Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bob Delyn a'r Ebillion

Another of my Welsh favorites, Bob Delyn a'r Ebillion.  The setting is Portmeirion, a town on the coast of Wales that is famous for its baroque-folly architecture (The Prisoner was filmed there).  "Y Swn" is "the sound".

Saturday, July 30, 2011


We've had Italians and Israelis on this blog.  For this weekend's music, I wanted to invite the Welsh.  Here are the Gwerinos (the "Folkies"), with their homage to a Beddgelert supermarket, Warws.  It's one of my favorites.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Witchy Mencken

The Swords of Wisdom are rather like the Knights Templar, except that where the latter pinion their founding aspirations to the architectural handiwork of an old Hebrew philanderer, the former dream of a mysterious snake in the woods.  Still, it’s good to know that in these days of long rifles and sharpened teeth, someone’s running around saving fair damsels and slaying dragons (or would slay dragons, I am assured, if we had any left).  I for one would be willing to front ten Baltimore dollars to any Rotarian who needed money to equip himself in order to go join them.

– H.L. Mencken, “Ohio and Parts West”

*   *   *

Another Witchy Eye chapter heading.  The Witchy Eye setting is built to be allusive.  It uses lots of real-world people very lightly, trying to lead the reader to infer a greater world than what is actually set before him.  This is, I think, the sole reference to H.L. Mencken in the book.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What Is Steampunk? (Recent Readings)

(From recent readings.)

Lavie Tidhar's The Bookman promises to be the first of a trilogy.  In feeling, it harks back to K.W. Jeter's Morlock Night and Infernal Devices -- it feels more like dark, imaginative, slightly nutty science fiction than anything that is self-consciously "steampunk" (contrast with Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century books, for instance).  Alien lizards rule the earth (and have since they took over from the Tudors) and are resisted by a coterie of literary lights (Karl Marx, Mrs. Beeton, etc.) possibly allied with a mysterious giant caterpillarish being called the Bookman.  Wild, fun, and full of steamy goodness, yes (multiple lifelike automata, a submarine piloted by Jules Verne, etc.).

The most steampunktacular thing about Paolo Bacigalupi's The Wind-up Girl is its title, which falsely promises clockwork beings.  But the title character is the creation of genetic rather than mechanical engineering, and though Bacigalupi head-fakes in other steampunky directions with his low-gasoline world powered by kink-springs and genetically kluged megadonts, he never quite gets there.  I want to mention him anyway, because what he's done (some have called this "ecopunk") is a cousin to Steampunk and Cyberpunk, and because I found his milieu thoroughly engaging and detailed.  I felt like I was reading James Clavell, only darker and dirtier.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What Is Plot?

Plot is not the same thing as stuff happening.

Stuff happening is life, and it's history (at least, history prior to interpretation).  It may or may not have shape and pattern.  It's one damn thing after another (quotes variously attributed to Henry Ford, Elbert Hubbard and Arnold Toynbee), whether or not those things are related, make sense or go anywhere.

Plot is different.  Plot must have a shape and pattern.  Plot is a character struggling against obstacles to achieve an objective and either succeeding or failing.

Does a book need to have a plot?  No.  It can be driven by character, milieu or something else.  Some books, even famous, award-winning, best-selling books, have weak plots or even no plot at all.

Is any book better if it contains plot, as opposed to just one damn thing after another?  Yes.

Must your novel have a plot?  Yes, absolutely.  Preferably more than one, interconnected and feeding into each other before the end.

Monday, July 25, 2011

What Is Steampunk? (Bartitsu again)

Bartitsu (Baritsu?) is in the news again.  Or at least on a blog.  Apparently, you can take classes.

Musical Interlude: Percy Danforth Plays the Bones

I'm a little behind in doing some musical recording, and today I'll capture a small piece of my current project.  Here is Percy Danforth, bones player extraordinaire, discussing and demonstrating his instrument.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dirty Blue

Wovenhand is David Eugene Edwards (formerly of 16 Horsepower) et al.  He's sort of country, like he's sort of folk and sort of punk and sort of lots of other things.  He's a little bit Old World, and totally American.  Here he is with "Dirty Blue".

