name to associate with my property:

David Mull.

You see, Tom had hit on the fiendishly clever expedient of going back to the original Piedmont land grants from Lord Fairfax's time (the 1740s-80s) and working forward in time rather than trying to work backward, as I had been doing. (Fairfax, you may recall, was the fat-cat whose enormous Shannondale and Piedmont grants were surveyed by the young George Washington. He got a whole county named after him.) Almost immediately Tom found a deed of sale of 108 acres from Fairfax to Mull. The plat showed it clearly encompassing what is now my eight acres.

The deed is dated 1775.

Now if you take that plat and overlay it on a modern USGS topographical map, something very interesting becomes immediately clear. There are three colonial-era farmhouses on my road -- mine and two others. Mine lies comfortably in the southwest corner of that 108-acre plat. Only one of the other two lies within it. The one that lies outside belonged to Robert Booth (which is today Mousetrap Farm, an utterly charming house a half-mile away whose very kind owner has us over for swimming parties in the summer). The other is -- well. I'm getting ahead of myself. That's another post.

On the strength of the evidence, it was nearly incontrovertibly David Mull's hardy adze who made those marks on my wall sometime soon after 1775. But who was he? What did he do for a living? What did he like for breakfast? Was he kind to animals? Where did he come from? The answers to these questions seemed hopelessly out of reach. For a long time, I had only this brief and frustrating mention in Eugene Scheel's Loudoun Discovered (Vol. 5):
During the 1760s, the Reverend Charles Lange, Reformed pastor in Frederick [Md.], shepherded the Reformed [Lutheran] congregation in Loudoun. His diary entries of 1767 note that he visited the German Settlement [i.e., Lovettsville]...and administered the Lord's Supper (Communion) to 35, among them Conrad Hickerman, David Edelman, David Moll, and Frank Ritchie.
Assuming the "Moll" to be an alternate spelling, this might mean that Mull was one of the German (i.e., Pennsylvania Dutch) squatters who migrated south in the 1730s and '40s from Lancaster County, Pa., and founded what is today known as Lovettsville. But no guarantees.

I found his will, dated 1794, in the Old Records Room. Handwriting analysts among you should be warned: The will says explicitly that Mull was "very sick and weak but of perfect mind and memory" when he put this signature on the document:

"Daid Mooll." Hey: his son had to sign his own will with an X. Those were not literate times. (Oh, wait, that's right. Those were perhaps the most literate times the world has ever known or ever will again.) Well. Not literate times for Pennsylvania Dutch squatters, anyway.

But yesterday, light finally dawned. I caught the old reprobate!

Having ankled into the Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg (the definitive genealogical repository for Northern Virginia, a place where among a certain antediluvian and highly remunerated set, Breeding and Quality are highly prized), I inquired of the librarian on duty if she had within her databases any record of Mr. Mull's existence.


Two requests for information on Mull had come in from the Indiana area in the last twenty years, sent by descendants researching their roots. The more informative of the two included an excerpt from their family tree. Here, then, is an aggregated summary of what I now know about David Mull:

He was born in Germany in 1731 and came to Lancaster County, Pa., in 1740, at the tender age of nine years, as an indentured servant. His original name was Muhle, but he changed the spelling and pronunciation to the Scottish-sounding Mull. It is not known when he married Margaret, but it is likely that he met her in Lancaster County before he migrated south to Lovettsville. He would have worked off his indenture in seven years, earning his freedom at the age of 16 in 1747. Some ten years earlier, a squabble had arisen over the exact placement and nature of the Maryland-Pennsylvania border, resulting in a "reconaissance in force" by Lancaster County troopers against Marylanders. (This conflict pointed up the need for an accurate survey of that border, which led to the employment of surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, who drew the Mason-Dixon Line.) A faction of Pennsylvania Dutch of Lancaster County resolved to escape the violence and decamped for Loudoun County, where they founded the German Settlement along the banks of Dutchman's Creek, a tributary to the Potomac. Mull was too young to have been among the earliest arrivals, but may have heard of greener pastures from those who had left. David and Margaret came to the German Settlement in 1757, both aged 26. Eighteen years later, during which they were most likely squatting on Lord Fairfax's Piedmont Estate, David bought land at the foot of Short Hill Mountain from Fairfax -- perhaps even the very land they'd been squatting on -- that was bracketed by two branches of Dutchman's Creek.

Through the sheer, indomitable force of his will, he cleared the ancient forest from that mountainside (it's since returned, in droves), built that chimney from native stone, and erected my cabin. He sired two sons and two daughters -- George, David Jr., Rachal and Modlain -- and died in 1794, having watched, I can't help but believe with approval, the birth of the United States of America.

