I will not comment, I will not comment, I will not comment

OK, I’ll comment. I haven’t seen The Passion of the Christ yet, but I’m very glad it’s making an impact. I have to admit I’m kind of squeamish, and the thought of watching the torture and execution scares me. As far as all the conversations that are happening all across the country right now, I think that in general it’s a good thing though I can not stomach much of it. It seems to sway between banality and hyperbole. Typically, I stay away from conversations like those.

I heard Mel Gibson in answer to a question on the violence say that’s it’s like Saving Private Ryan in that it’s an integral part of the story. It is the story in fact. I see his point. No use making the movie at all otherwise. But I felt the same way about Saving Private Ryan as I do about this one, I can’t watch. I close my eyes.

There is something to be gained from comparing these two movies. Both of them highlight the sacrifice made by another on your behalf. The boys that stormed the beaches at Normandy and didn’t come back sacrificed everything so that you could live your life in freedom. Jesus sacrificed his life so that you would no longer have to live cut off from God. I live everyday of my life thanking God for these things. How about you?

Down the other side

Well, today I turn 45. I figure I’ll live to about 90, so that puts me at the top of the mountain looking down the other side. I turn around to look the other way and I see the past stretched out. Half of me on one side; half of me on the other side. Ah, screw the poetry; I’m a very happy man. I theorized a long time ago that happy people don’t write much. I don’t know if that’s really true.

Wait a minute…I’m writing right now! Does that mean my theory was wrong or does that mean I’m actually unhappy? OR, if my theory was wrong, would that make me unhappy? And then, would I turn out happy because I’d be writing more now that I’d become unhappy? I think maybe I spent too much time watching Three Stooges growing up.

Anyway, that is what this blog is all about. Just to get to the writing. I had an English teacher in high school that was trying to teach us how to write. An exercise during class was to simply not lift your pen off the paper until he called the time. It would be about 10 minutes I think. He’d tell us, “I don’t care if you have to write your name over and over again, just keep writing.” I really had trouble with it. I would write my name over and over again.

I do remember those years as very good years though. It reminds me of a project I’m working on now. Each summer I take a group of teenagers on a week-long thing we call Science Camp. One of the fundamentals we try to teach is the concept of a “Paradigm Shift.” Now, we really don’t go too deep into Thomas Kuhn’s Philosophy, we just introduce the idea to teenagers who are interested in Science. One of my challenges this spring is to come up with some ideas of some movies that portray a paradigm shift. And, I remember when I was in high school I read Robert Heinlein’s Universe and it really had an impact on me when the character went through his shift. It was like my eyes were being opened to a new reality. During that writing class I found myself composing many stories based on this theme of paradigm shift for a character.

So, if anybody can think of a good movie that portrays this drop me a line.

I’ve been convicted

I know, I know. I haven’t written since last Thursday. Would you believe I’ve been very busy? Would you believe I’ve had the stomach flu? Well, both are true.

Anyway, while I was moaning and groaning in bed yesterday I started thinking about this gentleman at church who has the same birthday as me (Feb. 27). He’s 35 years older than I am. He has been my role model for many years at church. When I first became active about 10 years ago, it was in the midst of a bit of a controversy surrounding the pastor. I went from not being active at all to being the chair of the two most important committees in a Methodist Church. One, the Administrative Council, is the central council that everything else must go through and two, what’s called the Pastor/Parish Relation committee which is responsible for setting standards for the performance and pay of the Pastor. I don’t know why God put me there, but I do know that he put a certain William “Bus” Styles there to help and guide me. I think of him as a kind of soul-mate since we were born on the same day. So, as my mind was drifting along with my stomach, I turned my thoughts to another man at church, whom I hold in similar regard. His name Pershing Edele. And yes, he was named after Black Jack Pershing and he was one of the brave young men to storm the beaches of Normandy France in 1944.

When relfecting on these gentlemen, I often feel guilty for not placing my own father in this same category. He used to be active at church, but as a confessed agnostic, he’s left behind the congregation that I now serve. So I get up finally last night to read my email. And there’s an email from Terry Edele, Pershing’s son (who happens to be a Methodist Minister.) He just wants the email address of our pastor. So, I sent that along and added a PS that his dad was one of my heroes. Today, he emails a reply thanking me for the info and says “by the way, if your dad is Jim, he’s one of my heroes.”

Ah, crap. How can my dad me a hero of the son of one of my heroes? This means I’ll have to ask my dad, and I’ll find out something good about him that I didn’t even know. What’s my problem? Why is it so hard to accept him as a good person?

Lucky to have a dad to talk to

I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot lately. For various reasons. My brother-in-law Tom Brown just lost his dad and had written a very moving eulogy. And this from a guy who used to complain about his dad. It’s sort of cliche now; you know, when the father is aging and the son anticipates his dad’s death, there’s the thought that it’s going to be too late to bond. So, the son worries himself sick about this, but being the son of a man that can’t communicate emotions, he won’t talk to dad about these feelings. See how that works? I guess there’s no hope for me and dad.

Really though, I’m very thankful to have a dad that, at age 70, is still healthy. (My mom, soon to be 74, is very healthy.) Most guys would envy the relationship I enjoy with my dad. We see each other quite frequently. We sit at Steak N Shake two or three times a month mulling over the world and its problems. Our topics are exclusively Politics, Religion and Religion in Politics. With US history strewn throughout.

