Friday, December 29, 2017

You think we have winter here?

JUST GOT BACK from a quick trip to Michigan for a funeral. It was good to get away for a few days and see a lot of people for the first time in years. My immediate family is long gone from Grand Rapids but I have an aunt, uncle and cousins still there, and it was a joy to hang out with family.

I drove up Tuesday and got around Chicago without any trouble, but minutes after entering Michigan it was like running into a curtain of snow. I haven’t driven in snow for 22 years, save a for two epic snowstorms in Quincy. You creep along at 30 mph, unable to see the car in front of you, and cars on your left blow by at 90. Then there are flashing lights and cars in ditches everywhere and you grip the wheel even tighter and you say, “THIS is why I don’t miss the winters up here.”

Steve Hawkins, the former QU basketball coach, moved to Kalamazoo to coach at Western Michigan. Hawk is from California. He said, “It snows in Kalamazoo just for the hell of it.” He is right. You drive through whiteouts and blizzards, and then it stops, and then you hit another wall of snow coming off Lake Michigan and you grip the wheel even tighter.

I got to the visitation Tuesday but couldn’t get to the funeral itself the next day because I got stuck on the highway. There was a frightening four-car crash near Hudsonville that turned 196 into a parking lot. On M6, a car just ahead slid and hit the guardrail so hard that the bumper flew 50 feet in the air and other parts exploded into the road. The airbag went off and the poor gal driving was dragged away from the car. A guy nearly crashed into me at 44th and Kalamazoo in GR, and it took 10 minutes to get through an ice-coated intersection at Burton and Kalamazoo.

2351 Rosewood SE, Grand Rapids, home of the Harts in the 80s.
I was so traumatized from the winter driving that my awesome cousin Natalie decided to walk with me to the Last Chance bar on Burton Street on Wednesday afternoon. Like many things, the bar is way better now and looks different from the days I used to deliver Kingmas produce there. Then I strolled down to the old neighborhood, Rosewood Street, and it was like a picture postcard. Time stood still for a second and I focused on the good memories from our years there in the 1980s.

The drive home yesterday was better, but still nerve wracking. Man, am I glad to be home. It takes me five minutes to get to work, a two-inch snowstorm makes the front page and things just move more deliberately around here, and I love it.

It’s supposed to be bitterly cold this weekend, so bundle up and stay warm, and if you come out to see me and Paul Lester tonight at Revelry, or The Cheeseburgers at  The Club tomorrow night, we’lll keep you nice and warm.

Happy New Year and keep rocking, Q-Town, even in our winter wonderland!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Merry Christmas and let's rock in 2018

WE WISH EVERYBODY a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. It's been rocking at Second String Music and we expect the next two days to be good, too. It's unhurried and it's easy at Fifth and Maine!

We will also be open Christmas Eve, this Sunday, from noon to 4 p.m. Supposedly we are getting snow for Christmas, never a bad thing.

I'm taking most of next week off from HartyHarHar, so cheers to you and yours and be safe out there, and here's to another rock and roll year in 2018!

We leave with you with this little ditty that was filmed in the store a few years ago. Why Greg Ellery and Adam Yates didn't win a Tony is beyond me. Our friends Chris and Victoria Kelly at Table 16 Productions are supposedly still in a bidding war to turn the video into a series.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas tree catastrophe

MY COUSIN, ROLAND Hart, lives in Zeeland, Michigan. He and his wife, Amy, have three awesome kids. The Zeeland Harts take Christmas very seriously and they get a real tree every year.

Christmas Chaos In Zeeland!
Amy woke up early Tuesday morning to discover the Christmas tree had toppled over and there was debris everywhere. The term "debris everywhere" is not used lightly. The photo of the carnage looks pretty bad. Roland managed to save the presents, which were already under the tree, which means they were getting ready for Christmas early.

I wonder about people who are organized during the chaos of Christmas (a great name for a band, Chaos of Christmas). It seems their 14-year-old daughter, Elly, is a snooper and they were forced to wrap the presents and get them under the tree before they were discovered.

"Actually, I think Elly is already wearing some of her presents because she found them early," Amy patiently explains.

Some precious family Christmas ornaments were damaged, but all is not lost. As Elly pointed out,
only half of the ornaments were hung this year (a sure sign the kids are getting older) and there's still a box in the basement with plenty of Christmas stuff.