(Later edit: Commenter Will Divide points out that in 1757, the year the Mulls split for greener pastures in Lovettsville, "Shawnee/French war parties from as far as Ohio were raiding settlements, killing, kidnapping and burning farms in eastern Pennsylvania to within 50 miles of Philadelphia. DM and his new bride could well have been fleeing that nightmare." Yes! The 1722 Treaty of St. Albans had pushed the local aboriginals west of the Blue Ridge -- they are conspicuously absent from Lovettsville history. "Come on down to these rich lands south of the Potomac, where we all speak German and that nasty Seven Years' War is a distant rumor," you can easily imagine the letter to Lancaster County reading...)

He and Margaret lie now in this beautiful spot, under a headstone appropriate for a prosperous Lovettsville farmer:

Here's his footstone:

The dedicatory inscription on his headstone has sadly worn away, but the particulars are still legible: Departed this life December 27 1794, aged 63 years, 7 months, 22 days. Margaret outlived him by seven years, having survived to see the new century. Tom Bullock has found evidence that she ran a distillery, for which I can't help but express my approval.

David and Margaret, I raise my glass to your memory. The fruits of your labors are safe in my hands, and I will respect them and preserve them as long as life flows through my veins.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Rock and Roll Will Never Die

If you had happened to be driving down Milltown Road between Lovettsville and Waterford this afternoon at about four, you would have been treated to a memorable sight coming at you in the opposite direction.

A small black pickup truck swerved and slalomed on the narrow road. Its driver, his face contorted in a rock-n-roll grimace, pounded the dashboard mercilessly, shaking his hair in the wind and howling along with the music on his CD player.

If you'd cocked your ear carefully to hear what was crackling and distorting his speakers, the Doppler Effect lowering the key a minor third as he whizzed past trying his best to break his own steering wheel in time to the snare-cracks, you might have picked up a snatch of a lyric:
Don't need no ad machine telling me what I need
Don't need no Madison Avenue war
Don't need no more boxes I can't see
Covered in flags
But I can't see 'em on TV
Don't need no more lies
Don't need no more lies
Don't need no more lies
Don't need no more lies...
If you were a particularly plugged-in sort, you'd have thought to yourself, "Well, I see young Jingo's gone and fallen hard for Neil Young's new album, Living with War," and you'd be one hundred percent correct. "Wish he'd quit being such a goddamned leadfoot," you might have added, and again you'd get full marks.

There was once an idea current, along about Kent State and Neil's answer song "Ohio," that rock music might serve, in the newly minted Global Village, as a sort of alternative to what we now call the MSM. The corporate news, it was thought -- charmingly naively, given all the nuance and complexity that has muddied the waters since those days -- was a daily compendium of rank bullshit in service to the War Machine, the propaganda wing of the Loveless Ones who sent young men to die for a lie. "Ohio," written and recorded and released within weeks of the events that inspired it, presented the interpretation not of the powerful men who had precipitated the killings, but of the victims.

The idea wasn't new, of course. Woodie Guthrie saw himself as a kind of alternative to the newspapers, who were in bed with the bosses, printing lies about the labor movement. The Wobblies' Little Red Songbook was without question seen this way by the people who sang its songs as they marched and struck for worker dignity. Earlier, Aristide Bruant, now known as the subject of Toulouse Lautrec's most celebrated posters, was among many European singers who enjoyed enormous popularity as purveyors of alternative news through music.

But what was new in 1970 was the idea that songs of protest and polemic could proliferate themselves using the very same media distribution streams monopolized by the MSM of those days: radio, record sales, television, film. The oral tradition of the "folk" song became instantly antiquated then, when these powerful tools for one-to-many dissemination replaced the one-to-one methods of antiquity. When "Ohio's" magnificently shambolic guitar riff and hastily recorded arrangement went out over the airwaves and burrowed its way into millions of ears, the System itself was subverted.

"Living with War" is a wondrous echo of that heady time. It too is a hasty record, with loose ends hanging out all over it -- raw, unrefined, organic. Chad Cromwell's drums sound exactly the way drums sound when you're standing three feet away from a guy playing drums, which in these overprocessed, homogenized times feels strangely unnatural. There is an absolutely bare minimum of overdubs -- some, like the occasionally obstreperous trumpet, that I feel sure Neil will regret later. I can hear Neil's amp buzzing at the end of "Shock and Awe," but the buzz feels uncalculated, unplanned -- unlike, for example, on a Matthew Sweet record, where amp buzz is played up as an ultimately inauthentic signifier of authenticity.

We no longer have leisure for that kind of academic parlor-game. After "Living with War," the only question I have for any artist is, Which Side Are You On?

This record is not considered. It is not urbane. It is not refined. It is completely raw. Its lyrics refer to things that happened a month ago. The songs were written on the day they were recorded. Young has made a record that quite deliberately is not aimed at enduring forever, but instead at addressing the exact moment in which you and I and he live now. It's news, news we're not getting from the News.

The war in Iraq is real. People are dying. Making a refined piece of art when people are dying and our leaders lie about it is immoral. We are not living in a TV show or a fucking video game or something that doesn't interrupt the miserable goddamned "American Idol" season pissing finale.

It cannot be said enough or too often: LIVE NOW.

