Thursday, August 31, 2017

Farewell, old friend

I HAVEN'T HEARD the name Kim Kozian for almost 30 years. We worked together on the Chippewa Yearbook, back when Central Michigan University still had a yearbook. Like many of the people I knew back then, she simply drifted away as we all got busy with life.

Kim died of cancer the other day. It took me a minute to place the name and lodge it back in my feeble memory banks, but when it finally registered, it was a sad moment.

I stay in touch with some of my CMU buddies through Facebook and other social media. I learned about Kim's death that way. I clicked on her obit and was fascinated that we shared a love of music and Northeast Michigan (she had a condo in Oscoda, I lived an hour north in Alpena for seven years).

This is more for Kim's family and friends. I'm sure she fought her cancer like a lion. Now she's in a better place.

Kim and I were copy editors on the yearbook staff our junior years. We both decided to put in for yearbook editor. I got the job, she didn't, and she wasn't happy. Kim was the first person I went to see, and I begged her to stay on staff and make my job a lot easier.

She did. She was professional and courteous and she busted her butt working on the yearbook, and I was forever grateful.

It's sad, how time and space drifts us apart. I wish I was closer to Kim and many other people from my hazy and crazy college days.

Peace, Kim. I was a better person for knowing and working with you all those years ago.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

How to act covering a disaster

NEWS COVERAGE OF the Houston flooding is wall-to-wall and a bit overwhelming. Hey, at least it knocks some other people off the front pages and the cable talk shows. 

Spending 24 years in journalism makes you take a different view. Ten years were in sports, and it isn't easy talking to an athlete or coach moments after a gut-wrenching defeat. Then there were more than a dozen years as a crime and courts reporter, and you learn how to approach (or not approach) people going through hell and pain.

I remember the flooding in Quincy in 2008. Certainly it pales in comparison to what Houston is going through, but it was a huge deal around here back then and exhausting. I remember walking the levees with the late Chip Gerdes, and going on night patrols in West Quincy. It brought out the best in people, and we tried hard to bring out the good stories.

When you go live, you roll the dice, as the above video shows. Certainly you can't predict human reaction and there probably wasn't a lot of time to prepare for the interview, but you have to try and predict the depth before wading in.

I saw several other clips of reporters dropping the microphone and actually going out to help people. It's the human element we often overlook and fail to hone, and I'm grateful some still have it. It isn't fake news, folks. It's real life, and we're all human.

So prayers to people down there and to the many around here who are trying to help, whether it's with cash donations or sending supplies south. There are still a lot of great stories out there, and I hope those stories are told with dignity and respect for what flood victims are going through.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Keeping it local

SECOND STRING MUSIC is now officially a Fender dealer. We approached this cautiously and will start with Squire guitars, Affinity basses, Fender amplifiers and go up from there.

Fender, of course, is the bomb when it comes to guitars. I bought a USA Fender Stratocaster 12 years ago and it's still a workhorse and plays like a dream. I would love to have a wall full of American-made Strats and Telecasters, but Fender's business model makes that impossible for a small retail store like Second String Music, so we'll do the best we can with our first order and small business finances.

It's the same thing with Martin, Taylor, Gibson and Epiphone. They make incredible guitars, and I understand the brand loyalty. But they also make it impossible for us, the little guy, to afford the buy-in and yearly sales commitments.

Instead of being bitter about it, let me tell you a story about a guitar player I know who came in a few days ago and started strumming a beautiful Takamine acoustic. He fell in love with it right away, but he made the wise decision to hold off on an impulse buy and continue his search for that next guitar.

He went down to St. Louis and a large retail store, and played a bunch of acoustics. Yesterday he came back and purchased the Takamine from us, saying he just could not forget how great it sounded. We couldn't be happier.

He shopped locally and he bought locally. He didn't go online, he compared guitars out of town but decided to drop his hard-earned money at his local music store.

