- February 11, 2003
Speaking of the founder........
William Preston Robertson, a very prestigious person in
this shallow pond of ukulele interest, and co-director of
that notorious revelation of the underbelly of the world
of ukulele folk, "Rock That Uke", has made the
kind offer of providing me, the founder, with a place on
the World Wide Web, for what might be called a
"column", as part of the "Rock That
Uke" internet site.
With the understanding that I write what I want, when I
what, about what I want ("In time all things
come back to the ukulele, anyway." --W.P.Robertson),
and that responses to my sessions will be treated as
SPAM, (The founder will not respond to praise or
criticism (my fourth wife provides all of both that I may
require), I have agreed to this enterprise.
So we start.....................................
Since 1975 I have found the ukulele, and its reality and
fantasy, an endless source of delight and
wonderment. An interest in ukuleles can provide
personal pleasure, for you and those around you. It can
also provide exposure to human enterprises and conduct in
areas of commerce, manufacturing, entertainment,
craftsmanship, creativity, and other things beyond
expectation. It provides for personal musical growth, and
frustration, that may have preciously been denied
because of total lack of talent. At least in my
I do not suggest that understanding the ukulele will give
one an understanding of the meaning of life, but that as
a "touch stone" that has history and a lot of
affectionate acceptance, it may provide an opportunity
for some perception.
I am planning, at this time, although I may change my
mind later, to address subjects as narrow as a
single ukulele and as wide as ... "Did the astronaut
take the ukulele to the moon with him, or did he have to
return to earth play his ukulele?" (See "Rock
I must say that likely the most enriching thing
about my interest in the ukulele has been the human
relationships with those who share, in two ways or
another, my passion.
For the ukulele.
It is not unusual for me to be asked ..... "What is
I always ask ..... "Do you know what a ukulele
Most often the reply is ..... "Yes."
Then I ask .... "Do you know what consciousness
"Then you know." .... says I.
As you may recall, from previous sessions,
#2 - February 16, 2003
When some of my traditionalist
ukulele associates became aware that a project titled
"Rock That Uke" was in progress, some
When given the opportunity to experience, live, one
of the musical aggravations that was to become a part of
"Rock That Uke", the traditionalists exhibited
a reaction that could best be described by using the old
traditional saying, "....like dropping a fox in a
Following the premier performance of "Rock That
Uke" at Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum's Uke Expo '02,
after the civilians had left the room, a number of those
who had, for the first time, viewed their contributions
to Bill Robertson & Sean Anderson's project, and the
contributor's supporters, gathered together and
chatted. Punk Chat. Perhaps.
One of the anointed suggested we sing and strum (there
were a lot of ukes in the house) a song.
He suggested, "I've Been Working On The
Railroad". We formed a circle and sang and
It was endearing.
Later, when one of my most valued and beloved
traditionalists had an opportunity to actually see the
dreaded documentary, he remarked, or words to this
effect, "....... but when they talk about the
ukulele they are quite sweet."
Aren't we all.
"Ain't we sweet. See us strumming down the street.
Now I ask you very confidentially, ain't we
sweet." A variant from a cut on a two CD
set, "Beatles at the BBC".
Fallin and Casey Korder, Ukulele Players.
Photo: robert wheeler
#3 - February 18, 2003
I Love My
A most valuable ukulele
came in to my possession through the societal altering
enterprise called "eBay".
It arrived, this wondrous example of early 20th Century
Chicago factory production, sold to the original owner by
that legendary American Retailer, Sears & Roebuck,
bearing the proud proprietary trade mark
"Supertone" It has a few flaws.
The instrument was strung with steel strings. Metal
washers were attached to fasten the strings at the slots
on the bridge, originally intended to fasten gut
strings. The bridge is somewhat damaged.
The wooden body, likely an American hardwood,
"mahogany" finished, had a top binding of
white celluloid. The flaws in the body are:
1. Two significant cracks on the back.
2. Significant hairline cracks on the face
below the bridge.
3. The back is separating from the side,
significantly, in three places.
4. The connection between the body and the
neck has given up all pretenses of holding
the two parts together.
