Posts Tagged ‘music’

Letterpress List No. 83: Still on the Line

August 2, 2017

Shop Boy will never again underestimate the power of a love song.

(Has he ever done so? Fine, fine, not really. But we’ve got a new story to tell.)

Now, you know Shop Boy as a mostly (sort of) able letterpress printer who can be a fun guy to have around. Too fun by some people’s (meaning Mary’s) reckoning at times. So there I was, having had a little too much fun. And fun is a relative term. Relative as in: “I’m your wife. I do not approve. Knock it off.”

Oh, like you’ve never been there.

Well, the doghouse was getting a little claustrophobic. There wasn’t any room for my guitar. And this is how I introduce Shop Boy the mostly (sort of) able beginner musician, a metamorphosis (hah!) that’s been happening over the past year or so under the affable and able watch of Paul Hulleberg, a teacher Mary found for me. Paul generally works with young school kids, so he’s patient as heck. Really it’s as much concert as guitar lesson, as Paul plays his lilting folk riffs while Shop Boy hacks and plunks and plangs (!) through the latest menace to my fingers (honestly — who invented these chords?) that Paul has presented. Great musician, dragging around this guitar that he’s had since he was a little boy. It’s not the instrument, it’s the player, kids.

Shop Boy’s “ax” is a Breedlove, a used acoustic guitar we bought out at Bill’s Music. And here, a very strong recommendation from yours  truly:

You can’t imagine how intimidated Shop Boy was to even be in that place. Dudes were moving through the racks upon racks of guitars and sampling them by, you know, playing stuff. Shop Boy had nothing. Not even a basic handle on chords. Mary egged me on. Touch the guitars, she urged. Shop Boy faked his way for a few minutes. I could see a salesman eyeing me … but giving me room. He knew. But he did not judge, and for this I will always be grateful. Mikey is his name, and he’s probably seen thousands like me: guys who get a craze, buy a guitar and then never play. It’s hard, physically and mentally. Your fingers hurt. The craze passes. A guitar goes out the door at Bill’s … and eventually to a musty attic somewhere.

Mikey talked to me guitar player to, um, guitar player — Shop Boy is apparently on a run of patient dudes. When I pointed out the Breedlove (which I’d never heard of but thought was beautiful), he told me I could do better price-wise but that I should listen to the sound. Honestly, the thing produces gorgeous sounds, especially in others’ hands.

I’d heard how hard it was to replace worn strings, a dumb thing to be worried about at this juncture. You need to actually touch them to wear them out. (Honestly, Mary will acquire a “new” machine and the first thing Shop Boy asks is, “What if it breaks?”)

Mikey “plays out,” as the expression goes for actual musicians, and he explained gently that strings tend to age and break down if you bleed on them a lot after a four-hour performance or whatever. (Haven’t had one of those yet.) But mostly they are an easy thing to deal with, especially on the Breedlove, which on this model doesn’t require you to pop out any pegs. Just knot a string, put it though the appropriate hole and it stays anchored. Mikey pointed out beginner picks, made sure I had a no-frills strap, got me a Bill’s “gig bag” to protect the guitar and reminded me that the store offers free lessons for beginners on Saturdays. (Do it. Just learning how to touch a guitar is an acquired skill. And it’s a very mellow process. Various volunteers show up to teach and — oh by the way — let you know what they’d charge to teach you one-on-one.)

From there it was typical Shop Boy: Half walking on air as we left the place with a guitar—my guitar (have I mentioned that I own a guitar?)—half already second-guessing my purchase. A couple of hundred bucks will buy a lot of ink. It would be that way until I started working with Paul.

He comes to the studio on alternate Wednesdays. The kickboxers in the studio below us at the Mill Centre provide the beat.

I’ll save you the Karate Kid montage, but we’ve very slowly worked up to playing songs. “Landslide” didn’t go so well. (There’s a chord change my fingers currently refuse to even consider. It’ll come.) “I’m a Believer” went better. That’s a fun love song, and long a favorite of mine. Admit it, yours too. But this wasn’t about Shop Boy, really. It was about proving to Mary, and I suppose myself too, that fear wasn’t going to stop me anymore. My brother had learned to play guitar as a teen in our very small and overpopulated house, embarrassment be darned. It was ghastly. He—all-hair and then not-so-much—has been in one thrash metal band or another mostly since that time. The latest one, called Held Hostage, is pretty fun. I was afraid to try and sound bad, covered it up by acting like I didn’t want to, and have been screaming jealous for years. That picture of a dude with a guitar and a dog and a cigarette (a Salem ad or something) in the back of a pickup truck parked on a sand dune made Shop Boy rage at his own lack of fortitude.

Of course I wouldn’t use such kind words for it.

This kind of makes me nuts too:

That’s Matt on the right. Dammit.

Different day, different me. A little different, anyway.

Mary was angry and Shop Boy needed a lifeline. I grabbed the guitar and launched into a very simple intro for “Wichita Lineman,” her favorite song—even sang as I played the whole thing. I’ll go on record (hah!) as saying it wasn’t the best rendition you’ll find. Mary (who owns every rendition but mine on iTunes) was surprised and charmed nonetheless.

Fight over. A big moment right there.

Oh, the fear and doubt? They still fight for position in the mosh pit that is my gut, getting a little loosey-goosey with the spiked wristbands for my taste. But life’s a marathon, not a sprint, folks. Some day Shop Boy will own his own space in a crowd, ask for what he deserves, take on a printing project without asking, “What if I screw it up?” And who knows what else?

Until then, Shop Boy will have his less proud moments. Maybe I’ll write a song about it.

