May 23

A photo in tin

I didn’t know this photo existed, but when we stopped by to see my grandfather, who is always full of surprises, he fished this image out of a stack. There were a handful of photos of him as a little boy, posing in a studio with his beautiful mother, and even some of his grandmother, who I knew.

Think of it. I have real memories of a great-great-grandmother who died, at 92, when I was in high school. I also had a great-grandmother who died when I was in college, and another great-grandmother who lived until I was 28. But this isn’t about those remarkable people. This is about this new-to-me photograph.

These people are my mother’s mother’s parents, my maternal-maternal great-grandparents. She died when I was three, but I don’t have any memory of her. He died when I was five, and I have a few glimpses of him in my mind’s eye.

Here, he’s holding my great-aunt. We estimate she’s about three years old in that photo, putting him at about 24 and his wife at about 21. She’s holding a great-uncle I never knew. But look how young!

My great-grandmother here looks like my grandmother. And from a few photos of this young woman I can see traits of most every woman in my family.

Earlier this month my mom texted me a photo of when she was a child, some four decades after the picture here. It looks like a vacation photo. She’s in oversized glasses, with her parents and her grandparents, the ones pictures here. Behind my mother is her grandmother, a mid-century grandma out of central casting. Her daughter, my grandmother, looks impossibly young in that way that never makes sense when you’re only accustomed to seeing someone in a different stage of their life. My grandfather is there, short sleeve button down, shiny watch, comical shorts (though I never knew him, I never think of him wearing shorts) and shin high dark socks. Now, except for those socks, it all works, because he has the mod haircut of the time and he’s wearing the best sunglasses 1960s technology had to offer.

Behind them all is my great-grandfather, my mother’s grandpa. Long pants, long-sleeved shirt with a large windowpane print, with a neat little banded fedora on top of his head. He’s holding a cup with a straw in his left hand. They all look like they’re posing for a serious rock photo, or as if something important has happened in front of them as the photo was taken. Except for my great-grandfather, who is smiling just a bit.

He’s probably, let’s say, mid-early-60s in that photograph.

I remember him as an even older man, of course. My biggest memory is that you had to yell at him to be heard. At home, I have a photo where he’s posing with me and my cousin, the last two of his great-grandchildren that he’d meet, in front of another barn wall. It’s rather poetically symmetric in a way.

Trying to find a way to wrap up this post, I looked up some of that young woman’s lineage. With a few clicks, I was able to trace great-great grandmother’s ancestors back five more generations, to when her great-great-great grandfather immigrated to South Carolina from Ireland aboard a vessel called the Lord Dunluce in 1772. He was 17-ish, came over alone, and had 100 acres coming to him, somehow. He got married, at 19, in 1774. He died in 1808, and is buried in South Carolina. Another part of her family, the internet tells me, came from North Carolina after crossing the Atlantic at some point in the middle of the 18th century. That branch can be traced back, with no effort on my part, to the 16th and 17th century and places like Aarau and Zurich, Switzerland. Still others came over to Massachusetts, seemingly from England, in the early part of the 17th century.

But I’m going to wrap it up this way. My great-grandmother there was picking cotton one morning. She was full term, and, the story goes, delivered around midday. In the afternoon, she was back out in the field picking cotton again.

May 23

Sitting around the table

We drove all afternoon and into the evening on Friday. We got to my mom’s just in time for dinner, barbecue that we’d picked up in Nashville. The three of us sat at the kitchen table and spooned out brisket and sides and had a wonderful and tasty time of it.

Saturday felt like a good day to sleep in, but my shoulders didn’t feel like sleeping in. I’d lay on one side for a while, get a bit achy, roll over to the other side, get a bit achy, and repeat. But with all of that extra time, from the not sleeping in, I pestered my mom to give me things to do to help her around the house. She doesn’t like to give me things to do, because I’ve come to visit her and not to work, but then she likes the help. Also, having had a full lifetime of learning how, I am good at good-naturedly pestering my mother.

So I vacuumed the pool. Then I shimmied up a tall ladder to change a light bulb. After that we upgraded her security system.

She had some homemade chicken salad, which I requested, and bought our dinner. The way I see it, I was working for my food. Also it kept her from having to do a few things and cemented my status as The Best Child.

Sunday morning we went to church with my grandfather. The sign on the outside says the church dates back to 1939, which is a fairly decent amount of time for that hill and holler. Some of my grandfather’s people have lived up there since the state was a territory, so the church is half as old as the roots. I’ve written about this before. My great-grandfather gave the land to the church. He and his wife attended faithfully.

