TPP 27 – IHA We Are Back

It seems impossible that it’s already been 3 months since the last episode with Duke Hunter. That episode was recorded in November. So essentially we have been quiet for the last 9 months.

A lot of things have happened in my personal life including a move. It’s been difficult to locate all of the gear in these moves, and I have just not been in a place to be able to create. But we finally have the gear set up and a new room. We’ll see if the consistency follows.

In this episode, we talk a little about the changes in personal life. Troy talks about what he’s got going on. Then we talk about the post production fiasco that is our first feature film with Studio Iguanamonk. There will be more discussion of this film in future episodes.

It’s good to have another episode in the can. I hope you enjoy it.

Be The Boss – Phantom Buffalo – 2009

There are all these different ways to approach the same idea. And usually the simplest idea is the best. But experimentation is always the key to any progress. But I always end up coming back to the same idea. Consistency is really the key to a lot of things. The least confusing idea for this blog is that I write about a song every day. And when I can’t do that, I just simply can’t do that. I doubt that I will write about 365 songs this year. Maybe I will come up with another title for this blog. Maybe I won’t.

“To be the boss”

In elementary school back in Bryam Township, NJ, there was a math teacher named Hobb Engler. The local Little League organization is named after him. He was a big guy with a cigar. That’s how I remember him. I never had a class with him. But there were three female teachers around him in the 4th grade that would send their misbehaving students, especially male, instead of wasting the time of the principal. I got sent to his class once. I don’t remember what I did. I expected that I would sit in the desk next to his desk with my back to his class and the discomfort of the unfamiliar setting would be punishment enough.

“or carry my hat.”

But Hobb Engler’s methods were not passive. He told me to get up and write on the chalkboard while he sat in his chair. My handwriting has always been atrocious, so the numbers on the board were unreadable. But he had me carry on until the students were asking what the hell I was writing. Which he made me explain. The class he was teaching was one grade ahead of me, so I was a bit lost. And while I was incredibly confused, I attempted to figure out what was going on. I was engrossed in trying to decipher what I had written on the board when Mr. Engler said, “Mr. Lines? Do you walk to school or carry your lunch?” Me, “What?” Engler, “It’s a yes or no question.” Me, “What?” Engler, “Do you walk to school or carry your lunch?” Me, “?” Engler, “Mr. Lines. It’s a yes or no question. Do you walk to school or carry your lunch?” Me, “?” Engler, “I think I have had about enough of you.” Me, “?” Engler, “Or you of me? Go back to your class and don’t bother your teacher anymore. Got it?” I didn’t bother her anymore.

“Don’t blow it away.”

To be the boss or carry my hat? Do you walk to school or carry your lunch? There’s not much of a choice is there. I think it’s a really important thing to ponder an incoherent question. It’s sort of the daily dilemma of the modern world. The riddle of affluence. The curse of the middle class.

“I want it to stay.”

There’s a lot of encouragement about bettering ourselves and being of service. But society and possibly survival itself don’t lend themselves very well to idealism, community, passion, intelligent discourse, etc. When it comes down to it, there is no right answer for anything. Any of the political or social issues that own large swaths of our consciousness. Tax cuts, crime, social security, defense, world hunger… There are answers, but the questions are largely incoherent. Requiring yes or no answers where long discourse and argument are concerned is largely unproductive. But when the problem includes threats that seem imminent and life threatening, then intelligent discourse gives way to panic and threats.

“But our little fire’s not doing okay.”

Phantom Buffalo fits into a particular group of Indie artists and labels that don’t seem to distribute their music very widely via the internet. You can order a record from the label, Time Lag Records, but that’s about it. Mexican Kids at Home, who I wrote about in my last entry is the same. They are on Wee-Pop records and they even told me that they don’t necessarily put mp3’s out on the internet. This all seems rather contradictory in a way. And really this song, Be The Boss, has been bothering me. But it finally reminded me of this story about Hobb Engler. And while the song comes off as a love story, it seems to be saying something about the fruitless endeavors of the creative fringe of society. We used to be just underground, but now we are marginalized. Largely with our consent.

Being an Indie artist, or maybe to do anything truly artistic (I’m not talking about making music for the corporate context that is dictated to us.), is like walking backward through life. The answer as a musician seems to be to get a large following, get signed by a major label and make lots of money. There is a different formulaic answer for all of the media that artists work in. And it’s ironic to contemplate all of these solutions, because all of these paths to success involve some step or element that most people don’t have access to. A very basic step in the music formula is submitting a demo. You need an entertainment lawyer to do this. To retain a decent entertainment lawyer, you need to cough up a very larger retainer (In case you didn’t know. Retainer = cash.) and also be connected to people that know lawyers well enough to recommend you to them. So you need an agent to make an introduction. Run your head around that one a bit. It’s enough to make you crazy.

Do you walk to school or carry your lunch? Really! So we know the answers. We really do. There are thousands of books written about how to do it. And even how to do it as an Indie artist. None of these answers reflect that the questions are incoherent. How do you break into an industry that no longer even likes what it does? The music industry doesn’t like music or musicians. The people don’t like themselves. No one likes what they do. We all point to the government as if the government wasn’t the biggest employer in the country. Even people that work for the government talk about it as if it is something outside of themselves. We largely alienate only ourselves because we are always who we are criticizing. The truly rich have sold us the dream of being rich, and we have laid down our only defense. Freewill. We feel like we don’t have any choices. We need everything the middle class dream has dictated that we must have.

So my first instinct when hearing music so far out of the mainstream that the labels that distribute it have basically dropped out of the contemporary methods of the distribution chain is to just dismiss it all. I actually said out loud to a friend that I wondered if they were members of the Society for Creative Anachronism. But then I thought about all of the things that I have said here. And really I am so full of shit if I come at it from this angle. The music is good. There are some really heavy metaphors lurking just under the surface. And I know for a fact that digital distribution only serves to expose more people to the music. It doesn’t even attract new people to the shows which is where the band makes all of its money. But no one makes any money off of the digital distribution except the corporations that offer the download service, iTunes, Amazon, Emusic.

So what does it matter. People downloading songs on their computers don’t really add a significant turnout to shows. Word of mouth. Scene buzz. That’s how people end up going to shows. The internet does hold a lot of promise as the great equalizer, but it isn’t the shoe in the door to the industry success that we would like to believe it is. So labels like Time Lag and Wee Pop are just choosing to reign it in. As are the bands that choose to partner with them. It’s kind of a smart strategy. It’s the community that has always been the strength of building buzz around music. But even if it doesn’t bring them bigger “market share”, there is some integrity in it. They are not playing the corporate game. The game where smaller players have to mortgage their future to buy into a new infrastructure that only benefits the larger corporations that own that infrastructure. These smaller players have their own rules and their own metaphors. They protect what they have when they drop out and say that they aren’t going to play.

“Even in our minimized world, we can survive girl.”

That seems to be it. There is so much promise in all of this new stuff. But I think a good deal of it is a waste. What was the original question that our modern answers are responding to? To be the boss or carry my hat? Do you walk to school or carry your lunch? Yes or no? I understand what he was trying to teach me. The teacher was there to do a job and I was being an asshole for making it harder. Teachers show up for work and most of the questions they are answering are incoherent. Their time with the students is short. The teacher isn’t the man. Just another victim of a senseless system. I get it, but if Hobb Engler asked me today, I would say, “No!”

Phantom Buffalo myspace page

One Man Band – Mexican Kids At Home – 2009

My friend, Mark, that I was in several bands with is one of the most interesting characters I have ever known.  But I hate to use a forum like this to tell Mark Pringle anecdotes.  There are so many of them.  But for the love of God, I wish I knew where to contact him.  He’s a strange guy, but one of the best friends I have ever had.  He wrote a song for me once that I have had in my head for over 20 years called We Shared the Same Song.  I have only ever heard him play it live, because that’s how our musical careers have gone.

“I don’t want to sleep in the corner”

You can only take my word for it that the music I have actually recorded for people to hear is a sad facsimile of the original work.  Mark and I tried to record several times.  Some of it sucked very badly.  Some of it was okay.  But the truth is that we could never keep it together long enough for actual decent recordings of our efforts to be completed.  We spent a long time writing songs.  The song was more important than anything.  But the end result is that there are few artifacts available for general consumption.

“where people throw stuff at me cause I’m smaller.”

We could work together for an average of 6 months before we were at each other’s throats.  I blamed him.  He blamed me.  And really, it would be easy for me to present a case about how hard it was to work with Mark.  But who cares.  In the end, I have nothing to show for the some of the most valuable creative efforts of my life.  And it’s a good thing I have a really good musical memory, because I have only heard the song he wrote for me a handful of times.  But I can easily recall all of it.  And it was perfect with just him and a guitar.  And as frustrating as Mark could be, he could really reach you with his music.  And when he did, he was easy to forgive.

“I would normally throw stuff back”

Mark made a living a lot of the time in Albuquerque playing in coffee shops by himself.  He could throw down an open guitar case and pull in enough to pay bills.  And you could see it when he reached someone.  And he could do it over and over again.

“but it never seems to go down like that.”

Mark would do this thing where he would attempt to add additional instruments without adding additional people.  Part of that was just wanting to get it done and he played live so much.  Part of it was just Mark being weird.  Part of it was just that he generally had a bad time working with other people.  It would be really funny sometimes.  And he would talk about the Dick Van Dyke character in Mary Poppins.  The one man band.

“I just want to start a one man band.”

Honestly at the time, I had no idea what he was talking about.  It had been so long since I had seen Mary Poppins.  But in the last few years, I have had the opportunity to see Mary Poppins with my son several times.  I can’t help but think of Mark whenever I see that character.  And it always makes me think about some of the values Mark had in entertainment.  He told me one time about why he liked Chinese cinema so much, even beyond the Kung Fu movies we were into because the whole Albuquerque crew studied so much kung fu.  He liked that they were all so intense.  Every moment of the movies were so ‘lived’.  And he must have thought the same thing about that Dick Van Dyke character.  He was so alive.

“And write songs that people don’t understand.”

