What’s Up With the Hymns?

Apparently, this whole “Lutheran Hymn” thing puzzles quite a few people, so I thought I might write a little post about it.

First off, I grew up in a small town in South Western Wisconsin which was mostly populated by Norwegian and Lutherans. I grew up singing these hymns every Sunday. When I was old enough, I joined the children’s choir and continued in church choirs through most of high school.

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs and interviews with musicians, and a lot of them talk about their very early inspirations.

Many of those musicians were lucky enough to have grown up going to African American Gospel churches or to belong to some ethnic group with an interesting folk music tradition.

However, as mentioned, I grew up going to a Lutheran church in Wisconsin. That is my tradition, and in a lot of ways, my “folk” music. That, and “Old Tyme Gospel Music”. But perhaps more about that later.

I find the basic harmonies and melodies of these old hymns, especially the more open ones, to be quite moving and powerful.

When I was looking around for some music to learn and play on the clarinet, I thought to myself, “Hey self! It might be funny to track down a Lutheran Hymnal, and learn those old hymns on the clarinet.” Get re-in touch with the memories and feelings of my youth, good and bad.

As a bonus, the hymns are neither particularly challenging nor long, which is, in fact, a big bonus for someone with a full time job who is also trying to (re) learn Jazz and to play the clarinet and sax.

I can transcribe, transpose, and record all 4 parts of the hymn in a few hours, and it is good for me to learn the recording, mixing, and arranging software. Most important, I am re-learning to play harmony parts with other instruments, even though I am playing all the instruments myself.

So, that’s what’s up with the hymns.

I hope you enjoy them a little bit, and that they might remind you of something of your past or present, good or bad.

An-Ti-Ci-Pa-A-Tion

The worst part of not drinking is anticipating events and circumstances where I would previously have drunk copiously.

The days, and moments, leading up to these events, often find me grumpy and anxious, as I wonder what I will do if I don’t drink.

Once I get in the events, though, I find, they are pretty much the same, drinking or not.

I just have to let go of the compulsion to walk around with a beer, and the fear that I won’t be liked if I’m not imbibing.

It’s not a big deal.

I’m the same anti-social misanthrope, whether I drink or not.

It’s a Mystery

William Parker:

Last Question. Do you think that they, whoever “they” are, the writers, the people who document stuff, do you think they’ll ever understand this music the way musicians understand it?

Fred Anderson:

No, because I don’t think nobody understands. (laughs) They can only go by what they hear and what they like and what they don’t like. And I think that is the way they write about it, what they think is good. But I think most musicians that I know, anybody that ever said anything, ever did anything, never was satisfied with what they were doin’. They were searchin’. And I don’t think they really knew what they were doin’. They were still searchin’. And I think it’s been a mystery, just like life. Everybody writes a book and tells you how to do it this way, do that. That’s just their opinion and I don’t think nobody knows. I think life is a mystery. The music is a mystery. I think this whole universe is a mystery. (laughs) We’re talkin’ about somethin’, man, that nobody really understands. But, you’re entitled to your opinion and if you can put it out there and somebody can get something out of it, cool. It’s an individual thing. It’s a mystery. You make these decisions and that’s it. Whatever you leave, you leave it. (laughs) You just have to believe in what you’re doing and stick to it and be consistent and try to do it right and do it the best way as you see it. If somebody can benefit, cool. I’ve benefited from a lot of things that I’ve heard, by applying some of these techniques in my mind. Now that don’t mean that I was right or wrong, but if I did anything, I learned from observance, seeing how things was done. Another thing that taught me a lot of stuff–I didn’t realize that my wife was sick. She could’ve been sick a long, long time before I even met her. But it came upon me to deal with it. So you don’t know man. You just have to deal with the problem. Whatever the problem is, you try to deal with it. Sometimes you can deal with it, sometimes you can’t But that’s it, man. That’s how I see it.


From “Conversations”, a collection of interviews William Parker conducted with various performing artists and composers, published by RogueArt.

When I was young, I really liked music that used the recording studio as an instrument.

However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to question the value of those sorts of albums which are stitched together in the studio. Those Frankenstein creations where the musicians might or might not even be in the same room (or building).

