Saturday, February 21, 2015

Nuggets - David Gilmour

I've never thought of myself as a big Pink Floyd fan. And then every now and then I stumble on something that reminds me that I am a very big David Gilmour fan. It seems that all the bits of Pink Floyd that I like the best (the ethereal guitar parts, mainly) are Gilmour.

A few nuggets courtesy of YouTube:
  • Murder, solo tune, 1984 performance. 
  • Wish You Were Here, unplugged live, sometime in the 2000's. Lovely.
  • Comfortably Numb, again, sometime recently-ish.
  • And lastly, Comfortably Numb at the O2 arena in London (2011), where Roger Waters is joined by Gilmour for only about the second time in 30 years.
If nothing else, Gilmour would serve to prove that you don't always need to be lightning fast to be something special...

Monday, February 16, 2015

Fishman Loudbox Mini

Fishman Loudbox Mini
You can never have too many toys, and one of the things I have been looking at recently is an acoustic guitar amp to go along with the Epiphone EJ200-CE acoustic-electric guitar that I bought last year.

I have a Line 6 Spider IV modeling amp for my electric guitars, but amps for acoustic-electrics are different, and while I can plug the acoustic into the Line 6 amp and it works (sort of), it doesn't sound very good. I was browsing website reviews (Fender Acoustasonic was a contender), but decided it made more sense to ask if brother Dave, my resident expert, had a specific recommendation. I did, and he did. He said having done the similar research, he was going to get the Fishman Loudbox Mini, but then decided to get a small PA system instead. I read up on it, and it sounded perfect for what I wanted.

Fast forward to the end of a vacation day for the Presidents' Day holiday (kids are off, and we all had some nice family time), and I now have a Fishman Loudbox Mini in my living room. It is tiny but sounds AMAZING, and puts out enough sound to easily annoy everyone in the house (just in case the need ever arises). Guitar Center was having a nice not.

It has controls for gain, reverb and chorus, along with a phaser button (in addition to the usual master volume and low/mid/high adjusters). Additionally, so you can do the coffee house one-man-band thing, it also has a mic input and full set of controls.

With moderate gain and a little reverb, even I sound pretty good, and my Epiphone sounds more expensive than it was. I couldn't have a better initial reaction. Thanks Dave!

And now back to my lessons. And preferred chord fingering. And holding the pick properly...

[As an aside, while the family waited for me to browse and purchase, Amp (my wife Amparo) found great humor in the sign in the store that talked about "Selecting an Amp". We have filled the rest of the day with jokes about upgrading your Amp, finding a new Amp, problems with Amps, good qualities to look for in an Amp, etc... So technically I now have three Amps in the house, although not all of them have Master Volume controls, Reverb settings and Phaser buttons)...]

Shenandoah Plans

Old Rag Mountain
Being deep in the heart of winter (high of 14F today, with an overnight low of -2...and one partly frozen bathroom pipe...), it seems only logical to be dreaming of the warmer days to come, and with that the prospect of getting out on a trail to stretch the legs. The desire to get something on the calendar before schedules become too overloaded has been discussed among the boys recently, and while I was in Texas this week, emails began flying in earnest. The gist of which being that we needed to get something on the books.

Fast forward to today, and four of us have tentative plans in place to do a four day weekend in the Shenandoah valley in early April; basically as soon as the campgrounds open for the year. Exact details are still to be worked out, but just knowing that we have something planned makes me smile.

The others have been to the Shenandoah repeatedly over the years, and this will not be new to them, but the last time I was there with them was...about 1986/1987 to the best of my recollection (as I am 90% sure I was still in college at the time). Either way, it's been a very long time.

In the alternating year big-trip/littler-trip scheme of things, this should be a big-trip year, but one of our gang will be doing a 50th birthday trip to Ireland, rendering another big trip not very feasible. As an alternative, we will be trying to get in 2 or 3 little trips scattered throughout the year. Whatever we can manage is OK with me. Any trip, big or small, is a good trip as far as I am concerned.

As thoughts are being tossed around, the basic framework of the trip is shaping up to be something like this: leave on a Thursday evening after work, driving the 4 hours or so to get to a hotel near the campground and hiking locations. Good hikes Friday and Saturday. Campground Friday and Saturday nights. A briefer Sunday hike, and a 4+ hour drive home. Even if we rent a minivan for maximum gear hauling, this will be a very manageable and cost-effective trip.

Specific hikes being looked at include Old Rag Mountain; one of the famous ones. Old Rag Mountain is an 8 mile hike with 2,500 feet of elevation gain, tremendous vistas, and some good rock scrambling.

More to follow...

