Art installation - San Antonio Museum of Art
Art installation - San Antonio Museum of Art
(heavily Photoshopped)

I try to post a new image to Instagram every morning. I'm not 100% successful because I'm lazy, but I don't miss too many days, because I enjoy the discipline of creating and sharing those pictures, when I'm not feeling lazy. I also like Instagram because it's the one social medium that is [mostly] immune to inflammatory rhetoric.

Note: If you already follow me in Instagram, you can skip the rest of this post. Unless you're just here for the mesmerizing mellifluence of my which case you can also skip this post.

Everything I post is based on my own photography, and mostly nature-related, although a lot of it will be unrecognizable because part of the fun is enhancing/modifying/mangling/ruining a picture via Photoshop. So, don't believe everything you see...but everything you see has at least a smidgen of truth in it. What you won't see is a lot of family or vacation photos, or selfies, or pictures of my food. There's nothing wrong with those things, and I enjoy seeing them on other accounts (for the most part), but I stumble to the bleat of a different bagpiper.

If you have an IG account and want to follow me, click here or on the camera-looking icon on the right side of this page. But if you're not on Instagram, here's what I've posted lately. Click on any thumbnail to see a full-sized version.

Tail feathers of a cedar waxwing, Horseshoe Bay, Texas Coy bunny Canal flowing from Comanche Springs, Fort Stockton, Texas Crawfish in Comanche Springs canal, Fort Stockton, Texas Teen zombie love in the nuclear apocalypse Mexican dove, Midland, Texas Mexican dove family, Midland, Texas Dream neighborhood Drone's eye view of the full moon, Horseshoe Bay, Texas Gnarled tree, Horseshoe Creek, Horseshoe Bay, Texas Gunsmoke Forest, Maui, Hawaii Last days of Atlantis View of Molokini from Wailea, Maui, Hawaii Pecan Creek, Horseshoe Bay, Texas Trees along Horseshoe Creek, Horseshoe Bay, Texas Nexuses Burrowing owl #1, Midland, Texas Burrowing owl #2, Midland, Texas Burrowing owl #3, Midland, Texas Paddleboarding, Lake LBJ, Horseshoe Bay, Texas Painted sky, Horseshoe Bay, Texas Rat Race Rock squirrels, Horseshoe Bay, Texas Sunset, Horseshoe Bay, Texas Rough Green Snake, Fredericksburg, Texas Watch your step Beach, South Padre Island, Texas Relaxing squirrel, Midland, Texas Lightning at sunset, Midland, Texas Total eclipse of the salad Wild turkeys, Fort Stockton, Texas Turtle, up close and personal Vincent Black Shadow, San Diego, California Wailea, Maui, Hawaii Walk to the light

Three Books About Music and Stuff
March 10, 2019 5:22 PM | Posted in: ,

It's been a long time since I wrote a book review. I don't feel really comfortable doing book reviews, because they require some wisdom and contextual insight that I lack. But sometimes it's enough just to say here's a book I like because... and then let you, the perceptive reader, decide whether what I like might also be something you like.

I've recently read two books that deal with the subject of music, and one that is a series of brief essays that are, like this blog, focused on nothing in particular other than what strikes the writer's fancy.

Book cover - How Music WorksHow Music Works is not a new book, but it was new to me when I picked it up in a bookstore in Santa Fe last fall. It was published in 2012, authored by David Byrne, probably best known as the frontman for the musical group Talking Heads. Byrne is without a doubt a gifted musician, but he's so much more than that. He's also an historian, an artist, a businessman, and a darned good writer.

The title can be viewed as having a double meaning: the author explores the physical and emotional effects music has on listeners, but he also delves into the business of music. Byrne is quite transparent in describing his personal experiences in dealing with record companies and performing venues, down to giving dollar figures for how certain recordings performed financially. It is, so to speak, a peek inside the musical sausage factory.

The business aspect of the book won't be riveting to many readers, but anyone who is interested in the pop and rock music scene (and I don't know why you'd buy this book if you're not) will enjoy Byrne's anecdotes and insights about his career and those of his fellow musicians. Byrne's prose is easy to digest, conversational almost, and unlike the stereotypical rock deity, he's self-deprecating in a winsome manner in describing both the ways he's succeeded as well as his [few] failures. I was also impressed by the sheer width of his musical interests, including country, gospel, so-called world or indigenous, classical, and, of course, rock and roll music. He doesn't simply dabble; he gets immersed.

Bottom line: I liked this book a lot. (And, as an erstwhile graphic designer of little talent, I love the cover.)

Book cover - The Birth of LoudContinuing with the music theme, I recently downloaded The Birth of Loud by Ian S. Port after reading a glowing review in the Wall Street Journal. Port is a music critic and a guitarist, and his passion for music shines in this history of the electric guitar. He has interwoven the stories of Leo Fender and Les Paul to make a framework for a fascinating account of the evolution of what is arguably the most important development in the history of modern music.

