Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year: Let's Love Everybody

From the man himself, it's Woody Guthrie's New Year's Resolutions.  There's some good ones in here - pick one or two to live for yourself in the new year.  Happy and safe New Year's Eve, y'all.  See you in '17.

Hallelujah, 2016's Gone

2016 - a year that found numerous, unique, and exquisitely sadistic ways to make us feel like shit about ourselves, the people we know and the world in which we live - is now dead.  St. Augustine or some other really smart person (or people) wrote about how time is an abstraction and an invention of humans; but in this instance, it serves a critical function of giving us a tangible break from a year that took almost everything from us but our will to live.

2017 promises to deliver a metric ton of bad news too, but I'm ready.  It's time to hunker down, work twice as hard, and win the battles, one by one.  Let's do this.  Let's kick some ass.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Story Of The Christmas Truce Of 1914

One of my favorite Christmas stories - right up there with Dickens' "Christmas Carol" and Seuss's "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" - is the story from World War I of the German and British troops who stopped fighting long enough to celebrate Christmas.  We all know and love that story, but details are generally sketchy.  The Futility Closet has you covered.  This is a great story and never has there been a more perfect time to listen to it.  Take some time to listen to this inspirational story.

There was also a (not great, inaccurate) movie interpretation of this amazing story; I've included the trailer below.  It's really all you need to see of that movie - listen to the podcast above above instead.
There is also a commercial based on the incident; which, frankly is more moving.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Great Gift Giving For Bass Players

We all have bass players in our lives that we love dearly and want to keep happy.  Bass players are great, reliable, humble people.  Let's face it - we need the stability that bass players bring not only to music, but to life.  Therefore, we must spare no expense in keeping them happy.  Here are some gift ideas for bass players that suit all budgets.  Show your favorite bass player how much they mean to you - and if  you don't know any bassists, I'm happy to be the recipient of anything from this list you want to share with me.

1.  The Holy Trinity: The Fender Jazz Bass, Precision Bass, & The Rickenbacker 4003
There are so many great basses out there; and it's a myth that you have to spend a ton of money for a great bass, particularly if you're just starting out.  That said, it can be hard to figure out what to purchase for your bassist companion, so why not just go for the best?  There is a high probability that a disproportionate amount of the songs you love were recorded on a Fender Precision Bass, a Fender Jazz Bass, or a Rickenbacker 4003 (or a variation of the 4003).  Think about how much those songs mean to you, then think of how blown away your beloved bassist will be when you give them one, or better still, ALL THREE of the greatest basses of all time!
Pro tip:  While all Rickenbackers are still made in America, not all Fenders are.  Buy 'murican!  On the Fender basses, skip the bells and whistles and buy the "standard" models.  If it's good enough for James Jamerson and Jaco Pastorius, it's good enough for you.  If purchasing the 4003, keep it classic:  buy the JetGlo (that's black to most folks) finish.  It's instantly recognizable to anyone who pays attention to music.

2.  Simple Insurance:  Dunlop Strap Locks
I've experienced the heartbreak of watching my 1977 Musicman Sting Ray slip out of my strap, fly away from me in slow motion, and break in two on the stage after executing a totally rad jump during a performance.  Two expert repairs later, the Sting Ray sings on, thank heavens.  You can be damn sure after that day I never purchased another bass without putting strap locks on them.  There are lots of great options for strap locks; I like the looks, simplicity and ease of installation of the Dunlop strap locks in nickel.
Pro tip:  Make sure you know what color the hardware is on the bass for which your purchasing the locks.  You'll want to match the color of the strap locks to the hardware on the bass.
Dunlop Straplok Original Strap Retainer System:  $10

3.  Tone Factor:  Pirastro Obligato Double Bass Strings, Rotosound Nexus Strings, And LaBella Old School Flats
Let's start with the Pirastro Obligatos.  It's hard for me to tell you how great these sounded on my upright bass; I think my head would have blown apart if my upright was of higher quality.  That would've really brought out the greatness of these strings.  I loved the the volume, the warmth, the sustain, the pleasant "thump" of the initial attack of the notes when playing pizzicato, and the nice "mwah" sound when sliding into another note. (The first note of this tune is a great example of what I mean when I say "mwah" sound.)   Like most metal strings for upright, these aren't great for rockabilly slapping (but these are), but you won't miss it so much when they make your playing sound so refined.  Rotosound strings are legendary among bas players.  I've only ever used a couple of sets for my electrics, but I found them to be loud, lively, and tight as hell.  For those who like to wrestle with their bass, the size and string tension on Rotosounds  are perfect.  Couple that with the coating on the Nexus line of strings, and you have a vibrant string that will sound great even when that great enemy of string tone (sweaty hands) shows up to ruin the sound.  Finally, if you're looking for a mellow, warm, old school soul sound, try out the LaBella Old School Flats.  If you've never strung your bass with flat wounds, I highly recommend it, especially if your bass has passive electronics.  They are comfortable and it will change the direction of your bass playing - the pocket will become more important than a clever riff.
Pro Tip:  Before buying strings for the beloved bass player on your shopping list, make sure you know the scale of their bass as well as what kind of string tension they like to play with.  If all else fails, ask them what's currently on the bass.  Look it up online and you'll know both scale and gauge (gauge = string tension) you should be shopping for.
Pirastro Obligato Double Bass Strings:  $227
Rotosound Nexus Electric Bass Strings:  $32 
LaBella Old School Flats:  $35

4.  Bass Porn:  A Subscription To Bass Player Magazine
There was a time when I would've told you subscribing to "Bass Player" magazine was a terrible idea. Looking at all the gear in there would create in me the same unfulfilled desire that gives young men blue balls.  What's the point, right?  I can't afford any of that stuff.  But the truth is, there is a lot of great stuff in there besides gear - transcriptions, interviews with bassists of all genres, stories of legendary recordings and players - there's a lot to digest besides the latest gear.  And even though the cover boys (almost never cover girls) seem to be a rotation of only Jaco Pastorius,  Geddy Lee, Flea, Chris Squire and John Patitucci there's a surprising amount of diversity in the players covered inside.  They won me over the minute I saw Mike Watt profiled.  Plus, the subscription often allows subscribers access to online content not available to anyone else. Bonus!
Pro tip:  Double check your address info before subscribing to ensure the magazine goes to the right place. 
Bass Player Magazine Subscription:  $19/year 