5. And perhaps most strangely, and totally
unexplainable, on the head are drilled four
holes, each placed approximately 6/16ths of
an inch above the pegs, which, based on
comparison to other "Supertones" of
the period, are in their original
positions. The drilled holes appear to
have never been used. They are 1/4 inch in
I once saw a boxed LP
recording set of music, written by an
unforgettable classic European composer, who
was a wonderfully accomplished organ player, as well as
composer. The performer on this LP set, one
E. Power Biggs, English organ player, traveled all over
Europe, with attended sound recording engineers and other
music business lackeys, playing this unforgettable
composer's compositions on organs that the composer,
himself, had played on. Perhaps, the actual
compositions that had been played on those very organs,
but I don't remember.
Now, it turns out, the composer was very young when his
gift began pumping out these wonderful organ
compositions. About as young as you and I were as we
prepared to enter 6th or 7th grade. Perhaps
earlier. So he, the composer, was a bit out of
control and at one organ, carved his initials on some
part of the organ. Somewhere in Europe.
I don't remember on which part of the organ.
As part of this boxed set, a printed booklet discussed
the compositions, described the organs, and gave their
location. In various parts of Europe.
The cover, or first page, of the booklet had a printed
reverential representation of a rubbing of the young
man's act of vandalism., his initials. Carved into the
wood of the organ.
Given these remarks, what follows may be considered as
flaws of this ukulele, or as reverential historic
In addition to the physical damage to the wood and the
deterioration of adhesives, there are
"markings". All over the uke. Top.
Side. Back. Neck, Front, back and one side of the head.
These markings, mostly alphabetic characters, with a few
numbers and "strokes", have been crafted using
white paint, black paint, and styluses of various kinds
that were used to scratch through the finish into the
The "markings" are loosely divided into dates,
names, phrases or sayings, graphics, and
geographical or institutional identification.
DATES: Deeply scratch on the back of the head,
above the pegs, "1923".
At the top of the front of the head, white paint,
"Mush 30". (Which, parenthetically, will also
be listed under the "names" section below.)
Scratched on the back of the uke's body, associated with
a group of names (refer to
"parenthetically" comment above) with the title
"The Wonder Boys" is the date 1931.
Also, scratched on the back, and associated with a
group of names (you know the drill!!!) with the title
"The Lehigntonians" is the date "Oct.
The various inscribed dates would suggest that his
instrument was not treated as a
one-night-music-stand, but rather as a long term
source of pleasure and delight.
For purpose of brevity I will include initials as well as
names, in the following section.
These "people" are listed as observed on
the uke, not alphabetically. The sequence will be,
front side, top to bottom, left side, top to bottom,
back, top to bottom, and right side, top to bottom:
FRONT: PEOPLE: Mush, Peg, Boops, Sizzle Kid, Mary, Paul,
Nanky, Winnie, Hal, Helen, Eve, Melvin Moyer, Bill,
Honey, REG, Peppy, EH, Jazz One, Hell, Peppy, Wes K.,
Jack A., Roy K., Mush M., Bill, W.M.M.
SAYINGS: "Ain't She Hot", "Get
Dirty", "Five Foot Two - sounds familiar -
"Hot Lips", "Hot Uke", "One For
All, All For One, Every Man For Himself".
GRAPHIC: ON the head are painted, in white, 4 small
triangles, pointing at the unexplained holes drilled
above the pegs. At 6th fret are two painted
dots, at 8th fret is one centered dot, at 10th fret is a
curved line. Put them all together, 6, 8, 10, they spell,
a face. Here's lookin' at you. At the 9th fret, across
the width of the neck, is an attempt to carve a
representation of snake skin, or an adolescent skin
condition. At the base of the frets below the neck,
painted on the top is a white painted representation of
the pointed end of fancier uke's pointed fret board, my
Supertone's frets are inbedded in the neck, no fret
board. Within this, are the initials "LHS". I
believe that the "HS" stands for High School.
The "L"? I could guess.
LEFT SIDE: PEOPLE: Hot Joe, Nobby, Babs, Viola, Lill,
SAYINGS: "Play That Thing???!!!"
BACK: PEOPLE: Mush - (I'm kind'a getting the feeling that
this was Mush's uke -) , D.L.U., Blow, Al, Ming Tin Tom,
R.B.G., M.P.A., "The Wonder Boys'- Webby, Mush,
Gordy, Moony, F.S.S.- Hot Shot, "The
Lehightonians - Ute, Sleepy, Mush, Jerome, Boops.
SAYINGS: "And How".
GRAPHIC: A pumpkin like face is scratched on the heel.
Here's lookin' at you.
