The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Some Bullets

  • My old Silvertone guitar came back from the repair shop (operated by Scooney's son, Rob), and it's in fine shape now. I still have to get new tuning machines for it; unfortunately I bought the wrong type, but Rob will install the new ones I've ordered when they come in. That's a pic of a Silvertone like mine at the bottom of the page.
  • We might get a little snow tomorrow and Saturday; that's what the weather people say anyway.
  • Bleh. I'm sick of politics. I hate to see the US military get cut, but dang it I'm glad the other sequester cuts are going to be made. These cuts are only a tiny fraction of government growth since 2007 but Obama and his cronies are acting like it's Armageddon. To mix a folk tale with a biblical allusion, if the sky does fall at some point in the next four years, Obama's warning about it (assuming he gives us one) will be ignored.
  • The Cumberland Post is coming up pretty fast on 100,000 page views. It's not a lot compared to some blogs but it's still very satisfying to me. I've discovered that some of my older posts continue to keep on attracting readers. My Audie Murphy Memorial Day tribute still leads, and I get quite a few hits on certain posts about Buick, Fiat, and other automobiles. Lately, I've had lots of readers interested in that old post about 16th avenue in Nashville. I think it's probably a result of the popularity of the new ABC TV show, Nashville. 
  • I'm trying to get a new mystery novel going and not having a lot of luck. Twenty pages in, I've hit a stone wall. This has happened before, but it's really bugging me this time.
  • Because I'm working on the novel, I won't be posting regularly. I'll still be reading my usual 3 or 4 blogs, and sometimes commenting. 
  • Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What's Wrong With You, Boy?

I used hear that sometimes when I was a teenager. And I remember how I felt and what I'd done (or mainly not done) to elicit those words.

What I felt was shame. "You big old lazy cow. Get your tail up and cut that grass. Take out that garbage. Paint that fence. What's wrong with you, boy?"

Yakety yak.

(play the music and keep readin')

Truth is, I didn't really want to do anything. Movement--except in a pickup game of basketball or sandlot baseball, or the occasional date--movement was the enemy. I had energy all right. Plenty. And my hormones were raging. I was angry, at least on the inside, but I didn't know what I was angry at. I wasn't a Rebel like the character James Dean played but I understood where he was coming from.

I didn't quite understand the anger and all the urges, or exactly where they were taking me, so I shut down. At least around my parents. I controlled all that turmoil by pulling the shades down. I sank down into the 3 L's: lethargy, languor, listlessness.

I guess I had the teen age White Boy Blues. When you're 15, 16, even 17, you're kind of in between. Not an adult and not an adolescent. You're out on the high wire that stretches between those two worlds. You're too far out to go back and moving forward is damn scary.

Many times out there in that No Man's Land, in that limbo, especially summertime when I was out of school, I just kinda lollygagged around, doin' nothing, sayin' nothin. Grunting when spoken to, talking only when necessary. I didn't sit, I sprawled. And I read. I read a lot. Science Fiction mainly. Escaping into some faraway world. And I watched a little TV.

But most of all, every night, I listened to my old Zenith.

The DJs were Gene Nobles, or John R, or Hoss Allen playing Rhythm and Blues stuff on clear channel, 50,000 watts powered WLAC. Maybe they were sellin' White Rose Petroleum Jelly (heh) or advertising special mail order deals at Ernie's Record Mart in Nashville, or Randy's Record Shop in "G-A-Double L-A-T-I-N. (I didn't know then that when I got older I would work in that town and see the old record shop most every day.)

They peddled stuff all right. But they also played music. The kind you couldn't hear anywhere else in the early '50s.

Rhythm and Blues.

I'm talking about these guys: Jimmy Reed, The Coasters, The Bill Black Combo, Little Esther Phillips, James Brown, Lavergne Baker, Chuck Berry, Jimmy Forest, The Dominoes, Ruth Brown, B. B. King, Lloyd Price, Jimmy Forrest, Bo Didley, Fats Domino, Little Walter, and lots more.

I didn't know it at the time, but the music was getting into this Southern White Boy's blood. Slipping on the sly around the edges of my already weakening Baptist barricades, it was finding its way into my still forming soul. I guess I liked it also because it reflected my inner confusion, my intestinal turmoil, my (heh) "teen angst."

