Toying With a Drum Solo

Not from me… from Mike Portnoy. Mr. Portnoy is a drummer generally associated with the progressive rock and heavy metal scenes, having burst onto the scene with Dream Theater, a band known for having more chops than a karate dojo. He departed DT some years back, and has since been something of a hired gun, while forming various short-term projects as well.

Extended drum solos are a convention of both the progressive and hard rock genres, and Portnoy sticks with the tradition. Now as it happens, I’m not really a fan of drum solos — too often they smack of “musical performance as athletic event”, with terribly little to do with making . . . you know. . . music.  I almost never take solos myself — even when I do stretch out a bit, I prefer to do it in the context of the rest of the band, engaging in interplay with what the other folks are doing. And while I pay attention when other drummers do their thing, I’d really rather see and hear them as members of an ensemble.

Still, some drummers bring musicality to the solo — when I saw Ginger Baker in 1990 with Masters of Reality, it almost seemed as though the audience could sing along with the cascading tom work. Terry Bozzio is another drummer known to think and play very melodically.  Other folks try to bring humor or personality to the solo — anything to keep it from turning into an excuse to grab a beer.

Anyway, here’s a solo Portnoy did a few years ago with his group the Winery Dogs. He borrows a bit of schtick from Jethro Tull’s Clive Bunker (and from jazz great Barrett Deems before that) by roaming the stage and turning stage furniture (and the stage itself) into extensions of his kit.

But the highlight is when he. . . well, just watch.

And now I wonder: Is Mike Portnoy a Gormogons agent?

Posted in Culture, Music, Pixel-stained Wretchery | Leave a comment

Poetry Corner and the Prof’s Pet Peeve

Anyone in my line of work will find some quirks, solecisms, or barbarisms more irritating than others. The particulars vary from writer to writer and from teacher to teacher, but we all have some little thing or things that will send us to Defcon One.

I’m not immune. One of my personal betes noires is the use of the singular “they.” Now in fact, we can trace this at least as far back as Chaucer, and in recent decades, the usage strikes many as a useful means of avoiding sexist sentence construction, replacing such choices as “s/he,” “he or she,” or the alternation of the masculine and feminine pronouns. (And for those of you keeping score, the generic “he” as a prescriptivist “rule” can really only be traced to 18th-C. efforts to “ascertain” the language.)

I get that, and I’m aware of the foolishness of trying to fix (as in “nail down”) the language in such a manner. Johnson recognized that; dare I do less? Still, the singular “they” grinds my gears, and I’ll mark it when I see it. (And I likewise know that my preference for the generic “he” likewise irritates some readers. Those readers, of course, are welcome to write their own blogs.)

What brought all this to mind this evening was my preparation for tomorrow’s Early Brit Lit class. We’ll be looking at Wyatt the Elder and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. I was refreshing my memory by reading one of Wyatt’s poems that means much to me:

They Flee From Me

They flee from me that sometime did me seek
With naked foot, stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek,
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themself in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range,
Busily seeking with a continual change.
Thanked be fortune it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once in special,
In thin array after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small;
Therewithall sweetly did me kiss
And softly said, “Dear heart, how like you this?”
It was no dream: I lay broad waking.
But all is turned thorough my gentleness
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go of her goodness,
And she also, to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindly am served
I would fain know what she hath deserved.
As anyone who has watched The Tudors probably knows, chastity was not in great supply at court during Wyatt’s time — remember, he was sent to the Tower under suspicion of plooking Anne Boleyn, and from there, watched the execution of Boleyn and five of her other putative lovers. (Fortunately, the Wyatts apparently had some pull with Thomas Cromwell.) So various interpretations of the poem read it as Wyatt complaining of experiencing a dry spell after prior promiscuity. These readings seem to rely on the first eight and a half lines, reading They in its various forms as a plural pronoun.
That first stanza-and-a-bit is something of an extended metaphor (what we in the English biz call a conceit), using animals and hunting as a metaphor for lovers and carrying on. The bulk of the poem seems to focus on a particular woman. And as I read it this evening, I wondered if that first section might be a usage of the singular they. If so, it seems to me that rather than a boast of a rakish score of affairs with the ladies (“[I]t hath been otherwise/ Twenty times better” (8-9)), Wyatt’s speaker may be referring to a series of liaisons with a particular woman, even as he reflects on a particular encounter (“once in special” (9)). And maybe it’s because I’m who I am, but I find the poem more satisfying as a recollection of a love that didn’t last, rather than a mere complaint about lost mojo. But like Philip Marlowe, I know it’s sentimental even as I say it.
So these are the things I think about on a Wednesday evening. In any case, I hope you like the poem — I do.
Posted in Culture, Education, Literature | Leave a comment

Not that he should take it as a challenge…

… but Donald Trump may not be the biggest whackjob in DC.

