February 18: Another clear day

Today was another exceptionally clear day. It was also an uneventful day save for the lunch get-together with my siblings. That started the day off nicely. I got to hear about what they were reading and about how their book clubs worked, in terms of what kinds of things they talked about.

There was also some chat about our upcoming family reunion in July. Eureka! continues to have Lady Face Blind Ambition for $4 so I couldn’t resist having one (and then another one). These kinds of family outings don’t last too long, no one’s prone to linger or talk about anything too amusing, so I was on my way home by 1:30, just in time for a quick hike.

Like I said, it was very clear day. Lots of folks were heading out at once so I decided to take a connector trail towards El Escorpion. Once there, I picked up a trail that I was pretty sure would link back to the Victory side. I was right, but the last third of the trail was brutally steep. Had it not been for the light, cooling breeze it may have been too much. But I made it and then found my way to Bible Rock before heading back to the main trail and my car.

Those two beers were not my friend on this hike, but I was happy to have made it out for a couple hours.

I’m getting a little antsy about the book. It’s feeling ripe and ready to publish. I’m ready to move on but circumstances won’t let me quite yet. It’s also a time of anticipation. There are always technical issues, most commonly with the EPUB or MOBI files used for the the Amazon Kindle Version.

It’s rather like the feeling of dreading impending traffic that you know you’ll hit, simply because you’re in a hurry. It makes you wonder why you’re in a hurry and then you remember.

There’s time enough but none to waste.

Tonight’s writing soundtrack is another LP. This time it’s an oldie and a scratchy one at that. It’s Paul Desmond’s That’s Jazz. It’s from 1961 and it’s pretty much the epitome of California Cool. Desmond’s playing is impeccable as always. There’s never been anyone better at this kind of stuff. His tone and articulation were effortless and he was rhythmically faultless and nimble to boot. Still, in some strange kind of way this LP reminds me that I really don’t much care for jazz anymore. The best jazz was universally played in the past and if you can’t find a reason to look ahead toward even the possibility of new and better days, a genre can really become mundane. It’s always amazing to me that these straight-laced looking guys like Desmond and Bill Evan were relentless self-abusers, Desmond with booze while Evans favored heroin and later cocaine. It makes their music perfect time capsules of another era when jazz was perfected and before its inevitable entropic decline.

Thanks for reading.

That was Jazz
February 18: Another clear day

February 17: Busy, like the old days

Today was busy like the old days. Things rapidly came together with a new client and I had to do a phone interview and write a follow-up memo. It doesn’t sound very time consuming (it is). It also doesn’t sound especially interesting but, again, it is. Many of our clients are desperately ill. I describe myself as the tip of the arrow since I’m often the first one to really get to know a new client and their history, as well as their family.

Much of what I do is about sizing up the client in a lot of different ways. Sometimes, as it was today, it’s about getting a sense of the client’s vitality, especially his memory and mental sharpness. The client has faced a terminal diagnosis and has undergone a very risky surgical procedure with chemotherapy to follow. It is not an easy time in the life of the client or the family. The first time I spoke to this client (after his diagnosis but before his surgery) he sounded fantastic. Rather than sounding anything like a typical 80 year old he sounded 60…maybe even younger. I knew that 4 weeks after his surgery he would sound like a completely different person, and he did. But, he’s a tough guy and shows no inclination to going gentle in to this or any good night. He’s an easy guy to root for.

Recapitulating a long phone call like that is tricky. It’s a memo that’s likely to be read in haste even though it was written with great care. That’s just the way things work in this business; the best of efforts are not always appreciated for what they are, yet it’s still critical that one’s best effort is put forward. This being anything but my first rodeo, I am Ok with all of that. I sleep well knowing we’re on the right side of the cases we pursue and that there’s not a long line of people who can do what I do in quite the way I do it. All of my work today was done in no more than 3 hours but it felt much longer and took a good deal of starch out of me. There’s no getting used to speaking to the very ill shortly after a diagnosis. Feeling like an interloper or an opportunist is easy. Finding a way to always be regarded as a positive force during a very negative time for both the client and the family is an art. I’m not perfect at it, but I’m better than most, or at least I think I am.

I’ve been warned about leaving out the writing soundtrack in my posts. Sometimes I need a soundtrack but occasionally all I can stand are the clicking sound of my laptop’s keys. There’s no real formula to it though I have to say I have a much lower tolerance to audible distractions than I used to. Anyway, tonight’s soundtrack is drowning out the keyboard clicks and that’s a good thing. I’m listening to Empty Hearted Town from Warren Zevon’s posthumous (2007) record, Preludes: Rare and Unreleased Recordings. There are 16 tracks here. Some are a marginal versions of marginal songs but the track I mentioned and Tule’s Blues and Studebaker, among a handful of others, make the collection more than worthwhile. Anyway, thanks for listening.

