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Friday, April 26, 2013

The Stillwater Hobos

Every once in while (okay, much more often than that), I wish I could drop everything and be a folk musician. Sadly, my hands are too small to manage a guitar properly, and though I've made some progress on the mandolin, my skills are elementary at best. I've played a banjo a little here and there, but don't feel justified in buying one till I make more progress with the instruments I have. And that, I believe, is unlikely to happen.

Why do I love it? It's the kind of music that moves you with the pathos that nothing else can, and gets your blood pumping and spirit laughing in a thoroughly excellent manner. Like I said in my very first blog post, much as I obviously love writing, music is the most unstoppable art form. And hell, it's so much fun.

Art credit: Nick Klein

Born out of the tradition of Friday Nights at the University of Dallas (the "let's have a fire in the woods and sing till the wee hours, recite poetry, imbibe and occasionally do some Irish step dancing" weekly occurrence), which itself was born out of folk traditions from Ireland, England, Australia and Appalachian America, a new folk group is just getting on it's feet. The Stillwater Hobos are really doing a great thing, writing some of their own music and lyrics, and covering great traditional pieces, with a combination of rich voices, cello, banjos, bodhrans, mandolins, guitars, fiddles and harmonicas. Take a look at their website, listen to some of their music, and consider supporting them. Help the tradition live on!

Their digital EP album is here.
Their website is here.

And, if you want to get in on their first full-length album, My Love, She's in America, being released this summer, go here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Happy Birthday, Mr. Bard.

On this, the occasion of the 449th birthday of William Shakespeare, I have a few things to share with you.

First, the Folger Shakespeare Library here in DC is offering a special in his honor. Their showing of Twelfth Night  begins on April 30th, and if you buy a ticket today, you can get it for $30 instead of the usual $50-$60. I went to see Henry V there a few weeks ago and was pleased as all get out; it was well worth the $54 ticket. So, if you will be in the DC area anytime between April 30th and May 26th, let me know ASAP and I'll get you the details.

Next, nothing says Happy Birthday, Shakespeare, like letting your friends have it old-school style. You may already be familiar with this brilliant tool; if not, enjoy.

Shakespeare Insult Kit

Combine one word from each of the three columns below, prefaced with "Thou":

Column 1     Column 2            Column 3 

artless             base-court          apple-john
bawdy               bat-fowling         baggage
beslubbering        beef-witted         barnacle
bootless            beetle-headed       bladder
churlish            boil-brained        boar-pig
cockered            clapper-clawed      bugbear
clouted             clay-brained        bum-bailey
craven              common-kissing      canker-blossom
currish             crook-pated         clack-dish
dankish             dismal-dreaming     clotpole
dissembling         dizzy-eyed          coxcomb
droning             doghearted          codpiece
errant              dread-bolted        death-token
fawning             earth-vexing        dewberry
fobbing             elf-skinned         flap-dragon
froward             fat-kidneyed        flax-wench
frothy              fen-sucked          flirt-gill
gleeking            flap-mouthed        foot-licker
goatish             fly-bitten          fustilarian
gorbellied          folly-fallen        giglet
impertinent         fool-born           gudgeon
infectious          full-gorged         haggard
jarring             guts-griping        harpy
loggerheaded        half-faced          hedge-pig
lumpish             hasty-witted        horn-beast
mammering           hedge-born          hugger-mugger
mangled             hell-hated          joithead
mewling             idle-headed         lewdster
paunchy             ill-breeding        lout
pribbling           ill-nurtured        maggot-pie
puking              knotty-pated        malt-worm
puny                milk-livered        mammet
qualling            motley-minded       measle
rank                onion-eyed          minnow
reeky               plume-plucked       miscreant
roguish             pottle-deep         moldwarp
ruttish             pox-marked          mumble-news
saucy               reeling-ripe        nut-hook
spleeny             rough-hewn          pigeon-egg
spongy              rude-growing        pignut
surly               rump-fed            puttock
tottering           shard-borne         pumpion
unmuzzled           sheep-biting        ratsbane
vain                spur-galled         scut
venomed             swag-bellied        skainsmate
villainous          tardy-gaited        strumpet
warped              tickle-brained      varlot
wayward             toad-spotted        vassal
weedy               unchin-snouted      whey-face
yeasty              weather-bitten      wagtail

Finally, though I know some of you have read it already, allow me to share with you a sonnet I wrote a while back. There's a little part of all of us that likes the bad guy, right?

