farewell to the raven…..for now


This blog will be on hiatus for a while. The truth of the matter is that there are just too many demands on my time from the people in my life who need me.  By the same token, when I do have a few precious moments of free time, there are simply other ways in which I wish to spend them.  Something has to give.

And so, farewell for now.  I have enjoyed the blogging experience, all in all.  I’ve made some friends along the way, and I have had the pleasure and privilege of learning that some other people think I write well.  On my last poem, Annie commented, “When you find that place where your poetry lives, no one does it better. Perfect from beginning to end…”.

There is no better feeling than reading words like that, especially when they come from one whom I hold in high esteem, as a writer and a blogger.

As for the unanswered comments, all I can say is that I did indeed read and appreciate each comment.  I realize now I should have answered each one as it showed up, rather than allowing them to accumulate with the idea that I would answer them all at once.  Somehow, they just got away from me and I never caught up.  But I want everyone to know that all those comments meant a great deal to me.

And so, farewell.  For now.  Somehow I just don’t believe that this is it.  I’m thinking of this as an extended hiatus.  I do believe I will be back, although I cannot say when.  In the meantime, thanks to all for the support, encouragement, and love you have shown me over the past few years.



How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place


Michael Murphy, my dear friend and esteemed colleague, and I don’t agree on very much.  He likes thin women, I prefer them plump.  He loves Guinness Stout.  I think it’s vastly over rated, and prefer Theakston’s Old Peculiar for my tipperwhacky of choice.  He likes Bourbon, I prefer Irish.

You get the idea.

But it is in the area of music that our differences are most pronounced.  Michael is a jazz guy with a profound knowledge of the genre.  I like classical.   He likes James Taylor; I have no use for James Taylor (although his boxed set makes an admirable paper weight).  I love Gene Clark; he once called Gene Clark a Roy Orbison wannabe.  Ouch.

And then there is Brahms.  In my opinion, Brahms was the greatest composer of the 19th century, even greater than Beethoven.  My love for the dark fires of the man’s music runs deep.  The D minor piano concerto and the German Requiem are pieces I can listen to over and over again.  And I have; many, many times.  The second movement of the B flat piano concerto was the inspiration for this poem. (I’ll let you figure that one out for yourself–comments invited).

Michael doesn’t like Brahms.

This has led to an interesting state of affairs at our cigar store that has been dubbed by the owner as the “Music Wars”.   More than once I have gone out with a Brahms piece on the CD player, say, the Piano Quintet in F minor, only to return with Miles Davis playing.

“Uh, Michael, this doesn’t sound like Brahms”.

“It is, Smitty.  It’s late Brahms.  I’ll be you didn’t know he experimented with Jazz idioms late in life.”

Of course, I bide my time and wreak my revenge.  As soon as Mikes back is turned, Art Blakey is supplanted by the Cello Sonata in E minor.

“Smitty, this doesn’t sound like Art Blakey.”

“It is, Mike.  Early Art Blakey.  Most people don’t know he was an accomplished cellist.”

Given our many differences, it’s amazing we’re even friends at all.  But friends we are.  Mike is one of those people who makes the workday go by quicker and far more enjoyably.  I miss him on his day off.

And of course, he is my blogging mentor, although I’m not sure he wants to cop to this.  No teacher ever had a more irksome pupil.  But through it all, he is there for me. He give me words of encouragement and an occasional kick in the ass, and always knows when I need which.  He continues to believe in me, as a writer and a blogger, even when I have stopped believing in myself.

And because of our friendship I found his reluctance to embrace Brahms most troubling.  It bothered me deeply that my dear friend walked in darkness in this regard.  Clearly I owed it to him to bring to the path of enlightenment.

I knew this would not be an easy task.  Many attempts were rebuffed.  His cavalier dismissal of the Intermezzo in C sharp minor was particularly disheartening.  But one day, he showed a chink in his armor.  It was during the aforementioned second movement of the B flat piano concerto that he looked up, and said,

“That was a pretty impressive keyboard run”.

“Did you really like it?”, I asked.

“Yeah, it was pretty good.”

“Do you want to hear it again?”

“Nah, I’m good”.

A chink in the armor.  Too small to exploit, perhaps, but it gave me hope.

And then one day:  a miracle.  I honestly forget how we got into this, but Michael mentioned to me that he was once in a high school chorus that performed “How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place” from the Brahms Requiem.

This was news indeed.  Now, unlike most of you, I’ve actually heard Michael sing, and he does have quite a set of pipes, but the German Requiem presents a challenge for a professional choir, let alone one made up of teenagers.  I was impressed.  I was also skeptical.

As it turns out, I have the German Requiem on my iPod.  Ironically, the only reason I have either an iPod or an iTunes account is because of Michael, but I’ve already covered that one.

And so, still skeptical, I brought the iPod into work one day.