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Book Review - Closing Arguments

Being out of town all week in Dallas at my company's 2015 National Sales Meeting (at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine) kept me very busy, but a little bit of wind-down reading time before bed each night got me through Frederick Busch's Closing Arguments (1991, Ticknor and Fields, 288 pages).

This is the story of Mark Brennan, a Vietnam vet lawyer practicing in upstate New York. Brennan is dealing with what we would now call post traumatic stress disorder, a troubled marriage, and children struggling to find their way in the world. This all comes to a head when he is asked to defend a young woman accused of murder, and who claims that the death was an accident as a result of consensual rough sex that went too far.

The reader is brought along for the somewhat predictable but nonetheless compelling descent into darkness as Brennan tries to outrun the ghosts of his past while making a mess of the present. And as Brennan notes, "the innocent are not protected."

This was my fourth Busch book, and was a good read, although not as good as his novel Girls (1997) or his short story collection Rescue Missions (his last published work before his death in 2006). The Night Inspector (1999, a PEN/Faulkner finalist) was also very good.

3.5 stars out of 5. Very solid. Not spectacular, but it did keep me turning the pages.

Books this year: 5
Total pages: 1,692
New authors: 2

Unlearning Guitar

As the last few years have gone by, I have become less interested in going into a new year setting specific goals. When I first began blogging, I went into every year with the obligatory post(s) on plans for the year ahead. More often than not, I either didn't achieve those goals, or in some cases, didn't even try as my interest-du-jour wandered off to something else (as it tends to do).

Now, having said that I don't do goals for the year, here's my goal for 2015: I will put in enough real practice time to get better on guitar, at least to the point that I can better justify owning four of them. And to better justify buying such things as the Fishman Loudbox mini acoustic guitar amp that I plan on getting soon...

The magnitude of the task ahead of me came into better focus when I stopped by brother Dave's this afternoon to see his new basement PA system set-up (excellent!), ask him some questions, and play around a little bit. [This isn't news to me; I just try not to think about it]. I asked about suggestions for an online course, and he recommended Justin Guitar, available both on YouTube and on My comment to Dave was "this is going to be rough - I have 35 years of bad habits to unlearn." Everything from holding the pick incorrectly to improper (or at least non-optimal) fingering of certain chords. Such as my G chord (with fingers 1-3 instead of 2-4). There's nothing wrong with my G chord - it covers the right strings and makes the proper chord - but it makes shifting between the G and C much more difficult than the proper way. Using the better way, I could start at G and then shift easily to C, but when I tried to shift back to G, my fingers tripped over each other and I really couldn't do it. I also tried holding the pick properly, and that felt about as natural as strumming the guitar with a pork chop.

So I have gone back to square one, or perhaps even square zero. This afternoon, after getting home, I have done the first bunch and a half of lessons in Justin's Beginner Course. Most of the first batch, prior to playing anything, is really basic, and stuff I already know (and am not doing wrong - except the holding the pick thing). In the first set of "playing" lessons, there are 3 chords taught (D, A, E) along with the preferred way of forming each of them. Check on the D. Not on the A. Not on the E. Sigh. Which doesn't mean I can't play them fluidly (which I can), just that it may be preferable to re-learn them.

All this is a daunting task, but one that seems worth it. I am continually amazed at the guitarist Dave has turned himself into over the last few years via a lot of hard work and practice, and a shadow of that would make me pretty happy indeed.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to the basement. I have D, A and E chords to work on. While attempting to hold the pick properly...

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Last Day of Christmas and First Day of Spring

A couple of fun things happened today, one being the official end to Christmas 2014, and the other being the first harbinger of Spring.

As for the end of Christmas, the postal fairy arrived today with the out-of-stock-but-now-back-in-stock copy of my Christmas present from Brother Dave and his Darling Wife: Jimmy Page, by Jimmy Page (Genesis Publications, 2014). Amazon describes this oversized bundle of classic rock goodness as "the photographic autobiography and visual history of the world's most iconic guitarist". Amen to that, and then some.

This monster of a book is 512 oversized pages of the backbone of classic rock history; Jimmy Page's life before, during and after Led Zeppelin. When I first picked up the Amazon box, I thought Amp had ordered a block of lead. It turned out to be Led Zeppelin (so I was close)... Amazon says the shipping weight is 6.4 pounds. That's a lot of book.

It is a story told primarily in pictures, and flipping through it is a joy, both in terms of bringing back memories of growing up to the sound of Brother Dave playing Led Zeppelin (and Aerosmith) albums on Dad's living room stereo, but also seeing how the history of Page and Zeppelin are interwoven with the whole era of the 1970's and the other rock artists of the time.