Why Leo and Les? Well, each has a firm claim on the invention of the electric guitar, and they leapfrogged each other throughout the instrument's early history in terms of enhancing it. Leo was an inventor but not a musician; Les was both, but didn't have Leo's engineering expertise. He teamed up with the Gibson Guitar Corporation to compete with Fender's company for the hearts and money of the world's guitarists.

Their rivalry (and personal quirks) makes for interesting reading, but where Port really shines is in the retelling of the anecdotes around which the myths of some of the most iconic rock musicians are built. Case in point: a riveting account of the evening that a not-yet-legendary Jimi Hendrix caused the already-a-guitar-god Eric Clapton to question whether he (Clapton) should ever bother picking up a guitar again. You'll also learn that the earliest adopters of the electric guitar were folks like Buck Owens and other pioneers in the Bakersfield country music scene who sought to move beyond the pedal steel that everyone else was using.

Whether you're a guitarist or not, if you grew up with and loved rock and roll, you should read this impressively researched book. Prepare to be disappointed, however, at how quickly it ends, even if your e-reader tells you there are many pages left to go...that's how extensive Port's supporting footnotes are.

Book cover - The Book of DelightsAnd now, to quote Monty Python, for something completely different. The Book of Delights (hereafter referred to as TBOD) is a collection of short essays -- very short; the author calls them essayettes, and most are a page in length, and a small page at that -- by Ross Gay, an award-winning writer and poet and college educator. He set out to write one story per day for a year, from one birthday to the next, about things... people... events... whatever... that, well, delighted him. He didn't quite make his daily goal, but the book contains 102 of these essayettes.

A long time ago, in the early days of the Fire Ant Gazette, I coined the phrase "Content-Free Blogging" as a self-deprecating warning not to take most of what I wrote too seriously. TBOD is content-free essaying. I continually tried to put myself into the author's shoes, or head, or heart as I read his observations about what in his environment or memories caused him delight, and I wasn't always successful. But sometimes I was, and sometimes what delighted him did the same for me, even if it wasn't what he was describing but the way he was describing it. I wish I could say this was the case in all 102 essays, or even in the majority of them. Your mileage may vary. As they say.

As a primer for an aspiring writer who wants to learn more about how to observe people, places, and things, TBOD is not a bad one. Details are important, even if those details don't accrue to subjects you're personally invested in. Gay's ability to focus on the mundane (he finds delight in the vulnerability of a ... carport) and then describe it was a helpful reminder to me, even as his focus on things I didn't care about provided a cautionary note to be mindful of my blogging audience.

Coupla things of note. If the world ever runs short of commas, we can blame Ross Gay. In one paragraph of one essay, I counted 23 of them. The man does take delight in commas. And, of localish interest, three of the essays arose from observations made in Marfa, Texas. You have to get close to the end of the book to find them and they're not focused on anything unique to Marfa, but they're there. And, finally, he tends to get embarrassingly specific about his own bodily functions and anatomy at times, thereby employing the official/unofficial #nofilter hashtag that I apply to modern poets. If you shy away from reading between the lines, let's leave it at this: don't pick this as a book for group study by your Sunday School class, unless it delights in kegs, smokes, and ribald limericks at its get-togethers.

TBOD is not written in a style that appeals to me, and the writer often gets a little too twee for my taste, but I stop short of saying the book was a waste of my time. I can't give it an unqualified recommendation. But, then, I don't appreciate poetry either, so that's on me.

Photo - 45 record with paper sleeve
I think I've finally come to the end of my vinyl ripping project, as I digitized the final 7" 45 rpm record in my collection. I added about eighty songs to iTunes (in addition to the 850 or so that were on LPs). Most of the 7-inchers were from the 1960s and 1980s; I have no recollection about the fate of the apparently-lost decade of the Seventies.

About half of these records had custom jackets, instead of the generic blank paper or record studio jackets. I scanned the custom jackets and added them as album art to the songs in iTunes and made a sort of collage, shown below. You can click on any specific cover to see a larger version, and navigate through each cover via the pop-up controls..

