Friday, January 29, 2016

Familiar room, unfamiliar seat

I HAD TO testify at a murder trial Wednesday. I wasn't going to write about it, but a lot of people have asked. So here it is.

If you are from Quincy, you know about the case. The defendant is accused of smothering his wife to death in 2006. Click here for my thoughts the day after he was arrested a year and a half ago. It's one thing when you have no connection. It's another when you know the people involved.

I was on the stand for four minutes, and I'm sure that will be the least time of anybody to testify. I saw the defendant the day his wife died. My testimony wasn't very newsworthy and won't convict or free the defendant, but it's part of the prosecution setting the table and telling the overall story.

Click here and here if you want more detail. The courtroom was familiar, but the seat wasn't. I was nervous. I looked right at the prosecutor asking the questions, and didn't dare look at the jury or the defendant and his lawyers.

At first, part of me was angry because I had a chance to write about the trial for the Quincy Journal. When I was subpoenaed, that went out the window - I'm sure I could have been fair and just reported on what was going on, but a reporter can't testify and cover the same trial.

But another part of me is relieved. It would have been tough to sit through. I am tracking it and of course have a huge interest in the outcome. I pray justice is served, and jurors have their work cut out for them.

I think Don O'Brien of The Herald-Whig has it correctly pegged. Sadly, the four children will have a huge role in the trial. And it breaks my heart. There is so much pain and distress already, and now everybody will hear about it.

Think about it - your own family has heavy burdens, and dark secrets, and I know it may not be as dramatic as a murder, but still .... you want that all out for the world to see? The national media is here and the victim's mother was already interviewed in People Magazine.

So I go back to my original thoughts the day after the defendant was arrested. I am praying for his wife, his four children, and Cory Lovelace's family. Strength and peace to them.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Stories everywhere at JWCC

ONCE A YEAR, I hang out with Mike Terry at John Wood Community College. He teaches a writing class and the students have an assignment - interview somebody and write a short story.

I was in two of Mike's classes Wednesday morning and it was a great experience, as always. The students are respectful and they have good questions. The assignment isn't that hard, and my advice is to keep it simple and to make sure you take enough time to write a good story.

I hope the students realize "interview" is just a fancy word for talking, or having a conversation.

In engaging the students, I realized there are great stories walking the hallways of JWCC.

One older student is from Africa. How did he end up in Quincy? He said it's a long story. I guarantee you it's interesting.

There were several baseball players in the classes. They had two teammates killed in a car wreck not far from campus last fall. How are they coping with it as the season looms? Wow .... hard to imagine.

One student is from the East Coast. Again, how did she end up here? She said she was eight months pregnant and homeless when she came to Quincy. Her life is back on track. She wants to move home and become a police officer. Sounds like she's been to the brink and back.

Another older student said she went back to school because she was "tired of working in the factory." That takes a lot of courage and it can't be easy, sitting in a room full of people about half her age.

Then there's Mike. Nobody has taught at JWCC longer. He cares about his students. His classes are always popular and overflowing. He gets it. He rocks.

And you don't have to look far to find great stories.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Well worn guitar

THE BEST GUITAR I have ever played is my Takamine P3 acoustic. It has the Cool Tube pickup, a cedar top, and it's set up perfectly. I've played the high end acoustics by the big name companies, and this guitar plays and performs better.

I am mostly a strummer. Because I play the guitar in a rock band (The Cheeseburgers), I have a tendency to smack the strings hard. This is a combination of bad technique and the fact it's hard to hear on stage. We have monitors and our drummer, Kirk Gribbler, does a good job of feeding the sound to the front of the stage.

But when you play for so long, your hearing starts to go and it's difficult to pick up the nuances of the acoustic. In a rock band, it's just a percussive and rhythm instrument, for the most part.

This means I bang pretty hard on the bottom of the sound hole. I've put a couple of chips in it and I've had to tape it off to keep the wood from peeling any further. I am working hard on my strumming and shortening the up and down motion, but sometimes, well, it just happens.

