Category Archives: Arts

Freedom of the Press

In a discussion with my wife, I had one of those Eureka moments.

The Constitution speaks to “freedom of the press,” although we apply it to all media. What struck me today is that there is a significant difference between the press—or the written word—as opposed to other communications methods.

On television, we have twenty-ish minutes of “news” presented by anchors, or as they are commonly referred to as “talking heads.” With more than one newsreader on television, it is virtually impossible to dispense with the small talk when moving from one story to another. This injects the attitude or even the opinion of the newsreader into the message. In many cases—choose your network—the news is much closer to (or, indeed) commentary in support of an agenda rather than the news.

The press isn’t perfect, but a news item in print has durability, and that includes an extended time to challenge it. A printed version must be able to stand on its own today, tomorrow, next week, and perhaps into the next century. That is why the press is unique. In addition, in most major cities, anonymous comments are not printed the way they are online. If you have something to say, then you identify yourself as Thomas Jefferson, not “mount76”. Acknowledging authorship requires a whole different dynamic when responding. The press has far fewer—if any—trolls compared to online sources.

Journalism isn’t a lost art, but it’s best seen in print. The old story rings true:

A young reporter had submitted his story to the editor, who called him in. “This is good,” the editor began, “very good. However, you mentioned that Alderman Johnson responded angrily. How did you know he was angry?”

“Because he was shouting and his face was red!” replied the reporter.

“Then,” replied the editor, “that’s what you write—he was red faced and was shouting—but first you need to find out if he doesn’t always shout, and his face isn’t always red. If that’s his normal demeanor, then it is not worthy of mention.”

I Cannot Say It Better

Gary Varvel [garyvarvel.com], the editorial cartoonist for the Indianapolis Star [www.indystar.com] is a genius who can draw a picture that is truly worth at LEAST a thousand words.

In this day of fewer and fewer newspapers, and inevitably, even fewer quality dailies, it is a wonderful gift to still have some publishers and editors who understand how humor can convey a stronger message than even the best written article—and as a writer, saying that does not come easily.

As a Christian, I wish you a Merry Christmas. As a member of this melting pot we call America, I wish you Happy Holidays. As a human, I wish peace on earth to all  people of good will—and I advise everyone to celebrate any and every holiday that reminds you that we are all in this together; there is no “them,” only 7.53 billion of “us.”

A Topic! A Topic! My Kingdom for a Topic!

I try to focus on the upbeat or at least the intellectual. Lately, that has been difficult. I have a wonderful blog written about my failure to get my Lowe’s extended warranty Whirlpool dishwasher working on a more than occasional basis, but who wants to read about that?

Then there’s politics—enough said . . . .

Don Quixote–Pablo Picasso 1955

So, it’s not that I’ve been ignoring everyone, it’s that I, like Don Quixote have been seeking something; he sought dragons in the windmills. I seek humor in today’s world. Cervantes gave Don Quixote Sancho Panza and the Golden Helmet of Mambrino, but alas, I have neither plucky comic relief nor magical accoutrements to find the humor in today’s world.

But, then again, Don Quixote saw Dulcinea—the perfect woman within Aldonza. Maybe, as we approach Hanukah, Christmas, and the Winter Solstice, we are being called to find, if not perfection, at least that glitter of gold in one another.

Now THAT would give me something great to write about.

The Studio Boss’s Advice

“Thank you all for coming to this important meeting on such short notice, but this is extremely important after all the allegations of sexual misconduct. I’d like to correct it, but since this is Hollywood, we’re going to make people feel—almost believe—we corrected it. Hey, perception is reality, we’re going to give people the perception that we’ve corrected it.

“How? First, we all know that there are only a handful of plots that we keep recycling. A few of them are going to have to be put into suspended animation, at least for a while. ‘Boy meets girl’—forget it. It’s poison and no venture capitalist would touch it with a ten-foot pole. I spoke with Art Stanslawski—the former basketball legend—well, he’s a 7 foot 1 ½ inch Pole, and he said he wouldn’t touch it either. It’s going to be a hell of a long time before Harry meets Sally again.

“Next standard plot, at least for the 21st century, ‘Boy meets boy?’ Trust me, it’s just as dead after some of the big name actors who say they were molested.

