Posted in music and the music business

the ballad of the little band that couldn’t

 

 

now playing: aunt pat, “the saddest cowgirl”

 

(all printed copies of the first aunt pat album are history…so i’ll be keepin’ mine pretty close to my chest.)

nik everett seems to be a member of the very, very small circle of people i can talk to and bitch, moan and complain about the music business in a completely unbridled fashion and yet not feel as though all fuckin’ hope is completely lost when i hang up the phone. i think that’s because i know he’s doing this for the right reasons.

that’s probably why i’m in his band, too…it sure doesn’t hurt.

we were talking today and something popped into my head that had never occurred to me before today…no, it wouldn’t be our discussion about how even the bad music in the seventies was better than the bad music now (my quote: “i’ll take kung fu fighting over i’m too sexy for my fuckin’ shirt anyday, man.  anyday.”).

but we did get drawn into talking about bad music…and about how the open mikes nowadays have been taken over by hacks who feel it’s their right and privilege to learn to play guitar before an audience, no matter how unimpressed they might be…and i wondered aloud about what it must be like to be an A&R rep for a major label in the midst of all this. we were talking about how out of touch they seem to be with what’s worthwhile and what’s not, and it occurred to me that if i were in A&R, i’d be just as lost as they are.

here’s why.

let’s say that you’re an A&R rep for a major label, and a scout or an attorney acquaintance of yours brings you a tape (because that’s how it works nowadays…you have to connect with someone on the outer perimeter of the business who’ll be willing to call in a favor for you in order to be heard), and this tape just completely blows you away. you listen to it over and over in your car on the way home from work, and you actually take it out of the stereo and bring it inside with you…it’s that good. you contact the band, find out they’ve been playing to very receptive audiences in their hometown and getting a little indie radio play, and that they’re very professional and a solid unit to the last member. they’re in this for the long haul. you ask for more music, and they send you a CD with 16 songs on it, and every single one of them is amazing.

you just can’t believe it…you don’t understand why some other rep hasn’t already scooped them up. you put together a package on the band and start lobbying your bosses on their behalf. you bring their CD to the weekly staff meeting and you play it for the whole room, with a big shit-eating grin on your face as you watch their jaws drop. you champion their cause to the label until they relent and sign the band. they turn over the masters from the songs that they sent you, and you decide to release them as-is, based on the fidelity of the masters – their record will be out within six weeks.

the machine has kicked into gear.

you’re already planning on how you’re going to spend your bonus money when they pick up the nest new artist grammy the week the record comes out. the disc hits stores on tuesday, and the following week, you stop at the newsstand on the way to work to pick up the newest billboard because you can’t wait until you get to work to see how you’ve done this week.

you get into your car and put your coffee into the cup holder as you’re frantically flipping the pages towards the hot 100 chart, and you feel your heart sink directly into your pancreas as Reality Sets In:

your band…and at this point, you’re calling them your band…the band that has been your passion for three months – debuts at number 89.

at number one on the hot 100 that week, for the fifth straight week, is macarena by Los Retardos, or whatever the fuck they were called…

and you watch in horror for the next month as their masterpiece of an album fails to crack the top seventy, while simultaneously watching willard scott and katie couric doing the fucking macarena on the today show, as this irritating non-song pours out of every car that works its way next to you at a traffic light, out of the stores at the mall, out of your kids’ room, even.

the band you championed ultimately sold about 65,000 units, thanks to some sparse promotion at AAA radio and a solid following that they brought with them to the album deal, but that’s it. before the year is up, brass at the label has already decided that they’ll be dropped at the end of the year…and you’re in line at best buy with a copy of the macarena CD in your hands because your kid wants it for christmas.

what do you do at that point?

i think, much to the detriment of music in general, that most of these poor bastards decide that they obviously were wrong about the band that they championed, even though that wouldn’t be the case…they were right. absolutely right. had this happened in 1970 instead of 1995, the band would’ve put out a second album, and then a third…and they’d have gotten an opportunity to build support in pre-clear channel radio, and they’d have stood a fighting chance to be heard.

but it doesn’t work that way now.

so, if you want to continue to be an A&R rep, you learn to look for what will sell quickly…what will capture the attention of the dyslexic record-buying public long enough to get them to part with their money, and you become part of the problem…because being part of the solution lies further up the chain of command than you can reach…

…and, after all, a man’s gotta eat.