5.  In Tune:  The Fishman FT-2 Clip On Tuner
There are many fantastic clip on tuners on the market.  Clip on tuners are nice because unlike other types of tuners, you don't have to use a patch cord to connect, play into a silly onboard mic, or try to suss out what an analog tuner's needle is trying to tell you.  The Fishman FT-2 is small and easy to use, and it's low profile make it easy to stow away or hide.  But don't let me catch you gigging with that thing clipped to your headstock.   
Pro tip:  Whatever tuner  you buy for the bassist in your life, make sure it is a chromatic tuner.  This allows the tuner to be used for non-standard tunings.
Fishman FT-2 Clip On Tuner :  $20

6.  Take The Edge Off:  Glenfiddich 12 Year Single Malt Scotch, Weed
Going to a gig or into the studio with players you respect can be a pretty nerve racking experience:  you don't want to let your bandmates down.  While intoxication before either a gig or studio session is never a good idea, taking the edge off is.  Free up bassist you love with some Glenfiddich 12 year to sip on. Glenfiddich is an amazing bargain considering the price and the taste.  If the $33 price tag gives you sticker shock, you've clearly never priced out single malt scotches before.  Plus, Glenfiddich can easily be purchased at most supermarkets.  As for weed, well, you can't beat Mother Nature when it comes to highs.  Consult a trusted friend/dispensary on this.  Try to score weed that is a nice counterpoint to your bassist friend's personality.  If he's hyper, get something that will mellow him.  If he's pretty chill, get something that will make him focus/be more aware.
Pro tip:  This gift is not suggested for those who struggle with addiction.  For rill.
Glenfiddich 12 Year Single Malt Scotch:  $33
Marijuana:  (prices and participation vary, see dealer for details)

7.  That's Entertainment:  "Rising Low" DVD
When Allman Brothers/Gov't Mule bassist Allen Woody passed away, friend and Phish bassist Mike Gordon gathered all of Woody's favorite bassists to record an album with the remaining members of Gov't Mule.  "Rising Low" documents this adventure.  The diversity of bassists gathered for this project is a tribute to Woody's love of music generally and bass specifically.  Chris Squire, John Entwhistle, Mike Watt, Jack Bruce, Les Claypool, Meshell Ndgeocello and many, many more gifted players and all around engaging personalities make appearances in this movie.  It is an absolutely entertaining movie that your bassist will watch over and over again.
Pro tip:  This movie is a who's who of the bass world.  Watch it with your favorite bassist and you'll you'll leave with a pretty good handle of some of the best bassists around.
"Rising Low" DVD/download:  $17

8.  Poor Man's Upright:  The Bogdon Bass
The Bogdon Bass is the bass world's answer to the rise in popularity of the cigar box guitar.  You can purchase the kit and build a serviceable 3-string upright bass that will sound decent and look awesome when you're busking on a sunny Saturday at the farmer's market.  If it gets trashed, just strip the parts off the box, find a new box, and build a new one!
Pro tip:  Don't want to pay for a kit?  Use these instructions to build your own bass from scratch.
Bogdon Box Bass:  $119

9.  Dialing Up Some Bass:  "Bass Tab White Pages"
Surely there will be something in the "Bass Tab White Pages" that your bassist friend wants to learn.  It's in standard notation, and free of the interpretive guesswork usually involved with deciphering music tabs found online.
Pro tip:  Don't say I never gave you anything.
Bass Tab White Pages:  $23

10.  Practice Makes Perfect:  The Cafe Walter HA-1A Headphone Practice Amplifier
I use a Korg Pandora's Box to practice when I'm learning songs by ear, or if I don't want to disturb anyone by playing through an amp.  It works, but the wide array of settings means I spend more time trying to dial in my sound that actually playing.  The Cafe Walter HA-1A Headphone Practice Amplifier gets rid of all distractions.  It has a volume knob for the bass, a volume knob for the mp3 player/device and an input for headphones - that's it.  When I was looking to purchase one for myself for vacation, not only I could I not find anything bad being said about this amplifier, I couldn't find a device with a comparable performance and price point.  It is touted as a vital tool for sharpening your technique.
Pro tip:  The dude that makes these - I think his name is Walter - informed me that the HA-1A is out of production, but stay tuned:  the next iteration of this practice amp will be coming out soon.  Until then, check eBay and other second hand sources.
The Cafe Walter HA-1A Headphone Practice Amplifier:  (stay tuned)

I have many other great gift ideas for bassists, so stay tuned:  If I have the time, I'll post a sequel to this post.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Tryna Make Sense Out Of A Wire Song

The first time I heard Wire was on a mix tape my brother had made.  It was the live version of "12XU" which, in my mind, is one of the strongest live songs ever recorded.  (I can't find the specific version to which I'm referring, but the studio version is also great.)  Wire is great for many reasons - that's a different blog entry for a different time - but as a general rule, I can't make heads or tails of their lyrics.  Granted, I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but what the hell do the following lines mean?
Maybe the meaning of the words is irrelevant, kind of like any given Cocteau Twins song.  I'm not sure with Wire - something seems too put together about their lyrics.  They seem to serve a purpose though I have no clue what it might be.  Generally, I'm happy to ignore lyrics anyway if the rest of the song is hitting me just right.  But something compels me to try and figure out Wire lyrics, at least from time to time.  

My first - and most adventurous - attempt happened around my freshman year of high school.  I had forgotten all about this until about three summers ago.  I was snooping around in the attic of our cottage in Michigan when I found, hidden in a drawer of a dresser up there, some sheets of folded up legal paper.  They were slightly crispy with age, and it looked like they had been singed by a flame.  I opened it up, and there it was:  a story I had written years ago.  As I read what I had written, it all rushed back to me what I was trying to do: I thought it would be fun to try and make sense of "A Serious Of Snakes".  Again - there was this thought that there was something quite deliberate in those words which seemed so randomly selected.  I treated it like a riddle.  I wanted to incorporate as much as I could, creating the story by searching and slaving over each line of the lyrics, trying to extract some sort of meaning.  

