Thursday, December 10, 2015

Happy Holidays: Enjoy Peter Ermey's Cover Of The Chipmunks' "Christmas Don't Be Late"

Welp, it's time to start showcasing some of my friends' sonic meditations on the holidays.  Let's start with Peter Ermey, who played, sang, mixed, and engineered everything on this track,  recorded in December of 2002 in a tiny closet of a downtown high-rise apartment in Goiania, Brazil.  He writes:
If you listen to it, he does give it a little Brazilian feel with the guitar part.  I think it's pretty brilliant, especially for having been recorded in a closet.  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Songwriting 101: "Let There Be Peace On Earth"

Growing up Catholic in the 1970s, I remember hearing "Let There Be Peace On Earth" a fair amount at church.  If you've ever been to Catholic mass more than once, it becomes evident pretty fast why this song would stand out.  For starters, there's the wonderful 3/4 waltz time, which I've always been a bit of a sucker for.  Also, the lyrics are completely accessible to a young person.  The lyrics aren't about something long ago and far away; up high that you can't understand.  There are no profound theological concepts, there's no archaic terminology.  It's about changing the world by changing  yourself.  Indeed, you can't change anything unless you recognize and address your own shortcomings that might contribute to the mess of a world in which we live.  Meaningful change is never an easy task, but it is quite doable on an individual level.  You can sing all the songs about God's might and power that you want, but you can't do a fucking thing about God.  (After all, he's the alpha and the omega, the is, was and ever shall be, right?)  You can, however, do something about yourself.  If enough people drop fear as their motivation for action (or inaction, actually), the miracle of love can happen, but even a miracle needs a hand.

I can't recall hearing that song after the 1970s.  I'm sure it's regarded as hippy fluff nowadays.  But this year, Christmas will be overshadowed by the shit situation in which we find ourselves.  The terrorists are winning because we're more scared than we've ever been before.  Our answer seems to always be tighter surveillance, looser gun laws and more guns.  Always more guns.  We have literal fascists - a word I don't use lightly - vying for our nation's top office.  I live in a state not only known for discrimination, we're coming up with new people to discriminate against.  I could go on and on.  But it's December.  It's the only time during the calendar year when peace even gets lip service - have you ever noticed how many Christmas songs talk about peace?  Clearly, no one takes it seriously past December 25th, but maybe it's time.  Because all I know is violence isn't working.  In fact, as a look back on history, I can't think of a time that it ever did work.  If  you think hard about this, you'll see I'm right. 

As for myself, I like to think of myself as an imperfect pacifist; that is, one who believes in pacifism but still engages in the occasional verbal/physical scrum just to make sure I'm right about pacifism being the way. But if there's ever - ever - going to be peace on earth, it has to begin with me.

I love the lyrics to this song.  A lot.  I'm not going to link to any online versions of this song, because the best way to hear it is to hear it sung by folks like you and me.  And I'm not going to post to the revised. inclusive lyrics to this song because I give you more credit than that.  When you see lyrics like "let me walk with my brother", I know that you know that despite the non-inclusive lyrics, we're talking about everyone here. These are the lyrics I grew up singing.  Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.  Now more than ever.

Let There Be Peace On Earth
Let there be peace on earth
and let it begin with me
let there be peace on earth
the peace that was meant to be
with God as our father
brothers all are we
let me walk with my brother
in perfect harmony

Let peace begin with me
let this be the moment now
with every step I take
let this be my solemn vow
to take each moment
and live each moment
in peace eternally
let there be peace on earth
and let it begin with me

I Got Some Musical Stuff Happening Now

Hey maybe you've been wondering if I've been gigging.  Not much, but that's about to change.  The CD I recorded on so long ago is ready for it's debut.  Amigo Fields will be doing a CD release party this Thursday for "American Lullaby" 7:30 PM at Player's Pub in Bloomington, IN.  There's a $5 cover, but we'll make it worth your while if you make it.  We've got some stuff planned, yo.  Want a sample from the CD?  See below.  If you listen closely,  you can hear me doing some harmonies later in the song.

If you want to hear more, tune into Glen Furr's show "Locals Only" this Thursday.  Glen came by James' house to talk to us and record some music.  You can listen to it online here.  Just don't hold my painfully obvious mistakes against me.  I promise I'll kill it on Thursday.

Additionally, I just joined the pit band for a local production of the musical version of the ol' skool "Free To Be You And Me" movies they used to show you in elementary school.  I believe that show will be in March of 2016, so you've got time to plan for it (no excuses to not make it).  I reckon I'll have a lot more to share about that soon. I'm actually very excited about it!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Have You Heard Of This Podcast Thing All The Kids Are Into?

I've never been into podcasts.  Don't get me wrong - I love the idea of podcasts.  It's hands free entertainment that allows you to move about and still be stimulated/engaged.  But it just never caught on.  I feel the judgments of millions of white bread folks like me when I say that "Serial" did nothing for me.  I walked away after an episode and a half.  Marc Maron's "WTF" podcast boasted some amazing guests, but I got so sick of listening to him interrupt his guests and dwell on his own neurosis that I couldn't make it through more than one.  He reminded me too much of fucking Richard Lewis, who drove me nuts with all his yammering.  Other podcasts had lousy production or a lack of energy - both traits are major deal breakers for me, even if the content is allegedly good.  Hell, I can't even tell you what those podcasts were because I only listened to them for a few seconds.  There was one podcast I thought was pretty good - the Kinsey Institute's podcast - but they're very short.  By the time you get settled in, they're over.  I stopped looking into podcasts after awhile.  It seemed like a genre that only hipsters and librarians could get into.  No offense to either of those crowds.  It's like the audio version of whatever introspective, sci-fi TV show that is popular at the moment:  it always seems pretty cool, but it just felt like after awhile you try too hard to like it.

I decided to give podcasts another shot when I agreed to help my brother move from his house in Florida back to Indiana.  I would be following the box truck he was driving in his car, a 2009 Chevy Malibu with a really kick ass stereo that would allow me to play audio from my phone or a USB drive.  After doing some Googling and soliciting input from co-workers, I found some great podcasts.  They were funny, thought provoking and entertaining - all critical things to keep me awake on a 21 hour trip with an average speed of 50 mph.  Here's what I listened to:

