there is water underground.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tommy Emmanuel, June 7

Jason introduced me to the music of Tommy Emmanuel, a guitarist from Australia whose playing is beyond superb. I recently had the chance to see him perform in the Regatta Bar, an intimate venue in Cambridge. Going to concerts alone is something I'm comfortable with, and it also increases my chances of getting a good seat. This concert was no exception; my seat was at a table about eight feet from the stage. I shared the table with a cute older couple who had driven "all the way from Framingham" to see Tommy. (Framingham is about twelve miles away) They were lovely. They were also friends of Tommy, which made for some fascinating conversation and some great storytelling on their part. That is, until the people sitting at the table to my immediate left showed up.

They were... well, not lovely. In fact, they were downright annoying up until the show started. The wife kept blabbering on and on about how she "didn't really like folk, jazz, or blues," but that people "bow at the feet of her husband when he plays his guitar." The husband, who bore a strange resemblance to a very fat James Hetfield, seemed embarrassed at her comments. However, he then started talking and bragging about his guitar prowess. He apparently is able to play both necks of his 12/6 doubleneck simultaneously. If I hadn't been committed to my table, I would've simply walked away. Their son (they do get bonus points for bringing their ten-year-old son) seemed seriously mortified that he was there with his parents; thankfully he didn't say a word. (by the way, there is nothing more metal than James Hetfield with a banjo. NOTHING.)

Then the show started, much to the audience's delight. The opener was a young guitarist named Kieran Murphy - he showed off some great chops during his three numbers. One tune was reminiscent of the gaudy-yet-wonderful themes from James Bond and Secret Agent Man; I could almost see the action sequence unfolding as he played the song. He was a great opener - didn't say much, played three good songs, thanked everyone for coming to the show, and left.

As Kieran left the stage, Tommy strolled on, cool as a member of the Rat Pack. He said some complimentary words about Kieran - and it turns out that they're both from the same small town in Australia. Perhaps there's something in the water. Anyway, he grabbed his beat-up guitar and went to work... and the man can play.

Watching him perform is a very unique experience. I go to quite a few shows and see a lot of musicians do their thing. There are many times when, although I certainly can't do what the guitarist or bassist does, I understand it and might one day be able to do it with a lot of practice. Those are the kind of shows where afterward I come home and play my guitar for an hour. Tommy, on the other hand, does things with a guitar that I simply don't understand/believe. His guitar playing - much like Vic Wooten's bass playing - elevates the game to a whole new level. These are the kind of shows that make me want to give up guitar altogether and take up golf. Thankfully that feeling dissipates after a day or so (and perhaps it's a good thing that those kind of shows are few and far between).

One of the highlights was a tune called "Mombasa", a song he'd written while visiting Kenya doing work with schoolchildren. Apparently the inspiration for the song came as he was riding along in a jeep in the Rift Valley. He showed the full range of his talent on that song, using the guitar as a percussion instrument in a frenzied "drum solo" in the middle of the tune. If you have nine minutes to spare, check out this interview (first 2 minutes) and performance (7 minutes). Seriously good stuff.

Tommy told the audience that one of his favorite artists is Billy Joel; he respects the songwriting and melodies. Although Billy's instrument of choice is obviously the piano, certain pieces would undoubtedly be just as successful on guitar. Tommy's cover of "And So It Goes" was note-for-note perfect.

One of the most poignant moments came when Tommy introduced his song "Angelina," written for his older daughter. He spoke for a few minutes about the amount of touring that he does (300+ shows per year, six continents) and the distance he feels as a father from his daughters, who live in England. Tommy tried to mask his longing to be with them by telling a few random jokes ("I'll have the alligator, and make it snappy!"), but from my vantage point of eight feet away I could tell that there was an inner melancholy. Unaccompanied by guitar, he delicately sang the two verses to "Angelina" and then launched into the song on his instrument. He played with confidence and ease, but there was an underlying sadness behind his eyes that probably remained hidden to most of the crowd.

The consummate entertainer, he talked with audience members between songs, telling jokes and stories about his life on the road. At one point, Tommy noticed that a woman was squinting because a light was shining directly on her; he climbed onto a chair and (rather violently) used his guitar to knock the light away from her.

He closed the show with an audience favorite - a cover of The Beatles' "Day Tripper" segueing into "Lady Madonna" and then into "When I'm Sixty-Four" and back full circle to "Day Tripper." He stunned the uninitiated when, after a few bars of 'piano', he added the bass line simultaneously. His eighty-minute show was exhilarating to watch... and exhausting; he worked hard to do the things he did. What's more impressive was that I saw the 7:30 show; Tommy would have to do another one at 10:00. I bid farewell to my table companions, who were sticking around for the second show - and as a final note, I wrote down the name of a guitarist on their recommendation. There's apparently a young musician named Richard Smith, and on his website there's a quote from none other than Tommy Emmanuel: "If you like my playing, you should hear Richard Smith." That's good enough for me.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Hook You And Everyone Who Looks Like You.

