cameron 'n me

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Urge for Goin'

I'm always fascinated by cover tunes. I always seek out covers of my favorites. I love hearing someone adapt a great song, and run it through their own filter. If it's done right, it can make you appreciate the original song in a way that you maybe never did before. Both lyrically and musically. But I think it's easier said than done. Certain people have an ability to do it well. Tom Rush is one of those people. I'm hepped up on two outstanding examples where he covers Joni Mitchell songs: The Circle Game, and Urge For Goin.' The former has been in my rotation for some time now. I'll never tire of that one. The latter was thankfully brought to my attention recently. Luckily some people listen for me.
Joni's original version was the one I knew; it featured that clear angelic voice and plucked guitar (double-tracked, I believe), as most of her early work did. Tom Rush's voice is nothing stellar - his reading shines in its simple, evocative musical arrangement. Acoustic and electric guitar, bass, and an occasional and subtle vibraphone. And this spare instrumentation serves up an amazing poetic work. Both versions were recorded ca. 1968, and both are very much of the era. Think Tim Buckley, Fred Neil, people like that. These songs throw me back.
I have to believe she wrote it in November, and it taps into everything romantic about the cold seasonal change. You can feel the North wind. It kind of embodies that first time, usually in late Fall, when you step out into the backyard in late at night and stand there, just breathing, and its cold. Canadian cold, where she comes from. But its about much more than that.
Anyone can have their own melancholy mental musings about seasons and change (and loss), but only the gifted ones can turn them into elegant poetry that hits squarely in the heart. And then compose an accompaniment that squeezes it. Joni is a bonafide phenomenon. Tom Rush gets her.
Spend a buck on Amazon or iTunes and give it a shot (there are two Rush versions, actually). If you already have it, play it now. It's November. It's going down into the 20s here tonight. I have some breathing to do in the backyard.

~ ~ ~

I woke up today and found the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky and gobbled summer down
So when the leaves were trembling
Frozen trees were standing in a naked row
I get the urge for going but I never seem to go

And I get the urge for going
when the meadow grass is turning brown
and summertime is falling down
and winter's moving in.

I had a love in summertime with summer-colored skin
and not another one in town my darling's heart could win
But when the sky turned traitor cold
And bully winds did rub their faces in the snow
She got the urge for going and I had to let her go

And she got the urge for going
when the meadow grass was turning brown
Summertime was falling down
and winter's moving in

The warriors of winter gave a cold triumphant shout
Now all that dies is staying and all that lives is getting out
See the geese in chevron flight
Flappin' and a racin' on before the snow
They got the urge for going
They've got the wings to go

They get the urge for going
when the meadow grass is turning brown
And summertime is falling down
and winter's moving in

I'll ply the fire with kindling
and pull the blankets to my chin
I'll lock the vagrant winter out
and bolt my wandering in
I'd like to call back summertime
and ask her just to stay another month or so
But she got the urge for going
I guess she'll have to go

And she got the urge for going
when the meadow grass was turning brown
summertime is falling down and winter's moving in
And she got the urge for going
when the meadow grass was turning brown
All my empires are fallen down and winter's moving in

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Before the Fall

One of the last days of Summer yesterday and it was a good'n. Absolute and pure blue sky, upper 60s, little or no breeze. Two years ago, on a Saturday at this time of year, I would have been off to Central NY or NJ or DE or PA watching my son, like so:

or like so:

As fun as that was it's now really nice to have a Fall weekend to just hang at home. The Fall vibe is already present, not just in the cold night air but in the organic morphings that always mark the season's change. But, there are a number of plants and flowers that are behaving like it's mid July. Like these flowers in my back yard, which are in peak bloom right now (I have no idea what they are):

And these, also unknown to me, which are long and lanky but gorgeous (they also are in the front where almost no sun shines):

The coneflowers are also looking pretty happy:

And these wildflowers (er, weeds) at the back edge along the woods are exploding:

The geraniums, which have been blooming madly this year, show no signs of letting up:

Nor do the impatiens, which in spite of their seeming delicate nature are pretty hardy, and wildly colorful (also in the shady front):

And these haven't even opened yet. They're always the last thing to bloom at my house (whatever they are):

But most things are starting the downhill slide, in one form of degradation or another. The hastas are giving up quickly:

The susans are fighting off the shorter days and cooler nights, but some blooms are spent:

The phlox is also undecided, even within one bloom cluster:

We took a walk over by the zoo and went across the river. Even a middling cell phone picture shows the greens yielding to yellows:

There is a lot of this:

And some of this:

