Friday, June 29, 2007

Trombone Trouble: The Final Chapter

"So, Craig, whatever happened to your $15 trombone?" you ask.

Well, first a word about that old trombone of mine.

You'd think that $15 wouldn't buy much of a trombone and you'd be right.

This trombone was actually low-grade scrap metal posing as a musical instrument. As far as I can determine, the Cavalier brand was sold through the Sears catalog. I haven't been able to pin down a date of manufacture, but my suspicion is that this might have been the third or fourth trombone ever made. Oh, hell, it was probably a prototype and a rejected prototype at that!

The metal plating was such that a really strong fortissimo blast would project a shower of silver-plating out of the bell. It was like watching the punchline to one of Rip Taylor's jokes!

Now, I can't really vouch for the tone of the instrument, as I am the only one I ever heard play it. The few times I tried to record my trombone-tooting with my old Wollensak T-1500, it sounded like an asthmatic humming through a kazoo.

A cheap kazoo.

The kind of kazoo that gives kazoos a bad name.

Also, during one of these recording sessions, I caught the historic moment when my brother stepped on the damned thing! Unhappily, the slide was not damaged, but this incident left some cracks in the "U" leading to the bell. The solution? A few winds of friction tape and the problem was solved!

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. But what happened to the trombone?" I imagine you asking. "Do you still have it?"

"Happily, no," I answer.

I managed to pass along the monkey's paw to the next generation of hapless trombone tormentor.

Pictured here is a child actor by the name of Robbie Rist. Perhaps you remember this John Denver look-alike from his role as "Cousin Oliver" during the death-rattle season of the Brady Bunch.

Well, I put an ad in the newspaper: "Student trombone, poor condition. $15."

A telephone call later, a man appeared at our front door with his blond, mushroom-topped son, the Rist-wannabe.

I showed them the trombone, resplendent with the electrical tape patch job.


Mr. Moneybags obviously was shopping price ahead of quality.

The son's name?


With the purchase of this instrument, the dorkification process was complete.

Ah, the circle of life...


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Trombone Trouble: Part 5 - Family Matters

As previously mentioned, a "band exchange program" was engineered between Kenmore West and some high school in Twekesbury, Mass.

Number one on the agenda was selling boxes of cookies to fund this expedition. I was assigned a crate of cardboard-flavored sandwich cookies to peddle.

This was "ye olde days" where the KIDS were supposed to do actual door-to-door selling. No sign-up sheets in Mommy's or Daddy's break-room at work. Pound the pavement, kiddo! Mach schnell or ve vill zend you to band camp to learn how to concentrate.

I pulled a few weekenders in this futile activity. I pushed these pathetic pastries on peers and professors alike. Relatives. Clergy. Strangers. Hey, somebody! Buy my cookies so I can go to that Heaven-on-Earth known as Tewkesbury! Please!
As Winter melted into whatever passes for Spring in Western New York, my Grandmother's health began to fail. She was ensconced in a hospital in Port Colburn, Ontario and we started taking trips there as often as possible.

We kids were kind of kept in the dark about the severity of Grandma's health issues, but when my Mother said, "She'll probably outlive us all" I had an inkling we were dealing with someone who wasn't going to get better.

The hospital put my Gran on a "death watch" the week before my band trip. We were all pretty stricken and it didn't seem like a good time for me to be out of town.

I went to my band teacher's office and told him the situation. Rather than hand in the parental permission slip, I gave him a note from my Mom explaining I wouldn't be going to Massachusetts with the rest of the band, owing to this grave family emergency.

"You still have to turn in the money from the cookies whether you go or not, you know!" he tenderly consoled me.

I didn't mention to anyone else what was going on. I quite frankly didn't think they'd notice one of their fourth trombonists was missing.

At the next band practice, French Horn prima donna, David Freitas turned to me and said, "You're not going on the band trip because your Grandmother's sick?!?!?" He said this with a mixture of sneering, disbelief and teen aged insensitivity.

So, Mr. Mac-fucking-Donald spilled the beans! And in a way so as to belittle my misguided priorities of putting a mortally ill family member ahead of BLAAAATING my trombone in the baked-bean state. (Notice I actually spelled out a curse word, here!)

