My Erdie Number

This past Sunday was the last house concert of the season at Jim and Llouise Altes’. You probably know what a house concert is, a chance for musicians to play in a quiet, friendly, and attentive environment. All the proceeds go to the musician, and there’s usually a potluck afterwards. The handful of Pittsburgh house concert venues usually host acts from a five-hundred mile radius. So you get some of the best performers from places like Nashville, New York, and D.C.

On Sunday, though, it only took a short walk up the block to see a local, Jack Erdie, exhibit some of the best that is said, played, or sung. A native of Fairmont, West Virginia, Jack’s been in Pittsburgh for a number of years. Jack puts his characters through the paces, or should I say, a press — love and benevolence in the face of a cold world and self-destruction. He’s a musical scholar who doesn’t let his scholarship get in the way of enthusiasm. He can write and sing and pick and tell stories with the best of them. I know most of Jack’s songs, but he still surprised me, and sent me down a few paths I hadn’t been before.

Following Jack’s two sets, we filled our plates and some of us made it to the porch to talk about Albert Einstein (It’s not always about politics, justice, and labor struggles for us folkies.).

Perhaps it was Jack’s song “Speed of Darkness” that got people talking about Einstein.

Please help me, Einstein
I’m stuck on a time line
My space is caving in
The speed of darkness
Has outrun my carcass again

Or, maybe it was Walter Isaacson’s recent Einstein biography. Anyway, we talked about who Einstein was, what made him such an intriguing figure, and how physicists become pop stars. In addition, Jack did a great imitation of Stephen Hawking’s answering machine message. The personalities of physicists, though, can actually be a distraction from their constructions of the physical world.

So later that night, I was still thinking about Einstein’s thought experiment, the one where you’re rolling along on a light wave. I wanted to know more, so I googled “Einstein Thought Experiment.” The top ranked article was written by John Norton, Pitt professor, noted Einstein historian, and a former Friendship resident. He’s also a great writer and expositor. Like a patient uncle trying to impart life lessons, John’s always willing to discuss the history of science and quantum physics, even if he knows you aren’t getting it right there and then. You can tell that in this article, a concise and rigorous trip on a light wave. Because it contains a few words such as electrostatics and differential it might — just like a Jack Erdie song — take me a while to get it.

Through metaphysics and verse, through simple harmonies to discourses on the nature of light, from deviled eggs to Greek-style green beans, you might find the keys to the universe in one place. Maybe you won’t find everything on a Friendship porch, but I will say that I’m happy to live in the same town as Jack Erdie, John Norton, and Jim and Llouise Altes.

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