Summer Camp and Dreams

May 10

You know who Jarrett Krosoczka is, right?  Of course you do.  If you don’t, take a little bit and watch his Ted Talk.  I’ll still be here:

Welcome back!  Pretty great, right?

I’ve known Jarrett for something like seven or eight years.  He moved to Florence not long after we started the show on Valley Free Radio, and came by the show to talk about Punk Farm.  After we moved the show over to The River, things came together, as sometimes they do, and we co-created the Meltdown.  I can’t even begin to describe how great it is to work with him and Gina every year on making it what we humbly think is the best kids’ music and book event around.

It wasn’t until a lot later that I found out about his remarkable story (really, watch the video – it’s his story to tell, not mine).  And every time we talk about his story, it’s even clearer to me that the foundation of it is his grandparents (who raised him) and the Worcester Art Museum (where he got early art education, supported by his grandparents).  They’re who figured out — in not-easy circumstances — how to cultivate the hilarious and creative talent that is Jarrett.  They made it so he could fulfill his dreams.

He now gives back — and honors his grandparents — by helping raise money for scholarships to the Worcester Art Museum in their name, to help other kids pursue their dreams, or even just to have a creative and fun break during the summer.  Classes like this can make a tremendous difference, not just for those kids who will be the next Jarrett.

“But the auction for that doesn’t come up again until December!” you protest (accurately).  True enough.  But if you’re like us, you’re probably filling out (or putting off filling out) your kids’ summer camp medical forms.  And right now, there are some parents in central Massachusetts who are wishing they could send their kids to art classes at the Worcester Art Museum, and there’s more than finding their vaccination records in the way.  So take a minute and make a contribution.  There are a couple of ways you can do so:

mbtoLLFirst, go buy a copy of Monkey Boy to Lunch Lady – The Sketchbooks of Jarrett J. Krosoczka.  100% of the proceeds go to the Joe and Shirl Scholarship.

Or just write a check to the “Worcester Art Museum” with “Joe and Shirl Scholarship” in the memo line and mail it to Suzy Bonner, Worcester Art Museum, 55 Salisbury St., Worcester, MA 01609.

A few years ago, Dena and I decided that we’d donate any money I make from the kids’ music side of things to various non-profits, and this year, we are thrilled to be able to fund a half-dozen or so kids going to an art class at Worcester, in honor of Jarrett’s grandparents, from Meltdown proceeds.

So: When you’re filling our the forms for summer classes and camps for your kids, if you’ve got a few extra bucks, send it on to help some kids who need it.  Or if you go to the Meltdown (which is, after all, free!), think about how much fun you have, figure out a dollar figure associated with it, and send it off.

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Gordon Dean Hartrick, the Official Great Granddaddy of Spare the Rock • 1915-2014

Apr 10

beehive

[Ed.: I’ve added the full obituary at the end of the post; click on “Read More” to see it.]

The kindest and most decent man I’ve ever known, my Granddaddy Gordon Hartrick, shown here with Ella (admiring his beehives around ten years ago), with Cogie Ann, his late-in-life love, and with my Grandmother Alma (on their honeymoon), died peacefully yesterday in his home in the Arkansas Ozarks.  We’re playing Elizabeth Mitchell’s version of “Down in the Valley” this week in his memory.

He was the most curious and smartest person in any room (those facts were not unrelated), he had a remarkable breadth and depth of interests and knowledge, and he was filled with joy regarding just about everything. He cared and loved deeply.

cogie ann

It is no coincidence that one of his last words was “joy,” spoken of his children — likely both his children and the broader category, including the many foster children and other children that he and my grandmother Alma cared for (something that resulted in the Klan burning a cross in their yard, as my grandmother had the humanity to bring a burnt black child to the clinic for treatment). He rejoiced in the delights of the world, of nature, of his friends, of his family.

honeymoon

There will be an obituary [after the jump] — and his life’s details were remarkable (CCC, riding the rails, forestry, beekeeping, and so much more) — but it all comes down, for me, to joy.  Joy in all things.

Every time I sign something with my middle name (Gordon) or fill out a form with Liam’s middle name (also Gordon) — and every time I fill out something with Ella’s middle name (Alma) — I am honored to be associated with him and my Grandmother, and hope we are worthy successors to their names and their lives.