Saturday, July 23, 2011

I Don't Know

I don't wanna know.

If Jesus Drove a Motorhome

It's the 24th of July weekend.  Growing up in Utah, that meant parades.  I'm going to celebrate the weekend with a little alt-country.  Here's Jim White, "If Jesus Drove a Motorhome".  Jim's a southern gothic hipster, sort of like if Flannery O'Connor and David Byrne had a love child, and that child needed meds.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Pacing is the alternation of action/tension bits (scenes) and non-action/tension bits (sequels).

Different stories and different audiences may require different kinds of pacing.  Some rules of thumb:

1. Alternate scene and sequel.

2. Successive scenes should have bigger action or tension than the preceding ones.

3. Near the end of your book, at the climax, you can run several really big scenes together with no sequel.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Lure of the Secret World

I think one of the things I find most attractive in any novel is the feeling that it is telling me secrets about the world I live in.  You see this simply and pretty clearly in a lot of middle reader fiction: Hogwarts could be in real England, Camp Half-Blood could be in real Long Island, the Mysterious Benedict Society could be solving real logic puzzles (ha!), Wildwood could be set in real Portland, etc.

It's also, for me, the lure of historical fiction.  Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, for instance, or most of Umberto Eco's novels, or Michael Chabon's books, tell stories that might have happened in the real world, and because they might have happened, they act like a sort of mirror held up to the real world, to help me interpret what really did happen.  I'm told a fake secret to get to a real insight.

It's also the attraction of the best speculative fiction.  J.R.R. Tolkien (than whom none greater), for instance, consciously wrote a sort of invented mythology for England, making The Lord of the Rings a mirror held up to the history, culture, mind and language of the Anglosphere.

What's the secret world in your novel?  What insights are you sharing with your audience?  What mirror are you holding up?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Give Me Three Years

I'll have fans like this.

Jots and Tittles: A Funny Little Example

You have to be aware of the market you're writing for, and think about it objectively.  Here's a funny little example, from last week, in my own writing.

I am working on a middle reader novel and the Story Monkeys are examining it as I write.  One of the Story Monkeys suggested that he thought my sentences were too complex for the readership.

Q: how to test?

A: I picked up off my shelf two of the best-selling middle reader books in the last decade (I will give you a hint -- the protagonists' names rhyme with Shmarry Cotter and Shmercy Slackson), took a significant chunk of pages in each and counted commas.  Over a similarly sized sample, I kept track of how many two-comma sentences each had, and how many two+-comma sentences.  Turns out the two are quite close in comma frequency.

The Story Monkey in question was absolutely right.  Looking at the big sellers in the market not only confirmed he was right, it quantified it, and helped me figure out how to calibrate my own sentences.

Moral: get a good writing group.

Moral: examine books in the market for which you are writing.

Moral: Story Monkeys, ho!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

One Hundred Thirty-Three Characters

Twitter is great because it forces you to write efficiently.  Epigrams and haikus only.

Twitter stinks because it is full of spammers.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Anarchy in the U.K.

I can laugh at this.  My son is a subject of Her Majesty.

The Hobbit

I just finished (re-)reading The Hobbit, out loud to my kids (this is their second reading of it, and they know the Rankin/Bass film well).  We've been reading out of the big hardback illustrated by Alan Lee, which is just amazing.

Our finishing the book coincides with the publication of this utterly silly review of the most recent George R.R. Martin book.  Now, I'm not going to defend Tolkien.  The legion of his fans will find it unnecessary, and the bien-pensants who have always sniffed will continue to sniff.  But I feel compelled to say three things.

