People Are Strange

People are strange.

And wrong.

A SiriusXM channel is once again the target of my ire. Or, in this case, I should say that the listeners of 60s on 6 are at fault.

I missed it late last year when they ran a poll to collect the “top 600 songs of the 1960s” and I also missed the playthrough of the entire list. But no matter. They re-ran it this past weekend, and as you may have gathered, I have bones to pick.

I realize that with any venture of this sort, inequities are inevitable, but really, this one is so flawed, I have to limit myself to the Top Ten, or this post will be longer than most novels. I mean, really, how can “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am” (#96) be more “top” than “White Rabbit” (#97) and “MacArthur Park” (#98)*?

* I almost said “in what universe” but clearly the answer would be “this one”. Ah, the tribulations of an author looking for just the right phrase…

Honestly, I like all three songs (I’ve mentioned before that I have low tastes), but Henry is quite literally a single joke repeated three times–“Second verse, same as the first”–while the other two make the effort to tell a complete story. They’re complete artistic thoughts that attempt to answer the questions they raise. Why does the widow prefer Henrys? Does being Henry the VIII give the singer the option of executing or divorcing his wife not open to the common Brit?

Anyway. The top ten*.

* The full list is online, of course.

The Beatles got two tracks into the top ten, “Yesterday” (#10) and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (#8). There are nineteen other Beatles’ numbers scattered through the list–not a unreasonable number for the most influential band of the decade. But “top” is not “important”. I may shake my head in sorrow, but I won’t complain out loud.

I also won’t complain about the inclusion of “My Girl” (#9). The Temptations are certainly worthy of a top ten slot, and “My Girl” is certainly one of their better cuts.

But really? “Downtown” at Number Seven? Yes, Petula Clark probably had to be in there somewhere, but how does that particular song make it that far up the list? “Don’t Sleep In the Subway” only hit Number 321 and her second highest placement–“I Know a Place”–is well back at Number 179. (Petula’s also the only woman to crack the top ten. Even the great Patsy Cline only made it to Number 13 with “Crazy”.)

Moving on.

“Cara Mia” from Jay & The Americans? What were the voters thinking? I know, I know: they weren’t.

The Beach Boys’ kick off the top five with “California Girls”. They also had twenty other tunes on the full list. Personally, I’d have picked “Surfer Girl” (#200) over “California Girls”, but I’m mostly okay with this one.

“Oh Pretty Woman”. No top list would be complete without Roy Orbison and this is his best-known work, if not his best musically. But “top” isn’t “best” either. And Roy did have seven other songs on the list.

Number Three is “The House of the Rising Sun”. Great song. Great car singalong. But, third toppest song of the 1960s? I haz a dubious.

“Satisfaction”. Um. Big hit, though I prefer Devo’s cover. And the Stones did put a total of ten tracks in this top 600. But their next best showing was “Get Off My Cloud” at Number 138. That’s quite the drop off–nearly as dramatic as Petula Clark’s. Still, it is the Stones. Give it the benefit of the doubt.

Which brings us to Number One. The toppest of the top. The absolute musical pinnacle of the decade. Who is it? Not Elvis (twelve songs on this list, peaking at Number 21 with “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”).

Brace yourselves.

“Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers.
Seriously.

This is a miscarriage of justice on a par with the 2000 Presidential Election. I suspect somebody was stuffing the ballot box.

But then again, maybe it’s perfectly legitimate. Nobody who survived the election in 2016 can say voters always make the right choice. Not with a straight face anyway.

People are strange. (Oh, and “People Are Strange” didn’t make the list. The Doors only got one song into the Top 600: “Light My Fire” at Number 50. Go figure.)

How About 32,000?

A few further comments on my iPod rebuild, now that I’ve had a little time to play with the device and have started to get the hang of Rockbox.

The flash drive is much lighter. Those few grams may not seem like much, but you notice the difference. And, since there are no moving parts, using a modified iPod on the go feels more comfortable. Exercise? Potholed roads? Sure, go ahead. Better yet, add a cheap Bluetooth transmitter that plugs into the headphone jack, and you can do away with that annoying wires to your headphones or the car stereo’s aux jack.

