February 2011

This one’s sort of journal-y; wanting to remember some special thoughts, moments, feelings, etc.


more, better, less

control, failure, bless

mental rental chest

over yonder crest


babbling stream,

cold and steam

giant sunshine

snowflakes gleam


carny corny looks

baling wire, books

hanker hinder roads

linger longer loads


children older grow

midnight rooster crows

sleepless, senseless flukes

golden dreams of midnight jukes


where the images came from:

I was plagued by this damn rooster that one of my neighbors has, crowing all hours of the night and day. I live in a residential neighborhood and don’t understand how some people can be so unconcerned about others’ welfare . It was totally messing with my sleep. I was wondering what was to become of me; wondering how anyone else was able to sleep… and how they were able to put up with it!

While working outside one day, I saw some huge snowflakes falling on a sunny afternoon, as steam rose all around. I wanted to etch down the beauty of the moment.

A friend was staying with me, whom had recently returned to Seattle after living in Oklahoma. He could put on the most charming, hilarious “dumb hick” accent or drawl to emphasize a point. It was genius.

I was thinking about my own Midwest roots. I’d recently read some books about the Beat Writers and was longing for a trip out “on the road”. I was feeling stuck in one place and wondering what I should do with all my books – as a possible first step toward the footloose.

Finally, I’d been enjoying the music of Little Walter, who famously had a hit song called “Juke”.

“Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair In Letters” by Jack Kerouac and Joyce Johnson. A good book. I love her narrative writing style and her kindly thoughts about Kerouac. I also enjoyed her book “Minor Characters”.

“Women of the Beat generation : The Writers, Artists, and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution” by Brenda Knight. Another recommended book!

“Little Walter, His Best: The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection”.                                                      

Little Walter was one of the first harp players to go “electric”, using a hand held mike plugged into an amplifier. He overdrove the microphone and the amp, creating new musical tonalities from the resultant distortion. It gave him a fat harp tone that he called his “Mississippi Saxophone.”

He recorded with Muddy Waters and under his own name. He’s depicted in the film “Cadillac Records” (about the Chess Record Company) as quite a colorful character – shooting another harpist that usurped his name!

Eric Clapton in his autobiography says that he was his “favorite harmonica player”; “one of the most soulful singers I have ever heard”; and cites him near the top of his list of musical heroes and inspirations.

He was inducted into the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, making him the first and only artist ever to be inducted specifically for his work as a harmonica player.

Personally, I think the harmonica is one of the most under-rated musical instruments. Its textures have added so much to the music I love.


·   See article on Little Walter in Wikipedia here

·   Another article about Little Walter, with further links and some songs

·   Other Blues Harmonica Legends 

A lot of people visit my blog while searching the web for links to Little Walter. So if you enjoyed what you read here, or have other interesting stories, please leave a comment!

Nelson Algren’s Chicago” by the photographer Art Shay

I borrowed this book from the Seattle Public Library. Nelson Algren wrote “A Walk On the Wild Side” and “The Man With the Golden Arm”.

Algren reveled in the seamy side: the underdogs, the cast-offs, the rejects, the unwanted, the poor, the dispossessed, etc.  Algren led the photographer through the Chicago that he frequented, commenting on various locations and the denizens. Like the great photographs of the Depression era, these photographs evoke people’s humanity. Like Algren’s writing, they portray humanity in all its glorious vagaries.

I love stuff like this, am inspired by it. This is social commentary at its finest.

The photographer has a new book out entitled “Chicago’s Nelson Algren”. I imagine it also would be very good.


Why do I call my blog amyeighttrack? It was a joke that came to me when I was starting my blog and I needed a name for it. I’m showing my age, I guess – I actually used to listen to music on 8 track. And I do write a bit about some of the music I like.

I attended the Seafarers’ International Union’s School of Seamanship in 1974. This school in rural Maryland has long been a model of union education. It’s approach to the training of personnel was innovative. It was founded, during the height of the Vietnam War in 1967, to meet the needs of a growing industry and provide a ready labor force. I don’t know whether working on ships back then as a merchant mariner got people an exemption from the draft – I’d be  interested in knowing.