And pretty soon this:

Will become this:

So, another gorgeous day is in the books. And It was embellished by a couple of cherubic encounters:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Bottle and the Damage Done

Late yesterday afternoon, Erin was at the house and loading up the baby into the car to head home. Annette was helping. I came walking outside and down the driveway and noticed a guy walking his bike along the opposite side of the street. He was walking swiftly, furtively, but his gait was unsteady and downright wobbly at times. He looked like he was on a mission but it was almost like the bike was holding him up. I pointed him out to Annette and Erin and they looked up and watched with me as he continued along. As he got to a driveway off to our right, he did a big wobble, tripped and went face down into the asphalt. And stayed. His legs were tangled in the bike and he struggling to free himself, but he was failing.

Meanwhile I was hustling over there to help the guy. To be honest, he had looked a bit like your basic drunk person but in a way he also appeared like he might just somebody with a disability - maybe some kind of palsy. So I didn't know what I was going to find when I got to him. I arrived on the scene and pulled the bike off of him. He then rolled over and sat up slowly. I said, "Are you alright, man??" He looked up at me with horrendously bloodshot eyes, and said, almost cheerfully, "Yeah, I'm just drunk, that's all."

Well, OK, now I knew what I was dealing with. He had grass and gravel ground into his knees, like this wasn't the first face-plant he'd done on his little sojourn. So I asked him where he was going. He said home. Where is that, I said. Oh...State Road....or Jackson Road. OK, so, near State and Jackson, I ask? Yeah....near 250, he says. He's given me three road names in the course of about 20 seconds, and I figure he really doesn't know where he's going.

I said, well, if you think you can direct me, I can drive you home. He seemed to like that idea. I told him I'd go get my car, if he promised to just sit right here in the driveway (he hadn't stood up yet). Can you stay put? He looked up at me again and said very obediently, yeah, I can do that.

I walked back to my driveway, and offloaded a bike from my trunk that I had just picked up at the bike shop, all the while keeping an eye over my shoulder on my new charge. He seemed content to just sit. I think he was literally blind drunk and couldn't really see all the way to where I was, so he was just trusting me to come back. Which I did.

I stopped the car right alongside of him, got out and stood him up. He wobbled some more but gathered himself. As I loaded the bike in he started thanking me and telling me what a good guy I was. I was mostly hoping this was not going to become a wild goose chase trying to find his home. Then he started to cry. This made him more unsteady so I told him to just get into the car and sit, which he did, slowly.

I finished with the bike and hopped in. As I turned the car around he started to name off the neighbor's names, correctly, so I realized he must actually have lived nearby. He said he'd been in Webster 35 years and that he was 44 years old. He talked about going to the middle school as we drove by it, and graduating in 1983. The more he talked, the more lucid he sounded. He had no motor skills at that point whatsoever, but his speech and thought processes were surprisingly clear.

I asked him where he'd been today and he said "The Coach", the sports bar in the Village. They apparently don't believe in limiting their customers' intake. If he'd have gotten into a car and drove when he left there, someone would likely have died.

He seemed to be a fairly kind soul, continuing to thank me and call me a good guy. And lament that he he can't function very well when he drinks. He directed me to his place, which was indeed on Jackson Road and I have been driving by it forever. It has a nice red barn that I've always envied, with huge piles of firewood, presumably for sale. I pulled in and we got out. More wobbly thank yous. As I leaned his bike up against a woodpile, I was going to ask him why he was riding his bike to a bar, then it dawned on me that he probably lost his license so I swallowed that question, not wanting to upset him again. But, too late, he started crying again anyway. So I told him to go in and get some food and some sleep, which he promised he would do.

I left him in his driveway, a broken-looking, sad-sack of a guy who seemed to have a good heart but a bad addiction.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Colorblind Graffiti

I think a book could be written about the late Chuck Cuminale, AKA Colorblind James (see some fantastic history of the Colorblind James Experience here). Somebody oughta write a book. He was a lot of things to a lot of people, a local 'rock' band leader, songwriter, poet, not to mention a husband and father of three boys. Taken at the age of 49. I grew up next door to Chuck, so he was always Chuck to me, as opposed to the personality "Colorblind" to much of the rest of world. As a kid, and as an adult for that matter I definitely looked up to him. Some comments I wrote about him after his death can be found here, along with comments by so many others who knew him well, many better than me.

I often think about him and the things we did together during childhood. A while back I remembered an incident from all those years ago that was particularly funny to me, so I wrote it up and passed it along to just a few people who I had Chuck in common with as a close friend. It was just one of those things that showed how Chuck was not like other kids.

