On D Sharpson’s Jazz in Germany

D Sharpson is Dublin, Ireland’s answer to Belle and Sebastian, if Belle and Sebastian were basically a solo act, a DJ, substantially cheekier, completely into house/techno/disco, and exponentially less twee. Second thoughts, Mr. Sharpson is nothing like Belle and Sebastian at all. 

His new EP, Jazz in Germany, explores rhythms and samples in a quirky, fresh, and funky manner that ends up being about 30 minutes of dance revelry that speaks from a modern, Irish club sensibility. He knows his tools well and uses them with a craftsman’s ear. Sharpson then adds a hint of cleverness to his tracks that can’t be ignored yet doesn’t come across as being pretentious.
Sharpson’s musical pedigree includes work with the groups 5th Element and Tooka as well as composing music for the odd short documentary film here and there.
This review will look at songs from his new EP (It was released last month on Fluttertone and is purchasable here for the phenomenally low price of less than €5.) as well as some other music that Mr. Sharpson has produced lately that seems to flow from the same inspirational moment.
“Baby Don’t Hold Back” yips and reverbs in an almost annoyingly catchy/synthy rhythm as the artist intones his “baby” to “hold meeeee.” In between the monotone, repeated lines, Sharpson creates an incredibly dance-friendly bit of music. This track seems to be the one that will receive the most attention from the EP. (7:17)
“Fat Spider-Man” may seem a little derivative of “Baby Don’t Hold Back” at first, but the track quickly recovers and then it settles into its own cool vibe, invoking scenes of New York City/urban night life. (6:41)
It fits Sharpson’s MO to take something as seemingly pedestrian as Korean language lessons and turn them into danceable, funky music in “Inchon.” But more than that, the Korean phrases that the artist uses here actually create a wistful, almost sad love poem. The phrases, “I miss you,“ “I’m sorry,” “You’re beautiful,“ and, “I love you,“ translated from Korean form the feelings in this track. The distance between the couple in this inter-hemispheric love story seems even more complicated because Sharpson chooses the formal forms of some of the phrases, thus creating even greater distance between the two people. Not on the EP. (2:14)
Sharpson then engages in some social commentary as he seems to great pleasure in poking gentle fun at the inanity of reality TV in “Kinda Classy.” He seems to be telling us that the reality show universe—both “stars“ and fans—should not take themselves too seriously. After all, “reality” TV distorts reality in a way that few genres do. Not on the EP.  (2:34)
Sharpson and his chums show their musician chops on “Mr Dubby Cork Boy.” An echo of steel drums introduces this funky gem before the vocals take over. This is the EP’s closest pure disco track, with almost every ‘70s dance music phraseology showcased. The retro vibe works well here when it could’ve been easily and chees-ily employed. 6:16)
“Why Don’t You Come on Out” has the feet tapping from the get go. The incessant, monotonous request of the song’s title drones on in the head long after the music stops. This track, while fun, seems to not match the creative punch of the others. And that’s ok. (4:40)
The title track, “Jazz in Germany” feels like the EP’s most challenging. This comes from an almost violent dissonance in the background of the beat that reminds this listener of a mashup of not only Germany’s wide range of musical styles since World War II (Rock, Industrial, Techno, House, etc), but also of German history in general over the past century. It is blue-collar, heavy, and shocking – – in short, it’s the type of jazz you would expect to have been produced by that country but put to use here in a techno beat. (6:23)
On a personal level, Dónal Sharpson comes from a tightknit family with way too many brothers who all seem to have grown up in a supportive household filled with love and laughter.
And religion. Sharpson studied religion and teaches the subject when he’s not producing music. That’s not hard to believe because he has this cherubic bubbliness about him. He sports a shock of short dark hair and a beard to match, but I suspect that the beard is less a fashion statement and more likely that, perhaps, shaving bores him, and, thus, he simply doesn’t care. It’s not hard to picture him as the whiskey priest in a small parish somewhere in the Irish countryside.
What the beard and ennui can’t hide is the mischievous creativity of an impish school boy whose parents probably got way too many calls from frustrated teachers who simply didn’t know what to do with the intelligent, over-bored kid they found in their charge every day. Lucky for us, the old mischievousness has found its way into his music, and that mentality that probably frustrated his teachers back in the day brings his music sheer joy now.
And that joy’s infectious.
Carry on.