Even at 98, it feels too early for him to be gone.


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SXSW 2014: You Gotta Stay Positive.

Mar 16

I started writing this as just a list of highlights of my SXSW.  I quickly realized, though, that what I really needed to write about was why this was a great week despite being one that the “experts” of SXSW would undoubtedly consider a failure: I didn’t actually see all that music (comparatively), I (gasp!) paid for my drinks and food, and I didn’t see a single thing sponsored by Doritos.  There is no way I will be profiled as a SXSW Ninja Lifehacker.  The entire week was darkened by the horrific deaths and injuries resulting from a presumably drunk driver, of course, as well.  And yet here I am with, on balance, delight.

IMG_8659Wednesday afternoon brought the Family Music Meltdown.  We had a gorgeous day and a great setting at the Thinkery, and a fantastic crowd.  (We counted 539 people over the three hours!)  You can see a bunch of photos on our Facebook page.  The crowd was from all parts and populations of Austin, the performers put the stage — built from used pallets by NeedTo.com — through its paces, and I think it’s safe to say that anybody who didn’t rock out wasn’t trying.  I do wish I’d thought to put on sunscreen.  In part as a result, I was wiped out, so I didn’t get out to see anything that night.

On Thursday, I met up with Lloyd from The Deedle Deedle Dees and walked through Flatstock, a crazy cool poster show.  We then caught the end of Jon Langford & Skull Orchard (with the fantastic Jean Cook, known to many as the violinist with Elizabeth Mitchell), and then some bits and pieces of various acts (mostly local) at Spider House.  And again, I went home and to sleep pretty early.

Friday I finally felt back up to really doing stuff.  In order, I saw:

  1. The Hold Steady at the radio day stage (good show, weird location);
  2. Holly George-Warren (whose husband is Uncle Rock) signing her probably-great book about Alex Chilton
  3. The Whigs at the Mophie Hanger (good garage rock)
  4. The Hold Steady (again) at the Mophie Hanger (great show, pretty cool location);
  5. Waco Brothers at Yard Dog (favorite part of SXSW every year, and their cover of 20th Century Boy was perfect);
  6. The Front Bottoms at Palm Door (terrific show) (where Craig Finn showed up, and he suggested that we then go see…);
  7. The Donkeys on the roof of Cheers Shot Bar (100% weird venue, 100% great band); and
  8. Kishi Bashi with Dena at Half Step (pretty enchanting, but I was super tired so I headed home).

Saturday brought another family music showcase — Whole Lotta Fun at the Whole Foods at the Domain.  Rain forced us inside, but we had enthusiastic crowds and performers again.  Koo Koo Kanga Roo, Sara Hickman, The Que Pastas, Lloyd H. Miller and the Austin Phonebook, and David Tobocman all made the day the promised whole lotta fun (measured in metric).  Plus, we were inside and I got to sit down, so I was more up for more rawk after the event…and the rawk came.

Some background before continuing the narrative: A few months ago, the Hold Steady did a campaign to fund an EP that was, in part, benefiting the family of a fan of theirs — a super fan — who had died suddenly.  One of the premiums was a 3-mile run with Craig Finn, something I couldn’t resist.

So on Friday, I wore running clothes under my regular clothes and went to see the band for the third time, this time at Brooklyn Vegan’s showcase at Red 7.

runwithcraigfinnAfter the set (best of the three I saw), I changed in the not-very-fancy dressing room at Red 7 and Craig and I went for a run into east Austin.  This was his second run of the day (he’d done one as part of an interview with Runners World), which might have been good for me, as it made it so I could keep up.

It was a ton of fun.  Craig’s my age, grew up in Minnesota listening to a lot of the same bands I did and going to a lot of the same shows.  We know some people in common.  He went to Riot Fest just to see the reunited Replacements (as did I), and thought they sounded great (as did I).  I also happen to think he’s one of the most talented songwriters around.

