Irish Eyes

With few exceptions, Sylvia and I among them, it’s all Irish eyes at Milwaukee’s Irish Fest this weekend. We accompanied my former Notre Dame classmate and Irish pal Frank to opening night .  Thursday evening’s preview session stepped off with newcomers to the festival, Barrule, a trio from the Isle of Man comprised of bouzouki, fiddle and accordion.  Their blend of Manx jigs, reels and songs provided a pleasant opening to this celebration of Celtic music and culture.


Another new band at the fest is Runa, in whose blend of traditional roots music and contemporary Irish folk songs we heard hints of bluegrass, jazz and blues.  When They deftly wove verses of My Girl into a Gaelic song, the audience responded with even greater enthusiasm.  We’ll definitely hear more from Runa as we seek out their extended performances over the weekend.


A longtime favorite, whose appearance marks their 20th anniversary on tour, is Solas.  I first heard Solas on the radio some years ago. Their haunting cover of Jesse Colin Young’s Darkness, Darkness sent shivers down my spine and the rest of their preview performance last night exceeded my expectations, blending both traditional Celtic music and contemporary original compositions.   I’ll be seeking out more Solas during the remaining days of the festival…


…and I’ll be keeping my eyes (and ears) peeled for more great performances like these.

Fun with Electronic Music

A few evenings ago I was sitting in the garage, settled into one of those folding camp chairs, enjoying the warm summer evening and sipping from a bottle of cold, locally crafted beer.   A white Chevrolet drove slowly by.  As it passed, I could hear some pounding drum beat accompanying electronic music.  The car pulled into a parking space around the corner from where I was sitting. A young couple on their way home from work got out and walked past me.  As we glanced at each other, I asked them who I’d just heard coming from their car stereo.

They stopped, and just for a second I’m almost certain they thought I was just some “get off my lawn” grumpy old man who was about to give them crap about their loud music.  Just as quickly they realized that wasn’t the case and that I was really interested in whose music I’d heard.  Smiling, they responded “Alice in Wonderland.”  That’s what I thought they said, but the quizzical look on my face only served to broaden their smiles as they spelled it out, “A-l-i-s-o-n” Wonderland.  I thanked them and they continued their walk home.

The Internet is a wonderful tool for researching a name in the music world.  I already had my tablet with me in the camp chair, just starting on a collection of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories I’d downloaded earlier that day.  Hemingway would have to wait.  Instead I Googled “Alison Wonderland.”

Alison Wonderland, whose given name is Alex Sholler,  is an Australian-born “DJ,” a disc jockey in its truest form.  Otherwise known as a turntablist, Alison is a musician who mixes music and sounds to create electronic dance music (EDM) or “trip hop.”  Regardless of what label it goes by, it sounded pretty good to me, so I checked out some clips of her work.  This clip is from her track called “Run,” released in 2015:

(Alison Wonderland – “Run” [clip])

Some time ago I might have mentioned the first album of electronic music I bought way back when I was in high school.  It was the eponymously titled Silver Apples.  Here’s a clip from the opening track, “Oscillations,” released in 1968:

(Silver Apples – “Oscillations” [clip])

No one I can recall in 1968 ever referred to this as electronic dance music.  In fact, it wouldn’t be polite for me to repeat what some of my friends called it back then.  In spite of my half-hearted insistence that it was really worth a listen, my plea fell mostly on deaf ears.  It certainly wasn’t anything to which we felt compelled to dance along.  Today, if I was a DJ, I’d slip a little Silver Apples into my dance mix just to see if anyone would notice.  It just might sound like this:

(Alison Apples – Runscillation [mix clip])

Makes you wonder if Thomas Edison and the pioneers of volts, watts and amps ever imagined dancing to the blips and beeps they discovered.  I suspect they’d be blown away for sure.

Elusive Butterfly

“Across my dreams with nets of wonder, I chase the bright elusive butterfly of love.”  —Elusive Butterfly by Bob Lind.  1965.

Butterfly Mountain

Quite often, while I’m deeply engrossed in a news article or a gripping novel, I’m confronted with a word that derails my train of thought and causes it to sidetrack into that great stockyard of song titles from my past.  It happened twice with the same word today.  First, reading a New York Times article about the “elusive” goals of a certain political party.  Within minutes, a “one-word prompt” message shows up in my email, devised to inspire writers to create a story around today’s word, “elusive.”

I took that as a sign.  Both times the word appeared, my wandering mind sped like an out-of-control locomotive to the song Elusive Butterfly by folk singer Bob Lind.  I was in high school.  It wasn’t one of the “cool” songs I was supposed to like.  But I remember seeing Bob Lind perform it on Shindig or Hullabaloo, one of those 60s television teen shows, and pictured myself sitting on a stool, guitar in hand and stage lights all around as I watched Lind play and sing.

