Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Havana's China immigrants

Havana's China immigrants keep traditions

By VANESSA ARRINGTON, Associated Press WriterTue May 30, 4:13 AM ET
AP Photo/Javier Galeano:

They came as young men and women, and never left.

Elderly Chinese immigrants still walk the streets of Havana's "Barrio Chino," or Chinatown, where they play mahjong and eat lunch together, practice tai chi and read magazines from their homeland.

There are just 143 natives of China currently registered in Havana — most of them men, according to Cristina Nip, a descendant who runs Chinatown's social work program. After decades on the Caribbean island, they say they feel just as Cuban as Chinese.

"Equal parts both," said 70-year-old Julio Li, whose name itself reflects the blend. "I speak Spanish, and I speak Chinese. I drink Cuban rum, and Chinese tea."

The retired Li read a Chinese-language Newsweek as he puffed away on a cigar, relaxing in a high-ceilinged room of the Min Chih Tang association. He planned to play mahjong later to prepare for a competition that is part of a festival celebrating Cuba's Chinese heritage.

Li came to Cuba with his parents when he was just 14 years old. His father sold vegetables in a Havana market — as would Li.

Many Chinese immigrants arrived on the island after fleeing communism and economic difficulties in China in the late 1940s and 1950s, building a bustling merchant and agricultural class before their chosen refuge also became communist under Fidel Castro.

Some decided to move again, heading to other large Chinese migrant communities in the United States and Latin America after Castro's 1959 revolution. Those who stayed turned their shops and businesses over to the government and got new state jobs.

"Things have really changed here — I just go with the flow," said Li, who said he stayed in Cuba because he lacked the means and the desire to leave. "I don't get involved in politics. Not Cuban politics, not Chinese politics — none of it."

Li is on the younger end of China natives in Havana, most of whom are in their 80s and 90s. Three centenarians from the community passed away last year, according to Nip, who makes house visits across Havana to keep track of those remaining. Several elderly Chinese also live in other cities on the island, though the largest concentration is in the capital.

The Chinese presence in Cuba dates to 1847, when a group of 200 immigrants from Guangdong province arrived on a Spanish ship to work on Cuba's sugarcane plantations. Tens of thousands of Chinese followed from the mid- to late-1800s as contract laborers, many working for years in virtual slavery.

After slavery was abolished in the late 19th century, the Chinese began forming an ascending class of restaurateurs, laundry shopowners and vegetable merchants. Many of them brought their entire families over from China to live with them.

Of the latest flood of immigrants who came to Cuba more than 50 years ago, many have never gone back to visit China, others just once or twice. In 2003, the Cuban and Chinese governments hosted a trip home for five of the immigrants, and plans are in the works to organize visits for about a dozen more, Nip said.

Some of those left in Cuba still pay some attention to political and economic developments in China but seem more interested in the personal news they get in letters from their relatives.

"I'm always thinking about my family over there," said Ofelia Lau Si, 85, who moved to Cuba with her husband in 1949 and is one of just 30 female natives left. "I went back to visit them once, and I was so happy."

But she also has a large family here now, complete with Cuban in-laws and grandchildren who hardly speak Chinese. "They're a bit far from the traditions," she said.

Next to Lau Si sat another China native, 80-year-old Rosa Wong, as they waited for their tai chi class to begin in an open-air Chinatown community center.

Wong's children married other Chinese, and her 20-year-old granddaughter Meyling Wong has become one of the top athletes in Havana's Wushu sport association, winning medals at competitions around the world. "My grandmother often brought me to Chinatown when I was a little girl," Meyling Wong said. "I was always fascinated by the culture here."

Angel Chiong, 81, has gone back to China several times, and still feels a strong link to his homeland. He is administrator of Kwong Wah Po, Havana's only Chinese newspaper, which is published every 15 days.

"I was born there, and that stays with you forever," he said. "But when you're as old as I am, here or there — what's the difference?"

Cheikha Rimitti, Pioneer of Algerian Raï Music (1923-2006)

New York Times
May 28, 2006
Cheikha Rimitti, 83, Rebel of Algerian Music, Is Dead

Cheikha Rimitti, a pioneer of the rebellious Algerian pop called ra-2006), died on May 15 in Paris, where she had lived since 1978. She was 83.

The cause was a heart attack, her Web site said.

Cheikha Rimitti was considered the queen of raï (RYE or rah-AY), which means opinion in Arabic. She sang daringly and forthrightly about sexuality, poverty, drinking, oppression and independence. "Misfortune is my teacher," she often said.

Her brash lyrics and deep, rough-hewn voice made her an international star. She defied taboos, and her music was often banned.

"Raï music has always been a music of rebellion, a music that looks ahead," she said in a 2001 interview with Afropop Worldwide, a syndicated radio program and Web site. Two nights before her death, she performed at the Zénith concert hall in Paris.

She was born in 1923 in the village of Tessala near Sidi Bel-Abbés in Western Algeria. Her parents named her Saadia, which means joyful. But she was orphaned as a young girl and grew up poor, often homeless.

To support herself, she began singing at weddings. She arrived in the town of Relizane and joined a troupe of traveling musicians when she was 20, performing at festivals as a singer, a dancer and an equestrienne, riding with a rifle in each hand.

Her stage name, Rimitti, was derived from the French word remettez (put it back, or slang for another). Various stories link the name to her buying rounds of drinks for fans or calling for refills herself. Later, the honorific Cheikha was added.

North Africa has a tradition of bawdy wedding songs, performed by and for women. Cheikha Rimitti began to sing them for mixed audiences in public. She also wrote songs about social conditions, including, in the 1940's, the harshness of French colonial rule and the epidemics that ravaged Algeria. She wrote about rough lives and about the temporary diversions of sex and alcohol.

"I sang all the subjects back then," she told Afropop Worldwide. "I sang about misery. I sang about love. I sang about the condition of women. I sang about ordinary life, concrete things. I sang the life I had seen, my own history."

Although she composed hundreds of songs, Cheikha Rimitti was illiterate. "Words sing silent in my head until I sing them loud," she once said. "No need to take either a pencil or a notebook."

A well-known Algerian musician, Mohammed Ould Ennems, helped arrange her first radio broadcasts in the 1940's. She made her first recording in 1952, and in 1954 she caused a controversy with a song called "Charrag Gataa" ("Tear, Lacerate"), which was taken as an attack on the virtue of female virginity. "He crushes, whips and beats me," she sang. "I say that I'm going away, but I still spend the night."

When Algeria became independent of France in 1962, the new conservative Islamic government banned her songs from radio and television. She continued to perform at private gatherings, as raï music circulated on underground cassettes.

In 1976, she made a pilgrimage to Mecca and gave up drinking and smoking. She emigrated to Paris in 1978, but continued to visit Algeria, which eventually removed the ban on her music.

According to her manager, Nourredine Gafaaiti, she is survived by her 3 children and 18 grandchildren, all of whom live in Algeria.

By the 1980's, her songs had been taken up by a younger generation of raï musicians, though they often did not credit her. She was rediscovered by the world-music audience in the 1990's and modernized her music. Her 1994 album "Sidi Mansour" included the guitarist Robert Fripp from King Crimson, and Flea, the bassist from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, although she never met the musicians; she was recorded in Paris and the backup tracks were recorded in Los Angeles.

She continued to make albums, and one, "N'ta Goudami" (Because Music), was released this month. It was recorded in Oran, Algeria, the birthplace of raï.

In 2001 she made her United States debut with a triumphant concert at Central Park SummerStage.

"When I'm on stage, I don't cheat," she told Afropop Worldwide afterward. "I give everything I have in my soul and my spirit."

Nubian Musician Hamza El Din (1929-2006)

From the Los Angeles Times
Hamza El Din, 76; Musician Popularized North Africa's Ancient Traditional Songs
From Times Staff and Wire Reports

May 30, 2006

Hamza El Din, considered the father of Nubian music who helped expose the sounds of his North African homeland to a worldwide audience, has died. He was 76.

El Din died May 22 at a hospital in Berkeley of complications from a gallbladder infection.

A composer and master of the oud, El Din became known to American audiences in the mid-1960s when he performed at the Newport Folk Festival and recorded two albums for the Vanguard label.

His music drew the attention of such musicians as folk singer Joan Baez, the classical Kronos Quartet and the rock band the Grateful Dead. He collaborated with the Kronos Quartet on the album "Pieces of Africa," and played with the Grateful Dead during its show at the Great Pyramids at Giza in 1978.

Other collaborations followed, including one with director Peter Sellars for a version of the Aeschylus play "The Persians" at the Salzburg Festival. Hamza's compositions also were performed by several ballet companies, including the Paris Opera Ballet and San Francisco Ballet.

Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart called El Din's music "mesmerizing, hypnotic and trance-like."

"Hamza taught me about the romancing of the drum," Hart told the San Francisco Chronicle. "His music was very subtle and multilayered."

El Din, who taught ethnomusicology at the University of Washington, Ohio University and University of Texas, lived for a time in Japan to study the biwa, a Japanese lute.

Born in 1929 in the former Nubian town of Wadi Halfa in northern Sudan, El Din was an electrical engineering student at what is now the University of Cairo when he took up the oud, an instrument similar to the lute, and the tar, a single-skinned frame drum from the Upper Nile.

At the news that his homeland would be part of the area to be flooded by Lake Nasser on the completion of the Aswan High Dam, El Din quit his engineering studies and traveled the region by donkey to warn his people of the dislocation that would come about from the dam project.

He also acquired material for many of his songs. He wrote about love, childhood memories, a wedding and the water wheel in his home village.

By playing the oud, not a traditional Nubian instrument, he found ways to expand the boundaries of his native music.

He returned to Cairo to study Arabic music and later studied classical guitar and Western music in Rome at the Academy of Santa Cecilia.

Since the late 1960s, he has lived much of the time in the Bay Area and toured extensively. He offered quietly intense solo concerts and appeared at major festivals throughout the world. He performed dressed in white robes and wore a white turban.

