Wrenching Day

Wrenching Day

It has certainly been a long time since wisdom ruled the day. I did get up and run in the rain, and now I am preparing to do some “wrenching” on my motorcycle. I am trying to temper my eagerness to ride with my desire to get everything “right” on the bike–without stretching the bounds of the friendship of the good souls who help and guide me on this quixotic journey of sorts.

Learning to fix motorcycles is a bit like learning music: there is a steady flow of learning curves followed by successes, brief interludes of smug satisfaction, followed by harsh reminders of our inadequacies, and then another learning curve followed by success, more smugness, more inadequacies until, at some point, a compromise is reached; and like Roberto Duran, whispering “no mas…” We grudgingly accept who we are and where we are at, and somewhere in this village of complacency, we feed off the nuggets of wisdom (also known as experience) scattered sparingly around and which sustains us and carries us through the common days of our lives.

My motorcycle, a 1982 Honda “Naked” Goldwing, is beastly and beautiful, but it is still just a thing and not worth throwing good money after bad. The sloth in me would love to bring it down to Duncan or Galen and say, “Have at it. Fix everything that needs fixing. Replace everything that needs replacing. But, leave the polishing to me…” That, however, would be a fool’s errand, and I would be left with an expensive bike that costs way more than it is worth. I am learning this slowly, but I am learning, even as I approach my golden years.

Pieces and parts are pretty cheap, and time, if viewed magnanimously, is infinite. My most valuable resource is friendship and kinship. I seem to always find someone willing to help an old fool with a stubborn problem. Denise often laughs that if I work on the bike long enough in the front driveway, someone will stop by who knows how to fix it. It is an observation that is pretty close to the truth, for I am certainly blessed with a panoply of friends with a myriad mix of skill-sets, attitudes, and inclinations. Luckily, I am a gregarious creature, which is a good thing, for I would be a useless misanthrope, who would more than likely spend my life trying to dig myself out of the holes I’ve fallen in, never seeing the hands reaching down to help me up. In this sense, I am saved by friendships, and I pity the solitary, myopic persons who labor alone–even as I admire and stand in awe of their mechanical skills and problem-solving prowess.

Today, Tom has lent me his shop–a shop full of nifty, rare tools (and a bike lift). Hatrack is coming by to keep me honest, and bless me with his years of mechanical wizardry. Steve, is riding his beloved scooter in today’s driving rain all the way from Boston to ensure that I do things right, not half-ass or halfway. I’ll be there with my new timing belts, carb-syncing tool, and valve adjusters (and links to youtube videos). It is a mix and a recipe for success, so I am sure that today will be a day with a learning curve, successes, and, God Willing, a bit of smug satisfaction.

Yesterday did not become a poem

Nothing became something else;
No thoughts filled my head
With wonder or wisdom.
Listless sky. Jumbled frames.
Fleeting images:
Chattering squirrels,
Distant rumbling
Of rush hour traffic.
Today I am more determined,
But all that is left
Is the promise
Of tomorrow.

How do I know

what I know?
The sharp angles
of this simple cottage
perfected
in every board sawn,
shingle split
and beam hewn
into place
goes together
placed, splined,
slid together,
bound more
by intuition
than knowing.

In the unfolding chores

The day sometimes slip away from me,
a huge pine half-bucked in the backyard,
the kids old tree fort cut into slabs,
a ton of coal waiting to be moved
in a train of buckets
to the bin.

Sipping cold water on the back deck
I hear Emma rustling for soccer cleats
and singing some country song,
probably hoping I will remember
that her part of the day
is also mine…

Out of the Forge: April 13, 2017

Out of the Forge: April 13, 2017

Out of the Forge: April 13, 2017

by John Fitzsimmons | Out of the Forge

In my forty years or so of actively singing and playing folk music and writing songs, I have played together with a remarkably narrow list of musical partners: Rogue, Wally and Barry with camp songs and Hatrack and Seth with literally everything. These last few years I have been playing some with Keith Jacques, Tom Sheppard and Geoff Copley, but really, it has either been me alone or me and Hatrack and Seth.

