Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lessons Learned

When I was a kid, probably 7 or 8, my parents tried to teach me a lesson every parent has to teach at one point: behaving in the car.

In their case, I think the lesson wasn't the one they were expecting.

I had, apparently, been acting up or fussing about something. Whatever it was, my father said something like, "If you don't stop, I'm going to make you get out of the car."

I didn't, and he did.

Where we were was a commercial part of town — not a highway, exactly, but sort of a highway — with stores on either side. It was night time. My guess is the plan was to make me get out of the car, drive a short distance away, then come back and get me. I guess I was supposed to be so scared that I'd actually been left that I'd never misbehave in the car again.

Unfortunately, no one had given me the script, and I didn't play my part.

I can't remember what store my parents dropped me off in front of, but I remember vividly the one that was a couple of doors down: it sold boats and boating supplies. It looked interesting, so I walked over there.

Meanwhile, my parents drove off a little ways, turned around, and came back to hear the tearful apologies from their thoroughly chastened son.

Except I wasn't there. Nor was I in the store where they'd dropped me off. Or the one next to it.

When they finally found me, after half an hour of frantic searching, they had forgotten the lesson they were trying to teach. (I'm sure my lack of contrition and puzzlement at their frantic faces was part of the problem.)

The lesson I learned? Parents get really angry and upset when you look at boats.

I have yet to teach that lesson to my own children.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Bama

I haven't heard all of the legendary disk jockeys in America, but I've heard most of them: the great New York record spinners of the 1960s, on both the rock stations and the black stations. The 50s legends (though some only on recordings), such as Alan Freed and Wolfman Jack. Tom Wilson from L.A. The AM giants, including Murray the K and Cousin Brucie. The wild and profane, the demented and the scholarly.

The best ever, as far as I'm concerned, was occasionally rough, often unpolished, and as much a philosopher (albeit homespun) as a disk jockey.

That, of course, would be Jerry Washington, whose Blues Hour (actually three hours) on Washington's WPFW-FM was the only place to be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday.

Nicknamed The Bama (the term is a derogatory one denoting someone who is a country bumpkin, a hayseed, a yokel, which Washington most assuredly was not), Washington would break every rule of polished radio announcing: pauses for thought, repeating himself occasionally, correcting himself, sometimes long after the fact. But he combined a deep, deep knowledge and understanding of the blues with a sometimes ironic, sometimes hilarious, sometimes jaw-droppingly wise stream of philosophical observations, mostly about the relationships between men and women. Mostly about all of the things that can go wrong in those relationships, all of the things that can be misunderstood, all of the ways words and actions can be misinterpreted.

Like many Pacifica radio stations, WPFW was always hurting for money, its combination of jazz and left-leaning, Afro-centric talk and politics less than viable commercially. One year, feeling flush, I donated enough during the annual fund drive to qualify for the gifts of a Bama coffee mug and a cassette of some of his thoughts.

The coffee mug arrived within a couple of weeks. The cassette, despite several phone calls, was apparently never sent by the station's volunteer workers. I eventually gave up trying.

But about once a week or so I have my morning coffee in my Bama mug. It always tastes a little funky that day.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Do My Bidding

I once offered to do a project for free and was underbid.

The project was a pro bono project — I can't remember the client — and because it was a good group and a worthy cause, and it had been awhile since I'd done a pro bono project, I offered to do it for free.

The woman who'd contacted me thanked me. She told me I'd hear from her soon.

She called back a few days later to tell me she'd spoken to another writer. My thought: "And you're calling me to tell me this because...?"

The other writer, she said, had not only offered to do the project for free, but was going to make a donation to the organization.

In the same tone clients have when they say, "I found someone who will do it for less. Will you match their price?" she told me that she was sure I was a better writer, "but his offer was so generous," and she was going to have to "reluctantly" choose the other writer "unless you feel you can tweak your offer."

I believe "tweak" meant "send us a check."

I told her "free" was as low as I could go, but I was glad she'd found a more generous offer. I asked her to send a sample of what the other writer did (she didn't tell me who it was), because I was curious.

That was several years ago. I'm still waiting.

Hatred is a Virtue

"I Hate New Music: The Classic Rock Manifesto" by Dave Thompson isn't the longest rant I've ever read — almost any political book would top it —but at 224 pages it certainly is the longest smirk.

Thompson truly does hate just about everything recorded after 1976, finding punk, new wave, post punk, grunge, jam bands, and power pop to be nothing but recycled ideas. And synthesizers, he says, should be used only to make space and fart noises.

This is the book that the record store employees from the movie Clerks, with their smirking superiority, would have written, had they been capable of mustering the energy and the articulateness to do it.

Filled with in-jokes and too clever by half commentary — one would have to know, for example, that Eric Clapton wrote Layla about his infatuation with friend George Harrison's wife, and later stole said wife — to understand why it was so tacky for Clapton to play that song at a tribute concert for George following the former Beatle's death. One would have to share his distinction that 60's artists were "influenced" by their predecessors, while 80's musicians "copied" theirs.

I wish Thompson had taken his manifesto to the extreme and posited that the Beatles barely advanced Chuck Berry, and then it was all over. That, at least, would have been a defensible position.

Or not.