Critics say his most significant recordings were "Escalay: The Water Wheel," released in 1971, and "Eclipse," a 1982 release. His most recent album, "A Wish," was released in 1999.

El Din's survivors include his wife, Nadra.

Monday, May 29, 2006

New Orleans mourns Katrina's dead with jazz funeral

Photos Sean Gardner/Reuters:

New Orleans mourns Katrina's dead with jazz funeral
Reuters on Yahoo.com
By Jeffrey JonesMon May 29, 4:08 PM ET

Yvonne Wise recalled many customers of her clothes alteration business as she marched past smashed homes and rusting, overturned cars of New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward to the joyous sounds of a brass band.

Moments before, in New Orleans jazz funeral tradition, the Treme Brass Band's renditions were somber as Wise and dozens of others stood where a levee gave way nine months earlier to the day, sending a torrent through the streets of the Lower Ninth.

There, residents of the neighborhood read the names of more than 1,000 Louisianians killed by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Wise, 58, recognized some of them.

"It went to the heart, you know? To lose that amount of people, and there are still people unaccounted for," she said as the parade wound around the predominantly black and poor community that remains largely a debris field. "I lost a son, not in Katrina but after Katrina. I think he just basically died of heartbreak."

The Memorial Day service and jazz funeral parade was to pay tribute to the more than 1,500 people killed in the disaster, along with U.S. military personnel killed over the years in battle. It was organized by the Lower Ninth Ward Neighborhood Empowerment Network Association, formed by residents who aim to make sure their community gets rebuilt.

Jazz funerals end on a lively note with the band belting out signature tunes like "When the Saints go Marching In" and "Down by the Riverside." Monday's version was no exception.


"That's history, that's home, that's what we do," said Patricia Jones, president of the neighborhood group. The 31-year-old accountant also recognized some of the names read.

Several pastors were on hand to offer encouragement, and to lead a prayer for the newly repaired concrete floodwall three days before the start of the 2006 hurricane season.

Offering optimism is no small feat with destruction, empty homes and now, yards full of weeds, just steps away. Only a small area of the Lower Ninth has running water restored.

"What we should learn from all this is that we need to transcend or rise above what we can see with our own eyes, from our own perspective," the Rev. Oliver Duvernay of Central Missionary Baptist Church told Reuters. "We need to get up a little higher."

Post-Katrina New Orleans is a city of stark contrast. Some neighborhoods are slowly recovering, their streets lined with government-supplied trailers that are temporary homes for families who are renovating.

But not the Lower Ninth. City officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have warned residents here and in New Orleans East their communities face the greatest risk of flooding again in the event of another hurricane this season.

Attendees at the service were told it was not a time to point fingers over the disaster that struck the neighborhood where black families have owned homes for generations.

But residents could not hide their frustration with governments and the Corps, which have been accused by independent engineers of not adequately maintaining flood protection systems.

Across town, about 200 people gathered near the spot where the 17th Street canal breached, sending salty waters of Lake Pontchartrain through the Lakeview neighborhood. Mourners dropped 1,577 carnations into the canal's muddy water, one for each person who died in the storm last year.

A bagpipe played against the thump of a pile driver pounding supports for flood gates at the opening of the canal onto the lake. The gates are designed to stop a storm surge from swamping the canal.

(Additional reporting by Peter Henderson)

Photos AP Photo/Alex Brandon:

NOLA: Second-line fees are too high, ACLU says

New Orelans Times-Picayune

Second-line fees too high, ACLU says
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
By Bruce Eggler
Staff writer

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana on Tuesday called on New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley to rescind what it said were recent sharp increases in the fees the department charges to organizations holding second-line parades in the city.

Because of violence among spectators at two parades this year that left one person dead and several others wounded, the NOPD has said it will raise the "escort fees" it imposes on groups seeking to parade or demonstrate, the ACLU said.

The new fees the department has said it will charge to the social aid and pleasure clubs that organize second-line parades -- between $3,750 and $4,400 for one-band, one-division parades -- are so high they will prevent the clubs from holding future parades, infringing on their First Amendment rights, the ACLU said.

In a letter to Riley, attorneys Carol Kolinchak and Katie Schwartzmann said the new fees are "unreasonable and excessive." They asked him to reduce the fees by Monday to a level "reasonably necessary for facilitating traffic flow resulting from the parades."

Otherwise, they warned, they intend to file a lawsuit.

Riley could not be reached for comment.

Kolinchak and Schwartzmann said members of social aid and pleasure clubs have held several meetings with Riley to try to have the fees lowered, but no agreement was reached.

Despite violent incidents, the city ordinance letting the police decide what fees to impose on parading groups "is constitutionally problematic," said Schwartzmann, the staff attorney for the local ACLU.

The ordinance "allows the police chief enormous discretion in deciding when to assess escort fees, and how much to assess," she said. "Courts have held that this discretion is unconstitutional. In this instance the police chief is imposing extra fees due to violence in the crowd at some second-line events. Imposing fees because of the behavior of a hostile audience is constitutionally impermissible."

On March 19 a gunman opened fire on a group of spectators along a second-line parade route in Central City, killing one man and injuring another, only to be stopped when a New Orleans police officer shot him in the leg. Christopher Smith, 19, died from multiple gunshot wounds.

Police said Jasmine Sartain opened fire on parade-goers near the corner of Washington Avenue and South Derbigny Street who had gathered to watch a jazz funeral for a former member of the Single Men Social Aid and Pleasure Club, followed by a second-line that included the Cultural Tradition Task Force. Sartain's mother said the shooting stemmed from a feud "over a young lady."

Two months earlier, violence erupted at a much larger second-line procession that attracted thousands of people, including hurricane evacuees who had come back to the city for a day of celebration. Three people were wounded Jan. 15 in two shootings on Orleans Avenue between North Claiborne Avenue and North Broad Street.

The shootings broke out near the end point of a procession that started in front of the Backstreet Cultural Museum on St. Claude Avenue.

At the time, many supporters of the second-line processions, a cherished cultural tradition in the black community, decried the violence, saying second-lines have traditionally been peaceful affairs that bring the community together.

"This is a time of healing for the city of New Orleans," said Kolinchak, an outside attorney working with the ACLU. "The fees being imposed by the chief have resulted in the cancellation of some second-line parades, and many more will have to cancel if the policy is not amended. This is a time when we need our cultural traditions more than ever, and we hope that the chief will agree."

. . . . . . .

Rapper faces jail for song dissing France

Rapper faces jail for song dissing France

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
Monday May 29, 2006

One of France's most popular rappers will appear in court today charged with offending public decency with a song in which he referred to France as a "slut" and vowed to "piss" on Napoleon and Charles de Gaulle. Monsieur R, whose real name is Richard Makela, could face three years in prison or a €75,000 (£51,000) fine after an MP from the ruling UMP party launched legal action against him over his album Politikment Incorrekt.

In the video for the song FranSSe, Makela, 30, appeared dressed as a gendarme with two naked women rubbing against the French flag as he rapped: "France is a bitch, don't forget to fuck her till she's exhausted/You have to treat her like a slut, man." At another point in the song, he sang: "I piss on Napoleon and on General de Gaulle."

When Daniel Mach, MP for Pyrénées-Orientales, heard the album last year, he proposed a law making it a criminal offence to insult the dignity of France and the French state. In November, when riots broke out in France's run-down suburbs, another UMP deputy, François Grosdidier, won the support of 152 MPs and 49 senators who demanded that parliament act against Makela's lyrics. But by then Mr Mach had taken a personal action against Makela for making and disseminating "violent and pornographic messages" to which minors could get access.

The case is the latest in a series of stand-offs between conservative MPs and rappers. In 2003, Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister and presidential hopeful, brought a criminal case against the rap band Sniper, saying their music was anti-semitic, racist and insulting. In one song, La France, they called France a "bitch". The case was thrown out of court last year.

The same lawyer who defended Sniper is acting for Makela.

Makela, who was born in Belgium and came to France aged 14, told Le Parisien he did not target any particular group but rapped against "the system". "You can have a critical view of the French state without being anti-French or racist."
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Hey Man, Pimp My Grill!

New York Times
May 28, 2006
Pimp My Grill

The reigning heavyweight is the Talos Outdoor Cooking Suite, for $35,000.

A KALAMAZOO grill can suck a standard tank of propane dry in two and a half hours. Not that backyard grill-users would want to crank every burner simultaneously and reach the full 154,000 B.T.U. capacity of this $11,290, six-and-a-half-foot-wide brute. But, as with a Porsche that can go 175 miles an hour on the autobahn, some owners find it sweet to know they've got that kind of juice under the hood.

"Our gas line had to be doubled in capacity from the house," said Connie Dove of York, Me. She and her husband, Mo Houde, took delivery last year of a Kalamazoo Bread Breaker Two Dual-Fuel grill with an infrared rotisserie cradle system and a side burner.

They hooked the 600-pound stainless steel hulk into their home's main propane supply, choosing not to mess with standard tanks, which each hold only four gallons of fuel. That's enough to allow a typical backyard grill to run at maximum for 15 hours, according to the Propane Education and Research Council in Washington.

"It is very, very powerful," Ms. Dove said. "A turkey you can have in an hour and a half."

The Bread Breaker, which has a temperature gauge that reaches 1,000 degrees, is one of an increasingly popular breed of supergrills that are becoming backyard status symbols, as Americans, mostly of the male variety, peacock with an object that harks back to the earliest days of human existence.

As Memorial Day marks the official beginning of grilling season, many men will find themselves almost genetically drawn to throwing hunks of raw meat onto a fire and poking them with tongs. It's a pull that some will spend almost any amount of money to satisfy, said Pantelis A. Georgiadis, the owner of Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, the grill manufacturer based in Michigan. "There is a market segment we call the 'man cook with fire' types," he said.