If you’re doing the hard drive replacement, it’s a good time to look at your iPod’s battery life. On the one hand, opening an iPod Classic is such a pain that you might want to save yourself some trouble and expense by swapping in a new battery at the same time you put in the flash card. On the other hand, the flash card uses so much less power, you may not need to replace the battery to get adequate life.

Not only does the flash card use less power than the original hard drive, it’s much faster. When I did some tests with Rockbox prior to the drive replacement, it took hours for the software to build its database of music. After the replacement, with about five times as many tracks, building the database took less than ten minutes.

Similarly, there’s no lag between tracks. Unlike the hard drive, there’s no spin-up time when the iPod wakes up the flash drive. Well, okay, there is, but it’s measured in fractions of a second instead of multiples of a second.

Rockbox supports music in many formats that Apple’s software doesn’t know anything about. If you keep your music in a flac format for the best possible sound on your computer, loading it to an iPod via iTunes requires converting it to aac or mp3. Sure, iTunes takes care of that for you, but it still takes time and you wind up storing a duplicate copy. Why waste the space on your computer–not everyone has a 50 terabyte server in their home office. Admittedly, the music may not sound any better on the iPod–let’s be honest, even when the iPod Classic was new, there were complaints about the sound quality–but it’s certainly not going to sound any worse either.

To be fair, everything isn’t wonderful in Rockbox-land.

It doesn’t work exactly like the original iPod software. Buttons do some different things, so there is a learning curve.

You can still use iTunes, but you don’t have to. Be aware that if you don’t, you lose Apple’s music management, metadata editing, and playlist generation. Those can all be replaced, but if you’re comfortable with Apple’s approach, you might want to stick with iTunes.

If you do stick with iTunes, however, you should know that some versions have a limit on the number of tracks you can store and the number of tracks per playlist. On some older versions, those limits may be as low as 100 per playlist and 25,000 total. If you like the “I forgot I owned that” moment of discovery that comes from setting your device on “shuffle” and letting it skip around through your entire library, 100 tracks isn’t going to work for you.

Rockbox also has a playlist limit (although there’s no total track limit). However, unlike Apple, you can change it. By default, the limit is 1,000 tracks. The “Settings” screen will allow you to change it to 32,000, but if you’re willing to live on the edge*, you can crank it up as high as you want. For the record, I have around 42,000 tracks–I’ve been buying music for four decades and I’m a packrat–so I set the limit at 64,000 tracks.

* The documentation warns that this can result in memory shortages, but so far at least, I haven’t had any problems. (As a reminder to myself, to set a limit higher than 32,000, you copy Rockbox’s “config.cfg” to “fixed.cfg” and edit the new file with any text editor. Delete the lines you don’t need and change the track limit to whatever you want. When you turn on the iPod, config.cfg gets loaded first, then anything in fixed.cfg replaces the settings in config.cfg. That allows you to make changes while you’re listening to music, but always return to your normal setup at power-on.)

Rockbox isn’t as polished as Apple’s iPod software, but it more than gets the job done. I love having 42,000 tracks in my backpack. Assuming the average song is five minutes long, that gives me more than three months of continuous music and comedy with no commercials. Not bad at all, even if the iPod has to be recharged every couple of days.

When 120GB Isn’t Enough

I’ll admit up front that this post will probably only be of interest to a couple of you.

But for the sake of the two or three of you who might find it useful, allow me to take you all back into the past.

Before there was the iPhone, there was the iPod in all its many sizes and shapes. And in those days before streaming, you needed lots of storage to carry all your music with you.

Of course, back in those days, “lots of storage” meant something very different than it does today. We’re talking 2001-2004, and the top of the line iPods had astoundingly large 40GB hard drives.

Yes, actual hard drives, not flash storage. Itty-bitty 1.8-inch drives. Packing that much storage into something that small was expensive. The fourth-generation iPod that came out in 2004 cost $399 for that 40GB model. But you could, in all likelihood, put your entire music collection on that drive.

