(“Gold on the Ceiling” plays in the background.)

Kristi: Who is that?
Me: That’s The Black Keys.
Kristi: I like that.

Previously: Political nostalgia | Hokum home

Political nostalgia

In: Hokum

14 Mar 2012

The demands of my current job have helped assure I have only peripheral involvement in NPR’s 2012 presidential coverage. That’s really odd for me, since I spent most of the last 27 years immersed in political journalism.

I’ve written so many Election Night overview stories, for example, that I built a process to make them easier to do. I typically write a timeline of the night in advance — when polls are closing in various states, what the expected outcome is, where things are likely to stand at a given time and so on — slap it up on a wall or easel and then follow it through the night. I then station a copy editor next to me and write the story in real time. By the 2008 presidential election, I had this down to such a science that I clubbed most of my competitors in terms of speed and focus. The story wound up in a journalism textbook:
USAToday.com Election Night 2008


But not everything I did was about the news of the moment. For example, I had tremendous fun updating this USA Today map for several months in 2004:

In 2000, when I was senior editor of politics for CNN.com, I performed so many divergent tasks that it’s hard to spotlight just one. And course, 2000 was the year of Bush v. Gore, which turned Election Night into an experience straight out of Kafka. A lot of this stuff is hidden away now, but here’s a grab from the GOP convention via the Internet Wayback Machine.

Previously: The Show returns | Hokum home

The Show returns

In: Hokum

9 Mar 2012

I haven’t written about The Show all year. I’ve been watching all along, but honestly, I’m not sure there’s anyone in this crew I’m going to remember three weeks after the season ends.

That’s not quite as much of a knock as it sounds. These musicians are — as the judges keep reminding us over and over and over again — exceptionally talented. The other night, for example, almost all of the women got through a Whitney Houston night in one piece, which is a nearly impossible accomplishment. And the poor woman who was sentenced to singing I Will Always Love You didn’t blow that impossible-to-cover song. In fact, she knocked it out of the park.

And I didn’t care very much because I had heard it all before.

To me, this group lacks musical originality and its members don’t seem very capable of transcending the covers they’re singing. Now, there are still plenty of weeks left in this season and there always are a few people who grow tremendously during their time on the show, so there might yet be something here that piques my interest. But I am not holding my breath.

I’ll just accept The Show for what it appears to be this year — a somewhat fun/dramatic, but ultimately disposable, game show.

Previously: Surprise! | Hokum home


In: Hokum

5 Mar 2012

Sometimes, things just get weird — in the best way. I was reminded of that last weekend, when a seemingly routine out-of-town music gig went another way entirely.

I had a show Friday night with longtime music buddies Joe and Marc at the new Fat Tuesdays restaurant in Martinsburg, WV, just across the state line. My wife and I decided to make a weekend out of it and reserved a nearby hotel room.

Then the weirdness kicked in. We checked in to the hotel and I went back to the car to pick up a few things. As I walked past the front desk, the clerk gave me a giant Cheshire cat grin and said, “How do you like your room?” “It’s fine,” I responded, confused.

When I returned to my room, I understood the clerk’s interest, since she already knew something I didn’t. Two of my sisters were there. They live in Missouri. Surprise!

But the surprises did not end there. We went to the gig restaurant, which was packed, and the manager told me he once was married to the piano player in an old band of mine. She lives in Ohio now. He called her up and I talked to her for the first time in, oh, at least a dozen years or so.

Then the gig went really well, and at night’s end, the band was given three more shows — one a month for the next three months. Here’s a clip my sister recorded on a cell phone, so you’ve been warned about the recording quality (but it’s still fun — and remember, we played this as a trio with no drums).

I got to spend the next day with my sisters, giving them a little tour of West Virginia’s eastern panhandle (I’ve been there many times, thanks to Paw Paw):


…and then bringing them to the National Mall at night — one of my favorite things to do with visitors.

That was the first time in more than a year that I had seen any of my five (five!) sisters. I’ll catch up with one or two others when we all go to Tybee Island, Ga. in May, but our current adult realities mean that we’ll rarely see each other any more. It was a great weekend and a great gig, and as someone who generally doesn’t like surprises, I have to say that this was one of the best surprises ever.

Previously: A simple song | Hokum home

A simple song

In: Hokum

25 Feb 2012

I’ve been playing John Prine’s “Fish and Whistle” on guitar a lot lately, mostly because it’s such a seemingly simple song that’s deceptively hard to play. It’s lyrically dense and there are a lot of chord changes — although, like most Prine songs, the chords themselves are easy (mostly Gs and Cs).

But I’m also playing it because the song has a great back story. I saw Prine perform recently and he joked about the song. He said he had finished writing an entire album, but that his producer demanded he write one more song. Prine was so annoyed that he intentionally tried to write a song he would hate. Thus: “Fish and Whistle.”

Prine said he hated the song for many years until he woke up one day and decided he kind of liked it after all, and now it’s among his most-requested. There’s a reason for that. I’ll never write a chorus as good as this one, for example:

Father, forgive us for what we must do
You forgive us and we’ll forgive you
We’ll forgive each other ’til we both turn blue
Then we’ll whistle and go fishin’ in Heaven.

That’s a lot of philosophy packed into four simple lines. There are whole religions that should put this advice in their owner’s manuals.

Previously: Today’s favorite search term | Hokum home


About this blog

Hokum is written by Randy Lilleston, a Washington-area journalist. This blog contains a variety of insignificant thoughts. I started it in March 2006, but a stupid unfortunate event in November 2007 led to the accidental deletion of all posts before August 2006. Enjoy.

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