Saturday, November 22, 2014

I Don't Hail the King

He's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and the R&B Music Hall of Fame. In 2011, he was voted No. 6 on the list of 100 greatest guitarists of all time in Rolling Stone magazine. He has won countless Grammies and myriad other awards in his 89 years. He has opened blues clubs in several cities around the U.S.

He is a legend. He is B.B. King. And I've never cared for him.

So I found it odd that last night I dreamt that I was given a chance to play one of his old guitars. I was in a museum of some sort, and the guy giving me a tour took a guitar off the wall and handed it to me. He never spoke, but somehow I knew this beat-up Gibson with just the top three strings once belonged to the man born Riley B. King in a cabin on a cotton plantation in Berclair, Mississippi.

My father-in-law, who is a huge blues fan and certainly a man who likes B.B. King, was in the dream. He stood next to me as I tried to emulate King's style of string bending solo work. I sounded pretty awful; let's blame it on the old, hardened strings and warped fretboard.

Don't get me wrong: I acknowledge that King is a giant of the blues. I don't dislike him. I like this video with U2:

He seems like a gentle, humble man. I'm sure if I were given the chance to sit down with him, I'd be entertained for hours by his stories. I bet he pours a nice shot of whiskey.

My disregard for him dates back to the 1980's.

As a guy who'd always liked music, and who played guitar starting in 8th grade, I was aware of King. My older brother, Steve, was into blues music a bit, so maybe he played some of King's music for me.

One summer day when I was either a senior in high school or a freshman or sophomore in college, I saw King at a free concert in Hartford's Bushnell Park. I went with my best friend, Andy, and my brother and his buddy, Jimmy.

Growing up in a rural suburb 10 miles north of Hartford, I didn't get into the city much, except to see bands including Rush and The Police at the civic center, and Whalers games once in a while. So the idea of going to a free outdoor concert appealed to me.

Andy is also a guitarist. He and I spent a lot of time during high school and college jamming and listening to records. I don't believe he was into the blues much, but he certainly was up for going to see a blues legend.

We stood fairly close to the stage as King and his band played. After a few songs, Andy and I realized that while King certainly had his own style and flair for soloing, his backup guitarist was a better technical player. I have no idea who the guy was, and conducting a Google search for "B.B. King band members 1980s" didn't get me any closer to knowing.

We watched a bit more but found it boring. Andy and I kept joking that all King did was bend a few strings, while the guy behind him was the real star. "That guy should be up front!" we told each other as we walked away from the stage.

Now, if our experience at blues legend B.B. King's concert had ended there, I might've found it easier as the years went by to come around on his music. Perhaps I would've realized that King wasn't famous because he was a fretboard virtuoso, but because he wrote great songs, was a wonderful singer and a charismatic bandleader.

But as Andy and I walked away from the stage, eager to just walk around and enjoy the day, we were accosted by three or four teenagers. They were smart and efficient, somehow separating us from each other before we knew what was going on. Two of them cornered Andy, one of them grabbing his wallet while the other bullied him. A third kid (there might have been a fourth) pounced in front of me, slapped my right front pocket and barked, "What's in there?"

"Huh?" I said.

"Don't play stupid with me!" he yelled. "Gimme your money!"

Before I could react one way or the other, he took off with the rest of them. I walked up to Andy, both of us shaken.

"They stole my money!" he said. "Two bucks!"

I probably didn't have much more than that in my wallet. I imagine our assailants figured a couple of suburban kids would have been flush with cash, maybe be wearing expensive watches. They picked the wrong two guys to assault in that regard. Sure, neither of us did much to defend ourselves, but there wasn't much point with hardly enough money for a couple of cheeseburgers between us.

Do my feelings about B.B. King get mixed in with that memory? I suppose they do. But really it just came down to his guitar playing, and with experiencing a legend at a time in my life when I didn't appreciate music as much as I thought I did. Well, not enough kinds of music. I was into New Wave, punk rock, Southern rock -- rock of just about all kinds. I thought I was cooler than King.

In the ensuing years I've gotten into blues much more than I was back then. Lightnin' Hopkins is my favorite. I also like Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside and Howlin' Wolf.