February 17: Busy, like the old days

February 16: Kinda not so good

Long story short, I did not come up with a workable idea for the ending to the story I’m considering. The fact is I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it today. So, I suppose my progress on the idea is directly proportional to the time expended on the task. I was busy today, at least off and on. The day didn’t feel totally wasted but except for going to the post office I was at home and working in my office from around 9 until 3. At 3 a friend of mine called and we met for a while.

That was a relief; it’s hard to spend much more time than that indoors.

Then came dinner and then came the last episode of the first part of season 4 of Ozark. It’s not my favorite show but I would say that the fourth season is the best so far. My sense is that they divided the fourth season into two parts to finish out the series this year but what the heck do I know?

I don’t have any great ambitions for tomorrow but I am hoping to be outside more. The weather is supposed to be good, if good is defined as clear and mild. There’s wind forecast for Friday. Here’s hoping they missed on that one.

Today I finished my various Crosby-Nash, CS&N, CSN&Y and Stills-Young Band LPs (Buffalo Springfield was last week). That was a relief. The three-LP CS&N Carry On present particular trouble, though I’m not sure why. I was just scattered enough mentally that I keep losing track of what I had uploaded and what I hadn’t. The cherry on the sundae was me forgetting about one side entirely and letting the record spin for hours after it was done. Nice.

Great for the record and for the stylus of the EVO 3…not.

Anyway, tomorrow’s another day. In the meantime, tonight’s writing soundtrack is another LP, Deep Sea Diver’s Impossible Weight. I really like Jessica Dobson’s voice and playing. Not every song on this record is as raw, elemental and powerful as the last one, Run Away With Me, but they’re all good enough for me to enjoy. Anyway, check out that orange vinyl and Jessica’s signature!

How the heck do you beat that?

Answer…you don’t.

Thanks for reading.

February 16: Kinda not so good

February 14: Finally, an idea

Reliably, my endless babbling typically goes nowhere. But today I was telling stories of another era of my life, probably for the 10th time. When I finished I found myself thinking that there could be a book in the stories I told. It would be set in the 1980s. It would be somewhat biographical and somewhat of a period piece. As an aside, I am continually disappointed by the way stories from the 70s and 80s are told in today’s television and movies.

I have no doubt that it is ever thus, but it’s still distressing. Most efforts seems so enamored with the styles of hair and clothes as to ignore entirely the differences and similarities that the era portrayed has to today. As another aside, I would cite an exception with Mad Men. Any series that could actually make a teenage girl quit watching because the relentless sexism of the series was so distressing was definitely doing a lot of things right.

Let’s just say I’m not lining up to see Licorice Pizza.

Like a lot of other folks my age are thinking (and saying), fuck that…I lived it and it was a hell of a lot more entertaining, believe me.

Anyway, my idea would go from the mid-1980s to the mid-90s, ending in the genuine purgatory I endured living in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Without realizing it, I relive that decade a lot. To paraphrase Jackson Browne, you don’t know the big reasons of your life until after they’re gone.

Wait. I also got the second concept for the cover of Cottonwood tonight. Like the first, it’s not quite in line with what I wanted, but I love it. I called a bit of a timeout since we don’t yet know the thickness of the spine. That dimension will affect how much of the cover image has to wrap around to the left. It will be give me time to choose between wonderful and wonderful.

Finally, tonight’s writing soundtrack is Poor Ellen Smith by Gillian Welch & David Rawlings from their 2020 record, All The Good Times (Are Past & Gone). Finally, tonight’s writing soundtrack is Poor Ellen Smith by Gillian Welch & David Rawlings from their 2020 record, All The Good Times (Are Past & Gone).

No, it’s not exactly cheery but it’s perfect.

Thanks for reading.

February 14: Finally, an idea

February 13: Sharing an email about history

Today I got an email from a would-be client of mine.

I gave her an assignment a few weeks back with a two-week deadline.

Here’s her email:

Paul

I am so sorry that I have neither followed up (yet) on your wonderful suggestions not let you know. As soon as we’d spoken I did some research into the subject then got stuck with a project I need to finish ASAP. I have to make (within the next few weeks!!) enough content for one quarter from 3 or more text books on the infinite topic of History of Golf.

