Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"Ain't She Sweet?" My Way

Have you ever written something so good you're suprised you wrote it?

I've sold only one piece of music, an original rag, and that didn't entail an exchange of money.  Not quite a vanity press (they didn't charge to print it), the agreement was that there'd be no money until it sold at least 100 copies.  I guess we know how well it did.

For years back in the '50s, my family spent nearly every summer Saturday night at Rocky Springs Park, along the quiet Conestoga Creek near Lancaster, PA.  The park was old even then.  The airplane ride, for example, featured bi-planes.  The carousel was magnificent...not just horses, but an ostrich, a lion and other animals raced around while a Wurlitzer 185 band organ accompanied the ride.  Whatever was being played, it almost always had some syncopation and it may have been a ragtime song.  I know that's where my passion for ragtime came from.

Through the years I've written several piano duet (1 piano, 4 hands) arrangements of rags as well as some other music.  Now I have a PrintMusic program, and I've come to realize that what I've been trying to do is make a piano sound like a player piano.  Recently I put in several songs from the '20s and '30s with "piano conceptions" by Fats Waller.

For whatever reason, Sunday night I started an arrangement of "Ain't She Sweet?"  At first, I thought I do another duet, but then I thought it would be more fun to write it as if I were a pianist.  I imitated the format of the Fats Waller project...the sheet music as it was sold and then Waller's concept.  What I knew I couldn't do was imitate Fats himself.  Rather than ask WWF(ats)D, I thought what I'd like to play, how I'd like it to sound...in the manner of stride and rag, but certainly not in imitation of a particular pianist.

I finished it last night and couldn't believe how much fun it was.  I include the vocal and put it in as written the first time.  Then I take over.  I start with the verse, and it's plain that something different has happened.  Then I go through the chorus just with piano, and then bring back the vocal at the bridge ("Just cast an eye in that direction") and go full-bore to the end.

What also amazed me was that I did it without a piano keyboard.  PrintMusic is like typing, and I knew where I wanted to go and just typed it in.  I truly think it's a fun piano tune.  I think it's probably more for piano roll than for an accompanist, but who I am to judge?  I couldn't play it anyway.

Why "Ain't She Sweet?"  Why not?  Sweet, indeed.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dead, You Know

My dreams tend to be wonderful.  Yes, there are the occasional anxiety dreams, but I seem to have that under control now, pretty much.  The most recent of that variety came the other night.  I was at the public radio station where I spent too much time in real life.  We were about to go live with a pledge campaign.  I, naturally, was one of the beggers.  The station manager was to go on with me and we were going to take a new approach.  I was glad to hear that, but she then disappeared, our shift was about to start, and I had no idea what to do that was new.  Happily, I didn't care, either.  Anxiety...poof!

What I enjoy most is when friends no longer with us are part of the dream.  The public television/radio station I worked for started out in the Community Center in Hershey.  Our studio, tech area, and scene shop were in the basement.  The offices were on the 4th floor, which had been a dorm.  The 3rd floor was still a men's dorm, populated pretty much by garoulous old men.  The 4th floor had been home to visiting sports teams, including the Eagles back when they trained in Hershey.

Our offices were dorm rooms.  My room's closet was turned into a recording "studio," since I was the TV announcer.  It worked until folks yelled or laughed in the hall.  There were showers, wash rooms, and rest rooms on each wing.  The shower room in one wing was turned into the dark room; the other shower was storage.  The station was a wild, wonderful, creative place at the time.  The commercial stations did news; we did arts programs, political talk shows, movies, kids' specials, and much more.  We knew we were special.

Anyway, in the dream, we were in the process of moving out.  I went to the mailboxes to see if anything came in.  I heard conversation in an office, the voices of two people whose company I enjoyed.  I went in and saw two women who never worked there -- they were at the next location.  One of the women was laid off in '93, the other died within the last year.  They were friends in real life and were as much fun in the dream.  Ginnie, the woman who died, was packing boxes and Connie was going through piles of paper.  The dream was long-ish and it felt wonderful to be in their presence again.

Several of the people I worked with have died but show up in my dreams.  Mostly, I'm not aware that I'm dreaming.  Sometimes it's as though I haven't seen them in a long time and am happy for the reunion.  Other times, it's just as if it were a real life episode.

I'm 66.  Too many people I knew and loved and appreciated are now dead.  I miss them.  When I see them in a dream, it's usually as if I'm with them and our lives continue.  It's one of the joys of sleep.

Friday, January 25, 2013

It's My Party...

What I can't understand is why suicide freaks people out.  You'd think that your life is your own, and that should be a given.  The state can take away your property.  Hell, the state can take your life.  Why are we not allowed that decision with the one thing that is truly ours?

I have a problem with young people ending their lives.  Lord knows in the case of unbearable, unrelenting bullying I fully understand.  I'm less sympathetic with the young woman who didn't get to be cheerleader or the young man who didn't make the varsity squad.  A little perspective is needed on those.  The feeling of never being treated as an equal, of things never getting better is more understandable, but I wish there could be some perspective there, too.