Fast forward to 2007 and 2008. By then, Apple was moving to the streaming model. They didn’t really want people carrying their collections. They wanted everyone to stream their music from the iTunes store to their spiffy new iPod Touch devices which maxed out at 32GB of flash storage.

Of course, those of us who had big collections didn’t go for that at all, and we jumped on what turned out to be the last generation of non-touch iPods: the iPod Classic with 80GB, 120GB, or 160GB of storage.

Those Classics have served us well, but our collections have grown. And, regrettably, hard drives do fail. A fifteen-year-old drive should rightly be regarded with suspicion.

The result is a bunch of excellent music players gathering dust.

Naturally, this is the point where the Internet and some dedicated hardware hackers step in.

Flash storage is cheap. What if we could replace that 1.8-inch hunk of metal with an SD card? Physically smaller, use less power, read and write faster, and offer capacities well beyond 160GB.

Turns out you can.

It’s a three step process, which I’m going to document here, partly for any of you who have elderly iPod Classics going to waste, and partly to help me remember how to do it, in case I need to repeat the process somewhere down the line.

Step One: Get the necessary hardware. You need a small circuit board to allow you to put an SD card where the hard drive used to be. You also need the SD card or cards.

At this point, I’m going to recommend iFlash. I bought their iFlash Solo*. Total cost, including shipping from the UK, ran me $44. I probably got lucky, but even in the face of world-wide lockdowns, it only took a couple of weeks to get here.

* The Solo, as the name implies, holds a single SD card. Iflash also offers the Duo and the Quad, which allow you to use multiple cards and have them show up on the iPod as a single drive. Handy if you want really awesomely large capacities or want to make use of whatever SD cards you have lying around the house.

Note that the iFlash boards call for SD cards. If you want to use a microSD card, make sure you get one that comes with an adapter. I wound up with a 512GB PNY microSD card. It came with an adapter and ran me about $100.

Step Two: This is the hardest part. Apple very much does not want you to open your iPod Classic. I failed completely. A friend of mine who repairs computers failed completely. I finally wound up taking the whole pile of parts to a local Mac repair shop. They opened the iPod, swapped the drive for my Solo+512GB microSD card, and reassembled the device. Best $30 I’ve spent all year.

Step Three: At this point, if all you wanted to do was replace a failing hard drive with and SD card, you’re done. Plug the iPod into your computer, let iTunes format it, and you’re all set.

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Unfortunately, if you wanted to increase the capacity of the iPod, you’ve got more work to do. Take another look at that picture. “127 GB Free”. What happened to the rest of my 512GB?

Well, back in those long-ago days, operating systems couldn’t easily deal with drives larger than 128GB. There were some tricks available (hence that 160GB iPod Classic), but they were very limited.

So, to take advantage of that new space, you have to replace Apple’s iPod software with something more modern. Like Rockbox. Specifically, Rockbox for the iPod Classic.

Let’s extend our steps a bit.

Step Four: Install Rockbox. It’s easy. Plug in the iPod to your computer, download and run the installer. Whoops, forgot a step.

Step Three Point Five: Rockbox doesn’t recognize the Macintosh disk format. So you need to use iTunes on Windows to format the iPod. Launch iTunes, plug in the iPod, and say “Yes” when iTunes asks if you want to initialize the iPod.

Okay, back to Step Four. You can take the defaults on the installer. Select your iPod and follow the prompts. You will have to reboot the iPod at one point, but don’t worry, the Rockbox installer will tell you when to do it and how.

Once Rockbox is installed, you’ll see this:
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Yup, still only seeing 128GB. That’s because we have to reformat the iPod to use the entire SD card. So, on to

Step Five: This is the tricky bit. The iPod needs to be formatted in FAT32*. Unfortunately, Windows won’t let you format a drive larger than 32GB in FAT32. There are a number of programs that will let you get around that restriction. Google is your friend here. Or use a Mac and choose “Windows (FAT)” as the format.

Don’t worry about what these names mean. They’re just different ways to lay out the data on a drive.