On Postcards

Any deltiologist worth his or her salt will tell you that postcards are the cat’s pajamas, the bee’s knees, and the eel’s ankle. And postcards have been around almost as long as the modern postal service; in fact, the earliest American printed postcards (or post cards, pick ’em) hearken back (Can one hearken forward? Shakespeare seems to think so.) to the 1840’s and 1850’s–soon after the first stamped letters appeared. Many early postcards bore advertisements or political messaging.

Today, most folks associate postcards with travel and the sending or receiving of the message, “Wish you were here!” and then rarely meaning same. Postcards depicting tourist attractions and other travel-related ephemera appearing on one side became popular with the ready availability of cheap travel in the early 1900’s due to the pervasiveness of railroads and followed by the rise of the family automobile and the network of state and national highways in the western world. Grandpa and Granny could see that the kids sure had a grand ol’ time at Coney Island or the World’s Fair when a hastily scribbled postcard arrived via Rural Free Delivery. Thus, the card itself became a travel souvenir.

On the other hand, in India, postcards began as simply a cheaper way for the masses to transmit greetings amongst themselves. Even today, the rates for sending a postcard via the fine folks at the United States Postal Service run a few pennies less than it costs to mail a letter. The USPS sells pre-stamped postcards by the bundle–a good deal for a quick note to a chum or chumette whilst stuck in traffic or at lunch or waiting for that bus/train/plane.

The typical postcard measures 5 inches by 3 1/2 inches, although some novelty cards vary from this basic model. Copper (metal) postcards, wooden postcards, and even coconut postcards can be found in various places globally. Novelty cards, “saucy” cards (slightly off-color jokes on one side) or even “racy” cards (originating in–where else?–France) are often found, still. The range and types are vast, and collectors often fight over the choicest samples.

The gentleperson would do well to send a handful of these a month to good friends. As stated in the post on note cards, remember to not over-fill the writing side of the card. If the writer uses more than thirty or so words on a postcard, then the writer should have considered sending a note card or even a full-blown letter. “Hey, there! The dog is in a “chewing the furniture” phase–let’s go shopping for some new stuff this next week!” or some such is about all a postcard should carry. Any more than than (or any meatier) requires more than a postcard.

The TL:DR of this post can be summarized thusly: Think of postcards as the Twitter(tm) of the postal world.


On Travel

What does travel to do you? It changes your insides, yeah. But what does it do to my mind? It tosses the sandbags overboard so the balloon can soar. Suddenly, I’m above the ordinary. I’m competent, supremely competent. I’m walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. I’m one of the great ones. I’m Michelangelo, molding the beard of Moses. I’m Van Gogh, painting pure sunlight. I’m Horowitz, playing the Emperor Concerto. I’m John Barrymore before the movies got him by the throat. I’m Jesse James and his two brothers — all three of ’em. I’m W. Shakespeare. And out there it’s not my insular, small town any longer: it’s the Nile, man, the Nile — and down it moves the barge of Cleopatra.

Even the tyro film buff will know this writer stole and adapted the above from Ray Milland’s character, Don Birnam, in Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend. As a reminder for the uninitiated, the character spoke the lines above about alcohol because he was a hopeless dipsomaniac. He could as easily have been speaking of travel.

Like alcoholism, travel is an addiction. Like alcohol, travel alters reality–usually when one needs it the most. It resets the horizon, it cleans the pipes, it takes us out of ourselves. Travel changes us, or, at least, the experiences one encounters whilst traveling should.

The McDonald’s of travel, or the Wal-Mart of journeys, if you prefer, is, of course, modern-day cruising. Truly, these floating mega-resort liners have a place in the quest for The Great Distraction that many mistake for travel and seek today. True, this writer has even rather enjoyed several “voyages” on them, albeit a few short weekend jaunts and one grand trans-Atlantic crossing. However, these floating, sometimes neon-clad bars/casinos/hotels often fail to show us something fresh, something challenging, something different than the world with which we surround ourselves during most of the year. The beds, the food, the shopping, the simple sterility, the puerile entertainment, and the overly-efficient mass-production of it all speaks to a world and even a culture we already know well (even if the odd shore excursion is taken).

Some package holidays would also fall into this fast-food/mega-store category of travel, especially the “all-inclusive” trips that whisk you to some foreign shore where you never leave the compound and get blistered because, “I never burn at home, so I didn’t think I needed sunscreen,” all the while verbally bludgeoning the pool barkeep to, “Hit me again,” as he enables you to actually become Don Birnam. Offering little that is new to us, we can’t be surprised when we get home to find that there has been little that has changed in us. Then, we start to count the days until our next uninspired and uninspiring “vacation” because this past one left us so empty and, in fact, made us almost more emotionally and spiritually dead than when we left–which was why we took the damn vacay in the first place.

