Potpourri, June 18th (2017 edition)

Image: circa 1952, JES + Dad[Latest in the apparently annual June 18 tradition, of commenting about whatever the heck I want to…]

I damned near forgot what day it was… or, at any rate, that I typically do a blog post for the occasion! (The photo at the right was taken circa 1952, and celebrates another occasion — Father’s Day in the US.) I’m in a much better frame of mind this year than last (with the multiple-hard-drive disaster I’d been grappling with for months).

To get this rolling, here’s today’s strangely apropos poem of the day, from The Writer’s Almanac:

There Comes the Strangest Moment

There comes the strangest moment in your life,
when everything you thought before breaks free—
what you relied upon, as ground-rule and as rite
looks upside down from how it used to be.

Skin’s gone pale, your brain is shedding cells;
you question every tenet you set down;
obedient thoughts have turned to infidels
and every verb desires to be a noun.

I want—my want. I love—my love. I’ll stay
with you. I thought transitions were the best,
but I want what’s here to never go away.
I’ll make my peace, my bed, and kiss this breast…

Your heart’s in retrograde. You simply have no choice.
Things people told you turn out to be true.
You have to hold that body, hear that voice.
You’d have sworn no one knew you more than you.

How many people thought you’d never change?
But here you have. It’s beautiful. It’s strange.

(Kate Light)

I’m so glad that although Garrison Keillor no longer hosts Prairie Home Companion, he’s maintained his curation of the Almanac. I know at some point he’ll have to surrender that, too, and I know that he himself does not personally compile each issue; he delegates that to his staff. But for now, he still does the audio reading of each daily entry. Here’s today’s, read in full:

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A Careful Decoding of the Obvious

'Now This One Shouldn't Be Too Hard to Locate!,' by user 'whatsthatpicture' on Flickr.com

[Image: “Now this one shouldn’t be too hard to locate!,” by Photos of the Past — a/k/a user “whatsthatpicture” — on Flickr.com. (Used here under a Creative Commons license; thank you!) This is one of a so-called “photo pool” by this Flickr user and others; the series consists of over 5,000 old photos taken in what are (obviously or less so) specific locations. The modern-day user then attempts to locate that setting in our own time frame, via Google Street View. If you read the comments at the Flickr page for this specific photo, you can see what the process is. In this case, it included, ultimately, transferring the image to the Google Street View “overlay” site called Historypin: there, a little slider gizmo at the top of the Street View lets you fade out the old photo, and fade it back in, in order to see how its subject fits into the latter-day scene.]

From whiskey river:

The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away, and think this to be normal, is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.

(Douglas Adams [source])

and:

Death Again

Let’s not get romantic or dismal about death.
Indeed it’s our most unique act along with birth.
We must think of it as cooking breakfast,
it’s that ordinary. Break two eggs into a bowl
or break a bowl into two eggs. Slip into a coffin
after the fluids have been drained, or better yet,
slide into the fire. Of course it’s a little hard
to accept your last kiss, your last drink,
your last meal about which the condemned
can be quite particular as if there could be
a cheeseburger sent by God. A few lovers
sweep by the inner eye, but it’s mostly a placid
lake at dawn, mist rising, a solitary loon
call, and staring into the still, opaque water.
We’ll know as children again all that we are
destined to know, that the water is cold
and deep, and the sun penetrates only so far.

(Jim Harrison [source])

and:

Cliché

My life is an open book. It lies here
on a glass tabletop, its pages shamelessly exposed,
outspread like a bird with hundreds of thin paper wings.

It is a biography, needless to say,
and I am reading and writing it simultaneously
in a language troublesome and private.
Every reader must be a translator with a thick lexicon.

No one has read the whole thing but me.
Most dip into the middle for a few paragraphs,
then move on to other shelves, other libraries.
Some have time only for the illustrations.

I love to feel the daily turning of the pages,
the sentences unwinding like string,
and when something really important happens,
I walk out to the edge of the page
and, always the student,
make an asterisk, a little star, in the margin.

(Billy Collins [source])

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A New Writing, Um… Adventure

'Deep Roots Magazine' logo (2017)The old-time followers of RAMH probably know about this already, via other means. But I thought casual visitors here might be interested in a new outlet for my writing about music: as of this week, I’ve been brought into the fold at Deep Roots Magazine.