I talked about this with Bobby Lightfoot earlier today, and he asked an interesting question: What would Lennon being doing now? The obvious answer is, exactly what Neil Young just did.

Neil rubs our noses in it, kicking us in the ribs and oinking his magnificent distorted guitar into our ears, hoping for Christ's sake we notice.

You can stream the album here.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

"Wide-Eyed Enthusiasm and Joy"

Yeah, HIPPIES!!!!

I'm just a complete sucker for The Amazing Race. As much of my childhood and young adulthood was spent running through airports, racing for ships and trains and planes in little-known hemispheres, interacting with people whose language I had not a prayer of understanding, the appeal of the show to me is utterly visceral. I can't help but think I would kick ass at it. Its production values are impeccable (have you ever noticed a hint that each team is traveling with a camera crew?) and its human values, too, are admirable. At its core is respect for culture in all its manifestations: It's not at all a coincidence that the team that wins is always the team that is most able to adapt, through empathy and respect and openheartedness, to a huge variety of customs and folkways -- the team that is the most diametrically opposite, that is, to the stereotypical Ugly American.

BJ Averell and Tyler Macniven, the Hippies, who just now won this season's competition, won my heart early on with their openness, their enthusiasm and their humor. They clearly relished the multilayered joke, the put-on, of being characters in a "reality" TV show, of having to invent and project a persona to the camera while, as the saying goes, Keeping it Real.

I also can't help but think that the competition on The Amazing Race, unlike virtually any other reality show, is actually truly brutal. Time is necessarily telescoped over the season -- it's impossible to tell whether the whole race takes days, weeks or months -- and so I don't know how fresh the competitors are at the end of each "mandatory resting period." But having traveled fairly relentlessly in my salad days I do know that leaping off a plane from six time-zones away, catching a cab into the center of some capital you've never visited, and performing some treasure-hunt or physical feat or daredevil stunt is not easy on the body or mind. Imperfectly married couples bicker, close relatives come to detest each other, and airheads fall by the wayside.

That's why I loved the Hippies. They clearly love each other (in a totally non-gay way, of course) and enjoyed themselves despite adversity. Twice stranded in foreign cities with no money or possessions, they used their friendliness, their affection for humanity, to win sympathy from local people and struggle their way back into the race. They demonstrated at least a smattering of an impressive number of languages -- Tyler's fluent Japanese gave them an enormous advantage in the penultimate Tokyo leg of the race -- and showed a truly heartwarming respect and affinity for the ordinary working people (cabdrivers, hotel clerks, airline ticket sellers) they encountered during the race. And all this while clearly showing that they took absolutely nothing particularly seriously. My kinda people.

In a moment during the final episode, Tyler expressed his hope that he and his friend had competed in a spirit of "wide-eyed enthusiasm and joy." I can think of no better words to express how I hope I live my life.

Enjoy the million clams, guys. Hope to see lots more of you.


Helmut demands answers to some mighty apposite questions:
At a certain point, shouldn't we begin asking wholesale, publicly, openly what it is exactly we would like as a society? A more specific way of putting this in the present context is to ask what the limits are in the "war on terror." We know now that, unjustifiably (other than parroting the "war on terror" mantra) there are few limits internationally. The US will torture and then quibble legalistically over the language, pushing the burden of proof onto the Spanish Inquisition to defend its historical self against benign modern American interrogation practices. Is the Spanish Inquisition the limit?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Nightmares Comma, Not Having

I'm not sure I have nightmares anymore.

Sleeping ones, I mean. Plenty of waking ones, of course, here in Life Under the Decider, but it's been a good long time since I've woken up in a real muck-sweat over something I've dreamed.

My dreams all share certain elements. They always -- that's always -- involve travel. Given my nomadic childhood as the son of a Foreign Service Officer, this doesn't surprise me. I used to divide them up into modes of transport: Boat-dreams, Train-dreams, Airplane-dreams. But now I'm in my forties the modes are pretty interchangeable -- a train can morph into an ocean liner in the wink of an eye.

Another recurring theme is the one I transcribe in my inner shorthand as Here Comes Everybody! (Yes, my inner shorthand quotes Joyce. Nyah nyah.) HCE! means that everybody I've ever known is always present in my dream. Family members, childhood friends, college buddies, people I work with now and old colleagues, are always on the same journey I'm on. It's a huge field trip. The symbolism may be a bit trite, but the thrill of meeting Here Comes Everybody! doesn't wear out, night after night.

Quite often in my dreams -- amazingly often -- the trip comes to a screeching halt because a tornado suddenly appears on the horizon, bearing hard straight at Everybody. Try as we might to turn the ship (or the train, or the airplane) the tornado seems to have a steering wheel, a mind of its own, and a bloody taste for vengeance. We turn right, the tornado turns right. We turn left, the tornado follows. It demands vengeance, I say!

The tornado's never caught us, but it sure ain't for lack of trying.