1.  Tolkien wrote with a moral vision that is powerful and should be taken seriously.  This is not accidental.  He fought at the Somme, where good friends of his from school also fought and died.  Then he wrote a book about mass warfare and mechanized evil, and the need for free peoples to set aside their differences and band together to fight, both against the subtle personal blandishments of evil and against its marching hordes.  Is it any wonder that millions have found his vision urgent and persuasive?

2.  Tolkien created a more believable fantasy world than anyone had before or has since.  This has to do with his skill as a poet and writer, but also with his close observation of nature and of human beings, and perhaps most of all with his expertise as a philologist.  Tolkien uncovered old words and names (the Mark, wargs) and unfolded in narrative form the meanings already implicit in them, and therefore already built into the way we think and speak.  In doing so, he sometimes changed the way English is written today.  Quick, what's the plural of dwarf?

3.  Tolkien wrote gorgeous English.  Read aloud for instance chapter five of The Hobbit, "Riddles in the Dark", in which Bilbo Baggins and Gollum match wits in the world's most famous riddle game.  Compare it to anything ever written by George R.R. Martin, or anything written by any of Tolkien's occasional author-critics (Michael Moorcock, for instance, or China Mieville), or anything ever published in the New York Times.  Tolkien wins.  Tolkien kills them.  And this was his children's book.

Bonus: character stills from the upcoming film version of The Hobbit!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Women, Women

And a little Yossi Banay, everyone's favorite Israeli chanteur.  Man, does this look dated or what?  I want those glasses.  So do you, admit it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


In honor of Lavie Tidhar, whose The Bookman I have started reading this weekend, I'll post a couple of Israeli songwriters.  Here's Shlomo Artzi, with "Yareach".  Monty, Avi -- I expect you guys to pass this on and get me some hits.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Essential Thing

The essential thing is conflict.  Any story is at its heart the recounting of some struggle.  Someone struggles against someone or something else in order to achieve some objective.

A story without conflict is not worth reading.

A scene without conflict is, at the very least, a wasted opportunity.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ten Famous Writers

...and the weird stuff they did while writing.  I've done all of this.  Okay, not all of it.

Writing to the Punchline (Bonuses: Horror and Dialect!)

The thing had eyes now, one in its forehead and one in its cheek, each formed by a dull silver Pennsylvania shilling and each spluttering and emitting a foul yellow smoke as the silver burned its way into the clay flesh.  Cal saw his own blood on its fingers and shuddered at the nearness of his escape.  The not-a-man reared back, clawing and slapping at its own head, and tumbled away down the hill.
Calvin swallowed cold night air into his chest and dragged himself to his feet.  The second not-a-man, recovered from tripping over his pack, hesitated, and gave Cal the time he needed to scrounge another shilling from his purse and raise it over his head like a weapon.
“Git back, you… thing!” he choked out.  He felt, more than saw, Sarah reach his side, and he was foolishly proud.
“Cal, what did you do?” she panted.
His vision firmed up and he stepped forward, threatening with his shilling.  The wounded not-a-man disappeared into the trees, still bellowing in pain and scratching at its own head, and its companion hissed and then retreated, disappearing into the shadow.
             Calvin grinned weakly and checked his purse.  “Don’t be too vexed with me, dear,” he told her, “I jest spent half our savings.”

*   *   *

The above is an excerpt from Witchy Eye.  Sarah and Calvin Calhoun are attacked by dark creatures as they try to escape Calhoun Mountain.  On the verge of defeat, Cal discovers that the monsters are vulnerable to silver, and he fights them off with a handful of money.

In any writing, it's important to write to the punchline.  You see this especially in really efficient forms of writing, e.g., songs, poems, movie scripts and jokes.  What I mean is this: you want the reader to stay with you all the way to the end, so you have to make the very last word matter.  You have to organize your joke (story segment) so that the punchline (key sentence, cliffhanger, hook) is last and the last component of the punchline is something the reader wants and needs.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dialect and Accent

This is simple.  You don't exactly reproduce on paper what any of your characters sounds like, because you would write incomprehensible gibberish all the time.

