Monday, August 20, 2012

Stelly On The Great Reformer

I thought it was time to go for a while without writing anything about Louisiana politics. That was especially the case given all the giddiness about Gov. Bobby Jindal as a vice presidential candidate.

I thought there was even more giddiness nationwide than in the state until I saw the results of a late June CNN poll of 1,500 U.S. adults. Of these poll subjects, 43 percent said they had never heard of Jindal. On the up side, that's exactly the same percentage who said they'd never heard of Tim Pawlenty. Three cheers for the informed electorate, and for the three chairs that can accommodate it.

Jindal was getting at least some national attention. The Associated Press released a major story on July 15 that bore the headline “Gov. Jindal rehabs image by focusing on Louisiana.”

This story, which was run as the front page lead story one day in the American Press, maintained that Jindal was trying to rehabilitate his image in the country as a whole. It didn’t concern any kind of work on his image that he was doing in Louisiana.

The AP story, which was surprisingly thorough, seemed to say much of Jindal’s national clout comes from enthusiastic support by prominent conservatives. The article mentioned “repeated rounds of budget cuts to education and health care” in Louisiana during the Jindal administration, and pointed out that state “critics have complained about his deep cuts to state higher education funding.”

So, why did I write about state politics when I was determined not to? Well, the AP story quoted a local! In particular, the story quoted Moss Bluff politician Vic Stelly, who pretty strongly suggested that underneath his regal habiliments, the Great Reformer may not be so great and may not be a reformer.
"He's very self-serving," Stelly was quoted as saying. "All the so-called reforms, it'll be years down the road before we know if they amount to anything. I don't think they will."

The AP noted that Stelly had “recently resigned from the state's top higher education governing board over complaints about the Jindal administration's cuts to colleges.” Stelly’s pretty sharp. This time, he became one of the few in the state who resigned before Jindal had a chance to dump him.

And suppose Jindal does get a VP nod. Could I manage to see Jindal leave the state of Louisiana for 8 to 16 years? It would be hard. Very hard. The hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I believe I could manage it. And I can’t wait to see what he’d do to the national education system.

About Town

Boethius has come to be considered the greatest of the practical moral thinkers of the Medieval era. A new translation of Boethius’ key work, The Consolation of Philosophy, has just been published. And that’s important, because the translation is by my brother.

That’s right. The Consolation of Boethius, as edited and translated by Scott Goins and Barbara Wyman, was published by Ignatius Critical Editions just a couple of weeks ago.

I haven’t read it all yet, because when it came out, I was right in the middle of reading Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, which is a powerful long book. But I’ve read enough of this new translation of Boethius to know that there are many footnotes to the text and they’re very thorough. Whenever one reads a classic that’s properly annotated, it’s just as if one were getting a new education. (And in this case, it’s an education that comes at a very low price; the Consolation is going for just $7.95 at Amazon.)

As you’ll have noted above, this is a critical edition. That means the text of the Consolation is complemented by six essays by Boethius scholars.

I’ll tell readers more about the book after I’ve spent some more time with it. But you may not want to wait. At $7.95, you’re not going to find a better book deal this year.

Scalise Doesn’t Miss Calls

I read the following headline on July 19 on the state news blog The Dead Pelican:
“Scalise fights back against President Obama's call for more big government ...”

When I clicked the link, I expected to see a video of Scalise speaking. But in fact, I was linked to a YouTube of President Obama giving a speech on the sidewalk in front of the E-Z-Livin' Smoke and Boudin Emporium in Wagon Rut.

Obama said, "I am calling for more big government. I'm actively calling for it. Government is big. But it's not big enough for me. I want it bigger. And I want it bigger now. I'm calling for it. Calling loud. Make it happen!"

At this point, a young man, shaved nearly bald, who was lounging on the sidewalk with a can of Steel Reserve, asked a question. "Mr. President,” he said. “Mr. President! What do you mean by ‘big government’? What is it?"

"Well, young man," said the president, "big government means that the government will send you a check every month, and a pretty big check at that. You can use that check for whatever you like, so as to free yourself up to lead whatever lifestyle will give you the most personal fulfillment."

“Far out, Mr. President," said the young man. "I'm not voting, but if I were voting, I'd definitely vote for you."

"Well, sir," said the president, "I'd suggest you register to vote if the new restrictive voter registration laws in your area allow you to. You should vote against the enemies of my new bigger government — enemies like Rep. Steve Scalise of the fearsome land of Metairie, La. He’s the worst of the bunch. He fights my new bigger government relentlessly, with all the unflagging tenacity of the mongoose attacking the snake or St. George attacking the dragon. He gives me the insomnia. He haunts my dreams. He inhabits my nightmares. He keeps sleep far from me. Vote against him, sir! Vote against him!”

At that point the video ended. In defense of the Dead Pelican, I'll point out that the headline it used was the exact same headline Scalise used for a video he posted on YouTube. Why a news blog would repeat a congressman's headline verbatim, I can't say, unless it's that The Dead Pelican is at least as conservative as Scalise and just liked the way the headline sounded. If only journalists could use headlines because they like the way they sound. If it worked that way, I could have used the headline “Mellow Greetings, Earth Man” for this story.