I have some now-pleasant memories of sitting or working in the cafeteria, with “Free Bird” echoing out on the eight track, ad nauseum. It made a nice – if somewhat bluesy – soundtrack for all the young angst and passion – up, up and away!! Just pop it in the player and you’re good to go!

The sound was actually good, it reverberated nicely – especially when the cafeteria was empty; and was nice background music when the cafeteria was full and buzzing with conversation. Someone also had ZZ Top’s “Tres Hombres ” – nice; “I Can Help” by Billy Swan (mmmmm, yeah, right!) – nice; and BTO, “Blue Collar” – nice.

Later, on a ship, I went in with a friend on an 8-track stereo and some tapes. As you can imagine, 8 track tapes were a better system than a phonograph to have on a ship; though our stereo had a phonograph, too. We bought some tapes – “War Live” (which I recommend highly. The versions of the same material on “The Very Best of War” are highly truncated);  “Sally Can’t Dance” by Lou Reed; and “Bad Company”. Someone had a record of “Texas Gold” by Asleep At The Wheel, a very fine album (go to review here) with some really great Western Swing music; and some very serious drinking songs, indeed. The songs “Miss Molly”, “I’ve Been Everywhere”, “Miles and Miles of Texas”, “Choo Choo Ch’boogie” and many others by that band are also favorites of mine.

I met many interesting people at the school. There were a lot of guys from the East Coast and some from the South.  Shipping out of a few different US ports – Houston, San Francisco and Seattle, I met lots more people. There were new crews on every ship; and people who’d join the ship from whatever port that someone else got off in. I developed an abiding love for the many different peoples and regions of the US, each with their own unique character. It broadened my musical tastes and brings back some nice memories.

I worked on ships from 1975 through 1986. It wasn’t an easy lifestyle. It was pretty tough, at times. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

The industry in the U.S. has changed a lot since then. The little tankers I was on and most of the ships had a crew of about 42. Since then the ships have gotten bigger and the crews smaller, to maybe 23 or less.

Instead of there being what I would call a “merchant marine”, a lot of the jobs now are in support of the huge-and-growing military-industrial complex – one of the growth industries of the past decade or so. How regrettable that our society and values have come down to this – militarism. Then again, how many options are there for – especially poor – youth today? The merchant marine might still make an attractive alternative to the military.

I mostly worked in the steward department. They assigned me that, because of my glasses. I worked on freighters – mostly container ships, by then – and tankers – hauling fuel or grain. I worked on a ship that laid telephone cable on the ocean floor between Guam and Okinawa. I also worked on a Navy ship.

I sailed to Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Bangladesh, Indonesia, The Philippines; Leningrad in the then-USSR; Italy, Spain; down the Pacific coast of Central America and through the Panama Canal; Jamaica and other Caribbean ports; Brazil and The Ivory Coast. I feel fortunate and believe that travel or living abroad is a valuable, enriching human experience.

It’s been interesting seeing some of the people I met through the Union’s educational program and political work rise through the ranks of Labor and the industry. It puts a human face on Labor, for me. I have a lot to be grateful for.

My god, how the school has changed. The way it’s grown, I hardly recognize it. The school curriculum and program has grown, too. We never had ‘Small Arms Training’, ‘Anti-Terrorism’ or ‘Chemical, Biological and Radiological Defense’; courses now required for employment on some government vessels, where so many of the jobs are. I hate guns. Marching in formation was bad enough.

Back then, there wasn’t a mandatory 3 month apprenticeship period ship-board after the 3 months of school training. Today this apprenticeship period includes 4 weeks in each of the shipboard departments (engine, deck & steward), followed by more courses and upgrading. We didn’t have as good a firefighting course, either. It sounds fairly challenging – but it’s a good skill to have, on a ship!

I see that they no longer have an academic course for art. That’s a real shame! Some of the favorite art that I’ve ever done was a result of assignments for the little 3-credit course I took. However, it looks like they have some other very good courses.

The Seafarers International Union has an excellent and interesting website. View website here They have many beautiful pictures of ships and the seafaring life. You can check out their monthly publication ‘The Seafarers Log’; read more about the school; and even download the school’s 90 page catalog under the subheading, ‘Paul Hall Center’.