The Letterpress List No. 83 (been a while sing Shop Boy did one of these—had to look up what number we were on):

“Summer of ’69” (Bryan Adams)—Played it till his fingers bled … and worried about string damage later.

“Landslide” (Dixie Chicks)—They know from this.

“Wichita Lineman” (Glen Campbell)—Need you more than want you, want you for all time. Post-fighting words.

“Faith” (George Michael)—Gotta come from within, people.

“Self-Esteem” (The Offspring)—Ditto.

“I Wanna Be Sedated” (Ramones)—How many chords do you need, really?

“If It Makes You Happy” (Sheryl Crow)—”It’s not getting what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.” Oops! That’s from another song—OK, I knew that—but this is the one Shop Boy is currently “mastering.”

“Teach Your Children” (Crosby, Stills & Nash)—I’ll always regret not having started playing guitar years ago. I hope I don’t ever have to stop. This one looks fairly straightforward, um, minus the angelic singing. There are many who wish I’d stopped THAT years ago.

“Last Child” (Aerosmith)—Matt, the fearless one. The rest of us were kinda set in our “oh my god, we might be embarrassed” ways by then. Shop Boy for real.

“Superman” (R.E.M.)—”I can do anything.” Really?

“I” (Kiss)—Affirmative.

“I’m a Believer” (the Monkees/Neil Diamond)—Life’s a fairy tale in the which the “ever after” ends too soon. Get up.


… Or Die Tryin’

January 6, 2017

Take a remorseless Chandler and Price printing press, a pile of old school record album covers and a die-cutting form with metal blades in shapes representing phases of the moon. Now add Shop Boy, a pair of tweezers and a tight deadline.

What have you got? Bet you wouldn’t say “success story.”

Well, I’m lucky to be here to tell you that it was just that, somehow.

The job was for Baltimore’s own Anne Watts and her talented band Boister. It was Typecast Press’ second spin with designing and creating a Boister album cover. Mary’s idea this time was to make holes in the all-black cover that would create an illusion by exposing selected bits of a pre-printed inside sleeve.

It won’t blow the surprise (the album’s been out a while now) to tell you that the inside image is an eerie, artsy shot of eggs in a stream and that the die would cut phases of the moon into the cover, revealing a brighter, fuller “moon” as the egg shells and the cut-outs matched up at the apex.


We’d cut the shapes all the way through the album, so the effect works on the back side too — revealing faces of the bandmates as they match up on a collage. Cool, right? Most of Mary’s concepts are. But always … reality.

Because of the size and variations in the precise thickness of each cover, the die-cutting would need to be done by hand-feeding on the old C&P rather than the self-feeding Heidelberg windmill. But since since there were only a few hundred to do, it figured to be a snap. Except … well, you know.

Each time the die passed through the album, it created two little bits of loose cardboard per phase of the moon. A lot of these fell inside the album to be retrieved and recycled later. All but two of the others fell to the floor, making a delightful mess. These two became lodged in the part of the die representing the skinniest crescent of moon. These cutting forms are built with internal cushions that help to repel such scraps, but this one was overmatched. Do two passes in a row and the die would no longer cut that part. Paper jam. Wasted album cover. So Shop Boy would run one cover, stop the machine, remove the jam with a pair of tweezers, load a new cover into the guides, turn on the machine, and repeat, repeat, repeat. Jeez, the first 20 albums took about an hour as I slowly figured out the best way to clear the bits without damaging the die.

That’s when inspiration struck. I told Mary I had it under control, and since this was in our old, multi-roomed studio, she soon got bored and went across the hall. And I did the only logical thing. I mean, the clock was ticking. So …

We feed these C&Ps left-handed (because Mary is of that persuasion). There I stood, then, tweezers in my right hand, album covers stacked where my left hand could reach them, and turned the machine on. It went like this: Pull lever to print mode; place album cover into guides; cut shapes; throw lever to trip mode; pull album cover and place on “out” pile; reach into jaws of C&P to deftly unstick the paper bits from the crescent; place new album; throw lever into print mode. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Now we were (dangerously) getting somewhere.

See, as printers know, any human parts left in the impression zone of a motorized printing press for one second too long become the property of that machine. Thank heavens Shop Boy can be a dextrous little idiot. But it was scary. Honestly, it’s probably the dumbest thing I’ve done since that time with the 10-foot ladder and that extremely heavy table top and the loft and, oh, we’ll just save that story for anther day.

Besides, I should probably tell you a little bit about how I adapted the madness … I mean method … for die-cutting the little CD jackets.

Little bits. Really, really little bits.

And that’s probably enough said about it.






Letterpress List No. 10: States of Unease

November 13, 2007

You should hear Mary talk about New England — “the Big Blob,” she calls it, as its six states were a single jagged piece in her childhood puzzle map of America rather than a perfect square like, say, Colorado. You could barely make out tiny Rhode Island, Shop Boy land. More exactly, you should hear her talk about how little we talk, us Yankees: “Meagerspeak.” She says our reserve feels like rudeness to her.

I try to explain a couple of things:

  • Yankees are exceedingly eloquent. We can say in three words, or a single hand gesture, what others can’t say in 1,000.
  • We’re not unfriendly. We just don’t like you.
  • It gets so cold sometimes that if you open your mouth to speak, your gums will freeze, your gold teeth will fall out, and the Mob will grab them.
  • This is my space. That’s yours. Don’t touch me, I won’t get in your face.
  • We don’t need to talk. We’re the stinking World Champions.

But Mary won’t listen to reason. She was trained by a Southern mother who believes that every lull in conversation is way too long. It must be filled by whatever means necessary. Embrace enemies as if they were your close friends — your true close friends will know the difference. Just be charmin’ and darlin’ at all times. Hugs and kisses and elbow grabs and chucks on the shoulder, oh my.