  • Hardcore History With Dan Carlin.  I've been listening to the "Blueprint For Armageddon" episodes, which are about World War I.  They are extremely detailed - I'm on episode two, and I've been listening to it for almost six hours already.  The sources Carlin uses are vivid, fleshing out a topic that can be pretty unwieldy and dry.  The motivations and action become clearer, and it's quite easy to draw parallels from W.W. I to what is going on today.  There are some things about this podcast I don't like - the episodes are way too long, and how Carlin pronounces the word "again" is distracting as hell.  I'm beginning to see that Carlin is a bit of a war fetishist.  War fetishism seems to be all that passes for "history" these days, and that really bums me out.  I'm willing to give him a little bit of a pass because at least he gives some attention to the human suffering of the war.  But so far, I've found his coverage to be a little one dimensional, yet still entertaining.  Definitely worth a listen.
  • How Did This Get Made?  "How Did This Get Made" looks at how shitty movies and TV shows - I mean exceptionally shitty movies and shows - ever made it out of the script writing phase, let alone the production phase.  Like "Mystery Science Theater 3000", HDTGM turns utterly forgettable, pathetic movies like "Tango and Cash" and a live action He-Man (starring Dolph Lundgren and Courtney Cox) into fodder for brilliant humor. 
  • WTF With Marc Maron.  Yep, he still interrupts.  He still yammers and puts words in his guests' mouths.  But I'll level with you:  Maron is easy for me to relate to.  He's a very likable dude.  He's honest about his own shortcomings without seeming whiny or self indulgent.  (Thus making him different than fucking Richard Lewis.)  He seems to genuinely like his guests, and it shows.  He is appreciative of their time and really seems interested  in what his guests have to say.  And damn if he doesn't get the best guests out there.  I mean, for God's sake, he interviewed Obama in his garage.  I listened to the interview with Elvis Costello as well as his "double header" interview with Richard Thompson and Lemmy Kilmister.  And if you were wondering, Lemmy is as cool as is public persona seems.  I've changed my mind about his podcast.
  • Because I have family reading this - quite possibly impressionable nieces and nephews - the other podcast I listened to shall remain unnamed.  It was a live contest that featured erotic fan fiction.  The winner of the contest was determined by the crowd.  Calling it "erotic fan fiction" was a little misleading - it was more like prepared stand up that contestants read.  It was really just dark, hilarious, sexual stories about people in the news.  Unless you've got pretty thick skin, this will probably be pretty offensive to you.  I found it pretty funny though.
There you go.  Check these podcasts out.  It'll show you that someone's doing podcasts right.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Excerpts From "The Greatest Of All Time: A Shared Journal"

On Christmas Day, 2004 I tore through some wrapping paper to find this, a gift from my wife:

It is a journal she had made for me called "The Greatest of All Time:  A Shared Journal".  I had to smile.  You see, she was poking fun at me for declaring whatever stroked my passions to be "the greatest of all time". Example:  "'Quadrophenia' is the greatest rock album adapted for the screen of all time."  Sometimes, if I was feeling particularly strongly about something, I'd throw in a qualifier like:  "(thing) is the greatest (type of thing) of all time; any artist, any genre."  Example:  "'Beyond The Sea' is the greatest song of all time, any artist, any genre."  or something like that.  She summarized the intent of the journal thusly in the card that was glued inside the back cover:
"December, 2004.  Merry Christmas, Matty! I
hope this gift appeals to your love of writing and
your seeming delight in declaring things 'the greatest
_____ of all time!'  These are 2 of the many aspects
of you that I love & admire a lot!  May 2005 be
as wonderful as each day has been since our
reconnection in Albuquerque.  I love you, your MB"

The journal was full of prompts that we'd both take a page to answer and give our respective views. It's a damn clever idea and a damned fine and creative gift.  I love it.  Some of the entries we've both done are:

  • The greatest movie of all time that made you cry  (I wrote about "The Razor's Edge", she wrote about "Terms of Endearment".)
  • The greatest beer of all time (I said Sierra Nevada Pale Ale; she wrote about Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome and Rogue Dead Guy Ale.  We've both grown a lot since then. . . .)
There are plenty of other entries that one or the other of us (but not both of us) has written about; and still many more unanswered entries that are thought provoking enough that we've both decided we'll probably start this journal again.  Some of the entries we've completed we'd answer differently now, but sort of the fun of going back and looking at journals is to see how you were "back then".  As this blog is about the reflections of all things sonic in my life, I thought I'd share a couple of sound related entries that we actually have completed.

The Greatest Camp Song of All Time:
(Background:  Mary Beth and I were both camp counselors; that's where we met.  Throughout the summer, you hear many of the same campfire songs.  Naturally, some become favorites.)
MB's Pick:  "Oowee"  (Known to those outside of camp circles as Bob Dylan's "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere") She says:  "I have to go with "Oowee" for this one.  Maybe because it's the only song besides "Ode To Joy" that I learned on guitar.  It's a great song and one as sang at campfire when I was a kid!
Matt's Pick:  "If I Had A Hammer"  I wrote:  "Reasons why "If I Had A Hammer" is the greatest camp song of all time:
  1. It's really fun to play on guitar.
  2. Bm chords separates the players from the cheaters.
  3. CYO Camp's (camp where we worked) version sounds infinitely better that Peter, Paul and Mary's.
  4. Great old skool activist lyrics may have influenced other great songs like "Put The Message In The Box" by World Party.  [Note:  not sure how I came to that conclusion, but there you go.]
  5. I really like it when the kids shout the words "SONG. TO.  SING." before singing the phrase "all over this land".
The Greatest Rock N' Roll Song Of All Time:
MB's Pick:  "Thunder Road" by Bruce Springsteen.  She wrote:  "Has to be something by Bruce.  I love songs with lots of words - lyrics that just stream on and on.  And I love songs that tell a story.  And I love Bruce!  I like the way he uses people's names in songs, like Mary, Wendy and Eddie.  I like that he gives away a lot of $$$ without a lot of fanfare.  I like that he's from New Jersey.  I like that he spoke out for Kerry and against Bush in the 2004 election."
Matt's Pick:  "My Generations" by the Who.  I wrote:  "Reasons why "My Generation" is the greatest rock n' roll song of all time:
  1. Greatest bass solo of all time.  (duh!)
  2. It's less of a song and more of a manifesto or "flipping of the bird"
  3. Unorthodox singing style
  4. The power chord freakout at the end.
  5. The fact that no one has adequately covered it is a testament to its "kick ass-ness".
There are plenty of other opportunities in this journal to sound off on music (and many other topics).  As we kick it back into gear, I'll report back with our respective takes.  What's your take?  Sound off in the comments section!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How Am I Doing? Revisiting My Audio New Year's Resolutions

