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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My Home Is Nowhere Without You – Herman Dune – 2007

Sometimes I might get caught up in my loftier goals with this blog.  I have a very important point I am trying to make.  I am actually being very anti-corporate and trying to make a pretty extended academic point about the ignorance in academia about Indie media and it’s importance.  In the larger scheme of my approach to this, I don’t care if I make those points.  I am really trying my best to give my very best appreciation of the artist.  A work of art derived from the original work of art.

“People put pictures of places in frames.”

But right now, the side project of documenting some sort of anecdotal memoir is being sidetracked by the very large distraction of my wife being in the hospital.  So the first thing I think about when I am trying to write about something is that my wife is in the hospital.  It’s a little too relaxed to be sitting around with some kind of smug bull shit about “I remember when…”  Great Larry.  Maybe I can subscribe to your newsletter.

“I remember someone’s face but then I forget their names.”

So then there is this idea, and I should continue it, because truthfully I feel like it is that important.  Maybe not for it’s original intention, but maybe for the idea that I seem to be reaching people.  And maybe the first person that I seem to be reaching is me.  I really believe in what I am doing for the first time in a very long time.  Maybe for the first time in my life.

“I have a book for writing down who I meet and where I’m going to,”

And it may be that I am reaching one other person that it is critical to reach.  My wife.  She is in a hospital bed and completely isolated from the daily life that brings her comfort.  From any feeling of connection and viability in her own family.  The discussion of the daily difficulty of life is too stressful for her right now.  She has to be quiet and meditative.  Pulling energy and calm from the spiritual.  Her quest has me as close as I get to not being an atheist.  Without being able to discuss the daily stations of the cross, we are left with each other’s presence as comfort.  But since I have so much to take care of to continue our daily lives, proximity is limited.  The only way I can reach her is by creating.

“but my home is nowhere without you.”

I was a little hesitant to allow myself to like Herman Dune.  And I have a problem.  If I can’t write a dissertation or engage in a ranting monologue about why I think something is important, then I can’t really like it very much.  So I was toying with the idea of continuing to listen to this music and never writing about it.  But then it occurred to me that there is something very important happening here.  Herman Dune is offering up a simplified style that gets deeper with each repetition.  There’s this quality production style.  And this laid back beach bum sound.  And a strange French accent.

“There is nowhere like the ocean to breathe.”

David Ivar is a vocal stylist.  It almost sounds like a way of saying, “The guy can’t sing but I like his music anyway.”  But really there is something a little more complex to his rambling style than just a bizarre voice.  It’s a really accessible metaphor for a deeper spiritual simplicity.  I am not going to get into a whole lecture about other examples of vocal stylists.  But there are plenty.  And comparing them with David Ivar is going to cause an argument with myself.  So I’m just going to have to agree to disagree with me.

“And the world is wonderful as it is.”

And on some level he reminds me of Jacob Holdt in the idea that he seems to be holding up a mirror as his only commentary.  This sort of leaves a blank page where he should be.  And just as I was about to dismiss him completely, I found My Home Is Nowhere Without You.  It’s like he’s doing Tarot readings.  He repeatedly offers the same cards in the deck.  It’s almost a joke.  We expect the fool.  He appears to be offering what we expect.  Then you look closer and it’s actually the hierophant.  A hierophant styled as a fool with a mask on the back of his head.  Suddenly there is a candid challenge to explain myself.  Who are we and what is happening to us now?

“Now I might try to settle down on some beach in Malibu,”

And the action of time is being held at bay – the blacks and whites of negative space.  I am a bolt of energy in a cross dimensional melodrama.  The only importance in the narrative is my own emphasis.  The tension hovers and breaks apart in an Ambien haze.  The messages reach me from across the distance between us in the middle of the night.  They are incomprehensible and completely clear at the same time.  The hours of the night will inch toward dawn, and Herman Dune has thrown the dice into the future and the fool has returned with a reassuring answer that only the hierophant can interpret.  Only time will tell.

“but my home is nowhere without you.”

And somehow this is all so necessary.  There needed to be some ritual that ushered in a new era.  An era in which Lucy could exist.  Nothing could possibly be the same from this point forward.  And we will climb the mountain and dance around the fire to prepare the way.  To answer the call of the spirits.  With all of the irony of the fool and the gravity of the hierophant we open our eyes in a liquid dreamworld and find the wide eyes of the hermit staring back at us.

“My home is nowhere without you.”

Herman Dune keeps throwing those cards at me.

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Oslo – Little Hands of Asphalt – 2008

There are miles and miles of concrete in Houston.

“It was a moment for the books.”

And while I just discovered Little Hands of Asphalt the other day, I was searching for a story in the past to write about.  And I wondered why it was Oslo that was so gripping to me.  It’s such an intimate story about a small city.  I racked my brain for something to relate to the song out of Albuquerque.  Some synonymous elements and regional contrasts and a clever spin on the story.  Meanwhile I’m driving nearly 100 miles every day.

“The calendar looked”

My wife is in the hospital.  The doctors are trying to keep her from giving birth early.  No stone will be left unturned toward this end.  It is a noble cause, but there are hospitals and shift nurses.  A 6 year old in Kindergarten.  Family and friends that need status updates.  Errands to run.  Homework to be done.  Lives to be lived.  After school programs to register for.  Ash Wednesday to acknowledge.

“just like the novels we had only skimmed through.”

Daily rituals to adjust.  Spirits to assuage.  And all of this driving to be done.  Space and time to massage until it’s putty in my hands.  This is a story as important as any in my life.  I am the reporter.  Here is my live feed.  And somehow a sentimental song about a small town is the soundtrack for the leap into light speed my life has taken.  Somehow it seems appropriate.  With all of this chaos, an environment of stillness has to be maintained.  Lucy is after all, a baby.

“So I circled out the dates that I’ll skillfully waste.”

And I was searching and searching for the story that would bring this song home for me.  Some clever segue into an existential experience.  When I realized that I am here having a human experience right now.  And there is nothing that has come as close to seeing into my heart as it is right now than Oslo.

“For now that’s going to have to do.”

And the miles of concrete become just sidewalks in a small town that I happen to be traversing at an enormous city pace.  And thinking of how many experiences get us here.  So many bridges that I thought were burnt.

“It was the brightest summer day, after we swam into the lake,”

In the past month, online social networking has brought all of these segments of my life back together.  From elementary school to junior high to high school.  All of these personas that I have presented throughout my life must be resolved.  Maybe something I haven’t wanted to do.  Maybe something I need to do before my daughter is born.

“that you told me our luck is gonna end.”

And the backdrop of this is a world in chaos.  War, economic collapse, corruption, partisanship…  People are angry beyond description.  My existential tendencies might get me wondering why we are bringing another child into this world, but our personal circumstances won’t allow this.  Our little crisis is the center of our world.  Our love for each other in our corner of this troubled world trumps any global concerns.  I’m going to have to plug back in later to see what happened out there.

“So we better be concerned.  We’re where the subway turns.”

And then some part of me has to know.  I have to have one foot in each concern.  I have to provide, so I start a big job next week.  My miles traverse the chasm between these worlds.  There is electricity to deliver.  Natural resources to plunder.  Negotiations to extend.  Somehow we must reach a truce by 5 o’clock.  Live to fight another day.  Then I cover another 50 miles making sure to transition my emotional state to one of caring parent and compassionate spouse.

“We need a camera and some cash to spend.”

And this baby delivered from the sea.  Her brother delivered to the trees.  The ashes of his prayers on our foreheads.  We  wait another day and experience the tiny miracle that is our love and peril.  The phone calls from the concerned.  The generosity of the able.  And still show up to put ourselves down for the evening and nourish our souls.  Each day a phenomenon in giving and a lesson in receiving.

“And our picturesque blame, we’ll put in Ikea frames.”

Somehow we will bundle the experience in some cohesive narrative that we can recall at dinner parties into the future.  That I can somehow fit into a few hundred words in a blog.  But each mile is a an experience.  And this enormous city gets smaller and smaller each time I drive down its gaping freeways.  The arteries pushing me like a blood cell with a payload of oxygen.  Breathe in, I am home.  Breathe out, I am in Fulshear.  Breathe in, I am in the medical center.  Breathe out, my son’s elementary school.  The church.  The freeway.  Clear Lake.  The grocery store.

“Up on the wall it looks profound.”

Little Hands of Asphalt is a new discovery for me.  With a conversational style and a sentimental approach, this is some very thoughtful music.  With impressive instrumental performances and measured vocals, all of their songs are so intimate and reach beyond their simple themes.  Spit Back at the Rain is their EP that I have been listening to for a while, but Oslo is on a compilation from the Oslo, Norway Indie music scene called Oslo!  And somehow the song has wormed its way into my present circumstances.  Such a compassionate approach to the human condition.  And a reminder to me to stay calm.  I present the compassionate persona.  I give the gifts of the magi.  The scents of a king.  The trappings of a queen.  Hope is all we have.  And the freeway gives and receives.

“and reminds us Oslo is a small, small town.”

Yeah Houston is a small, small town.  Breathe…

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Tangerine – Led Zeppelin – 1970

My freshman year in high school, I had this advanced English class with a wonderful teacher.  And I sat next to a girl named April.  There really wasn’t anyone else in the class that either one of us could relate to.  We were too smart for our cool friends and too cool for the smart kids in the class.  It was so nice to have her there every day.  I really have to say that I would not have gone to as many days of high school as I did if it had not been for her.  I didn’t have anyone else in my life that reflected who I was.  I don’t know if I had ever had anyone to provide this reflection in my life.

“Measuring a summer’s day.”

We never talked about music.  We usually talked about books we had read.  Considering that none of our cool friends read books and none of our geeky friends were interested in the books we read, we had a lot of ground to cover on this subject.  But one day I saw her with Hammer of the Gods which is just a trashy gossip book about Led Zeppelin set chronologically.  I asked her about it having only seen the title and not knowing that the book existed.  She explained what it was and was sort of in awe about it.  I was surprised that she was a Led Zeppelin fan.  I was a nut job for Led Zeppelin.  I have owned every one of the released records on cassette.  Playing them so much that they wore out and snapped.  I started playing guitar because of Led Zeppelin.

“I only find it slips away to gray.”

She had this amazing face with really defined cheekbones and red hair.  I believe her eyes were blue but I could be wrong.  She would draw all of these fashion pictures and wanted to be a fashion designer.  Most of the faces looked like hers.  The drawings were amazing.  And I was always excited to see anything she drew.

“The hours they bring me pain.”

I feel that one of my rules about writing this blog is kind of unfair.  The rule about only one song per artist.  It’s my rule and I’m going to stick with it, but how do I choose one Led Zeppelin song.  I know this might even come off as ridiculously uncool with as much street cred as I keep brandishing with my punk rock experience and my Indie music dedication.  But it’s just the truth.  I was just so into Led Zeppelin for so much of my childhood.  So this entry might be dense.  In fact, I was still really into Led Zeppelin when I was really into punk music.  It was kind of sacriledge in both circles.  You didn’t admit to the punks that you liked LZ, and you didn’t admit to the LZ people that you liked punk.  Just another one of those dumb teenage clique rules.

I remember the day I heard Led Zeppelin IV for the first time.  My brother had a new stereo.  He might have had LZ IV for a while, but I remember when it broke into my consciousness.  I was probably about 9 years old.  I can see my brother starting the record.  The automatic arm on the record player moving to the first song on the record.  I can hear the static crackle as the stylus touched the record for the first time.  And the opening Jimmy Paige softly on the distorted guitar.  Then Robert Plant singing the opening line of Black Dog.  Then the snarl of round mid range guitar and heavy bottom end explosions.  My life changed.  I don’t care what the hell anyone thinks.  It was a life changing experience for me.

I didn’t do anything the same after that.  I had a whole new soundtrack in my brain.  I have always had a really good memory for sound.  And I have a constant soundtrack in my head.  A lot of it is stuff I have written.  Then there is the writing process itself.  Just making up sounds in my head and listening to the music.  After listening to LZ IV over and over I had to find something else.  Led Zeppeling III was next.  LZ III is in general rotation in my head.  Daily events can trigger parts of LZ III songs.  The album is pretty obscure as far as LZ goes, and as far as their hits go, Gallows Pole and The Immigrant Song are some of their more obscure singles.  And Tangerine is just out of character for even their other folk rock songs.

And whenever I hear Tangerine, I think of April.  What a revelation it is to be so far removed from connecting with another human in this world, and then to find someone you can have a regular conversation with.  I couldn’t even have a conversation about things that were important to me with anyone in my family.  Truly, I believe they actually cared and still do care about me, but my thought process is just different.  Perhaps different from most people.  Really I have a whole existential mythology built up around Led Zeppelin III.  If you think it’s weird that I can write 1000 words about a 3 minute song.  Let me tell you that this is rushed.  Given a week or two, I could probably write a book or two about Led Zeppelin III.  This is one of the most important and understated records of the 20th century.  And yes, I’m a freakin’ nutcase.

“Thinking of how it used to be.”

And so much of youth is rushed.  I think we forget about the idea that we are only alive once.  So much pressure to succeed.  So much pressure to have a plan.  To be moving from one thing to the next.  So much of what is beautiful about life just moving on by in a blur.  In most cases, the things we thought we were after are unsatisfying or we never attained the level of success we desired.  Then it’s like looking through a telescope across the universe to try to capture some of the light of an event that happened ages ago asking ourselves how much we missed.

“Does she still remember times like these?”

I thought too much about the outcomes of any risk.  I paralyzed myself with fear of making the wrong choice.  The product of too much thought.  Perhaps I still think too much.  If I can get a book out of LZ III, I’m sure I do think too much.  But I really can see so clearly how afraid I was of doing the wrong thing.  But then I would just do the stupidest things in the world.  Like develop a meth habit.  April was so patient with my drugged out ramblings.  Perhaps she was impressed, but I’m sure it was just annoying after awhile.  Especially the class trip to the Museum of Fine Arts where I wandered around with her in a drugged out haze.  But the biggest casualty of my drug habit was that it never let our friendship progress.  I know now that I just didn’t want anyone in the way, but I made all kinds of hurtful excuses.  What an asshole!

“And I do.”

Tangerine is a song that touches on regret.  It is so lyrically sparse.  And I have often thought that it was an afterthought.  Some filler on a record that Jimmy Paige had left over from The Yardbirds.  Perhaps it was.  Perhaps its nostalgia and its emotional significance built up over the time between writing and recording it for release.  But I can’t imagine anyone else singing it.  That’s the beauty of an LZ song.  Every part of it is essentially only a result of those present at the time of its recording.  It may have been an older Jimmy Paige composition, but it’s a Led Zeppelin song.  Iconic and yes, dated.  So much of the sound that they helped create is iconic for its time, and the over-commercialization of that sound has taken a lot of the edge off of it making the sound impersonal.  But the concepts are so intimate and sparse.  And what’s so exciting to me as a teenager is how much is unsaid.

It always surprises me that more discussion isn’t generated about songs like this.  These are essential human emotions.  Chinese characters tend to have deeper significance than their literal Western translations.  For instance, you could write a book in English about the character for sky.  And I tend to think of music like this.  There is so much waiting to be explored here.  But it’s significance rushes past in a blur of current events.  And then one day we find ourselves looking through a telescope at even the art that defined our time trying to determine its significance in our psyche.  We seem to only find the art of other times significant.  We miss all of the art right under our own noses in our own lives.

“Tangerine.  Tangerine.”

And April is as significant a person as has ever been in my life.  Making possible the type of things that are possible in my life right now with my family.  It’s funny how some things end up resembling other times and circumstances.  And I have basically recreated that friendship over and over again.

“Living reflections from a dream.”

I have this type of friendship with my wife.  We make up entire mythologies around nothing.  Sort of evolving jokes and narratives that are blatantly farcicle.  We have restless minds.  And we overcome the monotony of daily life with a constant mutation of reality.  The real hurdles in life are met with complex mythology and adaptations of cultural rituals.

“I was her love she was my queen.”

And it’s almost like Led Zeppelin is completely lost to me.  I don’t sit around listening to Led Zeppelin records.  They are just a piece of who I am.  Although there is one story of how my son, Iggy, had to sit in the car seat a lot as an infant.  He would get sick of it and throw a fit.  But we could count on Ramble On from LZ II to put him to sleep every single time.

But it’s funny how one mythology derives from another.  How significant and poignant certain events can be.  How tangible and graphic a memory can be.  I am here and there at the same time.  I sometimes wonder how a conversation would go between us as adults.  If it would be just one of those dumb uncomfortable conversations that you hoped would go much better.  Who knows?

“And now a thousand years between.”

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Walk on By – Dionne Warwick – 1964

Written by Burt Bachrach with lyrics by Hal David.

Most of the time I have some story to tell centered around a song.  But in this case, it’s just a bunch of impressions.  I discovered this song through a girlfriend.  I actually bought her a CD of Dionne Warwick’s Greatest Hits or something like that.  I can’t remember how I knew that it would be a good gift, but before I bought the CD, I had no idea how much of my creative voice and my music consciousness were due to Dionne Warwick and Burt Bachrach.

“If you see me walking down the street,”

It’s cold and it’s November, and I have to work.  The cold humidity seers through my jacket.  The two cups of coffee warm my hands.  The street is wet and dirty.  The foot traffic is picking up.  Everyone has their heads down.  The sky is gray. I’m waiting on the corner of Commonwealth and Berkeley for the light to change.  I don’t know why I’m doing what I’m doing, but it makes sense right now.

“and I start to cry each time we meet.”

I’m driving around the 610 loop in Houston.  It’s one of the cold months.  It’s around 3am.  This is my third time around the loop.  I don’t know why I’m doing this, but it feels right.

“Walk on by, walk on by.”

There’s a big window in the living room and it looks out over Commonwealth Avenue.  It’s drizzling.  The street is shiny in the street lights.  The light on top of the Old Hancock tower is blinking red.  I wonder about the architecture of the Prudential building.  It’s very late and I’m tying my shoes.  I’m going for a walk.

