Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Lights up, lights off

WE WISH YOU a very happy new year and nothing but perfect pitch as we roll into a new decade. Cori and I (HartLyss) will have a blast tonight at Revelry to usher in the new year, and the store will be closed tomorrow to celebrate college football comas and more Netflix binge-watching.

We took down the tree inside Second String Music this morning and packed all the Christmas stuff. Sheryl came up with a great idea to just leave the lights strung up near the ceiling. Initially, I resisted because nothing says Christmas is coming like struggling to hang lights while dangling above expensive guitars and fixtures. Besides, I get all the cuss words out of the way early so there is peace on earth the rest of the season.

I was standing outside this morning to wish our neighbor, Jeff Schuecking, a happy new year. When I mentioned the lights, he said, "Let's go in a take a look."

I unplugged the lights. "Perfect," Jeff said. "And when you have beer thirty you can turn 'em back on and really have some fun."

Jeff Schuecking is a genius. He is hereby nominated and approved to become a Second String Music Hall of Famer. He doesn't realize yet that he has to bring the beer to the next Happy Hour(s) as his initiation, but I'll break it to him gently.

So the lights will stay up but off. Happy Hour will be even better. And there will be a lot less cursing next year when the Christmas stuff gets put back up.

Monday, December 30, 2019

The Bat Cave

WE ARE RENAMING the 505 Maine Recording Studio the Bat Cave.

Last week, the little guy landed above the door and right by the 505 Maine number. He just hung there. Isaac Smith, studio owner, noticed him and his wife, Brittany, took a picture and declared him "kinda cute." Bats and cute aren't necessarily what we think of, but he wasn't bothering anybody and you had to look closely to see him, so we left him alone.

He hadn't moved for a day or two so I took a closer look. Isaac and I both thought the bat was dead. Brittany poked at it and said it "felt warm and alive." Sheryl thinks it was just sleeping. I checked this morning and the bat is gone, so maybe he was just taking a little nap and has found a warmer place to sleep.

We've been fortunate there haven't been issues with bats, as they like old buildings. We noticed a bunch of them across the street a few years back, and then there was the epic encounter during a Blues In The District show inside the store. There was a lot of whacking and lunging involved in trying to get the bat, and the fact we'd been on the sidewalk all afternoon didn't help matters. Emily's friend Carly finally nabbed it with a towel and set it free in Jeff Schuecking's parking lot.

So Happy New Year to the bat, and to all of you as well. And just like the bat, feel free to hang out at Fifth and Maine!

Monday, December 23, 2019

We didn't work Sunday

ON SATURDAY, SHERYL put up a poll on our Second String Music Facebook page - should we be open Sunday or take the day off?

Business has been exceptional this Christmas season. Saturday was particularly crazy, but crazy in a positive way. We normally close at 4 p.m., but at 5 we were still open and still going strong. It's all good. By the end of business, the poll indicated we should stay home as usual on Sunday.

So it was a good day. And we needed Sunday off. As you can see in the photo, Josie and Malcolm were exhausted from the busy day Saturday and needed time off, too.

I had way too much fun Saturday night with HartLyss at Revelry, as usual. I made it to church Sunday morning and went into immediate rock and roll recovery the rest of the day. We even managed to see the new Star Wars movie and fire up the grill, since it's more like March around here than late December. Won't be a White Christmas, as usual, in the Q-Town.

We are ready for the final push. We close early tomorrow and take Christmas day off, and are back for regular hours the rest of the week.

So have yourself a Merry Big Christmas, Peace On Earth, Joy To The World, all that stuff. Chances are the Harts (including dogs and cats) will be napping hard on Christmas day. What else is new!

Friday, December 20, 2019

Mega churches and failed humans

I DON'T GET into a lot of religious discussions on social media. One, I'm not changing anybody's mind, and two, I've developed much more of a world view in recent years.

I'm not a big church guy. I grew up in it, was immersed in it, and my father was a pastor. Certainly there were pros and cons, but I strayed in my college years, got back into it when I was married and had a family and was "responsible," then left again when life got in the way.