The story I came up with is pretty twisted for a high school freshman.  It's something like this:  it's World War II in a parallel universe.  On a rainy night, a couple (named Mary and Joseph) who are performers in a travelling circus meet with a mysterious man to arrange to sell their child to him.  They're desperate for money and cannot have a child in their lives at this moment. They are tired and resentful, and they abuse their infant.

The mysterious man, it turns out, is a gifted American scientist of German heritage (volksdeutchse) who heeds Hitler's call to return to Germany to assist in the war effort. Deciding that the child would be a good candidate for his research, he proceeds to experiment on the child, using surgeries, electric shock, and relentless physical training. The child is not allowed to attend school, though he learns to read and write at a very basic level.  The goal is to create a super soldier, adept at killing in large numbers and unable to feel remorse or regret.

He is sent to war for the Nazis in his early teens. The child proves to be a relentless killer, following orders without fail.  In battle after battle, he leaves a trail of corpses and smoking, ruined machinery.  But the attempts to shock  out emotion and memory are incomplete.  During a debriefing after a mission, the boy super soldier tells his handler he has something personal he wants to take care of.  The handler/scientist agrees to let the boy indulge in his hatred, and they boy finds Mary and Joseph (who are still travelling with the circus) and kills them slowly with his bare hands.  Unknown to the boy, another boy witnesses the carnage from a boxcar on the circus train.  The boy hiding in the box car is an avid journaller who spends time creating puzzles and codes.  Stunned and scared by what he sees, he begins to compose a letter asking for help (from who, I don't know because I hadn't figured out that detail yet) in a code of his devising.

. . . and in classic Matt Zink fashion, that's all the further I got on the story.  I never made it any further.  It's pretty dark for sure, but it also reflects (for better or worse) that I was an overly serious child with interests in things like true crime stories, history, and comics.  Let's face it: for most adolescent boys steeped in comic and crime lore, dystopian, alternate history stories are easy to write. (I actually still have one or two other "dystopian future" stories from my junior high days.)  I remember seeing the 1984 adaptation of, uh, "1984" and I thought it was brilliant.  I'm sure that influenced the story pretty heavily as well.  I must admit it was fun to indulge my darker nature in this story - it seems like one of the healthier ways to explore such feelings.  I don't think there's any permanent damage, I'll put it that way.

At this point I know what you're thinking:  how the hell did he get that story from those lyrics?  Well, you take a crack at 'em and let's see what you come up with.

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Musical Guests Of "Fridays", [UPDATED]

For some reason, I found myself this morning trying to remember the sketch comedy show "Fridays".  This was ABC's attempt to steal Saturday Night Live's thunder (SNL was on NBC).  Turns out, I don't remember it too well - I turned to Google to refresh my memory.  In retrospect, "Fridays" boasted some serious comedy muscle, including Rich Hall, Larry David and Michael Richards.  I remember the show being pretty funny, but I don't remember any actual sketches (and I don't want to shatter that impression by looking for sketches online for some reason).  [UPDATE:  Here's one dude's take.  Sounds like a decent show.]  But man - take a look at the musical guests they've had.  Granted, I'm a little biased since I really started to pay attention to music long about 1980, but I think their selections show a nice balance of mainstream acts and edgier acts like the Clash and Devo.  Below are some of the better performances, but there's tons more online should you wish to find them.  Enjoy the beautiful imperfections of actual live TV, folks.  Enjoy lots of 80s awesomeness (satin jackets, yo) as well.

The Jam performing "Private Hell".  For my money, they're probably the best live band there was (though I never actually got to see them live).

The Stray Cats doing "Stray Cat Strut" and "Rock This Town".

The Pretenders doing "Message of Love".  Note that they are ever so slightly out of tune.  They ain't lip syncing this stuff, folks.

The David Grisman Quintet doing "Dawg's Bull":

The Blasters playing "Maria, Maria" and "American Music".  This looks to be ripped from a VHS tape, so the quality is really bad.  But this was too cool to not include - LA punk was at it's height when the Blasters broke off into the fledgling rockabilly/Americana scene.  So to me, this feels almost like an important historical document.

The Clash doing "London Calling" and "Train In Vain" - listen to how primed the crowd is!

And probably one of my favorite performances anywhere online - Devo.  Seriously - Google them.  I think they were on Fridays more than once.  They're all worth a look.  But I'll include "Uncontrollable Urge" below.  Freaking great energy - definitely another band I wish I would've got to see live.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

First Dance: Karl And Holly, Jim and Kim

I had a blast celebrating my 14th wedding anniversary with my wife!  Why not continue the celebration of love?  Let's continue looking at the first dances of my family and friends.

Karl and Holly were into the Avett Brothers at the time they married, so they selected "Living of Love" for their first dance.

Besides liking the banjo part and the chord progression, Karl likes the redemptive tone of the song - about how after a shit relationship, you can still find love.  That that is the love that gets you through other shit you're bound to encounter.

Jim and Kim first danced to Frank Sinatra's "The Way You Look Tonight":

Jim writes that a different version of the song appeared in a "Star Trek:  Deep Space 9" episode.  In the context of the episode, both of them found it very moving.  The song resonated with Jim and Kim and it more or less became "their song".   Although they might select Wilco's "Far Far Away" if they had it to do all over again, Jim still feels the same way he felt the first time he hears "The Way You Look Tonight".  When he sees his son, looking so "cute and adorable and perfect" he thinks of this song, as when he sees Kim.  It overwhelms him with affection.

Kim and Jim don't listen to the song on a regular basis, but it does occasionally crop up on their Christmas playing lists.  Nothing like swing and/or jazz for the Christmas season - I get that for sure.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

First Dance: Susan And Arron, Margie And Drew

With my anniversary coming up, my thoughts have turned to love.  Let's all go back to day one; let's look at the songs that sent your marriages off.  Let's look at your first dances.
My sister Susan's first dance with her new husband Arron was "L-O-V-E" by Nat "King" Cole.

They selected the song because they wanted to show off their ballroom dancing skills; but if they had to do it all over again, they wouldn't select this song again (though she's not sure what she would choose).   She writes quite simply and powerfully:
"Life and growth involve eternal transformations.  That's the beauty of life.  These eternal transformations also affect our relationships."
 No truer words have been emailed.