There are quite a few songs that stick in my memory from that time, but one of them really stands out. Jmmy Reed's "Baby, What You Want Me to Do?" The guy in the song is going crazy. She's got him so messed up he doesn't know which way is up. Or down. This guy's brain is screwed up the way mine was back in those flattop days.

That muffled, repetitive, hammering rhythm on the bass strings in this thing knocks me out. And the harmonica, I really like the way it comes in on the break and at the end just kind of dies on out.

"Baby, What You Want Me to Do?" is the one song I heard played so many times on 'LAC that later when I was in junior college and got an old arch top guitar with the back half gone, I remembered it well enough to figure out how to replicate it on the bass strings.

Well, I finally got my ass up and got a job my junior and senior years. I was a curb boy at the old Eagle Cleaners on Dickerson Road. The angst ended. I worked hard. I made plans. I was going somewhere.

I left home and caught that "Night Train" myself (you know the one I'm talking about...the one that shakes, rattles and rolls, sounds like a saxaphone, seems slow, but moves like a rocket) and then I woke up one morning and found I was 72 years old.

Grad school, seminars, a rising tide of Freshman compositions, and early faculty meetings kinda distracted me and I lost my "blues" soul for awhile in my early 20s. But with Joyce's help and her love for music and a few other friends along the way, I eventually got it back.

As for that white boy teen angst stuff, I'm way past all that now. But old men still get the blues. And the music is always there.

Like that quote by Herbert Spencer on my side bar says...

"Music must rank as the highest of the fine arts--as the one which, more than any other, ministers to the human spirit."

I don't think Spencer was talkin 'bout Jimmy Reed or Jimmy Forrest, or the Coasters, but, hey, if he could've heard them when he was about 15, I bet they would've "ministered to his spirit," and his soul might have grown a little bit too. Mine did.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Give Me Sunshine

I been distracted by a couple of new projects and haven't blogged for about a week now. I'm not going to blog about this stuff now, but there's been a lot of bloggable crap going on, including these significantly important events and issues...

Cable News replayed the clip of Rubio sipping water more than 200 times yesterday.
(Doesn't this illustrate perfectly the idiocy of the media today?)

Obama's brilliant SOTU speech reinvigorates pre Clinton liberal spending approach.
(Yeah, let's try that again.)

The Christopher Dorner fan club is growing.
(I think I'm going to be sick.)

Sometimes the crap piles up so high that you wonder if the whole world is going crazy.

Thank goodness the sun is out in Tennessee today. I'm also thankful my friend Bob Bell (who's been in FL for the past couple of weeks) sent me a great video. It's only 5 or 6 minutes long, but it cheered me up. I hope you like it too.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Old Rain Songs

I know there's a big blizzard headed to New York and New England, and the Chicago Tribune says the Windy City will get five inches of snow tonight. Winter in Tennessee, however, usually means rain.

The last couple of days have been sunny, but, as I said, it's winter and it's Tennessee, so the rain is about an hour actually. From midnight till morning the cold rain will be falling.

Be patient with me now, I'm fixin' to ramble a bit.

That weather forecast started me thinking about rain songs and wondering how many of those water soaked lyrics have been written over the years. I'm not talking here about using the word "rain" in a line or two, I'm talking about rain all through the song, or a verse, or, at least, as a major motif or theme or image.

There have been lots of them. Many memorable ones. All of those on the list below except the last two popped into my head as I was writing. I suspect Goggling would turn up quite a few more. You who are reading this right now are probably thinking of a couple I didn't mention.

Singin' in the Rain
Hard Rain's Gonna Fall
In the Early Mornin' Rain
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
Who'll Stop the Rain?
Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head
Kentucky Rain
I Love a Rainy Night
Listen to the Rain
November Rain

Rain falls in Bluegrass Music too. Some of the truly classic bluegrass songs have used rain as a major theme.

This first song is my favorite country/bluegrass song. Really I suppose it's my favorite song period. "I Wonder Where You Are Tonight." It was written by the great Johnny Bond, but it's become a part of our family's history, part of my history.

I remember those Christmases in the '70s when Joyce's whole family (all six siblings and their kids) would come home to her parents' house. Her younger brother Mark was in his late teens and early 20s then and had learned to play the guitar. We practiced a couple of songs over and over and almost drove the other family members crazy. One of the songs was CCR's "Lodi" (for a future post) and the other was "I Wonder Where You Are Tonight." Mark and I would sing and sometimes Joyce would join it harmonizing. We had such great fun doing that. Great fun. Even though it was usually raining outside, we had a roaring fire and there was cake and pie and coffee. And music. Lots of music.