    1. Using Windows File Explorer or Mac Finder, copy the folder “.rockbox” from the iPod to your desktop. This folder is where Rockbox stores its configuration. Without it, your iPod won’t boot to the point of being able to play music.
    2. Format the iPod.
    3. Copy the “.rockbox” folder back from your desktop to the iPod.

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Ta-da! (Let’s not go into why a 512GB SD card only gives you 462GB of storage.)

Step Six: Load up your iPod. You’ll find that it is much faster. (Quieter, too.) Which is not to say it’s fast. The connection is still USB2, which puts an upper limit on how quickly your music can be copied. But you can always start the copy and let it run overnight.

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That took about twelve hours. But I’ve still got more than a quarter of the SD card free. I figure I shouldn’t need to upgrade the storage for at least another six months.

(Oops. Just realized I forgot to set the iPod’s clock. I’ll go do that now.)

Anyway, total cost of the upgrade was well under $200. That’s less than a 32GB iPod Touch. (The current top of the line iPod Touch will run you $400 for 256GB.) Makes the math easy, doesn’t it?

Goin’ Back

I’ve been listening to the Fifties channel on SiriusXM lately.

Yes, the decade when the saxophone was a legitimate rock and roll instrument. Because really it was a decade in transition. Swing was on the way out, but rock and roll wouldn’t take over the world until the Sixties. There were plenty of cuts that could have been either rock or swing (in fact, there were more than a few early rock releases that had been swing hits.) And, of course, there was a giant market for sentimental pablum*.

* Let’s be clear: every decade has a giant market for sentimental pablum. It’s just that the definition of both “sentimental” and “pablum” changes. But I digress.

Which, of course, meant there was also a market for that unholy (ahem) hybrid known as the religious love song.

Brace yourself and allow me to direct your attention to “One Hundred Pounds of Clay” which is my candidate for The Song Most Likely to Make You Cringe Harder Every Time You Hear It.

I’ve had a lot of practice cringing over this song lately. Specifically, it’s come onto the radio three times in my last four hours of listening–that was spread over two days, so it’s not like you’re guaranteed to hear it if you listen for an hour and a quarter. But still: heavy rotation.

Anyway, I’m not nominating it because of the religious content. Not my cup of fur, but there’s been plenty of good religious music.

Nor is it because the song suggests that women’s only purpose is to be sexual. I beg your pardon? The BBC banned the song for that reason, but I don’t hear that at all.

There’s a sexual element, yes, but the only way I can interpret this song is that women’s only purpose is to shine by her man’s light. That charming only “love, worship, and obey” thing. Take the guy out of the picture, and the gal goes poof as well.

Say, Mike Pence was born in 1959, which means he’d have been two years old when this piece of tripe was at the top of the charts. Psychological scarring anybody?

(The really vexing thing about the song is that it didn’t come out until 1961. Why is it even on the 50s channel? It’s not that Gene McDaniels’ career started in the 50s. Well, his career did, but he didn’t start recording until the 60s. But I digress again.)

So, yes, I do cringe or change the channel–usually both–when it comes on. But there’s enough good stuff on the station to make up for it most of the time.

And, by “good stuff” I mean plenty of silliness and fluff to help you forget that you’re living in trying times, with just enough seriously solid material mixed in to keep you grounded.

Who Put the Bop” (Also from 1961. Win some, lose some.)

Summertime Blues

Only You” (Or darn near anything else The Platters did.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting you rush out and subscribe to SiriusXM to get “’50s on 5”. But if you’ve already got the service, give it a listen.

But keep a finger near the power switch, just in case…

Super? You Decide

No, I didn’t watch the Super Bowl again this year.

Well, okay, mostly didn’t watch. I caught about the last five minutes by the game clock–call it the last quarter hour of real time–which was, for those of us rooting for anyone other than San Francisco, the best part.

And I did once again hunt up a recording of the halftime show. Have to keep that record intact, right? Still haven’t missed one this century.

Let’s be blunt here: the FCC and the NFL owe Janet Jackson an apology.

For the sake of the argument, I’ll temporarily accept the dubious premise that sex and sexually explicit television will scar the psyches of the youth of Amurrica.