Posted in music and the music business, yesterday. today. tomorrow.

watching from the bleachers

 

 

now playing: shawn colvin, “ricochet in time”

 

 

tomorrow is a sanctioned day off from work…last three day weekend of the year. well, last weekend of the year, for that matter.

i talked to blake for a while yesterday as he was driving home – he and i have this game we play where we leave messages on each others’ voicemail, assuming voices of people we both are most definitely not. his favorite seems to be my “bluesman”, which could in reality be pretty much any elderly black man with a history of drinking problems…every time i do it, i remember a train ride to chicago not too long ago when i was sitting a few seats away from an old man who grunted and groaned all night long – after a while, i started doing his noises every time he’d make one, and i had the people around me cracking up after a while. i’d like to say it got less annoying after it got dark and people started to drift off, but that wouldn’t be true.

every so often, i’ll share a thought with blake that gets a reaction along the lines of, “that’s your next song…”. and of course, that doesn’t happen – since i don’t really use that muscle anymore (which brings me to another conversation i had with pete errich of shame earlier in the week, but i can only cover one thought at a time in my old age…stand by).

yesterday, he’d asked me if i was playing for new years’ eve, and i said (with very little effort to hide my satisfaction in saying so) that no, i’d be sitting at home this new years’ eve – maybe watching regis sub for dick clark, but most likely not…maybe watching a movie, piddling around the house – i still have a couple of computers that i need to get off the table (to include my own, eventually), and i’ll probably work on clearing that up this weekend, plus cleaning up the studio and getting rid of the christmas debris that still permeates the house…he replied that he wasn’t really planning on doing anything, either, save for going to see his brother-in-law’s band at the north star tonight – he started down the “if you’re not doing anything” road, and i squelched him before he even got started – at which point he pointed out my obvious glee regarding having nothing to do this weekend…i said to him that i think that all of us are born with a certain number of counters on our personal abacus, and that we get a certain number of new years’ eves, a certain number of st. patrick’s days, a certain number of cinco de mayos, et cetera – and when they’re used up, none of this stuff holds any appeal anymore. personally, i’ve spent so many nights in bars that if i never went into another barroom in my life, i’d be perfectly content with such a fate. when i was younger, i saw it much differently than i do now…it felt good to be out and alive in the world, “observing the human condition” as it were, and swinging for the bleachers – i used to think that people who sat at home and did nothing were sad shells of their former selves, feigning contentment with their miserable, accepted lots in life and living empty excuses for an existence. i was convinced that they’d given up on life and were just making do with whatever came their way.

a little perspective certainly clears things up for a fella.

now, i think the 50-year-old guy sitting at the bar with the gold chains around his neck is the more pathetic of the two potential scenarios – the poor bastard pretending to be half his age while he ignores his receding hairline and expanding waistline, trying to be something he’s very obviously not (to everyone but himself, anyway)…

…and i’m pretty sure that i’ve used up an awful lot of the beads on my abacus, where the need to be “out” is concerned. it just holds no appeal whatsoever for me anymore. i actually remember thinking about this on christmas eve, when ragu and i did the coachlight show…looking around the room at some of the folks who’d come out for the show and wondering what it was that brought someone to a bar on christmas eve afternoon. given my druthers, i’d have probably still been at the mall watching the kids in line to see santa. much as i enjoy playing with ragu, i wasn’t gonna pass up the opportunity – but i could’ve certainly thought of some other things to do that day that didn’t have anything to do with being in a bar.

and oddly, i don’t feel like the pathetic picture i used to paint when i was lumping everyone who chose a more sedate path into the “boulevard of broken dreams” class…i feel like i fall a little further back up the chart – perhaps somewhere in the vicinity of the main character in jackson browne‘s “the pretender”:

i’m gonna rent myself a house in the shade of the freeway
i’m gonna get up every morning and go to work each day
and when the evening rolls around
i’ll go on home and lay my body down
and when the morning light comes streamin’ in
i’ll get up and do it again…amen

i want to know what became of the changes we waited for love to bring
were they only the fitful dreams of a greater awakening?
i’ve been aware of the time goin’ by
they say in the end, it’s the wink of an eye
but when that morning light comes streamin’ in
i’m gonna get up and do it again….

i remember him saying that one of the inspirations for that song was a studio guitarist he knew, fred tackett (who’s now a member of little feat). he said that while they were working on the record, fred would come in every day, plug in, and play the perfect part for whatever was on the burner for that day…”he was like an appliance”, he said…”you’d plug him in and out came the part.” he said that contemplating what fred’s life must’ve been like was what led him to consider the central character of the song…since he’d never really had that perspective on life.

when i was younger, i used to think that song was written from a sympathetic point of view – and certain parts of it still feel that way to me. but i think now that the song could just as easily be thought of as a celebration of survival in the face of what the world throws at you during the course of its massacre of our collective innocence…

…aaah, the laughter of the lovers as they run through the night
leaving nothing for the others but to choose off and fight
they tear at the world with all their might
while the ships bearing their dreams sail out of sight….

i’m gonna find myself a girl who can show me what laughter means
and we’ll fill in the missing colors in each other’s paint by number dreams
and then we’ll put our dark glasses on and we’ll make love until our strength is gone…

…i’m gonna be a happy idiot and struggle for the legal tender
while the ads take aim and lay their claim to the heart and soul of the spender
and believe in whatever may lie in those dreams that money can buy
y’know, true love could have been a contender….