Sheryl and I are immensely grateful. We love what we do and we plan to do it for a long time, and I pinch myself every day for living the dream. Customers like this keep us optimistic there is a place for a small retail music store in a small city like Quincy, Illinois.

We'll let you know when the Fender guitars arrive, and, as always, we strive to be the best business we can be for our local musicians and customers. Keep on rockin' Quincy.

Monday, August 28, 2017

iPads and lyrics

SHERYL BOUGHT ME an iPad. I've wanted one for a while, mainly for music stuff. It looks sleek and I've learned how to turn it on with just half an hour of training.

On this iPad is a thing called an app. An app usually what we devour at Tiramisu or Chicks On The River. In this case, it's a little thingy that you swipe called "Guitar Tabs HD." You can call up any song in any key and use it to learn the song. And it has the words. Geesh! The next thing you know this will replace my word house and will start saving trees so I don't have to print out songs.

Wait a second .... you mean you can use this thing like a teleprompter? Well, that's not very professional. I mean, if you are going to play out, you should have everything memorized and not rely on a piece of paper or a computer.

Right. So that thing on the ground by Bruce Springsteen's feet is just for watching cartoons. In the awesome Mumford & Sons "Road To Red Rocks" DVD there is a photograph of the stage, and you can see the teleprompter plain as day with a Beatles song on it. Bono uses one. Just about everybody uses one.

Elvis just used paper. I caught a movie about one of his tours the other day and he was singing his brand new hit song, "Hunk of Burning Love." He simply pulled out a piece of paper and sang the words with it right in his face. He could not have cared less. He was ELVIS, for crying out loud.

In the amazing Who Live In Texas 75 DVD, Pete Townsend has a guy come out with lyrics on a flimsy music stand so he can sing "However Much I Booze." The song has a lot of great lyrics. I don't blame him a bit for not remembering them all, especially when you've quit drinking and write a song about it.

Then I see a guy like Jon Anderson of Yes perform every song from Close To The Edge without missing a single word, then sing a new Yes song that's longer than the Lions' Super Bowl drought, and I just shake my head.

So I'm going to work on this new iPad thing and start putting songs on it.

Wait - how do you turn this thing on, again? "Sheryl!!!"

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Dog hair is important

WITH ALL THE chaos and controversy going on in the world, it's time for us to talk about something really important - namely, dog hair.

If you have dogs, you have dog hair in your house. Angus has short hair, but Genie and Tucker don't. They get stuff stuck in their hair all the time, and we usually suck up two or three vacuum containers of hair a week. The car gets filthy in a hurry, even with a bed sheet covering the back seat.

Genie needs nothing.
So this morning Sheryl took the dogs to be groomed. "They aren't getting shaved," she said. "It's just a cut and a style."

You mean these two dogs are getting their hair styled?

"Of course," she said. "It's not like they are going to a spa or anything. It's just a hair cut."

True. We know a dog that actually goes to a doggy spa every week. It's the same dog that had knee surgery in Columbia, Missouri, by a dog knee surgeon. A DOG KNEE SURGEON. I am not making it up. The same dog gets bottled water and chicken dinners made daily. So getting her hair styled isn't a big deal. It's just part of the routine.

Angus in his "spa"
Tucker and Genie, however, are not so pampered. We'll brush them and hose them down after they roll in death on their walk, but that's about it.

I'm curious to see them this afternoon. Chances are they'll look and feel better. Tucker and Genie have a lot of stringy hair by their butts and back legs, and a good trim will probably make them more aerodynamic and less prone to getting the nasty dingleberries stuck back there.

If you look good, you feel good, and I bet our dogs will feel great. Especially without the dingleberries.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Back at Fifth and Jersey

IT'S BEEN FIVE years to the day since I left The Whig. I don't miss it. I do miss some of the people I worked with, and the five years have flown by. I laughed when reading about it here. Geesh. Five years?

