Playlists: Part One

I recently subscribed to the YouTube Music streaming app, and have been making playlists. There are now many music apps to choose from. I was using Tidal and before that Spotify. To the neophyte, they’re all pretty much the same, click and listen. But for messing around, collecting music, forming playlists, using the app as a reference and research tool, YouTube Music seems to be working well, with one major caveat: lack of performer credits and original recording info easily obtainable while listening – but in that regard, neither Spotify nor Tidal were much better (Prime Music has some info, but lacks detail amid glitzy formatting, while YouTube Music has imported some Wiki discussion). The YouTube Music library is huge, and the search engine responds intuitively, bringing up at least as often as not what I’m looking for, and when not, the discoveries are a pleasure.

I created a YouTube channel to post my playlists. The playlists I’m making are referenced to songs pulled from my music book collection: songs and pieces from readings from books on music, with a special emphasis on guitar.

The first two playlists I made contain pieces adapted from Jerry Silverman instruction manuals, books I’ve managed to keep around me over the years: The Folksinger’s Guitar Guide: An Instruction Manual by Jerry Silverman, Based on the Folkways Record by Pete Seeger (an Oak Publication, New York, 1962), and The Art of the Folk-Blues Guitar: An Instruction Manual by Jerry Silverman (Oak Publications, New York, 1964, Library of Congress # 64-18168). These two books are similar in format, the old black and white pictures alone worth the price of admission, and include notes, tablature, chord diagrams, lyrics, musical analysis, and historical discussion.

In his introduction to his Folk-Blues guitar book, Silverman outlines his predicament at the time: “… there is more information on blues in general in the New York Public Library, for example, in German and French than there is in English!” (11). And Silverman goes on to describe the problem, how, for example, working on his 1955 New York University Master’s Thesis on blues guitar, and his book “Folk Blues” that followed, discussion was limited to piano arrangements, since it was thought that “bona fide guitar arrangements would limit the book’s general usefullness.” This should come as no surprise – Julian Bream, the classical guitarist, when studying music at the Royal College of Music, in the early 1950’s, was told to leave his guitar at home, literally. The school had no guitar classes, no guitar program; the guitar was not considered a viable, virtuous instrument. There was no academically established canon of guitar music available for study or performance. This prejudice against the instrument, in spite of its obvious public popularity, was no doubt also pervasive and included in the States in attitudes opposed to black music, initially of rock and roll music, and of folk music in general, though what is now called the American folk music revival, lasting from the 30’s to the 60’s, did much to mainstream the popularity of the guitar and of blues and folk music.

Silverman also describes his purpose as follows: “Naturally, some basis of what to listen and watch for and whom to imitate must be laid. Throwing the fledgling bluesnik into the turbulent waters of Bluesville without the necessary basic information and technique would render a distinct disservice to the general cause – not to mention the specific aspirant” (11). Of course whole rivers of water have passed under cities of bridges since Silverman’s early 1960’s comments. But the following statement explains something that has not changed: “To get to know how things really are done you must actually observe the player in action. Since there are so many individual styles one never stops learning if one can get to see as well as hear as many guitarists as possible” (Folksinger’s Guitar Guide, p. 5).

The academic bias against the folk guitar may have been somewhat justified considering Woody Guthrie’s description of his method (quoted by Silverman in Folksinger’s Guitar Guide, p. 6): “Leadbelly learnt to play the guitar the same way I did, by ‘ear’, by ‘touch’ by ‘feel’, by ‘bluff’, by ‘guessin”, by ‘fakin’ and by a great crave and drive to keep on playing.”

Well, these were real folks, with real blues. Hearing the lyrics, the stories, of these old tunes one may be surprised to learn or be reminded of how real and how blue. In creating my playlists, I want to stay true to original material but also to benefit from new styles and covers of these old songs.

Give them a listen:

Songlist adapted from Jerry Silverman’s The Art of the Folk-Blues Guitar, 1964
Songlist adapted from Jerry Silverman’s The Folksinger’s Guitar Guide, 1962

Notes on Hearing Loss

A house down around the block is getting a new roof, hammers echoing like giant flickers. Since the big virus outbreak the neighborhood seems quieter, fewer cars speeding up the bumpless street, the park above closed to the outdoor concerts, though a few bicycle races and random music groups have come and gone. We frequently hear music though, through the trees, over the roofs, through the backyard fences, but can’t always be sure of where the sound is coming from. No fireworks this year. Not a single yard sale. But some noise seems louder, the trash trucks on their weekly binge, the mailman at the mailbox, the yapping yellow dog behind and a yard over, skateboards, our tinnitus.