As you might guess from the name of both the magazine’s current incarnation and its original one — The Bluegrass Special — the site focuses on music, particularly music with roots in American history: folk, country, bluegrass, blues, and all the many spin-off genres and sub-genres (folk rock, singer-songwriter, soul, and so on). But as you can see from even a cursory poking-about there, the Deep Roots mission is quite broad. Heck, you don’t even have to poke about; just read the sub-title/tagline: Roots Music & Meaningful Matters. If you’re really an old-timer, you may have noticed RAMH‘s own original tagline, back in 2008:

Original (2008) RAMH tagline, courtesy of the Internet Wayback Machine

That feels like a bit of happy serendipity to me now.

Yes, Deep Roots still covers roots music (etc.). However, it also regularly features classical music; jazz; gospel; children’s literature (reprinting content from old RAMH favorite Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast); and, well, evidently pretty much anything else that its editors might consider culturally meaningful. (Among its wide-ranging departments: the “Charlie Chaplin Moment” series; “Away Out There,” posts about astronomy; and “Talking Animals,” regular material offered by the host of the NPR show of the same name, about pets and other animals… You can see why the site appeals to me even without my actual participation in it.)

My own brief, at the moment anyhow, is to cover… well, to cover… um… well, I guess you could say to do pretty much a deeper, broader, meatier version of what I’ve been doing with music here. Yes, I’ll be continuing to pursue my primary genre of choice in recent years — roots, a/k/a (not entirely accurately) “Americana.” My first Deep Roots feature is a full-blown review of Sarah Beatty’s Bandit Queen album, released in February. (My RAMH post about the title song’s acoustic version appeared here, shortly before its official release date.)

  • My inaugural Deep Roots Magazine feature: “Songs From the Heart and the Headlines” (Sarah Beatty and Bandit Queen)
  • For even more details about Sarah Beatty and her music, also see the annotated version of my full email interview with Sarah Beatty, here at RAMH

And for the record, no: I do not intend to stop my coverage here of musical topics, especially in the Music Break and What’s In a Song categories (and their offshoots). And probably needless to add, I’ll also continue my weekly Friday series of posts “about” nothing at all specific (or at least nothing at all obvious), and continue to wander around and yes, poke about into other topics that catch my interest from time to time.

Thanks as always for visiting, reading, and listening with me. (And very special thanks to the Deep Roots team, especially editor David McGee and Julie (Jules) Danielson, who made the introductions!)

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ADMIN: “The New Look” (Not Really)

Apologies for the look of the site at the moment (a moment which will probably stretch to 24 hours or so). I promise — it will return to the normal layout (including fonts, colors, header image, and what-not).

Thanks for your patience!

 

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RAMH@8: To One Thing Constant Never… and a Playlist

Drawing by V. Spahn

[Image: cartoon by French cartoonist/illustrator/humorist V. Spahn. Roughly translated, I believe the caption says something on the order of, “Oh, shoot — I meant to get to the office early this morning!”]

Like many people who fired up blogs in the Great Flowering Era — i.e., pre-2009, say (the year when Facebook first turned a profit, or at least become “cash-flow positive“) — I imagined Running After My Hat would become a journal.

A journal, of course, is different from a diary. A diary celebrates or simply notes the everyday, with lesser or greater force depending on its import to the author; a journal discusses, considers, weighs, argues, and/or blathers on about topics which may or may not be based upon something mundane, but which may also spring, unbidden, from the author’s mind and soul. The latter more closely resembles my RAMH ideal at the outset.

I suppose the place has attained that ideal, over time, although the topics have come to differ from those I’d first imagined. I apparently have much less to say about writing, for example, than I once thought I would. (On the other hand, some of this is reticence by design.)

It’s also become, well, stranger than I’d planned — stranger in ways that I could not have anticipated. I didn’t know, in 2008, that the blogging wave was already cresting. For a while, I actually tried to post something new every single day; by the time RAMH attained what I think of as its own peak, though — 2011-13, maybe — the posting rate had already declined, roughly in proportion to the dwindling audience.

To be fair, the decline in my output was mirrored by the decline in my input — my reading of and participation in other blogs. It’s not as if RAMH were the only blog withering at the time. When Google dropped its “Google Reader” blog-aggregation product, in 2013, I believe the transformation of the Web from a writers-and-readers model to a social-chatter model was complete.