But it all makes me think of all the missed opportunities.  And really there are so many in my life.  As my friend Troy says, “We never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”  But I think we really misunderstand which opportunities we were missing.  We always thought we were missing the business opportunities.  But really we were missing each other.  And yes, we were all pretty much handicapped mentally and doing our best to figure out how to overcome our disabilities.  But we already had the community built.  All we had to do was stay in one place and figure out how to work together until we had artifacts that we were satisfied with.

“I will finally be on my way.”

And I am using artifact in place of the term I would usually use to describe what I mean – product.  Because I am finding that this is the obstacle that I have been unable to overcome in my creative process – the eventual commercialization of my artifacts.  But this should have been the last thing on my mind.  But it was always the first thing that would kill any of our endeavors.  How do we make money doing this?  And the answer really is – you don’t.  You love it, and that’s the most you are ever going to get out of it.  If there is eventually a payout, great!

“But I still don’t have much to say about it.”

But that’s where we would all end up.  We have to eat somehow.  And we would all be desperate to make money doing something we loved doing.  So we would try everything and bite off more than we could chew.  And eventually we would be sick of that part of the process and each other, and everyone would scatter.  Back to shit jobs we all hated.

And really there are so many wasted words to try to capture what I mean.  I became a programmer because I got sick of being in an Indie band.  Paying $300 to $500 a month on a rehearsal space while living in an apartment with no furniture.  Money seemed to always be the thing that was missing.  “If I/We had enough money, then I would be able to put this whole music thing together.”  But we were putting the music thing together.  We were just starving half the time.  And the idea of being a programmer was financing my own music projects and eating at the same time.  A really novel idea.  Mark did the same thing.

I don’t know where Mexican Kids at Home got their name, but I like it.  I like their obvious dedication to acoustic music with no effects.  It’s this really sparse landscape.  An intentionally child like approach.  On first hearing, it sounds like they wrote the song five minutes before they started recording.  But even if they did that, which I doubt, it really has a much heavier message hidden in all that simplicity.  It’s so hard to listen to commercial pop music and know that there are so many people much more talented all over the place.  But it’s the lowest common denomenator always.  Sex and corporate success.  Fame and riches.  It’s a carrot in your face as a musician.  A vision of success sold to you as easily as a new brand of toothpaste.  That’s what is being sold by commercial pop.  It almost looks accessible.  Until you realize you need contact with an executive class that you will never have access to.  It almost kills you.

“And there’s some things I hate the most.”

And then a long time has passed and I realize all of this.  That my one man band killed my creativity.  That I didn’t begin with a vision of corporate commercial pop success.  I just wanted to write, record and tour music.  I got the writing part.  And one part that I overlooked whenever I had it.  Community.  And that community seemed like the easiest thing to walk away from every time.  And I realize now that it was the most important part.

“Listen to the radio and finding it hard to breathe.”

Mexican Kids At Home myspace page

I Don’t Know – Ozzy Osbourne – 1981

Yes.  I’m going to write about Ozzy now.

Three different people that found me on Facebook have said that one of the things that stands out in their memory of me 25 years ago was Ozzy Osbourne.  I was apparently an Ozzy freak when I was 11.  I do remember that shirt with the Blizzard of Oz album cover that I probably wore until it had holes in it.  And I have to admit that any of those songs from the first two solo albums with Randy Rhodes, Blizzard of Oz and Diary of a Madman, still do it for me.

“People look to me and say”

I wrote about this song in my online journal in 2002.  I knew that I was eventually going to have to write about Ozzy in this blog.  I figured I would wait until I was really busy.  Then I would find that journal and paste it here with some minor edits.  I remembered it as the same kind of writing I am doing here.  But it wasn’t.  Apparently my writing has improved dramatically.  That or I just hate everything I do after a couple years.

“is the end near, when is the final day.”

So in my writing about music, I have to touch on this particular subject about fathers.  There’s a kid I know who is 10 right now.  His father isn’t around much.  He loves Greenday.  He knows everything about Greenday.  Boys need their fathers at this age.  And unfortunately a lot of fathers, for whatever reason, aren’t around for them.  I can see that Billy Joe sort of fills this role for him.  It made me think about this particular age when my father wasn’t around.  I didn’t like him anyway.  But that’s what got me into the whole fantasy anyway.  I didn’t like him.  When my father didn’t fit the role, I fantasized.  And in a way this saved my life.  How often does an actual father give nothing but profound advice and wise words?

“What’s the future of mankind”

I would never have said, “Oh I think of Ozzy like my father.”  I just listened to his music like he was saying something to me.  There were two others that were just as big an influence.  John Lennon and Jimmy Page.  And I will write more about them another time.  But Ozzy fit this particular period of time.  And the records were coming out right as I was hitting several crises in my life that left me completely lost.  So while I was still in New Jersey, Ozzy was a huge part of my life.  And obviously I drove my friends nuts with his music.

“how do I know I got left behind.”

Then we moved to Texas.  Texas scared the hell out of me.  And Houston was still a part of Texas back then.  Now it’s a large urban metrolopolis.  You have to drive a long way from downtown Houston to get to Texas.  But in 1983.  Big trucks with gun racks in the rear windows.  Dumb rough necks with large belt buckles.  Drunk rednecks.  Cookie cutter suburbs.  Mexican food.  Everything was unfamiliar to me.  It was like moving to another country.

“Everyone goes through changes”

When we drove into Houston in 1983 in our Buick Regal with New Jersey plates, a pickup truck pulled up next to us on the freeway and rolled down the window.  A redneck leaned half his body out of the window while going 65 MPH and motioned for my mother to roll down her window.  When she did, he yelled, “You guys from New Jersey?”  My mother, “Yes we are.”  Redneck, “Well welcome to Texas.”  Mother, “Thank you.”  Redneck, “Now go home!  YEE HAW!!!”  Um…  This actually happened.

“looking to find the truth.”

As I have documented in several blog entries, my first year in Houston was miserable.  My brothers seemed to adapt easily.  I was too loud.  Too abrasive.  Too insecure.  Too afraid of this redneck backwater ass hicktown.  I was terrified of everything.  Then something Ozzy had done the year before in San Antonio changed my life.  I don’t know why it occurred to me in 1984, because I’m sure I knew about it when it happened.  I just don’t think the significance caught up with me until I had some context for it.  Or maybe I was just tired of being afraid and connected the incident with my desire to be done with my fear.

“Don’t look to me for answers”

Ozzy pissed on the Alamo!  Ozzy walked up to this shrine of Texas history.  The ultimate symbol of Texas pride.  Hiked up his skirt (he was wearing his wife’s dress for a photo shoot).  And pissed on the Alamo.  It was a revelation to me.  Like he did it on purpose, which he certainly did not.  He was way too drunk that morning (and I’m talking almost noon) to know that he was pissing on something significant.  My fear of everything Texas seemed irrelevant at that point.  I’m afraid of Texas culture, but Ozzy just went and pissed all over it.  Go Ozzy!

“don’t ask me – I don’t know.”

Yeah don’t ask Ozzy.  And make fun of Ozzy all you want.  I feel some genuine affection for him on his Alzheimerish drug addled aging reality shows.  Ozzy was there for me when a lot of adult men in my life were completely gone for whatever reason.  And for all of the caricature that is made of his accomplishments, Ozzy defined a genre of music.  He defied some of the more educated protest music of the 60’s with direct political protest that named the war machine for what it was – war pigs.  And while he seems completely lost and his music hasn’t been compelling to me in years, I still see him as a metaphor.  And there is no way that the power of his lyrics and his performances weren’t intentional.  Not with that much consistancy for so many years.

“Nobody ever told me I found out for myself.”

And all of the talk of family values on the right.  This is what it looks like when some families stay together.  Just a hodgepodge of affection, loyalty and dysfunction.  And for all of the criticism of his public figure as a father, he stayed there with them.  Which goes a long way.  Loyalty goes a long way with me.  Showing up no matter how screwed up you are.  Showing up and apologizing when you didn’t show up before.  My standards aren’t too high where this is concerned.  Show up high if you have to.  But just show up.  And Ozzy and Sharon figured out a way to make it work when they really didn’t have to.  And then they were still able to see enough humor in it to make fun of themselves.

“Ya gotta believe in foolish miracles.”

And all of that “Prince of Darkness” crap.  It’s such a great metaphor.  He started out criticizing people with these ranting lyrics about how they were evil.  And then because of his presentation and his lifestyle, people started associating him with the idea.  Then his career evolved into playing the evil metal guy.  It’s all so funny in a way.

“Don’t confuse win or lose – it’s up to you.”

And that’s what I learned from Ozzy.  No one is going to live my life for me.  There’s a whole world out there.  It’s up to you.

“Asking me who to follow.  Don’t ask me.  I don’t know.”

buy I Don’t Know mp3

The Mother Of All Funk Chords – Kutiman – 2009

One of the times I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance , I was living in Boston and coming to terms with the idea that there are so many people trying to be heard.  There are so many voices in this world.  So many needs.  I became very depressed.  The idea of Quality as expressed by Persig in his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, seemed to be directly responsible.  Only certain voices were worth hearing as defined by some incredible esoteric formula.  I thought of all of the people that are truly talented.  But the average attention span for digesting and owning media in a human’s brain isn’t capable of hearing everything.

This depression lasted for quite some time.  I guess in some ways I am still not over it.  It led me to another set of conclusions about working.  Especially working in something satisfying and monetarily rewarding.  I thought about all of the food that is delivered to us at our supermarkets.  How many people who plant or harvest corn play the guitar?  How many can sing?  How many have musical aspirations?  Or dream of themselves in better circumstances where they entertain people with their talent?  But someone has to plant the corn!

Around this time, there was a guy I helped produce plays with in a small Brookline community theater near Boston.  I mainly did the music, but I did other things as well.  He was a chemist at MIT and his other dream was producing classic plays by Chekov and Ibsen.  He was doing these things.  One day a male lead quit.  He was very talented.  He was from India and in scrubbing his Indian accent to get more parts, he had mastered a giant array of accents.  He had a master’s degree in theater.  He quit the play because he got a job managing the Dunkin Donuts right across the street from Berklee.