Our run’s destination was the home of a very nice couple in east Austin who had pledged for another premium — an acoustic set by the band in their home.  I was heading there just to pick up my gear (which I’d put in the band’s van), but the couple — very generously — invited me to stick around (and gave me Topo Chico!).  So I also got to see three members of the Hold Steady (Craig plus Steve and Tad) playing songs (including “Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” one of my favorites, plus a song from the new record) for three of us.

Photo Mar 15, 8 05 08 PMI then just went home.  There was lots more music to be seen, but I really could not have imagined a better way to end a great week of music.

I’ve seen far more music in past SXSWs, and I’ve found far more free food and drinks.  I’ve scheduled my movements with great precision, ensuring the highest proportion of music (and free food and free drinks) possible.  By many people’s measures, my week this year was an inefficient failure.

But I’ve never had a SXSW that felt more truly connected.  The events I helped put together were immensely satisfying, the music I did see was a nice mix of the familiar and the utterly new to me, and the chance to hang out with Craig and the band (and Joel and Elisa) was just as good as I could have hoped.

It helped me remember — even in the face of the horrible deaths of people who were just in Austin to be part of it all, even in the context of insane corporate branding and stupidity — why I spend so much time trying to put events together; why I wanted to move to Austin; and why I believe in music and this scene so damn much.  It’s about joy, about community, about making stuff better.

There’s gonna come a time when the true scene leaders
Forget where they differ and get big picture
‘Cause the kids at the shows, they’ll have kids of their own
The sing-along songs will be our scriptures

We gotta stay positive; we gotta stay positive.

* * *

‘Cause it’s one thing to start it with a positive jam
And it’s another thing to see it all through
And we couldn’t have even done this if it wasn’t for you

We gotta stay positive.

We gotta stay positive.

– The Hold Steady, Stay Positive

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Bye, 2013.

Dec 28

So.  2013:

  • We had a ton of fun doing the South by Meltdown showcase during SXSW, and look forward to doing something again this year (details soon!).
  • We’re now pretty settled into doing the show in an hour, and we’ve added a couple of stations.
  • I’m pretty confident we’ll get on the air here in Austin in 2014, though I of course wish it had happened faster.
  • We raised a lot more money via the label than I’d expected, given the fact that we didn’t have any releases (with our year-end donations bringing our cumulative total to over $100,000!).
  • We didn’t end up releasing a new Terrible Twos record, and I think we probably won’t.  Boo.
  • We had more in-studios and interviews than we’ve ever had before; being in a big music city helps.  Hopefully we’ll add more and more non-kids’ artists to the list of folks too.
  • KindieFest ended.  This bummed me out, even though I had decided to scale back my participation anyway.  It grew out of a showcase — really just a party — that I helped create the first spring we were on the air, when we were heading to Brooklyn and just wanted to hang out with AudraRox.  It had grown into an anchor of the year for many artists and others in family music, almost like a family reunion.  The sense of unity and common cause that was there was…really lovely.  I will miss it terribly.

On that last topic: As we had in prior years, we partners set aside some money for the next year’s startup expenses.  Once we decided to end the event, we each got our share of that money.  So I sat down to decide what to do with it.  (For the past few years, any money I’ve made from the kids’ music side of my life has gone towards donations — not just the beneficiaries from the label, but from other income as well.  So we’ve made some contributions to Liam’s school, for example, which has suffered the same fate as other Texas public schools.)

It didn’t take long to realize that the perfect thing to do with the final dollars I’d get from KindieFest was to honor someone who has really represented the best of the kindie music world — and the spirit of KindieFest: Molly Ledford of Lunch Money.

Molly understood the potential of something like KindieFest better than probably anyone (including myself).  She was a constant, happy, engaged, and smart presence, not just willing but excited to share her gathered wisdom with others.  She knows that working together will always — always — result in a better scene than working separately.  She was a producer on Science Fair and made that record way better than it would have been otherwise (including writing two songs on it).  She is a wicked good songwriter and Lunch Money has a vibe that works better than just about anyone else.

And she’s doing a ton of great stuff with Girls Rock Columbia, including writing their theme song:

(Incidentally, I love the “Sisterhood is powerful” line.  On my box o’ things growing up (wooden box, built by me and my dad), among the countless bumper stickers was one that said “Sisterhood is powerful,” with a fist/♀ combined symbol.)