Aretha Franklin - Freeway of Love (1985) Berlin - Take My Breath Away (1986) Billy Joel - This Is The Time (1986) Bobby Sherman - Julie, Do Ya Love Me (1970) Mick Jagger & David Bowie - Dancing In The Street (1985) Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart - I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight (1968)
Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart - Out & About (1967) The Buckinghams - Mercy, Mercy, Mercy (1967) Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass - Casino Royale (1967) The Dave Clark Five - You Got What It Takes (1967) Dire Straits - Money For Nothing (1985) Electric Light Orchestra - Calling America (1984)
Samantha Fox - Touch Me (1986) The Rolling Stones - Harlem Shuffle (1986) The Art of Noise with Max Headroom 7 - Paranomia (1986) Herb Alpert - This Guy's In Love With You (1968) INXS - What You Need (1985) Children's Choir - It's A Small World (Unknown)
Loverboy - Lovin' Every Minute Of It (1985) John Cougar Mellencamp - ROCK In The USA (1985) Mike + The Mechanics - All I Need Is A Miracle (1985) Janet Jackson - Nasty (1986) Prince And The Revolution - Kiss (1986) Robert Palmer - Addicted To Love (1985)
Run DMC - Walk This Way (1986) Tommy James and the Shondells - Mirage (1967) The Rolling Stones - Jumpin' Jack Flash (1968) Pete Townshend - Face The Face (1985) Gary Puckett & The Union Gap - Lady Willpower (1968) USA for Africa - We Are The World (1985)

I'll readily admit to some questionable musical choices (I'm looking at you, Samatha Fox, you saucy minx), and I'll also confess that I think some of these records never got played more than once or twice (Max Headroom just didn't stand up to repeated listenings). But some of these records are semi-classics (such as the Disneyland-issued of It's A Small World sung in four languages by an unnamed children's choir and selling for 29¢, the Canadian version of Rock Me Amadeus by the non-Canadian Falco who died in a car wreck at age 40, and the all-star USA for Africa group's We Are The World relief fundraiser recording, said group featuring the likes of Dan Akroyd, Waylon Jennings, and Paul Simon).

I have no particular sentimental attachment to these 45s, now that I've digitized them, so I'm more than happy to give them to a new home that might appreciate them either as music or history or cultural artifact or substitute clay pigeons for trap shooting. So, here's the deal. I've made a musical collage of 3-second snippets from ten of these records (some are NOT included in the record sleeve collage above), and uploaded that collage in mp3 format. You can listen to it below. The first person* to correctly identify all ten songs via the comments section on this post (or in the comments to the Facebook post leading to this article) will win all ten records. What a deal, huh?

I intentionally didn't make the collage too difficult (e.g. I omitted songs by John Wesley Ryles and Don & The Goodtimers [who aren't who you and Wikipedia might think], as well as all of the B-sides), but it will require some musical knowledge spanning a few decades. I think all of the songs landed in the top 20 and many of them hit #1. Good luck!

Update (3/6/19): We have a winner! Fellow blogger Jay Solo correctly identified all ten songs over on Facebook. I've listed them at the bottom of this post in case you still want to give it a try.

[Note: MLB thinks that I need to add a disclaimer that the winner gets the records...whether they want them or not. I suggested that the winner gets 10 records; second place gets 20. Sheesh. My music gets no respect.]

*The date and time stamps on the comments will absolutely rule. Ab-so-lutely. In the event of a tie, the person who sends me the most money wins. Oh, wait...that's probably illegal. Never mind. The person who flatters me the most wins the records, but loses their soul. Probably.
Here are the songs in the order of appearance:
    1. Thank The Lord For The Night Time [1969] - Neil Diamond
    2. A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You [1967] - The Monkees
    3. Polk Salad Annie [1969] - Tony Joe White
    4. Secret Agent Man [1966] - Johnny Rivers
    5. Addicted To Love [1985] - Robert Palmer
    6. Don't Sleep In The Subway [1967] - Petula Clark
    7. Money For Nothing [1985] - Dire Straits
    8. Born To Be Wild [1968] - Steppenwolf
    9. Mirage [1967] - Tommy James & The Shondells
    10. Hello, I Love You [1968] - The Doors

    Fort Stockton High School Band (1969-1970)
    February 28, 2019 12:56 PM | Posted in: ,

    This is the last in a series of four posts spotlighting music from the Fort Stockton (Texas) "Pride of Pantherland" High School band. [Previously: 1966-1967 | 1967-1968 | 1968-1969] These posts will span the school years corresponding to the time yours truly (and MLB) spent in the band. I'm doing this as a way of preserving some of the musical memories that were made in those years. I'm sure that not everyone who was in the band at that time kept the record albums that were issued after each spring concert.

    If you were a band member during that era, please feel free to share your memories via the comments section below. A half century has passed, as have many of our schoolmates. This is a good time to record some history.

    Senior year (1969-1970) was a time of mixed emotions. We had a new band director -- Donald E. Hanna. Mr. Hanna was the polar opposite, style-wise, from Mr. Jarrell, but he was one of the finest directors and nicest guys I've ever known. He became well-known throughout the state for his directing skills. He unfortunately succumbed to cancer in 2014 at age 72. 