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Saturday Potpourri: St. Patrick’s and Basketball Edition

I had meant to grade papers today, but the online system is down for maintenance until later today, and well, that’s when the Kentucky game starts, so, well…


I’ll cheerfully agree that Marvel has dominated the comic-book movie realm (And yes, the Spawn and I saw Black Panther, and thought it was a solid, entertaining movie, though a bit heavy-handed at times). And in my teens and twenties, I generally found the Marvel titles stronger than the competition’s as well. But most of my favorite characters over the years have come from DC. There are the Big Three, of course, but two of my all-time favorite comic characters have been career B-list members.

Specifically, I’ve always been a fan of the Phantom Stranger and the Spectre. It’s probably a reflection of my own metaphysical interests (and rather Lenten worldview), but there is just something about the two that pushes my “cool” button. Indeed, I’ve told the Spawn on occasion that if I were ever to do cosplay, I’d want to be the Stranger (but while my hair is now sufficiently white for the gig, I’d have to shave, so it’s not likely. Also, there’s the whole white, pupil-less eyes thing.)

So where I was going with this is that I was in Real City yesterday, and stopped by the local used media emporium before returning home. I swung by the graphic novel section, and ran across a collection of Spectre stories, from John Ostrander‘s run as writer back in the 90s. Ostrander studied theology and at one point, and his vision of the character as the incarnation of God’s wrath has some meat on it. In particular, the Spectre’s decision to annihilate nearly the entire population of Vlatava (a fictive Balkan country meant to remind the readers of breakup-era Yugoslavia) as irredeemable reminds us of how much we rely upon Grace. (Interestingly, a Heavenly Tribunal later essentially declares the act to be justifiable homicide, as the population was bent on destroying one another anyway, and even the few innocents were going to be slaughtered soon enough.) The Stranger makes an appearance, leading a team of supernatural characters in an attempt to prevent something similar from happening to the entire planet. It made for a lively, interesting read.

Anyway, I know that while both the Stranger and Spectre have had their own titles lately, neither have managed to sustain their audiences over the long haul. Still, I like them, and wouldn’t mind seeing them more frequently. Heck, they could even have the Stranger grow a beard.


As you might expect, I’ve been keeping track of the NCAA basketball tournament, and will continue to do so unless and until my beloved Kentucky Wildcats are eliminated, after which point I shall cease to care. In any case, I had a great time watching the Retrievers of the U of Maryland — Baltimore County vanquish the top-ranked squad from the U of Virginia last night, and apparently I had a lot of company. CBS reported this afternoon that as the game went on, so many people tried to access the University’s website that the server crashed. Prior to this, I believe the school was best known for its chess program, which offers scholarships.

It’s a feel-good story, and I wish the team well — at least until they face Kentucky.


Well, Mrs. M has made a container of Southwest-spiced hummus for me, so I think I’ll close this post off and nosh a bit. And as is my custom, I’ll do it with a bit of music. Since it’s St. Patrick’s Day, I’ll go with Irish-American Celtic rockers Flogging Molly. I was introduced to the band by Chris Fletcher, a student in my Seven Deadly Sins class (which I’ll be reprising next year, it appears), and it wasn’t until later that I realized the lead vocalist, Dave King, had held the same post in Fastway, the post-Motorhead effort of Fast Eddie Clarke and UFO’s Pete Way. As for Chris, he’s now teaching FroshComp while working on a Masters at another school in South Carolina. I think he’s likely suffering enough. Without further ado, here’s “Seven Deadly Sins.”

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Education, Faith, Family, Music | Leave a comment

Lenten Devotional, 15 March 18

This is my second contribution to this year’s Lenten Devotional series from the college. You may find the other devotionals here.

Psalm 107 (KJV)

O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good:
for his mercy endureth for ever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy;
and gathered them out of the lands,
from the east, and from the west,
from the north, and from the south.

They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way;
they found no city to dwell in.
Hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted in them.
Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them out of their distresses.
And he led them forth by the right way,
that they might go to a city of habitation.

Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness,
and for his wonderful works to the children of men!
For he satisfieth the longing soul,
and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.