So when you go to represent the speech of a character with a regionally or ethnically distinct speaking pattern, you keep it as simple as you can.  You might have your character use a few distinctive vocabulary words, and you might have him pronounce a few things differently, as captured in what you write.  Whatever it is, two rules:

1. Keep it simple.

2. Keep it consistent.

Think of it as a little algorithm or a translator.  You put normal speech in one end, apply the couple of rules for the character, and his distinctive speech comes out the other end.

Here's an example from what I'm writing now.  Bob speaks with some sort of unidentified Estuary English (Hackney / Essex / somefink), and I write his speech with a few simples rules, which you can see in action here.

*   *   *

Though Charlie was a good boy and an obedient son, he felt a small twinge of envy at seeing two boys so dirty—he’d never been allowed to be that filthy in his life.
“You can stop hit wiff the mister right there an’ call me Bob,” said the other, while Mr. Pondicherry examined the calling card politely.  “An’ hif you’ve got to hextinguish me from other Bobs, I’m ’Eaven Bound.”
            Distinguish, Bob,” Chattelsworthy hissed.
            “Yeah,” Heaven Bound Bob agreed.  "I fought that's what I said."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

1000 Pageviews

Special thanks to the Oregon Department of Corrections for letting Mel and Paco have access to the Internet.


I'm not categorically against restricting the freedom of speech, but this just seems idiotic.

Exile Is Broken

So yesterday I finished reading the (as yet untitled) sequel to E.J. Patten's excellent middle reader garbagepunk action epic horror, Return to Exile.  Since I've been talking a bit about how novelists have to build a world that is in some way broken, in other words, a setting which forces the protagonist to take action to fix things, I want to point out Patten's Exile (which is really a town) and the earth on which it's located as an example.

Like Patrick Carman's Land of Elyon books, the Hunter Chronicles have a deep backstory.  I think Return to Exile is 2+ times longer than The Dark Hills Divide, and the backstory many times more complex.  There are many species of original monster, with relationships among them and among their ancestor ur-monsters, various secret orders of monster hunters with tensions and rivalries among them, and individual hunters each with meaningful interlocked backstory and subplots.  And -- and this is key -- it is all out of whack.  There are a dark secret, an ancient hungry ambition, and the impending escape of an ancient evil that force the protagonist, Sky Weathers, to take action... because if he doesn't, the world will be destroyed.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Watch Out, Here She Comes

My friend (and sister) Sara, showing off some sinister-heroic chops.  Can a YA paranormal adventure romance franchise be far behind?

Bonus: Sam!  He is working on a novel about a normal guy who, to his surprise, wins the Grand Lottery of Faerie.

Crap, Man, a Trick!

(Perhaps he's hidden a clue in his name.  Clever people often do that.)

I finished The Dark Hills Divide, book one of the Land of Elyon series by Patrick Carman, over the weekend.

I recommend it (middle reader fantasy), and I don't want to talk about it too much because I don't want to give any spoilers, but I do want to say that it's an example of what I was talking about last week: the novelist creates a world that is broken.  Carman's world has divided families, cities on the brink of war, a mystery at its foundation, and a builder of walls who might have made a terrible mistake.

Along comes our protagonist, who crosses into the fairy realm to find the elixir to heal the realm (a metaphor but, in this case, not so far from a literal description).

Read and enjoy and always be analyzing!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

More Cool Dialect

And if I haver...


Young Craig and Charlie Reid.  And young Johnny Depp and Mary Stuart Masterson.  And young... that other dude.

What's with the bass player, though?  At about, say, 2:00...

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Making Dialect Cool

"Why Aye Man" is a terrific song by Mark Knopfler.  Listen to it first for the smoking guitar.  Then listen to it again for the Geordie lyrics.

P.S. Sorry about the picture of the Strat.  This is obviously a Les Paul song.

Friday, July 8, 2011

This Just in from Iceland...

At the risk of overblogging today, see this.

