Saturday, October 30, 2010

Garden Party

This past Wednesday night we had our first official performance since arriving in Kandahar--a garden party. It was off the main base, but not too far down the road. The event was to honor the British General who is departing when the US takes over the operational control of the region we are in. Our commander was helping out with the barbeque, and one of our trumpet players (SPC James Leggett) joined him so they both left early. This gave Leggett a chance to talk with some of the Afghan military personnel and develop quite a rapport with them. When we arrived, we set up our chairs, music stands, and instruments to provide the dinner music. We were able to take a few breaks to eat, and the flat bread and chicken were quite good. There was also rice and what appeared to be a kind of potato salad. I didn't have time to try out any of the other food. The chilly air didn't make for optimal playing conditions, although the compound we were in was far less dusty than Kandahar Air Field. (My sinuses reacted to something over there and clogged up, so I was uncomfortable almost the whole time. Not so much that I was unable to play, but I was definitely not at my best.) All things considered, we left a good impression and the British Colonel who was coordinating the event seemed pleased with how it went. He suggested we get together with the Afghan military band and do some work with them, so perhaps that will allow us some more international interaction.

Also, a few days ago I got my first haircut here. The woman who cut my hair was named "Nazgul," so now I can tell people that I've had my haircut by a Ring Wraith. (Don't get me wrong though--she did a great job cutting my hair!)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Down With The Sickness

I figured it would happen sooner or later: I got sick. Actually, it was probably more of an allergy, but whatever it is knocked me down for a bit. I'm sure there were a number of contributing factors: jetlag, very hot days, very cold nights, frequent nighttime flyovers by combat aircraft (we are at a military air field, after all) making for difficult sleep, thick amounts of dust, and frequently cold showers. Did I mention the daily dose of doxycycline that we have to take to ward off malaria? Anyway, I was congested yesterday and felt awful, but we still managed to get in a couple of rehearsals which were a bit better than the past couple of days. During a break in the afternoon, before taking a much-needed nap, I thought I'd swing around the corner from our tent to the Dutch PX to see if they had any medication I could use. Closed Tuesday for Inventory. We apologize for any inconvenience. Figures.
I had someone drive me to the American PX after our last rehearsal and managed to stock up on NyQuil, DayQuil, allergy medication, and a bottle of saline nasal spray. I managed to sleep much better last night (I think they stopped the flyovers too!). I did learn one thing from the experience: packing Kleenex's was a very good idea.

FUNNY PATCH that I saw in the German PX the other day: a circle with a red maple leaf in the center that said "Legalize Canada"

Monday, October 25, 2010

Finding the Funny Side of the Combat Zone

The trick with being in a place that has a lot of dust, ridiculous temperature swings, everyone carrying assault rifles with them, and a 50/50 chance of ice cold water in your shower is that you have to find ways to be optimistic. It helps to be able to check email, catch a tape-delayed football game at the USO tent (especially if you can check the score on the internet and see that your team won the game!), read, or watch movies on the laptop. I understand that they do salsa dance lessons three times a week, so I have to check that out! One major purpose of the band, in fact, is to improve morale of the troops, and we hope to be up and running soon so we can do that. In the meantime, it's interesting how one can have a little fun here.
There are many latrines on the base here. I'm sure that contributes to the particular smell that permeates many sections of the post. Naturally, there is a fair amount of graffiti in the latrines, most of it unprintable in a blog intended for family reading. But I did come across a couple of things that I found surprisingly deep:
Artificial intelligence is neither good nor evil. It cannot love or hate you. But you are made of molecules it can use for something else. Nice to see that geeks are everywhere.

Chuck Norris stepped on an IED and blew up the trigger man.

Yesterday, we had a five-hour long briefing. A British Major General told us that many orders that are put out are written in Dari, a variant of Persian (Farsi) that is the most commonly spoken language in Afghanistan, and then back-translated into English. This leads to some amusingly archaic wording, such as: Coalition forces should avoid vexing the locals.

Given that this is just the first week, I expect to have more where that came from!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Live From Kandahar!

