Post-Gig Report: The Theme is Adaptation

The Berries played Greenville last night, but the story actually begins half a week ago.

Early this past week, as I drove from campus to the grocery, I noticed that the “Check Engine” light was continuing to burn. This has happened a few times in the past, and was diagnosed by my mechanics either as A) nothing or B) a bad sensor. And sure enough, the next morning, the light went out, and it was business as usual. Until that afternoon, the light came back on and I heard what seemed like a hybrid between a stutter and a backfire. Suddenly, the two hours of driving I planned (the Mondoville-Greenville round trip) for yesterday seemed like a Bad Idea.

The problem, however, is that I have a large drum kit, with large drums — like me, they’re somewhat oversized. The other guys in the band drive small to midsized sedans. Consequently, my drums (and often some other gear) ride in my van, occupying the rear and middle sections, and sometimes even the passenger seat.

Actually getting to the show was still doable — Mrs. M was gracious enough to let me use her car — but there wasn’t room for the gear. So I got in touch with Casey Taylor, guitarist for Italo and the Passions, the headliners for last night’s show, and asked if I might be able to use their kit, if I brought my own snare, cymbals, and bass pedal. But then Casey realized that their drummer had another gig before their set, and probably wouldn’t be able to get there by the time we needed to take the stage. “But we have a studio kit we can bring for you.” I thanked him profusely, and last night, we loaded the stuff I mentioned, plus my stick bag and a bass amp, into Mrs. M’s car and made it up to Greenville’s Radio Room. I’m proud to say that I managed to get there without any wrong turns — a rare occurrence when I’m driving.

The Berries were first on the scene, so we checked in and I put my stuff on the stage, where it looked a bit like the percussionistic version of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, while we waited for Casey to show up. In the meantime, we stood around and chatted as the house P.A. played one of the coolest mixes of any club where I’ve hung out. Last night had big doses of the Zombies, Hollies, and first-generation punk and new wave music. (By the way, this is not an aberration at Radio Room; it was a really cool mix the other time we were there as well.)

Casey got there about 9:30 — we were supposed to go on around 10 or 10:30. He had brought some cymbal stands, but as it turned out, the guys from the second band on the bill (Atlanta’s Mamma Bear) had agreed to supply the drums for our set (which made logistical sense, as it reduced teardown between sets.) Sure enough, Team Mamma Bear arrived a few minutes later, and shortly thereafter, I found myself parked behind a four-piece set of 1968 Ludwigs, a pleasure I hadn’t anticipated. (Thanks, Troy!)

We began our set about ten minutes later, and plowed through our usual 16 songs in about 45 minutes, during which time we seemed to have been well received. Playing someone else’s kit is always an interesting experience for me. I can’t speak to the cases of other musicians, but when I’m on someone else’s drums, I find myself forced out of some of my habitual movements and fills — some drums I normally use aren’t there, there are things in unusual places, and my usual movements yield different sounds. It’s an eye- (or ear-)opener, and I find myself thinking a little more about how to execute the effects I want to achieve in real time. It’s fun, but also a little scary.

But I made it through without any major entanglements, and got some very nice comments from some of the folks in attendance after we had cleared the stage to the strains of the P.A.’s “Clash City Rockers” and I had changed out of my performance shirt and into my Zappa T-shirt. (I left my jeans on throughout, a fact for which the Upstate, and perhaps the nation, is no doubt grateful.)

I hadn’t seen Mamma Bear before, but they delivered a strong set of Southern-inflected alt-rock. They reminded me a bit of Canada’s Rusty, and I was happy to trade a copy of our CD for one of their new release, Chocolate. They were really nice guys as well (even beyond letting me use their gear), and I’d really love to get them down to Real City for a show.

Finally, it was time for local heroes Italo and the Passions, and they were a blast. What the Berries are to 1966, these guys are to about 1972 or 73. Imagine a band like Brownsville Station (if they played it straight) or Grand Funk (in the Railroad days), with a fondness for Muscle Shoals music and a vocalist who sounds a lot like the late, great Phil Lynott. The performances were tight, but the set was loose and relaxed, and the band was charismatic. I did another CD trade, and they’re another group we need to bring down this way. (Are you listening, bookers?)

Things had finally come to a halt around 1:30, and it was closer to 2 when guitarist Larry Ellis and I set out for Mondoville. I finally got to bed around 3:30, and got up at 11:30 this morning. All told, it was another terrific experience, even with the necessary transportation and gear adjustments. Again, big thanks to Casey and to Troy, as well as to Mrs. M for letting me use her ride. Let’s do it again soon — and I’ll bring my drums.

