Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Gangster Conspiracy

Chris Bunch

Apparently the Chris Bunch Star Risk, LTD. book that my son and I fleshed out after his passing has been deemed acceptable. I got a note from my editor saying that the line-editing was done and the ms would be sent to production next week.

I think it is supposed to come out next summer.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Guitarzan ...

Thursday before last, I went for my first guitar lesson. Local guitar store has four or five teachers on tap, and I picked one who plays stuff I like. Got there just as the skies opened up, wind, rain, and met the teacher, a guy maybe my son's age. He saw that I had a classical guitar, went out into the shop and collected one, tuned it, and asked, "Okay, what do you want to learn?"

The teacher is in a local band, has CDs, and plays a wide range of material.

I was, I said, interested in fingerstyle playing, (fingers instead of a flat pick) classic rock and blues, with some odds and ends pop stuff. Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Buddy Guy, like that.
I also wanted to learn a specific technique, called tremolo, more about which later.

I didn't have a book I was working from, which is how a lot of students approach things. I did have a fresh piece of music with TAB (a system of notation created by luteists and often applied to the guitar in lieu of standard cleft-and-notes). He looked at it, played it, and demonstrated that he had the musical chops to be be teaching.

The piece -- the theme from the movie The Godfather -- had in it some tremolo, which involves rapidly picking a single string with several fingers to produce a quavery sustained note. (A violin string under a bow can make a long, echo-y note, but plucked guitar string notes decay rapidly, thus tremolo. If you've ever heard a good mandolin player do Russian music, you know the effect. And if you have ever heard the classical piece Recuerdos de la Alhambra, you also know what it sounds like.)

I'd been trying in on my own, but hadn't managed to get it right.

The teacher demonstrated that could do the effect. He brought out a piece of classical music by Carcassi that wasn't too hard and suggested I try that. Then he showed me a nice Chicago blues groove, that sounded a lot like the background music of a TV commercial for Cialis, the, um, anti-ED drug. He wrote out some different key progressions for 12-bar blues, ( I-IV-V chords, since all you need for blues is three chords and a turnaround, though you can add in 7ths and 9ths to make it sound better. Showed me a nice turnaround in the key of A.)

This being an introductory half hour lesson, that was it.

It was a good experience. I enjoyed it. The teacher obviously had skill, knew his stuff, and he was pleasant, but there was something ... missing ...

The first thing was, he didn't ask me to play anything. Not being a teacher, I don't know if this is normal, but had I been in his seat, I would have wanted to know what the student knew, and I'd have asked questions and asked to hear something so I could tell. No big deal, but that makes sense to me. If I laid something out, then maybe he could have pointed to places where I could have fingered the piece differently or better. Made comments on the tone or resonance or somesuch. Was what I already had any good? How could I make it better?

That would have been my first order of business: What kind of music do you like? Play something for me.

Second thing was, he didn't really show me anything I couldn't have gotten out of book or offline on my own. I've been doing that for a couple years and while I'm not a good player, I am still making progress.

I'm not sure what I expected, but whatever it was, I came away less than satisfied.

It isn't the teaching per se; I've been studying one thing or another all my life, I have no problems having somebody offer knowledge I have to work at learning. I've been in a silat class coming up on a dozen years, started a yoga class this summer.

The question now is, do I try again? Give the guy another shot? Or maybe try another teacher?
When I got a new guitar, I resolved to give it serious attention, and taking lessons seemed to way to go. Now, I'm unsure.

Maybe the autodidact in me wants to make a point. And I wonder, does he have a valid one?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Case in Point

So, the long awaited guitar case finally arrived. Goes well with the osage orange guitar Alan Carruth built, heavy and well-made, should protect the instrument just fine, and it looks waaay cool, with the faux-swamp gator and gold plush lining ...

Okay, I'm done buying stuff for a while. Back to work ...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Another Passage

I had planned to do a funny bit about bad metaphors and redundant terms in fiction writing today, but the phone rang at five-thirty a.m. and it was my wife's sister:

My mother-in-law died this morning.

This was both completely unexpected -- and not at all a surprise: My mother-in-law was a Christian Scientist, and since they don't talk about things like illness, much less the possibility of death, she hadn't let on that she was anything but fine.

From twenty-five-hundred miles away, it was hard to tell otherwise. My sister-in-law, who lived a few blocks away, didn't keep us apprised, being a Christian Scientist herself.

