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Love guitar? Watch this! August 20, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben loves guitar, and my all-time guitar hero is Jimmy Page. (Sorry, Mark Knopfler, Steve Vai, and Stevie Ray Vaughan; you guys are definitely next in line.) So when I discovered a documentary on Netflix called “It Might Get Loud,” featuring in-depth interviews about guitar-playing plus plenty of actual guitar playing by Jimmy Page, U2’s The Edge, and Jack White of The White Stripes fame, I rushed to add it to our Netflix queue. Unfortunately, it landed behind approximately 2 million of Silence Dogood’s historical dramas. I thought I would never live to actually see it.

But Silence is currently on deadline, so I cunningly suggested that she had no business wasting time watching movies and should turn the Netflix queue priority list over (temporarily, at least) to yours truly. She agreed, and I saw “It Might Get Loud” over the weekend. What a treat!!! The interviews were great, the playing was great, the archival footage of all the bands was great.

Our friend Ben didn’t think I could learn anything new about Led Zeppelin—surely the greatest rock band of all time—but I did. I learned plenty. Such as how Jimmy Page first came to use a double-necked guitar, so he could play “Stairway to Heaven,” the greatest rock anthem of all time, live.

And it was fascinating to see the varied paths by which the three guitarists had found their voices. (Jack White, one of ten children in a Southern family, found an abandoned guitar in one of the apartments his family rented. Elvis and Johnny Cash would have been proud. Given the battered, cut-into guitar he plays in the documentary, he may still be using it.) 

So our friend Ben urges everyone who loves rock guitar to find this DVD, rent this DVD, own this DVD. You won’t be sorry! And if you happen to know of similar films about Mark Knopfler, Steve Vai, or Stevie Ray Vaughan, please let our friend Ben know. Hey, guys, what’s the holdup here?!!

There’s one born every minute. March 1, 2011

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Blame today’s post on Mark Knopfler. Our friend Ben was listening last night to Knopfler’s fabulous “Shangri-La” CD—I should note for those who haven’t been fortunate enough to make his musical acquaintance that Mark Knopfler, founder of Dire Straits, is one of the greatest guitarists and songwriters who ever lived—and one of the songs included the line “never give a sucker an even break.” Our friend Ben, wordaholic that I am, immediately wondered where the phrase “break even” had come from, and became obsessed with finding out.

Of course, this led me first to the whole “never give a sucker an even break” thing. Knopfler was quoting here, but who was he quoting? P.T. Barnum, that legendary 19th-century impresario who supposedly said “There’s a sucker born every minute”? (Research reveals to OFB that Barnum actually didn’t say that, though he did coin the phrase “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Of the three contenders for the honor of creating the famous “sucker” phrase, it seems like a Chicago con artist is the most likely.)

Thinking more about the phrase Knopfler used in his lyrics, our friend Ben became convinced that that other famous showman, W.C. Fields, had something to do with it. Sure enough, Wikipedia revealed that Fields had written and starred in a 1941 film called “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.” He had used the phrase several times before, first in a 1936 film called “Poppy,” and then in 1939’s “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man.” I suppose it became associated with him in the way that “I’ll be back!” became associated with Arnold Schwarzenegger in our own day.

But how did the original phrase, “break even,” come about to begin with? “Come out even,” “end up even,” “even the odds.” All these make sense. But what does breaking have to do with it? Our old ally Merriam-Webster says that “break even” means “to achieve a balance; especially, to operate a business or enterprise without either loss or profit.” Our friend Ben still doesn’t get what breaking has to do with this, or why “giving someone a break” means to give them a chance, a window of opportunity. As far as I can see, “break” means destroy, shatter, maim, harm (except in the case of “break dancing”). How did these expressions come by their positive connotations?

If you know, please enlighten us. Otherwise, our friend Ben has the uneasy suspicion that, when it comes to language definitions, there’s a sucker born every minute.