I don't know how these Louisiana politicians do when it comes to politics. But when it comes to self-promotion, nobody can beat them.

No Austerity For Me, Thanks

In mid-July, the Associate Press reported that austerity movements in Europe have reached the point that they’ve started to affect rich people. Here’s the evidence: In Spain, the king has been asked to reduce his salary by 7 percent. That’s right: 7 percent! That knocks him down to just $334,000 a year.
I remember when some gubment budget cutters told me to scale my salary back to $334,000. Brother, did I ever raise he1l. I threw dirty napkins on the floor, flipped rubber bands against the wall and said dirty words. They got the message. It’ll be a long time before some gubment bureaucrat tries to make me get austere again.

‘Whatsa Da Shape A Da World?’

In international news, Iraqis who had been told to go to Syria to flee the violence in Iraq were told to return to Iraq on the grounds that the violence in Syria had become more severe than the violence in Iraq.

Goins Revere

Here’s a passage from the transcript of Rush Limbaugh’s July 18 radio broadcast:

“This new movie, the Batman movie … Do you know the name of the villain in this movie? Bane. The villain in the Dark Knight Rises is named Bane. B-A-N-E. What is the name of the venture capital firm that Romney ran, and around which there's now this make-believe controversy? Bain …  Do you think that it is accidental that the name of the really vicious, fire-breathing, four-eyed, whatever-it-is villain in this movie is named Bane?”

Of course it is not accidental. I know because I documented the filmmakers’ conspiracy against Romney. I secretly recorded a conversation of the key filmmakers with my Eclipse Portable Media Player when I was on the set of the Batman film on April 1, 2011. Here’s the smoking gun transcript:
Director Christopher Nolan: “Lookit, I think if we’re going to have a realistic chance of doing that shot from behind the skyscraper set, we’re going to need at least a 30-ton crane, and I think we ought to get that lined up and knocked out now.”

Cinematographer Wally Pfister: “Well, I don’t see the point of doing that until we have a complete shooting schedule. Even at this point, I’m not really sure exactly what you want me to shoot. I think it would help me a lot if I could get at least a working shooting schedule.”

Nolan: “I think Andrew knows what the shooting schedule is. Can he put it together and email it to you or do you want him to text it?”

Set Dresser Ted Altman: “Excuse me. I’m really sorry to interrupt. But don’t you think the movie should have a villain with a name that makes a reference to Mitt Romney’s past?”

Nolan: “Oh, hell yes.”

Pfister: “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Nolan: “What should we call the villain?”

Pfister: “Yeah, forget about the shooting schedule. Let’s think of a name for this sucker.”

Altman: “Well, how about Bane? Only, we’ll spell it B-A-N-E. But, obviously, it’ll be a reference to Bain.”

Nolan: “That’s pretty damn smart. What’s your name again?”

Just for the record, the villain Bane appeared for the first time in a Batman comic book in 1993 and for the first time in a movie in 1997. I learned that by spending 30 seconds on the IntraWeb.

People thought at first that Limbaugh would back away from his accusation. No such. I emailed him my video of the secret conversation I’d filmed. That must have given him fresh inspiration, because on the next day, he said this on the radio:

“They're trying to make me look like an idiot. A tinfoil-hat conspiracy kook. When all I am is Rush Revere warning you in advance, ‘The Liberals Are Coming!’ I see them hit the trail before you do. And what you're gonna have to do is, if you don't admit it yet, you're gonna have to start admitting it. I'm always right about it.”

Well, I see them hitting the trail too. They look just like pixies hitting the gossamer trail to dream land.

We can all learn from Limbaugh’s second set of comments. Here’s the lesson. If you want any amount of political power whatsoever, you must remember that the best way to convince people you aren’t a conspiracy kook is to tell them you aren’t a conspiracy kook. Are you reading this Michele Bachmann?

News You Can Use

Never keep potatoes in a balloon for more than two weeks at a time.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Summer Of Whatever

Local band The Downhearted have just dropped their second CD, Summer of Whatever.

While I don’t think it’s quite right to call this a retro record, it does dip into a pretty long period of past popular music, giving nods to some of the more melodic punk masters, such as, maybe, the Replacements, and such post-punk melody makers as, perhaps, American Music Club or Smashing Pumpkins. The disc’s second track, “On The Borrowed Time,” sounds like ‘60s pop until you hear the Sonic Youth-style riff in the chorus.

“Clock You” begins with a beautiful, twangy guitar hook that would fit in pretty well on a Nick Lowe record. The instrumental bridge resembles ‘60s garage music of the MC5 variety.

“The Madness Test” (which has been released as a single) also starts off with a tasty hook, this time of the multi-instrumental variety. This hook goes right through the cut, sometimes in a delicate, quiet keyboard delivery.

“Burn Down” makes it three in a row that start with memorable hooks. This one is in the form of a crisp, lyrical post-punk electric guitar solo. The song has a second melodic hook in the instrumental bridge that follows the first chorus. The chorus line — “Our love, it will burn down” — reminds me a little of Joy Division, both in its lyrical content and sound. The whole song has a distinctly melancholy sweetness.