One year ago I went back to work a few nights a week in sports. Last night I went back for my second year of taking calls, writing up short stories and working with some of the younger guys. We were busy and the three-plus hours flew by. It was just like falling off a bike.

Steve Eighinger was working last night. I hired him nearly 20 years ago, you know. I fell off my chair laughing when he told me stories of the latest Quincy Raceways follies and his grandkids. Matt Schuckman was slaving away doing fall sports previews. Same old Schuck ... between him and sports editor David Adam, there isn't anybody who knows more about our local sports scene and the rich history of Quincy sports.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I'm still doing it for peanuts, or, more accurately, beer money, but that's OK. Every little bit helps, and it's good to stay sharp and challenge myself.

In the immortal words of former sports editor and reporter Don O'Brien (who I also hired 20 years ago), "Whig Whig, baby!" It's good to be back.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

All love in Washington Park

WITHOUT FANFARE, A significant event took place in Quincy Sunday night. "Stand Together In Love Quincy" was organized in response to recent events in Charlottesville, VA. It was put together in just a few days by Rev. Tony Metz and a few others, and it took place in Washington Park.

It was very simple. There were a few speakers, and the idea was to let everybody know we will not tolerate hate or ignorance. Others stood up and made a one-sentence proclamation about what they stand for, and why. And Second String Music legends Ted Holt and Pete Magliocco performed from the gazebo and were amazing. To me, the best part was hearing about 300 people sing along  to "Blowing In The Wind" and "We Shall Overcome."

There was no sound system, which I think added to the ambiance of the event. Yes, it was hard to hear if you were in the back, but there was no PA when Lincoln debated Douglas on the very same spot, either, and they did just fine.

There were so many people from different walks of life, not just the ones fighting injustice and providing social services in Quincy. The messages were clear, it doesn't matter who you are - we are the same inside, and there is no room, NONE, for hate.

To the many of us who showed up, it was powerful reinforcement that we aren't alone, that reasonable people have voices, that there is no place for hate. It was an event to help others see that there is support in the community for everyone.

We now have signs in our store and at the house stating "Hate has no home here." Much love and kudos to Tony and the organizers, and it's good to know we are strong and we will stand up to hate in our community.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Tizzies and stuff happening

TWO EVENTS YESTERDAY made the news and drove people into tizzies. Wait a second .... tizzies? Let's change that up a bit and call it "The Tizzies" and announce a world tour, because a band called The Tizzies must be the bomb.

Anyway, there was a shooting at Fourth and Maine about 8 a.m. A woman from Iowa allegedly fired an alleged gun into an alleged vehicle as the vehicle allegedly tried to get away. Instantly there was police tape and flashing sirens and news crews driving 100 mph an entire block to get exclusive coverage. Then the social media outrage and rumor mill started overflowing, just like a Mississippi River town with drainage problems.

Calm down, web warriors. It's not good and I'm not saying we shouldn't wonder, but QPD made an arrest and people kept turning left onto Fourth Street from Maine. Wrong place, wrong time is my guess on what happened.

A few hours later there was a natural gas leak from a house just a few blocks from where we live. More news crews rushing up streets, more firetrucks and flashing lights and Ameren crews asking for permission to go into basements - wait, that's us at Fifth and Maine once a week, never mind. People were evacuated from homes and yes, this was serious stuff and I'm glad nobody got sick or blown up.

Five years ago, it would have meant a busy morning. Now it's just stuff that is happening and you wonder about it and move on, because selling guitars and giving lessons is every day life, and that's what matters.

Here's to hoping today is much quieter, at least outside of Fifth and Maine. Inside we have tons of guitar lessons and people getting school band instruments and the general music store mayhem.

So keep me posted on what happens in the real world.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

High hopes

THE BEAUTIFUL THING about teaching guitar is being exposed to different music. My students learn everything from Metallica to Taylor Swift. I love hearing songs from people we've never heard of, and I'm not talking about the latest pretty face or hunky beard.