And I'm putting B.B. King on "Music to buy" alongside the likes of Mary Lou Lord, Azaelia Banks and the Crystal Method. Landing on this list doesn't mean that I'm gonna buy your music, but it means I've found a reason to listen to some stuff and evaluate whether it has a place in my digital library.

After all, how can I ignore a man with such a distinguished history, a cavalcade of accolades and the ability to find his way into my dreams?

Here are a few videos:

This is from a documentary, "B.B. King and Joan Baez in Concert at Sing Sing Prison." Introduced by Jimmy "JJ" Walker.

Here's a more upbeat performance from 40 years ago:

That's the most B.B. King I've watched in my life, right there. I have to say, he's a better guitar player than I recalled. Gonna have to do more than evaluate. Gonna have to buy.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Ex-ska-use Me While I Type This Up

Been skankin' 'round da kitchen while listening' to lotsa songs from '60s Ska Explosion, and one a' dem been buggin' me, cos I know da tune but can't place it.

OK, enough of me trying to be all Jamaican. The compilation is pretty great -- dozens of tight, danceable, fun Jamaican tunes from the '60s. One of the songs, "Miss-Ska-Culculation," sounded familiar right away, but it took me a little while to realize why. Listen to it:

Recognize it? I knew it was an old surf tune, but I had to look it up to discover that "Miss-Ska-Culation" is a cover of The Chantays' "Pipeline."


Originally titled "Liberty's Whip," according to Wikipedia, the song was renamed "Pipeline" after the members of The Chantays saw a surf movie featuring the Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii. Other artists who've covered the song include Dick Dale, The Ventures, The Eagles and Anthrax.

Here's a cool version by Agent Orange:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Don't Tell My Wife

Don't tell my wife, but I have a boyfriend.

I put James A. Reeves's Road to Somewhere: An American Memoir on my Amazon wish list a while back, alongside works including Bradley Garrett's Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City, Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes and T.C. Boyle's Wild Child: And Other Stories. I don't recall where I heard about Reeves's book, but I suspect I read a review in the Boston Globe or perhaps Entertainment Weekly. A combination photography book and introspective look at time spent road-tripping across the good ol' US of A seemed right up my alley.

Published in August 2011, Road to Somewhere is just the latest book I've read that I wish I'd written. Others on this list include Joel Sternfeld's On This Site (see November 3, 2014, J. Crew: Inspiring Readers While Clothing the Moderately Well-Heeled), Bill See's 33 Days: Touring in a Van, Sleeping on Floors, Chasing a Dream and Greg Olear's Fathermucker.

I'm not done with Road to Somewhere, but it's a relatively quick read so I'll be looking for something new before too long. I just added Reeves's second book, The Manufactured History of Indianapolis, to my wish list.

I wouldn't cheat on Beth simply because I love Reeves's book, although I won't deny my attraction to his photos -- he knows of and exploits my weakness for old motels, junked cars by the side of the road, desert vistas and dive bars. And I love his writing -- crisp and evocative, and full of self-doubt and deep concern for the state of American affairs. He questions many times what it means to be a man (he's the first in four generations not to enlist in the military) and senses that he's wasting his time behind his computer (he teaches and does design work in addition to writing).

And, sure, Reeves is a decent looking guy in his mid 30s, who, in the few photos I've seen of him, has just the right amount of scruff, and loosens his skinny black tie in a rakish fashion. He's presented his work around the globe -- New York, Helsinki, New Orleans, Grenoble.

But what really sealed my man crush on James A. Reeves is his web site, and all that he does with that beautiful online abode.

The Notebook section of his entirely black-and-white site presents a "collection of sketches, essays, and broadsides from the past decade." Some he plans to use in future books, others stand on their own as fantastical exercises. Some pieces he uses in his teaching, and yet others present "evidence of struggling to understand our strange world."

Here's a short one that comes from Road to Somewhere:

Somewhere along the Utah and Nevada border, a fat man wearing no shirt and hospital pants grills some steaks on the back of his dinged-up Airstream Classic trailer. A few old missile casings and rusted fuselages sit in his backyard which is an endless desert thundering out towards the Sierra Nevada range.