    The war in Viet Nam continue to rage, and a few of my classmates were either drafted or enlisted after graduation. I had a fairly low draft number, but got a student deferment when I enrolled at Texas A&M. The draft never really was a worry for me, but it also wasn't taken lightly.
    Yearbook photos of my wife and me
    L-R: MLB, aka Band Sweetheart; Don Hanna, Director; Me, Head Band Geek

    But I digress. Band-wise, this was a great year. I was first chair clarinet for most of the year (Del Yarbrough -- later known as Dr. Yarbrough -- assumed it for a brief period, as I recall; for the record, I doubt that I was a better player than him, but I suspect that Mr. Hanna wanted a senior as first chair). I was Band Captain and MLB was Band Sweetheart. I'm positive she was more qualified for her position than I was for mine. Both of us made All District band (she was also a clarinetist).

    The FSHS band excelled during the four years the Class of 1970 was there. (By contrast, it's a good thing our band excelled so we didn't have to count on our football record to inflate our school pride. In four football seasons that our graduating class endured experienced, Fort Stockton went 4-35-1. That one tie was the only non-loss of our senior year. Our basketball team, by contrast, was awesome.)

    Here are photos of the band's 1970 album front sleeve -- in full color for the first time! -- and the record label. In addition, the back of the sleeve has a list of the band members, and I've included that below as well. 

    The song I've selected from this album is in a different vein than the first two I picked. English Dances composed by Malcolm Arnold in the early 1950s. Arnold also produced the score for The Bridge On The River Kwai, for which he won an Academy Award. Unlike that song, English Dances had no whistling, which was a blessing.

    Record album front sleeveRecord album front sleeve
    Record album back sleeve

    As you'll be able to discern from the very beginning of the piece, English Dances was a bear of a song for woodwinds, and I think we acquitted ourselves admirably with it.

    Fort Stockton High School Band (1968-1969)
    February 23, 2019 12:43 PM | Posted in: ,

    This is the third in a series of four posts spotlighting music from the Fort Stockton (Texas) "Pride of Pantherland" High School band. [Jump to: 1966-1967 | 1967-1968 | 1969-1970] These posts will span the school years from 1966-67 through 1969-70, corresponding to the time yours truly (and MLB) spent in the band. I'm doing this as a way of preserving some of the musical memories that were made in those years. I'm sure that not everyone who was in the band at that time kept the record albums that were issued after each spring concert.

    If you were a band member during that era, please feel free to share your memories via the comments section below. A half century has passed, as have many of our schoolmates. This is a good time to record some history.

    I came into my own during my junior year (1968-1969). I challenged for first chair clarinet (no more playing the second parts for me!) and again made the All-District band. This was to be Mr. Jarrell's last year in Fort Stockton. It also wasn't the best year for the band overall, as we failed to win Sweepstakes.

    The first moon landing occurred in July, 1969, and I remember it because I and two bandmates -- Tommy Schlegel and John David Evans (RIP) -- drove my parents' 1958 Ford (without a/c) to Norman, Oklahoma to visit Mr. Jarrell. We watched the landing on his TV. [Ed. They landed on the moon, not on his TV.] On the return trip we made it as far as Penwell, between Monahans and Odessa, before the alternator gave out and we had to call our dads to rescue us. Good times.

    Here are photos of the band's 1969 album front sleeve and the record label. The song I've selected from this album is in a different vein than the first two I picked. España Cañi (translated as "Gypsy Spain") is a Spanish paso doble, or two-step (not to be confused with the country dance of the same name). It was composed by Pascual Marquina Narro (also styled as Pascual Marquina) in the early 1920s. It is sometimes referred to as the Spanish Gypsy Dance, and it's still frequently played in Latin paso doble dance competitions.

    Record album front sleeveRecord album front sleeve

    My recollection is that España Cañi was a lot of fun to play. Also, I don't recall ever hearing anyone in Fort Stockton pronounce Cañi as anything but Connie. So much for the Latin influence in West Texas. As you can see on the label above, the tildes didn't make the cut for inclusion in the song title. (Also, the "locator star" on the album cover is off from the actual location by approximately 150 miles. Chalk it up to either artistic license, or failure to geographi.)

    Fort Stockton High School Band (1967-1968)
    February 18, 2019 1:53 PM | Posted in: ,

    This is the second in a series of four posts spotlighting music from the Fort Stockton (Texas) "Pride of Pantherland" High School band. [Jump to: 1966-1967 | 1968-1969 | 1969-1970] These posts will span the school years from 1966-67 through 1969-70, corresponding to the time yours truly (and MLB) spent in the band. I'm doing this as a way of preserving some of the musical memories that were made in those years. I'm sure that not everyone who was in the band at that time kept the record albums that were issued after each spring concert.

    If you were a band member during that era, please feel free to share your memories via the comments section below. A half century has passed, as have many of our schoolmates. This is a good time to record some history.