There’s a certain sadness to Walk on By that isn’t reached by other pop break up songs.  And it’s the imagery that I’m left with.  The impressions are always so solitary.  It’s like there’s nothing else.  And there is something in a big break up that is like this.  A life completely centered around another person.  All of the plans of a day and all thoughts of the future around this one person.  And then we are supposed to become strangers.  It’s tough on either side of a breakup like that.

“I just can’t get over losing you.”

And most of the time a breakup song is overly sentimental with declarations of independence meant to inspire and overcome.  The solid reality of a breakup, the part where the only reason you talk to people about it is to fill the space in between the silence.  The conversations that don’t really help anything.  These are the moments represented here.

“So if I seem broken and blue.”

And maybe I’m just avoiding being specific because it seems so irrelevant and unreachable.  And there’s something about this that is very specific.  The arrangement only says what it has to say.  And Dionne Warwick takes over the space with an understated performance.  There is so much in the way of vocal acrobatics in new vocal divas.  And I think most of the time this doesn’t serve the song or the vocal performance.  Dionne Warwick sings this song and it lands right on my chest and works it’s way in.  Many people did this song after her.  And for some reason, she re-recorded the song several times as well.

But none of these performances matches this original 1964 recording.  She’s very clean and understated with very little self serving vocal styling.  I mean she’s Dionne Warwick, but in 1964, she wasn’t Dionne Warwick.  She was a rising star with a lot to prove.  I’m sure there was a lot of feedback from the other legends in the studio about just singing the song without a lot of ornamental phrasing, but that’s so hard to stick with.  It’s some of the hardest advice to take everywhere in life.  It’s such a temptation to attempt something extraordinary with every breath.  Just sing the song.

“Foolish pride, that’s all that I have left.”

There’s the stark reality of a breakup song.  The part of the breakup you don’t want to remember.  The part your consciousness blocks out.  The part where you wonder why you did it.  It’s the part of a breakup you spend 700 words avoiding talking about because it’s too intense.  No one wants to remember what that actually feels like.  It’s not a Sex in the City episode where the pain is all wrapped up by the end of lunch, and we are planning our next encounter by the last 5 minutes.  It’s the pain that makes the human race gravitate toward monogamy.

“So let me hide the tears and sadness you gave me…”

And then there’s this very subtle touch with the last time she hits this at the end.  Just a hint of how much control she actually has.

“When you said goodbye.”

My final impression is the pictures left afterward.  There are always fewer pictures than you remember there being.  You can find one or two, but they don’t seem to say what you want them to say.  You can’t reach what you know was there from the images.  There’s never any real evidence of what the relationship meant at the time.  And if you look at pictures like this for too long, it will make you crazy.

It’s a cruel song.  Just crushed, missing and spent.

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The Winner Is… – DeVotchKa/Mychael Danna – 2006

So I have known for a couple days what I would write about this song.  And today it seems even so much more relevant than it did when I first had the thought.  But now I think it’s important to relate how that happened.  And to say that my wife is in the hospital right now because our daughter wants to be born early.  So she is literally going to be in the hospital until our daughter is born.  That might be weeks.

So about two weeks ago my wife sent me a link to this song.  As soon as I heard the opening, I knew it was from Little Miss Sunshine and I knew I had to write about it.  Obviously she knows me well enough to know that I would have to write about something like this.  But I didn’t know what that might be.  I just knew I had to.  But two days later I was driving down the freeway, and as I listed to this song, this scene popped into my head.  The scene from the movie where they are all running after the van that they just push started.  I started crying.  It just welled up out of me, and it was very surprising.

In 2003, when Iggy was born, we had a CD in the stereo of our car from Interpol.  The song was the ‘200 couches’ song and it became the soundtrack for Iggy’s birth.  And there was a lot of relevance to what this meant to us.  Iggy was born in the light from his planet in the obscure but poignant relevance of an Interpol song.

This last week, I took Justine to an appointment with the perinatal specialist and I played this for her.  Before we got 30 second into the music, she started crying the same way that I had.  Just a surprising well of sobs pushing out of her chest.  She said that it was just as powerful as the Interpol song.  That she wanted to listen to it on the way to give birth to Lucy.  It didn’t occur to me to play the CD as we drove to the hospital just now, but she isn’t giving birth yet.  She’s still incubating.  She’s just on bedrest in the hospital now.  And maybe she can listen to it online while reading this because she’s going to be there for a while.  Because there’s something that feels so relevant to this birth.  To Lucy’s anticipated arrival on this planet.

For so much of our lives, we are presented with lofty ideals and impossible aspirations.  The world is filled with greatness.  Or so it would seem.  Men putting their boot prints on the moon.  Prodigal musicians playing parts that only they can play.  Politicians uniting people who only a day before seemed completely opposed to each other’s existence.  Men and women of all races doing incredible things for the first. time.  Discovering things that no one ever thought were possible.  It would seem we have only to look to the sky to find an ambitious path to greatness laid out before us.  It is only to be dreamed.

The reality of each day is so much different from this, and it makes me think a lot of the time that our best laid plans lead to far too much disappointment.  Our aspirations are so beautiful.  But our failures are so private and catastrophic.  And really even the burden of greatness that we put on the truly great is too enormous even for an exceptional human being.  We carry our own burdens in our dreams.  Especially when the greatest thing we do on a daily basis is get out of bed.

It would seem to me, and this is what I am getting to as the essential emotion in this song, that for most of our lives, the drudgery is the average.  The soul searching.  The private struggles with mountains of inanity and cruel helplessness.  And when we show ourselves all of this greatness, it feels like it should just be possible every day.  Like we should just be able to pop out of bed every day and fly to the moon and plant our flag.

But there are 6 billion of us alive at any one time.  All of our aspirations of flying to the moon are manifested in the dozen or so people who have actually done this.  I’m not saying that we all aspire to this one feat.  But I think we all aspire to some ideal that may or may not be possible.  And I think that it’s not necessarily our fault that we do or don’t accomplish this.  And I’m sure that it’s not our fault that we blame ourselves for not being able to achieve everything we set out to do.

I don’t know what it is about this piece that does all of this for me.  I seems like it’s climbing toward something and falling down.  But the attempt at scaling whatever harmonies are available with the adjusted melody is not interrupted by contemplation.  They don’t even dust that melody off.  They just toss it right back on the rhythm of the ostinado and ride it.  We can reach that amazing place in the sun with the strings and the wind in our hair.  The whole piece aspires to so much but is so close to our suffering.  It’s down in the mud and up on the mountaintop at the same time.  Mychael Danna and DeVotchKa use the instrumentation perfectly.  The conversation that happens is so defined and contrasted.  So freely giving room to what needs to be said.

But for some reason the sobs that welled up out of my chest when I listened to this song in the car that day had everything to do with finally being okay with not being great.  Iggy and Lucy, I am not a great man.  But I am a man.  And I have lived in a time that is my time.  And for a large majority of the 6 billion of us that are alive in our time, the most amazing thing we do in our lifetimes are like running to get in a van that shouldn’t be running to begin with.  That we live in a house that shouldn’t be standing.  That our house of cards doesn’t collapse when it rains.  That we make it through the night when it rains and the wind blows.  That we have extra food to give to our neighbors.  That we are witnesses to other people’s tragedies.  That we are witnesses to our own tragedies.  That we raise and love our children and have compassion for one another.  That this life happens at all is a miracle.  And nothing is to be taken lightly.  It’s a proud and beautiful thing to be a human being.  And none of us agree on everything.  And our wars and disagreements and threats are sad and unfortunate.  And sometimes it feels like it’s not worth it to run and jump in that broken ass car but it’s an indescribable miracle and there is nothing more noble and worthwhile than getting up and trying again.

We are the sum of our attempts.  Not the product of our accomplishments.  It doesn’t mean you get a trophy in the end.  It might just mean a lot of heartache.  And this is important to note and the heart of everything that I am trying to say.  Even the great aren’t great.  Any great accomplishment is the sum of all of our attempts.  We acknowledge the individual effort only because of the mountain of definitions that help us understand that a particular effort is noteworthy.  And when I see my son in the morning or think of my future daughter and all of the effort that goes into making a single day happen.  I think that is noteworthy.  We are small.  But our spirit is infinite and we stand together on this little ball of dirt and look to the sky.  And everything is ours.  All of it…

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Mercury – Bloc Party – 2008

So I have been getting really worried about this blog.  Did I bite off more than I can chew?  How long can I keep up this type of creativity?  What did I do to myself?  I feel like I am writing into a pit.  The feedback I get feels polite and dismissive even when I can tell it’s sincere and effusive.  I really couldn’t ask for more.  I am not fishing for compliments.  I am just finding the breaking point where I always quit.  The place where I get too paranoid to continue with whatever line of creativity I have begun.  I start to feel obligated to giving up something for nothing when as recently as yesterday I couldn’t believe that I was doing something I loved this much.  It’s all a tired and exhausting argument about circumstances that don’t exist.

“This is not the time.  The time to start a new love.”

This is not the time to start a new blog.  The song almost makes me anxious.  I like it a lot.  And I understand it’s perspective.  Perhaps a little too well.  It’s about the burden of communication under the astrological idiom of Mercury being in ‘retrograde’.  An overall time of pitfalls in communication.  But there is this overall frenetic energy around miscommunication and anxiety in the song.  A perpetual state of misunderstanding and fear of misunderstanding.

“This is not the time.  The time to sign a lease.”

I feel like I have gotten away from the original intent which was to express an appreciation for the music.  In trying to express that I really appreciate the efforts of the artists with a derived artistic expression of my own, I feel like I have marginalized the actual music in my writing.  I have gone from being generous to being selfish.  Then full circle to completely self-centered.  My blog has re-arrived at my efforts at trying to be cool.

“Trying not to worry about what’s forgotten.”

I stand tortured by my second guessing.  Am I doing anything?  Is it right to do what I am doing?  Is anyone reading?  Does it matter?  Am I still enjoying what I am doing?  Is it important to be enjoying what I am doing?  Is it more important that I am just creating again?  Is the rich vein that I tapped in the beginning tapped out?  Do I have anything left in me?

“Trying not worry about what’s being missed.”

I have to think that it’s okay to be doing this.  That I am doing more than serving my own ego.  I know more than ever tonight that I am doing the right thing because of how uncomfortable listening to and writing about this song is making me.  I have been listening to the song all week.  And it has been stuck in my head.  But when I think about writing about the song, I want to turn it off.  And that’s the nature of what I am talking about.

“Scars on my shins and scars on my knuckles.”

There is this terrible fight going on inside of me because I am reaching beyond my comfort zone.  I could just do what I had been doing before two months ago.  Get home from work.  Hang out with the family while polishing off most of a bottle of wine and putting the kid through the motions to go to sleep.  Spending the better part of the latter half of the evening half drunk and watching sitcoms.

“I’m sitting in SOHO trying to stay drunk.”

This is the point where the defiance comes in.  That terrific low end synthesizer in the choruses with this fabulously anxious and violent response to an internal struggle.

“Mercury’s in retrograde.”

Then that crazy bridge with a bunch of chromatic counterpoint and atonal harmonies.  I have no bearing.  I just write again.  I defy the definition of the end with my means.  I won’t let the end obstruct my means anymore.  I won’t lose sight of the end with my means.  And the end isn’t in sight.  And it’s never out of my sight.  It’s just a crazy frenetic loop starting over and over again.  Which side will win.  My fingers keep typing.  I keep looking for the next song to write about.  The next mythology to drive my passion.

“Bleeding gums and veins protruding.”

I have such a physical response to this song.  On the one hand I want to dance.  Then I want to run.  Then I want to flounder for the off button like I am pushing the snooze button on the alarm.

“You’re starting to hate all of your clothes.”

Then when I remove the song from my immediate center of noise, it returns to my mental rotation.  For as little time as I have been exposed to it, this song has made the general playlist pretty quickly.  There are a lot of Bloc Party songs that I like and their early stuff kept making me think that they were an old band from the late 80’s or early 90’s, but they are 00’s.  In some way, it’s the dedication to their sound that makes me think of them as an older band.  They have something essential about them that is missing from a lot of new pop music in general.  That’s something missing in general from pop culture right now.  They sound bigger than their time.  It doesn’t even feel like a compliment from me, because it just feels like an observation.  I spend a lot of time listening to new music and trying to like it.  I believe I have caught myself in every instance when I was about to write about something that I was trying to like.  But I don’t think I even have to catch myself.  I just can’t write about it.

“When I saw you last night, I wanted to say…”

What did I want to say?  What is it I was trying to say?  Did I say it?  Did I move you?  Do you exist out there?  Does anyone read this thing?  Are you more than a bunch of numbers in a mess of site statistics?

“‘Run away with me, away from these cynics.'”

But Bloc Party is maybe too big for their time.  I hope that’s not true.  I hope that their essential nature isn’t too big of a body of work for our dime store culture.  I hope I don’t have too much to say.  I hope I am not putting too much out there.  I hope that my words add to something.  That I am creating a voice worth hearing.  My voice resonating low and constant in the din of corporate cynicism and pandering ephemera.  I could easily dispose of myself in the heap of 5 minute pop nostalgia.  It’s terrifying that I could just stop.  That I could leave myself hanging.

“That this could be the start of something truly real.”

There’s an art scene story that goes like this:  I run into a guy and he’s got a great project going on.  He talks for two hours about it.  He’s so excited I want to jump out of my seat and run to his studio and make coffee for him.  We exchange numbers for the billionth time.  He doesn’t return any phone calls.  Three weeks later I run into him at a coffee shop and ask about the project.  “Ahhhh man.  That fell through.  But I’ve got this other deal going on.  It’s fucking hot.”

“But all that I could say was, ‘Hey.'”

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Night Nurse – Dean and Britta – 2003

Insomnia is not just a night that you can’t get to sleep.  It’s a period of time that you can’t get to sleep.  Like days.  Or weeks.  Or years.  You still feel tired, but you just can’t sleep.  When insomnia goes on long enough, it’s very difficult to tell the difference between sleeping and waking life.  Everything occurs like a dream and sinks into the experience of memory as reality.  So you could be at work and feel like you are dreaming.  Or you could be asleep and feel like the dream is actually happening.  Then remembering the dream as if it actually happened.

“You are the treacle in my pie.”

My first real bout with insomnia came when I was about 10 years old.  At least the first one I can remember.  The first few days I remember staring at the door as usual.  But sleep never came.  Failed starts at sleep built over the first week until I was crying in frustration.  By the end of the second week, I was punching myself in the head.

“You are the splinter in my eye.”

I didn’t tell anyone about this because it doesn’t occur to a 10 year old to talk about problems with sleep.  The most frustrating part of my insomnia is that I become uncontrollably sleepy right at dawn.  Unfortunately, this is when the world insists on getting up.  So right at the point where I am able to sleep, my opportunity for sleep is over.  I have to get up with everyone else and flounder through my day.  The edges of some other dream world barely visible in the corner of my eye all day long.

“You make the ice melt.  The butter run.”

I had to conceive a mythology around my daily visions and glimpses of an alternate reality.  I am convinced that it is always there.  That we see it all right in front of us.  But we train ourselves not to.  It’s very much like the Emperor’s New Clothes.  Much of life is an ethereal world with simple answers to plaguing problems easily within our grasp and largely and purposefully ignored and avoided.

“You are the ink stain.  You are the one.”

And the biggest problem and the most enchanting part of living on the edge of this dreamworld is that time doesn’t function normally.  My linear grasp on my own history is loose.  I experience things out of order.  And in order.  I don’t know whether I have a premonition that it will happen or that it already happened or that it is happening right now.  At the same time it’s a game I play with myself.  I shouldn’t ever be taken too seriously where sleep is concerned.  Sometimes I am unresponsive and it looks like I am asleep.  But I am fully in my environment.  Enjoying being awake has opened me up to the possibility that I am actually asleep which makes me feel more rested.

“I am the local.  I am express.”

So in a dream and a reality occurring over the period of about 25 years, I met a girl.  I had a conversation on the phone with her after our first date.  We lit a candle together.  Crazy saint candles from Fiesta.  Mine was St. Michael.  I have always felt reassured by the Archangel Michael with his glittering sword and his foot on the head of a demon.  There is always a crossover as the sleep slips away.  Who knows what is real.

“I am a tourist in a summer dress.”

But in this conversation she said that it was time for sleep.  I told her that I couldn’t sleep.  She said that she loved sleep.  Like it was big fat pink baby.  “Sleep is like candy.”  And suddenly I was tired like I hadn’t ever been tired before.  We ended our conversation.  I slept like Adam and Eve experiencing sin for the first time.  Tiredness washed over me like warm water.  My dream world disappeared in a foggy misshapen cloud of real sleep.  This sleep was like a new dimension between two worlds that I had made my home.

“I am the night nurse.  I am the most.”

And now I always have periods of time that are like power sleep zones.  In the early evening, I can lay down any time and have 45 minutes of the most refreshing and perfect sleep.  It’s like a new ripple in an ever unfolding intersection of alternate realities.  Since time is almost irrelevant, I remembered this mechanism into every other period of sleeplessness and the additional sleep corrected sequences and improved my handling of difficult situations.  This resulted in a more well-adjusted now.

“I am the visitor, you are the host.”

The more well-adjusted me married that girl.  And before that reality, I could never sleep with another person in the same building being awake.  I would listen to them breathe on the other side of the house.  I would listen to upstairs neighbors talking softly in their living rooms.  Now as long as she is the one awake, most of the time I can still sleep.  But I can also remember her in the room if she isn’t there.  And this changes everything.  Like Michael standing watch at the door of time.

“My lips are lipped.”

