6G Needled to Death

November 7, 2007



The history of technology is complex and fascinating, especially as it applies to the reproduction of sound. When CDs began to replace phonographs, my wife and I were happy to stop dealing with phonograph needles, which damaged a record slightly every time we played it, even though we cleaned the record and changed our needles and so on.

Although my wife is much more discriminating in regard to music than I am, CDs are good enough for us. There are, however, audiophiles who believe that the analog technology of the phonograph reproduces music with much more fidelity and warmth than the digital technology of the CD.

OP (our daughter’s Out of Law partner) recently told us that they had replaced their home music system with a system based around iPod technology. I am bewildered.

When my family moved from Wisconsin back to Rockland, County New York (a suburb of New York City), I was eager to find a copy of Jimmy Giuffre’s Traveling Light album I had only heard once on am radio in the middle of the night. One day my father took me into NYC to visit my aunt Henriette and my uncle-in-law Morton.

I had already called some big record stores in the “City” and located one with a copy of the album. We stopped at the record store, I purchased the album,  and brought it with me to Henriette and Morton’s apartment.

Most of my family detested Morton. He didn’t like my family very much, either. I found him a bit supercilious and condescending, but aside from that I got along with him OK.

Both Henriette and Morton were great lovers of the arts. Of course, opera was their greatest love. Clutching my still sealed Jimmy Giuffre album, I was eager to play it as soon as I could. (I was a teenage boy, a type of creature that does not do well with delayed gratification.) It has been over a year since I had heard this album. I wondered: would I still love it?)

Henriette and Morton had no interest in jazz, but they were willing to indulge their nephew. They explained to me that they had a collection of several thousand opera albums. They explained to me that they considered “modern” (at that time, 33 1/3 rpm was considered modern) recordings inferior to classic recordings of such luminaries as Caruso on 78 rpm records. Almost all of their albums were on 78 rpm albums. They explained to me that they used a special phonograph needle, designed to play such old records. They weren’t really sure it would play my 33 1/3 album properly.


Did teenage Random listen? Of course not. I ripped the plastic shrink wrap off the album. Morton placed it on his phonograph. As the music emerged from the speakers, I listened eagerly. It was as wonderful as I remembered, but something was wrong. I am not a person of fast reflexes. I am slow to react in an emergency. The first track was almost finished playing before it dawned on me that the needle was destroying my precious brand-new record.


I previously told the story of how I had searched for a “lost” album containing the song “Gold Watch and Chain” for my wife.

I had searched for years for this record. One day I found it had been re-issued on CD and was able to surprise her with it.

The story of the Jimmy Giuffre record has a similar happy ending. I spent years searching through used record stores trying to find an undamaged copy of Traveling Light to no avail.

Eventually, there was a modest revival (perhaps too strong a word) of interest in Jimmy Giuffre and several of his albums were reissued on CD, including Traveling Light. It was combined with another old “jazz” album, a recording of jazz singer Mabel Mercer. I listened to her part once. It’s OK, but not of much interest to me. The record company’s thinking in this regard was opaque to me.

You can’t always go home again, but sometimes you can visit a re-issued old abode.

Next: Death and the Calendar



6E Blues in the Night

November 4, 2007

When the evenin’ sun goes down
You’re gonna find me hangin’ ’round
The nightlife ain’t no good life
But it’s my life

Many people just like me
Dreaming of old used-to-be’s
The nightlife ain’t no good life
But it’s my life

Listen to the blues they’re playin’
Listen to what the blues are sayin’

Ohhh mine is just another scene
From a world of broken dreams
The nightlife ain’t no good life
But it’s my life

Listen to the blues baby
Listen to what the blues are sayin’

Mine is just another scene
From a world of broken dreams
The nightlife ain’t no good life
But it’s my life

To explain the trauma that occurred at the New York City apartment of my aunt Henriette, who sought to be an opera singer for the Metropolitan Opera and her husband, Morton, who presented himself as her trainer, I must go back a couple of years to a time and location where a musical influence imprinted itself on my immature mind. I will also check out whether David Rochester’s wide-ranging musical knowledge and tastes overlap with my erratic tastes in regard to jazz.

