Monday, November 18 2002
Sally has been half-barking a lot (this is the bark she does where she doesn't actually open her mouth) at unseen Blair-Witch-style spirits in the woods. She won't even go outside to confront these spirits, staying inside the house and only occasionally poking her nose out the pet door.
I tried my hand at taping and spackling the complex array of inside and outside corners above the stairway to the attic today. I'd done a little internet research to learn how this stuff is done, but on the ground, Jesus! The spackle was drying way too fast and the damn tape didn't seem to be sticking while spackle was busy drying where I hadn't even thought about it for awhile. It felt like an unfolding disaster, the sort I would never live down. But I went back to look at the work eight or nine hours later and I realized I'd actually done a reasonably good job, especially given the fact that at the time I'd been in an overwhelmed frenzy.
Later in the day I launched the final battle in the war against wallpaper. This battle was to be waged with a new kind of weapon: wainscoting. The wallpaper enemy that I faced rose only to a level of about three feet, but its legions held a continuous swath of territory on every wall of the basement hallway. Gretchen, following a suggestion made by Katie, had told me that we should just wainscot that hallway, bury the enemy without firing a shot, and be done with it (the wallpaper had already proved impossible to remove). Mind you, wainscoting, at least in the panel-form I was installing, is really nothing more than a form of wood paneling, though it only rises a few feet from the floor and then ends at some sort of molding. Lots of people take issue with wood paneling, one of the most regretted legacies of the 70s, but wainscoting has a time-honored tradition stretching back to Victorian times. I personally take the view that you can never have too many Victorian details in a house. Particularly this one, which looks like a Victorian house sans details.
The only problem I encountered with the wainscoting was the irregularity of the slab floor, which causes the walls to go up and down in a way that, though imperceptible to the eye, is reflected in weird angles on inside and outside corners.
the Greeks had no time
I've always been fascinated by music, both as a listener and as a performer. When I was a kid I used to make stringed instruments similar to harpsichords out of strings and boards. Interestingly, though, neither of my parents is particularly musical. My mother has a six string banjo that she almost never plays and my father listens to a lot of classical music, mostly because he listens to a lot of public radio. Neither of them have ever been interested in contemporary music, from their time or anyone else's. In retrospect, I realize that music was one of the places where my parents, well, malnourished me. Sure, they had some records, and I even liked a few of them. As a kid, my favorites of their collection included an album of orchestral versions of Beatles tunes (not the actual Beatles of course), the Kingston Trio, and a greatest hits album by the Four Tops. That last one was a bit of an anomaly; my mother had picked it up in the bargain bin at Montgomery Wards. She had no idea what it was, just that she liked the cover photo and that it was a mysterious example of contemporary music (but by then it was already at least eight years old). She'd suddenly realized that her kids might be interested in something a little newer than the old stuff from the fifties and sixties that she had.
Thus when I first started getting interested in contemporary music, circa 1980, my interests were almost entirely self-derived. I carried very little baggage from the interests of my parents, aside from my father's reflexive dismissal of everything non-classical. I also carried no baggage from my friends; their musical interests simply puzzled me. From the very beginning, I liked complex arrangements, difficult-to-understand or psychedelic lyrics, heavy guitars, and classical influences. There were also certain vocal qualities that I preferred, starting with the Kingston Trio as an acceptable vocal template. The band that seemed to satisfy all my cravings in those days was the Moody Blues, and I collected all their early stuff obsessively. I realize now that their lyrics were pretty hokey, but since I couldn't really make them out much of the time, to me they had no equals. Take the line from the song "Isn't Life Strange?" (from the album Seventh Sojourn) that goes "The quicksand of time." That's a pretty cool line actually, but to my ear I always heard "The Greeks had no time." Now that line is awesome. The song is about life being strange and here they are, to me at least, dropping a line referring to the fact that Greek civilization was wiped out by Roman civilization a couple hundred years before it would have gone on to build the atom bomb and the silicon chip. (Just imagine how my geek -not Greek- adolescent mind loved this stuff!)
Now, of course, my favorite band is Guided by Voices (they've had this status since early 1995). As a true indication of Bob Pollard's genius, whenever I can't make out what he's saying, it always turns out that he's actually sung a lyric even more brilliant than I'd thought I'd heard. So far, he's the only musician who has consistently done this.
I've taken this little trip down musical memory lane because I've been listening to an MP3 of Seventh Sojourn while working on the house. It's easier to listen to the vaguely embarrassing music of my early adolescence when no one else is around to overhear.
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