2018: It wasn’t all bad…

But it was one of the toughest years of my life. My father passed away just before Christmas. My own health wasn’t too good either.

There’s good news to report, though. Our family now includes a puppy. We named her Mochi. She’ll get her own post soon. In the meantime, here’s a photo of her telling us that her bowl is empty.

Other highlights of the year include some precious time back to England with parents and other family. The kids made good starts at their respective new schools (high and middle).

All in all, I’m not sorry to see the end of 2018. I’m hoping for a better 2019.

Music 2018

Sorry, but I have to start with the death of Scott Hutchison, even though I posted about it at the time. There was no 2018 album that hit me like Midnight Organ Fight, the masterpiece from Scott’s band Frightened Rabbit.

Among the albums I enjoyed were Lucy Dacus’ debut Historian and Mitski’s Be the Cowboy. Here’s a sample from each: Night Shift and Nobody respectively (links to YouTube).

But my two heartiest recommendations are videos of old guys. My favorite musician Richard Thompson was on tour with his electric trio (which at times had three members, but often had more).

I love this video of the set at Shrewsbury–particularly the song selection, with material from the new album, from Fairport Convention 50 years ago, and many points on the timeline in between. The performance is great, as is the sound quality.

The other video is Tower of Power’s Tiny Desk show. ToP started 50 years ago, but are currently fronted by a powerful young singer. Everyone in the band can really play, and play together.

The reasons to be happy about music in 2018 are many and diverse. It’s a long way from Lucy Dacus to Tower of Power, and a very good journey indeed.

Rails to Trails, Coffee at Station

We are now even closer to the East Bay Bike Path, having recently moved. That wasn’t the main reason for the move, but being closer to the path, and to Providence, is an excellent and intended consequence.

We’re also closer to Borealis Coffee, one of the many refreshment stops along the way. I love their coffee and their cafe.

Borealis Coffee is located in the old Riverside train station. As you can see, they have a cool building, with seating outside as well as inside.

I love repurposed buildings. I just checked to see that one of my favorite such buildings is still going. Yes, the Bookmill is still a bookstore in a gristmill, selling “books you don’t need in a place you can’t find”: said place is near Amherst, Massachusetts, where I went to graduate school.

Back to Rhode Island: I’m glad that the route is now a bike path rather than a disused railway line. (I haven’t researched the rail line or its closing, so I’m not sure how good or bad a the closing was.) I’m glad that the old station is now a coffee company rather than a tanning salon with a Coke machine outside it. Here’s a link to a photo of the building in 2013, and to a historical note.

Any favorite repurposed buildings, trails, or similar you’d like to share?

Bass: Electrifying

I bought an acoustic bass guitar, rather than an electric, in part because that meant I wouldn’t need an amp right away.

I bought an amp today. I went back to Guitar Center in order to: try a few amps; make sure that the electric components of my acoustic electric bass (AEB) actually work; buy an amp if it seemed like a good idea after trying a few; try out a few electric basses, since I suspect I’ll get an electric at some point.

I did try a few amps, my bass played just fine through them, and I did buy one of the amps I tried. It was a second hand Acoustic B15 15W Bass Combo Amp. By the way, the link is to Guitar Center. It’s not an affiliate link, so I don’t get anything out of it, but I did spend a while in the bass room of the the North Attleboro store trying stuff out.

A 15W bass amp can prevent an acoustic bass being drowned out by an acoustic guitar or two. It can annoy immediate neighbors, but not the whole neighborhood. It is an example of a “practice amp”: it can be used by an electric bass player for practice, but is not powerful enough for performance anything but the smallest and quietest of venues and ensembles.

I did play a few electric basses through the amp I was about to purchase. They are a lot smaller, and in particular slimmer, than the acoustic I have. Short scale electric basses seem tiny; I didn’t try any of them.

If I’d bought any of the electric basses I tried, it would have been the $200 Yamaha. I wasn’t able to play a similarly-priced Squier bass. I did try a couple of Squiers in the used and dinged categories. I don’t think that a P-bass neck is for me.

After trying the electric and before buying the amp, I plugged in my AEG again. I was nervous about doing so. Would my visit to the electric wonderland show me that I should have got an electric bass and an amp in the first place?

I’m glad to say that I like the sound of my AEB at least as much as that of any of the electrics I tried. It also felt good to play after the slimmer electrics.

My time in Guitar Center was well and enjoyably spent. I know not everyone likes the chain, but I appreciate being able to try out a variety of instruments and equipment. Similarly, not everyone likes acoustic bass guitars. Not everyone likes to buy used gear. I felt more confident buying a used amp than I would buying a used instrument: a solid state amp has very few moving parts to go wrong.

Thanks for reading this far. Even more thanks if you comment.

About That Bass

What do I need to learn bass guitar? A bass, obviously. But what kind of bass? And what else?

I asked myself those questions a month or two ago. How about an acoustic bass guitar? That would mean that I didn’t need an amp. I could spend almost all my first burst of money on the bass itself. At least as important, an acoustic would be consistent with my musical tastes, which tend toward the folky.

I went with an Ibanez AEB5E from Guitar Center. Guitar Center allows trying before buying, and there is a branch in Rhode Island, little though my new home state is. There’s also a branch in nearby North Attleboro, Massachusetts.