In the 1950s, computers were still new, and the field of computer science had not yet developed into the specialized profession it is now. After his first heart attack, my father, a brilliant man who had neither a college degree nor a good job, talked his way into becoming accepted for training as a computer programmer for a defense contractor, and my family was launched on a hopscotch trek across the United States that took me from the Orange County, California townlet of Brea to Paterson, New Jersey, to Suffern, New York, to Woodstock, New York (yes, that Woodstock, but not yet a national icon) to Madison, Wisconsin.

As a dorky adolescent of about 15 years of chronological age but about five years in emotional maturity, though a five-year-old with adolescent hormones, I enrolled in Verona High School, in a rural suburb of Madison. Hormones that raged when as a piccolo player who could not march in step my love-struck eyes caressed the fair form of Delores, the trumpet player, who later joined the Marines.

Hormones that raged at night when I thought of Renate sleeping in the next upstairs bedroom in our rental house.

Renate was a German woman in her 20s who become engaged to a GI and came to United States to wed him. Something went amiss and they broke up, leaving her stranded in Wisconsin, USA.

Renate struck me as an incredibly sensual, sexy young woman. Of course, to a 15 year old male, almost any female person with breasts seems like an incredibly sensual, sexy woman. However, although Renate was not spectacular in face or figure as young women go, she must have had something incredible going in the pheromone business because almost every American man who met her immediately asked her for a date and then asked her to marry him by the time he took her home.

Jim, a co-worker of my dad’s who parked his house trailer next to our house, accepted Renate’s rejection of him with enough equanimity to introduce her to my family. My parents invited the German stray to live with us. She helped my ineffectual mother with the kids and the chores. My father had learned some German from my previous best friend’s German Jewish refugee mother; Renate provided an opportunity to practice his German some more. People who knew my family wondered what my mother was thinking when she consented to this arrangement, though as far as I know, nothing more untoward than conjugating German verbs occurred between Renate and my dad.

While Jim was at work, he let my siblings and me (and Renate as well) have the run of his trailer. Mostly we used his stereo, which was much better than anything my family had. Mostly I listened to his jazz albums. Mostly Renate listened to his one Frank Sinatra album over and over and over and over and… If this were a novel, something exciting might have happened in Jim’s bedroom, I suppose, but it’s not a novel; just a memoir of a dorky adolescent.

Upstairs in my bedroom in the cold Wisconsin night, unable to sleep as I fantasized about how a sophisticated German woman (who had too many adult males salivating over her to want to have anything to do with a dorky teenage boy) might introduce me to the mysteries of sex, I pressed my AM clock radio to my ear and listened to the far-off stations that drifted across the American prairies at night. Two types of music imprinted themselves on my still musically unformed mind.

One type of music, drifting up from stations in Nashville, emerged from mournful guitars and harmonicas played by blues singers such as Howling Wolf and Little Walter. Blues such as that provide my favorite music even now to inspire me to keep my legs moving as I plug away on my treadmill.

The second type of music was jazz. At that time, children who fancied themselves alienated (and maybe slightly “beat”) listened to “modern” jazz. My impression of modern jazz was that a combo would state a theme, and then soloists such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk would take turns performing brilliant, if at times raucously discordant, improvisations. (I was not, and still am not, very sophisticated in my musical understanding.)

A slightly different tradition, perhaps corresponding more to chamber music and baroque music, falls under labels such as “cool jazz.” Probably the best known example of this style of music was The Modern Jazz Quartet.

West Coast. During the 1950s, a number of the prototypic “cool” musicians were based in the Los Angeles area, and so the “cool jazz” style was accidentally construed as a regional style and dubbed “West Coast Jazz.” A sizable portion of the major figures who are routinely called “West Coast musicians,” most notably Gerry Mulligan, were not from California and lived there only sporadically during the 1950s. To be fair, however, note that Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Art Pepper, Chet Baker, and others had grown up on the West Coast, bandleader Stan Kenton was based there, quintessential “cool jazz” musician Jimmy Giuffre lived in the Los Angeles area from 1946 to 1960, and many others made their living in orchestras of movie studios there during the 1950s.