Over the course of nearly fifteen minutes, Sunday’s halftime show featured (a) Shakira and J. Lo in a succession of outfits that would give a bikini delusions of adequacy, (b) a plethora of panty shots, (c) an American flag accidentally(?) dragged across the stage, (d) pre-teen singers and dancers in short skirts and short shorts, (e) too many naked male nipples to count without freeze-frame, and (f) a bona fide stripper pole.

In high definition.

How is that less psychically and psychologically damaging than a couple of seconds of grainy, standard definition exposure of what might have been a bare nipple?

Nor did Fox cover themselves in glory with the closed captions. The lyrics of the songs in English were displayed, but the others? “[Singing in Spanish]”. I guess they couldn’t afford a bilingual closed caption writer. Watch for the cost of an ad to go up again the next time Fox has the rights so they can again fail to provide equal access.

All sarcasm and sniping aside, it was a good show. Arguably the best since at least Lady Gaga’s outing in 2017. Less explicitly political, but implicitly? Oh, yes!

(And the music itself was good, too. I find I’m enjoying the “throw a bunch of songs in the blender” approach to creating a Super Bowl medley. I suppose it reflects a shortening of my attention span, but perhaps there’s a more innocent interpretation.)

Am I going to gratify the artists’ record labels by rushing out to buy their albums? Nope. But I might support a local business by picking up a CD next time I see one on the shelf.

Looking forward to next year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show, when Ms. Jackson will have the opportunity to revitalize her career. Ah, happy dreams.

Where Are They Now?

Where are they now? Probably in Los Angeles preparing for Friday’s show and album release. (Side note to my friends and family in Seattle: I gather there are still tickets available for Wednesday the 16th.)

Oh. Sorry, BABYMETAL, naturally. Though I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t figure that out. It has been quite a while since I said anything about them. In fact, now that I check the archives, I see the last substantive post was a smidge over three years ago. (The TV show under discussion at the time doesn’t seem to have materialized. This is not a surprise.)

Anyway, I haven’t said anything, not because there’s been no news, but because the news has been largely depressing. In short–and if you want a fuller view of the story, the Wikipedia writeup isn’t bad–Yuimetal has left the group. The official reasons are health concerns and a desire to pursue a solo career. Of course, in light of the secretive and cutthroat nature of the idol industry, speculation is rife about whether she jumped, fell, or was pushed.

I’m not going to indulge. I talked about potential lineup changes back in 2016, when Metal Resistance came out. Nothing that’s happened since then has changed my opinions.

The new album, Metal Galaxy, will be out in a few days. The tracks they’ve released so far sound good. I’m delighted to hear BABYMETAL’s sound continuing to evolve. Doing the same thing over and over can be a financial boon, but it’s almost always an artistic failure. In particular, “Shanti Shanti Shanti” is a literal trip: Bollywood meets the psychadelic sixties. The full video is, naturally, on YouTube, but here’s a snippet from last week’s San Francisco show:

Yes, of course Maggie and I went. Armed with a new camera that doesn’t have the issues my old one did with the super-saturated reds and blues of a BABYMETAL show. So yes, there are pictures.

Not BABYMETAL:
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There was an opening act. Maggie quite enjoyed them, but Avatar isn’t my cup of fur. I do give them kudos for one thing that elevates them above your average consciously pompous metal band:

What better way to poke fun at your own image than with a trombone?

Anyway.
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Rather than rework all their choreography for two performers, Yui’s slot has been filled with a rotating cast of performers. Last week, it was Riho, doing a fine job.

As usual, reds and blues dominated the color scheme.
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Yes, the new camera does have a darn good zoom for a cheap point-and-shoot.
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Though, to be fair, I was in an excellent position, directly behind the mixing boards, so I didn’t have to crank the zoom to maximum very often.

I had fun trying to get a Moa hair shot. This one, while not perfect, is certainly the most entertaining.
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It’s easy to get a good shot of Su, given how much of the choreography revolves around her, while she stays comparatively still. (Cult of personality? Nah.)
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Riho was tougher, but she slowed down occasionally.
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Moa, though, never stops moving. Even when she’s stopped, she’s still moving.
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All in all, a good show and a good omen for BABYMETAL’s future.