I feel bad about beating up my beautiful guitar. And then I watched this. And now I feel better.

Ah, the stories Trigger could tell! Same goes for my Takamine.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Angus sells a bass

WE SOLD A beautiful Ibanez bass guitar Saturday to a girl from the Chicago area. Her family visits Quincy often and came by before Christmas to dream. The girl is ecstatic and we are happy she's happy!

While she played some basses and guitars, her  siblings and parents played with Angus, who offered himself up for belly rubs and ball chasing. They had a riot and I firmly believe the dog helped us sell the bass.

I know we talk a lot about having Angus and Fast Eddie in Second String Music. Every now and then we'll have a customer who prefers not to be around the animals, a good reason to have a back room for them (the animals) to hang out.

Speaking of the back room, Chris and Victoria Kelley of Table 16 Productions (and Second String Music Hall of Famers) had Internet access issues last week. They hung out for an entire afternoon in the back to download and send videos to a client. Victoria took this pic of Angus on the couch - I dare say he and Eddie made their afternoon just a little bit better.

Sheryl loves Angus. He's quite a character, with one ear up and the other down, and that famous Corgi growl going when he's playing tug-of-war. Tucker comes to the store once in a while, but Genie does better left home.

Of course today we have a store customer poking around, and Fast Eddie has an upset stomach and throws up on the floor. Fortunately it wasn't on an amp or guitar. The customer shrugged it off - it's all part of coming to Fifth and Maine.

We've gone to the dogs and cats for the whole five years we've been around, with no plans to change. Come on in and give them a scrich!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Flint's grass isn't greener

THE WATER DEBACLE in Flint, Michigan, grows worse by the day. Now we are getting politicians and civil rights leaders and celebrities jumping up and down. Thank God, because it really helps. Click here for more.

When I lived in Michigan, Flint was considered the armpit of the state. I would never live there. But what's happened is threatening not just a city but an entire state, and it's pathetic, and I hope some answers are found as to why the city's water was poisoned.

This is callous and inappropriate, but I can't help but think about a young media person who worked in Quincy for a short time. It was her first job in a small market. When she left, she admitted she spent a lot of her time here looking for another job in another city. I think she appreciated the opportunity and the people. But it was time for her to move on.

Guess where she landed her new job?

Yup. Poisoned Water City, Michigan - also known as Flint.

That grass ain't greener. It's just full of lead, now.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Ready for rock n roll weekend

IT SEEMS LIKE forever since we've played. I'm ready to rock and roll this weekend.

We had Cheeseburgers practice last night and learned a couple of songs for a private party we are doing Saturday. Stacy Taylor, our keyboard player, really cringed at one of them. But he countered with something even Cheesier and appropriate, so it's all good. We have a show Feb. 27 at One Restaurant, and we also play March 19 for the Quincy Humane Society's Fabulous Fur Ball.

Cori Lyssy and I are excited about our HartLyss show Friday night at One, and we also have a show booked Feb. 7 at Cellar 21 in Quincy. We've been working on a lot of new songs (for us) and more original songs, too.

The weekend, as always, can't get here soon enough!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

World In White

I LIKE WAKING up to a world in white, after we get a few inches of snow. There's the usual panic and breathless TV anchors talking about the end of the world, and there are the usual drivers crashing cars because they don't slow down and take it easy.

I used to dread these mornings when I was a reporter. If I didn't duck, I'd get assigned to do the dreaded weather story. Ugh.
From "Snowmageddon" a few years ago ....

"Huge storm dumps five inches of snow on Quincy" was the headline a few years ago. Really? I haven't looked at any news sites today, but I guarantee there will be a front page story or two.


I'm taking the positive side of things after a couple of inches of snow. Really, it's like the world has been settled down and blanketed.