    One could make the case that 1967 was the greatest year in music history. Groups like Cream, the Rolling Stones, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Doors, and Jefferson Airplane populated the charts, and the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. All good stuff, but in Fort Stockton, the Pride of Pantherland was continuing its hot streak.

    Band in my sophomore year (1967-1968) was more comfortable. Mr. Jarrell, our director, was a stern but capable leader, and I was much less intimidated by him. 

    I also improved my skills during the year, and made the All-District band for the first time. I don't have much natural musical talent but what I had back then was the ability to actually enjoy practicing. And it's a good thing I was improving in band because I was a lousy athlete.

    Here are photos of the band's 1968 album front sleeve and the record label. The song I've selected from this album is Chester, composed by William Schuman who, according to this article, won the first Pulitzer Prize for music composition, and also received a Kennedy Center honor in 1987. The piece was written in the mid-50s and the tune is based on a 1778 anthem purported to be sung around campfires and adopted as a marching song by the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Schuman died in 1992 at age 81.

    Record album front sleeveRecord album front sleeve

    As before, here's the digitized version of the original vinyl recording. The first two minutes are pretty sedate, but the notes come in vast bunches shortly thereafter. We must have impressed the judges; for the second consecutive year, the band won Sweepstakes.

    The Fort Stockton High School Band (1966-67)
    February 14, 2019 10:21 AM | Posted in: ,

    This is the first in a series of four posts spotlighting music from the Fort Stockton (Texas) "Pride of Pantherland" High School band. These posts will span the school years from 1966-67 through 1969-70, corresponding to the time yours truly (and MLB) spent in the band. I'm doing this as a way of preserving some of the musical memories that were made in those years. I'm sure that not everyone who was in the band at that time kept the record albums that were issued after each spring concert.

    If you were a band member during that era, please feel free to share your memories via the comments section below. A half century has passed, as have many of our schoolmates. This is a good time to record some history.

    I was a freshman clarinetist entering high school in 1966, and being in the band was simultaneously exciting and terrifying. I don't have many specific memories of that year, but I do recall being rather intimidated by the director, James A. "Buddy" Jarrell. What I do remember is that Fort Stockton had a pretty good band, and we proved it by winning "Sweepstakes" that year. Sweepstakes was awarded to high school bands that received a "1" ("superior") from the judges in three separate contests: marching, sight-reading -- playing never-seen-before music -- and prepared concert.

    I was a pretty good clarinet player in junior high, but high school was a whole other ballgame. Still, even as a freshman, I managed to work my way up to the middle of the section, playing the second part. 

    The best part of the year was when my future wife walked into the band hall. Little did I suspect that in seven years, we'd be married, and I'm sure she would have been aghast at the proposition at that point.

    Here are photos of the band's album front sleeve and the record label. The song I've selected from this album is Incantation and Dance, composed by John Barnes Chance and premiered in 1960. Chance composed a number of pieces popular with high school bands, including Variations On a Korean Folksong which our band actually performed the next year. Chance died from accidental electrocution in 1972, at age 39.

    Record album front sleeveRecord album front sleeve
    There I am...third row on the right, third from the end. You see me, right?

    Here's the song, ripped directly from the original vinyl, in all its crackling glory. It starts slowly, but morphs into a pretty challenging piece.

    Lately, I've seen a lot of discussion on various local social media about folks who are having issues with critters tearing up their lawns and/or living where they shouldn't be living (e.g. skunks declaring a homestead under a back yard deck). These discussions often contain a lot of good advice, as well as some that's ineffective (in my experience) and other that's just wrong. The real problem is that, as far as I can tell, there's not a single repository for advice backed up by local on-the-ground experience, hence this post. Google being the good servant it is, I trust that someone searching for trapping tips in the Texas Hill Country will find this article and try out some of the things I've learned since moving here.

    First, I probably should establish my bona fides as a trapper, although if you're a regular Gazette reader you've seen this many times before and can skip the next paragraph. 

    Before moving here in the late summer of 2017, I had never caught anything bigger than a lizard, nor had I any reason to do otherwise. But we moved into a house that backed up to a creek and was surrounded by a golf course and large vacant lots and wooded areas. We immediately were confronted with a seemingly endless parade of varmints dedicated to the proposition that our lawn was the animal kingdom's equivalent of a Golden Corral. Also, there was this.

    Out of necessity, then, I became a trapper, and after just over a year, this is my scorecard:

    Pictograph showing numbers of animals trapped, by species

    In case my icons aren't intuitive, that's 17 raccoons, 24 armadillos, 7 possums, 4 skunks, and two house cats...more than 50 animals in all. So, perhaps I've gained some experience you'll find useful.