RIGHT SIDE: PEOPLE: Jimme, B.K.L., Mel, Moddy, Swede,
SAYINGS: "If I could talk?1 Oh, Oh!*?@
Maybe there is no need to talk. Dangling from the
uke, on a cord, is a pair of baby shoes.
Need I say more? About the uke?
I will remark that although contemporary youth culture,
is there any other kind?, suggests that "HOT"
is the latest discovery, closely following on exposing
one's navel while shopping, and other social
gatherings, .... that Mush knew HOT, if not in 1923,
certainly by 1936. Years and years ago.
I just love my Silvertone.
#4 - February 26, 2003
As you may or not recall the previous
session was ended with the phrase, "I just love my
How could anyone love a Silvertone, one might ask. The
exciting display of craftsmanship? The connection to an
enterprise that rose to the tallest, for a while,
building in the whole entire world?
How about the interaction of human beings and the
tortured path of valued instruments to the founder?
Jake, long time musician friend, and former room mate,
calls and says that the dream find of the century has
been discovered, by a mutual friend, who shall remain
It turns out that a man who lived across the street from
nameless has up and died. The dead guy, who had been a
surgeon, or heart specialist, or some sort of high priced
doctor, had left in his attic a large number of musical
instruments. It turns out that this doc, while not a
great musician, liked instruments, would buy them, and
put them in his attic.
The widow asks her neighbor across the street, nameless,
knowing that he has an interest in musical instruments,
if he would look at them, and perhaps help her in
"disposing" of them.
My heart stopped. "High Priced Doctor". Attic.
Martin! Gibson!!! Koa!!!!!
Jake says that while most of the instruments are guitars
and banjos and mandolins, there are a few ukuleles. Jake
actually has one in his possession. Would I like to see
it? He's doing a gig at a local farm stand, tomorrow. A
drug and smoke free environment. Stop by.
The uke is a late teens, early 20's, Harmony. Blue paint.
Hula dancer pointing at seagulls, seagulls, palm trees,
wooden pegs, and early red garland Harmony decal. Used
but not abused.
It turns out that all of the instruments are of Harmony
quality. Which means good, but not Martin. Not Gibson.
Not high priced.
My heart resumes its normal rhythm. Excellent condition.
Priced reasonably. I now have another Harmony. Very nice.
There are other ukes in the attic. Jake will get in touch
with nameless, and we can go over and look in the attic.
Great. I'll call.
Nameless has take all of the instruments to the Music
Emporium, a local and well respected local retail musical
"He took them to the Music Emporium!!!!!!?????"
Why not take them to the Prince of Darkness or get your
grammar school daughter a job in a Los Vegas dance
They're all gone.
But wait. Jake says he bought a uke from the attic,
before it fell in to the hands of the Prince of Darkness.
A Silvertone. "Mahogany" finish. Early 50's.
Frets in neck. Painted woman in grass skirt sitting in
the grass playing a uke. Palm tree. Clouds. Dodge tail
fin shaped plastic tuner pegs. "Silvertone"
printed on head.
"What do you want a Silvertone for," says I.
"It is no way matches the musical quality of the
20's Martin Style 0 I gave you." Emphasis on "I
gave you." (I will just mention that if you have a
lot of ukuleles you can occasionally give one away, thus
enhancing your reputation as a giving and caring person.)
Jake wanted to keep the Silvertone.
I then used (must credit Woody Allen) an old Navajo
Indian trick. Begging and pleading.
I just love my Silvertone.
#5 - February 27, 2003
Moonlight, reflected by the deep snow cover all around
the house, illuminates my bedroom.
I slip from 'neath the covers and quietly move towards
the door. Ansel, our cat, from his current place on our
bed, stretches, and then follows me through the doorway.
Carefully shutting the door, I go into the Uke Room.
A light. Ukuleles.
High on a special section is my Earnest Tululele,
sunburst finish. Joel Eckhaus' respectful nod to Leo
Fender's first is not only imitative, but also
innovative. And cute.
The pitch of each string is tested with my electronic
tuner. A Korg.
The official genuine leather Fender strap is fastened to
the chromed buttons. One end of a cord is plugged into
the Tululele and the other into my battery powered
Softly, in the night, I strum cord progressions from my
Fleetwood Mac music book.
"Sweet, wonderful you.........."
........... near to Perfect.
#6 - February 28, 2003
House of Correction
Discovering places to play your ukulele
when you have no talent is easy.
Nursing homes. The sham of America's myth of caring.
