While his guitar gently weeps (and sings, and howls, and...)

>> Thursday, April 21, 2016

He steps out front about three minutes and twenty-five seconds in, and his guitar doesn't just gently weep, it cries, it howls, it wails, it stutters and it sings.  Dhani Harrison, himself the child of one of the rock gods who once made the Earth tremble, looks like a three-year-old watching a magician make a coin slide out of his ear the first time.  Prince hammers and slides and bends, effortlessly trills off a firecracker chain of fractioned notes and slides his hand down the Fender's neck like its greased.  And the wrecking crew of Hall of Fame inductees and pop legends up there with him might as well not be there at all, he just blows them right off the stage.

It isn't his number, of course.  It's a little challenging finding Prince tunes on YouTube because he was skeptical of the Internet; he filed a lot of DMCA takedowns, and then he'd go on a tech binge and relent and try to fit in with the new world order of online musical distribution, and then he'd relapse and send out a slew of takedowns.  Didn't make a lot of friends doing that, but it was his right to be prickly and controlling.

That control, in fact, was what made him a brilliant guitarist and songwriter.  And the guy, he was brilliant.  Prince was just utterly amazing when he was firing on all cylinders and still interesting even when he wasn't.  I'm not sure he ever quite lived up to the monster run he had from 1981's Controversy through Sign O' The Times (1987), a run that included 1999 (1982), Purple Rain (1984), and the often-overlooked gems Around the World In A Day (1985) and Parade (1986).  It may be that not even a genius could have kept up that kind of home-run record, or maybe he got derailed a bit during his infamous and very public beef with his label, Warner Bros., in the mid-'90s.

He was an eccentric, to be sure, and prickly, to be surer; but that epic fight with WB left a lot of people with the wrong impression.  It was commonly misperceived, probably because it was commonly misrepresented in the press, as a personal meltdown.  "Wow, is Prince nutty, he says he doesn't want to be called 'Prince' anymore, he wants to be known by an unpronounceable symbol!  And he shaved the word 'SLAVE' into his sideburns, is that wacky, or what?"  Easy for the press to dismiss, I suppose, in light of Prince's gender-bending costumes and makeup, which were less a matter of drag a la Bowie or The NY Dolls and more a matter of imagining we lived in a world where sexuality and gender were solved problems.  Of course the "Artist Formerly Known As Prince" business was a brilliant bit of publicly trolling Warner, trying to seize back control of his catalogue and career by making himself damned-near impossible to market even while he was still recording earworms and generating extraordinary publicity; the "SLAVE" was a more personal and (ironically) subtle-yet- (paradoxically) hammer-fisted statement; when he was a teenager and a nobody, he'd gotten himself stuck into a bit of a suboptimal recording contract, and the loopy shenanigans were part of a twisty and often-clever escape act.  And I believe--I'd have to relearn the details, but I think--it ultimately worked, he got the label to cave.  Of course, by the time they did, labels were facing the extinction-level-event of the Napster Impact and its global aftermath, a bit of off-timing (no wonder he didn't trust the Internet).

He was one-of-a-kind, anyway.  One of the last true originals, probably.   A synthesis of James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Sly Stone, and David Bowie, along with undiscovered elements that appear on the periodic table in boxes marked with question marks and unpronounceable icons, and that scientists have failed to reproduce in lab experiment after lab experiment.  Apparently capable of playing any instrument he set his hands upon.  An extraordinary lyricist, and don't get distracted by the playful (or pretentious) substitutions of letters and numbers for words ("Nothing Compares 2 U," a Prince-penned song made famous by Sinead O'Connor, may have a deceptively childish title, but the song, an utterly wrenching flaying of an abandoned and lost heart, is anything but).

And now he's gone, another artist lost in a year that's been cruel so far.  Not just the quantity of artists, which is inevitable as we all grow older and pass into history, but the quality.  Prince Rogers Nelson, June 7, 1958 to April 21, 2016.  A few years shy of his 60th birthday.  Someday, some kid is going to hit play on whatever it is they listen to music on (the way things are going, hell, it could be a good ol' vinyl platter), and not believe that this guy walked the Earth.  Is going to wonder how he did it.  Is going to pick up a guitar and blow his friends away by learning to be half as good.  Some day, hell, some kid is going to come along and be better, and he's going to tell every music journalist from pole to antipode he learned to play listening to Purple Rain over and over and over again, a bit of "When Doves Cry" here and a snag of the title track there.

Don't rest in peace, Purple One: may the ghost of your eminence imbue the fingertips of a hundred thousand thousand kids with an uneasy longing that can only be eased with calluses.  May your spirit flow through our speakers and headphones, stay with us for a century so that generations of rock and roll prophets can study your secrets and keep you alive in hearts and hearts again.