The MIT Chemist guy was telling me about this.  He seemed kind of flabbergasted by the whole thing.  Why would someone do something like that?  Give up a part in a play he had always wanted to be in to manage the Dunkin Donuts?  I kept asking questions to draw him out, because this point of view seemed so absurd to me.  Finally his responses led to, “I don’t know.  The guy has no dreams.  He’s never going to have a house or a family or a couple cars in the garage.  I don’t know what he thinks he’s going to accomplish.  You have to stick with something.  You don’t give up.”  I was really speechless, but I did manage to respond, “You know.  Someone has to manage the Dunkin Donuts.  When people go to the Dunkin Donuts and want coffee or something, someone has to make sure that happens.”

Yes there is a separate idea of intention.  If you intend to be a farmer or a Dunkin Donuts manager, then you should be those things.  But how many people accomplish what they set out to accomplish.  Certainly there are career paths that are almost set in stone.  Become a doctor – follow this path.  Become a lawyer – follow that path.  But outside of doing something like that, there isn’t so much certainty.  And for some people, the idea of certainty in life is a death sentence.  I could hold my hand up to be counted as one of these.  Perhaps it’s some kind of pathology that makes this happen, but more than likely it’s just different personalities.

But without certainty, there can be a lot of defeat.  And it’s unfortunate that there are so many careers that we immediately associate with defeat.  Barista!  Oh you majored in philosophy, but couldn’t hack it.  Or…  Oh you couldn’t figure out what you wanted to do with your life.  Here you are serving coffee.  But the aesthetic of a profession or wealth shouldn’t really indicate the level of success or happiness in life.  But it does.  And even when a shitty artist makes a lot of money and becomes famous, people take them more seriously.  Even when a criminal gets away with a large amount of money, society seems to give them some respect.

But someone has to be a foot soldier in Napoleon’s army.  And without the 100’s of thousands of foot soldiers, Napoleon is nothing.  Someone has to plant the corn!  Someone has to manage the Dunkin Donuts.  And when those people go home, they don’t dream the lesser dreams of the poor and defeated.  They dream the dreams of great people.  We are all great people.  And the more we let the mass marketing of corporations define greatness, the more we cower in defeat.  Paying taxes to subsidize wealth in ever increasing amounts, because somehow we believe that the amount of money a person makes or the level of fame a person has attained says something about the talents that person possesses.  I’m not saying anyone can do any job.  And certainly we want qualified people doing the jobs that are critical to our society.  But the inmates are running the asylum here.  We have reached a point where the only qualifications we think of as important are being rich and/or famous.

I don’t know whether Kutiman was thinking about all of these voices.  All of these separate aspirations when he began his project of splicing youtube videos into amazing works of art, but this is what it makes me think of.  More than ever with the internet, I am aware of all of the talent in the world.  All of the voices clamoring to be heard.  And Kutiman seems to have this awareness as well.  He seems to be saying, “I hear you in all your isolated loneliness.  Let me show you how great you are.”  And this metaphor is a jumping off place for a profound shift in consciousness that I think is necessary and happening right now in front of our eyes.  The Mother Of All Funk Chords is rising like a tidal wave.  All of our voices will be heard in ways we can’t control.  With meaning we can no longer recognize as our own.

Yes someone has to plant the corn.  But that doesn’t mean that his voice is any less important.  Because The Mother Of All Funk Chords is us.  In all our clumsy gracelessness, there is still a depth of beauty that refuses to be defined by our net worth.

download The Mother Of All Funk Chords

Born At The Right Time – Paul Simon – 1990

Getting back into writing after everything that has happened in the last two weeks has been ridiculous.  Where do I pick up?  What do I say about how profound everything has been?  Or do I just ignore it all and write as if nothing has happened?  There no way to ignore it all.  I feel like I live on a different planet.  I feel reborn.  I know things about myself that I never knew before.  I know things about the world that I forgot.  That I keep forgetting.

“Down among the reeds and rushes.”

I was forced to confront my limits in a corporate environment.  I realize now that there are some things I can’t do no matter how much you pay me.  I also know just how much my family means to me.  I know how important my children are to me.  I know what I don’t want to miss.  I know at which point I will lay down my life for another.  I know what brings me to my knees.  I know how little I really care about the events of the world.  I know how small the universe is…

“a baby boy was found.”

So I spent days searching for the song I was going to use as my entrance back into my daily writing routine.  But it was very difficult.  And it wasn’t coming to me.  Meanwhile, our baby was born.  I reconnected with my son.  As his trust grew, his arms thrown around my neck took on a deeper significance.  It isn’t that we grew apart.  It’s that he was obviously starting to feel a little rejected by everything that was happening to us.  Hospitals, a sibling is born, cousins going away, a different person to spend the afternoon with every day.  I vowed that I would never let my children feel this way.  I worked for years to overcome my own feelings of rejection.  His little arms around my neck is a catharsis.  A giant ‘Yes!  I am not going anywhere.’

“His eyes as clear as centuries.”

And I am left wondering about life.  There is so much of it.  There really is.  Everywhere you look there is life.  Even when considering larger systems – the world, countries, corporations, political groups, the universe, social cliques, hospitals – everything takes on the characteristics of life.  Sometimes only because we humans are observing and participating in the fate of all of these things.  Everything is alive with our dreams and aspirations.  Everything exists in the numinosity of our intent.

“His silky hair was brown.”

We breathe life into everything.  We take a rock and hold it.  Our warmth changes it.  The rock is personified by our simplest actions.  Everything the rock does is new and significant.  The rock is separate and the same.  And I can’t help but think how much we do without knowing it.  How much of the raw power of life we breathe into things we consider inanimate and lifeless.  From meaningless drudgery to our most profound dreams.

“Never been lonely.”

And when we have children, we take the opposite view for granted.  That which we consider full of life is full of life because that is what is natural.  I see it now as the same as the rock.  We are breathing life into something inanimate.

“Never been lied to.”

If we leave life to itself, it fails.  But when we stoop down and dig our fingers into the muck and pull it close.  Share our warmth.  Trust in its existence.  Hope with everything we have.  Love like we have never loved.  That’s life.

“Never had to scuffle in fear.”

Like a musical instrument.  You can play and play and it can mean nothing.  Just some sound events arranged over time.  But at some point as a musician, you learn to breathe life into the instrument.  The same thing happens with writing.  Everyone knows the difference between just getting by and the breath of life.  There is no lesson for this.  And sometimes, we spend our whole lives unable to be affected by even our own most important moments.

“Nothing denied to.”

It’s so easy to miss all of this life.  It’s so easy to be an inanimate object in our own lives.  Not seeing how much life we affect.  How the rock lives.  How the lives around us are dependent on our intent.  The deeper significance of our lives is us.  We aren’t waiting for anything or anyone.

“Born at the instant the church bells chimed.”

It’s all right there.  The next right thing.  The outcome.  The conditions.  Even under the worst circumstances and the best.  We are part of a giant miracle.  An epic illusion so rooted in faith and love that we can’t even begin to separate ourselves from its origins.  Life is enormous.  And it has no edges or seams.  It can’t be defined or categorized and nothing can be removed or added to it.

“The whole world whispering born at the right time.”

So I decided on this Paul Simon song which holds a special significance for me.  Especially with my son.  Although the song came out over a decade before his birth, I didn’t discover the song until we were in Hong Kong.  And what can you say about a Paul Simon song.  Especially when he gets it as right as he does on this song.  There are so many to choose from.  I thought about him earlier and I was sure I would write about Graceland.  My mother gave me Graceland at a time when I was sure she knew nothing about me.  At the time I knew nothing about Paul Simon, and as a teenager, I was sure this was a dumb gift.  But Graceland became one of the most important pieces of my teen years.  And while there was a deep chasm between us in so many ways, this was a clear message to me that she did know who I was.  “Poor boys and pilgrims and families and we are going to Graceland.”  And Born At The Right Time is kind of the same story, but it holds a special significance for me about my son.  He is a living metaphor as we all are.  Our significance should not be lost on us.  And somehow Paul Simon reached for this emotion and captured it.  And I can see my son as a toddler dancing in our Hong Kong apartment with his total lack of self-consciousness.  So intent on living.

“The planet groans every time it registers another birth.”

So I have been at the hospital almost every night holding my daughter.  Feeding her sleepy mouth.  Vibrating her tiny body with my giant voice.  Humming a Dean and Britta song as a lullaby.  Her sleepy eyes look up at me like an alien.  A giant question.  She is too small.  She asks, with those dark blue eyes, if this is all worth it.  Is the world – with all its suffering and callousness, uncertainty and disappointment – all that great a place?

“But down among the reeds and rushes the baby girl was found.”

And I don’t know if it is worth it all the time.  But I do know that my two experiences with birth.  Watching countless participants breathe hope and love and … life into this tiny helpless ball of energy.  And it is so unorganized.  And we all pray to whatever we pray to.  We bring all of the mysticism of science and religion.  And we crawl around in the mud.  Digging our fingers into parts of ourselves we didn’t know existed.  We are reborn in this experience.  And nothing and no one is the same ever again.  The whole universe changes.  And all of the beauty that we spend all of our lives hiding from ourselves is revealed.

“Her eyes as clear as centuries her silky hair was brown.”

There is so much that can’t be said.  So many words to finally reveal that I can’t tell you.  It’s more than just moments.  It’s more than just knowing.  It’s more than just an emotion.  Or a smile.  Yes it’s all worth it.  And when you grow up and read this, you can tell me if it was worth it.

“The whole world whispering born at the right time.”

buy Born At The Right Time

Have You Ever Died – Benjamin Wesley – 2009

I discovered this song a few weeks ago through some forgotten array of connections of music that I happened to be searching.  And this may seem like a strange song to have attached as a soundtrack to the birth of my second  child, but it only seems strange because of the title.  Have you ever died?  Yes I have died every minute of the last 6 weeks.  There’s this strange middle ground I haunted while the pregnancy got complicated.  I wanted to love the child into existence.  I wanted to protect myself and my family from the possibility of a tragedy.  But inevitably she crawled inside of me.  I gave every ounce of myself to her.