Of course, nice and pretty means digging out. I shoveled the backyard walkway and store sidewalks this morning, and spread ice melt. My back is already thanking me. I'm not going Nurse Jackie on Sheryl, but a little help will make sure I can give a few guitar lessons this afternoon.

It's better than January rain.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Moonlight and moss in the trees, Glenn Frey

AIN'T NO AUTOTUNE needed in heaven, or wherever you ended up. Never needed it on stage or in the studio, either.

Sheryl has The Eagles on our Second String Music playlist all day. Cori Lyssy and I (HartLyss) will sing one or three for you Friday night, as will The Cheeseburgers Saturday at a private party.

One of Sheryl's favorite Eagles songs is "Seven Bridges Road", enjoy.

Rest In Peace, Glenn Frey.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Skating and getting old

THE OTHER NIGHT we bumped into Cory Stegeman, one of my ice skating pals. Cory and his buddies always invite me to pickup games and we used to have a blast skating at the Niemann family farm pond off of South 24th Street.

Cory told us about playing in a 3-on-3 hockey tournament down in St. Louis. Gosh, did it sound like fun. Then I realized I'm old and I probably wouldn't be able to hang with those young guys anymore.

I miss those days on South 24th Street ....
This makes me think of Tony Byers, the former hockey coach in Alpena, Michigan. When I was the sports editor at The Alpena News in the early 1990s, Tony and I played on the same men's league team. He could still skate circles around players half his age.

He didn't think a thing about it. I don't know if I've met a more competitive and driven man and coach in my life. There's a reason Alpena was a hockey powerhouse in those years - they had great players and great coaches, and a community behind them.

Just thinking about those days gets me fired up and longing to get back on the ice.

It's about minus forever in Quincy and I'm sure there are good places to skate right now. We have a limited window for ice skating and I used to ignore the cold and snow if there was ice or a game being organized. It will be 45 degrees by this time next week and the ice will be gone.

I thought about it yesterday as Sheryl and I hunkered down and binge-watched "Nurse Jackie" on Netflix. Should I go out and brave the wind chills and see if there was ice? Or should I stay home and warm under a blanket with a cup of coffee and see if Jackie's life could unravel any further?

Yup, Home 1, Skating 0. BTW, Nurse Jackie is amazing.

Getting old sucks.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Never too late to Journey

THIS NETFLIX THING is addictive. The other night I started watching the three-hour Eagles documentary and I couldn't stop until it was 1 a.m. Don Henley and Glenn Frey are absolute geniuses - I am using Eagles songs in guitar lessons and they are simple yet catchy, easy to play yet challenging. Yup, Life In The Fast Lane is a great song and the story behind it is even better. The tale of Joe Walsh and John Belushi running amok in Chicago is worth it alone.

Last night I got sucked into the Journey documentary, where the band discovers Arnel Pineda on YouTube and eventually makes him the lead singer. I'm not a huge Journey fan, but I'm starting to appreciate some of the songs a little more and Steve Perry's voice was incredible.

Sheryl just pointed this out - Arnel Pineda was 40 years old when he got his break of a lifetime and became Journey's frontman. Forty, of course, is The New Fifty - dare to dream!

The best part was Pineda's determination to deal with the Journey haters. People are cruel and Pineda didn't let it get him down. Playing music for a living isn't easy, and I have no way to compare what I do to a Journey or The Eagles, but man, you can draw comparisons. Nine years later he is still with the band and that can't be beat.

I highly recommend watching both documentaries.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Hot water now, please

OUR HOT WATER heater died this week. There was no playing of taps, or explosions, or gas smells, or strange sounds creaking up from the basement.

It just died.

We've had sub-zero cold and we figured it was just frozen pipes, but Sheryl went down to the catacombs (basement) yesterday and declared it dead from drowning (water was all over the floor and the pan it sits in still had water in it). Apparently it's a six-year water heater, and we've had it for six  and a half years.