The closing cut, White Sangria, is a simple, short acoustic ballad that reminds me, in lyrics, melody and tone, of Donovan.

Lyrics throughout this CD are thoughtful and a bit complex (though without ever becoming burdensome or vague or too abstract). Consider these lines from “Exhausted Heart”:

What horrid nonsense,
This time I spend without you and apart.
What wasteful days.
Exalted love with exhausted heart.

They have the poetic sophistication of Morissey, but none of his sentimentality or hyperbole.

Most of the songs on Summer of Whatever are love songs. But they relate to the adult complications of love and stay far away from the “I love her and she loves me, la di da da di di di” content of most rock.
When Nirvana’s Nevermind album was so big, a friend told me, “What I like about it is the hooks.” 

That’s pretty close to the way I feel about this record. Half the cuts have hooks that will certainly move you. Get Summer of Whatever for a record that sounds a whole lot more interesting than most of what’s called alternative and independent these days.

The cover art is done by C. Delle Bates of Orange, Texas, who also did the art for the band’s earlier Animal Lisa EP.

Summer of Whatever was mixed and mastered by Matt Moss of EMF Productions in Lake Charles. It can be downloaded free on and

I Promise This Column Will Do Nothing

The reporters say Gov. Jindal is touring the country, campaigning against the Supreme Court’s decision about The Affordable Care Act. On July 4, Politico quoted Jindal as saying, “It seems to me like the president measures success by how many people are on food stamp rolls and government-run health care.”

Well, that’s hardly news to me. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, all my aunts and uncles and cousins in the country said those exact same things to me — hundreds of times. They even used the same phrases: phrases like “food stamp rolls.”

So I’ve known for half a century that the problems of the country are caused by the people on the food stamp rolls and government-run health care. Why do they cause the problems? They take money away from rich people!

When I was a little boy, my middle-class parents could afford to get me all the health care I needed – and then some. But now that I can’t afford health care, I guess I’ve become one of the people who’s causing all the problems and taking money from rich people. I just wish I could remember where I put the money.

Jindal did make one statement that was pretty clever: “Obamacare, it doesn’t do what the president promised.” Saying that something isn’t the way the president says it is … that’s not bad. But wouldn’t it be even better to provide three or four examples of concrete evidence that the president’s statements were false? Well, maybe for you and me. But for everyone? Naw. A single simple abstraction is much, much more easily remembered than a bunch of concrete evidence.

Want to be a successful politician? Make it simple and say it over and over.

The News

“Cops: Pa. man aims at groundhog, shoots friend’s toe.”
— CBS, July 4

The News Made Easy

“Behind America’s Anxiety Epidemic”
That’s the headline of a July 4 Atlantic Magazine story.

Just what is Behind America’s Anxiety Epidemic? As a journalist, I can answer that question in a simple, easy-to-understand manner. Americans don’t have any money. Next headline, please.

Zombies: 27 Percent Real

It’s been many a long year since I thought a headline such as “Poll Analyzes How Presidential Candidates Would Handle Alien Invasion” might be a joke. Although this headline was written for KFSM of Fort Smith, Ark., it apparently refers to a real poll that was conducted by National Geographic.

Two-thirds of those surveyed said Obama was more prepared than Romney to handle an alien invasion. But that’s neither here nor there. What made the impression on me were these words: “Americans … hold much more confidence in the existence of aliens than superheroes. The survey found 71 percent of Americans think aliens are more likely to exist than for there to ever be real-life superheroes, vampires and zombies.”

Once in a while, I have to find out the hard way just how out of touch I am with the society of which I am a part. I’ve been going along laboring under the misconception that not a single adult in the United States believes superheroes, vampires and zombies really exist or could ever exist.

But am I really so different from my peers? I thought about it. Do I think it’s really impossible that a superhero, like Iron Man, could exist and could create perpetual free energy by melting and recasting 2 ounces of metal whose name he made up? Well, I decided, not only is it possible, but it’s somewhat likely, if you think about it. It’s a reasonable thing for a guy to do. I’d give about two to three odds it really happened.

What about aliens? Of course, I don’t believe in aliens. That would be silly. But if you mean the aliens kept on Level 6 at Area 51 in the spectral disginenacubator between the Montgomery Ward Steam Cleaner and the Mountain Dew machine that still sells Mountain Dews for a quarter, well, of course I believe in THOSE aliens. I mean, they’re in the photo in the Gemstone File, right?

Zombies? I used to think it was farfetched that people who’ve been dead and decaying for some time could have teeth, jaws and muscles that are strong enough to bite through living, healthy flesh. But suppose the playing of Celine Dion songs at funerals releases an enzyme into the body that strengthens decaying flesh. It’s possible. I say there’s a 27 percent chance that it happens; which means there’s a 27 percent chance zombies are real. Yikes! Time to work on the cardio!