An open letter to My Friend, Engr. Thomas Kune

>> Friday, April 15, 2016

Oil License Mandate For You My Friend‏
Engr. Thomas Kune (info@viola-online.de)

7:58 AM
From:     Engr. Thomas Kune (info@viola-online.de)

Sent:    Fri 4/15/16 7:58 AM


Hello Friend,

My name is Engr. Thomas Kune, I work with the Triumph Oil & Gas
Company of Madagascar also known as T-OIL. I will officially guide you
on how to obtain a crude oil sales license with T-OIL. This crude oil
sales license gives the beneficiary the mandate to sell T-OIL ALBA
crude oil to any part of the world and the license attracts a host
commission of $3 per barrel sold.

This means that T-OIL will be paying you a total commission of $3 per
each barrel sold under your license as the license operator. This
crude oil sales license has a capacity of one million barrels of crude
oil per month, this means that at the end of every sales transaction
monthly, you are entitled to receive a total commission of $3MUSD from

I will give you details on how this works as soon as I confirm your

We shall proceed as soon as I hear from you.

Dear Engineer Kune,

Hello, friend.  I hope that this letter finds you well and in good spirits, and that the weather in Madagascar is good.  I have to make a confession: I always find it a bit weird to write to you, as I always sort of imagine you are a talking lion or lemur or some other kind of animal (not necessarily one starting with the letter "L," of course), since the main exposure people in my part of the world have to your country is through a delightful series of movies about zoo animals.

But probably you are a human, in which case I wonder if you work for a lion or lemur or giraffe.  Or maybe that's a foolish question, I don't know.

Anyway, I wanted to write to you and express my concerns with how our venture is going so far, and seek your advice regarding some minor inconveniences and issues I have been having.

As you probably know, things started well enough.  I applied for the license as you encouraged me to, and my first shipment of oil arrived the following week.  The deliveryman was extremely courteous, polite, and helpful, and I have no complaints at all.  In fact, I'm extremely grateful that he helped me get the twenty 55-gallon drums I'd signed for into my garage after I moved the car out, which I imagine isn't exactly part of his usual job description.

So far, so good!  Alas, I do not want to be a fount of negativity, but things have not proceeded so smoothly since.

I assumed, for what I think are obvious reasons, that the oil would practically sell itself.  It is, after all, a precious international commodity currently selling for more than forty dollars a barrel as of this writing.  I figured, not unreasonably, I don't think, that if I went up and down the street and offered barrels for, say, five or maybe even ten dollars under the current international market price, I could still make a sizable commission, you could make a swell profit, and we would all be happy.  It even seemed to me that I would probably be able to sub-market the oil, letting some of my most-trusted friends in for a share of their commissions, relying on the same model used by such famous and highly profitable enterprises like Amway and the Church of Scientology.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I wheeled a fifty-five gallon barrel of oil up to my neighbor Bob's house, and he was completely uninterested in purchasing it!

As soon as he opened his door, Bob greeted me the way he usually does, "Kids weren't in your yard and I don't want to hear about it."  This is a friendly joke he and I have, an "in-joke," if you will.  Also, I would like to add that I'm sort of transcribing what he said for clarity: for instance, he didn't say "weren't," he said, "warnt," like a common hick imbecile, and "an'Idonwannaherboutidt," instead of "and I don't want to hear about it."  But he's a good guy, even if he sounds like he repeated the third grade a lot before he turned eighteen.

"That's not why I'm here, neighbor," I said, "and anyway if I find their bikes on my property again, I'm giving them away to the first hobos I see."  This, again, being a total joke between us, since we haven't had a hobo problem in our neighborhood since CSX stopped using the track back behind the woods four years ago.

"No sir," I went on, "I'm simply here to give you the opportunity of a lifetime!"  I didn't mean that I was going to offer Bob the chance to be a business partner, since he's the reason I chain my gas grill to the back porch, but I did want to sell him a barrel of oil, and he was first on my list because I considered him a viable sales candidate, or what my grandpa used to call "an obvious sucker," which was a technical carnie term grandpa learned when he was with Sterling and Schnarq's Traveling Revue.  It's not meant in a derogatory way, it's just what they call a "term of art."

Anyway, Bob showed what a viable sales candidate he is by cutting right to the chase and saying, "I'm not buying your cookies and what the hell is that thing on my porch?"

I should pause and explain that Bob is always high on my list when Girl Scout Cookies go on sale and that I had, with some difficulty because it didn't want to stay on the hand truck, brought a sample drum of oil up onto his porch so that he could see I wasn't making anything up.  (The last time I came over to sell him Girl Scout Cookies, Bob seemed suspicious about me not having any kids and also that the Thin Mints box I was selling only had one sleeve of cookies in it.  Come to think of it, he may be a less viable sales candidate than I pegged him for.)