When Daniel Conrad, a lawyer, moved to Dallas four years ago from Pittsburgh to join the woman who would become his wife, his parents bought him a small Weber grill. "It wasn't big enough for my ego," Mr. Conrad, 34, said. "So I got this giant enormous Weber grill."

Now, he rushes home to his wife — and to his baby, a Weber Summit Gold D6, to slow-cook ribs or experiment with smoking turkeys. "Grilling has become my creative outlet," Mr. Conrad said. "The only two extravagances I have in my life are my car and my grill." He drives a Mercedes.

And like luxury car owners, many people who splurge on a grill that can simmer, bake and fry are looking to impress.

Last fall, Dave and Allison Petrullo of Commack, N.Y., installed a custom-built Cal Spas grill on their patio with an outdoor refrigerator. They spent more than $100,000 renovating their backyard with a new synthetic deck, masonry, a whirlpool and a pool waterfall, so $6,500 more for Mr. Petrullo to have a brick sanctuary with a Cal Spas grill as its central altar seemed like nothing. "I told him to just go for it," Ms. Petrullo said. "And get your dream barbecue."

Though they have actually cooked on the grill only three times since they installed it, it has been a hit with Mr. Petrullo's friends, who congregate around it at parties and give it a going-over like a pack of high school boys around a Corvette, Ms. Petrullo said. "They like to lift up the hood and play with the knobs," she said. "They open the doors underneath, and they open the fridge next to it to check it out."

The high-end grill market, which generally refers to any grill that costs more than $1,000, started quietly in 1990 when Dynamic Cooking Systems, a company based in California, introduced the DCS Professional Grill. The 48-inch-wide $5,000 appliance, which included H-shaped cast-iron commercial-quality burners, a heavy-duty side-burner and more B.T.U.'s per square inch than any other grill then on the market, was adopted by a few deep-pocketed souls on the grilling vanguard.

But those in the grill industry say the market did not begin to take off until the last half-decade, when homeowners in the West and the South began building increasingly elaborate outdoor areas with brick kitchen islands and ornate all-weather furniture.

"You had the ultrarich people who were buying high-end grills," said Dan Darche, sales manager for Masda Corporation, an outdoor home furnishings distributor based in Whippany, N.J. "But for the more normal families, the concept started to take off abut five or six years ago, and it's been increasing ever since."

Now the high-end grill market accounts for 3 to 4 percent of the 14.5 million grills sold last year, said Don Johnson, the director of market research for the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, the grill industry trade group. It includes about a dozen players.

Viking has its Ultra-Premium line of grills starting around $2,500, which, among other doodads, have adjustable chrome-plated warming racks and stainless steel "flavor-generator plates" that, according to product literature, "catch drippings, generate smoke, minimize flare-ups and allow for better heat control."

Weber, the grill maker founded in Mount Prospect, Ill., in 1952, is refining its most expensive grill, the $2,200 Summit Platinum D6, in response to buyers who want more bells and whistles, said Brooke Jones, a Weber product manager. "They are looking for stainless steel grills and more accessories like rotisseries, warmer drawers, side burners and hand lights," she said.

Lynx, another high-end maker, sells a model with a 54-inch-wide cooking surface (one inch longer than Viking's biggest) for $6,500; it is equipped with dual halogen grill surface lights and red brass burners. The Twin Eagles Pinnacle Grill Series features dual-ring sealed burners and black-stripes across the starkly modern stainless steel silhouette of its base for a "museum-style look," a sales brochure effuses.

But the Queen Mary 2 of outdoor cooking is the $35,000 Talos Outdoor Cooking Suite sold by Frontgate, a luxury goods catalog retailer. The sprawling stainless steel temple features a searing station with a restaurant-style griddle, a hardwood cutting board, two side burners to heat sauces, a warming drawer, 3/8-inch-thick cooking grates, a 16,000-B.T.U. ceramic infrared rotisserie, a bartender module with a sink and a nine-volt electronic ignition system. The company doesn't release specific sales data, but a spokeswoman, Amy Crowley, said that fewer than 50 have been sold.

Some of the new top-of-the-line grills are hybrids, with interchangeable heating drawers that allow cooks to use gas, charcoal or wood for barbecuing. (Barbecuing, which usually involves indirect heat, long cooking times and wood smoke, is different from grilling, which simply means cooking on a grill.)

Many of these grills can reach temperatures of 2,000 degrees — hot enough to melt brass — if used improperly, but grill manufacturers say temperatures should stay under a safe 1,000 degrees (which can melt lead).

"If you load it up with charcoal and light 100,000 B.T.U.'s of propane under it, you're going to have a 2,000-degree fire going," said Russ Faulk, director of marketing for Kalamazoo. "It's not going to lead to cooking success." In addition to the owner's manual, Kalamazoo tries to give in-person training to new grill owners, as do most of the other high-end manufacturers.

But for those who want to stay on top of cooking technology, there is no such thing as too much power; grills have become an extension of their constantly updated kitchens. Describing the family's indoor appliances, Ms. Dove in Maine said: "Our stove is a Frigidaire Profile series with five burners, and we have a Miele wok burner and a Thermador downdraft system. The grill is something that has the glamour of the indoor kitchen."

During summer months her family uses the grill, which they have named Bertha, three to four times a week, but even in winter the short path from the house to the grill is kept shoveled and the grill is fired up at least twice a week. "When you look outside and she's covered up with a grill cover," Ms. Dove said, "she looks like a monster."

Devotees of expensive grills speak of being able to cook multiple dishes at once for large crowds and rave about exacting temperature control. "Because it's so big, you can do things you wouldn't do on a normal grill," Mr. Conrad of Dallas said. "You can cook ribs slowly by putting them on the side of the grill away from the heat. Practically speaking it's fantastic."

Those in the grill business also want to sell buyers on the idea that these grills can do more than just grill. Fireplace Patio Shoppe in Eastchester, N.Y., regularly brings in a chef for cooking demonstrations on a $6,600 Fire Magic Monarch Magnum, which, with the hood down, can flawlessly maintain a temperature of 350 degrees. "He actually cooks a pie," the owner, Darin Del Gardo, said. "Usually apple crumb."

A new breed of grill cuisine is rising along with grill prices. A new book, "Weeknight Grilling With the BBQ Queens" (Harvard Common Press), includes recipes for Blistered Whole Squash, Peppers, and Scallions with Goat Cheese, and Stir-Grilled Spaghetti with Meat Sauce and a Kiss of Smoke.

Still, according to research by the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, hot dogs, burgers, steaks, and chicken are by far the most commonly prepared foods on outdoor grills. As A. Cort Sinnes, author of "The Grilling Book" (Aris Books, 1985), put it, "The way most grills get used, even the expensive ones, is you turn it on, you cook some chicken breasts, and you turn it off."

But does anyone really need to spend thousands of dollars to do that? No, said Chris Schlesinger, chef and owner of the East Coast Grill in Cambridge, Mass., and the author of books about grilling. "Give me two bricks and an oven rack and some wood, and I'll cook you a better steak than any expensive gas grill, hands down," he said. "It might look good in your garden, it might be more convenient, it might impress your friends, but it's not going to cook you a better steak."

Rumors of Classical Music's Demise Are Dead Wrong

So says this author:

New York Times
May 28, 2006
Check the Numbers: Rumors of Classical Music's Demise Are Dead Wrong

EVERYONE has heard the requiems sung for classical music or at least the reports of its failing health: that its audience is graying, record sales have shriveled and the cost of live performance is rising as ticket sales decline. Music education has virtually disappeared from public schools. Classical programming has (all but) disappeared from television and radio. And 17 orchestras have closed in the last 20 years.

All this has of late become the subject of countless blogs, news reports, books and symposiums, with classical music partisans furrowing their brows and debating what went wrong, what can still go wrong and whether it's too late to save this once-exalted industry. Moaning about the state of classical music has itself become an industry. But as pervasive as the conventional wisdom is, much of it is based on sketchy data incorrectly interpreted. Were things better in the old days? Has American culture given up on classical music?

The numbers tell a very different story: for all the hand-wringing, there is immensely more classical music on offer now, both in concerts and on recordings than there was in what nostalgists think of as the golden era of classics in America.

In the record business, for example, it can be depressing to compare the purely classical output of the major labels now with what the industry cranked out from 1950 to 1975. But focusing on the majors is beside the point: the real action has moved to dozens of adventurous smaller companies, ranging from musician-run labels like Bridge, Oxingale and Cantaloupe to ambitious mass marketers like the midprice, repertory-spanning Naxos.

Similarly, someone shopping anywhere but in huge chains like Tower or Virgin might conclude that classical discs are no longer sold. In reality the business model has changed. Internet deep-catalog shops like arkivmusic.com offer virtually any CD in print, something no physical store can do today. The Internet has become a primary resource for classical music: the music itself as well as information about it.

On Apple's iTunes, which sold a billion tracks in its first three years, classical music reportedly accounts for 12 percent of sales, four times its share of the CD market. Both Sony-BMG and Universal say that as their download sales have increased, CD sales have remained steady, suggesting that downloaders are a new market, not simply the same consumers switching formats.

In their first six weeks on iTunes, the New York Philharmonic's download-only Mozart concert sold 2,000 complete copies and about 1,000 individual tracks, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic's two Minimalist concerts, combined, sold 900 copies and about 400 individual tracks. Those numbers, though small by pop standards, exceed what might be expected from sales of orchestral music on standard CD's.

Other orchestras are catching on: the Milwaukee Symphony and Philharmonia Baroque in San Francisco offer downloads on their own Web sites. And the major labels are planning to sell downloads of archival recordings that will not be reissued on CD.

In concert halls, season subscriptions have plummeted in favor of last-minute ticket sales. That doesn't mean the business is tanking, however, just that audiences have shifted their habits. As two-income families have grown busier, potential ticket buyers are less inclined to commit to performances months in advance (or as ticket prices climb, to accept predetermined concert packages). But as much as orchestras and concert presenters would prefer to sell their tickets before the season starts, the seats are hardly empty.