So I sent off a few hundred bucks to Girls Rock Columbia today.  If you’re looking for a place to make a year-end contribution, could I suggest you do the same?  They take PayPal right there on their front page.  Or find your local Girls Rock Camp — there are a ton — and send ‘em a few bucks.

And maybe head over to Lunch Money’s page and tell them you think they’re pretty swell.  If I were starting a family music act, there’s not a single act I’d try to take inspiration from more than them.  (Not copy!  Just be inspired by.)

Happy New Year, everybody.  Love you all.

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Notes.

Dec 02

My dad, as many of you know, died in 2009, killed by pancreatic cancer just a few weeks after his diagnosis.

This Thanksgiving was the first time since then that we’ve had a chance to stay in the house that he and my mom had built for their retirement outside Fayetteville, Arkansas.  So perhaps that’s why I was struck so thoroughly last week by how very present he remains in that house.

Some of that is just the ordinary emotional ephemera left by memories — even though they’d only been in the house for a half dozen or so years when he died — but some of it is the physical presence of the notes he left, pictured (in part) below.

I suppose his notes go back quite a while.  I remember a note — probably futile, probably written knowing it was futile — pleading with us not to leave stuff on top of what we called alternatively the “plant cage” or the “alligator cage” (a structure he built for my mom to grow plants inside) in Oklahoma, probably 35 years ago.  I still have trouble resisting flat surfaces that just plead for stacks of stuff.

I think there are more notes in the Arkansas house than either our Minnesota or Oklahoma homes, maybe in part because it was a new house with more than its share of problems, and maybe in part because his ataxia made communication more challenging — and mostly because he wanted to make the house a safe and comfortable place for family and friends.

He wanted guests (and my mom) to know how to use the toilet efficiently, and how to make the guest rooms comfortable, and how to use the electrical panel safely, and where my mom’s wedding gown was, and why guests don’t need to worry about the light in the bathroom (it’ll turn itself off two to three minutes after the last motion).  He also (politely) wanted the mail carrier to firmly close the mailbox (that mailbox got repurposed as a garden tool holder).  And he wanted guests to know how to use the HVAC system (as my friend Emily points out, the fact that the fifteen-point list of directions is identified as instructions “in brief” speaks volumes).

Our family when I was growing up wasn’t a completely organized and coherent thing all of the time.  I don’t say that to be critical (at all), or to suggest anything bad, but just to observe.  Our family now, with Dena and Ella and Liam, isn’t a completely organized and coherent thing all of the time.  I think that’s actually a good thing; some chaos and surprise is good.

As much as my dad had an organized mind, I mostly think of him in his later years as having a slightly bemused look of delight at the chaos that results when you have a bunch of grandkids running around doing what a bunch of grandkids do.  He might not have been as delighted with the chaos that we (okay, mostly I) introduced to his life earlier in life, but I think he (mostly?) found it more interesting than infuriating.  I hope my kids remember me mostly being delighted with the changes in directions that we have experienced, even if I’m not always sure how to approach them.

I don’t leave a ton of notes around the house (though I do have Welcome to Nightvale-themed lunchbox notes).  And my brain isn’t as organized as my dad’s was — far from it — so maybe I won’t.  But I am grateful that — a few weeks from four and a half years from his death — I am still getting guidance and love from my dad.

 

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Some Thoughts About Lasers and Feelings and The Doubleclicks and Feminism and Stuff

Jul 19

A few weeks ago we had The Doubleclicks on the  show (you can see a video here) in support of their kids’ record Worst Superpower Ever.  Prior to their visit, I’d listened to that a few times, along with their non-kids’ stuff, and enjoyed it all plenty.  And the in-studio was super fun — the songs were of course witty and a nice change of pace in the kids’ world, as were the band members (sisters Aubrey and Angela), but what was maybe the best was watching them talk with Ella off-air.  Grownups who spoke her language.

a3607587551_2A week or so later, the band was kind enough to send an advance download of their new (not-for-kids) record, Lasers and Feelings.  And it is, well, pretty great, and it made me pay closer attention.