Daniel Boone is reputed to have said that he had never been lost, but he admitted that he had “once been a mite bewildered for three days.” None of us are Daniel Boones, and even in our era of online maps and GPS, it really isn’t that hard to miss our exit or get turned around. Life moves quickly, and we can lose our bearings.

God knows this, of course. And as Christ, God was even willing to become fully human, to be lost and afraid on a hill near Jerusalem. But God doesn’t want us to be lost or alone. He asks us to call to Him, so that He can lead us “by the right way”, to a place we can live. He still wants to guide us, even if we feel more lost each day. Will we call for him?

Heavenly Father, we know You know how lost we are and how lost we feel. Thank You for being willing to guide us, and for letting us have these weeks to focus on You and Your call, Your direction. In Jesus’s name we pray, amen.

Posted in Education, Faith | Leave a comment

Going Home and Coming Home: Spring Break Potpourri

It’s back to the classroom tomorrow, but it’s been a pleasant enough week, so here we go…


Wednesday morning I took command of Mrs. M’s vehicle (a/k/a “the good car”) and headed west (“the direction of change, the biggest direction of all.“) The skies were gray, and the occasional snowflake hit the windshield as I passed through Asheville. Moving through the Smokies, I passed a salt truck, and saw mountain-shaded patches of old snow along the way. A road crew was lopping branches from trees near the highway, and in the distance, other stands of trees were wrapped in Disney-grade glazes of snow. The flurries never quite got to a level where I needed to turn on the wipers, and once I got past Sevierville, they tapered off again.

I had lunch with the Mad Dog in Knoxville at a Krystal near his home. We chatted for about 45 minutes before he had to go pick up the Mad Pup at school, and I got back on my way, arriving in Nashville a bit over two hours later. I stayed at a budget motel — not the one from my last trip there, but one I’ve visited before — just off the Interstate, in the suburb where I spent much of my childhood and big chunks of my teenage summers. I sent pictures back to the Spawn and Mrs. M to prove that there were no visible bugs or dead junkies in the room, and as Mrs. M noted, we’ve stayed in worse places over the years.

I was a little amused to discover that the night I arrived, the hotel’s manager was headed to a concert. Specifically, she was going to the Volunteer Jam festival, a fest that I remember all the way back to my childhood, when I was 8 or nine (the festival began in 1974.) The series ran until 1996, and further concerts have occurred sporadically over the years. Wednesday night’s show was billed as a tribute to founder Charlie Daniels, and included a variety of country and Southern Rock performers, including whatever version of Lynyrd Skynyrd is on the road these days. While I’m not a big fan of the Southern Rock genre (probably because I grew up with it), I’m sure it was a good time — when I spoke to the manager the next morning, she certainly seemed to have had a lot of fun. Good.

I took a pass on the concert (not least because I hadn’t known about it to begin with), and instead drove a couple of miles to my aunt’s home. We caught up on the various goings-on in Middle Tennessee and Mondoville until the day’s drive caught up with me, and I used the Taco Bell gift card I got for Christmas to pay for the night’s supper.

On Thursday and Friday, I got to the cemetery about 9 each morning. Thursday was a raw day by local standards, cold and windy with the occasional snowflake. I had indulged my absent-minded professor’s prerogative by leaving my coat in Mondoville, but I had carried the heavy sweatshirt that I bought at Bouchercon in Toronto last October, and it more than sufficed.

One of the things I do on these visits is place flowers at the graves of the three generations of my family who are buried there (my grandparents, my parents, and my cousin Jeff). Since I normally only get to Nashville once or twice a year, the flowers from my previous visit are almost always gone  when I get there for the first time on a new visit. In fact, while my grandparents’ and Jeff’s markers had empty urns, a small arrangement of white flowers was at my parents’. I don’t know who left them there (or even if it was someone’s deliberate choice, rather than someone just putting a windblown bouquet in a vacant vase), but I appreciate it.

After a couple of hours, I drove back to the old neighborhood and met my long-time friend (and occasional commenter) Michael Dearing for lunch. Or perhaps brunch, since we ate at the local IHOP and we each had omelets. We talked about music and family and books, just as we’ve done now for 46 years or so — we met when I was in first grade. As a professional musician, Mike lives a few hours out of phase with the civilians, and so he typically has to take care of daily errands and such in the late afternoon, so he headed out and I went back to my aunt’s. From there, she and my uncle and I made it to a local Mexican restaurant for dinner before I went back to my base of operations for the night.