Well, for a long time, my sisters thought Mary was flat crazy. They’re not so sure about me these days, either. See, like it or not, Shop Boy is a representative of Typecast Press now. It’s not all about me anymore. (Wait, did I approve this?) Studio tour? Meet-and-greet? Delivery? Shop Boy’s on, no excuses.

Please don’t get me wrong. Shop Boy truly believes in Mary and what she’s doing here with letterpress in Baltimore. Get Shop Boy going and that Yankee-ness falls away. He’ll talk your ear off about Typecast Press, or just about anything else you make the mistake of bringing up. (You know by now that Shop Boy has many words within him yet to share. I’m not shy at the keyboard.)

It’s just that, um, well, er … oh, let me just spit it out: Shop Boy is no social butterfly. Total cocoon by nature. Died a caterpillar. Know what I’m saying?

Mary’s been working on Shop Boy for years. She pokes me in the ribs when I’m not “Southern enough” in a social situation and scolds me for my dread of parties. And we laugh about Shop Boy’s uncanny ability to draw a crowd in a supermarket simply by trying to stand out of the way. (Sale on rutabagas! Right behind Mr. Uncomfortable over there!) It ain’t looks, folks.

True story: Before Mary and Shop Boy’s engagement party in Colorado, I made Mary, her dad, mom and sister promise that at all times, at least one of them would be at my side to ease the mingling with guests, about 150 of whom I’d never met. You guessed it: a mob scene, and Shop Boy never saw Mary or her family again until the last of the guests had departed.

“Well,” Mary said, “I guess you passed the test.”

A test? More like attempted murder. If there were any justice, she’d have gone to the slammer for that. Oooh. I still get the willies.

Know what, though? I’ve been a changed man since that day. I cheerfully meet potential clients all the time. Space issues? Fugheddaboutit. Shop Boy is a guy’s guy now: a pat on the back for a colleague, a fist bump for a dude’s funny line, man hugs. With women, charming conversation, actually listening — Shop Boy isn’t alone on the learning curve here. And in public, Shop Boy tries to take what he’s learned to make the world a better place. Say I’m about to collide with someone walking toward me in a train station. I put my hand gently on the individual’s shoulder to alert him and deflect fuller contact, walking on after a heartfelt, “Sorry, my fault,” or the like.

What a charming gentleman. My mom would have been shocked … then proud, I think.

Anyway, just a week or two ago, Mary and Shop Boy were returning from a party for a client, Global Action for Children, on K Street in Washington, D.C. Open house. I knew two people. Mary would be 45 minutes late. (“You go ahead of me, Shop Boy.”) Ugh, isn’t the testing thing over yet? Well, no sweat for the new me. Fun party. Drinks afterward. On a roll! We were hustling for a train home, Mary a few steps ahead, when a 70-ish fellow came around a column, right into my path. Flush with success, I gently touched his shoulder and said, “Excuse me, friend” — as any Southerner worth his salt would do — changed course and began to walk on.


“Get your F hands of me, MF!”

He caned me. A two-hander right on the knuckle of my index finger. I was so stunned I didn’t even respond, didn’t look back, didn’t really feel pain, just ran to catch up to Mary. I didn’t show her my swollen hand until later, when I confessed that Shop Boy had been beaten up by a handicapped, old dude.

“Oh my God, are you OK? He hit you? On purpose? How dare he? What did you do? Why didn’t you tell me? I would have gotten right in his face!”

Which would have been pretty Yankee of her, don’t you think?


Letterpress List No. 10

Time for more music, about an hour’s worth to work — or ice a sore hand — by. Soothing, charmin’ and darlin’ tunes, most of them suitable for any cocktail party. (“Hey, anybody seen Mary?”) Look for them at iTunes and Napster, among other places, if you haven’t put them on you MP3 player already. Bet you have.

Southern CrossCrosby, Stills & Nash (Iffy on the band — blasphemy, I know — but this is so pretty.)
No More DramaMary J. Blige (Soap sampling and drama aplenty.)
What a Fool BelievesDoobie Brothers (Shop Boy could once hit the falsetto notes here. Yes, I know I should not necessarily be proud of that.)
Livin’ on a PrayerBon Jovi (JBJ can fly! Must be the hair product.)
Rainbow in the DarkRonnie James Dio (The devil made him do it. They were simpler times.)
RoosterAlice in Chains (A son’s tribute to dad.)
Jesus Don’t Want Me for a SunbeamNirvana (Heaven’s loss.)
BabeStyx (Mary’ll laugh at me for this. Shop Boy is such a sap.)
Sweet Child O’ MineGuns N’ Roses (Before Axel slapped his sweet child around, then got punched out by a supermodel.)
Silent All These YearsTori Amos (No more drama … for her, anyway.)
BethKiss (It wasn’t Kiss without Criss. Just saying.)
SanctifiedNine Inch Nails (“Heaven’s just a rumor she’ll dispel” and other incurably painful stories … next on Trent TV.)
BluebirdKasey Chambers (One of Mary’s favorites.)
Good Old World WaltzTom Waits (This was the song that made me love Tom Waits … in a man hug kind of way, of course.)
Dust in the Wind Kansas (Drink too much wine, listen to this and cry. Nice release.)
How You Gonna See Me NowAlice Cooper (Set free … and playing some real fine golf.)

Letterpress List No. 8: The Beast

October 30, 2007


They said it couldn’t be done.

Mary said it could. She just needed one more … human brain!


(That’s Mary after it was mentioned that Shop Boy had one. Instead she called in the ringer, brother-in-law Tom Beal.)