“…and you climbing the mountain”

But you never know.  But you do.  And you don’t want to go, but you will.  Here is all of life in little heart attacks and sucking breath and hoping for the best.  I felt her little breath on me while I slept.  She held my hand and prayed with me to a God I don’t believe in.  Laid prostrate with me at the altar.  Slept softly in the back seat while I drove.

“The tower you counted the stairs.”

A grackle spoke to me in the Kroger parking lot.  I had been driving aggressively.  Very fast.  One place then another.  As self-important as any other person on the wide swath of highway.  Becoming something I despise.  The grackle was perched under the bumper of an F150.  It squawked at me and I realized that grackles had been near me every time I got out of the car.  I looked him in the eye.  He clearly said, “Slow down.”  I said, “Okay.”  He hopped away.

“Then you sang yodel-ay-he-hoo.”

And it’s been days since I posted about a song.  I worried about it a few days.  Then I thought I would catch up eventually.  Then I realized that once again I was participating in the lie.  Covering up the contradictions is a big part of mass marketing.  But exposing the contradictions is an artist’s job.  I want to write about a song every day this year, but circumstances are making this impossible.  I could write 5 entries in one day and say, “There I did it.”  But really I didn’t write about one every day.  I wrote about 5 one day.  And now I think this is okay, but I might as well expose this.  I will write about 365 songs this year, but not one every day.  Sometimes I won’t be able to do that.

“Lost and found all this spinning around.”

But we did hold a baby up to the sky this week.  She was as perfect as a clear diamond.  A Thumbelina emerging from a magic seed.  A child asleep with her feet tucked under my leg.  She came too early and at the perfect time.  So many people gathered in a quiet storm.  Intent on bringing this one soul into this world.  And I thought about how many lives are brought forward.  And how much will gathered from so many different sources it takes to bring each into existence.  And how easy and smooth that warm breath of life reaches all of us from the sea.  We all emerge unscathed and live until we die battle worn and beautiful.

“No wonder boy you stutter like a mule.”

There is no blemish.  We cannot be imperfect.  We are only additions of everything that is right.  Even when the darkness takes us, we are only still products of the light.  We do our best to not let evil befall us.  But we are masses of contradictions and disappointments.  Conglomerations of joy and eerily rhythmic spontaneity steeped in the great salt water wisdom of the mother.  I learned that we are all right and wrong.  I saw a girl anxious to see her mother in the light.  Vibrated into the arms of her father by his voice.  I am humbled and speechless.

“Each stop you know it’s going to wash away.”

We are washed up on the beach and wrung out with the wind.  Carried gently and with purpose.  None of us makes it alone.  In the widest sense, we are all family.  There is no life that isn’t a giant collaboration.  I am every one of you.  There is no me.

“You decide to go you gotta beat the road.”

This song has been sitting on my chest for a week.  Eating away at the corner of my consciousness.  Benjamin Wesley is a master of the unspeakable even when he is speaking.  There is so much being said that is only summoned imagery.  Have You Ever Died is such a contradiction.  From the title.  It’s like he’s really saying, “Have you ever lived?”  All of the amazing things he does with stuttering lyrics, blurred melodies, unshakable rhythms and plodding content.  There is so much celebration and joy in the primal experience.  I get the sense of – oh well, I have to do the inevitable.  Let’s celebrate the inevitable.  The inevitability of death.  But let’s not forget the inevitability of life.  Especially if we are talking about death.

“It’s a compromise or there wouldn’t be a show.”

That’s right.  Without the compromise of life.  The sweet ripeness of life.  The hope and inevitability of life.  Death can never have its satisfaction.  Death is its own hopelessness.  There’s the celebration of life.

“It’s a quiet life you ain’t got no friends.”

Time was slowly eating away at us.  Like a bird pecking at a pile of ants.  Consuming us.  Directing our days.  We sat and watched.  And made the best of it.  And watched the clock.  And pulled the days off the calendar like some movie montage.  We pulled the rope at a plodding pace.  Cooking our dreams until they were done.  And then one day, life was inevitable.  And she washed up on our shore wrung out and sputtering.  And we watched in the hallway.  The doctors pronouncing the science of yet another miracle.  As they were sponging the salt water off of her, it occurred to me that we were all willing to show up for this impossibility over and over again.  Every time celebrated like it had never happened before.

“It’s a quiet life..”

Every day.

Haven’t found a link to buy the music online yet, but here is Benjamin Wesley’s web page.

Television The Drug Of The Nation – Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy – 1992

In 1990, I became enraged with the lies leading up to the Gulf War.  I was pretty isolated in my existence as a music student at Berklee.  We didn’t own a television, so I didn’t follow current events at all.  But the Gulf War was impossible to miss.  It was also proof of my argument against owning a television.  You will hear about news when it is really important.  There was no missing the lead up to the war.

And my days as an activist began one Saturday morning when I happened to be in Copley Square.  I was at the bank with my wife at the time.  (I was married for a few years when I was 20.)  We left the bank and a large crowd was marching down Boylston on the way to the Boston Common.  The signs the demonstrators were carrying were in opposition to the war.  This was definitely our position, so we just joined in.

There was the usual array of groups.  Mostly normal people who wanted to voice their opposition to the war.  Then the specialty groups.  “Republicans opposed to the war!”  “Irish gays for peace.”  And the embarrassing hippies that were always wearing face paint and banging on drums while dancing – the group that the news focused the cameras on.  At Boston Common, there was a stage with a podium and an array of speakers doing their best to work up the crowd.  The most memorable speaker was Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame.

I thought for sure in the lead up to the Gulf War that the people would see the lies that were being perpetrated and a giant opposition would rise up against the war.  I did my best to tell as many people as I could as much about the lies as I possibly could  It was an eye opening experience.  People were in one of two groups.  There were those who were just against it but only because they were opposed to the American Empire concept.  This group was unconcerned with whether or not this particular war was just or necessary.  They were just opposed to all forms of war – for any reason.

The other group was represented by a particular story of a person I talked to about the whole story.  He was the roommate of a really good friend of mine.  He repeated the rallying cry of the day as his sole argument, “How can you not support your own troops?”  I was very good at engaging people in dialog.  So I talked to him until I had explained the things that were not being reported well in the news.  By the end of my well constructed argument, I had him more or less.  And then he said, “I see your point.  But really it makes me feel patriotic.”

“On television, the drug of the nation.”

I love the resistance model as laid out by Thoreau in Civil Disobedience.  It is thoughtful, and it seemed to apply.  And it does apply if the event that you are demonstrating against lasts long enough.  The first Gulf War was so short that any resistance was easily silenced.  Even if we were rioting in the streets of Boston.  But this spirit of resistance lasted right up until the election of 1992, so perhaps it was all worth the effort.

“Breeding ignorance and feeding radiation.”

Television Drug of the Nation came out in 1992.  A lot of the theme seemed to be inspired by the Gulf War coverage.  Even if it wasn’t, it made me think of all of the activism during the Gulf War and afterward.  I’m not going to repeat a lot of the lyrics like I normally do in my entries.  The lyrics aren’t specifically relevant to my story.  The spirit of revolution and resistance is the thing that strikes me.  Michael Franti is someone I don’t talk about nearly enough.  From the Beatnigs, to DHOH, to Spearhead – he has been an intelligent voice of resistance.  It was late 1992 by the time I had heard Television the Drug of the Nation when my friend Gopal played it for me.  And while I know the lyrics to this song pretty well, it is my own narrative that dominates my memory of the song.

Being a music student with deadlines is difficult while organizing a bunch of activist events.  And I beat my head against that wall for at least a year.  Getting permission for and setting up tables in the main lobby at Berklee and talking to people.  I even organized a bus of Berklee students to go to Washington for two large demonstrations.  One against the Gulf War and one for the Pro Choice rally in the spring of 1992.

Now I was surprised to learn this, but musicians are the hardest group of people to motivate into activism of any sort.  If it doesn’t involve a gig at the rally, then they don’t care.  Berklee students in my time were the most politically apathetic group of students in Boston.  It was easier motivating young conservatives at Boston University to oppose the Gulf War than it was to get a Berklee student to listen.  This was also the case when I organized for the Pro Choice rally.  I needed a student group to sponsor my presence in the hallway.  I approached the Women at Berklee group.  I realize now that it was pretty ridiculous to assume that the group supported a particular stand on abortion, but I needed a student group sponsor.  They gave it to me.

Whenever I hear this song, I think of the hundreds of stories I know of this two year period of activism.  The occupation of Storrow Drive in Boston during rush hour.  The riot on the Mass Ave bridge when the bombing started.  The riot on the mall in the Washington anti-war demonstration.  The demonstrations outside of the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston where friends of mine were arrested along with thousands of others.  The friend that came within inches of hitting Schwarzkopf with a paint balloon at the Gulf War victory parade in Houston.

A lot of time when I get disgusted enough about the state of the nation, I think that my passion will re-ignite my activist spirit.  But it doesn’t quite get me there.  I tell myself there are bills to pay, and I have kids.  And this is true.  But sometimes I wish I had more latitude in my life to participate like this again.  Unfortunately, there also seems to be a big mental illness trigger for me in activism of this sort.  The personal involvement in civil disobedience like taking over a main thoroughfare in Boston or rioting with police and the “support our troops” people is something I will always remember with pride.  Yes it’s not much more than a footnote in history, but we showed up to be counted and voice our opposition.  And even though this DHOH song came out after it was all over, I remember it all with this song as its soundtrack.

buy Television The Drug Of The Nation

Biggest Fan – Voxtrot – 2006

This week my writing has sucked.  In some cases, I knew what I was trying to say but couldn’t say it.  In other cases, I loved the song but wasn’t able to express it.  And there are hundreds of ways to explain this.  Some of the biggest excuses could involve new jobs, soul killing corporations, being busy, environment…  And maybe some of this is valid.  And maybe my writing has just simply sucked.  And I am embarrassed to read some of it, but I am going to let it stand.  I have a couple of points to make in the long run that will be served by even my worst writing.

I want to insist that every song I have written about I have loved.  This week especially.  I put together a CD this week, and it has lived in my CD player.  I could listen to these songs for the rest of the year.  I drive up and down the freeway singing along.  It has made me sad to move from one song to the next.  And that is one of those things I am learning from doing this.  It really is very hard work letting new concepts enter my consciousness every day.  Music becomes a soundtrack for our lives.  Especially when we are young.  But as we get older, that music that was the soundtrack of our youth becomes our daily muzak.