“Is this the piece?”, I asked, and let him listen on my iPod.

“Yeah, that’s the one!  I haven’t heard this in years.”  His face instantly brightened and I knew I had him.

iTunes is a remarkable thing.  I had always assumed that it was just for kids, and how wrong I was.  There are no less than FOURTEEN different versions of the German Requiem available on iTunes.  Just for kids?  Hardly.

And one of the nice things about iTunes is that you can gift music to others.  Just click the little bow, and voila!  You’ve given the gift of music.  And so with a click of my mouse the Brahms German Requiem was on its way to Michael.

A few hours later, I got this email: “hey Dude-
Just downloaded the Brahms…It is a wonderful piece of music that I will enjoy for many years to come.”

Welcome to the light, my friend.  Now if I could only get you to appreciate Thomas Tallis. ;>)



Carving up the Raven

Ok, I’ll get right to the point on this one:

I have to have surgery next Thursday.  Between now and then I do not have a day off from work.  So things are going to be a bit slow around here.

“How will we know the difference?”  Just thought I’d save you the trouble of typing that, because I know you were thinking it.

Anyway, this actually gives me a chance to take a step back and think about what I want to do with this blog, if anything.  It has become both a labor of love, but also a bit of a pain in the ass.  I’m just spread too thin in other areas, and it always seems as if the blog gets the short shrift.  Believe it or not, this is a source of considerable guilt.

In the meantime, I am cognizant that I have several unanswered comments, and those I do intend to get to before I go into the hospital.

So I’m taking a little break until after I go under the knife.  Hopefully after a little time I’ll have a better idea of what I want to do here.

And when I’m under, I’ll try to stay away from the white light.



An open letter to Smoke & Mirrors


Michael, my dear, dear friend and esteemed colleague:

I really hope you’re proud of yourself.  You have created an iPod/iTunes monster.  You don’t want to know how I’ve spent my day.

But I’m going to tell you anyway.  After I got done downloading all my Thomas Tallis and John Dunstable CD’s into this amazing little device, I went to iTunes and downloaded the Brahms Kyrie, WoO 17, and the Missa Canonica, WoO 18.  “WoO” means “without opus”; I knew you were dying to know that.  They don’t have an opus number because they were rediscovered and published posthumously.  I knew you were dying to know that, too.  The German Requiem is next.

I must say I’ve become profoundly impressed with iTunes.  I really thought that if it had any classical music at all, it would just be the Classical Top 40.  That they would have these supremely obscure Brahms pieces is nothing short of astounding.  I’ve never been more happy to find out that I was wrong.

Now at this point you may very well be saying, “Smith has finally lost his mind.  What the fuck does this have to do with me?”

But my friend, this has everything to do with you.  You see, I was going to buy them from Arkiv Music, (a site I still highly recommend, by the way).

You know, on a CD.

That you can play on a CD player.

Remarkably like the CD player we have at the store.

If you get my drift.

But no, Michael, I’ve decided to take pity on you.  The Brahms Choral works, sublime as they are, will remain safely tucked away in my iPod, far away from your ears.  For the moment, I will leave you to languish in your long dark musical night.

In some ways, of course, I feel profoundly guilty about this.  I feel like I’m letting you down.  I know it’s my duty as a friend to help you to appreciate this music.  You’re a tough case, it’s true, but James Taylor fans usually are.  But friends don’t give up just because the going gets tough.  I’m going to keep working on you, because I love you man, and because I care.  Deeply.  Someday, you will come to love the Brahms as I do.  Someday, I will take you by the hand and bring you to the light.

Then we can start working on Tallis and Dunstable.

The coolest thing is that I can plug the iPod into the new speaker system I got,** and voila!  The room is filled with the glorious sound of Brahms.  I really must say: thank you, my friend, you’ve changed my life forever.

Gotta go now; the Requiem is almost finished downloading.

Your friend,


** Blogmaster’s note: the page this links to is a little screwed up, but it is not a blank page as it first appears to be.  Scroll down a few lines and you can see the speakers.  Well worth the effort, I assure you.


I’ve sold out….

My friends, I write these words with a deep sense of guilt and shame, disapprobation and yes, even opprobrium.  I have sold out.  I have betrayed my most dearly held beliefs and sacrificed what I once thought were the strongest of principles.  I am a whore, a slut, a trollop.  I feel so dirty, so cheapened, I cannot even look myself in the eye when I behold my unworthy visage in the mirror.

I have purchased my first iPod.

Those of you who might say, “What’s the big deal?  You need to get over yourself, Smith” obviously don’t know me, either in person or from this blog.  Those who do know me understand that I am an avowed antediluvian.  I smoke a pipe, wear a pocket watch, and write with a fountain pen.  My favorite composers are Thomas Tallis, John Dunstable, and Johannes Brahms.  And the important thing here is that those are not the mere affectations of someone who misses the Victorian era.  I genuinely enjoy those things.  Hell, I didn’t buy my first Walkman until two years ago.