He led the singing, he offered prayers, he oversaw the Lord’s Supper and he helped run the business side of things. When we were visited, he and I would walk back down the street to his home. We raced the rest of the family, who took the car back. This was a big event for a little boy. Sometimes we won. But, always, my great-grandfather was game for the race, even when we started going a bit slower. Their son-in-law, my great-uncle, is an elder there today. There are still relatives from three different sides of my family tree that attend there.

It’s also getting grayer and thinner. My lovely bride and I were probably the second youngest people there. But they are lovely and inviting people. Always have been. I’ve visited there my entire life. I am a decades-long visitor.

A few years ago they went to a multimedia format for sermons. The preacher can point to his right and show you verses and illustrations from a PowerPoint or a Presi. This is nothing new, but it still amuses me to see it in this particular place. Occasionally they’d put a song on the screen, something that wasn’t in the hymnal. It’s odd, to me, when that happens. The songbook is an important part of everything.

Yesterday, you couldn’t help but notice the three cameras in the back of the building. This tiny little country church is streaming to the web. Someone writes them, my grandfather said, from another country. This tiny little, graying, country church is going global.

The preacher, a man who’s preached for 50-plus years, surely, mentioned the URL at the end of his sermon.

They’re still working on embedding those videos, though.

Today we chatted with a friend in Germany, giving him all of the best Memorial Day wishes, but as a joke. He’s active duty and it aggravates him to no end when people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day, as they often do. I was going to let it go this year, but then we heard a DJ in Nashville on Friday make the error, so then I had to incorporate that into the joke.

He’s going to be retired in the next year or two, but I’m sure we’ll still be sending him fake cards on the wrong days. At least he knows they are fake and in a properly sarcastic spirit.

If he wasn’t overseas we’d have invited him over for lunch. We had burgers and ribs and my grandfather came over, so we played dominos. Here’s my partner, ready to score all of the points.

Over the last four or five years, maybe, my grandfather has been teaching us. That sounds like it takes a long time and that we’re lousy students, but it’s a couple of games a trip, so our progress is uneven. My grandfather and my mom are a team, The Yankee and I are a team. They usually win. There’s no end to his joy at trouncing the college kids. And that is what they often do. All this education, we struggle counting dots. Two years ago, as a gag gift I received my own set of dominos and, to his eternal delight, a little solar powered calculator. We still win about the same amount, despite having the opportunity to practice. And, despite that opportunity, I am still very slow, because I am counting and doing math and trying to remember the rules and see the larger strategies and so on.

We win one or two here or there. The goal is to get to 500 points. He’s doing this math, two or three levels of it, really, in his head. My mother is crunching the numbers in her head. I am pointing at dots and mouthing words, “26, 27, 28 … ” For a good long while this amused him. Now, I think, he just wishes I would get better at it and hurry up and put down my bone so he can score 35 points with a simple flick of his wrist. Probably he’s going to put a time limit on me. That might not be a bad idea, actually.

I am the butt of a lot of jokes while we are playing dominos, but I earn them, and I own them. Once, he sent me a video of him counting dots, fiddling with his dominos, dropping them on the table, counting more dots. It wasn’t trash talk, it was trash gesturing. Without saying a word, he deconstructed my entire game, such as it is. He was completely absorbed in the tiles in his hand, and he only looked up at the camera at the very end, to smile. How can you not love that? Plus, my being the punchline makes him laugh, which is one of the all time best things.

Occasionally things break our way in the game, and we’ll win a hand. Today, for the first time ever I think, we won two games in a row. Also, late in one hand I found myself understanding the dominos that were still in play. I may have to count the dots, but I am learning to count tiles.

I resolved to get my dominos and start practicing even more.

May 23

Press the long one on the right

Reading a site regularly gives you great insight into its habits and routines. The page, when consistently produced and consistently read, at least, can certainly have a personality. For example, when you see a hastily composed and carefully cropped photo — shot from the hip and edited for more than 11 seconds — like this …

… or another shot, with tint and flares like this …

Then you know we’re on the road. I suppose the long weekend was another clue. Anyway, we’re headed south for the Memorial Day weekend. Family, sun, good fun, some time by the pool, and … BARBECUE.

It is the little things — like slow slow-cooked meat — that you miss the most when you don’t have them close at hand in in abundant supply. But over the course of this trip, I’m getting barbecue at least twice.

