Riffing Is Fundamental*


Whenever I unlock my car, the beeps remind me of the last notes of the riff to “Connection.” It was twenty years ago I saw Elastica at the 9:30 Club, and apparently I’m still pining for Justine Frischmann.


I was in said car the other day when I heard “My Type” by Saint Motel. I don’t know anything about them, but that riff is pretty good. And extra credit for the handclaps. (Dear Pop: why don’t you have more handclaps?)


“My Type” also reminds me a bit of the third movement of “Your Cover’s Blown,” Belle and Sebastian’s opus rifftaculus:


*NB this title is a clever nod to Reading Is Fundamental. When I am king, RIF will enjoy lavish patronage, and my fiddlers three will riff most radly.


Vivian Nicholson

 “Sharing cigarettes, just holding one another and loving one another. That was when I had everything.”


I got to the Sunday paper only yesterday – such is the vida loca I live – and, upon arriving at the obituary pages, thought “Wait, I’ve seen that face.” Sure enough, it was the cover star of the Smiths’ estimable single “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.”

If you haven’t heard it, listen at least for the outro alone. I can’t think of a lovelier interplay of guitars on a pop single. (Also, Johnny Marr – for it was he – apparently wrote the song in an hour. How’s your day going so far?)

Continue reading “Vivian Nicholson”

In Which I Discuss A Ghastly Tote Bag As Well As My Habitual Idiocy

This bag makes me want to watch television.
This makes me want to watch television.

As best I can tell, the above logo was designed by sin itself. I got the bag for free with a book order or something. Even this fashion-deficient reading teacher finds it objectionable.

You might then imagine my dismay that the wife has been using it with increasing frequency. Ever the dutiful husband, I sought recommendations for a proper replacement. When my mother-in-law caught wind, she insisted on taking me to her favorite shop.

I was in little position to refuse, as she was helping me with my 20-month-old twins* on Mommy’s First Away Weekend. Moreover, Mother-In-Law was eager to take me to said shop as the proprietress was the mother of twins herself.

While Mother-In-Law set about selecting a proper bag, I chatted with the proprietress (if by chatting you mean trying to respond coherently while preventing my children from vandalizing her inventory). When Mother-In-Law finally selected the proper bag and brought it to the register, the proprietress held it up and said:

“Peter, this is a gift.” Continue reading “In Which I Discuss A Ghastly Tote Bag As Well As My Habitual Idiocy”

King & The Mighty I


“I wanted every 50-minute class to feel like half an hour.”

Stephen King’s instructional goal is a sterling standard for teachers and (scaled accordingly) songwriters.

And while he and Noel Gallagher are two whose work I’ve regrettably stopped following (the former’s out of loss of habit, the latter’s due to disappointment), when I encounter an interview with either, I read it.

Mr. King makes a lot of sense to me in this one. (Except that response to the Oxford comma question. Huh?) His point that teaching great literature should not be at the expense of students’ despair was not lost on me, as my high school reading regimen was to skim Cliffs Notes for assigned books, thereby freeing up time to devotedly read King’s. Continue reading “King & The Mighty I”

Sir Patrick


“What I liked about Paddy,” one of his Cretan blood-brothers said to me, “was he was such a good man, so morally good. He could throw his pistol 40 feet in the air like this, and catch it again by the handle.”

Saturday afternoon I was at Somerville’s Dilboy VFW Post for a birthday party. Gracious guest that I am, I set about inspecting the walls, and found a photo of the American ambassador to Greece presenting George Dilboy’s family with a replacement Medal of Honor. The original had been stolen* by German soldiers on Crete during the Second World War.

“I bet Patrick Leigh Fermor could have got it back,” I said to myself, with whom I mostly talk at parties. If you haven’t read a Patrick Leigh Fermor obituary (here’s one), then you may have a limited concept of how much living can occur from birth.

Also, he seems to have been a more entertaining partier than I:

“Paddy was a great performer of party turns: songs in Cretan dialect; The Walrus and the Carpenter recited backwards; Falling in Love Again sung in the same direction – but in German. When I was at his house in the Peloponnese, in Greece, he restricted himself, after a lunch that lasted several hours, to It’s a Long Way to Tipperary in Hindustani.”

*The theft of his medal was, alas, not the only indignity George Dilboy suffered.


(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Pete’s Love of Understanding*

“And you put the glass up to the wall, and you can hear through the wall a little bit more of the song – maybe just the middle bit this time… And so it goes on until eventually, after however long it can take – sometimes a few days, sometimes months – you piece the whole thing together.”

Nick Lowe says songwriting is like living next door to an apartment where “they’ve got a radio tuned constantly on – tuned to a really cool radio station.”

He adds: Continue reading “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Pete’s Love of Understanding*”

What I Talk About When I Talk About the Passed Made Present


I can pinpoint the exact moment when I first thought I could write a novel. It was around 1:30 in the afternoon of April 1, 1978. I was at Jingu Stadium that day, alone in the outfield drinking beer and watching the game.

-Haruki Murakami


This sounded well worth a shot, so I tried it myself. A couple summers ago I bought a bleacher ticket to watch a Mariners game. It was a reasonably sunny Seattle day, and I had a section of Safeco Field all to myself. I drank a Manny’s Pale Ale, but the only epiphany I had was that when clouds cover the sun, it can get a bit chilly.

Last May Day, though, serendipity visited me over a pint at a local pub where, in a copy of the Boston Globe, I found Adolphous Bullock’s obituary. This, I was certain, was a life worth sharing with my students. Then it occurred to me that there must be countless other lives worthy of introduction as well. And that’s how my obituary project got started.


Ooh La La


I’m sure Arne Duncan’s office is fine and all, but I bet it’s not lined with gold leaf. And in France the top education job is apparently “a prestigious position held by monumental figures,” too. Secretary Duncan may, alas, have better luck installing gold leaf in his office than commensurately elevating its status.

More happily, I like how Madame le (la?) ministre’s mom said, “Don’t worry, life has more imagination than you.” It’s the glass-half-full version of “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”