We can get wild. November 6, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Things are getting pretty wild here at Hawk’s Haven, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood’s cottage home in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania. The winter birds are making their presence known—no juncos yet, but lots of chickadees, titmice, finches, bluejays, cardinals, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. Squirrels and chipmunks are rustling around collecting black walnuts, shagbark hickory nuts, and butternuts for their winter larders. Our chickens have finished their autumn molt and put on their dense, shiny winter plumage, even as our trees and shrubs start to lose their leaves for the season. Rose hips, juniper and privet berries, and pokeweed berries are all unusually abundant, as are honey locust pods and fir cones. Nature is definitely trying to tell us something.

But last night, we had our biggest wildlife night ever. Silence was setting the table for dinner—mashed yellow potatoes from our CSA enriched with liberal amounts of half-and-half and butter; huge organic CSA carrots sliced, quartered, and glazed with butter, curry powder, and garam masala; fresh-picked CSA spinach wilted over sauteed sweet onion and mushrooms; and an incredible salad with Romaine lettuce and tons of hearty greens as well as diced red bell pepper, scallions, shredded carrot, green and kalamata olives, cubes of feta cheese, and our new favorite dressing, a mix of ranch dressing, olive oil, lemon juice, and fresh-cracked black pepper. (See Silence’s post “Fabulous easy salad dressing” for more on this.)

Urk. I seem to have gotten a bit distracted thinking about food; sorry. Anyway, Silence was setting the table while I was opening a bottle of wine, when she started screaming for me to “get over here NOW.” Our ancient round oak dining table looks out the sliding glass doors to our deck. Silence rushed to the door and flipped on the outdoor light, revealing the most enormous raccoon we’d ever seen.

There he was, calmly eating our outdoor cats’ food and ignoring the cats, the light, and us. No Butterball turkey has anything on this raccoon, let me tell you. It was bigger than most medium-sized dogs, and a lot fatter. I’m sure he would make a succulent substitute if you fancied roasted game for your Thanksgiving repast (and somewhere, a turkey would thank you).

Meanwhile, our baby cat, Marley, and his uncle Simon had taken refuge up on our grill and were watching the raccoon polish off their dinner with horrified fascination. At least they had the good sense to keep out of its way.

By the time our supper was on the table, the raccoon had finished his own dinner and waddled off. But before Marley and Simon could even come down off the grill to inspect their bowl, there was Snout, one of our two resident ‘possums (along with his brother Sprout), arriving to finish what little the raccoon had left behind. Our friend Ben has observed that none of our outdoor cats, not even the big, tough toms, Danticat and Beau, will take on a ‘possum, however small. Snout and Sprout had been mere babes when they first appeared on the deck, but after a summer of free food, Snout was now a ‘possum to be reckoned with (though certainly no competition for the monstrous raccoon). Marley and Simon wisely elected to remain up on the grill and avoid a confrontation with his toothy, alligatorlike snout.

Mercy! We’ve seen a lot of wildlife, including baby skunks, here in our day. But a monster raccoon and a ‘possum on the same night? This is a first. Thank heavens no skunks or, God forbid, bears followed in their footsteps. Our friend Ben and Silence sadly agreed to bring the outdoor cat food bowl in when the sun went down henceforth. Our outdoor cats won’t be pleased about this, but it should reduce the competition. Yes, we can get wild, but we’d as soon not get quite as wild as this.

Note: The title of this post, “We can get wild,” is a song by Mark Knopfler from his album “Kill to Get Crimson.” Mark Knopfler is one of the greatest musicians of our day and one of the greatest guitarists of all time. If you haven’t heard “Kill to Get Crimson,” our friend Ben suggests that you head on over to Amazon and check it out. You’ll be glad you did!

Ben Picks Ten: Music March 28, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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From American Idol to the Mouse & Trowels, it seems like everyone loves a competition. Our friend Ben is no exception. Unfortunately, I’m too new to the garden blogosphere to feel comfortable nominating best garden blogs in various categories, since it seems like every day I discover several wonderful gardening blogs that are truly humbling to one of our friend Ben’s writerly nature. However, as friends of our friend Ben are all too aware (shut up, Silence), humility is not a hallmark of our friend Ben’s character. Plus, to be frank, all this nominating is making me feel a bit left out. 