09-5

Thank you!

Listen Up!

Dad was a storyteller. He loved ragtime music, but I often wonder how much of his love was because of the music itself, and how much was because of the stories.

(Warning: gross oversimplification ahead.) Ragtime is unusual–though not unique–in that during its original heyday, there was very little formal scholarship. Few of the musicians and other prime movers of the genre had any interest in writing about ragtime. The history and culture of ragtime was shared and recorded almost entirely orally. By the time ragtime scholarship really kicked off during the ragtime revival of the forties, many of the primary sources–human and otherwise–had been lost.

That’s a great space for a storyteller. There’s so much room for elaboration. Interpolation. Dramatic enhancement.

Dad loved it. The music, yes. But the stories, too. The research. The “what if” scenarios.

And, of course, the newcomers. Because a storyteller needs an audience. New fans and new performers keep the music alive; they hear the stories and then create their own.

Dad couldn’t play a note, but he delighted in introducing ragtime to the next generation.

(Thanks to Oliver Moore for giving permission to post this performance from the 2019 Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival. It’s not the most spectacular or technically demanding piece he played that week, but I like it. And, not-so-incidentally, Oliver will be at the West Coast Ragtime Festival in November. Come hear him!)

Dad would have loved Oliver. And he would have loved to find a way to introduce more people to ragtime. The younger the better–if they grow up listening to ragtime and playing ragtime, some of ’em are going to stick with it.

We’ve been awed by the donations in Dad’s memory to the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Foundation. And we’re thrilled to be able to put those donations to use in a highly appropriate way.

The Ragtime Kids program will seek out talented junior high and high school age ragtime performers and researchers and encourage their development.

There’s more information about the program at the link above.

And, because this is an advertisement–thinly disguised as a blog post, though it may be–a reminder that donations to the Larry Karp Memorial Fund are still more than welcome. The contact for contributions is sjfsedalia@gmail.com.

SAST 12

Welcome to the twelfth production of Short Attention Span Theater. This installment is brought to you, not by hay fever and inconveniently draped felines, but by Like Herding Cats. I’m deeply enmeshed in what I hope will be the final revision, and don’t want to take the time to develop complete thoughts about much of anything right now.

Act One: Apple introduced new hardware earlier this week. No, not iPhones; that was back in September. The latest goodies-to-be are a new MacBook Air, a new iPad Pro, and a new Mac Mini.

I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about the laptop and tablet. I’ve never used a MacBook of any sort, and while the iPad Pro sounds like a nice bit of gear, it’s way to rich for my wallet–and massively overpowered for my tablet needs.

That said, I do appreciate Apple replacing the iPad Pro’s Lightening Port with a USB-C port. One less bit of proprietary gear, and more access to existing third-party hardware.

As for the Mini, I’ve got mixed feelings there. I’ve got an original Mac Mini around here someplace. It’s not in use because its power supply has wandered off, but it was a nice piece of kit in its day. I’m glad to see Apple hasn’t killed off the line, but I’m sad to see that they’re changing its emphasis.

The original point of the Mini was to bring in non-Apple users. As such, it was cheap. Cheap to the point of almost entirely forgoing the usual Apple markup. It seems, however, that Apple has decided the Mini has attracted all the Windows users it’s going to, and so they’ve decided to make it a more “professional” machine.

In case you didn’t realize it, in the tech industry, the word professional means “more expensive”. As such, the price has gone up $300. It’s still a good deal for the price, but it’s not as good a deal as it used to be.

Act Two: Our darling president’s latest threatpromise has been getting a lot of press, as usual. No, not that one. No, not that one either. I mean the one about wiping out birthright citizenship.

All the hysterical responses to the effect of “He can’t do that! It’s unconstitutional!” are missing the point.

First of all, “unconstitutional” is what the Supreme Court says it is. If you believe the current lineup of justices is a threat to abortion rights, why would you think they’d be any less of a threat to citizenship?