Jimmy Giuffre, a thoughtful white Texan who marched not to a different drummer but no drummer at all because he usually did not include drums in his various “chamber jazz”-like groups, at that time played clarinet and saxaphone with guitarist Jim Hall and trombonist Bob Brookmeyer. As they drove from gig to gig across the country in a VW Bus with this version of the “Jimmy Giuffre 3,” they assembled an album they called Traveling Light.

As I listened to the cool, moody jazz travelogue, I was utterly hypnotized. I had to have that album. However, not only was this album not to be found in Verona, Wisconsin about 1966, I doubt there was a jazz album in Verona, Wisconsin in 1966.




Next: The Big Scratch

Canadian Pianist

October 3, 2007

Glenn Gould

Comment, David?

Trivial Grumbles #2

September 26, 2007

A commenter on one of David Rochester’s posts asked if he had considered whether or not he is an alien (because his reactions to life are so different from many other people.) I commented that the issue comes up frequently in discussions with my wife.

For example, she generally does not subscribe the “more is better” attitude so typical of American life. The “voluntary simplicity” movement is rather fashionable in certain quarters; my wife was volunteering to be simple before most of these faddish people were ostentatiously driving around in their new Prius hybrid cars.

When we first bought a CD player (at a very agreeable but very yuppie stereo dealer) the pleasant sales person offered her a player that holds multiple CDs. My wife was (politely) outraged and disgusted. “Why would anyone want to put more than one CD in a player?” she asked me when we got home, with a CD player that held one CD. “Am I going to listen to five CDs, all day? Do I know in advance exactly which five CDs I am going to want to listen to over the coming week?” she went on as she warmed to her theme.

(As I’ve mentioned, my wife’s improvises diatribes on a theme of discontent like jazz musician Miles Davis’ improvised riffs on jazz themes in his classic Kind of Blue jazz album.)


Unfortunately, the evil electricity demons murdered her simple CD player, and when we went to replace it, the stereo salesman informed her it was no longer possible to buy a player that only held one CD. We took home a five-CD player. With not entirely good grace she used it for several years.

Recently, the CD player committed suicide. My wife often listens to books on tape from the library, only now, they are books on CD. (My wife begins her riff with a complaint about CDs compared to tapes.) The CD player refused to open the CD door. (Now the CD is overdue at the library. The CD player has made my wife, a person who would no more keep a library item overdue then she would run over a child’s toy left in the street, a scofflaw.) My wife called the service department of the stereo store. They informed her it would cost more to repair CD player than to replace it. (Miles Davis was a gifted jazz musician with a notably bad temper

From his Playboy Interview:

Playboy: Linked with your musical renown is your reputation for bad temper and rudeness to your audiences. Would you comment?

Davis: Why is it that people just have to have so much to say about me? It bugs me because I’m not that important. Some critic that didn’t have nothing else to do started this crap about I don’t announce numbers, I don’t look at the audience, I don’t bow or talk to people, I walk off the stage, and all that.

Look, man, all I am is a trumpet player. I only can do one thing — play my horn — and that’s what’s at the bottom of the whole mess. I ain’t no entertainer, and ain’t trying to be one. I am one thing, a musician. Most of what’s said about me is lies in the first place. Everything I do, I got a reason.

The reason I don’t announce numbers is because it’s not until the last instant I decide what’s maybe the best thing to play next. Besides, if people don’t recognize a number when we play it, what difference does it make?

Why I sometimes walk off the stand is because when it’s somebody else’s turn to solo, I ain’t going to just stand up there and be detracting from him. What am I going to stand up there for? I ain’t no model, and I don’t sing or dance, and I damn sure ain’t no Uncle Tom just to be up there grinning. Sometimes I go over by the piano or the drums and listen to what they’re doing. But if I don’t want to do that, I go in the wings and listen to the whole band until it’s the next turn for my horn.

Then they claim I ignore the audience while I’m playing. Man, when I’m working, I know the people are out there. But when I’m playing, I’m worrying about making my horn sound right.