I think my perception radically changed when I saw Anthony Braxton’s Quartet (Braxton, Crispell, Dresser, Hemingway) at Yoshi’s a number of years ago. I had been collecting Braxton recordings and attempting to understand them without much success. Seeing that band, though, and feeling what was going on between the players, I understood that the music often called “Jazz” is most about the interaction of the players in the moment.

Jazz recordings, at best, are like insects captured in amber.

To be captured in amber, the insect has to die.

Similarly, the spontaneity of the moment and the energy exchange between players, things that are the essential features of a jazz performance, have to be stripped away, in the interest of fidelity and trapping a piece for eternity.

I’ve come to feel that most recordings of Jazz are really just souvenirs, simply reminders of artists I respect and gestures of support for their ongoing struggle to represent their craft against all odds.

We’ve Got 30 Years, That’s All We’ve Got

Back at the dawn of time, when I was young, the drinking age was 18.

Actually, it had changed to 21, but somehow, I ended up “grandfathered in” to the 18 Year Old Drinking Age.

To celebrate turning 18, I went out and bought myself a six pack of Augsburger Dark, hid it in the garage, and over the next several weeks, attempted to teach myself to like dark beer.

I turned 48 a few years ago.

I’d been cutting down on the drinking, sporadically, for the last few years.

At 48, I just thought, 30 years, that’s plenty. Maybe it is time to take a break.

I tried off and on, and probably did drink quite a bit less, but I still had the odd bout of binge drinking.

In fact, drinking less overall, nearly made the occasional binge drinking almost inevitable. Once you start surrendering your tolerance, (which was never really much of a tolerance to start out with,) then practically any drinking ends up being binge drinking.

Made it to 50 towards the end of 2014, still thinking, “enough drinking is enough drinking”.

But, the holidays are a hard time to stop drinking.

However, my wife and I usually take January off from drinking anyway, or at least try to. I don’t think, especially since I started bartending, that I’ve ever made it more than a couple weeks, without drinking at all.

So I thought, well, I at least need to prove it to myself that I CAN not drink.

I’m a grown up, I should be able to handle it, if I can handle it.

So, starting with January 1, 2015, I’ve been dry.

Be Always Drunken

“Be always drunken.
Nothing else matters:
that is the only question.
If you would not feel
the horrible burden of Time
weighing on your shoulders
and crushing you to the earth,
be drunken continually.

Drunken with what?
With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will.
But be drunken.

And if sometimes,
on the stairs of a palace,
or on the green side of a ditch,
or in the dreary solitude of your own room,
you should awaken
and the drunkenness be half or wholly slipped away from you,
ask of the wind,
or of the wave,
or of the star,
or of the bird,
or of the clock,
of whatever flies,
or sighs,
or rocks,
or sings,
or speaks,
ask what hour it is;
and the wind,
wave,
star,
bird,
clock will answer you:
“It is the hour to be drunken!”

Charles Baudelaire, Paris Spleen, 1864

If Baudelaire’s “Be Always Drunken” is one of your favorite poems, basically, ever, what do you do when you quit drinking?

If you’ve spent the last 10 years as something of a cocktail & spirits expert and a bartender, what do you do, if you don’t drink?

I mean, for more than 5 years, the cocktails of the Savoy Cocktail Book were a fairly single minded obsession for me. Getting (or making) the ingredients, making the drinks, photographing the drinks, writing the SavoyStomp.com Blog, hosting Savoy Nights at Alembic, etc.

Daniel Hyatt was prescient, saying a long time ago, “If you ever finish this thing, you are going to have some serious post-partum depression.”

Seriously, even leaving aside the drinking part, that’s a lot of effort & time I was spending over Savoy Cocktails, that is now free.

Well, the obvious thing, is to find something else to do, other than drink & write about drinking.

I guess that is the whole plan of AA. You have to go to at least a meeting every day. You meet with your sponsor. You drink lots of coffee. You smoke. You hang out with your new AA buddies. You’ve got badges and buttons to earn. Pretty clearly, you’re replacing the time you spent drinking and hanging out with your drinking buddies and those rewards, with the time spent fulfilling your responsibilities to the AA organization.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe in a higher power, nor do I have any desire to hang out in church basements drinking coffee.