Amy isn't sure how the tree toppled over. Could there be a Grinch loose in Zeeland knocking over trees? Has there been any paranormal activity lately in the house? Did the dog or cat get loose and cause Chaos Of Christmas?


"I think we got a defective tree," Amy says.

Seems the Douglas Fir was a gift from a friend. There was a lot of water at the base of the tree. Amy didn't necessarily say this out loud, but all indications appear the tree may have collapsed under its own weight. A reconstruction team from the Department Of Christmas Chaos was headed to Zeeland late last night, but we haven't heard if they've made an official determination into the cause.

"Somebody told me it might be a squirrel, like the one in Christmas Vacation," Amy said.

Did I mention how much I love my cousin's wife?

Anyway, the presents were saved and the Chaos of Christmas continues in Zeeland. Yet to be determined is if a new tree will go up in the Hart house.

And if Elly is reading this, stop snooping! Your Christmas will be grand because you and your parents rock, with or without a tree.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Online scams and the fear of robbery

IF IT'S TOO good to be true ....

Today's cautionary tale comes from a Second String Music customer who went online Monday night and ordered a $87 guitar package. It seemed legit? The website looked clean. There were good reviews.

When he went to hit "pay" he had a panic attack. He noticed typos and dangling sentences in the descriptions. He noticed a $1,500 guitar selling for $288. Hmmm ... could this be real?
Caveat emptor

Yes, it's a real website. But it's selling the discards from guitar makers. With a sinking feeling, the man realized he was ordering a hunk of junk with strings on it.

So he changed his mind, but by then his credit card info had gone through. He looked for a phone number and only found a shady email address. He cancelled the order as best as he could but was still unsure if it had actually cancelled. The next morning he called the bank and cancelled the card. They also put a stop payment on the seller, still fearing the website would take their money anyway.

Then he and his wife came to Fifth and Maine.The guitar was for their son, and they wanted something decent that would last, and they wanted their son to be happy. They told Sheryl what they had done with the online seller and could finally laugh about the situation. They debated all their options and settled on a great guitar.

Done. They bought an amazing guitar for a few more dollars, and got a strap, and free lessons too. The father played the guitar first and was happy with the way it sounded. They walked out relieved and excited that they were giving an amazing present for Christmas, and that they had a retail business standing behind the product - real people.

I've said this many times - I am not against the internet. We might not have that exact guitar you are looking for, and I understand the ease and convenience of shopping online.

But if you roll the dice and save a few bucks, pray your guitar shows up in one piece and it's actually the instrument you ordered. Pray that if there is a problem, the website will actually care enough to help you.

We seem to discuss shopping local all the time. Supporting businesses in your OWN town and helping your own economy. Keeping your money in your town keeps jobs in your town. The internet will continue to grow and become increasingly tempting but it is a money suck to your economy. If you want to keep jobs and small stores, and thriving down towns  - you must support your local economy. You. Must. We all must.

We really do thank you for supporting a small and local business! Christmas is much more than just giving and receiving gifts, but we want the experience to be positive and the memories to last forever.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Cleaning the lesson room

EVERY YEAR AT this time, I take a couple of weeks off from lessons. It's nice to take a break. It's been another great year and I have the best students, and 2018 promises to be another good one.

Yesterday I cleaned my lesson room. We have two rooms in the back of our first floor, one for me and one used mostly by Jim Bier. Jim keeps his room clean and free of clutter. Me? Pishaw.

In the midst of the clutter, I found 12 guitar picks, three lesson plans, seven song lyric sheets, two guitar cords, two other cords with strange ends that plug into something, one moldy dog treat, my broken bug wireless guitar rig, and a bag of microwave popcorn.

Should this tell us something? Am I a hoarder, or just unorganized, or does stuff just sort of pile up over the year?

I hate cleaning. But it's a good thing for the soul and mental outlook. I vacuumed the daylights out of the room and dusted. I tossed a bunch of stuff, put the bookcases and tables in different places, rearranged the chairs. I still have to go through a bunch of music books and old lesson plans, but I have a couple of weeks and I'm sure I'll wait until the last second. Heaven forbid I get ahead of the game.

The end of the year is a good time to take a deep breath, take stock and get ready for more.

Hey! Microwave popcorn! Bet it's still good and makes for a good snack this afternoon ....