Of no less interest to anyone interested in guitars and related equipment, it is fascinating to go through all the pictures and see which instruments he is playing at various times in his career. Some of them are surprising...

As it is, I have barely begun to devour this book, and will require a lot more time to do so thoroughly. I have found myself bogging down in looking up some of these guitars... (for example, the most iconic guitar of them all...Page's cherry red Gibson sort-of EDS-1275 double necked 6 and 12 string almost-SG). In addition to this being the live Stairway to Heaven guitar, I also think of it as the Don Felder Hotel California guitar. But I digress...

As for Spring...I officially declare (calendar notwithstanding) today to be the first day of Spring. I know this to be true because today was the first day I was able to grill dinner on the deck in just enough fading daylight to do so without the aid of artificial light (and without eating dinner at 4pm). Yay!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Book Review - A Spot of Bother

A Spot of Bother
After reading a series of new (2014) books recently, I went back to the shelves and dug out something that I had been meaning to get to for a while: Mark Haddon's A Spot of Bother (2006, Doubleday, 354 pages). Haddon first hit the radar screen with the critically acclaimed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which I would also like to read, but don't have (making the whole reading thing much more difficult). Which brings us back to A Spot of Bother...

The book is described as a "disturbing yet amusing portrait of a dignified man trying to go insane politely." It is the story of George Hall, a very proper retired English businessman, and his family. His daughter is getting married (and has relationship problems). His son is gay (and has relationship problems). He is aware that his wife is having an affair with an old colleague (and so he has relationship problems). In the midst of all this, George finds a spot on his hip and decides, all medical evidence to the contrary, that he is dying of cancer. And then things begin to fall apart, and in time, come back together again.

It felt a little contrived at times that everyone in the family was going through a parallel experience of "relationship falls apart and then gets pieced back together again" all at the same time, but I enjoyed the characters and the situations, and there were many times that I found myself laughing out loud. That doesn't happen too often. And the 354 pages went by very quickly.

"Jamie had spent a great deal of time and energy arranging his life precisely as he wanted. Work. Home. Family. Friends. Tony. Exercise. Relaxation. Some compartments you could mix. Katie and Tony. Friends and exercise. But the compartments were there for a reason. It was like a zoo. You could mix chimpanzees and parrots. But take the cages away altogether and you had a bloodbath on your hands." (p. 33)

A very solid 4 stars out of 5.

Books this year: 4
Total pages: 1,404
New authors: 2

Next up is Frederick Busch's Closing Arguments.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Year Ahead - 2015

Having written at length about the year (somewhat) recently ended, it's impossible not to think about what the year ahead might hold.

Fates willing, Grace will enter Middle School and Julia will be a Junior in high school. Julia will be more actively involved in job training in preparation for what happens after school. Amp and I will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. I will end the year teetering on the precipice of 50. Both of brother Dave's girls will be in college. Mom may elect to the have the hip replacement (or two) that she needs to feel better, and get around better. At the very least, let's hope all that happens.

Dolly Sods Wilderness, WV
On a personal level, I think I can sum up my hopes for the year with the simple statement of "I want to do more." Go places. See things. It would be overly melodramatic to say that the clock is ticking. But...the clock is always ticking. That's what clocks do. And that's why they come up with sayings like "seize the day", "live your life like there's no tomorrow", and all that other nonsense. Nonsense that seems to make more and more sense as the years quickly roll by.

In the first half of my lifetime, I traveled to Europe about 5 or 6 times. I've been to France (three times), Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Hungary, West Germany and East Germany (back when there were two), Belgium (three or four times), Holland, England and Greece. Plus Canada. I spent four weeks doing the Eurrail Pass thing with two friends (1985). I spent a summer in Greece working on an archaeological survey in 1986. In the second half of my lifetime, I have traveled to the Philippines twice to visit Amp's family, and that's it (and the more recent of those two trips was 13 years ago). There are reasons of course. Career. Family (kids); traveling with little ones is hard. But not impossible. And they haven't been little for quite some time now, so that excuse ran out a while ago.

We have discussed the possibility of going to England this year while Amparo's older brother is still stationed in London. It's easy to list the reasons why we won't actually go - not the least of which is that it's very expensive to fly four people to London. Three out of four of us need to renew (or get) passports. We all need visas (or whatever it is that we do need...). We suck at planning ahead. And did I mention it's expensive?

But not all travel need be overseas or far far away. We've done a better job the last few years of doing some day and weekend trips. We can still do a lot better, and I expect we will. We've also gone away for a weekend without the kids and (shockingly enough) the world didn't end. More of that would be nice.

And so we shall see what actually comes to pass. No goals. Just hopes. Happy. Healthy. That's enough.