Thursday, December 12, 2019

Time off from lessons

TODAY IS MY last day of guitar lessons until the first full week of January. Because we've had a lot of Christmas traffic and because of the way Christmas falls mid-week this year, we've decided to take the next three weeks off.

I will miss it but I'm ready for a break. Like anything else, the repeated activity takes its toll and I have to stretch my hands and fingers before playing every day. If your hands are your livelihood, be good to them and avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome at all costs!

I might give a lesson or two over the break, especially for the college kids who used to hang out here and may need one or two to keep going. It will also be a good time to study up on the dreaded Circle of Fifths and learn more songs. Plus I can chase Malcolm when he runs out the door into the street like he did this morning. Fortunately, there was no traffic and Sheryl is recovering from her near-fatal heart attack while battling a head cold.

I have awesome students and I am indeed a lucky man. We'll be hanging out at Fifth and Maine this Christmas, so come see us!

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Beat The Geek, 30 years later

I AM NOT sure what is more amazing - the fact I was spending my first Christmas in Alpena, Michigan some 30 years ago, or the fact that a contest I started as sports editor of The Alpena News is still going strong.

I have no idea what prompted Beat The Geek. It was a college football contest and it was written by my alter ego, The Geek. We took all the bowl games that year, made a list, and invited people to pick the winners and send the form to our office. I even went out and got the prizes, and one day in church little Eric Lindsay gave me a drawing of The Geek, and we used it on the entry form.

It grew every year and become wildly popular. At first I tried to keep track of the entries, but later I enlisted Eric's mother, Vicky, to help me. Vicky and her friend Liz Klemens were invaluable to keeping the chaos in control, and I recall going across the street to the Lindsays on New's Year's Day, back then the last day of college bowl games, and putting all the entries into neat little piles so we could keep track.

People asked me if I was The Geek, and I always denied it. The Geek was a mythical figure who lived under the Second Avenue Bridge. He could get away with stuff in his stories about Beat The Geek. Bill Speer, still the man in charge at The Alpena News, let me get away with a lot of stuff in those days and I constantly pushed the envelope, since it was just a one-man staff.

Truth is, I was The Geek. He was me. And I'm proud of it.

So imagine my surprise when the sports editor of The Alpena News, James Anderson, contacted me and said he was doing a story about the 30th anniversary of Beat The Geek. It brought back a flood of memories and I'm glad the contest is still rocking along all these years later.

I was in Alpena from 1989 to 1996, and I loved it. The many years away have only made me appreciate Alpena even more.

This year, I might have to enter Beat The Geek, unless I want to give everybody else a chance...

Monday, December 9, 2019

Tale of two Christmas parties

WHEN YOU GET hired to play at a Christmas party, you go into the gig with certain expectations. The most important thing is to remember who you are playing for and to get along with the organizers. Everything else takes care of itself.

On Friday night I was at the Dick Brothers Brewery in Quincy for the first time, playing for a local medical company. There were maybe 60 people there. The owner was very clear what he wanted - easy listening and background music. In that way, the gig was easy, because I wasn't worried about killing myself to please the crowd.

It was just me and my guitar, with a few Christmas songs, lots of my mom's favorite tunes from the 60s and 70s, and even some originals. I kept the stage banter to a bare minimum. There were people watching and even singing along on a few songs, but this was a very social occasion my job was to be barely heard and not get in the way.

So it was a fun show, because it was very laid back and nobody complained or asked if I could play Freebird. And the owner was thrilled. The venue was spectacular. Everybody was happy. Success!

Saturday night The Cheeseburgers were up in Hamilton for another private party. We were hired last year and couldn't play because of weather issues, so this year we were determined to play hard and give them a good show.

There were about 100 people there at the beginning. Half left before the first set was done. That doesn't bother me, and maybe our classic rock stuff isn't for everybody, and maybe people were tired and didn't want to be up late on a Saturday night. But if I worked for this company and decided not to be there, well, so be it. The company went to a lot of trouble and expense to put the party on, and we had a great time.

We did have the obligatory "You guys are too loud" comment. This guy had too much to drink already and sort of blabbed for a while, so I thanked him and eventually he wobbled away. We did adjust things and it got better as we went along. One of the women who hired us was standing there and didn't say a word - she was fine with the volume.

In fact, she was fine with the whole night and she tipped us generously. They were great folks and it another good Cheeseburger night. Those who stayed danced and hooted and hollered with us. So much fun! The ride back was classic, especially with a drummer who was unwinding after a long day.

It was also our final show with bass player Brad Fletcher, who is leaving due to family obligations. No worries - we have another bassist lined up and we are booking full steam ahead for 2020.