Neither are the stages. The American Symphony Orchestra League puts the number of orchestras in the United States at 1,800 (350 of them professional). The 1,800 ensembles give about 36,000 concerts a year, 30 percent more than in 1994. And in the most recent season for which the league has published figures, 2003-4, orchestras reported an 8 percent increase in operating revenues against a 7 percent increase in expenses, with deficits dropping to 1.1 percent from 2.7 percent of their annual budgets from the previous season.

Meanwhile corners of the field generally ignored in discussions of classical music's mortality — most notably, early music and new music — are true growth industries. When Lincoln Center presented a 10-concert celebration of the composer Osvaldo Golijov this season, there wasn't a spare ticket to be found. The Miller Theater's Gyorgy Ligeti series packed them in as well. And though the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Minimalist Jukebox festival sold slightly fewer tickets than its regular programming, it drew a younger crowd: 25 percent of the audience was said to be under 45 (compared with 15 percent normally), and 10 percent was 25 to 34 (compared with 2 percent).

By relying heavily on contemporary programs and concerts of Renaissance and Baroque works, Miller has achieved an 84 percent increase in ticket sales since 2002, and this season's box office receipts have exceeded last season's by $100,000.

Zankel Hall, the newly built, high-tech, adventurously programmed addition to Carnegie Hall, has produced a steady increase in sold-out houses, from 57 percent of its concerts in 2003-4 (its first season) to 63 percent in the first third of the current season. At Carnegie's main hall and its smaller Weill Recital Hall, ticket sales have been fairly steady since 1982, with 565,000 tickets sold in a slow year and 635,000 in an exceptional one (most recently 2003).

The classical music world has even found a silver lining in the reports about its imminent death. Fund-raising letters now allude to classical music's parlous state as a way of shaking larger donations from supporters. And when EMI needed a marketing hook for Plácido Domingo's "Tristan und Isolde," it jumped on predictions that it would be the last studio recording of an opera.

Finally, concert halls are sprouting like mushrooms. New symphony halls are about to open in Miami, Nashville and Costa Mesa, Calif. (not far from the newly opened Disney Hall in Los Angeles), and Toronto is opening a new opera house in September. Clearly, someone sees a future for this music.

UNDERLYING many of the jeremiads is what might be called golden ageism: the belief, bordering on an article of faith, that everything was better, both artistically and commercially, in the relatively recent past.

To a degree, the golden ageists have a point. From the 1920's through the 70's, classical music was plentiful on the radio and on nascent television. Variety shows like "The Bell Telephone Hour" and "The Ed Sullivan Show" presented both top names and newcomers, and networks offered symphony concerts, opera and seductive introductory shows like Leonard Bernstein's "Young People's Concerts" in prime time.

There was a vogue for films built around classical music and musicians as well: "100 Men and a Girl," with Leopold Stokowski (1937), and "They Shall Have Music," with Jascha Heifetz (1939); "Humoresque," with Isaac Stern on its soundtrack (1946); biographical films like "Rhapsody in Blue" (1945); and extravaganzas like "Fantasia" (1940).

All this made classical music's reigning stars — from Toscanini to Bernstein, from Heifetz to Stern, from Horowitz to Van Cliburn — household names in a way that only Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and Yo-Yo Ma are now.

But the disappearance of this exposure is hardly a lethal wound. Though classical radio stations have become scarce in most cities, the Internet offers a global radio dial. The Internet radio audience is said to be small at the moment, but people who want it will find it. When the BBC offered a Beethoven symphony cycle as a free download last year, 1.4 million people took up the offer. And if classical music is now scarce on television, with even PBS cutting back, DVD labels are pouring out everything from long-forgotten TV performances to newly produced symphonic, chamber and recital discs.

The golden age of concertgoing, meanwhile, is at least partly a matter of idealized memory. Organizations did not collect demographic information then, but musicians and critics who attended concerts during those years remember the audience as always middle-aged (and concert videos bear out those memories). And despite the music's greater visibility in daily life, it was a niche market even then. The pianist Gary Graffman said recently that when he began attending New York Philharmonic concerts at Carnegie Hall in the 1940's and 50's empty seats were plentiful. And among the great soloists, he added, only Heifetz, Rubinstein and Horowitz could expect to sell out Carnegie Hall.

At the time Carnegie was undisputedly the city's premier hall, with Town Hall, Hunter College and the Metropolitan Museum of Art as the principal chamber music and recital halls. Carnegie Recital Hall (now Weill) and the Frick Collection offered chamber concerts as well, and McMillin (now Miller) Theater at Columbia University was a hot spot for new music. When Lincoln Center was planned in the late 1950's, Carnegie Hall narrowly escaped the wrecker's ball. It was thought, however briefly, that two large halls were an extravagance New York didn't need and couldn't sustain.

Consider how things have changed since Philharmonic (now Avery Fisher) Hall opened in 1962. Carnegie, until then a rental hall, began doing its own presentations, and it now offers about 200 concerts a year. Lincoln Center — with its two opera houses, Avery Fisher Hall for orchestras and star-turn recitals and Alice Tully Hall (opened in 1969) for chamber music — quickly undertook its own presentations as well: some 400 annually now, extending to halls and churches beyond its campus.

The 92nd Street Y revived its long-dormant concert series in 1974, and Merkin Concert Hall went up in 1978. Carnegie added Zankel Hall in 2003, and Lincoln Center opened the Rose Theater and the Allen Room — intended mostly for jazz but sometimes used for new-music concerts — in 2004.

Meanwhile the Metropolitan Museum and the Frick Collection remained committed to classical concerts. Small- to medium-size halls at the French Institute/Alliance Française, Scandinavia House and the Austrian Cultural Forum have opened since the late 1980's. And the Morgan Library and Museum opened a new chamber music hall this month.

That's in Manhattan. Just across the rivers, the same period brought a revival of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the construction of the Tilles Center on Long Island and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark and the advent of small but successful enterprises like Bargemusic.

In the deficit column? Town Hall and Hunter College have largely abandoned classical music, although each offers a handful of concerts. But apart from the old Metropolitan Opera House, demolished when the Met moved to Lincoln Center, no halls have closed in New York since Lincoln Center opened.

The concert world has expanded in other ways too. Through the 1950's the music season ran less than 30 weeks. But in 1964 the New York Philharmonic negotiated a 52-week contract with its players. Other orchestras quickly followed suit, and the season grew longer. The Mostly Mozart Festival cropped up in 1966 and spawned similar series around the country. And in 1967 the Ford Foundation began giving orchestras grants for even greater expansion, in most cases, more concerts each week.

The nightly offerings in classical music are immensely more plentiful and varied now than during the supposed golden age. The wonder isn't that audiences fluctuate from night to night or that empty seats can be spotted. It's that so much competition can be sustained in a field usually portrayed as moribund.

One way to keep the gloomy reports in perspective is to understand that the rumored death of classical music has been with us for a very long time.

The Metropolitan Opera was in almost constant financial peril between 1929 and 1944, and there were dicey moments in the 70's. The orchestra world's 1960's expansion caused anxiety as well. In an essay in The New York Times on Sept. 3, 1967, "Do We Have Too Much Music in America?," John O. Crosby, the founder of the Santa Fe Opera, worried that the audience was insufficient to support the blossoming 52-week orchestra contracts.

Those worries were soon born out. In "Dip in Concert Audiences Troubles Impresarios" (Dec. 21, 1968), The Times reported that classical music ticket sales had dropped as much as 40 percent. The reasons included everything from the distractions of television and recordings to street crime, parking difficulties and high ticket prices, meaning a $15 top at the Met and "as much as $8.80" for "other prestige events." Young people reading these reports would have had little reason to expect the classical music world to exist in 2006. But now that those same people have begun "graying," are they joining it? Demographic information over the couple of decades institutions have been collecting it suggests that they are. For whatever reasons — changes in taste, a desire to expand their musical experiences, a lack of interest in current pop — middle-aged listeners continue to join the audience. And the generational shift is coloring both programming and performance.

Listeners now in their 50's — the core classical audience — were the baby boomers who grew up in the 1960's and 70's. For those already interested in classical music during their student years, Shostakovich, Ives and Mahler were musical obsessions, and the early-music boom was a campus phenomenon. All that music, marginal in the 70's, joined the mainstream as those listeners became performers and ticket buyers.

Classically inclined boomers were also new-music agnostics, at home with the rigorous atonality of the previous generation but also open to a trippy avant-garde scene that ran from Cage to the Minimalists. That has had a telling effect too: witness the standing ovations Elliott Carter's music now gets at symphony concerts and the rock-star popularity of John Adams and Philip Glass.

At the same time this generation's fascination with pop has influenced its composers (and younger ones), who draw on the energy of rock. They have also left behind their elders' bias against amplification and sound processing, which they use not simply to increase the volume but also to expand their palettes of timbre. A fascination with world music, which also has roots in the 1960's, has stretched those palettes further.

All this is changing the classical repertory, and to judge from the comparatively young audiences to be seen at concerts by daring groups like the Kronos Quartet and Alarm Will Sound, it is more likely to rejuvenate classical music than kill it.

Woody Allen's "Annie Hall" observation about relationships and sharks — that both must either move forward or die — also works for culture. In classical music, lots of people really just want the dead shark. They pine for the days when Bernstein, Reiner, Szell and Toscanini stood on the podium, with Heifetz fiddling, Horowitz at the piano and Callas and Tebaldi locked in a perpetual diva war. Most of all they want their repertory dials set between 1785 and 1920.

You can send those people your condolences.

For the rest of us, the shark is still moving. We're getting our revivals of Machaut and Rameau along with vigorous reconsiderations of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Mahler and a varied gallery of contemporary composers. We may be hearing much of this in small, high-tech halls instead of cavernous temples of the arts or finding it online instead of in shops or on the radio. But it's all there, constantly renewing itself. You just have to grab onto the dorsal fin.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Lucha Culture

New York Times
May 28, 2006
Who's That Masked Man and Where Did He Learn to Wrestle Like That?

