Archive for February 2nd, 2009

Steve Martin, Clawhammer Banjo Master

I’m actually not kidding…

In his mercurial career Mr. Martin, 63, has gone from manic, rabbit-eared stand-up comedian to introspective memoirist. He has made movies for Carl Reiner (“The Jerk”) and David Mamet (“The Spanish Prisoner”) alike. Through his many incarnations a banjo has never been far from his reach, whether the instrument was an integral part of his act or a tool to help him unwind in private.

Now Mr. Martin is once again in the musician’s role as he releases an album called “The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo.” The record (which is being sold exclusively on, until April 26, when it also will be released elsewhere) is a token of his affection for bluegrass, with appearances by performers like Vince Gill and Dolly Parton. But it is also an opportunity to show off one of his less celebrated, least commercial skills, and to reimmerse himself in a musical genre he never fully gave up.

“It’s a secret world,” he said of bluegrass in an interview at his “SNL” dressing room, where his banjo sat beside him in its case like a baby in a bassinet. “It’s a big world, but it’s thin. And it doesn’t make the news, which is actually quite fantastic.”

Mr. Martin, who came of age in Orange County, Calif., in the early 1960s, recalled the era as one when folk groups like the Kingston Trio and bluegrass bands like the Dillards were at their peak. Having decided to become an entertainer, Mr. Martin seized on the banjo as one more element he could add to an all-purpose act.

“I needed everything,” said Mr. Martin, who in person is more reserved than his on-screen characters but excitable once he starts talking about music. “I did jokes, I did juggling, did magic. I put the banjo in just really to fill time, so I’d have enough to call it a show.”


[S]tarting in 2001 he began a banjo resurgence. That year Earl Scruggs, the bluegrass pioneer, asked him to play on a recording of the song “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” for the album “Earl Scruggs and Friends.” In 2007 he contributed an original composition, “The Crow,” to the Tony Trischka album “Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular.”


Among country and bluegrass musicians, Mr. Martin is regarded as a master of a difficult five-fingered playing style known as clawhammer or frailing, in which the instrument’s strings are pushed down by fingernails, rather than pulled up with picks.

“I know I can’t play it,” said Mr. Scruggs, for whom the traditional three-fingered Scruggs style is named. “So it’s a challenge for me.”

There you have it: Steve Martin has mastered a banjo style that even Earl Scruggs can’t play.  And no-one even knows about it.

1 comment February 2nd, 2009 at 10:12pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Music,Weirdness

Wreck In Effect

Shipwreck Cannon
Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc/AP


Sea explorers probing the depths of the English Channel have discovered what they say is a legendary British warship that sank in a fierce storm in 1744 with the loss of more than 900 men and possibly four tons of gold coins valued at $1 billion.

The team found the wreckage of the HMS Victory last year and confirmed its identity through a close examination of 41 bronze cannons visible on the sandy bottom, Greg Stemm, head of the discovery team, said at a news conference Monday in London.


In July 1744, the flagship and its fleet of warships were sent to rescue a Mediterranean convoy blockaded by a French fleet at Lisbon. After chasing the French away, the Victory escorted the convoy as far as Gibraltar and then headed home.

A furious gale scattered the British fleet shortly after it entered the English Channel, and on Oct. 5, 1744, somewhere off the Channel Islands, Victory went down with all hands. The flagship was the only part of the returning British fleet lost at sea.


A month after the loss, a Dutch newspaper reported that Victory had been carrying from Lisbon 400,000 pounds sterling destined for Dutch merchants. At the news conference, the ship’s finders said that would amount to about four tons of gold coins.

In the history of the Royal Navy, Victory was the last warship to be lost with a complete set of bronze cannons. Their high cost eventually prompted the British Admiralty to replace them with iron cannons.


Last April, the Odyssey team was exploring the English Channel when a sonar registered an intriguing blip. Investigations with a tethered robot showed the seabed covered with cannons, hull remains, iron ballast, two anchors, rigging, a copper cooking kettle and 41 bronze cannons, including eight of the four-ton guns.

“These were the biggest cannon in the age of sail,” Mr Stemm said at the news conference. “These things are huge — simply amazing.”

Odyssey released a 46-page analysis of the wreckage. It said the distinctive cannons — many of which display Royal arms surmounted by a crown — revealed their nationality and date of manufacture, and gave proof of the wreck’s identity. The powerful guns, the analysis added, made Victory “the preeminent warship of the age.”

At the wreck site, the Odyssey team also found human bones, including what appeared to be a rib bone, a skull and other remains. None were recovered, the analysis said, and the team’s robot carefully reburied any that had been uncovered.


At the news conference, Jason Williams, a television producer for the Discovery Channel, said four tons of gold coins would fetch about $125 million if melted down or $1 billion if sold for their historic value.

I have nothing to add to this, other than that it’s way way cool.  Plus there’s that whole billion dollars worth of gold coins thing.

February 2nd, 2009 at 08:22pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness

Please Sarah, Can I Have Some More?

Well, it’s official: Republicans have a political death wish:

While the media and political elites debate the future of the GOP, rank and file Republicans see see no need to deviate from the party’s current path. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, a plurality of Republican voters think the party has grown too moderate over the past eight years, and a majority think the party should become more like controversial Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

These sentiments echo the view of new RNC chairman Michael Steele, who in an interview on Fox News yesterday strongly iterated that the GOP’s troubles stemmed not from their governing policies but their failure to successfully sell those policies to the American people:

We failed to lead,” said the former Lt. Maryland Governor. “The principles we espoused [in 1994] are still true and good today and that’s not what people moved away from us for. They moved away from us because we behaved badly. We came to Washington and we became like the people we were sent here to replace. And they replaced us.”

Yes, that’s right – the Republicans lost all those elections because American voters were turned off by their meanspirited, amoral behavior.  All they need to do to reclaim their power is to clean up their act so that nothing distracts the voters from their meanspirited, amoral policies.

Good luck with that.

(h/t WT)

2 comments February 2nd, 2009 at 06:05pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Palin,Politics,Republicans

Monday Media Blogging – Come To My Seminar!

As great as the Paul From The Diamond Center ads were, Tom “Come to my seminar!” Vu was in a class by himself.

Most of his commercials featured bikini babes (backgammon bikini babes!) and Lopsided Afro Man.

This one is a bit atypical, but it features his classic “You are loser!  Get out of my way!” rant.

Longer version.  Bikini babes yes, Lopsided Afro Man no.

5 comments February 2nd, 2009 at 07:36am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Monday Media Blogging

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