Friday, March 14, 2008

Jane Austen Drinking Game

Jane Austen is hot right now, mainly because of the complete series being shown on Sunday nights on PBS. I've enjoyed the shows so far and have even gone so far as to read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE a couple of weeks ago. I find the stories charming, once I get over the urge to incite all the servants to rise up and kill all the main characters. But I guess they didn't know any better. Other than that, there's nothing new I can say about Austen that hasn't been said before. However, a certain line from one of her stories struck me favorably.

First, some background on one of my pet peeves: the cliche, "You've got to believe me." For the past two decades I've been paying attention to how often this insipid line occurs on TV, in film, and in books. Some nights I hear it two or three times. Practically every cop drama has someone breathlessly claiming, "You've got to believe me!" I point it out to Judi whenever someone says it and we laugh. If we were drinkers, I imagine we could stay nicely lit by throwing back a shot every time we hear it uttered on TV.

My gripe against it is that the only proper response to someone telling you, "You've got to believe me!" is "No, goddammit, I don't have to believe you. You have to convince ME, and I recommend you do it with logic and articulation, instead of inane phrases that mean nothing." And let's face it, "belief" is crap. I personally don't believe in anything that requires that you believe in it for it to work.

So, while it's possible to get royally drunk by playing the drinking game of throwing back a shot every time you hear the phrase, "You've got to believe me," can it be played with Jane Austen? I think not. I have seen films of just about all of the six Jane Austen novels (and read one) and the only time she even came close to using the dreaded phrase was a case where one of her heroines (Elizabeth Bennett in P&P, I believe) says, "You OUGHT to believe me."

Changing that one word makes all the difference. It makes sense and is an eminently proper thing to say. If I could go back and change all 1000+ instances of "You've got to believe me" in literature and film to "You ought to believe me," I wonder if modern life would be different? Maybe the idea of people telling other people how to live would be less respectable. Preachers and politicians would be put in their place (low and useless) and people might think for themselves more.

So what kind of drinking game can be played with Jane Austen? How about if you took a shot every time someone talks while dancing a gavotte or reel (or whatever those line dances are)? They do it in every show. They may not have much of a grasp on social equality, but they definitely were coordinated.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Ballz Calhoon -- Songwriter

Randy Miller was drummer and singer for about five years with the Mighty Calhoon Brothers of Las Cruces in the late 70s. He was probably the hippest of the bros and was always coming up with great songs by relatively unknown Texas songwriters like Guy Clark, Willis Alan Ramsey and Townes Van Zant. Luckily they were all pretty simple ones because the Calhoons never rehearsed; they just threw songs together on the bandstand. If one of the three (Fender Tucker and Mark Coker on guitar and bass, and Randy on drums) knew the words and melody of a song, we'd try it. I have about 400 of our songs recorded at the Las Cruces Inn but I sure wish I had more.

Randy recently had an aneurysm in his brain and he's in the hospital in Lubbock TX and thanks to his wife, Felisha, and her blog, I've been keeping up with his progress. Randy's not able to respond verbally at this time but he's having a shunt operation soon and it's hoped he will recover. Felisha reports he's been listening to some old Calhoon Brothers music on a boom box.

Randy wrote some songs back in the day -- and maybe many more in recent years that I've never heard? -- and one day back in the 80s sent me a recording of a song he'd written called "Equal Partners". There was a song contest of some sort going on and I entered "Equal Partners" for Randy and something else by me. We didn't win, but then we never wrote, or played all that much, the kinds of songs that win contests. We liked little, unassuming songs, with melodies that ordinary people could sing.

In the early 90s, when Randy was living around the Portales (Clovis?) area I recorded all the songs I wrote on a 4-track Yamaha tape deck and while I was at it, I included Randy's song. My interpretation is a little different from Randy's because I had 4 tracks to work with and lots of reverb. I think the words and melody of this song are top-notch C&W.

By the way, I was known as Knees Calhoon; Mark was Thyroid Calhoon, and Randy was Ballz Calhoon. I've heard that this was a homage to noted French writer, Honore de Balzac, but this could be wrong.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I've Pledged My Allegiance

I’d like to think that this little reminiscence explains my feelings about the Pledge of Allegiance.

Round about 1958 I was in the seventh grade at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Farmington, New Mexico. My friends Pat O’Harrow, Geno Jaramillo and Larry Reynolds and I had come up with a fun thing to do to allay the boredom of class that involved some dark green construction paper and red pencils. We would spit on the paper and rub the spit with the red pencil, creating a garishly red-black gob of pulpy goo that we would use to create horrible looking gashes on the inside of our left forearms. We were practicing to become makeup artists for horror movies, obviously.