For 30-odd years it lay dormant, waiting for this day, when its life force would surge anew and its taste for flesh would reawaken.

The switch was thrown. The lights dimmed, then surged brighter. An otherworldly moan came from somewhere deep inside the beast. Then, chunka, chunka, chunka, chunka. Faster and faster.

Mary screamed with delight. Shop Boy cowered, then ran to warn the villagers.


Yes, as it was foretold in this letterpress blog, the Miehle Vertical has returned to menace the general population. (All right, mostly Shop Boy.) And it’s frightening how quickly it all came about.

For the Machine Whisperer — Tom — things fell into place in about five hours. Typecast Press had begged him to come down, again — Thanks, Tom! — to hook a three-phase converter onto the Miehle, using the 220 power we’d had an electrician run into the studio the day before. We figured it would take a weekend.

Suddenly, he was asking if we were ready for a demo. Shop Boy, of course, had been ready for demo — as in demolition, get it before it gets him — since the 3-ton monster had landed at Typecast Press. The Miehle scares the bejeepers out of me. I’ve decided to call it Audrey II, in honor of our own little shop of horrors. Shop Boy knows it wants blood.

Must it be human? Must it be mine?

For Mary, there was but one scary moment: When Tom turned the Miehle up full throttle to see what it could do. We still weren’t sure we had all the parts attached. But Tom, who puts broken things back together for a living — inventing parts if he has to — just had to play with the new toy. Well, we still don’t know if it’s a complete machine, but it goes like heck.

And it isn’t even all that loud, which reassures Shop Boy. For there is only one thing he fears more than the Miehle taking its pound of flesh: the massive martial arts dude who teaches in the studio down the hallway — who’s given Shop Boy snake face just for vacuuming — showing up with a pitchfork.

It’s the day before Halloween. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! What better time for Letterpress List No. 8? Here we go: In honor of the dark holiday, some tunes that just feel right. Many of these tricks and treats are available for a fee at iTunes or Napster.

Live WireMotley Crue (The Miehle; Tommy Lee’s, uh, drums, Vince Neil’s makeup … fear all.)
Them BonesAlice in Chains (Road map to the grave.)
HalloweenStephen Lynch (Stewing over cute little goblins.)
I Want CandyBow Wow Wow (Still a felony just to listen in some states.)
I Want OutHelloween (Shop Boy thought this the coolest ever in 1988. Boys …)
Possum KingdomThe Toadies (“I didn’t mean to scare you.” Creepy.)
Bullet with Butterfly WingsSmashing Pumpkins (Rats, pumpkin guts. A Halloween hangover.
Mother Danzig (Mary’s convinced Glenn Danzig is the reincarnation of Elvis, on HGH. Never seen them together, have you?)
Heaven and HellBlack Sabbath (With Ronnie James Dio, patron saint of Halloween.)
Ghostbusters Ray Parker Jr. (Dogs and cats living together. Sorry, massive martial arts dude. Vacuum time.)
DragulaRob Zombie (Like, it’s really scary … for a car.)
The Number of the BeastIron Maiden (1-800-YOUBURN.)
BeelzStephen Lynch (An alternate view of the devil: “I’m the reason that the Boston Red Sox even had a chance.”)
The Heretic AnthemSlipknot (“I haven’t the slightest …” LOL.)
Highway to HellAC/DC (We’ll give Patty the holiday off.)

Letterpress List No. 7: Paper Cuts

October 23, 2007

They called it bad parenting.

We had entrusted a local “finishing” company with our baby — the Zolo holiday card — in the form of reams of a Crane’s paper called Lettra. This is the good stuff. Thick paper that will take a strong impression (the “feel” of letterpress), yet not let the image push through the other side, which can be a problem if you’re printing there as well. We were. The card is a Global Action for Children fundraiser, meant to help at-risk kids and orphans around the world. A buddy, Jennifer Delaney, is executive director. Byron Glaser and Zolo — known for its wildly creative toys — designed the card.

The paper comes in boxes of “parent” sheets, in this case about 22 inches by 30 inches. Mary does the math on how best to utilize every square inch of the stuff. (Her method is madness, but whatever … it eventually works.) The finishing company is in the same building where Mary had found a guy who would create cutting dies for us on a dime — but for considerably more spare change. The business has got years and years “best of” plaques all over the wall, and a jukebox with Juice (“It’s a Heartache”) Newton on it. The receptionist was nice and helpful.

Anyway, we’d convinced ourselves that this was too big a job, timewise, for us to handle on our little guillotine cutter. Plus, Shop Boy is constantly preaching trust:

  • that Mary can do anything (believe it)
  • that things will work out
  • that others will put as much care into their work as we do into ours
  • that Shop Boy won’t do (NAME OF MISTAKE NOT TO BE REPEATED) again.

This would not turn out to be a trust-building experience.

When we went to retrieve the order a couple of days later, the receptionist was snarling. Uh-oh. The rep said the order was on a pallet out back. Double uh-oh, as we’d driven our car — my little pickup can’t fit a pallet in back either. Besides, it wasn’t a very big order. What did they need a pallet for? My heart sank. We’d need to repack it, for sure.

Shop Boy drove glumly around to the back loading dock. Then the rep opened the bay door. “Oh my god,” Mary said — over and over.

There, on a dirty pallet, plastic-wrapped so tightly that many of its edges had bent, was our order. The rep, seeing Mary’s face, ran to get boxes and a helper. Shop Boy, not knowing quite what to do, just stood there. This was a mistake he won’t repeat anytime soon.

“Don’t just stand there!” Mary barked. “Get a box.”