I pull over and take another picture of the sinking sun. He calls out howdy and I shout hey, our voices bouncing off the hills. The air is dead silent except for the sizzle of the grill fifty yards into the weeds. A screen door bangs and he disappears and returns with more steaks. I scan the horizon, thinking I can almost see New York and then down to New Orleans and across to LA. This country is too damned big. A small panic rushes up. Who installed these power-lines way the hell out here? Or are they telephone cables? I don’t understand how anything works.

406 miles to go. My rental car sprays dust and the fat man waves as I push south towards Vegas.

There are more than 150 of these, all dolled-up with photos or drawings. I struggle to write a blog post once or twice a week, either here or at The Backside of America. I can do better.

Then, of course, there is the Photographs section. Reeves presents dozens of black-and-white photos, each with a funny, clever, insightful or depressing sentence or two. There are small sections of pictures devoted to Reeves's vinyl and book collections. I hope he adds to these.

The photos of motels, street scenes, gas stations, and oil refineries lit up at night are gorgeous. Again, I hope he adds to this section.

What sets Reeves's web site apart from other author sites I've perused over the years is the Broadcasts section, a "collection of reverberated songs, AM radio chatter, and looping vinyl crackle from the Big American Studio."

Reeves designs these playlists for specific experiences, i.e., "long drives, cheap motels, and late nights," or "killing time in airports, motel lobbies, and train stations." I love the concept, because I'm a playlist guy (and before that, a mix tape and mix CD guy). I make playlists on my iPod with names like "Music for Hayseeds," "Goin' Places" and "One From the Ladies."

Seven years ago I started writing a novel during National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo). I go back to it once in a while, with the idea in mind that someday I'll finish it, along with a companion concept album (the book actually grew out of the concept album, which is about UFO's, which won't surprise anybody.)

Alright, alright, that's enough. Go check out Reeves's web site, or buy his book.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My Little Pinkie Pie

Amelia had a great night of trick or treating, dressed as Pinkie Pie from the "My Little Pony" TV show/toy franchise/world dominance mission. She and her friend Bridget, who was dressed as a cheerleader, merrily skipped around the neighborhood for about 75 minutes, filling their bags with all manner of chocolate, chewy fruit things and the odd bag of potato chips. Amelia even managed to collect a few coins for UNICEF.

Owen didn't go out, but had a good time handing out candy at our house, along with his grandparents. As for Beth and me, we went to a costume party down the street the following night, dressed as Wayne and Garth. I don't have pictures of those costumes, but here's a "best-of" clip from the "Wayne's World" movie to satisfy you.

Monday, November 3, 2014

J. Crew: Inspiring Readers While Clothing the Moderately Well-Heeled

Like many book lovers, I heart the idea of small stores where I can browse new releases, pick up a signed copy of something by a local author and perhaps eat a locally sourced brownie or two. I used to spend a fair amount of time in Newtonville Books before this great store moved from my neighborhood, Newtonville, a mile or two up the road (and the tax bracket ladder) to Newton Centre. I still shop there once in a while, but I will forever scoff at the fact that the owners maintain the name "Newtonville Books" despite their zip code shift.

I also buy books on Amazon, of course, but I try to keep my interactions with Jeff Bezos's minions strictly on the Search and Ignore tip. If I hear or read about a book that sounds interesting, I search for it on Amazon, add it to my wish list, and then buy it somewhere else, or send the list to family members around my birthday.

Barnes & Noble, too, has reeled me in plenty of times. I even joined the store's brainwashing, er, rewards program recently.

Never in my life, before yesterday, had I leafed through a book at a J. Crew store.

Beth and I were at Legacy Place, the quaint little outdoor megamall in Dedham, Mass., where Sumner Redstone -- business titan behind National Amusements, corporate parent of TV network CBS, Paramount Pictures and scores of movie theaters across the country, among other things -- hopes suburban Bostonites will honor his father by dropping loads of cash on everything from ice cream to sweaters, Carhartt jackets to a night out of bowling. I bought a sweater at Uniqlo, despite the fact that I don't know how to pronounce the name of this hip Japanese store.

Beth picked up a few things at Athleta (which I also have trouble saying the right way) and then popped into J. Crew. Honestly, I don't recall whether she bought anything there, because after making my way quickly around the men's section and stopping in front of the "Sale" table, I found myself enraptured. Not by the autumn-colored sweater-with-elbow-patches or the brown shoes or brown belts. But rather, by a book titled, On This Site. It wasn't for sale.