We're hurtling towards 2016, man.  What happened to your New Year's resolutions?  How'd you do?  I wrote a bit about mine in January of this year.  These are my goals for 2015 in just the world of sound.  I haven't thought much about them, which doesn't bode well.  But let's double check - what's done?  What remains to be done?  Here's the score:
  • Buy a new, larger capacity SD card for the 4-track recorder.  Done.
  • Learn how to bounce tracks on the 4-track recorder.  Not done.
  • Learn how to master tracks on the 4-track recorder before exporting them to the computer.  Not done.
  • Get crack in the top of my ukulele fixed, or replace the uke altogether.  Not done.  This one bears further discussion though.  I did get an estimate for repairing the top from a local violin maker - $75.  Honestly, it's probably more than the uke is worth, but as that instrument was a gift from my wife on my 38th birthday, it means a lot to me.  I will probably go forward with getting it fixed.  Besides, I'm totally enamored with it - love the look, love the sound.  I look at ukes a lot, but really, I'm completely happy with the one I have.  I probably won't buy another one, at least not until I get my current uke fixed.  It means too much to me, and it's a decent, mid-tier ukulele.  I play it everyday, so it's worth it.  I just have to get it fixed.  So it is possible I could still take care of this one before we ring in a new year.
  • Make a cardboard upright bass from scratch.  Not done.  Oddly, I don't feel super compelled to knock this one out.  Maybe though.  It would be a fun instrument.
  • Record one ukulele multi-track a month.  Not even close.  'Nuff said.  It's funny - this is doable because I play my uke almost every day.  Oh well.
  • Learn the bass lines for every song on a given album.  Not done.  Still could be though.  
Wow.  I didn't get shit done.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that I kept busy with gigs (many of which I didn't bother to write about), I started a design collaboration of a fretless electric bass guitar that my brother Karl will build, I working on some recording projects (hope to be uploading some next month) and I've worked with some new gadgets and software (got my sweet USB mic to work with my phone).  I've also put some apps on my phone that allow me to use the mic to get high quality recordings (look for some Audio Scratch Pad entries soon) and even multi-track on my damn phone!  These are truly wondrous times in which we live.  I just need to take advantage of it and use my time better.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween Playlist: Sonic Youth's "Death Valley 69"

This for me is the king of all Halloween/shock videos.  This song - about Manson's reign of terror - is a great one made better by the gory video.  If you have a weak constitution, don't watch it. But the video is equal parts campy and creepy, but 100% entertaining.

Also interesting to note:  any old schmuck can access this video without any sort of warning or flag from You Tube and it's users.  Same with accessing actual real videos of people getting their heads blown inside out by snipers.  But if there's boobs or butts or something - we have a problem.  Annoying.  End of rant.

Enjoy the video!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Halloween Play List DOUBLE SHOT: Rush and John Zorn

Rush's "Witch Hunt" is a great one to listen to in the dark with headphones on because it paints a vivid scene.  John Zorn's "Witchfinder" is a great one to listen to on headphones because IT RAWKS.  Truth to be told, most (if not all) of these Halloween tunes have already been featured on this blog.  I know that is the case for sure with "Witchfinder".  But it's so damn good it's worth another listen.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Quickie: Peanuts "Wah Wah" Generator

Say goodbye to your day.  This thing is dope.

Also, while you're here, enjoy this Beatles drum chronology:

Halloween Playlist: Scratch Acid's "Crazy Dan"

This is a perfectly creepy song about a guy who set his wife on fire.  Grim topic, great song.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Halloween Playlists: John Wesley Harding's "If You Have Ghosts"

This is yet another cover, but it's a damn fine one.  I even like the dive bomb guitar solos - something I normally loathe.  The video itself is gloriously bad, but at least they can blame it on video being a new medium.  Well, not really, but we'll let it slide anyway.  Listen to this one loud.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Halloween Playlist: Atlanta Rhythm Section's "Spooky"

As we ramp up to Halloween, I figured I post some Halloween music here that's NOT "Monster Mash" or "One Eyed, One Horn Flying Purple People Eater".  There are numerous versions of "Spooky" (here's one that's decent), but this is the one I grew up with.  Honestly, it's not even that great of a song, but I do like it's vibe.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Hey Guys Check Out This Crazy Mix CD I Found

My job has had me travelling a lot lately.  Normally, I can carpool, but this past week I opted to drive myself.  I was looking forward to the down time.  In the car, I had a bunch of old mix CD's, most of them over a decade old (with the oldest one dating back to 2000).  Most of them also have titles that aren't particularly helpful unless you listen to them ton - titles like "Summer Mix 2000", "Overcast 2005", "Sunny 2003", etc.  The ones that aren't labelled at all are extra mysterious.  I threw the one below into the car's CD player and was loving it for it's variety and vivaciousness.  There are many disparate genres and artists, yet it works really well as a whole for some reason.  Let's break it down track by track, shall we?

Tears For Fears - "The Working Hour" - For some reason, this one ends up on a lot of mixes I make. I guess mainly because it reminds me of summer of my 8th grade year, when "Songs From The Big Chair" (from which this tune was taken) and Dire Straits' "Brothers In Arms" dominated mix tapes I made for others when I was that age.  It just seems to work.

The Hooters - "And We Danced" - I always like the mandolin/mouth organ thingy opening to this tune a whole bunch.  The Hooters, much like John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, the Long Ryders and other bands, tried to follow the path cut by Bruce Springsteen's "Born In The U.S.A." album.  Somehow, they always came off as a bit too earnest for me; it always felt like they were trying to cash in on the cultural moment. Still, this song is pretty irresistible to me.  I like the imagery in the song ("bebop baby" at the "union hall") and the nice little break down in the middle.  Not even the corny synth part can ruin the energy of this tune.

Husker Du - "Makes No Sense At All" - When my oldest brother Bill made me a Husker Du mix tape in 6th grade (my first year of 6th grade, mind you), I had found my first major band obsession.  Husker Du, at least for a few years, dethroned the Who as my favorite band. This song in particular has always been a fave; and while Husker Du's catalog doesn't age particularly well, this song will always get me hyped.  It's a good 'un.

The Magnetic Fields - "Strange Powers" - I love the lyrics of this one ("under more stars than/there are prostitutes in Thailand") a ton.  I also like the corny Kimball organ feel of this song.  And I can totally relate to the one I love having strange powers over me. . .

XTC - "When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty" - For my money, XTC are some of the best musicians out there.  When they get their ska on, they're usually smokin' hot.  They have a lot of songs I could do without; but when they're on, they ARE ON.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Behind The Sun" - Not even Anthony Kiedis's shitty rap skillz can ruin this song.  I've liked the "guitar that sounds like a sitar" thing ever since I heard it on Steely Dan's "Do It Again".  My guess is that this song is a result of a shit load of drugs, but also like the fantastical element of it.

Van Morrison - "Tupelo Honey" - Quick:  Name a song that is more romantic this one.  You lose. Because there isn't one.  It always draws me in.  Hell, even I get weak kneed on this song.  Take me home, Van Morrison.

Wire - "A Serious of Snakes" - It took a long time for "The Ideal Copy" (from which this song is taken) to grow on me.  But to this day, I listen to the album at least a few times a year.  It takes me back to when I first heard it:  smoking ciggies with the doors open at Bill's house on Stull, trying to read (and being thorougly confused by) "Love and Rockets" (but developing a serious crush on Luba).  Fond memories, yo.

