Poctober: the Spinx and the City in the Sea

“The Sphinx” turned out to be an interesting choice for starting off the month. Set against the backdrop of a cholera outbreak in New York, Poe immediately establishes a potent undertone of dread. In the tale, he is staying at the country cottage of a friend for the summer. Though they are distanced from the plague and surrounded by the beauty of nature, the peacefulness is tainted. Daily they receive messages about the passing of acquaintances and friends.

Poe relates his growing anxiety amid the gloom, and eventually shares the story of an experience beyond his explanation. He describes witnessing a giant horror across the river and admits that the sight made him question his sanity. This thread of madness-inducing (or sanity-questioning) horror places Poe’s influence on Lovecraft on full display, for this would become HPL’s brand through and through.

I’ll forgo explaining the ending here, in case you’d like to read it (it’s quite a short story), but suffice it to say it ends on a somewhat humorous note. Rather than madness or death, Poe issues something of a sad trombone to his literary persona.

“The City in the Sea” is a dark piece about a city in the West where Death sits upon a throne. The titular city is visited by a “long night-time” and untouched by the light of heaven. It is a place of riches and impressive constructions – domes and fanes and Babylon-like walls, and towers, and shrines.

In the end, the waters turn red and Hell rises to do reverence to the city.

I was quite impressed by the poem, though I can’t say I fully grasp every element of it. It sounds much as if the city is a domain of Hell on earth (how’s that for a commentary on Western civilization), and yet one of the earliest lines says

“Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
Have gone to their eternal rest. ”

Perhaps this line is speaking of the West in general, rather than the city. Otherwise I’m not quite sure what to make of this haunting place, beautiful and yet foul, if the best be there as well as the worst.

In an earlier form, the poem was titled “The Doomed City,” and was later reworked and renamed “The City of Sin” and then finally “The City in the Sea.” Inspirations for the work are said to include the Biblical city of Gamorrah and Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan.” It would go on to inspire other creators, including Danish composer Poul Ruders:

Overall, I’d say this was a pleasing reintroduction to Edgar Allan Poe. Much like Howard and Lovecraft before I’d read and researched further about them, his work was more varied than I’d realized.

-Bushi

bushi

 

 

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McLintock! and the Minstrel of Gondor

I recently discovered that Amazon Prime’s got a nice little cache of westerns and have been picking through some of the old John Wayne flicks. Yesterday’s lunch break selection was McLintock! – a kind of comedic western about the titular wealthy, but of course manly, cattle baron (Wayne) and his estranged wife (Maureen O’Hara). I was pleasantly surprised to see her in the leading woman’s role. Hadn’t realized the two of them had co-starred in so many films together!

Anyway, there was something familiar about movie’s opening song. It took me a moment, but it was that lead vocalist. Sounds a lot like the vocals from that 1977 animated Rankin and Bass Hobbit production. Well, turns out that’s because it is!

Glenn Yarsbrough, who just passed away last year, had a real nice timbre. Here are a couple of his pieces that I remember fondly, despite not knowing who he was until now.

The Minstrel of Gondor! Not a bad post.

RIP, Minstrel.

002

-Bushi

bushi

“Ebola’s Back”, a Parody Lyrics Post

  • by Gitabushi

To the tune of “My Boyfriend’s Back” (Karaoke version, so you can sing along, here)

[Spoken]:
We thought we beat you but you hung around, waiting for a chance. And when nations wouldn’t follow epidemic protocols you did some things to people that weren’t very nice.
[Sung]:
Ebola’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble.
(Hey, la-di-la, Ebola’s back.)
When you see them dyin’, better cut on the double.
(Hey, la-di-la, Ebola’s back.)
Obama made claims that were clearly untrue.
(Hey, la-di-la, Ebola’s back.)
Like you can’t get it from someone sittin’ next to you.
(Hey, la-di-la, Ebola’s back.)
And all the refugees are tryin’,
To reach the US while they’re dyin’
It’s been gone for an interval of time.
(Hey, la-di-la, Ebola’s back.)
Just long enough we all thought it would be fine.
(Hey, la-di-la, Ebola’s back.)
You’re gonna be sorry you were ever born.
(Hey, la-di-la, Ebola’s back.)
‘Cause you’ll vomit and ache from night till morn.
(Hey, la-di-la, Ebola’s back.)
All the countries that are cheatin’,
Spread the multi-orifice bleedin’.
What made you think it wouldn’t take Blue lives?
(Ah-oo, ah-oo.)
Gated communities are in for a surprise!
(Ah-oo.)
Wait and see!
Ebola’s back, open borders help transmission.
If I were you, I’d probably halt immigration.
(Hey, la-di-la, Ebola’s back.)
La-di-la, Ebola’s back!
La-di-la, Ebola’s back!

