Friday, December 14, 2012

Porcupine's Picks

I love Thanksgiving without reservation. Christmas is more of a mixed bag for me. Not that I don't like it, I do. I just wish there were a whole lot less of it. I mean, I don't know anyone who has a Thanksgiving dinner the week before, or the day after. Maybe that happens but not in my world.

But right about this time every year, I start feeling like Christmas will never end. And it hasn't even started yet. And there it is.

So, if you're feeling as I am, or if you just need a laugh, here are some of my Christmas favorites: five songs and a video that, if they don't exactly put me in the proper Christmas spirit, at least help put a grin back on my face so I can fake it for one more gathering.


I'm Gettin' Nuttin' For Christmas: The first song I was aware of written specifically for us naughty children.

Run, Rudolph, Run: The definitive version, by Mr. Keith Richards. Nothing says Christmas like Keith: that rough-but-right voice and Telecaster turned up to brain damage? Can I get an Amen? I said can I get an Amen?

Father Christmas: A favorite of city kids everywhere. Save all your toys for the little rich boys.

Fairytale of New York: It was Christmas Eve in the drunk tank - and it just gets better. Happy Christmas yer arse!

It has come to my attention that some of you have never heard Mr Mojo's Christmas, by The Wise Men. This is completely unacceptable. If you've never heard this, you must click now. In fact, if you click only one link from this post, it must be THIS ONE. Really. If you don't laugh there's something wrong with you. Seek professional help.

I will admit, privately, that I have a soft spot for Rudolph and the Misfit Toys. I will even admit (whisper it quietly) that I own a stuffed Spotted Elephant. I will even go so far as to admit that I once watched the entire show just to attempt to settle with a friend of mine the question of what was misfit about the doll. So there's that.

Even so, here is what I consider to be a true Christmas masterpiece: Raging Rudolph, from MAD-TV. If you've never seen this... well, I won't spoil it. Just remember, kids, the moral of the story is "Keep your freakin' mouth shut!"


And there you have it: some of my personal Christmas favorites for when the mood fails me. I hope you enjoy them and, if not, at least we've increased our level of intimacy. There's always that. So until next time, I remain

Very Truly Yours,



Sunday, November 11, 2012

Think About It

Click.   Read.  Think about it.

As the WWP rightly says, the greatest casualty is to be forgotten.   Obviously, it matters.  To all of us.   For more on why it matters to me, click here.

Respectfully Yours, 


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thanksgiving Comes First

At the request of my dear friend and swell pal,
a repost of our contribution 
to Suldog's Thanksgiving Comes First campaign - C & P

To every thing there is a season.
Ecclesiastes 3:1


I think it's the smells that I remember best: cinnamon, nutmeg and pumpkin, roasting turkey and baking bread, a whiff of onion and sage, a note of coffee, and all of that floating above the faintest hint of fresh floor wax. If there is a heaven and if I should go there, perhaps it might smell something like that.

But I'm getting ahead of the story.


All Wednesday morning we watched the clock. A half-day: 11:45 could not come soon enough. Our teachers taught us poker-faced, pretending it was a school day like any other. For our part, we pretended to work as we counted down the minutes to the bell. They couldn't fool us in any case. We caught them sneaking their own looks at the clock.

The bell still echoed as the school doors burst open and we poured into the street. Slowly, I walked home, savoring my freedom, shuffling and crunching through errant drifts of leaves. The gray November sky hung low over trees that had given up their October brilliance for muted brown, maroon, and mustard. The air was sharp and carried the musty scent of fallen apples.

My mother practically met me at the door with a bucket and some rags.

Christopher, I need you to scrub the baseboards.


It never occurred to me that this was all a ruse: a way to keep me quiet, out of the kitchen, and to get some work done in the bargain. We were having no guests. We were going to Nana's for Thanksgiving. But children don't question these things. I set to work.

