Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Everybody's Whining About the Weather - I'm DOING Something About It!

Summer Rerun - Excelsior's Greatest Hits

Soon I'll put up a list of what I've been doing, lately - enough to start my own Home Improvement Channel.    But for now . . . a video of one of my favorite things of 2011, filmed on and behind our block.

Here's the coolest video you'll see all day.  Two Minutes - and Kate Smith, too!

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, July 15, 2011

South Shore Frolics - a Vicious Tradition

 The Bay View South Shore Frolics is a traditional celebration dating back to the smoky, smelly cave people who used to dwell among the cliffs of the South Shore of Lake Michigan. Nowadays the Frolickers, when not frolicking lakeside, can be spotted on the freeway in their over-sized pickup trucks, and SUVs without turn signals, elbowing smaller vehicles around, and listening exclusively and loudly to Hate-and-Run AM Radio. They are proud of what they are not, for that's really all they are, to paraphrase Don McLean. Think of the word "Frolic" and then consider the appellation as applied to South Shore "frolickers". It is a frightening juxtaposition of opposites. The ox-y meets the moron.  

The three-day Frolic festival is free, that is, you don't have to pay to get in, but not "free" in the same sense as "land of the free". One Frolic evening, when I was still new to the area, I went down to the lakeside, and was about to sit down to enjoy a concert by the Milwaukee Policemans' Band, taking a seat in the back row, on one of the backless wooden benches set up in front of the stage. A fat, slobbering sow-like woman, with the down-turned mouth of a shark, approached me, and barked "you can't sit here". Noting that there were no signs or barricades, I asked, "Are the seats reserved?". "NOT FOR YOU!" she practically screamed, wiping the drool from the corners of her shark mouth with the back of her fat, red hand. Out of courtesy, I got up, and out of beligerence, I remained standing directly behind the seat, which remained empty, for about 20 minutes, while she glared at me with her angry red sow-eyes. When the band took a break, I wandered elsewhere, to see what else the Frolic Experience had to offer for free. Rally 'round the flag, boys!

They have a parade. It's not like a 4th of July parade.  The 4th of July Parade is full of joy and community organizations, local bands, and patriotic sentiment. The Frolics Parade is run by the Bay View Lions, a closely guarded clique of, well -- Lions. Community organizations who want to be in the parade must pay an entry fee to the Lions. And yet, some of those in the parade are on the payroll. Where is the fine line drawn between entertainment and community service?  Only the Lions know. The Frolics parade leaves the street of the parade route littered with wrappers, bottles, fliers, melted Popsicle, and baby diapers. The people living on the parade route are free to enjoy the parade for days afterwards.

There is a hillside overlooking the South Shore Beach. It is on this incline that the Frolickers set up their bed-blankets, stake out their own little domains of public turf, and experience on Saturday -- and again on Sunday, the Atomic Fireworks. It's a traditional fireworks display, only deployed much lower than usual from the beach. The explosions seem closer, blindingly and deafeningly closer than a traditional fireworks display, the closeness emphasized by the audience's elevation on the slope of the hill. From the stage, a master of ceremonies "narrates" the Atomic Fireworks, commenting on each rocket's red glare, and encouraging the audience to "Put Your Hands Together" for the benefit of the show's sponsors.

After three days of beer, a parade, and two sessions of Atomic Fire Works, it's not as surprising that some South Sider, eyes bleary with frolic, would commit this vicious attack on his cassette collection. Purging it of the music Unfit to Frolic By. What were his criteria? Seen in the holy light of the Frolic Fires, some things must be sacrificed, left shattered in the street for the early light of dawn to discover.

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Bars of Bay View

I know how these things work.  Just check the Greek Mythology, under "Hydra".  As soon as you chop off one head, two grow up in its place. So, I say it rather softly:  "The ironwork has been painted".

The silken and polyester breath of summer has returned to the iron planters.
No accidental sidewalk painting. No falling off the ladder.  Perfect weather.
And it's done!

Just as gangs of reckless youthful bikers come roaring into the neighborhood for the Frolics.  Ready to rumble.

