Rich Wilhelm

Coltrane in the Nor’easter

In jazz, John Coltrane, music, North Philadelphia, Philadelphia, poem on April 4, 2018 at 7:14 pm
coltrane

29th and Diamond, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, March 2, 2018

Coltrane in the Nor’easter

gazes over the old neighborhood

from his vantage point at 29th and Diamond.

 

Coltrane in the Nor’easter

recalls struggle and triumph in his house on 33rd,

now with a sign noting his long-ago presence.

 

Coltrane in the Nor’easter

is poised to play his saxophone,

but his lips never touch the instrument.

 

Coltrane in the Nor’easter

remembers the nearby, long-lost jazz clubs

where he honed his craft:

820 Club

Café Society

Crystal Ball

Web Bar

Sun Ray

Blue Note.

 

Coltrane in the Nor’easter

meditates on afterhours sessions at the Woodbine

with Tyner, Pope, Ali, Smith, Morgan, Golson, and Philly Joe Jones.

 

Coltrane in the Nor’easter

knows his sheets of sound would rage

wild and free amid these sheets of snow

and yet, his lips never touch the instrument.

 

Coltrane in the Nor’easter

has never heard of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or Trump,

and even if he had, his mind would be elsewhere.

 

Coltrane in the Nor’easter

might wonder why everyone from Bono

to Sheryl Crow

to some guy in Phoenixville

feels the need to invoke his name.

 

Coltrane in the Nor’easter

could impart great wisdom

to the father and son talking Kanye and Kendrick

in the car below him.

 

Coltrane in the Nor’easter

is one of my favorite things.

 

Coltrane in the Nor’easter

prays that each of us will someday encounter

a Love Supreme.

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2018: The Year of Taking Better Notes

In Uncategorized on January 1, 2018 at 10:20 pm
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Here we have two notebooks that I made from a box that contained a six-pack of Fireside Chat winter spiced ale, made by 21st Amendment Brewery. I hope to take better notes in these notebooks.

As the end of 2017 approached, I began to feel like I had not accomplished anything all year. I was feeling like I had nothing to show for the year.

This was not an accurate feeling. Throughout the year, I continued to be a husband and dad to the best of my ability on any given day. I continued to be a news editor, even traveling to New Orleans one week to do that job. I gave tours at Laurel Hill Cemetery and I made and mailed Really Cool Notebooks to every corner of this country and beyond. I have largely shown up for the various roles and responsibilities I have in my life.

But I did realize there was something that I did not do in 2017. I did not take good notes. Days and weeks passed by in which I didn’t write in a journal, didn’t post any blog entries, didn’t really check in with myself. Which is perfectly fine, except that, as someone who someone who considers himself a writer, I ought to have done more.

Also, I didn’t read much this year. I read one book — the fascinating Lincoln in the Bardo — and that’s it.

Really, though, I read quite a bit. Nearly all that reading though, was online news stories.

Therein lies the problem. In order to try to keep up with a very weird year, I gave myself over to the task of simply trying to keep up with the ongoing saga emanating from Washington, D.C. And Mar-a-Lago. And various other golf clubs.

In short, I spent an inordinate amount of time tracking the activities of our president. But I’m done with that.

Don’t get me wrong. I am going to continue to follow the current situation, and to try to continue to voice my concerns and to figure out what I can do to make a positive contribution to our country and world right now.

At the same time though, I think I need to cut down on my grim fascination with the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. And I think I need to recover whatever part of myself I feel has been lost in the shuffle of 2017.

I’m not doing this to bury my head in the sand, but to find a way to be more engaged that simply staring with bemused horror at stories of the latest inanity.

The way forward for me is, I think, to find ways to be more positively engaged in the world around me and in the world within me. And, as this is happening, to take better notes.

If I do start taking better notes — real, pen-to-paper notes, maybe even in the “Fireside Chat” beer box notebooks shown in the photo above, that is — I will hopefully occasionally organize those thoughts into entries for this blog. I make no promises, but I’ll give this a shot.

Here’s to a productive, positive 2018 for us all!

Cassingles Going Steady (52 at 52, #14)

In cassingles, cassette singles, Really Cool Notebooks, Uncategorized on September 10, 2017 at 1:26 pm

 

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Cassingles!

 

Many years ago, cassette singles — aka, “cassingles” — played an oddly important role in my life.

Maybe you remember cassingles. Or, maybe you don’t, as you really need to be of a certain age to have experienced the wonder of the cassingle. If not, an article in the New York Times, published 30 years ago this week, will get you up to speed.

Essentially, the cassingle was the record industry’s attempt to find an alternative to the 45 r.p.m. single at a time — the late 1980s/early ’90s — when the death of vinyl as a means for music delivery seemed imminent. The Walkman had made cassette versions of long-playing records quite popular, and compact discs were rapidly claiming an ever-bigger market share. The future of the single was in the balance and it was decided that the cassingle was preferred over the possibility of the CD single, which was apparently more expensive to produce than the cassette single.

