Shawn Johnson’s Extended Family…

Surely I’m not the only person to have thought of this…


Playing Well With Others, Lesson 38

This morning, long before my 17-year-old son got up (sleeping in one last morning before school starts), I noticed there were a couple of cars parked in front of the house across the street that’s been on the market for a few months now. From peering suspiciously out the window I got the impression that a realtor was showing the house to a family. Multiple children’s voices were audible, kinda loud and screechy, and I had my standard visceral reaction to the prospect of unwelcome marauding rugrats. (Mind you, my kids are perfect and have never caused me or anyone else the slightest hint of annoyance.)

So eventually the sleepyhead arose and came downstairs. While he was eating his breakfast er, brunch, I told him about the potential new neighbors and the kids. He made the standard inarticulate “ugh” sound to signal his displeasure, and I said that maybe the next time they came by I should set up a repeating gunfire sequence from a sound effects CD to play out my office window. But Number One Son had a better idea…

SON: Maybe the next time they’re here, we should go out in front and show them our religious rituals.

ME: (after recovering from laughter) Religious rituals? What would these involve?

SON: Probably lots of fire.

No question about it – this kid is gonna turn out just fine.

Blues Birthdays 5/1 – Little Walter

Happy Birthday to Little Walter, born Marion Walter Jacobs on this day in 1930. Most blues historians consider Little Walter to be the most influential harmonica (or harp) player of the postwar period. I can say from experience that anytime you talk to a blues harp player about style, tone, technique, etc., you won’t get far before Little Walter’s name comes up. One quality they’re striving toward is his elusive amplified tone – ironic when you consider that much of the time he was playing through a cab dispatcher’s radio microphone. He would cup his hands around the harp and the mic, creating an enclosed, resonant chamber that gave the instrument a powerful, distorted sound, at times reminiscent of a saxophone. It’s that dirty, gritty sound that helped define the electric blues of the time, and today aspiring harp players search second-hand stores for those vintage mics, while manufacturers produce new mics designed to emulate that vintage sound.

Though Little Walter played with many blues notables (he even toured with the Rolling Stones in 1964) and led his own band for a time, he’s probably best known for his work in Muddy Waters’ band, where his intermittent riffs and expertly-phrased solos provided a vital counterpoint to Muddy’s gritty singing and elemental guitar solos. Saddled with a drinking problem and a hair-trigger temper, however, Little Walter died in 1968 following a nasty street brawl. He was just 37 years old.

There is precious little film footage of Little Walter at work, so we take what we can get. This is a performance by Hound Dog Taylor, with Little Walter guesting on harp. He takes a nice solo, but unfortunately this tune doesn’t let you hear his signature tone, as he’s simply playing near a vocal microphone rather than using his cupping technique. Just enjoy his phrasing and melodic creativity.

P.S. – Today is also the birthday of a blues originator, Charley Patton. But in case I’m still doing this a year from now, I gotta save some folks for later!

Kids for cheese?

I spent last Friday through Tuesday at the largest blues festival west of the Mississippi, aka the Waterfront Blues Festival here in Portland, Oregon. Besides being an incredible feast for blues-loving ears, this event also offers an embarrassment of riches in the people-watching department. With just a quick stroll through the festival grounds, you’ll take in more public drunkenness, ill-advised small-of-the-back tattoos and painfully awkward dance moves than anyone should have to see in their lifetime. This much I already knew from previous years. But it turns out that the Blues Fest is also a great place to glean parenting tips!

So it’s sometime in the afternoon on Day One, and I’m taking a breather by the railing that overlooks the Willamette River, at the outer edge of the festival grounds. Along comes a young mother carrying a very young toddler, maybe a 2-year-old girl. They stop right next to me, apparently because the little girl is crying hysterically and her mom is tired of carrying her and listening to her. And yes, the kid is squalling pretty loudly and appears uninterested in stopping, but then it IS 92 degrees outside, she’s in a very noisy and crowded place, and it’s probably her naptime to boot. So does Mommy try to soothe her daughter or cool her off or otherwise, you know, take care of her? Um…no. She plops her down in the middle of the very dirty sidewalk (covered with cigarette butts, discarded food and other trash) and just stands right up again.

The little girl looks around, probably feels the hot, dirty sidewalk on her bare legs, looks up at her mom (you know, her caregiver) and starts to cry some more. Very possibly louder than before. At which point her mom leans down to her and says:

“Well, that is quite a tantrum! Maybe I should just trade you in for some cheese!”

If this witty little riposte is supposed to defuse the tense situation by tickling the little girl’s funnybone and causing her to giggle at the absurdity of her quest for maternal comfort, it somehow inexplicably misfires. There’s a brief moment of silence while Neglected Sidewalk Girl just stares up incredulously at her bonehead parental unit; then she realizes that she truly is Alone In The World, and resumes bawling. Eventually the Mother Of The Year reluctantly scoops her up and moves on.

The poor kid will probably have a mysterious aversion to blues music for the rest of her life. It’s just so wrong, y’know?

“Multnomah People”

Now playing in iTunes: This Nearly Was Mine, Lindsey Buckingham

Overheard tonight in the Starbucks in Multnomah Village: “Well, we were Multnomah People before there were Multnomah People.”

Oh, puh-leeze. Get over yourselves. [FYI if you’re not from Portland, Multnomah is a small, somewhat folksy village-type of district in Southwest Portland. In fact, it’s officially called Multnomah Village. Oh, and this guy maintains a nice blog focusing on Multnomah Village, if you want to learn more.]

Anyway, I just thought it was funny. Has it really come to this? I mean, the snooty “Oregon Native” license plates and bumper stickers are bad enough, but are we now deciding who does and who doesn’t have an honest claim to their neighborhood? Sheesh. My take? If your mailing address puts you in Multnomah Village, you’re Multnomah People. Now go celebrate your newfound status.

“Found” items are so cool.

the note I found

Okay, here’s what I think is about the saddest thing I’ve ever seen, which I picked up the other day while on my walk. [Click image for a larger version…] For some reason I’m just immediately on the side of the kid writing the note, and I really want to know that the jerkface kid who’s bullying himself out of the carpool will somehow get his just deserts. Just look at those huge, bullying hands of his! Grrrrrr….

They’re salivating.

I’ve been watching some of the coverage of Hurricane Rita’s approach to the Gulf Coast, regrettably, and I just hate these “news” people more and more, moment by moment. They’re talking about the potential for damage and the areas likely to be hit hardest, and they’re salivating — they’re freakin’ DROOLING over the sensational, spectacular, irresistible ghastliness of it all.

At one point, the morning anchor on CNN — a particularly distasteful individual for both her lack of skill and her absence of tact — was presenting an animated graphic that illustrated the potential flooding of the Port Arthur area. They cut to the graphic and she provided voiceover while we watched the simulated inundation of a large community. When they cut back to her, she was actually smiling at how cool and amazing that simulation technology was. And the mediocrity and complete lack of restraint just continues.

And now this bus explodes on the highway in Houston, so we get to see THAT footage over and over and over and over and over and over. Have a little respect, Wolf et al — people died, okay?

And the “Situation Room”? What the hell is up with that?

I give up.