Wednesday, March 31, 2021

We have it in stock. Amazing.

WE ARE FINALLY getting stock delivered to Second String Music. Of course we've had a ton of stuff all come at once, but we aren't complaining. Poor Sheryl had to deal with a massive delivery while I was in lessons all morning Tuesday. But she is organized and enjoys rearranging things. It is a win for everyone.

We have the $200 Fender acoustics back on the floor. We also received Casio, Roland, Gretsch and Takamine orders. The Takamine acoustic guitars are beautiful as always, and we even have a super nice Pro 5 on the wall.

Sorry about the glare!

It's tough when people come in and you don't have what they are looking for. Of course, nobody else does either. You know it's bad when the web warriors who normally wouldn't darken our doors come in looking for stuff because the internet is out. Whatever it takes. 

Last week a man from Jacksonville came in and bought a nice Fender electric case for his Telecaster. He said he's been looking in Springfield, Peoria and even St. Louis, and nobody had one. And he was told when new stock came in the cases were going to be more expensive. So it was worth the drive to Quincy and Second String Music.

We are expecting more deliveries as supply chains slowly get better. You can always check our Facebook or this blog for updates. 

Swing by if you want to see what's new!

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Universal background checks are the minimum

 I DON'T OWN a gun. Never have. Hopefully never will. I know many people who own guns and enjoy shooting them, and I have no problem with gun owners.

Well, responsible gun owners.

The gun control debate rages around the country yet again after another shooting. My sister lives in Denver and it's a horrible thing to deal with, even if you aren't directly affected.

So let's put it bluntly and not sugar-coat it - what just happened in Boulder, Colorado, could very well happen in Quincy, Illinois.

Going to the grocery store is actually a pleasurable experience. We are fortunate to have stores like County Market and Hy-Vee. I go to the the Hy-Vee at 14th and Harrison at least twice a week. The people who work there are friendly and helpful. For a while, almost everybody wore a mask when shopping and the store was pretty strict about it. That's starting to wane as we get vaccinations and COVID fatigue, but that's another story for another day.

Imagine you are there doing your normal weekly shopping and you hear a gun go off. What will you do? How soon will it take to figure out who has the gun? Do you duck out the back? Do stores have plans in case of things like this?

Nah. It could never happen in our little sleepy river town. No way. 

A few years ago a young Quincy boy was shot to death while sitting on a front porch, the victim of mistaken identity. During the trial information came out about how easy it was to get a gun, to carry a gun, to shoot a gun. All here in our little river town. 

And if you think there aren't people walking around Quincy capable of going into a grocery store and randomly shooting people, you are living in a dream world.

This is oversimplifying things, but we need to wake up. NOW. Stop being political about "gun control." It's about common sense and keeping guns out of the hands of evil people. There are ways to do it so responsible gun owners are not harmed and nobody's Second Amendment rights get violated.

But what do I know? I'm not a gun owner, so my opinions don't count or matter. Sheryl on the other hand has been in the military, and also been subjected to gun violence. She has great anxiety about this issue from personal experience. Her opinion does count. (Spoiler: It's the same as mine.)

You have to have a federal background check in order to run a day care, be a teacher or substitute teacher, be a foster parent, hold any security clearance, be a police officer, work at a dispensary and many more reasons. It is so common place. Why can't it be like this for guns?

I pray we as a community don't have to go through a mass casualty shooting. I'm hopeful it won't happen. I'm not going to stop going to the grocery store. 

We need to do something, and something on the federal level now. Federal law would make gun control consistent from state to state.

Dismiss this as being sensational or emotionally-charged. But don't say we weren't warned if something terrible happens in Quincy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Twice convicted of murder, Clarence Starks is free

I REMEMBER CLARENCE Starks. He killed two people and spent most of his life in prison. The first person he killed was 3 years old. The second was a homeless man, and he stuffed him into a closet in an abandoned house. 

And now he's living three blocks from our business. 