Last year I left work a little early one day. I was still very deeply in love with our new home in the country, and I took every opportunity to sneak out early to enjoy the peace and quiet of our clearing in the forest. Of course I still love the place, and a natural and entirely healthy slothfulness makes me sneak out as often as I can anyway, but there was a novelty factor last year.

On the way home a spectacular thunderstorm blew up out of nowhere. The radio trumpeted a Tornado Watch, but they do that about every other day in the summer months here, so I didn't pay much mind.

This is what happened at the place I work that day after I left. My co-worker caught the thing on videotape. Suffice to say, when the Vengeance-Beast passed over the building, it went directly over my empty desk.

O, my nightmares!

The first couple minutes are a little uneventful, but along about the first explosion ("Wooooooah!") things begin to rock and roll. After the Blair-Witch Scamper to the other side of the building, there's an utterly spellbinding view of the Beast.

My colleagues' increasingly nervous chatter is also extremely entertaining. "Uh, better get away from windows, guys..."

Well worth your seven minutes (click image to play):

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Urban Legends for a Post-Social-Network-Analysis Age

Cross-posted to The American Street.


An American businessman visiting San Francisco on a sales trip met a beautiful Chinese woman in a bar. She tempted him back to his hotel room, where the effects of alcohol and a Rohypnol chaser caused him to fall unconscious.

To his spine-chilling horror, he awoke the next morning in a bathtub full of ice, excruciating agony piercing his lower back. A note scrawled on the bathroom mirror in lipstick enjoined him to call for a paramedic.

When the authorities arrived, they discovered that the man had a fresh surgical scar on his back, where a kidney had been removed. The Chinese Tongs, who, it is well known, deal in the international human-organ market, had claimed another victim.

The NSA, through telephonic data-mining, was immediately able to trace the Tongs, roll them up to the last foot-soldier, and return the man his kidney.


The friends of a friend of a friend of mine, at the approach of the birthday of a vivacious young woman -- we'll call her S., although her name is actually D. -- conspired to throw her a surprise birthday party in the basement of her home. The plan was to hide there and surprise her when she arrived home from her secretarial job that day.

When the day arrived, the friends secreted themselves behind her furniture and in her closets, their presents and party favors at the ready.

However, the unsuspecting S. had other plans. Arriving home, she stripped herself nude, collected some peanut butter and a DVD of some hardcore lesbian porn, and called to her dog. "Come on, Skippy," she said. "Let's relieve some tension!"

The overhead speaker in her kitchen crackled. "Ms. S., this is NSA. You have a house full of guests. Repeat, you have a house full of unexpected guests."

S. put on her bathrobe, quickly stashed the porn, and began to make herself a PBJ.

"Whew! That could have been embarrassing! Thanks for the warning, NSA!"


A passerby in a supermarket parking lot happened to notice an elderly woman seated rigidly in the driver's seat of her car, clutching her head.

The Samaritan knocked on the window of the car and enquired if she needed help. She replied heatedly that she needed immediate medical attention -- she believed she had been shot in the head and could feel her brains oozing out.

Before her benefactor could even dial his cell phone, an ambulance screeched around the corner. NSA had already alerted the local authorities.

The story has an amusing ending: What the woman had thought was a gunshot to the head was actually an exploding can of Pillsbury biscuit dough in the back seat, which had sprayed its viscous, yeasty contents all over the woman's head. The microchip inside the canister that informed NSA when it was opened had alerted her NSA Case Officer, who had the presence of mind to put two and two together.

Thanks again, NSA!


The young lovers sat in their car on Lovers' Lane, less than pleased with one another. He claimed the car had run out of gas; she wasn't buying his obvious subterfuge to gull her into heavy necking.

"You know, I've heard that Man With the the Bloody Hook for a Hand roams these parts every anniversary of the Notorious Unsolved Bloody Hook Murders, dear."

"Oh, don't assay that old chestnut on me, you dreadful masher! I know men's dissembling ways!"

"No! It's true!"

The car radio, completely unbidden, crackled into life. "Confirmed. Bloody Hook Murderer is approximately three feet from your vehicle, approaching fast from two o'clock. Advise immediate -- repeat, immediate -- strategic redeployment to neutral ground."

When, some minutes later, the swain's car pulled up outside her home, he jumped out to open the door for her, as any polite young man should. Imagine the shriek of horror he emitted when he found, hanging from the passenger-side door handle, a bloody hook!

Friday, May 12, 2006

In Prussia

This evening, a pretty thing bathed in soft spring sunshine that complemented the emerald green of the fresh vegetation on the trees, I drove down a newly watered-down and refreshingly dust-free Georges Mill Road on my way to my home. To traverse Georges Mill to my house is to watch Short Hill Mountain, at whose foot I live, loom ever-larger in your windshield until the whole gorgeous Appalachian upheaving fills your windshield. When you think the road is about to climb straight up the steep side of that ridge, you've reached Jingo Acres.

As my truck made a sharp turn tonight, my eyes -- even in the best of circumstances unreliable, myopic things -- suddenly caught a large object hanging in the sky just over the ridge. Since I was piloting a pickup truck, I couldn't concentrate on it until I knew the road ahead was clear. Then I stopped the truck to squint at it.