Not really OUR water heater but you
get the idea....
I haven't had a shower in our house since Tuesday morning. Sheryl doesn't understand why I get crabby if I don't have my morning shower - part of it is routine, part of it is just feeling clean and getting ready to face the day. Maybe some people can go a few days without a shower, but I can't. She probably got the last great shower out of that old water heater.

So last night I finally broke down and went over to Sheryl's sister's house to take a shower. The whole time Sheryl gave me grief about being crabby, but seriously, I just wanted to feel clean again.

Hot water is one of those things that we take for granted. You don't even think about it. It's kind of like when you sprain one of your fingers - everything else you do with that hand gets screwed up.

This morning she is calling our plumbers and because she is a skilled property manager we will have a new hot water heater tonight. I'm might be less crabby and a little bit cleaner tomorrow. Everybody wins, especially Sheryl.

Hurrah for hot water - I don't take it for granted!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Sing (and read) to your kids every night

OUR GOOD FRIEND RICK Cate just posted this YouTube clip of comedian Jim Breuer doing heavy metal children's songs, and it's tremendous.

When Emily was little we read to her every night, and I mean every night. "Goodnight Moon" and "Thomas The Tank Engine" were favorites. I miss those times - it was just her, me and a good book.

In retrospect, I wish I'd sung a little more to Emily. Not that it really matters, since she is pursuing music as a career. I can only imagine the songs I'd sing - "Okay Emily, this is called 'Baba O'Reilly' even though most people think it's called 'Teenage Wasteland' so don't forget it." And she'd say, "Geesh dad, ANOTHER song from 'Who's Next?'"

So that's my number one piece of advice to young parents - read or sing to your kids every night before they go to bed. It's good for both of you!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

New jail located downtown

THE NEW ADAMS County Jail should stay downtown, if possible. And I think it's possible.

The county is looking at four potential sites. Three are out on the east end of town. The two sites on 48th Street are not popular with the local residents - "Don't build a jail by my house" is the common rallying cry.

Of course, our current facility is right across the street from the Kroc Center, which is always full of young people and families and ordinary citizens. I hope we never have an escape downtown because there are a lot of good people down here who could be put at risk.

Wait a second .... I'm having nightmares of Richard Carr and his buddy bolting from Fifth and Vermont on a snowy night. Never mind. If we build it east of town, escaped inmates would not be able to saunter across the street and threaten attorneys, either. And vice versa.

We could build a new jail on the current site, but it would be four stories - translation, less safe. Also, there would be no potential to add cells and make it bigger.

Sheryl has always thought the old health department could be modified or rebuilt to become the new jail. Lots of room to create the right building on that site. That's a thought.....

The county needs to think about the impact of the jail leaving downtown. That's a lot of people who work down here. Many attorneys have offices near the jail. And it's much safer to take an inmate down an elevator and through a hallway right into a courtroom. Everything is set up.

There is the option of putting it by the youth home out on 54th Street. Nobody lives next door, no one that is alive anyway. The huge detriment is the distance between that location and the downtown courthouse. There are long term cost and safety factors to address.

I have utmost confidence the country board considered different options ... right. Ahem.

I'm not hearing anything about the courthouse moving, but you have to wonder if that day would come if the jail is built on the east end of town, and then all the attorneys and other support systems moving out there, too.

If the jail moves, it won't "destroy" downtown, as one person put it. Downtown has weathered many ups and downs and will survived if the jail is moved, but it will put a damper on things down here.

Sheryl and I have invested our lives in downtown. We care about this place. There are many others who feel the same way. We think the courthouse and jail should stay down here.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Legends and Music

EVERY WEEK I try to come up with a new song to learn in guitar lessons. Today it's easy - anything by David Bowie. It's a sad day indeed when a legend passes away.

His greatest hits album "Changes" still bounces around my brain. It was one of the first albums I got ahold of, a cheap cassette tape version if I remember right. How could you not get lost in "Golden Years" and "Fame" and all the other great songs? He was strange and funky and mystic and his music settled on you.