This is a large can of worms in our house, cause for much anger and grief, since my wife's middle sister died almost a dozen years ago, and she was also a Christian Scientist. Nobody bothered to tell us she had breast cancer -- nobody ever actually told us that at all -- and by the time we found out, it had spread beyond any hope of medical treatment.

She found a small lump in her breast a year before she died. A year. And she prayed instead of seeing a doctor. She never told my wife about it. She came to see her mother a few weeks before she died, and we all took turns sitting with her when she finally passed away.

There is no way of knowing if she would have died anyhow, western medicine can't cure everything, but the odds would have been in her favor. She left behind a grieving husband, two not-quite-grown sons, and a sister who mourned her beyond my ability to put down here. I thought it was a terrible, terrible, waste, and, more horribly, that she was blamed for dying because her faith wasn't strong enough -- that put me into a murderous rage.

If you have ever sat up half the night with somebody hallucinating monsters because of what was probably metastatic brain cancer who wouldn't take medication to help, you might have some idea of how angry I was when it was all done.

Yesterday, my sister-in-law called to tell my wife that their mother had not been eating, and that they had driven her to Dallas, Texas, from Baton Rouge, to put her into a CS nursing home.

Yesterday afternoon.

How bad is she? my wife asked.

My sister-in-law was vague. She doesn't really know much about illness.

Should I fly down? Call? My wife asked.

Maybe not yet. She probably doesn't feel like talking.

So before my wife could do anything -- Less than twenty four hours later -- her mother was gone.

She never told us, but the ME in Dallas knew by looking at her:

Breast cancer.

Two weeks ago when my wife talked to her, her mother allowed as how she had lost some weight, but that she was fine. And from our experience, we now realize that this was something less than truthful disclosure. She had probably been ill for months, at least. Maybe years.

I am perfectly willing to allow that people should be allowed to believe whatever they wish, as long as it doesn't involve making me believe it, or hurting others. But I have to say, straight up, that my experience with Christian Science causes me to despise it. It has given my wife no end of unhappy times, and I have no use for it whatsoever. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law were deeply committed to it, and it didn't work for them.

If you disagree with my opinion, don't bother to tell me. I don't care to hear what anybody thinks about this particular subject from the other side.

My mother-in-law and I seldom saw eye-to-eye on much of anything, but I knew the woman for more than forty years, and I am sorry that she is gone -- and sorry for the path she chose to leave.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Yeah, I was born down there and certainly that part of the country has its share of problems, but it was home for a long time, and it also has some good points. The song "Dixie" isn't really PC these days, although I find it amusing that it was supposedly Abraham Lincoln's favorite tune. I like it. Especially that slow version Bobby Horton did for Ken Burns's PBS documentary on The Recent Unpleasantness (though he mistakenly called it "The Civil War ...")

Anyhow, I came up with a slow instrumental version I like and since I wanted to give folks who might find it interesting a chance to hear what the new guitar sounds like, if you want to risk it, go here:


Starting Thursday morning next, I begin guitar lessons. Maybe a year or two from now, I'm still around, I can post a link to something better than this poor effort.

For you gearheads, this was recorded straight into my Mac via a Samson CO1U USB mike, using the program GarageBand, exported to iTunes, and then uploaded as a small MP3 file to SoundClick. It's not sweetened, save whatever GarageBand does automatically for its mixdown, and all the finger taps and squeaks are audible.

Me, I'm not so good, but -- don't the guitar sound fine?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day Weekend Silat Seminar

This weekend just past, we had our annual Silat Sera seminar, held this year at the muy thai boxing gym next to the Place to Shoot, in Portland. This is a gathering designed primarily for Guru Stevan Plinck's students, though dedicated silat players from other styles are sometimes invited.

All day Saturday and Sunday we played, stand-up combinations, groundfighting, sensitivity exercises, and I had a fine old time. Even though everything we covered was pretty basic, each time I see it, it looks different. It is true that you never step into the same river twice.

The facility was great. Todd and Tiel found a barbeque place that delivered ribs and chicken and red beans and rice and cornbread and collard green on Saturday, and that was passing good.

Got a chance to meet Bobbe Edmunds, finally, who also brought one of his silat students, Todd, and that was cool -- Bobbe is really a nice man, no matter what you might have heard otherwise.