The gashes got quite good, usually a couple of inches long and a half inch wide, filled with the pulpy ichor, and streaming deep red rivulets down from them. Apparently my memory of grade school as being a time of constant scrutiny by the Ursuline nuns is wrong, because it took us at least an hour to come up with these realistic looking, ghastly gashes, which we’d sadly clean off when we got home from school.

I mean it when I say they were very realistic.

Well, one night I was up at Pat O’Harrow’s house, which was a block or so from mine, and we had both adorned our forearms with the best gashes yet. We decided we had to regale someone with them so we left his house and saw that there was some sort of meeting going on at the Pentecostal church right behind Pat’s house. It was an hour or so after sunset and the meeting was in a cinder-block one-story building with casement windows. The inside was brightly lit and there were about 20 young Pentecostals inside and a couple of adults.

Pat and I sneaked up to the building and crawled to directly under the window and peeked inside quickly. Apparently the meeting was just beginning because the group started the Pledge of Allegiance, with all 22 voices strong and stalwart.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag

Of the United States of America . . .”

At this point Pat and I ducked our heads below the window and extended our left arms up and started scratching our fingernails on the glass. The pledge continued, but with a few voices dropping out.

“And to the republic for which it stands . . .”

“Skreeeeeeeee. Skreeeeeeeeee.”

“One nation, under God, indivisible . . .”

The pledge was getting weaker with every horrible screech from our nails. Our arms and the gashes were brilliantly illuminated by the light streaming out through the window.

“With . . . liberty . . . and . . .”

The pledge halted completely, then we heard the loud, choking voice of one of the adults.

“Good . . . Gawd!”

That was it for Pat and me. We took off running down the alley before we could be administered to by the concerned Pentecostals. I’m sure the nuns would have preferred that we have nothing to do with them, no matter how altruistic they may be.

It’s probably wishful thinking that this memorable incident had anything to do with my longheld feelings about the Pledge of Allegiance: that any pledge that is repeated is worthless and is a rite, not a pledge. I made my pledge to America back in 1955 and as far as I’m concerned it’s still in effect. I do not ever need to make it again. In fact if I do make it again it lessens it and turns it into a stupid rite and I detest stupid rites.

However, to keep from causing any hassles, when I’m in a setting where the pledge is dictated to us, I move my lips mindlessly and stare off into space like a moron. Hey, I may be a lousy American, but I am proud to be one of the 300 million luckiest humans to ever inhabit this earth – in spite of the stupid rites we inflict on ourselves.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Why I am a Lousy American

Here's why. If you were to put $10 in my wallet and set me out on the town, I would find a used bookstore and buy a $3 book, go to a Mexican restaurant and spend $5 on the cheapest item on the menu, then go home and take two puffs on a bong and read the book until I fell asleep happy.
But that's not why I'm a lousy American. Here's why. If you were to put $1000 in my wallet and set me out on the town I would find a used bookstore and buy a $3 book, go to a Mexican restaurant and spend $5 on the cheapest item on the menu, then go home and take two puffs on a bong and read the book until I fell asleep happy.
That's why I'm a lousy American.

What I Hate About This Country

I just read in today's NY Times that the brother of Lawrence Tynes, the place kicker for the NY Giants, is in prison for 20 years for smuggling marijuana. One brother kicks a ball and is paid millions of dollars. The other brings joy and inspiration to thousands of people and is thrown in prison to be raped for 20 years. Fuck the USA.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Implosion at Ramble House

I am Fender Tucker and it feels like my world is imploding.

I publish books in a small way and thanks to it I’ve met some very interesting people. In the past three years I’ve met Bill Pronzini, Richard A. Lupoff, Ed Hoch, Cedric and Jan Clute, Francis M. Nevins and through them have heard about Michael Kurland and John Lutz. Yesterday in the mail I received a small package from Cedric Clute containing the January 1976 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

I met Bill Pronzini because his article on Harry Stephen Keeler in Son of Gun in Cheek introduced me to Keeler, whom I now publish. I’ll be publishing a collection of short fiction by Bill later this year. At a visit to his house Bill introduced me to Dick Lupoff, and last year Ramble House published three books by him and will soon release THE TRIUNE MAN, a 1976 SF novel about multiple personality. When it came out, John Lutz and Dick had an extended correspondence about it because the plot was so similar to a story that Lutz had written. It was a case of independent inspiration. Dick is working on a book with Michael Kurland. Pronzini and Lutz co-wrote a book called THE EYE in 1984.

Cedric and Jan Clute I met because of the Keeler books and the fact that I was intrigued by the name of the town where they live, Volcano.

I met Ed Hoch at the 2002 BoucherCon in Austin TX where he and Francis M. Nevins and I paneled a discussion on the History of Mysteries. Ed and Mike were the experts. I was just along for the grand ride.