Furthermore, am I 100 percent sure that no mythical creatures at all exist? Of course, not. That would be nihilistic. I mulled it over, and made a list of mythical creatures, along with what I think is the percentage of likelihood they are real:
— unicorn: 2 percent
— the loch ness monster: 6 percent
— Joe Arpaio: 6 percent
— Pegasus: 8 percent
— flying triceratops: 18 percent
— Bat Boy: 29 percent
— John Shaft: 36 percent
— James Bond: 37 percent
— the Blair Witch: 38 percent
— men in black: 39 percent
— the little doll in the Saw movies who rides on a tricycle and says stuff: 46 percent
— Foghorn Leghorn: 49 percent.

When  I saw that National Geographic had conducted its pointless survey, I got a suspicion. “I bet,” I thought, “that National Geographic now has its own network. That means that National Geographic is no longer trying to please people who pay for its magazine; it’s trying to please high-school and college dropouts who pay for cable TV.”

I was right. Just check out the trash National Geographic throws on the air to entice the audience. A program called Chasing UFOs features a team of three people who, I suppose, chase bright shiny stuff in the sky. In “Teenage Love Huts” a father builds a little getaway where his daughters can meet their boyfriends. Another show is called “An Abduction Story.” An interactive website feature titled WHEN ALIENS ATTACK bears the warning Prepare for the Invasion!

I looked up a 1984 issue of National Geographic on eBay. The topics of that magazine were American waterfowl, Africa, Antarctica, chocolate, and Grenada. Not everyone liked National Geographic, of course. Some people thought it was boring. But as far as I could tell, everybody thought all the stories were about things that really existed. Nobody, as far as I know, thought Antarctica might be some made up place. As for the aliens living in the serpentine tunnels hidden under the ice on what was once the mighty island kingdom of Lemuria, they probably weren’t mentioned in 1984.

Person In The News

At a recent press conference, Brad Goins announced that the Brad Goins Vigor and Zest Academy Of Journalism And Cat Psychology will offer student vouchers for the upcoming academic year.

“Vouchers will be $2,000 per student,” said Goins. “Since the name of our LLC is Brad Goins, please make checks out to Brad Goins. Parents who pay in cash get a 10 percent discount.

“Our goal at the Vigor and Zest Academy is to take our students back to the fundamentals of a true American education. We aim to remind students of the traditional vital connection between cats and journalism and enable them to reconnect with their cats’ psychic hearts.”

When the Louisiana Department of Education was asked for comment, an anonymous spokesperson said, “I’ll have someone send the wagon.”

News You Can Use

Meat pies should never be worn on the sleeves.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Music Man

When It Comes To ‘Old Time’ Louisiana Music, Ron Yule Has Played It, Promoted It, Built The Instruments And Written The Books

Ron Yule’s life has been an homage to old-fashioned country fiddle music. It’s the kind of music Yule is inclined to describe as “old-time” or “old-timey.” He puts it this way: “I love old time music so much, sometimes I think I may have been born 30 years too late.”

The music came into Louisiana by means of immigrants with European roots. In search of work, they came to the state with their fiddles in tow and their memories of the centuries-old fiddle tunes of their ancestors intact.

The music was performed in the houses and on the porches of rural Louisiana. It developed into Cajun, bluegrass — even swing. And in the face of modern changes that weren’t kind to traditional, acoustic music, it’s survived, albeit in a somewhat diminished form.

For decades, Yule has been preserving this music: by performing it, by building fiddles, by teaching others the crafts of performance and instrument-building and by organizing fiddle festivals.
And he’s undertaken one other big task:  he’s tried to document the history of the music he loves. To date he’s published five books on Louisiana country fiddle music, bluegrass.

Yule’s whole attitude toward old-time fiddle music has been reverent. But this reverence hasn’t saved him from conflict with religious institutions from time to time, which is perhaps to be expected, given that there was a time when many considered the fiddle the devil’s box. “I got fired from a gospel group because I told the guy I was going to play at honky tonks,” says Yule.

Still, he performed in a bluegrass gospel outfit, the Revelators, from 1978-1995. He’s no stranger to churches, having played the fiddle in church basements in his home state of Texas before he ever made it to his long-time home of DeRidder, La. Today, he hosts jam sessions at the Lutheran church fellowship hall in DeRidder, where the musicians play swing along with the old-time music.
And he jams with Eddie Richard, a priest at Our Lady of Prompt Succor Church in Sulphur, who’s been playing the banjo 25 years and has released his own bluegrass CDs. Yule’s known Richard since the 1970s — the decade when Yule first began playing with fiddler Lum Nichols and Clifford Blackmon and Blackmon’s wife Sue. Today, he still plays with the Blackmons and Richard.
These musicians and others play in a loosely affiliated group of as many as 15 people who usually perform under the name Medicare String Band. Yule says the “members have to be on Medicare or paying Medicare.”

They play most often at nursing homes. That’s a venue Yule has been frequenting since 1971. People at nursing homes “understand the music we play. We fill a void in their lives by coming and picking for them for an hour or so. When you play a nursing home, you may get no response from the patients, but if you can see a foot or big toe tapping to the music, it makes it all worthwhile.

“They like my kind of music — old fiddle tunes … [They relate] to it. When they were younger, that was the traditional rural folk music [they listened to].”

