Halcyon Days

Columns and reflections by Terry Britt

Archive for April 2008

A rockin’ night for the arts

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On April 25, I attended a benefit music festival at A.E. Butler Intermediate School in Quinlan, Texas. The Grow the Arts Music Festival featured five bands, a silent auction, all the good concession favorites like nachos and hot dogs, and a throng of kids (and parents) having a blast.

I went to the event expecting to hear some great music. I came away from it not just with that, but a feeling that put a smile of hope for the future on my face.

The event is the brainchild of David Cheney, member of the rock group Dimmed and arts teacher at Butler Intermediate. Proceeds from tickets, concessions and the auction items will help Cheney buy clay and tools for the pottery program he has introduced to students, and which has been a rousing success thus far.

All the bands put on great sets, but as always seems to be the case with multi-act bills, one in particular steals the show.

On this night, it was a punk rock trio from Leonard, Texas, known as Fakie!

Their set consisted of some great original songs now available on the band’s debut EP (myspace.com/fakiepunks) and some awesome covers, including The Ramones’ “Sedated” and The Doors’ “Hello, I Love You”.

The lead vocalist and guitarist, Reed McBroom, was evoking not just shades but deep hues of Joe Strummer on stage – the stance, the guitar licks, the vocals and the interaction with the crowd.

On its own, the set would have you jumping onto your computer as soon as you got home to look up the band’s Web site.

Even more impressive – maybe awe provoking – is that the combined age of the band is only 37.

Reed is only 13 years old. Paige Watson, the drummer, is just 15 and bassist Buddy McBroom is the “kid” of the group at 9.

Yet here they were, second on the bill at a benefit rock concert, whipping up electrical intensity from a crowd that could just as well be classmates.

Three minutes into a backstage interview with the band after their set, I had to give way to a rapidly growing wave of young (and I do mean young) fans seeking autographs from the new rock heroes they had just discovered.

I couldn’t help but smile as Reed look toward me and his father, Mike McBroom, with that grin of disbelief as he poked his head just barely above the swarm.

Yeah, Reed, you guys were THAT good tonight.

As you might expect, the three have a rock lineage down from their respective fathers, both in the area music scene for many years themselves.

“My job is keeping them grounded,” Mike McBroom said. “I try to help them get their music as good as it can be.”

If Friday night was any evidence, he’s done his job well to this point.

What was most warming to me was the band’s genuine energy mixed with their obviously deep knowledge and appreciation of the punk and punk pop genres. In a day and age of cookie-cutter rap, pop princesses behaving badly, and American Idol, it was a very refreshing sight and sound.

More than anything, Fakie! exhibited everything the entire evening was all about.

For every A.E. Butler Intermediate with an art teacher/rock guitarist who understands the value and far-reaching effect of fine arts in public schools, and is willing to go to great lengths to find money to keep a program going, there are 100 campuses with nothing creative for the kids to do.

While I’m sympathetic with the financial struggles of public schools nationwide, it’s high time state legislators – caught up for years now with standardized testing goals in core classroom subjects – started seeing how equally important things like music, art, and theatre are to the very students whose future they claim to be safeguarding.

And that’s because, despite what the world around you would have you believe, it isn’t the politicians, the superstar pro athletes and the business executives who truly change the world and bring people together.

That job is, and always has been, on the shoulders of those of us whose lives are tied to a pen, a guitar string, a paintbrush, a chisel, or a stage.

Sure, we need to be able to read, write and work with numbers to fashion an everyday existence.

We need the arts to dream, to inspire others to dream, and to remember how wonderful it really is to be human.


Written by terrybritt

April 27, 2008 at 8:41 pm

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End of a moving adventure

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At long last, I have a sense of a place called home.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks transferring sundry belongings and myself into a new two-bedroom apartment in Canton, Texas. I am now setting up home and home office once again, but for what I hope to be the last time in a long time.

Call me unadventurous, but I’ve gotten tired of the nomadic lifestyle. It hasn’t always been my choosing during the last six years, but more the nature of working in an industry where every year is a free agency year – especially if you’re hoping to raise your income level by any more than a token 25 cents an hour.

No more for me, though. I’m tired of being accompanied by corrugated cardboard and scrambling to find someone in decent enough shape to help load and/or unload.

I’m sure this will come as bad news to stockholders in U-Haul. Shares will surely take a tumble with one of their best repeat customers leaving the fold.

Still, I can’t help but look forward to the experience of “settling in” and knowing I won’t have to reach for packing tape and scissors again for the long-term. I may actually feel encouraged to do a bit of decorating or putting up shelving in some of the rooms. God knows the rabbits – all the figurines from my late mother’s massive collection – will look SO much better out in the open instead of congregated inside several boxes.