So, to set myself up for success, in this whole “not drinking” experiment, I’m going to have to find something to occupy my time.

Prior to my obsession with cocktails, my enthusiastic hobbies have included, in no particular order, Reading, Botany, Gardening, Computer Games, Music, Playing Music…

Oh, huh, I still have that clarinet I bought when I was just out of college.

Well, learning to play the clarinet is certainly something that can take up a lot of time and attention.

Performing music was really my first addiction and enthusiasm.

I started performing music in the children’s choir at church and continued to sing and perform in pretty much every possible way through high school: Band, Jazz Band, Choir, Musicals, and yes, even, horror of horrors, Madrigal.

Stopped performing when I went off to college and started drinking.

Is it possible that every other addiction, or enthusiasm, in my adult life has just been a substitute for the buzz of performing music?

Now that is something to think about.

…and I doubt Mr Baudelaire would disagree that it is possible to be drunken with song…

Plus & Minus

Over the last year or so, I have been thinking a lot about what I did and did not enjoy about bartending.

I actually enjoy talking to strangers.

Medium level acquaintances aka “regulars” can be the tricky ones.

Best example I can think of was a regular couple I found amusing, even if they did drink a little too much, especially the guy.

They’d come in and ask for dealer’s choice vodka cocktails. They always pretty fun to hang out with, despite requesting vodka cocktail after vodka cocktail, and stipulating that I never repeat a cocktail. Hey, I like a challenge as much as the next guy.

Then they got pregnant.

They continued to come in, often with a friend or two.

The wife would not drink, rather grumpily, while the guy continued on his quest to get as plastered as possible on vodka cocktails. Eventually, the wife would retire up to their room, leaving him down there with the friend or friends. Eventually, you could tell, even the friend wanted to go home, but the guy would just plow on. “One more for the road!” after “Just one more!”.

I just wanted to shake him and say, “Dude, wake up! Your wife is mad at you and your friend here wants to go home. Give it up!”

Yep, that’s me, “Mr Spectacles Judgy Guy”.

To an extent, sometimes I see a certain sadism to being a bartender. Some bartenders seem to enjoy and encourage other people’s bad choices. And customers just LOVE that sort of bartender, but the wreckage left behind always bothers me.

Especially, since I was always the one who would end up cleaning up the vomit after Mr Startender took an early powder.

Bartending, Not Drinking

“I mean, there are some people who enjoy bartending and making drinks, and do it without drinking, right?”

It’s funny, the people I work with in Tech are far more puzzled over me retiring from bartending than the bartenders I know.

Anyway, there are different classes of not drinking bartenders.

First, there are bartenders who don’t drink while working.
Second, there are bartenders who don’t drink with customers.
Third, there are bartenders who don’t drink.

In the first and second case, sometimes it is easier to say you don’t drink, than to risk offending someone by telling them you don’t want to drink with them or try to explain that you are a professional doing an actual job and don’t want to get wasted while you are at that job. A lot of bartenders have fairly elaborate and complicated methods for appearing to drink that shot you really want to drink with them, while at the same time only taking the tiniest taste. Me, I’ve never been very good at turning down free drinks or resisting the social pressure to drink. We all have our faults.

In the third case, yes, there are some professional bartenders who do not drink at all. Though, to be fair, most of the non-drinking bartenders I know have moved on to be managers, consultants, or owners, and don’t do a lot of actual day-to-day bartending. But, there are a few unicorns among the herds of stallions, mares, and asses.

In fact, when I’ve managed to get away with it, I enjoy bartending without drinking far more than I do bartending while drinking. But, you still have to taste your drinks and the products you’re pouring. So, if you have weak will power, like myself, and enjoy drinking, it is a very slippery slope.

Finally, most of the “good stuff” the bartending life throws at you is pretty firmly in the “free drinks” or “party lifestyle” category of experiences.

As I’ve said before, as a happily married, middle-aged, fairly prudish, (hey, I grew up Lutheran,) now non-drinking male, there’s just not a lot that the drink industry comes up with that is targeted at my demographic.

