Getting Started Off Right

These were the very first paragraphs I read on the very first day of this year. I suspect I may not read anything more beautiful or near-perfect for the rest of 2015.

There is a coarse grain in the air of the American Experience, and know it or not it has marked all of us, the way coal dust etches fixed black lines upon the lungs of miners who feel the tug with every laugh and sigh.

It is a weather system all its own, our humid cultural atmosphere: sweet as magnolia, as oily and foreboding as gunmetal upon the tongue. From the auction block to the Harlem Renaissance and on to Selma; from the Appalachian Trail to Attica; from Lewis and Clark to Harpo, Chico, Sacco, and Vanzetti; Lincoln and Douglas through to Washington’s current rancorous desperations — our national narrative, historically, has been a moveable feast, both beautiful and brutal, and it’s never been more authenticall articulated than in the language of folk songs, for they stand outside of time and speak freely, with loyalty to nothing but the truth.

Understand that when I speak of folk, it is not as a genre distinction beholden to any particular tone or instrumentation, but rather is specific to songs — ones that grow out of a regional landscape, and speak to and of those who have done the same; thus the great long table has chairs not only for Doc Boggs and the Carter Family, but Little Richard as well. Sister Rosetta sitteth at the right hand of Louis Armstrong, the father almighty, but also across from Link Wray and Nina Simone; Leadbelly and Lee Dorsey; Charles Mingus, Robert Johnson, Woody Guthrie, Geechie Wiley, and Duke Ellington; Bessie Smith, and Hank Williams; all of them giving voice to the country’s collective ragged and weary soul, its ferocious and troubled heart.

Songs tell our story most authentically because, like us, they are constantly evolving within their framework, forever being reimagined and reanimated. Every time they are taken up and sung out they are newly ratified, as all truths demand to be. Facts are cast in bronze — throw shadows and collect dust, I mean to say, but Truth is a river; and it’s sliding moan is our familial song upon it. Songs deconstruct our singular experiences and reassemble them as useful mythologies, to be parsed and shared in both sharp unison and blurred harmony. “Spike Driver’s Blues” and “Pretty Boy Floyd” underscore our distinct human condition, our cultural character, more authentically and viscerally than does, say, the Constitution. They represent only two, but are true living documents that stride and wail, invite themselves onto our tongues and then into the air like sparks from a stirred fire; are rooted in suffering and borne aloft by the deep desire not to be.

Songs are our signifiers, lifting our spirits and bubbling beneath us like subtitles, explaining us to ourselves.

Opening paragraphs of the article Go Tell It On The Mountain: Greg Leisz And The Architecture Of Song by Joe Henry

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Fretboard Journal #33  2014

Out of My Depth

We have been attending the Newport Folk Festival every year since it marked it’s 50th Anniversary in 2009. I think it’s safe to say that it is, quite simply, the best overall musical event we’ve ever experienced. Over the years we have enjoyed performances by some of our favorite musicians, discovered new music, and forged new friendships. If you are a fan of folk, folk-rock, country, blues, or practically any musical genre related to one of these, you need to get yourself to this festival. You won’t regret it.

But when we arrive in Newport, the first thing we go see every year is completely unrelated to the festival, to music in general, or to anything else in our normal lives. After checking in to our B&B, the very first item on our Newport agenda?

Looking into the progress on the restoration of the 1885 Schooner Yacht, Coronet.

We always stay at the Spring Street Inn, and from the very start the innkeeper, Pat — who is an absolute fount of information on local history, attractions, activities, and (most importantly, perhaps) restaurants — kept suggesting to us that we visit the International Yacht Restoration School just down at the end of the street. Apparently there are fewer and fewer people in today’s world with the skills and knowhow to build, maintain, and/or restore wooden boats and ships. So in 1993, the IYRS was founded with a mission to preserve and teach the history, heritage, craftsmanship, science, and aesthetics of boatbuilding and restoration.

I do not own, nor do I have any inclination to own, a boat. To my knowledge, only two of our family members and two of our friends have ever owned boats of any kind. Unless I actually happen to see one, boats never even cross my mind. And so, for two years, we completely dismissed that particular suggestion of Pat’s without a second thought. Our mistake.

On our third trip to Newport, in 2011, as we were strolling along Thames Street, we saw the IYRS sign and for some reason (or maybe no reason) we ambled in. There’s a little museum space there, interesting enough in a pleasantly-passing-some-time-but-not-overly-excited-about-it kind of way. An attendant told us to go upstairs and check out the library, especially the harbor view from the library window, before making our way to the next building (where the students work on their projects), and finally to the building where the Coronet restoration is taking place.

