I recently wrote a song — Everybody on the Dance Floor — for the band in hopes of having a female lead singer. We had someone coming to audition, and I thought I would write something for down the road. Well, she pulled out of the audition, and we may or may not keep the song. It is inspired by an article I read of this woman DJ who does not have the “look” but who kicks out the jams. She does one party and then disappears to the next party. I had her in my mind, or some version of her, as I wrote this one.
I wrote the basic chord structure of Everybody on the Dance Floor on the guitar but recorded all of the music on the Garageband App (it’s pretty astonishing what you can do with that app). The vocals I added later in Soundtrap. I think it has a catchy element to it. See what you think. I think it plays best in headphones.
The other song is an old one, but the news out of the field of science about Gravitational Waves had me remembering this song called Gravitational Pull, and my band at the time did do a recording of it in the studio. That’s me singing, which is all I played on this recording. I co-wrote it with my guitar player, John. He wrote the music. I wrote the words.
Yesterday, our school celebrated Backwards Day as part of a Spirit Week event planned by our Student Council (of which I am the advisor). Lots of kids had clothes on backwards but I struggled myself on how to demonstrate Backwards Day.
My co-teacher came to the rescue with a brilliant idea: “Let’s do palindromes today.”
Only one or two students in my four classes knew what a palindrome even was, so it was a fun lesson but also gave them some other ways to think about playful language (and comes right after our unit on Word Origins ends).
To show palindromes, we shared this Weird Al video, called Bob, which is full of palindromes in a fun way that only Weird Al can pull off, and as with most of his videos, it is also an homage to music.
In this case, the video references almost completely the famous Bob Dylan video for Subterranean Homesick Blues from the early 1960s. There were even fewer hands in the room when I asked, who knows who Bob Dylan is? So, I gave them a Dose of Bob, with this video and some discussion of his impact on music as a songwriter/poet/lyricist, and talked, too, about the Remix Culture, of riffing off the original to make something new and entertaining.
Then, they illustrated a bunch of palindromes (Taco Cat remained a fan favorite) and tried their hand at coming up with their own (a very difficult task for many). So, they got some writing, some music history, some remix concepts and had fun. All in the name of being backwards.
This is the final poem that I wrote to remember the “lost women of the west” whose stories often get forgotten alongside male notables like Jesse James, Wyatt Earp, and others. I have been aiming to celebrate the women, but not necessarily the lifestyles they led. Some robbed and hurt others, just like some of the men did. The difference is that the men often were celebrated in stories and in history books, while the women were forgotten.
Today’s poem is about Queen Anne Bassett, who was a cattle rancher and who was associated with the Butch Cassidy gang. Bassett, and her sister, resisted the push by larger cattlemen associations to sell off her family land and she became a de facto leader of resistance to small ranch farmers as more and more consolidation happened. (There is also a strong suggestion that Bassett and Etta Place, another woman I wrote about, may have been the same person, with different identities. It is not clear if this is true or not.)
I am nearing the end of this two-month run of making comics for The Wild West Adventures of the Internet Kid. This has been an ancillary project for the Course with No Course — a Western-themed offshoot of DS106. It has been a ton of fun to make these comics, but I don’t know how daily cartoonist do it, to be frank. The stress of new ideas … ack …. good thing I don’t do my own art or I would have gone mad weeks ago.
Today’s comic begins the last storyline, which will stretch out over a few days and invite you to take part in the story, too. It features The Kid and a Video Game Vortex coming to town.
You can view the Internet Kid Tumblr site, where I have been posting the comics every day (as well as on Twitter, with the #Western106 hashtag). You can also use the “random” option with Tumblr, so that when you click the link below, it will take you to a random comic at the site.
While this is the last storyline, I suspect that this pause in making daily comics is only for now, and not forever. It’s hard to give up a character like The Internet Kid and The Horse with No Name and Anarchist Annie and Question Mark and others after living with them for seven weeks or so. They’re in my head, and in my heart.
(This is for Slice of Life, a weekly writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Come write.)
I am in the midst of reading the autobiography of Elvis Costello. The book is called Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink (a title I like very much) and it packs a literary punch and becomes a musical journey through Elvis Costello’s songwriting and life, with plenty of meandering along the way. Yesterday, during part of a Snow Day from school, I read with interest the section about Costello’s collaborations with Paul McCartney.
There was a time when I was deeply into Costello, and the album, Spike, was a favorite cassette in my car. The album had the radio hit — Veronica — on it, and in the book, Costello connects the song that he and McCartney wrote to his grandmother, suffering from Alzheimer’s in old age.