Van Halen - "Dancin' In The Streets" - Sorry man, but if you don't like this cover then fuck you.  Yes, David Lee Roth sings like a used car salesman at karaoke night at the Office Lounge, but this song manages to update the sound of the original without losing its the exuberance.  The guitar effects are super cool, and while Van Halen songs always get praised for the guitar parts, they never get credit for the tight ass harmonies they exhibit. To me, is a great song that is more or less about world peace.  Van Halen makes world peace less ponderous and more fun.  Even though street cred isn't a big deal for the hair metal bands of the '80s  (after all, you had covers like this, this and this), this one still feels like it's pushing that scene's envelope.  VH should be lauded for that.  At any rate, it's a million times better than this.

Ween - "Fluffy" - Read about the making of the album from which "Fluffy" comes from.  Try to listen to this song and NOT smile.

The Rev. Horton Heat - "Martini Time" - Just a fun, upbeat tune with a decent pedal steel part in it.  Probably my fave among Rev's many great tunes.

U2 - "Electric Co." - Will wake you up and get you jazzed every time.

The Joel Paterson Trio - "Panhandle Rag" - I wish I could find just this tune for you; instead I linked to the album from which "Panhandle Rag" comes.  I'd put this in my top ten road tripping albums of all time; and if you like western swing,  you'll love this song and album.  JP is one of my favorite living guitar players for sure.  To say he knows his way around a pedal steel guitar would be the understatement of the century.

Fleetwood Mac - "Sarah" - Not sure what to say about this one other than I like it's vibe.

Mike Birbiglia - "No, But I Heard About It" - This is probably one of my all time favorite stand up albums.  Mike Birbiglia is definitely an original.  Go download this.  Now.

The National - "All The Wine" - No exaggeration, this is in my opinion is one of the best songs of the past decade.  I can't make heads or tails of the lyrics, but this song sound phenomenal.

(Scratch - unplayable track)
(Scratch - unplayable track)

. . . and so the mix kind of fizzles out on two tracks that are unplayable due to a scratch or something.  Which sucks because I'm dying to know what the songs were.  How would you cap off this upbeat and off beat mix?  Leave your remarks in the comments section.

New Stand Up From Dylan Roahrig

Here's Dylan's newest bit of stand up - it's from the Sept. 25th edition of the Comedy Circus in Indianapolis)I haven't listened to it because my internet connection at home is appallingly slow, but I can assure you of two things:  1.  it's funny, and 2. it's not safe for work, yo. Check it out and please leave some feedback in the comments!

Friday, October 2, 2015

An Incomplete Guide To Hoosier Pronunciations And Colloquialisms

Below are some Hoosier pronunciations of common words along with some slang that you hear a lot around here.  I'm not going to lie to you:  most of the time, hearing the words below is like hearing nails on a chalkboard for me.

Word(s)                                                      Pronunciation
fire                                                              "far"
hold, cold, fold, told, etc                            "hoad/coad/foad/toad", etc                .
idea                                                             "ideal"
picture                                                         "pitcher"

Word                                                          Meaning
bubby                                                          child, usually (but not always) a male
mamaw                                                       grandma
papaw                                                         grandpa

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Thrift Shop Find

I volunteered at the amazing "Hoosier 2 Hoosier" sale last Saturday.  I took the early shift - 6 AM to 11 AM - and ended up on traffic duty out in the field where everyone parked.  Before I went out to do my work, I notice two things I really wanted:  a Kala ukulele and and M-Audio USB audio interface/preamp.  If they remained unpurchased by the time I finished my shift, I'd walk away with both of them for the shocking grand total of $10.  Ten.  Friggin'. Bucks.

Given the popularity of the instrument, I couldn't realistically expect the ukulele to stick around long, and I was right.  It was nowhere to be seen by the time my shift ended and I could shop.  I was pleased to see the USB audio interface/preamp still available.  I had no way of knowing how old it was or if it even worked.  But let's face it:  $5 ain't much of a gamble in this case, so I went for it.

After the kids went to bed, I finally had an opportunity to try out my $5 treasure.  First disappointment:  the front input jack was broken.  As in, it moved around because it had been jarred loose.  No worries: there's a back input jack.  I let my computer automagically install drivers and though the unit powered up when plugged in via the USB cable (which I also had to buy - this project was now up to $10), I still wasn't able to record my bass using Audacity or Adobe Audition.  So I searched for new drivers.

Turns out that did the trick as you can hear from the rather anti-climatic recording below. I haven't tried the inputs and phantom power for a microphone yet, but I have no reason to believe it won't work.  Hopefully, I'll make good use of this new (old) gadget.  But even if I don't, I'm only out $10.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Audio Scratch Pad: When Old Is New Again

I've vacationed on Lake Leelanau every single year of my life.  I feel like short of living there year round, I have a decent handle of what to do and see in Leelanau County. You'd think I'd have a system down for extracting maximum enjoyment for a given amount of vacation time, but the truth is I haven't.  In fact, it's just as confusing as ever.  Do I get out on the peninsula and check out beaches, marinas, shops, trails, bike routes, breweries/distilleries/wineries and parks?  Or do I stay at the cottage and kayak, canoe, tube, lay around on the dock, strum my ukulele (or bass as the case may be), make another cocktail, try to do some light housework around the cottage?  Another consideration:  do you do something new each year, or do you return to the family favorite activities?  Of course, the answer is some combination of getting out and staying put; keeping some traditions and trying something new.  But I'm not sure I've ever found a formula or "sweet spot" for our Michigan vacations.

Some of the things we did each year (and in some cases, daily) without fail were out this year:  no trip to Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes.  No nightly trips to Leland by boat or by car.  In fact, I only went up the channel (Carp River - the river that drains into Lake Michigan at  Leland) twice.  No runs along Lake Leelanau Drive to M22.*  However, the return to really old traditions felt like a brand new thrill.  The family and I went on a day tour of South Manitou Island, a trip I haven't made since the late 1990s if memory serves me correctly.  It was such a huge success that we're thinking of camping there next year, and the very thought of that trip has my mind casting far into the future.  We hiked this year though hiking in any formal sense hasn't been a tradition in our family since the kids were born. It was a trail I had never done before, so this was sort of a rebirth of tradition.  Another spin on tradition:  going to the Northport Marina beach with two of my siblings' families.  Usually, my family takes one day to ourselves for a beach picnic day, usually to Van's Beach or another quiet beach on Lake Michigan.  Typically this is a day I enjoy a great deal, but going to a smaller, not-as-secluded beach with family was just as fun.  I also made it back to Cedar (to Pleva's to be specific), which is a place I hadn't been to in over a decade.  I'm pleased to report it is even sleepier and more pleasant than I remember.  Swing by if you get a chance - that visit will take 30 minutes max (20 of those minutes spent in Pleva's unless you’re a vegetarian) but it's totally worth it.