Open mikes. Were the management has more interest in
drunks than they do in ukulele players and Master of
Ceremonies who believe that they are entitled to the
amount of star suck usually given to Willie Nelson. They
don't seem to get it that Willie's trouble with the IRS
was firmly based on money he got from penning, humming
and strumming, and not a day job or a one night a week MC
Woman's prisons. It's not just that a room full of women,
all whom have been convicted of felonies, are loud and
boisterous and threatening, but the woman sitting at the
side, expressionless, staring at me, at my only female
prison performance, was the woman I had seen on TV being
sentenced for murdering her two toddlers.
I might not have found the experience so displeasing had
I not been required, when I arrived, to go into a small
lavatory, with a male guard. He had me open my uke case,
empty my pockets, take off my boots, and then fondle my
balls to make sure I wasn't smuggling anything. Smuggling
drugs was a continuing problem.
As for men's prisons, I was able to handle nine visits.
It should not have come as a surprise to me when, at my
last ever prison performance, bless you J. Cash, extra
guards had to come into the mess hall, scene of my
performances, and assist in escorting my audience into
"The Tunnel" - a passageway between the cell
blocks and the mess hall.
As things grew out of control, I put my 1920's Martin
soprano ukulele, Style 2K, into its case and held it by
Out of the swirl of my audience's departure came two
phrases that I remember.
A guard said .... "We'll leave them in "The
Tunnel" a while. They'll work it out." Seems
that some of my audience were pissed. They wanted to
watch the ukulele player. Some didn't.
In the group of four punks, that initiated the shutdown,
the tallest, and biggest, and lowest ranked, whose mouth,
set in a cherubic face, appeared to be unable to close
completely, said..."We were just having
fun!"...as he was moved towards "The
Had I not been blinded by my show business ambitions I
would have paid more attention to the initial comments of
the soft hairdoed young woman who scheduled entertainment
for the incarcerated.
"What you want in your audience is a real good
murderer. The punks will behave themselves."
During my prison time I had two real good murderers.
I didn't know enough songs to fill the performance time,
so, in addition to song and uke, I would read "MY
POETRY. This was a period of my life when I had yet to
understand how embarrassing "MY POETRY" was.
One Real Good Murderer, hearing that I was going to read
some of "MY POETRY", asked if he could read
some of his. Of course!
I judged the first man to emerge from "The
Tunnel" into the mess hall as the "poet",
not only by the manila folder he held but also by the
sincere deference exhibited by his felonious peers. He
sat close enough to me that he could have put his hand on
my knee. Or my throat.
His poetry was about his world.
The other murderer looked well groomed, like a CEO of a
fortune 500 company. In crisp button down shirt, pressed
faded blue jeans and rubber "push and goes"
with the thong pressing the bright white socks back
between his big toe and the next. His peers were
He sat to the rear of the group and read a news paper.
Folding and refolding it, like a subway rider.
One of "MY POEMS" I read was written in
reaction to my son's death.
At the end of what might be called my performance, the
man, the "Real Good Murderer", stood up, and
with his folded paper in hand, walked through the group,
right up to me. Actually he didn't walk
"through" the group. The group parted for him
"How old was your son?"
"You had him that long."
He turned and walked, through the still opened pathway,
into "The Tunnel". The others followed. It was
the first emotionally meaningful remark that anyone had
made to me following my son's death.
I'm glad I stopped "MY POETRY". Too
I sit on a bench
In the sharp, cool
Sunshine of a
Perfect day of
I look over
The straits of
The Golden Gate
And the bridge that
Before me is a green
bordered by cypress
On which the old cart,
And the more able walk,
As they let the object
Of their pursuit
The bay beyond is
Covered with heeling,
A few pass beneath,
To feel the pull of
A stronger wind,
A stronger tide.
As they pass beneath
The bridge in their daring recreation,
I think of the
Laborers who built,
As a job of work,
That casts a
I have a vision
Net giving way;
Of a grainy
The vision re-runs
And each time it starts,
There is no way
To stay the ending.
No way that 1930's
Workingmen will end
Another day with
The anticipation of
The next day of work,
The next day of life.
My son died
Three days ago.
Of days to come
As I said, too embarrassing.
#7 - March 1, 2003
Effects of the Global Economy on things
|Early 20th Century -
Made in The United States of America
Late 20th Century -
Made in Mexico
Early 21st Century
- Made in Mexico
#8 - March 5, 2003
The Good, The Very Good, The Quite All Right, and The
Ah, yes tamales.