I have students who come up with the most interesting groups and songs. One of them suggested a song by the band Kodaline - I learned some of their songs a while back and they are unbelievable. Why am I not listening to them more often?

Then I stumbled on this video of their song "High Hopes." Warning - it's graphic and disturbing and heart-wrenching and ultimately a story of love trumping evil. Pun intended, of course.

Fitting for our times.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

New places for gigs

PLAYING A SHOW at a new venue or new event is always a treat. This weekend I get to do it not once, but twice.

On Friday night, Cori Lyssy and I are playing in the Treehouse behind Electric Fountain Brewing as part of Grown N Gathered's event. Happy Hour is open to the public from 5:30 to 7, and dinner reservations are required after that as Chef Micheal Mitchell is creating his version of turkey, lamb and beef dishes. If you haven't eaten his creations, I wouldn't wait - he is amazing.

On Saturday the Cheeseburgers are playing in Macomb at the Flatland Summer Jam in Veterans Park. The Cheeseburgers are just a good-time party band, so for us to be part of a music festival playing with other bands and doing a 90-minute set in the afternoon is really special. We are going to pull out a few old tricks to go with our usual sing-along jam songs, and the nice thing about playing only 90 minutes is that we can pretty much go all out the whole time.

I know of some Quincy people making the 70-mile trip, and I'm hoping Emily Hart is over her Thailand jet lag so she can enjoy the show. There is no charge to enter, though I believe parking is $5 at the park. You can take a free shuttle from just a few minutes away.

The Cheeseburgers are coming off an incredible summer. Our last few gigs, starting with the Washington Park show last month, have been a blast. Last Saturday night we were at an outdoor wedding reception near Coatsburg and the party was on from the first note. A beautiful night on a nice stage with happy people means rock and roll heaven for us! Congrats to Andrew and Aimee Gunther, great people with great friends. It was an honor to play at your reception and we had more fun than should be allowed.

As always, please do your best to get out and support live and local music, no matter what the venue or event. We live to rock and roll, and we'll sleep when we are dead!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Red Wings aren't the right

THESE IDIOTS MARCHING in Virginia over the weekend are just that - idiots. A pile of dung has more integrity and brains. Sure, let's just grab Tiki torches, wooden sticks, pepper spray and shields. Let's chant Nazi slogans and drive into people that are counter protesting you. Let's then claim you are not racist. Whatever. World wars were fought to stop this kind of racism, Civil Wars were fought to stop this kind of racism. What century are we living in?

One of the things these alt right psychos (Alt Right Psychos would be a great band name) did was use the Detroit Red Wings logo and convert it into the Right Wing logo. This REALLY ticked me off. I mean, being ignorant and evil is one thing - using one of my favorite sports teams as your symbol of ignorance and evil? Geesh. Dr. Evil himself just called Mini Me and denounced you, Alt Rights.

The real and only logo.
I think the Detroit Red Wings need to sue these Alt Right idiots for copyright infringement. Tiki Torches released a statement denouncement the use of their product during the marches. Good for them. I'd sue the Alt Rights for every penny they do or do not have.

So today, I am wearing my new Detroit Red Wings shirt as a symbol of protest against the Nazi/White Supremacist "protesters." Shit heads. Why couldn't you have picked a seal or a porcupine or a sloth or something?

You Right Wings just don't get it. And you can't use my favorite logo, either.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Thailand and staying home

A MONTH AGO Emily announced she was going to Thailand for a week. Just like that. "Dad, I'm going to Thailand." Why? "Because my friend is going and she invited me and it sounded like fun."

Man ... to be 25 and have the summer off and to just go wherever. Of course when she gets back she has three days to get ready for the first day of teaching at Western Illinois University.

She's young. Jet lag ain't a big deal.

Any traffic cones in Thailand?
In contrast, Sheryl and I have decided to stay in Quincy on Labor Day Weekend. I'm tempted to fly to Phoenix for the annual Hart Sibling Summit, and there's always Michigan to visit and a beach to sit on.