Lourdes Grobet, from the book "Lucha Libre: Masked Superstars of Mexican Wrestling"/D.A.P.

A number of masked wrestlers went on to become movie stars in Mexico, among them Blue Demon.

WHEN Jared Hess, best known as the director of "Napoleon Dynamite," was in Mexico City casting "Nacho Libre," a new comedy in which Jack Black plays a priest in training turned wrestler, he auditioned a number of real-life wrestlers, who showed up wearing colorful masks.

Naturally, Mr. Hess asked them to remove their disguises. But they all refused.

And he thus learned the first rule of Mexican wrestling, known as lucha libre (literally "free fight"): Iconography is everything.

"We learned very quickly that asking them to remove their masks was too much," said Mr. Hess, whose film opens on June 16. "There's a lot of integrity in that."

Integrity is only part of it. Considered kitsch by some, a unique cultural phenomenon by others, masked wrestlers have been popular in Mexico since the 1930's, when an American promoter introduced the concept south of the border. Because masks played a ceremonial role in pre-Columbian Indian cultures, the disguises went over especially well. Today their wearers embody a combination of average Joe and working-class avenger.

"The lucha mask is a symbol of strength and empowerment in the Mexican and Chicano culture," said Michelle Martinez of the Department of Chicano Studies at Arizona State University. "The mask goes back to Aztec and Mayan times, and also brought the luchador to the superhero level. It gave them this larger than human appeal."

The lucha culture spoofed in "Nacho Libre" approached its peak in the 1950's with the ascendancy of El Santo, el Enmascarado de Plata (Santo, the Silver Masked Man), the greatest star of the Mexican ring. Santo, whose real name was Adolfo Guzman Huerta, became a sort of Everyman hero who stood up for the rights of the oppressed. He starred in comic books and more than 50 movies, and because he never removed his mask — either in his films or in public — he remained a mysterious figure even in death. (Guzman Huerta, who died in 1984, was buried in his headgear.)

Other luchadores, with names like Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras (Thousand Masks), followed Santo to the silver screen, and from the 50's through the 80's they appeared in numerous films, battling everyone from Dracula and the Daughter of Frankenstein to the Mummies of Guanajuato. With their cheap production values, cliché-ridden dialogue and barely competent performances, these films make it look as if Ed Wood had a secret career in Spanish-language pulp. But they were enormous successes at the time and gave Hispanic children their own cinematic role models.

"They can be dismissed as sort of low-end rip-offs of other genre films made in America," said the Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro, whose latest work, "Pan's Labyrinth," opens this year. The movies have a "surreal logic to them," he said, "and sometimes they achieve almost a dreamlike quality. There is a zany, non-Anglo sensibility that is less sophisticated, but far more charming in many ways."

Lucha bears only a passing resemblance to the arena rock stylings of American pro wrestling. Although they both have heroes and villains, and many of the rules are the same, the audiences and symbolism are entirely different. In lucha, occasional matches involve masked wrestlers who bet their disguises. If one can unmask the other, the loser must reveal his true identity. And the longer a luchador defends his mask, the higher his status in the ring. There are also matches in which the loser is forced to shave his head, a symbolic moment in the land of machismo.

Lucha libre is "a family event," said Mike White, one of the screenwriters of "Nacho Libre." "When you go to these matches, you see little kids to old ladies. It's a community event, not just for teenage boys."

In recent years lucha has also become an example of rasquachismo, an essentially indefinable term that describes underdog art containing elements borrowed from other cultures. As an illustration, Professor Martinez mentioned a luchador whose headgear features Aztec and Louis Vuitton designs. There are also luchadores who perform under names like Destructor Nazi (complete with swastika armband), Robot R2 and Ultraman. "Lucha," Professor Martinez said, "is really an assemblage of a lot of international influences, but the ritual that goes along with it is very Mexican."

That essential Mexican identity has not stopped American hipsters from latching onto lucha style and adding their own little touches. There are fanboy-oriented lucha Web sites like frompartsunknown.net; several rock bands perform wearing lucha masks; stitching patterns for lucha head gear can be ordered over the Internet. There's even a lucha noir novel called "Hoodtown," and at least two children's cartoon shows, "Mucha Lucha!" and "Ultimate Muscle," have featured lucha performers. Then there's Lucha Va Voom, a touring show of wrestlers, comedians and burlesque that seems to be a convergence of rasquachismo and camp.

"Nacho Libre" borrows its inspiration as well, some of it from historical sources. A 1963 Mexican lucha movie called "El Señor Tormenta" told the story of a priest who becomes a luchador in order to save his orphanage. The film encouraged a real priest, the Rev. Sergio Gutierrez Benítez, to take up wrestling in order to save a shelter for homeless children in the port city of Veracruz. Fighting under the name Fray Tormenta (Brother Storm), he appeared in more than 1,000 matches and raised enough money to shelter more than 3,000 street kids. (A similar story was told in "The Man in the Golden Mask," a 1990 French film starring Jean Reno and Marlee Matlin.)

Mr. Hess, who said he had seen several Santo movies in college and was "blown away by the aura and mystique surrounding luchadores," heard about Fray Tormenta several years ago. When the opportunity arose to make a film about lucha libre, he said, "I jumped at it."

Mr. White added: "Those movies brought Jared to the edge of giddy rapture. It seemed like this was an untapped place to draw comedy from."

Whether "Nacho Libre" will plug into negative Mexican stereotypes is another matter. Lucha may appear to be pop culture kitsch, but its adherents take it seriously. Lourdes Grobet, whose decades-long love affair with the sport culminated in "Lucha Libre: Masked Superstars of Mexican Wrestling," a book of her photographs, said that anyone who thinks lucha and the lucha films are camp is indulging in "a social class prejudice."

Richard Montoya, an actor who appears in the film and is also a member of the Chicano performance-art group Culture Clash, said he believes Mr. Hess "applied his smarts to this" and "found an uncanny way of staying clear" of stereotypes.

"I think a lot of Mexicans will find the real Mexico in this film," Mr. Montoya said. "Besides, it seems every time a Mexican puts on a mask, it changes the world. Zorro wore a mask. Subcomandante Marcos wears a mask. There seems to be something Mexican about the individual who dons the mask but represents the masses."

Friday, May 26, 2006

Desmond Dekker, Rock-steady/Reggae Pioneer (1941-2006)

New York Times
May 26, 2006
Desmond Dekker, Reggae Pioneer, Dies at 64

Filed at 9:40 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Jamaican reggae pioneer Desmond Dekker, famed for the genre's first worldwide hit with ''Israelites,'' has died of a heart attack at his home in England, the Jamaica Observer reported on Friday. He was 64.

The newspaper said the singer/songwriter, whose 1960s fame was eclipsed the following decade by Bob Marley, died on Wednesday.

Although his recording career had been on the wane for decades, Dekker remained a popular concert draw in Europe. He gave his last performance at Leeds University in England on May 11.

Dekker, born Desmond Dacres in the Jamaican capital of Kingston on July 16, 1941, was raised on a diet of such 1950s crooners as Nat ``King'' Cole and Jackie Wilson.

After working initially as a welder, alongside Marley, he began composing songs. He signed with Chinese-Jamaican music label owner Leslie Kong, and scored an immediate hit in 1963 with ``Honor Your Mother and Father.''first taste of success in Britain with ``0.0.7. (Shanty Town),'' which was inspired by student riots in Jamaica. It eventually peaked at No. 14 on the U.K. charts, and was featured on the soundtrack of the 1972 film ``The Harder They Come.''

In 1969, he enjoyed his biggest success with the propulsive reggae classic ``Israelites,'' four years before Marley truly brought reggae into the mainstream. The song's hard-luck lyrics -- ``Get up in the morning, slaving for bread, sir'' -- delivered in Dekker's mellifluous voice, resonated around the world. It topped the charts in the U.K. and many other countries, and reached the top 10 in the United States.

``It's about how hard things were for a lot of people in Jamaica -- downtrodden, like the Israelites that led Moses to the Promised Land,'' Dekker said in the liner notes for the 2005 career retrospective ``You Can Get It If You Really Want.''

``I was really saying, don't give up, things will get better if you just hold out long enough.''

Many of Dekker's hits, including ``Rude Boy Train,'' were about rude culture, which grew out of the Jamaica slums in the early 1960s. The term ``rude,'' as in ``rude boy,'' referred to someone who was cool or hip.

Dekker also enjoyed a U.K. hit in 1970 with a cover of Jimmy Cliff's ``You Can Get It If You Really Want,'' which he recorded only at the behest of Kong. He settled in England about this time, but his chart success was largely over.

He recorded sporadically, and mounted a short-lived comeback attempt in 1980 on the heels of a major ska revival. Four years later, he was declared bankrupt.

Dekker was divorced with a son and a daughter.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Dixie Chicks vs. Country Fans (and Industry)

New York Times
May 25, 2006
Critic's Notebook
It's Dixie Chicks vs. Country Fans, but Who's Dissing Whom?

At the Academy of Country Music awards on Tuesday night, the host, Reba McEntire, made an unfunny joke. "If the Dixie Chicks can sing with their foot in their mouths, surely I can host this sucker," she said. The setup was pretty awkward. And when you stopped to think about it, the punch line really wasn't one. But none of that mattered. The line earned one of the night's most enthusiastic ovations.

It has been more than three years since Natalie Maines, the Dixie Chicks' lead singer, told a London audience, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." The comment, delivered less than two weeks before the invasion of Iraq, sparked a feud with Toby Keith and, it seemed, the entire country-music establishment.

Mr. Keith has since moved on, but country fans clearly haven't. As the Dixie Chicks promote their new album, "Taking the Long Way" (Open Wide/Columbia), they are clearly country-music pariahs. Country radio is snubbing the album. And you know you've got an image problem when even Ms. McEntire is piling on.