Dean and Britta are the candy of sleep.  Easily digested and hard to harm.  They have this way of slipping inside of me easily like they were there all along.  Like a Burt Bachrach tune.  How do you know the first time you heard it?  At the first listening of a Dean and Britta song, I am humming along like I’ve been listening to it for decades.  And I have a real affection that I have developed for them.  Their intimacy so candid and thorough.  Like I’ve known them for a long time.  And maybe I have.  Slipping between here and now.  Between then and there.

“My lid is flipped.”

Their music is like the feeling right before you fall asleep.  The place that I have spent so much of my time.  On a wheel finding different perspectives on consciousness and motivation.  Deprivation and fulfillment.  Observing all of the metaphors in the in between.  The places where it appears nothing is happening until you stare long enough to find something.  There is always something new in their music.  And it’s laid back enough that its message is flexible.  Easily available to whatever dimension I happen to be roaming in any given time.  I am here.  I am listening to a Dean and Britta song.

“Sleep together in the Milky Way.”

There is some interesting candor in the slow march of time.  And the lack of linearity of sleeplessness scoffs at revelation.  Progress is always related to time.  If it isn’t, then it can’t be measured.  So perhaps if time isn’t a factor, all time is awash with light and dark tones and hints of subtlety and marked resilience.  And sometimes the senseless march of words ends up like the last five sentences.  Running concepts together with no regard for their meaning.

“Sleep forever and a day.”

The only real comfort is that sleep is like candy.  And if I had never found sleep, where would I be.  Stuck between two worlds.  Clutching my belongings to my chest like a homeless man.  Stooping under the burden of stupefying exhaustion.  I am asleep and awake at the same time.  I have 15 more life times.  I am somewhere on my way and right next to you.  I feel the warm water rise from my feet to my eyelids.  I am a color tone in a changing tide.

“Lovely jewels in joy designed.”

Sleep is candy.

“La la la la…”

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Aly, Walk With Me – The Raveonettes – 2008

Mandy broke up with Justin at the prodding of Mark who had just moved out of Justin’s one bedroom apartment that he still shared with Dan who wouldn’t talk to Justin anymore.  I had just talked to Justin and told him I would try to come over that night which I fully intended not to do.  Justin had gone to a place that was too dark even for all of us.  When he finally did use the shotgun on himself, a few hours after I talked to him, Dan was just falling asleep in the next room.  Dan heard the sound but couldn’t make himself go into the living room to see what had happened.  So he crawled out the window of the first floor apartment.  He found a pay phone and called his psychiatrist.

“Aly, walk with me in the summer.”

I found out in the morning when Mark and Mandy woke me up at about 8am.  I was sleeping on Darrell’s couch because I didn’t have a place to live.  I don’t know how they knew where I was, but I remember their faces as I woke up very clearly.  Mandy’s unruly mane of hair and worried smile and Mark’s common expression of indecipherable irony.  My first questions were about how Dan was doing, but they assured me that he was okay.  I wasn’t surprised in the least.  I had fallen asleep knowing that I truly hoped that Justin would get it over with so that we could all get on with our lives.

“Aly, walk with me.”

Of course I felt guilty about hoping for this outcome in the morning.  Of course all of us felt guilty in the morning.  We all had some culpability in Justin’s emotional state.  Justin got all of us didn’t he?

“Aly, walk with me in Portland.”

It’s amazing how far the ego will go to protect itself from admitting its own faults with denial and blame.

“Aly, walk with me.”

There was a lot of time between the act and the funeral.  And I know I spent all of that time with Mark and Mandy.  But I don’t know how many days that was.  But we were never apart.  I don’t remember eating or sleeping.  I remember a deep feeling of anguish building inside me.  I remember talking a lot about other things.  I remember half hearted attempts by all of us to try to absolve each other of guilt.

“Aly, walk with me in my dreams.”

I also remember looking at Mandy and wondering where she went.  And I also remember clearly answering myself.  I didn’t want to know where she went.  My guilt was enough.  I didn’t want to know how she felt.

“So strange and true.”

As soon as I had these thoughts, I had to know where she was.  I caught myself several times, in a quiet room with Mark and Mandy, not talking.  I was just staring at Mandy who wasn’t seeing the room.  She obviously wasn’t even in the room.  I snapped myself out of my revery and turned to Mark.  He was also staring at Mandy.  He was obviously at the same level of worry.  He noticed my attention, and we exchanged an understanding.

“Can I walk with you in Portland?”

This was something outside of either of our experience.  And really there was no knowing what to do.  We put off making any decisions.

“Walk next to you.”

The funeral was a farce.  There were hundreds of people there.  And while most of the people knew Justin, most of them had very little experience with being his friend outside of being in the same room with hundred of other people, and one party at Justin’s tiny apartment that was fun but only in the sense that it was concrete evidence of Justin’s mental illness.

“Aly, walk right out of my dreams…”

There was a letter.  There’s always a letter.  Even if there’s not a letter.  I received a copy.  Funeral attendees excitedly told me with a smile that I was mentioned extensively in the letter.  I held the copy, absently looking at it.

“into my arms.”

The words on the page were not taking shape.  The words of the people around me were not taking shape.  There were black blotches of ink on the pages of the letter.  Some of the blotches were covering words which made it hard to read.  Then I realized that this was a copy and the blotches had originally been red.

“Aly, walk with me in the city.”

A man eulogized Justin as a Christian and a decent and generous person who was in the loving arms of God in heaven.  I could hear Troy laughing somewhere.  I could tell he wasn’t able to control himself.  And I knew exactly why he was laughing.  I might have had the same problem but I was too tired.

“Aly walk with me.”

The Raveonettes have this knack for evoking very clear imagery.  The music.  The lyrics.  The vocals.  I have yet to hear one of their songs that didn’t take me somewhere specific.  This song specifically took me to this event.  I immediately went to the next song because I didn’t want to think about this.  I kept coming back to the song though.  There’s a very specific distortion and a very specific clarity.  A specific rhythm with a very specific emotional imbalance.  They peak through the ether, appearing as darkened and sad angels, to tell your own stories to you for the first time.  As if you didn’t know them.  And maybe some stories need to be retold.

“Aly, step right out of my head.”

Mark and I could not leave Mandy alone.  For days after the funeral we were always with her.  She never closed her eyes.  I slept and then Mark slept.  We talked to each other but Mandy became more and more distant.  We knew we had to get on with our lives and stop hiding in Mandy’s childhood room in her mother’s house, but we didn’t know what to do.

“And kiss me goodnight.”

Eventually, Mandy became completely unresponsive.  So I started talking to her.  Asking her questions.  I just kept talking for hours, and I could tell that sometimes I got to her.  I stopped talking and Mark kept going.  We traded turns at this.  We didn’t know what we were doing, but it seemed better than sitting there.  Mandy’s mother tried to break into our circle, but we didn’t know how to receive her.  We didn’t eat.  We were running out of time on some clock that we could only barely perceive.

“Aly, walk with me in my dreams.”

I don’t know what it was that prodded her to speak, but her voice came from far away.  “I am waiting for you guys to leave.  And then I am going to wait for my mother to go to sleep.  Then I’m going to walk down to his apartment and break in.  Then I’m going to lay there…  And wait for him.”

“All through the night.”

Somehow after this we were able to get her to take a shower and go to sleep.  Then we called someone, a friend of ours and Mandy’s, who was familiar with interventions and all of the professionals that had to be involved in something like that.  She took over.  There was nothing more to be done.

I’m so sorry Mandy.

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Confection – Mommy and Daddy – 2005

I find something very upsetting about the breakup of Mommy and Daddy. And I realize how bizarre that sentence pans out, but it’s true. I find the breakup of Mommy and Daddy a little more upsetting than the breakup of my actual mother and father.  The day they told us they were ‘separating’, I cried out of relief and my brothers laughed uncontrollably.  They were very somber and serious.  I stared at the 70’s brown shag carpet until the tears welled up.  I didn’t even know what it meant really, but I was so glad that it was over.

“…”  I’m not going to attempt to figure out what she’s saying.  Really.  I have tried.  But it doesn’t matter.  The groove is so hard and satisfying.  And the timbre of her voice makes it all right.  There’s a metaphor there even without the actual words.

It’s like a fantasy.  They were living our fucked up Generation X romantic fantasy.  We grew up listening to all of these songs about running for the hills with the love of your life.  Born to Run by Springstein or I Melt With You by Modern English.  The scene at the end of the Graduate on the back of the bus.  It’s our fucked up rock and roll escapist fantasy.  The heroic couple stands up to authority and runs away.  Presumably they continue flipping everyone off and being passionately in love forever.  Every day is a rock and roll montage of good rebel love and matching tattoos.  The world never comes to trouble their doorstep even when they have kids.

Really I don’t want it to come off sounding too snarky.  I am actually being sincere.  I am a sucker for a love story.  But one day after my 5th or 6th major breakup in my 20’s, I stopped and asked myself a question.  What relationship am I trying to emulate?  Which relationship, family or friends or famous couple or acquaintance or royalty, is the example that I am striving for?  What does a ‘happily ever after’ look like?  How does a realistic love story end?  I couldn’t think of an answer to this question.  I really spent a lot of time thinking about this.  I went through lists of people that I knew.  Aunts and uncles.  Teachers.  Friends the same age as me that looked like they were together for a while. Which example of the perfect relationship were they trying to emulate?  My conclusion was that not only did I not have an example but most people didn’t.

So I thought about songs like Born to Run and I Melt With You.  And then the question got kind of philosophical.  Because when you are 14 and you are first confronted by these concepts, you might have a close friend that you can talk to about how it makes you feel.  All of the longing and angst that a 14 year old can express.  But quickly enough everyone figures out that it’s just a song no matter how beautiful, and if you enjoy the feeling these songs conjure and know what’s good for you, you will keep those feelings to yourself.

While I might admit to really liking a song like this, I hate to admit that it’s still a role I can picture myself in.  Like a rock and roll romance novel.  The rock and roll rebel, screw the world and run away romance song.  Maybe I’m the only one that feels this way, but I doubt it.  And while the examples I give are really obvious.  I think there are way more songs that fit into this category.  It’s like trying to be cool.  It’s a concept that better be really amazingly right on to go for directly like Born to Run or I Melt With You.  Other more subtle examples are songs like Going to California by Led Zeppelin or Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode.  But these are songs.  Beautiful adaptations of all of the emotional connections we long for.

And then Mommy and Daddy started making this really incredibly original music as a couple.  Not just a couple but the only two people in their band.  They were living out one of these rock and roll romances.  Their songs aren’t about this kind of thing, but it’s easy to see that energy in their relationship.  It’s aggressive and kind at the same time.  A private affection that we can understand without invasive voyeurism.  We are all lost in the fog of romantic disillusionment and found in the romantic discontent of Mommy and Daddy.  They didn’t offer themselves up as examples of the rock and roll romantic fantasy, but there they were.  And I can’t help but take it personally that they broke up.  And I do realize that’s too much to put on them.  I am a big believer in break ups or divorce when that is the best option.  Or whatever the hell they did, because they didn’t announce it.  They just stopped making music.

And that’s the part where I feel sad.  Because I really believe that no one but the two of them can make music with this particular energy.  I am lonely thinking that they won’t be making any more of it.  There’s not going to be a reunion tour or album.  We got a couple of really good CD’s worth of songs out of them that end up coming at the tale end of Electro Clash.  They are significant as a step in the evolution of punk from insignificant history to relevant post-modernism.

They are even somewhat controversial in their seeming simplicity and lyrical senselessness. Not that I find this controversy significant.  Metaphor and poetic license are better served by the ephemeral nature of impulsive magic than the well constructed allegory.  If you wanted allegory go listen to some Wagner.  The energy of wild untamed love is here with Mommy and Daddy.

“And I want to take you home.”

And some realities of home are better than others.  My reality is pretty damn good.  Significantly better than my parents.  But maybe it’s time to go get some matching tattoos.

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Why 365 songs?

I was looking around on the internet for music and music criticism and I wasn’t finding any writing that told me anything about the music.  Then I started wondering what I meant by that.  Being a musician, I wondered what a decent description of the music would be to me.  So about a year ago, I started thinking about a blog that I would like to write.  The first idea I had was a new Indie CD every week.  So I kind of kept my eye open for Indie CD’s that I could write something meaningful about.  No bad criticism.  I didn’t want any bad energy.  Just music that touched me in some way.

I quickly found that it was very difficult to find a CD that I thought was really great all the way through.  I kept looking, and I discovered that there was a lot of bad Indie music.  Then it occurred to me that I am an Indie musician.  I have been discouraged by the mediocrity of my own recordings and performances.  The limitations of technology, time and money.  In some cases really I had to admit that one of the other limitations is talent.  I love writing songs, and I love performing them.  But I am finding since I began writing this that it is useful to point to the place that I belong in the wide variations of quality in music. I am somewhere on the worst side of the middle. There’s probably a lot of music that’s not as good as mine, but my music is pretty mediocre.

The reason I find this worthwhile to point out is that there is one opinion that matters most in the music I find it worthwhile to write about. And that opinion is mine. I have to really be honest about what I think about my music to get to what I really think about other people’s music. I couldn’t write anything significant about the one CD I have compiled out of all of the recording I have done over the years. I could write about 1 or 2 songs though.

So that was how I arrived at the concept that I would write about songs rather than entire CD’s. Then I thought, how in the hell am I going to find 52 new Indie songs to write about in a year. At the time, I was having a hard time finding 1. I just couldn’t figure out what to do with this.

Then on New Year’s Eve of 2008, I was inspired to write about a significant period of my life centered around Baba O’riley by The Who. There were many factors that inspired me to do this, but it was the first thing I wrote around this concept. By the time I was done, I had a challenge before me. Maybe I could write about 1000 significant words about a song every day. I would look for Indie music, but if I failed to find a song in a given day, I could just write about a song that had a big impact on my life.

The idea of writing about my life while writing about the song, or using the song as a soundtrack for significant events in my life just sort of evolved as I started writing. Part of the reason I push further down this particular route is that I have now read a lot of writing about music, new and old, on the internet. Most of it is of the “What I did on my summer vacation…” variety. “I like the music because…” There are some really good music blogs out there, but I wanted my blog to really celebrate the music itself. What would I like someone to say about my music? I would want to know that if they liked it, my music somehow became part of the soundtrack of their life. Because this is what music is to me. It’s not some aural events arranged over time that are either pleasant or unpleasant. They are significant memory markers in the story line that is my life. The songs in my soundtrack are as powerful as distinctive smells that can conjure entire periods of my life in imagery and emotion.

Music is really profoundly important to me. If I am going to take the time to write something about a song, there have to be some rules:

  1. No negativity about the music. This rule can be bent but not at the expense of an artist. I think any of the negativity I have participated in so far has only served to criticize myself and to transcend negativity in the end. Why the hell am I going to listen to something enough to figure out exactly why I hate it. That’s just stupid. If I don’t like it, I’m not going to write about it. Indie musicians and small genre musicians especially don’t need this or snarky jabs at all sorts of aesthetic aspects of significant efforts. Fuck you and your blog about how you hate some Indie record from a band that you label as hipsters and/or scenesters. Go get a guitar and practice 30 hours a week in a studio you pay too much for and drive up and down freeways in a piece of shit car to pay to entertain assholes who go home and write shitty reviews in their blogs. As you can see I feel pretty strongly about no negativity except where it concerns other people’s negativity.
  2. Do my best to render an artistic tribute to the music I am writing about. This is subjective, but I am doing my best.
  3. No bands twice. This is difficult as there are some bands that hit me over and over again over a 15 year period with many incredible songs. And then there are some bands that broke up, but I can write about a song from one of the member’s solo careers.
  4. Write at least 500 words. I have since expanded this rule to try to write 1000 words about each song. I truly didn’t know I had this much to say. This stuff has been kicking around my brain for a long time and it wants out.
  5. Even the old stuff can be new to me. It’s been a good exercise when I am stuck to just get someone to tell me a song to write about. Even if it’s really old. The ideas I have expressed about those songs because of their unique constraints have been kind of surprising.
  6. Try to contact the Indie bands whenever possible to point out that I have written something about them. It’s difficult to get meaningful press for an Indie act. Maybe I can help a little bit.
  7. Links to listen. Links to buy. I have a little flash thing at the top of most of the posts now to listen without downloading it. And all of the posts have a link to buy if I could find one.
  8. No ads. I don’t know how we’re supposed to take Indie credibility seriously when every site dedicated to Indie media is stuffed with corporate ads. This isn’t always the case and there are lots of examples of good uses of ads. Myspace is one of them. I can’t even imagine what would have happened at the birth of punk or hip hop if there had been widespread social networking and free marketing tools like Myspace. But I wonder when we are actually reading stuff that we have all of this visual clutter on the page. I may change my mind about this, because I am not against selling out. All of us sell out every day. But for right now. No ads.

A Thousand Flowers – The Sand Pebbles – 2009

When I was a kid, I hated to fight.  I was the youngest of three boys, so I was afraid of fighting as it was rare for me to win.  And if I did hurt one of them it only meant that they would hurt me worse later.  Any of my retaliation came in the form of punching and running.  I had my moments, but overall fighting was something that I avoided.  Or most of the time, I simply ran.  I would cry at the idea of a fight.  And young boys will fight.

“this is not the song that we wanted to sing”

I developed a reputation for running, so all of the kids wanted to fight me.  If you have to fight at some point and you are terrified of fighting, why not just pick a fight with the kid you know is going to run.  Of course, I didn’t know this then.  I thought everyone hated me and wanted to beat me up.

“got no choir, got no bell to ring”

The thing that I didn’t realize is that no one hits you as hard as your brother.  When I fought my brothers, I would come out bruised and aching.  They would make sure to punch me in the same places they had hit me before.  The torture a sibling can deliver is unrivaled.  Kids really are afraid of hurting each other mostly, so they don’t hit that hard.  Not nearly as hard as my brothers.  So when I finally learned this lesson, I still hated fighting, but I would stay and fight.