To this day, he likes to play what he’s always liked to play — “old country” music, avowing that “the most modern” country he might perform on stage would be a Merle Haggard song or two. “I like very little country and bluegrass music written after 1970.”

Early Musical History

It was in the coffee shops of Austin, where Yule was a University of Texas microbiology student, that he developed his love for old-time fiddle music in the 1960s. In those days, he listened to Aubrey Lowden, who played at the Broken Spoke and Skyline clubs. Yule spent time playing with such Austin bluegrass musicians as Doc Hamilton and Charlie Taylor.

Yule started off playing the guitar, which he enjoyed well enough. But he wanted to play some other instrument, and in particular, a fiddle or accordion, because each of his grandfathers had played those instruments. Yule went instrument shopping and the fiddle won out because it carried the lower price tag — $19.

He began playing that fiddle in 1968. He kept playing it when he went on to earn his master’s in microbiology from McNeese State University. (After graduation, he became a health inspector for the State of Louisiana — a position he held until 1999.)

After he settled in DeRidder in 1970, he played service clubs and “singles clubs” in that town. He remembers some of them as “pretty rough places.” He learned to be wary of one club goer in particular — a fellow who’d already had one ear ripped off in a fight and who “showed up just to fight.”
Yule played in numerous country and western bands in the 1970s and ‘80s, most often with Roy Burks and the Country Playboys and Buck Tyler and the Musicmasters.


Yule entered his first fiddle contest in 1968 at the Old Settlers Park at Round Rock in Texas. Everybody — all 22 fiddlers — won first place.

A while later, Yule started bringing along a tape recorder to capture whatever musical sounds he could hear at the Beauregard Parish Fair Fiddle Contests.

In 1973, he began producing fiddle contests and promoting bluegrass shows throughout Louisiana and Southeast Texas. From 1974 to 1976, he and his wife Georgia founded the Southwest Louisiana Fiddler and Bluegrass Club. As Yule relates in his book Louisiana Bluegrass, the group’s major events were the annual Longville Lake festivals and the VFW #3619 fiddle contests.

Yule continues to promote shows, including the Beauregard Parish Fair contests, which have been going on since 1925. Yule’s run the contest since 1975. “I always seem to be able to bring them out of the woodwork,” he says. “This is [the result of] years of experience.”

Yule says that often, fiddle contests can have “a beauty pageant mentality.” As a result, “when it comes time to play, they’re nervous.” He likes to get contestants to the point that they’re “cold as ice” when they take the stage. A young student who went on to play French horn as an adult told Yule “I could do that because you got me up in front of people so I wasn’t nervous.”

Yule says the requirements for a good fiddle contest are good judges, a good PA system and one other thing — “You must make sure the losers show up.” You do this by offering small prizes for every performer, regardless of the quality of the performance.

Yule won the 2000 state fiddling championship. But he says that on a few occasions he’s never even made it to the stage. “I just enjoy playing. I don’t worry about winning.”


Yule has always been primarily concerned with “rural country fiddlers.”

“Playing the fiddle is all about listening,” he says. “You learn by ear.” The occasional fiddler who learned to read music would have been “violinin’” rather than “fiddlin’.”

“I used to ask all my students when they asked me to teach them the fiddle,  ‘Can you dance? And sing in tune?’ If you can’t keep rhythm and have good intonation, you’ll never make a fiddler.”

“Playin’ the fiddle is playin’ dance music — even if it’s gospel.  It has to have rhythm.”
In his book When the Fiddle Was King, Yule writes that the fiddler was “basically a player of dance music … When fiddle music gets beyond toe-tapping, rhythmic, danceable music, it becomes violinin’, or at least something else. Modern day fiddlers … must make the music danceable or it gets away from its country roots.”

Many of the musicians who shaped the music Yule loves were from families of Acadians who migrated from Nova Scotia in the 1700s. They brought the fiddle along because it was small and easily stowed away for migrations. Migrating families would readily have remembered the fiddle music of their French or British homelands. Rhythm was provided by country people who played with spoons, broom handles, tubs.

Yule believes Louisiana fiddlers are playing tunes that have been played since at least the 1700s. He cites such traditional tunes as “Soldier’s Joy” and
“Old Spinning Wheel.”

He says the fiddle developed from a bowed instrument the Europeans used in the 8th or 9th century, which eventually became the viol. The modern violin began around the 1500s. Yule can name early Italian violin makers right down to Stradivarius.

In 1973, Yule began repairing fiddles. Through the 1990s, he constructed and repaired not just fiddles, but also dulcimers, banjos and basses. “Nothing is any more exciting than stringing up an old fiddle that has laid dormant for years and listening to it take on a voice — a life of its own. Sorta waking it up,” says Yule. “I help anybody learn how to work on violins. Pass it on.”

Yule had been taking on a fiddle student here and there since the 1970s. But in the mid-1990s, he “began teaching fiddle on a large scale.” From his new, large group of pupils, he formed the popular Fiddlin’ Gals ensemble. Twelve of his students wound up being divisional champions at the state fiddle contest. One, Emily Young, won the Grand Championship in 2006.