It's not hard to sympathize with Ms. Maines and her two band mates, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison. They say they have had to contend with violent threats, and former fans call them bimbos and worse. (For female stars being outspoken carries particular risks.) Against this backdrop the three are presenting themselves as free-speech heroes, pilloried for expressing their political beliefs.

But this isn't really a fight about President Bush or freedom of speech. This is a fight about the identity of country music. There's a contract that binds country singers to their fans, and the Dixie Chicks have broken it.

The Dixie Chicks were once considered too country for country radio. They didn't take off until Ms. Maguire and Ms. Robison, who are sisters, replaced their twangy old singer with Ms. Maines, who has always seemed like a pop star. Two brilliant albums — "Wide Open Spaces," from 1998, and "Fly," from 1999 — made them the era's top-selling country act. When their brash (and sometimes mischievous) songs crossed over to pop radio, many country fans felt proud to see a group of their own doing so well.

Country fans are loyal, but they're not low-maintenance. By the time Ms. Maines made her statement in 2003, many were already questioning the trio's commitment: would they leave their old supporters behind?

For mistrustful listeners in search of an answer, Ms. Maines's comments provided one. Forget about President Bush: she had used the words "ashamed" and "Texas" in the same sentence, and she had done it on foreign soil. She meant to insult the president, but some former fans thought they heard her insulting Texans, and therefore Southerners, and therefore nonmetropolitan listeners everywhere.

This interpretation may seem specious. And yet Ms. Maines and her band mates seem to be going out of their way to prove their detractors right. Instead of fighting for their old fans, the Dixie Chicks seem to be dismissing them.

On "60 Minutes" Ms. Maguire told Steve Kroft that their concerts weren't typical country concerts. "When I looked out in the audience, I didn't see rednecks," she said. (Did her lip curl slightly as she pronounced the r-word?) "I saw a more progressive crowd."

And in a Time magazine cover story she said the group would rather have "a smaller following of really cool people who get it," as opposed to "people that have us in their five-disc changer with Reba McEntire and Toby Keith." (It would seem Ms. McEntire got her revenge.) Perhaps there's a difference between this attitude and simple snobbery, but you can't blame country fans if they don't much feel like splitting hairs.

The contract between country stars and their fans involves more than a little make-believe. Globe-trotting millionaires often pander to suburban middle-class listeners by evoking a mythical rural life. You can hear a hint of anti-Maines sentiment in "Boondocks," the recent hit by the Chicks-influenced group Little Big Town: "I feel no shame/I'm proud of where I came from/I was born and raised in the boondocks."

The Nashville establishment is not politically monolithic. The most depressing thing about this whole episode is the way the Dixie Chicks have conflated politics and culture, Bush supporters and "rednecks." The unintended implication is that only sophisticated city folk oppose the war in Iraq, and only "rednecks" support the president.

Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, country music's most popular couple, made headlines — without, it seems, losing fans — when they criticized the government's handling of Hurricane Katrina at a news conference in March. Mr. McGraw blamed "the leader of the free world" for not holding people accountable for rebuilding the region.

And even as Ms. Maines cites the famously pro-Kerry rock star Bruce Springsteen as a role model, the country channel CMT has been broadcasting an hourlong special on the making of Mr. Springsteen's most recent album, which happens to be full of protest songs. These days Mr. Springsteen might be more visible on CMT than the Dixie Chicks are.

The first single from "Taking the Long Way" is "Not Ready to Make Nice," a defiant song that hasn't, of course, found a home on country radio or CMT. (The follow-up is a gentler — but still defiant — love song, "Everybody Knows.") And while the Dixie Chicks would love to position themselves as underdogs, the truth is that they have probably never been more beloved by the mainstream media. It's hard to complain about your musical career when you're plastered on the front of Time.

The Dixie Chicks are still a joy to hear, and they'll have plenty of fans no matter what. The Nashville game is hard work; it brings out the best in some singers and frustrates others. If the Dixie Chicks don't want to play that game, that's certainly their prerogative. But they might at least acknowledge that they've been playing it for years, and reaping its rewards. And they shouldn't be too surprised if some fans jeer — angry, but also disappointed — as they walk off the court.

Politically Conservative Classic Rock?

I would love to see what the National Review had to say when these songs first came out. A rather weak story that has novelty value from today's NYT:

New York Times
May 25, 2006
Listening to Rock and Hearing Sounds of Conservatism

It is a primal moment in rock. In the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," Roger Daltrey sings about gladly fighting in the street for a "new revolution," and with a virtual mushroom cloud of guitar behind him, lets out a fearless cry. But what is the political message?

Classic conservatism, says National Review, the venerable conservative magazine, which in its latest issue offers a list of the "top 50 conservative rock songs of all time." Its No. 1 choice is "Won't Get Fooled Again," which ends with the cynical acceptance that nothing really changes in revolution: "Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss."

"It is in my view a counterrevolutionary song," John J. Miller, the author of the article, said in a phone interview yesterday. "It's the notion that revolutions are often failures, like the French Revolution leading to Napoleon. The song is skeptical about revolutionary idealism in the end, and that's a very conservative idea."

Among the other conservative ideas that Mr. Miller found in the songs — most of them hits, many of them classics — are opposition to taxation ("Taxman" by the Beatles, at No. 2) and a preference for abstinence before marriage ("Wouldn't It Be Nice" by the Beach Boys, at No. 5).

Mr. Miller, 36, a political reporter for the magazine, said the list was meant to take issue with the idea that rock's politics are essentially liberal, and to offer an alternative view.

"Any claim that rock is fundamentally revolutionary is just kind of silly," he said. "It's so mainstream that it puts them" — liberals — "in the position of saying that at no time has there ever been a rock song that expressed a sentiment that conservatives can appreciate. And that's just silly. In fact here are 50 of them."

Asked to comment on the list, Dave Marsh, the longtime rock critic and avowed lefty, saw it as a desperate effort by the right to co-opt popular culture. "What happened was, my side won the culture war, in the sense that rock and related music is the dominant musical form, not only in the U.S. but around the world," he said. "Once you lose that battle, you lose the war, and then a different kind of battle begins: the battle over meaning."

The list comes at a time when liberal protest songs are gaining popularity. Public approval of the Bush administration and the Iraq war is at a low, and the patriotic sentiments expressed in some rock and country songs in the aftermath of 9/11 seem to have vanished.

Mr. Miller's criteria were broad: the songs had to be good and express classically conservative ideas "such as skepticism of government or support for traditional values." Mr. Miller posted an item on the magazine's Web site, www.nationalreview.com, late last year and received hundreds of responses, he said.

The choices, accompanied by quotations from the lyrics and pithy remarks by Mr. Miller, can be surprisingly persuasive. (The entire list, with explanations, is at nytimes.com/arts.) Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" (No. 4) is "a tribute to the region that liberals love to loathe," and "Der Kommissar" by After the Fire (No. 24) is praised for criticizing Communist East Germany. A few seem a stretch, like Sammy Hagar's "I Can't Drive 55" (No. 38), called "a rocker's objection to the nanny state."

Mr. Miller said that in choosing the songs, "I made an effort for a fair amount of diversity" in the ages of the artists represented. But the list is also overwhelmingly white and male. Among the few black or female artists are Living Colour ("Cult of Personality," No. 18) and Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders ("My City Was Gone," No. 13), Dolores O'Riordan of the Cranberries ("The Icicle Melts," No. 41) and Tammy Wynette ("Stand by Your Man," N0. 50).

Sean Wilentz, the Princeton history professor, who has also written liner notes for Bob Dylan, said it was no surprise that such ideas can be traced through rock. "Of course there's 'conservatism' in rock 'n' roll," he wrote in an e-mail message. "There's everything in rock 'n' roll, just as there's everything in America."

National Review's Top 50 "Conservative" Rock Songs

National Review via the New York Times
May 25, 2006
Conservative Top 50

It kind of reads like a school paper article:

Following is National Review's list of its top 50 conservative rock songs, with the magazine's explanations of its choices.

1. "Won't Get Fooled Again," by The Who.
The conservative movement is full of disillusioned revolutionaries; this could be their theme song, an oath that swears off naive idealism once and for all. "There's nothing in the streets / Looks any different to me / And the slogans are replaced, by—the—bye. . . . Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss." The instantly recognizable synthesizer intro, Pete Townshend's ringing guitar, Keith Moon's pounding drums, and Roger Daltrey's wailing vocals make this one of the most explosive rock anthems ever recorded — the best number by a big band, and a classic for conservatives.

2. "Taxman," by The Beatles.
A George Harrison masterpiece with a famous guitar riff (which was actually played by Paul McCartney): "If you drive a car, I'll tax the street / If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat / If you get too cold, I'll tax the heat / If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet." The song closes with a humorous jab at death taxes: "Now my advice for those who die / Declare the pennies on your eyes."

3. "Sympathy for the Devil," by The Rolling Stones.
Don't be misled by the title; this song is "The Screwtape Letters" of rock. The devil is a tempter who leans hard on moral relativism — he will try to make you think that "every cop is a criminal / And all the sinners saints." What's more, he is the sinister inspiration for the cruelties of Bolshevism: "I stuck around St. Petersburg / When I saw it was a time for a change / Killed the czar and his ministers / Anastasia screamed in vain."

4. "Sweet Home Alabama," by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
A tribute to the region of America that liberals love to loathe, taking a shot at Neil Young's Canadian arrogance along the way: "A Southern man don't need him around anyhow."

5. "Wouldn't It Be Nice," by The Beach Boys.
Pro—abstinence and pro—marriage: "Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true / Baby then there wouldn't be a single thing we couldn't do / We could be married / And then we'd be happy."

6. "Gloria," by U2.
Just because a rock song is about faith doesn't mean that it's conservative. But what about a rock song that's about faith and whose chorus is in Latin? That's beautifully reactionary: "Gloria / In te domine / Gloria / Exultate."