“you’re not clever, you’re not even sly”

One day I ended up pissing off a kid that was a couple years older than me.  A theme of my life is doing the opposite of what is right in almost every situation.  In this case, the kid was taller and bigger than me and I should have run.  But in this particular situation, I was tired of kids picking fights with me, so I was just going to slug it out with him.

“the wings of soul will not take you higher”

So I got beaten down by this kid.  And when he tried to walk away, I got up and jumped on him.  I beat on his ears.  I head butted him.  He threw me on the ground and hit me a couple times.  Then he got up and kicked me some.  Then he turned to walk away and I jumped on him again.  This went on for hours.  All of the voyeurs left and it was just me and him.  He begged me to let him go home.  I cried and jumped on him again.  The action moved like the pace of this song.

“there’s nothing moving in the tower of song”

And really, I can’t attribute all of this energy to fighting.  My life was wrong.  And this was the theme for quite a bit of my childhood.  I was  constantly on the wrong end of retribution.  I didn’t look for trouble.  It was there for the taking, and I took more than my share.  I’ve always been somewhat of a glutton.

“this silence is loud, but it never comes”

And there’s this tremendous release in finally fighting when you feel oppressed.  And I have to admit that I have recreated this situation too often in my life.  And I suppose it has something to do with being abused to begin with.  I have recreated abusive environments to fight my way out of over and over again.  The release achieved by fighting against some perceived injustice is intoxicating and addictive.  And in the fog of self-righteousness and turmoil, it’s impossible to know the difference between real injustice and a fantasized grievance.

“got a use-by date on your life like a tattoo”

I discovered something in the fight with the older kid.  Everyone may want to fight the kid that runs away, but no one wants to fight the crazy kid.  No one can predict what the crazy kid is going to do.  And while there were more situations after this that enhanced this reputation, this was the beginning.

“and if your mind goes blank, well here is a clue”

Later in Houston in 8th grade, I ended up with a similar reputation.  I did something to a kid that offended just about everyone in the school.  And I was the new kid, so I became the school punching bag.  I got in a fight or two every day for about two months.  Most of the time against multiple opponents.  And this is a reality of fighting for boys, and men for that matter, that is commonly ignored in our fist fighting mythology.  There is hardly ever a fight that is one on one.  Don’t take it personally but the pack is always close by.

“everything’s showbiz, pop is the new porn”

With the previous lessons in fighting behind me, I knew that even multiple opponents weren’t going to hurt me as bad as my brothers.  They were all terrified as well.  So I just took it.  I hardly ever fought back.  I just let them beat me up and made sounds like I was getting hurt.  Then I would get up and go to class.  But one day I finally had enough.

“repeat and repeat until the feeling is gone…”

And I don’t know what it is about A Thousand Flowers that makes me think of fighting.  Something about the motion.  Something about how I felt the first time I heard the song.  But the sound just has friendly violence all over it.  And I find the contrast between the title of A Thousand Flowers and fist fighting to be quite satisfying.  I just discovered The Sand Pebbles, and I really like them.  And there is something about their approach to indifference and irreverence that I think I could listen to over and over.  There’s something very physical about the music and the insistent beat.  Everything from the drums to the guitar effects has a punchy quality that drives the song from one end to the other.  And the live song feel reflected in the vocal signals at the end of the long bridge section is impressive in the overdub age.  And I like the visceral approach to intellectual underpinnings.  They are like a fist fight after a philosophical debate.  I really don’t even know why they affect me like this.

“let a thousand flowers bloom”

One day I finally just snapped.  I saw someone that had been involved in one of these fights in the hall at school.  Our eyes met and I socked him in the eye without warning.

“like a promise, can’t come too soon”

Later I saw someone in the bathroom that I clearly remembered kicking me in a group of other kids.  I pushed his head into the tiled wall and threw his books in the toilet.

“take a picture of the moment, then”

To cement the end of this period of fighting in my life, I went looking for the kid that had participated in and been the main instigator of a good number of these fights.  When I found him, he happened to be walking in front of the principal and one of the redneck coaches that delivered swats to kids in exchange for skipping detention.  Both of these guys knew that I was being bullied like this.  Ah what a prehistoric world 80’s Houston was.    I grabbed the kid right in front of them.  I took his books from him and threw them at him saving the biggest one to hit him in the head.

“blow it up start it again…”

The principal and the coach took me to the office.  They threatened me with suspension and expulsion and a whole lot of other things.  I mumbled something about wanting to go home and calling my mother.  Then I realized that they didn’t want to talk to my mother.  They had been ignoring all of this for a while, and they didn’t want to have to explain that.  So they just sent me on to class.

I don’t even know whether I like this story.

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Cliffs of Dover – Eric Johnson – 1991

I have to start out by saying that the reason that I went to a music school for guitar is that I wasn’t very good at it.  There… I said it.  I always managed to get into bands where I was the worst musician of the bunch.  And relatively speaking, I was pretty good at the guitar.  I could hold my own and improvise fairly well.  But compared to my aspirations as a guitar player and my criticism of other guitar players, my playing was terrible.  If I were to have listened to my playing, I would have said I was pretty mediocre at best.  So I packed up everything and went to Berklee.

Yes there are a lot of people that want to play music.  And there’s nothing more humbling that aspiring to be a guitar great at a school with 1500 guitarists who all aspire to do the same thing.  And add to that the fact that as an entering student I didn’t even qualify to be in an ensemble.  This means that I couldn’t take classes for the very reason I went there, to play with other people and get better at it  I had to work from there up.

Granted playing punk music in a bar in Houston doesn’t require ensemble ratings.  And you can still do great things as a musician without being a great instrumentalist.  Reading music isn’t required for playing punk or rock.  It isn’t even required to do what Eric Johnson is doing in the Cliffs of Dover.  Really, reading music isn’t required for any part of being a musician, but if you want to scale the academic tower and participate in what academia has to offer, then you probably will need to learn to read music.

When I was first learning to play the guitar, I wanted to be able to play the music I loved.  I worked really hard at that.  I got pretty good at that, and I could pick out most Led Zeppelin songs.  I played with some other people before long.  Playing on stage is hard work.  Writing music with other people is fun and demanding.  And then sometime after high school, I developed some demanding dreams around playing the guitar.  I wanted to be proficient in any style and great at some.  I fell in love with the guitar.  It’s all I wanted to do.

After two years of Berklee, I hated the guitar.  I really have never re-developed this affection.  I like to play the guitar to make music.  I don’t enjoy the guitar for the sake of the guitar.  It’s amazing though.  I pick the damn thing up and I am proficient in almost any style.  My fingers and ears know how to make the thing work and produce sound that is nice to listen to.  But I am not great at any style.  This was a reality that I had to deal with in my third year at Berklee.

I remember waiting for Ah Via Musicom to come out.  It was a big thing among guitar afficionados and Texas music fans especially.  Eric Johnson is a perfectionist and it took a ridiculous amount of time for him to complete this record.  He kept starting over and over.  Eric Johnson is great guitarist.  And Ah Via Musicom is a great record.  The Cliffs of Dover is a great song.  But this isn’t the best recording of the Cliffs of Dover.  The live version of the song at Austin City Limits is the best recording.  But the Austin City Limits show came about four years previous to the studio version.  I can remember being somewhat disappointed by the studio version even though it’s still a great recording.  Of course, there was a lot of press about how Eric Johnson might be overthinking Ah Via Musicom, so I wonder if that had anything to do with my disappointment.

The truth is that I never wanted to be the kind of guitarist that Eric Johnson is.  But there is an energy that runs among musicians to earn the respect of other musicians.  And it’s hard to know when you are crossing the line from doing what you want to be doing to doing stuff just to impress other musicians.  Just to be cool.  I don’t think Eric Johnson suffers from this.  He suffers from perfectionism.  But in a way, that’s what made me hate the guitar.  If I can’t be a virtuoso and satisfy my own impossible standards then fuck the guitar.

Before I went to Berklee, I didn’t know what I wanted to go to college for.  I am one of those terrible college students that think it matters what you major in as an undergrad.  It only matters if you know exactly what you want to do with your life and you never waver from that path.  Like being a doctor or a research scientist.  Or a concert instrumentalist.  I only wanted to be a concert instrumentalist because I wasn’t satisfied with how impressive I’d be if I just wrote and produced some songs and performed them.  At first, this desire was a love of the instrument, but then I got sidetracked with trying to impress other musicians.

I know now that my love of the song far outweighs the love of the instrument.  Any instrument that gets me there is acceptable.  I love writing songs.  I love listening to songs.  I have developed a new love for looking for Indie songs from this blog.  And since I can’t always find a new song (I went through about 10 Indie artists last night trying to find something I liked.), I write about songs that had a huge impact on my life like Cliffs of Dover.

Cliffs of Dover has its place in the genre of virtuoso instrumental guitar rock.  It’s a one of a kind approach.  Eric Johnson’s patience and perfectionism pay off.  There is a reason for the disappointment between his studio efforts and his live performances, because his live performances are so amazing.  But the truth is even his studio performances set the bar ridiculously high.

The third year at Berklee is the time when most musicians come to terms with the fact they won’t be performance majors if that is what they originally intended.  So you either choose a major that is more suited to your abilities, go on a hiatus and practice or just leave the school.  Don’t get me wrong, there are other majors that people go to Berklee for.  And there are a lot of people that don’t understand why you want to be a performance major at Berklee because there are other schools more suited to specific performance styles.  But I just knew I wanted to major in music, the choice about what major to declare was too much for me, because once again I thought it mattered what my major was.

In the end, most of what I am talking about is where I fit into the whole scheme of things.  The difference between the dream and reality.  Sometimes coming to terms with that difference is heart breaking and it was for me.  I see this everywhere though.  Friends that majored in English who end up on the editing staff for computer text book companies or training dogs.  Philosophy majors waiting tables.  Music majors in computers and programming.  Engineering majors designing toasters.  There isn’t a total disconnect between these majors and the professions.  But it takes each individual story to know which crazy reality leads to another crazy reality.  It’s just that the reality you see on the other side of an English major is usually something to do with creative writing, not text books.  And computers isn’t what I saw myself doing.  But I’m not Eric Johnson.  Sometimes he’s not even Eric Johnson.  But it’s not that bad being me either.  Most of the time it’s pretty cool.

And I think that there is a choice about what you can do.  I like to produce music anyway.  Maybe it will always be mediocre.  Maybe sometimes it’s really good and people don’t notice.  Maybe it’s objectively great but people still hate it.  And I’m pretty sure that even Academia is missing an important opportunity in Indie media, but there is a really cool freedom there.  The idea that you can reach a few people doing what you really want to be doing, but all of the recognition aside, maybe I really just like doing it.  And if I let go of the cool factor of trying to impress people, maybe it’s a lot more fun for everybody.

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King of Pain – The Police – 1983

I spent my 8th grade year at Dean Junior High School in Spring Branch.  It was my first year in Houston.  I was really dumpy and awkward.  That year I had four separate ear infections, two cases of strep throat and the flu.  I got in a fight every day at school for two months at one point.  Everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

When I left New Jersey, I had a cadre of devoted friends.  I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone, and I certainly didn’t have to figure out how to get people to like me.  It’s hard enough being 13 but to be in a new environment where I had no friends was terrible.  When I found the courage to open my mouth, I was either too loud or just flat out offensive.

“There’s a little black spot on the sun today.”

It literally took me three months to figure out where to sit during lunch.  I just didn’t eat or sit down.  I stood in the hallway that ran along the cafeteria watching the kids at their tables eating.  There were a couple of times that I actually made an attempt to sit down.  But I couldn’t do it.  I just walked through the cafeteria.

“It’s the same old thing as yesterday.”

Each hour of that first three months of 8th grade was excruciatingly long.  I barely spoke and when a teacher caught me off guard with a question, I spoke in mumble or a whisper.  After a while, even the teachers avoided my awkwardness.  I was a ghost in the system.

“There’s a black hat caught in a high tree top.”

Every day I daydreamed of better things.  That I wasn’t so fat.  That I knew what to say.  That I had some confidence about anything.  That I could play the guitar.  That I was back in New Jersey with people that I understood and who understood me.  Texas might as well have been a different country in 1983.  I knew nothing of what that meant then.  No culture shock will ever compare to the move we made to Houston.

“There’s a flag-pole rag and the wind won’t stop.”

On the drive to Houston from New Jersey, we only had FM radio.  So we would search the dial as we left a radio station’s reach.  And usually the first song that would come on the new station would be Every Breath You Take.  On that 3 or 4 day trip, we must have heard that song about 10 times a day.  It was played every half hour.  Everyone in the car would groan every time it would come on.  I was so optimistic on the drive.

“There’s a fossil that’s trapped in a high cliff wall.”

My brothers seemed to adjust to the move to Houston before the summer was over.  They had friends across the street and around the neighborhood.  I went to the pool a lot and got 3 ear infections within 6 weeks.  My energy wained.  I signed up for football with some optimism.  Spanish sounded fun.

“There’s a dead salmon frozen in a waterfall.”

I got more and more frustrated until I was offending people I had just met.  A kid that would later be my best friend was trying to get me in a fight.  Truly I was so whiny that I would have wanted to beat me up as well.

“There’s a blue whale beached by a spring tide ebb.”

I waited all day for my mother to get home, but I didn’t really have any reason to see her.  I hardly even talked to her.  It just seemed like a good point in the day to look forward to.  Some of it was the ear infections.  She was a nurse, and I was in a lot of pain.  One day I spent all day groaning on the floor.  The pain was constant.

“There’s a butterfly trapped in a spider’s web.”

If I thought the summer was bad, school was so much worse.  On top of not knowing where to sit for lunch, I realized that I really hated football in Texas.  More than anything.  Getting a bunch of pads on and standing around in the August heat and humidity was just stupid.  So I started skipping practice which included a first period gym class replacement.  So within a few days of starting 8th grade in a new town that I hoped would be a good opportunity to start over, I was skipping classes on a regular basis.  I dropped football, but it took three weeks to process.  So I just didn’t go to first period until I was given a new schedule.

“There’s a king on a throne with his eyes torn out.”

I discovered the rest of the Synchronicity album.  I hated it.  I wanted Sting to stop speaking to exactly what I was feeling.  I listened to it way too often trying to find a way out of the maze of emotions that was my life.  But I was always trapped in a dead end of rejection.  Retrospectively, I realize that the biggest rejection of me was from myself.

“There’s a black-winged gull with a broken back.”

I found a table to sit at at last during lunch.  It was the table where all the stoners sat in the back of the cafeteria.  Nothing was going to be any different here.  I didn’t speak.  When I did speak, I was almost in a fight with someone at the table.  I went outside with a couple of kids to smoke cigarettes after eating.  They used chewing tobacco.  I tried it and nearly threw up.

“There’s a rich man sleeping on a golden bed.”

The Police concert was coming up and the kid across the street bought a couple of tickets.  Somehow my brother was supposed to get the extra ticket if he couldn’t sell it.  I didn’t know this was part of the deal.  So this kid asked me if I wanted to buy the ticket.  It seemed like a good idea.  Nothing else was going right.  I bought it.  Then my brother was mad at me.  I tried to give him the ticket, but…  Nevermind.

“There’s a skeleton choking on a crust of bed.”

The show was great.  The first big show I saw in Houston.  As an adult and a musician, I appreciated seeing that show a lot more 10 years later.  All three of them are ridiculous.  Their presence on stage was gigantic.  The sound flawless.  And there really is nothing that sounds like the Police.  All of Sting’s work after The Police is not the same.  The combination of Sting with Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland produced some profoundly original work.  King of Pain is one of those.  How do you point to a musical and lyrical influence for this song?  They played together and fought and their conflict produced this.

“There’s a little black spot on the sun today.”

The day after the show, I wore my shirt to school.  Someone at the stoner table that was far cooler than me said, “You go to the show?”  I said or whispered, “Yes.”

Cool kid, “Those fags.”

Me lying, “Well I went for free and the shirt was free.”

Consensus of cool kids at the table, “I’d see The Police for free.”

“It’s the same old thing as yesterday.”

I couldn’t believe I had lied about something that meant so much to me.  But I wasn’t going to retract it either.  Every day of 8th grade was just something to survive.  And if it meant lying, then so be it.

“I have stood here before inside the pouring rain”

As the year wore on, I became very attached to my English class.  I spent hours on the simplest writing assignments.  I suppose the object was that we would be able to write a simple essay by the time we got to 9th grade.

“With the world turning circles running ’round my brain”

My English teacher, I can’t remember her name, started to speak to me more often.  My mumbling and whispering couldn’t be corrected, so when she wanted to talk to me, she would wait for the rest of the class to be occupied.  Then she would pull a chair up to my desk and lean in close to listen.

“I guess I’m always hoping that you’ll end this reign”

Toward the end of the year there was an assignment that was more or less a full essay.  It was describing an event and how it made you feel.  I couldn’t express how I felt by speaking, but it was a revelation to me that I could express myself in writing.  So I wrote.  And I wrote.  And I re-wrote it.  Then I wrote it again.  And I ended up with something that wasn’t overstated or rambling.  It was an easy 1000 words from an 8th grader about how painful it is to move away from everything you know to something so foreign and difficult to connect to.  How everything was just out of reach and indecipherable.  How every day was a heroic mission in tolerating pain and rejection.  I couldn’t turn it in.

“But it’s my destiny to be the king of pain”

A week before the end of the year, the teacher pulled her chair up to my desk while the class was reading.  She asked me softly whether I had written my essay.  I said yes.  She asked me where my essay was.  I told her it was in my book.  She asked for it.  I slid it across to her.  She sat there and read it.  She forgot herself and her eyes welled up.  She thanked me and got up and walked away.  The next day someone from the Gifted and Talented Program came to talk to me about my essay.  They published it in something that I never got a copy of, and they enrolled me in the Gifted and Talented Program for high school.  I burned the essay along with the rest of my writing and music and art when I was about 16.

“I’ll always be king of pain.”

How can I possibly resolve this story except to say that I’m glad it’s over.

