Time Capsules

On Thanksgiving, we spent the day with my parents.  While there, they handed me a stack of prints and a pile of negatives I had completely forgotten about.  Most of them are crap.  They’re from 1971 for the most part and I was in the early stages of trying to learn photography.  I was shooting a LOT of film and about 99% was ultimately junk.  But this is the way I learn.  I dive in and do a great deal of whatever it is I’m trying to do, largely ignoring instructions and books, which I consult only when I’m so hopelessly lost that I admit to needing expert help.  It’s an absurd way to go about it, but when I do finally learn something it stays learned.

Anyway, among the negatives I found a couple shots my dad took of me at the keyboard.  At this time I still hadn’t made up my mind what I wanted to do or be.  Music was always a possibility, a big deal, but it turned out not to be.  However, I had aspirations.  (When you’re that young, you think you can do it all.  At one time I simultaneously wanted to be an actor, a musician, a photographer, and a writer, and saw no reason why I couldn’t.  The acting has, subsequently, faded completely from my list of ambitions.)

So, here I am being…well, I was getting my Keith Emerson on, clearly, as well as the serious composer bit.


Me As Emerson, 1971, b&w

Me As Composer, 1971, b&w

Seems I couldn’t read my own notation…

My Personal Hall of Fame

This is purely personal pique on my part, but in the recent round of nominations for the rock’n’roll hall of fame, YES was one of the bands being put forward.  I would like to be able to say “much to my surprise” they didn’t make it.  But I’m not surprised, just disappointed.

Which is silly, because I could not care less about the hall of fame.  I know what I like, a lot of it was at one time on the fringes of mainstream, things I choose now still tend to be under-the-radar kinds of things (though much less rock than in previous decades), and I still have my loyalties.  To be sure, there are bands I kind of listen to now, having at one time been massively devoted to (for a week or a year), and wonder what I found so wonderful about them.

But there are a handful I never tire of, especially not the work done in their heyday.  And YES is one of them.  I fell in love with that sound four bars into the first song I ever heard of theirs and even though they’d recorded some duds, made a couple of records of incomprehensibly bombastic ambiance, by and large, overall, I still love them and when they release a new album I buy it, unheard.  Even in their worst, I find things of transcendent beauty scattered throughout.

I’ve written about them before, most notably here , and I don’t really have anything new to say.

Except that I found, here and there, some commentary on the intraweebs concerning their nomination that was mean-spirited and depressing.  I thought, are we still doing that after over four decades?

KISS made it.  Good for them.  They worked hard, they have a large fan base.  I can’t stand them myself, but it’s a big world, room enough for everyone.  If I wanted to, I’m sure I could get downright eloquent about how I feel that sort of music did nothing but lower the general I.Q. and bring down the standards of music.  But it wouldn’t be just about KISS and it wouldn’t be just about certain strains of rock music.

But YES seemed to have made enemies back in the day, people who believe any attempt at elevating the genre above anything more than the old 3-chords-and-a-bridge formula was somehow a betrayal of “authenticity.”  People who turned to rock because they despised classical (or more likely because they didn’t “get” classical) and not only tore at the reputations of YES but at the very idea of progressive rock as a movement.  It doesn’t make sense to me, but…

But music is too personal for the kind of total condemnations or complete annointments it often elicits.  I love YES but I also love Santana.  Not only that, but I’m inordinately fond of Mozart, Schubert, and Howard Hanson.  Not only that, but I’m a devotee of Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Joe Pass.  I love Vangelis as well as Jimi Hendrix, and Joe Satriani is to my ear as much a virtuoso as   McCoy Tyner or  Immanuel Ax.

Such are the inductees into my own hall of fame, of which YES has been an honored member since 1970.

Thank you for indulging me in a brief declaration of personal taste.

That Which I Hold Sacred

I’ve seen this a few times now and each time I am taken somewhere wonderful and know what it is to be inside joy. I’m in tears every time. It makes me feel so damn good to be human!

This is where it’s at for me.

Mid Life

That’s optimistic.

So recently I turned 59.  It doesn’t feel much different from 58, or that from 57, but since I often still feel 35, it occasionally jars.  I have little to complain about, save for a nagging sense of lack of time.

I’d been toying with getting an electric guitar for years.  A frivolity I could not quite talk myself into for a long time.  I have a terrific acoustic guitar which I do not play as well as I should, but which gives me a great deal of pleasure pretending to play well.

