Review: Sing Out! Peggy Seeger''s "First Time Ever: A Memoir" Print E-mail

Peggy Seeger(Another Chicago Magazine October 23, 2018)

Among the most artful duos to lift their voices in the cause and community of folk music are the singers Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl. They fell in love in 1956—she, twenty-one, newly arrived in London from Maryland to play the five-string banjo on a television show; he a songwriter, actor, and communist, English-born of Scottish parents, twice her age (and married), whose balladry (“Dirty Old Town,” “My Old Man“) had helped ignite the British Folk Revival, ablaze in cellar club, busking corner, and studio single-takes.

Their voices were set—MacColl, the tufted wobble of an English dockworker, Seeger, the wren-like lilt of an Appalachian schoolgirl. Together, though, their alloy is like bronze. Listen to them synchronize melody and rhythm on the “Ballad of Accounting.” It’s an anthemic tune about taking ethical stock of one’s life, questions of moral pungency few bother with any more:

               Did you stand there in the traces and let ‘em feed you lies?
               Did you trail along behind them wearing blinkers on your eyes?
               Did you kiss the foot that kicked you, did you thank them for their scorn?
               Did you ask for their forgiveness for the act of being born?

All Those Glittering Notes: The Music of Richard Thompson Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

richard-thompson(San Diego Troubadour May 1, 2018)

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My favorite sentences in my favorite jazz book ever come from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker. The lines arrive near the end when author Stanley Crouch is at his summarizing best; he notes that jazz, a performer’s art, involves “navigating a landscape in which spontaneous creation whizzes by in layered stacks.” He quotes the great bebop drummer Max Roach: “Jazz is about creating, maintaining, and developing a [musical] design.” Jazz was designed—forget, for the moment, by whom—to maximize its players’ skills as improvisors, often at what seems like the speed of light. Whether it’s such standards as the calm “Stormy Weather” or the blustery “’Round Midnight,” good jazz men and women push themselves and their ensembles to create, maintain, and develop the music—bend expectation with surprise, follow the uncommon riff or abrupt turn where it wants to go.

Eulogy for John Christianson Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

John Christianson

Eulogy for John Christianson April 2018

John and I were good friends, close friends. I knew him through the best and worst times of his life. For a time, when I was churning out article after article for the San Diego Reader, where I’ve written cover stories the past twenty years, he seemed to read every-thing I wrote, often commenting, “Great piece, Tom,” after which he’d want to discuss some quote or idea from the work. Writing is a lonely profession; when what you write is examined, even critically, you feel a great inner satisfaction, having been heard.

John enjoyed going toe-to-toe on religion and hypocrisy. Unlike most people who look askance when I say, “I have never had a religious thought or feeling in my life,” John laughed that big, barrel-chested laugh of his, somewhere between lusty adolescence and existential darkness. However, I had no idea that he grew up a Christian. The doctrine tortured him with guilt about his sins. I said why don’t you just let that neurosis go. He said he’d always wanted to but he never could. It was just too deeply ingrained.

Fanfare for an American Maverick: Ruth Crawford Seeger Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

15SEEGER2-master675(San Diego Troubadour February 1, 2018)

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Say the name, and the action is clear: Xerox, to copy; Google, to search; Maverick, to go it alone. The latter (the refined term is eponym) comes by way of Samuel Maverick, an early twentieth-century Texas drover who refused to brand his calves. Without a burnt-flesh insignia, cowboys couldn’t tell one cow from another. But, since Sam so hated impaling animals and upset the cattle business because of it, we honor him with an Americanly distinct word.

Rejoice! Secularism Won! Why We Can Never Celebrate Print E-mail

noel-neill-atom-man-vs-superman(The Truth Seeker January 31, 2018)

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Flying home from Washington D.C. to San Diego on a new American Airlines plane, I have, privileged American individual that I am, my own TV screen on the back of the seat in front of me—inane movies, dopey sitcoms, time till landing. The welcome-image is a grinning, competent woman, fifty-ish, professional, sartorially regal, with non-lustful red lipstick, tartar-blasted white teeth, a blue-and-red striped artificial silk scarf tied jauntily around her neck, white shirt, smart dark blazer, and a winged ID badge—Abigail.

In My Heart, I Hate It: Little Italy Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20180117(San Diego Reader January 17, 2018)

Like you, the Little Italy I love has always been its sumptuous food and sensual people, both of which, despite the gentrifying nouveau riche takeover of late, remain as present and prosperous as ever. That Little Italy is alive in Mona Lisa Italian Foods, the tang of Parmesan, the toasty fume of fresh-baked sourdough, the nasal snap of balsamic vinaigrette dousing a saucer of EVOO. It's alive in the cannoli, the crispy-shelled, ricotta-filled, sugar-fairy pastry, just out of the freezer at RoVino (shoehorned next to The Waterfront) and served by two generations of homegrown cooks, the Tarantinos.

On the other side of the cannoli are Rosalie Tarantino and her nephew Tom, the fifty-two-year-old owner of RoVino. The pair love parsing their shared history, all things Italian except the family meatball recipe. Rosalie, her features still fine-boned at eighty-four, has the face of a beloved kept in an oval locket. She, like Tom's mother and Tom's daughter, and his brother's daughter, are all Rosalie Tarantino. Of course, their friends and neighbors know by sight and sound who is whom. But this naming tradition is like a bulwark against the risk that their ethnic claim may be vanishing.

Kneaded Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Sustenance Anvil Press 2017(Sustenance: Writers from British Columbia and Beyond on the Subject of Food December, 2017)

You don’t wet the bread board. You flour it, generously, as the Tassajara Bread Book says. Next, you splat-set the antsy dough onto the wood where it fate-flattens with a shrug. Already, you’re speaking up for the lump—to wit, its voice, yours for the taking, such generosity, indeed.

You knead the pile. The pile needs you, so much so that your push meets its fetal mass, serpent-bodied. Its bouldered build yeasts a gathering force, an orneriness that matches your provocation, hail batch, well met.You put your hands’ heels into it and the mass rolls its shoulders and spine back and the water leeches out, and with it the gluten, which sticks to your fingers, gums them up, and gloms onto your intent, hosts this transference, what the psyche of food plots in you, its host-maker.

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