I am very glad to have found an affordable two-bedroom place, too. Anyone who knows me well will know I own a nice-sized personal library with lots of reference material and science fiction/fantasy titles. And with a sense of having a home again, it’s likely I can feel free to add more titles to the Britt Collection in the months to come.

A sense of permanence should also help with something else: keeping this Web site updated with new posts on a more regular interval.

I want to keep readers coming back for more, which I think should be a goal of any blog worth its space in cyberspace. Now that the “Whither home?” question has been put to rest, I hope to provide at least one new column every week.

I’m also planning to do more with the software and technology section (because people just can’t get enough of shiny new tech gadgets, it seems) and to start a music blog, the first entry being some thoughts on a benefit music festival I covered recently at an area school.

More writing, less packing and unpacking.

I like the sound of that already.

As a young child, Terry Britt never dreamed he would become sole owner of part of a private rabbit collection. You can reach him at terrybritt@hotmail.com.

Written by terrybritt

April 27, 2008 at 7:34 pm

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Back to the county fair

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Mary, a rabbit entered in the Van Zandt County Fair\'s Linda Brown Memorial Pet Show. Mary is owned by John Sawyer of Van, Texas.

This week marked the first time in almost seven years for me to make the on-foot journey among the barns, stalls, exhibition buildings and carnival rides that can only be the Van Zandt County Fair in Canton, Texas.

The State Fair of Texas, held in Dallas for three weeks starting in late September, is the largest and most-hyped of this type of event. Lately, though, it has seemed little more than auxiliary entertainment for people going to the annual Texas vs. Oklahoma college football game, and an unofficial competition to see who can come up with the next big heart clogging, deep-fried delicacy that will become all the rage among Dallas-area bloggers.

If you want to get a full slice of real Texas culture, though, nothing beats a local county fair.

It’s largely about the kids, though the adults certainly have their spotlight in the various domestic arts contests. But for many, many years, the local county fair was a youth-oriented social networking scene long before there was a MySpace or a Facebook.

From the various livestock shows and auction to rides on the Ferris wheel to meals of nachos and corny dogs, kids from area schools congregate with friends and make new ones. It’s a phenomenal process to just stand back and watch unfold before your eyes, drizzled with the flavor of knowing they’re all having a fun time at something that, like Christmas, comes but once a year.

Having been away from Van Zandt County for six years, I knew there would be a few things different from what I remembered – and I wasn’t disappointed on that front – but it took only a few minutes after parking in the open field lot before déjà vu settled into my mind.

One constant after all that time is the boys and girls still put a lot of hard work, time and patience into livestock projects, be they steers, hogs, lambs, goats or broilers. In some cases, a solid year of effort is poured into an animal’s keep and care, all in the hope of selling at auction for enough money that will allow the young person to do it all again for next year’s county fair.

That is really saying something these days, or as one county extension agent recently told me in an interview, “I don’t remember kids 10 years ago having so many options of things to be involved in.”

All too true and, as a result, FFA and 4-H Clubs everywhere find themselves in competitive situations just to keep membership steady. Yet, if fairs like the Van Zandt County Fair are an indicator, not all has been lost in a world of Xbox 360s and year-round competitive athletics.

On a personal note, it was a lot of fun running into more old friends and acquaintances seeing me for the first time since my return in mid-November. I also got the photography assignment for the annual pet show that bears the name of my late editor, who died suddenly and way too young during my first tenure here.

There was one experience, thought, that stood out above all others this week.

As I strolled around the grounds taking pictures, talking and soaking in the scenery, I spotted several young adults who, years ago, were the high school kids roaming about and having the time of their lives at the fair. Now, they had their small children with them, giving them their first experiences of getting close to a real cow, riding on the carousel, or taking a bite out of a big corny dog.

It really is comforting to know some things never change.

Terry Britt takes great pride in having a vocabulary that includes “Simmental” and “Charolais”. You can reach him at terrybritt@hotmail.com.

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April 12, 2008 at 7:57 pm

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How Rock ‘n’ Roll Failed to Ruin My Life

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My 16-year-old son, Ryan, is a generally mild-mannered young man. He certainly has a competitive streak, given that he is an amateur wrestler, but he rarely gets angry.

That is, until you start stereotyping or criticizing him for his choice of music.

Plain and simple, Ryan likes to rock. For many years now, he has joyously spent his free time to the sounds of hard rock and metal bands like Judas Priest, AC/DC, Scorpions and Metallica, just to name a few.

Apparently, 20-plus years has done nothing to diminish the paranoia some straighter-laced music fans feel when they see someone like Ryan sporting an Iron Maiden T-shirt. According to these folks, anyone who follows these bands must surely be in the grip of an evil force feeding them Satanic, destructive urges through the screeching guitars, lyrical wailings and banal drumbeats.

Over the past few years, he has told me about several instances where he suddenly found himself defending the bands he enjoys most and his freedom to play their albums in his CD stereo system.

