Friday, December 23, 2005

winter solstice 2005

The Astronomical solstice occured at 12:35 p.m. on Wed. 21st December – the Sun entered Capricorn while I was sitting in old friend Marty's front room amidst vast stacks of vinyl and CD's – he'd recently purchased a load of albums local University station 90FM were selling off to raise money for Hurricane Katrina relief effort, including obscure Roky Erikson solo work, almost-forgotten 80's indie bands whose names I probably hadn't heard once for over 15 years, etc.

I then strolled off on a vigorous 4.5 hour walk around about 1/3 of Stevens Point's 'Green Circle' – a long walk in beautiful snow-covered pine forests without having to travel far from the town centre – wonderful. My personal soundtrack (interspersed by much-needed periods of relative silence) included Soft Machine’s Third, Toumani Diabaté and Ali Farka Touré's In the Heart of the Moon, King Tubby's Fatman Tapes and the Grateful Dead live at Watkins Glen, 1973. There were some remarkable snow formations, presumably the result of partial thawing and refreezing several times over – long 'sausages' of snow hanging in arches drooping down as far as 6 inches from spindly horizontal branches of small trees and shrubs. It almost looked like Andy Goldsworthy had had something to do with it (perhaps assisted by the spirit of Yves Tanguy). The winter light was already extremely beautiful even with a pale sun barely visible through light cloud, but then a couple of hours before sunset the sky cleared and everything was bathed in an additional layer of golden light. I caught the last few red-orange rays through a dense pine forest, and then suddenly caught sight of a couple of deer (they're far from uncommon around here, but I rarely see deer so it still felt like a blessing). I walked around Lake Joanis (an artificial lake named after an insurance mogul, but a beautiful place nonetheless) in the twilight, and then headed back to tea and warmth.

Later in the evening I played a couple of open mic sessions downtown. There are two on Wednesday nights here – an early one at The Mission coffeehouse, and a later (and more well-attended) one at a relatively new venue called The Clark Place. My banjo-playing friend Gavin (from the local psychedelic bluegrass/country/folk band Sloppy Joe) met me at The Mission and we worked out a basic set around some of his songs. This was all very spontaneous, and my playing was certainly a bit 'sloppy' in places (some monitoring issues at The Mission, but not bad), but people were very appreciative. These open mics tend to very much be dominated by singer-songwriters with guitars - often very good ones, but not a lot of variation in instrumentation, so people are always into something a bit different. We reconnected with Marty who came down to The Clark Place after his late work shift, and authoritatively declared that we "rocked".

Listen Here

Sloppy Joe at Witz End
Sloppy Joe at Witz End (recently demolished) - Gavin's on the far right

The Clark Place was formerly the American Legion hall. Back in the late 80’s when I was at the local high school with Marty and Gavin, Marty used to organise hardcore/punk events (6 bands for $3, all very musically rudimentary, but vastly empowering for the tiny teenage anti-establishment subculture in that time and place - this stuff kept me sane during the Reagan era). Some of these bands were our friends ("Ted", "Balance of Terror", "Mud Luscious", "The Lacerations") others were like-minded teenage bands like "Vegetable Spit" from Medford and "Oi Vey" from Rhinelander. Occasionally we’d get bands coming through from further afield (The Problem Children from Ontario played a memorable show at the old Armoury on 15/05/87). Some of these gigs took place in the Legion Hall, including one headlined by a relatively new and little-known band called NOFX who are now a global institution. Apparently, there's some footage of some of us moshing at that very gig in their anniversary video Ten Years of F**kin' up.


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