Like ukes there are all kinds of tamales.
Johnson's Tamale Parlor on Mission Street in my home
town. This was in the days before plastic packaging, so
if you took the tamales home, hot, they would be placed
in paper pulp trays and wrapped in newspaper. Ambrosia.
Tamales in an Arlington, Massachusetts Mexican Restaurant
who's owner had brought his recipe from the interior of
Mexico, hundreds of miles away from the influence of
Tamales at Playland At The Beach, a huge amusement park
by the sea, now gone and replaced with condos, in a city
of homelessness. The Mexican restaurant was
architecturally shaped like Hollywood's vision of a
Mexican village, starring Abbot and Costello. Eating
tamales with the roar of the Pacific Ocean in front of
you and the roar of a roller coaster behind you was
unbelievably wonderful. Although I must confess, that if
it were not for the theme of this piece, I would be
writing about enchiladas. Like the big enchilada.
"Cause I've always liked enchiladas better than
tamales. Still do. If I had half a brain, I would have
used a picture of an enchilada in the pervious Ukulele
Consciousness piece. However, there's no turning back
Canned tamales. What was that I ate?
Also, like ukuleles, these, and many more, tamales, while
differing in quality and delight, have a similar basic
structure. Soft corn dough, often wrapped in corn husk,
and some seasoned filling. Kind of like a body and neck
and four strings.
It appears that some have been bad mouthing ukuleles made
in Mexico. Considering these troubled times, and that
things ukulele can spam historical and cultural
boundaries, I feel compelled to comment.
GOOD: I first met Marc Silber, at his shop in Berkley,
California. I was prompted to visit him by the
information that I had seen about a ukulele that he was
offering. The Frisco Uke. I had, by that time in my life,
gotten over the arrogant objection to the word
"Frisco" that my birth, and births of two
earlier generations, in The City By The Bay had for so
longed lumbered me. I used to get hostel when the
unwashed addressed my city as "Frisco".
Marc Silber's "Frisco Uke", which he and Chuck
Fayne, currently of Glen Iris, Victoria, Australia, and a
prestigious and respected figure in the international
ukulele community, designed, using the Roy Smeck Vita
Ukulele, made by the Harmony Company at the time of the
height of Smeck's career, the 1920's, as an inspiration.
The Roy Smeck Vita Uke was produced by the Harmony
Company with care in material selection and detail of
construction that far exceeded the standards that applied
to the majority of ukuleles they were making at the time.
Suffice to say that the difference in quality between the
Vita Uke, and its companion instruments - mandolin -
guitar - was as the difference between a Lincoln and a
Model T, of the period.
Marc arranged to have the Frisco Ukes constructed in
Mexico. He had earlier had guitars constructed in Mexico,
and therefore had not only access to builders that he
knew, but whose quality of workmanship he trusted. After
all, his name was on the instruments.
Marc also exercised a regime of careful quality control.
Smeck Vita Uke, circa 1920s
Marc Silber Frisco Uke, circa
THE VERY GOOD: On the same trip on which I visited Marc
Silber, I stopped by the shop of Kenny Hill in Felton
California, a short hop up the mountain from Santa Cruz.
Before risking his fortune in the production of ukuleles,
Kenny had enjoyed success as a guitar player, and then
maker. His "Hill Guitar Co." has been
identified with quality instruments for more than 20
years. Not only made in the Santa Cruz mountains of
California, but also instruments made, under his control,
The ukulele that inspired Kenny to make ukes was a koa
Kumalia, 1915 Panama Pacific Gold Medal model. The first
one he encountered was damaged. Broken. All in pieces.
This gave Kenny an opportunity to look at the guts and
construction techniques. He said..."....this is put
together like a flamenco guitar. Hummmm....
The first effort to get a "Uke Brand" uke made
was in the shops of Mexico. Kenny wasn't satisfied with
the musical characteristics of these efforts. There were
a few of these "South of The Boarder" ukes in
his shop. They were being offered at very low prices,
they certainly were handsome enough, but before seeing
these instruments I had seen, and played, one of the
California Dreamin' instruments. I was droolin'.
