Friday, January 29, 2016

Ice fishing


I remember a little boy at an air show
Gazing in fascination at the helium balloon
Tied by a string to his finger,
Utterly oblivious to the Blue Angels roaring over our heads.
I think sometimes of the pilots,
Knights of the air
Steeped in complexity,
With hundreds of hours of textbook mastery
And thousands of hours logged in the cockpit,
Surrounded by buttons and switches and dials,
And of the little boy with his simple noble-gas miracle,
And think of them as colleagues
Partners in flight.


An old man is out on the ice;
A friendly fellow, he waved as we drove by.
The colors stand out on the snowy expanse:
He sits on an orange bucket that once held drywall compound,
A yellow chainsaw, a green thermos, and a coffee can beside him.
Red can. I won't lay a bet, but it just might be Hills Brothers.
Behind him, pageantry plays out,
The sport of kings:
The hounds zigzagging through the woods,
The hawk following above,
The silver song of Lahore bells carrying through the still winter air.
And though a couple of rabbits run out of the woods
And then dash back in closely pursued,
The old man never turns to take notice.
With earflap hat pulled down against the cold,
And perhaps a lifetime in a machine shop behind him,
It's possible he's unaware of our presence.
But maybe, I think, he's simply rapt,
Engrossed in his own version of sport,
Waiting for the pressure on the line
That connects him to another life,
To another world where they breathe water
And everything happens out of sight.


Eventually, the hawk pins a rabbit to the ice of the creek.
The hawk eats on my fist as we walk back to the car,
The dogs eagerly anticipating their share.
As I wash my bloody hands in the snow,
The falling sun painting the cottonwoods in flaxen tones,
The old man's Carhartts glow in a patch of sunlight,
Wheat-coloured canvas transformed into burnished gold,
And I find myself thinking of that yellow balloon.

Monday, January 18, 2016

"Cool" hits the big time, 37 years later

Madison Avenue knows how to sell cars, and by this point, using a decades-old song in an advertisement isn't exactly ground-breaking. You can probably identify some cars just by the songs: "Rock and Roll" by Led Zeppelin. "Eminence Front" by The Who. AC/DC, "Back in Black". Bob Seger's "Like a Rock"—I don't know if that one still airs, but I guarantee you're thinking of Chevy trucks right now. Were I back at WLUR-FM, I'm sure I could fill at least an hour of airtime with co-opted classic rock hits.

But I was not prepared for this: I'm sitting in front of the TV in the break room at work. The Weather Channel (I think) goes to commercial break. A new ad for Lexus; I'm a Subaru guy, and not remotely in the market for a car, so I start to tune out...holy hell, is that Pylon?!?!

Yes, yes it is. A major automobile company is using a song from 1979 by a semi-obscure band from Athens, Georgia to tout their latest luxury sedan. "Cool", a.k.a. track 2 on the perhaps ironically-titled Hits. (Well, maybe it's not ironic, but it does need to be kept in perspective...)

Pylon may be best known to "outsiders" for their influence on another band, neighbours and contemporaries: R.E.M. did a cover of "Crazy"; R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck noted, "I remember hearing their version on the radio the day that Chronic Town came out and being suddenly depressed by how much better it was than our record." I missed out on a few aspects of the Athens music scene (I only arrived there in 1991), but I did get to see Pylon at the 40 Watt, and I can assure you that they were the real deal.

Thanks, Lexus, for the flashback. And for the benefit of those who were not there, here's the full song, complete with Vanessa Briscoe Hay's jarring vocals (and, incidentally, Pylon's trademark schematic/spec-sheet graphics):


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Farewell, Colonel Brandon

I received word this morning that the actor Alan Rickman has passed away at the age of 69. This is salient partly because my darling Jessa is one of several women in my life to have expressed a crush on him; I have been heard to mutter on more than one occasion, "Alan I loathe him." In truth, though, I admire his work, and more importantly, he does seem to have been an admirable man. For evidence, I cite his 50-year involvement with his wife, a London councillor—need I point out that long, stable relationships seem to be even more rare among actors and politicians than in the general population? Additionally, he seems to have been generous with his time to fans and generally beloved by his co-workers.

He was probably best known for portraying Severus Snape, but my favourite Rickman role was Col. Brandon in Ang Lee's version of Sense and Sensibility. I had hoped to embed a clip from the film, but can't seem to get it to work, so I'll simply suggest watching it in its we will doubtless do this evening.

Jess was teary this morning, and apologised for the fact—needlessly, as I assured her. One of the oddities of celebrity is that one can be missed even by those one has never met. In this case, I suspect, the sense of loss is warranted not by the characters the man played, but by the character of the man.

Friday, January 1, 2016

"Centralia, PA"

Another one from Rogue Valley. (Jess got me the album for Yule). Ellie and I had this track on repeat on the way to and from hawking yesterday. Brilliant song, and a true story—in fact, the lyrics understate it in some ways.