My friends Margie and Drew danced to "Near You" by Boz Scaggs.

Margie and Drew lived together in Maui before they were married, and they listened to this CD a lot. "Near You" had particular resonance; but it was also not "interminably slow and sappy".  The newlyweds were happy to be moving around, not just swaying in each other's embrace.  (Not that that's anything wrong with that LOLz.)

When Margie hears "Near You" today, she feels "happiness, love, warm and gooey" all at once, and she'd not select a different song if given a chance.  She also shared a great story related to the song that is too good to not share:
"The embarrassing story that goes with it is that I had inscribed on the inside of Drew's wedding band, "Just to be Near You." I thought that having a line from our song would be the perfect thing.  Unfortunately, if you listen to the song, you will realize that that line is never actually spoken in it. Drew was very sweet and tactful when he brought that to my attention.  So now that heartfelt inscription has a whole other layer of ridiculousness to it, which I think is an ongoing theme in our happy marriage. It's also signified by the Gurgling Cod water pitcher our friends gave us as a wedding gift. It's beautiful and functional and makes a ridiculous gurgling sound when you use it, which they suggested could remind us to keep a sense of humor as we go through life together.  Great advice." 
This is one of the things I love about Margie - she's honest to a fault.  She didn't have to share that tidbit, but she did and it's a great story!  Anyway, Margie says that they listen to the song now and again, mostly when their in the kitchen making dinner.  They don't overplay it, so she and Drew still love the song (and each other).

A little off the topic of first dances, she also threw this in the email:
"Incidentally, and not that you asked, but the other great advice we got that day was (1) to be each other's pit crew, and (2) to live everywhere we live like we'll live there forever - don't be hesitant to put down roots and get involved right away. Of course we haven't moved from the first place we did it, but it still served us well when we came to Bloomington."
It seems to be working for Margie and Drew, so it's definitely worth sharing.

First Dance: Joan and Terry

With my anniversary coming up, my thoughts have turned to love.  Let's all go back to day one; let's look at the songs that sent your marriages off.  Let's look at your first dances.
My sister Joan and her husband Terry's first dance was "Hero" by David Crosby with Phil Collins:

Terry wrote to me about it.  He thinks the song was more his choice than Joan's; and that it still "tugs at his heart".  He also remembers being swept up in the moment of that first dance, but Joan maybe not as much.  Joan is not crazy about being the center of attention, so she waved other dancers to the floor perhaps a bit sooner than her new husband would've liked - someone cut in to dance with Joan before the moment could come to it's natural completion.  If he had the opportunity to do it all over again and select a different song for the first dance, Terry wouldn't change anything.  He says that a lot of great tunes have come out since they got married, but rightly points out "that was the music we listened to when our relationship developed.  You just can't change that."

Terry also mentioned another anecdote related to wedding music.  He writes:
I remember meeting with the DJ before the wedding and giving him the music we wanted to listen to during the reception.  I specifically requested "Try And Love Again" and "Pretty Maids All In A Row" by the Eagles off their "Hotel California" album.  What we got was "Hotel California"* which is an iconic classic, but hardly a wedding song.  I was having too much fun to let it ruin my day, but it still nags me to this day.
I feel you, dog.  But at least it wasn't "Best of My Love".  Don't get me wrong:  that's probably my favorite Eagles song.  But a song about trying - and failing - at love is the audio equivalent to that foreboding wedding scene from "The Deer Hunter".

*-In searching for the studio version of that tune on You Tube, I was mostly running into videos that had been taken down for copyright or some shit.  So I linked to the great version used in "The Big Lebowski".  

First Dance

My 14th wedding anniversary is bearing down on me.  When August 31st rolls around, whatever is going on in my life at the time, I tend to feel humbled and grateful at the life that Mary Beth and I have made together so far.  This life - this family - we've eked out together is the one thing that I am proudest of in this world.  It is a life that is never stagnant, it is always changing.  But when our wedding anniversary comes around, so too does "The Fourteenth of February".  Some biological clock inside me puts the song in my head with more frequency in August; and the song takes me to the roots of our love in a very urgent, very vivid way. And just like the first time I heard "The Fourteenth Of February", I stop what I'm doing and feel peace.

Speaking only for myself, part of the appeal of having "The Fourteenth Of February" as a first dance is that it is a waltz.  Besides having a weakness for many songs in 3/4 time (as "Fourteenth" is), I thought I could fake a waltz on the dance floor with all my friends and family watching.  (Turns out I can't.)  So there was, I admit, a practical reason for selecting that song as our first dance.  But ultimately, the emotional rush I get from the tune is a big reason I love that song to this day.

I found myself wondering if others I know still feel something when they think of their first dance together.  I reached out to some friends and family, and the next few entries will highlight their responses.  I bet you'll enjoy reading them as much as I do.

Below, you can hear the man himself reading the lyrics of "The Fourteenth Of February" as well as providing some context for the song itself.  Dig it.

And just because I love the song so damn much, enjoy it also in its demo form - not as good as the final product, but it's always fun to hear the glimmers of greatness in demos:

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Off Topic: Grilling Tips From The Grill Master

Note:  we recently bought a pretty bad ass grill.  It's something that I kept putting off; but now that we have it, I'm not sure why.  We love it.  I emailed some of my siblings for some grilling recipes and tips, and this is what my brother Paul sent back.  I have reformatted his response to make it read more like the Ten Commandments. Because Thou shalt not burn your meat again.

Paul says:
Hey guys.  I'm in the suspended reality we call the lake cottage right now.
I fancy myself a pretty mean charcoal griller.  Getting ready to fire up the Weber right now, in fact.