Cori and I have five more shows before January rolls around, so let's continue rocking December away and make Christmas merrier.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Christmas Music ... ick

OUR STORE SOUND system died, so we've hooked up an iPad to the Fender Passport on the stage and got Pandora playing Christmas music.

Boy, there is a lot of horrible Christmas music.

Pandora let's you skip songs if you don't like them. But after about an hour, it's still playing horrendous country and schmaltzy Christmas songs. I guess there really isn't another kind, though I wish we could program it to play the Twisted Sister Christmas album, which might be the greatest thing ever done by mankind.

So we've got a lot of vocal-only songs. Pentatonix has some decent Christmas songs, and it's not surprising there are a lot of vocal bands copying Pentatonix - it all sounds the same after a while.

Every now again a gem pops up, like Alison Kraus and Robert Plant doing "Light of Christmas". Alas, such yuletide collaborations are few and far between, but we are hopeful enough songs will play to form a decent playlist.

Or I'll say screw it and crank up Who songs.

So Merry Christmas and happy listening to Christmas music, as long as you can stand it, anyway.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Rolling in death - a family tradition

IT DIDN'T TAKE long for us to recognize Malcolm takes after his uncle and his mother in many ways. And not all of them are good.

It's been beautiful around here for a few days, good opportunities for long cemetery walks and puppy training. Malcolm is very good about staying close to us on our strolls and he's going to be a good mole-killer, too. But much like Uncle Angus, Malcolm likes to sniff out dead animals and other disgusting substances and dive into them. We call it Rolling In Death, and it's a nasty habit that runs in the family.

Jess, Malcolm's mother, lives on a farm and is constantly finding new and delightful ways to Roll In Death. You can imagine living in the great wide open and finding all kinds of decomposing carcasses laying in woods and fields. "Wait. There's something dead. Let's roll in it and have fun!" the Cowboy Corgis say.

To these kinds of dogs, the nastier and more rotten the smell the better it is, and they wriggle in it ecstatically every chance they get. Malcolm discovered a big patch of something dead yesterday and it didn't take long for him to start rolling around in it. Unlike Angus or Tucker (God rest his soul), Malcolm couldn't care less if we shriek in horror and yell at him to stop. He rolled around, ran off, came back, rolled around again, ran off, came back, rolled around again... Ick. All the windows got rolled down and I gagged the entire drive back to the house, while Malcolm just stuck his tongue out and smiled his goofy puppy smile and thought it was the greatest thing ever.

So Malcolm got his first bath yesterday, and now he smells like shampoo and puppy. He doesn't mind the water but the whole bath thing was a bit much. This morning we kept an extra close eye on him during our walk and he didn't find anything to get into.

He's a Cowboy Corgi, our Cowboy Corgi, and we love him despite his fascination and love of rolling in death.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Christmas lights don't work

IT'S TIME FOR that annual tradition of Joy To The World, Good News To All Men and Where The $%^#$# Are The Christmas Lights this year? Yup, it's decoration time at Second String Music.

The first thing we do is find the tree. It's usually in a back room or on one of the floors above. This year, it was on the third floor and there were only two or three spiders living in it, an improvement from previous years.

Bob and Anne Mays gave us this tree about 10 years ago. It is still alive in all its fake glory. The lights usually work for a year or two, and then we get new ones. I swear we got new lights last year, and when I went to plug them in yesterday, about half of them worked.

"I gotta go to Lowes anyway," Sheryl said. The good thing is that we took all the lights off and Sheryl straightened the branches so it wasn't so Charlie Brownish.

Then there's the box of decorations. There are tons of ornaments, most involving Elvis and guitars. A lot of stuff got moved in the back this past year and I had no idea where the box was, but Sheryl did and I dusted it off. The obnoxious Santa playing "Merry Christmas Baby" was quickly delivered to the coffee shop next door, and all the others seem to be intact and in good shape.

Also going up yesterday were the strands of lights below the ceiling. These lights are a few years old but they seem to all work. Putting lights up involves inventing new swear words appropriate for Christmas ("I'll tell you where to put your yuletide you #%@#$#@" was used a few times) and using a wobbly step ladder to hang the lights. Also, untangling the lights takes as long as putting them up. I distinctly remember trying to be extra careful last year when rolling them up and it did absolutely no good - they were still a tangled mess.

Anyway, we'll be putting on the tree lights and ornaments this afternoon and it will be all ho ho ho and Christmas cheer around here until I put everything away and can't find it next year. So get in here to enjoy it while you can!