My life, cheeses and tequila

· Anarchy in the UK, Cheeses & Tequila, Musicology, Songs for Beginners, ukulele stories

Samantha Soma, the lovely the talented bride of my partner in ukulele crime, Bill DeRouchey, shot some footage of our Ukepalooza act at WebVisions, where we debuted our duo act known as Cheeses and Tequila.

Bill has now chopped it up into four video segments (one for each song) and posted them to Vimeo, so here’s our opening tune, “Anarchy in the UK”:

It was our first performance together after rehearsing mainly over the internet, so be gentle! :D

A full schedule at WebVisions

· Design, Events, Patterns, Social Design, ukulele stories

WebVisions rockstar badge

Arrived in Portland yesterday and did some prep for one of my gigs at WebVisions, the Ukepalooza set I’m playing with Bill DeRouchey as the duo “Cheeses & Tequila.”

This morning Erin and I are teaching our Designing Social Interfaces workshop. Tomorrow is Ukepalooza, and then immediately afterward I’ll be doing my aptly named Designing for Play presentation.

It’s not too late to register in person!

(Here Comes) The Reuben Kincaid!

· Musicology, The Reuben Kincaid, ukulele stories

So sometime back in the previous millennium a bunch of us technical-publishing bohemians were sitting around wasting time as we were wont to do, coming up with band names, which reminds me of xian’s law: “There are more good band names than there are good bands.”

One of the ones that I suggested that our gang really liked was The Reuben Kincaid (we weren’t sure how to spell it though). It has that ’70s pop-culture thing and of course the classic ’60s-era “The” prefix (as in “The Pink Floyd”). Then time passed and we drifted around.

Five or so years ago when I started teaching myself ukulele and posting my baby steps on my blog, I decided that I was going to form a “virtual band” out of myself and anyone I could get to overdub on my tracks. I called that band The Reuben Kincaid.

More time passed and I renamed it Layers of Meta, which is its name today. I also play in a duo with my brother Arthur (aka “xourmas”) as The Power & Mighty.

But when myself and Cecil Vortex and so-called Bill and “the B is silent” Ryan got together last fall, at first to work on our still-very-underground radio show, Podcast Gold, we sort of evolved into a quartet, with Cecil on guitar, songwriting, arrangement, keyboards, production, and general fabulousness, Bill on bass, Ryan on bongoes (and sound recording-ism), and myself on ukulele.

And now, at last, the Reuben Kincaid has its first single! Enjoy…

play “Single-Cell Critter”

Four-alarm pentatonic ukulele chili

· Musicology, ukulele stories

My #uke4geeks talk at South By was so hot it set off a false alarm. We persevered, and prevailed, a small band of die-hards, many of whom brought their own axes (next time we set it up as a hootenanny?), and here are the slides I spoke to. I’m already revising them based on flow and keeping remembering other things I meant to say:

via Ukulele For Geeks: Secrets of the Pentatonic Scales (sxsw 2010).

Coming this Friday to SXSW: "Ukulele for Geeks: Secrets of the Pentatonic Scales"

· Musicology, ukulele stories

[official blurb from sxsw website]At first glance the fretboard of a ukulele (or guitar) looks incomprehensible, but with the magic of pentatonic scales – ancient, nearly universal 5-note patterns, you can “crack the code” and hack the fretboard and start jamming along with your favorite tunes or musician friends in no time.

“You don’t need to know the names of the notes or what key a song is. Just find the “little dippers” and start messing around with patterns. I’ll explain the concepts and demonstrate the techniques, which are completely self taught.”

That’s the official blurb for my South by Southwest talk at 5:00 PM friday in room 18ABCD (uh oh, that sounds big), Ukulele for Geeks: Secrets of the Pentatonic Scales.

This is based on the Ignite talk I did in Sydney and the Pecha Kucha I did in Tokyo, but this is the expanded 45-minute version of the talk, so I don’t have to rush through all the little concepts and shapes. I think it will be a blast.