Sounds like a Neil Gaiman story waiting to happen.

K.W. Jester


What Is Steampunk? (13) (More Steampunk+)

I've been reading (and writing) more steampunk.  Here are three more examples of not-quite-straight-up-Vernesian steampunk.

Larklight and sequels, by Philip Reeve, are steampunk space opera for middle readers.  This series has the Whimsy cranked to 11.  Britannia rules the aether in the nineteenth century, and the kid protagonists, their father, their four and a half billion year old space alien mother and the boy pirate Jack Havock defend the Empire's interests against aliens, uppity Americans and the dastardly French.

The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers, is not Vernes-techy at all, but is one of the books about which Jeter originally coined the word steampunk.  It's a time travel story (and a great one), set principally in nineteenth century England (though action also roams to Greece and Egypt and back, and into the seventeenth century for a bit), with a little sci-fi technology and a lot of cool magic.

The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, by Neal Stephenson, is cyberpunk in its technology and a little post-cyberpunk in its general feel (it isn't depressing like cyberpunk tends to be), but one of the many clans into which humanity has divided itself in this vision of the future is the Neo-Victorians, or Vickies, who have deliberately adopted the aesthetics (robot horses, top hats) and mores of the original Victorians to take themselves out of the nihilistic morass of multiculturalism.  This is particularly interesting read in the light of Jeter's essay in the Angry Robot reprint of Infernal Devices.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The World Is Broken

I grew up playing a lot of roleplaying games (this was back when they were published as books, rather than boxes full of plasticized crap, and you had to provide your own pencil and dice, not to mention figurines, monster stats on cards, movement distance rulers, initiative chits, etc.).  I was the gamemaster a lot, back then, and a big part of the gamemaster's role is world creation.

A big part of what a novelist does -- especially a speculative fiction novelist -- is also world creation.

But there's a difference between the gamemaster's work and the novelist's.  The novelist has to create a world that is broken.

What do I mean?  I mean that a GM can set up a world that is basically in harmony, in stasis, at peace.  Hopefully there are some moving pieces, and things happen off-screen when the players aren't around, but the logic of roleplaying adventure doesn't require it.  The players can travel around, digging recalcitrant gnolls out of their warrens and selling their booty in town, in a world that basically works.

But the action in a novel begins with the breaking of the world.  It might not be actually the whole world (except in epic fantasy), but the protagonist's world is broken.  Something has to be really wrong, to kick the protagonist into action to find a solution.  He isn't just trying to find a Sword +2 to replace his Sword +1... his parents are murdered, or his family is cursed, or there is a drought in the land, or the forces of evil are on the march.

In the world that the novelist creates, something has to be badly wrong at the start, or something has to go badly wrong early on (say, first fifty pages)... that's the "inciting incident" that sets the rest of the story into motion.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Harry Potter Makes Us Sad

According to this guy.   Because it's a bummer to grow up and find out you're just a muggle, after all.

I think that's hilarious.  Reminds me of the stories I heard about Avatar, claiming that people came out of the film depressed because real life wasn't as cool as James Cameron's movie.