There are some things you just can’t mimic on an acoustic, though.  It’s like trying to play Deep Purple on a spinet pianola.  It lacks gravitas.

So an opportunity came my way and I threw common sense to the wind and bought a delightful Epiphone Les Paul.  Not the one I’d had my eyes on for many years, but it’s a Les Paul.  (Yeah, yeah, I hear the purists kvetching over in the corner, but it ain’t a Gibson, like that makes all that much difference.  Well, it does, by several hundred dollars.)

Which necessitated getting an amplifier.

I have a good friend in Jefferson City who is something of a musician (actually, he’s a very good musician and graces me with a willingness to jam on our infrequent visits) who knows people.  Sound people.  I told him what I’d gotten and he said “Come on out and we’ll fix you up.”

Fix me up indeed.

Me and My Axe, Oct 29, 2013

I’ve been out of the music biz too long, I didn’t even recognize the name—a Line—but it’s a gem.  50 watts, all the bells and whistles (well, at least more than I’ll master in the next several years) and by pure serendipity the color scheme matches my axe.  It came with a pedal board, too, which, for the price I paid, astonished me.

I have every intention of getting down to it and learning some songs.  I’ve been playing it almost every day since I brought it home.  It is loud.  We have installed it in my office, so I can close the door, and Donna can enjoy it through the walls and floor.  It’s more than I need.

I did not buy the Ferrari.  I’m having a much more modest midlife, er, crisis.  More a midlife ruffle, really.  Despite my complaining, I’m a reasonably happy guy.  Hell, I’m still alive, which after last year’s little contretemps is a very positive thing.

I’ve been finding online lessons.  Stumbled on a guitar player of some considerable merit who does instructional videos, although I can barely keep up.  (He tends to assume you already know the rudiments.)  So I thought I’d put one here just to show you how far out of reach my aspirations go.

Till I started surfing for this kind of thing I’d never heard of this guy.  (Told you I’ve kind of been out of it for a while.)  Turns out he did a turn with Asia.  Yeah, Heat of the Moment Asia, but an incarnation with only one original member, Geoffrey Downes.  I’m trying to imagine what they must’ve sounded like with this guy.

Anyway, I’m dipping into his how-to vids.  He reminds me a lot of Ian Anderson.

Anyway, I must now get back to the start-up of my second half-century.  Stay tuned.

Two More Tomorrow

Two more shots of The Men of Tomorrow, courtesy Jarek Steele of Left Bank Books.


Men of Tomorrow in concert
Men of Tomorrow in concert
Mood Soloing
Mood Soloing

Might use this last one for some kind of avatar somewhere.


The Men of Tomorrow

So, the other night, the 22nd to be exact, I committed Public Performance.  I had help.  Two brave musicians, both of whom are better at their respective instruments than I am at mine, joined me to play jazz-like music at the Mad Art Gallery where Left Bank Books and other St. Louis Independent bookstores celebrated World Book Night.  I mentioned this in a previous post.

The main event of the evening was an on-stage interview conducted by author Curtis Sittenfeld of author  J.R. Moehringer.

Here we see Left Bank’s Shane Mullen introducing them:


The interview was great.  Lively, informative, and Moehringer is very entertaining.  Afterward came author signings, aimless milling about, imbibing (cash bar) and…us.


Men of Tomorrow

This event was the brainchild of Left Bank’s co-owner, Jarek Steele, who approached me one day at work a few months back and said, “Hey, I have an idea…”  I said yes.  Then later, I thought I said yes! Am I out of my mind?

This entailed gathering other musicians, rehearsals, and then renting a keyboard.  I had to learn a few new pieces, Rich and Bill had to figure out how to play along with the bizarre manner in which I play.  I have to admit, our first rehearsal was not promising.  My handicap is that I don’t usually perform with a group.  99% of what I do, I do solo.  That is a very different discipline than ensemble.  I had to overcome some bad habits (a couple of which I failed to overcome, but hey, nobody noticed), and get some chops down better than I’ve done in some time.

A word about the keyboard.  This detail almost ended the project before it began, because my piano is not portable.  Not really.  After calling around, I found MidWest Music.  These folks rent instruments.  Yes, they had a digital piano available.  They told me the model, I checked out a couple of demos, it seemed perfectly suitable.  Donna and I went out to set it up and…

Well, they had a brand new instrument they wanted to showcase, so I got an upgrade to a Roland RD-700nx.  Yes, I’m linking to the demo video so you can see why I had the musical equivalent of a one-night-stand with this.  I likened using this piano for this gig to taking a Ferrari to the supermarket.  It was far more instrument than I needed that night.