I think the biggest rush of this vacation came from two long neglected activities:  water skiing and sailing.  I water skied on my last day there.  It was sort of a spur-of-the-moment decision though I had been threatening to do it for the last half of vacation.  Though the water was prime for skiing the whole day, my brother-in-law Terry asked me after dinner if I wanted to go.  I said "fuck it, yes, let's do it" even though I had only finished eating about 10 minutes before.  I'll bet it was only twenty minutes from my last bite of food until I was jumping out of the boat getting my skis tossed to me.  I didn't really have any expectations about this excursion; I just wanted to get up.  I expected it to take two or three attempts and at least a handful of ibuprofen to relieve the aches when all said and done.  I was pleasantly surprised that I got up (twice!) on the first try, and the extreme stiffness that comes with such exertion never came.  Darting in and out of the wake (and catching a little air when I do it right) was a blast.  These were short rides; I think on some level I just wanted to prove to myself that I could still do it.  And I'm glad I did because it was one of the highlights of vacation for me.

And sailing our little Sunfish.  You see, it's been years since that boat has even been in the water.  Each spring, we get it out of the garage and move it to the front in case someone wants to use it; each fall it is moved back to the garage not even having budged an inch.  It got to the point where the Sunfish wasn't even cleaned and polished anymore.  I know I'm guilty of neglecting it.  I used to spend hours on that boat; sometimes by myself, sometimes with siblings.  When I wasn't sailing, I was practicing sailing, usually with a brother or sister: practicing high speed turns, righting the boat at the sandbar, and rigging the boat mostly.  When I went out by myself, I usually smuggled out some cigarettes in a Ziploc bag so that I could fully enjoy the moment once I was out of sight of my parents.  I still have a scar on my thigh from where I accidentally crushed out a cigar while ducking under the boom when the boat came about.**  The point is I have a lot of good times wrapped up in that boat.  Every year, I swear I'm going to sail it.  Every year, it sits on the edge of the woods catching pine needles and growing spider webs.  Every year, I tell people how great vacation was though I "didn't get everything done" - code for "I didn't sail again this year". 

This year was different.  With Auggie's help, we polished the Sunfish.  With Dad's help, we rigged a buoy.  With Terry's help, we hauled the boat down to the lake and put it in.  It's not much of an exaggeration to say that my heart leapt with joy (as corny as that sounds) once it was in.  Hearing the Sunfish play in the waves on its buoy made a long faded sensory memory fresh and vivid.  Seeing it bob all afternoon and then, in the evening, float in front of the buoy when the lake calmed seemed to provide empirical evidence that the lake could be just as wild and just as still as I remembered from my childhood.  Rigging it was not a chore, but a ritual to be cherished.  And sailing it - better than I remember, honestly.  I was hooked.  I rigged it every day for three days.  On the third day I kept it rigged even though I knew there was no chance a breeze was going to kick up.  I wanted to be absolutely ready in case it did.

One thing that I had never done before was stay in the RV.  That was my family's assigned spot to bed down once we got up there.  Turns out it was pretty nice too.  For some strange reason, we never got our clothing out of the car we came up in.  Coming up from a swim and getting my clothes out of the back of the car and changing in the RV - I felt like some cool surfer dude in some sportswear catalog.  It was a beach-Bohemian existence, and I loved it.

I did record the waves again.  I've done that a few times before as well.  I like to post it here and listen to it when the weather is cold and spring is a lifetime away.  It was about one in the afternoon when I put my recorder on a rail on the boat lift and pressed "record".  Usually, I just try to get a good recording of the wind and waves, positioning the recorder to limit the "human made" sounds. But, in keeping with this year's theme, I put a twist on that.  Listen for it. . . . and if you listen closer still, you can probably hear the Sunfish.

*-Sad to say I didn't even get out my running shoes once.  My gut is showing it too.
**-Still feel like a world class dumb ass on that one.  My sister Susan was sailing with me then.  Wonder if she remembers.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Photos From The "Sun" Recording Session

Read about it here.

Final mic adjustments before the magic happens.

Next week on "Serial". . .

Left - Mary Beth
Center - Kevin
Right - Marina

Tell 'em what they've won, MB. . . 

Last minute coaching.

Happy to be performing!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

We All Need "Sun" From Time To Time

You may recall that my friend Dylan was soliciting all good creative people to make art, music, writings, or any thing artistic thing based on the Beatles' "White Album".   You see, that's his wife Amanda's favorite Beatles album.  She knows it inside and out.  It makes her happy to hear it.  And she really needed some cheering up after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  It hit everyone pretty hard, but it hit Dylan and Amanda probably more like an atomic bomb mounted to a runaway locomotive.  He can tell you better than I can.

I was ready to jump all over this.  My mind started flooding with collaboration ideas and tune adaptations.  I started work pretty quickly after Dylan put out the call.  Me and Pete worked on "Bungalow Bill", but I was never quite pleased with how the bass sounded for that.  Kevin and I started "Here Comes The Sun", which of course isn't on "The White Album", but Dylan let me off the hook on that one.  Other great performances started trickling in, and I kept delaying on my tunes for this project.  Finally - I think it was in April or May - I started to get back to it.  And then it started to suck me in.

You see, I've always liked "Here Comes The Sun" - it's always been a favorite tune of mine.  I like the tunes that Harrison writes, but this song.  This freaking song, man.  In order to learn the bass line, I had to listen to it many, many times (what can I say?  I'm kinda rusty on bass.)  And each time, it was more and more of a pleasure.  This is maybe the only song that actually can cheer me up if I feel bad.  It is the one song that won't let me be cynical about the world, and cynicism is something that comes very easily for me.  It gives me hope.  It reminds me that any tough spots I have are temporary.  It makes me very happy.  And I owe it to Dylan and Amanda for forcing me to get intimate with this song.  Because it has brought me such profound joy to go through it so carefully.

My wife Mary Beth wanted to pitch in, and I thought I'd make it a family affair and invite Marina to share vocal duties since she did such a great job on the Christmas tune.  This project was getting exciting; this project was picking up both talent and speed.  The funny thing was that it took me so long to do this, that Amanda was actually declared cancer free.  Even better, methinks: this song was now a song of celebration more than a song for raising spirits.  We decided to finish it.

Shortly before we finished, we - Mary Beth, me, Amanda, Dylan and lots of other people - received some utterly devastating news:  while Amanda triumphed over cancer, another good friend of ours Annie Endris passed away quietly while looking at the sea on the coast of South Carolina.  Annie had cancer as well.  I don't want to eulogize her here.  I'll just say if it wasn't for Annie, whom I've known since college, and who introduced me to some of my closest friends by getting me in the CYO Camp family, I'd have a lot less warm, meaningful relationships than I do now.  She was a spiritual mentor to so many; her gifts of compassion and empathy are unsurpassed.  With the aid of coffee and cigarettes*, she  (and countless other people) shared joys, and helped get through some tough times. Ultimately, see my self worth.  No small task.  And now she was gone.  Now, it was me who needed "Here Comes The Sun".

"Here Comes The Sun" is finally finished.  I am so proud of it.  I am so thankful to everyone who pitched in to make it as great as it is.  Take a listen:

In celebration of Amanda; in memory of Annie.  Thank you both for the sun you've brought into my life.