I saw Clarence Starks in a courtroom several times when I was a reporter for The Herald-Whig. In court he had a dead stare I saw in only a few other diabolical people. He got sent to prison in 2007 and I wrote about him. But let's start at the beginning.

In 1985, Starks killed his 3 year old step-daughter. He did things to her before he killed her. He abused the little girl's mother. It was beyond cruel. The little girl had a sister who is now a friend of mine, and I cannot imagine what this was like for her.

This was about four years after the Alan Madden case that rocked Quincy and the entire country and led to a lot of legal reform. Yet there was little reaction in Quincy when Starks killed the girl. It was .... strange. 

Starks was sentenced to 40 years in prison. He served 22. You can look all this up on the Illinois Department of Corrections website. Back then, you could get day for day credit, even for a violent crime. Starks also served time in 1980 for battery and taking indecent liberties with a child.

In October 2007 I was in the newsroom when police scanner traffic indicated a chase on the north end of town. Seemed a man had stolen a pickup truck at Fifth and Hampshire and was fleeing from police. He was heading back into town, and on a hunch I headed to Clat Adams Park to see if police would catch him.

When I got there, an officer was pushing Starks into the back of a squad car. The stolen truck was on the railroad tracks on the north end of Clat Adams Park, where Starks crashed it trying to make the turn just past the Pier Restaurant. Starks pleaded guilty to several charges and started serving an eight-year sentence.

When Starks was booked into the Adams County Jail after crashing the truck, police noticed what appeared to be blood on his boots. Then information came out that Starks was a suspect in the murder of a homeless man in Quincy. The boots were still in evidence.

I remember the man Starks killed, John Kelley. He used to wander around Washington Park and I'd see him collecting cans for recycling. I went into the park and talked to some of the regulars to find out more. Seems there was an abandoned house less than a mile away at Sixth and Oak where homeless people stayed. There was a pecking order to the arrangement - you stayed in a certain area, you left before dawn and you didn't come back until it was dark. From what I remember there were actually titles given to certain people who made the rules and kept order in the abandoned house.

John Kelley supposedly ran afoul of the so-called rules and there was a confrontation with Starks. Kelley was strangled to death and stuffed into a basement closet, and his body wasn't found for a few weeks. A man doing work around the house noticed the smell, located the body and called police. What they found wasn't pretty, obviously. They had to cut the hands off the body, use water to pump up the skin on his fingers, and then get the fingerprints to finally identify him as Kelley.

Information developed that Starks was involved in the murder. Police remembered his boots, still in an evidence locker, and they were tested for DNA. The evidence led to Starks pleading guilty to second-degree murder, and he got a 22-year sentence.

Of course that sentence was served at the same time as the eight-year sentence. It was all part of the plea bargain deal. There was no way it could go to trial because of witness issues, and it was the best outcome at the time - forget about all the horrible things Starks did 20-plus years ago. Starks' court-appointed attorney called it a "fair" outcome. It was two homeless guys, and most of Quincy shrugged.

On Monday, the Quincy Police Department issued a press release about Starks. He's been released from prison. It gave his address, the hotel at 200 Maine Street. 

This is not right. How can this awful excuse for a human being be out? He should have never been released from the 1985 murder, let alone another homicide. It's a frustrating example of the numerous cracks in our criminal justice system. 

Take a good look at his photo. And stay away from him. Men like Starks, and I use the word "men" loosely, usually dig their own graves. He'll get into trouble again. 

I just hope it isn't for another murder.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Greg Ellery - Q Town legend!

 IT'S ALWAYS GREAT to see our friend Greg Ellery pop by Second String Music. Greg is from Quincy and has been living in California for a few years. Now he's moving to New York City and pursing some promising acting gigs. 

Greg and I have "acted" before. The picture on the right shows us reenacting the infamous "International Dropping Guitars Off The Roof Of Second String Music contest" a few years back. The video is linked. It never gets old. In the immortal words of Sam Middendorf, "NEEEEEVVVVEEEER."

