Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Postcard Art

Here is a selection from my wife's antique postcard collection that hardly requires comment. Even now, a 100 years later, it continues to make its own comedy.

The illustrator, Vincent Colby, was an artist whose work was popular in the early 1900's. This card was copywrited in 1909, published in NYC, and was posted from Anderson, Indiana to New Castle, Indiana in February of 1912. Little seems to be known or written about Colby, but IMDB.com mentions (without detail), that he was involved in the production of two animated silent short films. He was the animator in the first, I Should Worry (1915), and possibly the director of the second one, Seven Cutey Puppies (1917).

This postcard was one of a series featuring puppies in various situations with humorous captions. They are moderately rare and, as with all postcards, value is dependant on condition. This particular postcard is suffering, unfortunately, from some ink bleed from the postmark, but we don't care. It is still a hoot. And the artwork is really excellent.

On the back of the postcard is a cancelled 1-cent Ben Franklin stamp and this cryptic note written with a fountain pen:

able to live without sleeping but I do not think I will try to live without eating for them eats are great expecially (sic)

The punctuation-impaired writer has wonderful handwriting but did not sign this little missive.

Nancy has a number of very old postcards showing scenes of Richmond, IN, and some unbelievably rare photo postcards of Lynn, IN, the little town where we live in the early 1900's. I will probably show some of those here, too. We are blessed to live in a part of the country rich in art and history.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Its not what you know, but who...

I have a friend who has built an internal combustion engine that runs on distilled water.
I have a friend who travels all over the world recording great music with famous people.
I have a friend who has taught physics to high school kids for nearly 40 years.
I have a friend who is wondering what he is supposed to do with his life.

I have a friend who is a sheriff in Texas.
I have a friend who has perfect pitch and never misses a note.

I have a friend who is a sergeant in the USAF.
I have a friend who rescues children from unsafe homes.
I have a friend who is the parent of a severely disabled child.
I have a friend who works hard in a factory six days a week.
I have a friend whose wife died on their honeymoon.
I have a friend who believes that he can harness the wind for all our energy needs.
I have a friend who has led hundreds of people to The Life Eternal.
I have a friend who has made millions of dollars.
I have a friend who is an excellent cook and takes great pleasure in serving others.
I have a friend who can build a house from the ground up.

I have a very good friend who sings so beautifully that sometimes it makes me cry.
I have a friend who is an excellent farmer.
I have a friend who plays guitar much, much better than I do.

I have a friend who sacrificed his life to save me and all my friends.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


This evening I was thinking about my grandfather’s hands. I remember well the hands of both my grandfathers. Strong, thick fingers, scars upon older scars, rugged and leathery. The hands of men who worked hard.

I was replacing the blade on the lawnmower; a job which carries a substantial risk of, skinned knuckles at least, if not worse. I know this from prior experience and have just relearned it afresh.

I am not especially gifted in the repair and maintenance of things mechanical, but I have an abiding interest in how things work and, thanks to my maternal grandfather, George H. Polley, an especial appreciation for motorized lawn equipment. His life’s business and his professional success rested on his skill in the sale and repair of lawn, garden, and farm machines. For many years he ran a successful, respected business in a very small Indiana town. When I was young, I would go to work with him and play in his store, dismantling old engines, watching him work on new ones, listening to him sell a chainsaw, or going with him to deliver a riding lawnmower somewhere out in the country. He has been dead for nearly 20 years now, but still I often hear stories from men who worked for him or people that knew him or did business with him. He was a highly respected man in this area of the world. And it seems he always had a Band-Aid on his hand, or a cut that was healing up from his work.

My paternal grandfather, Lee Wisdom Pike, was principally a carpenter. For many years he worked for the Katy Railroad in north central Texas, designing and constructing bridges, trestles, and rail yards. The history of the railroad is very strong in our family. My brother and I are the first generation not to have spent some time in the employ of a railroad. At least not yet. I was much younger when I knew Grandpa Pike, but I recall vividly that he was missing a finger, about half of the forefinger on his right hand. That was a fascinating thing to a little kid. He and my grandma lived on West Texas Street in Denison, Texas. There was always lots of wood to play with at his house. I distinctly remember looking at his hands one day when I was quite young and we were both down on all fours in the backyard as he showed me how to properly position a nail and swing a hammer. That is a very useful skill.

