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.