"Here Comes The Sun" performed by:
Mary Beth O'Brien - lead vocals
Marina O'Brien-Zink - lead vocals
Dan Lodge-Rigal - all backing vocals, accordion, mandolin
Kevin Reynolds - guitars, all recording and post production
Matt Zink - bass
Thank you to all the musicians for making this a truly beautiful, meaningful experience.

*-I want to be clear that she kicked cigarettes years ago.  To my knowledge, it wasn't lung cancer that killed her.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Great Moments In White Funk: ZZ Top's "Cheap Sunglasses"

I'm trying to suss out exactly what I mean by "white funk".  Like traditional funk, a good white funk song is usually about sexy sexiness.  It has a swagger that's easy to identify but hard to put into words.  There's some cool stuff going on with timing, and there's a great rythmn. "White funk" is a topic for a future blog entry - I don't want to sound like I'm thinking out loud here.  You're time is more important than that.

Anyways, c'mon, man:  you know what I mean.  ZZ Top funky?  Yep, at least on "Cheap Sunglasses".  Witness:

Audio Scratch Pad: 'Murica Comes To The Neighborhood

Recorded on my front steps after sunset, July 4th, 2011.  Use headphones for the full effect.  Good god, this sounds terrifying.  I'll never get the appeal of fireworks.  I imagine this is what the Battle of Hue must've sounded like.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Songwriting 101: Dan Fogelberg's "Same Auld Lang Syne"

If there was a Pandora station for "Waiting Room Super Hits", "Same Auld Lang Syne" would be on it.  That's actually where I got the idea for showcasing the lyrics to this song.  It wafted through the speakers in the waiting room of the dentist's office like a very polite ghost from the 1970s as I thumbed through the bike reviews in Men's Journal.  If you like this song, chances are you're either over 50 and discount out of hand any song after 1985, or you're under 25 and are trying to be ironic.  If you don't fall into either of those categories, you're probably rolling your eyes.  "Dan Fogelberg?!" you ask your computer screen, "Is he being serious?"  Hell yes I am.  And I'm not wrong.

Forgive me if the tone of this entry is a tad defensive.  But this song is pretty solid even with the syrupy instrumentation.  The strings, that keyboard setting that sounds like bells and fell out of vogue not much longer after this song hit the charts, the string section - you're not listening to that anyway.  You're listening to the lyrics.  And you should be, because they're great.  Not even DF's wispy voice and Gordon Lightfoot way of pronouncing some words can't stop these lyrics.

The lyrics on this are verbose but they never feel rushed or crammed together. There's not really any sort of chorus (at least not in the traditional sense) to speak of.  But the story is vivid with carefully selected details. It is specific and puts the listener right in that place and in that moment.  The lyrics are sentimental but never corny.  The characters are likeable and have depth, and the scenario is believable. If you've ever fallen hard for someone, then I'd bet my paycheck that you could relate to this song; and it's possible you've even gone through a similar scenario:  a chance, awkward (but overall pleasant) encounter with someone you once cared very deeply about.  It's a bittersweet thing.  Now go back and listen to this song.  Read the lyrics and suspend your judgement - I swear you won't turn into a pussy.
Met my old lover in the grocery store
The snow was falling Christmas Eve
I stood behind her in the frozen foods
And I touched her on the sleeve
She didn't recognize the face at first
But then her eyes flew open wide
She went to hug me and she spilled her purse 
And we laughed until we cried
We took her groceries to the check out stand
The food was totaled up and bagged
We stood there lost in our embarrassment
As the conversation lagged
We went to have ourselves a drink or two
But couldn't find an open bar
We bought a six-pack at the liquor store 
And we drank it in her car
We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to now
We tried to reach beyond the emptiness
But neither one knew how
She said she's married her an architect
Who kept her warm and safe and dry
She would have liked to say she loved the man
But she didn't like to lie
I said the years had been a friend to her
And that her eyes were still as blue
But in those eyes I wasn't sure if I saw 
Doubt or gratitude
She said she saw me in the record stores
And that I must be doing well
I said the audience was heavenly
But the traveling was Hell
We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to now
We tried to reach beyond the emptiness
But neither one knew how
We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to time
Reliving, in our eloquence
Another "Auld Lang Syne"
The beer was empty and our tongues were tired
And running out of things to say
She gave a kiss to me as I got out
And I watched her drive away
Just for a moment I was back at school
And felt that old familiar pain
And, as I turned to make my way back home
The snow turned into rain

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

To Everything There Is A Season

I landed a new job recently.  Yeah, I'm a little nervous, but a lot excited.  After breaking the news to my current manager, I fashioned an email to the other members of my team.  Somewhere deep inside my head, my mom's voice suggested I use a verse from the Bible to give the email a nice sense of occasion.  Neither one of my parents are what I'd consider "Bible bangers", at least not in the Pentecostal/Baptist sense of that term.  But they do study the Bible on a regular basis, and it comes out from time to time in conversation/writing.  Me?  I don't even own a Bible to tell you the truth.  It would be phony and probably unwelcome for me to break off some scripture in an farewell email.  But you can't say "no" to mom, even if it's just an imagined inner voice.  As I am a Byrds fan, this seemed like the obvious compromise.  The subject line of the email was simply "Turn, Turn, Turn".  I wonder how many of my bonehead coworkers* caught the Biblical reference?

 *-I mean this affectionately.  They're all great folks.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

History Lesson Pt. 2 Recommends: Listening To Sports (Instead Of Watching Them)

Okay, I admit it:  part of the reason I like listening to sports on the radio is nostalgia, which honestly isn't probably a great reason for anyone but me.  But I can remember when I moved back to Indiana from Arizona.  Everything I had fit in my long bed, king cab S-10, but barely.  It was so hot that there was no point in using the air conditioner; it would only place an extra burden on the engine, robbing it of horsepower.  Nothing I tried could keep me cooled down and awake.  I tried soda, snacks, windows down, music blaring - I even bought a pack of cigarettes to give myself something to do.  At 10 AM I was hurtling through Tucumcari, New Mexico, realizing as I felt the scorching blast of air coming through the windows that this was going to be a particularly long trip, and it was just starting.

Hours later, in the Texas panhandle, I turned to AM radio in an act of desperation.  The sun was on the horizon, and the air temperature was cooling from very fucking hot to just plain old fucking hot.  I was so desperate to stay awake that I thought finding a fire-and-brimstone preacher or some backwater Rush Limbaugh clone would offend me enough to get a surge of energy from my anger.  The strongest signal was from a Texas Rangers game.  Thank God.  I settled into it, letting it's pace soothe me.  It was almost like an audio massage.  Or something.  The point is that I could focus on the game and be entertained, or let it fade to the background and provide the illusion of a spacious ball park on a warm summer's night right there in my truck cab.