What’s left, then, has become more like a real journal: a place for talking to myself, as time and circumstance allow, about topics and in ways I don’t mind making public, but also about topics and in ways I can’t imagine sharing in Facebook’s short-attention-span theater. (RAMH posts do automatically trigger brief summary posts on Facebook, for anyone who might be interested, with links to the full RAMH entries.)

Although I haven’t done a statistical analysis, I bet ninety percent of the content here has come down to two things: posts in the “Ruminations” category — all of them whiskey river Fridays posts, I think — and posts related somehow to music. Translated, this means that my output here seldom exceeds two posts weekly: not a good mechanism for attracting and retaining loyal readers, but at the same time a good tool for “keeping my hand in.” I like ruminating, and I like learning (and talking at length) about some aspects of music, too: both pursuits which ultimately depend not on facts, but on the processing of facts. And I don’t mind processing them openly, for my own sake, even if for no one else’s.

All the other stuff I used to post about here has transitioned to That Other Place. That place has its uses, as I’ve learned. But there’s not much room there for running after one’s hat, any more than I’d find in a shopping mall at the holidays, or a crowded amphitheater.

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Wild Footprints

Screen capture: Google Street View of Galapogos tortoises

[Image: Screen capture from Google Street View, which now lets you “walk around” Galapagos with the giant tortoises. For more information, see the Google Maps LatLong blog.]

From whiskey river:

And Now it’s October

the golden hour of the clock of the year. Everything that can run
to fruit has already done so: round apples, oval plums, bottom-heavy
pears, black walnuts and hickory nuts annealed in their shells,
the woodchuck with his overcoat of fat. Flowers that were once bright
as a box of crayons are now seed heads and thistle down. All the feathery
grasses shine in the slanted light. It’s time to bring in the lawn chairs
and wind chimes, time to draw the drapes against the wind, time to hunker
down. Summer’s fruits are preserved in syrup, but nothing can stopper time.
No way to seal it in wax or amber; it slides though our hands like a rope
of silk. At night, the moon’s restless searchlight sweeps across the sky.

(Barbara Crooker [source])

and:

Our bodies are wild. The involuntary quick turn of the head at a shout, the vertigo at looking off a precipice, the heart-in-the-throat in a moment of danger, the catch of the breath, the quiet moments relaxing, staring, reflecting — all universal responses of this mammal body… The body does not require the intercession of some conscious intellect to make it breathe, to keep the heart beating. It is to a great extent self-regulating, it is a life of its own. The world is our consciousness, and it surrounds us. There are more things in the mind, in the imagination, than “you” can keep track of — thoughts, memories, images, angers, delights, rise unbidden. The depths of the mind, the unconscious, are our inner wilderness areas, and that is where a bobcat is right now. I do not mean personal bobcats in personal psyches, but the bobcat that roams from dream to dream. The conscious agenda-planning ego occupies a very tiny territory, a little cubicle somewhere near the gate, keeping track of some of what goes in and out (and sometimes making expansionistic plots), and the rest takes care of itself. The body is, so to speak, in the mind. They are both wild.

(Gary Snyder [source])

and (italicized portion):

A Message from the Wanderer

Today outside your prison I stand
and rattle my walking stick: Prisoners, listen;
you have relatives outside. And there are
thousands of ways to escape.

Years ago I bent my skill to keep my
cell locked, had chains smuggled to me in pies,
and shouted my plans to jailers;
but always new plans occurred to me,
or the new heavy locks bent hinges off,
or some stupid jailer would forget
and leave the keys.

Inside, I dreamed of constellations—
those feeding creatures outlined by stars,
their skeletons a darkness between jewels,
heroes that exist only where they are not.

Thus freedom always came nibbling my thought,
just as—often, in light, on the open hills—
you can pass an antelope and not know
and look back, and then—even before you see—
there is something wrong about the grass.
And then you see.

That’s the way everything in the world is waiting.

Now—these few more words, and then I’m
gone: Tell everyone just to remember
their names, and remind others, later, when we
find each other. Tell the little ones
to cry and then go to sleep, curled up
where they can. And if any of us get lost,
if any of us cannot come all the way—
remember: there will come a time when
all we have said and all we have hoped
will be all right.

There will be that form in the grass.