  1. I always use two zone heat: charcoal on one side, water pan on the other.  Cook over the water pan, lid on.
  2. Buy a decent thermometer.  Always go by temperature, not myths.
  3. Finish on the hot side [of the grill], lid off.
  4. Remember [your food] will continue to cook 5 to 10 mins after you pull it off the grill.
  5. Don't worry about flipping [your food] too much.  No such thing.
  6. And make sure you have a drink.
This all seems like really sound advice to me.  If you're reading this and you've sampled Paul's food from the grill, what do you think?  Does it live up to the hype?  Leave your impressions in the comments section.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Employee Of The Month

It's not a secret that Christmas music is used by stores to sell more stuff to you during the biggest retail time of year.  Most adults are aware of this; and frankly, it probably works even though we're cognizant of the subtle manipulation.  Despite a somewhat cynical outlook on capitalism, consumerism, commercialism and a buncha other "isms", I pretty sure it works on me.  I love Christmas music and when I hear it, it usually puts me in a great mood.  When I'm in a good mood, I spend more money.  That's how it works.

I know I'm not as conscious of music in stores at any other time of year, but why wouldn't retail music work all year round?  It does work - that's why they do it.  Sometimes it works even if it's shitty music.  I remember one time being with my older sisters Joan and Susan in a Meijer in Lansing, Michigan at midnight, hearing a Muzak version of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Wall".  It should have annoyed me because it was so sanitized, smoothed of rough edges, defanged, and so on - it was just plain horrible.  Instead, it amused me.  It made me laugh.  It put me in a good mood.  I didn't have any money; but if I did, maybe I would've bought that jumbo bag of Twizzlers for the movie night we were planning.

Now a days, it's more common to walk into a store that's streaming music from Pandora.  To my knowledge, playlists are not specifically curated to make you spend more money, but the spirit is still there.  Maybe you'll linger a bit longer to finish listening to a favorite tune - is that "Beyond The Sea" I hear?  Maybe in those lingering moments, you'll go ahead and pony up for a new pocket knife even though you've already got two.  Maybe you'll put back the beer you had planned on purchasing for something a little nicer - hell, you're in a good mood, right?  You deserve it.  You only live once.

All of this is just a preamble to point you to a great article article at Chart Attack about a guy who curated 56 cassettes worth of Kmart in-store music.  There's a lot to listen to here.  So far, my favorite is still the October 1989 playlist embedded in the article.  Wow - did Kmart really sound like that in 1989?  I knew it was cheesy in the '80s, but wow.  I thought it was a nice touch, by the way, that the guy who collected/digitized this "music" included the leader tape sound before the music actually started. You know - that bit of tape hiss you hear before the songs start.  That took me right back to my boombox days.  Anyway, lose yourself in this awesomeness.  It is very entertaining.  But first, have a loved one lock up your credit cards.  You don't want to impulsively fire up a web browser and end up with a buncha cheaply made Chinese crap you didn't need anyway.

MAJOR hat tip to Jen for the Chart Attack article - thanks!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Vacation (Again) Sukkas! [UPDATED]

Well, it's that time of year where I post a couple of videos and gloat about getting ready to hit the open road to northern Michigan for vacation.  For reasons I've already covered, this year is going to be even more awesome than usual.  I've stocked up on comics, had still more reading material (this and this, if you care) shipped ahead; all that's left is some light cleaning and packing.  Life feels like it's moving in the right direction at the moment, so I'm going to savor it on the dock under the hot sun with an ice-cold beer.  Until next time, y'all stay safe and keep in touch.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Bird Man Of Indiana University

I don't know if the story is true about the Bird Man at I.U., but I have heard several other students talking about it.  He supposedly stood on the roof of his dorm and yelled out some stupid bird call as a signal for a panty raid.  I heard he was expelled from school for doing this, but I don't know where he is supposed to be now.  He's probably in Washington!  
- excerpt from "Hoosier Folk Legends", compiled by Ronald L. Baker
I recently met Mary as we were volunteering for a very worthwhile cause.  As we began collecting giant bags of lost and found items at McNutt Residence Center, and our casual conversation turned to campus legends and lore.  Eventually, the topic of the Bird Man came up.  Although I've only ever taken one class at IU, I had heard of the legend due to Baker's excellent collection of "Hoosier Folk Legends" (a cherished book since I received it for Christmas in 7th grade - thanks, mom!  Best campfire book ever!)  As it turns out out, Mary was a resident at McNutt in the 1960s and has heard the Bird Man live and in person!  It's always kind of exciting to me when a legend turns out to be true.  Mary forwarded me this article from Life magazine wherein the Bird Man is mentioned.  Better still, she sent along an interview from a radio show on the campus radio station.  This discussion with the Bird Man is from 1966.  The interview was broadcasted from Foster Residence Hall, and the Bird Man - whose identity remains secret to this day as far as I know - affects an accent to hide is identity.  Best of all, there is a recording of the Bird Man doing his thing (listen all the way to the end to hear other examples of it).  It is absolutely eerie.

The Bird Man was expelled from Indiana University, but his legend lives on.  Great stuff - thanks for passing along, Mary!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Keep On Rockin' In The Prius

After years of threatening to do it, I finally did it:  I ponied up for a stereo for our old, beat up '08 Prius.  You see, shortly after we bought it, the CD player - one of the features I was most jazzed about having - petered out.  I've been doing long road trips with no music; or more accurately, with whatever I can find on commercial radio.  Have you ever tried to scan stations on a ten hour drive?  You're lucky if you get 3 songs an hour worth cranking.  You have to wade through a lot of crap for even the slightest satisfaction.  So I mostly just kept the radio off, particularly if the rest of the family was in the car (don't want the kids going deaf any earlier than usual).

What I bought isn't anything fancy, and it doesn't play CDs.  You can connect your phone to it via wire or Bluetooth.  You can take calls via Bluetooth through the car's stereo system, which is pretty fun.  You can load up the tiniest of USB drives with mp3s and have hours worth of entertainment. - the point is, I'm now free to rock, and it has made a HUGE difference in my driving experience.  I haven't yet given it the ultimate test, that is the long road trip to northern Michigan, but I have no doubt it will be freaking.  AWESOME.
Not a transformer; just the Prius with its guts hanging out.

Home brewer and all around good guy Karl installed it for me.  Aside from the fact that I purchased the wrong wiring harness, (which Karl was able to pick up at Auto Zone) everything went smoothly.  I opted to have the stereo installed in the compartment below the stock stereo. The new stereo is behind a spring loaded door - you don't even know it's there until the car is turned on and the control panel glows through the dark-tinted compartment door that covers it.  Bad ass.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to many hours of podcasts and great music.  Vacation is next month.  It's never too early to start compiling the summer driving list . . .