Friday was warmer, so I didn’t need the sweatshirt, but I wound up putting it on anyway. You see, I was walking around the family plot when I saw an unusual hand tool on a nearby marker. It looked like an Allen wrench with a pituitary issue, with a wooden handle, a six-inch stainless steel shaft, and a right-angle bend culminating in a flathead screwdriver tip. I think it’s likely used to affix name/date plates to the markers, and a worker had left it behind. I didn’t want to leave it there to wreak havoc on a mower or anything like that, so I decided to take it to the office of the funeral home at the center of the cemetery.

But as I was walking to the car to drive to the office (it’s a big cemetery), it occurred to me that the T-shirt I was wearing (pictured below), while a favorite of mine, might not be entirely appropriate in the lobby of the funeral home. So, the sweatshirt. More properly attired, I went in and gave the tool to the funeral director who greeted me. “Thanks for going out of your way to bring this,” he said.

“Well, I wouldn’t want someone getting hurt,” I said. And besides, who wouldn’t want the family neighborhood looking nice?

For lunch, I got together with Mike Dearing again, and we were joined by third musketeer Carl Groves, who was nice enough to spring for a meal for his impoverished muso and academic friends. The food and conversation were good, and we could likely have gone on well into the night. Alas, that wasn’t to be the case, but it was nice while it lasted.

Cheddars 9 Mar 18

L-R: Mike, Carl, and Mondo

I made a run to Hobby Lobby for some flowers, and then watched a little of the Kentucky-Georgia basketball game with my uncle before we went to the local Cracker Barrel for dinner.

Yesterday it was time to return to Mondoville, so I went to the cemetery once more, leaving lavender (My Mom’s favorite color and one of her favorite flowers) with my parents and grandparents, and red roses with Jeff. I didn’t take the white ones from my folks’ urn — I figured there was room for both. From there, it was the breakfast bar at the Shoney’s in Mt. Juliet, TN. There aren’t as many Shoney’s as there once were, and they’re a little thin on the ground in Mondoville (the nearest being on the far side of Real City), but I’ve always been a fan of their breakfast bar, so I couldn’t pass it up, and it was the best one I’d had since the last one.

The drive home was uneventful, save for a Krispy Kreme pickup for the Spawn and me (Mrs. M is made of sterner stuff), and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, the whole trip was peaceful. And while spending a couple of hours a day at a cemetery for a few days may not seem like the best spring break option to a lot of people, it felt right to me.


I’ve agreed to a couple of writing projects for the coming months, and will find out about another writing opportunity in the next week or two. I’ll keep you posted as more details emerge, and I’d like to remind you that I’ll be doing another reading in Durham, NC, on 3 May. I’d love to see you there!


I think it’s about time for dinner, so I’ll post a bit of music and call it a day. Not to be confused with the legendary Monks, Montreal’s Munks (formerly called Exit 4, and later contributing members to Freedom North [1969] and Graham County [1971]) put out a few singles in the mid-60s, including this fine one. This is from 1966 (of course), and it’s a nice bit of garage snarl.

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Family, Music, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment

Lenten Devotional: 8 March 18

Members of the Newberry College community write devotionals during the seasons of Advent and Lent, and today is one of my turns to write. You may find the entire series at the Newberry College Facebook page.

Genesis 9:8-17 Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)

And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; 10 and with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth. 11 And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. 12 And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: 13 I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. 14 And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: 15 and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. 17 And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.


If you lived in this part of the country a few years ago, you likely remember what we call the “thousand-year flood.” The rain damaged property, driving some people from their homes and making travel difficult. But we knew it wouldn’t last forever, and we did the best we could during and after that monstrous rain. And even during those difficult times, we could find moments of beauty and satisfaction as first responders, neighbors, and even strangers did what they could during the storm and the ensuing recovery.

In our text today, we recall the story of the rainbow, a mark of God’s promise that even though storms would still come, they would not destroy us. Later in the Bible, Jesus comes to us and shows that even death does not mean obliteration. And though we know that we move through storms and suffering, some of which we mark in Lent, we also know that they don’t mean we will be destroyed.

But the rainbow is also a challenge to us. When there are floods, both literal and metaphorical, we should do what we can to bring beauty and reminders of the mercy of God to the people around us. We see rainbows, yes – but we may be rainbows as well.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the rainbow, the reminder that even when life slips beyond our control, You love us and give us futures in you, through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Please grant us the ability to be agents of Your mercy and kindness as well. In Christ’s Name we pray, amen.

Posted in Culture, Education, Faith | Leave a comment