The house seemed warmer than usual. It was, of course: partly from the oven and simmering saucepans, partly from the alluring aroma of baking pies rising on humid air. Still, the prospect of a fine Thanksgiving dinner filled my father with an uncharacteristic and expansive good cheer. He would bake pie after pie, tapping out rhythms on the mixing bowl with his wedding band, filling the house with his rich baritone.

... kissed my girl, by the factory wall, dirty old town, dirty old town.

His good mood was contagious. My sister and I sang and dusted and scrubbed, forgetting that these were chores.

Evening held in store a light supper of grilled cheese and soup. We munched our sandwiches, wishing they were the pies on the sideboard. We were dutifully bathed, brushed and trundled off to bed, left to dream of roast turkey and pie.

Thanksgiving had almost come.


I awoke to the sputtering percolator and the smell of strong coffee. I knew a bag of doughnuts would be waiting: fresh doughnuts, still crisp on the outside. My father was already dressed. We munched away in cheerful silence, occasionally glancing at the pies. Waiting.

Thanksgiving had almost come.

This was one of the rare days when I would not be welcome at Nana's before the appointed hour. She was preparing and I would have been underfoot. There was nothing to do but wait. Absently, I watched the build-up to the Macy's parade in black-and-white and wondered at all the fuss. I tried to care and failed. And I waited.

At noon we were dutifully starched, pressed, and buttoned-down. Combed, brushed, and photographed. Handed one pie each and bundled out the door for the walk to Nana's. The walk took about five minutes. This was the parade that mattered.

I turned the key in the doorbell. My grandfather greeted me heartily, as if he had not seen me just the day before. He quickly ushered us in. All hugs would wait until the pies were safe and the hugs could not wait. He held out his arms and I wrapped my own around him. My fingers did not touch. I squeezed him as hard as I could. He pretended it was too much. It was our custom. Nana gave me a fleeting smile, a one-armed hug, a cursory kiss, and a shoo.

Thanksgiving had come.


I think it's the smells that I remember best: cinnamon, nutmeg and pumpkin, roasting turkey and baking bread, a whiff of onion and sage, a note of coffee, and all of that floating above the faintest hint of fresh floor wax. If there is a heaven and if I should go there, perhaps it might smell something like that.

To my knowledge, my grandfather never drank. Even so, he enjoyed playing bartender to my sisters and me. With great fanfare, he mixed us his signature cocktail: Fresca with cranberry juice. We were free to roam, anywhere but the kitchen. We searched for hidden dishes of candies and nuts. We slid on the stairs. We wandered among the adults busy gabbling about football, politics, and other things of no importance. We picked out tunes on the parlor piano. My great-aunt winced at every sour note. An electric knife whirred in the kitchen. We made happy nuisances of ourselves until Nana appeared in the parlor door and solemnly handed me a pewter bell.

I suspect the entire neighborhood knew that our dinner was served.

We packed into the dining room and arranged ourselves: Grampa at one end of the vast table, Nana at the other. I took my place at her right hand. I did not yet understand the significance of this. Grampa stood for Grace

Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts
Which we are about to receive from Thy bounty,
Through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Casting a twinkling eye on us, he added his own prayer: "... and Lord, give us the grace to guide the children wisely." We children always joined in on the "wisely," drawing the word out. Everyone laughed.

And now the meal began in earnest. Dishes were circulated: butternut squash, mashed potato, tiny peas, my mother's creamed onions. Dressing with sausage. Baskets of biscuits and strange little Hawaiian rolls. I smiled to see my father and grandfather scowl at the turnips. Jellied cranberry and cranberry relish. Sweet mix and olives. Gravy and butter, salt and pepper, and a drumstick all for me.

It's the bountiful plate! Christopher has the bountiful plate! My sister trilled.

Indeed, it was. We set to work. While the adults gabbled about football, politics, and other things of no importance, my sister and I crafted careful forkfuls, attempting to recreate the entire meal in each bite. Now and then, someone would declare this to be the best Thanksgiving yet. Nana would simply nod. The dishes circulated again.