In the popular imagination, it’s the musician’s prerogative to bellyache. Yule prefers a more stoic sort of fiddler. “When I play, I forget about any illness I have; any problems I have. When you’re playing, you’re not thinking about the ills of living or how much you hurt.” For some time now, Yule has dealt with the challenges of arthritis as he’s played.

Fiddlin’, says Yule, is “all about music … It’s all about getting together and having a good time. I never want this to be work.”

Bluegrass Odyssey

By the 1960s, writes Yule in his book Louisiana Fiddlers, “old-time and Louisiana country fiddlers … found a haven in … bluegrass music and the popular fiddle contests” in Louisiana. (We’ll discuss below the developments in 20th century technology and entertainment that were drawing bluegrass away from its roots.) This development inspired Yule to undertake an odyssey in pursuit of the performance of bluegrass music in Louisiana.

He drove around in pickups, seeing as many bluegrass bands as he could. “I hardly slept at all. I picked with every obscure band.”

He remembers talking with Eddie Richard “about how bluegrass is dying.” Yule conjectured, “Maybe bluegrass has returned to the living room and the front porch, which is where it should have stayed.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

‘You Speak Up’

When I got my review copy of Louise: Amended, a new memoir by Louise Krug, I got a story that was riveting. It’s the story of a  young woman who was “used to getting by on her looks.” She lives “near Santa Barbara where only the very rich can afford to live.”

She’d like to be a journalist and is set to start a job reporting about “gardens, weddings and pets” for a local paper. But the night before the job begins, her brain starts to bleed.

Symptoms are serious. She drags her right foot when she walks. She finds the sounds of tires on pavement unbearable even with the car windows rolled up. She’d like to go to her new job, but can’t button her blouse.

When she makes it to a hospital, she’s told to consider the risky craniotomy: an operation by means of which her bleeding “cavernous angina” will be cut out of her brain.

During a long delay, she lives first with her mother in Kansas, then with her father in Michigan, struggling to do the most mundane tasks. Eventually she finds herself at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota in a line of 50 people on gurneys awaiting surgery. Her surgeon, “wearing leather sandals and red socks,” writes “craniotomy” on her forehead with a Sharpie.

After the procedure, she’s told she’ll have trouble walking. She starts her recovery by crawling. A while later, “ten seconds of staying upright is an accomplishment.”

Months after surgery, she still can’t walk in a straight line. “The left side of my face is so weak that I have to hold my lips together in order to chew and swallow without food falling out,” Krug writes.
Is this progress? Krug writes: “The surgery, everyone says, was a success.” The words express her great ambivalence about whatever progress she makes after the craniotomy.

It’s an ambivalence that often veers towards resignation. She’s dismayed by what she’s lost — for instance, her entire sense of what her life was to be: “Louise has started to admit that she will not go back to Santa Barbara. She will not be pursuing that dream of toasting champagne glasses with the rich and beautiful …” As these words show, Krug sometimes writes about herself in the third person. She’s so altered she’s become foreign to herself.

Her post-surgery mood has a strong element of low self-esteem. She dates men she considers second-rate. When she finally meets a man worth dating, Nick, she thinks that “he, an attractive, normal guy, deserves an attractive, normal girl.”

These quotations make it clear that as a writer, Krug is immensely skilled at developing character. Early on, when Krug’s parents see her overwhelmed boyfriend Claude as a bad guy, she informs the reader that Claude is thinking “this has happened because he has bad luck … He got picked on in grade school … He has a string of ex-girlfriends who hate him.” He’s limited by his own damage.
Krug’s ability to build characters is complemented by a gift for providing insightful depictions of the human condition, especially as it takes form in the contemporary USA. Of herself, she writes, “I grew up in the Midwest, restless, thinking I was meant for something different. Something better. We all did.”

She does just as good a job of pinpointing another instance of the disappointment that follows great expectations. Of the divorce between her parents, Janet and Warner, she writes, “The problem was that Janet liked dinner parties and activities like karate and tennis. She liked the company of other people. Warner had a total of three friends ...”

These passages show that Krug is a master of minimalist prose style. Consider this beautiful description of the plain life in Krug’s mother’s hometown in Kansas: “It is early spring, and the big, empty sky is gray. There are no hills, and small black dots are cows. At the grocery store, real farmers with overalls and hats buy food just like everybody else.”

Throughout the book, Krug expresses displeasure with people who send her get-well cards with such “preprinted phrases” as “God has a plan” or “everything happens for a reason.” She stays true to her skepticism about rose-colored predictions and pat explanations. The book ends with no miracle cure; no glorious epiphany: just a long, hard slog to some sort of accommodation with everyday life.

But in the six years that follow the catastrophe, Krug manages to marry a good man and have a daughter. And she’s able to show her daughter how to get by and know what’s worth appreciating: “I want to show her that you look people in the eye, you speak up, you stand as tall as your body will allow, and you say your name.”