We showed up nameless.  I was asked by our events coordinator if we had one.  No.  One night?  A one-off?  A couple of things passed through my head, but…no.

Shane named us.  Suddenly we were “Mark Tiedemann and the Men of Tomorrow.”  After a moment of “Aw, come on!” I started to think, “Hey, that’s not bad. ”  By the time we went on, I decided to ask him if we could keep it.  You know, just in case this ever happens again.

It has been a long time since I played at all seriously in front a room full of people I didn’t know.  It kind of surprised me how nerve-wracking it was.  But…

I always know when I’ve done okay because I come away from the performance with almost no memory of what I did.  Mistakes and just plain bad performances I remember with a clarity that cuts, but if things go more or less well, there’s just a hazy wash of “Yeah, I was there” and not much else.

I want to thank Rich and Bill here for making me sound as good as we did.  Bill is an exceptional drummer.  I can say this because he took the weird and rather undisciplined rhythms I play, made them his own, and glued the performances together.  Rich is an exceptional guitarist.

So that’s how my week started off.  How’s yours going?

Coming Up On…

Every writing project comes to a point when it crowds everything else into smaller and smaller spaces, mainly of time.  Right now I’m 3/4 of the way through what I’m currently working on. As a result, my reading has slowed to a crawl (I’ve been taking far too long to get through an ARC that is really good—review to come) and I’m barely keeping up with everything else.

Donna has spent the weekend in Iowa with her sister, leaving me to wallow in potential bachelor disorder.  But I’ve managed to keep the place not only clean, but straightened out a few things.  I could never get used to her being absent, but occasionally I get more done when I’m alone.

However, the last couple of months have been taken up with another project that’s been demanding as much if not more time than the novel and has me a bit on edge.  I’ve been practicing piano daily in preparation for an actual gig.

World Book Night is coming up.  On April 22, the night before the official event, Left bank Books is doing an event for it—Speakeasy —at the Mad Art Gallery in Soulard.  Come by, it’ll be fun, and…well, I’ll be playing piano, along with two other excellent musicians.  (Not that I’m an excellent musician, but…)

This was the brilliant (read: insane) idea of Jarek Steele, co-owner of Left Bank Books (and my boss…one of them…), who casually suggested that it would be cool to have a jazz combo at an event called Speakeasy and, for reasons which now escape me, I said “Yeah, that would be.  Maybe I…?”  “Well, of course,” says he, “that’s what I had in mind.  Would you?”

So I’ve been diligent at the keyboard, honing some skills that have been largely left unhoned for too many years.  Much to my surprise, the rehearsals are going okay, and, well…it will be interesting.

But my daily schedule has been torn between the demands of a novel that is swiftly heading for conclusion and needs (demands, pleads, screams for) my attention and the little guilt-gnome in the back of my skull telling me to stop fiddling with that and practice!

Leaves little time for much of anything else.  Like reading.

After the 22nd, and my day of recovery, I’ll get back to, well, Other Things.

On the other hand, who knows?  This might go so well that we three who will be doing this could decide to continue it…

Sigh.  Doubtful, but never say never, right?  So it is with some reservation that I suggest if any of you are in the area and in the least interested, check out the event.  You will want to come out in support of World Book Night anyway, which is a certifiably cool thing to do.  It will be fun.  See you then?

Banks Passing

One of the founding members of a band I have loved and followed since I first heard them over 44 years ago has died.

Peters Banks  was the original guitarist for Yes.  As noted in the obituary, he recorded the first two albums with them before being asked to leave, to be replaced by Steve Howe.

The video below is from 2007 and shows a performance by Banks of a piece from his first solo album, Two Sides of Peter Banks, which was released in 1973.

I have written elsewhere about the peculiarity of certain musicians within certain milieu.  Banks, outside of Yes, was a first-rate player.  He did not shine so much with Yes, but a large part of that is probably because Anderson and Squire were going in one direction and Banks had other ideas in mind.

In the last few years I’ve found and purchased three other Banks recordings.  All instrumental, very layered works, part jazz, part rock, part Something Else, I’ve listened and admired the distinctiveness of his sound.  He did other bans after leaving Yes (Flash, Empire) and a lot of session work.  I’ve always been impressed by the list of players on that first solo album, though.  He had Phil Collins (Genesis), Jan Akkerman (Focus, Brainbox), John Wetton (King Crimson, UK, and later Asia) Steve Hackett (Genesis) and others, all first-rank players, all fitting together seamlessly in a wonderfully eclectic musical experience that showcased a wide range of influence and style and ambition.