Pretty much every educational seminar or sponsored event I’ve attended for the booze industry could be summed up as, “free drinks with snacks”. If you’re lucky, there might be entertainment. If you’re not lucky, you’ll have to listen to someone drone on about the intricacies of what supposedly makes the industrial process they use for creating their product unique. But, mostly it is the free drinks, and for most people, this is an excuse to imbibe copiously. Wouldn’t you, if you had to listen to a presentation on the nitty gritty details of industrial gin distillation while hanging out with a bunch of people you don’t know very well?

I am lucky that I have had several different careers in different industries and, if I don’t bartend, I have other jobs I can fall back on.

On the other hand, nothing is certain. Perhaps in 5 years, when the tech industry bubble finally bursts for good, I’ll be back to bartending (or even cooking).

Psychic Anaesthetic

“What’s with the Water?”

“Booze tends to take the edge off. I want to stay angry.”

Best quote I’ve heard from “True Detective, Season 2”

“Psychic Anaesthetic” or “Emotional Prophylactic”.

Whichever you prefer, booze often gets a rap as emotional novacaine.

Somehow, drinking seems to make the emotional stress of dealing with others less.

I don’t really buy this one, at least in the long term.

I think it just puts off dealing with processing your feelings.

And if you just keep drinking, you can just keep putting it off.

Tales of No Cocktails

Haven’t done a status update in a while, so here goes.

I was working three nights a week at a restaurant called “The Coachman”. Had a few drinks on the menu. Good staff, good food. But, it didn’t take off. So they cut down bar staff and I ended up with only one or two shifts a week.

Then we were traveling for my birthday in October, 2015, and planned to be out of town with family for the December/January holidays. I told them to put my weekly shifts on hold, that I would just cover when people needed time off.

Shortly after we got back from the holidays, they decided to close The Coachman.

At that point, I was at a loss. I could look for more bar shifts elsewhere or I could try to find more hours in tech work.

I talked to my (Great! Excellent!) boss in tech and asked how likely it was that he would be able to find more hours for me at my day job. He said, maybe, but give him some time to shuffle things around.

I worked only part time at my tech job for a few months, then finally things started to work out with my day job and I got back to being a full time day walker.

So far, so good.

Which brings me around to the other thing.

As you’ve probably been reading, I’ve been ambivalent about the role drinking has had in my life for the last couple years.

But I just couldn’t get away from it while I was working in bars. You at least have to taste the drinks, wine, and spirits, which ends up being a slippery slope.

So, along with not working in bars, I decided to take this opportunity to take some time off from drinking. The first couple months sucked, but after hitting about the six month mark, with support from friends, family and the awesome Mrs Flannestad, I am becoming comfortable with it and feel better in my own skin than I have in years.

Haven’t decided whether I will go back to drinking and try to do “moderation”, but at this point…

So far, so good, why mess with a good thing?

PS. Perhaps you are thinking, “Yeah, that’s great Erik, but I don’t really give a flying fuck about you, what about the Savoy Cocktail Book Project and SavoyStomp website??”

Unfortunately, after one platform move and three hosting moves, the code behind the website had become unstable. Frankly, the database is corrupt, probably because of excessive spam comments or related factors. In any case, I took it down before someone really hacks it. Eventually, I would like to turn it into a static website, (Or a book! Illuminated Savoy Cocktail Book, anyone?) However, at the moment, I just don’t have the time (or the inclination) to revisit those 10 years of my life and dig through them again. If you’re looking for cocktail information, I’d suggest buying Martin Doudoroff‘s “Martin’s Index“. It’s an excellent app and most of the technical and drink information I uncovered over the years can be found there. You’ll just be missing my pithy personal insights and incorrect measurements. Maybe if everyone downloads his app, he eventually will be convinced to create an Android or web version. Ha!

Glu-Tards Harshing My Mellow

As someone who is not drinking in a town known for its drunk-i-tude, I am certainly sympathetic to dietetic choices, especially if they are for health reasons.

However, I was recently at the grocery store and it appears the only fig bars they now carry are “gluten-free”.

I don’t know what the decision math was.

Fig Bar buyers are also likely to be gluten intolerant?

Fig Bar buyers are not picky, so they don’t care if they have to eat food with weird gloopy textures?

Fig Bar buyers enjoy stale cookies that have been sitting on the shelf for too long because no one buys them they are so truly awful?

I really don’t want to learn to make my own glutinous fig bars, but it may come to that.