Thanks again, Karl.  We're loving it!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Watching Foley Artists At Work Will Make You A Better Listener

I love sound.  Examples?  This blog has examples of this love.  For example, this.  This blog even has samples of sounds I hate - like this.  After all, this is a sound blog, not just a music blog.  Paying attention to sound is an exercise in mindfulness, and it makes me love the world more.  Heck, even paying attention to silence makes me happy.

Enter the Foley artists - the guys and gals that do the sound effects for your movies and cartoons.  Watching this for me was magic.  It really makes me want to learn some tricks of this trade.  I need to do some more "Audio Scratch Pad" entries, and soon!

The Case For Cash Money

Back when I was still teaching junior high, I remember hearing a story from a group of three teachers about seeing legendary supergroup Asia* at the Bartholomew County (IN) fair.  To be honest, it seems unlikely that Asia - "has beens" as they are - would be so desperate for money that they'd play a podunk county fair in Indiana.  I did some light Googling to see if I was remembering the story correctly.  I haven't been able to confirm that they played at the fair, but this is how I remember the story, so this is how I'm going to tell it.  The point is Asia ain't selling out stadiums anymore; they're on the fair/club circuit.

Anyway, these teachers - three young women - rushed up to the stage and began screaming in unison between songs "FI-NAL COUNTDOWN!  FI-NAL COUNTDOWN!  FI-NAL COUNTDOWN!"  "The Final Countdown" never got played, so they left in disappointment.  Until they realized that a hair band called Europe (not Asia) played "The Final Countdown".  I have to admit, I had a pretty good laugh at this story.  Confusing Europe for Asia and mixing up their hits - classic.  I wonder how the guys felt on stage when three good looking women rushed the stage only to request the wrong song - were they insulted?  Did they ponder for the millionth time how they ended up playing massive shows all over the world, only to end up at the Bartholomew County Fair?  Did they shrug it off?

I remembered the story after reading this morning's entry at the great "Gin and Tacos" blog.  Ed makes a great point:
At some point I stopped looking at it as hanging on to faded dreams of stardom (although certainly that might be the mindset of some people who can't let it go) and began to see it for what it is: a way to make a living. And comparatively speaking, a fun way. I knew a guy who played minor league baseball for about fifteen years. People often snickered that he was delusional about making the major leagues and couldn't walk away. His perspective was totally different. He knew he wasn't going anywhere; he also knew he got paid about $30,000 to play a kids' game outside during the summer for six months per year. The other six months he worked odd jobs for additional cash. Annually I'm quite certain he made more when all was said and done than a lot of the manual labor and office bodies that thought he was crazy.
 If you're involved in a creative endeavor - music, writing, sculpture, painting, sewing, whatever - you like to think you're evolving.  You want to continue to challenge yourself to get better; to find new ways to express yourself and/or explore ideas.  Ideally, your work would resonate with your audience, maybe even expand your audience.  Your work would remain relevant and continue to produce financially; or in the case of those who've had a hit, maybe you'd get even richer.  But what if you were content to rest on your laurels?  I mean, if you're putting food on the table and "The Final Countdown" keeps your mortgage paid, is that enough?

I'd say yes.  I mean, it's not ideal, but if I could travel and play the same tired-ass songs and still make enough to keep my family covered (and put some money in savings), I'd absolutely do it - don't care if it's the county fair circuit or the nursing home circuit, I'd do it.  It doesn't matter if I'm doing jazz, metal, prog rock, polka - who cares?  I remember hearing an interview with Chuck Mangione a long, long time ago.  The interviewer asked him if he was sick of playing "Feels So Good"** every time he played out live.  His reply was that "Feels So Good" put his kids through college.  As long as people want to hear it, he reasoned, why wouldn't he play it?  I found this to be a very refreshing take.  To me, it represented a comfort level that few artists reach - financial stability and artistic satisfaction.  I'm still kind of wired to think that the latter is a bad thing - that artistic satisfaction is the death of creativity.  You have to remain hungry to produce any work of consequence and all that. But maybe instead of death, it's creativity's afterlife?  Maybe.  If you're coasting on your band's past glory, and as long as you're not taking yourself too seriously.  But if you can coast on your past glory, and you don't have any ambition beyond that, that might be okay.  A part of me feels horrible for admitting this, but screw it.

*-For the record, this is hyperbole.
**-Holy crap, this song has a great bass part!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

I'm A Fan

Both of my kids are engaged in both sports and performance extracurricular activities.  I enjoy watching them both play soccer, sure; but after all those times of hanging out on the sidelines watching games, I still can't tell you anything about soccer.  Outside of good passes and scoring a goal, I can't tell you if they're doing any good at soccer or not.  Of course, in a way, the game itself is secondary to what I hope they get out of it - a feeling of accomplishment and those character traits and life lessons we all value so much.

The same can be said about watching the kids perform, but I get so much more out of those performances.  I won't lie - some of it has to do with the fact that a piano recital or a show choir presentation is in a climate controlled building.  It's been a cold, wet spring around these parts lately, so watching soccer (let alone playing soccer) hasn't been as enjoyable as perhaps it could be.  But more than that, it's easier for me to see progress in the arts.  Take Auggie's piano recital from below.  You'll notice it's not perfect, but this is only his second recital; and he's only been doing lessons for a little over a year (if memory serves me correctly).

You'll have to take my word for it:  his improvement has been massive.  This particular set of pieces delighted me because he put some unexpected flourishes in there (dynamic volume, for example) that just put a huge smile on my face.  Watching his hands dance puts a spell on me - I could literally watch him play all day.  I can't get enough.

Marina will be starting piano this summer with the same teacher.  To say that she is excited would be the understatement of the century.  Marina is shockingly comfortable in front of crowds.  If she's nervous, she doesn't betray it at all.  At her show choir performance a few weeks ago, she was at home on the stage; and before and afterward, she was positively effervescent, a recipient of the rush that performing can give you.  I'm hoping to upload that performance soon (in front of a sold out crowd at the Buskirk-Chumley theater) so you can see what I'm talking about.  Mini-Sync (the name of her choir) starts again in the fall, and she'll be there with bells on.  Until then, I'm sure piano will become a favorite activity for her.