And they bitch that I won’t talk to people when we go off after a set. That’s a damn lie. I talk plenty of times if everything’s going like it ought to and I feel right. But if I got my mind on something about my band or something else, well, hell, no, I don’t want to talk. When I’m working I’m concentrating. I bet you if I was a doctor sewing on some son of a bitch’s heart, they wouldn’t want me to talk.

The words are not exactly the same, and the topic is not exactly the same, but the music is similar to my wife on the theme of the multiple CD player, as she describes the irritating noises it made as it rotated the five platters before it would get around to playing the one CD she had put it in …

The stereo dealer told my wife they are once again selling single disc CD players. She bought one and brought it home. We set it up and played her “Gold Watch and Chain” CD.

However, the old, broken CD player is still holding the library CD captive.

“I can probably take it to a little fix-it shop I know” and get them to open the door without charging as much,” I helpfully said.

“Never mind,” she said darkly. “They told me it’s worthless. I will take great pleasure in smashing my way into the *@!# CD player to remove the library disk.”

As far as I know, Miles Davis never smashed a trumpet. But there’s always the famous British rock band, The Who:

In September 1964, at the Railway Tavern in Harrow and Wealdstone, England, Pete Townshend smashed his first guitar. Playing on a high stage, Townshend’s physical style of performance resulted in him accidentally breaking off the head of his guitar when it collided with the ceiling. Angered by snickers from the audience, he proceeded to smash the instrument to pieces on the stage. He then picked up a Rickenbacker twelve-string guitar and continued the concert. A large crowd attended their next concert, but Townshend declined to smash another guitar. Instead, Keith Moon wrecked his drumkit. Instrument destruction became a staple of The Who’s live shows for the next several years. The incident at the Railway Tavern is one of Rolling Stone magazine’s “50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock ‘n’ Roll”.



Last year I blogged about attending a classical music festival on the island, including a performance of Bach’s challenging Goldberg variations.

This year my wife and I attended the second annual festival. A quartet performed works by Haydn and Mozart, including Haydn’s “Frog,” a Mozart Duo and as well as his “Dissonance” Quartet.

As before, the musicians played on period instruments and intermixed their performances with brief, illuminating comments about their venerable instruments and bows and about the composers. I hadn’t realized that Haydn and Mozart had performed together; I imagined with wonder how staggering it would be to hear the two in concert.

Haydn famously said of Mozart to Mozart’s father: “Before God and as an honest man I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name: He has taste, and, furthermore, the most profound knowledge of composition.”

They mentioned that Mozart’s father was one of the leading violin teachers of his time. Given the difficult relationship Mozart had with his dad, one of our performers mentioned wryly that Mozart had switched to playing viola more often than violin.

The four musicians emanated considerable congeniality and affinity. At one point, one of the performers broke into a broad smile; the other three displayed answering gentle grins.

I could not tell if the smile represented shared joy at playing beautiful music together or if the first smile acknowledged some error in the performance too subtle for me to notice and the answering smiles ruefully acknowledged the slip.

Aunt Naomi, the ballerina, from a bohemian Jewish Chicago family obsessed with alternative health care, married Donald, product of a California pioneer ranching family in the high desert near Hemet, an engineer who worked for the power utility in Los Angeles.

Donald and Naomi settled in Fullerton, another small town in Orange County, California, only a few miles away from Brea.

Naomi opened a ballet studio. Donald eventually became a chiropractor. One of their two daughters, Joanna, learned Chinese in Taiwan and became, with her Taiwanese husband, the millionaire co-owner of the multi-national manufacturer of baby strollers and children’s furniture, Graco. I consider her success an example of the virtues of bringing hybrid vigor into your family tree.

After Grandfather Harry, dentist turned naturopath, died, perhaps because he had not given himself enough colonics to keep himself healthy forever, Grandmother Agnes moved to California to live with her daughter, Naomi.

As a pacifist, Agnes believed she would turn the world away from war by writing children’s plays that contained no conflict and no violence. By watching and performing in such plays, the next generation of children would become, Agnes believed, a new kind of human who would eschew violence. As you can see, Agnes was ahead of her time. Perhaps a few million years ahead.

