Song 50 – Mr. Haddy

Here’s a curious song. It wrote itself in about 30 minutes while I was driving home from a canceled appointment. Instead of getting work done like I had expected, I ended up with this tune. But how does a song like this, with such a strange character, just pop out of thin air?

Mr Haddy, the character in the song, is a melding of the adult characters in the book and movie The Mosquito Coast – a story that’s never been far from my mind since I saw it in the theater in 1986. I’m not sure why, but it’s always lingering in the back of my thoughts. Clearly it was on my mind when I drove home from my non-appointment.

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The Mosquito Coast is a story of a family, lead by a charismatic father, Allie Fox, that is told from the perspective of the oldest son. Mr. Fox believes that America, as a culture and society, is in rapid decline. He hated seeing the country’s virtues being replaced with greed, materialism and selfishness, saying, “We eat when we’re not hungry, drink when we’re not thirsty. We buy what we don’t need and throw away everything that’s useful.” He sensed that the end was near.

To save his family from a self-destructive culture and the potential of nuclear fallout, Mr. Fox moves them to the Mosquito Coast, a developing country in the tropics. There, he creates a rational utopia in the middle of a chaotic jungle. Taming the wilderness gives him a temporary happiness and confirms his belief that reason can conquer all. It is there that Mr. Fox meets an evangelical missionary and Mr. Haddy. Mr. Haddy ends up being the moderate in this story, flanked on both sides of the political spectrum by Mr. Fox and the missionary.

As the story progresses, things fall apart, as they always do. I can’t remember seeing a movie about a cultish-type leader that ended well for that man. Ultimately, Mr. Fox is killed by the missionary, but this tragedy liberates his family from the oppression of his singular world view. It is then that Mr. Fox’s oldest son says, “Once I had believed in father, and the world had seemed small, and old. Now he was gone, and I wasn’t afraid to love him any more. And the world seemed limitless.”

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So this song is about the three main adult characters in The Mosquito Coast, as told from the son’s perspective. Anyone who’s taken a song writing class will tell you that’s no way to write a pop song – and they would be right. A pop song needs to have laser focus on its single subject and a chorus that hooks you in. This has neither, but it’s what popped in my head when I drove home that day.

I hope everyone had a great February. We had an early spring here in North Carolina. It makes me wonder what March will be like. If you’d like to play or sing along with my tune, here’s the song sheet. This month’s tune was a fun one for me. It’s been awhile since I pulled out the ukuleles and tapped out rhythms with chop-sticks, and it was fun to return to those older techniques.

Laparoscopic hernia repair – My story

I previously wrote about the “open” surgery I had for my hernia. Unfortunately, the hernia came back 3 months later. This is rare (occurring maybe 1 or 2% of the time). The symptom was a terrible pain around the location of the original surgery that got progressively worse during activities. If I walked, the first 20 paces or so might be fine, but the pain would then get worse and worse with every single step until I’d have to sit down.

I have since had additional surgery. This time it was laparoscopic. The two methods are very different and the recoveries and related pain are very different. Here I’ll describe the new method and compare it to “open”.

In a nutshell, here are the major differences between the experiences of laparoscopic and open surgery for hernia repair:

  1. Laparoscopic surgery hurt more the first few days, but the pain dropped off fast and disappeared much faster compared to open surgery. With open surgery, the pain was never horrible, but took longer to fade away.
  2. I was able to comfortably sleep on my side sooner with open surgery than laparoscopic surgery.
  3. There were major reductions in pain five (5) days after the surgeries – both of them. That appears to be the magic number.

If you are planning having either type of surgery, I’d recommend reading the first part of the previous entry, because I list things I did to prepare. I did those again this time as well and still recommend them. I did 2 things differently, though. 1) I only ate soft foods (like soup or yogurt or smoothies) for the two days leading up to the surgery. 2) I also started to take laxatives starting two days before and for the first few days was pretty aggressive with the dosages. I would recommend both of these things whole heartedly.


Day 0: I went back to UNC Hospitals. Having done this before, I already new the drill and everything went very smoothly. Last time, the anesthetic left my brain scattered for weeks, so this time I asked if they could try something else. They did, this time putting all of it into me intravenously instead of mixing it with the oxygen, and my head is already much clearer than before.

Once the main pain killers wore off, I found the pain from the incisions – three 1-2 cm wide cuts – one in my belly button, one about three inches to left and one three inches to the right – pretty intense and acute. It made breathing, especially taking deep breaths, painful. It also made it harder to eat food. Last time I remember having a huge appetite. This time has been completely different. I’ve only ate two bowls of soup during the day and was completely full.

At night, laying in bed and breathing was very painful and I ended up taking two Percocet pills. Unlike the first time I tried this, I slept through the night. I also drank 2 Tbs. of milk of magnesia.