This is my first post from my current duty station: Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan. I left the US about a week ago, and arrived here last Tuesday with the 10th Mountain Division Band Brass Quintet. We are already rehearsing in makeshift venues (a dining hall between meals, a classroom right next to the Canadian sleeping quarters, etc.) for the 2 or 3 performances for which we've already been scheduled. For security purposes, most of my posts about this deployment will cover what has already happened, not what we are planning to do. I intend to post things in something of a diary format, though my internet access is a bit sporadic at the moment so it may be a while before these become regular. As much as possible, I hope I can give you a glimpse into the life of an Army bandsman who is in a "combat environment" and trying to do what we do best: lift the morale of our troops and reach out to others using music. I'll put up some pictures when I can, although it may be a little while before I'm able to get some downloaded.
The situation so far: it's dusty here. Very, very, dusty. I imagine the dust-to-oxygen ratio is something like 1:1. We are living in a large tent (no, not like M*A*S*H; it has a concrete floor, a little climate control, a metal frame, and is very large, and we do have indoor plumbing in the bath house) which is our temporary home while we wait to take over operation from the British and Canadian armed forces. We *hope* that when they move out in a few weeks there will be more room for us to move in to some more permanent housing. Until the rest of our unit arrives, though, it's just the quintet. We're working hard so that our first impression will be very good and possibly lead to more performances. We want to stay busy making music! More to follow next time, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Random Thoughts on Popular Music

*Even though the official name of the band was always listed as "The Four Seasons," people often refer to the four-member group as "Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons." Shouldn't that be "Frankie Vallie and the Other Three Seasons"?

*Incidentally, my favorite song of theirs is probably "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" in which Frankie only sings lead on the bridge.

*Paul McCartney had a number of Beatles songs in which he's the only Beatle on the recording: "Yesterday," "Blackbird," "Mother Nature's Son," and "I Will" being examples. Oddly enough, John Lennon only had one "solo Beatles" song: "Julia." I'm pretty sure George was the only Beatle on some of his Indian-flavored songs like "Love You To" and "The Inner Light," which did not use standard rock band instrumentation.

*I find it ironic that Bob Dylan wrote "The Times They Are A-Changing" early in his career, and then late in his career wrote a weary, somewhat apathetic song called "Things Have Changed." The latter was written for the film Wonder Boys, and won the Oscar for Best Song. One presumes that such an achievement might cure a case of apathy.

*Some of the biggest names in music have written and sung songs for the James Bond films. One can forgive the producers for hiring one-hit wonders like A-Ha ("The Living Daylights") and Lulu ("The Man With the Golden Gun") to sing those theme songs, which haven't aged well.

*Then again, the titles of some James Bond films have led to some pretty outlandish song lyrics. Only someone who can sing anything with deep conviction, like Tom Jones, could pull off "Thunderball" without it sounding completely ridiculous. ("He looks at this world, and wants it all/So he STRIKES!-----Like THUNNN-DER-BAAAAALLLL!!!") Tasked with the theme from Goldeneye, Bono and The Edge (from U2) just wrote a catchy song with no relation at all to the plot of the movie other than the title. On some films, they just threw in the towel and came up with unrelated song titles: Rita Coolidge's "All Time High" for Octopussy, Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name" for Casino Royale, and Jack White/Alicia Keys' "Another Way To Die" for Quantum of Solace. For The Spy Who Loved Me they had Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better," which references the movie title in the lyrics. Dr. No and On Her Majesty's Secret Service had instrumentals for the opening credits. (So did From Russia With Love, which played the title song over the closing credits.)

*Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht may have been somewhat obscure German theater composers who fled Europe after Hitler came to power and banned their music, but they managed to write songs that attracted performers as diverse as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Bobby Darin ("Mack the Knife") and The Doors and David Bowie ("Alabama Song"). Also, Weill's widow Lotte Lenya is mentioned in some English-language recordings of "Mack," and she portrayed one of the villains in From Russia With Love.

*I've long thought it ironic that Buddy Holly's recording of "Not Fade Away" fades out at the end.