Here’s a rare video from a Yes session with Banks on guitar:

Time catches us all eventually.  It’s good some things are not forgotten soon.

Farewell, Pete.



Favorite (To Me) Posts of the Year

I’ve never done this before, assuming a certain shelf life to what I write here, but maybe I’ll start.  Now, this is completely self-indulgent, so you are warned.  Here are my personal favorites of the Distal Muses for 2012:


The Last One

Narratives And The American Landscape

Music On A Saturday Night

Le Guin Again

Honor and Duty

Petty Stuff, Harlan Ellison, and Therbligs

The Golden (Silver?) Good Ol’ Days

Reflections On The 4th of July: A Personal Statement

Jon Lord, Deep Purple, Legacies


Longer Tomorrows



Post Thanks


I’ll leave December alone.  The last one is, I think, appropriate to end the overview.

I have selected almost no political posts—most all of them were topical, concerned with what was happening at that moment—and the few of a political nature included are far more general, more philosophical.

We had many deaths in 2012.  Here is a good list of the musicians we lost.  Here is a list of the “notable” deaths of writers.  I quibble and chafe at the label “notable” because there are so many whom the L.A. Times would never notice who mean so much to so many.  As well as Ray Bradbury, K. D. Wentworth passed away, a friend and writer, a wonderful person who left too soon.  Certainly more people will know who Ray was.

We should remember in order to go forward on solid ground.  Take what was good and make it better.  Learn from the bad so as not to make the same mistakes.  But never give up.

Have a safe, happy new year.


I was never so glad to see an election done than this past one.  The only comparable year in my experience was 1968 and I can’t honestly say that comparison is viscerally valid, as I was 13 most of that year, 14 right before the election, and most of the issues washed over me leaving me unfazed.  But ’68 was the year of Nixon and Humphrey and George Wallace, Vietnam, the Counter Culture and the Anti-War Movement, and a resurgent Republican Party in opposition to LBJ’s Great Society.  I sensed the acrimony, the bitterness, the ugliness, but most of it made no real sense.  Looking back, I can see that it was very much a revolutionary year and now I can make at least an intellectual comparison.  2012, politically, was a war.

I just finished reading Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, part of his epic series Narratives of Empire.  Lincoln chronicles, novelistically, the Civil War from the viewpoint of Washington and inside the Lincoln White House.  I have read enough period history to recognize the essential accuracy of Vidal’s setting and the nature of the events.  It was tonic for me since it is a full court display of a truly ugly period of political history.  We have encased Lincoln in the amber of the past and rendered him “safe” for our nostalgic alchemy, but it is always instructive to learn about what really went on.  For sheer vileness, one would be hard pressed to find another period in our history to top it.  All the thoughtless charges this past year that Obama was destroying the country, that his re-election would signal the end of liberty, the gutter-level spite in even the most passing of commentary—especially by those in the upper levels of our political institutions—are rendered commonplace by gaining even a smidgen of knowledge of earlier times.  Lincoln, who is now regarded as one of if not the best president we ever had, was at the time regarded even by his supporters as a first-class mediocrity, called “the original gorilla” by subordinates and a Press that was never, seemingly, satisfied with his performance.  His own cabinet was comprised of men who, each of them, thought they could do a better job.  Whereas Obama is only feared as someone who would take away liberty, Lincoln did (the suspension of Habeus Corpus chief among his actions) and yet, here we are, 150 years later, having a hard time wrapping our collective heads around the utter humanness of his presidency.

Still, we didn’t live through the Civil War, we lived through 2012, and personal experience matters differently.

My reasons for not voting for Romney I made plain.  What I found so disconcerting this past year is how little reason impacted those who were bent on ousting Obama.  Once I left the realm of contentless rhetoric and starting talking policy, eyes glazed over, mouths became slack, the body language of my conversents acquired the fight-or-flight posture of someone beginning to perceive a physical threat.  I can only conclude from my small and thoroughly unscientific sampling that most of the people I knew who intended to vote for Romney cared not at all about such things.  Policy made no difference other than as a prop to a personal disdain for Obama.  Without doubt, I’ve lost acquaintances over this.

Worse, the response to losing has been one of the most bizarre congeries of absurdities in recent memory.  The complete denial of reality startled me.  It has been an antic, carnival year in politics.