Children Will Not Be Admitted At All

            “Mummies!” cried Edgar Allen Poe, flinging his hands up in a conjuror’s wave before him.  “Mummies, of both man and mysterious beast!”
            He stalked the deck of the Liahona, cool breeze snapping around his ears under the brim of his tall hat and blowing behind his smoked spectacles, threatening to dry out his eyeballs.  At least, between the Liahona’s speed and the height of its deck off the ground, the air was free of the reddish dust that the steam-truck’s huge tracks churned up and spewed in its wake.  He could barely keep from coughing as it was, and a lungful of dust would surely drag him down into paroxysms.  A little boy, dressed in a miniature sailor’s jacket and slouch hat and carrying a length of wire towards the wheelhouse, stopped to listen.  Passengers’ heads turned, including the heads of the two Englishmen… good.  “Mummies!” he cried again.  “Mummies and other curious, fascinating and even… repellent… evidences of the wisdom and high craft of ancient Egypt!”
            From within his coat he produced one of the four canopic jars, the one with the baboon head, and spun on one heel in a slow pirouette with the little object held forward in his hands, showing it to the benches full of passengers.  He deliberately clicked to a stop facing the Englishmen, and assessed them carefully through his tinted lenses.
            One man was younger, in his middle twenties, perhaps, and had the pale, flustered and determined look of a privileged young man trying to make his way in the world.  Something had carved a bite-shaped chunk out of the brim of his top hat, giving him a comical look, but he seemed delighted with Poe’s theater, clapping vigorously as Poe tucked away the canopic jar and produced instead the cylinder of scarabs.  Absalom Fearnley-Standish, Poe thought to himself, who are you, really, and what are you doing here?
            His companion was older, nearing forty, and was hard, dark, scarred and masculine.  Richard Burton, famous explorer, etcetera.  Well, Mr. Burton, Poe mused, let’s try you a little bit. 
Let’s test you both.
“And magic!” he cried and, reaching into his canister, he pulled out a handful of the brass scarabs and scattered them across the laps of Burton, Fearnley-Standish and their female companion.
“Aagh!” shrieked Fearnley-Standish, and would have jumped from his seat if Burton hadn’t restrained him with a strong hand on his arm.
“Arjuna’s bow, man, they won’t eat you!” the explorer snorted.
Then Poe saw their female companion’s face and froze.  She was short and dark, all straight lines and grace, and though he would have recognized her through any disguise, she wore none.
It was Roxie.
Robert, you didn’t mention… but then, of course…
She smiled at him, the polite and slightly flirtatious smile of a woman who is casually attached to another man.  She didn’t recognize him, obviously, but then it had been years, and Poe was proud of the verisimilitude of his false nose.  Within his breast a desire to seize her in his arms, sweep her to his chest and devour her mouth with his warred against an equally strong urge to pull his pistol from inside his jacket and blow out her vicious, wicked, conniving brains.
“Well, man!” Burton snapped.  “Get on with it!”
He felt stunned, his vision out of focus.  He floated, lost.  Then, in the sea of passengers’ faces under flapping parasols, he saw the face of his accomplice, the dwarf Jedediah Coltrane.  Coltrane was mouthing something to Poe, a nervous look on his face; Poe’s professionalism reasserted itself and he tore his eyes away from Roxie’s.  Stepping back, he raised both hands about his head, one of them holding the cylinder by its lid, and cried out in a loud voice, to be sure that the entire deck could hear him.  “Behold the incantations of Thoth!  Behold the power of Hermes Thrice-Greatest!  Behold the might of the Egyptian priests, able to reach through the curtain of death itself and command the obedience of the inanimate and the damned!”  When he was sure they were all watching him, he waved his empty hand in a great circular flourish over the scarabs, carefully thumbing the recall button inside the canister’s lid.  “Nebenkaure, panjandrum, Isis kai Osiris!” he shouted.
The clockwork beetles sprang instantly to life.  With a great chittering and clacking, each metal bug rolled upright, oriented itself, and then began its trek.  From the laps and boots of Roxie and the Englishmen, from the bench they sat on and the floor beneath them, the brass beetles swarmed in a great mass towards Poe.  He raised his hands, stood still and laughed as diabolically and mysteriously as he could as the bugs climbed his clothing, laughed when he felt the first brass legs touch the bare skin of his neck, laughed with his whole chest and belly as the scarabs detoured around his head and crawled up his left arm, kept laughing as they swarmed ticklishly about his fist and dropped one by one into their native canister, and then, for effect, stopped laughing at the exact moment in which he slammed the canister shut.
            “That wasn’t Egyptian,” Burton said sourly, but the passengers all about him applauded, and a few whistled or whooped in excitement.  Coltrane clapped along with the crowd, shooting shrewd appraising looks at the people around him.  Sizing up the marks, Poe thought.  The mad had the ingrained instincts of an inveterate carny.  The little boy with the loop of wire stood stiff as a statue, his eyes so wide they threatened to swallow his face.
            “They’re scarab beetles, Dick,” Fearnley-Standish pointed out.
            “I meant the words,” the darker man growled.  “Pure higgledy-piggledy.  Nonsense.  Arrant balderdash.”
            “My name is Doctor Jamison Archibald!” Poe announced.  “Tonight, at seven o’clock by the Captain’s watch, in the stateroom, for the very reasonable sum of three copper pennies, any passenger may see exhibited and explained these and other marvels.  See the uncanny hypnotic hypocephalus!  Hear the ghostly barking of the dire Seth-Beast!”
            “Will children be admitted free of charge?” inquired a plain-faced, reedy-voiced, gray-wrapped matron in a blue prairie bonnet, clutching under her bony wings a trio of similarly undernourished-looking brats.
            “My dear madam,” Poe stage-whispered, meeting her eyes over the rims of his spectacles, “the things I have to display are dark and terrifying apparitions, the stuff of nightmares.  Children will not be admitted at all.”