Day 1: My appetite was minimal and everything hurt. Breathing hurt. I felt incredibly bloated. I took another two Percocet pills to get to sleep. The one highlight, however, was taking a shower. It felt great.


Day 2: I reviewed my original “open surgery” post and saw that I took a good deal of ibuprofen and acetaminophen back then. Today I started the same regimen. I felt significantly better. Most of the day I moved about with relative ease and had no difficulty standing up or sitting down until the end of the day. My appetite returned and I ate a burger with fries. The burger was delicious.


Day 3: I continued to improve. I also had my first full bowel movement. One thing different about the laparoscopic surgery is that it’s much more difficult to sleep on my side. This makes it much harder to sleep through the night. I wake up around 3am with a strong desire to roll over, and I try to do this, but it hurts too much to fall back to sleep.


Days 4 and 5: I barely slept the night before and spent as much of the day laying down as possible. I watched a funny movie, and that made me laugh, and that was very, very painful. The good news, however, is that this time I have not developed the same, evil cough that I did last time. That cough was uncontrollable and hurt like crazy. This time I can control things better. If laughing hurts, I can stop watching the movie.


Days 6 and 7: The pain at the sites of the incisions decreased a lot. So much that I no longer felt like I was constantly looking forward to the next time I could take Advil. The change was sudden and a huge relief. If I were allowed to return to work, I would do so comfortably. Instead, I have another week of taking it easy, making sure I don’t have to do the surgery yet another time.


Days 8-10: Continued improvement. Mobility is a non-issue. I still haven’t performed any real stress tests yet, though.


Days 11 on: It’s almost a year after the surgery, so let me summarize – it’s a bit of a roller coaster, but ultimately, I’m doing really well. There are days that are very scary – it feels like the original pain is back – it hurts really bad. But, unlike before, the pain fades after a day. This happens every time I try something new. If I go jogging and decide I want to run a little faster than I did last time, the next day I’m in pain. If I go for a walk and want to walk a little further than next time, the next day I’m in pain. This is the same for everything. If it’s new, it hurts. But the pain always fades. And once I’ve done the new thing, I’m set – the pain only comes back when I walk a little further or run a little faster. At one point I got a cold and coughing brought on some really bad pain. I saw a doctor about this. He said, “you’ve got a lot of scar tissue and will always be adjusting to that, but it’s nothing to worry about”. This has proven to be true.

Health and fitness wise, I’m doing as well as I’ve ever done, and am contemplating running races again.

Song 49 – A New Song

Here we are again! We’re starting the 5th year of my song-of-the-month project – a new year’s resolution that barely survived its first month, but now rivals the Energizer Bunny in longevity.

Last month we wrapped up album #4, “Greene Street” – named after the street I live on because so much of it focused on me and my neighbors. This month we’re starting my fifth album, “Beauty Must Suffer” – named after an old saying that my friend’s grandmother was fond of. No matter how natural and easy someone projects beauty, it always comes at a cost. Some of those costs are obvious and immediate, and others I’m only discovering as I grow older.

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Every day, when I come home from work, this is what I find on the couch…

This song, about the cost of falling in love, began with the chorus. I was sitting on the couch with my tenor guitar when the first two phrases just came out all at once. At the time, I had no idea why I referenced “The Sheltering Sky” (a book and movie), I just did – as if the idea had waited in the backstage of my mind for as long as it could before jumping out into the focus of the spotlight. So there it was, all proud of itself. Now what was I to do with it? Pull it off stage or go out and join it, building the whole performance around it. Thinking about the book, I choose the latter.

The Sheltering Sky ends with a fascinating bit that I’ll repeat here:

“Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It’s that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.” – Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky

Reflecting on that, the last two phrases in the final chorus came about quite naturally and the verses, a story about a short lived romance that nearly destroys the protagonist, quickly followed. It’s a harsh song, and, unfortunately, it’s something too many of us can relate to. But I guess that’s one reason they say, “beauty must suffer”.

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… and each morning, when I wake up, this is what I find in the sink.

Folks! I hope you had a wonderful January and stayed warm (or cool, depending on your hemisphere). Mine was great and I wrote a whole lot of new songs that I can’t wait to share with you in the upcoming months. Until then, safe travels.

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As always, if you’d like to play or sing along, here are the chords and lyrics.

Song 48 – Psycho Killer

I end each year with a cover song and this is one of my all time favorites, “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads. This live video is from my New Year’s Eve concert at the West End Wine Bar and was the last song in a short, but incredibly intense set. My voice was shot, and my cello was having all kinds of difficulties, but with Brian Risk on bass, Robert Cantrell on drums and special guest, John Gillespie, on guitar we had a super fun time. We also got to play with one of my favorite bands, The Drowning Lovers.