AEB stands for Acoustic Electric Bass. The E means that the instrument can be plugged into a bass amp: it incorporates a pickup and preamp.

All I needed, apart from the bass itself, was a means of learning bass. I went with a book: yes, one of those old-fashioned things printed on paper. To be specific, I got the Hal Leonard book.

Now, I should stop posting and resume practicing. More about the bass in future posts…

Scott Hutchison RIP

Scott Hutchison was Frightened Rabbit. That was the nickname given to shy young Scott by his mother. That was the name under which he started making music.

Frightened Rabbit became a duo when Scott was joined by brother and drummer Grant. Frightened Rabbit added members over time.

Midnight Organ Fight, FR’s breakthrough album, came out in 2008. The band recently completed a tour marking the 10th anniversary of the release. It is for me a truly great album. As Kieran Devlin recently wrote in The Guardian:

A classic heartbreak record, Midnight didn’t navigate the travails of young love and lust so much as trip over them and mutter an unnecessary apology.

Here’s an acoustic version of my favorite track.

Scott recently took his own life. Here are his last two messages to the world.

Be so good to everyone you love. It’s not a given. I’m so annoyed that it’s not. I didn’t live by that standard and it kills me. Please, hug your loved ones.

I’m away now. Thanks.

They are quoted by Stephen Thompson at NPR, along with some words from Scott’s family.

Now please, be good to everyone you love. And to yourself.

Flickr-ing Out? Maybe Not

Flickr wasn’t actually Flickr for very long. It launched in February 2004. It was acquired by Yahoo in March 2005. I had got my free Flickr account earlier in 2005. I enjoyed and admired Flickr as a great mix of content and community.

Flickr ceased to be Flickr, not because it changed under Yahoo, but because it didn’t change very much. In 2017, Verizon acquired Yahoo, including Flickr.

SmugMug acquired Flickr about a week ago. SmugMug? It’s another of “the oldest and biggest photography-oriented internet companies”. The quote is from Glenn Fleishman’s article at Fast Company.

It looks as though Flickr is in good hands, for the first time in over a decade. So I’ll keep my Flickr Pro account for the next few months.

For a while now, I’ve been taking photos with my phone, and not posting many of them. But I’ll post this one: boat dock in snow with Christmas tree.

Later this year, I hope to have a camera, and an online home for my photos. I hope that SmugMug’s management of Flickr will be such that I don’t have to move the old ones, and just restart uploading and organizing the new ones I like.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: It’s Bad… in a Great Way

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CXG) is my favorite current TV show. That might sound like much, given that we don’t have a TV, but please stay with me for a paragraph or two and perhaps a video.

The CXG is question is Rebecca Bunch, a lawyer who leaves a successful career on the east coast to move to West Covina, California, the home town of a guy she had a summer camp fling with years ago. That makes it sound as though the show focuses on Rebecca and Josh Chen (the guy from camp). But it’s about Rebecca and her many relationships: with boyfriends, colleagues, etc., and most of all with herself.

One of the distinctive things about CXG is that, a couple of times an episode, a character or characters burst into song, often busting out dance moves. I’ll include a few examples. First, at the risk of spoiling: Rebecca realizes that she has invested in romantic/sexual relationships at the expense of other aspects of life.

That’s from season three, which I’m currently watching on Netflix. It looks as though there will be a fourth and last season. The plan from the start was for a four-season arc. The show changes a lot over the arc.

One of the changes was the departure of Santino Fontana, who played one of Rachel’s boyfriends. I think he was superb in the show. Here’s one of his big numbers.

While Rebecca does not lack for contact of various kinds with guys, perhaps the second most important character in the show is her friend Paula, played by Donna Lynne Champlin. Here’s my favorite of her numbers.

CXG reminds me of Breaking Bad, in at least two ways. First, each is great, and would be on any list of my favorite TV shows of all time. I particularly admire the writing, but I shouldn’t neglect other aspects of the show.. Second, each is an ensemble show with a great lead. Bryan Cranston was incredible in BB, but Rachel Bloom co-created, stars in, sings and dances in CXG, co-writes scripts and songs…

I am crazy about this show. How about you?

The Books of Babel

The first of the Books of Babel, Senlin Ascends, starts with Thomas Senlin and his wife Marya heading to the Tower of Babel for their honeymoon. They get separated before even entering the tower, Thomas enters the tower to seek Marya, and… ascends. This takes him through various “ringdoms”, such as the Parlour. His guidebook tells him that this is a theater district, so he expects to see a show, and is surprised to be told that he must play the part of the Butler.

I was fascinated by the Tower, by some of the people Thomas meets, and by the mystery of Marya. There were a couple of ways in which I wasn’t convinced by the character of Thomas. But the second book, Arm of the Sphinx, addressed one of them. More generally, I enjoyed the second book even more than the first. I admire the pacing: the rate at which we find out about the characters and the world, while given more mysteries to ponder.

Josiah Bancroft plans to write two more novels in the Books of Babel series. He self-published the first two, and now has a deal with Orbit to republish them, and to publish the third (which I believe he’s currently writing) and fourth. I look forward to the last two books, and to more covers by Ian Leino.