Sunday, January 26, 2014

Underhill Rose's Sublime Charm

Kim's birthday is coming up in a few weeks and I'd been thinking hard about what I could do to surprise and delight her.

After 33 years of marriage, there's a lot of stuff that comes easy between us. We think alike on any number of things. Sometimes, much to our own amusement, we blurt out the same sentence at the same time. All those years together can work in your favor like that.

But sometimes it's difficult to come up with something different that still has meaning. All those years together can sometimes work against you, too, when you're trying to be original.

While I was wrestling with this dilemma, I was looking forward to yet another appearance of the fabulous Americana music trio Underhill Rose at High Rock Outfitters. Without hardly thinking, I dashed off an email request to singer/banjoist Eleanor Underhill asking if they would recognize Kim's approaching birthday and play her favorite UR tune "Learn." Oh, yeah, and make sure Kim doesn't know a thing about it.

From left, Molly Rose Reed, Salley Williamson and Eleanor Underhill at work.
 On Saturday night, we ambled into HRO and found seats on the front row. About eight songs into their opening set, Eleanor paused to recognize an upcoming birthday in the audience and extended a hand toward Kim. Polite applause trickled through the room. Then Eleanor added that Bruce dedicates this song, "Learn," to you, Kim.

About three lines into the tune Kim was brushing tears from her cheeks. YES! This was one of the best gifts I'd ever given her. And Underhill Rose never sounded better than they did on that song on that night.

What happened here illustrates Underhill Rose's own sublime charm. Clearly, Eleanor, singer/guitarist Molly Rose Reed and singer/upright bassist Salley Williamson have all the gifts: musicianship, voices and stage presence. They've also been kissed by the Muses, resulting in some wonderful original tunes like "Little House", "They Got My Back", "Bare Little Rooms" and, yes, "Sublime Charm." And those are just to name a few.

I'm starting to think that UR's real gift is the way they interact with their fans. They took a 20-minute break between sets and mingled with the 60-70 people in the room, no doubt creating, one by one, new fans while cementing ties with their faithful friends. I feel like it's all heartfelt and true. They make you like them and you don't even know it's happening until you think about it later. And then you want more.

Later in the evening (the girls, by my count, performed 30 songs and were on stage for about two-and-a-half hours. OMG. Where are you going to find quality entertainment like that for $10?) they surprised me with something different. Salley laid down her bass and took a seat at the bar. Molly and Eleanor then struck the opening chords of a song so familiar it sent me reeling through time.

"This sounds like 'In My Life,'" I turned to Kim, hardly believing what I was hearing. This is my all-time favorite Beatles tune — I want it played at my funeral — and Molly caressed the lyrics with a soulful rendering that I suspect could have gotten even John Lennon's attention. Tears started running down my cheeks. But that's me.

The most astonishing moment of the night may have been their harmonies on "Unused to You." Three-part harmony is a hallmark of this group, and over the past two years, since Salley joined them, the blending of their pitch-perfect vocals is now something akin to seamless precision. At one point in the harmonized chorus, Kim and I simply looked at each other, our mouths dropping to our chins. The hair on my arms was standing straight up even though I was swathed in Under Armour. It was, simply, a spectacular moment.

Yes, yes. I know. I'm tripping over myself — again — over Underhill Rose. But I can't help myself. Something special is going on here and it's a wonderful thing to see.

And hear.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Winter doldrums

Just the other day, while sitting at the Black Chicken Coffee Shop, Kim pulled this thought out of the frozen air:

"I really don't like this time of the year," she said. You could practically see the ice crystals forming on each spoken word as they fell from her mouth. "It's really depressing from January until March."

I think she pretty much nailed it.

Even now, as I attempt this blog, my thought process is on life support, the indicator needle hovering just above zero. But that's the point, isn't it? It's why we're in the doldrums. Winter doldrums. Sigh.

Even cutting grass sounds good to me right now.

Mostly, it's just too cold to feel like doing anything. So what do you do after New Year's Day? Trudge to work, where the thermostat is usually set at a cost-cutting 10 degrees below arctic.You put in your eight hours and then go home, where the thermostat is set at ... well, you get the picture.

In fact, the hours of daylight in a day, while lengthening, still aren't enough. It's still dark way too long. Dark by 6 p.m. Dark doldrums.

I try to stake exciting little mile markers into the tundra of my winter months. There's New Year's Day, of course. Underhill Rose is coming to town next Saturday. The Super Bowl is coming up and so are the Winter Olympics. Some potentially exciting ACC basketball games dot the calendar, but what happens if you don't care for sports? Kim and I each have a birthday in February, which — woo hoo — pretty much takes care of that month while reminding us (as if we needed to be reminded) that we're a year older. Thank you for that.

At least we get cake.

I've tried to rationalize that the doldrums are the time you need to recharge, revitalize, regroup for the coming year non-winter months, and while that may be true, in the end it doesn't help much. The mile-markers never seem to be enough.

And I'm still cold.

I guess I ought to be grateful there are no summer doldrums.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Larger-than-life wife

What the heck was he talking about?

"That's a pretty nice poster picture of you," he said (more or less) to my wife after we bumped into him at the grocery store.

Poster picture? Wha...?