I also unearthed some videos we did in the Calftown backyard a decade ago. You can type in Funions Follies on YouTube to find them. I think Greg is a genius. Life around here isn't quite the same without him. 

Good luck in New York City, G-Dawg. And I'm glad you can swing by your old stomping grounds once in a while or between life adventures. Go get em in the Big Apple!

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Summer schedule looks promising

 ARE WE REALLY turning the corner? Are we really winning the Covid-19 battle? 

I'd like to think so. Sheryl and I are both vaccinated. Cases are down in our county and we lead the state in percentage of people vaccinated. Cori and I (HartLyss) have shows scheduled, and so do the Cheeseburgers this summer.

Yet we need to be vigilant and not relax. We are still requiring masks in the store, washing our hands and trying to be socially distant. 

In Quincy there are summer events being scheduled, and it gives us hope. The first is our Gus Macker tournament Memorial Day Weekend. If it happens, it will be the first really major event in town since we shut down a year ago. I'm sure there will be precautions and attempts to be as safe as possible.

We have scheduled our noon shows in the First Mid-Illinois Bank Plaza at Seventh and Maine. We'll have live music the last Friday in April and the first three Fridays in May, weather permitting.

What is the new normal?

Q-Fest is scheduled for the last weekend in June. And just announced was the return of Blues In The District, on the second and fourth Fridays in June, July and August.

Blues will be a real bell-weather event for Quincy. You do have to wonder how safe it will be with several thousand people in Washington Park - will masks be required, and can you enforce that rule? Maybe, and no. Of course we have the best spot to watch and hang out on the sidewalk, something I've sorely missed the past year.

I'm all for being safe and not letting the guard down. But we do have to move forward and do our best to return to normal, whatever normal means.

At least it looks like normal is returning this summer, and we couldn't be more ready.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Farewell to family in the times of COVID

HENK HART DIED in Toronto Monday. He was 85. He was my father's oldest brother, the eldest of seven siblings, a Dutch immigrant and philosopher. Certainly he was the quirky Uncle Henk Hart. I have found out much about him in recent months, and he was a larger than life figure in many ways.

Henk and Sophie
He had health issues in his last years. He knew he was dying, and predicted when he'd die, and he was close about that prediction. Henk's wife, Anita, passed a few years ago, and Henk's daughter, Esther, also died of cancer more than a decade ago. He is survived by his son Klaas (Anita) and two daughters, as well as Esther's daughter Sophie.

Uncle Henk lived life. He threw rocks at German soldiers in the Netherlands during World War II. He immigrated to Canada as a teen. He became a well-known writer, educator and philosopher in Toronto. He liked to travel and he was an avid birder. He was also a champion of the LGBTQ community being a part of his church, a controversial belief that strained friendships. This is putting it way too simply, but Henk thought the church should be accepting. He was way ahead of his time.

One of my fondest memories is when he and his siblings gathered at my Uncle Peter's house in Michigan 20 years ago for a family reunion. In the afternoon somebody broke out a concoction called "Opa's Gin" and the stories really started to flow. Henk was the ringleader and the laughter bounced across the Lake Michigan dunes and through the trees. He sat on the deck overlooking the big lake and beach, a big smile on his face and his binoculars handy in case a rare bird was sitting in a nearby tree.

In December, with the end in sight, a Zoom session was organized for family and friends. Henk looked well and delighted in seeing old friends, even if it was on video. In these soul-draining Covid times, Henk used the Zoom session as his funeral and farewell, and it fit his quirky nature. But if you think about it, if you know you are dying, why not have a virtual funeral and farewell while you are alive? You can't enjoy it and find peace when you are dead.

A few weeks ago Henk's sister, my Aunt Willa, lost her longtime companion, Ron. He was a few weeks shy of 80. He'd also battled health issues for a long time, and his death was expected, but no less painful. We didn't get to zoom with him before he died and are grieving alone because of COVID.