See you there?

A book for those who got in the bus in the '80s

· Musicology, the Dead, man...

My review of a memoir by poet Peter Conners called Growing Up Dead appeared in the Proceedings of the Grateful Dead Scholars Caucus at the Southwest/Texas Popular Culture Association conference in Albuquerque a week or so ago, reprinted here with permission from Dead Letters Press, the publisher of the Proceedings:
[cover image from the book 'Growing Up Dead']

Growing Up Dead:
The Hallucinated Confessions
of a Teenage Deadhead

by Peter Conners
da Capo Press, 2009

Pick up just about any history or memoir of the Grateful Dead and you’ll hear about bluegrass, the Acid Tests, Live/Dead, Europe in ’72, the hiatus, and the Pyramids in excruciating detail. Then the years start to fly by, punctuated by the occasional happening: hit song and tour with Dylan in ’87, return to Europe in ’90, and then all of a sudden Jerry is dead and we’re into that nebulous post-Grateful period that continues to this day. This is understandable, but for Dead fans like my self who got on the bus in the 1980s, this leaves out a big important part of the story.

During the long period between album releases, when perhaps various bandmembers’ rebellious proclivities were beginning to catch up with them, the Dead scene experienced something of a third wind. Perhaps it was the advent of the “just say no” years and the growing need for a refuge for the disaffected youth of that era. Garcia famously called the Dead tour the last remaining great American adventure. Certainly my own experience when I stumbled into the parking lot in 1984 was a stiff sense of incredulity: how was this through-the-looking-glass society existing in parallel with the malls and office parks of the Reagan 80s? How were we getting away with this? How could it possibly last?

As we know, it couldn’t last. It was a bubble of sorts, but its surface tension held for a crucial stretch of years, long enough to sustain this pocket of the counterculture until reinforcements could arrive, tune up, plug in, and rock out.

Peter Conners is a bit younger than I am, but he got on the bus just before the tidal wave of a “hit song on MTV” crashed into the parking lot scene of 1987 and his memoir, Growing Up Dead, represents the first holographic capture of exactly what it felt like at just that time. He limns the road, the buses, the parking lots, and most importantly the shows, the music, and lyrics of the Grateful Dead in the 1980s. He described growing up in a suburban middle class enclave and falling in with a stoner crowd and eventually finding himself in the world of the Deadheads.

Perhaps most importantly, he finds his muse and toward the end of the tale, when he comes off the road, he finds that he has become a poet. The language of the Dead spoke to him and brought something out of him that his teachers and his day-to-day life did not manage to reach. As Conners said in an interview conducted on the Well’s public Inkwell conference:

When I was growing up, I didn’t have any friends who connected to language on that same level. I still remember sharing my first poems with friends. To their credit, they were openly enthusiastic. No one in our group, myself included, knew anything about poetry or literature outside of what we were fed in school. We all bonded over lyrics, singing them, writing them on our notebooks, etc., but that was more about our love of the bands and reinforcing our bonds with each other.

His is not the tawdry tale of excess and destruction and repentance that we’ve been hearing since the opium eaters but one of enlightenment, joy, self-discovery and, ultimately, graduation into adulthood and self-possession.

Conners is a gifted storyteller and delivers his tale not as a series of banal or hyperbolic generalities but in a well-knit sequence of anecdotes and portraits. The book moves along swiftly and sweeps you up in the life path of this young person questing in search of fun and liberty and friendship and love.

The story of the Grateful Dead from the viewpoint of the musicians and the Peninsula milieu in which the coalesced has been told to death (and I’ve devoured with pleasure each telling and re-telling of those days) and to some extent the personal stories of the extended community rooted in those early days and into the 1970s has at least begun to be told, but Growing Up Dead crucially fills a gap in the story without which my own experience lacks a literary context, and for this I am, dare I say it? grateful.

Oh, and hey now, be sure to read Conners’ wonderful Dead Crazy Uncle, which was reprinted as well in the Proceedings.