    1. Learn the Law. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) is the state agency that regulates, among other things, "fur-bearing animal" trapping and hunting. The definition of "fur-bearing animal" includes the most commonly trapped animals in the Hill Country: raccoons, skunks, and possums (note that armadillos are not included). If any of these species are damaging your property, they fall into the category of "nuisance fur-bearing animals" and may be lawfully trapped by the property owner without any license or restriction. However -- and this is a big one -- trapped animals cannot be relocated to someone else's property without that property owner's permission. Visit TPWD's website to familiarize yourself with the relevant regulations.

    2. Identify your culprits. A lot of different animals live around here, and most of them are diggers or can otherwise damage your property. Squirrels dig tiny holes, but generally in flower beds or pots. Skunks dig holes, but not many and not too deep. Raccoons are worse than skunks about digging, but armadillos will make a literal minefield out of your yard, searching for grubs and worms. You need to figure out what's doing the damage in order to know what steps to take to mitigate it. Invest in a good game camera (I use a Moultrie) and set it out overnight near where you've spotted evidence of animal activity.

      Not only will you be able to know for sure what you're dealing with, you might also have some interesting surprises.

      Buzzard inspecting trap

    3. Get the right trap for the job. An effective armadillo trap probably won't work for a raccoon or skunk, and vice versa. For armadillos, I highly recommend this scented trap. Armadillos are creatures of habit and will often follow the same trail multiple nights in a row. Set this trap at night somewhere along where you first found the damage, and chances are you'll find an armadillo in it the next morning. It doesn't need to be baited; the scent (don't ask) embedded in the wood lures them in. They lumber blindly into the trap, hit the length of wood hanging down in the middle, and both ends of the trap drop down. The armadillo will bang around inside for a while, and then settle down and go to sleep.

      For raccoons and skunks, I use a Havahart Live Animal trap, a wire trap that humanely imprisons animals for later release. The wire part is important; you want to be able to see if you've caught a skunk instead of a raccoon, for example. These traps are relatively inexpensive and are available at most hardware stores in the area. They do need to be baited. I've found that an open can of sardines is effective in luring fur-bearing varmints into the trap while being ignored by armadillos; other people have claimed success using cat food. (This might not be the best idea if you have a lot of cats in your neighborhood, although they'll eventually steer clear after spending a couple of nights in your trap.)

    4. Don't underestimate the capabilities of your foe. I've learned the hard way that I'm not always smarter than a raccoon, and I have grudging admiration for their ability to develop countermeasures for each of my trapping strategies. So, here are a couple of sub-lessons:

      • If you place a raccoon trap in your yard, make sure you place it on something they can't dig through -- like a thick doormat -- and stake it to the ground. I use bungee cords front and back attached to tent stakes embedded in the ground (make sure the cords don't interfere with the trap mechanism). These are critical steps because they WILL attempt to dig their way through the floor of the trap and they WILL absolutely destroy the grass beneath the cage in the process. Raccoons are very active prisoners and they are able to roll a trap if it's not tied down and sometimes escape in the process.

      • Raccoons are also inventive little thieves, so your bait should be placed as far back in the trap as possible to increase the likelihood that they'll step on the trip plate instead of reaching over it and absconding with a full can of delicious sardines. At some point, you may also discover that they've figured out a way to reach through the sides of the trap and pull out the bait a little at a time. I eventually customized my trap with wire mesh tied to the sides and end of the trap closest to the bait to prevent this behavior.
    5. Release responsibly. First, never set a trap if you won't be able to check it within the next twelve hours. It's inhumane to leave an animal in a trap for an extended period of time (and, yeah, I realize that some of you are simply going to exterminate what you trap, and that's certainly your prerogative, but while they're alive, be nice). Second, abide by the TPWD's regulations for releasing your animals, something that I confess I haven't always done due to the difficulty of tracking down property owners in undeveloped areas. Your best bet, if you live within city limits, is to call your local Animal Services department and have them deal with the trapped animal. This is especially true if you've trapped a skunk and don't want to simply release it (which, by the way, can be done safely if you're careful), or if the animal is behaving erratically, evidence that it may be rabid. I would also recommend getting Animal Services involved if you trap a fox...which is unlikely in my experience, but not impossible.
    I hope these tips are useful for ridding yourself of these kinds of critters. If, however, you're dealing with something like a black mamba or a 1,000-pound feral hog or a man-eating Bengal tiger...well, good luck with that, and let us know how that turns out.

    Glenn Miller & Liner Notes, Pt. II
    February 4, 2019 7:16 AM | Posted in:

    Alert Gazette readers will recall the Gazette's staff's unnatural fixation on vinyl albums featuring the music of Glenn Miller, and album notes related thereto. For those who were hoping this was a passing fancy, we regret to inform you that there's (at least) one more episode.

    Album front coverI have previously mentioned that I'm digitizing LPs from my parents' collection, but I've also got a few albums that were previously in the possession of my father-in-law. One of those, a two-platter set, is entitled Glenn Miller -- A Memorial -- 1944-1969
    If you're wondering, as I did, about the seemingly odd span of years in the album title, the only explanation I found is that it corresponds to the 25-year period between Miller's disappearance over the English Channel and the year of this album's release. It's a non-intuitive reference, to be sure.