7. "Revolution," by The Beatles.
"You say you want a revolution / Well you know / We all want to change the world . . . Don't you know you can count me out?" What's more, Communism isn't even cool: "If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao / You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow." (Someone tell the Che Guevara crowd.)

8. "Bodies," by The Sex Pistols.
Violent and vulgar, but also a searing anti—abortion anthem by the quintessential punk band: "It's not an animal / It's an abortion."

9. "Don't Tread on Me," by Metallica.
A head—banging tribute to the doctrine of peace through strength, written in response to the first Gulf War: "So be it / Threaten no more / To secure peace is to prepare for war."

10. "20th Century Man," by The Kinks.
"You keep all your smart modern writers / Give me William Shakespeare / You keep all your smart modern painters / I'll take Rembrandt, Titian, da Vinci, and Gainsborough. . . . I was born in a welfare state / Ruled by bureaucracy / Controlled by civil servants / And people dressed in grey / Got no privacy got no liberty / 'Cause the 20th—century people / Took it all away from me."

11. "The Trees," by Rush.
Before there was Rush Limbaugh, there was Rush, a Canadian band whose lyrics are often libertarian. What happens in a forest when equal rights become equal outcomes? "The trees are all kept equal / By hatchet, axe, and saw."

12. "Neighborhood Bully," by Bob Dylan.
A pro—Israel song released in 1983, two years after the bombing of Iraq's nuclear reactor, this ironic number could be a theme song for the Bush Doctrine: "He destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad / The bombs were meant for him / He was supposed to feel bad / He's the neighborhood bully."

13. "My City Was Gone," by The Pretenders.
Virtually every conservative knows the bass line, which supplies the theme music for Limbaugh's radio show. But the lyrics also display a Jane Jacobs sensibility against central planning and a conservative's dissatisfaction with rapid change: "I went back to Ohio / But my pretty countryside / Had been paved down the middle / By a government that had no pride."

14. "Right Here, Right Now," by Jesus Jones.
The words are vague, but they're also about the fall of Communism and the end of the Cold War: "I was alive and I waited for this. . . . Watching the world wake up from history."

15. "I Fought the Law," by The Crickets.
The original law—and—order classic, made famous in 1965 by The Bobby Fuller Four and covered by just about everyone since then.

16. "Get Over It," by The Eagles.
Against the culture of grievance: "The big, bad world doesn't owe you a thing." There's also this nice line: "I'd like to find your inner child and kick its little ass."

17. "Stay Together for the Kids," by Blink 182.
A eulogy for family values by an alt—rock band whose members were raised in a generation without enough of them: "So here's your holiday / Hope you enjoy it this time / You gave it all away. . . . It's not right."

18. "Cult of Personality," by Living Colour.
A hard—rocking critique of state power, whacking Mussolini, Stalin, and even JFK: "I exploit you, still you love me / I tell you one and one makes three / I'm the cult of personality."

19. "Kicks," by Paul Revere and the Raiders.
An anti—drug song that is also anti—utopian: "Well, you think you're gonna find yourself a little piece of paradise / But it ain't happened yet, so girl you better think twice."

20. "Rock the Casbah," by The Clash.
After 9/11, American radio stations were urged not to play this 1982 song, one of the biggest hits by a seminal punk band, because it was seen as too provocative. Meanwhile, British Forces Broadcasting Service (the radio station for British troops serving in Iraq) has said that this is one of its most requested tunes.

21. "Heroes," by David Bowie.
A Cold War love song about a man and a woman divided by the Berlin Wall. No moral equivalence here: "I can remember / Standing / By the wall / And the guns / Shot above our heads / And we kissed / As though nothing could fall / And the shame / Was on the other side / Oh we can beat them / For ever and ever."

22. "Red Barchetta," by Rush.
In a time of "the Motor Law," presumably legislated by green extremists, the singer describes family reunion and the thrill of driving a fast car — an act that is his "weekly crime."

23. "Brick," by Ben Folds Five.
Written from the perspective of a man who takes his young girlfriend to an abortion clinic, this song describes the emotional scars of "reproductive freedom": "Now she's feeling more alone / Than she ever has before. . . . As weeks went by / It showed that she was not fine."

24. "Der Kommissar," by After the Fire.
On the misery of East German life: "Don't turn around, uh—oh / Der Kommissar's in town, uh—oh / He's got the power / And you're so weak / And your frustration / Will not let you speak." Also a hit song for Falco, who wrote it.

25. "The Battle of Evermore," by Led Zeppelin.
The lyrics are straight out of Robert Plant's Middle Earth period — there are lines about "ring wraiths" and "magic runes" — but for a song released in 1971, it's hard to miss the Cold War metaphor: "The tyrant's face is red."

26. "Capitalism," by Oingo Boingo.
"There's nothing wrong with Capitalism / There's nothing wrong with free enterprise. . . . You're just a middle class, socialist brat / From a suburban family and you never really had to work."

27. "Obvious Song," by Joe Jackson.
For property rights and economic development, and against liberal hypocrisy: "There was a man in the jungle / Trying to make ends meet / Found himself one day with an axe in his hand / When a voice said 'Buddy can you spare that tree / We gotta save the world — starting with your land' / It was a rock 'n' roll millionaire from the USA / Doing three to the gallon in a big white car / And he sang and he sang 'til he polluted the air / And he blew a lot of smoke from a Cuban cigar."

28. "Janie's Got a Gun," by Aerosmith.
How the right to bear arms can protect women from sexual predators: "What did her daddy do? / It's Janie's last I.O.U. / She had to take him down easy / And put a bullet in his brain / She said 'cause nobody believes me / The man was such a sleaze / He ain't never gonna be the same."

29. "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," by Iron Maiden.
A heavy—metal classic inspired by a literary classic. How many other rock songs quote directly from Samuel Taylor Coleridge?

30. "You Can't Be Too Strong," by Graham Parker.
Although it's not explicitly pro—life, this tune describes the horror of abortion with bracing honesty: "Did they tear it out with talons of steel, and give you a shot so that you wouldn't feel?"

31. "Small Town," by John Mellencamp.
A Burkean rocker: "No, I cannot forget where it is that I come from / I cannot forget the people who love me."

32. "Keep Your Hands to Yourself," by The Georgia Satellites.
An outstanding vocal performance, with lyrics that affirm old—time sexual mores: "She said no huggy, no kissy until I get a wedding vow."

33. "You Can't Always Get What You Want," by The Rolling Stones.
You can "[go] down to the demonstration" and vent your frustration, but you must understand that there's no such thing as a perfect society — there are merely decent and free ones.

34. "Godzilla," by Blue Ayster Cult.
A 1977 classic about a big green monster — and more: "History shows again and again / How nature points up the folly of men."

35. "Who'll Stop the Rain," by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Written as an anti—Vietnam War song, this tune nevertheless is pessimistic about activism and takes a dim view of both Communism and liberalism: "Five—year plans and new deals, wrapped in golden chains . . ."

36. "Government Cheese," by The Rainmakers.
A protest song against the welfare state by a Kansas City band that deserved more success than it got. The first line: "Give a man a free house and he'll bust out the windows."

37. "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," by The Band.
Despite its sins, the American South always has been about more than racism — this song captures its pride and tradition.

38. "I Can't Drive 55," by Sammy Hagar.
A rocker's objection to the nanny state. (See also Hagar's pro—America song "VOA.")

39. "Property Line," by The Marshall Tucker Band.
The secret to happiness, according to these southern—rock heavyweights, is life, liberty, and property: "Well my idea of a good time / Is walkin' my property line / And knowin' the mud on my boots is mine."

40. "Wake Up Little Susie," by The Everly Brothers.
A smash hit in 1957, back when high—school social pressures were rather different from what they have become: "We fell asleep, our goose is cooked, our reputation is shot."

41. "The Icicle Melts," by The Cranberries.
A pro—life tune sung by Irish warbler Dolores O'Riordan: "I don't know what's happening to people today / When a child, he was taken away . . . 'Cause nine months is too long."

42. "Everybody's a Victim," by The Proclaimers.
Best known for their smash hit "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)," this Scottish band also recorded a catchy song about the problem of suspending moral judgment: "It doesn't matter what I do / You have to say it's all right . . . Everybody's a victim / We're becoming like the USA."

43. "Wonderful," by Everclear. A child's take on divorce: "I don't wanna hear you say / That I will understand someday / No, no, no, no / I don't wanna hear you say / You both have grown in a different way / No, no, no, no / I don't wanna meet your friends / And I don't wanna start over again / I just want my life to be the same / Just like it used to be."

44. "Two Sisters," by The Kinks.
Why the "drudgery of being wed" is more rewarding than bohemian life.

45. "Taxman, Mr. Thief," by Cheap Trick.
An anti—tax protest song: "You work hard, you went hungry / Now the taxman is out to get you. . . . He hates you, he loves money."

46. "Wind of Change," by The Scorpions.
A German hard—rock group's optimistic power ballad about the end of the Cold War and national reunification: "The world is closing in / Did you ever think / That we could be so close, like brothers / The future's in the air / I can feel it everywhere / Blowing with the wind of change."

47. "One," by Creed.
Against racial preferences: "Society blind by color / Why hold down one to raise another / Discrimination now on both sides / Seeds of hate blossom further."

48. "Why Don't You Get a Job," by The Offspring.
The lyrics aren't exactly Shakespearean, but they're refreshingly blunt and they capture a motive force behind welfare reform.

49. "Abortion," by Kid Rock.
A plaintive song sung by a man who confronts his unborn child's abortion: "I know your brothers and your sister and your mother too / Man I wish you could see them too."

50. "Stand By Your Man," by Tammy Wynette.
Hillary trashed it — isn't that enough? If you're worried that Wynette's original is too country, then check out the cover version by Motörhead.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Japanese War-Tubas

Check out this page of "Acoustic Locators," which includes this an incredible photo of so-called Japanese War-Tubas: devices that were supposed to pick up an extraordinary amount of sound to help locate enemy aircraft (pre-radar days, obviously). There are several devices from many countries on this page:


Here's the Japanese device:

(Pop) Music Minus One Downloads

AP: Web retailer sells downloads for musicians

45 minutes ago

A new Web site is trying a different twist on digital music sales by selling songs that consumers can purchase stripped of musical parts such as drums, keyboards, guitar or bass guitar.