The instruments made in Felton proved superior, so ever
since that, Kenny's "Uke Brand" ukuleles have
been made in Felton, California. Not only the Kumalia
inspired koa instruments in plain and rope bound, soprano
and concert, but also his most recent Mainland Concert
models, that were inspired by the concert ukuleles made
in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, by, arguably, the best ukulele
makers in the history of the western world. Available in
not only mahogany, as were the inspiration instruments,
but also in koa and spruce topped rosewood. Extremely
With skill, experience, and interest, Kenny Hill is
making a wonderful contribution to the resurgence of
interest in the ukulele. In construction detail and
craftsmanship, inside as well as out, Uke Brand ukuleles
are as good as any that ever came out of Nazareth, prior
to WW II. There quality is matched by few and exceeded by
I find it highly unlikely that anyone would be
disappointed in a "Uke Brand" instrument.
Pacific Gold Medal Koa Kumalia, circa 1915 &
Uke Brand Koa Kumalia Ukulele, circa 2001
QUITE ALL RIGHT: Would it seem inappropriate if I brought
an Hawaiian influence into this rambling. I think not. I
am, after all, talking about ukuleles.
A few years back, in a remote village, in New Jersey, I
attended the Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum's Uke Expo. This
was the year that it snowed. I met Paul Weinstein of
Bounty Music, Kahului, Maui, Hawaii. Paul had a vendor's
table and had brought many ukuleles from his shop.
Now Paul, like any traveler might, had encountered some
difficulties. When he arrived at the car rental counter
to get his reserved car, he, and the car rental clerk,
discovered that his Hawaiian driver's license had
expired. Paul's mother, a dear and wonderful woman,
rescued her son and got him, and all of his ukuleles, to
Upon hearing of Paul's travail, I offered to drive him
and his ukes, back and fourth between the hotel and the
site of the Uke Expo. As a gesture of thanks, Paul gave
me a significant discount on a ukulele that I exhibited
some interest in.
This ukulele, a "Kalia", had been crafted in
Mexico. My principal interest in the uke was its spruce
top. In addition to having a belief that spruce topped
ukuleles sound more romantic, and are therefore better
able to achieve the true purpose of the ukulele, the
grain on this ukulele's top was lightly
"quilted". A feature that costs extra if you
order a D45. I had to have it!
Feature after feature of this ukulele was appealing. A
mahogany neck with head veneer of some kind of magic
Mexican hardwood. The same material as the back and
sides, nicely bound, back and top. A separate saddle on a
tie bridge. Like a dwarf classical guitar. Rosewood fret
board with correctly proportioned position markers.
What was most impressive about the instrument was its
craftsmanship. On a scale of 1 -10, it was clearly a 7 or
The label on the inside of the ukulele read:
Made of the finest tonewoods and top
quality hardware available today.
Design, quality check, & critical detailing by custom
Michael Rock in Maui, Hawaii, USA. Crafted in Mexico.
There was an "800" number should you want to
talk to him about his Mexican ukulele.
Michael appears to be willing to put his mouth were your
Music Kalia, circa 1999
UGLY: Back Packer and SO. Made in Mexico.
I understand, from recent press, that a superceding model
to the SO is being offered.
Following my purchase of a Back Packer, I was excited by
the prospects of having a quality ukulele, with a
Historical name and provenance, and the recognizable
shape of a ukulele, and then so disappointed by the made
in Mexico SO, that I've not had the courage to see if
their new Mexican, stained, offering has addressed the
quality issues of musical instruments made in Mexico.
Maybe I should call them up? I wonder who I would talk
to? I wonder what I would talk about.
Years ago, when I had the opportunity to talk to C.F.
Martin III, I asked him why the early Martin ukuleles
where so crudely made. We had a wonderful conversation.
#9 - March 9, 2003
I've spoken and not been listened to.
I've listened and have not heard.
I would think, that like many other material things in
the world, that focusing on ukuleles, and not the
elements of human need that the ukulele supports, would
tend to rob rather than enrich one's life.
The uke is a musical instrument that has the potential to
bring to the inept small emotional pleasures.
As it became clearer to me that I was neither a singer
nor a musician I gracefully withdrew from public
performance. Performance following the traditional
standards of winning an audience.
But a strange force kept driving me. What to
do? What to do?
What I decided was to select a body of work, from
American popular music, that had personal meaning to me,
and rather than mastering enough songs to do traditional
performances, I would practice one song. Until I
had it down cold. And then go into a studio and
record that one song. Digitally. With sheet
music and a music stand.
With one microphone for my mouth and one for the uke, I
would do the song, and listen to it. I would repeat
the song, or portions when necessary. It often was.
