Stand Up Bass As A Metaphor For Life In The 21st Century

We’re all in a band of one sort or another, but some of the band members have it a little tougher than others.  Consider the facts:

      Say you’re a double bass player in a jazz quintet.  You get to carry the biggest, most awkward instrument with you on the bus.  Ever try to get an expensive, fragile instrument made of thin, carefully shaped wood onto a bus?  The keyboard player, trumpet player, saxophone player and guitar player have stored their axes in the overhead storage, and are now seated comfortably at the window, eating ice cream and thinking how glad they are that they are not you.  Life seems like that sometimes.

      When you set up for the session, you are always, that’s right, always, in the back.  Why?  Well, because you are the bass player, that’s why. Life seems like that sometimes.

      Every other instrument is shinier than yours.  Trumpet, sax, drums, even the keyboard at least has a contrast of black and white.  Yours is made of wood, top to bottom.  Nice wood, of course.  Classy and classic.  But no one cares about classy and classic.  People like shiny and flashy. Silver trumpets, golden saxophones. Life seems like that sometimes.

      You practice as much, play as well, and work as hard as the others, but… you can barely be heard.  Your thump, bump, buh buh buh thump, gets lost underneath the crash of those symbols, the toot of trumpet, the squeal of the sax.  Your part is just as important, just as difficult, but is often unnoticed. Life seems like that sometimes.

      Even when you take a solo, and it’s your turn to shine, you don’t get any respect.  The other band members, if they’re sympathetic, have to lean in to hear you.  The audience is generally checking their email, or thinking about their 401k, or weighing the benefits of switching from a volumizing shampoo to a combination shampoo/ conditioner.  They’re all looking at you, sort of, but they aren’t listening. Life seems like that sometimes.

      Can the average person name any famous guitar players?  Sure.  Famous trumpet players?  Oh, half a dozen off without straining the brain.  Keyboard players?  Drummers?   Easy.

Can you name a famous stand up bass player?  Charles Mingus is as close as I can come.  And fame…? Not so much.

Mingus doing his thing

There is a lesson in here somewhere, connected to the old saying, “If you want to be seen, stand up.  If you want to be heard speak up.  If you want to be appreciated, don’t play the stand-up bass.”

Life is just like that.


The Dark Side of Texting

I saw a video recently of a young woman texting while walking along a quiet street and BOOM!  She walked into a pole.  Embarrassing, painful and tragic.

I know for a fact there have been many other texting calamities.

  •       While a man in Perth, Australia was texting his chiropodist about his plantar warts, someone tied his kangaroo down, sport. 
  •       An unemployed HVAC technician in Cincinnati was texting his uncle in Altoona, and suddenly gasoline prices went up 43%. 
  •       Minnie was texting Mickey about an anger management program for Donald, and suddenly, Pluto was no longer a planet.  BOOM!
  •       While five was busy texting six, seven ate nine. 
  •       Tony Bennett was texting his agent from the airport, and accidentally left his heart in San Francisco.


All of which raises some very weighty historical questions:

What really happened to the dinosaurs? Was texting involved?

Did Moses really receive two heavy, cumbersome, awkward, difficult-to-carry-down-a-mountain stone tablets, or did god just text him the Ten Commandments?

And how about those unicorns?  Did Noah forget them because he was busy texting the National Weather Service to find out when the rain would stop?

Was Nero really fiddling while Rome burned?  Or was that just a euphemism?

I have done hours of deep research on Wikipedia and I am convinced the answer to all of these questions is a qualified maybe.

And doesn’t that make you just a little nervous?


 I’m listening to a song by John Prine while writing this, and he has a line in a song that goes;

      In a former life on a motel chair

      I was Charlie Parker’s teddy bear

I have wondered about that line before because sometimes, when I am steeped in weltschmerz, I too think that in a former life I was Charlie Parker’s teddy bear.  I always thought it would be a nice life.  Charlie Parker, for those who don’t know, was a saxophone player from the 40’s and 50’s who, along with Dizzy Gillespie, turned music on its metaphorical ear.  Bebop took jazz, and improvisational music in general, to a whole different level.  Charlie, or ‘Yardbird’ or just ‘Bird’, was nothing short of a master.  He played in jazz clubs, mostly in New York, and young, hipster, intellectuals would come and just stare at him slack -jawed.  Then, he would shoot up some heroine and go back to his hotel room.