Well, the band went on their precious trip. My Grandmother did, indeed, die. I went to the funeral (my first) and I cried.
Now, there are many more pain-in-the-ass band stories I could relate. (A clarient player was forced to apologise to the whole band for something that happened during the trip, for instance.) But I want to wrap this thing up soon. So I'll fast-forward a bit here...

The school year ended and I vowed to never sign up for band again.

"But, Craig, whatever happened to your trombone?" you ask...


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Trombone Trouble: Part 4 - Entering A World of Pain

Yes, what was I thinking?!?!?

Here's what I was thinking when I bought that $15 trombone: "It'll be different this time!"

Is that the losers' mantra, or what?

Things didn't start off so badly. Thanks to my ownership of a bass guitar, I had managed to wrangle my way into the Kenmore Junior High Jazz/Lab Band. The band-leader, Mr. Czyzrny (pronounced "CHER-nee") fixed me up with a trombone music book to help get me back up to speed and I spent some time re-acquainting myself with the various positions on the trombone's slide.

Then the spit hit the valve.

I graduated to tenth grade and moved on to Kenmore West High School. Like an idiot, I signed up to play in the school band (see mantra, above!)

Yep, I was back in the fourth chair BLAAAATing away and counting out pages of rests. But, the worst part was...
There were so many concentric circles of Hell surrounding this little tid-bit, I don't even know where to begin...

  • Forced participation in after-school Marching Band practice.
  • Forced attendance and performance at all home and away football games.
  • The jerky uniform, complete with white canvas sneakers (note the mud!)
  • Playing the trombone.
  • Playing the trombone while marching.
  • I hate sports.
  • I also hate being screamed at by a failed music major who happens to be standing on a step ladder.

Yep, this gig had nothing going for it, as far as young Master Craig was concerned.

About the only perk was that I got the feeling my parents were vaguely proud of me for finally participating in an extra-curricular school activity.

I somehow managed to limp through to the end of the football season. Whew!

Then it was announced there was going to be an exchange program with a High School Band from Tewkesbury, Massachusetts...


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Trombone Trouble: Part 3 - What Was I Thinking?

As mentioned in my last installment, I was able to jettison the trombone millstone when I entered seventh grade. Having fallen under the thrall of The Beatles, I had started to teach myself the guitar. I took a book out of the library and astonished myself by mastering a few rudimentary chords.

My progress was such that within a few years, I had an electric guitar and a bass guitar and I was playing in a garage band composed of neighborhood knuckleheads. I'm not saying we were very good, but we were enthusiastic.

Adding to this din was the set of drums my brother, Scott, acquired for Christmas.

Yep. I was ridin' high! I felt as if I could learn to play any stringed instrument and this idiotic notion paved the way for my downfall.

During a visit to "The String Shoppe" I noticed that they had a pretty beat-up, yet playable-looking banjo in stock for only $15. Wow! For fifteen dollars I could add another instrument to my arsenal.

"How hard could it be?" I reasoned, full of teen aged hubris. "I mean, those mutants on 'Hee Haw' play banjos all the time!"

My birthday was coming up, so I told my folks I wanted that banjo as my present that year.

Came the big day, I received a birthday card with $15 in it. Seems Grandpa Jones had gotten to ye olde string shoppe ahead of my parents and had scarfed up the object of my desire! With no rickety banjo to be had, my folks generously gave the full purchase price in cash.

"Aw, man," I groused. "Where am I gonna find another $15 banjo? Or a $15 anything, for that matter?"

The answer was quick in coming.

The Denton, Cotier and Daniels Music Store was closing out their giant Downtown warehouse. On a very snowy Presidents Day, we kids took a trip downtown with my Mother to check it out...

Amongst the piles of musical instruments and accessories was a case.

A very battered case.

A case with a $15 price tag on it.

A trombone case.

Inside the case was an ancient Cavalier trombone. It had a matte silver finish and it smelled musty. (The one pictured here could be its twin, except it appears to be a brassy color.)

The price was right, even if the instrument wasn't. Yep, I bought it.

You'd be amazed how much aggravation $15 could buy you back then!

The worst was yet to come...