It’s Murphy’s fault, of course.  These things usually are.  Although a bit of an antiquarian himself, he seems to have adapted to the twenty first century far better than your humble scribe.  I don’t know why he does this to me.  Maybe he thinks it’s for my own good.  Maybe he’s afraid that he’ll be lonely in the new century without me.  But for whatever strange reasons of his own, he has this insatiable need to meet the new century by dragging me along with him.  This very blog owes it existence to his relentless nagging.

At his insistence, I opened an iTunes account.  Now I have to admit, iTunes is pretty cool.  I have a taste for the sort of music that one just doesn’t hear on the radio much these days.  I have now collected several hours of music I never thought I would hear again.  The Flying Burrito Brothers, obscure Byrds and Gene Clark tunes,  Fairport Convention, and Pentangle are among the out of the way things you’ll find on my playlist.  For those of you who thought The Monkees were only a “prefab four”, download “The Door Into Summer” (alternate mix).  Prepare to change your mind.

But was this enough for Murphy?  No, of course not.  He insisted that the next logical step was my own iPod.  This, however, he could not make me do.  I was adamant in my refusal.

My loathing of the iPod is well documented.  To me, it represents everything I dislike about our society: the blind consumerism, the self absorption, the obsession with owning something just because it’s “new” and “cool”, and the belief that we’re somehow entitled to be entertained on demand, 24/7.  I also deeply resent Apple’s relentless marketing which is designed to make me feel like a lower form of life if I don’t own one. 

Another major problem I have is with the whole concept of downloaded music.   Remember, I come from the generation that grew up with 12″ vinyl albums.  (If you don’t know what I’m talking about here, you’re probably up past your bedtime.)  Albums were the best, because you not only got music, but you got the album cover, complete with artwork and liner notes.  In short, you got “stuff”.

The CD, (which I also viewed with deep suspicion for many years), at least continued this tradition, although in miniaturized form.

But the MP3?  Somehow, it seemed so artificial, so electronic, so virtual.  Virtual, as in not real.  No album art, no liner notes, just a stream of data.  I overcame this hangup enough to sign up for iTunes, but I still prefer to have my classical music (as opposed to pop songs) in CD format.

And so, in spite of my love of music, I have resisted owning one of these devil’s playthings.

Until now.

I have a co-worker name Bill, although everyone knows him as “Bunny”.  I won’t go into why, let’s just say I have never seen a nickname stick to someone like this one has.  But Satan, Prince of Temptation would have been a better name.  Bunny is a gadget guy, and like all gadget guys, he simply can’t be happy with just one iPod Classic.  Oh, no, he has to have the iPod Nano, and the iPod Shuffle, and the iPod WipeYourAssForYou.  He’s like a human magpie.  If it’s shiny, he has to have it.

He was genuinely dumbfounded to learn I didn’t own one.  “Steve, iPods are great.  I can’t believe someone who loves music as much as you do doesn’t have one”.  So I proceeded to tell him of my immovable philosophical opposition the iPod and my deeply felt revulsion at the very idea of owning one.  I told him I would never own one, on principle.  Never.

“You can have my Classic for $50”.


And so, I did it.  I have allowed myself to be seduced.  I comforted myself a little by reminding myself that it was, at least, an iPod “Classic”.  I suppose if one is going to play Brahms and Tallis on an iPod, the “Classic” is only appropriate.  But learning to live with myself was only the second most difficult part of the ordeal.  The most difficult was figuring out how to turn the fucking thing on.  I stared at my new toy when I got it home.  And stared.  And stared.  It is beautiful, in it’s own way, a smooth, shiny obelisk. I begin to suspect that I may be in over my head when I discover, to my dismay, that there is no “on” switch.  Just a circular control panel.  With a button in the middle.


I push the button.  The shiny silver surface comes alive, showing a perfect little color screen.  Amazing.

Now what do I do?

I remember seeing someone stroke the screen, so I try that.  Nothing happens.  Oh, wait, that was the I-PHONE.  Shit.

Now what?

I eventually figure out that pushing the arrows and buttons brings one to the menu, but then what?  I notice how the cursor moves when I stroke the control panel.  Ah, so you DO like to be stroked, after all.  Now I get it.  But why does the cursor move in the opposite direction of my finger?  Strange, Apple seems to have screwed that one up.

It finally occurs to me that you’re supposed to stroke it in a circular manner (I’ll leave the obvious joke alone).  Now we’re getting somewhere.  I plug it into my computer, and my iTunes program comes to life.  At least here I’m on familiar ground.  The two machines sync with each other, and I’m ready to go.