Monday, December 18, 2017

ANOTHER Star Wars?

GEESH. THEY JUST keep cranking them out, don't they? Cash cows are cash cows and the need for new Star Wars movies will probably never end.

Not that I care. I went many years without watching any of the films. But I broke down last year and went to the Rogue One movie, the one where everybody dies. Then I watched one of them made before that and I'm still ticked off they killed Han Solo.

Apparently the latest installment has a surprise ending and lots of unanswered questions. And Carrie Fisher is in it. Wait a second .... everybody died in the last movie, yet a character played by an actress who actually died last year is still around? Maybe they did some scenes before she passed. Princess Leia is one of the iconic figures in film and I really hope George Lucas and the filmmakers don't keep her alive digitally.

Uh oh. It sounds like I give a crap. Did I tell you the story about hiking several miles to a theater in London, Ont., and waiting in line for hours to see the original movie? I did?


So we'll probably suck it up and and go see the newest Star Wars movie. Don't spoil it for me. Does anybody else die? Does Princess Leia survive again? Is Luke Skywalker still stranded on an island and wearing a Michael Jackson glove on his fake hand? Is Bill Murray going to do the theme song for reals?

So many questions. Now we REALLY have to go see it.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Drums for Everyone

LAST YEAR FOR Christmas Second String Music sold a lot of drum stuff. So we are stocked up. Sheryl says, "We have a lot of drums. Drums, drums, drums. And we will put them together for you."

D1 drum kit
We have the ddrum starter kits, in three sizes. The D1 is a beginner kit with cymbals. The D2R is a 4 piece rock kit and the D2 is the complete beginner kit with a stick bag and 6 sets of sticks. All of them come assembled and ready to play.

We have bongos, cajons, cowbells, shakers, tambourines, stands, sticks and more. Drum stuff everywhere at Fifth and Maine!

Drummers are interesting people. They are inventive, creative and take pride in rhythm, tempo and timing. It is never too early to start on drums, either.

D2 Rock kit
All the drums we sell come with 4 free lessons at Vancil Performing Arts Music Department, 8th & Ohio, where your drummer can really get a great head start in music.

Come see us at Fifth and Maine. We've been rocking this month and we are open the next two Sundays, too.

It's Christmas - let's make a joyful racket!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Drive to The Cars and Dire Straits

THREE AMAZING BANDS are finally getting into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. The hall had some head-scratching recent inclusions, but this year, the hall got it right. Three of my favorites got in - The Moody Blues, Dire Straits and The Cars.

Making Movies by Dire Straits might be the best rock album ever made. Yup. Album. You could listen to the whole thing, start to finish, and it was considered a complete work. Today we are used to hitting a button and going right to the song. Nobody seems to make albums anymore .... they are just songs strung together. The Moody Blues were good at it too, and it's hard to believe they are still around and planning a tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Days Of Future Passed.

Mark Knopfler is from another planet and nobody plays guitar like him, nobody. He could play the blazing licks and rock your socks off, but it was how he played, and his "less is more" technique and style is still a joy to hear. I dare you to listen to Romeo and Juliet and not cry. Double dare you.

Then there's The Cars. Look, the 1980s were the longest 15 years of my life and not necessarily a great time to grow up listening to music. At least we had bands like The Cars - they had a weird and strange leader, Rick Ocasek. They had a geeky keyboard player, a drummer with Flock of Seagulls hair who was replaced by a drum machine, a sex symbol bass player with an incredible voice and a left-handed guitar player named Elliot who tore it up. Some of their songs were direct and to the point (My Best Friend's Girlfriend) and some of them left you wondering what spaceship they were using (Moving In Stereo). I wore out albums like The Cars, Candy O, Shake It up and even Heartbreak City. A few years ago they came out with Door To Door and it still sounded great.

So hurrah for classic rock and bands that had talented players and songwriters. Long live rock!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Don't discuss politics - also, I like the Liberal Redneck

I HATE POLITICS. I despise our current president. I am in denial about our current political climate.

See what it gets us? Nothing but anger and despair. So I avoid discussing it out loud, unless I'm at The Whig and working the sports desk, and one of the guys working with me is a college student and political science major. Right.

Plus I co-own a small business. I couldn't care less if you are an R or a D. I'll help you with the R or D chord on a new Gretsch guitar without any preconceived notions. Politics and music don't mix. Actually they do, but not if I'm trying to sell you a nice guitar.

