Peacock show, new Andrew Bird, the origins of the 'albatross' idiom

Only one new article since last time, but I just posted a reminiscence of Les Paul, for one of the items below. That sort of counts, right? The new, new post:
:: events ::
  • If you've been too busy to make it to Litquake, take heart: you can still catch an afternoon's worth of East Bay events tomorrow, thanks to the Berkeley Ramble. View the full Saturday schedule for all locations here.
  • Charlie Peacock plays Hotel Utah Thursday (Oct. 18). If you haven't heard him before, he's worth making time for.
:: tunes ::
  • Among other probably un-hip music styles, I've long had a fondness for gypsy swing, as popularized by Django Reinhardt. Not surprisingly then, I enjoyed every track on this look at Django's legacy, which includes a song from the (local) Hot Club of San Francisco. Django even played a part in my brief meeting with Les Paul, early on in my New York Days. I'd gone to hear a Mark O'Connor show, thanks to a free ticket from a friend, but when I heard that Les was there that night, I had to go say hello afterward. I confess, I wasn't quite sure why I knew he was sort of a big deal (that fact I googled later), but we actually had a nice, brief chat that was utterly free of the worshipful fan/celebrity dynamic I so despise. A class act, he was.
  • Andrew Bird covers Townes Van Zandt's "If You Needed Me" from his new album Hands of Glory  So, so love the direction he takes on this song. I always love his forays into the Americana catalog.
  • Philip reports on Buddy Miller's recent set at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and reflects on Christian liturgy.
  • If you like the new Avett Brothers CD, check out this song-by-song video commentary on The Carpenter.
  • Jack Black has a new video out for the song "I'm Shakin'" off his recent album Blunderbuss (via Paste). 
  • Paste has a stream of Death Cab frontman Ben Gibbard's new solo album, which features at least one Aimee Mann guest vocal, if my ears don't deceive me. 
  • Morrissey does the Colbert Report (via Paste). I haven't actually watched this yet, but it's said to be very funny. I wish I could share a good recollection of the Morrissey show I once saw at the Apollo, but that's a story for another time.
  • I'm not sure I've ever viewed or shared footage/reporting from Al Jazeera before, but this story and 47-minute video on Mongolian rappers looks pretty interesting. 
:: visual art ::
:: reading ::
  • This piece on Americans' increasing fondness for Britishisms was a right spiffing read, and gave me hope I might yet start dropping some latter-day phrases from Wodehouse into the mix, without causing complete confusion.
  • Stray remarks can lead down the most interesting alleys. The other day I was discussing my brother's birthday with my mom, and remarked that an afghan I began for him quite some time ago was a real "albatross." After she joked about seeing a bird fluttering near me, we discussed the phrase, I turning to my dictionary of idioms (yes, I have one), which cited a Samuel Coleridge poem as the origin of the phrase. Sharing this on Twitter later, a discussion of memorizing poetry commenced, which prompted John Wilson to share this piece on poetry memorization as a physical act. I've thought for a while now that I might like to memorize Dana Gioia's "Summer Storm," so I could always have it at the ready for quoting when I wanted. Maybe this is just the push I needed to do it.
:: food ::
  • Inside the wooly world of buffalo mozzarella: apparently, getting authentic milk is more difficult than it seems. (I will say, though, that living in New York all but cured me of using anything besides the buffalo version except in the odd baked pasta dish called for grated mozz.)
  • Last weekend, Berkeley Bowl's excellent bargain bin had bags of dill of scallions. Naturally I couldn't resist, which led to the problem of how to use three whole bunches of dill, when most recipes call for a mere tablespoon or two of the herb. Part of the solution was trying the dill variation of this Mark Bittman lentil soup, which proved exceedingly delicious. I even forced samples on coworkers several days later, and they all agreed it was delicious. With a leek substituted for the onion, it was surprisingly hearty, too.
  • What I'd really like to make this weekend, though, is a batch of ginger liqueur. Yum.

throwback: Meeting the Man (wherein I shamelessly name-drop)

A throwback from the archives, this email was originally sent to friends and family west of New York on Nov. 13, 2003.

The pocket notebook in which I occasionally jot random thoughts acquired a gem tonight:

"Hi Doll.
Les Paul"

Yes, that's THE Les Paul. As in the 88-year-old guitar legend. I wish I could scan the page of my journal in and include it here, just so you could see the precious wavering old-man script of his handwriting.
I don't usually get all mushy-gush over celebrities -- (rattles off in fast talking) except when I passed Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart on the street -- but that wasn't really meaningful anyway. A month ago I was privileged to see a really exclusive, intimate Norah Jones show I only heard of through word of mouth. Totally cool gig, and in a small Lower East Side scene where I could've gotten the autograph. But I didn't even bother approaching her. Seemed disingenous. What would I actually say, that approached normal conversation.