DreamMusician.com hopes to entice musicians who want to play along to hits by artists like Smash Mouth, Tears For Fears, Rick James and others while pretending they're actually filling in on a given part.

The site, which launched earlier this month, sells song downloads for about $2 each and compilations of the same song with different instrumental parts removed starting at about $18. The tracks are downloaded in the Windows Media Audio format.

Universal Music Group said Wednesday it licensed instrumental tracks from the original masters of approximately 50 songs to the Web retailer. Among the UMG artists whose works are available on the site are Marvin Gaye, Jackson 5 and Elton John.

The Web site says it expects to offer more than 1,000 songs, or 10,000 tracks, by the end of the year.


On the Net:

DreamMusician: http://www.dreammusician.com

We Morbid Americans

Behold the "Hoffa cupcakes" on sale at the Milford Baking Company on Tuesday. As you know, the FBI is currently searching for former Teamster Boss Jimmy Hoffa's remains in Milford Michigan.

After this, Madonna on the cross looks downright tame.

Photo credit: Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times

Mistress of the Grand (Controversial) (Narcissistic) (Promotional Genius) Gesture

Behold the the crucifix (disco ball version) prop on Madonna's current tour, which has given her more news coverage than any publicist could hope for. After two decades of these kinds of gestures, it is dubious that any fans would turn away from her at this point, so all this news of her latest "controversy" is just promo/hype fuel, free for the taking. Madonna plays with the press/nation's pop sensibility like a cat plays with a mouse toy.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

All About Taylor Guitars

Strummin' along ...

Love of woodworking yields guitars that are Taylor-made
By Frank Green

May 23, 2006

Taylor Guitars president and co-founder Bob Taylor, shown in the final finishing area at the El Cajon factory, has seen the 32-year-old company grow from three employees to 420. SCOTT LINNETT / Union-Tribune

Bob Taylor has never been one to go with the grain.

While his playmates spent their days on baseball and similar pursuits in the mid-1960s, Taylor was already showing signs of being a woodworking wizard, working with his father to build some of the family's furniture in San Diego's Clairemont neighborhood.

“I was a dweeb, a dork, a wood shop nerd who couldn't catch a ball, didn't have a girlfriend,” remembers Taylor, who won several state industrial-arts awards during his junior high and high school years, including one for fashioning a palm-sized jeweler's vise.

“My dreams came true building things . . . guitars, a desk lamp made out of sheet metal, an ice cream scoop,” he said.

That natural penchant for design and engineering has brought the sweet sounds of success for Taylor, a master guitar maker and co-founder and president of Taylor Guitars in El Cajon.

Taylor, who built his first guitar while in high school, presides over a $62 million company that will produce 67,000 guitars this year. That's up from $45 million and 46,000 guitars five years ago, as a higher percentage of Americans tap into their inner John Mayer.

Taylor guitars range from a $368 basic spruce Baby Taylor to a $12,348 Brazilian rosewood acoustic-electric 12-string.

Among the rock and country music cognoscente who pluck Taylor's elegant, high-gloss acoustic instruments are Prince, R.E.M., Clint Black and Pearl Jam.

“Qualitywise, (Taylor guitars) are universally accepted as top-notch,” said Teja Gerken, gear editor at Acoustic Guitar magazine in San Anselmo.

Jason Mraz, the million-selling singer-songwriter, travels to concerts lugging seven Taylors, including a new nylon-string Grand Concert model with a mahogany back and sides, red cedar top, Indian rosewood overlay and an ebony bridge.

“Other brands tend to change sound when all you hear is just the amplified version of the instrument,” said Mraz, who wrote hits like “Wordplay” in his bedroom at home in San Diego. “So when it comes time to perform, I want the guitar to sound as intimate as it does at home.”

Taylor, tall and bespectacled, reminisced recently in his office at the company factory off Gillespie Way. He was dressed as he is on most workdays in T-shirt, jeans and running shoes.

Taylor, born in Oakland to a Navy family struggling to pay the bills, settled in San Diego in 1964 when he was 9 and beginning to show talent as a wood and metal craftsman. As a boy, Taylor also was curious as to how model locomotives and other machines functioned.

“He got a clock once and took it apart to see how it worked, then put it back together perfectly,” said Dick Taylor, his father and a woodworker himself. “Bob didn't like sitting around watching TV or reading. He liked building things.”

Taylor tried to build his first guitar when he was in the fourth grade, using one he'd bought from a friend for several dollars. He ended up sawing off the guitar neck in an attempt to build a better model.

Later, Taylor would watch boyhood friend Michael Broward play guitar in his garage across the street. “I'd plug in my amp, stand next to the washer and dryer and play to the songs on the radio, like 'I'm Henry VIII, I Am,' ” said Broward.

Taylor subsequently took guitar lessons from a teacher who came to the Taylor home and tutored him on a low-end guitar bought at Fedmart.

He didn't get serious about constructing an instrument from scratch until his junior year in wood shop at Madison High School. “I'd seen an EKO 12-string guitar in a music store window, but couldn't afford it,” Taylor said.

Armed with the book “Classic Guitar Construction” presented to him by his wood shop teacher, he proceeded to build three guitars during the next two years.

The construction quality got him a job at a Lemon Grove guitar factory upon high school graduation in 1973. It was a somewhat unlikely job for Taylor, a religious man who's also politically conservative.

The facility, American Dream, was “a hippie shop. . . . If you hung out, you got a work bench,” Taylor recalled.

It was there that Taylor first met Kurt Listug, who would become his longtime business partner. The two and another investor bought the shop in 1974 with $10,000 raised from family members and friends.

Bob Taylor, who founded Taylor Guitars with Kurt Listug and another partner in 1974, inspected a group of Dreadnought guitars in the El Cajon company's early days.

Building guitars was one thing, but learning to market them took years of trial and error. For the first several years, the company barely sold enough instruments to keep the spray paint machines running.

“When I first met him, he was eating tomato soup out of a can. . . . He was not making any money,” said Cindy Taylor, who's been married to Taylor for 28 years.

Listug often would go on the road to persuade music stores to carry the guitars, while Taylor minded the store. “I was hand carving guitars from 7 a.m. to midnight for three to four years,” said Taylor, who also found time to play up to four concerts a week in a Christian music band.

One of the first signs that all the hard work was being appreciated came with the release of Neil Young's concert documentary “Rust Never Sleeps” in 1978. On the big screen was the folk-rocker playing a Taylor.

Other indirect endorsements came in the early '80s from the Eagles' Glenn Frey and rocker David Crosby, who was quoted as saying, “I didn't buy two (Taylor guitars) by accident.”

Taylor Guitars entered a higher level in the mid-1980s when funk-rock star Prince began playing a Taylor in the artist's trademark purple. It was during this period that Taylor fashioned a green guitar for the cover of a Christmas album by country rockers Alabama and a red guitar for Sammy Hagar.

Taylor guitars were in vogue, if not yet too hot to handle.

Today, Taylor Guitars employs 420 at its El Cajon factory and a new factory south of the border in Tecate. The Tecate facility provides woodwork support for the firm's entry-level guitars and for guitar cases as the company battles lower-cost – some say lower-quality – manufacturers in China and elsewhere.

The factory “is the answer for the mid-price guitar market,” said Taylor. “If Tijuana and Tecate are doing well, that's good for San Diego.”

Taylor Guitars competes in the $7.5 billion instrument industry with such companies as Nazareth, Penn.-based Martin Guitars, whose client roster includes icons like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.

Taylor and Martin “have a good relationship and friendship, even if there is more than healthy competition,” said Martin spokesman Dick Boak, noting that his larger company will have revenues this year of nearly $90 million and produce about 90,000 acoustic instruments.

“It's not uncommon for our employees to take a tour of their factory, and vice versa,” he said.

Taylor, who's hand-carved hundreds of guitars over the years, remains an active woodworker – but rarely touches a headstock or guitar neck. The production of Taylor guitars is now mostly accomplished via computer-programmed milling machines that render accuracy of better than .0005 of an inch, while the wood used to connect neck and bottom is likewise formed to machine specifications.

“I love this technology and do not regret going toward it,” said Taylor, noting that nearly every guitar factory has followed his lead over the years. He partly attributed the easy transition the company has made to sophisticated tooling machines to industrial arts classes he took in high school.

“Machines have never scared me, whereas many luthiers have never really worked with machines, as they approached guitar making from an arts-crafts point of view,” he said.

Taylor often retreats to his wood shop near the factory; it's equipped with high-end table saws, sanders and other equipment. His current project is building a walnut desk for his office.

He attends weekly services at Skyline Wesleyan Church in La Mesa with his wife and until a recent break had played guitar at services for 20 years.

“I've never lapsed,” said Taylor. “I made up my mind about (religious) things early, and I live my life accordingly.”

The couple recently bought a $700,000, 10,000-square-foot house in Indiana to accommodate up to four missionary families who need rest from religious work in Croatia and other world hot spots.

The Taylors' daughters are on their own now: Minet, 25, works at Neiman Marcus, and Natalie, 20, is a student at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa.

If Taylor has a pet peeve, it's the demise in the public school system of industrial arts programs like the ones he thrived on as a youngster. Part of the problem has been the trend to focus on academic study programs tailored for precollege work, he said.

The company has tried to do its part to keep musical interests alive in children by donating more than 1,000 guitars to area school districts in the last five or six years.

Taylor's next project will be overseeing construction of a new Rancho San Diego home, an Italian courtyard-style residence that could cost up to $4 million. In addition to 6,000 square feet of living space, the floor plan includes a 2,000-square-foot quilting room.

And, of course, a 2,500-square-foot wood shop.