So, that’s what I’m killing myself doing, especially on weekends. During my work, I was so happy to come across a couple of paragraphs dedicated to your friend (thought to myself – hey I know this guy!!), and excited that it will go into my powerpoints:

In 1911, Johnny McDermott, a brash young pro from Philadelphia was addicted to gambling at golf, ended the foreign and foreign-born dominance of the U.S. Open by becoming the first American-born winner of the event. At age 19 years, 10 months, and 14 days, he is still the youngest player ever to win the U.S. Open and the second-youngest ever to win any of the four modern majors. Only Young Tom Morris, who won the British Open in 1868 at age 17, was younger. As if to prove that his victory in 1911 was no fluke, McDermott won the US Open again in 1912 at the Country Club of Buffalo, where he became the first player to shoot a sub-par score in the US Open. Unfortunately he disappeared from the golfing scene as quickly as he had appeared. In 1914, at age 23, he collapsed and suffered a nervous breakdown in the clubhouse of the Atlantic City Country Club where he was the club pro. He never recovered from the incident and spent the rest of his life in mental hospitals, rest homes, and living with family members in Philadelphia, suffering from a mental illness.

Will follow-up on your ideas soon as this job is done.

Do you go to the Genesis Invitational?

Signed, Would-Be Client

And my reply:

Dear Client

You’re lucky. 

I was about to send you a friendly-reminder email.

Glad you’re busy, hoping you’re not too busy.

Yeah, I got some JJM bio stuff from the USGA’s head historian. Nice guy, tho I cannot recall his name. Oh, yeah, it’s Mike Trostel! Not all of my memory is gone, thank goodness.

What is most interesting about JJM is that there are  NO authoritative contemporaneous accounts of his decline. Some sources include what you have mentioned, others say bad financial decisions preceded his illness and still others point to the trauma of surviving a near-catastrophe at sea while sailing home  to the United States.

I guess this kind of vagueness is an omnipresent feature of most lives, even of some noteworthy folks like JJM. My mother was dead less than a week before her own daughter inadvertently misstated some well-known facts about my mother’s life during a eulogy.

In the back of the church I muttered to myself, “And we wonder why there are so many biographies of the same person.”

Anyway, it’s great to hear from you. 

Please keep in touch and be well!

Cheers.

Paul

The italicized paragraph is about John J. McDermott, a main character in my first novel. I was especially taken that my client presented what she did as authoritative. It may have been, but I doubt it. Whether it was JJM’s life or the life of my mother, people come and go and then we set about to say what happened in their lives. Sometimes we’re right. Other times, not so much. So, the word for the day is humble, as in be humble when citing facts about the lives of others, living or not.

John J. McDermott and one of his two U.S. Open trophies

Another LP is spinning for this evening’s writing soundtrack. It’s my single favorite solo guitar record ever. It’s by one or two-off virtuoso, George Cromarty and it’s called Wind In The Heather. It is a superb pressing with some of the best and best recorded acoustic guitar I have ever heard. I need to add Cromarty to my list of missing musicians.

This is also a rare flood survivor as the stained and damaged cover show. Happily, and I mean very happily, the record itself was spared. I never even had to clean it with the Nitty Gritty. I tried to get a little too arty with the processing on this, but what can you do other than try?

Anyway, thanks for reading.

February 13: Sharing an email about history

February 12: Tower 45

The valley to valley idea is predicated on being able find a way to hike from one valley to the other. One emphasis is on the word hike but the second is find. I knew that fire roads are everywhere in the foothills of Los Angeles County. I’m glad they’re there but hiking on them is more like walking than it is like hiking. And, since they all go somewhere there’s very little duty for navigation. The only question is how far do you want to do in any one direction?

If the challenge is only the hike it loses some appeal. It’s not that far and it’s not that hard. Surely others have done what I propose but I don’t really want to know how they did it since I assume there are a number of different routes, starting points and ending points. But worse, it would shatter the possibility of discovery…maybe the discovery of an error and maybe the discovery of something that works better than what others have done. In this case, crowd sourcing is the last thing I want to benefit from.

So, I am trying to minimize the use and influence of the experiences of others and of maps. A too map and a fire road map would tell the whole story. But as is so often the case it’s not the story that matters it’s the way that it’s told or in the case of the valley to valley hike how it a route is found and how it’s hiked.

The last time I was hiking west from the Victory Trailhead I saw a single tower in the distance. When I got home, I succumbed to temptation and found it on Google Maps. It’s called Tower 45 and it’s said to be a 3.5 hour hike from Woodland Hills and a 3.5 hour hike from the Conejo Valley. That’s useful, but it’s also more than I wanted to know. What I didn’t have to read was the obvious conclusion that Tower 45 was connected on both east and west by a big, wide fire road.