And now, a few words about jello salad: Perhaps you may cringe at the thought. I understand. Not really a salad at all. But perhaps, if you're like me, if you're of the right age and disposition, you remember these fondly. My very fashionable aunt always brought an elaborately molded jello salad to Thanksgiving, back when that was fashionable. It was a two-layered affair: cranberry jello, with celery, apples, and walnuts. A sweet sour cream business separated the layers.

In hindsight, it doesn't surprise me that we children could have all we wanted. I'm sure the adults thought it mostly for show, yet we loved it. When else could we eat dessert with our meal and still have all the dessert we wanted after, as well?


When the last trace of gravy had been mopped up with the last biscuit, the adults repaired to the living room. They sprawled on the sofas like walruses in the sun, ignoring the television, talking about football, politics, and other things of no importance.

Nana whisked me into the kitchen. Now I would earn my keep. Coffee was set to perk. The window over the sink was thrown open. Dishes were washed, dried, put away. Leftovers were organized and set aside. Pies and sweets were set out with plates and forks in neat array. Ice cream, whipped cream, fruits and cheeses. Nana relaxed visibly as each item was brought forth. Her smile warmed; her tone softened. Soon, she would consider her work done for the day and enjoy the party.

The doorbell announced the start of round two. The somnolent walruses roused themselves. Aunts and uncles, cousins and friends were arriving for pie. Dessert was strictly self-service. Again and again, we served ourselves. No one was watching and no one cared. I made another meal of pie. On what other day could I eat all the pie I wanted and be asked if I wanted still more?

The lights were dimmed. There was soft music from the radio. The sweet aroma of strong coffee. Adults gabbling about football, politics, and other things of no importance. Cheeks were pinched hello and kissed goodbye. My, how you've grown and how is school? Don't eat yourself sick and would you like more pie? I carried coats and hats upstairs and fetched them down again. The evening built in a slow crescendo and just as slowly faded.

I joined my father at the kitchen table for a final sandwich, on Arnold's white bread, with dressing and cranberry and extra mayo: the perfect coda to the day's excess. Leftovers were packed for travel. Dad walked home to get the car for my now sleeping sisters. Returning, he carried them out one by one. Love and smiles. Hugs and kisses. And we all agreed that this was the best Thanksgiving yet. We made the short drive home in cheerful silence.

Thanksgiving had come, but it had not yet gone.


Friday morning dawned in shades of gray and brown. I awoke to the sputtering percolator and the smell of strong coffee. My father was already dressed. He nodded and smiled. Still in her nightdress, my sister drifted in. We were about to enjoy one of our traditions, one we looked forward to all year: pie for breakfast. I cut her a slice of apple, mince for myself. Two wedges of cheddar. I put water on for tea. In our hearts, we gave thanks for hot tea and cold pie. It was still Thanksgiving.

There would be Christmas sales that day, but these weren't part of our world. My very fashionable aunt would likely be there, but even to her these were sales like any other. She was not rushing to Christmas. She just wanted her shopping done. In our house, it was still Thanksgiving. There would be cold turkey sandwiches for lunch. Perhaps hot browns for supper. All day long we'd nibble at pies, recovering from our day of excess with a day of slightly less.

And we still had Saturday and Sunday.

All week long, that bird would feed us. Sandwiches hot and cold, open-faced and closed, on bulkie rolls or Arnold's bread, with dressing and cranberry and extra mayo. Turkey sliced thin or chopped fine for turkey salad. Reheated with gravy or served as pot pie until his poor old bones were all that was left and we boiled them down for soup.

Then, and only then, was Thanksgiving truly over.