A loss of sound seems paradoxically to quicken our sense of hearing. That is dynamics, change in pressure and temperature, frequency and consistency. Some sounds we don’t hear until they go silent. Sound can baffle, bounce around dancingly. If you’re uncertain where a sound, particularly a voice, is coming from, the disorienting distraction bewilders. Just because you don’t hear a sound doesn’t mean you can’t feel it, its pressure in your ears, resounding around your head. Likewise, you might hear voices, but the words lack clarity, and you can’t make out what’s being said.

Some sounds are tight, other loose fitting. A flash flood of sound leaves a wake of mud. The beginning of rain drips into the ears, like its relative petrichor, that newly wet earthy scent in the nose, a slow awakening to something that’s been asleep for a long time and is now looking for a new bed to spend the night, one of your ears unfolding asymmetrically.

All Good Music

I was reading through the Wiki entry for Frank Zappa, can’t remember why, and came across this quote from his autobiography, “The Real Frank Zappa Book”:

Since I didn’t have any kind of formal training, it didn’t make any difference to me if I was listening to Lightnin’ Slim, or a vocal group called the Jewels …, or Webern, or Varèse, or Stravinsky. To me it was all good music.

— Frank Zappa, 1989[1]: 34 

Zappa, Frank; Occhiogrosso, Peter (1989). Real Frank Zappa Book. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-70572-5.

The title of the Zappa book might contain a reference to the musical fake and real books, collections of a kind of shorthand lead sheets used by players as sketch or blueprints to cover pieces. These music books usually fit any song on one page, and show melody notes and chord symbols. The original fake/real books differed from songbooks in that they did not include lyrics and were mostly used by jazz players who only needed guidelines, not strict written scores that might have gone on for pages and still only approximated what one had heard or wanted to hear.

The many versions of fake and real books published over the years complicates a description; suffice to say they provide a recipe for the song, but the musician still needs to do the mixing and cooking. They don’t work like player pianos. That reading above of the title is layered below the obvious one, that so much had been said and written about Frank that he decided to sort the wheat from the chaff and clarify what the real Frank Zappa was all about. I’ve not read it, but I’ve put a copy on hold.

Meantime, what about the part of that quote that says, “all good music.” What is good? What is music?

Fake and Real Books

Jazz on a Summer’s Day

Jazz on a summer’s day
sleepy jazz on a rainy evening
jazz on the night of a full blue moon.
Jazz on a transistor radio in the next room.

Jazz in a whiteout blizzard
jazz on a foggy morning in the surf
jazz on a summer’s day
jazz when the falling leaves fall.

Jazz in a coffee house with wifi
jazz in a clean well-lighted place
jazz high up in the trees
jazz on a yacht in the tranquil bay.

Jazz trio at the wine bar
jazz aboard a tugboat
on the Mississippi jazz live at five
jazz out a picture window.

Jazz on a crosstown bus
jazz at a sock hop
jazz in the cold grotto
jazz in an empty church.

Jazz from a food cart
jazz in a classroom
jazz in Healdsburg
jazz in Drytown.

Jazz in a confessional
jazz working on the railroad
jazz in a sweatshirt
jazz in jail.

Jazz it kind of got away from you
jazz on steamboats fixing everything
jazz at The Coming of the Toads
jazz in and jazz out of a blue collar.

Jazz on a jukebox
jazz at Terre Rouge
jazz in a red convertible
jazz on a Martian moon.

Jazz in the slow lane
jazzy walk around the block
jazz down on Stark Street
jazz at low tide.

Jazz rumbles across the trestle
jazz if you go out in the woods today
jazz between Scylla and Charybdis
jazz on the air.

Jazz in Seattle in a coal car
jazz at a concert in the park caldera
jazz in the near light like a candle
jazz in the faraway dark quiet.

Jazz alone and jazz together
jazz out there and jazz in here
just jazz at a rent party cleaning
up after they’ve all gone home.

Jazz about this and jazz about that
jazz when flat and jazz while sharp
streaming jazz in a steamy heat
jazz on a fine summer’s day.

Universe as a Looper

Having recently acquired a Roland Boss RC-1 Loop Station Looper Pedal, and after several faulty attempts to quickly master the electronic musical gadget, and with the Mars Rover Perseverance and related NASA coverage in the news, and having just come off a few posts with the theme of home, I’ve begun thinking of the universe as a looper.