Buy King of Pain mp3

Velvet – A-ha – 2000

Justine and I lived in a one bedroom apartment on Emerson street for 3 years.  We probably knew from our first date that we were going to get married and have kids.  And we got married after dating for less than a year.  But this apartment was sort of a magically creative time for us.  We had two long heavy folding tables that had an array of computers and art supplies strewn across them.  There was always some kind of media playing.  Fight Club was a favorite.  And the video for this song was on the internet and we played it over and over again.  We couldn’t find the CD.  I don’t think there was ever an American release.  And even now on Amazon, the CD seems to be selling as an import collector’s item.  I don’t know.  I’ve never owned the CD.  I just downloaded the MP3 from a questionable site because it was the only place I could find it.

She made dolls from Sculpey.  Some of them were very odd and disturbing.  One in particular that I remember quite clearly was a monkey.  She found a dress for it somewhere.  It was kind of like a clay sock puppet and it was about 16 inches tall.  There was another one that I found really disturbing that was a bizarre two-headed invention of some kind.  It was beautiful and horrifying, and it made her laugh.  That’s what I remember most about that apartment when we lived in it together.  Justine laughing and the disturbing dolls.

“Her skin is like velvet.”

I made these experimental stop action movies with plasticene models.  I have never been much of a visual artist.  The connection between a pencil or pen and my brain has always been rather painful.  My handwriting is atrocious.  But for some reason, one day I woke up and I had to make stop action animation.  Digital camera technology was just taking off, and it was finally possible to get a cheap camera.  We got one and my thoughts went immediately to stop action movies.

“Her face cut from stone.”

My most successful movie was of a purple head with eyes made of sculpey that moved.  There wasn’t much to the movie, but I did it.  I have no idea where it is now.  Probably on one of the 10 hard drives I have in a box somewhere.

“Her eyes when she’s smiling.  Would never reach home.”

Justine also started writing in her online journal at that apartment.  Online journaling and online social networks were in their infancy.  But it didn’t take long for us to have friends around Houston that we had met online.  And actually, some of these very early friends are still in our life.

“But hear how she sings.”

I also started recording all of my old songs that were worth recording.  This was a long project as it had to fit into work, conflicting schedules with my co-producer, Aaron Trumm, and lots of other conflicting creative obligations.  Numen was a work about everything that I had written or co-written that I felt needed to be recorded along with one original song.  A purging of musical thoughts and motifs that had been stuck with me for 10 years or more.  Some of them had been recorded or played with other bands several times.  I am so glad I got those ideas out.  My ideas have now taken a totally different turn.

“Her touch would be tender.”

One night we went to the Valentine’s Day Goth pageant at #’s.  Justine had been experimenting with hair extensions for months.  So she used the evening as an opportunity to get glammed up in this crazy goth outfit.  There were a lot of people that we knew there.  The organizers wanted Justine to be in the pageant, but she wouldn’t do it.  She would have won.  At least I think so.

“Her lips would be warm.”

There were so many evenings that we spent about two or three feet from each other for several hours creating stuff.  Sometimes she was just writing on the internet.  Sometimes I was writing code for work.  More often than not we had some crazy art project going.  But the tables were side by side and we just spent hours together making stuff.

“But when we’re together.  I’m always alone.”

And I never say it.  And I don’t know why.  But Justine is a great singer.  Some of the songs are just a clean alto that is very sweet.  Then she used to love to sing crazy Loretta Lynn songs like Fist City or You Ain’t Woman Enough To Take My Man.  Or she did all of these crazy accents and immitations that I find very comforting to think about now.  Or she would do characters in stores.  Or profess the magical powers of her “Shaolin Wonder Booty”, which was a deadly weapon.

“But hear how she sings.”

There was also this incredible dollar store to Ebay thing that she had going on.  She would go to the dollar store, buy a bunch of stuff and sell it on Ebay for 10 times more than she paid for it.  Sometimes she got it wrong and we had 50 Star Wars lollie pop spinners in a box in a closet for a while.  But most of the time she hit a winner, and I would be totally baffled.

“Her skin is like velvet.”

I remember that apartment with a sort of magical quality.  There were people over all the time.  They would just stop by.  One time, these two kids knocked on our door because they were looking for an apartment that ended up being across the street.  We were making all of these things and listening to Nick Cave.  The girl said, “Is that Nick Cave?”  And we started talking to them.  They sat around and talked and made phone calls while we tried to figure out where they were trying to go.

“So I went to her home.”

We had lots of problems but we hadn’t invested enough yet for those problems to cause us any real trouble.  It wasn’t until we moved away from that apartment when Justine was pregnant that we really had to deal with ourselves.  Our history would visit us and we would deal with it and move on.  It was easy to do with nothing to lose.  But mostly I remember that it was where we fell in love.  And our soundtrack was Velvet.

“Her house like a palace.”

The important part was that we trusted that we weren’t going anywhere.  We had all of the running behind us.  Both of us knew exactly where all of the running gets you.  It gets you right back at the starting line where you have to run the whole damn race all over again.

“With things you can’t own.”

Velvet is this anomaly for me.  I had never been an A-ha fan before.  But Minor Earth Major Sky somehow crawled inside of me.  I never owned it.  Tried to own it several times and couldn’t find it.  Still don’t own it.  And the ethereal nature of Velvet was the energy of the apartment.  Everything sort of took place in a protective halo.  The music was a metaphor for this.  And the video is this morbid reflection.  I’m not sure if the song meant to convey the meaning carried in the video but it works.  And the metaphor worked for us too.  Everything that we were before living in that apartment together died as we created a new life.  A new us.  We cleared a place in the clutter for us to have something of our own.  Something uninfluenced by the tragedies of our time before.

“Her skin is like velvet.”

It was this clearing that we took with us and still own.  Reorganizing our brains to handle daily life and the stress of success, the stress of having something to lose, was only possible because of this initial creative outburst in that apartment.  Our tendency before this was to run or quit or worse.  But we took a peace and faith in our persistence everywhere.  To Hong Kong and back.  There is something to lose now and that is way more difficult to handle.  But so worth it.

“Hear how she sings.”

I still can’t find a place to buy the mp3 but here is the video. – Velvet youtube video

A Friend Indeed – Marla Hansen – 2007

When I first moved to Boston, I made a friend who was a little obsessed with his stereo. An audiophile.  I didn’t have many friends.  I was still extremely serious, and it took a long time for me to make friends.  I don’t know whether he was particularly serious himself or if he just had a really big tolerance for seriousness.  Or if he just totally ignored me.  Hell I still can’t figure that out about him.  So at the time, I was always in some sort of emotional crisis.  It was the only way I had of relating to people.  I must have been a drag.

“we’ll talk about bigger and bigger things”

Anyway, I used to go over to his house a couple days a week and we would drink coffee and talk while playing chess.  One day I went over and he had some new speakers or a turntable or something.  And he had this Bach organ record.  So rather than sitting there for hours being heavy about nothing, we played chess and listened to this Bach organ record extremely loud.  It was an apartment and I’m sure someone must have tried to complain, but we would have never known.  It was simply too loud.  I tried to talk a couple of times, but if I continued, I would have wasted my voice for a week.

“my oh my you are a friend indeed”

Some music should be heard really loud.  And sometimes it’s not very obvious.  Bach organ music is music that should be heard very loud.  I’ve never been to the church that is the organ that created that particular record, but I feel like I have been there.  Strangely enough I feel like this song is one of those pieces of music that should be heard very loud.  Not because that’s the way it was created (the organ is a very loud instrument), but because all of the instruments have a depth that can only be heard in the recording really loud.  I don’t even think a live performance of this song should be that loud.  Too much distortion.  But it was kind of a mistake that I listened to it so loud, and now I like it that way.

“all our puzzle pieces”

I was going to Berklee and I got home from visiting my parents one New Year’s Eve at about 11pm.  I had just flown into Logan Airport.  I was sick.  I got all the way to the door of my building before I started looking for my keys.  That’s when I realized I didn’t have my key.  My roommate didn’t get off until after 2am.  She worked at a bar.

“have fallen behind chairs under beds”

I followed another tenant into the building and sat with my luggage on the bottom stair in front of my first floor apartment.  Being the holidays, it was unlikely that anyone was going to be coming home.  So I just leaned my head against my bag on the stairs.  I was fairly sick and tired from the flight.  So I just about drifted off.

“it’ll take the night to sift and sort them out”

A gentle voice was shaking me carefully.  It was my upstairs neighbor.  She was going to New England Conservatory.  Her roommate was a good friend of mine.  I had tried several times to get her to go out with me.  She couldn’t say ‘no’, but she never went out with me either.  I told her that I was sick and locked out.  She invited me upstairs to wait.  She was with two guys that were her friends from out of town.  They were extremely drunk and I gathered that they had been visiting for a couple days.  I also gathered that she was about done with them and the whole holiday season.

“well that’s okay you can sleep here instead”

We got upstairs and she made me some tea.  Her friends tried to be boisterous and yell at me about New Year’s.  It wasn’t easy to motivate me in the state I was in, and they were kind of dumb in addition to being stupid drunk.  There was some music playing softly somewhere.  I don’t remember what it was, but it was acoustic instruments and soft vocals.  I sipped tea and she told me about her lame holiday.  The stupid drunks fell asleep on the floor.  “Thank God,” she said softly and we both laughed.

“and oh it’s been a long time”

That particular holiday had been incredibly disconcerting.  I felt like I didn’t actually need to be in Houston at all.  And I felt invisible around my family.  And the whole Houston thing was so distant and unlivable for me right then.  Sometimes my orbit was close.  Sometimes it was so far away.  I was a comet in my own life.  Returning from my long icy journey only sporadically.  Spending most of my elliptical life far out in the lonely darkness.

“but I am a friend in need”

We went to her room and talked softly for a long time on her bed.  Music school is a journey in disillusionment.  Half the time we wondered what the hell we were doing but couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  I thought that what she was doing at New England Conservatory made so much more sense than what we were doing at Berklee.  And of course, she was envious of our exposure to modern genres.  Unless you are a prodigy student in either setting, the undertone is always, “If I’m not here to learn to teach, what am I doing?”  It’s only after I left school that I realized that I should have stayed as long as I could.  Life is long, but some chapters come at the beginning of the book.

“i want him to know without being told”

Marla Hansen has something unique happening with this music.  I want her to make more of it.  She plucks her viola in this song and it’s got a very warm and dry sound.  And the minimal input from other instruments breathes a lot of life into simple melodies and rhythms.  On the surface it’s all sparse and sing-song.  But after listening longer, there’s a lot more to the space than emptiness.  Like turning a telescope onto a blank space in the sky and finding a cluster of galaxies.  And sometimes when nothing happens, it’s still the perfect story.

“and why shouldn’t I”

We fell asleep on her single mattress fully clothed.  I woke up feeling decidedly less serious, and now I like the song played softly.  Nothing ever came of us.  But that morning while I watched her sleeping, I would have gone anywhere with her.  And when she woke up, she was so happy to see me.  The first thing she said was, “Christmas sucked.”  I agreed.  Then she hugged me and cried for a while.  We made breakfast and then I left her to her hungover asshole friends.  The world isn’t so heavy and loud after all.

Buy – A Friend Indeed MP3

This Will Never End – All Girl Summer Fun Band – 2008

After I had a taste of counter-culture, I had a giant problem with living in my house.  It seemed like there was a giant truth outside the door that didn’t play by the same rules inside.  Outside there were brilliant colors or dark heavy rain.  Inside there was silence and heavy cotton wads inside my ears.

This isn’t something you should know.

I don’t know whether I just have extremely sensitive ears, but for as long as I can remember, I could hear conversations that weren’t in the room.  Word for word.  I’m watching television and listening to my parents talking in the bedroom.  I’m lying in bed.  I can hear people talking as they walk down the street.  I feel their footsteps a block away.  When I was a teenager, I started using fans as white noise.  Some static sound waves to distract my ears.  This would help me sleep when I finally could sleep.

This isn’t something you should feel.

After the first concert I went to, my ears were ringing.  As I went to sleep that night, I couldn’t hear anything but the steady tone of tinnitus.  It was very comforting.  I felt warm and safe.  I slept easily which is rare for me.

They confuse themselves with fear.

After my first punk show, I could barely hear anything.  I sat on the concrete against a hurricane fence listening to the tone.  My friend Denton sat next to me talking.  I watched his lips move.  I didn’t care what he was saying.  A police car drove by.  The punks were milling about.  Denton and I weren’t very good punks.  We both had long hair.  I remember the punks could be just as toothless as any redneck.  “What are you guys rockers?!!?!”  Holding his rock and roll fingers up.  Denton was always good natured and friendly, “Yeah man.  Whatever you say.”  People are always trying to scare each other.  The punks were succeeding in scaring the cops.  The looks on their faces as they drove slowly past.  This wasn’t New York City.  This was downtown Houston.

It keeps you near.  It keeps you near.

When you stick a bunch of words on a page, it’s like this giant commitment to meaning.  There are all these things that I want to say.  And my own yearning is so tied up in everything that I want to be saying.  I would figure that at some point I’d catch a break.  But it’s also just as likely that it will just keep coming at me hot and heavy like thick syrup in a giant water gun.  I could also say there is nothing here that isn’t my own doing.  My chaos is my own.  My catalysts dissolve in a hail of precipitation, and I still have no idea what I am saying.

This isn’t something you need said.

But it’s always nice to think I am getting somewhere.  That I am not waking up every day for nothing.  That when I walk out the door I am closer to something called success.  But when I look closely at the underlying philosophy of this daily assumption, the whole concept falls apart for me.  What the hell is success?  Why do I do anything?  ‘Why’ turns into lists…

Your list gets longer every day.

Why does music turn into anything at all?  It’s just a bunch of noise.  That’s the beginning of my step back from the abyss.  Music is meaningful a priori.  But the genres and lists and the music we become attached to.  Why does some music never attach to people and other music becomes a phenomenon?

Confusing love with disarray.

I made this CD before I left work of about 10 MP3’s of 10 different bands and listened to them all on the way home.  I chose the MP3’s after listening to 10 second snippets.  I had never heard any of them before.  I had just about given up on the whole CD when this song came on.  It snatched me away from wherever I had been.

It keeps you near.  It keeps you near.

I wonder sometimes about all the things that I question.  I seem to question the fundamentals of almost everything every day.  It isn’t something I talk about every day.  But it’s something that dominates my thought process.  I think people would get pretty tired of me if I talked like an existential nutcase every day.  But every day I am searching for meaning in everything I do.  Why do I do it?  Why do I get up?  These are really important questions for me.  These questions lead to other questions.  Not answers.  I am not interested in the structurural discourse of society in this internal discussion.  I don’t want the concrete direct answers that society makes up and regurgitates over and over again.  I want the wonder in the question itself.

To think that someone somewhere…

It’s amazing to me that people felt so uncomfortable with not having the answers that they started making them up.  That we told these made up answers to each other so much and so totally that we assumed the answers were a priori.  It seems obvious to me that it’s the questions and the wonder that are a priori.

said that this should begin.

All Girl Summer Fun Band is a band I really want to see live.  There’s something kind of 60’s pop about their approach to punk.  Like maybe a little Nico or Nancy Sinatra mixed with our hardcore with some Clash thrown in and a little hint of the Bangles.  I love the abrupt changes and the timing.  There is no slop here.  This is a tight approach to some fast music.  And then a laid back pop vocal floats on top.  We are at the mercy of her questions.  She doesn’t seem to need any answers.  And I wonder how far from the original intention I am here.  The one thing that I’ve always loved about punk is how close the philosophical context is to the aural metaphor.  But the point is emphasized by the lack of gravity necessary to accomplish this state of wonder.  AGSFB seem to add something new to this state of being.

This will never end.

But it also seems obvious that we would be afraid of our own wonder.  Because the answerless world is infinite.

This will never end.

Buy – This Will Never End MP3

Be Safe – The Cribs with Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth) – 2007

Creative failure is a constant in my life.  I say this because it just happens.  Real success comes with consistency.  It really does.  My record for a having a band together performing on a stage is something like 3 months.  Just enough time to ruin some friendships for a couple of years.  Some of my songs are good, but I have yet to be satisfied with a recording.  I know I have some really good recordings that have disappeared with the bands I wrote them with.  The artifacts missed an apartment move somewhere along the line.  I have written sporadically, but it doesn’t come to much.  Just another thing to become despondent about.  “Oh look there’s another thing that I didn’t finish.”  But I’m not unique in this.  I know several people with creative talents that can’t be consistent.

But I wonder about classifying my efforts as failures.  I wonder about any of us classifying these things as failures.  I get up every morning and go to work.  As I get older responsibilities pile on top of others.  The free market system says I must work and make money, and in the free market sense of things, maybe I never really offered a product.  It was incredibly hard to adjust my motivations from creative tendencies to concrete efforts to stabilize my life.

I think of it like my description of insomnia.  I disciplined my mind and emotional state to stop being bitter about missing sleep.  Not being bitter helps me get through the day.  The day is usually dominated by responsibilities and things that I have to do like work.  When I was younger, bitterness about all of the things that work was keeping me from doing might get me walking out the door.  But I would just have to go find another job because I was broke.  Over the years, I have disciplined myself not to be bitter about having to do things that I don’t want to do.  In some cases, I have learned to enjoy the things that I have to do.  But all of this kind of comes off to me like, “Boo hoo!!!  I didn’t become a rock star.”

There are much worse things that can happen in your life.  And the truth is I more than just enjoy providing for my family and watching my son grow up.  I love going home and knowing we have another day together.  It’s pretty awesome.

I also know that anything becomes just another gig.  I have a friend who has been a cellist for a major orchestra for 15 years.  At the time I met him, he had been with this orchestra for about 8 years.  I asked him a lot of questions about his job eventually concluding that it was a pretty cool job.  His reponse, “Ahhhh ya know.  Eventually everything becomes just another gig.”