I could certainly do worse—or I should say, I don’t think I (or anyone) could do better. In many ways I am a victim of myself. I learned to play on my own and then I played and performed alone for a solid ten years before meeting Seth and Hatrack. My playing was rarely formal in any sense of the word. I played in any key that worked for me; I was loose with accepted ways of playing any song, and I was more loose with beat and meter. If I felt like slowing down, I would just slow down—and vice verse with speeding up. If some part of a song reminded me of a story, I would just hang on a chord until the story was told. I began songs with my own arbitrary count-in that was more like “Ready, set, go…” than “One, two, three, four…” 

None of that ever seemed to matter with Seth and Hatrack. They would just go with the flow. They still go with the flow in patient and accepting ways, though I can sometimes see the wry rolling of their eyes as I started a song in three different keys before finding that elusive sweet key. We harmonize amazingly well, though I know nothing about harmony, aside from hearing them banter about who will take the third and who will take the fifth.

I have been spoiled and nurtured by their collective genius. Seth on anything with strings and Hatrack on the harmonica. Really, few musicians are their equals. I am just incredibly blessed to have them as friends and musical mates.

When I play Thursday night in The Forge, which is advertised as “Fitz & Friends,” I never know which friend or friends is going to show, or if any friends will show. Sometimes “friends” is just the audience already there.

Tonight the friend was Hatrack who wandered in just as I was starting. My Bose system is only set up to record my vocal and guitar, so it is hard to get the real effect (and affect) of Hatrack’s inimitable virtuosity as he played along with me throughout a two hour set, but he is there in a regrettably muted way. Someday I hope to find a better way to record than the somewhat primitive method I am using, but for now, strain your ears to hear what Hatrack brings, which is as much in spirit as it is in skill.

Tonight was a fun night, full of requests for songs I rarely play, so my apologies up front for any lyrical adjustments I made trying to remember lyrics—especially on “Suzanne,” by Leonard Cohen, a damn good song that I plan to put back into my “list” in a more regular way.

Thanks for stopping by to listen. I do this for those friends of mine scattered around the world who still want a “taste of the inn,” though it is a watered down taste at best.

Out of the Forge: April 6, 2017

Out of the Forge: April 6, 2017

Some nights I feel like I am singing in a mall. Tonight–in a fun way–it felt a bit like I walked into the Natick mall at Christmas time and pulled out my guitar in front of the Apple store and started to play, but like every night down at the inn it evolved into a fun few sets mingled with some old ballads and some classic old sing-a-longs. My high school football coach, Dick Dimare, was waked at Charlie Dee’s, and so a number of my old football buddies showed up, so we enjoyed some good remembrances of a truly exceptional old-school coach. I remembered how he seemd to find a way to make each and every one of us feel like we were God’s gift to CC Football. I still enjoy, too, getting “razzed” by my old buddies who all grew up with me in a different time in Concord.

A part of me wished the night was more quiet and reflective, so I could share my old Concord songs–songs that are still etched in my head, but which I rarely play live. But still those songs live in a heart shaped and formed by a now long ago echo of a great childhood and batch of friends. I’ve always dreamed of just spending a night at the inn reliving and replaying those raspy, hard-bitten songs, for even in the lap of past joy there is the lingering smoke of trying times.

As often happens, too, people show who want or are willing to play with me–and often in place of me–and that also goes a long way to perfecting the joy of singing in a small hometown bar. Geoff Copley joined me for a fun batch of songs at the end of the night with his always tasteful guitar and laconic Irish wit. The hard part of recording the way I do is I only have my vocal mic and a guitar mic, so the full power of Geoff’s playing is too far back in the mix to get the full effect of how good it is–that and it always sounds like I talking to myself and not with the crowsd. A hockey playing friend of Denise and Will, Suzanne Freidman, also showed up and performed a heartfelt and awesome batch of songs–some original, some covers, but she really got the crowd’s attention, and a big and boisterous crowd it was. 

I can’t say I felt proud of my own work tonight. It is pretty humbling to hear myself singing and trying to get into some kind of flow. If anything, I feel like my voice is a bit too forced, my playing too fast, my banter too long and my memory stumbling along some unfamiliar verses, but as Bill Belechick says, It is what it is…”

So maybe next week I’ll do better. A folksinger like me is like an old fisherman who at least gets to point to next week and think, “Yeah, next week will be better.”

Thanks for stopping by my humble blog. Come by for the real thing sometime.  And bring your guitar 😉 

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