Allow me to recycle it:
- - - - - - - -
Let’s call it 1967. I’m about thirteen years old. I live a short distance away but I’m hanging out with my old Manse Lane buddies. A veritable gang, we are. I’m probably the youngest of the bunch, along with Jim Lotze. The gang is rounded out, as best I can remember by Rick Lotze, Horse Provenzano, Carl Hotto, Wayne Young, and fearless if somewhat reluctant leader Chuck. If I’m thirteen these guys are about 16. This gang was a bunch of wiseasses if not badasses. There were no future convicts in this group. The order of the day was wisecracking humor, making fun of others, barbs back and forth.

A summer night with nothing to do, so we roam. Probably from house to house, gaining gang members and moving on. Eventually we are out in the open weedy field that ran along behind the houses on the south side of the street. That field used to be unoccupied by anything except a makeshift lacrosse field that we used after someone’s father mowed down some of the weeds. But on this night the eastern end is now a construction site, where the Rochester Christian School is being erected. It’s a typical construction site, with a bulldozer, piles of materials and equipment and partially-raised brick walls.

Lo and behold, someone had a can of spray paint. Red. I have no idea why they have it, or if it was premeditated to bring it. But there it is, and now the talk is of vandalism, and what to paint with it. We laugh at various things we could do with the spray paint. It’s dusk and moving quickly into darkness. More laughing. There happens to be a large white shed on the far side of the site. Chuck has settled on what its going to be. The paint is going on the shed. We have now moved into graffiti vandalism. But unlike any other mid-sixties roaming gang of teenagers on a summer night, there will be no drawings of genitalia, marijuana leaves, no profanity, no racial slurs. And it is further decided that we will each take turns contributing to the act, so all are equally culpable. The cap comes off and the paint goes on. When the deed is done, we step back briefly to view our handiwork before taking off into the darkness. In neat, large, red block letters, we have championed a great cause to all who can read: “Re-elect Chester A. Arthur."

painting by Paul Dodd:

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Blonde on Blonde

I drove to Buffalo twice this week. On the way back yesterday I listened again to Dylan's Blonde on Blonde. And actually it was the reissued/remastered version that came out a few years back. I actually got it in 2006, which I believe was the 40th anniversary of the original release.

I get boggled every time I listen to that CD. How a person can come up with so much great material at one time is beyond me. It's got 14 songs and every single one of them knocks me out. There isn't single clunker on it. If you forced me to pick a least favorite it would probably be Rainy Day Women, and that went to No. 2 on the charts.

I don't want to get going on what was his best album, or best songs ever, or where his best lyrical work was. You can't do that with someone like Dylan - it's an exerecise in futility. But he was an absolute poetic machine on this album. The cover shot was out of focus but the words were sharp as a tack:

"The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face."

"The guilty undertaker sighs...the lonesome organ grinder cries"

"When I asked him why he dressed
with twenty pounds of headlines
stapled to his chest"

"Inside the museums,
Infinity goes up on trial...
Voices echo this is what
salvation must be like after a while"

Most of the musicians were session guys, but there is heavy presence by Al Kooper and Robbie Robertson. Joe South even played some guitar. Other members of The Band also contributed, but apparently those songs didn't make the cut.

I was 12 when it came out and I was listening to it then, in my 12-year-old way, because my brother had it. The lyrics meant nothing to me then - it was the sound. But forty three years later I'm still digging it, and even though the de facto meaning of some of the lyrics might still be elusive, they "glow like burning coal." (OK, different album, but you get the idea).

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Second First Day

I remember my first day as a professional geologist. Monday, August 21st, 1980. I had finished school in May with a bachelor's degree, and worked the summer installing vinyl siding, which I'd had experience with before. In mid-summer I got word of an opening at an engineering firm in Rochester, where the boyfriend of a classmate at Geneseo with was quitting, because they were headed off to Texas for grad school. I sent my resume, got an interview, and sealed the deal.

I'd had a lot of jobs up to that point. My first was at the Rochester public market when I was about 14. Then it was the Bernunzio/Randisi family-owned RanCora Bakery, around the corner from the market (they later moved it to Webster). Later it was a painting business with buddy Rick, painting the new homes his dad built. My sister got me a job at the old Village Grill at the Four Corners in Penfield, as a busboy. I stuck around there for a while and became a lunch cook, then on to dinners. I did some carpentry, and more siding of apartment buildings. I did a stint at a plastics injection business, on the night shift while I was going to MCC. I made all kinds of wierd plastic parts for Xerox copiers. So I'd had a few "first days" at work before.

