Troika Music Festival

Durham, as usual, has not let me down in terms of live music this past weekend. I was able to catch a blistering set by Caltrop at the Pinhook, followed by Hammer No More The Fingers, Rat Jackson, The Moaners, Gentleman Jesse, and a whole bunch more bands who’s names have already been forgotten by me. The D-Town Brass kicked off Saturday night’s festivities at Duke Coffee House and the crowd seemed pleased to see us.

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Braces

Here is a brace I finished recently. It combines aspects of everything we do in the shop… metal work shaped by hand to closely fit the contours of plastic bracing with a heavily stitched leather cuff and dacron strapping. The heel cup was specially designed to accommodate the patient, who sawed his previous brace apart to fit inside his cowboy boots.

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Iconoclast

Iconoclast remain one of my favorite bands of all times. I have been listening to the same three songs by them for almost 25 years. I still know next to nothing about the band. I ordered their ep from Flipside after hearing their standout tune on the (still unbelievable) P.E.A.C.E. Compilation. They embody everything I love about hardcore music: receiving the record was like receiving a weapon. It was murky, angry, grimy, spraypainted hardcore with radical politics and mysterious origins. Just look at this video… who the hell are these guys?!?

One thing is for sure, they knew what they were doing with their no-name equipment. I remember blowing up the dove logo with the broken bomb on a photocopier and then creating a stencil cut out of a record sleeve and painted it on one of my dad’s old army shirts to wear to a protest after the United States bombed Libya. I remember that I called in sick to work after school to go to that protest. The next day, one of my co-workers said they saw me on the news afterwards, so I learned early on that being a true anarchist involves getting into trouble a lot.

Years later, the record surfaced out of my collection when I traded it for a rare volume of photographs by Art Shay documenting the Chicago neighborhood where I was living at the time. The guy had worked for Art Shay and he had two copies. The record was then traded to a collector in Japan who had been lusting after it for his whole life, probably. I still have the book. It is a collaborative tour of Wicker Park from the 40’s to the 60’s led by Nelson Algren, who had lived with Simone de Beauvoir right up the street from my apartment. When I look at the photographs, I see the exact same neighborhood where I lived. The memories are distant, gritty and urban. I feel like I am the same as everyone in that book. It is the feeling of anonymity swallowed up by time.

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The Bootlegs – Bull City Soul Revue

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Carphone and I have successfully auditioned as the singer and bass player of the Bootlegs, a Durham-based soul band. Rehearsals begin tomorrow featuring songs by Aretha, Ike and Tina, and the JB’s. For this outing, I have rebuilt my bass with a 1975 Fender Precision maple neck and electronics, an 80’s tortoise shell pickguard, a heavy brass Fender Precision Special bridge, and a richly scuffed and patina’d black body of indeterminate vintage. The Ampeg SVT-350 powers the whole thing.

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Shop Class as Soulcraft

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By the time of my layoff from the cushy graphic design position I occupied at the tanking and corrupt MCI WorldCom in 2004, I had established myself as a dependable co-worker and recognized employee. There was nothing difficult about the rules of the job, expectations were easy to anticipate and exceed. My ability to multitask was top-notch. Indeed, the spike in the amount of awards I received coincided directly with the invention of Napster and the availability of non-stop, music-junkie euphoria that kept me tied to the keyboard all day now and which served as my salve against the monotony of the job.

Afterwards, I was fortunate enough to quickly determine which of my job skills were learned and adopted out of necessity after college (mindless flexibility, the ability to speak and understand doubletalk) and which were natural and enjoyable for me (a willingness to fill a niche by learning new skills.) The more time goes by, the more my memories of that job become like that of a long video game — a bunch of endless pixels on a screen, forever. I was good at it, but who really gives a shit? I was embarrassed to tell people what I did for a living.

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Not long after that, I secured an apprenticeship in Edward Wright’s frame shop in Hillsborough, North Carolina. After six months of intensive tutelage, I was commissioned with building hand carved and gilded picture frames on my own. For the first time in my career, I was producing a physical object — one that melded beauty and function, and that I was proud to stand behind because I had created it myself from the rawest of materials. The standards of this job were higher, and in many ways more subjective than the last… Were the dimensions of each frame correct? That was easy enough to determine. Did each one capture the spirit of the artwork it surrounded to the satisfaction of the clients and the other artisans? That was up for endless debate around the shop. The careful examination of each gilded surface brought all of us closer to a mastery of our own individual style and forced us towards the kind of technical perfection that you cannot possibly find in a corporate cubicle. There is no way to diffuse the blame to a vague “other” when you are looking at a mislaid leaf of 22k gold.

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My sister sent me a copy of Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford for my birthday and I am eternally grateful for the gift and the wisdom contained within. I am particularly enthralled with it right now because it is providing me with an articulate framework of concepts that I have struggled to join together since rejecting the cubicle and beginning this latest phase of my career. This book could be a crucial bolus of information for anyone who makes a living using their hands, no matter where they are on the learning curve. Skilled labor is becoming increasingly rare in our culture. It will never become obsolete, however. My new job is in the fabrication of prosthetic limbs and custom orthotics. A job where the tasks are usually 100% clear, and the metrics are solid and understandable: what did you build today? Was it done correctly? Taking on a task that requires skilled labor involves patience, dedication, planning, and steadfastness. It simultaneously requires improvisation, flexibility, problem solving and a good deal of risk-taking. It exposes one to the vagaries of the market and the occasional dangers of the feast-or-famine cycle, but it keeps you active and on your toes. This book has been instrumental in helping me to understand the many ways in which I am proud to talk about my work nowadays.

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The D-Town Brass has arrived

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It was exciting to see so many people at the debut performance of the D-Town Brass at Pinhook here in Durham. Many people have asked when our next performance is going to be and it looks like we are dropping the funky mayhem on a house party in a couple of weeks so keep your eyes peeled for details as they emerge.

For the uninitiated, the D-Town Brass is a collaboration of local talent led by Andy Magowan featuring four sax players, two trumpets, a trombonist, vibes, marimba, keyboards, a bass guitarist and a three piece percussion section. These songs were recorded during live sessions held after-hours at Piedmont. They have been posted to our website for your listening pleasure/preparation of dance moves. Please press play below.



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