You can buy Louise: Amended for $10.96 at

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bad Machine, Droopy Drawers, Speaking Jive To Power

Bad Machine

The Bad Machine tour will come to Luna in Lake Charles, La., on Saturday, Feb. 11. The tour features musicians Scott H. Biram and Lydia Loveless. The publicist for the two was kind enough to send me links for the latest CD of each musician. Let’s take a brief look.

Biram’s Bad Ingredients CD begins with very old school blues, played by acoustic instruments no less. But as things progress, one starts to hear the sort of blues ZZ Topp would have produced had it started as a garage band with its recordings produced by Iggy Pop. There are loads of fuzz and reverb. Along with the blues, the garage sound is the most prevalent sound here. Even when the songs veer to the sort of straightforward electric blues you might hear from, say, George Thorogood, Biram makes it sound quite a bit rougher and nastier.

One slow song with the sinister feel of a Johnny Cash ballad provides a bit of a change-up. On the other hand, “I Want My Mojo Back” adds fuel to the fire with a burlesque sax that actually sounds likes it's screaming at times. Biram's voice, while not really a scream, often becomes a sort of hoarse growl.
If you like wild records, Biram’s got one.

Lydia Loveless’ Indestructible Machine is an uptempo record. The fastest tempos range from thrash to those of The Clash and early Elvis Costello. The songs are driven by loud percussion.
"How Many Women?" is a country ballad and “Learn To Say No” is straightforward country pop. In some songs, Loveless bursts out with a real country twang. And “Crazy” features a fine country violin. Indestructible Machine may be considered a country record. Spin ranked it No. 4 on its Country/Americana charts. If it’s country music, it’s country that’s thoroughly mixed with certain kinds of punk music much of the time.

Certainly, the most interesting lyrics on the records are those for “Steve Earle.” Loveless is either outing Earle as a stalker or laying down some kind of inside joke. “Do Right,” with its ultra-fast bluegrass picking, has lyrics about the singer drinking gasoline. “I’ve been trying,” she sings, “but I just can’t find a good reason to do right.” Interesting stuff.

With both these records, the lyrical content is largely about hard living and the generally unpleasant consequences thereof.

If the recordings are any indication, the show promises to be intense and high-energy. The show starts at 9 pm; cover is $8.

Sonic Adventure

Luna will offer patrons another sonic adventure when New Orleans-based Crowbar plays on Saturday, Feb. 18.

Crowbar plays a kind of metal that’s called doom, or sometimes sludge. Tempo is unusually slow. There’s a lot of layering of guitar with plenty of fuzz and assorted noises. The sound is very percussive. If you’ve heard earth or SunnO))) or early Swans, you know the sound. Based on the cuts I’ve heard, Crowbar has it down. The European press has dubbed Crowbar’s sound “doom-core.”

The singing of Crowbar’s Kirk Windstein ranges from a wild screeching (close to screamo, but more comprehensible) to a somewhat less aggressive ‘90s “alternative rock” style.

Although it has nothing to do with the music, it’s worth noting that the members of Crowbar aren’t trying at all to look photogenic or hip. They look like a bunch of guys who just showed up at the small town wrestling match after an afternoon of PBR.

Finessing L.C.’s Droopy Drawers Law

Well, how about all this big talk about education reform in Louisiana? With stories getting that much play, there’s always the chance that the really important stories will get overlooked.
And that’s what almost happened with the recent story about Caddo Parish Commissioner Michael Williams’ move to make it illegal to wear pajamas outside the home.

Take some time to let that one sink in. As you do, ponder another huge story that almost got overlooked — the story of Lake Charles’ droopy drawers law. It was a revolutionary law. A paradigm shifter, a game changer, a tipping point. Yet how many in the media have reported on it five or six times, as I have?

Now, back to the proposed Caddo Parish pajama-wearin’ ban — just what, exactly, is the problem that is to be outlawed?

"The moral fiber in our community is dwindling," Williams explains. "If not now, when? Because it’s pajama pants today, next it will be underwear tomorrow. I observed a couple of young men in loose fitting PJs on, probably with their private parts about to come out and no underwear.”

Saints a’mighty! That does sound like a disaster waiting to happen, doesn’t it? And I believe Williams. Why? Well, for starters, he’s an original thinker. How do I know? His language is novel. Just look at the phrase, ‘If not now, when?’ Have you ever heard a politician say that? I sure haven’t. (The answer, by the way, is “sometime after you leave office.”)

I’m also swayed by the logic of the “because it’s … next it will be …” argument. Again, I ask you to consider it. Let’s apply the formula. Because it’s jaywalking today, next it will be armed robbery tomorrow. Makes sense!

Williams plans to write an anti-pajama-wearing ordinance and present it to the commission. I hope he writes as convincingly as he talks.

One good thing about these sorts of stories is that when they do get covered, they usually get covered by national media. This story, for instance, was released by NBC National News. NBC ran that nice long colorful quote from commissioner, moral authority and Louisiana public figure Williams right in the middle of its nationally distributed story. You know, you just can’t buy publicity like that. If you could, it’d be pretty cheap.

The Williams quotation was picked up by the Wall Street Journal, which used it in a Jan. 19 article titled “Why Not Wear Pajamas All Day?” WSJ prefaced Williams’ words with this statement: “As with a lot of teen behavior, some adults are annoyed.”