And so we drove all through the afternoon, stuck in traffic at the Kentucky border, near a place where authorities are presently looking for an escaped murderer, and slowed down again several times north of Nashville because of the hour, picking up some ‘cue from Jack’s a proper little joint right there in the Gulch. We finally exited the interstate for exiting the interstate at a quiet little part of Tennessee, where the community is named as a portmanteau in honor of the guy who either influenced or bribed lawmakers to get the train to run through the area.

In the day’s dying light, we glided through 11 miles of a U.S. highway that, if you were ambitious, would carry you some 2,300 miles from where my sister is in North Carolina to a place in Arizona where no one I know is. We were racing daylight, because we still had 22 miles to go on a little county road up in the hills where the darkness comes early. You pass through towns that show up on a map, but not in real life. Then there’s the state line store, and the big right turn, past where some of my family is buried, on roads that seamlessly put you into another unincorporated place that stretches to each horizon before, finally, there’s a four-lane road straight and true, one more turn, and then there’s the warm light shining in my mother’s yard.

She’s got the hugs. We’ve got the barbecue. And that’s how we started the weekend.

May 23

Can I interest you in some perfectly-priced accessories?

The day passed slowly, but quickly. Warm, but mild. Bright, but indoors. Quietly but … no, it was actually quiet. Quite quiet.

Yesterday we bumped into our neighbors and they invited us to spend the evening on their lovely patio, which we did tonight. We talked work and kids and vacations and accidents. They are delightful and humorous.

Somehow we got on the subject of wardrobes. He is a retail professor and knows a thing or two about a thing or two. And so we found ourselves chatting about french cuffs and cufflinks. She brought out some links of her grandfathers. And of course I had to say I’ve just been making my own.

He was interested in this, and then I tried to describe the process. Finally, I just went over and brought some out to show off, including this batch I made in June 2021.

He likes them. Loves them. Wants to make them and mass produce them. We’re talking unit price and creation time and source materials and I find all of this amusing. He also came up with a price point. It’s mildly funny hearing someone plan out a business from something you do with idle hands. The best part was that she went inside to fetch this or that, and when she came back out he was still going on about it. As she came back outside I said, “He’s still talking about those cufflinks.”

Because she knows her husband, without pause or reservation or even condemnation, she said “I know. And he will all night.”

And, basically, he did.

I fully expect he’ll have the business model all nailed down this time next week.

At least I hope so. And, like all of my wildest ideas, may it make a mint. Or at least a cut of the profits my neighbor makes.

OK people, when we wrap up this post we’ll be officially, and momentarily, caught up in the Re-Listening project. This is the one where I’m playing all the old CDs in my car, in the order in which I acquired the disc. It has been a big week, because I was once again well behind in this content-padding trip down memory lane. Yesterday’s installment was from Guster, and today’s feature is from … Guster!

This was September or October of 1999. “Lost and Gone Forever.” I know that because their third studio album came out that September, and we saw them in October. I had the clever idea to put the ticket with the liner notes in my CD book, and it is still there today. Brian Rosenworcel broke his kit in Nashville the night before. I know this because he wrote about it.

This song isn’t from that performance, being from 2016 and in Boston, but in 1999, at Five Points South Music Hall in Birmingham, this was the first song we heard.

For a decade, between 1994 and 2003, that was a terrific venue. I saw a lot of good shows there, including my first live Guster performance. Two college friends and I went. One of them is still a social media friend. I wonder if she remembers this show. It was a long time ago.

Again, different performance, but this was the second song in that show, and track 5 on “Lost and Gone Forever.”

This was the fourth tune from our concert, wonderful then as it is beautiful now.

I don’t recall the songs from the show, which took place on a Wednesday night, but I did discover a site that, somehow and for some reason, publishes setlists. They even estimate the length of the show, which has to be wrong, but they don’t list the other acts. I think The Push Stars opened for them.

Anyway, the record finished 1999 at 169 on the Billboard Top 200. They played eight of the 11 tracks that evening, including the single “Fa Fa,” which, for my money, is perhaps the weakest song in the band’s entire catalog. It peaked at 26 on the Top 40.

If I recall correctly, the guy that produced this record was on the early part of the tour, playing bass. If you read into the show notes link above — and you did, didn’t you? — you find out the guy hadn’t played a bass in years. Spare a thought for someone who is in a rhythm section with the Thunder God.

On this listen, as is so often the case on this fantastic record, “I Spy” really stands out.

Guster is a great band (and a great show each time I’ve seen them, catch ’em if you can), and “Lost and Gone Forever” is a a terrific record. Having two of their discs back-to-back is a wonderful treat. And, somehow, the Re-Listening project is just getting better and better.

