Monthly Archives: October 2009

Call of the Wild Amplifier

Some folks get into cars. A Ferrari or Jag passes by, and they’re transfixed. Others collect antique…well…anything. A relative of my collects salt shakers; I try not to judge. Sometimes it’s craftsmanship that draws us, other times it’s rarity or an investment.

But, most often, I suspect it’s mystique. An object psychologically resonates, whether you need it or not. (Usually, you don’t.) Still, you can’t look away. At various times in my life, I’ve felt the irresistible pull of a Canon F1 SLR, a professional workhorse of infinite flexibility and outstanding construction. When I lived in New York, where having wheels was a serious hassle, I spent a couple days of moral torment over a neighbor selling their black and gold Honda Hawk 450 before coming to my senses and realizing Manhattan was very possibly the worst place in the world for an overly cautious driver to ride a impressively light, fast motorcycle. Thus, I’m still using my corneas. And, for the longest time, I couldn’t pass an IBM Selectric typewriter without my mouth going dry; it was the most elegant of machines. I couldn’t probably pick one up for a pittance now, but, you know, now what’s a typewriter?

Then there’s guitar amplifiers.

Which is ridiculous because I have a very, very good amp that’s so stunningly clean and loud that I’ve never turned past five. As it’s very neutral in tone, it’s an ideal tool for applying effects boxes (another addictive gizmo…you start out thinking, well, it’d be nice to have a flexible delay unit, just for playing those U2 riffs, and the next thing you know, you’re eyeing the original Univibe Hendrix used playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock). But…ah. You innocently go to a music shop to try out said delay, and they say, yeah, man, pick any guitar off the rack and plug in to any of the amps…they’re all on. You bet they are. And you go, oh, right. Well, I play a Strat; so I guess I’ll grab this, uh, $5,000 Robert Cray signature model and I’ll plug it into…. Oh, look. They happen to have a Fender Vibro-King Custom 60W 3×10 Tube Combo. That’ll do.

Seriously: do not do this. Because that tone will hook you, shining, shimmering. And late that night, when you’re trying to fall asleep, you’ll hear those icy notes dripping like droplets off an icicle. And pretty soon, tone knobs will be dancing through your mind’s eye, and you’ll find yourself looking for a jar in the garage that’ll work for tossing in a couple bills, you know, now and again. Just in case.

Forget. Plug in the amp you have. Turn it up to…six. And listen to how utterly lousy you play. Whatever you do, don’t think of a blackface grill with the ultra retro cool Fender script logo. Anything but that. Anything….

Amp lust. It’s ugly.

Then again, if there’s anyone out there not using a vintage amp tucked in a closet….

No. That would be wrong. I know it. And you know it.

*sigh*


The Truth is Way Out There


A recent Newsweek cover blared: “In Search of ALIENS.” I have a suggestion where to look.

Let me preface this by saying I’ve known (and know) a number of engineers, and though they’re brilliant, funny people, they tend to be rather linear. Metaphors don’t work that well when building suspension bridges.

That said, I also know a bunch of lighting and sound designers, who are also brilliant, funny people, but they often have an abstracted, opaque air about them, as though they’re existing on a very slightly different reality plane than the rest of us. During a group discussion, for instance, they’ll sit quietly while all the extroverts blather and fulminate, and then they’ll ask a question that no one has an answer to because it’s never occurred to them before. And everything stops.

Somewhere between these poles live stompbox designers.

For those not versed in flangers and pitch-shifters, stompboxes are little electronic gizmos that you plug your guitar into. They get their name from their foot activation buttons; when one steps upon one of these, your guitar tone stretches out wide, buzzes, twists, echoes, trembles, or turns into multiple copies of itself so it sounds like two or more guitars are playing. They are, in short, serious fun and thoroughly addictive. Which is why last night, I could blow off a very long day by playing a overdriven minor pentatonic scale with cascading echoes-es-es and jet airplane whooooooshes and other psychedelic nonsense that sounded really, really cool when I slid notes.

*pause to reflect*

Here’s the thing though: to build these suckers, you have to understand sine waves and how electronics shape them, which involves complicated schematic drawings and soldering things together, and you have to know how the humbucker on a Les Paul sounds really bitchin’ when run through an overdriven tube amp, man.

How many types of heads are involved here? Who are these people? Where did they come from?

I mean, I’m glad they’re here, and they cook up some delicious sounds, but…what are they?


Obama responds graciously to Nobel announcement….