The article states that many fashion-conscious youths, and teenagers in particular, are using pajamas as part of a carefully designed loungewear look they wear everywhere. Such big companies as Abercrombie & Fitch and Aeropostale are running marketing campaigns designed around the look. And we all know the question that’s used to gauge every fashion marketing campaign everywhere: Sure, it plays in Manhattan; but will it play in Shreveport?

Speak Jive To Power

It would be rude to say that politicians sometimes say dumb things. Besides, is a thing really dumb if it’s brown-nosing?

See what you think. Right after the recent swearing-in, state Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, who had earlier sought the post of state Senate president, introduced new Senate President John Alario with these words: “He has a way of rubbing your face in the dirt and making you thank him for it.”

No. No, he doesn’t. Whatever he has, he doesn’t have that. All the times I’ve had my face rubbed in the dirt, I never once felt like I ought to be giving thanks to somebody.

Like a good politician, Martiny is telegraphing that he’s willing to get his face rubbed in the dirt if that’s what it takes to make Alario forgive and forget. I’m guessing the over-the-top flattery will be enough to get the job done.

Speak Power To ‘Imbeciles’

In an open letter to President Barack Obama, written on Nov. 28, 2011, Leon Cooperman, a former CEO of Goldman Sachs, wrote, “[The 1 Percent] are not the scourge that they are too often made out to be" and are not "a monolithic, selfish and unfeeling lot." (BTW, Goldman Sachs was the No. 2 contributor to Obama's 2008 campaign, putting a click more than $1 million in the kitty.)

At a December, 2011, investors conference in New York City, Home-Depot co-founder and billionaire Bernard Marcus made it clear he was not unfeeling when he responded to an audience question about his reaction to the Occupy movement. "Who gives a crap about some imbecile?” he said. “Are you kidding me?"

Note the feeling in those words. It’s the feeling of sympathy; of gentle concern. It’s the heartfelt expression of a humanitarian who’s eager to understand, to reach out, to bridge the differences and build the dialogue. The words pulse to the beat of a heart full of love for a struggling humanity. Unfeeling? Nay. It is feeling at its most exquisite. It is feeling of most delicate empathy given voice.
In an interview with Bloomberg conducted at the time of the conference, billionaire Tom Golisano founder of Paychex, said, "If I hear a politician use the term 'paying your fair share' one more time, I'm going to vomit." Now, what did Cooperman say? He said the 1 Percent are accused of being selfish and unfeeling. Well, that certainly doesn’t apply to the words “I’m going to vomit.” A fellow who’d say that isn’t selfish; he’s just abdominally challenged.

And why are his intestines in such a turmoil? He’s stressing himself out by trying too hard to be productive! Don’t believe me? Well, just check out what John Allison, former CEO of BB&T Bank, said when he had lunch with a Bloomberg reporter during the conference: "Instead of an attack on the 1 Percent, let's call it an attack on the very productive."

Now, I may think I’m productive or I may not. But suppose I tell you to your face that I’m not just productive, but very productive. What sort of fellow do you think I am? Well, I’ll guess you’ll probably think I’m humble, unassuming and self-deprecating. You’ll probably think I’m a doer and not a talker, and that I’m the kind of guy you’d really like to hang out with and listen to. And because you’d know I was being really sincere, you’d believe I was very productive: so productive, in fact, that I was a great deal more productive than you and therefore worthy of a much higher salary than you.

So, why would some people think these fellows are unfeeling? I think I know. Let’s look at some unfeeling stuff a guy in the 1 Percent wrote in a Dec. 1 Bloomberg editorial. Nick Hanauer, known to be worth at least $6 billion, wrote, "Rich businessmen like me don't create jobs. Let's tax the rich like we once did and use that money to spur growth."

I think this is what Cooperman was getting at with the word “unfeeling.” When a guy says “tax the rich,” isn’t he being pretty unfeeling to rich people? I should say so. That’s what they call a no-brainer.
Another BTW — just what is the 1 Percent? If you're taking home $350,000 or more per year, you're part of the club.

Person In The News

At a recent press conference, Brad Goins announced that he had formed a new group called the Board Membership Advocacy Board. The group, said Goins, will promote membership in boards of directors.
“It’s not that people who sit on boards meet a pressing public need,” said Goins. “No. People who sit on boards have the opportunity to put on business suits after work and go hang out with other people who put on business suits after work and are the members of lots of boards. I’m a member of 13 boards myself. That’s how I’ve gotten where I am today.”

Goins is presently a member of the following boards: the International Board of Directors, the Directors’ Board, the Comprehensive Board, the Board of Directors of No Particular Sort, the Board of Boardship, the All-Purpose Board, the Board of Last Resort, the Board Member Search Board, the Board of Game Boards, the Board of Ambitious Young People, the Board of Disappointed Middle-Aged People, the Board of Red Ties and the Board of It’s Not The Heat It’s The Humidity.

He stated that his present public service objective was to become a member of more boards. “It’s my way of giving back to the community,” he said.