I plug in my headphones.  They’re a pair of Koss cans.  Yes, I wear cans.  Even on the airplane.  Especially on the airplane.  I don’t like buds.  Only a full size can can cancel out the sound of the little bastard wailing in the seat behind me, beside providing full surround sound.  I wear cans.

But I digress.

I plug in the headphones.  I play a song.  I am amazed.

Now you have to bear in mind that I have only heard a lot of the songs on my iTunes through the tinny speakers that the computer came with.  I’ve been meaning to get better speakers, but blogging isn’t the only thing I’m a slacker about.  But now, with the sound being pumped into my head through a decent set of headphones, the experience borders on an epiphany.  I spent most of today with the silly thing in my back pocket and the cans glued to my ears.

My downfall is complete.  I am now a confirmed iPod whore.

But I will never wear it in a thunderstorm.



Who knows where the time goes?

Okay, I am now officially on a Fairport Convention kick.  I really don’t know what it is about Sandy Denny’s voice that gets to me so.  It was not a particularly strong voice; sometimes she barely seemed to be singing above a whisper.  And yet a more expressive voice I’ve never heard.  Whether it was an old English ballad or an original composition, every word seems to flow from her heart by way of her soul. I think she could sing the alphabet and it would move me to tears.

This song is more well known in this country in the version by Judy Collins, but this version is the original and, in my opinion, far and way the best.  Enjoy.


Across the evening sky, all the birds are leaving
But how can they know it’s time for them to go?
Before the winter fire, I will still be dreaming
I have no thought of time
For who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?
Sad, deserted shore, your fickle friends are leaving
Ah, but then you know it’s time for them to go
But I will still be here, I have no thought of leaving
I do not count the time
For who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?
And I am not alone while my love is near me
I know it will be so until it’s time to go
So come the storms of winter and then the birds in spring again
I have no fear of time
For who knows how my love grows?
And who knows where the time goes?


Percy’s song

I heard this song on the radio about twenty years ago and always wondered what it was and who by.  Now, through the wonders of the internet, I know.  Downloading this song revived my interest in Fairport Convention. Although this is actually a Bob Dylan song, I think it’s easily the best cover ever done, even better than Joan Baez’s.  Enjoy.


Bad news, bad news, come to me where I sleep”
Turn, turn, turn again
“Say, one of your friends is in trouble deep”
Turn, turn, to the rain and the wind
“Tell me the trouble, tell me once to my ear”
Turn, turn, turn again
“Joliet prison and ninety-nine years”
Turn, turn, to the rain and the wind
“Oh, what’s the charge of how this came to be?”
Turn, turn, turn again
“Manslaughter in the highest degree”
Turn, turn, to the rain and the wind
I sat down and wrote the best words I could write
Turn, turn, turn again
Explaining to the judge I’d be there on Wednesday night
Turn, turn, to the rain and the wind
Without a reply, I left by the moon
Turn, turn, turn again
And was in his chambers by the next afternoon
Turn, turn, to the rain and the wind
“Would you tell me the facts,” I said without fear
Turn, turn, turn again
“That a friend of mine could get ninety-nine years”
Turn, turn, to the rain and the wind
“A crash on the highway, flew the car to a field”
Turn, turn, turn again
“There was four persons killed and he was at the wheel”
Turn, turn, to the rain and the wind
“But I knew him as good as I’m knowing myself”
Turn, turn, turn again
“And he wouldn’t harm a life that belonged to someone else”
Turn, turn, to the rain and the wind
The judge he spoke out of the side of his mouth
Turn, turn, turn again
Saying “The witness who saw, he left without doubt”
Turn, turn, to the rain and the wind
“That may be true, he’s got a sentence to serve”
Turn, turn, turn again
“But ninety-nine years he just don’t deserve”
Turn, turn, to the rain and the wind
“Too late, too late, for his case it is sealed”
Turn, turn, turn again
“His sentence it is passed and cannot be repealed”
Turn, turn, to the rain and the wind
“But he ain’t no criminal and his crime it is none”
Turn, turn, turn again
“What happened to him could happen to anyone”
Turn, turn, to the rain and the wind
At that the judge jumped forward and his face it did freeze
Turn, turn, turn again
Saying “Could you kindly leave my office now please?”
Turn, turn, to the rain and the wind
His eyes looked funny and I stood up so slow
Turn, turn, turn again
With no other choice except for to go
Turn, turn, to the rain and the wind
I walked down the hallway and I heard his door slam
Turn, turn, turn again
I walked down the courthouse stairs and did not understand
Turn, turn, to the rain and the wind
And I played my guitar through the night to the day
Turn, turn, turn again
And the only tune my guitar could play was “The Old Cruel Rain And The Wind

-Bob Dylan

taking up a glowing cinder with the tongs and lighting with it the long cherry-wood pipe which was wont to replace his clay when he was in a disputatious rather than a meditative mood" ~ Dr. John H. Watson ************************
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