No, travel involves experiencing something there that we can’t get here, something a gentleperson cannot find at the local Walton’s Market or the nearby McMeat. Perhaps that something is the experience itself, but not in the usual sense, perhaps. A quick look at a thesaurus shows that many synonyms of the word experience explain what this writer means when discussing the benefits of travel, and they explain it far better than his words are doing now: Background, context, involvement, participation, reality, understanding, exposure, seasoning, forbearance, and even savior-faire and sophistication, if those types of things appeal to you. This is what experiential travel shows a gentleperson. And they are all things this writer finds he needs in his life.

That’s what true travel should do for one.

Carry on.

On Etymology

Sticks and stones can indeed break bones, but words can also hurt, heal, invigorate and inspire.

Fr. Lovasik said, “Kind words are a creative force, a power that concurs in the building up of all that is good, and energy that showers blessings upon the world.” The good Father was on to something there, it seems. Choosing the right word in a situation can sometimes make the difference between heal and hell. That is why word origins have always been a pet interest to this gentleman.

Poe knew this, too. He wrote, “Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.” Their reality is manifest in their meaning, their origin, their birth. We are creatures of our society, prisoners of our language. We use words passed from our culture and heritage and often borrowed from others. Yet, in knowing which word to use correctly, our world can become almost limitless. “The limits of my language means the limits of my world,” Wittgenstein observed.

A recent example of this came in the form of an American football game on the telly. The announcers waxed rhapsodic about a certain college team being a juggernaut. The word stuck a chord in my gray matter, and I leapt to my etymology dictionary to see where the word originated.

This writer seriously doubts that the announcers, versed as they were in the sport in which they reveled, knew that they referenced a, “huge wagon bearing an image of the god Krishna,” when they called the team in crimson-lined jerseys a juggernaut. Yet, in the way in which sometimes happens to blind squirrels when they happen upon a nut, these jocular jocks lighted upon the perfect metaphor. The elephant-mascotted team they so described stood atop their particular level of American football as the Lord Krishna of that particular sport.

A workable etymology dictionary exists online, but if one fancies a tangible copy of such, Mr. Bezos purveys these in his virtual shop daily: The Etymoligicon and The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. Of course, a readable copy of the OED would suffice as well.

This writer shall leave you with these two gentlemen–gentlemen who know much more about the power of words than he. First, Confucius: “Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more.” Lastly, Socrates: “The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.

Carry on.

On Keeping Field Notes

Unless a gentleperson works as either something not unlike an ornithologist or as a reporter for, say, Field & Stream, the phrase “field notes” references quick note-taking when away from tablet/computer/home. Thus, when on public transportation, taking a trip to the local supermarche’, or, especially, travelling, the use of a good field notebook is often required.

The brainstorm, the random thought, the tableau that insists on being sketched, the overheard story, the book idea that strikes like lightning–all of these find a cozy home in the field notebook. This writer recommends finding a notebook that fits your coat or shirt pocket and making it part of your daily carry.

Your humble narrator uses the Elan brand of 5.5″x3.5″ graphed field book (see photo above).  The company produces dotted-paged and lined books, also. These fine folks from Moultonborough, New Hampshire, produce a book that fits into his travel wallet easily (about the size of a passport, actually), and they sell through exclusive purveyors nationwide and on the site of Master Bezos. For under a sawbuck in the coin of the realm, an ink slinger can get five such notebooks for use in the field.

Graph paper works best for this writer. It allows for the shakiest of hand, i.e. self, to draw straight lines if one is making a sketch or attempting to plan a route. The graph paper boxes also keep writing from the vagaries of size that can often occur when jotting hasty notes, thus insuring ease of reading later in the study or office, hours after the moment has passed, and this writer no longer has to become a character from a spy film and think, “In what code was this written?” In short, the graph paper makes this writer’s notes neater.

The set of five notebooks shown here comes in khaki (2), black, orange, and yellow. Two staples make the binding; this writer prefers staples in a field notebook since those pages may need to be removed. Stapling makes this easier. In addition, the paper in these notebooks hold the ink from the Preppy Platinum pen with the medium nib.

Carry on.