Once a year, Naomi would rent a theatre to put on a recital of the children in her ballet studio. Ballet studios put on recitals just as companies pay dividends to investors. Parents invest in ballet lessons; they receive their dividend payment when they see little Caroline cavort on stage in her tutu.

Grandma Agnes wrote and directed a play that served as a “frame” for the whole recital. Thus Naomi, a very good daughter, humored her mother.

Although I could not (and still cannot) dance a lick, I was drafted into performing in the play as one of the two non-dancing characters. As the play opened, my stage sister and I were walking in the woods. Behind the stage scenery trees, presumably invisible to us though quite visible to the audience, were many little fairies in tutus along with the Queen of the Fairies, the most advanced “ballerina” of the dance studio, a teenager who had graduated to “toe” shoes and could display some actual dancing ability.

My stage sister exclaimed, “Oh, what beautiful woods. I bet fairies live here! [Rustling and suppressed giggling among hidden fairies.] I wish I could be a fairy and dance through the woods! Wouldn’t you like to be a fairy dancing through the woods, too, Random?”

At this point, I delivered my big line of the play. Twirling around in an exaggerated pastiche of fairy dancing, I exclaimed, “Oh, sure, I bet I would look really cute as a prancing fairy!” (As this was still the innocent 1950s, this line was not greeted with the embarrassed laughter it would produce today.)

The Fairy Queen royally emerged from the stage bushes and trees, sternly chastising me for my disdainful and disrespectful attitude toward fairies. To teach me the error of my ways, the various inhabitants of faerie land would perform for my sister and I. For the next two hours I stood at awkward attention watching fairies, elves, sprites, and other magical creatures perform. (Fortunately for my aching legs and uncertain bladder, there were a couple of intermissions.)

Small children who were not really able to dance, a group that included my younger brother B and my younger sister D, portrayed brownies who tumbled. My brother performed his somersault, and then noticed that our sister was standing petulantly still.

“Do your somersault!” he sternly chastised her.

“I can’t! My back hurts,” my sister retorted in a loud voice that carried through the entire theatre.

My aunt, an experienced impresario of small children performing over their heads, quickly rushed on stage with a gracious smile/moue toward the parents of affectionate complicity and gently but firmly ushered the floundering brownies off stage.

Eventually, all the denizens of faerie gathered on stage for a grand finale of magical dancing prowess. The Queen of Fairy Land demanded of Random if he now appreciated the wonders of life as a fairy. The eleven-year-old nephew of the owner of the dance studio, bored out of his tiny brain, mustered as enthusiastic an assent as he bring himself to simulate and then joined in the bows to the thundering applause of the assembled parents.

After we our final retreat from the stage, my grandmother gathered me to her ample bosom and with regal aplomb, congratulated me on my dramatic prowess. I think that was my last appearance on a stage as an actor, though my brother, an accomplished amateur musician and ham, later performed in several neighborhood theatre productions as a combination actor/guitarist.

Yes, I know no guns appeared in this chapter. Agnes would have wanted it that way. They do appear in the next episode as we make our way to my uncle’s ranch near Hemet.

Yes, I know everyone wants to know if any rabbits have bitten the dust. Well, I tell my stories in my rambling way (a bad habit I learned from Jean Shepherd), so you’ll have to wait a bit longer.

Though, I will say that if you keep a pet bunny, and it appears on the grounds of the little house in the medium-sized woods, it should wear a bunny license and be on a leash, if it knows what’s good for it.

Back in the days when it was hip to be a hippie, my wife and I were “semi-hippies.” Our hair was long, and we dressed weird, but we never smoked pot or slept with anybody else besides each other. We were so square the other hippies looked askance on us.

Also, we went to hootenannies and listened to folk music at the folk music night clubs in Los Angeles such as the Ash Grove and Troubadour. My wife loved The New Lost City Ramblers (headed by Pete Seeger’s non-leftist nut case brother Mike Seeger), Canadian folk-rock husband and wife duo Ian and Sylvia (now divorced), and a pair of singers who performed as Kathy and Carol.