“One of those fucking awful black days when nothing is pleasing and everything that happens is an excuse for anger. An outlet for emotions stockpiled, an arsenal, an armor. These are the days when I hate the world, hate the rich, hate the happy, hate the complacent, the TV watchers, beer drinkers, the satisfied ones. Because I know I can be all of those little hateful things and then I hate myself for realizing that. There’s no preventative, directive or safe approach for living. We each know our own fate. We know from our youth how to be treated, how we’ll be received, how we shall end. These things don’t change. You can change your clothes, change your hairstyle, your friends, cities, continents but sooner or later your own self will always catch up. Always it waits in the wings. Ideas swirl but don’t stick. They appear but then run off like rain on the windshield. One of those rainy day car rides my head implodes, the atmosphere in this car a mirror of my skull. Wet, damp, windows dripping and misted with cold. Walls of gray. Nothing good on the radio. Not a thought in my head.”

Some days I get in the car and I just don’t want to do it another minute.  No matter how good I feel about everything.  And it was easy writing these things when I first started.  I was unemployed.  It’s easy to be inspiring when I only work at things that I’m good at.  Or that I want to do.  When my day consists of getting up and thinking about what I will create.

The commitments aren’t always just about diversions from a creative career.  Life is just full of shit that I don’t want to do.  But the truth is that I have been trying to figure out how to get all of this stuff to co-exist for 20 years.  But always with the idea that in the end I would have the freedom to spend more time on creativity.  Recently it occurred to me that I am getting so good at the means to my end that the end is getting in the way of my means.

It would be like trying to go to the store.  The means to getting to the store is walking down the street.  But along the way there are people that I don’t want to know that I am trying to get to the store, so there are these road blocks.  They stop me and ask where I am going.  I lie and tell them I am going to the coffee shop.  They tell me the coffee shop is in the opposite direction.  I go off in the opposite direction of the one I want to go.

“Be safe.  Be safe.  Be safe.  Be safe.  Be safe.  Be safe.  Be safe.”

This isn’t entirely accurate because it’s just a feeling.  All of us want to be somewhere else some of the time.  And the truth is that more often than not, people are impressed that I have other goals.  Everyone wants to do something extraordinary with their life.  And from time to time, we all have the opportunity to do something extraordinary.  But there’s a lot of deep valleys between those mountains, and it’s easy to be at the bottom.  Going uphill is hard work.  Shit rolls down hill.

I noticed something today.  I was listening to the news and I became very focused on what was wrong with the world.  I wanted to start another blog about politics.  But then I thought about how yesterday I wasn’t interested in writing a blog about politics.  The only reason I was interested in this is because I was listening to the news.  The noise was deafening.  It blocked out all of the appreciation I had yesterday for living.  I’m not going to stop listening to the news.  I’m just going to keep fighting for something transcendental.

“I know a place we can go and I’m falling.  Love so hard that you wish you were ten.”

The Cribs have a lot of great songs, but today I feel like Be Safe.  I was listening to the song and wondering why the spoken word guy didn’t have a British accent.  Then I realized it was Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth.  I love how raw The Cribs make everything sound.  And how a lot of their songs sound like they just thought it up and screamed it into a microphone.  On the surface it all sounds like a bunch of “fuck off”.  But when I listen a little longer, it’s exactly what is right.  Like Lee Ranaldo is a little bit of a downer on this song with this spoken word tirade.  Then The Cribs vocal comes in periodically and it’s an uplifting answer to a shitty day.  And he just repeats it until it overpower all the shit.

“I know a place we can go and I’m falling.  Love so hard that you wish you were ten.”

Here I am.  It’s another day.  The only thing different about this year and last year is that I’ve written 40,000 words in a blog about shit that I am actually thinking about rather than honing my skills of pretending to be interested in stuff that makes the world move.  Money.  Work.  Software.  Computers.  Minerals.  The stock market.  Politics.  I care.  I do.  But I let it kill what makes me want to live sometimes.

Buy – Be Safe MP3

Back In Your Head – Tegan and Sara – 2007

Back In Your Head MP3

My ex-wife moved back to Boston and stayed with me and my friend in his house in the Fens.  I was 26.  We both had crappy single mattresses across the floor from each other.  We had broken up ostensibly because she was a lesbian.  Before she came back to Boston, I had not seen her in about 4 years.  We got married really just to emancipate ourselves from our parents so we could get financial aid for college.  The pull across the room was obvious.  Our orbits were so close.  The previous four years so rootless for both of us.  So much in contrast to the 3 years we spent together.

“Build a wall of books between us in our bed.”

There was so much that was familiar.  But the gulf was enormous.  We had our moments where we could see what it was that brought us together, but there were also moments where we saw what it was that tore us apart.  Really I guess there was nothing wrong with either of us in the malicious sense.  We were just young and finding ourselves.  But after four years of wandering around for both of us, the pull was there to settle back in.

“Relax into the need.  We get so comfortable.”

But the pull wasn’t that strong.  It was just there and we went our separate ways.

“I just want back in your head.”

I bought tickets to a Pink Floyd reunion concert in 1987 while I was dating this girl.  I think we had actually camped out for the tickets or something.  We went to the Cure together a few months previous to this.  I think we were trying to recreate the magic of that night.

“Remember when I was so strange and likeable.”

I really liked her a lot, but we broke up before that concert.  We had friends that were going to the show as well.  So we just all hooked up and went to the show together.  I hadn’t seen her in months.  I was a depressive mess.  I remember trying to reach her emotionally that night.  For a time while we were dating, we communicated without speaking.  There was no distance between us.  We shared everything.  This state probably didn’t last that long, but I missed it terribly.

“I know these habits hurt important parts of you.”

I wanted her to look at me.  I had to see something in her eyes but it never happened.  My heart was really broken over the whole thing.

“I just want back in your head.”

I was living in Houston and trying to get my shit together when a girl I had been broken up with for about 6 months flew in to see me.  Something traumatic had happened in her new and perfect relationship.  ‘Something traumatic’ is an extreme understatement.  A married man had posed as a naval officer and developed a relationship with her.  He explained his long absences as part of his job.  Talked to her on the phone several times a week.  When her father told her about his wife calling, she just took a cab to the airport and bought a plane ticket.  She called me from the airport to tell me she was on her way.

“Remember when I was sweet and unexplainable.”

I imagine that the whole deception was a hair raising experience.  Her immediate reaction was to get near me.  I always represented some kind of safety.  But we did a lot.  Looking back, I think she was trying to create a wall of memories between her ‘now’ and the relationship with this guy.  We did more in that month than we had for the years we had been together.

“Nothing like this person unloveable.”

It was sort of disconcerting because this was everything that we never were.  It was the relationship we always thought was just around the corner.  But it was this strange rebound relationship.  There was too much water under the bridge.  We connected like never before, but once again the timing was wrong.

“I just want back in your head.”

I love the 80’s pop feel to a lot of Tegan and Sara’s songs.  This one especially reminds me of the Buggles or Kim Wilde.  There’s something about where their voices are coming from that says 80’s new wave.  Deep back in their throats and the inflection.  The disjointed feel to the rhythm and melodies.  The types of repetition.  It definitely isn’t an 80’s production.  It’s like a digital version.  That being said it’s definitely not all about the 80’s and I might be the only one hearing this.  But it’s all good pop music with good hooks and emotion.  And it’s certainly a difficult subject.

“I’m not unfaithful but I’ll stray.”

This song reminds me of Annie Hall.  They go through all this stuff in their relationship.  Their witty banter slowly crawls inside of you.  Their problems are real and maddening.  You think you don’t care that much about what they are going through.  When the break up comes, you think, “Oh that wasn’t so bad.”

Then they meet up later and you realize that the whole movie was written from this perspective.  The relationship is over.  He is looking back over their relationship with a nostalgic affection.  Where did it all go?  The connection.  The tolerance.  The silent breakfast in familiar company.  Being kicked in the middle of the night.  Blowing in the door from a long day.  The emotional lines in the sand that grew too unbearable and burdensome.  The actual love.  The familiarity.  It’s so hard to know someone in general, but it’s so amazing that you can be so close to someone and then… not.

“I just want back in your head.”

Prettiest Chain – Castanets – 2008

Prettiest Chain MP3

With the lights off, I pull the string on the mini-blind and slowly let the moonlight in.  I slide the window to the left.  I swing my leg over the sill.  I’ve done this so many times the move is choreographed.  I know exactly how to get in and out of the window with the least amount of noise.  I reach back in the window and pull the string to let the mini-blind back down.  And I quietly slide the window closed.  Next is the 6 foot wooden fence.  I step on the bottom horizontal support with my right foot.  I put my left foot on the brick exterior window sill to my bedroom.  I lift my right foot and put it on the top horizontal support with my right hand on the top of the fence and my left hand firmly holding onto the roof.  I lightly drop into the grass into a squat.  I stop and listen.  A car drives past.  I walk quickly walk to the right out of the cul-de-sac without looking back at the house.

I did this almost every night of my sophomore year in high school.  Most of the time I had someplace to go.  Some friend.  One guy in particular was often up well into the morning and I would go hang out, drink Crown Royal and watch TV or work on his car.  Or another friend could be counted on to be up most of the night.  But sometimes there was no place to go.  But I wouldn’t go back home.  I have no idea why I had this need to not be at home during particular bouts of brooding depression.

“Give me your prettiest chain to wear.”

If there was nowhere to go, I had a few options.  Smoke cigarettes in the cemented section of the bayou.  I could lie against the concrete and stare at the sky.  Maybe I was claustrophobic.  Because once I was outside like this I could think more clearly.

“And a bracelet made of your finest hair.”

Insomnia claimed me very young.  As early as 10 years old, I can remember lying in bed for hours staring at the door.  There is only so long you can take this.  There is something incredibly powerless about staring at a door in the dark.  I would insist that the hall light be left on all night.  My brothers thought this was because I was afraid of the dark.  Really I was afraid of staring at the door in the dark.  I didn’t necessarily mind the dark.

“Eagle get me a wing…”

There was an abandoned house at the end of a dead end street.  Not in the wrecked sense of a house.  It was just empty.  Typical Houston suburban house.  Just no one living in it.  Cutting through the yard and hopping the fence into the Church of Latter Day Saints parking lot might shave 15 minutes off the walk to get to friends who lived on the other side of the church.  After the house was empty for a few months, someone kicked a few boards out of the fence.  Then we could just squeeze through.  But it didn’t take long for one of us to decide to find a way into the house.

It was empty.  I would go inside this house late at night by myself and just sit for hours.  I could do that at home, but really that’s all I would do.  Sit.  It isn’t like there was something additional I could do here that I didn’t do at home.  I just sat there staring at doors.

Insomnia has been a trial of discipline for me.  Drugs don’t work for me.  Anything that I try I eventually develop a tolerance for and then I can’t use it anymore.  Exercise seems to help.  But the discipline later in life has been mental and emotional.  When I was 15, I might get so frustrated sitting in the dark waiting for sleep that I would punch holes in the walls.  In fact, this reaction went well into my 20’s.  Now I understand two things.  Sitting in the dark can be an opportunity for meditation, and bitterness about lack of sleep will make you exhausted and crazy.  I don’t think about how tired I am all day, but that’s an oversimplified version of what I mean.  Imagine being frustrated and tired all day for years on end.  Not just one or two days a week but every day.  Every single day of your life… frustrated and tired.  Hallucinating tired.  Now imagine one day all of a sudden you don’t need the sleep you are missing.  I can provide you with all kinds of explanations about what that means, but the best thing I can say to describe it is that I spent years disciplining myself to not be bitter about the sleep I am missing.  And one day, I finally…

But I imagine what sitting in an abandoned house by myself might have looked like if there were a hidden camera.  A 15 year old kid sitting in a house for hours smoking cigarettes.  No lights.  No reading materials.  Nothing.  I try to imagine what that must have felt like, because I don’t know.  I can only assume the worst.  And I can imagine that any observer would also assume the worst.  I try to imagine what would happen to my heart if I were to observe my son in this state.  I cannot imagine.  All of the signs point to the worst kinds of mental illness.  And surely I was mentally ill.  Yet here I am.  And maybe I am mentally ill now.

Raymond Raposa is Castanets.  And some of his nomadic background sounds eerily familiar to mine.  I wonder sometimes about the choices that I make or someone like Raymond Raposa makes.  Wandering for years.  This crazy ambient, psychadelic folk music.  Because there is something disturbing about this music.  What’s worse is that I find it comforting in a way.  Why would we go looking for loneliness.  I am not talking about being alone.  But this vast American loneliness in all of Raposa’s music.  You don’t express things like this without feeling it.  Without staring at some doors in the dark often enough that you either need some fresh doors to stare at or no doors at all.  I feel the emptiness of the highway in this song.  The silence of the wind.  The gigantic slumber of the thin oxygen at high altitudes.  The fear and solace of standing in a clearing far from everything.  The battle with self in the dawning of a new day alone.  The simplicity of a day enencumbered by the demands of community.  The sudden static closeness of the cloying darkness in an unfamiliar place.  The experience of thousands of hours of unanswered questions of a spec of consciousness on a tiny ball of dust in a corner of a small glaxy in an infinite universe.  Raposa says all this with so little.  And so much…

The reverse of the trip out.  Stand on the brick window sill.  Lean on the wooden fence.  No horizontal beams from the outside.  Let my legs fall against the the fence while holding myself up by the top of the fence.  I swing my left foot up onto the top of the fence.  I use the brick window sill to get myself down.  I squat in the yard and listen.  Nothing.  I go to the window and slide it open.  I reach in and use the string to open the mini-blind.  I crawl through the window.  I get ready for bed.  It’s usually 2am or 3am by this time.  Maybe 4 hours of sleep before high school.

I stil have a habit as an adult of wandering in the dark.  I turn off all the lights and let my senses drift into my surroundings.  Once my eyes adjust, I check the windows.  Then I listen.  I roam the house a bit and check the doors.  I watch the cars in the road out front.  I listen for the usual dogs.  Note the refrigerator noises.  Wind chimes.  Voices in the street.  The shadows from the TV next door and across the street.  Sometimes I can hear faint murmurs of conversations.  And then with all my senses satisfied, I settle back into a pillow and stare at a door until sleep finally wins.

Limelight – Rush – 1981

Moving Pictures was an album that crawled inside of me and lived for years.  I was barely 11 when it came out, and it just captured my imagination.  Everything about it was perfect for my time and place in the world.  And this record (along with a few others) would dominate my consciousness for the last two years I lived in New Jersey.  I sort of projected myself into their success.

I learned the songs on the guitar.  I listened to Limelight over and over again.  And for years I had a real vision of myself as growing up and becoming a rock star.  It’s an easy target.  I’m 12 and listening to one of the biggest rock bands of my time and imagining that I too could be a rock star.  Combine this with the fact that from about the time I was 10 until I was 20 or so, almost everyone I knew was of the opinion that I was destined for great things.  Friends, family, everyone that I knew really.  I believed this too.  Smart, talented, whatever…

Sometimes it was, “Oh you’re so smart Larry.  You will go on to all these things while we sit here and make cheeseburgers.”  Or it was, “You’re so talented.  I’m not talented at anything.  You will leave us all behind.  Remember us…”

I was carefully humble about these things, but secretly I bought into my own press releases.  I was it.  I was going to be a rock star.  I would write many volumes of heart rending literature.  I would also solve some complex scientific problem.  All hail Larry!  My fantasy life was so rich with these stories that I forgot to go do anything but the part where the rock star becomes self destructive and delusional.  I built the barriers between myself and my adoring fans.

“Cast in this unlikely role.  Ill equipped to act.”

My towering success seemed so inevitable that I ignored all signs of my dismal failures.  I was brooding.  I didn’t like my fantasies being interrupted by details like actually doing the things that were necessary for some kind of success.

“With insufficient tact.  One must put up barriers to keep oneself intact.”

And at my worst which was often, I could completely disconnect myself from reality and travel my whole day as if I was in another world.  Flash bulbs in my face while my handlers cleared the way into my school.

“Living in the limelight.  The universal dream.  For those who wish to seem.”

I saw the definition for fantasy prone personality type about 10 years ago and thought that about summed me up.  I experience my fantasies as if they are actually happening.  So I have already been a rock star.

“Those who wish to be.  Must put aside the alienation.  Get on with the fascination.”

Wow I thought I was going somewhere else with this.  Because I was really thinking about the disappointments of childhood dreams.  But maybe I am this person.  Maybe I do have all of that talent.  Maybe I have always just been too afraid to try anything.  Anxiety ruling my life and creating a rigid fantasy to control anything unknown.

“The real relation.  The underlying theme.”

I think it’s fascinating that I am writing this entry, because really this is an unspoken truth behind a lot of what I am writing about.  I thought about my own music and my own writing.  For years, as an indie musician I wondered what it would take to make it.  I know other indie musicians that get no recognition as well.  So then I started thinking about all of the indie musicians.  Not just people that I knew.  What keeps us all Indie?  Is it just some kind of crazy fantasy life that we are even making music that’s worth listening to?

Then I became fascinated with American Idol.  Because here is the same phenomenon.  And yes, a lot of pandemonium can be created by referencing American Idol with hard working hipster Indie musicians.  They have nothing in common if you know what’s good for you.  Indie musicians don’t want to be famous.  They are true to their art.  Wanting to be famous is not part of what being a famous Indie musician is about.  If you are a successful Indie musician with a big record deal (don’t get started on contradictions here), then being famous is a nuisance.

So let me get this straight.  You are supposed to get famous and rich and successful as an artist.  But you aren’t supposed to want these things.  I think this is a formula for making thousands of crazy Indie musicians.  So we go around pretending like we are in Limelight.

“Living in the fish eye lens.  In the camera eye.  I have no heart to lie.”

But we aren’t.  We reject fame and it’s self-centered musings.  We are brooding hipsters.  Told we were talented.  Secretly wondering why we are still only Indie.

“I can’t pretend a stranger is a long awaited friend.”