It was a blimp. Creeping along the ridge, south to north.

I couldn't make out any glyphs on the side of it. No obvious Goodyear or Fuji logo on it. unmarked blimp. Hovering, slowly gliding north, pressed to the west side of the ridge by the same thermal currents that the raptors use to coast on their seasonal migrations north and south. Pretty much right over my house. Seventy-five miles northwest from Washington, about the same distance southwest from Baltimore -- that is to say, far, far from city centers where an advertising blimp might pass unremarked.

Inevitably, Questions Arise.

Why was it there? Over my house? Where there had never been a blimp before? Why now, why today, why exactly at this moment as I approach my home?

On any other day I might have marveled at the aeronautical wonder of it all -- an enormous bag of gas piloted by some extremely lucky guy in, for all I know, a leather pilot's helmet with goggles and a long white airman's scarf, howling his joy into the Short Hill thermals.

But today, they're tapping the phones.

Today, I can't be goofy and jokey and Ha-Ha Pretend-Paranoid. You don't get to play like it's all some big joke anymore, Honcho. It's fuckin' real now, chum.

Facility is real.

This afternoon, in a fit of defiance at work, I picked up the phone and rang Joe Bageant's number. I was going to tell him that since they are tapping the lines, I wanted it on record -- on Official United States Government Eyes-Fuckin'-Only Record -- that when the news broke about the 10,000,000 phone calls, the first person I called was the single baddest, most dangerous Commie agitator on the East Coast of America. (I also wanted to tell him I'd found the gravesite of one of his ancestors in a Hillsboro cemetery, but hey...)

Joe didn't pick up.


You with me, Pynchon kids?


A Zeppelin-pilot named Goya
Drove his blimp right into my foyer
He was sorry, he said
But the voice in his head
Told him Hush, better hire a lawyer.

A technocrat driving a blimp
Is bound to acknowledge a crimp
In his careful surveillance
Of your private e-mailings
If you catch him and make him your gimp.

A country that tolerates this
Breach of our Constitutional bliss
Should simply say "Fuck it"
And drink well-earned buckets
Of lukewarm, watered-down piss.

In Prussia they never eat pussy!


Bobby Lightfoot, my favorite musician who doesn't speak with a Liverpoodle or Mummerset accent (most of the time) has a page at Broadjam where you can stream (and for that matter buy, at $0.99 a pop) his knee-weakeningly gorgeous compositions. Off you go.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Freddie's into Nirvana. I think that's completely cool, and I encourage it by buying him books of guitar chords and tab with Nirvana songs in them, so he'll learn guitar playing songs he digs instead of "Go Tell Aunt Rhodie" or some such eye-glazing shit.

Betty, a social young thing, prefers the Teen Sensation of the Moment. I think this is likewise perfectly cool, and am planning to take her and a friend to see the latest manufactured Tiger Beat phenomenon, a nauseatingly saccharine pair of girls called Aly and AJ. I won't enjoy it much, but she and her pal will, and a dad must make sacrifices. May be some good blog fodder in it.

Tonight was Taco Night chez Jingo, and we donned our sombreros and serapes and celebrated Diez de Mayo. I mentioned to the kids my loony idea of last night, about doing a perfect replica of "Up, Up and Away." I explained a little bit about the song, the sort of place it held in my heart, my intention to perform a gedankenexperiment exploring the relationships among music, nostalgia and human emotion by having a good long wallow in all three. I mentioned that XTCfan had expressed an interest in participating in the recording, and that I'd half-seriously proposed to him a family-get-together-cum-recording-session where we cut the vocals and had a nice meal.

Wonder Woman said she agreed with Blue Girl's comment that "One Less Bell To Answer" would be another great song to do in a social setting like that. As she assayed line-readings from that song, Betty began to enumerate songs she'd like to do covers of: "Walking on Sunshine" and "Do You Believe in Magic," both hoary chestnuts she'd discovered on her Aly and AJ CD.

Freddie had been listening quietly at the other end of the table, chewing and, I think, looking for his moment. As Betty's enthusiastic flow ebbed slightly and Wondie lapsed into humming into her salad, he deadpanned, with utterly exquisite timing:

"Rape Me."

I'm the only one who got it right away, and I swear I was in serious danger of blowing a roaring mouthful of ground beef and pico de gallo all over the room.

Jesus Christ, I think I may have actually done something right.


Wonder Woman was laid up with a nasty cold last night, so I cooked dinner. As I was laying out ingredients, Freddie trundled downstairs and allowed he needed help with his homework. I told him to bring it downstairs, lay it out on the kitchen counter, and we'd work together while I cooked.

He's learning about prefixes. The assignment was to take three assigned prefixes ("ante-," "post-" and "bi-"), find two words employing each, and use them in two sentences each.

We got to "post," and he found "postwar" in his Webster's. He solicited a suggestion as to an appropriate sentence.