Secondly, Trump doesn’t care whether he can “do it”. It’s a distraction. Just the latest of many. When was the last time you saw any news about Russian interference in the upcoming election?

Third, nobody can actually stop him from issuing a proclamationan executive order. He may well go ahead and do it, on the theory that even if it doesn’t squeeze past the Supreme Court, it’ll be tied up there for months, leaving everyone scared–the administration’s preferred mental state–and providing the Republicans with the chance to spin the battle as “Democrats are soft on immigration.”

Third-and-a-halfth, if there is an executive order, you can be sure it’ll be written to exclude children whose parents are from countries that aren’t on Trump’s shit list. Because there’s nothing the administration would like better than than to divide the opposition by carving out a block of people who are going to feel like they dodged a bullet. Those are the ones who’ll be shouting the loudest about how Trump’s not such a bad guy after all…

Act Three: We end this production on a cheerier note.

The Austin Lounge Lizards are still doing their thing, thirty-eight years down the road (only eighteen years less than the Rolling Stones!)

Maggie and I went to last night’s show at the Freight and Salvage* in Berkeley. The band’s had a line-up change since the last time we saw them, which suggests that it’s been too long since we last went to one of their shows. It happens. The current group seems solid, though.

* Temporarily renamed the “Fright and Savage”. Though we were disappointed to see that the e and l on their neon sigh were left uncovered.

Granted, there were a few rough edges here and there, but to be fair, it’s probably been two decades or more since some of those songs were on their setlist.

The Lizards have tried out a number of things over the years–you can get damn stale doing the same thing over and over (Rolling Stones, anyone?)–including flirtations with folk, gospel, rap, and a few other styles that are currently eluding me.

The current experiment is with medleys, pairing (and sometimes tripling and quadling) selections from their back catalog with songs from across the rock and roll era–all in their inimitable bluegrass style. By and large, it works. I didn’t know the world needed a bluegrass rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep,” but now that we have one, I’m convinced we’re all better for the experience. (For the record, “Creep” goes very nicely with “Shallow End of the Gene Pool,” an instrumental take on The Stones’ “Paint It, Black,” and The Doors’ “When You’re Strange.”)

The current California mini-tour hits Winters tonight, Felton tomorrow, Culver City on Saturday, and winds up with an Election Night show in Houston, TX. Yeah, I know Houston isn’t in California–and thank all the deities for that–but that’s the Lizards for you. If you can make one of the shows, do it. Show some support for an American icon.

The Belated Father’s Day Post

Not belated because I forgot, or anything stupid like that. Belated because I don’t normally post on Sundays. Okay, so maybe it is a stupid reason. But sticking to a schedule helps me avoid slacking off. For the same reason, I work on novels in the afternoon–so I can start at the same time every day, even when I’m working on blog posts in the morning.

Bad night’s sleep? Doesn’t matter. Gotta write a blog post. Distracted by something shiny (or ragged and cat-eating)? Tough. Go write some words of fiction.

Dad was mildly amused by my schedule adherence, but he understood. “Do what works for you,” is a bit of writing advice that made perfect sense to him. Much as he loved word processing, he absolutely couldn’t edit on a computer. He printed every draft, edited it with a pencil, and then typed his changes in. Which mildly amused me, but again, it worked for him.

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Last week, I linked a story in the Sedalia Democrat about the Smith-Cotton High School String Orchestra appearing at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, and promised more words about their appearance. These are those words.

The short version, for anyone who finds the Democrat’s website annoyingly hard to use, is that the high school orchestra’s appearance was supported by the Larry Karp Memorial Fund. See, when Dad died, we asked that contributions in his name to be made to the Scott Joplin Ragtime Foundation. We–and the foundation–were amazed and pleased at the number of donations, and we all agreed there was an opportunity to do more than simply add the funds to the foundation’s general budget.

I often say that Dad was a storyteller. It’s no accident that he gravitated to baseball and ragtime: both are fields with enough stories to fill every library in the world. Dad liked teaching in the classic sense, but he outright loved teaching by telling stories. He could, and frequently did, talk ragtime for hours*. One of the reasons he enjoyed research was for the stream of new stories it brought him. When he started looking into Brun Campbell–a storyteller himself–the stream turned into something more like the Columbia River.

