Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Music As a Means to Superior Technique, Revisited

Ok, I was smugly condescending about the 58 notes per second guy, but this is pretty awesome. It's Tiego Della Vega setting the Guinness World Record for Extremely Fast Guitar Playing. The fun starts at around 3:40 in the video: he plays "Flight of the Bumblebee" at 170 beats per minute. Then he plays it again, a little faster, and then again, faster still, and eventually he's screaming along at an unearthly 320 bpm.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ink Matters

Did you see this tragically uninformed rant from Richard Cohen?

Tattoos are the emblems of our age. They bristle from the biceps of men in summer shirts, from the lower backs of women as they ascend stairs, from the shoulders of basketball players as they drive toward the basket, and from every inch of certain celebrities. The tattoo is the battle flag of today in its war with tomorrow. It is carried by sure losers.

About 40 percent of younger Americans (26 to 40) have tattoos. About 100 percent of these have clothes they once loved but now hate. How can anyone who knows how fickle fashion is, how times change, how their own tastes have "improved," decorate their body in a way that's nearly permanent? I don't get it.
Leaving aside the undeniable hey-you-kids-get-out-of-my-yardishness of the column (and really, could he sound any more like a miserable cranky old man?), this is something I hear people say a lot about tattoos. "Ew, I could never put something on my body permanently." But permanent changes happen to your body all the time. Look at that scar on your chin from when you were six and you fell off the swing set; remember how after the doctor stitched it up you stumped around for a week pretending you were Frankenstein's monster? Then there's that other scar on your leg, from when you slipped on the Metro escalator on the day you had your first date with the person you eventually married. If you've had children, look at how radically they've changed the geometry of your breasts and belly. Tattoos are the same kind of thing, only on purpose and more beautiful. They're memories inscribed on the body.

I have a smallish black and grey tat of a jack-in-the-green on my upper arm. I got it about sixteen years ago, when I'd finished grad school and moved in with my girlfriend, and I was enormously, profoundly happy to be alive. It's not a very good tattoo at all--I didn't know any better, so I brought in a photo for the artist to copy instead of having him draw up a more tattoo-friendly version of the image, and he he didn't give me any input about the size or placement. And it's not an image the 43-year-old me would be interested in, and it looks kind of smudgy and murky now because I haven't taken very good care of it. Even so, it's a reminder of an incredibly joyful period of my life, and I'm glad it's there.

A tattoo is permanent, but only insofar as your body is. And time will wrinkle you, turn your hair grey and make it fall out, weaken bones and eyes and ears and internal organs. Your tattoos, being a part of you, will age right along with you: outlines will spread, pigments will darken and change. That's part of the deal. To wear a tattoo, in at least some small measure, is to accept the fact that you're going to grow old and die. Not just accept it, but to loudly proclaim your acceptance, in bright jewellike colors cascading down your arms and across your chest. In a culture that demands we never age past 25, that's bound to make some people uncomfortable. No wonder poor old Cohen gets so squicked out.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Weedly weedly TWANG Mix

  • In the couple of years that I've been rediscovering electricity in my guitar playing, I've come to the understanding that I'm a Telecaster guy. (As opposed to a Les Paul guy or a Stratocaster guy, these being the other two schools of solid-body electric guitar thought.)

    I've had this thing a week, and I can't put it down. It's one of the new Fender Squier "50s Classic Vibe" Teles. It's the most compulsively playable electric guitar I've ever had in my hands.

    The Telecaster was the first mass-produced solid-body electric guitar. It couldn't be more basic: just two pieces of wood screwed together, some magnets, some wires. Leo Fender engineered it so that it would be easy to repair and maintain and replace parts, and priced it so it would be available to the average working musician. In so doing, he created an infinitely versatile, unimprovable workhorse of a guitar.

    It's simple like a violin. A Telecaster will lay bare all your weaknesses and strengths as a player. There's nothing to hide behind. It rings like a bell, responds like a mirror. It's a total blast to play.

    Other Telecaster guys include Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed:

    ...and John 5:

  • That's one reason I'm in a good mood today. Another is that there's a new Simon's Cat video.

  • Murky Coffee is now my favorite coffee shop. Well, it has been for a while, especially back when the Eastern Market location was still open. But really. Read this, and this and this and this.

    This reminds me of Chef Paul Luna (late of the Oval Room, and one of my formative culinary influences). He had a restaurant in Atlanta years ago, and he drew a lot of attention for the fact that he didn't have salt or pepper on his tables. If you asked for it, the waitstaff would ridicule you. The message was very clear: the chef knows how to season your food so as to bring out its flavor perfectly, and you are expected to trust him. If this doesn't suit you, eat somewhere else. May we suggest the Waffle House across the street?

    Much the same thing is going on with Murky. They really know their stuff, and anyone who doesn't think so has a wealth of other options, and good for Nick and his staff for standing up to such a nasty, overentitled jackass.

  • In other news, Vaca Estupenda wishes a happy birthday to Dame Helen Mirren, who turns 63 this week. Yeah.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


Oooh. Watch him squirm. This is pretty bad.

Just look at him stroking his non-existent beard while his mind races, trying desperately to find a way out of the question without discrediting either himself or Cary Fiorina. It's awful to see.

I almost feel sorry for the guy. Hell, I've always kind of liked John McCain. If the batshit crazy wing of the Republican party hates him so much, he can't be all that bad. But I'm very happy that the prospect of him becoming president is so far-fetched. May it continue to be so.

(Not that I'm all that enthusiastic about Obama either, mind you, but that's for another post.)

Friday, July 4, 2008

In Memoriam (again)

As with the late unlamented Jerry Falwell, it's a shame that Jesse Helms died peacefully in a convalescent home at the age of 86 instead of, oh, auto-erotically asphyxiating himself while wearing two wetsuits. But I guess he never was one for style. What's important is that he's dead, and the sun is shining a little brighter today.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

In Which Captain Safety Delivers Two Lectures

The kid comes whizzing past me on his bike as I'm walking home down Houston Avenue from the bus stop. He barrels through a left turn at the four-way stop at Houston and Garland, straight into the path of an ugly brown minivan that's speeding down Garland. He swerves out of the way just in time as the minivan skids to a stop. I meet the driver's eyes, shake my head, and move my hand up and down with the palm pointing towards the ground in the universal "slow down" gesture.

The driver rolls her window down and yells at me. She's wearing big black shades and and a white sun visor. Her voice is a hoarse bark, well suited to yelling at people from minivans. "I KNOW you aren't telling ME to slow down!" she yells.

"Yeah," I say, "I am. There are kids on bikes all over this neighborhood, and cats and dogs, and you can't depend on any of them to be watching out for you all the time. And you were driving too fast. Your tires screeched. You probably would have run that stop sign if you hadn't had to stop for the kid."

She opens her mouth and closes it, then opens it again and turns to look at the stop sign with it still open. She's plainly seeing the sign for the first time. I start walking again. Behind me, I can hear her yelling as she drives off. "Oh, so I'M the one who has to slow down! It's all ME! Little kid comes screaming in out of nowhere!"

It's ok. She's rattled and embarrassed and expressing it as anger. I'd be doing the same thing.

The kid's sitting astride his bike a little further down, clearly scared out of a year's growth, waiting for his heart rate to normalize. He's maybe 12.

"Are you ok?" I say.

"Yeah," he says. "I didn't see that car."

"That's because you ran the stop sign. Some people drive really stupidly around here. You can't depend on them to be watching out for you."

He nods and doesn't look at me as he rides off.

I watch him go, then turn to walk on home, my cape swirling after me in the light breeze.