The sound engineer would use his skills to weave a
version that made me feel as though I had done the song
respectfully. That it might have represented what I
would have sung to someone who I loved and whom I could
I would only go into the studio when I felt
prepared. A meter was running. There could be
4 to 6 weeks between studio visits. Some times I
would feel brave, and try two, maybe three tunes.
The songs that formed my selected repertoire came from
the 1930's and 40's. I found these songs to be
little dramas. Many had been created within the
setting of musical dramas for stage and screen and
had become support for the romances of a nation. Of
One song I selected was titled "How About
You". Written in 1941 by Ralph Freed and
Burton Lane for a movie entitled "Babes of
Broadway". The lyrics are the patter that
might go on between two new lovers as they "get to
know" each other.
I had decided to use ukuleles of only the highest musical
worth. Different ukes for different songs.
For "How About You" I selected a 1920's
Gretsch, made in Brooklyn, New York, by a firm founded in
1883 by Friedrich Gretsch.
Gretsch ukes are wonderfully ignored in the current
frenzy of ukulele acquiring, and certinly deserve
Originally "How About You" included, in
its lyrics, the phrase, ".... and Franklin
Roosevelt's looks give me a thrill......" As
this song became a classic in the Great American Song
Book, artists would change the name from
"Franklin" to someone they found more
thrilling. The printed version that I encountered
suggested that Jimmy Durante's looks were
thrilling. That's hard to believe. Even if he
did get his name and image on a Maccaferri ukulele.
What thrilling name to sing? In my mind was the
image of a young woman who had appeared in Hollywood
movies near the period of the songs I was
recording. I recalled a name and an aura of
loveliness. Over the years her image had come to my
mind many times. She was truly thrilling to me.
I did not know what had happened to her career.
Perhaps like Veronica Lake or Betty Hutton, she had,
after a time, faded from public notice.
I awkwardly gave the internet an opportunity to get
information about this woman. No success. And
so I dropped my search.
I discovered that I was not spelling her name
correctly. Her name was Marta Toren.
Marta Toren was a Swedish actress who made one film in
Sweden, and then was signed by Universal Pictures, came
to Hollywood, where she made eleven films, from 1948 to
1953. She died, at age 31, of a brain infection.
When the internet presented an image of Marta
Toren, I understood why, in part, her memory had stayed
with me so strongly over the years.
I had read of her sad fate before seeing her
photograph. When I did, I felt a physical
I had heard somewhere that in Chinese culture the site
for romantic love was in the stomach, not the
heart. It just could be.
I wonder what Chinese Valentine candy looks like.
#10 - March 26, 2003
I Gave at the Movies
To the right of the entry to the company
cafeteria sat a little gray hared lady. She was
impeccably dressed. In front of her was a table which had
on it printed forms and a placard which screamed, in a
blood curtailing manner, "Blood Drive".
Her image of sweetness and caring was enhanced by the
character of her voice as she stated, "The Blood
Mobile will be here on Thursday", and asked,
"...Would you like to sign up to donate?"
With a saddened expression, I replied, "I would like
to, but since the war I've been unable to donate blood.
Not even for relatives or dear friends in need."
"Korea? Vietnam?" as her face softened in
"No, World War Two. Even though I was only six when
Pearl Harbor happened....."
Her eyes became shinny as tears began to form.
" ..... our neighborhood was very much touched by
the effects of the War.
"My own painful encounters with the ravage of this
sad conflict were often experienced in the darkness of
the Noe(*) Theater. Hollywood film after Hollywood film,
and newsreels and the March of Times, weekly brought to
me, and my neighborhood companions, the sad reality of
activities far from our safe and secure homes.
"The film that impacted me the hardest was one about
a Norwegian Village. The German Army had occupied this
small village. On this quaint village, and on its
traditionally dressed inhabitants, the cruel boot of the
conqueror came down.
"Some of the younger men valiantly escaped by small
boat to England, and then returned with radio
transmitters, Webly revolvers, Sten guns, and
The lady's eyes, while still displaying interest in what
I was saying, had dried.
"When the young men used their tools, and
techniques, obtained from the British, against the
occupiers of their village, the response of the dark
force was swift and cruel. All of the children were
rounded up and confined to the village's one room school
"The revered grandfatherly oldest man in the village
voluntarily accompanied the upset children to provide
comfort and support. The old man was played by Walter
Brennan, a Hollywood character actor of great reputation.
"The soldiers drained all of the blood from the
children to use in transfusions for their wounded."
Our lady of the blood's eyes had become, not only dry,
but hard edged.