I'm staying away from getting into it. Really. Promise. Sheryl turns on CNN to watch the "best four minutes in the news," Anderson Cooper 360. Sometimes it is so depressing, I'm forced to go upstairs to the man cave and watch Tiny House Hunters. Well, THIS is more depressing.

So I'm going to be short and to the point here. It really says something about our country when the only people who really make sense are the late night talk show hosts. Colbert for president!

Also, if you really want to get to the heart of it, have a comedian break it down. I have to warn you that this guy is profane and blunt, but sometimes you gotta go right to it. I might actually understand some of this being from the south thing, too.

Amen. Go Alabama, unless it's in football. And maybe we'll survive another three years of this madness.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Christmas Hours

WE HAVE DECIDED to keep regular hours during Christmas at Second String Music. In years past we've stayed open later during the week, but rarely did anybody wander in much past 6 p.m. We appreciate The District trying new things, like the Thankful Thursday's promotion, but it's tough to get the general public to come down here for shopping after hours.

So, Monday through Friday, we will be open for our usual 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. hours. Saturday we are here from 10 to 5. Remember, hours are just guidelines - we were here by 9:15 almost every morning last week and one morning had people waiting at the door. Then the miscreants kept us late a few Friday nights ago for happy hour and a few people wandered in after 6, including a father and son who came back the next day and bought a guitar and amp.

Well, I'm the lead miscreant, so it's all good.

I think a lot of downtown businesses are missing out by closing early on Saturdays. This past Saturday we were busy after 3 p.m. and rocked until close. It's common for the panicked musician to come in needing strings or gear.

We will be open for the next two Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. If you have stuff on layaway or want to keep the gifts a surprise, we are happy to store them here for you, safe and sound, until Christmas Eve. We will be closed on Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

Merry Christmas! We are here for you for the next 14 days straight and we'll make your Christmas shopping a breeze.

Friday, December 8, 2017

How to make friends

WE RECENTLY SAW a Facebook post from a young man who says he wants to meet people and get more socially acclimated to Quincy. He works for a small school district not far from town but lives here.

That's a tough one. I remember moving to Quincy 21 years ago, but I had no trouble meeting people because of my job at the paper. We also attended a church and got involved in Emily's school.

There is a group of people called Young Professionals of Quincy. I think they are fairly active, but I'm no longer young and many people question me being professional. I'm a pro at taking golf naps and finding fret buzz on guitars. Does that count?

There are some really good service clubs in Quincy, like Rotary, Lions, Exchange Club, etc. There are tons of volunteer opportunities around here, like helping with Kroc Center events. Actually, joining the Kroc Center or YMCA is a great idea. The District recently recruited a bunch of volunteers to help string lights in Washington Park. Help is always needed and appreciated. There are many art and historical society groups active online.

I'm not a big fan of hanging out in bars, but really, if you want to check out our many talented musicians there is always live music on weekends. Sheryl created the What to Do in Quincy IL page so that people would know what was going on around town.

We have many customers who just wander in to check things out and run into people they know, or make friends at a jam session. I've met a ton of people at The Club Tavern's Sunday night blues jam.

Really, it's about getting out there and getting involved. Best of luck to everyone who is looking for friends and becoming more active in Quincy.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Angus and chew toys

WE HAD A lovely visit this morning from Lois Costanza, wife of the late and legendary Lew Portnoy. Lew was a Second String Music Hall of Famer who passed away a last year. He loved to come in on Saturday mornings, sit in his green chair behind the counter and let Fast Eddie shed all over him.

Lois has been bringing us Lew's stuff - he was a hoarder and collector of all things guitar and music related. This morning she brought in a beautiful Tacoma travel guitar, which we are selling for her after Sheryl is done restringing. She says it is the last of his guitar gear .... Right.

Among the other things she brought in were two small pillows shaped like Martin guitars. Sheryl saved the smaller one from destruction. It is named "Fretty."

Angus, of course, grabbed the bigger of the two and immediately demanded to play. Lois was a little shocked at first but quickly realized it's his world, not ours, and she obliged.

Angus has been tearing the living bleep out of the larger stuffed Martin pillow. We can't tell if it ever had a name.