“Boy doesn’t meet girl?” There might be a few possibilities, but the planned sequel to Sleepless in Seattle with a female playing the Tom Hanks’s role and a male playing Meg Ryan’s? That’s deader than another remake of Baywatch or The Dukes of Hazzard.

“And as far as I’m concerned, if you want to do ‘reality TV,’ more power to you. Me? I’m going to wait and do real reality TV It will feature the exposes about the shenanigans that went on behind the scenes on reality TV. I can cover the allegations, arbitrations, trials, and appeals. I’ll make a ton of money from the shows AND even more from the lawsuits.

“So, where does that leave us? Anything with lots of explosions, computer-generated effects, car chases, and spaceships. We might want to bring back Westerns.

“If we can’t computer generate actors who aren’t real people, we can always use puppets or maybe we can hire some Jesuits. Can Jesuits join the Screen Actors Guild? Maybe not a good idea because of some of he Church scandals. Scratch that.

“Anyone with a better idea, let me know. Don’t come to my office—we’ll meet in some heavily trafficked public place that’s loaded with security cameras. It’s not that I don’t trust you, but one can’t be too safe, you know.”

My Life in Guitars – Part 8, Finally—The End (Up till Now)

Every guitar has a story.

My wife had given me a Fender baseball hat for Christmas. For the record, for work and church, I wear a fedora (why get old if you don’t get a hat out of the deal?). When I’m just me, I wear jeans, polo or tee shirts and ball caps. Back to the Fender cap. My lovely wife had taken my Peavey six-string acoustic to a proper luthier who told her that there was only so much you could do when a guitar aged, and it would never sound like it did in its prime. (Sigh).

Soon, another birthday was looming (how quickly they pop up anymore), and in light of the prognosis for the Peavey, my wife suggested (after I begged, whined, and otherwise debased myself) that maybe I should pick out a guitar for my birthday.

Off to Guitar Center!

Now, you have to realize that when my family visited my brother-in-law’s family, or his family visited us, Bill and I would drag out the guitars. He was a huge Taylor fan (the guitar, I’m not sure about his opinion of James Taylor or Taylor Swift). The first time we did, he pointed out that although the guitar had been untouched for over a year, it was still in tune. I was impressed. In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed my guitar encounters with Bill.

When I got to Guitar Center, I picked up Fender after Fender, but none really fit me. It’s kind of like when I was still able to jog and Nike was the cool brand, but it didn’t fit my foot. The store clerks suggested various brands that I had never heard of. No luck there, either.

Taylor 110

Now, to put things in perspective, I was not willing to pay as much for a guitar as my first (EXTREMELY modest) house cost. That is the price range for the good guitars. I knew I was going to spend several times what I had ever spent on a guitar before, but that was just above the best of the bargain guitars and just barely at the cheapest of the good guitars.

At the time, I was playing guitar at Sunday Mass, and realizing my limitations, was happy to go with an acoustic, so my errors and shortfalls were obvious only to God and myself. I figured that God looked at me as parents look at their kids at a recital or concert and ignored any missed notes.

The Taylor guitars began to call me. I tried several modes Taylors that were priced in my range. I then tried equivalent guitars from other brands. Then I tried the Taylor again. I could continue, but you’ve probably already figured out how things ended. I took home a Taylor 110. I added a guitar strap that was black with white crosses—perfect for church—but then my wife pointed out that it also had coffins and headstones.

I never suspected that I was secretly goth. It just goes to show you.

I hope you enjoyed this series. Now I have to figure out what I’m going to write about next! My wife pointed out that I’ve been writing this blog for ten years. Wow! Hard to believe. I hope I won’t run out of ideas!

My Life in Guitars – Part 7 (the Penultimate Entry)

I confess, I often act under the delusion that if I get a certain type of guitar, talent will somehow rub off on me. It’s kind of like Arthur pulling the sword from the stone—KAPOW! He’s king! Therefore, if I pull a certain guitar from its packing crate—KAPOW! I’ll be an awesome musician!

Alas, it doesn’t work that way (dammit!).

Having always enjoyed Queen, I was lusting over a reproduction of Brian May’s “Big Red” guitar. Brian (Dr. May to you astrophysicists) designed his guitar and with his father, built it. The body was cut from an old (and in England, old means something different than it does here) mantel piece. He apparently designed and built the pickups himself. The best part—at least to those of us who are geeks who love music—is that there are three pickups and six slide switches.