Similarly, I can remember listening to Detroit Tigers games (and on Memorial Day weekend when we're opening up for the season, the Indy 500) on an ancient AM console radio up at the cottage in Lake Leelanau.  There is no TV up there; even if there was, there was no reception.  So evenings consisted of each person settling into their routines - reading, playing cards, working on a puzzle, detangling lines from fishing poles - to the dulcet tones of the games broadcast from Tiger Stadium.  Add in the sounds of nature coming in through the screen doors and you have a scene that is so quaint, so perfect, so Norman Rockwell-esque that you'll wonder if I just made it up.  (I didn't.)

But my nostalgia aside, listening to sports, either on the radio or streaming through the internet, is the way to go.  Aside from commercial breaks, it is free of distractions like screen crawlers, split screens, over-the-top graphics or other technical gimmicks that tend to dilute the moment.  The rise and fall of the action of a given event is much more palpable, much more intense without such novelties.  There are occasionally segments that break the flow of some sporting events - the "let's go back to the studio for an update on this other game" or the sideline reports that don't really add a whole lot to the game.  But not seeing the carefully coiffed reporters, the ultra-modern studio, or the dopey transitional graphics somehow eases such annoyances.

Listening to sporting events doesn't feel quite as insulting or childish. The event is the stimulus.  The action is the star.  And usually, as long as they're regional, the announcers know what they're talking about.  Give me a Don Fischer, a Bob Lamey, or a Vin Scully over 90% of the broadcasters on ESPN or Fox Sports*.  It's not that any of these guys are impartial.  What makes them great is that they're impartial enough, and they know their shit.  They're fans watching the game, and they're glad to be there.

Audio formats have the advantage over their televised counterparts when it comes to the less popular, far flung events played out over large areas.  Only hardcore fans of cycling, auto racing and golf can enjoy watching it on TV.  For the rest of us, a team of reporters spread around the course, chiming in when things happen is the way to go.  The grinding drama of the Tour De France plays out much better when teams of cycling journalists are covering cycling along the course.  It feels less invasive then a helicopter chasing the peloton and more interesting than watching the riders blow by a checkpoint; they are truly "embedded journalists".

Less clutter, better focus and often, better broadcasters make listening to sports way better than watching them on TV.  Try it - you'll see.

Besides football and basketball, here a some events to consider checking out:
 - Indianapolis 500
 - Baseball games
 - Tour de France
 - The Masters
 - The Kentucky Derby/horse racing

*-But please don't hold Bobby "Slick" Leonard or Harry Caray against us.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Cell Phone Dump: Photos From The Acoustic Roots Gig

Here are some photos my wife Mary Beth took at the gig.
Left to Right:  Mark Stonechiper, Misty Stevens, me, and Mike Curtis.

Note the poor placement of the mic - it should
be in front of the sound hole.  I tried to no avail to move it up during the show  multiple
times .

Hanging with my bear cub after the show.  She
loves to dance!

Gig Report: M&M&MM At The Acoustic Roots Festival

As mentioned previously, I had a gig this past Saturday at Upland Brewery at the Acoustic Roots Festival.  I'm pleased to report we played very well; and for once, I can look back on my own performance and say it was almost error free.We had a very short set - 30 minutes - so I didn't have much time to screw up, that's for sure.  I felt like we played a little faster than we normally do, but that's to be expected - the nerves always account for a little bit of extra speed.  The weather was fantastic - lower 80s and mostly sunny.  The whole set up was very professional, from special "artist" areas to local food vendors and even a "green room" with snacks for the performers.
My artist pass and vouchers for two
free beers. 
Probably my only complaint was despite the good publicity for this show, there weren't a whole lot of people there, at least not when we played.  Since most people like to hit the road or have other things to do on Memorial Day, perhaps it is not the best weekend for this event.  I took off after having a beer, eating some Delicious pork tacos, and hanging with the family for a little while (about an hour).  It may have gotten packed as the sun began to set; but I'm not sure.  I have to admit that if I didn't have this gig, I'd be up in Michigan helping prep the cottage for the summer.
Bessie - that's our set list you see taped to her shoulder.  Photo
by Marina.
This was my first gig with Mark and Misty and the Midnight Munchers*, and it couldn't have gone much better.  The one screw up that I can think of that was pretty obvious was when I tried to follow someone else who was also messing up.  I second guessed myself and followed 'em off the cliff, but we quickly got back to where we were supposed to be.  I doubt that too many people noticed.
Packin' up, post gig.   I basically tried
to dress like Dan Willems for this gig-
old combat boots, jeans, undershirt and
cowboy shirt.  Photo by Auggie.
The bassist in the band that played after us played this nifty
little bass.  I guess there's a guy in Brown county that makes
these.  I can't remember the name of the bassist, his band, or the
luthier in Brown county who makes these.  Getting old is
I haven't asked to see if WFHB live streamed it, or if they're going to upload an archive of the show.  I'll check into it and post it if they do.  Other than that, not much else to report.  It was a great - if under attended - show at a great venue with great food and great weather.  This was a definite win.

*-Oddly, though it's my first gig with them, it is my second to last.  I'm going to perform with them at Monroe County Fair on July 31st and call it a day.  So come to that one - you won't regret it!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Guest Blogger: Anonymous On Why The Link I Sent Him Is Bullshit

I forwarded this link to a small group of my college buddies for the sole reason of trying to provoke some sort of argument that would inevitably devolve into a series of homoerotic jokes.  While I didn't really get the desired reaction, I did get this particularly strong take on the list of "100 Greatest One Hit Wonders Of The 80s" - I thought it was good enough to share.

My friend - who wishes to remain anonymous - writes:

This list is fucked. Allow me to explain...
I'm not about to say that Twisted Sister doesn't suck ballz, but they had at least two songs that got some airplay - so sucking is irrelevant when you can't be put in this particular box.  I think "Easy Lover" by the two Phils shouldn't count because both of them had crazy success in their respective genres.  One-hit-wonder means you popped up with a solitary song and then your career went absolutely nowhere...or you just up and died of AIDS (Jermaine Stewart) or Alcoholism (Stuart Adamson - Big Country) or a car crash (Falco...and why in the fuck is he not on this list?).  One-hit-wonder means you had ONE really popular song and never had anything else one the radar.  Dexy's and Soft Cell are are perfect examples: they had one single that hit big but otherwise there was nothing.
Chris DeBurgh should not be on this list because he had a song that got airplay with "Don't pay the ferryman." The Georgia Satellites had "Hippy hippy shake" (and Dan Baird had a pretty good solo album that got some play), The Outfield had a few songs do reasonably well on the charts and so that completely disqualifies them from onehitwonderdom.  
Others that don't qualify:
  • Clarence Clemons & Jackson Brown - success elsewhere
  • Fabulous Thunderbirds - had two songs
  • John Waite - had plenty of success both solo and with Bad English
  • Dead or Alive - had two songs
  • A-ha - had two songs
  • Cutting Crew - had two songs (that were top ten
  • John Parr - had two hits
  • Club Nouveau - two songs (and I don't pretend to have ever heard the other one.  I'm not THAT gay.  Ok, that's bullshit - I AM that gay...I went to Sur la Table today with three college girls and I spent $50 on a chef's knife while chatting with "Mark", who was nothing short of flamboyant, and I didn't feel the least bit uncomfortable.  I'm obviously a card-carrying queer. I did, however, compensate by going to a sporting goods store and buy some ammo.  HOWEVER, this compensation was eliminated because the sporting goods store name?  Wait for it...DICK'S!)  
I need to go watch Cabaret again.