* Baseball, too, but there are more storytellers working that beat than spinning ragtime yarns.

Any community needs new blood to live. And Dad worried there might not be enough new ragtimers coming in to keep the music alive. When a new “Ragtime Kid”–a young talent consumed by the need to play ragtime–came along, he was delighted. Using the money donated in his name, not for immediate needs, but to teach the next generation of ragtimers was an easy call.

What that’s going to look like is still up in the air. We’ve got some immediate plans, and some ideas for the medium- and long-term, all aimed at getting a new generation interested in ragtime and its stories. But no project succeeds if it never gets started. We threw a whole lot of ideas around for where to start. Bringing the Smith-Cotton students to the festival this year was where we wound up. We got a couple of dozen students and their families to the festival. That’s a win no matter how you look at it. If only one of those dozens sticks with ragtime, whether as a performer, researcher, or listener, then it’s a major victory.

Now that we’ve started, we need to keep going. And that means we need to keep the fund healthy. (You knew there was a commercial message coming, right?)

I mentioned last week that the festival was somewhat smaller this year than in the past. Money’s tight all over, but especially so for art programs. We’d love some help.

If you’re willing to lend a hand, please drop a note to sjfsedalia@gmail.com.

Thanks from Dad, from the whole family, and from the entire ragtime community.

I’m Back. How Are You?

Hi, folks. I’m back from vacation and getting caught up on what’s been going on while I was gone. Thanks to all of you for playing nice. I’ll be going through the accumulated spam comments shortly after I post this, and then catching up on the real comments.

One bit of housekeeping: This blog is hosted at WordPress.com, which is run by Automattic. They’ve updated their privacy policy in accordance with the European GDPR. You can review the policy at the link; I’ve also turned on a feature to display a notice below the comment form. This isn’t strictly necessary, since I’m not in Europe, but I figure it’s not much of a burden, and probably worth doing if only for the sake of those of you who are in the EU.

Also, due to the timing of my vacation, there won’t be a snarky recap of Apple’s WWDC this year. If you feel the lack, you can re-read last year’s. Based on what I’ve seen of the mainstream coverage, not much has changed.

Moving on.

Sedalia was, as expected, hot and humid. Despite that, the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival was successful. The music was good—not that I expected otherwise–and this happened. I’ll have more to say about that next week. And on a more personal note, I did sell most of the copies of The RagTime Traveler I brought, and even signed a few.

I wouldn’t be so crass as to post my recordings from the festival. Those are for my personal enjoyment–and, while I support the musicians by buying CDs, I couldn’t force anyone who watched the videos to do likewise.

But not everyone is so conscious of the artists’ wishes. As usual, a YouTube search for “Sedalia Ragtime” or “Joplin Ragtime Festival” will turn up samples.

That does raise an interesting point, however.

Most of what’s been posted from this year’s festival so far has been from one group, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet. Which, as their name states, isn’t actually a ragtime ensemble.

Programming the festival is a balancing act. Purists would prefer three days of nothing but ragtime. But the general public’s reception of that would be dire. Not a good thing when you’re trying to expand your audience. So the organizers experiment, bringing in some performers who aren’t ragtime, but broaden the potential audience of the festival. The Quintet was one of this year’s experiments, and they were justly popular. Except among those who want all ragtime, all the time, of course.

Unfortunately, budget constraints made for a smaller festival this year. That always makes for trouble; this year, IMNSHO, it meant an imbalance in acts with ragtime sometimes feeling like an afterthought. The organizers are well aware of the issue–the “Holland” in the Quintet’s name is Brian Holland, who also happens to be the festival’s Musical Director–and will, I’m sure, lean back the other way next year.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed the heck out of all of the performers, ragtime or otherwise, and my CD purchases included the Quintet’s offering.

But if you attended the festival for the first time, or are looking at online videos and considering attending in the future–and you should–be aware that the contents of this particular cereal box have settled. It still contains a full serving of ragtime–nothing says you have to eat all of the side dishes.