With most multi-pickup guitars, there is a single switch that lets you choose each pickup, or a combination, thereof. In other words, they are added together. Brian designed his so that he could either add any pickups OR put any one out of phase so that one is subtracting tones from the other(s). I cannot tell you how cool I find that.

However, I couldn’t justify it at nearly a thousand, once you add a case (Sigh).

Fathers’ Day arrived one year, and my wife took me to Guitar Center so I could choose a gift. I was worse than she is in the handbag department; I tried this guitar, that guitar, another, etc., ad nauseum. I told them that I wasn’t a soloist; I was a rhythm player (at best). However, I did like that “spooky” sound from Big Red.

The guitar I kept coming back to was an Epiphone SG. The luthier at the shop, noting my comments, mentioned that if I wanted that sound on the SG, all I needed to do was reverse the polarity on one of the pickups.

Epiphone SG

Being electronically inclined, I knew I could do it, so the SG was duly adopted and brought home. I did reverse the polarity on one pickup, but within a couple of weeks, I had rewired everything back to normal. Sorry, I’m no Brian May; I play rhythm.

However, the SG is a great guitar to play. Mine’s solid body, unvarnished red. I’ll leave Brian May to handle Big Red, I’ll play rhythm, thank you.

P.S. Speaking of Queen, if you bump into John Deacon, ask him if he ever did anything further with electronics (his major at university). Being a geek, I often wonder about that.

Almost, But Not Quite Done with My Life in Guitars – Part Six

I’m skipping out of chronological order so I can save two of my four favorites for last. You’ve already read about my green Peavey Predator Plus and the Peavey Briarwood 12 string, my other favorites.

My Deltatone Travel Guitar

I bought a used Deltatone, a relatively inexpensive electric guitar, which plays surprisingly well. I had looked on Craigslist for a bargain because I wanted a “travel” electric that might get banged up a little without making me feel too bad, and the Deltatone did a fine job. My two youngest have long played soccer, and until they began to drive, my wife and I shared chauffeuring duty. Mind you, I didn’t say we shared equally, but I’ll leave it up to you to figure out which soccer mom took the lioness’s share.

We had a minivan at the time, so there would usually be a number of soccer girls who rode along. When it was my turn to drive, after we got to the pitch (for non-soccer types, the playing field) I waited until they were far enough away so that I didn’t humiliate my daughter. I’d retrieve the Deltatone, sheet music, and a battery-operated amplifier from behind the rear seat and sit in the back seat, practicing. I don’t know if it helped make me a better musician, but it was the best way to utilize an hour and a half of time to myself. I’d work on whichever songs I was interested in, and when the weather was pleasant, I’d slide open the side door. Every once in a while, another soccer parent would park next to me before I could close the door. I think the expression they gave me was bemusement, but it might have been something less flattering.

And, before you ask, I tend not to sing when I play, especially when I’m not safe within my own four walls. I identify with Ringo Starr, when he was with the Beatles; I have a five-note range. Even worse, when it comes to singing, those notes are never in the key of anything I’ve learned to play—not that I am able to stick to one key for more than two measures. My singing voice is kind of a B—sharp(ish) without being a C, if you know what I mean.

Since the kids have outgrown the need for chauffeurs, the Deltatone doesn’t get much attention any more. I’ll soon be trying to find a new home for it via Craigslist. Maybe it’ll be the first axe for a future star.

Harmony Nylon String

Today’s other guitar is “Custom Made by Harmony,” which I found it in a thrift store. Now, in all honesty, many thrift store items are priced at, or nearly at, the price for the same item new. This guitar was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Besides, all of my other guitars are steel string, while this one uses nylon strings, which are better for finger-picking. Unfortunately, I have numbness in a few of my fingers and haven’t finger-picked since my Hawaiian guitar days in elementary school, but I still hold out hope.

Two other quick notes:

I did briefly own a Squier by Fender bass guitar within the past year or so. I love the bass riffs from the Beatles, the Moody Blues, and Fleetwood Mac, but as the saying goes, “So many guitars, so little time.” It deserved better, so it’s now with another aspiring musician.

As you can see, I keep some of my guitars on the wall. I believe this is important. If some Hall of Fame musician breaks into my house in the middle of the night and wants to jam, I’m ready to grab a guitar for each of us and go at it.

Hey, statistically it’s more probable than winning the lottery.

If it does happen, I hope they don’t expect me to sing.