+1 for the "Don't Pay The Ferryman" mention.  You have to dig deep for that one. Well done, my anonymous friend.  Well done.  Have a Bartles and Jaymes on me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Gig At Upland This Weekend

Hello Friends.  Here's your reminder that if you don't have any plans this Saturday, perhaps you should consider swinging by Upland Brewery here in picturesque Bloomington, Indiana, for the Acoustic Roots Festival.  There will be lots of great music, and I'll be taking the stage at 5:15 to play bass for Mark and Misty and the Midnight Munchers.*  We do original bluegrass that is actually good.  Come see for yo'self.  Sure, we may do one or two bluegrass standards, but the great stuff is the original stuff.

This will be broadcast live on WFHB, and I suspect you can probably livestream it on your computer if you live far away.  The Acoustic Roots Festival is a fund raiser for WFHB, so it will cost you twenty five bones (or clams or whatever you call them) to get through the door.  But man, what a deal:  great music, good beer and tasty pub fare await you.  Hope to see you there!

*-Man, don't ask.  I don't know where the name came from either.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Other Racket Around The House

The kids have been making a beautiful noise around the house lately.  Auggie is in piano lessons and though he's only had two lessons so far, he seems to be doing just fine with it.  We've asked that he do formal practice a minimum of ten minutes a day, and this is something he does with no complaints at all.  Often he plays longer, but it usually is ten minutes of formal practice, and another ten minutes or more of riffing around with what he knows.  I think this is healthy and I very much enjoy listening to his improvisations.  I do find that I have to give him some room to find his own way - I worry sometimes that bad habits could form.  For example, the material he's currently learning he has practiced enough to memorize.  As a result, he doesn't always look at the sheet music and read what is there.  But I'm working hard to make certain I'm not the source of music related trauma for him - we've all heard those stories from our friends about how much they hated music lessons because an overbearing adult was always riding their ass.  But so far, so good with Auggie.  He has a great ear, now to just get his reading and theory chops up.

Marina made her singing debut at her school's music jubilee.  This is an event that parents can attend wherein the class sings some group songs, and then individual students are given the chance to show off some of their musical talents.  Marina chose to sing the Beatles' "Let It Be", and I was to accompany her on the ukulele.  Originally, she was going to sing "Here Comes The Sun", but she changed it to "Let It Be" two days before the music jubilee.  I worked with her, and I was delighted at how hard she practiced without being nagged by me to do so.  Often, it was her insisting that we do it again, not me.  When I was ready to quit, she was not.  "Again!" she'd shout with a smile.  She wanted it to be good.

The plan was to sing the first verse, then do the chorus twice.  I was looking on some sheet music on the floor - I should've memorized it.  On the repeat of the chorus, I totally screwed up and lost my place.  I fell out of the song altogether.  To my amazement, she finished the song nice and strong on her own.  She sang so well it looked like we planned it.  I couldn't help but give her a big fat kiss when we were done - she's already performing like a pro.  I was glad another parent caught that moment.  It is below.

Marina will likely be doing children's choir at church, and probably some other music lessons later.  I can't wait to hear both of my kids play, and I hope they ask me to play with them as they continue to get better!

Crappy Guitar Solos: Two Favorites

I was thinking about Greg Ginn's solo on a cover of Madonna's song "Burning Up".  It is so bad.  So, so bad.  I died laughing the first time I heard it.  I couldn't believe they let it stay on the final version of the tune.  I can't find it anywhere on line, otherwise I'd post it.  Man I really wish I could find it because it brought me such joy.  The thing is I grew to love it in all of it's ugly glory, and the song would be pretty unremarkable without it.  It got me thinking about terrible guitar solos that I really like.  Here are a couple - click the links to go straight to the solos.

The Edge's solo on U2's "Twilight".
Neil Young's solo on "Cinnamon Girl".
I'm sure I'll think of many more for future blog entries.  For example, for every great solo that Howe Gelb does, he does one completely corny solo as well.  So there's got to be some in Giant Sand's oeuvre.  

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Thank You, Mom, For Letting Me Be In A Punk Rock Band

Thank you, mom, for letting me be in a punk rock band.  It was a phenomenal creative outlet, and I learned a lot about myself and people in and out of the punk rock scene.  Of course, I see the parental advantages of letting your kids be in bands (you know where they are during practice), but it involves a lot of letting go too.  I suspect that's kind of hard to not intervene when your son's band is doing songs with titles like "Death Meat".

Thank you, mom, for letting us use the house for rehearsals.  It must've really stunk to have to endure the abrasive, high volume, hyper speed noise that was the Unexplained's "music" just to move a load of laundry.  Those once a week, 2+ hours of rehearsal must've felt like an eternity when your subjected to Dan's "singing" and Matt Dixon's "solos".  I doubt that staying at the far end of the house offered much of a reprieve for you.  We auditioned some questionable dudes right there in your laundry room (remember the drummer with the see-through drums?  Lots of stick twirling and hitting himself in the head with his sticks for show), and you rolled with it.  Same with the smoke breaks in the driveway - you probably knew about it, but never let on that you did.

Thank you, mom, for keeping a safe but watchful distance as I sought to forge a personal identity through music.  Let's face it:  I engaged in a lot of behaviors that must've bothered you.  A teen with a real gallows-type humor, wearing combat fatigues, concert t-shirts and smoking cigarettes doesn't exactly spell "winner" for most folks.  I know I didn't always accurately reflect your good upbringing.  Permitting me to listen to music that offended my friends' parents was key; and at the risk of sounding arrogant, I think it paid off.  You raised a son who is open minded, but not easily led.  It was important to me to be exposed to stuff that square culture deemed "garbage", because over time I was able to tell sincere artistic expression from music that was straight shock value only.  It is the sincere music that has stuck with me and informed who I am.  Thanks for letting me sort through it in my own way.

Thank you, mom, for making music a true DIY venture.  I remember asking you and dad to match me dollar for dollar for a bass I desperately wanted.  You listened, and respectfully told me "no".  I would complain that you didn't support me, but the truth is you taught me that I didn't need you for that bass, because I saved and got it anyway.  (Still play it, actually.)  You didn't come to our gigs, you didn't help us load and unload gear.  You didn't dote on us because we would've hated that.   But you listened to our stories and we knew the glory was all ours - because you permitted it.

Thank you for letting me be a mostly free range kid navigating my teens through the medium of punk rock.  Because no matter how much I tried to be Matt Zink, bad ass punk rock bass player, I was and always will be your loving son first and foremost.