I love Thanksgiving. It's been my favorite holiday as long as I can remember. There have been changes, of course. My father is the grandfather now and I am the father. My children are the happy, noisy nuisances. Yet there is still something of those long-ago celebrations in every turkey and every pie. Nana is in my kitchen making sure the gravy has no lumps. Grampa still rises for Grace, and prays that we guide our children wisely. It is more than a memory. At least it is to me.

They are really there.

And I hope someday my children will remember our Thanksgivings as I remember mine. A time for family and friends and pies. A time to give thanks for all we have, and for everyone who has touched our lives. And whether my children realize it or not, I know my grandparents will always be there for them too. Even when it is beyond our awareness, love never fails.

Our lives breathe like the tides. A wave of weddings, then a lull. A wave of births, then a lull. A wave of funerals, then a lull. We float along on the surface. We welcome newborns, we mark milestones, we bury our dead. With a little luck, we play our parts: child, parent, grandparent. With a little luck, we greet each season of life with new eyes and an undimmed sense of wonder at each unique and unrepeatable day. And we give thanks.


Why not resolve to make this Thanksgiving more than a day? It is a season all its own. It deserves three days, perhaps even five. Resolve to ignore anything Christmas, at least until Black Friday. Christmas will come in its time, I promise. But I will say no more about that right now.

Thanksgiving comes first.

Respectfully Yours,


Monday, September 24, 2012


I intended to write a different post.  I  had planned to lead off with the line "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."  I'm sure most of you have heard that before, and probably have heard it attributed to Sinclair Lewis, as I did.

It is my policy, however, before using a well-known quotation, to research it a little first, to see if it was actually ever said by the person it is associated with.  All too often, it wasn't.  Some previous examples: as far as I can tell,  Lenin never referred to "useful idiots," and Mussolini never said "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism...." among others.

It is entirely possible that those to whom these quotations are misattributed may well have agreed, in whole or in part, with the sentiments expressed.  I suppose this is how they often get misattributed in the first place;  they sound like something that person might have said.  Even so, in the end, they aren't quotations, and really shouldn't be used as such.  Unless we don't care.

Some people don't.

But anyway, though Sinclair Lewis might well have agreed with that line, it appears he never said it.  However, while looking into it, what I found was even more interesting, more telling, and certainly more appropriate:  

"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."

Many variants of this exist, but the earliest known incident of such a comment appears to be a partial quote from James Waterman Wise, Jr., reported in a 1936 issue of The Christian Century that in a recent address here before the liberal John Reed club said that Hearst and Coughlin are the two chief exponents of fascism in America. If fascism comes, he added, it will not be identified with any "shirt" movement, nor with an "insignia," but it will probably be "wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution."

 - The Christian Century, Volume 53, Feb 5, 1936, p 245

Interesting.  We will leave aside, for the moment, the question of whether the word fascism itself has in fact, as Orwell argued,  lost all meaning beyond the simplistic "something bad."  Let's instead consider the "revised" quotation as it stands.  Personally, I find that more interesting, more telling, more appropriate.

Respectfully Yours, 


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Do The Math

I've held off for a long time in writing political posts.  It never makes me feel any better.  And I'm always left with the feeling that the people who need to read them won't and, if by some chance they do, they won't believe what it contains, so what's the point?

I've been following politics in the Middle East since the late 70s, when some close family friends were stationed in Tehran.  And I was fascinated, and sometimes horrified, by how much what we heard from them differed from what we heard on the news.

Now these folks were right in the center of the action.  One day, the father, a college friend of my own dad, came home and said to his family "Pack one small bag each.  We're leaving now!"  They did so, went to the airport, and bought four tickets on the absolute next flight out of Tehran, ending up in Mali.

A week or so later, most of America started paying attention to Iran, if you know what I mean.

So anyway, with the Middle East yet again front and center in the news, I'm going to answer the question that won't be asked or, if it is, won't be answered truthfully:

Q:  Why do so many people in the Middle East seem to hate America?