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Saturday Morning Potpourri

Mrs. M is at the gym and the Spawn is in the city of her father’s birth, attending a training session for her new role as Grand Inquisitrix of her sorority chapter. I’m still receiving Little Steven’s Underground Garage via satellite, and thus far have seen no evidence of the dystopian hellscape that I was promised would begin yesterday — of course, that may just be because I don’t live anywhere particularly interesting. So while I wait for Mondoville to elect Riddley Walker as mayor, here are a few bits of this and that.

***

I’ve now met at least thrice with each of my classes, and I think it’s shaping up to be a good term — the kids are good, if a little groggy, in my classes, which meet during the first two class periods each day. As I point out to them, many of them haven’t even finished throwing up by 8 a.m. But thus far, they seem to be tracking with me pretty well, and I’ve seen more than the occasional signs of life from several of them, which always bodes well. It’s also nice to be teaching film noir in my Narrative Film class again. This past week was Double Indemnity, and this coming Wednesday we’ll do Out of the Past, which has become one of my all-time favorite movies over the years.

One of the things that interests me about Double Indemnity is the radical difference between the conclusions of the book and movie, a difference I think works in favor of Wilder and Chandler’s screenplay. Honestly, I tend to think that Cain wrote about 2.8 great books, with Postman Always Rings Twice and Mildred Pierce getting the whole numbers. Unfortunately for this reader, Cain indulges his love of over-the-topness at the end of Double Indemnity, a problem for which I blame his love of opera. I think that what makes Cain’s best work succeed is the mundaneness of the world in which his stories happen. It’s a world of dust motes floating in the air of a suburban living room or marital infidelities in suburban tract homes, but at the end of Double Indemnity, he swings from his mythopoetic heels… and I think misses. Still, until the point at which the book and movie diverge, it’s a fine work.

On the other hand, another of my favorite crime writers, Jim Thompson, would go over the top in his best books as well, but it works, and I think it works because he’s not quite working in the world the rest of us see. Thompson’s world is a grotesque, even satirical one, and what seems bizarre and aberrant in a Cain novel seems to fit perfectly in Thompson’s best work. Kind of makes me wish I had put The Getaway on my syllabus.

***

The Berries are playing tonight at Greenville’s Radio Room, with another show next month in Columbia, and some other dates in the offing. I’ll keep you posted, and catch us if you can!

***

Well, it’s about lunchtime, so I’ll leave you with a bit of music. Once again, I turn to the Green Pajamas, who have filled a great deal of space in my personal rotation in recent months. This is from their 1990 masterpiece, Ghosts of Love, and it’s a beautiful bit of mid-tempo melancholy. Hope you like it.

See you soon!

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Inauguration Day

… and the greatest scream in rock history.

In the end, they’re politicians. You’re more than a vote, more than a member of Team Red or Team Blue, more than a client of the state and more than a subject of some would-be ruler’s epideictic blather. None of those things determine your worth.

Don’t get fooled by either side, and may you have as little to do with any of them as possible.

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A New Addition to the Wish List, and Perhaps Some Potpourri?

With a tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to Timothy Gassen, author of The Knights of Fuzz (the latest edition of which includes an entry for a certain band from Mondoville), I want one of these… with twelve legs.

rick-table

***

Mrs. M, the Spawn and I trekked to Real City yesterday. We ate at one of the Spawn’s favorite restaurants, and then Mrs. M dropped the Spawn and me off at a local used media emporium. The Spawn picked up a graphic novel for her current fannish obsession, and I killed an hour or so by reading Donald Westlake’s Money for Nothing.

It’s a nifty little cross between a spy caper and a mistaken-identity crime novel with a touch of screwball, and while it won’t supplant the works of Chaucer on my favorites list, it made me smile on a consistent basis and it carried its weight all the way to the end. A nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Out of gratitude for the store’s hospitality, I bought a copy of Michael Connelly’s The Black Echo, the first of his Harry Bosch novels. I cracked it open during lunch a little while ago, and the opening few scenes are working nicely. I guess that isn’t surprising — Mr. Connelly’s series has made it through sixteen books, a TV series, and at least one short story in a certain collection you might enjoy.

A good day, and indeed, it seems (he said, knocking wood) to be a good weekend, with a viewing of Double Indemnity (which I’ll be showing the film kids Wednesday night) and a Mondoville basketball game on today’s agenda.

***

The new semester began last week, and the classes seem to be a pretty nice lot of kids thus far. Typically on the first day, I talk to the kids as I go down the roll and find out a little about them. A decent percentage of the time, I ask them what brought them to Mondoville, and while lots of them say they came to play their sport (which is OK — at least they’re here, and may accidentally learn some other stuff along the way), they often tell me they came because they like the school’s smallness and sense of community.