Then in the early 80s he came out with "Let's Dance" - bouncy, MTV-friendly and savvy rock and roll. Stevie Ray Vaughan played guitar on it the "Texas blues meets pop" results were amazing.

Of course I never met David Bowie. Yet I'm saddened, like millions who loved his music. You make connections and the sounds define certain parts of your life, and there will never be another musician like him.

Cori Lyssy and I are going to learn "Modern Love" and raise one or five in his honor.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Junk and treasures

SHERYL AND I cleaned out a Second String Music storage area the other day. It's amazing what you find when you empty a room.

We discovered a large empty wine bottle, a Yamaha speaker that doesn't work, an LTD acoustic guitar with more humps on the neck than the Alps, and a broken record player. And a bunch of other stuff. Sorry, but the sagging lawn chairs and busted Elvis clock shaped like a guitar gotta go.

So I'm prepared to ditch some junk. If you want any of it, come get it.

I went to Alter Scrap with two old printers, and amazingly, they gave me $7.20. That's nearly a third of a tank of gas in Missouri, same in Illinois with the trustee Hy-Vee reward gas card. I'm all about saving the earth and not filling up landfills.

One man's junk is another man's treasure, or a few bucks at the local scrap yard. Yay, Dutch

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Young enough for lessons

I AM NOT sure how young is too young to start guitar lessons. Generally speaking I don't like giving them to kids less than 8 or 9 years old, but there are always exceptions and I never discourage a youngster from learning.

Yesterday a 7-year-old tried doing a private lesson. He had an electric guitar belonging to his father, but no amp. The guitar, unfortunately, was way too big for his tiny hands. So we put a half-size acoustic in his hands and he immediately took to it.

In the world of musical instruments, finding the right one for you is the hardest part. That is why music stores continue to flourish even in this age of  online shopping and price comparison. Seeing a guitar in your child's hands and hearing the sound of that instrument is the quickest way to know it is the right thing.

At that young age, attention span is a factor. This little guy actually paid attention for more than 20 minutes and gave it a good effort, and I did not charge them for my time. His mom and dad are talking it over and we may continue. I encouraged them to buy a smaller guitar from us and take the four free lessons from Vancil Performing Arts - more on that in a minute.

I have had youngsters who come simply because mom and dad make them. They don't make progress as students. They don't practice and they are bored five minutes after the lesson starts. That's really hard, and I know I'm getting paid and I always give it my all, but it can be exhausting and frustrating. I am not going to tell a mom to keep her child away from us, but I'm not a baby-sitter. We are here to learn and have fun, at the same time, and if neither is happening, well .... that's that.

If you buy an instrument from us, you get four free lessons at Vancil Performing Arts. They have trained teachers who work very well with the youngest students - I think they've started them out way younger than 7. I'm always willing to take on more, but I like Vancil getting new students, too. We are not in competition and four free lessons is a great way to get started.

Another resource for starting early in general music is Mary Shelor and the fabulous Musikgarten program. Mary works specifically with children from newborn and can jump-start your child's love of music. We want your child to appreciate and be curious about music from birth. We also want them to be in the appropriate private lessons for their age.

Come in and see us if you want to start your child early on the guitar. There are options and ideas galore out there and we are only too happy to help!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Riverfront concerts

OUR FRIEND AND neighbor Mike Sorenson of Bad Wolf Media had a way cool Facebook post the other day. He went down to Hannibal and located the old riverfront concert area, long abandoned and overgrown.

Three decades ago it was the scene of amazing concerts. Many bands performed there at the peak of their popularity. It sounds like a massive party and good time, and I'm sad I wasn't around to catch a show or two.

The old Hannibal riverfront concert area today. 
Mike did an amazing job photographing the area and showing what it looks like now. And it makes me think of something I've long wondered about - why don't we have a dedicated concert area in Quincy along the riverfront?