This morning I read the first story in the AHMM called “Vanishing Act” by Bill Pronzini and Michael Kurland. It takes place in The Magic Cellar, a night club in San Francisco catering to magicians, and some main characters in it are Jan and Cedric Clute, who run the club, and Inspector Lupoff of the SFPD. The second story in the magazine is “The Basilisk Hunt” by Ed Hoch (not much of a coincidence since Ed has a story in every issue) and the sixth is “Wonder World” by John Lutz.

I have yet to read the Hoch and Lutz stories and I’m a little worried what I’ll find when I do. What sort of a labyrinthine mess have I gotten myself into?

Ed Hoch died last week and I sincerely regret that he will not be complicating my life — as he has millions of others’ — as much as he has in the past.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Song for Maurice Jones

Not long after I became the managing editor for LOADSTAR, a disk magazine for the Commodore computer in 1987, I began getting regular correspondence from Maurice Jones, a Commodore fan from nearby Laneville TX. Since my main interest in computing was programming, and the Commodore was perfect for it, I encouraged all users to learn to program, at least a little, and Maurice leapt into it wholeheartedly. He had been a mainframe programmer back in the days when the only computers were mainframes. His early programs were modest but within a year he began to write excellent card game simulations -- like the Klondike and Free Cell that we've all played on our PCs. Then he and I developed a special font that made the games look even better and before I knew it Maurice had come up with a tool-kit of routines that made it easy for him to develop new games.
By 1989 Maurice was sending me a card game for every monthly issue. He knew the rules for every card solitaire around, and could analyze and categorize them as a chess master analyzes chess games. Then he began developing original card solitaires, ones never even dreamed of by whoever it is that invented the traditional games.
And around 1990 Maurice and I collaborated and invented what we called "Rotato" card solitaires. These were games that involved complex moves of several stacks of cards at a time as part of the puzzle. They were games that would drive a person crazy if he tried to play them using real cards on a table. They couldn't be done. But on a computer, a simple press of a key would start cards flying around the screen. There are several examples of these games on LOADSTAR COMPLEAT, the CD of all of the 199 LOADSTAR issues that were published during my 1987 - 2001 reign at LOADSTAR.
By Issue 1999 Maurice had had 100 card solitaires published on LOADSTAR, about 20 of which were original games never conceived by man, until he invented them. I called him THE Acknowledged Master of Card Game Solitaires, and I challenge anyone to deny him that title. No one on earth knew more, or has invented more card solitaires.
Maurice died in 2001 just as I was running out of steam as the editor. In fact it was the death of Doreen Horne of Australia and Maurice that depressed me so much that I gave up the magazine. Doreen was a programmer who knew the LOADSTAR system so well she was practically doing all the technical work for the last two years of our publication. It was a double blow I couldn't recover from.
I gave a eulogy at Maurice's funeral using oratorical powers I never knew I had -- I can rant but in general can't speak worth a damn -- and I still miss his incredibly astute opinions on programming, card games, politics and life as an East Texas iconoclast.
Early in our relationship, when I was still in the afterthroes of a 25-year career as a bar musician, I asked Maurice what kind of music he liked and he said jazz. I was recording the 60 or so songs I had written during those 25 years at the time and I told him I'd try to write a little jazz song for him. I was not a jazz player by any means. I doubt if I ever played a jazz song in my life. I knew some jazzy chords and had listened to a bit of Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra, but I figured I could throw something together that might sound like jazz for Maurice.
So around 1990 I cranked up my four-track Yamaha tape deck, found a mellow, jazzy tone for my guitar (with no distortion) and recorded a little tune off the top of my head. It took about an hour. I simply played the first chord progression that popped into my mind on the keyboard, threw in a bass line, and overdubbed the simplest guitar melody I felt I could play without making any major mistakes. Then I overdubbed an organ solo on top of that. I had played piano in a three-piece lounge group for a year back in the early 80s.
I called it "Maurice's Song " or "LukeWarmJazz" and sent Maurice a copy on cassette tape. No CDs in those days. He said he really liked it, although he didn't really consider it "jazz" and I was supremely flattered.
I still see Maurice's widow, Jo Anne, and his daughter from Austin, Louanne, and have met the other siblings at various family shindigs in Laneville. They are some of my wife's favorite people and provide what is probably the most civilized discourse we have these days. If only Maurice were here to start the discussions! He was a life-long teacher and knew as much about the human condition as any man in Texas.
Here is "Maurice's Song". I doubt if I could ever do anything like that again. It was inspired by something and my fingers must have been under the control of Maurice's telekinetic powers, because I definitely cannot play five verses and two choruses of anything without making numerous mistakes these days. In 1990 it was done in one take for each track. Let's face it. It was Maurice Jones who wrote and played this song, even though it isn't really jazz.
Maurice's Song