Monday, June 25, 2007

Trombone Trouble: Part 2 - Grade School

In my previous post, I outlined how I had been "tricked" into being assigned a trombone in the fourth grade.

I had weekly "trombone lessons" from Mrs. Hall. This only goes to prove that old axiom, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." Mrs. Hall was not a trombonist. She couldn't show me how to play the danged thing. All she could do was sit there and tell me I wasn't doing it right.

Of course, I was also conscripted into the school orchestra. As low-man on the trombone totem pole, this mean playing third or fourth chair. My part of the score would consist of six measures of whole notes, 32 measures of rests and 4 more measures of whole notes at the end of the composition. Or to describe it another way:

(an eternity of silence)

Two big problems:

1. Since the trombone section never carries the melody, it was nigh impossible to know what I was supposed to be playing. Practicing this crap was an exercise in annoying, flatulent mooing.

2. Counting out 32 bars of rests was deadly. I always lost count and then I wouldn't know when to come in!

Here's how you're supposed to count rests for a piece of music in 4/4 time:


oops, I mean, "four-two-three-four"
Oh lord, where am I now???
I dragged through grades four, five and six with this stinkin' albatross around my neck.

My big break came in the seventh grade, when I started Junior High School. Somehow, I was able to convince everybody concerned that this trombone thing was a waste of time and was able to drop it.

I turned in my $5-a-year student rental horn and heaved a sigh of relief. I think the fact that I was learning to play guitar on my own (and actually making progress) was a mitigating factor on the home front.

But then...


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Trombone Trouble

Imagine that you're in line at the bank one day and a couple of people start making chit-chat with you.

It's a slow moving line, so in the course of exchanging banalities you cover a wide range of topics, e.g. the weather, kids today, the price of gas, pets, et cetera.

One thing leads to another and one of the chatterboxes asks, "If you could be any animal, which one would it be?"

"Oh, a horse, I guess," you answer.

"Ah, a horse," replies motor-mouth number two. "But if you couldn't be a horse, what would your second choice be?"

"Second choice?" you think to yourself. "Making a first choice wasn't stupid enough for these people?"

"Oh, I don't know," you reply after some deliberation. "A dolphin, I guess."

"A dolphin!" your new friends exclaim. "Yes! Excellent! Well the line's moving. It's been nice talking with you. Maybe our paths will cross again!"

"Not if I can help it," you reply under your breath while waving and smiling weakly.

Six months later, you're walking down the street, minding your own business, when a van pulls over and two hooded people emerge. You feel the dull thud of a lead pipe on the base of your skull and then all goes black as you are being dragged into the the van.

Several days later you awake, unsure of what has happened. As your eyes regain their focus you discover, to your horror, that your arms and legs have been amputated, a blow-hole has been drilled into your back and you're floating in a tank of water.

"What the..." you gasp, in between mouthfuls of salty water.

Looking up, you see the two people you vaguely remember from the conversation in the bank line glowering down at you from the rim of the enclosure.

"Well, you said you wanted to be a dolphin! Mwaaah Haaah Haaah!" The cry, in fiendish glee.

Now, afore ye conclude that I've just discovered the joys of smoking bowling-ball-sized rocks of crack, let me explain my little allegory.

Back in 1967, there was an assembly held in the "gymeteria" at Longfellow Elementary School which yours truly was compelled to attend.

The school's music teacher was there to give us third graders some sort of, I don't know, music test.

Without telling us the title, she played "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" on the piano and asked us to write down the name of the song.

She hit the lowest note on the piano keyboard and then the highest note on the keyboard. "Which one was higher, number one or number two?" she asked. We dutifully wrote down the answer.

Little did I realize the sinister turn this inquisition was about to take...

"If you could play any instrument in the orchestra, what would it be?" she asked, oh so nonchalantly.

"Huh. Well my Dad's a major Maynard Ferguson fan, so I'll write down 'trumpet,'" I reasoned.

"Now, what would your second choice be? Write that down as well," cooed the music instructor.

"Well, I guess a trombone is kinda like a trumpet," I reasoned, " so I'll put that down."

"Thank you, children. You may now hand in your answers and your teachers will take you back to your class rooms."