"How about 'The President planned for the postwar situation'?"

He started to write.

"Hey, but wait a minute," I said after a moment's thought. "Not quite true, is it.... I think it might be better 'The President didn't plan for the postwar situation."

He grinned a little, happy to get in a little subversive dig. He's good that way.

I pondered some more. I began to compose something a bit more, shall we say, compound:

"Taking advice exclusively from a tightly closed coterie of self-satisfied, ideologically blinkered sycophants in expensive suits who had themselves never been within a thousand miles of a shot fired in anger, gulling an apathetic public with a mindbendingly oversimplistic vision of American liberators being greeted with sweets and flowers by a grateful, cheering Iraqi public whose only thought was of forming off into Whigs and Federalists and drafting a Constitution second only to our own in its wisdom and humaneness -- and not, for example, looting every unguarded building (that is to say, every building but the Oil Ministry) down to its electrical wiring and faucet taps -- through his proxies denouncing as a traitor any person who expressed doubt about the benefits of an unprovoked preemptive war of choice against an enemy whose danger to this country was, to be kind, greatly exaggerated if not blatantly lied about in a coordinated campaign of misinformation, and failing to account for an international insurgency movement that is ideologically bent on pushing anything remotely Western into the Mediterranean -- a development that was, it must be observed, predicted with complete accuracy by many of those selfsame people who were denounced as traitors for even entertaining the idea that not every half-baked, half-assed, but wholly self-righteous thing America does in the world is of universal benefit -- the President, in a fashion completely in keeping with his lifelong proven record of intellectual laziness, dismally poor self-discipline, and achingly self-evident sense of enormous personal entitlement, clearly did not plan for the postwar situation, and now has a 30% approval rating in the polls to show for it. Asshole."

We went with the earlier draft.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Dancing Around the Blueberry Patch

I'd like to nominate Simon for some kind of MacArthur Prize for Utterly Fucking Brilliant Idea-Mongering. I swear to God, I just came inside, this beautiful spring evening, from dancing around the blueberry-patch, gleefully rubbing my hands together and twitching Bacchically from sheer delight from the complex ideas that Simon's stupendously stunning mention of "Up, Up and Away" has incurred in my occasionally fertile cranium.

Here is what I propose: I shall set myself a task.

I propose to replicate perfectly, without a single note missing, the Fifth Dimension's arrangement (by way of Al Casey and string arranger Marty Paich) of Jimmy Webb's "Up, Up and Away (in My Beautiful Balloon)." Absolutely note-for-note.

Why on earth would I pursue such an apparently delusionary idea? Why should such a quixotic mission -- I admit cheerfully, a deeply silly idea on the face of it -- give me such a sense of giddy glee?

Because once I was a ten-year-old boy. That's why.

I pined, I feared, I yearned.
And the musical soundtrack to that pining, fearing and yearning, was that exact song. "Up, Up and Away." I cannot possibly express to you in ordinary conversational terms how profoundly that idiotic, fluffy song affected my ten-year-old cerebellum. All I can tell you is that it did.

But, my thinking goes, were I were able to focus my thinking on precisely the effect that precisely that song and precisely that arrangement exerted on my childhood brain, I might be able to explore the relationship between Music and Emotion.

There may be, if you approach it very quietly and with breath held, a book in it.

This may very well be the core question of Life Its Ownself.

Who knows?

What We Shall Call Disagreement

I see Blogger's back to the hours-long outages of its charming juvenile period. All I can say is, I want my money back.

I don't usually do these, for the simple reason that everybody else does, but what the hell. If everybody else jumped off a bridge, would I? Yes, I suppose I would, but only sarcastically:

Shorter Richard Cohen:
I don't read my email.

Monday, May 08, 2006

So Who Does Love the Sun, Anyway?

Oh, yeah, I had fun.

So I came home to the healing arms of Sweet Mother Music, dug up a project I'd halfway completed, a version I'd done a few weeks ago of "Who Loves the Sun," a bit of fluff from the Velvet Underground's last album, Loaded. I'd already done drums, guitar, bass, and vocals, but there were four bars missing from the middle, which the Velvets had originally filled with a nice little tape edit, some junkie weirdness involving some heavily processed acoustic guitar and some vocal "ahh"s sketching a variation of the main chord progression. I decided to declare that interlude the core of the song, and work my way outward into its outer reaches.

I was seriously jonesing for some orchestral work, and I managed to manufacture it for myself. I played with the original chords of the Weird Interlude, found they might work nicely if I went to a minor key instead, and voila. It now sounds a bit like Ian Anderson might have gotten his meathooks in, circa Songs from the Wood. I don't mind a bit. I've quite forgiven myself for loving Jethro Tull when I was 15, and you should too.

I kinda dig the way that the first half is all strings, while horns (French, trumpet, trombone) take over after the Weird Interlude.