Mark's gone now, he passed away unexpectedly in 1999 in his forties. But I still remember those great times and our duets on "I Wonder Where You Are Tonight." If there is heaven and a Deity, especially One who digs old bluegrass songs, I know where Mark is tonight.

I enjoy "I Wonder Where You Are Tonight" so much I'm posting two versions of it. The first is in the true up tempo bluegrass style and it's sung by a great group called the Cluster Pluckers. They've been around since the early '80s, and three original members of the group are still playing: Margaret Bailey, Kris Ballinger, and Dale Ballinger. The video isn't dated, but I would guess late '80s - early '90s.

Like in most bluegrass songs, the fast tempo becomes an emotional counterpoint to the heartache. In this song the cold, slowly falling rain underscores the loneliness of the singer and reminds her of how cold hearted the bastard was who left her. He treated her mean but she can't get him our of her mind.

This time, the rain falls in the chorus and it's used as a metaphor for her ex's cold heart and even colder love. In the fast versions of this song, I love that split second between the last line of the verse and the beginning line of the chorus. This is a crude comparison, but if the musicians do it right (and the Cluster Pluckers do it mighty fine), the guitars and other instruments sound almost like an automatic hemi shifting into what we used to call "passing gear." Like I said, crude. But I hope you get the point. What I feel the music say at that precise point is, "listen up, this is about to get damn serious here."
The rain is cold and slowly falling
Upon my window pane tonight.
And though your love is even colder
I wonder where you are tonight.

Here's another great version of the song that I found while foraging on Youtube. It's by the great Johnny Rodriguez, who slows the song down and turns it into a ballad, complete with a verse in Spanish. This is from a Hee Haw show in '73.

Okay, last rain song coming up. If you like Bluegrass, you've heard of Rhonda Vincent. I believe this is one of her first recorded songs; it's "I'm Not Over You." The rain in the first verse is an intensifier, it adds to the speaker's heartache. The falling rain is compared to the tears she's crying and then becomes a storm of emotion which blows full force into the chorus.

Tonight the rain that's falling
only adds to my heartache
It runs quietly down my window
Like the tears upon my face
And each time the lightning flashes
And I hear the thunder roar
I'm reminded of the closing of the door
I'm not over you
the storm still rages
The waves of pain remind me
That we're through
I'm slowly drowninG
In a sea of endless heartbreak
I'm going under
'Cause I'm not over you

It's a little after midnight now and I just checked the weather radar. The big band of rain (no storms, thank goodness) stretches from Owensboro, Kentucky, down through Clarksville and Jackson, Tennessee, and is moving this way. Guess it's time to sign off now and climb in bed. Our bedroom is on the second floor and the ceiling angles up with the roof line so I can hear the muffled raindrops falling as I go to sleep. Night y'all.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The First Jaguar: Chief Inspector Alleyn's Splendid Mark IV Saloon

First, click on this youtube recording of "You're Breaking My Heart" by the Victor Sylvester orchestra. You can listen to this tune, which was first recorded in 1948, to put you in the proper historical mood as you read the rest of this piece

Joyce and I have been enjoying another English TV Detective series we found on Netflix, The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries. Though the setting is England in the postwar years, 1945-49, the series was produced and originally aired between 1990-1994 and consists of number one (the pilot episode) and 8 other episodes, all approximately 90 minutes in length. Netflix only has 6 (2-7) of the episodes.
The "Inspector Alleyn" series is based on the "Golden Age" detective novels of Ngaio Marsh; there were 32 of them, published between 1934 and 1982. All feature the gentleman detective Roderick Alleyn. Inspector Alleyn is a member of the gentry (his older brother is Sir George Alleyn), and is exceptionally well mannered and polite, although he is at times, quite capable of a blistering stare or a cutting remark.

The three episodes we've viewed so far have all been good fun because of (1) the excellent writing, (2) the superb acting of Patrick Malhide (Alleyn), William Simons ( Inspector Fox, Alleyn's loyal and effective assitant), and Belinda Lang (Agatha Troy, Alleyn's girlfriend) and, of course in my case at least, (3) Alleyn's personal car.