But Les is a different story.

This afternoon a friend invited me to a jazz performance at Iridium, a jazz club I'd never heard of. I'd also never heard of the "jazz" violinist before (Mark O'Connor, in case you've heard of him) but he's won at least a Grammy I guess. The show was styled as a tribute to Stephane Grapelli and Django Reinhardt. That caught my attention, because just this week at work I've discovered Django's guitar playing and "gypsy swing," thanks to a friend's really cool world-music magazine. So I found a friend free at the last minute, and we met up at Iridium, an unpretentious downstairs club in the bustle of Midtown-just-north-of-42nd.

As we sit down, I start flipping through the flyer on the table, which profiles all the acts playing this fall. At the top is a blurb about Les Paul, whose name I mostly recognize from the guitar line. Apparently he plays this club every Sunday. "Wow, I didn't know he wasn't dead!" I think. I experience a passing interest in catching one of his shows, though without the comp ticket I enjoyed, 35 bucks is a bit steep for my budget.

The trio takes the stage in captivating form. And then midway through the 90-minute set, the violin player dedicates a song to Les Paul. But not until a subsequent comment does it become apparent he's actually THERE, in the crowd. At this point I started to get excited.

After the show, in the lady's room, I complimented the scarf of a woman about the age of my grandmothers. We start chatting and knitting and crocheting and tatting, so walk out of the bathroom together. As we're walking to our tables, I realize she's headed toward the table I think Les Paul was at, and where there's a conspicuously empty seat. By this time it had entered my head to get an autograph -- except that I don't actually know what Les looks like, and there's at least three gray heads at the table over yonder. But the lady mentioned a husband!

"Excuse me," I ask, "are you sitting at that table over there?" "Yes." "Is Les Paul your husband?" I blurt. She's very nice about it. "No, but my son works with him." "Do you think he'd mind if I asked for an autograph?" "No, he'd be delighted." A friend of hers agrees -- and luckily they point me to the corner where Les is standing. Because really, if you ask for someone's autograph, shouldn't you at least know which person to ask?!!

I hurry back for my noteback and walk over to where it seems a long line should be forming. But there's really no one. Just a stooped older man chatting with the guitar player from the trio, leaning over a railing as they talk.

Within minutes I'm shaking the Man's hand and explaining how I started playing guitar when I was six (I guess being a "pretty young girl" is sometimes useful). Les was just as nice as could be. At his age, it's probably not often to be approached by those of my generation. Despite his legendary career, he's unassumingly geriatric with hands a bit like my grandfather's. He signs the book, spelling my name right (with some discussion). And then we start talking guitar. Before I know it, I'm explaining about my dilemma at work today, trying to find a guitar feature in the Django Reinhardt song I want 7th graders to hear.

"You've got to break it down the way Stephane and Django did," he says. Not with MY music theory! I'm thinking. "Stick close the melody. When you're writing music, you're writing the melody." And then he starts going on about -- of all things, coming from a JAZZ musician! -- his disfavor for improvisation. "These guys are all technical," he says, gesturing toward the stage. "But I want someone to know what I'm playing when they come in -- not to have to wait until the end of the song." It was one of those amazing moments.

I don't often have experiences I find truly amazing. It's rare that I actually sit someplace and think, "I am having a terrific time. I don't want this to end." I have a lot of good times, don't get me wrong, but a lot of things you don't treasure until they're photographs. Tonight though ... is a moment I feel like I'll be reliving -- and of course retelling ;) -- a very long time. As soon as I left the building, I started scrolling through my mobile phone book in search of friends who would know who Les was and appreciate my story. Only one answered her phone, so it was all I could do not to accost some stranger on the train with my story. Had the musician in my car carried a guitar instead of a horn of some kind, I definitely would have bent his ear.

But instead I get to bend all of yours. :D I hope you don't mind my exuberance ... I'm just pretty stoked about the whole thing. The coolest thing, I think, is that we actually had a neat conversation. There was some kind of substance to our passing. So now I'll buy some Les Paul records, and probably drop the $35 to hear him live. Hey, at least I discover his music while he's alive! None of that posthumous fan-club guilt I have with Johnny Cash, where I'm aware of joining a large crowd that bought his records only when he died. :( :(
And now good night from briefly magical New York!


