Tea Time With Jesse

Six of One, Half Dozen the Other

Archive for March, 2012

Blog Bizniz – Problems Commenting?

Posted by middlerage on March 31, 2012

I have a very liberal gate to commenting. If you are having problems, you shouldn’t be. Email me if you are.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Music Fridays – He Put the ‘T’ in Taciturn

Posted by middlerage on March 30, 2012

If you don’t live in a cave, you’ve been inundated with eulogies for Earl Scruggs: “The man who revolutionized banjo.” Scruggs died on Wednesday, and there have been some really nice writeups on the fella.

The way I really wanted to serve my readers, was to post examples of how the banjo was played, and then illustrate how Scruggs changed all that. All the eulogies keep talkin’ about how he revolutionized banjo pickin’ (with a three-fingered roll), but none of them are actually giving a before-and-after example. Well I tried to find some nice online video of clawhammer or frailing style and then show some video of Scruggs, but nothing was satisfying. Not that it isn’t out there…but I’m not in a mood to devote hours to the subject, and I’m a passing fan, not a scholar of the subject.

I have watched several hours of the Flatt and Scruggs Gand Ole Opry show, and in addition to Scruggs’ amazing pickin talent, the most endearing thing about him is his taciturnity. He and Buster Keaton* could be brothers. It is marvelous watching him approach front and center without a smile or a tic, and proceed to blaze forth with some down home Americana. Even his partner, Lester Flatt, often makes jokes about Scruggs’ silence.

I snagged this nice quote, by Marty Stuart, from theawl.com (which has a nice old b/w video, too):

“Rather than speak out about the connections between folk and country in the war-torn, politically contentious ‘60s, he simply showed up at folk festivals and played, at least when he and Flatt weren’t at the Grand Ole Opry. During the long-hair/ short-hair skirmishes of the ‘60s and ‘70s, he simply showed up and played, with Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and The Byrds. And when staunch fans of bluegrass – a genre that would not exist in a recognizable form without Mr. Scruggs’ banjo – railed against stylistic experimentation, Mr. Scruggs happily jammed away with sax player King Curtis, sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar, piano man Elton John and anyone else whose music he fancied. ‘He was the man who melted walls, and he did it without saying three words,’ said his friend and acolyte, Marty Stuart in 2000.”

Emphasis mine.

NPR has a nice bit, about him, that does go a little into the ‘scruggs style’ and how it differed from previous banjo playin.’: Bluegrass Legend Earl Scruggs has Died.

Finally, some video of that wonderful, expressionless face:

*Silent film star Buster Keaton was known as ‘old stone face’ for his hilarious, befuddled hi-jinks in early comedy.

Posted in Thinking 'bout music | 2 Comments »

A New Art of Storytelling?

Posted by middlerage on March 28, 2012

My latest haul from the local branch library includes Hater by David Moody, two books from Rudyard Kipling (Kim and Captains Courageous), and the DVD of 127 Hours. The Kipling is because I am resolved to get more classics under my belt this year, and I’ve a hankering to concentrate on the 19th century.

Hater is a zombie-esque novel and will be the subject of a later blog post. I only bring it up because the cover says, “Hater, a novel.” It is interesting to me that it needs to identify itself as a novel. Half of me laughs at this bit of hubris but the other half appreciates it – when one is scanning over a bunch of library shelves, it helps to know if it is a book or poetry or a collection of short stories. However, I’m usually pretty sure when I’m standing in the non-fiction stacks and when I’m in the “its-all-made-up” section. Perhaps I should redo my title, “Tea Time With Jesse, a blog.”

Novels didn’t always exist. They were new once, and “novel” as it were. When I started drafting this post I was thinking that I remembered Silas Marner as being considered the first English-language novel. A little research shows I am wayyyyy off – Wikipedia has an interesting entry on early novels, with the first one being written at least in the 1700s if not earlier. I don’t know where my silly memory latched onto Silas Marner, but with a publish date of 1861, it is clearly not the first. Still I can add it to my “to-read” list above.