I had one of those strange moments, realizing that it was that song by Costello — Veronica — that led me to write a song myself long ago with my old band, The Roadbowlers, called Inside Mary’s Pocket, which is about my own great-grandmother in old age. Or rather, the song is sort of built off memories of her. It’s interesting that I only realize that now how influenced I was, as I am reading Costello talking about songwriting, and that I did not realize then what I was doing. (or conveniently forgot.) It’s also interesting how Costello talks openly of reworking Motown chords and lines and grooves for his early albums. I guess we all gather what we can find.
Of course, my song is nothing like his (I could only wish). I recorded this track more than 20 years ago now (dang!) on an old four-track. But I still have the Mp3 of our recording, and so I spent part of yesterday tracking it down in my computer files. Here goes …
I am dipping in a bit to this year’s Walk My World project. As always, Greg and Ian and company are encouraging people to think of identity of Self, and the connections to the Larger World. One of the early prompts has to do with thinking of Culture, and how we reflect the Culture we have inhabited.
I’ve been thinking a lot over time about my own privileged role as a White Man from the Middle Class teaching mostly White Boys and Girls from an insular White Suburban Community. (All those capital letters make what I wrote look strange and sort of gibberish.) Listening to Macklemore, and thinking of the controversy the year he and Ryan Lewis won the Grammy as white rappers, is giving some focus.
But I don’t have answers. Only questions.
Recently, I was in the audience of an event for Martin Luther King Day, at a local church in our small progressive city (Smith College sits at the center), and the guest speakers included college representatives of the Black Lives Matter movement. I glanced around the audience and saw mostly White Faces. The moderator of the panel was a white college representative, who dominated the discussion in an attempt to put the movement into some cultural context. I just wanted to hear the young organizers talk.
The raising of a Black Lives Matter banner sign on City Hall after that same MLK event continues to cause support and dissent and ripples and indignation in our community, as much for defending and criticizing the movement as for using City Hall as a backdrop for political statements. We’ve had our share of newspaper articles about the flying of the Confederate Flag in local communities, too. Not even our liberal Western Massachusetts is immune to the ways of the world.
I know I grew up privileged, even though we were by no means wealthy and even though I suspect my parents struggled at times (and kept it hidden from us kids) to keep us in the town they chose to raise a family (coming from New York City to do so). In fact, when I signed up as an infantry soldier in the National Guard, it was the first time I spent any extended time with people of other races, mostly Black soldiers, and most of them were from a deep urban setting that I had little understanding of. Until then, I was blind to the ways of the world. Now I was the lone white man in a platoon of black men. Mostly, I kept quiet and tried to learn from them about the world I did not know. It was a culture shock, but one I am very grateful for. It taught me lessons about life.
And it is in life that we make change, right?
As part of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, we make it part of our Mission Statement to focus on Social Justice themes and to find ways to work with school districts in urban and rural centers that often are left out of things due to socio-economic issues. Race and access and equity issues remain on the forefront of many of our decisions of programming.
The mission of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a local site of the National Writing Project, is to create a professional community where teachers and other educators feel welcomed to come together to deepen individual and collective experiences as writers and our understanding of teaching and learning in order to challenge and transform our practice. Our aim is to improve learning in our schools — urban, rural and suburban.
Professional development provided by the Western Massachusetts Writing Project values reflection and inquiry and is built on teacher knowledge, expertise, and leadership.
Central to our mission is the development of programs and opportunities that are accessible and relevant to teachers, students, and their families from diverse backgrounds, paying attention to issues of race, gender, language, class and culture and how these are linked to teaching and learning.
I won’t deny that where I come from — the World Where I Have Walked — has opened up doors because of the color of my skin (white), my gender (male), and the place where I grew up (suburban Connecticut), and other factors that I was born into. But I can try to make a difference for the young people whose lives I can impact in my own classroom as teacher or in other classrooms as profession development leader. I can lay the foundation for tolerance in the hearts of my boys.
We can all make a difference. We just need to try.
This is another in my series of small poems honoring some of the forgotten women of the Wild West. You can see poems about Stagecoach Annie, Etta Place and Cathay Williams, too. The poems are my attempt to capture the voice and story of these women. This one is about Belle Starr, known as the Bandit Queen. She was associated with Jesse James and his gang.
This has not been a typical New England winter, and I am not complaining. But my boys have been. Where’s the snow? they want to know. Some arrived yesterday, so a day off school meant sledding and hot chocolate. I love this view from my back window, with the two side-by-side chairs, as if awaiting a conversation.
This is my third poetic “discovery” from the historical archives of a famous woman of the “Wild West.” I have been writing a digital poem for each, trying to capture their voice and their story, with the writing superimposed on an image of the woman (I can’t 100 percent vouch for the historical accuracy of each photo).
Today, I look at Cathay Williams, a former slave who pretended to be man so that she could fight in the Civil War, and then was discovered to be a man, so she went West to continue to make a life for herself in the White Man’s World (my emphasis).