my take on the song from my perspective now – as i stand on the precipice of waving goodbye to my thirties – is that each of us has a finite amount of impact upon whether or not we’re able to actually achieve whatever our personal dreams or goals might be, and that there’s a certain dignity in living well with the hand we’re dealt. “you live your life,”, he once said…“you don’t fit your life to some ideal…at least i don’t think so. i mean, if you can, then i’ve been burned…”

the bigger question for me has been one that wasn’t addressed at all in jackson’s song, but was asked in another song by a different artist…

what do you do when your dreams come true and they’re not quite like you planned?*

i’d probably phrase it somewhat differently…in my own situation, it’d be more akin to “what do you do when your dream reveals itself to be much less fulfilling and much more complex, frustrating, and burdensome that you ever thought it’d be in your wildest dreams?”

of course, that doesn’t really sing, though, does it?

when i was a kid, the dream was, essentially, to be dan fogelberg – to make an album every year or so, go on tour, live on a ranch in colorado and have a summer house in maine and do the “happily ever after” dance. as i grew up and actually started exploring the realities of the road and the changes in the music business, i altered my ideal considerably – instead of being dan, i wanted to be john gorka instead. john made records aimed at a specific, yet substantial audience that were well received by those sympathetic to the genre, he was able to tour regularly and play for people who came out specifically to see and hear him – not to watch the football game on the big screen or to partake of fifty cent drafts – and he was able to do so under the radar of the mainstream, and – one would assume – live a somewhat normal life in the process. i was a father now, after all, and the thought of occupying the guns ‘n roses echelon of the music business was both unappealing and completely unrealistic. even dan fogelberg himself no longer occupied this rung of the food chain, and was making some of the most awful music of his career at this particular point in time (and frankly, he’s never really recovered from it).

but as i played shows and made records and courted management and legal representation and so on and so forth, i found that life on this rung of the food chain was really no different than i would think it is further up…it’s just that the sharks down here wear different clothes. it’s no less competitive, no less frustrating, and no less soul-scarring.

so…when you arrive at a point in your life that finds you looking upon the only thing you’d ever really wanted to do with your life as something that’s no longer an option, what do you do then?

my personal answer has been to find a way somehow to distill the parts that i loved and separate them from the parts that i detested in a way that would allow me to continue to materially participate in my dream somehow without totally turning my back on it…so now i play as a sideman for other artists and in cover bands. and i don’t deal with managers or booking agents or venue owners or talent buyers or the bartender who books the bands or the pierced punk from campus activities…all of them are out of my personal loop now.

and, oddly enough, i’ve managed to reconnect with the things that i loved about doing this in the first place as a result.

the doubt that lingers as a result, though, is the question of whether or not that makes me a failure in the eyes of the world….”didn’t have what it took”. “couldn’t stick it out”.

“not good enough” doesn’t really enter the fray, because there’s no doubt (cocky as it may sound) that i was good enough to have gone whatever distance it might’ve taken for me to feel as though i was a success.

and, in this day and age, what is it exactly that defines “success” anyway? selling an assload of records or concert tickets? being on mtv? sleeping with paris hilton?

i’ve reached a point in my life where none of those things are worth the accompanying strife that they introduce into your life (not to mention the potential communicable diseases).

i play music because, simply put, i can’t conceive of a life that doesn’t involve playing music. i don’t know how not to. it’s part of what i do, of who i am. it’s as natural a part of my being as breathing in and out, and no more separable from my life.

so that’s why i do it. not because i crave the trappings that accompany what we consider to be success, but in spite of them.

pete called to ask me if i’d considered exploiting my publishing for the songs on our mutual angels and whatever other songs i had that were completed…he’d just gotten back from a co-writing session in new york with a lyricist and he was somewhat excited about what they’d managed to come up with, and he wanted to send me the songs to add parts to…and the subject came up of publishing.

pete loves me, and the feeling is mutual.  pete has managed, through some means i’m not privvy to, to actually hold on to the enthusiasm that you see in the eyes of the kid who just walked into the music store with his guitar in his hand, on his way upstairs for his lesson. he’s still very much hungry, but he also still has that twinkle in his eye that he had when i first met him, playing in a band with his friends from high school and working at a record store. i dig that about him.

but, the thing with pete is that he’s often trying to gently elbow me back into something that i’m perfectly content to watch from the sidelines…he seems to take it personally that OMA wasn’t nominated for a grammy, and he’s still out there championing the record whenever the opportunity presents itself….and i thank him for that, really – but i personally don’t have any more gas in that tank. i’m planning on making it available again through the website for anyone who wants a copy of it that doesn’t have one, but that’s really about it. if i were to decide to make another record – a concept that i’ve flirted with of late – it’ll be done in the same spirit. i’ll make the record, post most (if not all) of it on the website for people to download, and sell actual copies to anyone who wants the better-sounding end result, and that’ll be it. i won’t be driving to new york city on a tuesday night to play four songs at the living room for no money and getting back home just in time to shower and go to work anymore, ever. it didn’t work for that record, and i doubt it’ll work for any future records.

this isn’t to say that i’ll be dragged kicking and screaming against my will into any opportunity that might present itself, but i’m perfectly content to watch the battles in the trenches from my seat in the stands, when it comes to duking it out with everyone else whos’ fighting and clawing to get to the front lines.

there’s a lot more serenity up here than there is down there.