But don’t Neil, Geddy and Alex kick ass.  I know every second of this song and most people don’t need me to describe it.  It has been muzak in our lives for 28 years.  There isn’t a person in the the USA who hasn’t heard this song.  If you hold your hand up to say you haven’t heard it, then we cue the song and you go, “Oh yeah.  That song.  I heard it at Target.”

But what I learned from American Idol is the sheer volume of people with this identical fantasy.  We grew up with this muzak in our lives.  We thought we would produce the muzak for the next generation, but something happened along the way.  The playing field was levelled and now anyone can put out a record.  So you can be a hard working Indie musician, but you are one of many.  Up until the 80’s, there was only the cathedral of the music industry.  The bazaar came in the 90’s with the internet and MP3’s.

And the fascinating thing I learned about myself from watching American Idol was how little new music I listened to.  And it seemed to me that I was learning that a lot of us Indie people weren’t listening to each other’s music.  We were all just too cool to be each other’s fans.  And I thought of this prayer by St. Francis and I modified it a bit.  “Let me seek to listen rather than be listened to.”

And then this amazing thought occurred to me while watching American Idol.  No one is listening anymore.  We are all just waiting for our turn to sing.

“All the world’s indeed a stage and we are merely players.  Performers and portrayers.”

Well I am listening now.  I am not always listening to something new.  But I am looking hard for those people like me that want to be heard.  And I want it to be active.  I will listen.  Really listen.  Not like I am just waiting for my turn to sing.

“Each another’s audience outside the gilded cage.”

So I will admit my rock and roll fantasy is still alive and I am nearly 40.  How uncool am I?  I don’t know.  Try to admit your dreams, fantasies and wishes out loud and see how foolish you are…  That’s what I thought.

The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys – Traffic – 1971

The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys MP3

“If you see something that looks like a star
And it’s shooting up out of the ground”

There were all these kids in the mid-90’s in Albuquerque from all these different places.  Most of them were punks and goths, and I have no idea how they all ended up there.  But there they were with a thriving little scene.  If you know anything about Albuquerque, there are very few places that you can hang out after hours.  One of the places that this crew of kids liked to go was the Denny’s on Central.  And really I don’t know how the staff there put up with them.

“And your head is spinning from a loud guitar
And you just can’t escape from the sound”

I would end up at this Denny’s a lot late at night.  And I also knew quite  a few of these kids from the music scene around Albuquerque.  It’s a very small city.  Basically these were a lot of kids in black with tattoos and piercings.  I don’t know what it was about Albuquerque during this time (or any time maybe), but a lot of these kids turned out to be fugitives.  And they were looking for trouble.  Specifically they were looking for a fight and they would find fights often.

“Don’t worry too much, it’ll happen to you
We were children once, playing with toys”

And one night in particular a mentally ill guy just walked into Denny’s looking for a fight.  And he got one.  Not even exaggerating a little bit.  He walked in the door and walked up to the scariest looking guy in the place.  Remember it’s full of decked out punk and goth kids, so it was probably pretty hard to choose the scariest looking kid in the place.  And literally just did his best to get the guy mad enough to go out in the parking lot with him.  And in the end he was being kicked by a bunch of punk and goth kids in the parking lot.  And I remember the sounds and the faces.  And the blood.

“And the thing that you’re hearing is only the sound
Of the low spark of high-heeled boys”

And the sickening idea that there were people at home asleep.  I don’t know why that struck me more than anything.

“If the percentage your paying is too high priced”

There were people out there that were asleep.  And they would wake up in the morning and take their children to school.  They would go to work.  They would worry about their children’s progress in school.  And they would worry about the mortgage and the promises of employment and the fate of the economy.

“while you’re living beyond all your means”

They would keep their heads down and do their best to follow the rules.  The rules in all of the propaganda that is drummed into us from birth.

“And the man in the suit has just bought a new car”

And what is wrong with these rules.  Look at Somalia.  Lawlessness just gets you a boot in the face in the parking lot of a Denny’s at 3 in the morning.  Finding safety in a path to security for your family is a noble cause.

“with the profit he’s made on your dreams”

So we will all get up and have faith in this monstrosity of a system that promises us something new every day.  When something goes wrong there are thousands of solutions.  Thousands of causes.  Thousands of people to blame.

“But today you just read that the man was shot dead
by a gun that didn’t make any noise”

While our neighbors lives collapse, we just sit and watch and wait for someone else to do something.  We try to invent solutions and causes and blame.  Rather than true compassion as a rule, our first reaction is always to fabricate some outrage for other people’s misfortune.  I’m not talking about blaming the victim, because we are all victims of our own self-righteousness.  I’m really pointing to the continuation of our cultural propaganda that there is a one … right … way.

“But it wasn’t the bullet that laid him to rest
Was the low spark of high-heeled boys”

I have this sort of irreverent idea that I would be afraid to live in an America where there were no young people experimenting with drugs.  I don’t really take the War on Drugs seriously outside of the idea that it is a profit making machine.  I think there are people that take it seriously, and I don’t understand them at all.  I don’t use drugs.  And I have hardly ever used illicit drugs as an adult.  I truly don’t advocate their use at all.  And I definitely don’t take the anti-prohibition people seriously.  How can you?  But I do think that most of our moral opposition to drugs is simply because they are against the law. The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys is not about drugs.  But it does combine the ideas of counter culture and trying to succeed by the rules in the same motif.

“If you had just a minute to breathe
And they granted you one final wish
Would you ask for something like another chance
Or something similar as this”

We are a nation of evangelical preachers looking for the devil in everything we do.  We always see the problem as somewhere outside of our reach.  That the corruption is in Washington D.C. or Wall Street or Hollywood or xenophobically abroad.  We never see the corruption of our own morals at the tip of our nose.  We gather in groups that find a common ground of victimization and deceive ourselves into thinking we weren’t in line to receive it.  That we ignored the corruption because the rules told us to keep quiet and wait our turn at the fountain.

“Don’t worry too much, it’ll happen to you
As sure as your sorrows or joys”

And it really seems as if we have no choice in the matter.  We have to live and it’s still better than lawlessness.  Like some stupid Mad Max plot playing out in a Denny’s parking lot.

“And the thing that disturbs you is only the sound
Of the low spark of high-heeled boys”

There is a chaos that sort of pervades the entire history of humanity.  We would like to think of ourselves as universally chosen, but I am always thinking of the massive amounts of nothingness that surround us.  The vast areas of real estate on other planets and the massive energy of the billions of suns.  I almost think of us as universally ignored and arrogant.  The narrative of human history doesn’t really seem to play out very well as a story with causes and conditions.

There are thugs exploiting the weak on the street.  And there are thugs exploiting the trust of the masses at the bank.  And the lawlessness seems to be uniform when viewed from this perspective.  We are just paying our protection money.  But our complaints better not be too loud.  Our hopes, dreams, emotions and work are all exploited for the benefit of the few.  And history sort of repeats that back to us, but somehow the patriotic propaganda gives us some kind of ownership.  The chaos and violence emolliate us, but we find some way for it to be a celebration of our heritage.

But there is nothing like The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.  Everything in the song serves the metaphor, for whatever it means.    The length of the song especially.  And there are these crazy solos that sort of burn the building down.  It’s amazing the level of interest the band is able to maintain over eleven and a half minutes.  Building it up and breaking it down.  And really most of this song is just this one simple ostinato repeated over and over again.  And the spiritual epic of the lyrics is really just an extenstion of what’s happening musically.  I don’t think the words come off well at all sitting by themselves on a page.  But with Steve Winwood singing the words over a competent collaboration of music it’s pretty powerful.  And in the end there is a note of hope amid the gloom.

“And strip me of everything, including my pride
But spirit is something that no one destroys”

Maybe we are where we are.  Maybe it’s not all emptiness.   Maybe we are dwarfed by what we cannot see.  By all that is invisible in our consciousness.  Maybe something beyond us is being accomplished in that parking lot of the Denny’s at 3am.  Maybe there’s a reason we get up in the morning and trust our peers to do the right thing.  Maybe compulsion frees us of so many choices.  Maybe the absurdity of order while chaos and violence reign is an absurdity that is measured and liberating.  And maybe all of our choices lead somewhere.  From our beginnings to our endings.  And maybe we are a resolved motif in death.  And maybe it’s good that I find all of this so disturbing and enlightening at the same time.  Because there is something transcendental in a Traffic song with its allusions to fusion and the primeval necessity of counter culture and corruption.

“And the sound that I’m hearing is only the sound
Of the low spark of high-heeled boys”

And the fade in and fade out.  Maybe the world doesn’t just end with a whimper but begins with one as well.  This is the way the world begins.  Not with a bang but a whimper.  For thine is the chaotic beauty of a Traffic song.

“High heeled boys.”

Orbiting – The Weepies – 2008

Being a human being is very complicated.  I know exactly what I want to say about this song, but I instantly hear every argument against it.  And all of these points of view are just as valid.  We are all humans and we make mistakes.  And we inherit all of these problems from our parents.  Even if they are just behavioral or environmental problems.  But as soon as we have our own children (if we choose to have children), then all of those problems that we inherit end up having a much sharper focus in our lives.

But sometimes, the mistakes of our parents are just too much to bear.  And sometimes there is no satisfaction to be had in confrontation.  There are some disappointments and betrayals that leave a black mark on our souls.  And there is no erasing that mark.  If you have such a mark, it takes a long time to understand that not everyone you come into contact with can see it.  But it’s also useless to talk about it sometimes.  There’s only so many times that you can rehash the same story over and over.  Especially when the re-telling only leads to more disappointments and betrayal.  Sometimes the new hurt comes from the listener as broken people have a lot of expectations about how a listener reacts to these revelations.

It’s just endless.

“You named me judge the day that I was born.”

I have a really hard time writing in a third person omniscient voice.  This seems to limit the amount of narrative I can confer.  Long stories make a lot assumptions about the nature of thought and emotion that are misleading and oversimplified.  All of life is lived from my own perpspective.  And third person omniscient point of view can make whatever assumptions about the character’s motivations and develop an entire narrative around one assumption leading to another assumption.

“You asked too much to fix what you had torn.”

Memories are filtered through the fog of developing sentience.  It’s almost as if children evolve right before our eyes.  So all of the tragedies of childhood are hazy.  All of the observations are re-interpreted with an adult thought process.  And all disappointment and betrayal is hard to decipher.

“Things got out of hand.  Now I understand.”

Most of the time, we are all really doing the best we can do.  I really know this more than ever right now.  As a parent, you do the best you can do and you still screw it up.  But I do know that there are some things that I find unconscionable, and I can’t imagine ever putting my children in these positions.  And some of that opinion has developed out of being placed in those situations.

“And I’m out of your range.  Now it’s kind of strange.  How we change orbit in our lives.”

And in my story, there are convenient packages where we contain devices of truce.  This allows for civil interaction.  And some genuine love and affection.  But in another fiction there is real lifelong pain and a betrayal that runs so deep that its resurfacing is inevitable.  It’s always there.  And it’s always troubling.

“You were kind of the moon outside of my room.  I could just feel you nearby.”

Really there is no describing these marks.  And whether or not we have our devices to contain them, we can become the sum total of our wounds.  And there is so much hope with a new life.  But the reality of the human condition leaves almost no alternative to betraying our children.

“Now I feel you gone.”

It’s almost essential in the individuation process.  And it breaks my heart into so many pieces.

“Cause I know which side you’re on.  And it’s not mine.”

Sometimes I really didn’t feel like I belonged in my family.  There seemed to be a genuine disconnect where I somehow turned out just different enough from them that I couldn’t ever get real understanding.  My mother can admit as much as this now.   It’s one of our packages.  And it’s convenient and it works.  But it doesn’t do anything to erase the black mark on my soul.

“I walk the line between now and then.  It’s deep sea diving with no oxygen.”

And I really don’t know how to tie this story together.  And the agonizing part is that I can’t control how it turns out with a bunch of assumptions based on my third person omniscient voice.  I can’t control even my own motivation.  I can’t turn my own fiction into a truth.  And I can’t turn my own truth into a fiction.  But I can sort of toy with the concept like it’s a poem.  I show you this side and that side.  I turn it over and I observe it over and over again, and it never turns into a nice package that I can hand back to you and rest my case.  It’s just a lot of beautiful words about something I don’t quite understand.

“I went somewhere to hide.  Far behind my eyes.”

And there is this fantasy that somehow everything will just straighten out.  Maybe someone will come along and say the right thing.  Or just be what is necessary.  But the fantasy just gets us further and further away from reality.  And this fantasy can get dangerous.  How do we find ourselves when we have hidden ourselves so well?

“I willed you there to see.  But you never came for me.”

I love the meandering melodies in the verses.  And then the chorus melody just sort of cascades through to a conclusion.  And there is a nice feel to the whole thing.   Somewhere between folk, pop, rock and island music.  The second guitar sort of wanders all over the structure creating these harmonies and textures with subtle effects and breathy tones.  So sweet and floating.  And there feels like there will be some universal release from our pain when it’s all over.  But it’s just the same conclusion we come to over and over.

“And it’s not mine.  And it’s not mine.  And it’s not mine.”

Buy Orbiting MP3

The Ancient Common Sense of Things – Bishop Allen – 2009

The Ancient Common Sense of Things MP3

Lately I have found this blog to be incredibly satisfying.  But in that satisfaction, I find myself at a crossroads.  And while it may take me a while to get to my point, I think this is a common theme of my entries.  I have a point, but there is no way I can go straight for it.  In this case, I have to announce at the beginning that I am at once completely satisfied and ready to stop writing completely.

It’s late and I’ve had a long day.  I was looking for something easy to write about.  I got a couple of easy suggestions, but I wasn’t feeling either of them.  Mainly I can’t feel those things because they are so removed from where I am right now.  Sometimes I can just push through that and get it done but not tonight.

Then I thought about an easy story to write about.  Pick a Black Flag song and write about the Black Flag show I went to when I was between 13 and 15.  I can’t remember the name of the club.  I want to say it was the Cabaret Voltaire in Houston and the year was 1984, but I can’t be sure.  I didn’t know who Black Flag was really.  I also didn’t know I was going to a Black Flag show.  This was pretty common for me at the time.  Anyway, it’s a pretty canned story.  I was in crowded club that was not very big.  It was Houston summer hot and I was on drugs and probably had not slept for a long time.  I’m pretty sure I had also skated into town on my skateboard.  Maybe a 15 mile trip.

Black Flag took the stage and I had been inside the club for a few hours already.  It filled up and I was pressed against a wall far from the door but close to the stage.  The place was hopping, but a few songs in, I was overheated and dehydrated.  One of the songs was ending and I started to pass out.  An altercation was starting in front of the stage.  Henry Rollins was dealing with this in some way.  Maybe he was part of the altercation as he often was.  But I was drifting in and out as this was going on.  After a while, I opened my eyes and saw Henry Rollins looking at me and he pointed at me saying, “Hey get that kid out of here!”

The crowd lifted me up and passed me to the door.  I could feel the cool air as they set me down in front of the open door.  It was summer and it never gets cool in the summer in Houston, even at night.  So it must have been very hot inside.

As I contemplated which Black Flag song would be the soundtrack to this anecdote, I was getting really angry.  I couldn’t think of a Black Flag song that I would have heard at that show.  Then I realized that I never owned a Black Flag record.  Then it occurred to me that I never liked Black Flag.  I don’t much like Henry Rollins either.  I kind of hate the ‘rage’ style even though I have been known to have rage problems.  I feel like Henry Rollins has been an advocate of just creating more anger.  It isn’t a release or ctharsis.  It’s anger for the sake of anger.

“There are those who understand that long before this all began, a hammer hit a nail with great sympathy.”

So I gave up on the Black Flag song and I went and looked at the Bishop Allen site for the 20th time this week.  And I started listening to songs that weren’t officially released yet.  As this song played, I realized that I really wanted to write about this song.

“And strings that bowed in concert make a symphony.”

But I couldn’t think of what I would write about The Ancient Common Sense of Things.  And I became more despondent.  I really just need to go to bed.  And then I thought about what it felt like to be pushed along the top of that crowd.  I can feel the cool air approaching.

“Oh oh oh…  the ancient common sense of things.”

Then I understood my problem.  I was trying to write about a song that meant nothing to me because I happened to have an interesting experience at a Black Flag show.  I don’t want to write about Black Flag.  It means nothing to me.  The emotions I had on top of that crowd had more to do with Bishop Allen than Black Flag.

“There are those who know to look in all the crannies and the nooks.  And when I found you dear what it meant to me.”

I am a young teenager on top of a crowd of angry punks who are about to have a giant fight.  I have heat exhaustion and I’m dehydrated.  Henry Rollins just directly addressed me.  He will be a legend.  The noise disappears and my eyes focus on a heart on the ceiling that someone drew with a red marker with some names and a plus sign between them.  And suddenly 25 years later everything is clear to me.  I hate Black Flag.  I hate Black Flag almost as much as Black Flag hates Black Flag.  Almost as much as they will hate talking about Black Flag 20 years from then.

“My heart is pounding loud just like a tympany.”

For years I will do my best to self-destruct.  I will succeed on an enormous scale at that particular endeavor repeatedly.  And now I will have written about an interesting story without having to associate it with a song I hate.  But with a song that really makes me happy.  Almost as happy as I was on top of that crowd knowing that the noise and confusion and overwhelming heat were about to be over.  As happy as I was looking at that heart knowing that someday I would feel as connected to someone as I do to my wife.

“oh oh the ancient common sense of things.”

And I can see that while Henry Rollins and Black Flag represent to me this machine that generates bad will and anger over nothing.  This may not actually be who they are or how most people experience them.  But at the time, I was 14 or something, and I was so angry.  And I didn’t want to be at that show.  Or I wanted to be in that building, but I wanted all of the redneck punks to be gone.  The invasion of the urban punk scene by white suburban hate killed punk rock.  Within a few years, you wouldn’t be able to put on suspenders or shoelaces without worrying about what it meant about your politics.  Somehow I blame Black Flag for this.

