Hail to The Chieftains

Before The Chieftains review — which it’s not, because I lost my Lamy Al-Star pen following a disaster of a restaurant meal so I couldn’t take notes — a roundabout.

I try to be a jack of all journalism tricks. I even covered a lecture and poetry reading by ex-NBA star Tom Meschery in about 2000 at the University of Arkansas for The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas — almost sports reporting. In about 1982, I photographed a workshop in Irving, Texas, taught by jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour. Later I realized I heard little and saw little, except for notes I made for the photo-page captions and what came through my Minolta’s lens. In the 1990s, reviewing occasional plays and classical and jazz concerts for the Arkansas Democrat then Democrat-Gazette, I found that deadlines changed my appreciation of the stage. It wasn’t just plot and character, but more story and acting. Was that a dramatic pause or a missed cue? Are those French horns in tune? Reading books evolved with reviewing a few a year.

We all do this though, without writing. Honey, did you like the movie? We exchange experiences and opinions. Maybe it’s that the critic needs specific sentences immediately, not fuzzy impressions, especially if the show is over at 9:45 and the copy desk needs the 10-12 inches by 10:30. Notes are necessary.

In the last decade, outside of Brick I’ve written no reviews. I still jot a rare note during a show. I fear I’ll forget. Yet in the last decade I have forced myself to sit back, just absorb. You leave the theater then glowing, with a total impression, hard to summarize and, too soon, hard to recall. So when I buy $48 tickets for us to see Randy Newman on Jan. 22, at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, I want to leave with something besides, “Duh, rockin’ show, durn, he’s funny.” The value of a top-dollar entertainment only starts with the two hours in a dark auditorium. It continues with memories and any enrichment afterward. On Newman, the first revelation was as a young man he wrote 3 Dog Night’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come”; when he sang it that night you realize, with that croaky voice and singsong pacing, who else? Continue reading

Point the Way, Bruce Walker

Attending the musical wake of Bruce D. Walker on Sunday brought up a lot of sadness in the midst of so many cheerful tunes by local songsters. Standing in several of the eight corners of George’s Majestic Lounge (front bar/stage and garden bar/stage) I saw dancing and clapping and heard hoots and whoops. Embracing the folks I knew there, though, we exchanged quick shouts (we had to yell due to the loud bands) of “isn’t it awful” with teary eyes.

Bruce founded Flying Possum Leather in 1976 on Fayetteville on the “High Street” stretch of Dickson Street. He made and sold sandals and belts and other leather goods, most famously perhaps a guitar strap he got patented as it does not stress the instrument’s neck. Bruce would have been 58 years old in June, but around 6:30 a.m. last Monday, March 7, his shop caught fire. He was already at work, and died of smoke inhalation. His dog Bugsy, who went everywhere with him, survived the blaze (relatives have taken him in). In a preliminary investigation, Fayetteville police called the fire’s cause accidental.

I’ve bought one pair of Birkenstock shoes (regular, closed heel and toe, for work) from Flying Possum, and had a couple of pair of Birks resoled or recorked by him, and My Beloved had done similar business with him, as well as buying a Walker Strap. Yet Bruce got around; he was a young hippy turned prominent local, if eccentric, merchant. We’d howdy at the downtown Square three blocks south or maybe a sentence or two at the bench in front of his shop.

Bugsy, a quiet, sweet, medium-sized mongrel, wandered through George’s, accepting pats and head scratches. The children there swarmed him at times.

Dog in a bar, call the authorities! But many authorities were in the roadhouse at some point during the seven-hour concert (1-9 p.m. roughly, including a funeral in the evening) , having shut down the parking meters for the day so more people would be encouraged to come to George’s and honor Bruce.

Sunday on Dickson was so Fayetteville. Twenty bands, special T-shirts printed up, donation of food by nearby restaurants. All that organization in just four days shows how tight the community is, and how much all loved Bruce.

Bruce — slightly built, scruffy bearded fellow with kind eyes and strong opinions — embodied Fayetteville.

Bugsy wasn’t the only animal in the lounge, but he was acknowledged. The elephant in the room as usual stayed invisible.

Bruce’s death and that of his business might be harbingers of a Fayetteville transformation Continue reading

Not Going Anywhere

The following is my president’s column for the March 2011 edition of the monthly newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists

An NSNC friend e-mailed links to farewell pieces that a couple of just-downsized columnists were allowed to publish. That opportunity isn’t always granted. Atypically, he didn’t add his opinion, which made my impression of this pair a surprise — mainly to me:

So what, I thought? How dare they?

If these fellows were mad, they didn’t show it. They had nothing but gratitude. Yawn. That and summaries of their column’s accomplishments, which read like resumes with verbs.

No one’s advocating a heated stick-it-to-’em. You can see examples of both by searching with the phrase “farewell column” in Poynter.org as well as Google.

There’s wisdom in not burning your bridges, though when you’re laid off, it’s the company pouring the kerosene and striking the match, not you. Still, a standing-tall, soft-spoken grace has more class than breaking something, or yelling or blogging an “eff-you.” Venting publicly is never therapeutic, it just films well.

Now that I’m reflecting on those links here at the end of the month, what comes to mind are Oscar winner speeches. That’s a little odd, because dropped columns may not be seen again and their writers often are trying to move into corporate communications, while Academy Award recipients often can work in their trade as many years as they wish.

Regardless, their palmed lists of producers, agents and costumers bore viewers, as do bullet points of favorite editors and which columns over the years got the most mail.

Dignity can be such a drudge. Thank-yous have a selfish Continue reading