I still do that.  I did it again today.  And all it took was one word.  “Elusive.”  An apt description of my thoughts and how they’ve been shaped by music.   Now, back to my regularly scheduled thinking.

(This could have been the performance I watched so long ago:  Elusive Butterfly by Bob Lind.)



1984.  My marriage was breaking down.  Who’s gonna tell you when it’s too late?  We’d just bought a big old house in an historic neighborhood.  Who’s gonna tell you things aren’t so great?  It was only two blocks from where I worked.  You can’t go on thinking nothing’s wrong.  Was there anyone in whom I could find comfort?  Who’s gonna drive you home tonight?

Divorce papers were signed on the auspicious date of March 4th.  Who’s gonna pick you up when you fall?   Friends were conflicted by just who’s friend they should remain.  Who’s gonna hang it up when you call?  I only needed a shoulder to lean on.  Who’s gonna pay attention to your dreams?  Just someone who could listen for a moment.  And who’s gonna plug their ears when you scream?  I struggled to find meaning in my work.  You can’t go on thinking nothing’s wrong.  I brought home an old wooden desk and office chair that my dad once used.  But who’s gonna drive you home tonight?

Work was a burden.  Who’s gonna hold you down when you shake?  I desperately needed a friend.  Who’s gonna come around when you break?  I longed for a new companion.  You can’t go on thinking nothing’s wrong.  She danced into my life.  Who’s gonna drive you home tonight?  She drove me home.  And stayed.

(Drive by the Cars.  Released July 23, 1984.  Words and music by Ric Ocasek.)
Listen to Drive by the Cars here:

Buy it here

Darkness, Darkness

Last night I was playing my guitar, plucking out and singing the old Youngbloods song, Get Together. You know how it goes.

“C’mon people now,
Smile on your brother.
Everybody get together,
Try to love one another right now.”

And this morning?  While those lyrics still represent a deep desire, they’ve been displaced temporarily by others from the same songwriter.

Darkness, darkness,
Long and lonesome,
Ease the day that brings me pain.
I have felt the edge of sadness,
I have known the depth of fear.
Darkness, darkness, be my blanket,
Cover me with the endless night.
Take away, take away the pain of knowing,
Fill the emptiness of right now…”
–Jesse Colin Young, Darkness, Darkness



Layers.  Stacks.  Platters.  Records.  Music.  It’s a word association game played in my head that invariably ends up leading to music.  To a classically trained musician, layers comprise the texture of music and determine whether the piece is monophonic, polyphonic or homophonic.  I’m not a classically trained musician, so my image of music layers is mainly limited to a stack of vinyl records sitting on a phonograph spindle waiting for their chance  on a spinning turntable to impress a pair of ears.

A surrealistic interpretation of a record stack was created for the cover of a Rolling Stones album, Let It Bleed.

If you examine all the layers stacked on that record-changer spindle you’ll likely see a cake plate, an open reel tape canister labeled “Stones – Let It Bleed,” a clock face, a pizza, a small tire and an elaborately decorated cake, complete with miniature figures of the band members.  Now those are some layers!

As for the music inside that cover?  Definitely melody-dominated homophonic layers of voices, guitars, drums, piano and more.  I’d love to write more, but I’m lying in bed under a layer of sheets, drifting off to sleep.  Sometimes there are just too many layers to think about and besides, You Can’t Always Get What You Want.



Ok.  I’m late.  I signed up for this WordPress thing called “The Daily Post,” the main purpose of which is to present blog writers with an inspiring word each day.  From there, authors are expected to become inspired enough by that word to write a captivating blog entry, preferably 250 words or less.  The word that inspired me, “clouds,” came up on the day we were preparing to travel 750 miles by car to another state.  Since then, a couple more days have passed.  I’ve had to ignore newer Daily Posts so I could think more about clouds.

Clouds was the first Joni Mitchell album I ever heard, but not the first time I’d heard her song from that collection, Both Sides Now, in which she mentions having “looked at clouds from both sides now.”  If you’ve flown, you’ve likely shared that exhilarating experience.  Judy Collins scored a hit with Both Sides Now in 1967, two years before Joni Mitchell released it herself on the Clouds album.

Looking at “both sides now” appears to be a major problem with a lot of people these days.  It’s especially an issue among those of us who’ve climbed aboard a political or religious bandwagon, parading around wearing blinders to avoid looking at different positions or beliefs held by others.  As the song goes on, “I really don’t know clouds at all.”  More folks might consider owning up to that… and then doing something to rectify it.