So, I took a little trip today to an area that I suspected was not far west of the tower, east of Westlake Blvd. I took a trail through a local park and caught up with an eastbound fire road. After about a mile and a half it looked like this:

By my reckoning I should have been close enough to see Tower 45, but it was nowhere in sight. The trail toward the right center rose steeply and on another day I might continue on this trail to see if Tower 45 lays beyond. The foothills were plenty tall enough to obscure a tower, even a tall one so I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Surprise. That’s part of what I’m trying to preserve. I am hoping to be surprised by. something in the planning of the hike but it’s beginning to seem more and more like all trails will lead to the common. The game’s not done yet. There’s more to discover and more to my study but I can sense surprise slipping away bit by bit.

Tonight’s writing soundtrack is Cowboy Junkies’ The Trinity Session from way back in 1988. And, since I’m listening to this superb record on vinyl it merits a snap of the LP rather than another cover photo.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

February 12: Tower 45

February 11: Am I stuck or?

The year is streaking by and most of my time today has been spent on the LP project and working on my valley-to-valley hiking project. So, I’m wondering if I’m stuck or if things are going exactly as they should? The wind stayed around far longer than usual for this time of year, and then it retreated. Today, by the time I hit the trail, it had to be close to 90 degrees. I shied away from my hill climb. It just didn’t seem like a great idea to throttle my legs on such a hot day. The green of the seasonal grasses are already starting to pale from their original bright green. The oaks that survived the last round of fires are already leafing out. As I’m sure I’ve said before, I am hoping for a least another round or two of rain. Absent that, this will be one of the shortest winters in memory.

On the subject of Cottonwood, my formatter has acknowledged receipt of my manuscript and front matter. It’s all happening now, ready or not. The cover art is still baking in the oven. I’m not worried. I know it will be wonderful but there’s a certain amount of angst about the logistical issues on the horizon. My recollection is that the ebook version of the my first novel was actually more tricky than the print version. Back then, Amazon required a file in their own MOBI format whereas now they use EPUB. Hopefully, this change makes no difference to the formatter. For the print version, all you need is a PDF of the book itself and a precisely-dimensioned JPEG for the cover art. Amazon really has this self-publishing deal down.

We got another chance to share a drink at 1894 this evening. It’s a delightful little spot with a good wine list and a small but well-chosen tap list. Today I had another French Pilsner from Bram’s in nearby Monrovia. I think they must share space with Wingwalker Brewing since they have the same street address. This pils may be the best thing to come out of France since, well, maybe forever. It is crisp and clean yet possessed of a deep, interesting pallet of flavors. Damned if it wouldn’t go perfectly with chips & salsa. What more can you say about a good beer?

Anyway, that’s it for tonight. I hope more happens tomorrow at least between my ears. Tonight’s writing soundtrack is an interesting duet by Andrew Bird and Fiona Apple called Left Handed Kisses from his 2016 record, Are You Serious. It’s an interesting counterpoint to the song that introduced me to Bird, Giant of Illinois. The man is nothing if not varied and versatile in his style and presentation. I’m looking forward to hearing more from him.

Thanks for reading.

Are You Serious
February 11: Am I stuck or?

February 10: Who knew…Roger Miller?

I didn’t get a heck of a lot done today beyond uploading a good number of LPs. The process is time consuming. Also, it requires a kind of sustained low-level concentration to lead the lead in and lead out each side, nice and clean. At first I thought it would be entertaining to listen to all of my LPs but I end up doing other things, I even listen to other music while I’m doing it. It’s not that I don’t want to listen to the LPs it’s that I have to monitor the recording through my wired headphones since I’m using the only line-level out from my phono preamp to feed the A/D converter. My beloved Sennheisers have a nice, long cable but it’s not enough to let me move around as I’d like while monitoring the LP.

Oh well. You can’t have everything.

The downside of all the uploading was that I mismanaged my eating schedule and ended up losing most of my daily hiking time through my need to eat dinner. Muy malo. I’ve got to be better about that.

But wait, who knew…Roger Miller?

I’m sure I’m the last to know that Not in Nottingham was first sung by Roger Miller, way back in 1973, as part of the Disney’s animated version of Robin Hood.

It’s a very clean, melodic song and Miller hits it out of the park with his clean, melodic style.