Klaas, Rodney, and Ron
He was also a wonderfully different man who loved to play guitar and tell stories. I spent an afternoon on a Georgian Bay island beach playing guitar with him a few years back and it was one of the best times I've ever had playing music. Fortunately we didn't let the songs get in the way of laughing and being goofballs.

Both of these deaths have hit us hard. It has been a difficult year of isolation. Covid takes away from life, and end of life, yet again.

Henk and Ron are undoubtedly in a better place. It doesn't make it easier. The fact we can't gather to remember makes it worse. 

Farewell, Uncle Henk. You were one of a kind. You will be missed. It was a life well-lived. 

Farewell, Ron Marshak. You were a great guy, fun and talented. You will be remembered and missed.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Wind and trash

IT'S WARMING UP and blustery in downtown Quincy. That means Angus is miserable, and the trash is blowing around through the wind tunnel known as Maine Street between Fifth and Sixth.

Angus doesn't like it when weather approaches or when the Second String Music door opens by itself because of the wind. I couldn't find him this morning after he got to the store, and I finally located him in the back room bathroom, shaking and panting like mad. Sheryl took him home, where he'll sleep the rest of the day and be much happier ignoring the cats.

Perhaps because of the tall buildings at Fifth and Maine, the wind tends to really whack our little corner of paradise. We won't talk about how many windows we've replaced in our five-story building (probably 80 percent of them) and how it sounds like a freight train at times.

It also tends to displace debris and trash. You know I have issues with trash downtown, and right now there's lots of grocery bags, plastic cups, cigarette boxes and just junk all over the place. I walked around the block and it's always disheartening to see how people just don't care and throw their crap in the street. Washington Park looked particularly bad, but again it's probably because a lot of stuff is just blowing around.

Last night Sheryl took a bag and cleaned trash off Maine, 5th and in Schuecking's parking lot. She normally just takes the blower out and clears off the debris on the sidewalk but last night the trash was overtaking our little part of town.

This is a great idea from the Quincy Brewing Company - a cleanup event downtown on April 24. The District has sponsored various events to make things  cleaner down here, and any effort is appreciated.

We will keep doing our part, encouraging others to pickup and praying the wind dies down someday.  Keep it clean, people!

Monday, March 8, 2021

Back at QU Stadium

I DID SOMETHING Sunday afternoon I haven't done in years - I went to a Quincy University baseball game.

My buddy Bob Youngs is a coach for the Davenport University baseball team. Davenport is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, my old stomping grounds. Bob, nicknamed Bones, works for Gus Macker in the summers and we've survived a few tournaments together over the years. Well, maybe more than a few. 

Davenport was in town for a four-game series against Quincy University. So I sat in the sun, met up with some old friends I haven't seen in a while, and really enjoyed the day. I think QU won 12-11, and it's early in the season, but it didn't matter. If it's the first weekend in March and you can watch baseball and not be cold, it's all good.

I'm not much of a baseball fan. I was a big fan growing up, first with the Montreal Expos, then with the Toronto Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers. But when the MLB season was canceled in 1993, I vowed to never pay to watch a Major League Baseball game again. And I haven't.

Big league baseball is all about one thing - money. You can have your Cardinal Nation and root for the home team all you want. All I see is a bunch of greedy men playing a child's game for greedy owners and greedy TV outlets.

That's what was nice about Sunday - these are college athletes. It's the sport in its purest form. And it was beautiful to watch. Hearing the ball smack into the glove, hearing the chatter from the dugouts, and even the metal ding of bat meeting ball brought back a lot of good memories.

Attendance was limited and there are Covid restrictions in place. You can sit virtually anywhere in QU Stadium and not be near anybody. And the stadium itself is not the same decrepit facility of 25 years ago. The University and Quincy Gems of the summer league have done an amazing job of fixing it up, though it still has an old-time stadium feel.

Hopefully there are a few more sunny Sunday afternoons when the Hawks are playing. Count me in on a return visit.