And I knew all too well the arguments his critics were tossing at him. I heard just about every anti-rock music diatribe that exists when I was his age.

Frankly, I didn’t have the courage my son has in defending his choice of music and telling some neo-conservative simpleton that I never have been, and never will be, interested in joining Satan’s legions. The place, the time, the awkward teenage emotional construct was different for me. Rather than being bold and argumentative, I took my love for rock ‘n’ roll underground.

In the church I attended at the time, I got the impression that anything that wasn’t distinctively gospel music, or at least prominently mentioned Jesus in the lyrics, was equated with stepping dangerously close to the edge of the cliff that led downward to alcoholism, drugs, moral ruin, death and danger of eternal hellfire.

So, I had to sit through countless Sunday sermons being verbally pummeled with warnings not to listen the Beatles, not to listen to the Rolling Stones, and to definitely keep my ears clear of then-new and really dangerous-to-Christians-everywhere bands like AC/DC.

However, rock music and I went back long before I ever sat in the pews of that church. Being a gifted child, few things held the sort of magic and merriment in my pre-school years than my parents’ cabinet stereo with record player.

Long before I became acquainted with the apostle Paul, I was a fan of Paul McCartney. The number 66 (as in books in the Bible) was preceded in my learning by the number 45 (as in revolutions per minute), and I was groovin’ to soul at age 3, five years before I gave my soul to God at age 8.

It has now been about 25 years since those days of being told how spiritually unhealthy all that rock music was for me as a teenager. I can calmly report to anyone reading this column that I have since listened to “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones dozens of times, and have yet to feel even the slightest urge to participate in any animal sacrifices, satanic rituals, or mass sexual orgies.

Even more amazing is that I have since become a devoted fan of that raw, unbridled sound known as punk – spearheaded by legendary bands like the Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned and the New York Dolls.

That last statement is probably sending half of Van Zandt County, Texas, into heart clutching and gasps for breath:

“But….how….I, I just don’t understand….After all these years, HOW could we have missed Terry’s earring and weird haircut, and odd-looking tattoos? We haven’t even seen him spray paint that anarchy symbol anywhere in town!”

And you never will, but that is exactly the point.

You may not like rock music or the style, the album covers, and the performances of certain bands, but not every one of their fans is a devil-worshipping cult member or a hate-filled derelict. In fact, odds are none of them fit that description. Likewise, not every fan of gangsta rap is a law-breaking thug; not every devotee of gospel is a saint walking the earth.

Ryan is an honor roll student, active in his church and community, an officer in his Civil Air Patrol chapter, a state medalist in wrestling, and, as of a week ago, seriously considering obtaining the title of Father Ryan Britt.

And he is a proud metalhead, son of a proud rock ‘n’ roller.

Terry Britt can often be seen singing The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” while sitting in traffic. You can reach him at terrybritt@hotmail.com.

Written by terrybritt

April 10, 2008 at 9:13 pm

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This Fox has regained its Fire

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I’ve done some beta testing of the recently released Firefox 3 browser, builds 4 and 5, and can tell you what I’ve seen thus far is mighty impressive.

Since Firefox 2 was released, the popular open-source browser has gone through what I would describe as growing pains – noticeable slowdowns, security issues and fixes, among other matters. The development team seems to have been aware of that and the result is a lot of what you’ll see when Firefox 3 is finalized and released sometime in the summer.

In a nutshell, Firefox 3 zooms. That is likely going to be the most noticeable improvement and the one users will appreciate most. For those who want hard numbers, you can find benchmark test results at the ZDNet and CNET Web sites, but in simple comparisons loading some of my most visited Web sites, I could tell a big difference in rendering speed between Firefox 2 and the Firefox 3 betas, even more so when compared to Internet Explorer 7.

Among some of the other changes:

Bookmark options – bookmarked pages or sites can be grouped into a folder that can reside on the toolbar. A tap of the mouse button on that folder will display the pages or sites in that group in a drop-down menu style. There are also “smart bookmarks,” grouping by most visited, recently added and user-defined tags. Some of the available add-on programs – user flexibility and customization being one of Firefox’s biggest strengths – are specific to bookmarking.

The URL bar – Firefox 3 adds RSS subscription and “add to favorites” buttons here.

Downloads – The downloaded files roster box now adds a search function.

Add-ons – The add-ons box also includes an online search function, bigger descriptive bars highlighting each add-on program, themes now includes a preview pane to the right, and a tab for plug-in programs (i.e. Java, Adobe Acrobat) has been added.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of changes, but highlights a few likely to catch your eye. The speed improvement will likely capture your attention and loyalty, and it looks to me like Mozilla has just upped the ante once again in the ongoing browser wars.

Written by terrybritt

April 10, 2008 at 9:05 pm