So our friend Ben has decided to write a series of themed posts featuring my own nominations for One-Ben Awards in various categories. This not only has the advantage of letting me nominate people for awards, it also dispenses with even the slightest pretence of a need for consensus. However, you can comment and let our friend Ben know if you agree or disagree in increasingly violent increments. As long as you remain civil, our friend Ben promises to post your remarks.

Without more ado, our friend Ben presents the One-Ben Awards for Music:

1. Favorite Musician: Mark Knopfler, hands down. Our friend Ben even owns one of Martin Guitars’ custom Mark Knopfler acoustic guitars. (And no, I’m not giving out my address, so don’t even think about it!) Did you know that a dinosaur was named after Mark Knopfler? (Our friend Ben is a fossil-lover from way back; see my earlier post, “Treasures in the earth,” if you are, too.) Great music and dinosaurs? All right!!!

2. Favorite Feel-Good Music: Bob Marley, who else? Jimmy Buffett gets honorable mention. 

3. Favorite Rock Guitarists: (Our friend Ben isn’t educated enough to judge Classical guitar. Sorry!) Steve Vai first, then Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Johnson, Yngwie Malmsteen, and George Harrison. Alex DiGrassi is marvelous, too, if you can find him. Mark Knopfler gets his own category (see above).

4. Favorite Celtic Music: Dougie Maclean. Oh, yeah! The one and only musician our friend Ben has ever heard who sounds exactly the same live as recorded. Wow.

5. Favorite Nostalgia Rock:  Jethro Tull and Alice Cooper have to split this one. If you’ve never heard Tull, our friend Ben suggests that you start with “Songs from the Wood;” for Alice, try “Trash.”

6. Favorite Songs That Make You Drive Too Fast: Knopfler’s “Speedway at Nazareth;” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama;” and the whole Waterbone “Tibet” CD, except for the last awful song.

7. Favorite Song: Led Zep’s “Stairway to Heaven,” greatest of all time. Honorable mention to Kansas’s “Dust in the Wind,” Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” and Crash Test Dummies’ “The Superman Song.” Our friend Ben has a sort of romantic nostalgia for Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” too, but could not take repeated hearings.

8. Weirdest Enjoyable Voice: Boy, there are some close candidates for this one! Our friend Ben loves Tony Bird, Brad Roberts of the Crash Test Dummies, Joan Armatrading, and The Roches, among others. But in this category, Kurt Elling, jazz vocalist extraordinaire, ultimately gets top honors from our friend Ben.

9. Best Native American Music: Bill Miller is our friend Ben’s all-time fave. Start with his “Ghostdance” CD if you don’t already know him. (The guy can paint, too!) Our friend Ben loves “Ghost Dance” and “Skinwalker” on the “Music for The Native Americans” CD by Robbie Robertson and The Red Road Ensemble, too.

10. Best Beautiful Music That You May Find Depressing: This is a crowded category, stretching from Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, and Sting through Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin to Loreena McKennitt and Al Stewart. Our friend Ben loves all of these, and many more in this category, including previous category winners Bill Miller and Dougie Maclean. Hard to choose a winner, but our One-Ben Award in this category ultimately goes to  Al Stewart in a very hotly contested contest, because he’s the only musician our friend Ben knows who consistently blends history and music. Fascinating and fantastic!

Naturally, our friend Ben can’t stop at just ten. So here’s the bonus:

11. Greatest Composer of All Time: Johann Sebastian Bach. It would have been, could have been, should have been Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but Wolfie died way too soon for his full and fulsome genius to have been fully expressed. Our friend Ben feels an enduring connection to Mozart, though, since he apparently heard his music in his head before committing it to paper, and that’s just the way our friend Ben receives novels, essays, and poems. It’s too easy to be talent, so our friend Ben recognizes it for the gift it is and can take no credit; I’d bet any number of One-Ben Awards that Mozart felt the same way.