A:  Because of:

a)  Our "freedom."

b)  Our "Christianity."

c)  Decades of misguided foreign policy, promoted by both Democratic and Republican administrations, dictated by, and catering to the exclusive needs of, our "friends," both foreign and domestic, in d'awl bidness:  a little coup here, a little backing of  near-totalitarian but U.S. business-friendly regimes there, and a whole lot of arms-dealing everywhere

Which answer makes the most sense to you?

Now this does not address completely the rise of radical Islam, however, it does account for its appeal to a large number of otherwise average shlubs:  "These people have made your life worse;  we will make it better."  There is just enough plausibility to that to sell it.  And sell it they do.


A small digression:  Right-wing religious nuts are the same everywhere, whether they wear turbans or ties and regardless of what book they choose to thump.  Give them political power and this is what you get.

I saw Hillary on TV this morning saying "Religious tolerance goes back to the very founding of our country."  What?!?  Some of my ancestors founded this country.  They were Puritans: actual, witch-hunting Puritans, almost straight out of The Crucible.  Their only notion of religious freedom was to have the freedom to practice as they chose and deal rather brutally with anyone else.

On the Catholic side of my family, we have the Inquisition.  See?  Right-wing religious nuts are the same everywhere.


None of this addresses what our response ought to be to events in the Middle East.  To suggest that we can just let our people be killed is silly.  On the other hand, our response should be based in reality, as outlined in item "c" above.  That needs to be understood first.

You are welcome to interpret events differently, as long as you understand that any interpretation that does not take into account the points outlined in item "c" is fundamentally incorrect

Let's wrap up with a little math:

Number 1 oil-producing country:  Saudi Arabia
Number 2 oil-producing country:  Iraq
Number 3 oil-producing country:  Iran

Number of Saudis among the 19 hijackers on 9/11:  15
Number of Iraqis among the hijackers:  0
Number of bombs dropped on Saudi Arabia:  0
Number of bombs dropped on Iraq:  ???

Number of Saudi princes heavily invested in FOX "News":  1

Q:  In what country are the neo-cons itching to go to war next?

You do the math.

A final thought:  first, let's consider how well the war in Iraq went.  Now, let's consult an almanac (reality-based readers only.)  Roughly speaking, it appears that Iran has twice the population and three times the area of Iraq.

You do the math.

Very Truly Yours,



Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Presented without comment.  Click to listen.

Respectfully Yours,


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Love And The Borg

I think it's a supreme discipline to know that you have three to four minutes to get together all your lost emotions and find words of one syllable or less to put forward all your ideas.  It's a discipline of form that I don't think is cheap or shoddy.   

- Robert Fripp

I think non-musicians often have an overly romanticized idea of what is involved.  They see someone play and attribute too much to talent, forgetting, if they ever knew, that playing an instrument is a skill like any other, and the main ingredient is not talent but practice.

My beautiful, amazing, superlative-in-every-way wife is like that.  One day, she asked me what I think about when I'm performing.  I think she was hoping that, as I play some love song, I'm thinking of her.  She was quite disappointed by my answer:  when I'm performing, I'm thinking about getting the song right

That's it.

There are other considerations:  Is my gear working?  Can I hear?  Can I get the bass player to stop watching that cute girl on the dance floor for one second so there won't be a train wreck at the bridge?  Even so, these all reduce to the same thing:  getting the song right.

Songwriting is the same way.  People who have never done that see it as a product of inspiration.  That's part of it, but a very small one.  Mostly, you sit down and work.  You take some idea and go with it, editing, tweaking, and refining until you have something like a presentable song.

Anyway, my honey has always wanted me to write a song "for her," under the illusion that that is how love songs come to be.  In most cases, I don't think that is true.  Even a luminary like George Harrison said repeatedly that he didn't write Something for his then-wife, but for Ray Charles.  You get an idea and go with it.  It is usually a general thing, not a specific one.

The myth persists, though, because that is what the audience wants to believe.