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Vacation Bible School

Summer Rerun Special - Originally posted on July 18, 2009 under the title "God's I-Pod"

Long ago, the week after I graduated from 8th grade, I got a call from Mr. Richter. the principal of the grade school. Would I like to serve as accompanist for opening services at Vacation Bible School? Up until then, I had always, since 4th grade, been the official class accompanist. St. John's was a parochial school - they were forever having little devotions and prayer intervals at various times of the day - that's why St. John's students were somewhat behind in science and math by the time we got to high school. Each classroom had a piano, and I worked for free, so it was a pretty handy deal for them, since most of the teachers didn't have much musical background.

I never turned down a job, and this two-week session would accommodate my lawn-mowing hours. So, I met with Mr. Richter to learn the details. He was leaving on vacation the same week that Vacation Bible School opened, so I'd be on my own, answering directly to Pastor Kay. And the other thing, he mentioned in passing - since the church didn't have a piano, I'd have to learn to play the church organ. I was momentarily paralyzed. The church organ! A huge pipe organ, about six times as big as a piano, with two huge banks of brass pipes, and an air pump in the basement about the size of a garbage truck. Mr. Richter told me the organ was an awful lot -- an awful lot like a piano. Just like a piano! Sure it was. How could it be like a piano -- cripes you even needed a key to start it! I wouldn't even have to learn the pedals at first, there were octave couplers to "fake it" from the keyboards. I had always admired Mr. Richter's organ playing -- he always got more out of the church organ than anyone else, so I trusted his word that I could learn to play the organ within the remaining week. Every day that week, I went over to the church and practiced, using the pointers Mr. Richter had given me. Overwhelming at first, but the organ had "preset" combinations, so very soon I was able to "dial up" the same sound combinations the congregation was used to.

The service selections were already pre-determined, but the prelude and recessional music selection was up to me. I came up with a whole list of favorites from Mr. Richter's books. There were some very old, leather-bound yellowing books of songs in German. And, my favorite, there was a book Mr. Richter used on occasion called "Great Hymns of the Faith" - hundreds of familiar hymns, and these were hymns that, although familiar to everyone, were not in the Lutheran Hymnal. I thought it would be good for variety if I used a lot of these. Emotional favorites, such as "The Old Rugged Cross", and "Ivory Palaces". And charismatic, peppy hymns for recessionals, which were sure to send the students marching out joyously and vigorously, such as "Shall We Gather at the River", and "Bringing in the Sheaves". So, when the time came, I was ready.

A little hesitancy at first, but by the end of my first service, I was feeling confident. It was the largest group I had ever led in hymns, so the phrase timing was a little different than in a classroom. And the recessionals filled the church with joy, and sent the students marching off to the classrooms, just as planned. After the second day's service, Pastor Kay called up to the organ loft that I should meet with him in his office after the service. Of course, since I was doing so well, he wanted to congratulate me.

On arrival in his office, Pastor Kay launched into a lecture about the Rich Musical Heritage of the Lutheran Church. He asked who had chosen the selections for my incidental music. Not wanting Mr. Richter to steal the credit when he got back from vacation, I proudly told Pastor Kay the truth - that I had chosen the numbers myself. He asked to see my itinerary -- I handed him my notebook. He read over the Coming Attractions, with an amused look. "Bringing in the Sheaves???" he hooted. "BRINGING IN THE SHEAVES!!!" Admiring my own genius, I explained how I saved the peppy ones for the recessionals, the better to march the students out quickly.

Back to the Rich Musical Heritage lecture, this time, though, his tone was darker, and laden with messages between the lines. I might want to consider -- in fact that anybody who wanted to keep working in this man's church would consider -- using selections taken from the Rich Musical Heritage of the Lutheran Church. How much it would please the Lord if we were to present the works of Bach, for instance, rather than some of the more "modern" selections which appealed shallowly to the emotions, and not to the true workings of the soul. What a shame if an organist at St. John's would disregard the Rich Musical Heritage of the Lutheran Church in favor of 'pop' music.

So, that was it. God didn't like, "Bringing in the Sheaves". And even if he did, he liked Bach better. I was somewhat surprised that God would not be tapping his almighty toes to "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name", given the chance. After all, Bach was already dead, and God could have him play something for Him anytime He wanted.