While the 1987 Times story details how cassette singles were becoming increasingly popular, it also notes that IRS records had released a one-off cassette single for “Vacation” by the Go-Go’s way back in 1982. In fact, according to the story, IRS invented the word “cassingle,” as if giving us R.E.M. wasn’t enough.

As it happens, the rise of the cassingle aligned perfectly with my late college/post graduation job at a chain music store, Record Bar, in Granite Run Mall near Media, Pennsylvania. Don’t look for that mall anymore. It’s gone now, but many memories, including those involving cassingles, remain.

I don’t remember ever having a managerial position at Record Bar, but I was good at the job. So good, in fact, that I found out just this week that co-workers called me “the human Phonolog,” for my apparent ability to know something about every song/artist/album/cassingle that customers requested. I do not remember the nickname, but, even today, I would take that as a compliment.

Eventually, my Record Bar responsibilities included ordering a weekly shipment of singles. At first, this order was primarily vinyl singles, but as time passed, I found myself increasing the cassingle numbers to meet consumer demand for the latest Bon Jovi, Milli Vanilli, and Paula Abdul songs in the handy cassingle format. Once the singles arrived, I’d display them in a way that would hopefully attract hungry pop music fans to purchase them.

I had a more-than-passing interest in the cassingle phenomena, because I wasn’t just ordering singles for Record Bar. The week I graduated college, in May 1988, I went to Record Bar and bought every single that was in the Top 40 of Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 chart. The plan was that each week, I’d pick up the newly-added single to the chart.

Unfortunately, I launched this endeavor during what is perhaps the cheesiest period ever in popular music. If you don’t believe me, take a peek at that very first Top 40 chart I bought. (Actually, as I scan that chart, I’m realizing that it is not quite as cheesy as it would get over the next few years.) But my own personal taste in pop music did not figure in this project; it was all about building an archive of the hit music from the era.

I was undeterred. Collecting the Top 40 suited the cultural archivist in me.

I collected the complete Top 40 for a little more than a year before the inevitable happened. A song that was not released in the vinyl format hit the chart. The first of these might have been De La Soul’s “Me, Myself, and I,” or it may have been Sweet Sensation’s “Hooked On You.” In either case, I was aggravated that my attempt to own every record in the Top 40 was being thwarted.

Here’s the thing: while I had no problem ordering the cassingles for others to buy at Record Bar, I was just enough of a music snob to know that I would certainly never buy a cassingle. Quite simply, I was appalled at the utter disposability of cassingles. There was nothing even remotely archival about cassingles: the damned things were essentially designed to be played in car tape decks until precisely the moment when the purchaser got sick of the song, at which point he or she would toss the cassette, with or without its protective cardboard sleeve, into the back seat of the car, where it would languish until, well, until forever, I guess.

No way I was ever going to buy a cassingle.

I handled this problem in my collection by creating seven-inch by seven-inch “certificates of shame” that noted that such-and-such a song hit the Top 40 but was never released on 45.

Thankfully, my life moved on and I got over the idea of collecting the Top 40. Within a few years, I would imagine none of the charting songs were issued on vinyl, but I was done with my Top 40 mission by then. Cassette singles continued to thrive for several years in the 1990s, but iTunes put the final nail in the cassingle coffin.

Strangely, cassette singles again play a minor but important role in my life. Several years ago, I started Really Cool Notebooks, an Etsy site on which I began to sell notebooks made from the front and back covers of castoff record albums. Several months into this side gig of mine, I was down at my Mom’s house, where she and my sister Lisa were having a garage sale. Lisa was attempting to sell her fine collection of cassingles, but wasn’t getting any bites. Suddenly Lisa and I looked at the cassette singles, looked at each other, and exclaimed “Mini notebooks!”

This epiphany did indeed lead me to expand my business to include tiny notebooks made from cassingle sleeves, and, before long, to making notebooks out of VHS tapes. Since I started with Lisa’s cassingles, I began to donate the proceeds from the mini-notebooks to Savage Walkers, our family’s Relay for Life team, and generally speaking, I’ve continued to do this.

While I sell the mini notebooks in a special subsection of my Etsy site, the best place for me to show them and sell them is when I’m vending at a craft show. For whatever reason, people often become giddy as they sort through the mini-notebooks, especially when they encounter a notebook made from the sleeve of a cassette single they once owned, and tossed into the back seat of their car, back when cassingles ruled the world.

To sum up: if making people smile by reminding them of the cassingle is part of my purpose in life, I’m good with that.

For more on cassingles, check out this article in The Onion. And here’s what cassingle sleeves look like when they become the covers for mini notebooks:

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Cassingle sleeves, transformed into tiny notebooks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patrick F. O'Donnell

writer, editor, general wordsmith and scribe

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