So we nodded with smiles that suggested that we knew what he was talking about and moved on, but with huge question marks dangling over our heads.

"What poster picture?" said Kim as we checked out our groceries.

"What poster picture?" she asked again as we hopped in the car to head home, unable to let go. "What's he talking about?"

My mind was spinning. Poster picture? I can't imagine. Then a thought occurred to me.

"Let's go home by way of the Square," I said.

Kim is second from the right. Oh, the horrors...
 There's a billboard hanging on the side of Perfect Blend, the coffee shop on the southeast corner of the Square hard against Center Street. It almost always features local businesses, changing its face every couple of months or so. It's a great location to advertise because nearly every one who comes through Lexington has a chance to see it.

This time, it was a group picture of Parrott Insurance & Benefits, where my wife works. And there, on the billboard, was the complete staff of agents, along with the office coordinator, who happens to be my wife, Kim. They are lined up in a head-and-shoulder shot, probably eight-to-10 feet tall. Larger than life.

"Oh my gosh," moaned Kim as we drove by. "That's the absolute worst picture of me that was ever taken."

Oddly, Kim doesn't like most things about herself. She's a great cook but she doesn't like to eat what she fixes. She doesn't like her smile, which to me is unusually attractive. To hear her tell it, her hair is never right, although it's a gorgeous strawberry blonde. And maybe one out of every 1,000 pictures she makes suits her.

Sheesh. What possessed me to marry such a derelict?

"You look fine," I said, already knowing I was fighting a losing battle. Wisely, I put up only token resistance here. Even when I know I'm in an unwinnable argument, it's best that at least I appear to make a fight of it, pointing out stuff I suspect she wants to hear even though she'll disagree with it.

"Don't tell me how I look," she said. "I know how I look and I look horrible."

Sigh. See what I mean?

I think mostly she doesn't like being in the focus of attention. I can relate to that. I spent 30 years as a sports writer/editor for The Dispatch, and every Wednesday, when I wrote my column, my mug shot accompanied it. I figure 10,000-12,000 people — our circulation back then — probably saw that picture, which partially explains why even to this day, more than seven years retired, people who are complete strangers to me smile and wave at me like I'm a long-lost war buddy.

But I never had my picture on the Square, eight feet tall and larger than life.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

2014 horrorscope

While I was perusing through my Facebook account the other day, I came across a horoscope for 2014 that was on one of my friend's pages.

So I clicked on it.

The signs of the Zodiac were arranged like a calendar, so just out of curiosity, I clicked on the block for Aquarius, because that's what I am. And this is what I got:

"Trustworthy. Attractive. Great kisser. One of a kind. Loves being in long-term relationships. Tries hard. Will take on any project. Proud of themselves in whatever they do. Messy and unorganized. Procrastinators. Great lovers, when they're not sleeping. Extreme thinkers. Loves their pets usually more than their family. Can be VERY irritating to others when they try to explain or tell a story. Unpredictable. Will exceed your expectations. Not a fighter, but will knock your lights out. 2 years of bad luck if you do not share this post."

Bear in mind that my wife, Kim, is also an Aquarian. In fact, our birthdays are just one day (and nine years) apart, which means we can usually get by with just one birthday cake.

But the point I'm trying to make is that whatever my horoscope is presumably will be the same for Kim.

Also keep in mind that I don't pay much mind to horoscopes other than for the curiosity value. To me, horoscopes are like farmers' almanacs for the clueless. I mean, really. If I found another horoscope somewhere, it would no doubt tell me something completely different than the one I'm looking at now. So what's the point, other than to have some fun?

Fun. OK. Let's take a look. I definitely like the part about trustworthy, so we're off to a good start. "Attractive" is subjective and isn't my call. "Great kisser," however, while also subjective, appeals to my ego. We should all be me.

Moving on, Kim and I have been married 33 years, so I'm not afraid of a long-term relationship. I do try hard, but I won't take on any project. I need to fix a light in my bathroom that keeps flickering (it's not the bulb), and I'm not going anywhere near electricity if I know what's good for me. Scratch that project.

I am messy and unorganized, but Kim, on the other hand, is very organized and craves neatness. So this horoscope is already in trouble.

I put off chores I don't want to do. I used to be a great lover (see "great kisser"), but now I'm a great sleeper.

I think I'd rather be a deep thinker than an extreme thinker. I think.

I do love my pets. Our cat, Dolittle, sleeps in bed with us, but I still miss Mosey with a profound ache in my heart.

There is one item that really disturbs me, if it's true. It's the one that says I can be "…VERY irritating to others when they (I) try to explain or tell a story." Oh, great. There go 30-plus years of a career in journalism down the drain. Good to know I've bored you all to tears for 30 years.

The rest after that is just blah, blah, blah. Well, except for the sentence that says "2 years of bad luck if you do not share this post." I didn't know threatening bad luck was a feature of horoscopes, although "sharing" does seem to be some kind of a command in Facebook. "Share this post…or else" is what I'm seeing. 

But then I looked at Aires and discovered that it's 16 years of bad luck if you don't share that post. So it's good to be an Aquarian. Or is it? I'm 62 years old now, soon to be 63. So 16 years of bad luck gets me to 78, which would actually seem lucky to me. 

Good thing I don't take this stuff seriously.