I'm into praise and worship, but not board meetings and church mission statements.

I am not a mega-church guy. I understand the lure and value of places like Mars Hill and Willow Creek, and I've had powerful worship experiences in those churches. But for every Rob Bell there are unintentionally comical pastors and church leaders. If I want to be humored and horrified at the same time, the TV rabbit ears pick up three local Christian channels.

The Joel Osteens and Benny Hinns of the world prey on the weakness of human nature, and care only about the pocketbooks and bottom lines. The so-called "Prosperity Gospel" is truly one of the most evil things to emerge in modern Christianity. It's just not what a church should be. But what exactly should the church be, anyway?

I'm not wise enough or versed in theology to know.

My friend Devin Cashman wrote a blog yesterday about a tough issue at one of Quincy's mega churches, The Crossing. He defends his friend who got fired. This is an excellent piece about the modern-day church and how it is run today. It's a story that needs to be told.

I'm torn because there are some amazing people at The Crossing, including Jim Dennis. His story is one of grace and redemption and he truly cares about people, especially the less fortunate of this world. He walks the walk. I know lots of people who attend The Crossing and Madison Park and have had life-changing experiences. God bless them, literally.

So I don't cast stones. Remove the log from your own eyes before you point out the speck in your brother's eyes. And in the end, we are all human and fail, even with the best intentions.

Maybe that's what a church should be all about.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Merry socks Christmas

I'VE ALREADY GOT my Christmas present - socks. Size 14, in both white and black. You know how hard it is to get size 14 socks in the Q-Town? Nobody seems to have them. Sheryl found them somewhere. She even had me turn each pair inside out so she could wash them before I wear them.

I think she felt sorry for me. Or maybe she was so stunned when she saw me actually throw away socks the other day - she had the immediate impulse reaction of buying new ones.

If getting older means becoming more practical, well, so be it. There are some nice Gretsch guitars in the store I'd love to have, but I already own 49 percent of them. Need Versus Want really gets tested this time of the year ....

I'm thinking of Christmases past, when I really wanted a new GI Joe or a boom box or the new U2 album. I was never disappointed at Christmas, and my parents did a masterful job of getting stuff for five kids, even on a tight budget. It was never about presents, but I do remember staring at stuff under the tree for a week or so before Christmas Eve, when we'd open gifts.

I've got a few silly ideas for Sheryl and for Emily, and I like giving stuff at Christmas. We also have the legendary White Elephant gift exchange at the John and Nancy Frank Christmas night event. Whatever happened to that pizza night light, anyway?

So socks it is, and I'm a happy man. BTW, Sheryl says they are NOT gifts and that is not how gift-giving works in her family!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

March all you want

DON'T TALK POLITICS in my store. I don't want to hear it. You can support whoever you want. It has nothing to do with buying a guitar. We are a business and I get along with all kinds of people. Believe what you want, just as long as it isn't racist or hate-based.

A few months ago we had a long-time customer try to bait Sheryl into a debate. This customer had extremely racist and bigoted views. Sheryl politely told the customer, "If we are going to be friends when you leave my store, we will not be able to continue this conversation." She chose to leave and has not been back. We are disappointed that she hates immigrants, seeing as her daughter-in-law is an immigrant, but try to understand she may have some reason for this unseemly opinion.

Last night there was a march in Washington Park supporting impeachment of the president. About 100 people braved the cold conditions. They met by the Lincoln Douglas monument. They headed to the west side of the square, where a group of people supporting the president and his hopeful re-election were gathered. The pro-impeachment marchers simply turned around and went the other way, then went up to City Hall.

We have the right to protest. To everybody who was out there last night, on both sides, good for you.

To the person who "infiltrated" one of the groups and spread a bunch of lies and their photos on a social media page, well, see ya, because the unfriend and block buttons are easy to use. Facebook has standards too and seems to have removed the content (according to Sheryl).