Four of us repacked the paper and loaded the truck in silence, except for this:

“The paper was damaged when we got it,” said the rep.

Shop Boy, I am not ashamed to tell you, was suddenly afraid — for a lot of people.

Well, to make a long story short, we printed what we could, discarding damaged and dirty pieces all the way through the run. And Crane, graciously, sent lots more paper once its rep — a guy named Dave Kidwell — found out what the project was for (even though we couldn’t promise he’d meet Angelina Jolie, a Global Action for Children spokeswoman).

We’re cutting this pile ourselves.

But Mary’s still fuming. Never seen her this mad. I’ve left the name of the finishing company out here, just in case Mary torches the place. Hate to see her go to jail. Worse, I’d hate for Mary to know that Shop Boy was the lone potential witness to the crime, know what I mean?

By the way, we never had this conversation …


Let’s lighten the mood, shall we?

Letterpress List No. 7: This is, like, three weeks in a row that Shop Boy’s filed a Tuesday list on a Tuesday. And how about that Red Sox-Rockies World Series that Shop Boy predicted — for Next Year? We’re on a roll, baby. Let’s keep it going: Here are some songs perfect for killing about an hour or so. As usual, most should be available at iTunes or Napster (just so I don’t seem completely biased).

BurnRancid (We don’t need no water let the [um … darn old thing] burn.”)
Sweating Bullets
Megadeth (“Sharpening the ax and my palms are getting wet.” Hmm. Must work for our finishing company.)
SmileLily Allen (Have mercy! On second thought, nah.)
Don’t KillHamell on Trial (“Thou means YOU.”)
SugarSystem of a Down (Going away forever, but feeling better.)
Calm Like a BombRage Against the Machine (Tick, tick, tick.)
Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)Pat Travers (Not kidding: ready to fight.)
(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and UnderstandingElvis Costello (Who are the trusted?)
Dirty DeedsAC/DC (Concrete shoes, cyanide, TNT … check. Bon Scott lives!)
You Oughta KnowAlanis Morissette (Can you feel it?)
RenegadeStyx (The jig is up.)
My Name is MudPrimus (Turn up the base … and grab a shovel.)
Guilty ConscienceEminem (Temper, temper.)
Some Heads Are Gonna RollJudas Priest (Indeed.)
Looks That KillMotley Crue (“If she don’t get her way, she’ll slice you apart.”
Ha Ha You’re DeadGreen Day (Moshing on your grave, dude.)

Letterpress List No. 6: Partner in Grime

October 16, 2007

Filing your taxes on April 15 is for sissies. If you play your cards right, and apply for the proper extensions, you can put off the inevitable until … the Fifteenth of October. This, of course, was news to me, too.

Mary was officially starting Typecast Press in 2006 while slowly phasing out her graphic design business. There was new stuff to deal with, like manufacturer’s exemptions, equipment, expenses, inventory, depreciation, sales tax. And since her husband is … let’s be gentle here … not real strong with numbers — not even real good at keeping track of the bank statements — Mary also had 2006 personal taxes to prepare. But I figured she had them under control.

Anyway, imagine my surprise when, at 2 p.m. on Oct. 15, Mary slid a form in front of me and said, “Just sign here.”

Under partner.

Woo-hoo! So it wasn’t all for nothing! All that time on my hands and knees, mucking out letterpress crud, cleaning entire presses with nothing but a razor blade, paper towels, steel wool and a smile! Hand-rolling the drive wheel through project after project while we waited for a new motor! Spending hour after hour after midnight waiting for Mary to finish tweaking the 799th invitation in a “run” of 800 copies so that I could clean the ink off the press, the rollers, the mixing plate! All the hand-folding of holiday cards! Gently vacuuming thousands of pieces of wood furniture! Sorting drawer after drawer of lead type! I was a partner at The Firm! I’d never known that I had a vote!

“You don’t,” Mary said. “Silly bear. It’s just a tax form.”

She explained that I’m a different kind of partner. Dependable. Loyal. Silent.

Mary and that guy with the greasy apron over at Typecast Press. The other half.

So I guess that makes me … John Oates.

So I guess that makes me … Sonny Bono.

So I guess that makes me … Dawn.

So I guess that makes me … Shop Boy.

Sigh. I need some music to lift my spirits.

How about Letterpress List No. 6?

You know the drill, I hope. Great tunes for the letterpress printshop or wherever you happen to be for about an hour. I’ve added links where able. (One of these days this blog is gonna really sing! Not today, alas.) Some of the YouTube links aren’t great for video, but they cost nothing. And most songs should be available at iTunes. I figure if I link there enough, Apple will give me something. Hey, it’s free music Tuesday, so it worked!

Letterpress List No. 6: Strong women, God bless ’em.

Ah Mary Grace Potter & the Nocturnals (“She’ll be the end of me and maybe everyone.” Hee-hee.)
RespectAretha Franklin (Just because.)
My Favorite MistakeSheryl Crow (The woman had a lot to choose from, unfortunately.)
The Last of MeBree Sharp (Breaking up is hard to do, especially if she’s bent on hunting you down.)
Smoke DetectorRilo Kiley (For Eleanor Lewis, who rocks powerfully.)
Silent All These Years Tori Amos (How’s that thought for you?)
Fast as You CanFiona Apple (She’ll soon grow hungry for a fight, and she will not let you win. Ooh.)
SuperheroAni DiFranco (You’ve hurt her. Better not let her back in that phone booth.)
Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)Joan Jett (Might need heat-resistant gloves.)
Bitter Jill Sobule (There is strength in acceptance.)
Brass in Pocket
Pretenders (Chrissie Hynde’s gonna make you notice. The rest of us are already there, dude.)
Lose MyselfLauryn Hill (Some guy thought L Boogie wasn’t good enough?!?)
You’re Speaking My LanguageJuliette & the Licks (“I bit your dog ‘cuz he hit on my cat.” Check this out: LOL.)
Goodbye EarlDixie Chicks (No you didn’t …)
Volcano Girls Veruca Salt (Hitting the wall, bouncing back.)
Why’d You Lie to MeAnastacia (Messed up. Time to leave.)
What’s Up?4 Non Blondes (Linda Perry, before she made Pink.)
RespectPink (You were thinking you were gonna get it for free? No, no, no.)
Highway to Hell Patty (I am going to keep listing this until it is on your iPod. Surrender now.)

