Chop Chop

I gave up performing my "folkish" music (accompanying myself on 12-string guitar) in 1984 when I began studying classical composition. Except for at parties, after having had too much to drink, I haven't done any real singing, or playing guitar for that matter. I just sort of quit after a career that spanned nearly 20 years. I couldn't perform anymore. I'd burned myself out and my confidence took a real nose dive due to some personal issues.

Now that I've decided to get back into it and maybe hit the house concert circuit, I've started rehearsing. I was afraid my voice would be unfamiliar to me due to the natural deepening that sometimes occurs as we age. My speaking voice has gotten a bit lower, so it was a natural assumption. In the past I was able to perform some pretty impressive vocal acrobatics, leaping octaves with ease and sliding around the blues. And I've always had a large range. I was fully prepared to transpose some of my more challenging songs to accommodate any changes to my voice, and I figured my vocal dexterity was a condition of my youth. There was no reason to think otherwise, because, when I did attempt to sing my old stuff, I was always in the house where I never felt confident enough to belt it out. Well, I recently cleared out a rehearsal space in the garage and when I first went out to there to practice, I found I was still able to really open up and SING with no holding back. Happily, I don't have to transpose anything, and guess what? My range is still there. It takes a little more support to hit the really high notes with ease, but it's coming along. By October when I'll give my "come-back" concert (ahem), I'll be able to sail over those notes like I used to.

Now if my guitar chops will just come back with as much ease. That's a whole 'nother issue!


My Kingdom For the Truth

Today, the remains of Richard III are at last receiving their rightful due and are lying in state at Leicester Cathedral after being hidden under a parking lot for 527 years and undergoing strenuous testing the past three years.

Born on 2 October, 1452, Richard III was King of England from 1483 until his death on 22 August, 1485 at the age of 32. He was the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty. His defeat at Bosworth Field, where he was killed by a blow to the head, was the last decisive battle of the Wars of the Roses, and marked the end of the Middle Ages in England.

To be to the point, I believe he has been given a bum rap in history, incited largely by Shakespeare's portrayal in his play, Richard III, written over a hundred years after the fact. I'm not blaming the Immortal Bard, however. How else could he paint this king, this "son of York"? I don't imagine that as a Tudor, Elizabeth I would have been too keen on him being championed. Besides, Shakespeare wrote a theater piece, and theater pieces are very good at either vilifying or glorifying people who can't speak up for themselves to set the record straight. It is not my intent to do likewise. I didn't know the man, nor did I live under his reign. Did he covet the Crown? Of course he did. Did he do whatever he needed to do  to get it? Perhaps. Did he fight to keep it? Of course. But all of this could also be said about virtually every other human being born only one or two degrees from a throne. History is written by the winners. Some people are remembered as heroes and some as antiheroes, it all depends on who holds the pen and who's deciding the spin.

"There is no clear evidence that Richard was guilty or innocent of his so-called 'crimes', but historians, whether detractors or sympathisers, must work with the information derived from the sources and endeavour to present a balanced view of this controversial figure." - Wendy E.A. Moorhen (Richard III Society)

Lord Chancellor Sir Francis Bacon, a contemporary, wrote of Richard that he was, "A good lawmaker for the ease and solace of the common people." He enacted anti-corruption and trade protection laws that benefited the common populace, and we all know how well that goes over with the upper 1%. There is nothing new under the sun, and politics never change. They never have. Whatever, I'm not going to debate (either pro or con) all that Richard III has been accused of. People far more educated on his life have already done that. I will go into his appearance, though.

Niclas von Popplau, a knight who met Richard in 1484, wrote in his travel diary: "King Richard is… a high-born prince, three fingers taller than I, but a bit slimmer and not as thickset as I am, and much more lightly built; he has quite slender arms and thighs, and also a great heart."


William Shakespeare, in his play, Richard III, in 1592: "...A poisonous hunch-backed toad."

But, as I say, can we take words from a theater piece as scripture? Even Shakespeare's? What is clear is that the descriptions of Richard grow more and more unfavorable as the years pass. The Countess of Desmond, who danced with the prince, wrote, "He was the handsomest man in the room except his brother Edward, and was very well made," while Polyfor Vergil, an Italian cleric commissioned by Henry VII wrote in 1534, "He was lyttle of stature, deformyd of body, thone showlder being higher than thother, a short and sowre cowntenance, which semyd to savor of mischief and utter evydently craft and deceyt."

When you're commissioned by a living king to write about a dead, enemy king, and you wish to escape the Tower, you tend to give him what he wants to read.

The latest findings, gathered from three years of DNA testing, reveal that Richard had blue eyes and blond hair, nothing like the dark-haired, steely dark-eyed man portrayed in posthumous portraits. He was not a "hunchback," but he did have idiopathic adolescent-onset scoliosis, which probably did not show from beneath his clothing. Yes, his remains show a severely curved spine, but remember that it is photographed on a flat surface and we do not have the benefit of seeing it as it appeared in a normal upright position, supported by what would be strongly developed back muscles. I know something about this particular kind of scoliosis because my eldest son has it, and it is not physically evident to those who are not aware of it. If Richard had been as severely handicapped as has been portrayed, I believe he could not have been the formidable opponent he was on the battlefield, wielding a heavy sword, or supporting armor on his body.