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What Went Wrong With Star Wars

This review is full of profanity.  It's also full of a lot of wise observations about what was wrong with Episode I.  Watch this, ignore the profanity, and think about what he's saying about writing.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Patriotic Interlude

Happy Fourth of July.

Q.  Our national anthem, of course, takes its lyric from the poem "The Defense of Fort McHenry", by Francis Scott Key.  But do you know where the music comes from?

A.  "To Anacreon in Heaven".   

I love America.  On the one hand, we have a bunch of amateur gentleman-farmer-lawyers sitting in conference debating Montesquieu and Locke and hammering out a constitution for the ages.  On the other, we need a melody for our new national anthem, and where do we go?  A drinking song.

Lyrics here.

And a performance.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

What Is Steampunk? (12) (... John Hartford?!)

I've connected Bluegrass and Steampunk before as metaphors for each other.  Now let me tie them together with another connection, in the person of songwriter, fiddler, steamboat enthusiast and banjo stylist extraordinaire John Hartford.

This is one of my favorite tracks from his seminal album Aereo-Plain (he has many other great albums; my other favorite is Morning Bugle, but check out the auteur greatness of Mark Twang, too).  It's about a "genuine, authentic, old-fashioned, steam-powered aereo-plane".

Friday, July 1, 2011

Another Poor Richard Sermon from Witchy Eye

There was a barber in a small village in western Penn’s Land, who traded under the sign of the silver shears, that one night his son demanded his inheritance early, for he wished to set up in business as a brewer and marry.  The barber and his son quarreled, and the son fled on horseback.  In the dark, the barber’s son rode too fast, his horse stumbled, he was thrown from its back and he broke his neck, dying before the barber arrived.

The son’s fiancĂ©e was a witch and possessed of a vengeful mind, and three days after his burial, in the dark of night, the son returned to his father’s home, clawing at the door and howling until his father answered.

“What do you want, my son?” asked the barber, who was fearful but brave.

The son said nothing and only groaned.

“I see you are still anxious to marry and become a brewer,” the barber said.  “Come with me to the shop.  In three days, your hair and nails have grown long enough to need trimming, and at the shop I will give you your inheritance, my most prized possession.”  Then the father led his son to his shop, and sat him in the chair, and took out his famous silver shears.

The son could not talk, but groaned as if he were making a long complaint.  The barber listened attentively and trimmed his dead son’s nails, first one foot, then the other, now the left hand and at last the right.  Finally, after the barber’s son had unfolded his woes to his father, the father said, “yes, son, I understand you, and I am very sorry to have caused you grief.”

Then the barber cut his son’s hair, kissed his son on the cheek and laid him back in his grave.  The dead man never returned again to trouble his parents.

Poor Richard says: family love survives the grave; so does a family quarrel.

Poor Richard also says: an attentive ear turns away wrath.