*from after the thrill has gone, words & music by don henley and glenn frey

Posted in yesterday. today. tomorrow.

phantom voicemail

 

 

now playing: mary chapin carpenter, “only a dream”

 

 

i turned on my cell phone last night as i was walking out of the building to my car and saw that i’d accumulated 4 voice messages since i’d last turned it on.

two of them were from my sister, who’d called on christmas day.  jayda had told me that they called them on christmas, but hadn’t said much else about it…i assumed that she probably hadn’t gotten our new phone number yet, so they weren’t able to call us, but i never really gave much thought to calling her back…those conversations are almost always awkward, and not much is ever said, so i tend to avoid them most of the time. i have gotten caught on occasion in the past, and i do my best to be a good little soldier and get through them as best as i can.

to the passing acquaintance, or to those who only know me through what i write here, it probably appears that i come from a family of phantoms – i seldom discuss my family, or where i’m from, or anything historic of that nature. those who know me a little better may think the same thing, actually – in fact, i’ve had friends who’ve known me for ages tell me as much. michael o’hagan, who served as best man in my first wedding, once told me that as well as he felt he knew me, he didn’t know anything about me…my family, where i grew up, things of that nature. and at that point in time, he’d have been right. and at this point in time, i’m sure there are quite a few people who could attest to the same statement. and these are people who probably know me as well as anyone is really capable of knowing me, too.

it’s just not something that i talk about very often.

i never really considered my childhood to be traumatic, or unhappy – i never felt neglected in as many words, or anything of that nature…i just always felt like i was “misplaced”, if that makes any sense. i felt like i had been swapped at birth with another boy who was happily living the life i was supposed to be living a thousand miles away from where i was…or maybe he felt just as misplaced as i did, i don’t know.

all i know is that i had absolutely nothing in common with the people around me who were preordained to have been my family, and it was apparent in just about every passing hour of every day. i couldn’t have been more out of place among my family if i’d been a tribal west african child with a loincloth and a bone in my nose.

i don’t hold them responsible for any long-term emotional wreckage, nor do i think ill of them – they are who they are, and that doesn’t make them bad people by any stretch of the imagination. it’s just the way it was.

that doesn’t mean that i didn’t get my ass kicked by my cousins, or made fun of for stupid shit…but my family didn’t corner the market on that kind of thing. and, honestly, 95% of the time, there really isn’t too much about my childhood that i would change. i could’ve done without the outdoor toilets and houses with no running water and waking up to the bitter cold that permeated every corner of the house in the mornings until the fire that my mother built in the stove managed to take the edge off the chill – i’d have been glad to leave that to someone else, but as a whole i don’t look back in anger or with regret about much. i’d probably sing a different song if i hadn’t had the means and the motivation to remove myself from all that to the extent that i have, though. now, it all feels like water under the bridge, and it’s part of who i am, and what’s made me the person i am today.

whether that’s a good or bad thing is debatable on a number of levels, i’m sure…

i don’t doubt, for instance, that the fact that i grew up with the absolute bare minimum necessary to survive is pretty much directly responsible for the materialistic streak that i’ve developed as an adult…and when i say materialistic, i don’t necessarily mean in the fashion most people immediately think of when you say that word – i don’t go out and buy a new car when one of my neighbors comes home with one, and i’m not constantly playing the “keeping up with the joneses” game…but if i want something, i get it – whether i need it or not, as often as not. same with my kids…if they ask for something, they usually get it – because i remember what it was like to want things that i couldn’t have.

as personality flaws go, it’s probably my biggest one – by a lap or so, even.

(of course, if you’ve visited the guitar page of the photos section of my site, none of this comes to you as earth-shattering news.)

i think everyone’s flaws and strengths can be traced back to their childhood, in various ways – and most psychiatrists would probably tend to agree with me, based on what i’ve been told…and certainly, all the old cliches apply as well: whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, blah blah blah…

but i think that i use the “i coulda done a lot worse” cliche to avoid asking myself what could have been done differently. certainly, there’s nothing i can do to change it now…nothing’s going to make those christmas phone calls any less of a glaring example of how different i’ve become, and how much more detached i am with every passing year.

and yet every time i hear this song, it makes me sad to the very center of my heart in a way that no other song does….