Then there is the issue of how many stories I have to write about.  I start becoming really critical of myself when I can’t come up with more.  And I don’t know why I would become critical to tell the truth.  But I was listening to this song that I am writing about right now (regardless of whether you know that), and I knew that I had failed yesterday when writing about a song that I loved.  I was feeling sad that I wasn’t able to express that, and kind of embarrassed.  And I knew that these two things, lack of stories left and feeling embarrassed about what I wrote, could totally kill me.  This is my whole life..  Writer’s block (i.e. not knowing what to write about) and not wanting to take a chance because I might suck.

“Life on the margins, little looks we have to steal”

Then there’s the idea that it isn’t necessarily that I don’t know which stories to write about.  There are real people involved in these stories.  People that could be hurt or that could see the stories differently than I did.  This isn’t necessarily a problem even when it is absolutely true.  I have found ways already to change the way I present a story so that I leave out just enough.  But there is a lot of energy that goes into that as well.

“I want to run like vagrants hand in hand across this field”

And all of this is metadata – data about other data.  And funnily enough that is my new job.  I deal with enormous amounts of metadata.  And like my job here in this forum, it is difficult to remain interested in the attributes rather than the information.  The meta-me is what I am talking about.  These songs are about me.  The artist’s stories are stories about my narrative.  Our common ground is difficult to recognize and live in on a daily basis.  And I hope I am being clear, because it’s very difficult to be clear with such an abstract concept.

“But I know the way you are I could fall into the star”

We like to celebrate our differences and our culture right now is all about dividing us.  I am trying to remain awake to the idea that we aren’t very different at all.  But my tendency toward isolation is really a pull that’s almost impossible to fight.

“It’s not easy for everybody to faill in love.”

And right now, one of the hardest things to do is remain passionate about this new music that is entering my life.  Because I compare the larger than life emotion of the expression in the music and compare it with the gray daily life of work that has to be done.  And I have to remind myself that this is one of those fantasies that just ends up making me ache.

“The city walls are reigning perilous and tall over dark chilling streets”

So while I have been awake, and I have written some stuff that has moved even me, I feel like I am missing everything.  I am missing the mark at work.  I am not interested in information about information.  The name is a name, not an attribute.  My clothes are not important.  The garbage on the floor of my car is not an indication of who I am.  This blog is not the music.  It’s not even a map.  My singular voice is my point.

“And I know I want to live my life”

We are all trying to find or invent meaning in our daily lives.  But there are more moments alone for me than in contact with the people that provide the deepest meaning in my life.  I think most of us are stuck with these circumstances.  Whether we are driving up and down freeways and sitting in cubicles for most of the day.  Developing laugh lines from our fake smiles that we give to people that we don’t really want to connect to.  Sitting in hospital beds alone trying to maintain a firm grip on the purpose of choosing this particular suffering.  Sitting underneath bridges.

“Don’t want to waste my time”

In most cases, there was a point to what we were doing that we can’t remember most of the time.  Something that made the pain or dull ache worth it.  And it’s so hard to keep that purpose in mind when I am not in contact with people that bring me joy.  That there is a larger sense of mission.  That I love my people.  That I love myself.

“Trying to strike the right lyrical density.”

And this can be the hardest part of the whole entry.  This is the part where I write a paragraph about the song itself.  As if I wasn’t writing about the song the whole time.  Really please!  I understand that the concept is abstract.  But every word I have written so far is about how kick ass this song is.  I am left wanting to change my whole fucking life every time I listen to it.  While writing this damn thing, I have listened to it about 30 times.  The attributes – the metadata – are irrelevant.  The relationship to progressive rock and Queen in particular.  The blues turn arounds?  The harmonic progression.  The incredible amount of time that went into this song.  It’s all clear.  I can hear Ramesh Srivastava suffering over all of the lyrics he has.  What to leave out – what to put in?  But he has so much of his life on the tip of his tongue.  Isn’t this all of us?  You sing every damn word you got.  Holy shit!  If I could write lyrics like that, my songs would be 90 minutes long.  And the connection to the music!  Usually you get this kind of lyrical density and the music and lyrics are disconnected.  An afterthought.  Voxtrot puts a lot of work into this concept.  And I am putting a lot of work into trying to express how it makes me feel.

“I used to be your biggest fan”

And I remember a girl that I don’t want to write about.  Who was very private.  Who was too depressed.  Who lived in Houston, Boston, Albuquerque.  Who follows me everywhere I go.  Who lives in a hospital bed.  Who walks free in her dreams.  Whose smile follows me everywhere I go.  Who are you?  Who am I?  And how I lose you when I am sitting here refreshing my fucking inbox.

“I used to be your biggest fan”

Yes I did.  I used to believe in myself.  I was a child and every day wasn’t a subject for my biggest critic.  The scrutiny of the peers in my head.  Every moment thrashed and dismissed.  I didn’t worry about whether I would fail.  I danced like a fool.  I searched for mud puddles.  I loved the rain and the wind.  I waited for the sunset.  I played the guitar like I was a rock star.  I wrote like I loved every minute of my life.  I spoke like a man possessed.  And sometimes, right here in this moment, I am connected to that madman.

“Now I find that you are slipping in my estimation”

Yes you are.  You disappointed me with your less than perfect blog entries.  The passionless daily existence of a job at the pinnacle of some career paths.  So ungrateful and arrogant.

“I used to be your biggest fan”

Finding enough courage to create in the face of all these voices of criticism.  To be able to subject myself to the actual criticism beyond the tip of my nose.  Not the self-flagellation in my head.  It’s a wonder that I can get out of bed in the morning.  Maybe that’s why I simply don’t go to sleep.

“Now I know that you could never love someone like me”

How many opportunities do we have to truly express ourselves?  Probably every day.  So it really must take a lot of work to avoid it.  I’m not apologizing for the last time.  I am not re-committing myself to being forgiven.  I am not looking for a redemption that begins in the morning and lasts all day.  I won’t be a better man.

“I made a mistake, well I made two, one for me and one for you”

And I’m going to keep making this mistake.  I’m going to keep listening.  And expressing myself.  Searching for the thing that moves me about it all.  Searching for the weakness in my armor.  I’ll find it sometimes.  Other times, it’s just going to be a bunch of hollow clangs that miss the mark.  The music gets to me every time.  Every single time.

“The science of music is stupid and cruel”

And I don’t want to quit writing about this song, because it means I have to move on to the next one.  I love this song.  It’s the cruelest thing about this project of mine.  I want to pause on Voxtrot, The Morning Benders, Odd Nosdam, Ra Ra Riot and Hot Panda for a long time.  This is my favorite week of music since I started this thing.  And the lamest writing.  Hopefully I got this one and it makes up for the rest.  But maybe not.  It’s not important.  What’s important is that I hang myself out there regardless of how cruel I am to myself.

But let me end it with a great lyric that I wasn’t able to fit into this entry.

“I want to be the toast of the shanty town…”

He’s just got so many great lines.  It’s amazing that he is able to string them together into a single concept.  It’s amazing that the band maintains all of that interest through the whole piece!  That they’ve done it on more than one song…

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Waiting for a War – The Morning Benders – 2008

There’s this concept in sort of fringe American social and political groups that there will be a civil war in our lifetime.  This concept has probably been around since before the country was even founded.  Perhaps it’s even a human condition, but I don’t really know.  Mostly it seems like a bunch of white guys talking about the coming apocalype.  I have been around this scene quite a bit and even believed it for some time.

“It feels less important when you want to wait it out”

And really there can be almost nothing more ridiculous than this belief system, but it’s something encouraged every day in little fringe scenes, partisan talk radio and general water cooler talk.  I’m not sure why it’s so prevalent in the American democracy.  It’s really almost embarrassing to think about.  Every time a group of people does not get what they want from our government, talk of fascism and totalitarianism come up.  And people even start preparing for war.  Buying guns because the liberal president is going to make guns illegal or because the conservative president is going to jail all dissenters.  The details are amazing and true, and I have seen and participated in this kind of irrational behavior.  It took some doing for me to realize that when the government was doing things that I agreed with, I thought the revolution people were insane.  And when the government was doing things I thought preposterous, I was ready for war.

“I had enough, either give me what I want or put me on the streets”

Well the war isn’t coming.  At least not today.  And all of the people that think it’s coming won’t be proven right if it starts tomorrow.  If you make constant predictions about the future, eventually one of them will be right.  I am guilty of this as well.  And I certainly like it when I get my way, but I am pretty sure that the one thing that is true is that if there is some controlling mastermind wanting to take control of our lives and thoughts, the first thing they would want would be for us to be paranoid.  An easy way to do this would be to encourage any propaganda that was misleading – talk radio, fringe scenes, etc…

“I’m getting tired of living my life like nothing’s happening.”

The truth of our lives is much more obscene.  I wake up passionless and tired most days.  This makes me angry, but I don’t know what to do about it.  I want to blame someone.  But there is no one to blame, even the government when it does things I disagree with.  And most of my disappointments have been self-imposed by my own fear, self-loathing and malaise.  I don’t have what it takes in most cases to live a life I would deem worth living.  And the president, my neighbor, my strange family have nothing to do with that.

“There’s nothing left to talk about but there’s plenty left to do.”

So I’m pretty sure that in most cases, I am just trying to escape the fact that I don’t do the things that I want to do on a daily basis.  I seize so few opportunities and make such a big deal out of the opportunities that I do take.  And my definitions for success are so narrow and close-minded, and they are usually the definitions that were marketed to me by corporations.  I invent so many excuses for continuing a mythology that has given me nothing.

“And if it’s all the same to me then you know it’ll be different to you.”

The thing that makes me think of this is that when a real change is thrust upon my life, I really feel the passion for life that I think we all crave.  And right now that change is a baby girl that wants to come early.  And my recognition of all of the passion that we ignore is in my son’s eyes.  Even completely exhausted at the end of a day, the world is his oyster.  And yes it’s easier to do when you are young and everything is new.  But it’s also easier to do when you haven’t filled your life with the preemptive disappointment of “I can’t do that.”  Or the disappointment the pending civil war will bring – better not to try.