Squirrel Stew, Mumford, Muscle Music

Well. I think a month has passed between these, which explains the length of the following. I'm slowly posting the archives here, but it's proceeding slowly -- too many other writing deadlines of late! Speaking of which, I had three new pieces published last month, with more to come this month.
A very busy weekend coming up, event-wise! Hardly Strictly runs Friday through Sunday, roughly the same schedule as Fleet Week. Litquake is Oct. 5-13. Don't miss the upcoming concert from Charlie Peacock at Hotel Utah! That should be a real treat.

Lastly, if you've been meaning to buy Andrew Bird's latest album Break It Yourself, and you're partial to mp3s, would you consider buying the download code that came with my ticket? I'd really prefer a CD, but it chaps my hide to buy the album twice. I'm happy to match the iTunes price ($9.99) and would even throw in some homemade granola or something. Money refunded if the download doesn't work, of course, but I promise I haven't used the code, and I'm not aware of an expiration.

:: film & video ::
  • I'm slow to share this trend, but the Korean music video for "Gangnum Style" has become something like this summer's "Macarena," the Wall Street Journal reports, though its originator, Psy, told Ellen DeGeneres the mindset of the song is "dress classy, dance cheesy."
  • In case you missed it, Old Spice returns with a "muscle music" video. Kind of creepy, but funny.
  • A new documentary on health care system follows several patients and the staff of Oakland's Highland Hospital. The New York Times reports on The Waiting Room.
:: visual art ::
:: tunes ::
  • Charlie Peacock has a new album out -- and a Bay Area show in October. You can catch him at Hotel Utah Oct. 18. Stream his new album on Paste.
  • This is the fascinating story of a violin the Nazi leader Goebbels gave to a Japanese violinist, an instrument that has always been followed by rumors about its origin. Now a Berkeley scholar is trying to research instruments stolen by the Nazis
  • I forget how I heard about Nick Waterhouse, he has a cool sound ... and he's coming to San Francisco later this month (playing Bimbo's on the 20th, if I'm not mistaken).
  • My friend Adjoa has a new album out called Songs for Tall Women and the Short Men Who Love Them. I first met her at Charlie's house (the gent from bullet #1), which will be no surprise once you've heard her sing.
  • Paste has a full-length stream of Bettye LaVette's new album, Thankful 'n Thoughtful, which includes a number of covers -- Bob Dylan and Gnarls Barkley among them. Not a bad album, if you like your songs bluesy and soulful.
  • Mumford and Sons' second album Babel debuted last week, and NPR has video of one song from it, "Whispers in the Dark." On a related note, this Ann Powers piece is an interesting look at the nature of rock-n-roll (must such musicians always be outsiders?) and why some critics have disliked the Brits' sound.
  • Jazz flute probably sounds like the basis of a solid SNL skit, but it also describes some decent tunes, as this NPR piece demonstrates. A standout is the track by Yusuf Lateef, whose transfixing song "The Plum Blossom" I heard on the radio recently.
  • File under fun music: nine-year-old banjo player and his brothers perform on Letterman
  • Two years into my time in New York, I switched which Redeemer Sunday service I attended, trading the classical-themed morning service for the jazz-themed evening one. Keller's repeated emphasis on grace was doing something to my heart, but the morning service felt too formal and sterile for me to really let go; I couldn't let my guard down. Once at the evening service, though, I wept frequently and freely. The band never got quite as close to true gospel-music territory as I wished they would, but sometimes they came mighty close. One song I particularly remember was Cannonball Adderley's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" -- a piece whose joyfulness this NPR feature says is typical.
  • The Wall Street Journal has a preview of Diana Krall's new album, Glad Rad Doll, due Oct. 2. I've not bought one of her CDs in more than a decade, but this one sounds intriguing.
  • Beck covers Brazilian Caetano Veloso as part of a new tribute album (Paste).
  • Bob Dylan's 35th album Tempest was released last month. Here's a round-up of reviews (funniest so far goes to the Guardian). On a related note, there's also a video for his new song "Duquesne Whistle," which the Brits got first. That video's offered on a blog I just heard about from Bryan, part of the Guardian's cultural coverage.
:: reading ::
:: food ::
  • Have you been drinking real buttermilk? Probably not, according to this New York Times story. I'm on the hunt for a local provider of the butter by-product, but I may just have to try making my own butter to get it.