There is debris everywhere and lots of barking and growling. A very nice older couple just came in to get a music stand for their grandson, and they got a big kick out of throwing the pillow for Angus. He just grunted and growled and demanded they do it again.

Our store and lives long ago went to the dogs. We love it that Lew and his hoard continue to haunt poor Lois and brings us such joy in the store. Merry Christmas to Angus!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Won't miss Hardees

THE HARDEES AT 12th and Jefferson closed Monday. As always, the first thought is that this is a sad day because people have lost jobs, not that it pays anything. But a job is a job, and you wonder what happens to the employees.

I had a love/hate relationship with that Hardees. I loved the fact that we had a restaurant on the south end and just blocks from our house. But I hated the service and the food. A few years ago when Hardees introduced its Monster Burger, a critic labelled it "Food Pornography." Hey, everybody needs a little grease and the threat of clogged arteries once in a while.

One Saturday morning about 12 years ago I wandered in there after a long night and waited, and waited, and waited, and waited for my order. I felt bad for the server and the kitchen staff because the manager had no clue what was going on. So I left without my food. There was almost never anybody in there and the rare time I did go back I could hear my voice echoing in the building. "Why yes yes yes yes .... I would love curly fries fries fries fries ...."

There are two other locations in Quincy, if you really need your fill of a Hardees hamburger. The one on Broadway isn't bad. I've never been in the one on North 12th. Hopefully they keep going, but really, in the world of culinary experience, it's not a tragic loss.

Sheryl is fervently hoping for a Sonic in that location. If it's run well and the grease is made properly, it could be a great thing for our end of town, and she'd be over there three times a week, as long as she can dispose of the bun.

So let's start this rumor, just for fun. I hear that it's going to be an Olive Garden or Red Lobster. Yes! Quincy will be so much better for getting a major food chain. We'll just keep going to Tiramisu or Thrive or Thyme Square. But we'll be a real town.

Farewell, 12th and Jefferson Hardees. We hardly knew yee, and it's sad to drive past your empty parking lot and forlorn building. Wait. There's a lobster in the parking lot! And it's red!

Neber mind. It's just an old Hardees wrapper.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Love love love Christkindl

SHERYL AND I thoroughly enjoyed the Christkindl Market in the Washington Theater Sunday. The booths were interesting (we got Sweet Spirits Farm goats’ milk soaps) and I almost bought five or six other things I totally don’t need. The theater looks fantastic and it’s come a long way from the bird poop covered stage and crumbling walls and ceilings of a decade ago.

The music was amazing - Robin Walden was leading a violin quartet when we walked in and the sound of strings floated through the cavernous theater like feathers in the wind. It was a bit cold but that made it even more festive.

We had a huge Saturday at Second String Music and the Christkindl Market drew a ton of people downtown and to our store. The nice weather helped foot traffic and several of our neighbors reported good sales.

The first Christkindl Market in Quincy was four or five years ago in Washington Park. There were huge tents and tons of vendors. I think it was our first Christmas at Fifth and Maine and it helped lots of people to know about our new location.

The District couldn’t rent tents the following year, so it moved to the Senior Center. I’m gonna piss some people off here by saying this, but the location was terrible and we saw no extra business, even though it’s two blocks away.

Then it moved to the old Dick Brothers Brewery. Great old building, tons of room for vendors, lots of people. But again, it didn’t drive much business downtown because it is on the southeast edge of The District.

I get it. The District is far more than just Washington Park. We need events throughout the downtown area, and we already have annual festivals and gatherings around us.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to The District and everybody who made this year’s Christkindl event rock. We’d love to have it again in the theater or back in the park. Let’s hope it becomes a longstanding Quincy tradition.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Love for delivery guys

WE HAVE A COUPLE of delivery drivers who are in the store almost every day. They are awesome. I’d like to think it’s because they are friendly, courteous and professional.
Angus ain't bustin nothing. Tucker peeks over the edge.

But really they just like us because of Angus.

This time of year is tough on our UPS and Fed Ex guys, and our regular mail carriers. They start getting glassy-eyed and sometimes they even forget to greet Angus. It’s like being a sports writer during playoff season or being a music store owner at Christmas. We just get through it one day at a time.

In the madness of the season, it’s a good idea to stop, take a look around and remember what is really important. We salute everybody who works harder and busts more tail this time of year. Thank you, thank you, thank you!