Perceptions, Likely Unpopular

And there is the HERO, noble virtue,
perhaps societal pariah, but
seen by the wisened audience, the few
supremacists, the flower, choicely cut.
With vitriolic hate and awful fear
They despise Macbeth's wife, curse the woman
who, unwomanly in her husband's ear,
stole martial manhood from that weakling man;
Champion talk of mercy in Venice,
Nodding to mention of godliness, but
watch the Jew, justifiably, iwis,
deprived of bountiful mercy -- and what?
What of the glimmer of him, and of her,
The enticing sheen of what they both were?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Housekeeping and Hedgehogs

A few housekeeping items:

  • Taking Back Our Brave New World recently hit ten thousand page views. Thank you, readers, for being my readers. You're wicked awesome, and I am totally stoked. [Insert sinceriod]
  • I know I promised you excerpts of A Room With a View. Suffice it to say, I can't possibly just give you one passage of that book. It is utterly delightful, and you've got to read the whole thing on your own. You know how many late Victorian novels are all doom and gloom about the hypocrisy of society and manners and leave their heroes and heroines in miserable states of quiet desperation and deepest darkness (Henry James, Edith Wharton)? Well, A Room With a View looks at the same problem, but in a light, easy and comic way. So, go read it! And watch the Helena Bonham-Carter, Daniel Day Lewis, Dame Maggie Smith movie. Disclaimer: be prepared to fast forward through the "state of innocence" nude bathing scene. 
  • Forgive the long break in posting. I've recently started reading several books on midwifery, and while I find them fascinating, I imagine that the general public is happy to be spared the gruesome details. Thus, the main subject of today's post is from a book I read several years back.

Which book should you read after you finish A Room With A View? The answer is obvious: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by French author Muriel Barbery. This is a great book, as you might have guessed from the title. It was very much in vogue a few years back, but if you didn't get to it then, you might as well pick it up now. There are several principal characters, the main one being a woman who is a concierge at a small hotel. She keeps up a front of being the stereotypical middle-aged frumpy TV-watching ignorant desk worker, while in fact she's quite an intellectual. She is a prolific reader, and frequently has brilliant conversations over tea with her co-worker and friend (Manuela, the Portuguese cleaning lady). 

As I myself am a committed tea-drinker (my favorite is Harney & Sons Paris blend, in case you were wondering), I very much appreciated the following passage: 
So, let us drink a cup of tea. . .
I know that tea is no minor beverage. When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small thing. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?
The tea ritual: such a precise repetition of the same gestures and the same tastes; accession to simple, authentic and refined sensations, a license given to all, at little cost, to become aristocrats of taste, because tea is the beverage of the wealthy and of the poor; the tea ritual, therefore, has the extraordinary virtue of introducing into the absurdity of our lives an aperture of serene harmony. Yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls mourn beauty, insignificance surrounds us. Then let us drink a cup of tea. Silence descends, one hears the wind outside, autumn leaves rustle and take flight, the cat sleeps in a warm pool of light. And, with each swallow, time is sublimed.
And now, back to rickets and eclampsia.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Best Birthday Present Ever

I think I first picked up All the King's Men because I saw my older brother (who just got promoted to Captain, USMC!) reading it and I liked the cover. Yes, I judge books by their covers. So sue me. I was so enchanted by his prose that I decided I had to be a writer, quickly wrote the first two pages of the next great southern novel in close imitation of his voice, and then stopped when I realized I had nothing to write about. Ah well. Such is life. When it came time to study a novel for my senior thesis, I requested to work on this one, but for one reason or another my professor said I had to choose something else. 

I'm not sure why it had such an effect on me. Robert Penn Warren writes in long sentences that gallop in smooth billows, that pull you in. Like Graham Greene (read The Power and the Glory), he makes you feel sticky and dirty and grimy and real when he's describing dust and wet heat. I should say, though, that these are the impressions I'm remembering from when I read it five or six years ago; I haven't gone back to read it since then, though perhaps I will now, excited as I am by this birthday present. What birthday present, did you ask?

A first edition, signed copy of All the King's Men, rescued from my grandfather's attic by my wise and generous uncle. Holy Moly.

I am one lucky girl.

It wouldn't seem right to leave you without a taste of his writing, so here you go. Though the conclusion of this passage needs qualifying, explanation and addition in order to be justified and true, it is nevertheless both striking and musical and, I think, exemplary of Warren's style:
You saw the eyes bulge suddenly like that, as though something had happened inside him, and there was that glitter. You knew something had happened inside him, and thought: it's coming. It was always that way. There was the bulge and the glitter, and there was the cold grip way down in the stomach as though somebody had laid hold of something in there, in the dark which is you, with a cold hand in a cold rubber glove. It was like the second when you come home late at night and see the yellow envelope of the telegram sticking out from under your door and you lean and pick it up, but don't open it yet, not for a second. While you stand there in the hall, with the envelope in your hand, you feel like there's an eye on you, a great big eye looking straight at you from miles and dark and through walls and houses and through your coat and vest and hide and sees you huddled up way inside, in the dark which is you, inside yourself, like a clammy, sad little foetus you carry around inside yourself. The eye knows what's in the envelope, and it is watching you to see you when you open it and know, too. But the clammy, sad little foetus which is you way down in the dark which is you too lifts up its sad little face and its eyes are blind, and it shivers cold inside you for it doesn't want to know what is in that envelope. It wants to lie in the dark and not know, and be warm in its not knowing. The end of man is knowledge, but there is one thing he can't know. He can't know whether knowledge will save him or kill him. He will be killed, all right, but he can't know whether he is killed because of the knowledge which he has got or because of the knowledge which he hasn't got and which if he had it, would save him. There's the cold in your stomach, but you open the envelope, you have to open the envelope, for the end of man is to know. (Harcourt, 2001, 12-13.)

Gosh, he's done it again. One of these days I'll find some novel material.