While down in Aruba, the families Berne and Bianculli would get into great discussions over the dinner table. Whether this had something to do with the amount of wine we consumed remains a mystery, but the conversations were always lots and lots of fun. One night we got started on the subject of languages (by the way, the official language of Aruba is Papiamento, a fascinating amalgamation of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and several African languages), and I relayed a story from my days overseas. I do so again for your reading pleasure (as well as for my own curiosity about writing the story down rather than telling it).

When I moved to Japan, I had to set up my apartment - there, most places have nothing in them when you move in, so I had to buy a fridge, a heater, a toilet seat (heated!)... but one obvious purchase was a phone. Now, as I explained in this post, the Japanese have no 'f' sound in their language. The closest they have is the 'h' sound. Therefore, when they try to pronounce a foreign word containing the letter f (e.g., fuel), it often results in a h/f sound - it might come out as "hfuel." It's confusing for Japanese (much like the r/l dilemma (diremma?)), and conversely when writing in English they sometimes don't know which letter to use. Additionally, the "oo" sound (e.g. 'food') is often written by the Japanese as simply 'u'. Makes sense, right? Sounds the same. Lastly, there are many words in the English language that end with -ck rather than -vowel+k. Truck is not truk, back is not bak, you get the picture. However, there are many English words that end in -ook (e.g. book, crook) and this can be confusing to many Japanese people when trying to figure out whether to use a c or not.

So the upshot of this was as follows: when I bought my phone, the instructions were to 'hook the phone,' showing me how to put the phone back on the base. Given the above linguistics lesson, it should not have surprised me that the instructions read:

"Fuck the phone."

Needless to say, this was by far the best thing ever. It kept me laughing for days on end. Can you imagine?? "Fuck the phone." These were the funniest words I'd read since my junior year of college, when there was a guy named Sukdith Poonjestical on my floor (not kidding) and the names were posted on the doors. But anyway, thus ends the story about hooking my phone. So next time when you want to swear, just think "hook 'em!"

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Life Began In A Garden About Six Thousand Years Ago...

Every group has its Mecca, its special place that is most important to the group. Jews have the Holy Land. Elvis fans have Graceland. Muslims have, well, Mecca. Baseball fans have Cooperstown. I might say that mine have been Mt. Fuji and Liverpool.

But now, I find myself with a new mission: The Creation Museum.

That's right, the Creationists - more specifically, an apparently well-funded group called the Ministers of Genesis - have built a huge museum in Kentucky that "illuminates" history in that way that is oh-so-special (i.e. ignoring the entire fossil record and all forms of scientific reasoning). As fate would have it, the annual conference for my company will be held in Cincinnati in November, a short hop over the border from the museum (Cincinnati's airport is actually in Kentucky). I fully intend on taking advantage of this opportunity - when else will I be in Kentucky? - and spending some time exploring the wonders of Creationism.

Seriously, how can I resist? The following description of one exhibit is taken verbatim from the museum's website:

Walk through the Cave of Sorrows and see the horrific effects of the Fall of Man. Sounds of a sin-ravaged world echo through the room. Finally, see the sacrificial Lamb on the cross, and the hope of redemption.

and another:

Adam and Eve live in the Garden of Eden. Children play while dinosaurs roam near Eden's rivers. The Serpent coils cunningly in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

How fucking awesome does this sound?? These are actual descriptions of exhibits!! These people actually believe that dinosaurs and humans co-existed!! This is the kind of stuff that fascinates me to no end in its inanity. I seriously can't wait to go. Ideally, I'd like to go with a shirt that reads "Darwin was Jesus; Get Over It" or "Adam & Eve & Steve" or simply "Atheism Rocks!" But we'll see. I promise to take lots of pictures and grab as many brochures as possible.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

How do you say "Geronimo!" in Latin?

I only ask because some stupid guy tried to "jump into the popemobile," as reported by CNN. Seriously, what an idiot. Authorities don't think that he had any harmful intentions toward the pope (he was wearing a pink shirt, for pete's sake), but to paraphrase Eddie Murphy, maybe he wanted to go to hell and didn't want to wait in line. Or maybe he wanted to be on television... in which case, he could've definitely dressed better for the occasion.

Oh, and I found myself really liking a song on the radio this morning. As soon as I got to work, i typed in a few lyrics to see if I could find out who sang it. Yep... none other than Carrie Underwood. (sigh) Guilty as charged.

Everyone wants to be found.

I like the movie Lost In Translation. Enough so that I have the movie poster hanging in my apartment. Probably not a huge surprise, given that 1) I lived in Japan, 2) Bill frickin' Murray can really act, and 3) Scarlett Johanson is hot as the sun. However, people who have seen the movie on my recommendation fall into two categories - "loved it!" or "WTF?" There really is no middle ground.

So recently a friend (and her mom) watched the movie on my recommendation, and they both hated it. My 'bad taste in movies' has become a running joke in their house. Of course, I respect their right to disagree (sorta), but they asked me to explain why I like the movie so much.

I had a lot of trouble doing so.

Yeah, I lived there. Watching the movie certainly evokes a whole slew of emotions and memories - most of them pleasant - from my time overseas. But I refuse to chalk my high regard for the movie up to that single fact. There are plenty of people who have never been to the country, and they loved it too. So there's gotta be something else.