…i can recall the sound of the wind
as it blew throught the trees and the trees would bend
i can recall the smell of the rain
on a hot summer night coming through the screen

i’d crawl in your bed when the lightning flashed
and i’d still be there when the storm had passed
dead to the world ’til the morning cast
its light all around your room

we lived on a street where the tall elm shade
was as green as the grass and as cool as a blade
that you held in your teeth as we lay on our backs
staring up at the blue and the blue stared back

i used to believe we were just like those trees
we’d grow just as tall and as proud as we pleased
with our feet on the ground and our arms in the breeze
under a sheltering sky

twirl me about, and twirl me around
let me grow dizzy and fall to the ground
and when I look up at you looking down,
say it was only a dream

a big truck was parked in the drive one day
they wrapped us in paper and moved us away
your room was no longer next door to mine
and this kid sister thing was old by that time

but oh how our dreams went bump in the night
and the voices downstairs getting into a fight
the next day a silence you could cut with a knife
and feel like a blade at your throat

twirl me about and twirl me around
let me grow dizzy and fall to the ground
when I look up at you looking down
say it as only a dream

the day you left home you got an early start
i watched your car back out in the dark
i opened the door to your room down the hall
i turned on the light and all that I saw
was a bed and a desk and couple of tacks
no sign of someone who expects to be back
it must have been one hell of a suitcase you packed

twirl me about, twirl me around
let me grow dizzy and fall to the ground
when I look up at you looking down
say it was only a dream…

Posted in yesterday. today. tomorrow.

sick of christmas…or sick FOR christmas?

 

 

now playing: jim photoglo, “will of the wind”

 

…or, both perhaps.

i took a last minute gig with lil’ ragu on the afternoon of christmas eve, and it really became apparent then…my throat wasn’t what it was supposed to be, to the extent that i could only sing three or four songs. i felt ok for the most part, but my chest hurt and my throat was in a sorry state. otherwise, i was fine. but by sunday night, i was hurtin’ all over. yesterday, i slept most of the day – all but about six to seven hours. didn’t shower until about 10:30 last night. when i finally went up to bed, i coughed and stared at the clock for a while, and listened to the whistling sound coming from my chest every time i exhaled until i finally decided to go downstairs and return to the sofa, lest wendy wake up and not be able to go back to sleep due to the noises coming from the other side of the bed.

the few minutes before i dozed off on the sofa were consumed with thoughts of taking today off as well…but i knew that to be a non-option, even as i was entertaining the thought – i’m out of vacation time as of yesterday, and i simply can’t afford not to work at the moment. my guardian angel sent some computer work in my direction to get me through, but there’s something screwy with my bank account at the moment – a deposit i made last week doesn’t appear to have gone through, and i need to find out why, because some transactions that depended on that deposit have hit the account and it’s glowing bright red right now. it’s only temporary, but i hate when that happens.

other than that, christmas was – well, christmas.

the concept seemed rather foreign and surreal until i got up on christmas eve and made my way to the mall to do my remaining christmas shopping…that day, it started to feel like christmas for the first time to me. i grabbed a couple of auntie anne’s pretzels and a soda and sat down close to center court and watched the kids line up to get in their last minute face time with santa claus – one little girl was particularly precious..she had brought her favorite doll to visit santa, too. (i tried to get a picture of her, but it was a little too thick in the space between she and i for me to get a good one).

the one thing i was able to do on christmas eve was to actually buy my daughter a present, as opposed to just giving her money – and i have to give props to her mom for her help on that front. i mentioned to her that i had no idea what to buy her, and i didn’t – i hate it….no, hate it – when people buy me clothes. no one has ever managed to come out of that particular task without a scratch. you’d think that someone who puts as little emphasis as i do on what they wear wouldn’t be so particular, but the truth is, i have a very narrow window with regard to what i deem “acceptable”. there are certain colors that i’ll wear, and there are a lot more colors that i won’t. certain fabrics i’m ok with, others i refuse to deal with. and, time has taught me, no matter what the tag says, i really kinda need to try it on before it leaves the store with me.

so, over time, most folks associated with me have learned not to buy me clothes.

and that makes me happy.

however, this was pretty much all my daughter wanted for christmas….and heaven knows i’m the last person she wants buying her clothes – because that’s just asking for trouble. so i don’t – i give her money and take her shopping and we buy her clothes together. or, as it’ll probably be this year, i’ll just give her money and she’ll go with whomever she decides to go with, and that’ll be that.

but her mom gave me an anonymous tip regarding a gold necklace that she really wanted, and i bought that for her – and that got the all-so-important “whooooaaa” look from her when she opened it.