Well, time rolled along, idiotic music test or no idiotic music test. September of 1967 found me in Mrs. Lyng's fourth grade class at Washington Elementary School.

One day, early in the school year the intercom phone rang in the classroom. Frau Lynginheimer picked up the hand set and had a brief, hush conversation while the class read their Social Studies books.

"Craig," she rasped. "You're go go see Mrs. Hall in room 104."

"Who is Mrs. Hall and why does she want to see me?" I wondered as I trudged through the institutional-green hallway.

My knock on room 104's door was met with a chipper, "Come In!" so in I went.

"You must be Craig. I'm Mrs. Hall and I'm going to be your music teacher," a pleasingly young woman chirped.

Looking around, I noticed that room 104 is very large and it is full of musical instruments.

"Well, it says here that you want to play the trombone..."

Sing with me now:
They call him Flipper,
Lives in a world full of wonder.
Lying there under,
Under the sea!

To be continued...


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Music Appreciation Time

As threatened here, MYSTIC EYES' second album, "The Whole World Is Watching" is now available for download.

Have you ever downloaded an album using Rapidshare? Let's see if I can walk you through it.

1. Click on This Link: MYSTIC EYES - The Whole World Is Watching

2. Scroll down to the "FREE" button in the "select your download" section and click it.

3. In the new window you will scroll down to the security code section. Enter the gibberish password and click on the "Download" button.

4. When the download window pops up, select "Save To Disk" and your download will begin. Hint: Be sure you know WHERE it is being saved so you can access it when the download is completed.

5. Use whatever program you use to unzip stuff, e.g. WinZip, to open the file. This will create a folder containing all fourteen songs from the album. You can now suck them into your iPods, listen to them on your computer's media player, burn them to CD-R or delete them as you so choose!

Let me know if this worked out for you. I might be persuaded to post more music files...


Monday, June 18, 2007

My Furtive Life

It seems as if I spend my whole life sneaking around, skulking and trying to go undetected. Any extracurricular activity not related to either work or family must be conducted as quickly and as covertly as possible.

And not in a cool, cold-war-spy way, either.

Monday through Thursday, my alarm goes off at 5:15 am so I can get ready and get to work by 7:00 am. I quickly turn off the buzzer so the wife and daughter can continue sleeping. I tip-toe downstairs to make my breakfast as quietly as possible. If it's dark out I try to refrain from turning on any lights until I get to the kitchen. I take a stealth shower and am out the front door by 6:40 am. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I've done all this without waking anyone.

By 5:30 pm, my work day is over and I arrive back home by 5:45 pm. The time between then and beddy-bye for the Li'l One consists of either parenting or housework. When I finally flop into bed, I stealthily put on the earphones and try to listen to a CD, but I usually black out before the second song can finish playing.

Sometimes life can feel like an endless series of prison-breaks.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mark Freeland, 1957 - 2007

How very odd it is that the day after I post about my old Buffalo band I should find out that Mark Freeland died this morning! (He'd been battling throat cancer for the last few years.)

But there you go.

Mark was a relentless force in the Buffalo music scene for decades! His first big band was PEGASUS and they did things like play the entire "Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" album back in, like, 1975. They wrote and performed their own rock opera, "Alienation" and played it at our Alma mater, Kenmore West Senior High School.

HERE is the only link I could find, at this moment, about Mark's passing. It looks like he visited his myspace page for the last time on May 31st.

Here are two quickie remembrances...

1. I first met Mark in 1970 during a summer art class at Kenmore Junior High School. It was Mr. Embrolio's class, if I recall correctly. Mark would do acrylic paintings with titles like "The Awakening of the Rutabaga" and was kind of a celebrity, even then. He came by my house one day after class to see my "new" electric guitar (a used $30 Silvertone model) and to pick up a garbage-picked camera I had told him about.

2. About 15 years later, Mark jumped up on stage during a MYSTIC EYES gig to announce to the crowd that he felt that our version of the Velvet Underground's There She Goes Again "kicked the living c*nt" out of 99% of everything he'd heard so far that year.

High praise, indeed.

Thanks, Mark!


HERE is a link to the Buffalo News obituary.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Bonus: LP cover based on one of my fave budget LPs!