Well, I went into my spiel.  Explained how crude oil was a great commodity, internationally sought after, wars fought over it, nations toppled by coups, how it was important for automobiles and plastics, how it could be used as a safe substitute for vegetable oil in "romantic time" and some Chinese dishes, the whole nine yards.  His eyes were glazing over, which I took as a good sign and so I wrapped up my pitch with the advice that he could, if he acted now, have this barrel of crude oil right here (I was pointing to the one I wheeled up onto his porch) for the perfectly reasonable price of $37.50 (this was when it was going about $38 on the international market; I figured I wouldn't start out with too big a discount).

"What the hell am I going to do with a barrel of crude oil?" he asked me.

"Well," I said, prepared for exactly that question.

"Aren't you supposed to process it at a refinery or something before it's usable?" he asked.

"So, going back to your last question," I replied, "as I said, there are many things you can do with this barrel of oil.  For instance--"

"That thing is leaking all over the place!  How much oil is in that thing?" he said.

You can see, perhaps, that Bob has all the etiquette you'd expect of a man whose mastery of birth control and basic good manners results in having three drooling beast-progeny who are incapable of keeping their games of tag and kick-the-can or whatever-they-do-these-days out of a man's yard even after he's threatened them with an air-pistol (you'd think a sense of basic self preservation would be the minimal level of intelligence for motile organisms, but apparently not).

"It's a standard fifty-five gallon drum," I said, "now, going back to your first question: there are many things you can do with this barrel of oil.  As an example--"

Unable to contain his excitement at this great opportunity and lacking in all politesse, Bob interrupted me.  "Is that my hand truck?" he said.

"Fine," I responded, "this missed once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is your loss.  Thank you for you time."

"And patience," I added, ironically.

Of course, I didn't really mean it.  I don't just mean my quick rapier-wit of sarcasm there at the end, where I thanked him for being polite even though he wasn't polite at all and kept interrupting me and I'm not joking about shooting his children or giving away their goddamn bicycles next time.  I mean that I fully intended to come back and sell him a barrel of oil, probably at the going market rate, after I'd gone around the neighborhood and sold most of my other barrels and he'd had a chance to see how much opportunity he'd missed.  I might even, I figured, wait until the next shipment of oil came in to revisit my good friend and neighbor, so he could stew for a couple of weeks in the rich broth of missed opportunity.

Well, I'm afraid to say that my revenge didn't quite work out as planned.  I next went across the street to see Ms. Dudley.  She is a fine old lady, a retired school librarian, and as sweet and kindly as you can imagine.  For instance, some people would hold a grudge if you called the police to file a noise complaint against them, but Ms. Dudley almost never mentions it.  And I really think she's forgotten about the misunderstanding where her grandson's car was towed at Thanksgiving that year, or at least she's had the good grace and breeding (unlike Bob Mitsky) to pretend she doesn't know who called the city towing.  And I sort of regretted not going to see her first, frankly, because she has a wheelchair ramp from her driveway up to her front porch, which made it a lot easier to get the barrel of oil up to her front door.

"GOOD MORNING, MS. DUDLEY!" I shouted when she opened the door.  I believe she may be a little deaf, or at least that's what I've assumed from the volume she used to blast out those swing records at.

"Why are you shouting?" she asked me.

"I'd like to give you a once in a lifetime opportunity," I said.  "You know, in this day and age, there is no commodity as valuable as crude oil--not gold, not spices, not fine silks--"

"What have you brought up onto my porch?" she cried, even though in her wheelchair she was at about eye-level with the "C R U D E  O I L" that was stenciled on the side of the drum and was wearing her old lady glasses.

"Well, about that," I said, "this, you see, is a genuine fifty-five gallon drum of one hundred percent genuine Madagascar crude oil, and--"

"Is that Bob Mitsky-across-the-street's hand truck?" she interrupted me.  (Old people are allowed to do that, because their advanced age entitles them to repay decades of deference and respect with an utter lack of it.)  "He was looking for it the other week, wasn't he?"

Well, long story short (and this could, indeed, be much longer), she didn't buy the drum, even though I offered her a senior citizens' discount.  (I have to confess I may have queered the pitch by accidentally calling it a "senile citizens' discount," but I think I played it off pretty well by saying that I didn't actually think she was senile, it was just a discount for people who might be, because of their advancing decrepitude.)

And--here's the discouraging part--nobody else on the block bought a drum either.