I know that dads will always love watching their kids do sports, piano, singing, painting, speeches - all that stuff.  But each time I see the kids do something like this, the joyous feeling I get feels brand new.  Every.  Single.  Time.  I thank and love my kids for this.  It's yet another reason it's great to be a dad.  Auggie, Marina - I'm your biggest fan!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Radio Rules

My job takes me an hour north to Indianapolis at least once a week.  I make this trek in the car my dad used to tow behind his RV - a 2004 Saturn.  What I love about this car is that it is drop dead basic - it's got absolutely no frills.  No power windows, no power locks, no digital anything.  It does have a very temperamental CD player, which I loved. I got to dig out a buncha old 90s mix CDs I had made, and it was great to revisit tunes that in many cases I never bothered to rip to my computer.  (Usually because it was some low quality recording that I had downloaded from Napster or because it's a song I need to only hear like once a year.)

Anyway, of late, the CD player just won't play anything I stick in there.  It's sort of a drag.  In addition to making the commute way more fun, listening to music helps keep me awake; in some cases, it also keeps me from fretting about the shit weighing on my mind (lord knows there's plenty of time for that).  I've had to resort to listening to commercial radio.  Honestly, commercial radio can't die fast enough.  It's horrible, and even among the four Indy radio stations claiming to be "Indy's only classic rock station", there is absolutely no variety.  But the constant station scanning I end up doing usually turns up at least a decent song or two a day, so it's not a total loss.  Over time, I've had some "radio rules" that have organically emerged - musical preferences that guide what gets played in the car.  Here a a few in no particular order.

1.  I end up listening to a lot of crap on the road, but I change the station/turn off the radio when the following come on (NO EXCEPTIONS):  Bon Jovi, Lynyrd Skynyrd, hair metal of any kind, "Stuck In The Middle With You" - this list is getting longer as I'm realizing how repetitive classic rock stations are.  Most advertisements I simply turn down; however, political ads make me fly into a rage and have me lunging to switch off the radio.  (You hear me, Todd Young?  Fuck you, dude.)

2.  There are a handful of songs that are pretty good, but I only crank certain parts - usually a breakdown, solo, or "freak out".  Take for example the bridge/freak out of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear The Reaper", or the break down on The Knack's "My Sharona".  How about the piano solo on the Allman Brothers' "Jessica"?

3.  For high volume songs/parts, windows should be down if possible, particularly if I'm not at a traffic signal.

4.  Almost always listen to:  tunes with pedal steel guitar, banjo, 80s music and anything by the Who.

5.  Currently taking a break from the following bands when they come on - I like 'em all, I'm just pretty tired of hearing them at this point:  AC/DC, the Eagles, Queen, Led Zeppelin.  This is only temporary.

6.  In the morning on the way up, the "Bob and Tom Show" is my last resort when there's nothing on and "Morning Edition" can't be picked up. That show is almost the opposite of funny, but it is good background noise.

7.  Always crank 80s deep cuts and 80s college rock.  (Example, example, example.)  They are the rarest of gems even when they're crappy.  Indeed, the previous three examples are absolutely horrible.  But their power to take me back in time instantly is something that should be respected.

8.  If listening to NPR, I usually change when any of the following come on:  election coverage, "Noon Edition", coverage of Syria, the annual "Mama Standberg's Cranberry Relish" story in November, coverage of Israel, and any guest with NPR mouth or vocal fry.

I'm sure I have other rules, and other rules will likely arise.  But these are sort of my general guidelines for sorting through the (usually massive) amounts of crap I listen to on the commute to and from Indianapolis.
Here she is dressed up way sportier than she actually is.

Friday, March 25, 2016

This And That

It's me - you remember me?  Sorry I've been away so long.  It's because of a combination of laziness and the effects of the dark days of winter.  I had this massive, heavily linked tribute to Lemmy Kilmister that was completely lost when I was doing the final editing on that entry.  I was so pissed off/saddened by that loss that it was hard to buck the "fuck it" attitude towards this blog.  Needless to say, I tend to be in sort of a fragile emotional state when the days are short and cold.

But life does go on.  It's not like there hasn't been anything going on.  There's always plenty to write about.  Today, I think I'll just use this entry to clear some random things out of my mind.

Free To Be You And Me
I had mentioned briefly that I'd be playing bass in the pit band for the Stages musical production of "Free To Be You And Me".  That time has come and gone, and I can say I had an absolute blast!  It felt good to be practicing hard and staying busy with that show, especially during "tech week" (that's the wee of full dress rehearsals).  The band sounded great, and I pleased with my playing.  I used my Jazz Bass for two shows and my Sting Ray for two shows.  Both sounded so good that I wanted to keep playing - it was so pleasurable that it was like a revelation.  I am so often playing my basses unplugged or through a preamp/headphones combo that I seldom get to hear the basses for how they were designed to be played:  through an amp to a crowd.  What a joy it was - really.

And the kids sounded great too.  Now that it's passed, I can say that I was sweating it for the kids during tech week.  They struggled with all facets of the show - memorizing lines, blocking, and the particulars of singing, like volume and enunciation.  But once the show started, both casts (there were two different casts; each cast got to do two shows) did a phenomenal job.  All and all the experience was a musical highlight for me.  And I got paid!  Shocker!!1!!1!

New In The Stable
. . . and so I made a little money off the "Free To Be. . . " show.  In my mind, it was spent before I even saw a check.  I had all kinds of crazy ideas for the big(gish) pay day, everything from bass lessons to sewing lessons to a down payment on a new bass amp.  I had a hard time narrowing it down.  Ultimately, I began exploring the idea of a travel bass.  You might recall that I've owned not one but two Ashbory basses in my past.  Though I definitely thought they were nifty, ultimately, I got rid of both of them over time.  There were a lot of things I liked about them; but at times, they felt like more of a chore to tune and play.