OK, gang! Someone has finally written about my old band, MYSTIC EYES, on their blog!

Unfortunately, the audio download link provided by the shadows of 60s blog is no longer functional. Dang it!

Here's a quote:
While each song on "Watching" is a polished gem, special mention must be given to a few. "Reality Is No Friend Of Mine" is an ominous psychedelic pounder, and "So Far Away From Here" is only so slightly less intense. While the whole album fits loosely into a modernized folk/rock genre, "I Can't Wait To Love You" pays loving tribute to the Phil Spector/Jan & Dean sound. "The Whole World Is Watching" is certainly an appropriate title for this new Mystic Eyes album.

I wish that download link was still valid. Well, maybe some other time...


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Good Morning, Doofus!

Our #$%& tom cat woke me up (again!) with his yowling at 4:00am. Seems he's gotten in the habit of screaming if he isn't fed every four hours or so.

I stumbled downstairs and found that he'd already eaten a whole can of food, so no dice, you stinkin' feline!

Ten minutes later, or so it seemed, the alarm clock went off at 5:15am.

Once again I stumbled downstairs. Must... make... coffee... Folgers... in... refrigerator...

With great difficulty, I managed to pour a half-pot of water into the coffee maker, peel off a filter and add six tablespoons of coffee to the basket.

In the course of putting the jumbo coffee can back into the refrigerator, I bumped it on the shelf.

The can fell out of my hand, onto the floor. The lid popped off. About a pound of ground coffee flew all over the place.

My only thought at this point:

"I wanna go back to bed."

Monday, June 11, 2007

Yay, LenseCrafters!

Thursday morning I woke up and put on my eyeglasses, only to notice that there was a lone nose pad sitting on top of my dresser.

"Hmmm,"I wondered. "Where did that come from?"

Of course, it came from the pair of specs that were precariously poised on my pronounced proboscis.

I managed to get through the day this way and on Friday morning ("Father-Daughter Day") I schlepped my woebegone eye wear and child over to the LenseCrafters in the mall.

Long story short: They replaced both nose pads, free-of-charge! I was out of there within ten minutes.

Schweet! Now, that's what I call customer service. If only every errand could go this smoothly!

Thank you, LenseCrafters, for restoring my faith in humanity.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Bathroom Hi-Jinx Revisited

We finally had our "Easter" pictures developed.

(Historical note: This is where you take pictures using light-sensitive photographic film and then have chemicals applied to make the images appear in negative form. Light is then passed through the images so as to print them on something called "photographic paper." It is a long, expensive process that only drug stores can handle.)

Never-the-less, here are two pictures of our demolished bathroom from April:
The wafer board nailed to the wall is where the window used to be.

Just thought I'd share.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Let's Get Away From It All

My sister, Kim and I were sent, on occasion, to spend a week with whatever relatives we had living in Crystal Beach, Ontario. This was fun for us young 'uns, as the main economy of that town was the Crystal Beach Amusement Park.

I remember visits where I would stay with my Grandma, my Uncle Norm and his clan or my Uncle Gene and his brood. Sure, there'd be the brief bout of home sickness, but it was nothing that a trip to the park or some Cadbury candy bars couldn't fix.

You know, now that I am a parent with a 3-1/2 year old I have to wonder if my folks didn't bundle us off to get some peace and quiet for a week. Hmmm... I stayed with Uncle Gene in the Summer of 1963 and in March of 1964 my sister, Amy, was born.

Being stranded here in Fayetteville, NC, it just isn't possible to pack Mariel off to her Aunts' or Uncles' houses. Oh, but that would be sweet for all involved.

I feel sorry that she won't get to have the fun of spending lazy Summer days with her relatives as I once did.
"Mommy? Daddy? I'm ready to be amused. Amuse me. Now!"

Monday, June 04, 2007

Thanks, Lee


Doodle by Lee. The code for this doodle and other doodles you can use on your blog can be found at Doodles.

...though I wouldn't limit this observation exclusively to TV "Talent Shows!"

I've hit a bit of a "dry spell" in the midst of a "time crunch." So I guess what I'm saying is I have a dry, crunchy time spell on my hands.