Bird sans teddy bear

Sad to say, like a lot of creative people, and like a lot of jazz musicians in the 50’s, Charlie was a junkie.  His addiction eventually killed him (for a great movie about all of this, check out “Bird”, directed by Clint Eastwood.)

But, just think about being the teddy bear of the best jazz musician in New York in 1949, adored and lionized all along 52nd Street, living in a swanky Hotel with a chair to call your own.  Sweet.

Is that what John Prine meant?  Was he referring to a stuffed animal sitting in a channel back waiting calmly until this strung out musician staggers into the room?  On the street below, cars have running boards, Harry Truman is president, men wear hats, South Pacific is playing on Broadway, Russia is developing an atomic bomb, people are beginning the long process of putting World War II, and its death toll of fifty million, in the rear view mirror.

Naughty, gaudy, haughty, bawdy, 42nd Street

And here he is, a stuffed bear sitting in a chair next to a stoned sax player in a motel room, while all of this is going on just a few floors below.  What a life.

Assuming of course, that this is what John meant by those two lines.  I’m sure they can’t just be fillers, or throwaways, or fluff.  Nah.

Hey, John Prine, if you read this, let me know, okay?

John Prine in his prime

The Beginning (I wish) Of A Trend

In this age of word processors, laser printers, blogs, tweets and high-priced book contracts, everyone, yes everyone, has become a writer.  Book publishers, magazines, and agents have been swamped with proposals, poems, query letters, short stories and novel outlines.  After an extensive search involving satellite photography, a team of former CIA operatives, cheap cameras and furtive cash transactions, Second Career Magazine has discovered a man who does not consider himself an undiscovered writer.  SCM presents this exclusive interview with F. Ernest Updike, a small appliance repairman in Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi.
SCM:  Mr. Updike, when did you first realize that you didn’t want to be a writer?
Updike: Oh, I think I always didn’t have an interest in literature.  My mom, Elizabeth Barrett Updike, used to read to me, but I would always stand on my head and shriek at a pitch and decibel level that would convince local animals that an earthquake was imminent.
SCM: Even then you knew.
Updike: Apparently so.
SCM: This is a question that all non-writers dread, but where do you not find your ideas?
Updike:  I’ve never had a problem not finding ideas. Then, of course, there’s always the difficulty of separating the good ideas that you don’t have from the bad ideas that you don’t have.  It’s a never-ending process.
SCM: Do you have any rituals that you follow when you don’t write?  To not get you started or not keep you going?
Updike:  Well, sure.  I always don’t write at the same time of day for exactly two hours.  I don’t always not write something worthwhile during those two hours, but if something doesn’t come to me, I know I’ll be ready for it.
SCM: Do you not use a word processor or a computer?
Updike:  Yes, usually I don’t.  Technology really has simplified the process of not writing.
SCM:  What kind of writing do you not enjoy most?  Poetry?  Non-fiction?
Updike:  I think it’s important to not write all different types.  Not writing poetry doesn’t supply me with a sense of rhythm and levels of meaning, and not writing fiction gives me the opportunity to not exercise my narrative and characterization skills.  I like not doing it all.
SCM:  Do you have any advice that would help our budding non-writers with plot development?
Updike:  I try to follow Faulkner’s advice.  I just try to not develop interesting characters, and then spend the rest of the book simply not following them around.
SCM:  Mr. Updike, this has been most informative, and I would like to finish our interview with one last question.  If you spend so much time not writing, how do you know when you’re done?
Updike:  That’s easy.  The editors of this magazine have limited this piece to five hundred words.  So, actually, I’m finished just about…. er, um, now.


I complained about my writer’s cramp until I got a new pen.

I complained about my new pen until I got a word processor.

I complained about my word processor until I got a computer with word prediction .

I complained about my computer with word prediction until I got a smart phone with email and speech recognition.

I complained about my smart phone with email and speech recognition until I got a robot with quasi-human emotion that  could speak seven languages and sing the greatest hits of Tony Bennett in all seven of them.

I complained about my robot with quasi-human emotion that could speak seven languages and sing the greatest hits of Tony Bennett in all seven of them until he grabbed me by the throat and threw me out a second story window.

 I am now encased in a plaster cast from my nose to my toes and so I don’t complain anymore.  Much.