I went on.
"Since the War, I've tried to gather the courage to
donate blood, but I have repeatedly failed."
As her eyes had abandoned me, appearing to be seeking the
next "donor", I left the kind lady and got in
the cafeteria's serving line.
"Noe"--pronounced NO-EEE--is, I understand,
Spanish for "Noah". Noe Valley is a
neighborhood in San Francisco. The Noe Theater was at
24th Street and Noe Street, the street I lived on, which
is one block east of Castro Street, which may seem queer
to some, but was perfectly normal when I was a boy.)
Session # 11 - March
Time passes and things change. So it has been and so shall it
I can remember always buying the same shoes from the same shop
for years. The shoes were imported from England. When I was
wearing those shoes I felt all was right with the world.
One day when I went in to purchase shoes, they didn't have any.
Not of the kind I had bought over the years.
I had first seen those shoes on the feet of an actor who was
playing Professor Henry Higgins in a London production of Shaw's
"Pygmalion". Diana Rigg, renown for her roles on TV,
was playing Eliza Doolittle. I lusted after Higgins' shoes.
My theater companion of the evening told me that the shoes were
quite common in London, and that perhaps the next day, as part of
my magic week in London, we could locate some shoes that would
The next day we had a delightful time searching for shoes. We
first tried the legendary Harrods. Shoes too wide. We went on to
another shop. None that fit. It was looking pretty grim.
Englishmen appear to have feet the width of shovels.
After a lunch in an historic pub, behind the Horse Guard, we came
upon an establishment that was labeled "W & H. Gidden
Ltd., Saddlery , By Appointment to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
(and various lesser personages of title)". We entered the
architecturally splendid shop. Impressively arrayed were
accoutrements for man and beast. An impeccably tailored gentleman
in a tweed coat and gray flannel trousers approached.
I explained to him that my search for a particular style of
footwear was constantly being thwarted at other establishments in
London by the narrowness of my foot.
The gentleman, in cultured tones that out did Henry Higgins,
said, "We may be able to be of assistance to you, sir, as we
have a very narrow last." It was stunning. I knew exactly
what he was saying. A last is the wooden form on which a leather
shoe is shaped.
The shoes were a credit to the art of shoe construction. The
meeting of materials as the elements that made up the design came
together. The classic exterior reflected sturdy and reliable
service. The promise of fashionable presentation in business and
pleasure was also evident. The promise of the interior's
carefully crafted soft leather lining was of comfort.
I bought a black pair and a brown pair. I was informed that there
was a shop in the pretentious city near where I lived, that
carried the make of shoes that pleased me. So replacements would
not require the expense of a trip to London.
While still feeling some disappointment at no longer being able
to get the shoes I like at a local shop, I was delighted, when
searching the internet, to find that W & H. Gidden Ltd.,
Saddlery , By Appointment To Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, has
no online catalogue or e-mail address. It appears that if The
Queen should require things equestrian she would be able to
obtain them in a traditional manner. From an impeccably tailored
gentleman. Likley to be delivered to the palace of her choice.
Let us hope that she does not seek out a contemporary ukulele,
inspired by the Johnny Marvin Prince of Wales koa concert size
ukulele, named in honor of her late uncle, when he held that
title, by the Harmony Company of Chicago, Illinois. For they,
like the shoes of my desire, are sadly gone.
If only other ukulele makers would have the decency to be gone.
Elizabeth II mounted on Burmese, a mare,
a gift from the Royal Canadian Mounted
Police to Her Majesty in 1969.
Session # 12 - April
It is quite a stretch
when you realize that for most of your life you have to
relate to people who believe that pillows of various
sizes and design enhance the places where one would want
It is my understanding that things on which humans sit
are designed to conform to the human body. Sofas, sit up
straight chairs, kick back and relax chairs, hide-a-beds
closed, bicycle saddles, seating in public transport,
Having once designed and built a chair that did not
conform to the human body, and therefore became firewood,
I kind of sense the confirmation needs of things to sit
I wouldn't want anyone to think I'm some kind of a grumpy
antifeminist regarding this issue. Coming from San
Francisco, California, as I do, I'm well aware that there
are also men who have this comfy view of pillows.
As I come in the front door ...... "Honey, look at
the new pillows I got for the couch. I just love
"Great Sweet Pee. Makes the room look so, .........
so, ............. fresh!"
Daily life is different than being a witness in court.
And that's the whole truth.