Anyhoo…the point of this post is that twice in the last year I’ve run across stories that are a new format to me, and may or may not be a new way of story telling. Your opinion is certainly invited. The first is a book (non-fiction) called The Tiger, by John Vaillant, about the hunt for a man-eating tiger in Siberia; the second is the movie, mentioned above, 127 hours, (dir. by Peter Boyle of Slumdog Millionaire fame).

What is new and unique – I think – about these two stories is that they are one sentence stories that have been expanded into large commentaries on the human condition. Essentially, they are the padded essay that is a High School Composition teacher’s worst nightmare. Yet I found both tellings quite remarkable and quite enjoyable.

The story of 127 hours can be told in a headline – Hiker Hacks Off Own Arm to Escape Loose Boulder. In fact, I remember reading about it when it occurred in 2003. There’s really only a paragraph’s worth of expansion to this tale: how did he get stuck? Why wasn’t he rescued? What was it like to cut off your own arm? Of course, GQ or Esquire could, and did, expand this out even more to a long magazine article. But a two hour movie? (Okay, 90 minutes, but still…)

I rented the dvd with trepidation. I didn’t really want to watch 90 minutes of gory pointless agony, but I was interested in the story.

Well. The movie is really good, and it isn’t 90 minutes of pointless pain. It uses the foundation of the headline  – and this is what I submit is a new art form – to artfully explore  an entire spectrum of themes: people and aloneness, self-sufficiency, relationships with family and friends, relationships with ourselves, dreams, hallucinations, hope, despair, preparedness, premonitions, and some beautiful Utah scenery. I apologize if I seem to be gushing, but I think it is because I am amazed that they got from one sentence story to 90 minutes. There is an R rating for “bloody gore” and there is an arm being cut, but for the squeamish among you it is a brief part, and not prurient.

Likewise, in The Tiger, there is really only a sentence of story, here: A Russian ranger in a Siberian Tiger sanctuary must hunt down a rogue tiger that is eating the villagers. He finds it, he kills it, the end. But Vaillant expands this out to a 500 page hardback, where I found myself dually repulsed and attracted by the “padding” and amazed by a story that explores everything from the history of Tsarist Russia to the history of Soviet Russia to human evolution to gun history to tiger evolution to economics and more.

One of the more fascinating segues to me, as a father, was Vaillant’s exploration of fear-of-animals, especially as seen in psych tests of children. It seems our long and brutal evolution has left us with an innate sense of what-is-dangerous. When small children, who have never seen a tiger or bear, are shown pictures of such, they automatically shrivel in defense. We come pre-loaded with the software. No need to train our little monkeys – they already know who the bad guys of the savannah are. I find this fascinating, because we materialistic westerners and our houseful of DVDs are inundated with images of the lion and zebra as best friends. No gnu meat ever crosses Disney lion’s lips. And I wonder, “Are we doing our kids a favor with this protectionism? Would they really be psychically scarred if we watched a cable channel with gory-hunt-as-it-really-is?” (Of course, maybe our modern savannah stories would better show the innocuous sedan slowing down to offer a “ride”).

Anyhoo, you can learn more obscure stuff than you ever imagined, reading The Tiger, and some of it even has to do with tigers. The Siberian Tiger is a magnificent animal, and I hope it survives the 21st century. It seems the news is lately filled with tragic info about endangered animals – after a couple of decades of steady rebound, rhinoceroses and elephants and once again being poached in agonizing numbers. Likewise, the Siberian Tiger is awfully close to China, which has a fetish for medicins de tigre. Poaching, coupled to global warming, is an unhappy omen for this big cat. Other times, the big cats exhibit preternatural desires for revenge, as was the case for the subject of Vaillant’s book. This tiger went after very specific folks (seemingly) and once you cut down arrogant humans, you remove yourself from the “protected” list and onto the man-eaters-must-be-culled list.

Sorry buddy, but the ultimate predator list has room for only one at the top.

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