Letterpress List No. 5: iDrool

October 9, 2007

“Hi, this is Steve Jobs. I can’t come to the phone right now. I’m off developing some really cool gadget that you never knew you’d need but now can’t live without. At the bell, please commence salivating and clearing space on your credit card.”

Steve. Hey, it’s Shop Boy. Just wanted to say thanks for whatever hand you had in disabling Mary’s new Razr cell phone. Apparently, she got a lemon. What are the odds? Looks like she’ll eventually — please, please — need to take mine and I’ll be, ahem, in the market, if you know what I’m saying. I know that you do. Or else you wouldn’t have dropped the iPhone’s price tag tantalizingly close to my range. Man, when I think of browsing my musical library with the touch of a finger. Watching NFL highlights on the morning train. Blogging on the go. It’s all so … beautiful.

Oh, and on that note, and when you get a chance, please send a tech over to remove these mind-reading sensors from my temples. Appreciate it, bud.

Mary’s got her machine crushes, I’ve got mine. Hers tend to run toward the greasy, cast-iron, 1,200-pounds-minimum variety. Shop Boy’s thing is accumulating teeny little devices that play music. And as has probably become apparent, we’re both enablers: Mary’s got about 5 tons of equipment; I’ve got about 2 pounds’ worth of iPods.

I guess in our own ways, we’re just always on the lookout for the next big thing. And our eyes are wandering again.

Mary’s crush might already be in-house. I know, I know. You should never look for romance at work. Try telling her that as she gazes longingly at the Miehle Vertical, about 3 tons of love. The press would be the high-speed letterpress churner that we’ve lacked. Typecast Press has had to turn down some jobs because the volume requested simply can’t be achieved through hand-feeding. The Miehle’s been sitting in our secondary shop space for more than a year. We had a cleaning party several months ago to clear 30 years of gunk off the beast, and now we’re going to wire it up.

It’s got some special needs. The drive belt had snapped long ago. Pieces of the machine had been strewn about its previous home. At least we think they might be press bits. We stuck them in a box. The Miehle is also a bed-wetter — oil leaks, that is. This means it must always be set upon a large drip tray. Several “pigs,” sacks of who knows what once placed under old machines to absorb oil, remain lodged beneath ours. Let me state for the record here that I am as afraid of this machine as I’ve ever been of anything and I am not going in after them. (Also, for the record, I once told Mary that only an idiot pays $60 for a pair of pants. Fifteen minutes later, I was an idiot. So stay tuned.)

Oh, and the Miehle needs special electric current. Three-phase, whatever that it. We called the building’s electrician for a bid. He looked around, eyed the Miehle. His bid: $5,000! He wanted as much to do with the machine as Shop Boy does.

No deal. Once again, we’ve called in a ringer. Tom Beal, Mary’s brother-in-law, who’s been so amazingly helpful already, somehow has in his possession a thingamajig that can adapt the Miehle to run on 220 power, the kind that a washing machine requires. We’ll fly him down in about a week. Tom will get it done in short order, I’m sure, and also install the new drive belt and figure out which pieces of the machine need to be pulled from the box. He’s that kind of guy.

So Mary will soon have the 6,000-pound mangler of her dreams.

All Shop Boy’s asking for is an 5-ounce iPhone. Geez.

In the spirit of all that is iPod (bow down, mortals), here’s this week’s list of about an hour’s worth of songs. With the recent release by singer — and onetime Shop Boy Heart-throb — Ann Wilson of (alas) mostly lukewarm covers on Hope & Glory, I thought it might be fun to gather some more successful attempts. Most should be at iTunes.

Smooth CriminalAlien Ant Farm (Oddly rocking. Better than the original?)
Real Wild Child Josie and the Pussycats (Go ahead. Say it to my face.)
Sad Songs & WaltzesCake (Props to Willie Nelson.)
I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself White Stripes (Weirdly wonderful.)
Welcome to the JungleRichard Cheese (Sorry. Just had to.)
Eye in the SkyJonatha Brooke (Shop Boy tear-jerker.)
Tired of Waiting for YouGreen Day (Versatile punks slow it down. Nice.)
Highway to HellPatty (I’ve mentioned it before. This acoustic rendition is spine-tingling.)
MaybellineTed Nugent (“Atrocious Theodocious” behind the wheel.)
The Thrill Is GoneBig Time Sarah and the BTS Express (The evil gal at her best.)
Are You Gonna Go My WayTom Jones (Who’da thunk? Wow.)
Microphone FiendRage Against the Machine (Kick hole in speaker. Pull plug. Jet.)
Smells Like Teen SpiritTori Amos (I swear: Nobody else could have done this.)
Wichita LinemanFreedy Johnston (Mary’s favorite. Freedy nails it.)
EasyFaith No More (Like Sunday morning … religiously rendered.)
*Honorable mention: PrinceBest of You (NFL Halftime magic, all evidence of which has apparently been locked away by Universal Music.)