May 23

This (Re-Listening) band is for lovers

There were two highlights to my day. First, and this came late in the day, so you can tell how quite things were otherwise, we took a nice long walk after I got in from the office. The temperature was mild-trending toward warm and the views were just right for the back half of May.

That’s on the path behind our house, which winds through the neighborhood and connects to other paths and sidewalks that will take you most anywhere in town, if you are willing to walk or run there. The path system, let’s call it, continues to grow, and all of that access is one of the more wonderful features of Bloomington, even if we tend to haunt one particular section of them.

The path closest to our house does stop on one end. If you walk behind some of the new developments you can pick up another part of the paved route, but first you must walk over grass. The horrors!

City or county, and I’m not sure which, because this spot is right at the line, takes good care of this area. There’s always a walkable, mowed stretch through here. They do take pretty good care of their multiuse corridors here.

The other highlight was that, when we came back in from our walk, we ran into our neighbor. It looks like we’ll be sitting out and chatting with them tomorrow evening. They’re funny, witty, have just the right sort of enthusiasm and are polite enough to laugh at all of the better-ish jokes. So, good neighbors.

We’re making good progress, of late, catching up on the Re-Listening project. Writing one of these every day has helped. And, believe it or not, we’re only two discs behind right now. The point here, of course, is a quick breeze through of all of my old CDs. I am listening to them in the car, in the order that I first came to own them. This is fun for memories and singalongs and good filler for the site. They’re not reviews, but whimsy, as most pop music should be.

So it is 1998 or 1999, though this is another 1997 disc. I remember specific things around this record, firstly that I came to find the band through streaming an alt station out of Atlanta. And this really gets down to two groups of people. OK, musicians and two other groups of people. Record label A&R types and the music programmers that put up with them.

In the 1990s there were maybe six or eight real programmers of what was left of alt rock. There were other stations, but they were following the leaders. One of those guys was in my hometown, but another was just a short car ride away, the late Sean Demery, who was the music director at WNNX, 99X Atlanta. Here’s a guy who was doing the morning drive, realized there was a guy already in their building who would be a better morning jock, and stepped away from that to take on the afternoon shift. This is all but unheard of. But Demery was also the guy who, a few years earlier, turned that station on its head, and made it the mad hatter of musical taste that it was. As his AJC obit says, “Demery helped turn 99X into a hugely successful station in the 1990s, a ground-breaking blend of Gen-X insouciance, goofiness, sophistication and musical diversity which cemented loyalty among its listeners.”

That’s where I found him, doing wild stuff in the afternoons. I had a small town morning show that was punching above its weight because I was inspired by guys like Demery, who like a few other pros’ pros were willing to spend a few moments listening or offering advice. The people that taught me broadcasting said, on the first day, that “dead air was the work of the devil.” Demery walked away from his microphone mid-sentence for a punchline, or to make a point. He’d play the same song over and over when he had a hit, and in those days he was never, ever wrong.

He was a pirate working for corporate media. A confounder, the tail end of a now-dead art, a visceral force of taste, the match that made the spark. The sounds that maintreamed into modern rock, the strains that influenced the generation that came after, his colleagues sold it for revenue, but in the 1990s Sean Demery was one of the few people in the country putting it before us. (Demery wrote, “99X never referred to itself as an Alternative station until after 2000 which is funny because by the time some consultant decided we should call it Alternative it had become a music and cultural norm.”)

And so it was with Guster. Here’s three guys from Massachusetts, with an incessant rhythm section of … bongos?

“Airport Song” was the debut single from their second studio album. People like Demery helped push it to 35 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart. “Goldfly” was an independent release, but this was the album that got them picked up by Sire Records and Warner. It was all edgy, a bit ragged and spotty in places, and everything on it fits the moment.

I think, for about three years, this was what I listened to when I exercised or mowed the lawn, all of which comprised most of my music listening.

Now, I bought this late, because their third album was coming out. But this one will always be a favorite.

And I got to see them live for the first time not too long after that. They’re a band best seen live.

That explains why I’ve seen them three or five times. In fact, a Guster show was on our calendar for the day that everything shut down in March of 2020. I found out at the box office of the local venue. And so it was happy and sad, in May of 2021, to see them live in a documentary format. It was a hint and a reminder and just a great, great band. I’ve watched them their whole career, through the alt and the boop boop beep boop, the Beatles pastiche and everything else.

Probably I would have found them somewhere else, but I found them because of Sean Demery and the legendary 99X.

Go see them this year, because I can’t.