I've spent a couple of days googling around on the internet, comparing the details I noted while viewing the series with images of various British automobiles manufactured during the time frame of the series. I concluded that the Chief Inspector's personal car is a saloon (sedan) model offered by the SS company between 1935 and 1940, and again between 1945 and 1949. The SS company stopped production during WWII.
SS? What's that?

No. It wasn't the first Super Sport Chevy.

Nor was it a car manufactured by the German Schutzstaffel (SS).

It was built by the Swallow Sidecar company who had originally manufactured motorcycle sidecars. Also, the saloon model that year was called the SS Jaguar Saloon and featured a 2.5 liter engine. Wiki says,

The Swallow Sidecar Company was founded in 1922 by two motorcycle enthusiasts, William Lyons andWilliam Walmsley leading to SS Cars Ltd. In 1935 the SS Jaguar name first appeared on a 2.5-litre saloon,[8] sports models of which were the SS 90 and SS 100.

So, what we're talking about here is the first Jaguar.

And I do love Jaguars, remember? I owned a 2000 XK8 which I sold last year (sigh).
The company dropped the SS name after the war "to avoid the unfavorable connotations of the SS initials; in 1945 they began to use the model name Jaguar for the whole company. The company itself never designated the '45-49 Saloons as Jaguar Mark IVs, but the trade did. So, unofficially, they're sometimes called that...Mark IV Jaguar Saloons.

The body style was virtually unchanged during it's run, so the 1935 Saloon looks pretty much like the 1949 model. The SS company changed over from coachbuilt (wood based) construction to all steel in 1938. There were three engines, the 1.5 litre (a four cylinder), the 2.5 litre (a six), and the 3.5 litre (also a six). I'm not sure, but my guess is that the one used in the Alleyn TV series is a six; I'm basing that on the sound. Of course, the Foley artists who work on film and video can do wonders with motor sounds, so the sound on screen could be misleading.

The cars are very low slung and have rakish suicide doors. This is picture of a 1937 Saloon which looks very much like the one in the TV series, including the fender mounted spare. Believe me, the picture doesn't do it justice.
I've never seen one of these cars in the "flesh," but the videos and pictures don't lie about their low down, mean look. These cars are low, not tall at all, at least in comparison to other American sedans of the era; the top seems to be about chest high to an average size man, and when the actors open those handy suicide doors and move in to sit down in the car, they have to crouch quite a bit to make the maneuver.

The SS Jaguar 100, a four place, drop head coupe powered by the 2.5 or 3.5 litre engine was introduced in 1936. Wiki says this coupe is considered by many to be the finest looking automobile ever made. It's the ancestor of my old 2000 XK8 and the new 2013 XK.

Here's a 1948 Saloon model with the uncovered fender spare. This angle shows the car's sexy looking, curvaceous rear end.
That rear end reminded me a little of one of those fabulous '32 Ford three window coupes after it had been hot rodded and cutomized. Remember those beauties?
The rear end also reminded a little of this car, said to have a "bustle back" styled rear.
Those Cadillac Sevilles from the early '80s did okay at first (which suggests that the public liked the style) but poor engine choices and mechanical failures eventurally did them in.

The old Jag Saloon is a classic beauty with graceful lines and a purposeful stance. The silver one below shows that and sports the famous "leaper" hood ornament as well.

What is it about an old car like this that is so heartbreaking?
Is it simple nostalgia, a longing for the good things of the past that are gone? Is the sadness caused by knowing that people worked very hard on this machine, made it the best they knew how at the time, and now, except for a few remaining copies, it's gone and won't come back? Is it because the car's production dates remind us of the great struggle of WWII and the millions of hearts broken from separation and loss during its horror?

I don't know the answer. I just know that there's more than beauty--and there's a lot of that in this case--working on my emotions when I look at a car like this.

The Victor Sylvester orchestra has probably finished with its smooth rendition of "You're Breaking My Heart" by now.

Suppose we conclude our look at Chief Inspector Alleyn's beautiful SS Jaguar Saloon with a nice, walk around video. This was prepared by a proud present day owner of one of these splendid automobiles. Pay special attention to the clever and complete tool kit in the trunk. It's a fine luxurious touch that shows the careful attention the car's designers paid to each detail. It also reminds one that this is, indeed, a Jaguar, and even though its beauty is beyond question, a tool kit might come in handy.