“i was gonna buy this!”

that’s what i was going for.

so thanks, jill. i owe you one.

i probably would’ve stayed at the mall a lot longer than i did, were it not for the aforementioned gig with ragu – that went well enough, thanks to the fact that ragu was content to carry the material for the show…since i was largely unable to sing. a couple of fellows showed up to jam, one with a trumpet and one with a very small set of bongos….older fellows, both capable players certainly…but it did make for a pretty surreal little band – acoustic guitar, stratocaster, bongos, and trumpet…not your everyday outfit, to be certain.

but when i got home, i got out the traditional bottle of champagne and sat down in front of the tv to wrap presents…only i didn’t wrap a single one. i ended up watching “a christmas carol” without getting out a single present, and then fell asleep on the sofa afterward with the “christmas story” marathon on and didn’t wrap anything until the next day.

i think that might’ve been my first hint that i wasn’t feeling my best…that’s not like me at all.

so the kids came by at around 4pm on christmas day and opened their presents…and dylan made his customary run to the basement. he’d gotten two new video games that he’d been jonesing for, and he couldn’t wait to try them out. so much so, in fact, that he stayed home to play while wendy, jayda and i took advantage of an invite to ragu’s house for christmas. i was a little apprehensive about going because i knew there’d be a lot of people there that i didn’t know…but in the spirit of the day, it didn’t really matter. it felt like family. i managed to get a toddler on my lap within half an hour of getting there, so i was in my element. ashton, his name was. this kid could eat. i mean, seriously eat. he must’ve put down over half a dozen slices of ring bologna, a couple of pickles, and a handful of triscuits just while i was holding him…and he was still reaching for stuff on the table when i gave him back to mom and dad as they were getting ready to leave. jayda actually sat on my lap on the sofa while we were talking to mrs. ragu in the living room – i don’t know where that came from, but it doesn’t happen often, and i loved that she was so willing to be affectionate that way.

i’ll take it when and where i can get it. the older our children get, the more infrequent that becomes.

we had to leave just as keith and his wife were getting there, because i was starting to feel guilty about having left dylan at home for so long by himself, but as it turned out my worry was unfounded – he hadn’t moved from the spot where i left him some three hours before when we came home.

jayda dashed upstairs to catch up on her phone calls, dylan sequestered himself in the studio with his playstation, and i opened another bottle of champagne and settled in to watch “it’s a wonderful life”…followed by the tail end of the Titans game, followed by ajames taylor concert on public television….followed by falling asleep on the sofa, yet again.

oddly, the only sense i really got of the season was a few hours at the mall the morning of christmas eve. the whole weekend, it felt essentially as though i was going through the motions. christmas takes on such a different complexion when your children surpass a certain age. once, it was all about christmas morning – about having them come running in to wake you up to let you know that santa had been there, and watching with a sense of fulfillment as they rip into their christmas presents with smiles on their faces…that’s really when christmas is in its element – those fleeting moments at the beginning of the day when you have a few instances of sheer, unbridled delight that you can share in with your children. the rest of it pales in weak comparison to that…the whole frustration-wracked process of deciding upon and then buying gifts, the god-forsaken promenades of dysfunction that are “the family dinner”….and the worst part of it?

i decided, late on christmas eve, while wendy and i were at queen city diner, that i think i understand why so many people decide upon suicide during the holidays.

it doesn’t have anything to do with despair as a result of loneliness, or depression…

it’s the fucking music.

seriously.

let’s take but a single example…not to disappoint those of you who hate “rockin’ around the christmas tree” or “grandma got run over by a reindeer” as much as i do, but i want to use a more traditional example.

how many of you are searching the medicine cabinet for razor blades by the last verse of “twelve days of christmas”?

what a repetitive, vomit-inducing piece of garbage.

it has all the musical appeal of “ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall”…and by the time day twelve rolls around, you’re ready to strangle someone…and, dare i say, rightfully so.

and, obviously, we’re just discussing the staples here…the traditional tunes. heaven help me if i’m ever actually exposed to anything so obviously ill-conceived as the lynyrd skynyrd christmas album. now, c’mon – what useful function could that possibly have? why? WHY?

same to you, dan fogelberg…hasn’t your reputation suffered enough these past few years? and, along the same what the fuck lines…as i was checking out at borders on friday, i heard none other than the King of the pretentious middle aged white guys in hawaiian shirts and sandals, Jimmy Fucking Buffett, doing jingle bells over the store speakers.

the one thing i’m proud of, with regard to my short stint as a songwriter, is that i never succumbed to the pull of the twisted urge to record one of these rotten-assed christmas chestnuts. because, frankly…i never had said twisted urge. in all honesty, i think i’d look forward to committing my own version of “santa claus is coming to town” to tape almost as much as i’d cringe with anticipation at the prospect of recording have neguila or ave maria or copacabana

the lone solace in the bittersweet moment at which christmas passes over into history is knowing that i won’t have to hear any more of that bullshit for at least, oh, nine months or so. that estimate seems to grow shorter with every passing year, though. soon, you’ll be able to hear little brenda lee crooning about having seen mommy kissing santa claus on your way home from the shore on labor day weekend.

and, of course, if the weather patterns continue to move in the direction they have been, you won’t be able to tell the difference between christmas and labor day weekend…we had a brief cold snap early last week here, but by the time christmas rolled around we were back up in the high forties. when i left for lunch earlier today, i did so with nothing on but a long sleeved shirt, and suffered not at all for it. i’m told that it’ll be in the sixties this coming weekend, although it might rain.