My wife especially loved Kathy and Carol’s song “Gold Watch and Chain.” In those days we didn’t have much money, so when we attended one of their concerts at a folk festival, and they were selling the album out of their car, we didn’t buy it. By the time I realized my wife really wanted that album, it was out of print.

It’s an old Carter Family song, but my wife didn’t want one of their albums. Emmylou Harris has recorded it, but she didn’t want that version either.

I searched for it at used records stores and at services that searched for old records, contacted the record company that had issued it, wrote to the singers, and once the Internet got going, searched on eBay. eBay has lots of gold watches with or without chains, but my wife is not that much of a jewelry person. As I mentioned once, I don’t wear rings (wedding or otherwise), and my wife stopped wearing a wedding ring years ago.

Occasionally I would hear my wife sadly singing a verse or two, and I would feel quite bad about her not having that album.

Last week, I was searching for something else on the Internet and noticed an advertisement on Amazon for a re-release of a Kathy and Carol album. Although I usually avoid clicking on web ads, I clicked eagerly on this and looked at the list of songs. Even though they had a typo in the song listing in the advertisement, I could tell it was “Gold Watch and Chain.” I yelled, “Yippee!” (providing further proof to my co-workers that their fellow employee is quite mad) and started hauling out my credit card as fast as my fingers could fumble.

When I got home from work late Wednesday night, I found a package from Amazon propped next to the mail box. The next morning, as my wife was getting up, the CD suddenly started playing “Gold Watch and Chain.” My wife came out of the bedroom and hugged me with cries of surprise and delight.

It took about 35 years to get around to this romantic gift, but some surprises just need a little time to get ripe.

I had finally redeemed the gold watch and chain from the pawn shop. This pawn shop is hard to find. I think it says, “Foul Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart” on the tiny sign, but it’s hard to find. It’s on a back street on an island somewhere.

Oh I’ll pawn you my gold watch and chain, love
And I’ll pawn you my gold wedding ring
I will pawn you this heart in my bosom
Only say that you’ll love me again

Darling, how could I stay here without you
I have nothing to ease my poor heart
This old world would seem sad, love, without you
Tell me now that we never will part

Oh I’ll pawn you my gold watch and chain, love
And I’ll pawn you my gold wedding ring
I will pawn you this heart in my bosom
Only say that you’ll love me again

Take back all the gifts you have given
A diamond ring and a lock of your hair
And a card with your picture upon it
It’s a face that is false but is fair

Oh I’ll pawn you my gold watch and chain, love
And I’ll pawn you my gold wedding ring
I will pawn you this heart in my bosom
Only say that you’ll love me again

Oh, the white rose that blooms in the garden
It grows with the love of my heart
It broke through on the day that I met you
It will die on the day that we part

Oh I’ll pawn you my gold watch and chain, love
And I’ll pawn you my gold wedding ring
I will pawn you this heart in my bosom
Only say that you’ll love me again


William Butler Yeats

The Circus Animals’ Desertion


I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last, being but a broken man,
I must be satisfied with my heart, although
Winter and summer till old age began
My circus animals were all on show,
Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot,
Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.


What can I but enumerate old themes,
First that sea-rider Oisin led by the nose
Through three enchanted islands, allegorical dreams,
Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose,
Themes of the embittered heart, or so it seems,
That might adorn old songs or courtly shows;
But what cared I that set him on to ride,
I, starved for the bosom of his faery bride.

And then a counter-truth filled out its play,
‘The Countess Cathleen’ was the name I gave it;
She, pity-crazed, had given her soul away,
But masterful Heaven had intervened to save it.
I thought my dear must her own soul destroy
So did fanaticism and hate enslave it,
And this brought forth a dream and soon enough
This dream itself had all my thought and love.

And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread
Cuchulain fought the ungovernable sea;
Heart-mysteries there, and yet when all is said
It was the dream itself enchanted me:
Character isolated by a deed
To engross the present and dominate memory.
Players and painted stage took all my love,
And not those things that they were emblems of.


Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.