But this was going to be different. This was a career gig. I now had a career, not just a job. This elevated everything. I had to act different, think different. And look different. I knew I'd be doing a lot of field work, but there would be office time, too. I needed some new clothes. I bought some some new khakis, and a shirt or two. I remember looking in the mirror wondering if I really looked the part. I also remember thinking, no.

So I reported for duty on day one. Dressed in my new duds, my introduction to the consulting engineering business was painting the walls in some new office space. I got paint on my khakis.

Twenty eight years later, still at the same company I was part of a reduction in force, a downsizing, an adjustment, a lay-off. I got fired.

Fast-forward four months. I got hired by another engineering firm. Similar but different. A smaller company than my previous employer, but almost four times as many people in the building as I was used to in our branch office. My first day was filled with introductions - I night have met forty people. CEO, President, Department Heads, HR and Admin people, and most of the people in the environmental department that I'd be part of. I told someone that even though I had all this gray hair, it was only my second first day at work ever, at least as a professional.

There happened to be that day a company-wide meeting at lunchtime, with over a hundred people in attendance. There were several presentations by group leaders, and the HR people talked about all of the new and recent hires, including me. One of the presenters even referred to me as "an expert in natural gas exploration," which I am not by any stretch of the imagination. Somehow in going from my resume to that powerpoint presentation, my experience morphed into something that sounded waaay too important. I sat there thinking "what did I get myself into? Isn't there just a room somewhere that needs painting??"

I wiped my sweaty hands on my new khakis.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

It's been over a year since I last posted something here. I got a lot of feedback on the stuff I wrote, for which I was very appreciative. And I think I got more feedback about stopping than I did about writing. Apparently people were actually reading this stuff. I started out just doing it for the hell of it, and I think the more I realized people were actually checking it out, the more pressure I felt to write something worth reading. And it became clear there is an inverse relationship between perceived pressure and my ability to write. A lot of people have told me I should write professionally, like music critiques, or whatever. I'm afraid there's no way - can't do it with a gun (deadlines) to my head.

Since I last wrote, much has happened to me. I continued the project assignment in DC through July of last summer. I was working long hours but was able to do a LOT of bike riding, albeit in the stifling Washington heat.

I missed the Rochester Jazz Festival, for all intents and purposes, for the first time ever. That was a major downer. But right after I finished that project, I went on what was probably the best vacation of my life. My whole family rented a ginormous house on the beach in the Outer Banks. The weather cooperated, the ocean cooperated and all 20 or so of us cooperated. There aren't too many families that could put 20 people of three generations (technically four since my daughter was pregnant at the time), into one house for a week and not have at least a little discord. But we can. Maybe because we had practice over several years in beach homes in Virginia Beach in the 80s when my Mom was still alive. But mostly because I have a most awesome family, and how can you not get along in such a great setting?

The kids are old enough to fend for themselves, and even go out by themselves, so that takes pressure off. I pretty much buried my toes in the sand, read books and listened to CDs for most of it. Everyone found their own groove and ran with it. It was perfect. As Elmer Fudd said, "west and wewaxation at wong wast."

In November I became a grandfather. If that in itself was not incredible enough, I was actually able to be present in the room when Cameron Robert Borja came into our lives. I was present for both of my kid's births, but because I'm older and was just a spectator this time, it was an entirely different experience, and maybe even more amazing this time around, in some ways. I guess I had a more....existential take on it all, and the miraculous nature of the event hit home more directly than it did when I was in my 20s. It was life-changing, again.

I could write a book about the baby, and how relating to him since his birth has affected me. Another post for another time.

Fast-forward to March, when I was laid off from my job of 28 years. Life changing, indeed. I'm still in mid-change, not having garnered a replacement job. Working on that. I have had several interviews and informal meetings with people and firms I know in the business. Several have promise, but as of now it's just talk. Until someone sends me a letter of employment, that's all it is. In the meantime, I am working on keeping the stress under control. The mortgage never sleeps.

One advantage of unemployment was that I got to delve deeply into the jazz fest this year. I made up for last year, to be sure. Many late nights, but who cares? I could sleep late. That's how it's done. The local music critic Jeff Spevak was putting "Jazz Haikus" in his daily review articles. I did one of my own:

Nine nights of music
Sleep is much overrated
And the beat goes on

So, an eventful 12 or 13 months, more good than bad. Ac-cent-uate the positive, e-lim-nate the negative. Easier said than done, I'm afraid. but now that Summer is here, it helps.