An irresistible shade of light green, heavy and about the the measurement of a legal pad, On This Site grabbed me from the first image I saw within. This was the image:

As blog regulars know, I have kind of a thing for abandoned places and landscapes on the fringe (see my other blog if you're new here: The Backside of America). So when I saw this image, and quickly flipped through the book and saw similar places, as well as places that weren't abandoned or on the edges of society, but which still somehow seemed damaged, I knew I had to find out more about this book, and its author, Joel Sternfeld.

Here's part of the write-up for the book at Amazon's web site:

"Between 1993 and 1996, Joel Sternfeld photographed 50 infamous crime sites around the US. On This Site contains images of these unsettlingly normal places, ordinary landscapes left behind after tragedies, their hidden stories disturbingly invisible. Each photograph is accompanied by a text describing the crime that took place at the location."

I love the concept, but given the price of the book (almost $60 hardcover only) I doubt I'll buy it. And I love the ideas behind Sternfeld's other books, ranging from American Prospects, which is a photographic record of 1980's America, to Walking the High Line, in which Sternfeld walks New York City's High Line before it became a chic downtown park and attraction, when it was just an abandoned railway that nobody but rats and bums cared about.

I'm not a photography geek, so I'd never heard the name "Joel Sternfeld" before. But I absolutely love what he does, and am taking new inspiration to get out into the world with my camera. I've posted a ton of pictures at Flickr over the last several years, but just last month for the first time, I began offering for sale some of my pictures. Check it out here: Dave Brigham Photography.

For a look at some of Sternfeld's work, check out this link. I'd never heard of this photographer before yesterday, but I recognize some of the images at the site. You probably will to.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Time Goes Backwards Sometimes

After sleeping for about an hour last night, I woke up at about 11:40, which was really 10:40 except that it wasn't. If you follow me. I went downstairs and flipped channels for a while until I stumbled across the beginning of one of my favorite late '70s movies, "Breaking Away."

I like Daniel Stern (one of my faves of the era, alongside Judge Reinhold), Dennis Quaid and Jackie Earle Haley much more than the star of the movie, Dennis Christopher. Stern plays lovably goofy better than just about anyone; Quaid is a bitter former high school QB; and Haley, as usual, plays a kid who most people underestimate and rag on because of his size. They're all townies in Indiana trying to figure out what to do with themselves.

I only watched about 20 minutes, because I knew that if I let myself get too into the movie, I'd watch the whole thing. So I snapped the TV off at 1:55 and waited for something I've never seen before: the clock turning from 1:59 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.

I chuckled to myself as I sat on the couch, warming myself with Amelia's favorite purple-pink blanket and wondering why the hell I was awake at 1:00 in the morning, which really felt like 2:00 and if I'm being honest it also felt like 4:17 and 3:56 and perhaps even like zero hour.

I've been feeling the need for my own "Breaking Away" moment lately. Trying to figure out what comes next in my life, hoping to get some sort of inspiration for what "my thing" is going to be. Maybe it's because I've turned the corner towards 50.

I was heartened to read this morning in, of all places, Parade magazine the share of U.S. entrepreneurs ages 55 to 64 grew from 14 to 23 percent between 1996 and 2012, the largest gain of any group. I'm not in that bracket yet, but I'm encouraged to see that the idea of starting my own business (whatever it might be, that's part of what woke me up last night, trying to figure out my future) isn't so far-fetched. I don't see myself getting hired anywhere given that I've been out of the workforce for so many years, but I like my chances of doing things on my own terms.

Maybe I should take my inspiration from Daniel Stern, who in addition to acting steadily since his debut in "Breaking Away," is also a sculptor, writer and director."

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Give It to Me, Ke$ha

Beth was listening to Spotify today, using her fancy Bluetooth cylinder speaker to crank it in our bedroom. I think she had on the Pop channel, doesn't matter, not the point of the story. Focus here, people. Anyway, I was in the bathroom, brushing my teeth and such, when I heard some fawning female voice wafting through the air, and I immediately thought of this old Offspring song:

I asked Beth what song was on, and she said, "Ke$ha." Not sure when she learned to speak "dollar sign," but whatever.