I can't remember the last time we had more than one day off at home. For us, by the time you fly or drive, hang out for a day or two, and come home, you are wiped out and need a vacation to recover from your vacation.

There's something about home, and something about having more than one day off at home. Rock on, world travelers. I'll toast you from the backyard both Sunday and Monday, of Labor Day Weekend and hopefully wake up Tuesday ready to rock again.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Humor up the .... well, you know

RANDY PHILLIPS IS one of the most creative and funniest people we know. His wife, Marcy, is having a colonoscopy today. So they've created an event on Facebook and posting updates.

I've never laughed so hard in my life.

The procedure has started .....
Look. A colonoscopy is nothing to laugh off or take lightly. I had one a year or so ago. The night before wasn't pleasant, but the rest was easy, and I've never had such a good nap after eating a large pizza. Once you hit 50, get checked. It's pretty simple and can save your life.

Randy and Marcy know this is serious. But why not have fun with it? Yes, this is adult humor, but there's no nasty language or people sticking middle fingers in your face. I consider it good clean fun. After the night of 1,000 waterfalls, as the prep is called, everything is good clean fun.

In a world of social media liars, grinding cable news shows and being forced to watch Tiny House Hunters, it's refreshing to look at a serious subject and have some fun with it. Nobody is getting hurt, unless you count spraining your spleen from laughing so hard.

Here is Randy's Facebook page. I'm not sure if "Marcy's Colonoscopy" is public or if you have to be Facebook friends. Check it out if you can. And get checked out if you are 50 or older.

We want you around so we can all laugh ourselves silly in a serious and insane world.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Put away the phone

WHAT WOULD HAPPEN if you didn't have your cell phone for a few days? Have you really thought about it? Would you survive? Or would you go nuts?

Or would you actually enjoy it?

I went to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, last weekend and worked for Gus Macker. It was a great tournament, well run and right on the beautiful Lake Michigan shore. I couldn't get any reception to go online on my phone. So I put it away. Except for a few texts from Sheryl, I didn't look at it all weekend, and I didn't miss it a bit.

At about 5 p.m. Sunday, in the championship game of a high school boys bracket, I was officiating and finally had enough of the constant whining and crying from a few fans. So Sheboygan learned Rodney from Macker was tired, was ready for the seven-hour drive home, and was going to sleep like a baby when he got home, and was NOT going to listen to anymore crap. As soon as I stopped the game to announce this, at least a dozen phones went up in the air to record my tirade.

I'm gonna guess I was on Facebook within a few minutes of my announcement. Thankfully I kept it clean and it actually helped - the players and parents were better the rest of the game.

Lately there have been a lot of people walking around Washington Park with their eyes glued to their phones. Why? WHY? Maybe this stupid Pokey Man thing is still going on. Maybe they are watching cat videos or learning a new language or texting their friends as they walk. Hey. It takes skill to walk and text at the same time. I can't do it. I can't even put the dog in the car without being smacked in the head with the door, but that's another story.

Last night I walked the dogs and there was a group of about 30 people at the cemetery. Normally this is a good thing - we need to learn more about our history and the people who came before us. But every person, and I mean EVERY person, was holding their phone right in front of their faces. They weren't taking photos or video. Perhaps there is some sort of interactive online app for the cemetery - even our building has a barcode thing on one of the windows you can scan with your phone, and you can read more about the history of the building.

But these people seemed incapable of just walking around and enjoy the incredible views and appreciating the fact the founder of our city, John Wood, stood right where they stood in the 1840s and said, "Quincy will appreciate this forever, especially the ones who aren't addicted to their phones." Perceptive fella, that John Wood. There was a guy addressing the group, but again, not a single person put down their phone and appeared to be listening to him.

I challenge you to put away your phone for a day. I double dog dare you. Get out your guitar and play it till your fingers bleed.