Currently, I'm reading Anthony Bunko's biography of actor Hugh Laurie.  On page 19, Laurie is quoted,
"...it's hard to know whether your 15-year-old self is the true expression of who you are...(or) whether actually you're just a sort of pencil sketch at 15.  Which is the true you?"

In college and through my 20s, I was convinced I'd never live to see 30.  That was the person we couldn't trust, anyone over 30, and I didn't want to be one of those people.  No one was more surprised than I on that birthday.  I'm now more than twice 30, and I'm glad I didn't off myself.  A lot of good things have happened to me.  Still, why is it anybody's business what I chose and choose to do with my life?

Yes, I'm seeing a therapist and he knows I have "suicidal thoughts."  He knows that I've come close to doing it and he knows that I currently have a plan for, as described in Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado," The Happy Dispatch.  I've assured him that my departure isn't imminent.  If it were, however, what's it to him?  My appointment time would be quickly filled by someone.  Unless therapists get demerits on their permanent record, preventing my suicide would be a "failure" that wouldn't mean all that much, I suspect.

I hate that we still haven't come to understand the rightness of assisted suicides.  My mother died of cancer and was not allowed to have any big time drugs because she might become addicted.  She was dying anyway...what did addiction matter?  But she could not get serious pain relief nor would any physician consider helping her die with some modicum of dignity.  Truly, we treat our pets more humanely than we treat each other.

I'm not facing terminal illness, at least not yet.  I'm not particularly considering suicide today...or not any more than usual.  But why can't I complete this post's title without people freaking out?  It's my party and I'll die if I want to.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"All The King's Men"

One of the first plays I remember seeing outside of a school auditorium was "All The King's Men" at Franklin & Marshall College's Green Room Theater.  Our high school drama club went to see it and I was absolutely stunned.  The plot amazed me, and the most unforgettable moment was when the hicks stormed the stage.  The Green Room was small, so a bunch of pitchfork- and torch-carrying men was pretty scary.

A few years later, I was in charge of the film series at college.  I'd seen "All The King's Men" on TV and wanted to see it without commercials.  It was one of the best dramas I'd ever seen, and Broderick Crawford's Willie Stark was an object lesson in acting.  The film made the impact on the audience I'd hoped for...and on me.  I always previewed the movies, so I saw it first with just a couple of friends; we were nothing short of amazed.

I've seen the movie many times since then and I've read the play, too.  I'm currently reading Robert Penn Warren's book.  I'm glad I saw the play and the movie before I read the book; I doubt I'd be interested in seeing them after plowing through those pages.  In point of fact, I'm kind of surprised I'm still reading it, except that I like the plot and the book does flesh out a few things.  But the writing.  omg.

My partner is a poet.  When he saw I had "All The King's Men," he asked about it.  I told him I hadn't started it yet, then asked him what he thought of Warren's poetry.  Not much, as it turns out.  Pompous.  Self-indulgent.  Pretentious.  I'd hoped that was just his poetry, that his prose was different.  It isn't.

The worst parts are that he thinks he's writing film noir, but he just doesn't get it.  It's a style out of his reach and he tends to be less noir and more bore.  Worse, though, is his constant use of simile.  He beats ideas over the head.  He starts a paragraph, tells you what he means over and over, then sums up what he's said.  Sadly, to try to keep up with the intriguing plot, I've learned to tell when he's about to go off on a tear.  I can tell now just by looking at a paragraph that what's there won't further the plot; rather, it will just show us that he could type.  Still, Willie, Joe, Sadie, Duffy, Lucy and Sugar-Boy are as compelling as they are in the play and movie.

It's just a shame that the source material isn't as focused.

Monday, January 21, 2013


"The 'Oh, Pshaw!" Follies" is the title of my first novel -- the first of two never-published novels.  It refers to The Oh, Pshaw! Playhouse, my fake name for The By Hex Playhouse, the summer theater I worked at in my year between graduating from high school and starting college several...lifetimes ago.

The By Hex Playhouse specialized in Amish musicals.  Oh, yes.  Fully-staged, utterly silly, and ultimately played in rep.  "Let's Go Dutch" and "Waiting by the Little Blue Gate" are two titles that come gallumphing back to mind.  We also did two epic dramas.  One was "Men of One Master," the saga of the Amish, and "The Bachelor President," the saga of James Buchanan.  Please note that never once was it suggested Buck was gay.  Of course, it was 1964.

(Should this sound familiar to anyone, please let me know...Tom, Tina, Gaye, Brad, Cheryl, Chet, Jean, Mark...anyone?)

True to stereotype, I fell in love with the leading man.  While I'd had sex with two other guys before that (it was rural Lancaster County in the early '60s, for crying out loud -- thought of that way, it's kind of progressive), Tom brought me out and that was that.  50 years later, I still think of it fondly.

The book is a fictional account of that summer.  I've given up on having it published, but I still find it remarkable to have written two novels.  The other, "Matt and Seth," is a fictional look at a fatal car accident that happened many years ago...what led up to the accident.

I have no idea where this will go.  Maybe a dream diary.  Maybe a political rant piece.  Maybe a walk down therapy lane.  Haven't a clue.