To begin in the middle of this current loop of thought – I read with interest an opinion piece from The Atlantic, “Mars is a Hellhole: Colonizing the red planet is a ridiculous way to help humanity” (Shannon Stirone, 26 Feb 2021). It’s a guns versus butter model argument. Says Stirone, taking the Earthbound wealthy would be Mars colonizer Elon Musk to task: “Musk has used the medium of dreaming and exploration to wrap up a package of entitlement, greed, and ego. He has no longing for scientific discovery, no desire to understand what makes Earth so different from Mars, how we all fit together and relate. Musk is no explorer; he is a flag planter.”

A counter argument might suggest that Musk’s enterprise is not quite the United Fruit Company, nor is he spending money on Mars, but here at homebase Earth, creating at least some jobs, presumably, and advancing knowledge in the general and random way that can lead to discoveries that tangentially do help Earth, however speculative or foolhardy they may seem at the outset. At the same time, at least part of the wealth created goes toward philanthropic efforts.

In any case, surely the universe will continue its looping design with or without Musk, with or without Earth, for that matter.

The looper pedal is used to lay down a series of recorded notes or chords (or electronic noises or sounds) that then play back while being added to, overdubbed, with additional series of notes or chords which in turn loop back around – in the RC-1, for up to 12 minutes before relooping. The key is the overdubbing and the circular motion. There is a beginning and an end to the loop, but no end, theoretically, to the looping phase, each one of which has a bearing on all the rest, and no end, again theoretically, to the overdubbing, each dub contributing to a new whole.

I’m now in the process of creating a musical composition using the looper. It will be a fugue that begins with a big bang and expands with overdubbing and recapitulations for the entire 12 minutes available to approximate a musical cosmological model of the universe. I’ll use 12 loops within the loop, ending by then recording the finished now finite whole loop using the Garage Band app on my laptop, and erasing the original from the looper station to free it up for more creations.

I do wonder how this fugue I’ve planned will help humanity, or will aid in space exploration or the colonization of Mars. It seems certain it won’t. But the universe will not be able to ignore it. My fugue will be part of the big looper and its seemingly even greater indifference.

False Start

Darts – birds hitting their marks. Feathers painted in plastic. Flickers, scrub-jays. Black gloss enameled crows. Black capped chickadees. Bushtits. The sorrowful hot guitar trill of a song sparrow. They voice the old songs, their beaks cracked, worn plectrums. A few sit still on a telephone wire while another takes a solo. To-wit. To-hoo. Clack, clack, clack.

Salsa Party on the Moon

In the news, water discovered on Earth’s moon: Not so much water apparently though that NASA will start shaping surfboards for its astronauts; nor is discovered quite right – confirmed or proven more precise. Meantime, of course, what with someone always turning up the global warming thermostat in the house, we’ll soon be wanting to bring some of that moon water down to Earth. And where there’s water, there could be also be tomatoes. And where there’s tomatoes, there could also be salsa. Now, a salsa party on the moon – countdown! And where there’s water, there’s sound, so the previously assumed to be silent moon, if you put your ear to the crater, just might produce some good vibes after all; and what’s a salsa party without music?

You Can’t Go Home Again

Sylvie. 30 Day Letter. Termination. Goodbye, Seattle. Country Blues Song.

You can’t go home again. Neither should I have stayed on another week at Hotel Julian. The subdued rhythm of my pastoral turned boisterous with the arrival of the fleet, and my absence in Seattle and now my prolonged and somewhat mysterious trip south caught up with me, testing Walter’s patience, and as he was wont to do at any sign of disloyalty among those with a seat at his table, he terminated me. There was of course more to it than that. The Walter Team was disestablished. It would be near impossible to disambiguate the transactions. In any case, I was no longer Risk Manager to the gods. Sylvie said Walter had sent me a 30 day letter. I could transfer to a desk in Morocco or take my leave, but the 30 days had already expired, and I had been cut loose with a modest severance bonus. Sylvie was on her way to spring training with her Single A team in Costa Rica. She had leased the Queen Anne house to some moonshiners out of the hills somewhere in east Skagit who planned to set up a microbrew. She had taken the liberty of putting my severance into a fund of fund of funds with no guaranteed rate of return but with a reputable track record. While I would not yet have to give up my weekly room status for a berth in the bunkroom, I would have to scout around for some part time work. I would not go back to Seattle though. I would take my risks elsewhere and in due time. Come Thursday night of my second week on board I climbed the Hotel Julian fire escape up to the rooftop bar and grill where I drank a slow beer and listened to Jack Tar and the Flower Girl with the Weathered Weary Blues Band messing around with some country blues with players on guitar, banjo, harmonica, a snare drum with a single cymbal, a Flatiron mandolin, and a stand up bass. Flower Girl nearly keeled me over with this song:

“Back Home Again”

What I know about love, I wrote on a postage stamp,
and mailed myself half way up to the moon.
I’m in stardust singing – I do, I do, adieu.
I’m out on the road, and I can’t go home again.