were ol’ bing around today, he’d be dreaming of a partly cloudy christmas….at best.

anyway, one last thing i have to make a note of before i call it a day…

when i woke up this morning there on my trusty sofa, i was in the middle of the strangest dream…i dreamt that a country act that i’d arranged an audition for earlier this year was the subject of a reality TV show…i think it was called “chasing the nashville dream” or something similarly absurd. i don’t remember if i was in the band or not, but in the dream, i wasn’t seeing all this from the perspective of a viewer of a tv program, so i was actually there for some reason.

these people were filming every minute of everything, and the final product was edited to make this guy look like an asshole….serious, go-out-of-their-way, extra effort turd polishing – and in the dream, it was workin’ like a charm. they got footage of temper tantrums during soundcheck, they got the poor bastard putting on makeup, picking out clothing, doing something to his toenails – you name it. and when the show was done, he got to put out an album, and it tanked. i mean, it could only have done worse if they hadn’t bothered to print any copies at all. and after the record, he ended up on one of those VH1 shows where they put all these people into a house….

…well, at least he didn’t get caught in a three-way with flavor flav and bridgette neilsen. not in the dream, anyway.

when i woke up, i felt bad for the guy – as if all this crap had actually happened. but then i remembered that he had a picture of himself with bachelor bob on his website…and it reoccurred to me that these idiots who end up on reality tv end up there because they want to, and for no other reason…

….oh, and then i remembered that it was only a dream and none of this meant anything, nor had any bearing on what kind of a person this particular individual was in the first place.

by the time i was rooting through the sock drawer for two socks that vaguely resembled each other, i’d forgotten all about it.

Posted in yesterday. today. tomorrow.

surreal yule

 

 

now playing: tim finn, “persuasion”

 

i can’t remember – certainly not in recent memory, anyway – a christmas that felt less like christmas than this one.

there are decorations in the yards in my neighborhood, and yet not only have i not put up a tree, i haven’t even given it a thought.

there are commercials on tv, songs all over the radio…those awful sweaters are starting to show up at work…

you know the ones. the ones with the little santa clauses and snowflakes and such embroidered onto them, or fastened to the front of them…my personal favorites are the ones with the bells. those awful fucking bells.

and it’s always women of at least 50 or so who wear these things…and i can’t help but wonder – do they go through life despising those things on other people like i do, only to arrive at some magical point in their evolution where they realize how horribly wrong they were and come to the conclusion that those jingly fuckin’ sweaters are just the coolest thing anyone could have ever come up with?

now, don’t get me wrong…if i ever reach such an age, i fully intend to dress like an old person. and i’ll make peace with it somehow. because there’s nothing less cool than an old person who slips on the leather pants or the hiphugger jeans and tries to be something they’re not. that’s both incredibly tacky and poignantly sad, at the same time.

but if you ever see me manning the salvation army kettle at the supermarket wearing a red and green jingly sweater, i’d appreciate it greatly if you’d take the time to gently put down your groceries and strangle me.

anyway, clothing choices aside – i’m still not sure why it is, but christmas seems like something other people are doing this year.

i think that part of it lies in the fact that my children are older, and have different expectations of the holiday than they did when they were younger. they’re at the “money age”…they just want money so they can buy their own stuff.

and that’s fine – hell, i can relate…i usually buy my own gifts, because no one knows what i want better than i would. and i’ve been perfectly happy with that arrangement for some years now. but i’ve always managed to come up with things for them that they either didn’t know they wanted or needed, or didn’t know i was getting them…but that seems farther out of reach for me with each year that passes, and with its’ accompanying accumulation of familial age. i get older, they get older, and it feels like the chasm between us gets a little larger and more awkward when this time of year rolls around…and it becomes apparent just how much less enthralled we all are by the whole christmas process.

maybe next year.

Posted in music and the music business, rants - political and otherwise

another one bites the rock and roll fantasy

 

 

now playing: marc cohn, “dig down deep”

 

so have you guys heard that ex free and bad company frontman paul rodgers is going to be fronting queen for a reunion tour in freddie mercury’s place?

just who the fuck is gonna pay to see this, i wonder? certainly all those classic rock fans who couldn’t wait to stay home from the ian astbury-as-jim morrison doors reunion debacle are probably already getting in line to find something else to do when this show comes to town….

seriously, once more….what the fuck?

i don’t have any qualms about a patchwork version of queen hitting the road…and i’m a huge paul rodgers fan.

BUT-

didn’t anyone bother to tell these folks that they’re totally and hopelessly stylistically incompatible?

don’t believe me?

try to picture, in your head, the man who sang can’t get enough and shooting star belting out the operatic strains of bohemian rhapsody….

is that workin’ for ya?

somehow, i didn’t think so.

but, ya know, what the hell? why not? in fact, why don’t we team some other living legends with surviving members of pop royalty and throw ’em on the road? i have some thoughts….

pretenders lead vocalist chrissie hynde and richard carpenter in the new carpenters….