Well, this is not how I expected to wake up this morning.

After I received the news, Malia walked in and said, “Daddy, you won the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is Bo’s birthday.”

And then Sasha added, “Plus, we have a three-day weekend coming up.”

So it’s — it’s good to have kids to keep things in perspective.

I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee.

Let me be clear, I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize, men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women and all Americans want to build, a world that gives life to the promise of our founding documents.

And I know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it’s also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.

And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.

Now, these challenges can’t be met by any one leader or any one nation. And that’s why my administration’s worked to establish a new era of engagement in which all nations must take responsibility for the world we seek.

We cannot tolerate a world in which nuclear weapons spread to more nations and in which the terror of a nuclear holocaust endangers more people.

And that’s why we’ve begun to take concrete steps to pursue a world without nuclear weapons: because all nations have the right to pursue peaceful nuclear power, but all nations have the responsibility to demonstrate their peaceful intentions.

We cannot accept the growing threat posed by climate change, which could forever damage the world that we pass on to our children, sowing conflict and famine, destroying coastlines and emptying cities.

And that’s why all nations must now accept their share of responsibility for transforming the way that we use energy.

We can’t allow the differences between peoples to define the way that we see one another. And that’s why we must pursue a new beginning among people of different faiths and races and religions, one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect.

And we must all do our part to resolve those conflicts that have caused so much pain and hardship over so many years. And that effort must include an unwavering commitment to finally realize that — the rights of all Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security in nations of their own.

We can’t accept a world in which more people are denied opportunity and dignity that all people yearn for: the ability to get an education and make a decent living, the security that you won’t have to live in fear of disease or violence without hope for the future.

And even as we strive to seek a world in which conflicts are resolved peacefully and prosperity is widely shared, we have to confront the world as we know it today.

I am the commander in chief of a country that’s responsible for ending a war and working in another theater to confront a ruthless adversary that directly threatens the American people and our allies. I’m also aware that we are dealing with the impact of a global economic crisis that has left millions of Americans looking for work.

These are concerns that I confront every day on behalf of the American people.

Some of the work confronting us will not be completed during my presidency. Some, like the elimination of nuclear weapons, may not be completed in my lifetime.

But I know these challenges can be met, so long as it’s recognized that they will not be met by one person or one nation alone.

This award is not simply about the efforts of my administration; it’s about the courageous efforts of people around the world.

And that’s why this award must be shared with everyone who strives for justice and dignity; for the young woman who marches silently in the streets on behalf of her right to be heard, even in the face of beatings and bullets; for the leader imprisoned in her own home because she refuses to abandon her commitment to democracy; for the soldier who sacrificed through tour after tour of duty on behalf of someone half a world away; and for all those men and women across the world who sacrifice their safety and their freedom and sometime their lives for the cause of peace.

That has always been the cause of America. That’s why the world has always looked to America. And that’s why I believe America will continue to lead.

Thank you very much.

The right-wing reaction follows….


It’s the End of the World as We Know It…

…and I feel fine.

OBAMA WINS NOBEL PEACE PRIZE!

Conservatives react….


The Greatest Painting Ever Told

I would never knowingly poke fun at anyone’s religion. It’s just not my thing, and I respect the personal belief systems of others and honor their right to follow their faith…so long as it doesn’t involve grabbing a hold of me and holding me underwater until I shake off Satan.

But I do reserve the right to make fun of art. Especially bad art. Art so bad it’s almost good. To whit, the art and link below which, I’m afraid, are just not so terribly good at all. In other words, delightful beyond words. View mere mortals, and tremble!

(Note: the trick to really enjoying this piece requires mousing your arrow over the various faces to read the footnotes.)

The Greatest Painting Ever Told


Taking Stock


So…it was 19 years ago, in September 1990, when my first play–Controlled Burn–opened. And, with year 20 coming up, I thought I’d sort of look at what’s gone down with the playwriting. Frankly, the stats kind of knocked me over: I’ve written around 53 plays, 25 of which have been full-lengths and 33 of which have been produced (several have been produced multiple times, so my total production rate is slightly higher than that). That means around a 62% of the plays I’ve written have been produced–not too bad for a goofy kid from Selma, Oregon. In other words, I write about 2.7 plays per year, even though I work full-time, and I’m a semi-professional photographer, serious gardener, and, of late, guitar player.

Now, I’m not saying all those plays were good. But still….

Makes tired just thinking about it, much the less doing it. Maybe I’m getting the hang of this writing thing.