Friday, January 25, 2013

The Devil's Picturebook no. 4 - Ace of Diamonds

Ace of Diamonds - important message, or a valuable gift

     When I first heard him play I just wanted it to stop - I hated it it, I didn't understand it, it seemed like an invasion. When I first met Craig Lieske we shared a practice space, for a while we shared drummers as well. Vaudeville would have our two hour beer soaked practice of songs with a heavy downbeat and structure, then our drummer and Craig would play this wacked out noise that I couldn't stand - it was disturbing my drunk. 
     Years later I managed the Flicker Theatre and Bar and Craig was a part of the experimental scene happening there. He often played or help organize shows there, some of the most adventurous music I have ever heard in Athens. Sometime between 1994 (when I first heard Craig play) and 2001 something changed in me - my ears and brain had opened to the idea of improv, the idea of going out to parts unknown and either failing or succeeding, didn't matter - that wasn't the point. The point was to try to find the magic stuff, and to go there bravely. Sometimes you catch lightning in a bottle, sometimes you flail blindly in the dark - that's the risk of trying to create something right before the audiences' eyes and ears. Craig taught me that. That was his valuable gift to me, and his important message to everyone who ever heard him play. Children play music, adults practice music. If you are lucky you learn to be a child again and open your ears and play and play and play.
     Rest in peace Craig, or in some atonal netherworld full of noise and feedback.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Devil's Picturebook no. 3 : Three of Hearts

Three of Hearts : be cautious, an impulsive decision threatens good ones

I found a Silvertone acoustic on craigslist for $10 bucks in south Georgia. I had been hunting for an old Sears Silvertone Acoustic for a while, and ten bucks is a steal. The picture was kinda fuzzy but I knew I had never seen one like this before, it looked like something Johny Cash would play - black with a double western style white pickguard. It was about two hours away and I had butterflies all the way there - anticipating the find of the year. I arrived and went into the house, the kid selling it said he had used it as decoration in his room. I took one look at it and knew I was on a fools errand. It was a guitar at one time, now it's painted with several coats of glossy black house paint, the pick guard is made of plywood and attached to the sunken top with caulk, the Silvertone logo is a taped on copy out of a magazine, it's got hand painted "pearl inlay" and the strings sit as much as an inch off the neck. It is not tuneable and barely playable. Written on the pick guard in squiggly cursive is "Cowboy". It was impulsive to drive two hours for a ten dollar "guitar" (the gas was at least $30) , but I determined then and there to at least make a song with it. So here's a short demo version of the song, it's called "Cowboy in Disguise".

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Devil's Picturebook no. 2 : Eight of Spades

Eight of Spades: be cautious, friends might turn out to be enemies

One of the unspoken tenets of the fundamentalist Christian church I grew up in is to trust no one who does not believe as you do. This not only includes the “worldly,” unbelieving people, but also Catholics, Mormons, Methodists, Episcopalians and anyone who does not share your point of view (which, in my church, was everyone). I don't know if it was ever explicitly said to distrust the “worldly” people, but we were taught to keep ourselves separate from them. In the mid 1970’s, there was a training course at my church to teach us how to share a tract called The Four Spiritual Laws. At the end of the training week, we were to go share The Four Spiritual Laws with three different “unsaved” people, the idea being to convert them to Christianity. This was going to be a challenge for me. First, it was a heavy assignment for a 14-year-old kid who was shy, confused, and, well, only 14-years-old. On top of that, I really didn't know many heathens—I went to church all the time and was taught not to be friends with the “worldly.” 

My first target was an elderly couple across the street. I regularly mowed their lawn, and I reasoned that, since I had never heard a "thank the Lord," seen a Bible on their coffee table, and the man smoked cigars, they 
must be unbelievers. I went over and the woman of the house agreed to listen to me nervously read the pamphlet while she looked on at various charts and graphs that explained her (rather unenviable) position in relation to God’s. When I finished, she was supportive and kindly patted me on the back, avoiding the praying part at the end by asking when I could cut the grass again, as it was growing fast that summer from all the rain.  She made me feel better in spite of my presumptuousness and the awkwardness of the situation. I left feeling oddly comforted by my “worldly” neighbor. 
The next person I approached was Matt, a classmate from school. He used swear words and never talked about church, so I figured his allegiances were obvious. One day, he came over to my house after school. I was still nervous but committed to try and sell The Four Spiritual Laws with more confidence than before. As I started, Matt interrupted to say he had a joke to tell me: 
Matt: Why does the Easter Bunny hide Easter eggs? 
Don: I don't know Matt, why?
Matt: He doesn't want anyone knowing he's been fucking the chickens! 
At first I was flabbergasted, then I laughed, then I felt guilty I laughed, since I had just heard a dirty joke and here I was about to try to save him! So, I asked Matt why he told me the joke. He responded that he thought I seemed nervous and wanted to “loosen things up a bit.” After that, I went through The Four Spiritual Laws half-heartedly, skipping the prayer at the end, since, after the bunny joke, it all rang a little false. Matt left with a smile and patted me on the back. Like before, my spiritual mission had ended with another “worldly” person comforting me! After my experiences with these two “worldly” individuals, I decided not to share The Four Spiritual Laws with a third.

Eight of Spades: enemies might turn out to be friends

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Devil's Picturebook no. 1 : Joker

Growing up, I went to church camp every summer. One year, my cabin mate Charlie brought a deck of playing cards his recently deceased grandfather had given him. Our preacher (who was also Camp Director) saw the cards sitting in Charlie's suitcase and confiscated them, saying he wanted to show us something special with them. I thought we were in for a great magic show: a lesson in one handed shuffling, palming or a quick demonstration of three-card Monte. Later that night, we all gathered in the main meeting hall. I knew it would be special because they had lit a fire in the large fireplace even though it was the middle of summer. The Camp Director came up front after the obligatory prayer, holding the cards with no table in sight. I knew that meant no three-card Monte or table tricks of any kind, so maybe it would be a “vanish” or some other manipulation routine.
The Camp Director then began his patter about how playing cards have a secret history that we have all forgotten about, or perhaps suppressed. Playing cards used to have nicknames like: “The Devil’s Bible” and ‘The Devil’s Picture Book.’ Divining from regular playing cards is an old practice. They were used for fortune-telling, and this is strictly forbidden in the Bible:
Deuteronomy 18:10-12   10 There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.  11 Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.  12 For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee.
 In 1423, a German preacher called them the invention of the devil and his hearers made a huge bonfire of cards in the town square. Our preacher then began peeling Charlie's grandpa's cards off one by one dramatically explaining the "secret" meaning behind each one. He started with the Joker: "The Joker represents Jesus, the son of God. Joker means fool. Therefore Jesus is being held up to ridicule. The joker is also said to be the offspring of the Jack and the mother of harlots." With a look of disgust he flicked the card into the fire (which, I admit, looked kinda cool and was the closest thing to a card trick he did that night). The Camp Director went on through the rest of Charlie's grandpa's deck, explaining with more and more fervor the evils of the pasteboard gateways to a life of sin and blasphemy. Charlie balled tears of grief, and I imagine he saw his grandpa in every single one of those cards, a memory of him burning with each flick into the fire.
That preacher was never Camp Director again after that year.
This year once a week I will pick a random card from my own deck of cards and share the meaning, or let it be an instigator to some random thought.  I want to let them create their own narrative—create, not destroy.