But Bishop Allen represents this simplicity and gratitude.  And the Ancient Common Sense of Things is this sort of simplified explanation for where I’m at overall right now.  But I also think it’s got a bold statement in its lack of solicitude.  It doesn’t sweat the small stuff.  No distortion.  Well arranged harmonies.  The non-pretentious approach to simple wisdom.  I love how the overall sound has a carefully muted attentiveness.  And the entire musical motif leaves me feeling too light, floating on top of a sea of compassionate hands on the way to the cool air of the outdoors.  The muted safety in stark contrast to the hard attitudes surrounding me.  This peace in the midst of noise and haste.

“oh oh the ancient common sense of things.”

Go On Say It – Blind Pilot – 2008

Go On Say It MP3

During a particularly purple time in my life where the world had a sort of grayish twilight feel to it, I drove between Houston and Albuquerque about two or three times a month.  I thought it was a girl in Houston.  And some of it was, but the girl was a lesbian.  She still is.  And we were in love.  But only in the sense that we were in love with being in love.  If we weren’t living in a purple twilight, we would have seen how ridiculous we were.

“Picking up sound on the interstate.  I am my breath letting in waves.”

I worked the night shift in Albuquerque at a residential treatment facility for disabled people.  This meant that I was up all night watching cable and standing outside watching the sky while the residents slept.  I only worked 3 days a week.  I hardly saw the residents at all.  When I left in the morning, I couldn’t ever make myself go straight home.  I drove out to the volcanoes on the west side of town to watch the sun come up.

“There will be a time when the sleep I’m in.”

I have always thought that living across the street from the nice house was better than living in the nice house.  That way when I open the curtains in the living room, the view is of the nice house across the street rather than the plain house I live in.  I felt this way about the volcanoes in Albuquerque.  The big tourist trap is the Sandia Mountains on the east end of town, but the view from the Sandias is really flat and opaque.  It’s just really high.  The view from the volcanoes is the giant red faced cliffs of the Sandias.  There is hardly ever anyone there.

“Covers me whole.  Covers me thin.”

I have a great admiration for people that write long narratives, because I think like a songwriter.  All of my memories are jumbled in metaphors and the timeline is inconsistant.  Things that haven’t happened yet always make it into the story.  When relating past events, references to people that weren’t around at the time keep surfacing.  My observations are imbued with impossible hues and salient contradictions.

“I know I’ll wake up old.  Forgetting which box this is in.”

And then I am in West Texas somewhere.  Not the I-10 West Texas, but closer to Lubbock.  It’s a long drive and I had to stop somewhere.  I always liked stopping in tiny picnic areas in the middle of the night.  I would lie on a picnic table and watch the sky.  Fantasizing about the way things ought to be in my purple twilight.

“How I will keep you.  Just how I left you.”

Or maybe I would stop in the desert just east of Roswell in the desert moonscape.  Nothing is real.  In the moonlight, you can hardly see your feet on the ground.  And there is so much alive and moving just beyond the ring of violet dust.

“My daughter once told me I know a lot.”

And all of those long nights, I would have long discussions with my children just out of sight in the backseat.  I would tell them about everything in my purple twilight.  Covering my words with incongruous sheets of wisdom.  I could hear their breathing.  I couldn’t ever tell if they were listening.  I loved them so much it hurt.  They weren’t there yet.

“It made me feel fine.  Made me feel quiet.”

I could have driven forever.  But mostly the destinations on both ends of this trip were a fantasy.  And really anyone that knew me during this particular period of my life might be able to verify that this is exactly the way it happened.  But mostly they’d be lying, because I didn’t really tell anyone anything.  I talked a lot.  But I don’t think there are words…

“If you said it right.  Instead of painting words white.”

The instrumentation is so beautiful.  The lonely drums with brushes and hardly any metal.  Just a lot of dry scratchy coughs.  The guitar in a simple strum with the strings pulling every ounce of sentimentality from the lyrics.  And I love vibraphones.  There is something very satisfying in the sound of the stereo unison vocal.  And the harmonic combination and timbres of the vibraphone, vocal and strings in the chorus melody is my purple twilight.

Or is it our purple twilight?  Did we ever share that light?  Or did I just make up all my own colors in my own palette?  Repainting my one canvas in the thousands of miles I drove.

“How I will keep you.  Just how I left you.”

You’d think that our lives would have some kind of consistent narrative.  But we always make up the story to end as if it were for the best.  And maybe that’s true.  But we always seem to remember a place mostly for the reasons we left it.  Maybe we do the same when we leave people too.  Forgetting all of the magic in a glance.  Conversations we never wanted to end.  All of the playful anticipation of life in the act of discovery.  Where does it all go?

Don’t wake up.  I never want to miss this purple twilight.  The muted grays of dawn.  The peripheral absolute black of the stars.  The warm glow of faces I have been waiting to see.  The long conversations about subjects not worth remembering.  How everything was perfect and right.

“Come on.  Say it right.”

Holiday in Cambodia – Dead Kennedys – 1980

Holiday in Cambodia MP3

By the time I heard the Dead Kennedys for the first time, I had already seen a couple of local punk bands playing somewhere in Houston.  So it’s sort of interesting for me to note that my first real exposure to punk rock was on a local live scene.  No one that knew had Sex Pistols or Dead Kennedys records.  I didn’t know who they were.

But I can say that really punk just seemed like noise to me until I heard this song.  I didn’t really get it.  The whole intentionally sounding disjointed and almost bad was something that I couldn’t stomach.  I was only 13, so the idea of sound as artistic metaphor was fairly removed from my white suburban outlook on the world.  And I was a couple years into playing the guitar at this point and my motivations for playing the guitar had everything to do with the guitar gods of the 70’s.  So the onslaught of noise and deliberate debasement of music was something I found rather insulting.

Then I heard Holiday in Cambodia.  I think it was my friend Spong who was in a punk band and a couple of years older than me that played the record.  And it’s likely that he played it over and over again until I heard.  Until I suddenly had to know what Jello Biafra was saying.

As a kid, I was unusually politically aware.  I don’t remember seeing anything on television around the Watergate scandal.  I was only 4 when that happened.  But I do remember people talking about it.  And I remember the end of the Vietnam War.  The last of the American troops left Vietnam in 1975 or 1976.  John Lennon and Yoko Ono bought ads on billboards welcoming the troops home.  And I remember the election of 1980.  I was 10.  I dreaded the inevitable election of Reagan.  Then John Lennon was killed and Reagan was shot.  We moved to Houston.

The state of the world seemed so unfair and cruel.  Nothing in popular media seemed to acknowledge this as the truth of the human condition.  I found this very confusing.  Even liberal ideology seemed misguided to me.  More about self than it’s advertised selflessness.  The Cold War seemed misrepresented, and while I wanted to be patriotic having been interested in the founding of the country, I found the contradictions hard to ignore.

The Dead Kennedys were a revelation to me.  Here they were with this deliberately offensive name delivering this cynical message that seemed more realistic than some hippie fantasy.

“So you been to school for a year or two, and you know you’ve seen it all.”

Where was the peace?  There were only power vacuums and powerful players trying to exploit the helpless.

“It’s time to taste what you most fear.”

Even today listening to this song, I get in touch with my own foolishness in my faith in progress.  The assumption that our leaders are well-intentioned and the powerful are benevolent is misguided but pummelled into us with propaganda from the moment we are born.

“It’s a holiday in Cambodia.  It’s tough kid, but it’s life.”

How is it so easy for us to recognize the propaganda in other cultures but so hard for us to see it in our own culture?  So hard for us to see us creating our own propaganda to convince ourselves that we are doing the right thing?  We get older and we do our best to justify our position in the world.  Whether it’s on top or on the bottom, we spend a whole lot of time creating the propaganda of our own self-righteousness.

“You’re a star belly sneech.  You suck like a leach.”

How is it so hard to see that we are set against each other to keep the focus off of the people that are really causing the problems?

“Kiss ass while you bitch.  So you can get rich.  But your boss gets richer off you.”

And fast forward 30 plus years to the members of the Dead Kennedys suing Jello Biafra in court.  All of them in court with lawyers suing each other.  It was some kind of terrible joke on all of us.  The members of the Dead Kennedys in court suing each other.  Fuck you!  Fuck all of you!  You weren’t supposed to grow up and become part of the same system that exploits me.  The same system that I grew up enough to use to exploit other people.

“It’s a holiday in Cambodia.  Where you’ll do what you’re told.”

I better get my propaganda machine cranked up.  I don’t know how we’re going to justify this one to ourselves.

“Pol pot.  Pol pot.  Pol pot.”

So What – Miles Davis – 1959

So What MP3

Instrumental jazz has played a huge part in my life, but I have had a hard time finding a way to start writing about it in this blog.  So far I have written about what I as rock/pop music, mostly with lyrics.  There is something sort of sacreligious in writing about Miles Davis in the same blog that I have written about Coldplay.  But this is my blog and it’s sort of unconventional anyway.

I bought Kind of Blue in 1988.  I owned other jazz records, and they were part of the soundtrack of my life.  But Kind of Blue stayed in the cassette player in my car for a couple months.  So one day on my way to work, So What started and I actually heard what was going on with my tiny ears.  And suddenly my place in the musical world was defined in a way that I had never considered before.  Here was musical genius to which I could only aspire.  I was never really going to be this type of musician.  Not in the sense of being a jazz musician, but in the sense that I was never going to change the world with my revolutionary guitar tonality and style.

My contemplation of So What, which involved my rewinding the cassette over and over in my car ended with me realizing that I was sitting in the parking lot at work.  I was probably going to be late to work anyway, but I had been sitting in my car for a while.  Now I was going to be very late.

Although I knew that I was never going to attain this level of mastery, I knew from that moment that I wanted to study music.  I started the wheels in motion that winter to get myself to Boston to go to school at Berklee.  My interest in going to a music school had everything to do with knowing that I would never master it.  Not that I wasn’t a decent songwriter and guitar player.  There are a lot of things that I am good at.  And there are a lot of things that I have a natural talent for.  Music is not one of those things.  I was really just too damn stubborn to accept that I wasn’t any good.  So I kept getting better.  But further than that, I knew that I would never master everything about music.  The levels of complexity are enormous even if you only consider the 12 tone scale.

And really I don’t know what it is for this particular song that makes it so significant.  Some part of the attitude and delivery from these guys says that they had no sense of who they were yet.  They were all strong musicians.  They knew that.  The jazz world knew that.  But after there is Miles Davis and John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderly and rest of them before Kind of Blue.  And then there is all of these guys after Kind of Blue.  And it seems very much like after they did this record, they all became very comfortable with their place in the world of musical giants.  Like, “Hey I don’t know if this is a good idea or not.  Wait a minute.  I’m Miles Davis.  Of course it’s a good idea.”

So there’s this crossroads represented by Kind of Blue.  At least in my understanding of jazz history.  But sitting in a car in 1988 and realizing that there was a mountain of musical expression to climb was a humbling revelation.  And coming to terms with the idea that this was a moment that sort of lives beyond time is a lifelong battle.  Here is a single person hearing the tip of the iceberg for the first time when the song is a part of the American sountrack.  Most people can go their whole lives and never hear the significance.  But for all time, this particular moment in time is frozen for anyone to experience.  And I guess that is the staggering part of the story for me.  I could have gone my entire life and missed it.

Washing of the Water – Peter Gabriel – 1992

Washing of the Water MP3

The only time I have been suicidal for any length of time was the winter of 1992 and 1993.  I was working as a bureaucrat and trying to put something together musically.  But really I was just too depressed.  I lived in Brighton and commuted to the South Shore in Quincy and later to Braintree after the company moved our office.  I bought a car at some point in 1992.  And I moved from my long time apartment across the street from Berklee.  I thought I wanted out of the environment right there in the college campus area, but I think it was a huge mistake.  I was also getting over a relationship of a couple years.

During that winter of 92/93, it seemed to snow every day.  I had never had to drive to work in the snow.  Getting up every morning to shovel snow and scrape ice off of the car before I had taken a shower or drank any coffee…  That was rude.  And I thought I knew traffic hell in Houston.  And truly, Houston’s traffic is bad.  But Boston’s traffic is just way more depressing.  There is only one way from west of Boston to the South Shore.  That is right through downtown Boston.  Yes, there are other ways.  It’s just going to take 3 times longer.

Now these are all just circumstances.  And I don’t want to make it seem like I was depressed because of the circumstances of my life.  This is one of the lessons I learned that winter.  Depression is commonly attributed to life circumstances, and to some extent it really is.  But relative to starving in a poor developing world country village, it’s hard to imagine circumstances being that depressing.  My circumstances of depression had more to do with what I wanted to do with my life.  I certainly didn’t want to be a beaurocrat.  I certainly didn’t want to live in Brighton.  I didn’t want to be alone.

“If I should fall, would you swallow me deep inside?”

I suppose really most of the true depression in my life has been about trying to find some meaning in my life.  I have since decided that all meaning is made up.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that all meaning is meaningless.  It just means that you can make anything mean almost anything you want it to mean.

“Thought that I could get along, but here in this water, my feet won’t touch the ground.”

Relative to this line of thought, I couldn’t make anything mean anything during this particular period of my life.

“River deep, can you lift up and carry me?”

Really the idealism of youth is something to encourage.  But it’s demise is crushing.

“Letting go, it’s so hard, the way it’s hurting now to get this stuff untied.”

I was a stranger in a strange land.  I had friends.  Life long friends.  And really all of us were having our struggles.  Many of them were similar.  What do you do with your life?  Not in the 30 minute episodic nature of a sitcom.  But in the real sense of reconciling the dreams of youth with the reality of your 20’s.

Driving along the tollway every morning and then south away from Boston with a mixture of ice, water and the sand they spread on the streets coloring my windshield in my piece of crap car with no real heat to speak of was unspeakably gray.  Happier music seemed so lost and empty.  The other cars were miles away.  The hardness of the tollway employees was white and clenched.  And there is a lot of humor in telling stories like this as I get older, but at the time, the only thing carrying me up and down that freeway was a little music and the idea that somehow I was going to get out of this particular phase of my life.

“Bring me something that will let me get to sleep.”

This particular Peter Gabriel album was something that I made deeply meaningful in my life.  I couldn’t afford therapy at the time which I probably really needed.  I knew that the songs were about Peter Gabriel’s therapy sessions, so I just sort of created my own ctharsis around his descriptions of the therapy that he could afford.  You do what you have to do.

“In the washing of the water, will you take it all away.”

I love this particular song as being completely out of character for Peter Gabriel.  Rather than the elaborate arrangements and perplexing metaphors, here is the truth in a simple approach to the agony of breakups.  When all the words are gone and all the fanfare and noise of your day is gone, you are left with yourself and your simple truths.  Every single one of us.  From the poor to the rich.

“Bring me something to take this pain away.”

Ume – Walters on Washington – January 31, 2009

Ume took the stage around midnight.  They were tight and well rehearsed and there was something new and crisp about all of their delivery.  The new songs were great to see played onstage.  There’s something about seeing the live version of any song that gives it some other meaning.  I am always amazed at how much sound is coming off the stage in an Ume show.

Lauren Larson’s performance is sort of mind boggling.  I’m a guitarist/singer/songwriter and a lot of the time when I am singing and playing at the same time, I feel like there is a meat cleaver wedged between the hemispheres of my brain.  Watching Lauren Larson play gives me the same feeling and I’m not even playing.  She has a lot of complicated leads and effects going on with the guitar.  Then she has demanded a complex tonality with her vocal delivery ranging from a growl to screaming and then a lot of whispering.  All of the voices are necessary to deliver these songs on stage and in the studio.

Jeff Barrera is a beast on the drums.  He’s a big guy, he keeps his drum kit really low and he beats the kit like he’s trying to kill it.  He works up a sweat and really it’s not overdone.  The songs and the entire tonal aesthetic sort of demand this performance.

Eric Larson kind of holds the ship together.  With Jeff and Lauren giving these virtuoso performances, I’m sure there is a pull to let it loose on the bass.  Eric has a disciplined approach to playing with all that’s going on.  He shines in his moments as well, but it’s a really tough job pulling it all together from his corner of the stage.  Everything he does makes all the other sound make sense.

The only thing that I couldn’t figure out was why the sound guy couldn’t stop the feedback in the monitors and the main mix coming off the stage.  It wasn’t happening the whole time which makes me think he was tinkering.  Live sound is a tough job and I would think that doing live sound for Ume has got to be challenging.  Everyone on stage has an enormous dynamic range.  It sounded good, but I wanted it to sound better.

All I could think about was how much work it takes to do what Ume does.  The writing, rehearsing, recording and promoting.  Driving up and down freeways to get to shows with questionable turnout for very little monetarily.  All this while holding down regular jobs of some sort to pay the rent.  I know this mill very well.  Sometimes it can suck, and you start to wonder if you are reaching anyone.  Maybe this doesn’t occur to the members of Ume at all.  But if it does, I want them all to know that their work is appreciated.  I bought the new EP last night.  I could have waited and bought it online and paid the shipping, but I know there is a little bit of satisfaction in finishing a show and selling someone a CD.  I also know that it’s tough to drive 150 miles to another town and barely cover your gas money.

We aren’t supposed to acknowledge these parts of a working band, but as my blog should make clear, I’m not a critic.  I’m a musician.  I think that the appreciation of music should ackowledge all of the hard work that goes into it.  Somehow there is this idea that a band just appears on stage and they have a good time and then they move on to their next good time.  I don’t know what level of industry backing finally makes this fantasy possible, but at the level of a $6 cover for three bands at Walters on Washington, $6 for a self-produced EP and no venture capital marketing budget, you are paying to entertain people.

And then to pull off the show that Ume pulled off.  Damn.  My hat is off to all of you.  Thanks for coming down and blowing the doors off of Walters.