This makes a great deal of sense to me, as those were some of the things I was looking for when I got into this racket some years back. As it happens, during my one serious run at the market, I had three job offers, two of which were at Mondoville-type colleges (The third was at a state school, but that offer came after I had accepted my current position.) I liked the other small school quite a lot as well, and came very near to accepting the position, but we figured that Mrs. M had a better chance of employment here. That turned out to be true — Mrs. M and I came down and interviewed at our respective schools on the same day, and she got an offer on the spot, while mine didn’t come until after dinner. We occasionally laugh that she has Mondoville seniority.

So I’m now into my 27th semester here (I was on leave in fall semester of 2013 for the trial), and while there are still aspects of life down here that I don’t quite follow, I understand why kids — including the Spawn — come here. It feels like home.

***

On the musical front, the Berries are gearing up for a show in Greenville this weekend. It’ll be our first show in a few months, and I’m looking forward to getting back on stage — and we hope, to making some more money to pay for future recording.

Also on musical matters, I’ll be taking the Spawn to her first “real” rock show in May, as we landed tickets to see Alice Cooper. It’s kind of funny — our seats (front row of the middle tier of a three-tier venue) cost about three or four times what I paid for front row floor seats to see the Coop in Cincinnati in 1986, with Tesla as the up-and-coming opener. On the other hand, front row floor seats for this show are going for $725, which includes a meet-and-greet and some swag, so I guess 60 bucks a head isn’t so bad.

But the Berries typically play venues where folks get in for $5-8. No complaints, Sarge, but next time you go see some groups at your local, you might want to remember you’re getting a pretty good deal. And if you’re in Greenville this Saturday, drop in and say hello — we won’t charge extra.

***

And speaking of music, here’s a little something as we close. Thirty years ago this month, I had front row seats to another concert, when a guest and I saw Miles Davis at Music Hall in Cincinnati. Here’s the title cut from the album he was promoting:

See you soon!

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Intersections

The Berries have a show coming up in Greenville on the 21st, back at the Radio Room, where we’ve played once before. I’m usually the point man for our bookings, and part of that includes networking with folks from other bands in the region with whom we might share a bill. For example, when we played our previous show at this venue, we talked some with the sound guy, who had some very kind things to say about what we do. We friended one another on the Book of Faces, and as it happens, his band will be headlining the bill when we’re up there in twelve days (Moral: Unless the situation absolutely calls for it, it pays not to be a jerk — being pleasant can have rewards beyond mere virtue.)

But anyway, this friend of mine posted a bit on FB today about the use of identical rhyme in Black Sabbath’s protest plod, “War Pigs.” To be precise, he mentioned this couplet:

“Generals gathered in their masses/ Just like witches at black masses.” (1-2)

I replied with my personal favorite example, from my beloved Blue Oyster Cult’s “Joan Crawford” (written by David Roter):

Catholic schoolgirls have thrown away their mascara

And chained themselves to the axles of big Mack trucks.

The sky is filled with herds of shivering angels.

The fat lady laughs: “Gentlemen, start your trucks.” (8-11)

I also threw in a link to a discussion of identical rhyme that I found online, referring to the very song my friend had referenced. I signed it, “[Mondo], Prof. of English and rock and roll Poindexter.”

A few minutes later, my friend replied, “I think I’m starting to realize that you were the guy who really introduced me to The Beatles when I snuck into a panel discussion at [Mondoville] 15 years ago…” Indeed, during my first or second year at the college, I was asked to join a discussion during a screening of A Hard Day’s Night. A senior colleague spoke slightingly of Ringo, and unsurprisingly to anyone who knows me, I replied with some vigor, citing a number of well known drummers who cite Ringo as an influence and admire his musicality. Sure enough, my friend had been in the audience that evening.

And now we’ll both be doing the rock and roll thing on the same stage two weekends from now. It’s interesting to see how people connect and reconnect, sometimes in the most unexpected ways.

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Potpourri: Hello, 2017

Clan Mondo welcomed the New Year in with our traditional standing in the yard and watching fireworks through the trees, followed by some sparkling juice and off to bed. I hope the New Year brings you and yours both what you need and what you want, and I hope that you still want those things when you receive them.

***

Some folks are making resolutions, as is the tradition, but I tend not to do that. Honestly, I spend enough of my life feeling like I’ve failed at things, and the idea of adding more stuff about which to feel guilty doesn’t thrill me. Nonetheless, if you are among the people who resolve, I wish you well.