    This particular collection contains thirty of Miller's performances, most of which are duplicates of other albums I've already digitized. But there are some new cuts, such as Perfidia, Elmer's Tune, and At Last, a song that I had always attributed to Etta James but which was actually first recorded by Miller's orchestra.

    One track that appears on more than one album is a swinging arrangement by Bill Finegan of Song of the Volga Boatmen, the no-doubt-familiar-to-you, normally-dirge-like Russian folk song. I started to give you my own condensed description of how this arrangement unfolds, but instead I'll direct you to this Swing & Beyond post that leaves absolutely no stone unturned. But I will tease you with a clip highlighting Ernie Caceres's 30-second alto sax solo:

    The tracks on this collection are listed in the order of the recording dates for each song, beginning in April, 1939 and ending in July, 1942, the year Miller enlisted in the Army. He recorded additional music with the Army Air Force (AAF) band he led, but no additional recordings with his original orchestra were made.

    Liner Notes

    The album notes included in this collection are significant due primarily to their author: Benny Goodman. Mr. Goodman elected to not comment on the individual performances included in the collection, but rather focused on his personal relationship with and observations about his fellow musician and close friend. Following are those liner notes in their entirety.

    The Personal and Distinctive Sound of Glenn Miller and His Orchestra

    The majority of you who buy this record are probably dyed-in-the-wool fans of Glenn Miller and His Orchestra, and perhaps this music will revive the memories of dancing to Glenn in person.

    I too have been a Glenn Miller admirer, and for over a longer time than any of you, for we were friends for many years. During the late '20s we worked together in Ben Pollack's Band, for which he arranged and played trombone and in which I played sax and clarinet. When the band broke up in the early '30s, Glenn and I lived together and hoped we would find enough work to support us.

    At first it wasn't easy. Those were deep depression days and there wasn't enough work to go around for all the musicians. We lived at the Whitby Apartments on West 45th Street and things got so rough for us that occasionally we would get up early and borrow empty mile bottles from in front of other apartments and cash them in at the local grocery store so we could buy hot dogs for lunch.

    Glenn in those days was exactly the same as he was about eight years later when he became leader of the most popular band in this country. He was an honest, straightforward man and you knew just where you stood with him. He was always serious about his work, but off the job he was an excellent companion with a wonderful sense of humor and a great feeling for the ridiculous. Have you ever heard the nonsensical lyrics he wrote for the Dorsey Brothers record of Annie's Cousin Fanny? You had to have a pretty real sense of humor to come up with ideas like those.

    We who knew him well in those days found him to be an excellent friend - generous and concerned, sometimes serious, but never stuffy, and all the musicians in our circle admired him tremendously. He was a dedicated musician and an excellent arranger, full of original ideas such as the lyrics he contributed to the Charleston Chasers recording of Basin Street Blues, the one on which Jack Teagarden sang. We both played in the pit of two Gershwin shows: Strike Up The Band and  Girl Crazy.

    I think his greatest contributions were made to organized dance orchestras. He wrote many fine arrangements for us in the Pollack Band, so when the Dorsey Brothers decided to form their own band, they asked Glenn to arrange for them. He not only created some exciting charts but also played a major part in the formation of their band. And so it wasn't surprising that when Ray Noble came to this country he selected Glenn as organizer and arranger for his American band. Here again Glenn turned in a first-rate job.

    Those of us who had been close to Glenn weren't entirely surprised when he decided to form his own band. After all, he had proven himself to be a careful and thorough organizer and rehearser, and, even though he had never officially been credited as such, at least some sort of co-leader of the various bands in which he had played.

    As all Miller fans know, it wasn't easy for Glenn at first. I remember that in either late 1937 or early 1938, when we were playing in Dallas, I ran into Glenn, whose band was working one of its first steady jobs at the Adolphus Hotel, and he was very downcast and discouraged and kept asking me just what it was he needed to become successful. I really couldn't tell him anything he didn't already know, but I remember I did try to encourage him all I could. Nothing I said, I suspect, had anything to do with it, but within a year Glenn's band had suddenly hit. If after that anybody was going to anybody else for advice, it might have been smart of me to turn to Glenn for his!

    Many people try to analyze just what it was that made Glenn's music so successful. I can think of several reasons. He had a great sense of the commercial, of what would attract the average listener, and this he managed to do without sacrificing his musical integrity. This is one reason why his band was so loved by so much of the public while still retaining the respect of so many musicians. Glenn was also able to find the particular sound he was looking for that gave his orchestra the personal and distinctive sound which was recognized as his signature.

