Monday, December 28, 2009

The Penpals

Have I blogged about the series of books Allison and I wrote in elementary school?  I just found my copies upstairs.  Yes, Allison and I were authors at a young age.  Each of us wrote our own book to start, structured as a series of letters between a pair of penpals.  Subsequent tomes united our penpal characters and their adventures.  In fact, volume two was cleverly entitled Penpals II: United.  (Volume three, Penpals III: United Again.  Volume four, Penpals #4: One Last Time.)

I know we were children when we wrote these - volume two would have been written around fourth grade - but reading parts of them now is nonetheless horribly embarrassing.  I'm mostly embarrassed for my ten-year-old self, who thought the stories were hip and clever.  (Our friends seemed to think so, but what did they know?  They were in elementary school.)  We illustrated the books with colored-pencil depictions of photographs, both entertaining and cringeworthy today.      

By Penpals II: United, my characters - Anni and Courtney - were fifteen.  They'd spent some time out of contact, while Courtney's family was in witness protection because her dad secretly worked with the FBI to bring down a big drug dealer.  But, luckily, two years later the police "caught the gang."  Whew!  So long, witness protection!

Meanwhile, Anni was still living in San Francisco, and had acquired a 17-year-old superstar actor boyfriend named Brent Rockne.  Soon Courtney flew out to visit Anni's family for Christmas.  They went to Aspen, where they met up with Allison's penpal characters Jenni and Sabrina.  Then everyone went back to California.  And somewhere in there, Brent Rockne took the girls on a little ski adventure.  Which was written up in a teen magazine!  Check out the article below.  The sentences span across the photo, rather than being separated into columns.  That's how all the best magazines do it.

Where do I begin?  How about with the fact that Brent Rockne looks like a sketchy thirty-something dude?  Or the fact that he's groping Anni's chest?  And the restaurant.  F'Reau D'Plaur?  I clearly had some vague notions about the French language, but none of the details.  Then there's the article itself.  Ski vail?  You may be aware of the great skiing available at Vail in Colorado, but this is the more exclusive "Ski vail" in California.  Where seventeen-year-old actors can be alone with a foursome of fifteen-year-old and thirteen-year-old girls: no problem!  At least I didn't make him eighteen.  Not then, anyway.  

The rest is just like this.  Even better, in many cases!  Sometime I'm going to go through the pictures and write down every saying I drew on t-shirts and sweatshirts.  I was really into that as a fashion statement in 1991.

Oh, and rent SURF NITES.  I hear it was radical.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Meet me here at dawn

Second City 24-hour Letters to Santa Benefit, year seven!  December 15th-16th from 6 p.m. - 6 p.m.  Here's the annual incomplete timeline:

7:40 p.m.: Jeff Tweedy sings "Remember the Mountain Bed" to the super-awesome Tami Sagher.  He's playing a lovely Kel Kroydon guitar with peacocks on it.

9:53 p.m.: There is improv.

10:31 p.m.: Gerald Dowd and Robbie Fulks.  Robbie's performance of the 2009 Rap of the Dead was amazing, as it is every year I've gotten to see it.

12:41 a.m.: Horatio Sanz and Matt Walsh from UCB, joined by TJ.

1:48 a.m.: Slow-motion reenactment of one minute from the greatest rock concert ever.

3:24 a.m.: Everyone joins the Flash Mob Marching Band, marching around the third floor of Piper's Alley

3:39 a.m.: More improv.  I just remember that this woman was supposed to be flying.

6:13 a.m.: Bonnie "Prince" Billy plays an enchanting early-morning set.

8:26 a.m.: The babies (and children) perform a scene together.

9:00 a.m.: It's a pyramid of comedy!  And a stray baby left in the background.

10:12 a.m.: Town Parade, cut short this year.  We got the professions, but no scene!  I was looking forward to seeing the town cult enthusiast in action.

11:14 a.m.: More improv.

12:24 p.m.: Nina Nastasia (and some dry ice in the background).

1:59 p.m.: Mountain Goats.  (That Starbucks cup saw some action.)

3:02 p.m.: Bear attack.

3:54 p.m.: Champagne in honor of Second City's 50th anniversary joins the empty Red Bull and Starbucks containers on our table.  Not pictured: 5 Hour Energy vial, free cheesecake.

4:36 p.m.: The Blisters.  It was their seventh year at the benefit, too.

And that took us nearly to the end.  All of the 24-hour people joined the comedians (and John Darnielle) on stage for the last twenty minutes for the traditional game of freeze tag, then two minutes of dancing, and it was over for another year.  Weirdly jumbled memories of Anne Frank and Jesus making out in heaven, chefs who are turned on by shrimp, and guys who communicate with their fathers via hobo symbols will tide me over until 2010.

The next night, Sooz and I went to see Andrew Bird's final Gezelligheid show at the Fourth Presbyterian Church.  The church looked amazing.  Ryan did an excellent job with the lights, which combined with the music to create a unique atmosphere.  I enjoyed hearing much of Andrew's lesser-played instrumental material, as well as some choice covers like Cass McCombs's "Meet Me Here at Dawn."  With the snow outside and coziness inside, my Christmas spirit was officially boosted.

There's much to be thankful for this holiday season, and I love spending so much time with friends.  After more social activities Friday night and Saturday afternoon, though, I'll admit that I'm thankful for the chance to relax at home tonight with some Christmas cookies, Christmas music, and a huge stack of books.