I will give Hannibal credit for things like the Y Men's Pavilion. They put on great shows down there every summer, mostly local bands. Quincy has events along the river too - a few years back they had a Christian concerts that drew thousands. They used portable stages, and there's nothing wrong with that, but a more permanent concert stage might draw bigger acts.

Flooding, for one, would be a huge concern. Where to put it in Quincy would be a challenge, but only because of the massive amount of space available. Whoever put our town together back in the day missed the boat when it came to creating and utilizing green space - we have a lot of it down there, and some of it is really nice (Clat Adams Park, etc.). We have a few businesses like The Pier and The Dock. But drive into Quincy along Ill. 57, and it just looks ... blighted. I know it's important to have industrial businesses along the river, but couldn't Quincy have done a better job of balancing industry with retail and recreation?

I guess you can't cry about the past.

Anyway, I think a great spot to put a concert venue is where the old cardboard factory used to be, near Front and Jefferson. All that remains are concrete barriers and the huge smokestack. I'm not sure who owns it now, or who owns land on either side. It's big enough to build a decent sized stage and room to put thousands of people, either with chairs or general admission.

Then again, people around here complain about paying $3 at the door to see a local band. Would they cough up a hundred bucks to see a big name? I have my doubts.

I wrote a Whig column about it a few years ago, and my surrogate father in Quincy, Bob Mays, sent me a letter with a $2 bill. He told me to dare to dream, because dreams might just come true.

I don't have the pockets to build and maintain a concert venue along the Quincy riverfront. I wonder if anybody does, or would be willing to risk it. That's almost as silly as opening a music store and buying a 119-year-old building downtown.

Hmmmm ....

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Brilliant cat videos

THERE ARE A lot of stupid cat videos on YouTube. And I mean dumb, insipid, meaningless and just downright annoying.

How do I know? I don't. Because I don't watch them. So I just got cat judgey. Wait a minute ... Cat Judgey would be a great name for a rock band.

Here is a dumb cat video Sheryl found. I said, "Don't put it in this blog." She said, "I'll find one that is only 10 seconds long." Sheryl knows where are the cat videos are. GUH.

Cats themselves are strange creatures. Fast Eddie is the exception to the rule, of course. He rocks.

Now come along our friends Chris and Victoria Kelley of Table 16 Productions. They have made two cat videos. They are .... interesting. THERE. I said it. Cat videos that are interesting? Yes.

So here they are. Just don't get cat judgey.

The suspense is killing me...

Lots of Mind Control action in this one.

Thank you Chris Kelley and Table Sixteen Productions for quality cat videos on the internet!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Making a Murderer worth the time

SHERYL AND I took it easy this past weekend. We closed the store for three days and had a blast Saturday night watching Fielder, Blake Gardner and Devonte Clark play at One Restaurant.

But other than that, we did nothing, and it was glorious.

One of the beautiful things about Netflix is the documentaries. Sheryl and I got sucked in on New Year's Day watching Making a Murderer, a 10-part series about a Wisconsin man and a brutal murder. By the way, you can also watch every episode on YouTube.

Sheryl is adamant Steve Avery is innocent, as is his nephew. Her opinion is that they were incapable of cleaning up a bloody mess so thoroughly that it could not be detected at all in the house and garage. Since they are men, and slow, an of course she is probably right.

I'm not sure. I don't think the series showed all of the evidence, and condensing a murder trial into watchable form is extremely difficult, though the filmmakers did a great job.

Then we got into the High Profits series, about a marijuana dispensary in Colorado. Again, it's really well done and it shows the immense amount of work that goes into owning and operating a business, along with small town politics and the daily grind.

Someday, and it might be sooner than later, we in little old Quincy will be faced with the same issues, and it could get really interesting.

Warning: Binge-watching is way too easy. It's 2 a.m. and you have two more episodes to watch, and you can't keep your eyes open but you watch it anyway. Sleep is overrated - watch the shows!