“I’m getting tired of living like I’m dying while the world is moving on.”

The Morning Benders have a deceptive garage band psychedelia going on.  Their music is tight and well composed.  There is a lot of musicianship in the band.  The instrumental performances are very impressive but you have to pay attention because whatever dexterity they put across is always in the context of the song.  The guitar, bass and drums are working on the same motifs and compliment each other without being boring.  And the vocal performances are catchy melodies with unexpected lyrical phrasing that catch me off guard.  It’s a lot of fun to listen to, and they put together a pretty complex tapestry of light hearted discontent.  It’s an ironic sound with ironic lyrics.  I’m not sure that they were after as much of the direct context that I have read into Waiting for a War, but I like where my head goes with this song.  It’s the idea that I am my own obstacle.  That the coming apocalypse is my own personal apocalypse that I am living right now.  I don’t need to predict anything.  My self-destruction is imminent and planned by the cabal in my own head.

“Here I am in a graveyard waiting for a war.”

And really part of my rebellion against my own malaise is this blog.  Rather than sitting around waiting for someone to listen to me, I am finding ways to listen to you.  I will make your music part of my soundtrack.  And I have to say it’s one of the more difficult things I have ever done.  But by far this is one of the most rewarding and optimistic highlights of my life.  I have discovered so much about myself and music that I didn’t even have an inkling about before.

“I’m here, I’m calling out your name.”

One way or another, my daughter is coming soon.  I am excited and scared.  And I should have it no other way.

“I’ve been here before.”

buy Waiting for a War

Cold Hands/Chapped Lips – Hot Panda – 2009

My six year old son’s favorite song right now is Cold Hands/Chapped Lips by Hot Panda.  He makes me drive around in the car so he can listen to it over and over again.  He calls it the “yeah yeah no no” song.  And I’m not just humoring him (although I am humoring him but not ‘just’), I like driving around and listening to a song when I’m into it as well.  And there’s something detoxifying about the song which seems very necessary for us right now.

“Saw a girl I used to know.”

I had a friend in Houston that we all spent a lot of time with.  We had a lot of fun doing ridiculous stuff.  And really I almost don’t where I’m going with this because I was a lot wilder at that time too.  But we would hang out and do dumb things like mixtures of mystical readings.  Like two people did Tarot readings, but they had different decks.  I did the I Ching.  Her thing was numerology.

“She’s got a job that’s so adult.”

I don’t remember a thing that any of us talked about but none of it was very serious.  It was just something to do when we were all broke.  Sit around drinking tea and coffee in someone’s living room and do stupid readings.  She was in law school at the time.

“Now we’re shaking hands.”

Years later I ran into her, and I didn’t see any remnants of the person I knew.  We had a very polite conversation and went our separate ways.  And I always thought of it as her being the one that changed.  By that time, she had graduated from law school and passed the bar.  It never occurred to me until just now that maybe I had changed just as much by that time.  I was no longer wandering around the country.  I had a haircut, and I was working as a programmer.  Maybe my change was far more dramatic.  She had actually been in law school the last time I had seen her.  So becoming a lawyer had been on her agenda even at that time.  I went from anarchist nomadic rebel to oil and gas programmer.

“Yeah yeah yeah yeah…”

And even now in my haste to get from one place to another, it’s only me that’s changing.  The world hasn’t gone anywhere.  It’s still round.  The sun still rises.  The moon and the stars were still there the last time I checked.  I can do my best to make the circumstances worse by focusing on how I can’t relate to all of the changes.  Or I can bring one of my biggest rules to live by: All organizations are defined by my involvement.  I can shake things up as much as I want.  Or I can decide to feel persecuted by every sidelong glance.  And really, that’s not my style.

“No no no no…”

And I can’t see where Iggy is right now.  He’s playing all of his cards pretty close.  I know he’s going to be fine, but I also know that he’s going through some life defining changes right now.  Everything was one way, and now it’s another way.  I could make all of that mean something too, or I could let him define it however he wants to.

It’s easy to make situations worse as a parent.  When they fall, you have to hold off your reaction to see if they are actually hurt.  They are constantly looking to you for reassurance, so if you freak out before knowing if they are actually hurt, you could actually be the cause of the trauma as well as the comfort after the trauma.  But I can’t help but feel a little sad.  He’s having to do some growing up right now that I hoped could be put off for a few years.

Hot Panda seems to have taken every dramatic rock and roll presentation style that’s available and morphed it into a single style.  David Bowie, The Who, Iron Maiden, Daniel Johnston, Genesis…  I guess I could go on but it’s pointless.  There’s something indescribly familiar, adolescent and comforting about even their most chaotic songs.  And the final comparison that keeps popping into my head is the artist, Cy Twombly.  On the surface, everything looks like a child did it.  But with further observation, you can tell that the child like nature is measured.  There’s a specific point to the metaphor.  And maybe it’s a simple message, but it’s still powerful.

So during the crazy bridge that happens in the middle of the song, I was looking at Iggy in the rearview mirror.  He was very thoughtful.  He saw me looking at him and he said slowly, “That’s so awful.  But I love it.”

“Yeah yeah yeah yeah…”

And really that about sums it up for me.

“No no no no…”

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Ghost Under Rocks – Ra Ra Riot – 2008

I keep having these waking moments where I am half dreaming about Lucy in a sort of twilight between one world and the next.  And I feel myself reaching for her, but I can’t get to her.  She’s almost here.  She just needs to be led by our voices, but she can’t understand what we are saying.  She’s just almost here and almost there.  Sometimes our voices startle her.

“When every little thing”

I was at the beach with my brother this weekend.  He kept telling me about stone crabs down at the oyster reef in the bay behind his house.  He kept describing their claws and that you had to know how to find them underneath the rocks.

“You own is looking back”

So I remembered how when we were kids, my brother would find all of the living things everywhere.  There was a little stream by where we lived in New Jersey.  We would go there and he would spend hours finding the crayfish buried in the mud at the bottom of the shallow water.  Then he would observe them closely for hours.

“At you and starts to mean”

He did this everywhere we went.  At the beach in North Carolina, he found the sand crabs and the sand fiddlers in the tidal sands.  Blue crabs in the sound.  Little living things are everywhere.  And he would find them.  So we were fishing on the oyster reef, and the tide was very low, so he calls to me, “See I bet there’s a stone crab under here!”  Under the first stone is a medium sized crab with giant claws bigger than its body.  He stuck a small board down into the crab’s face.  The crab reached up and grabbed the board.  My brother lifted the board and the crab came with it.  Hanging in the air.

“Less than it ever did”

Apparently stone crabs can grow their claws back, so you can rip off a claw and throw the crab back to grow another claw.  We didn’t take a claw as we aren’t sure whether it’s such a great idea to be eating seafood out of the bay around Galveston right now.

“On every, on every inch of stone”

And I kept thinking of him turning the stones looking for the crabs.  All of this life hidden everywhere, and most of my day is spent oblivious to it.  There ended up being giant crabs buried in the mud under rocks I had been standing on for hours.  How much life is right in front of my face?  How close is Lucy?  I mean I see her.  There she is in the physical belly.

“Skin and cloth”

But we are skin and cloth.  Like the unpracticed notes of nature on a dry drum, we don’t make any music.  Just noise and reflection.  Static matter.  And somehow even this is breathing life.  The universe expanding.  Breathing.  Pushing us back and forth.  Even living in death.  Immortality in the close intimacy of mud underneath a rock and the empty caverns of blackness between us.

“Made to leave you”

And I feel myself digging in the muck for life.  It’s a creation ritual.  And how many rituals do we miss even as we perform them.  When my son was born, I didn’t recognize that I was part of this rite until it was almost over.  No less profound, I am deeply affected by it.  The universe split open all at once like a bolt of lightning and handed us a child.

“Here you are you are breathing life into”

This is a little different.  I feel her coming.  I can hear her voice.  I can see her little body in the graphs produced by the heart and contraction monitors.  Her digital face.  Her hands that never stop moving.  Twisting back and forth.  Her body is impatient.

“Ghost under rocks like notes found”

And she can hear us.  Our concern.  Our worry.  Our impatience for her arrival.  Her mother’s gentle and loving chiding.  Her brother – already long past disbelief like she was Santa Claus.  He probably believes in Santa Claus more than her.  The nurses in and out.  The endless discussions about the river of giving that is our community.

“In pocket coats of your fathers,”

She is tugging at my pant leg.  She is 14 and sullen.  She is 8 and incorrigible.  She is an enormous healing.  An open wound and the bandage.  An infant smiling.  A newborn red and puffy, unready for the world.  We are willing slaves to her instincts.

“Lost and forgotten,”

She is preparing us for an enormous disruption.  Her brother exhausted, expectant and disbelieving.  Her mother quiet and brooding.  Her father pouring his heart out to her.  I am digging in the mud for your claws.  Take a hold of me and pull yourself into the arms of the universe.

“all all all your soaking wet dreams,

Belief only a spark.  Listen to our music, thrashing in the dark.  We are here.  All of what you are is breathing and growing.  Groping in the dark.  Can you hear us calling you?  Let us lead you home.

“you’ve spent them”

Ra Ra Riot has this tendency for the dramatic.  With dense harmonies and instrumentation.  Complex vocal melodies and interesting phrasing.  It’s a maximum approach.  There is so much to hear.  So much worth hearing.  I had a hard time choosing a song to write about, which brings up another point of unfairness in my single song per artist rule.  Ra Ra Riot has so many good songs.  But Ghost Under Rocks is gigantic and multi-faceted.  Unclear and open ended metaphors and this grasping for the ritualistic.  The song wants to dance in the moonlight and sit in a smoky hut.  Groping in the mud for hope and deliverance.

“you have gone and dreamt them”

And you reading.  When is it time to live?  Creation doesn’t ever end.  We are stone crabs.  Ghosts under rocks.  Waiting for our turn in our lives.  Our own time.  We are the road on which our children walk.  So much is left up to chance except the passion leading our children out of the dark.  As Lucy coalesces, I can feel that she has been there all along.  Piecing together our shattered hopes and aspirations.  We are only shadows of her dreams.  We toss in her restless slumber.