Putting all of this aside, it excites me that Richard III came back to us during my lifetime, that his history has mingled with ours, and that we are the generation who will perhaps give him his final peace at last.

“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.” 
- William Shakespeare, Richard III


The Acceptance

Back in 2008 or something like that, I wrote an entry about how blogging was about to undergo a radical change with the advent of social media. Well, time has proved me correct. Although many people read my blog (usually brought in by an update notice in Facebook and Twitter), precious few leave comments here. Instead, they leave their comments in those media sites.  I actually like this change, because my presences "over there" are protected and, personally, more liberating. I've been thinking lately that disabling comments might be a good thing, so that's what I'm doing.

Am I simply buying into the social media monster? Possibly, but I'm too busy with my life to think that's an actual problem. It's only the internet, after all, not the life I live here in the real world with my family and friends, and my work.

The internet is an illusion;
nothing but smoke and mirrors.

It's the end of an era for me. Besides shaking the internet's Siren Song, I'm done with the trolls whose only purpose is to be unkind and hateful. But, mostly, no one seems to want to comment here anymore and I'm tired of fighting the current. I'm 63 for fucksake and life's too short to be concerned about all these immaterial ones and zeros.



Getting Things in Hand

It's been such a long time since I played a guitar every day of my life, my calluses have gotten a bit soft on me. They're still there, but they've been sleeping. This past week, I've rather called Reveille on them, however, and they're proudly rising to the occasion.

I'm not a believer in "Play until your fingers bleed!" In fact, unless you're onstage and it occurs from an especially robust session, it's pointless. When I was younger and first learning guitar, my grandmother, who was a musician and knew about these things. told me to soak my fingertips in vinegar before and after playing. It really worked, and I developed a healthy, durable set of calluses that can still be called on after 50 years. These days I'm giving Eric Clapton's advice a try by soaking them in rubbing alcohol instead of vinegar. So far, so good. It in fact seems to work more quickly than vinegar. I also think that the fact that I'm switching between 6-string and 12-string guitar is helpful, because doing so covers the entire fingertip pad; it may be a little more painful, but not as painful as playing a 6-string, exclusively.

Working on getting both my playing and singing chops back into shape is proving to be a real joy. It's just my memory where lyrics are concerned that's the challenge. My hands know what to do (good old muscle memory never fails!) so I don't give that a second thought. Remembering the words of 36 songs, however, is proving to be harder, not to mention that all of my music was lost back in 2001 and I'm having to dredge up my own song lyrics. Most of them have resurfaced, and those that just won't, I'm simply rewriting. What's the harm? Who's to know? They're my songs.

I have five months until my house concert (I've penciled in the date as October 9th), and there's plenty of time to get everything in hand, so to speak, calluses and lyrics, so I'm not worried in the least. Meanwhile, all of this is completely silencing the old stage fright beast, and that was the biggest challenge of all.


In-Home and Homegrown

Years ago, from 1983-85, I was a member of a southern California group of folk musicians, patrons, and lovers of folk music that met for in-home concerts, camp-outs, and workshops. Nearly every weekend I was in someone's living room listening to a songwriter or folk group, and meeting them close-up. Even back then (or perhaps especially back then, during the heat of the Eighties) I found the experience enriching. Soon, I was performing at house concerts, too. After years of playing duets with bar blenders, and cocktail waitresses shouting out drink orders, I really took to the respect an artist feels when the audience is actually listening, not whooping and whistling. I'm afraid that if I were a well-known songwriter and was met with that crap, I'd leave off playing and say, "Look, you came here to hear me. I came here to play for you. Now, sit down and be quiet." I'm sure that wouldn't gain me any fans, but at least I'd have had my say. But you never know. Some major acts are demanding their audiences put their cell phones away during their concerts.

House concerts are great because they draw a listening audience—everyone is there for the express purpose of hearing the song. If you've never experienced live music in a true listening situation, then you need to.

"All of these things, we believe, set us apart from the usual large concert and bar experience, where sometimes the music winds up being secondary to the party atmosphere and worse yet, relegated to background music." - Scott Aycock, House Concerts Unlimited

I've decided to host my own house concert this year, here at Bookends Cottage. I miss performing, despite the crippling stage fright that started to appear around 1990 and grew to such epic proportions that I couldn't even sing for my family unless I was three sheets to the wind. Of course, that only exacerbated the problem, because I can't perform at peak with even so much as one drink in me. Invariably, I'd wake up the next morning, remember how shitty I sounded, and tell myself my performing days are over. Well, my days as an unabashed wino are gone, and I'm really itching to perform again.

So here I am relearning some of my old songs, learning my new ones, and brushing upon some favorite covers, and I'm finding that the planning process of this is having a calming effect on my stage fright. Well, that's how it works, isn't it? The better one knows one's material, the more confident one is. Who knows what this might lead to? I'm already planning to record an album this year, so maybe I'll get on the house concert circuit again. But sh! I'm not ready to start thinking beyond this one performance just yet.