On the Sending of Holiday Cards


Perhaps this writer sends the wrong signal by beginning a post on holiday cards with a full-chested sigh. On the other hand, the writing and sending of such cards has become so much the chore these days. And such a wonderful and traditional way of wishing some gentleperson(s) a happy Christmas and/or holiday season should never be a chore to one. Yet, we often take what should be a wonder-filled way of reaching others and turn it into a task that we dread as the holiday season approaches.

When we finally force ourselves to actually write the cards, many of us rely on the sometimes hackneyed and/or often syrupy prose sometimes found in purchased cards in stores. Now, dear reader, please understand that this writer has nothing against the assembly-line and most probably sincere fond wishes proffered by those fine folk at Hallmark(c), but the holiday season and the coming of a new year bring us a rare (as in 1/12 of the year) opportunity to express our true feelings for friends, loved ones, and others in our circles of love and laughter. In short, such is too important to be left to the generic greetings penned by a stranger.

No, the gentleperson of letters will endeavor to choose appropriate cards for the recipients. Choose a card with a good design. And as with many things, the more simple, the better. Religious cards have their place for the right person or two, but the safest and best choice might be a winter scene or some similar secular holiday motif. The card should not be too large–the 6″x4″ size should suffice for our purposes–and the envelope should not be overly adorned with baroque angels or festooned with images of fir garlands.

Often, this writer receives a printed letter from a chum who has put together a summary of the year’s events. These usually begin, “Our Dear Friends,” and often include a recapitulation of the significant other’s hernia surgery or an update on grandma’s phlebitis. Those are areas of concern and possibly prayer, for sure, but hardly the stuff to share with a chum and family during this festive time, and it’s almost insultingly impersonal, even if the writer includes the fact that the vacuum still finds the dog’s baby teeth in the odd corner every now and then. What the so-called “holiday letter” means to the reader is that the writer is, in effect, saying, “Yes, I know I should have written a real letter some time during the year, but please accept my attempt to make up for not writing by sending this printed personal newspaper.” The practice is simply not in the spirit of the moment.

The true holiday card is the one carefully written with love and true, warm, feelings. A true holiday card should warm the cockles of the heart as a hot toddy might on a cold December evening. The true holiday card might inspire someone to a kind deed or stir a good thought for a friend who took the time (but not trouble, since writing to a chum is hardly trouble, mind you) to wish another gentleperson a happy holiday. Keep it simple, and keep it appropriate to the season.

Carry on.



On Seals and Sealing Wax

Little Jackie Paper brought his friend, Puff, the Magic Dragon, sealing wax (and other fancy stuff), so this gentleman thought it appropriate to speak of sealing wax and seals in this space.

Seals and the wax upon which they leave their imprint were invented around 5500 years ago in Mesopotamia. Kings and dignitaries have used them in the intervening six millennia, and we common folk have used them off and on in the past few hundred years or so. Many official government documents and court papers still find the use of wax seals. This practice amongst us common persons was necessitated by the fact that letters themselves often formed the envelope and needed to be closed. Additionally, the earliest envelopes had not gummed surfaces for sealing, and this called for sealing with wax when the contents of the letter demanded privacy. Like letter writing itself, the use of wax to seal an envelope has fallen out of fashion, but, again, like letter writing, sealing letters is making a return to the desk of the gentleperson.

These fine gentlepersons can instruct the neophyte on the use of seals and wax. Some videos on that site offer instruction. The site is offering wax and seals for sale which are adequate to the task, but this gentleman advises one to look around the interwebs before buying and trying.

Please note that the wonderful gentlepersons at the United States Postal Service will humbly ask for a few more coins of the realm than is usual in order to deliver a post with wax on it for the simple reason that the automaton that sorts the various posted items cannot handle the raised wax. Thus, the sealed post message must be hand-cancelled and processed. That small increase in retainer is worth it, in the mind of this gentleman at least, because the gentle recipient who turns over the sealed envelope and discovers a beautiful seal on the closure of the letter feels a thrill run up his or her spine.

This gentleman spent a pittance to obtain a small but swell thistle seal (see the photograph above) and two short lengths of wicked crimson sealing wax. This writer chose the image of a thistle as an homage to his Scots ancestry and because Edinburgh is one of this writer’s favorite places on earth. This writer also enjoys the swirling of the blood red and the black of the burned wick and feels it creates a beautiful palette for the seal itself (Although the purist would say that the presence of the black in the wax is declasse’.).

Certainly, one has every right to say that such an artsy-fartsy practice is reserved for those with more time than common sense, but this gentleman finds the use of a wax seal adds a certain panache to a world growing exponentially obsessed with the mundane.

Carry on.