Both of my grandfathers, and even more so, my father, taught me most of I know about what it means to be a man in the world. I learned how to live from these men, less from what they said but from who they were and are. Their lives continue to teach me, and I am grateful. My earnest prayer is that I have passed on some of their love, their faith, their strength, their wisdom, and their humility to my own son. Time will tell, to be sure, because life is a marathon, not a sprint. And yet already I have seen in him the same quiet strength of character and power that I felt from the lives of these forefathers that he never knew.

I am truly blessed by the God of the past, the present, and the future.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Listening to: Bryan Ferry: Boys & Girls

This is one of my very favorite albums. The music that I love the most is that which somehow manages to capture a timeless quality. This solo album by Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry was released in 1985, over 20 years ago, and yet it remains fresh and engaging every time I listen to it. You really can't hear 1985 in it unless you listen very closely and know what to listen for.

The dense, brooding textures, the relentless rhythmic drive, the modal bob-and-weave is just irresistible. Guitars that shimmer, percolate, and then whipsaw through the mix. Warm, synthy string pads, an occasional saxophone moan, unbelievably tight funky drum and bass grooves.

Ferry's vocals are evocative and strong, floating over this seething river of soul. Sometimes the crooner, other times the haunting in the distance, he is really at the top of his artistic game.

Written, recorded, and produced by Ferry and Rhett Davies, the roster of sidemen on this album is truly golden, including David Gilmour, Nile Rogers, Omar Hakim, David Sanborn, Neil Jason, Mark Knopfler, Tony Levin, and Marcus Miller among others. Plus, "Boys & Girls" was mixed by Bob Clearmountain and mastered by Bob Ludwig. Yeesh...

The songwriting and overall style is suggestive of some of some of the contemporaneous Roxy Music recordings, but only in all of the good ways. It is an evolution from, say, "Avalon" (1982, another one of my faves), but it is not imitative.

There are no weak entries on this album, but the strongest in my opinion include the sensuous title cut, "Sensation", "Slave To Love", "Don't Stop The Dance". And "Stone Woman" is the definition of a "killer groove".

But again, what I love is the fact that this album really sounds like it could have been made yesterday...and I am sure I will be still listening to it in another 20 years.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


I am well aware that unemployment is a problem everywhere, varying only by degree. However, it is also very possible to be overemployed. I have a couple of different jobs and numerous other committments and responsibilities. Usually I am able to juggle them, successfully balancing the time and resources necessary to keep everything in order and all parties satisfied, myself included. But occassionally, like this past week, the various orbits converge uncomfortably, causing gravitational stress, near collision, and generally making me nuts. When I work too much, I get depressed. Though I like my job(s) and there are aspects that are very fulfilling and rewarding, I am really not doing what I would like to do. Nevertheless, today while working, I intend to make a concentrated effort to enumerate my blessings while I trudge onward. That seldom fails to to lift my heart and focus. Because it really is a problem of perspective, oh my disgruntled heart.

Here is another excellent old postcard.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Little Bit Of Alright

My wife, Nancy, is an antique dealer and an artist, among other things. She makes interesting collage/multi-media works that frequently include antique photos or other found artifacts. She is always collecting unusual photos or postcards and frequently gives them to people as birthday cards, anniversary cards, etc., usually with her own greeting written on the back. I'll no doubt be posting some of her work from time to time.

I like this one alot. The guy really looks like he is three sheets to the wind and absolutely incorrigible. The woman has a certain grimness in her jawline that seems to suggest that, while she is not unfamiliar with his lecherous tendencies, it occurs to her at the very last second that maybe she doesn't want this rendevous immortalized forever by the camera. Her right arm is, with some urgency, attempting to counter a spirited but ill-timed advance perpetrated by his left hand. And not a moment too soon.