(Uh-oh, the phone is ringing. Better let the machine pick it up.)

“Hi, this is Shop Boy. I can’t come to the phone right now. I’m off developing a crush on some really cool gadget that Steve Jobs just waved under my nose. Please leave a message at the beep.”

Hey, Shop Boy. It’s Steve Jobs. Glad to help on the iPhone. Gimme a few months, and I’ll ring your bell again. And sorry, the iTemple sensors are permanent. Enjoy!

Letterpress List No. 3: I’m a Believer

September 26, 2007

Breaking news: Shop Boy’s musical genome has been decoded.

I am descended from Monkees.

Hey, I’m as shocked as you are. Mary? Not so much.

See, Mary reduces the entirety of my musical oeuvre thusly: goofy/theatrical/fast. If a song has one or two of those things going for it, Shop Boy is all ears.

The web site for Love God’s Way has also boiled down my musical library.

Harrumph to them both.

I’ll listen only to Pandora.

(An aside here: Shop Boy is no one’s shill but his own — and that of letterpress, naturally. So, see for yourself. No purchase necessary. Results may vary. Past success is no guarantee of future earnings. Professional drivers on a closed course, etc.)

Sometimes, no matter how vast or varied your iPod library is, you want something a little different to listen to while you’re in the printshop. A song you haven’t heard or thought about in years, maybe, or bands you’ve heard about but never experienced. Say you had the opportunity to simply throw your musical preferences — by artist or song title — into a centrifuge, let it spin and let whatever pops out of the speakers play. Pandora, which calls itself a Musical Genome Project, creates playlists for you this way. You click thumbs up or thumbs down as songs play to fine-tune the list as the program narrows and splices your musical preferences.

For example, let’s say you key in “No Matter What” by Badfinger (an old fave), “Talk Dirty to Me” by Poison, “Breakout” by the Foo Fighters, “Bounce” by System of a Down, “Panama” by Van Halen and, just to be weird, Neil Diamond (he did write good songs way back).

OK, class. What are the lowest common denominators?

Male singers;
Simple lyrics;
Um, romance.

Basically, they’re all from the same family tree as, yes, the Monkees. Their songs and those of their kin will now begin playing. Loudly. If the Partridge Family’s next, I’m gonna have to hide somewhere. My guilty pleasures laid bare.

I’m not saying this will happen to you. But be forewarned:

Your musical DNA doesn’t lie.


Shop Boy is pretty hot/cold at this Music Tuesday business so far (today’s Wednesday, for instance), but bear with me — again, you’ve got no choice. It’s my blog and I’m determined to make it work. See you next Tuesday, musically speaking. For now …

Letterpress List No. 3

The following would be unacceptable to Love God’s Way — even if the group might be pulling our leg. (Mary thinks I’m a bit gullible sometimes. I’m not ashamed.) However, if those good folks and other concerned religious groups would just listen, they might find that these songs and others like them affirm life and the freedom to love God much more fully and openly than their way does. I’m not preaching … just saying.

Don’t KillHamell on Trial (God spells it out for us.)
Chocolate Jesus Tom Waits (Really satisfies … the soul.)
CraigStephen Lynch (Jesus’ Cain-raising brother.)
We Are Building a ReligionCake (Where do I sign up?)
Highway to HellPatty (Acoustic AC/DC! She rocks!)
Personal Jesus Depeche Mode (Reach out and touch faith.)
MiracleFoo Fighters (Love shines down.)
Magic Kingdom in the SkyDa Vinci’s Notebook (Disney World, on a skewer.)
God Is in the Radio Queens of the Stone Age (Don’t touch that dial.)
Losing My ReligionREM (“Oh no, I’ve said too much.” Been there.)
The Beautiful PeopleMarilyn Manson (Size … of the steeple … matters.)
Hymn 43 Jethro Tull (A sinner among sinners.)
Sin WagonDixie Chicks (As usual, not gonna take it anymore. God bless ’em.)
Stephen Lynch (Hell’s boss. “The reason that the Boston Red Sox even had a chance.”)
Sabbath Bloody SabbathBlack Sabbath (See above.)
CloserNine Inch Nails (Meat is murder … or something.)

See? I’m not a total wuss. (Stop giggling, Mary.)

Letterpress List No. 2: Numb the Pain

September 18, 2007

It’s Tuesday, so how about a little more free musical advice? (Hey, iTunes does it, why not Shop Boy? Besides, you’ve got no choice in the matter.)

Anyway, you know how sometimes things don’t go your way in the letterpress printshop? It makes you want to drink that botched polymer plate away. You know how sometimes they so don’t go your way — say, a 500-card run fed upside-down — that you want to melt a powdery white substance in a spoon, wrap a rubber cord tightly around your arm, fill a needle and poke a vein? No? Me neither.

Maybe we’re not taking our work seriously enough.

While we take about an hour to think about that one, let this serve as the musical accompaniment:


Drunk and Lonesome AgainSouthern Culture on the Skids (Sounds pretty at closing time.)
I Wanna Be SedatedRamones (Hurry, hurry, hurry — too late.)
DownsHamell on Trial (Havin’ a ball with the Demerol.)
RehabAmy Winehouse (Amy Crackhouse. Heartbreaking.)
Gin and JuiceSnoop Dog (A contact high.)
StrawberryEverclear (A heroin-fueled gutter crawl.)
PsychoSystem of a Down (Cocaine crazy. “Makes you really wanna go … Stop!” Want to test Mary’s reflexes? Put on this band. She can change the song before its third note.)
Beer RunGeorge Jones/Garth Brooks (“I guess half a dozen cases doesn’t last that long …” Oooh. Gotta pee just hearing it. Mary’s even quicker on this one.)
Have a Drink on MeAC/DC (Thanks, but sounds like it’s all gone.)
Tequila SunriseEagles (The booze won’t leave you like she did.)
I Drink AloneGeorge Thorogood (Destroyed in Delaware.)
About to Give Out Tom Petty (“Woke up in the bushes, beat to hell and nude.” Been there, eh guys?)
99 Ways to Die Megadeth (Hung … over.)
AlcoholBarenaked Ladies (Permanently accessorized.)
Union Square Tom Waits (Whiskey in church … with an eternal damnation chaser.)
On the WagonGreen Day (Blame it on sobriety.)