There's a lot of subtlety in the film, and like any good story, nothing is ever perfect. Many of the scenes are little vignettes and observations; they don't necessarily advance the plot - but they're certainly not filler. The film was shot in something like three weeks - some of it illegally (you need permits to shoot on the streets & in the subways in Japan, and the crew didn't want to bother getting them) - and so there's a "one-take" feeling that often captures the quick pace of Tokyo; the city is almost another character.

I also recognize that many scenes involve Bill & Scarlett not understanding a whole bunch of Japanese. I don't know what it's like to watch those scenes and not understand both sides... it makes me laugh even harder at the actors' confusion. But the humor in there? C'mon, it's fucking hysterical when the old guy in the hospital tries to ask Bill how long he's been in Japan (yes, that's all he's asking) - go to about 2:54 in this clip. Watch the women in the background... they can't hold their shit together. (Bill, by the way, improvised the entire first scene of the clip in the restaurant)

Anyway, the movie is full of little funny moments like that. It's also painfully revealing and can break your heart at times. But it's different from a lot of Hollywood movies in that there's no real plot, nothing is ever dumbed-down and spelled out, there are no 'good guys' and 'bad guys,' and many scenes are left wide open (including - in my opinion - the end of the movie). There are no big explosions, nobody dies, there isn't all that much dialogue... it's a loosely told story at best. That's typical of a lot of Japanese films/shows; the ambiguity factor is much higher than the definite-end factor.

So in the end, who knows. Guess there's no accounting for taste, and there's certainly no way that I can explain why I like this movie... it just resonates with me. That's the best I've got. But Bill Murray still should've beaten Sean Penn for Best Actor, dammit.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

You Know You've Been In Boston Too Long When...

Okay, so I was in Aruba recently. Short version, it was an amazing trip. Long version... that's going to be another post, probably very much in the narrative never-ending-story fashion of the England trip.

Anyway, on the last day of the trip we unfortunately had to leave and return to reality. So, after a few hours in the morning soaking up some last few rays, I headed up to the room to shower and get ready. My dad, who remained poolside for a few more minutes, said, "have fun packing." And as I wandered up to the room, I was thoroughly confused.

Know why?

Because after living here for over four years, my ears/brain did not hear the word packing. They heard the word parking pronounced with a Boston accent. It took me about two minutes to figure out what the f**k my dad was talking about. He said a completely innocuous statement, and it seriously baffled me as to why he thought I was getting into a car.

So yeah, maybe I've been in Boston too long. I let the word "wicked" slip down in Aruba, and it wasn't in the normal sense (e.g. "I think that Karl Rove is a wicked person" or "Hey, have you read Wicked?"*). I used it in the describing-an-adjective sense, the stereotypical Bostonian sense - something like "It's wicked hot out here." As soon as I said it, I knew I was in deep doody. Heh heh, doody.

But I can't STAND the Boston accent. Every time I hear Mitt "Named For a Piece of Sports Equipment" Romney, I'm reminded that idiots sound even worse with a bad accent (this also works whenever Boston's mayor Tom Menino speaks). I know that it's funny when the mayor on the Simpsons talks, but he's a caricature of Kennedy and boy, even when the Kennedys say intelligent things, their accents get in the way of my believing their credibility. That goes a long way with me; when people don't understand that there is a letter "R" in many common words (including, in the famous example, the name of a prestigious school that happens to be in Boston (and what one might do with an automobile there)), their credibility vanishes like a Red Sox winning streak. The hardcore Boston accents drive me nuts.

Of course, everywhere has its accents, and I admit that I'm quite biased. It's just that "y'all" is charming (it's a very useful contraction! it's no different than combining "they" and "will" into "they'll"), whereas "pahk my cah in hahvad yahd" is downright stupid. And while George Bush makes a Southern accent sound, well, retarded, Bill Clinton is able to make a Southern accent sound charming and sometimes even professional. That does not exist with Boston accents; I can't think of a single person - sportscasters, politicians, teachers (can you imagine "the three R's" in a Boston classroom?) - who manages to sound intelligent while talking like mayor Quimby. And don't get me started on North Shore Boston accents. Random use of British... like saying "bath" to rhyme with "goth."

Does this mean that I'm leaving the place anytime soon? Nope. In fact, I've been looking at condos for the last six months. Got a few in mind now that I'm seriously pursuing (how neat would it be if both my brother and I lived in towns called Arlington?), and my goal is to be able to have a Labor Day bbq at my new digs. But we'll see. These things have a habit of slipping between my fingers.

Anyway, the point is that I like it here. It's just that I can't frickin' stand the accent. Somebody needs to smack me; I'm afraid that the unconscious use of "wicked" is the first step on the slippery slope toward sounding like a Kennedy. One comforting thought remains, though... it's better than the Long Island (lawn guyland) accent, and definitely better than the New Jersey ("yous guys") accent.

*When the touring company of the show Wicked came to Boston, the billboards had the typical green witch in black clothing... and the only two words were "Wicked Awesome." Now that's funny.