Guitar Lust: Kramer DMZ 2000

  • By Gitabushi

One of the things that annoys me the most about a guitar is if you take a guitar out to another location to play it, or move from indoors to outdoors, and the change in temperature and humidity causes the neck to bend differently.  Suddenly, the strings fret out. Or the action is suddenly higher.  You have to get out an allen wrench and make adjustments to the truss rod.

Or even worse, you purchase a guitar, and over the months or years, the neck slowly warps, twisting or bowing or even developing humps that make it nearly impossible to have low action without buzzing or fretting out.

Guitar manufacturers are aware of this, and they dealt with it in a number of ways.  First, of course, is the truss rod that allows you to adjust to the changes.  Other solutions have included dual carbon-fiber truss rods (that can deal with twist), baking/drying/aging the wood so that it will less susceptible to environmental conditions, using three-piece necks with the grain of the middle strip running opposite to the two outside strips to cause any wood movement from environmental factors to work in opposition, and using other materials that are less susceptible to environmental changes.

In an excellent example of that last approach, in 1976, the Kramer guitar company made aluminum-necked guitars.

The guitars featured an aluminum skeleton neck, with a distinctive forked neck, attached to a normal wood body.  The neck has wooden inserts usually, but not always, the same type of wood as the body, with the intent of providing a more conventional, less cold feel for the guitarists fretting hand.

In 1978, they came out with the DMZ line, including the one I have, the DMZ 2000.  The DMZ portion was a marketing emphasis on its Dimarzio pickups.  The 2000 being that it was better than the 1000, I think.  Or maybe just that there was a series, because the 3000 is just a Strat-style guitar, without extra features, and the 4000 and 5000 series are basses…no one in their right minds would say a bass is better than an electric guitar, right?

Like all Kramer aluminum-necked guitars, the DMZ 2000 featured an ebonite fretboard. That’s something I really appreciate, because I really like ebony as a fretboard for a number of reasons.  First, I like the appearance of black fretboards.  Second, I fancy that I can hear an impact on tone; guitars with ebony fingerboards seemed to have an extra chime to the attack.  Or, at least, I used think that.  I can’t seem to tell the difference anymore, so maybe it was all in my head in the first place. After all, there is no way to swap out fretboards on the same guitar to a/b the tone.  Third, ebony has always been the easiest and fastest to play on.  I really can feel that rosewood fretboards are more difficult to play on, because the softer, more open-grained wood of rosewood literally clings to skin and slows down the release.  I know the difference is microseconds, if not nanoseconds, but I have tested this out on many guitars, and I really can feel the difference.  Ebony-style man-made materials (like ebonite and other materials like acrylic) are simply faster.

diagram

The DMZ 2000 also has two coil split toggles, so you can get eight different usable tones from the two pickups, including some good single coil tones either singly or in combination.

All that aluminum does make the guitar pretty heavy.  It’s a drawback that doesn’t bother me much, but might bother someone with shoulder or back problems.

The guitar is very comfortable to play standing up or sitting down.  Personally, I love the tone and ergonomics of playing this guitar.

I got mine from a local vintage-focused guitar shop.  I was surprised to see it listed at just $850.  I had heard about these and thought they would be collector-priced well beyond my willingness to pay, maybe something above $2000.  A quick search showed that the price was pretty much in-line with what they sold for on Reverb, or maybe slightly lower.   I didn’t regret buying it.  It is one of my favorite guitars: collectible and a great player, but also durable enough that I wouldn’t be afraid to take it out to a gig.