What a great picture. I wonder what their lives were like.

Listening to: Mike Stern - Between The Lines

Monday, August 07, 2006

Sometimes the internet and the whole telecommuting thing makes me a little nuts, but overall I am really grateful for this technology on which my livelihood is so dependant. Today was a good day. I sat at my desk, unshaved and unshowered, barely presentable and did almost $15K in sales. I am blessed to have many friends as customers, and most of them are involved in some aspect of ministry. And except for the Tascam DVD-6500 that showed up DOA, purchased by my own church (?!?!), there were no serious problems.

Showered, shaved, and cleaned up, I am now waiting for the family to get home and I will prepare dinner.

Unfortunately, it looks like I may have blown up my sound card in the thunderstorm last week. I have my computer and all of it's appendages properly UPS'd and otherwise protected, but not long ago, I purchased a new receiver/amp and thought it would be cool to run my computer audio through my stereo system. Which is not protected in any way from surges, spikes, lighting storms, or anything else. I think one of the times we momentarily lost power, there must have been a voltage reversal or some kind of static discharge through the stereo audio cable running from my PC to the receiver. Bummer. Not sure what I'm going to do about that. One of the downsides of being 1000 miles away from the home office is its harder to get stuff like this dealt with easily. Or at all.

Listening: Reuben Morgan - World Through Your Eyes

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Joy in the Journey

I think of myself as an artist. Primarily a musician and specifically a guitarist, but an appreciator and occassional dabbler in other expressions as well. In a sense, the label “artist” is exactly like that of “carpenter” or “engineer” or “pilot”. It suggests some specific skills and an intention or an area of focus for those skills to the attainment of some end. An artist is someone who creates art, just like a farmer farms, a trucker trucks, and an athlete performs athletic feats. The label points towards a product or a result.

I used to be a composer. I’ve written and recorded quite a lot of original music, but not very much in recent years. I still write occasionally, but would very much like to be more of a composer than I am. For me, this requires a particular discipline and a generous inventory of creative tools to do so effectively. To write the music I really want to make these days will take some time and effort. I will need to rebuild the studio, which is to the composer what the dungeon-laboratory is to the alchemist.

In recent years most of my artistic product is, well, vaporous, really. I mostly play other people’s songs, sometimes in new interpretive ways, other times not so much. This is not a bad thing at all, and can be very satisfying. It is richly rewarding to play every week in a worship ensemble at church, helping to lead a congregation into the Lord’s presence. It is a privilege that I deeply appreciate. But it is a specific kind of satisfaction. Being an artist-player is different than being a composer. A note is played, it sings, does what it is supposed to do and then it is gone…in very short order, the best song is a memory at best, fading fast. On a good day the residue that is left behind is a deep and warm satisfaction, a sense of fulfillment, peace, purpose, and often joy. Sometimes transcendental things happen and I see things and hear things in new, fresh ways. My soul can feed off of a good session for several days.

It is not always like that, though. Sometimes it is a struggle, a knotty problem to be solved, an experience to be endured, joyless and draining. Sometimes music is not art at all, it's beauty sabotaged and mocked as it is reduced to something functional and banal. It is a wasting of the gift. But even those sessions where there is no inspiration, when I feel like nothing I play has merit, it is still better than not playing at all. A bad day playing guitar is still better than a good day doing almost anything else.

When I was in college, my roommate, Mark Hansen and I had a simple motivational credo that kept our heads, hearts, and hands where they needed to be. We used to say that there are only three states of being for a musician…one was practicing, on the way to practicing, or taking a short break from practicing. No other state made any sense at all. That credo acknowledges the truth that art is a journey, not a destination. For it is through the practicing that we find ourselves. And the works of art that we create are landmarks and stepping-stones, trophies perhaps, but most importantly, they are signposts pointing us onward to the next level, the next plateau.

I’d like to find my way back to all of that somehow.