“Hearest thou what these say?”

A few weeks ago, on our last afternoon in Ithaca, my son was trying to talk to my niece’s daughter, who was a few days away from turning 10. Wearing a Ruth Bader Ginsburg shirt that said ‘Dissent’ on it, she had put a drawing up on their dining room wall that said something about human rights, which he wanted to know more about. But she wanted to be left alone.

“What’s your favorite human right?” he asked, but he got no answer. When he repeated the question, she snapped at him, “You have the right to remain silent.” These kids today!

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The Night Tripper, R.I.P.

Pancho just called to tell me that Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John, has died, age 77. Truly one of the greats; he probably performed more different types of music than any of the top New Orleans musicians. (Which is saying something.) I had one of my more interesting backstage experiences with him when he toured for his most popular album, In the Right Place. While I interviewed Mac before his show at the Harrisburg Area Community College, as the sun went down outside, his make-up people were busy draping him with beads and feathers, applying glitter, and adding a skull or two. I was listening to what he was saying more than watching them, and suddenly, when I looked up, instead of the pleasant, regular-looking guy in a striped shirt I’d been talking to, I was staring right at ‘the Night Tripper.’ Gave me quite a jolt, but being able to hang out with Dr. John, however briefly, definitely was being in the right place.

p.s. I had a not-very-good camera with me, and took a few not-very-good photos – including one of someone tying on something around Mac’s ankles, and another of his cane. Interestingly, a light leak in the camera added some emphasis to the negatives – a little gris-gris, I suppose you might say.

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Spring Might (Finally) Be Sprung

Seen in the yard yesterday:

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Light My Fire?

Getting back to my Black Sabbath post from a few weeks ago – it also surprised me that I couldn’t remember ever hearing the name of the group’s drummer, Bill Ward, since I’ve always been one of those people who studies liner notes. Ward (who turns 71 at the beginning of May), apparently is doing all right at the moment, although like many rock musicians he went through serious struggles 40+ years ago with drugs and alcohol.

It couldn’t have helped that, as Ward’s entry in the Wikipedia notes, the band “would often [perform] harmful pranks on him.” Spray painting his body with gold paint when he was drunk and unconscious, for example – which any James Bond fan could tell you was a bad idea, and which meant that an ambulance had to be called. Or, more regularly, setting him on fire.

In Chapter 48 (“Ignition”) of his 2011 autobiography Iron Man, Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi writes, “I had set Bill Ward on fire before, but this time things got out of hand.” It started when, at a recording session, Iommi asked Ward if he could set him on fire, and the drummer replied, “Not just now, I’m busy.” Amazingly, a few hours later, Ward came back to Iommi, and said, “I’m going back to the hotel, so do you still want to set fire to me or what?”

“As Bill seemed keen on doing this,” Iommi writes, “I decided to make a bit of a production of it.” Splashing tape head cleaner over Ward, he lit it, and the drummer “went up like a bomb.” The reaction was so intense that “I thought he was joking, but he was actually ablaze… He ended up with third-degree burns to his legs.”

A situation like that might drive anyone to drink.

p.s. Iommi writes that he usually just set the end of Ward’s pointed beard on fire, not his whole body. “We called Bill ‘Nib,’ because with his beard his face looked like a pen nib.” The title of the Black Sabbath song N.I.B., it turns out, is not an acronym, just a reference to Ward’s beard.

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Dead Food

The other day, I came upon a list of Jell-O flavors that had been abandoned. It seems a good idea, to me at least, that the manufacturers did away with:

  • bubble gum
  • celery
  • coffee
  • cotton candy
  • Italian salad
  • maple syrup
  • mixed vegetable
  • plain, and
  • seasoned tomato Jell-O.

* * *

Back in May 2014, in my only visits there so far, I ended up at Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard twice in three weeks. The well-known ice cream makers also have given up on some specific flavors over the years, including:

  • Cow Power
  • Economic Crunch
  • Ethan Almond
  • Fossil Fuel
  • Oh Pear
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly
  • Turtle Soup
  • Urban Jumble, and
  • Vermonty Python.
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Sabbath Colors

When I started playing music in bars, back at the end of the last century, it surprised me to learn that some of my favorite songs to perform turned out to be those I never had paid any attention to in the first place. A medley of AC/DC’s Back in Black/Highway to Hell, for example, or even better, Black Sabbath’s War Pigs. I didn’t even know what that one was called when John from the post office inserted it into a random jam we had going on; the next time I said we should play it, John pointed out that I wasn’t doing the cymbal part at the beginning correctly, and I had to admit I’d never heard the song before, except when we’d played it the first time.

The other day I was talking about my love for playing War Pigs, 50 years after the song appeared, and it occurred to me that there must be other colors of sabbaths, not just black. Questions like this are exactly why the Internet has been invented, and it wasn’t hard to find Pink Sabbath – a frenetic 2009 song by the Scottish band Dananananaykroyd (named for some reason in honor of the comedy legend), as well as a California female band that calls itself a ‘siren folk metal’ outfit. (Who haven’t updated their Facebook page for a few years.)

There’s also Brown Sabbath, the side project of an Austin-based band called Brownout, which itself is the side project of another band called Grupo Fantasma. If you’ve ever wanted to hear a 9-piece Latin funk horn band playing heavy metal songs like Iron Man, Seattle’s KEXP-FM has got you covered.

p.s. Black Sabbath’s Bill Ward definitely knows how the cymbal parts of War Pigs should be played. To see how much fun the song can be to perform, check out Ward on drums in Paris, 1970, especially starting around minutes 3:05 and 5:15.

p.p.s. The Internet being what it is, you also can find a short Pink Floyd/Black Sabbath medley on YouTube, from 2009, being played on the accordion by a guy named Steve, who – according to Google Translate – is entertaining the folks at a festival called the Sausage in Turija, Serbia.

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I Knew It!

I just finished reading The Soul of an Octopus (2015), and although it’s fair to say that I’m not as entranced with the brainy cephalopods as author Sy Montgomery, the book still was pretty interesting. Right at the start, on page 2, she said what I’ve long suspected: “Clams don’t even have brains.”

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