His biggest gripe with me is that I’m a Conservative. He figures I hit my head or something when I was young. To him, a conservative worldview is not just the other side, it’s out of this realm of reality. His hero is Harry Truman, mine is Dwight Eisenhower. But anyway, I’m very happy to have this time together with him. Annette always asks me, “What’d you talk about?” What she means is “did you talk about your feelings?” So I always answer, “Nothing.”

Do I know how to play the guitar?

I was browsing through books at Borders. “How-to” books on Rock guitar. The more I stared at them the more confused I became. “What am I looking at?” I thought. I’ve studied classical guitar, you know; I know the fretboard intimately. I know all my scales. I know Rock N Roll. What am I looking for? I don’t know.

I think I’m looking for something to say. …Na, that’s not it.

I love pop music. I love the Monkees and Beatles. I just want the song to sound good; to have a good melody. I just wanna have fun! Is that so wrong?!

Starting a new habit

I realized what I’m really trying to do is start a new habit. A writing habit. I’ve got plenty of bad ones, now I’m going to start a good one. Good as in constructive instead of destructive. Verbal communication has always been a challenge for me. Few people other than Annette would believe this. In fact, I said this in front of a group of about twenty people that I was teaching the other day and they said, “huh?” As we talked more about it though, I think most of us understood it better. Sandy said it like this: “We extroverts say whatever’s on our mind all the time. It doesn’t get processed first like with a typical introvert.”

She’s right. When I stand before a group to talk, it’s measured, reserved and careful. This comes off as being thoughtful and intelligent. I’ve learned through experience that my relationships with people are more intimate (and therefore more fulfilling) if I can be “more extroverted.” In other words, say what’s on my mind without measuring the effects it might have. In psycho-therapy they call this “being present.”

Wish I had a real Strat

I know, I know…Now that I’ve got my Mexican Strat, I really want a real one. One made in America that is. It’s ironic that in the Classical Guitar world guitars made in America are looked down on. Segovia once said, “They do not make guitars in America.” In the Rock N Roll world, its got to be American made. Gibson or Fender. Oh well. The quality just isn’t there on this guitar. It’s good enough for now. I’ve never owned a cheap electric guitar. The only other electric I’ve had was a very nice Gibson SG. I can’t believe I let that one go.

School of Rock

We just saw the School of Rock with Jack Black. We both loved it. It was just a great little movie. Annette and I talked all the way home about how much fun it would be to play and sing in a band. I couldn’t help but reckon back to yesteryear when I was going to “change the world with one rock concert.” (Dewey/Ned’s dream in the movie.) The scene in the movie when the kids challenge him to sing his song the he’s “not quite done with” is a scene I played over and over in my head when I was 18 or 19 years old. I could hear entire rock songs and solos and concerts in my head. But, as I stated in a previous blog entry, I was naive and there was no “School of Rock” to speak of. We all just saw the Beatles up there and said “I wanna do that.” How much time and energy wasted on inefficient methods and no-talent people?

Here’s my School of Rock lesson for today: Rock Music is a sub-category of Popular Music (Pop Music). As such, it is music centered on song. A “song” has at its roots lyrics. Added to these lyrics are rhythm (in the classic Jazz or Big Band sense i.e. a “rhythm section” consisting of Drums, Bass and Guitar.) Added to this would be embellishments of particular soloists, ostensibly to add to the overall tenor of the song, but also to highlight mastery of an instrument. In Rock N Roll this soloing has fallen chiefly to the electric guitar; the “Lead Guitarist.” Because of this, young would-be Rock N Rollers tend to be fooled into thinking that the guitar, especially the lead guitar, is the backbone of the music or the band. They’re wrong. It’s still the vocalist! Young Rockers should build their repertoire around the singer. If they don’t have one, they don’t have a band yet and they should get one. If the guitar player is the “leader” of the band that’s fine, it’s up to him to pick the songs that the singer can sing.

And to all those “Lead Guitarists”: stop musically masturbating on stage. We don’t want to hear it. Do it at home. If you don’t have something to say with your instrument, keep it quiet. A good solo adds to a song. It sounds like it belongs there. Music professors call this “inevitability.” Think of the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth. Now think of the next four notes. They are inevitable.

I believe Pop Music can achieve great quality. But it takes artists that are committed to the art form. So few young people are even aware of the parameters of the art form they have chosen. They need to go to the School of Rock.

Coming up for air

OK, I guess I should get back real life now. I got up this morning, went to the bathroom and then straight to the Strat. Been playing all day. It’s a lot of fun.

Anyway, today is Valentine’s Day and we’re actually going out tonight. I don’t think we’ve ever done that. Our big plans include a cheap movie and maybe Steak N Shake. We may go see School of Rock with Jack Black. How appropriate, eh? School of Rock and me with a new electric guitar. Annette and I rarely do things for special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, etc. We lucked out finding each other; neither one caring much for retail sentiments.

Enough chit-chat. I’m going back to practice.

Got it!

I’m home now with my new guitar. It is beautiful. I got a nice little amp to go with. I’m ready to learn how to play the electric guitar now. Annette said, “What are you talking about? You already know how to play the guitar.” She’s right, of course, I was in a rock band when I first met her. But, I never really learned to play the electric guitar. It’s a whole different instrument. Like the difference between a piano and a pipe organ. The notes are the same, but it’s just a different instrument. It takes a different set of skills to make it work. I’m looking forward to learning it.