The rest of the two-week session, though, I reached for the old leather-bound books on top of the organ. Although I couldn't read German at the time, I could tell by familiarity that some of the pieces were by Bach. And there were no further summonses to Pastor Kay's office, so I assumed that these dirges were what he and God wanted to hear. I'm sure if I could go back and find that old book again, the title on the leather-bound volume would translate to "God's Greatest Hits."

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Gloriously Gloomy Summer Day

It was a gloriously gloomy summer day in 1967.  Good news for me.  Since it had rained that morning, that meant only one thing:   no lawns to mow!    I was willing, but nobody wanted their lawn mowed when it was wet.  I had quite a few regular lawn jobs by then, and at two bucks a pop I was rolling in the dough. 

The weather was stifling hot, and even though it was a cloudy day, you could break into a sweat just being outside.  What to do?  There was a whole range of choices.  Too early to go to the public library to enjoy their polar water-cooled air conditioner unit.  There was the cool inviting green-walled basement, but then I'd have my little brother hanging around, and Mom might think up a household chore that needed doing.   Same with Grandma's basement - except at Grandma's chores were a certainty.  And she'd invite me for lunch, which would involve a trip to the store, and doing dishes afterwards.  She would have prospered in the age of slavery.

So I made the logical choice.  I got on my 26"  Sears two-wheeler, with the metal saddle baskets in the back, and headed for 2nd Street, to the A&P supermarket.  I could walk around for hours in the A&P, enjoying air conditioning that was cold enough to keep produce fresh without refrigeration.  Your whole body just exhaled when you walked in there.  It felt especially good to walk in there sweat-soaked, more for your money, as it were.

But that day I was finally going to take the plunge and make a life-changing purchase.  Enough of looking and window shopping.  This time I was going to buy it.  And A&P' had the best price.  I had shopped this purchase around for weeks, and finally I was going to take the plunge.  It had been on the shelf for over a month, and today was the day.  

I picked it off the shelf, took one last thorough look at it, and decided, yes, it was worth the four-dollar price. I took it to the checkout, hoping the lady wouldn't question me about it.  They can sometimes ask kids the most embarrassing questions.  Especially in a small town where everybody knew my parents. Imagine the mortification:  "Does your mother know you're buying this?"   But the questions never came, this time.  She just bagged it up, in a plain brown bag, and took my four sweaty dollars.

And it was mine.  I pedaled home, and snuck it into my bedroom, and peeled off the cellophane.  I took it to the corner table, and put it on.  My monophonic copy of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, by the Beatles.   I have that phonograph record to this day.

Thanks to Jude Kinnear for the inspiring first line:

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


What a horrendous week. It was the week that it rained inside the Chinese restaurant on the 4th of July.  An air conditioner malfunction in which the rooftop unit bit off and swallowed about 4 ft of its own air return caused the flooding. Very hot week, so crawling up and down the ladder to get at the rooftop unit was rather hypnotic.  Did I mention that it was hot?

During these stupefying times, I began to notice internet traffic, publicity about an upcoming Class Reunion.  Although I've been re-union-able for 40 years, now, I have attended only one reunion, and decided not to go to another.  I dunno.  High school I believe is something better left behind.  And once I make up my mind, that's it, stubborn old curmudgeon that I am.  But then I heard from another and then another one of those left behind.  I guess I liked everybody as individuals but hated a lot of the whole high-school experience as a whole.

This morning when I woke up, I had the idea in my head that it would be a perfect Saturday to tackle the rusting ironwork in front of the old Bank.  The Bank houses our theater, our own apartment, and two other rental apartments.  This little finger-ripping project has been on my list for over a year, now.  There are fences and wrought iron window-grates over the entire front of the building, and it's been about 8 years since last I sanded and re-enameled them, so they're getting rusty, which discolors the concrete, and then you have another project on your hands, don't you?

But, why did I feel like I had to start this today?  There are plenty of other, cleaner, easier projects on the old job list.  And I have to go to a stupid wedding later this afternoon - mmm peas'n'carrots! . As I got about halfway through with sanding the rust off of the bars, it occurred to me - why this job, why now?   It has to do with the class reunion.  My brain is always doing devious things like this to me.  Swedenborg Doctrine of Uses or some such process...