Protect our Constitution, support our elected officials, use common sense about the future of our nation and love the unloveable if possible. One of our favorite things about having a  music store is that we get to have jam sessions and love that people from such diverse backgrounds can come together and make music together. No politics, no debates, just good old fashioned fun. Let's keep music alive and well in Quincy, shop local and have a Happy Holiday season.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Mystery of the missing capos, picks, batteries and guitar students

EVERY YEAR AT this time I clean my lesson room in the back of Second String Music. It's amazing what you find behind bookshelves and tables.

This year I found my missing green Kyser capo, three other capos presumably once owned by the girls from Avenue Beat, seven guitar picks, a package of AA batteries, an old wine bottle guitar slide given to me by the late and legendary Lew Portnoy, and two guitar students who didn't show up for lessons after a month. They were remarkably well preserved.

This is a good time of year to rearrange stuff and get a fresh look. I removed everything from the room, vacuumed and dusted, and put it all back. The only thing left is to go through a huge pile of papers with various lesson plans and drills, plus songs and lyrics and directions to Gus Macker tournaments.

Clean out your room if you have time this Christmas. It's a great way to start fresh with the new year looming. And, if you are a guitar player, you can never have enough picks or capos. They'll just disappear again soon anyway.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Same old snow story

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a story about snow. It is the property of the author and cannot be used without permission. Wait. It's been used many times already. Disregard, use at will. It's better than going out there yourself.

By Rodney Hart
Used To Be A Journalist
QUINCY - It snowed last night. Not very much. It seemed like a lot. Weather guys say it was up to 7 inches. It was actually about 2.

Photo by Mike Sorenson/Bad Wolf Media
People crashed their cars into other cars and into other immovable objects, even though they were warned to stay off the slick roads. People also bitched and moaned about the city not getting out to salt and plow the roads. It isn't true, but people like to bitch. Just read the comments about this story.

Central Services Director Jeff Mays said it was snowing and people should be careful. So did Quincy Police Deputy Chief Adam Yates. So did Quincy Fire Chief Joe Henning. So did whoever is now in charge of the Adams County emergency stuff. So did Adams County Assistant State's Attorney Josh Jones, who has absolutely nothing to do with the weather but was called by the media for a comment. "I've already been to Home Depot five times today and it sucks out there. Stay home," Jones said.

The HyVee at 12th and Harrison was a madhouse at about noon Sunday. "They are getting bread and milk," a manager said. "And salt. But we are out. They should just stay home."

"It is slippery out there," a customer said. "Who knew? The next thing you are going to tell me is to slow down and be careful out there."

"Slow down and be careful out there," said an Illinois State Police trooper who was stopping vehicles left and right at Fourth and Maine. "There is snow on the road."

KHQA weather guy Rich Cain said it snowed, then stopped. And it will melt, soon. "If it gets above 30 degrees, stuff starts to melt. Also, it will rain on Christmas Day," Cain said. "Also my daughter, Audra, is strumming Christmas carols on her awesome guitar she bought from Second String Music and it's quite pretty at 18th and Maine right now, and please stop bothering me. Because it might snow again."

If it does, be careful out there and stay home. Also, the co-owner of Second String Music at Fifth and Maine reports his sidewalks are clear and the store is open for business.

"Ouch," he said. "My back. Where are my pain pills? Come in and buy stuff. The end."

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!

Monday, December 2, 2019

Not watching the big game

THE MORAL OF this story is to never watch your Michigan Wolverines get pummeled in the annual rivalry game with that school to the south. You'll just break your TV.

We had a huge Friday in the store after Thanksgiving. Saturday morning we were expecting more of the same. So I brought my nice TV to the store with the hopes of watching the big game. It started at 11 and I figured I could sneak a few minutes here and there catching some of the action.

When I plugged it in, there was a large split going down the middle of the screen, and it never powered up properly. Not sure how I managed to break it, but I did.

So I didn't watch, and as it turns out, it was a good thing. We were busy in the store and before I knew it the game was over and the other team won. By a lot. BLEEP.

Saturday night we had to run some errands and we ended up getting a new TV, plus one for the store. So there's little chance I can break either one, though anything is possible.

Take solitude in the little things, like getting a new TV and the fact we don't live in that state that starts with an O.