I bet you wouldn't make it an hour. I bet you are so consumed by technology you simply can't function without it. Of course, the irony isn't lost here, as I sit behind a computer and type and then hit "Publish" and put this online. You are probably reading it on your phone.

Just don't walk and read at the same time, please.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Dead printers

THE MORE WE are in business, the more this paperless thing makes sense.

Yesterday our store printer stopped working. It just stopped. No warning, no sputtering, nothing. This is our fourth printer since we opened the store in 2011. If you aren't good at math, let's just say it's too many. But when you stop and think about it, a small business uses the printer a lot.

If a customer makes a purchase with more than a few items, we usually print an itemized receipt. I print a lot of song lyrics and notes for guitar lessons, and a lot of set lists. I keep thinking about getting an iPad or smaller computer for all that stuff - it would save a lot of paper and make things easier.

I barely know how to find the "print" thingy on the jimigig. Sheryl is the IT person and puts it all together. I do what I do best - stay outta the way.

This morning she managed to resuscitate the old one by cleaning the print thingy. She warned that it may just be a temporary fix, so the new one is standing by and ready if last rites are necessary. For the printer, I mean.

Then we'll need to figure out what to do with it. I just noticed you can turn old printers into shredders. Maybe they can be used as tuners or part of a drum kit. Who knows?

I'll just press "print" and Sheryl will make sure it works.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

You are in the way, tall guy

THERE ARE A lot of advantages to being 6 foot 7. You can see over crowds, tell when it's raining about an hour before the rest of the normal humans, and you can stretch banners across windows and reach cereal bowls on top of cabinets.

There are disadvantages. I would like to trade my back for a front. I have the scars on my head from forgetting to duck. And I get in the way.

Then again, when dealing with difficult people (like when I was a crime reporter, or at Macker tournaments), I try to stand right in front of them and look down. It works every time.

Here's a  great story from NPR about tall people at concerts. I admit it, I've been to many shows and had better views than anybody else. But I always try to be aware of people around me, especially if it's starting to rain and I can warn them.

A year or so ago we saw The Who in St. Louis and I we had floor seats, but we stood the whole time. I made sure the people behind me were good and could see. I tried not to move too much from side to side. I don't really think about being so tall, and most of the time it's an advantage, but there is such a thing as courtesy and being nice when you are in front of somebody.

Thank goodness I don't have a "cereal box head" to make it even worse.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

All aflutter over tweeting

I FINALLY JOINED the 20th century and got on Twitter last week. Sheryl set it up. It reminds me of a long time ago when Emily signed me up with this newfangled Facebook thingy. What a passing fad THAT was, right?

Anyway, I am now on Twitter. I am still not sure what the point is, though I am beginning to "follow" other people and things. I just followed some news organizations and my twitter "feed" is blowing up with news about Mooch and Smooch and Doosh and various other things that rhyme with Ooosh. It's kinda cool. Look at me "tweeting" and stuff!

Look. If the guy who is our president can dictate policy and tell us how wonderful he is, why can't I use it to push my worldview and tell you how to act and feel? Win!

Sheryl says she gets all her news from Twitter. When we drove up to Michigan 12 days ago, she was on Twitter with her phone and it was fascinating - we were getting news literally seconds after it was happening. My, how the world has changed. I remember deadlines and waiting until the next morning to finish a story. Who cared? Nobody was going to see it until the presses rolled.

God. We were just a bunch of Neanderthals. How did we ever live without tweets and posts and clicks and internet?

When I get done with this blog, I will go to the little bird thing at the bottom and click on it, and this blog link will immediately appear on my twitter feed. Then I will tweet about it. Fly, Robin, fly. Free as a bird, and look at me soar over my domain!

What? I have to have "followers" first? Also, I have a "handle" and it's HartyRRot. So follow me HERE on Twitter to see this blog post first! The irony. Sheryl is HERE.

Just click and tweet. The world will catch up, someday.