There are other aluminum-necked guitars made by Kramer, of course.  The DMZ line was the second wave, running from 1978 to 1981.  From these pictures, you can see the first wave, as well as how the second wave changed during its production run:

robdutch1

You can find out more about Kramer’s aluminum-necked guitars here.

…man, I really want to choose “robots” as one of the categories for this post, but I’ll stick with accuracy and refrain.

 

11/17/16 Guitar Lust: Paul Reed Smith 25th Anniversary Swamp Ash Special

written by Gitabushi

Paul Reed Smith.

If you know anything about guitars, you’ve probably heard of Paul Reed Smith guitars.  He did something amazing: he turned a basement startup into THE major player in the guitar manufacturing business.

I could write pages of history and explanation if, you know, I knew any of it. But I’m too lazy to research, so if you want to more about how Paul Reed Smith became a household name, we can consider it the audience participation portion of the blog.

Let’s just say that Paul Reed Smith is the guitar for rich guys in their 40s who always wished they were rockstars. The guitar of aging dentists everywhere.

But also the guitar for actual musicians who want something special.

Paul Reed Smith guitars have a vintage sound, beautiful figured wood tops with crazy transparent finishes, thicker necks, and impeccable workmanship.  You almost can’t go wrong with a Paul Reed Smith.

That’s why they are expensive. But also why they are lust-worthy.

The one I want to focus on today is the 25th Anniversary Swamp Ash Special.  I have this thing for swamp ash.  If you believe that wood makes a difference in tone (and I mostly do, sorta), then swamp ash is supposed to give a little extra sparkle or rasp to single coil pickups.  I fancy I can tell the difference between swamp ash and alder, but the impact of wood on tone is something we can argue about some other time.  The point is even if there is no sonic difference, swamp ash is lighter than most woods.  Which is kind of cool.

But the other nice thing about swamp ash is it gives a very nice grain, when used with transparent finishes. Here are some pictures:

If you recognize the couch/pillows, it is because the blue one was one I owned.

Another thing I liked about it was the silhouette bird inlays, as opposed to the full inlays most Paul Reed Smiths have.

I’ve owned a few Paul Reed Smith guitars, but never kept them.  They do sound like good vintage Les Pauls, but that’s a problem: I don’t really like good vintage Les Paul tones. Overdriven, sure. But the over-saturated neck-position humbucker sound isn’t one I like coming out of my amp.  Paul Reed Smith guitars even seem to emphasize that (as compared to the Seymour Duncan ’59 when in the neck position).  Sometimes you can get humbuckers that are wound to sound like really fat, dark single coils.  My Yamaha PAC 921 is one like that.  But not Paul Reed Smith.  They sound muffled and oversaturated to me.  People that like that sound call it “warm”, but that doesn’t make sense, because a “hot” pickup should be bright and shrill, which means that “warm” is on the opposite side of the tonal spectrum from “hot”. smdh

Many Paul Reed Smith guitars have coil splits, which helps.

But then Paul Reed Smith developed the Narrowfield pickups.  Not really a breakthrough in concept, since mini-humbuckers and P-90s (humbucker length windings on a single-coil bobbin) have been around for decades, but still a welcome development as they sound twangy like a single coil, but lack the hum single coils bring when used singly.

Here’s a good video:

So why didn’t I keep the blue one?

I don’t know, actually. I loved it. It played well, sounded great, was comfortable, and was pretty.  And yet, I found myself always reaching for my Mercury Head, Warmoth, and Yamahas.  As I was saying to a friend the other day regarding a guitar I was thinking of buying, “It looks good and sounds great, and clear is a #1 guitar. My problem is I already have more than a dozen #1 guitars!”

I do kind of miss it, but not enough to seek one out again.  If I could keep only one guitar, I would have been satisfied with it.  But there was something that kept it from being my favorite guitar, and I’m not sure what it was.  Still: Lust-worthy.

Gitabushi