“Dry, now you ask your babies why, why, why?”

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Fly Mode – Odd Nosdam – 2009

I had this idea in my head in high school that I wanted to go to Princeton and major in English. Each year of high school took me further and further away from this goal. I could not keep it together for more than a week. Eventually I got kicked out of public school. St. Thomas gave me a chance after seeing my grades and test scores. They told me that if I could prove myself during summer school, then I would graduate on time. So I pulled it off. Of course, summer school went fine. If there are crises or rapidly changing scenarios or bizarre challenges, I can do just about anything. It’s the normal, consistent routine that’s the problem for me.

As the regular school year progressed, I started missing school and getting into trouble again. But the school treated me like I would pull it together in time. They had this college week thing where representatives would come from a bunch of colleges and universities. You could set up an interview with them where you could go through your interest in the school. Then they could tell you what you needed to do to enhance your chances of being accepted. I set up an interview with the Princeton representative.

Just the idea of meeting with someone from Princeton was a sobering thought. I really did pull it together for a short time leading up to this interview. But I was definitely nervous as the time approached. And so I went to the interview. And we got through the formality of meeting, shaking hands and sitting down when the man doing the interview interrupted me to tell me my nose was bleeding. So I excused myself to go to the bathroom, and I never went back to the interview.

So I told myself all kinds of stories about this. And it has become part of my drug addled teen mythology. But honestly, I hadn’t done any drugs in months. I used this perceived failure as an excuse to go on a self-destructive binge that got me kicked out of St. Thomas and into a treatment center. For years, I have been telling the story the other way around. Like right before the interview was when the binge started, and that’s why my nose bled.

So I heard this song for the first time about two weeks ago. And something about it made me think of this story. And it seemed so out of character for the tone of the song, but maybe it isn’t. There something sad happening there. And the noise that it starts with is probably the feeling I had about the whole thing. Just wanting to run away.

So this morning I am on my way to the new job that I am fairly nervous about, and I’m listening to this song. It’s a big company. I don’t seem to do well with big companies. I find them kind of stifling I guess. Or maybe I just like to make things more difficult. I always feel sort of rejected by the whole corporate environment. I do much better with start up software companies. More freedom. More creativity. More impact on the overall direction of the company.

So these are my thoughts while I am driving in today. And it occurs to me that a startup sounds an awful lot like a band. I don’t want to get into an established commercial music venture or cover band for the same reasons. I want the freedom of controlling my own creative ventures. And then it occurred to me that the motivation behind a startup is the same as an Indie band. You follow a set of principles based on a mythology that is awfully similar. A startup has merely to have a good idea and some people that are willing to devote 70 or 80 hours a week to this idea to be wildly successful.

And this is all tied into this thing that has been becoming very clear to me as I have been writing this blog. The concepts behind this mythology are lies. And I have been saying something pretty similar to the thing I was saying the other day in my entry for Make You Sing when I have been going on interviews at startups during this round of unemployment. I keep giving this little speech:

“This would be my 6th time at this stage of development for a startup. And none of them have been successful. They all have good ideas and then something happens like a downturn in economic conditions or a lack of capital keeps the company unresponsive to the changing needs of the customers.”

No wonder startups haven’t been interested in me this time around. My experience is like a reality check that they aren’t going to be the rock stars that they think they will become. Because this little Indie company doesn’t have the connections to the people who will invent the new inflated value that gets them over the top. We are all being duped by major corporations that we will have this corporate success, but the truth is they don’t even have to kill our dreams anymore by telling us that we don’t have what it takes. If we are still on the hook with the corporate mythology that we will become start up moguls or Indie band crossover rock stars, then we will run up our dreams on our credit cards. Being in an Indie band is no different than being in a software startup. We see the Trent Reznors and the Microsofts of the world and it makes us dismiss all of the more modest stories as losers that just didn’t try or believe enough to make it happen.

So I am pulling into the parking lot and I am messing with my nose because it itches, and I pull my hand down and I’ve got a handful of blood. I’ve got a ridiculous nosebleed. I start feeling that ‘gotta run’ panic. Like I’m just going to turn around and go home. And then I start laughing. “What the fuck difference does it make?”

So I went inside. I had a conversation with the security guard about where I was supposed to go while holding my nostrils. He kept looking at me like I was a nutcase. So I laughed and asked where the bathroom was. It took me about 10 minutes to clean up and make it stop. Then I went upstairs and met the development manager who had been waiting on me for a while. I told him and the other new guy the story. They didn’t find any humor in it.

Odd Nosdam has these great techniques for bringing life to electronic sounds.  Even the parts that sound disjointed and robotic have an organic element.  And it’s odd to think of the tools he’s using as instruments like a guitar is an instrument, but everything sounds so analog.  And yes, he’s using a lot of loops of analog devices, but it’s not like the end product isn’t an original song.  It’s even heavier this way.  A bunch of recycled sounds from the piles of audio refuse.  It’s more collage than sampling.  And most of the work has so much more emotion and depth than I would normally expect from music like this.

Then I realized that this song makes me think of that story because the sound has all of this irony packed with sadness. Like here you are human. Have another human experience. The pillars of salt are all around you. The eyes of stone peering out from the lost.  You can find the eyes of Medusa to stare into, but it won’t be because she tricked you into looking. It will be because you had to know how you were going to lose. So have a fistful of blood. All roads lead through the corporation.  But laugh because even the snake headed corporation can’t have your soul if you don’t let them.

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Changes – Yes – 1983

Back in 1991, I was in Ear Training 4 at Berklee.  The teacher was awesome.  He had a lot of energy and he organized trips to Africa every couple years to study rhythm with an African tribe.  He was very exciting and dynamic.  One of those teachers you want to impress.

Ear Training gets pretty arcane after a while.  At first, you are just identifying scales, intervals and simple rhythms.  Then you move on to identify complex harmonies, harmonic tension and complex, sometimes odd, time signatures.  This particular teacher used familiar songs to identify more complex structures.  Like Changes by Yes.

And for those of us used to just picking out things by ear, detailing the documentation for a complex rhythm was pretty hard work.  Honestly, looking at this song, it doesn’t seem so hard right now.  But back then, when I was just being introduced to a lot of these concepts, this was incredibly difficult in the way that a new riddle is difficult.  Of course it seems easy when you know the answer.

“I look into the mirror”

We would take a song like Changes, and five others, home and try to transcribe a few of the instruments and what the time signature was.  Then we would come back to class and discuss the outcome of our analysis.  The riddle would be exposed at some point, and we would either have it or not.  But it was pretty likely that we would get it from that point forward – lesson learned.  The teacher encouraged us to learn the songs thoroughly which of course meant more work in an already busy semester.

“I see no happiness”

At the time, I was getting burnt out.  Berklee does three full semesters a year.  You can take the summer off like normal people, but the school doesn’t really attract normal students.  Four semesters in a row was taking its toll on me.  I still studied hard, but I was really tired and just wanted Ear Training to be over.  And Ear Training 4 was the last ear training requirement.

“All the warmth I gave you”

As the semester came to an end that Spring, there were a bunch of auditions happening.  Berklee always did a bunch of international outreach with jazz and R&B bands going on foreign tours to promote Berklee.  I really wanted to take some time off that summer.  There was an audition for a rock/funk band going to China.  All instruments needed.  I was doing auditions a lot so I was getting good at it, but auditioning sucks.  It’s like doing a 15 second job interview.  The programming equivalent would be standing in line, when they let you in, they sit you at a computer and they say, “Okay, write a file parser with a team of people you have never met in 15 seconds.”  GO!

“Has turned to emptiness”

I actually really wanted this particular gig.  It would have been quite an experience.  So I showed up early and sat where the line would be forming.  I knew even then that being the first person at any type of interview was the best.  People remember the first person.  After that, you better really be good.  If you are both, the first person and really good, then you can nail it.

“You’ve left me here believing”

So the door opens and the audition starts.  And as luck would have it, the guy in charge of this ensemble, even managing the whole trip, was my Ear Training 4 teacher.  He was pretty excited to see me and greeted me warmly.  He ushered the first group of us in.  One instrumentalist for each part in the band.  Then he started handing out the sheet music as we all set up.  He caught my eye as he slid the music in front of me pointedly.  Changes by Yes.

“In love that wasn’t there”

I hadn’t learned the music.  This was a guitar part that if I had learned it, even by rote, and pulled it off in an audition, then I would have looked really good.  It was really just a turn of bad luck for me.  But it was sort of a crushing blow.  Given the opportunity to focus on one thing that could accelerate me into a pretty decent performance career, I just simply focused on the wrong thing.  That’s pretty much my professional life in a nutshell.  The designated path to success is never the one that I could follow.  I don’t know whether this is good or bad.

“Change changing places”

It seems like such a shame that this is the story I have about Yes.  Their music captured my imagination at a very young age.  Roundabout is a song we would listen to over and over as kids.  Mood For A Day, a flamenco classical guitar composition by Steve Howe, I learned on the guitar while in treatment when I was 17.  Starship Trooper is a progressive rock masterpiece.  Owner Of A Lonely Heart got me through some brooding teen and early adult years.  Changes is a complex and well orchestrated composition that showcases Trevor Rabin in the band for the first time.  I prefer the Steve Howe era of Yes, but Trevor Rabin is such a great addition to the sound.  There is so much more of Yes because of this time with Trevor Rabin.  And the name is represented metaphorically by the music.  There are a lot of time signature changes.

“Root yourself to the ground”

I have since learned that these on the spot kind of interview/auditions are not for me.  I used to take these tests during the interview process for programming languages.  I have stopped taking them.  If someone insists on a test, I tell them they need to find someone else.  If they want someone to ramp up quickly and figure out their system overnight, that’s me.  If they want someone who is an expert at this one thing, then they need to find that person.

“Capitalize on this good fortune”

I actually think that a lot of people are like that.  Innovation is discouraged as a matter of fact in our daily lives.  From our education system through our entire professional careers, the question is loud and clear, “Do you know how it has been done before you?”  It’s a relevant question and it’s necessary for society to foster this for the purpose of consistency and security in our society.  For a creative person with lots of ideas, it can be a crushing blow.  “You want to wake up every day at the same time and do what?”  But even then, creative endeavors are anchored in the past or else we would have to re-invent the wheel every time we wrote a song.