But I have never really let go of the idea of a bass with a small form factor (to steal terminology from the computer world) that I could easily take on my bike/in the car on vacation that would sound and play decent.  Enter the Gold Tone solid body Microbass.  I had done some Googling around about the bass and liked what I saw.  Most importantly, should the bassist dislike the silicone strings that came on the bass, LaBella Strings had developed a custom string with a metal core that would play a bit more like a traditional bass.  Alas - it was cost prohibitive to get a Microbass.  I couldn't find one anywhere for less than $400; most were over $600.  I put it out of my mind thinking I was never going to be able to afford one.

Then I remembered how I got my upright bass:  I emailed the factory, asking around for factory seconds (that is, bases that are fine save for finish blemishes.  Often, you have to try hard to find these blemishes and the warranties are usually still in effect).  I emailed Gold Tone and hoped for the best.

It turns out they did have a microbass with a flawed finish, and I could have it (and the padded gig bag!) for just over $300!  I bought it and eagerly awaited its arrival.  I could do a whole blog entry on this bass; but basically, I'd say there are a lot of things I love about this bass (looks, balance, ergonomics, improved tuning and strings) and a lot of things I don't like about this bass.  The good news is all the things I don't like about it can likely be addressed.  For instance, I believe that the buzzing around the upper registers (due to the strings vibrating on the fingerboard) can be addressed with the higher action that the LaBella strings will probably bring due to the (likely) higher tension.  I'm also hoping that the LaBella strings will have better tone.  I knew that this would not be a perfect bass; but so far, it is perfect for what I want it for - throwing it in the car/bike pannier and hitting the road.

Just Because It's Damned Entertaining
Like any metal drummer worth his salt, Joey Muha is great using a double kick drum (or in his case, a kick drum pedal with two mallets) and uses it waaaaayyyy too much with hilarious results.  What makes Joey even more entertaining is how he can spruce up the tamest of songs with his drumming. Check out what he does for the "My Little Pony" theme:

There's a bunch more here if you need more of that.

That's it for now; have a kick ass weekend everyone and happy Easter!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Guest Post: Dylan Roahrig On The Facts About Bowie

Unless you've been under a rock the past 24 hours or so, you know that David Bowie has passed away at the age of  69.  After I read about it (about twenty minutes after rolling out of bed), I felt a personal sort of loss that celebrity deaths rarely evoke for me.  There are many people who're much bigger Bowie fans than me.  After "Tonight" came out, I sort of lost track of Bowie, but I always made it a point to at least check out whatever it was he released.  It was never, ever boring.  It was always original.

My old buddy Dylan has a much deeper connection with David Bowie, one that has made him feel loss in a much more intense way than most of us.  He sent me two takes.  I told him I was only going to publish one of them, but they're both too good to not post.  I'm indebted to him for letting me share such a personal, painful story.  

Post #1:
My sister introduced me to Bowie, and continued to curate my musical tastes around him up to her death. Still, I continued to follow his musical and character growth\changes. His moves seemed to parallel my life. Tin Machine echoed my own need for back-to-basics sensibilities at a time when I was feeling overwhelmed. "I'm Afraid of Americans" gave me the noise I needed to drown out the fears and loud doubts in my conscience. His personas jigged and jagged like a Hoosier driving after the first snow of the season. Some worked, others didn't, but I always admired the effort.
I've lost track of how many Bowie albums I own. So many studio albums and compilation albums of his work have been produced that I doubt there is any completely accurate discography available. The full impact of his body of work is incalculable, and will most decidedly continue to grow postmortem. However, here are 10 facts about his work:

1.) There is no greater R&R album than "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars."
2.) Bowie's portrayal of John Merrick in a stage production of "The Elephant Man" for PBS was one of the greatest mixes of ego and talent prior to U2's last album release.
3.) "Changes" will continue to be the anthem for awkward, outcast teens for decades to come.
4.) "Labyrinth." That is all I need to say here.
5.) Even in his 60s, he continued to create vital music that spoke to a part of your soul you never knew existed.
6.) His cover and subsequent music video of "Dancin' in the Streets" with Jagger is your favorite guilty pleasure. Don't deny it.
7.) Amanda and I took our mothers to see him in concert. He opened with "White Light\White Heat" by VU, and it actually improved on what Reed and Cale did. (Incidentally, it was also my mom's first rock concert.)
8.) He only put out one truly bad album in his entire career, "Never Let me Down." He made up for the lackluster music with more theatrics than a pre-teen girl readying her hair for the first day of school.
9.) He was married to Iman, which proves he was actually a wizard.
10.) Listening to the song "Heroes" will make you simultaneously the happiest and the most melancholy that you have ever felt in your life.
11.) He wrote and recorded a new album in the past year, likely while looking into the abyss. Music was that vital to him. I can appreciate that.
Some will call those opinions. Opinions foster debate. The above items are indisputable.  Goodnight, Thin White Duke. Your music will live eternal.

Post #2:
David Bowie and my sister, Laura, have been unshakably linked in my conscience since the first day she dropped the needle on "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars," and bade me to listen. She was killed in a car accident when she was 22 years old, and I was 18. I still own all of her old Bowie albums, and listen to them often, thinking of her and what she would tell me about him. She curated a lot of my musical tastes, and introduced me to many bands and songwriters I did not have access to in our small, Southern Indiana town (These were in the pre-internet, pre-all-information-access days.); however, it always came back to Bowie. He was the touchstone for both of us. When we fought, as siblings do, we would always fall back on his music and find common ground again.
In mourning, we often think of the unsaid thing. The lost "I love you," or the forgotten, "Goodbye." I remember in those days between her death and her funeral thinking of all of the things left unsaid between us, and, most prominent for me was not thanking her for gift of music, and especially Bowie. It was years after losing her that listening to his music stopped being painful.
His death, and the surprise nature of it, therefore has struck a personal chord with me in a way no other celebrity loss has. Certainly, I have mourned an actor I appreciated, or a musician I have loved, but this is the first, and likely the last, who will make me feel as though I have somehow lost Laura, again. Our touchstone, our home base, our link is gone, but his legacy lives. Listening to his songs this morning was supposed to be a celebration, but instead it is painful again. Certainly, it won't last as long this time, and soon I will hear them as a celebration not only of his life, but of my relationship with my sister and a reminder of what she did for me. For now, the pain will suffice as that reminder, and that's okay.