I hope everyone had a wonderful 2016 and I wish lots of luck for everyone who made a resolution this New Years! My goals for 2016 are to keep the music and the videos up and to produce more StatQuests! Can I do one StatQuest every month? I’m going to try!

Song 47 – The Coldest Day of the Year

 

Friends, this time of year is jam packed with holiday traditions, and this, being my 4th holiday song, is now part of them. It’s fun having a specific concept for at least one song a year. Because this one always has to be somewhat holiday themed, it forces me to approach songwriting in a new way and mix things up a little bit. I can’t just record whatever pops up in my head, but instead I have to guide my thoughts and filter through ideas until I find something that works.

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This year, as a way to focus my thoughts, I imagined the contrast between the winter solstice, which is typically cold and dark where I live, and the winter feasts that take place at around the same time. It is chilly and gloomy outside, but bright, warm and cheery inside.

With that in mind, it wasn’t long before I had a melody worked out. The words, however, went through a few drafts. The first version was focused entirely on the feasts themselves, and the wide variety of foods involved. I just listed all the traditional dishes and foodstuffs that people prepare each year – it ended up being a really long list!

But then it occurred to me that the magic of the feast isn’t the food, it’s the people. So I scratched out the version that just made my stomach grumble and focused on what really mattered – family and friends. Without them, a feast is a lonely affair. But with them, it’s a time to celebrate and be happy.

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Folks! I hope you all have a wonderful December and can enjoy time with your friends and family. If you’d like to sing or play along with this month’s song, here’s the song sheet.

 

Song 46 – I Love You

I pretty much take my ukulele everywhere I go. Actually, that’s one of the reasons I bought it in the first place. My cello is awesome, but it’s hardly portable. You can’t put it in an overhead compartment and checking it on a plane is like playing Russian roulette. Even just driving around town, my cello doesn’t make a good “toss in the back of car and go” instrument. The ukulele is the instrument of choice for travel. Compared to a cello, it’s absolutely tiny. It fits in my backpack so it doesn’t even count as a separate carry on when flying. When it came for me to head to Cold Spring Harbor for a conference last spring, I had my ukulele with me.

Usually when I go there, they put me up in a pretty nice dormitory style building. It’s not on campus, but there’s a shuttle van and I always enjoy getting to know the shuttle drivers. They’ve lived there their whole lives and usually have some interesting stories to tell about the place.

However, last time the put me up in run down motel in a strip-mall right next to a major highway. It was a terrible, dark place with unpredictable plumbing. But, regardless of the setting, I got to see a really, really beautiful sunset. It was one of those skies that goes from deep purple to a darkest blue without a cloud in the sky. Stars were just starting to shine through and looked like gems sprinkled on velvet. And that’s when this song came to me.

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This is an approximation of what I saw out the window when I wrote this song. It was much cooler in person.

As soon as I got home, I wanted to record this tune – but I knew I wanted drums and bass on this song, so for logistical reasons, I’ve had to wait until now. But it was worth the wait! Robert Cantrell and local bass legend, FJ Ventre, and I spent an evening with Al out at Warrior Sound and made some amazing music. For the second time this year, I was lucky and Robert brought his collection of percussion instruments and, starting in the “solo” section you can hear a very distinct afro-cuban rhythm that has probably never been paired with a ukulele before. This song is a perfect example of how much more I can accomplish when such talented people bring their own style to a tune.

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Lately, my songs haven’t had a lot of ukulele in them, but rest assured, I still play it all the time. It’s my go-to travel instrument.

Folks! I hope you had a wonderful October and have a great November. I’m already excited about recording my annual holiday tune and I can’t wait for you to hear it. If you’d like to sing or play along with “I Love You”, here’s the song sheet.

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Here’s what the sunset looked like at Warrior Sound, right before we started to record this song.

Song 45 – Roses

Ack! I’ve had a few technical difficulties this month and have fallen behind for the first time in recent memory. Usually by this time I will have had everything done for days. The video will have been idling, the writeup will have been stowed in a “draft” folder, and all I need to do is click on the “Publish” button for everything to go live. This month… wow! I’m currently uploading the video to YouTube with my fingers crossed, hoping the audio sounds okay…

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As for the story of the song. This one is about a very close friend and I’m not sure I’m allowed to give away too many details. I hate to say that – it feels like I’m cheating you somehow, and I don’t want to do that at all. The lyrics aren’t very cryptic, so you should be able to figure it out. Needless to say, it’s been a rough couple of months. I had originally planned on recording a happy song in September, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Let’s hope I can record it in October! It’s a fun one.
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So, in lieu of a story this month, I’m giving you lots of pictures of the kittens. They just do the things they do.

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Friends, I hope you had a wonderful month and that you enjoy all that October has to bring to you. If you’d like to play or sing along with my new tune, here’s the song sheet.