By re-finishing the bars of my cage, I am defining and clarifying my borders - the line that separates me and mine from everything else.  As long as I have my own borders, achievements, and accomplishments clearly in mind, nothing bad or damaging can occur.  Some of the friends I love and trust, mostly from my old parochial grade school class, will be there; some are traveling great distances to be there. I am looking forward to meeting in person people with whom I have recently become re-acquainted via social media. Our grade school class was always a supportive safety net through all the newness and uncertainty of high school.

And the poseurs, the elite clique who imagined that they rule and define and speak for the rest of us, showing us the proper way to think about things, perhaps they will attend as well -- who knows?  And who cares?

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Remember Remembering?

In the 1960s there was a strange trend.  Artificial Good Old Days.  There was a vaguely defined era of nostalgia created in the 1960s - a longing for a day that never existed.  The time and place resembled Mayberry, USA approximately 1910 or so.  People in this world did not work, and went strolling through the park, and had concerts in the gazebo, and everything was peaceful and good.

The start of it was the Beatles' creation Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band  With all their military regalia (peace-time military, of course!) and their martial tempos, they asked such musical questions as "Will you still feed me when I'm Sixty-Four? "  Well, Sir Paul at 64 looks pretty well-fed, so I guess that all worked out for him...

At the time (1968-or so) other bands jumped on the Band Wagon, and many became popular for the nostalgic tinge they added to their music (Mama Cass comes to mind.)   And more "New Old-Fashioned" songs were created.   Winchester Cathedral  was one of those songs which enjoyed #1 on the charts. Trivia question:  What was The New Vaudeville Band's second hit?

Every year at the end of our concert season, we have a show of summer-related songs. Sometimes I have to go it alone, but this year, I was lucky enough to have five people in the show. Here's a fun moment from that show, featuring Frederic Stein on the vocals.  Vo Do De Yo Doh!

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Imagination - Stephanie Kasper

It's a rare pleasure to be with a song t the moment it's born. And Stephanie Kasper is one such prolific and talented Milwaukee songwriter. I've been privileged to be able to work with her on numerous occasions. Two of her compositions were featured this year on a new compilation. One is the title track -- Trying Very Hard Not to Hate You.

Here is one about the creative process itself - Imagination. Enjoy!

Every year at the end of our concert season, we have a show of summer-related songs. Sometimes I have to go it alone, but this year, I was lucky enough to have five people in the show. This week I will be featuring five short clips from this show.

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

They're Still At It!

I've known Norm since First Grade, and we've been enjoying music together almost that long.   A week after this performance, Norm staged the Return of Elvis at a fund-raiser event in Madison.  

Here, we're doing a Top 40 song from the 1890s - In the Evening By the Moonlight.  Feel free to sing along!

Every year at the end of our concert season, we have a show of summer-related songs. Sometimes I have to go it alone, but this year, I was lucky enough to have five people in the show. Over the last few posts, I've been featuring some short clips from this show.

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Those Beatles

Part Two

Every year at the end of our concert season, we have a show of summer-related songs. Sometimes I have to go it alone, but this year, I was lucky enough to have five people in the show. Over the next few posts, I will be featuring five short clips from this show.

"That's nothing but a bunch of guys with long hair screaming 'yeah yeah yeah' - you call that music???" It was this sort of thing that I grew up with, and still to this day encounter.

The Beatles, as songwriters were lyrical, harmonious, and melodiously complex. As musicians, they were an innovative force - each new album they released defined a whole new musical trend, which was promptly adopted and imitated by other musicians.

And, here's what I hope is an insightful interpretation of the most ubiquitous of the "cacophonious noise" that we love so. Let me hear ya say "Yeah!"

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, July 4, 2011

From the Age of Bossa Nova

Every year at the end of our concert season, we have a show of summer-related songs. Sometimes I have to go it alone, but this year, I was lucky enough to have five people in the show. Over the next few posts, I will be featuring five short clips from this show.

My wife, Joyce performed a bossa nova number from the 1950s by Luis Bonfa. "A Day in the Life of a Fool" which was one of the recurring themes in the movie "Black Orpheus" (1959). There was a Latin-American music fad in the late 50s, fueled by bongo groups, Harry Belafonte, and - often omitted from the historical accounts, my hero - Steve Allen.


Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.