Those goddamned handclaps. I thought I'd mixed 'em back, but now listening on my laptop speakers they're way too present. I'll fix that. One interesting point: The Velvets completely changed the vocal harmonies between the first and second halves of the song, and I've preserved their voicings. The song's not quite the complete sop to commercialism it appears at first.

Here's the thing, anyway. If you hate it, keep it to yourself, OK? I had way too much fun working on it. I wish I was a musician or something.

Sweet Surrender

Right. Bobby's sold me.

Having worked right through the weekend (including two hours last night after a bibulous Mexican dinner with Teh Matriarch and the Fam) I've got a sudden Hole in the Schedule that MUST be filled with Music. (What, not enough initial caps?)

I'm headed for the Loft, and not coming down until I've got four minutes of something presentable. I'm thinking something orchestral, but the mood may change before I get home.

These polesmokers can do without me for an afternoon.

Meanwhile, here's a vid-clip that The Admirable Morrish sent me from the Pathé News archives, in response to the Gaylords post. I don't have the British Beat book with me right now, but these guys really-o, truly-o existed. By all acounts, they actually rocked pretty hard. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you -- The Snobs! (Click image to play)

Lookit them toffee-nosed white people clapping on one and three! Drives me bananas, that.

Later edit.
Here's the Snobs' listing in British Beat:
Despite the toffee-nosed implications of their name (and outfits), the bewigged Snobs of Croydon could rock with the best of 'em, filling dancehalls and ballrooms around the country with a vivacious, boot-stomping brand of decidedly British rock. No better evidence is needed than their one release, the raucous "Buckle Shoe Stomp," [I believe that's the first song they play in that newsreel, a pretty naked cop of "A Shot of Rhythm and Blues"] issued on Decca in 1964. Colin Sandland (lead), Eddie Gilbert (drums), John Boulden (rhythm) and Pete Yerrell (bass) were originally known as The Apostles, and got their break by hooking up with future royal toastmaster Ivor Spencer, whe became their manager. Spencer renamed them and arranged cabaret gigs in London for the group. The Snobs were huge in Sweden and Denmark and even had a huge single release, "Giddy Up a Ding Dong," exclusive to Scandinavia, but perhaps the most interesting part of the Snobs story is the fact that they visited the United States in April 1964, hot on the heels of the Beatles. The wide-eyed combo appeared on the Red Skelton Show, played some Hollywood parties, and even got to record with maverick producer Gary "Alley Oop" Paxton (sadly, the Snobs' chunky version of "Love Potion Number Nine" never saw the light of day.) The group called it quits the following year, having packed a lot of activity into a brief career.
I'd gladly sacrifice a gonad to hear "Giddy Up a Ding Dong," that's all I'm sayin'.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

That's Mr. Christ to You

There's nothing like an attack of bursitis in the hip to make a fella feel like pinching strange gals and dancing the night away to a frantic disco beat. That Foxy Grandpa cane-shuffle, that bent-over Quasimodo posture with hand supporting the small of the back, that ascending the stairs leading only with the uninjured leg -- it all leads to a suffusion of youthful vigor and a devil-may-care attitude that snaps its fingers at mortality and whistles Dixie in the face of decrepitude.

I betook myself to Medical Science this afternoon, who shot the offending joint full of anapraxyzone, or perhaps it was calmodisodone, or -- memory begins to fail too these days -- hamsammicholol, bungalonozyl, or maybe rum and Coke.

Med. Sci. also handed me a prescription for bananaloil, which I agonizingly shuffled over to the pharmacy to fill. Having been handed the package containing the pills, plus a database printout about what to do if my vomit looked like coffee grounds (don't put it in the Melitta, basically, and prepare for a painful death in an ambulance) I did a little more grocery shopping.

It wasn't until I was in the main checkout line that I glanced at the receipt stapled to my pharmacy package. What I saw immediately filled me with a feeling of warmth, joy and Infinite Love, and I felt my bursitic hip miraculously heal itself in an instant. I fell to my knees and began to speak in tongues (Plattdeutsch, they later informed me, but with a terrible, Chico-Marx-level Italian accent). Snakes crawled in the grocery door demanding to be handled. Angelic choirs sang.

Here, then, is the Holy Miracle that instantly cured my afflicted hip and suffused my soul with hope and love for my fellow man. This photograph is guaranteed unretouched in any way whatsoever. I am happy to send a notarized photocopy to any scoffer or debunker that requests one:

Now, folks, this isn't some amorphous Virgin Mary in a toasted cheese sandwich. This isn't Jesus in an oil-stain on some basement floor. This is as black and white as it gets.

Hi, my name is Christ.

There's something just so marvelously direct about the language. So matter-of-fact. So guileless. It's just how I'd imagine the Son o' God would talk were he to return today, in a Men's Warehouse suit with an American-flag lapel pin, a Salesman of Everlasting Life:

Hi, my name is Christ. Jesus Christ, but my pals call me Jimmy. So how the hell you doin'? Damned glad to meetcha. Boy, it's sure a scorcher today, ain't it? Fry an egg on the sidewalk, ha-ha! How're the wife-n-kids? Doing OK? Great, great.... So lemme ask ya -- how's your insurance situation? You covered against plague, fire, flood, famine? 'Cos I gotta tell ya, I read in Reader's Digest, so you gotta know it's true. It's coming. You betcher ass, pardon my French...