Tune in next week for another Letterpress List!

Letterpress List: Playing Favorites

September 12, 2007

Mary: “If there was only one band you could listen to for all eternity, which one do you think would it be?”

Shop Boy: “Foo Fighters, because the play list could range all the way from soft to really heavy metal, so whatever mood you were in you could find something perfect. And they’re such great songs. It makes me wonder if Dave Grohl wasn’t really as much of an influence on Nirvana as Curt Cobain. The Foo Fighters just seem like such a perfect spinoff — like Curt Cobain’s DNA is there, you know? Or I wonder what Nirvana would have become had Grohl been more aggressive in asserting himself or whatever. Supposedly, Grohl doesn’t even like writing lyrics … you’d never know that from the songs. If I had to pick three songs to play in a loop forever, it’d probably be “Cold Day in the Sun,” “The One” and “Stacked Actors.” What’s even cooler is that he’s the guitarist, not the drummer like he was in Nirvana and on that cool Queens of the Stone Age record. I wonder if he writes the songs as a drummer, like if the beat comes to him first. Wouldn’t that make sense? And wouldn’t it bum you out if you were so psyched to be picked as the Foo Fighters drummer because of your immense skill and creativity and now Dave Grohl was, like, dictating the beat to you?”

Then I took a breath, because air is important.

Mary: “You’ve got all of that swimming around in your head but you can’t remember which way to turn the nut to raise the platen?”

Fine. Be that way. Let’s see if I share my headphones when eternity comes.

Besides, there are cheat sheets for adjusting the platen. And I used to have a sticky note labeled “Ignition Sequence” for turning on the computer at home. Four simple steps that I couldn’t ever remember. Sue me.

But ask what song you should play at Shop Boy’s memorial service (“Whammer Jammer” by the J. Geils Band) or when my ashes are spread (“Let Me Go Rock ‘N’ Roll” by Kiss) or when I come out of the bullpen to save the day for the Boston Red Sox (“Gel” by Collective Soul — see, I’d hesitate during the intro, then punch the glove and kick the bullpen door open as the fast part started … ooh), it’s all right there. Why? Because it’s important.

OK, so, you’re dead, but you never thought about the funeral music. “Candle in the Wind,” anybody? You want the attendees to think you were a wuss? Not Shop Boy.

The bullpen door opens and you’re the Red Sox closer and the PA system starts blaring … “Venus” by Bananarama? Toast. Know what I’m saying?

I think you do.

Now, what in the world does Shop Boy’s musical soundtrack have to do with letterpress printing?

Essentially, this: You don’t want to be having deep philosophical thoughts about the musical backdrop to all of life’s most important moments while you’re standing over a roaring press. It’s too dangerous. But don’t take Shop Boy’s word for it:

“The best safety device is a clear mind, concentrated on the work in hand, with full attention on one’s own individual press, and intent on the best practices of pressfeeding. For such, there need be no fear, for there is no danger.”

Ralph W. & Edwin Polk, “Elementary Platen Presswork (Revised)”

I’m just saying.

For grins, let’s save us all time by letting me pick the music for your shop. It’ll be safer for your hands and your ears that way. DJ Shop Boy will just post one of these lists, say, once a week, about an hour’s worth of tunes — commercial free! If you’ve read this far you might be interested enough to bear with me. If not, you can go sulk away in silence, for all eternity.

List One:

We’ll call this list “Bad Hair Day.” Say you, like Shop Boy, have been kept at the printshop until 3 a.m., then get a wakeup call at 7 a.m. wondering why you’re not ready for work yet. And where’s the coffee?

I got your caffeine right here (iTunes should have most of these, though I, ahem, hope some of them will already be in your collection):

1. “The One” — Foo Fighters (Eternally yours.)
2. “Lifetime Problems” — Texas Terri and the Stiff Ones (Some call it “psychobilly.” Psycho, for short.)
3. “Bump” — Spank Rock (Baltimore’s nastiest.)
4. “One Shot” — Henry Rollins (Good advice: Do not give The Neck here one shot.)
5. “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” — Drowning Pool (Nuff said.)
6. “Fed Up” — House of Pain (Time to go headhuntin’. A flashback.)
7. “mOBSCENE” — Marilyn Manson (Be obscene, not heard. LOL.)
8. “You’re Speaking My Language” — Juliette and the Licks (A natural born killer.)
9. “Do Right” — Jimmie’s Chicken Shack (Frustrated, but fun.)
10. “Another Body Drops” — Cypress Hill (Life in the ‘hood, from a safe distance.)
11. “Bad Reputation” — Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (She still don’t give a damn. JJ rules!)
12. “Business” — Eminem (Can I get a witness?)
13. “Animals” — Nickelback (Band’s a bit old for make-out songs like this. But it’s fast.)
14. “Millionaire” — Queens of the Stone Age (Gimme some more.)
15. “The Lumberjack Song” — Jackyl (Don’t try this at home, kids.*

* Yes, Shop Boy needs to learn the “Ignition Sequence” for uploading a video link.