    Glenn had an amazing ability to recognize talent, even when it was in the raw, and to help develop it. Think of the many young musicians who broke in with his band - men like Tex Beneke and Hal McIntyre and Trigger Alpert and Willie Schwartz, and especially the arrangers like Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray and Billy May who had done all right with other bands, but really blossomed under Glenn.

    And, finally, I should point out that Glenn had a great knack for handling people. He may have seemed aloof to some of his public - and that aloofness was natural, for Glenn was not an outgoing person, at least not until he got to know somebody well - but he still managed to impart a sort of mature warmth to his public. However, it was in dealing with musicians that he really shone. He was a "driver," as many of us leaders of those days were labeled, but he drove his men gently and with reason, and he invariably respected them and treated them as human beings, just as he himself always expected to be treated by others.

    The music contained in this album certainly reflects the spirit of Glenn Miller, the Musician. I hope these notes will have added to your knowledge of Glenn Miller, the Man. I shall ways remember him and be grateful to have had him as a good friend.

    Signature - Benny Goodman

    Digitizing My Life: Five Vinyl Album Takeaways
    January 29, 2019 7:28 PM | Posted in:

    Bored Gazette readers are justifiably tiring of reading about my record digitizing efforts. I understand completely. One of the benefits of retirement is having time to spend on frivolous activities like mid-morning naps, mid-afternoon naps, converting record albums from the last century to a digital format, and writing tedious, repetitive blog posts about it all. So, here goes.

    I've been using a free, open source, cross-platform bit of software called Audacity to rip a collection of about 200 vinyl records into AIFF format so I can import the music into iTunes and get rid of the physical albums. 

    We have plenty of closet space in our house so storage isn't really a motivating factor, although records do take up a lot of room. What I don't have is room in our A/V cabinet for a turntable, nor the inclination to play records. Having to get up every 15-to-24 minutes to flip a platter is such a chore.

    I'm almost finished with this project, and here are a handful of observations that might benefit anyone thinking about doing the same thing.

    1. A good quality USB turntable will make your life easier. I have an Audio-Tecnica AT-LP120-USB unit. This player can be connected to a receiver with a phono pre-amp and played through your home theater speaker system, or connected directly to a computer via USB cable to make digitizing vinyl drop-dead simple. The turntable even comes bundled with the aforementioned Audacity software. And speaking of Audacity...

    2. The right software makes your life even easier. Audacity is the right software. It not only provides intuitive and simple controls for digitizing your albums to your computer, it has extensive features for editing, cleaning up, and enhancing the music. Audacity has many more uses beyond digitizing LPs, but even if that's all you want to do with it, it's worth the cost (did I mention it's free?). Its documentation even provides a sample workflow for digitizing your records.

    3. Not all music ages gracefully. OK, that's probably not fair to the music. Let's just say that my musical tastes have changed since the mid-60s, and some of the music I thought was worth buying in the past is not worth keeping today. I'm not sure why I thought Virgil Fox's Heavy Organ at Carnegie Hall was a good buy and whatever attraction I once had for The Mothers of Invention's We're Only In It For the Money has disappeared with time. The oldest album in the collection was a 1964 release entitled Draggin' and Surfin' with classic songs like Little Surfer Girl and Wipeout. Sadly, I had forgotten that instead of featuring the original groups like the Beach Boys and Surfaris, the LP was recorded by a studio band called The Jalopy Five. The cuts didn't make the cut.

    4. Buying an entire album to get one good song was a loser's game. Anybody remember the 1984 song 99 Luftballons by the German singer Nena? It's a pretty good 80s anthem, but the rest of the LP (same title) is forgettable. I kept only two songs from that album...the German- and English-language versions of the song. This is just one example of record after record with one or two "good" (yeah, it's subjective) songs. And 45s were not always an option, and even if they were available, they weren't good options. So, digitizing your LPs lets you pick and choose which songs you feel are really worth listening to again.

    5.  Discogs is probably an underappreciated resource for vinyl fans. Admit it, you've never heard of Discogs, because if you had, you would have told me about it. It's the most comprehensive database of recordings I've found; it's a combination of Wikipedia and eBay for "open-source" collaborative website where you can not only find information about albums (and singles) but also buy, sell, and trade. And now that I've found this resource, I'm beginning to regret donating my old albums; check out some of the prices for "the most expensive items sold on Discogs" in a given month. Granted, our copy of Henry Mancini's Greatest Hits is not going to garner the same interest as a vintage Sex Pistol's album, but who knows what nostalgia people are jonesing for nowadays?
    I mentioned at the top that I'm almost finished with this project. But a variation looms on the horizon...I have a 7" stack of 7-inchers (aka 45s) waiting for the same treatment. And I'm just sure some of them will be ridiculously irresistible to Discogs junkies.

    Photos of 7-inch record covers
    I'm going to be rich! Rich, I tell you!