(William Stafford [source])

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“New” Computer?

mint1702_postinstall_smOkay, not really. It certainly feels that way, though: I just replaced the operating system I use for “everyday” purposes with a new one: good-bye, Ubuntu 12.04 (Linux), and hello Mint 17.2 (also Linux).

I spent about four hours this morning laying the groundwork, which mostly involved researching the problems I might expect to encounter (and how to avoid or recover from them), doing backups, and so on. In the event, though, the installation process itself took about a half-hour to run — during only a few minutes of which I actually had to be hands-on involved.

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ADMIN: Testing a New Music Player (with Big Daddy’s “Sgt. Pepper” Album)

Big Daddy: 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'For reasons both technical and “political” (dueling Web software standards), I have discovered, the old familiar audio-player thingumabob I’ve been using here for seven years will no longer work in the latest version of the Firefox Web browser. This isn’t a fatal problem, obviously; I can just tell site visitors, “If you want to listen to this music, please use a browser other than Firefox.” Not a particularly elegant solution, though, is it?

Unfortunately, the main browser I’ve been using for a couple years now has been — you guessed it — Firefox. Fortunately, I discovered the audio-player problem while working on my first “real” post in the new design. Unfortunately, of course, I’ve now got seven years’ musical selections effectively unlistenable, on a going-forward basis…

Le sigh.

I’ve looked around for a plugin which my WordPress-based site might use, without being too, y’know, weird. (I don’t care about flashy graphics, and I don’t really want an ultra-compact player which sits up in a tiny corner of the window, and so on, and so on.)

I’m going to use this post to try it out.

The list below includes a few selections from an album called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, by the group known (at the time) simply as Big Daddy. I’ve mentioned Big Daddy a few times here at RAMH, most notably this early post. For their Sgt Pepper’s project, they refashioned the Beatles’s entire original album as if they’d been recorded in the styles of various 1950s-era rock-n-roll and other popular performers. You will recognize some of those names, perhaps; even if not, the songs rather speak for themselves.

I won’t explain how the various audio-player controls work at this time, but trust you’ll be able to figure them out for yourself. If you DO encounter problems, please let me know in the comments.

(This music player should also scale smoothly in size, depending on the device you’re reading this post from.)

Thank you!

'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' (selections) (Big Daddy)

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Potpourri, June 18th (2015 edition)

[This year’s Potpourri, I reckon, will be shorter than its predecessors. I’ve got just as much I could post about, and of course today’s the only day I can post a Potpourri entry, but The World Is Too Much With Me this time around. So I’ll just write, off and on, and hit the WordPress Publish button when the clock runs out.]

Apropos of nothing: I am really feeling anti-technology at the moment. Practically every program I need to use every day seems to be broken, and — at least on my work PC — some mysterious force prevents me from making the changes I need to make in order to get some of them running smoothly. Symptom: the error message which pops up informing me that I need permission from [username] to make the change (a simple file rename). Why is this a problem? Because I am signed in as [username].

If my PC here were trying to serve me donuts right now, I’d be walking away from the counter in disgust, shaking my head.

On the other hand: My recent adventures in site redesign have reminded me of both (a) the pleasure of getting my hands into the guts of a technical problem, and (b) the satisfaction of knowing that I (alone among the people I know really well, at least in real life) can solve said problem.

Oh, no no no — I’m not even close to done with this yet. Still, it’s good to feel (rightly or wrongly) that I can still do what I have been trained and have learned to do.

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ADMIN: Banging of Hammers, Whining of Power Tools

I’m going to have to change the look-and-feel of Running After My Hat sooner, rather than later.

The reasons are complicated, for the most part. The simplest of them all: I was going to change it anyway, sometime by the end of the summer. Events have conspired to push that deadline way up.

As I did the last time I changed themes*, in 2011, I’ll be insulating the blog per se from its test version. So you won’t notice a lot going on here right away — and when the changeover is “ready” (such as it is), I’ll provide a little advance notice.

If by some chance you’re really fired up to see the new look in progress, your best bet would be to visit http://themetest.johnesimpson.com/. Understand, though, that you’ll find quite a bit of chaos there over the short run.

___________________

* Technically, “the last time I changed themes” was just a week or two ago — a change I was backed into by the suddenly non-functioning comment feature. The current theme is the one my real four-year-old one was based on.

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