Yesterday was a particularly long day for me -- we got started silat about ten a.m., I left at four p.m., hurried home, showered, dressed in a tuxedo, and Dianne and I attended the wedding of Ami Margolin, and Andy Rome, Ami being the daughter of a writer we know.

It was a traditional Jewish ceremony, and the bride's parents, Phil and Doreen, had basically rented an entire hotel for it. Champagne, snack food, dinner, and dancing, with three different musical groups playing at various aspects-- a chamber trio, a jazz quartet, and a dance band. A truly happy event, and my guess was about four hundred people in attendance. We sat at a table with people we knew -- my literary agent, Jean Naggar, (who is also Phil Margolin's agent) and her husband Serge; Ray and Jean Auel; Mary Joan O'Connell: and our Congressman, David Wu. Lovely event, worked up a sweat dancing in my penguin suit, and we got home just before midnight. Walking the dogs was a slow chore because we were really tired by that point.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Couple More Guitar Pictures

And a couple more pictures ...


So, my much-awaited Alan Carruth-built classical guitar arrived today, and, boy, howdy, it is a humdinger!

Those of you who recall seeing me post on this before, please bear with me while I gush a bit:

The guitar has a cedar top, with back and sides of Osage Orange. This is a "trash" wood that Alan says works as a drop-in for rosewood -- sounding, somewhere, he says, between Brazilian and Indian. Freshly cut, it has a pumpkin color to it, darkening eventually toward brown.

One of the biggest advantages of such a wood as Osage Orange is that it doesn't start the meter running anywhere near the cost of Brazilian rosewood.

Um. Anyway, the guitar got here, I tuned it up, and it -- not to put to fine a point on it -- is outstanding. It's pretty basic, the only decoration being a small inlaid owl Alan uses for his logo, on the headstock. Sloane tuners.

I have been fortunate enough, even though I'm not a good player, to lay hands on some very good classical guitars, and Alan's is the equal of any of them, and at considerably less cost.

From time to time, Alan posts in the music newsgroups, regarding various instruments. He really seems to have a handle on the theory -- he can talk the talk.

And I'm here to tell you, he can also walk the walk.

Once the strings settle in and I have a chance to fool around with it, I'll record something and put it up on my SoundClick page.

This one will be traveling with me. If I have to leave it behind, it will be stored somewhere as secure as Fort Knox ...

Sure makes up for the case not getting here, yee-haw it does ...

(Clicking or double-clicking on the pictures will make them larger -- least it does on Firefox's browser.)

For the Guitar Players

A cautionary tale ...

At the end of March, I decided I needed a new guitar case, in honor of my new guitar which is supposed to be here any day now. Maybe even today ...

I got online and built a virtual case, on Cedar Creek's website. This is a cool feature, by the way -- you tell the software what color and finish and hardware you want, and it produces an image. I wound up with brown faux "swamp alligator" on the outside, and gold plush on the interior.

I have one of my classical guitars encased in a Cedar Creek tweed, and it's a fine box -- five-ply laminated wood, arch-top, six latches, very sturdy and heavy, and if not quite a top-of-the-line Calton case, a really good deal for about half as much.

So I emailed the sales department, got the price and delivery information, which was four weeks, and then sent a credit card number. Being cautious, I split the card number into two emails, half with one, half with the next.

June rolled around, no case, so I sent another email query.

Seems they hadn't gotten the second email, so they hadn't put the order through, and the salesman had been on the road, so he missed it.

Okay. That could have been my fault. I re-sent the number. First week of June.

Third week in July, having not heard back, I sent another email? What's up?

Salesman got back to me -- Sorry about that, my order was still in progress, but things got busy, the shop's volume went up, and the 6-8 week lead time had gone to 8-10 weeks.

Well, okay, since my order went in June 6th, I figured middle of August, right? Maybe another week past that.

So, last week of August, no case, I sent another query, and even though it has been only a few days, so far, no response.

Thus far, this process has run five months. If you discount the first chunk due entirely to my error and restart the clock, that makes it three months, which is still somewhat longer than the slipped delivery of two-to-two-and-a-half months ...

I think Cedar Creek produces well-made and good-looking cases, I like the one I have, but if my experience is any indication, best you be prepared to wait a while if you order one.

Or, "Ho, that's a good one on me!"