Easy stuff to talk about first: They’ve added way more instrumentation to their guitar-and-cello core setup, and it sounds great.  (As usual, I think many sax solos would be improved with trombone, but the sax solos on here largely work, and clarinets are great.)  That’s not to say I don’t like the usual setup — it highlights their voices and lyrics nicely, and is certainly a nice change of pace from your standard band lineup — but it’s fun to hear some other instruments in the mix too.

Like I said, that’s the obvious stuff, and that — along with their usual witty lyrics and a growing nerd fanbase — is presumably why they just announced that they hit the Billboard Top Ten for comedy albums.

Here’s the thing though: Lasers and Feelings is not just a comedy album.  I think it’s a (very funny) feminist album.  (And putting it in the “comedy” category tends to distract from the fact that they’re excellent songwriters, both lyrically and melodically.  This is not a novelty act.)

Sure, the album is funny — very funny at times — and there are certainly songs that are primarily for laughs (“The Guy Who Yelled Freebird,” “Rock Star Life,” etc.).  And every song has humor at its creamy nougat center.

But I like to think of Lasers and Feelings as the sequel to Science Fair.  (Granted, Angela and Aubrey didn’t have Science Fair until I handed it to them, and I’ve no idea if they’ve listened to it.  Presumably they didn’t listen to it, travel back in time, and make Lasers and Feelings intending it to be a sequel.  But stay with me here.)

Science Fair was (for me, and for I think all of the producers and artists) about giving girls power, to emphasize that there is no part of society where they don’t belong — about being themselves without being mocked, about feeling not just okay but awesome with being smart.  That basic idea — everybody gets to be in every room — is what a lot of Lasers and Feelings is about too, albeit at a slight angle.

Consider the core song representing that idea, “Nothing to Prove.”  (The video for it, featuring clips from fans all over, is supposed to be up soon.)  In it, the band sings about finding their way into the nerd community — on much the same path that Ella is on right now — only to run into the notion of “fake geek girl tests”:

I know it feels good to have a contest you win; it would feel better if I wanted in.  So women aren’t geeks, is that your conclusion?  That this is some secret club based on exclusion?  Twelve-year-old dorks would say that you’re being selfish, and then go and write in their journals in Elvish.  * * * I’ve got cred but honestly I shouldn’t need it; this world needs all kinds of folks to complete it. You’ve got gamers and aritsts and comic subscribers, cosplayers, crafters, and fan fiction writers.  You can stop – never say ‘fake geek’ again.  Our club needs no bouncers; all who want can get in.  But go ahead, if you want to own that role fully – I’ve got nothing to prove to a bully.

That is, I submit, the next step from Science Fair, especially the Nields’ song “Butterfly” and Rachel Loshak’s lovely “Oh Girl.”  The former acknowledges how much it can suck out loud to be a smart (nerdy?) girl:

I know metamorphosis means you have to go to pieces first; things will not get better, ’til they get a whole lot worse.  They are laughing in the girls’ room — they think they’re tearing down the sky.  When I come out, finally find me, you’ll see a gold flight as we fly by, as I fly by…

And it’s not just The Doubleclicks’ “Nothing to Prove.”  “Oh, Mr. Darcy” provides a nice reminder not to get distracted by a British accent  (“If a boy treats you with tasteful indifference, if he is handsome but bristly and cold, don’t be intrigued just because he’s ignoring you — not every asshole has a heart of gold.”).  “The Mystery’s Gone” points out how much one’s online presence can differ from their reality.

My point?  Here, I’ve got one: If you’ve been listening to the show since we started (eight years in a couple of weeks!), you may well have a kid (boy or girl) who could use some of what’s on this album.  (You’d probably like it too.)

It would be easy to get distracted by the plentiful laughs on Lasers and Feelings, and then you’d miss what is a really strong record with a resonant message.  I cannot wait for Ella to get back from camp to hear it.  I am positive it’s going to hit the spot for her.  It is not a kids’ record — as you can see above, it has some language you might not love and some themes that aren’t aimed at the younger kids.

But it absolutely reflects much of how I want my kids to grow up: smart, funny, and — most importantly — being who they are.

(Also: writing in Elvish.)

P.S. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my brother and sister-in-law Mike & Jenn for introducing me to the band.  They saw (if I remember right) their first public gig!

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