***

I spent much of yesterday watching college football, as my beloved Kentucky Wildcats fell short in the Gator Bowl (yeah, I know it’s now the TaxSlayer Bowl, but much as I like the idea of slaying taxes, it’s always gonna be the Gator Bowl to me). The sting was eased, however, by watching Alabama knock off Washington, followed by the team from nearby Clemson putting the kibosh on (The) Ohio State U. This sets up a rematch of last year’s championship, which was quite a game. I’ve mentioned before that when I was a kid, Bama was my favorite college team — I think the first college game I remember watching was the 1973 Sugar Bowl, where Notre Dame edged the Tide in Parseghian’s final game — and I spent some of my childhood wanting to play for Bear Bryant. But bad knees and the knowledge that I had other ways of getting through college led me in other directions (as did my lack of athletic talent). And because I’m a former defensive lineman, I love good defensive teams, which have been a hallmark of Alabama football for many years.

So once again, I’ll be pulling for the Tide in the title game. But I had a great-uncle who went to Clemson in the late 1930s, so I bear no grudge toward Clemson either. I’m looking forward to a good college football game.

***

I spent a chunk of last week reading Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard novels, and have now read the entire series (although I read them out of order, having doubled back to catch the earlier books), with the next installment, Rusty Puppy, coming out in a few months. As my binge read indicates, I highly recommend the series.

Particular strengths of the series include the friendship between the two principal characters, which I think nails the needling love of lifelong male friends, and the insight into the blue-collar world of Lansdale’s East Texas. Lansdale’s characteristic blend of horror and humor (both frequently verging on the Southern tall tale tradition) is another selling point, and I would recommend his handling of fight scenes as textbook lessons for writers wanting to handle violence effectively.

But I think what makes the books especially readable — and valuable — for me is Hap Collins’s voice as the narrator. I’ve mentioned that my background was a weird mix of working class and Bohemian, and that my maternal grandparents were country folks who came to Nashville looking for work, which my grandmother found as a drugstore cashier and my grandfather found driving fire engines. My grandfather in particular was a natural storyteller, and had both an endless source of material and a chance to hone his craft during nearly 40 years at the fire hall.

When Lansdale writes Collins, I hear echoes of my grandfather’s voice — the rhythms, the pace, the dysphemistic worldview. All are considered characteristically Texan, but I assure you that they were found in blue-collar Tennessee as well.

If you’re a reader of crime fiction, Lansdale’s tales of a “Rough South” will entertain. If you’re a writer, you’ll find a lot to learn from in the books. Either way, you should read them.

***

One of the things I’ll be doing this week is assembling my syllabi for the new term, which starts midway into next week. I’m teaching four different courses (FroshComp, Shakespeare, Film Noir, and Creative Writing/Poetry), but they’re all courses I’ve taught in the past, so I already have the general outlines in mind. Still, we never step in the same river twice, so it’ll be interesting to see what this semester has to offer.

***

I’ll close with a bit of music. It’s New Year’s Day, so this one seems appropriate. Here’s George Harrison from 1974 (with an assist from Alfred, Lord Tennyson):

Happy New Year, gang!

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“Is There A Doctor in the House?”

Today Mrs. M and I decided to change the scenery a bit, and spent the afternoon and early evening Upstate in Greenville. While we originally had plans to visit a couple of museums and such, we got distracted by some shopping opportunities that don’t avail themselves here in Mondoville. Mrs. M hit some fashion stores while I prowled one of my favorite used media places and a nearby frappuccino preserve.

At the latter location, I was looking at a copy of Vanishing Games, the most recent (and I fear, last) novel from the late Roger Hobbs, of whom I wrote recently. I had read through the prologue when Mrs. M texted me and said it was time to reconvene. Mind you, I hadn’t spoken to anyone — I had merely been sitting in one of the comfy chairs at the back of the store, as were a few other folks.

In any case, I stood up to meet up with Mrs. M, but was stopped by two women, probably in their mid-30s, who had been sitting in the chairs behind me. “Do you know what this word means?”, one asked me. She showed me the book she was examining, opened to a point about twenty pages or so in. As it happened, I did know the word in question (not a particularly arcane word, although it’s not one you see every day), and I gave a quick definition, along with an etymological breakdown and a couple of examples. The other woman looked at me and said, “Are you an English teacher or something?”

“Well, yeah, actually. I’m an English professor at Newberry College.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Oh, my wife and I just thought we’d have a day out.” In any case, they thanked me, and I said it was my pleasure, no trouble at all, and made my way toward the front of the store, where Mrs. M was waiting.

Later, I wondered what there was that had prompted them to ask me to begin with, much less the follow-up question about my career. I had never met these folks. I wasn’t wearing a college shirt or anything, and I don’t think of myself as necessarily “smart-looking” in any sense — I’m more the lumbering oaf type, really, with occasional ventures into shambling heapdom. But in a bookstore with lots of people in the vicinity, I’m the one they decided to approach.

Maybe it’s my haircut or something.

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