But the lyrics; hmmm…

Every town
Has its ups and downs
Sometime ups
Outnumber the downs
But not in Nottingham
I’m inclined to believe
If we were so down
We’d up and leave
We’d up and fly if we had wings for flyin’
Can’t you see the tears we’re cryin’?
Can’t there be some happiness for me?
Not in Nottingham

Man, that’s pretty much of a downer for Disney and vague to boot. Perhaps it’s a classic example of something that’s great without being good. The great without good effect is hard to grasp at first but if you think about it I’ll bet you can come up with examples of your own.

Anyway, I have not purchased the song, even though I wanted it to round out my collection of the different versions. It turns out you have to buy the entire soundtrack ($15!) just to get the song. Sorry, but no. I will say that Miller’s version is both first and best. David Hidalgo and Sean Watkins both do a admirable job but there’s simply no improving on the simple beauty, earnestness and tonality that Miller brought to the song. Apparently, I can listen to the whole dang record on Amazon music so that’s going to be good enough to for now. You can also hear the entire song on YouTube so, as is usually the case, where there’s a will there’s a way to enjoy a very unusual song that’s sung unusually well.

Thanks for reading.

February 10: Who knew…Roger Miller?

February 9: Hiking in June gloom?

My planned valley to valley hike grows more complicated by the day. My current concern is about speed, specifically my walking speed. My original assumption was that the hike will be about 20 miles each way. Sure, it could be less but I think all in 20 miles is a good bet. So, for the last week I’ve used my iPhone to track my hiking (as opposed to walking on the street) speed.

And, it turns out that I hike slowly, right around 2.5 MPH versus the brisk 3.5 MPH I can do on a street or sidewalk. Damn those uphill sections of the trail! The problem is that depending on when I do the hike I could run out of daylight hours and that would be bad; I could even miss the cocktail hour, and we can’t have that.

The solution might be June Gloom, those days before the 4th of July when morning hours see a dense onshore overcast spread from the Pacific to the valleys and well after the start of daylight savings time in mid-June. I would have to leave the specific dates of the hike flexible to be assured of hiking on a day with good, deep onshore flow. Even still there’s a good chance the second half of the homeward trek would be pretty warm, since the west San Fernando Valley is typically around 8 degrees warmer than the eastern Conejo. And, the cherry on the sundae is that the whole hike will be into the sun.

No matter, as of this moment June is looking better than March. All those hours of daylight and the chance of overcast until well afternoon is making the hike feel a little more doable than my depressing walking speed made a feel a day ago.

The study continues.

Oh yeah, my writing soundtrack tonight are two versions of Not in Nottingham. The first sung by Sean Watkins on 2015’s The Watkins Family Hour and the second done by Los Lobos from their 2009 record, Los Lobos Goes Disney.

How out of the Disney songs loop am I? I had no idea Not in Nottingham was even a Disney song. It’s pretty damn good song so I bought both.

Thanks for reading.

February 9: Hiking in June gloom?

February 7: Musicians who are missing in action

The internet is an endlessly fascinating place. It has made finding new wonderful musicians easy and immensely satisfying. I could not begin to name all of the musicians who have crossed my path, quite by accident, over the last decade or so.

The odd thing is that occasionally one of them (or two in this case) will go missing, leaving only the music that led me to them in the first place.

The first is Brendan Campbell. He may have had another record at some point, but the only one I know of is Burgers & Murders. I’m listening to Pleiades right now. This guy is so gone that he doesn’t even have a licensing deal with iTunes anymore. I found that out when I realized that none of his songs were on my iPhone. Had they not been downloaded to my MacMini years back that music would have been gone, maybe forever.

Brendan Campbell

The other musician is even more obscure. All John Danley left behind are a handful of videos. He was (is?) a wonderful finger-style player. From what I’ve been able to find he’s totally done with the whole music deal. The last reference I saw about him mentioned that he’d turned to a career in psychotherapy.

John Danley

A handful of years ago, he had a working website. What must have happened for him to let both his website’s eponymous domain and the site itself slip below the electrons of the internet? I just don’t get it. It’s just too easy and inexpensive to keep a website online to let one slip away. I actually mentioned Danley’s name to Will Ackerman a couple years back, along with a link to one of his videos. I had a kind of fantasy that Will might have recognized Danley’s talent and would want to set about using his industry connections to get him discovered, but Danley’s anonymity remains frustratingly intact.

How many more wonderful musicians am I doomed to find and lose? To put a tiny spin of optimism I could say I’m fortunate to have found Danley & Campbell at all, and that’s true. It’s always hard to keep from wanting more, I suppose.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. Had I been willing to let this post wait until tomorrow I would have done a better job. For some reason tonight the WordPress desktop app will let me do everything but write a post.

The optimist would say how lucky I am to be able write what I have on my phone.

February 7: Musicians who are missing in action