While the view from the library window was, indeed, quite something, we were more taken with the exhibit of old nautical instruments on display throughout the library itself. Of course we knew virtually nothing about what any of the instruments were or what they were used for, but they were beautiful to look at and made us happy we had decided to check this place out. From there, we wandered into the school…

…And we were bowled over. There’s a classroom and a wood shop, of course. But mostly it’s a big open building where students are in the various stages of building wooden boats of all shapes and sizes.

Visitors can stand along a catwalk and look down on the proceedings from overhead. It’s pretty interesting to see, and by this point during our first visit we were completely won over.

But this is not the end of the tour.

Continue out the back door, and you’ll find yourself in front another building, constructed right on the very edge of the water solely for the purpose of housing the restoration of the aforementioned Coronet. The scope of the project is evident immediately upon entering the door. This thing is huge.

It was huge when we first saw it in 2011.

From 2011

And it’s only gotten bigger since then.

From 2012

Again, visitors look down from a catwalk at the workers below.

From 2013

At the very beginning, when the Coronet was brought in, it was completely disassembled. Piece by piece, board by board, everything was taken apart, cataloged, and numbered. Many of these items are sitting about on the catwalk or hanging on the walls, waiting to be put back into place (or to at least serve as templates for their newly-constructed counterparts) when the time comes.

Hopefully, these guys who are working on the restoration will fare better than the men who originally built her:

From 1896

I don’t have the knowledge or vocabulary necessary to write intelligently about what they’re doing in this building. Again, in my regular life I am not a boat guy; all I know is that they’ve taken a really big, really old one apart, and now they’re fixing it up and putting it back together again. And it is utterly fascinating to watch.

New Year, New Ideas

Starting off  the New Year, as we have, I’ve been thinking. Here’s one of my conclusions: Things change.

Back in the ’90s, when I first got Internet access, people were afraid to use their real names online, much less disclose personal information of any kind. Thus my implementation of the name Brick Pig for all my online music-related endeavors. Ten or fifteen years earlier, my friend Jim Hodge and I made up  the name one boring day at work; you know, one of those “this would be a good name for a band” conversations. So it seemed like the perfect username when I submitted my first entry to SongFight!, and the Brick Pig moniker has been with me ever since.

But we live in an altogether different world now, don’t we? With every Tom, Dick, and Harriet broadcasting every thought, dream and idea that comes into their head, cyberspace no longer seems like the mysterious place it used to be. Heck, anti-social as I tend to be, even I have learned to appreciate –if not exactly “like”– what Facebook has to offer.

And so, with this blog entry and the recent re-vamp of my websites, I’m TEARING DOWN THE WALL!! Ready? Here’s the big reveal:

That’s right, folks: The rumours were true! Monty Smith and Brick Pig are one and the same! And now this fact is reflected by an integrated website (only the welcome pages differ), and henceforth within the pages of this blog.

But wait! There’s more!

As my long-term readers (if I have such a thing) will know, I started this blog in ’08 with the intention of documenting the build of my first-ever custom guitar, and to chronicle my progress with my first-ever formal guitar lessons. Although I was never particularly strict in adhering to those two topics, the thrust of the blog shifted after I took delivery of said new guitar in June ’09, and even more so after I mastered the instrument —ahem— and stopped taking lessons that following December.

Effectively this space has become an amorphous, rambling account of whatever thoughts I’ve had about whatever music-related subjects are on my mind at any given time — concerts I’ve seen, festivals I’ve attended, and of course my own activities with friends, with 3TK4, and with Tori Erstwhile & The Montys. But amorphous and rambling is cool, and I’m fine with it. So fine with it, in fact, that with this post I am officially sanctioning the change.

If any of my (probably imaginary) long-term readers happen to also be sharp observers, they will note that I’ve shortened the blog title and that the subheading has been changed from “My Ongoing Quest for Deeper Musical Knowledge and a Really Great Axe” to “Messages from Monty.” This change reflects the aforementioned unification of my online personalities, while simultaneously welcoming the current-but-not-originally-intended nature of the blog.

I hope the new year brings other changes, as well. I hope to resume my guitar lessons. (That earlier bit about how I had mastered the instrument was a lie!) I hope to write and/or record some new songs. I hope to continue to discover new music, see more concerts, and go to more festivals, and perform more. And I hope to write about it more often here. Stay tuned….