Interrupted for me personally by my first encounter with mortality, namely an attack of appendicitis that laid me up for nearly two months.  The first week of August I developed a “fluttering” in my belly that resembled stomach flu, but wouldn’t settle out.  By the time I got to the emergency room, it was a full blown agonizing Thing.  My appendix had perforated and I was in Barnes Hospital for a bit over a day.  A few weeks later, I was back in because, one, the wound had become infected, and, two, I had developed an abscess.  Two months after the initial event, I was pronounced healed.  Two months of soup and sleep and reading books and contemplating vulnerability.

For whatever reason, I do not consciously consider myself the object of much affection, so it always surprises me (pleasantly) when people display it toward me.  (I don’t really understand this in myself, since I am in many ways a rather self-centered person, but this never seems to extend to expectations that anyone else pay attention to me…desires, certainly, but not expectation…)  The degree of sympathy and well-wishing that came during my convalescence both humbled and delighted.  Thank you, my friends.

As I said, this did afford me an opportunity to read and I plowed through several books I might otherwise not have managed.

I began a new job this year, at Left Bank Books.  Back in 2011 I started doing work for them of an unusual sort—what we call downtown outreach.  Left Bank is our oldest independent bookstore (1969) and four years ago opened a second location in downtown St. Louis, which proceeded to be ignored.  Well, it takes a while for a new business (or a new location) to acquire recognition, but in this economy they couldn’t really afford to wait.  So we tried something and I started going around to the businesses downtown to introduce them to the fact that they now have a full-service bookstore right there.  Many folks knew about Left Bank Books, but only remembered the Central West End location.  Naturally, they were thrilled to learn there was one within walking distance.

I sort of doubt I had much to do with their increased sales this past year, but it didn’t hurt.  After a few months of my meeting with office managers, building managers, hotel concierges, and the like, sales took a turn for the better.

As of October, I started training as a bookseller.  I’m still doing some of the outreach, but now I have some steady hours (much needed!) and the bonus is I’m getting to know a bunch of very smart, very passionate, very cool people.

Donna also got a new job.  In a weird way.

At the end of 2011, she was dismissed from USSEC, the Job From Hell.  The less said of that the better.  The money, as they say, was great, but everything else sucked.  Frankly, that job was killing her (and not doing me much good either).  Entirely due to office politics, which she hates, she was set up to take a fall and fired.

Cause for Great Celebration and Gleefulness!

We’ve been becoming reacquainted this past year.  Except that the search for a new job turned out to be far more labor intensive than either of us anticipated.

However, she went back to doing what she loves to do—temping.  Of course, the problems with temping are simple: not enough pay and no benefits.  But she likes doing it!

Solution came in the form of an actual job offer from a temp agency to be a regular staff employee.  She works directly for the agency, takes what assignments they are now dedicated to getting her, and best of all she has benefits.  This is in most aspects a dream job for her.

We’re planning an actual vacation.  First one in several years.  (Long weekends aren’t actual vacations, we’ve learned this the hard way.)  But the best part is, she’s happy.

On the writing front, things are…much the same as they have been.  I finished the second volume of my alternate history trilogy (officially the Oxun Trilogy, consisting of Orleans, Oculus (now done), and Orient (forthcoming) and my agent loved it.  I have some revisions to make on it, but nothing major.

And we’re waiting.  I’ve decided to go ahead an write Orient this coming year anyway, just to have it finished.

I have placed a short story collection with a small local press.  Official announcement yet to come.

And I’m trying to write short fiction again.

My photography is continuing to improve (digitally) and I’ve taken my first steps into RAW.  Musically, well, I was playing fairly well until August…

The components of my youth are changing, passing away, metamorphosing.  Too many deaths of heroes, too many changes in landscape, too much maudlin reminiscence.  I won’t detail such things here.  Go back over my posts these last dozen months and you will see what I have mourned and remembered.

All in all, 2012 was a net improvement over the last few years in several ways, though I admit I have to think about it to see most of them.  The bout of appendicitis has been a bit of a wake-up call, with solemn contemplations of time left and mortality and reassessment.  I had blithely been living as though I had plenty of time left to do Everything I Want To Do, but even before August I was admitting that this wasn’t true.  August underlined it and put an exclamation point on it.

We do not make Resolutions normally.  I long ago knew that such things were little better than To Do lists that often get overwritten and superseded by circumstance.  But this time…

2013 will be different.  I don’t know how yet, but.

So be safe, be warm, love each other.  See you all on the flipside.