I was born in the back of a beach bum shack,
again and again, then I sailed the seven seas.
I never made it back home again.
Adieu, adieu. You can’t go home again.

She was born in a coral of a rodeo,
off a road they call Route 66.
Between the cowboy and the clown she broke free.
Goodbye, goodbye. She won’t be back again.

The moral of this story, the point of this tale,
if you ever leave home, you can’t go back again,
because you won’t be there when you arrive.
Goodbye, my love, goodbye my love, goodbye.

And it’s home again, I want to come back to you,
see all my family and all my old friends too,
but it’s true what they say, you can’t go home again.
Goodbye, my love, goodbye my love, adieu.

Note: Hear “Back Home Again” played on the guitar
here: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CEAoxkhIXgq/

“You Can’t Go Home Again”
is episode 23 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)

Pretty, vacant, and we don’t care

Watch the stars as they collide
Erase the dots in your eyes

What do the lyrics say we can’t hear
The singer and the song disappear

Pretty vacant and we don’t care
Pretty vacant and we don’t care

What’s your name the color of your hair
Saw you down at the LA fair

Have so much no need to share
Look at us oh what a pair

Pretty vacant and we don’t care
Pretty vacant and we don’t care

“Pretty, vacant, and we don’t care”
was part of an originals set played on
Live at 5 from the Portland Joe Zone last night,
and included:
Bury My Heart in the Muddy Mississippi
If You’ll Be My Love
Two Riders Were Approaching
Goodbye, Joe
She Shakes Me Out

Virtually Nowhere

Writing for the New York Times Sunday edition for June 28, California veteran-reporter Shawn Hubler, reporting from Davis, California, on the ghost town effect Covid-19 is bringing to college towns across the country, and wandering around the abandoned town UC Davis keeps flush, notes, apparently sans irony: “Outside the closed theater, a lone busker stood on a corner playing ‘Swan Lake’ on a violin to virtually no one.” I know the feeling.

Meanwhile, musicians across the globe are turning to virtual possibilities to keep their chops up in front of a live audience. Amateurs too are getting into the act, as evidenced by the creation of the “Live at 5 from the Joe Zone” shows, nearly nightly live broadcasts (5 pm PST) via Instagram “stories” and “IGTV” posts, featuring myself, a nephew, and three brothers, to wit: “The Joe Zone nightly Live at 5 with Joe@ketch3m@johnlinker@charleslinker@kevin_linker: Portland, Salem, Healdsburg, Ione, Drytown.” Listeners tune in to hear music and stories while watching the player, and comment live, often talking, virtually, to one another, via their online comments.

The shows last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. These are not group performances. If we could figure out how to do that virtually, we might give it a go, but for now, each of us takes a night in our respective hometown pandemic quarantine digs and creates a solo show for the live entertainment of our loyal followers. The other night, I had 5 listeners in my audience (go ahead: irony, satire, and sarcastic comments all accepted with good grace). There were, at one point, 6 listeners, but one apparently came and went. It happens. But that was also a slow night. I’ve had as many as 14 live listeners, at once. Ok, ok, still not exactly Arena Rock. And, but, in any case, that’s not the point.

If one saves the live show via IGTV, most followers eventually find it, but at which point it’s a kind of rerun. The key is to catch it live. But of course 5 in the evening is not necessarily the best time-fit for any given listener. I’ve not saved my shows beyond a few hours, if at all. I caught grief last week for an immediate delete, since Susan thought it was my best show yet, but the rerun dilutes the live effects. And the show is intended as a real quarantine activity, a virtual get-together, a virtual hoedown or hootenanny.

Of course, all towns are potential ghost towns (there appears to be a gene for it they are born with), and all performances are played potentially “for virtually no one.” Still, Davis is but a rock’s throw from the much larger Sacramento (about a 20 minute drive) and just over an hour to the Bay. Not to mention it’s a major Amtrak stop for the north-south Starlight Special. In many other small college towns across the country you can already hear the whistle’s last blow and watch the tumbleweeds filling the streets.