“One word can bring you round”

But for most of my life, change has been the only constant.  There are some clearly defined ways to achieve success in some careers.  I don’t see anything wrong with this.  But I don’t seem to be able to follow any of these paths.


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Make You Sing – The Sleepover Disaster – 2009

I didn’t want to play commercial music.  Like actual songs for commercials.  It’s not what I got into music for.  –  I got sick of being in bands with flakes.  You work your ass off on rehearsing a band and then someone quits or just stops showing up.  –  All of the drama around working with other people.  –  The work of getting a band on stage is exhausting.  Even when it’s going well, you still have to get up in the morning and go to work.  –  And right now I can tell you, I hate this entry.  There’s so much I love about music, but my actual pursuit of music has made me feel terrible about myself.  Some of my internal chatter around musical pursuits is almost debilitating.  Why did I spend all of that money on music school?  I’m not that good.  What a waste of time!  I am not consistent enough to actually put together a real effort.  I’m not good or could be better at promoting myself.

And really with what I am doing right now, it would be easy to say to myself that I was just pursuing the wrong thing.  I seem to be doing the right thing by writing about music rather than playing music.  And it certainly would put a nice bookend on a lot of creative suffering.  “Ohhhh…  I was a writer.  Not a musician.”

But let me tell you, I have been here before.  I have written so much on so many different subjects with different styles and different voices.  I have written poetry, tried freelance journalism, short fiction, essays and political commentary.  Some of it was pretty good.  Some of my music is pretty good.  I love creating.  I love moving people.  I love knowing that I have touched people in some way.  And you don’t have to be a prodigy to reach people with music or writing.  There is some kind of spiritual synergy around breathing life into art that can’t be taught.  And when you hit it, you know you’ve hit it.

“Put your hands together and we’ll pray.”

And I have written and performed music, when I wasn’t very good at singing or playing the guitar, that moved people.  Just before moving to Boston, I played regularly at Downtown Grounds in Houston.  We played there the night it opened.  A lot of the time I was playing there just to fill time.  The owner often didn’t have anyone to play.  Sometimes bands would cancel.  I always had my guitar with me.  Sometimes we would just start playing if no one else was.  There were a couple songs that people started requesting.  Sometimes people would call me when there was no one playing and request a set.

“Memories coiled tight to spring.”

There is a mythology in our culture around music.  That somehow you put together a band and develop a following, and then a major label notices you.  Then you are a rock star.  And perhaps that translates into many different forms of art.  Visual, writing, music, drama…  We have merely to have some talent and ‘go get em’ bravado to get on our path to the stars.  This mythology is so strong that if you work your ass off and fail, most people will believe it is something about you that is the cause of  your failure.  No one will believe this more strongly than you.

“And make you sing.”

But I think perhaps that this a mythology that is everywhere in our culture.  You went to school for what?  Why aren’t you doing that?  Oh you must just be lazy.  You are a musician?  Oh why aren’t you famous?  You aren’t happy?  Well you know maybe you should just decide to be happy.  There’s not very many people I know that are satisfied with where they ended up personally or professionally.  That’s why a song like this speaks to me.

“Such a simple sickly thought of mine.”

There’s a vision of the world that’s encouraged when we are children, and the reality of even the simplest childhood dream is so far removed from the fantasy that’s encouraged.  If we aren’t supposed to reach for these larger than life realities, then why do they exist as ideals?  And I mean the simple child like ideals.  You want to be an architect?  I can see you building great buildings.  We conjure images of I.M. Pei and the seeds of the mythology of greatness are planted.  Of course, the alternative is ghastly.  I don’t think it would be a good idea to limit our children’s expectations by telling them about the realities of CAD drafting electrical conduits.

“I’ll always be a loser but in time.”

The Sleepover Disaster has been doing what they do for a long time.  They are really good at it.  I am always impressed when a band has been together for so long.  But I love the whole idea and the giant sound of the guitars, the plodding beat and the patience with the arrangement.  The emotional impact is timed well throughout.  I obviously feel deeply about the message.  There are a lot of disappointments in life.  But it’s a really great accomplishment to be able to move people.  What else do we have to live for?  Our connections to each other and our world, our universe should be emphasized more in our daily life.  That’s why I’m doing this.  I want to reach you.  I want to reach myself.  I want to reach a group of musicians like The Sleepover Disaster who have been working their asses off for longer than I was able to handle it to let them know – I heard you!  We heard you!

“I’ll make you sing!”

We didn’t expect to become adults just so our passion for life could be killed.  We didn’t dream about what we would do with our lives just to grow up to be disappointed with ourselves.  I didn’t spend thousands of hours alone honing my craft to have someone off-handedly tell me that I needed to be able to promote myself better.  That I needed a more corporate sound in my music.  A more marketable message with my writing.  We have become a culture of critics in the worst sense.  We all have an opinion about the apparent failure of some peers and a ready excuse for the dizzying success of others.

I’m not saying that we should all be rock stars.  I’m not saying that anything should change.  And some of my failures, and the failures of others, have everything to do with a half ass effort.  But I think we would all be better served to spend a lot more time consuming the creativity of those around us.  We are all Indie artists.  And there’s no reason to try to break each other down because we are at the bottom of the ladder.  Can you make me sing?  Are you afraid to try?  Are you afraid of failing over and over again?  I know I am.

“You’ll learn to love yourself if you just kill your pride.”

Hell yeah!  In idolizing the fantastically successful.  In putting aside the creativity to focus on the impossible puzzle of self-promotion, I forget why I wrote anything to begin with.  I forget why I love music so much.  Music made me want to live when there was no other reason for me to live.  It’s the connection to creativity.  The connection we have with life.  The connection we have to our children’s passion for living and growing up with hope.  For learning and teaching.  For being able to articulate what is going on with us in such a way that…

“I’ll make you sing.”

That I make you sing.

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Come Dancing – The Kinks – 1983

The Kinks are one of those bands that I could sit around all night fighting with myself about which song to write about.  It kills me in a way.  Because when I look at the reams of music that they have in my head, I wonder how it is that it has been at least 20 years since I owned anything by The Kinks.  It’s like 30 years of music that has some enormous influence on who I am.  Which song do you choose out of all of that?

“They put a parking lot on a piece of land.”

I can remember about a dozen stories before I moved from NJ when I was 12 that involved a Kinks song.  And for some reason I remember very clearly a girl in 7th grade that used to sing Destroyer all of the time.  The late 70’s hard rock era of The Kinks was how I first got to know The Kinks.  It seems unfathomable now to think that I hardly knew anything about The Kinks before Give the People What They Want.  And how the hell does a band stay so relevant and obscure at the same time?

“Where the supermarket used to stand.”

There are all of these Kinks songs that were popular in the 60’s.  Then they were covered by bands in the 70’s and the performances were so iconic that these are the performances we remember like You Really Got Me when Van Halen covered it.  And it’s funny because I was just sort of drifting toward sleep a little while ago.  My brain started toying with what I was going to write about and Come Dancing just popped into my head.

“Before that they put up a bowling alley.”

Now here’s what really got me writing about this song from this perspective.  You Really Got Me came out in 1964.  In 1978, Van Halen did their cover version.  In 1983 at 13 years old, I had no idea that You Really Got Me was written 20 years earlier.  I thought it was a Van Halen song.  So sometime in 1983 I was living in Houston and bought State of Confusion with Destroyer in mind.  I was surprised at its lack of hard rock edge, but I was into it anyway.  And I played Come Dancing over and over again.  The video machine wasn’t as polished in the early 80’s, so I didn’t see the video for months.  It took me a few more years to make the connection between the string of 60’s hits and The Kinks of the 80’s and the Van Halen version of You Really Got Me.

“On the site that used to be the local Pally.”

And why was Come Dancing carving a place out in my head?  I wondered at this even then.  I was really into a fantasy life at the time being that my connection with the real world was intensely depressing.  I couldn’t connect to anything or anyone in any meaningful way.  But I had no connection to the nostalgia that he was singing about.  I didn’t even like dancing.  And I remember wondering how he had any connection to what seemed like 50’s bands.  Certainly he wasn’t that old.

“That’s where the big bands used to come and play.”

And thinking about that now makes me nostalgic and seems kind of funny in a normal way.  I loved The Kinks and thought of them as somehow relevant to my time as a teenager.  Like Van Halen and The Kinks were the same age.  And maybe that’s something that I forget a lot of the time when I am telling stories about my misspent or misguided youth.  Some of the events were significant and sometimes disturbing in an adult way.  But I was a child.  Sometimes I forget that about myself.  And this song makes me nostalgic for that.

“My sister went there on a Saturday.”

I love Ray Davies vocal style with a talking sing song approach and how it differed from other songs.  For some reason on State of Confusion, his British accent was apparent on every song.  His singing on so many earlier albums is actually singing and not a styling that often uses spoken word, so you can’t really hear the accent.  But it seems intentional along with so many other things that The Kinks changed over and over again.  The guitar sounds are so updated on State of Confusion, but that could be heard from album to album throughout their career.  And then there’s this keyboard carrying the main hook, and the horns in the bridge.  Obviously nostalgic for a simpler time in their own lives and a sister they missed.  I think we all forget sometimes that we were children.

“Come dancing.”

And maybe with so much to prove as adults we forget about the simplicity of the song.  So concerned with the deeper significance of everything.  And this isn’t altogether new for me.  I needed songs like this at 13 years old to remind me that I needed to slow down.  Sometimes the deeper significance is the simplicity itself.  Sometimes it’s good to dance even when you generally don’t like to dance.  Sometimes it’s good to refuse to worry even when there’s something to worry about.

“That’s how they did it when I was just a kid.”

Tomorrow is another day with a whole new list of problems.

“And when they said come dancing.”

Iggy’s sister dancing away in the womb.  I guess we are all going to come dancing.  Because you are rolling away in there.  Hang on little Lucy.  Hang on.

“My sister always did.”

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