Also see:
Letters to Santa 2008
Letters to Santa 2007
Letters to Santa 2006
Letters to Santa 2005

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Best of Pa Ingalls

Inspired by an article in The New Yorker, lately I've been rereading my favorite Laura Ingalls Wilder books.  I've always been a fan of Pa's colorful exclamations, so I decided to compile some favorites here:

"You're only a little half-pint of cider half drunk up, but by Jinks! you're as strong as a little French horse!"
-Little House in the Big Woods, after Laura scrambled over the wood box with Mary in tow

"Hurry!  I'm hungry as a wolf!"
-Little House on the Prairie, encouraging Laura and Mary to help him skin a rabbit

"Cattle, by George!"
-Little House on the Prairie, hearing a strange, low, distant sound

"Now, by the Great Horn Spoon, I'll milk her!"
-Little House on the Prairie, after being kicked by his cow

"Jiminy crickets!  It's raining fish-hooks and hammer handles!"
-On the Banks of Plum Creek, during a hard rain

"Can't see a thing!  It's dark as a stack of black cats!"
-On the Banks of Plum Creek, on a particularly dark night

"Great weasels in the cash box!  You've got to be shitting me!"
-On the Banks of Plum Creek, when the grasshoppers returned for the second year

"Gosh all hemlock! but it's growing cold fast!"
-The Long Winter, on a chilly pre-blizzard night

"Jerusalem crickets!  This is a humdinger!"
-The Long Winter, on the first morning of a notable storm

"Well I'll be a prideful waltzing whoremaster; if it isn't the Christmas turkey!"
-The Long Winter, upon the long-awaited delivery of the Christmas barrel

Pa had such a way with words.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

This machine produces denim

There's a big, bad snowstorm rolling into town tonight.  But on Monday night, the eve of the storm, I was part of a sellout crowd that found a port at the High Noon Saloon with the Dave Rawlings Machine.  My background knowledge of the band amounted to little more than tangential song associations, a brief guest appearance by David Rawlings at Largo, and the new album I only managed to play once before the concert.  Multiple glowing reviews from a certain friend were enough, however, to convince me this was a show I ought to check out.

The night got off to an energetic start with "Monkey and the Engineer," soon followed by a seamless melding of "Candyman" and "Dear Landlord."  Gillian pointed out that not every brain would naturally connect those two songs, but clearly David Rawlings has got what it takes.  The show continued for nearly two and a half hours; more bang for my buck than I'm used to getting from local shows.  Ketch Secor, Willie Watson, and Morgan Jahnig from Old Crow Medicine Show were on stage for the majority of that time, adding wonderful vocal and instrumental accompaniments ... and making me think that next time OCMS is in town, I might want to get on that.

Many details made an impression on me over the course of the evening.  David and Gillian's harmonies were superb, blending together into one full voice.  Dave's fingerpicking skills are beyond my comprehension.  It was fun to watch the interactions between Ketch and Dave, whether Ketch was on fiddle, harmonica, or vocals.  The crowd was enthusiastic without veering over to obnoxious (always a danger at a bar), and there was lots of friendly engagement from the stage.  There was a tale about Santa Cruz and a trail of toilet paper.  The band's dinner at the Eldorado Grill inspired the addition of "Diamond Joe," to the setlist, which prompted a story about Ramblin' Jack Elliott's 35-minute version of the song.  Gillian explained that the only thing they know about the Rawlings Machine so far is that it wears denim ... in fact, it may produce denim.  Some of that denim was in danger Monday night, as Dave kept nearly losing his pants.  A good samaritan in front of me took off his own belt and passed it forward, where it was received with gratitude and donned without delay.  "I didn't want to give it to you," confessed the woman up front who'd handed the belt over.  I could sympathize.

We heard more songs than I can recall now.  A rollicking gospel tune, "He Will Set Your Fields On Fire." "Cortez the Killer" may soon rival "Ring of Fire" as the song I've seen covered the most times.  Although twice I think Dave Rawlings has been involved, so perhaps I'm overestimating.  During one of the periods when the OCMS guys left the stage to just Dave and Gill, Dave announced that it was time for Gillian to sing a song.  "We don't do this one too much, but we're going to play it for you tonight.  We've had a lot of requests for it.  I mean ... not from you guys.  From other people who won't get to hear it."  That song was "Wrecking Ball."  

After the main set the band returned for an encore, which included "Queen Jane Approximately," "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)" and Gillian's "Look at Miss Ohio."  The last song (because unlike some audience members, Dave noted, they know how to pace a set) was "The Weight."  Gillian took the first verse, then Dave, then Willie, then Ketch, then all four together.  I couldn't imagine a more satisfying ending to the show.  Except, maybe, for the second encore.  The four vocalists returned to the stage and gathered around one microphone sans instruments for "Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby" - accompanied by the crowd on stomp percussion.

"We've been watching the weather," Dave remarked toward the end of the night.  "We play tomorrow in Minneapolis ... and then in Omaha."  Laughter and shouts of "good luck!" rang out.  When he explained that they planned to blow out of town that night, trying to get to Minneapolis before things got bad, the crowd protested loudly.   Dave laughed.  "Or we could stay and play here tomorrow, too," he suggested.  "Just stick around."  Even in a blizzard, I guarantee they'd have an audience.