Now, I would like to be absolutely clear about something: you and I are good.  I am not trying to get out of our arrangement, which I think is a viable option.  The fact that my efforts have yielded very little fruit doesn't mean too much to me: I consider myself a patient man, and my grandpa's lessons are something I've taken close to heart and have served me well.  "Eric," he said to me when I was a wee lad at his knee, "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again.  Unless you're on the trapeze, in which case you're probably pretty well fucked."

(I apologize for the coarse language, but grandpa was a frank and salty man, from his years working the circus and carnival circuit.  That's literally true re: the latter, since decades spent in the presence of roasted peanuts had left him with a cured look and an unforgettable tang of the sea about him.  This proved fortunate when he passed away and we buried him, as embalming expenses were completely unnecessary.  But I digress.)

Anyway, anyhow, I am willing to keep trying.  I have several other neighborhoods to canvas, plus the local gas stations.  I also feel the Internet is a promising avenue to follow; while my eBay auction has not garnered as much attention as I'd like, my Craigslist listing, "The Crude Man Is Ready To Keep You Lubed!" has garnered a lot of attention and I feel extremely optimistic about the leads it's generating.

No, the problem I'd like to address is our current shipping arrangement.  As we'd agreed, you've been shipping me twenty barrels of crude oil every week for the past seven weeks, which would be an excellent supply if my outgoing crude oil were keeping match as we'd hoped.  Instead, I am now in possession of 140 barrels of crude oil.

These drums, alas, are all about two feet in diameter and about three feet in height, while my garage is a one-car garage about 12 feet in width and 25 feet deep, with an eight-foot ceiling.  This means that I can only stack one barrel on top of another, and that the most barrels I can get in are six across and twelve deep if I want to be able to close the garage door, for a maximum garage crude oil barrel capacity of 144 barrels.  And I have to park my car in the driveway.  Where Bob's kids can get to it.

You, perhaps, being an engineer, see the problem?

I hope you will not take offense if I make the observation that some of these barrels have seen better days.  The very first day I was out trundling around the barrel that I tried to sell to Bob, Ms. Dudley, the Franklins, Tommy Smith and whatever his wife is called, the Boxers, Terri Habro, those people with the RV that never goes anywhere, Delores and Arthur Wanning, Dan Elbing, the lady who thinks it's still 1967, and the pot-smoking college kids renting Steve Banting's ranch-style, I was quite pleased at how strong I was getting over the course of the day until I slipped on an oil slick in front of the Wanning kid, Candace or Shandi or whatever it is, and realized it was less a matter of the barrel feeling lighter thanks to my day of lifting and pushing and more a matter of the barrel being lighter thanks to a leak in the bottom.

(Let me interject right here that I don't see this as being a sales problem so long as I'm scrupulous in maintaining in my pitch that the purchaser is buying a fifty-five gallon drum of oil, as opposed to fifty-five gallons of oil.  This is what my grandpa called "tailor the pitch so you don't get pinched."  Have I mentioned how wise grandpa was?)

Anyhoo, because of the condition of some of these barrels, I'm a bit concerned about having them piled up outside, where they can get more rust spots in the rain.  Not to mention that Bob Mitsky is a thief--he even took my hand truck, so God only knows what he'd do if he was tempted by the sight of a stack of fifty-five gallon drums in my driveway.  Even if I put them in the backyard, which is fenced-in, I fear his brats might see them over or through the fence while trespassing in my front yard again, and would report back to him and then where would I be?

No, I can fit four more barrels in my garage, and no more, and that's all there is to it.

So I would ask for one of two concessions to our agreement.  First, you could just send me four more barrels until I'm able to sell the ones I have, and suspend shipments until I can move them (by which I mean "sell," since moving them is currently difficult because of the hand truck issue alluded to earlier).  Or, second, you could just suspend shipments now, until I move the barrels I have (by which I still mean..., etc.).  Whichever is easier.  But I think you'll agree, expecting me to take on more barrels right now is a bit of a problem for both of us.

I do not mean to cancel or breach our existing agreement.  I am an honest man, and I'm not going to skedaddle in the middle of the night and leave you without a star attraction like a bunch of no-good conjoined twins.  No, I will take possession of back shipments as soon as my garage is a little cleared out.  If the Craigslist thing works out like I think it will, for example, you could send me sixty more barrels in three weeks and we'd be back to capacity.  I will sell these barrels, I promise.  I just need a little bit of space, literally and figuratively.  I know you'll understand.

Thank you.


R. Eric VanNewkirk
Standing on the Shoulders of Giant Midgets


I thought about using Bob's garage temporarily, but he changed the locks right after he stole the hand truck.  He's not a good neighbor at all.  Do you know, I think he may have even called the EPA?  Like he's got nothing to hide.


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