*Since I started taking ballroom dance lessons last year, I have learned that it is legitimate to like a song because it has a good beat and you can dance to it. Then you see the video and realize to your horror that that's what the song is about...! (I call this the Lady Gaga effect.)

*Also, it wasn't until I was a freshman in high school that I understood the meaning of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." ("She's just a girl that claims that I am the one/But the kid is not my sonwoooooah!!!!!)

*Isn't it weird that some songs become big hits, even though they only have one verse? "There She Goes" by Sixpence None the Richer, "The One I Love" by R.E.M., and "Got My Mind Set On You" by George Harrison are notable examples. Not quite the same, but Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" is one of the only big hits I can think of whose form is 1st verse, 2nd verse, chorus, 1st verse, chorus.

*Isn't it interesting that people love an artist's greatest hits album, but hate it when a TV series airs a clip show?

*Conversely, I've long enjoyed songs that are unusually complex for pop music, and have multiple "sections" in them. Examples: "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen, "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys, "A Day in the Life" by the Beatles, "True" by Spandau Ballet, "L.A. Woman" by the Doors, "The Camera Eye" by Rush, "Funeral For a Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)" by Elton John, "Roundabout" by Yes.

*Disturbing trend: in the 70's there was a group of men called Queen, in the 80's there was a group of men called Twisted Sister, and now there's a group of men called Barenaked Ladies. I shudder to think what comes next.

Monday, October 4, 2010

On eBooks

Moving puts things in perspective. As I mentioned in my last post, I'm about to ship off to Afghanistan for a little while. Because of this, I decided that I could save some cash by not renting half a duplex while I'm out of the country. So even though I absolutely hate packing and relocating all my stuff, I have done just that. Fortunately the Army pays for movers to come and pack the house and ship everything to a storage facility somewhere in Syracuse, so much of the expense and manual labor were not mine.
It is a bit unnerving, though, to see nearly all one's possessions packed up and loaded on a truck. I found myself thinking, I have too much stuff. I'm quite certain that if they took half of those boxes (not those! The other half!!!) and chucked them in a trash compactor I'd never miss them. Sure, I'd lose some copies of the college newspaper with that hasty and ill-considered editorial that I wrote, some drawings I did during study hall in high school, and some items in my collection of graduate school recital programs, but those are things I pretty much never look at and am doing just fine without right now. I could save so much time and space by just eliminating the junk. (To say nothing of how I have many things I'd like to keep but could still survive without.) The point is, some of my many excessive items include books.
I enjoy reading; I have since I was old enough to read. I have a lot of books, many of which I've read once, many several times, and some not at all yet. I like the feel of a book in my hands--the weight of it, the texture of the dust cover, the smell of the pages. (Yes, they have a scent.) I like hardcovers, paperbacks, novels, graphic novels, fact, fiction, science fiction, science fact, history, historical get the idea. I'm proud to have the complete Lord of the Rings trilogy (with Alan Lee illustrations), the complete Harry Potter series, and The Complete Calvin and Hobbes. I expect I'll probably have a fair amount of down time while I'm overseas, and during that time I expect to read a lot. Unfortunately, books take up a lot of space and can get pretty heavy when you have a lot. So I got an eReader.
This one's a "Kobo," an imprint from Borders. It's cheaper than several others, but has a good-size screen and is compatible with many online libraries. It can hold hundreds of volumes, and even came with 100 titles already stored on its 1 GB drive. (These are classic public domain titles like Sherlock Holmes stories, Jane Austen novels, Homer's Odyssey, etc.) It's designed to be comfortable to hold, and it is. The battery charge is supposed to last for up to two weeks. I'm still in awe that now I can hold the complete Lord of the Rings in this little tablet that weighs just a few ounces, and with just a few clicks be reading Tolstoy's War and Peace. (Not that I plan to start that novel anytime soon.) So for the sake of taking a sizable library with me to a secure military base for several months, I'm glad that technology has reached this point. I expect I'll start on Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series soon, and it's nice that I won't have to lug a bunch of paperbacks with me to do so. Once/if I finish one, I can just connect to the internet and purchase the next one. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find the complete works of Shakespeare for my Kobo. Good thing I have those stored on my iPhone.