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.