So I'm pondering my next move. Plainly an eBay auction is in the offing, and I'm dusting the old homestead in preparation for the Vatican contingent who will no doubt be descending on the joint in the next day or two, when word of this gets out. I expect The Amazing Randi will weigh in calling me a mountebank, but dammit: I know what I read.

Hi, my name is Christ.

And don't you forget it.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Fantasy Hurriedly Composed While Throwing Some Food Down My Neck

A Grand Ball was thrown for all the soups that are served in the cafeteria here at work.

All the soups came dressed in their finest formal wear. They arrived by limousine, by helicopter, by elegant boat-launches from yachts anchored in the city harbor belonging to the Crowned Heads of Europe. The Red Carpet was besieged by paparazzi and television hosts, who commented cattily on décolletage and hairstyles.

The soups entered the ballroom, where one by one they were announced to the throng by footmen in powdered wigs and exquisite livery. The assembled guests murmured reverently as the soups paraded around the dance-floor to the strains of a string quartet, showing off their expensive finery and twirling elegantly to catch the light just so.

"Italian Wedding Soup!" a footman intoned, to awed applause.

"Minnesota Wild Rice!" (More of it.)

"Tomato Bisque, with Basil and Parsley!" What poise, what grace!

"French Onion with Parmesan Crouton!" The string quartet breaks into "La Marseillaise" to wild approval.

But just then, the spell is shattered. Utterly. The footman can barely suppress a contemptuous curl of his lip as he casts his eye on the next name on the list:

"Chunky Beef Noodle!"

Silence. Complete, horrifying silence. Chunky Beef Noodle, dressed just as elegantly as the rest and bejeweled just as expensively, her corsage a stunning orchid garnished with carrot greens, casts her eyes downward, trying to hide her crimson cheeks, bedewed with tears of mortification. Bravely she steps forward into the throng of callous sophisticates. But it is not enough.

The crowd grows unruly, restive. First comes a titter. Then a guffaw. At last, the entire ballroom is doubled over in cruel horse-laughter at poor Chunky Beef Noodle. Utterly humiliated, she runs from the room, never to be seen again in Society.

The footman, attempting to restore order, cries out in a stentorian voice above the tumult, "Andalusian Gazpacho!"

And all is well again. The Grand Ball may continue.

All Hail the Gaylords!

As I've mentioned before, I'm absolutely in the soup at work these days (minestrone, as it happens, with an extra ladleful of High Executive Anxiety) and involved in a Super-Double-Secret Humor Project in what little remains of my evenings -- I'll be able to tell you about it at some point in the future, but not now.

I'm forced to let the blog go relatively fallow for the next week or two. But I don't want the japes and hijinkery to cease completely; mavens of Blogtopia suggest that when stuck for time it's a good idea to stand aside and invite the Two or Three Assembled to pony up the yucks. I think "Web 2.0" is the operating buzzword.

On this mornining's commute I was thinking about a book I've been browsing lately, a wonderful encyclopedic tome about British beat bands from the Sixties called British Beat: Then, Now and Rare, 1960-1969. It lists and describes hundreds and hundreds of the British bands that followed the Beatles' rise -- some certainly qualifiable as British Invasion bands, but many also who toiled in utter, and who knows, perhaps deserved, obscurity. One group in particular came to mind, a combo with the mystifying monicker The Gaylords. My goodness, I thought, now that's a really, really self-sabotaging name to give yourself, innit? Who knows if "gaylord" had the same snickering impact in 1964 that it has now, but it's impossible to believe it passed completely unnoticed.

That set me thinking about how often recently commenters here have picked out phrases here and there and observed that they'd make really good names for rock bands. All very well, and please don't stop -- but what about really bad names for rock bands? Why should that side of the equasion be made to go begging?

So that's your assignment, Dear Readers. While I'm lost in the bowels of my professional hell (and bowels is, believe me, exactly the word I want), I challenge you to list some of the truly awful band-names you've stored up. I welcome both real names and ones that spring freshly minted from your fertile crania.

I'll start the ball rolling: I was once in a very rotten jazz-fusion (!) band called "Ethlyn Rash," the name the brainchild of the drummer, perhaps under the influence of a few too many Tolkien novels. I'm not sure it occurred to him that the name sounded rather like something you'd turn up at the Emergency Room with after spraying your dandelions with the deadly carcinogens I have been chastened for using in recent comments. (Folks: objections duly noted. Thanks for your input.)

On a more contentious front, I've always been slightly mystified by "The Beatles," which is a really labored pun, n'est-ce pas? I think if they'd known they would go as far as they did they'd have thought a little harder about it.

In the Ineffable O'Reilly's immortal phrase, What say you?