Even so, I hate to deny my honey anything. And I recently decided I would unromantically set to work and give her her song.  Again, it's not that I don't feel the romance, but that is not really part of the process.  You get an idea and go with it.  Basically, you sit down and work.  That's it.

It is an added difficulty if you know that your lyrics will be evaluated, not only as a song, but also on the truth of their content.  But we do what we need to do. 

I found the extra push I needed here.  Meet my Telecaster, whom I affectionately call The Borg:

Borg because of the glowing red eye on the little black gadget screwed to the front, which lets me control the guitar synth in that unassuming little blue box on the floor.

The recording itself was a strange mix of high and low tech.  On the one hand, I used a brand new guitar synth and recorded to a computer.  On the other, I only have the facility to record straight into the room in almost mono.  I can record a single, uninterrupted track, and either live with it or do it again.  Period.  To adjust the level of my vocal, I can either take a big step toward the computer to turn it up, or step away to turn it down.

We do what we need to do.

But anyway, the recording is essentially live, using just the synth and its internal looper.  And it really is a lot of fun to play drums on a guitar, though the experience takes some getting used to.  But enough about The Borg.  Let's return to love.

It's You

You don't need no fancy dresses
You don't need no high-heel shoes
You've got everything a man could want
You've got a love I can't refuse
You don't need to wear no makeup
You don't need to paint your face
You're everything I dreamed of
You've got a love I can't replace

'Cos I still love looking in your eyes so blue and I
Still love to watch you from across the room and I
Love your smile and your sexy laugh
I still catch myself staring at your photograph
When you're dancing to the rhythm with the radio on
The way you shake your hips just turning me on
And there's only one thing that I want in the world
A little good loving from a blue-eyed girl

'Cos it's you that I wanted
It's you that I need
You're the only girl I dream of
At night when I fall asleep
And I still feel a chill when you're calling my name and I
Need your loving and you're feeling the same and I'm
Trying to find a way to get you to see
It's you, you're the one for me.

You don't need no satin ribbons
You don't need to style your hair
When you wake up in the morning
That's all it takes to get me there
You don't need Victoria's Secret
No lace or all the rest
Because the way the good Lord made you
Is the way I love you best

And I'm feeling like a schoolboy falling in love
When I'm looking at you I can't get enough
You don't need tips from fashion magazines
With your hair pulled back and your cutoff jeans
You don't need to wear a lot of fancy French perfume
To take my breath away when you walk in the room
You don't need diamonds, you don't need any pearls
Your smile is all it takes to be my cover girl

'Cos it's you that I wanted
It's you that I need
Whenever we're together it's the only way to be
And I still feel a chill when you're calling my name and I
Need your loving and you're feeling the same and I'm
Trying to find a way to get you to see
It's you, you're the one for me.

You don't need no complications
I won't give you no distress
'Cos the things you've got to give me
Are the things I love the best
You don't need no invitation
If you want to get with me
'Cos whenever we're together
It's the only way to be

And I still feel a chill when you're calling my name and I
Need your loving and you're feeling the same and I'm
Feeling like a schoolboy falling in love
With my blue-eyed girl, I can't get enough
When you're dancing to the rhythm with the radio on
The way you shake your hips got it going on and I'm
Trying to find a way to get you to see
That it's you, you're the one

And every time I look into your blue-blue eyes and I
Feel my temperature is starting to rise
When I'm lying next to you and feel your body so warm
My ears start ringing like a fire alarm
And when I'm watching you dancing and you're shaking your hips
Thinking about the magic in your fingertips and I
Feel a chill running down my spine
It's you, you're the one....

And there it is.  After sixteen years, she and I both can cross that one off the list.  And, technical details aside,  love is, after all, what it is all about.  Some of it may be specific to us, some of it is more general, but I will say this:  If you do not feel similarly about your own beloved, no matter how much time has passed, you probably aren't doing it right.

Respectfully Yours,