“just like me, they long to be….BACK ON THE CHAIN GANG!”
now who can argue with that, huh? genius!

pearl jam frontman eddie vedder fronting the revitalized grateful dead

“jeremy spoke in….claaaaas toodaaaay…and he said a friend of the devil is a friend o’mine….”
eddie and his flannel and camoflauge would fit right in with the aging hippie demographic, right? well, maybe.

heavy metal’s fleet-fingered steve vai filling the late lowell george’s shoes in little feat

“‘if you’ll be my dixie chicken…i’ll be your tennessee lamb…and we can play eight thousand notes a second down in dixie land…”
hopefully, he wouldn’t bother slipping the 3/4″ spark plug wrench over the ol’ pinkie and going down that road…

ok, it’s starting to get a little ridiculous…but you get my point, right? paul rodgers? hell, why not get liam gallagher from oasis? why not get fuckin’ kid rock? how about maybe toby keith? josh groban? clay aiken? fred durst? willie nelson? bob seger? bobby mcferrin? art garfunkel?

stop the insanity, man.

you know what i’d pay to hear? queen fronted by brad roberts of the crash test dummies.

now that would be something to see.

Posted in music and the music business, rants - political and otherwise

so you wanna be a rock ‘n roll star…

 

 

now playing: grateful dead, “terrapin station”

 

(my all time favorite GD song, by the way…)

i’ve been put in the position, of late, to give some thought to how it was that i came to learn the things i’ve learned about playing guitar…or any of the instruments i play, for that matter. i have a son whos’ learning to play, a daughter who wants to take piano lessons, and a wife who is looking to me for guidance to learn to play bass.

i’ve been asked before – and have attempted, once or twice – to give lessons. “you play so well”, people would say. “if you can play that well, surely you can teach other people to do that, too, right?”

well, frankly – i haven’t gone about this in the normal manner. and, given my druthers, i’d have done some of this considerably different than i have. if i could stop/rewind, i’d find a traditional teacher and learn the way everyone else has. i might not have some of the stylistic quirks that i have now, but strangely, i don’t see that as a bad thing.

i have a lot of handicaps. by handicaps, i mean that there are a lot of things that schooled players can do that i’m unaware of how to execute properly. i don’t have the musical vocabulary of a traditionally schooled player, i don’t think. and i’ve certainly developed a lot more bad habits than any schooled player would’ve been allowed to…and at this late stage in the game, i’m kinda stuck with them. at this point, i’m not sure i could unlearn any of them.

so how the hell did i ever manage to learn anything, without any proper guidance, you might ask?

if i had to give it a name, i guess i’d call it subtractive intuition.

my first instrument was the drums, and there sure as hell wasn’t anyone around to teach me jack shit about that. i built a makeshift drumset out of buckets and lids and whatever i could find lying around, and i sat out in back of my grandfathers’ house and beat on them incessantly. i’d listen to the radio and i’d try to figure out what it was that they were doing, and if there was music anywhere, i’d beg to go and i’d watch every move the drummer made, and then i’d go home and emulate what i saw. i’d stay up late to watch the midnight special or saturday night live or even the country music shows that aired on saturday afternoons, just to try to figure out what it was that they were doing, and then i’d try to apply it.

in the fall, there was a harvest festival at the elementary school in my town, and there’d usually be a band for that…i’d sit as far around the side of the band as i could and watch the drummer’s every move. i probably creeped a few of them out, but they didn’t let on if i did.

in my teens, my mother got me a clock radio for christmas, and it went everywhere i did…i’d take it to my grandfathers’ house and i’d play along with the radio for literally hours at a time.

my point is that i was hungry for every morsel of knowledge i could attain about music – drums in particular. i absorbed everything i could about them, and i became a kickass drummer very quickly.

later, when i decided to try my hand at the guitar, i did the same thing…i’d watch the guitar players in the bands i was in, i’d ask questions, and i’d go home and try to apply what i’d seen, or what i’d been shown. i’d read articles in magazines, watch tv, anything i could – just to try and pick up something new.

heaven knows what i’d have been like if i’d had the internet when i was a kid.

i marvel now, as i watch my son flirt with the notion of playing an instrument, at his general indifference towards the instrument. now i fully realize as i say that how much it must sound like i expect him to take the same path i did, and truthfully, i don’t. if he doesn’t want to play, i fully respect that, and he’s free to flirt with the notion as much as he wants…if he ever actually gets hungry, then i’m there for him. same thing with jayda, or wendy for that matter.

to anyone who would be considering this path…learning to play an instrument…i’d ask that simple question first.

are you hungry?

seriously. do you find yourself compulsively tapping out drum fills and rolls on the desk? do your fingers rise and fall on the table as if they were playing hammer-ons and pulloffs, a la jimmy page? does the music play in your head constantly? do you draw pictures of your instrument in the back of your notebook? are you constantly listening to music, trying to get inside the head of the person who inspires your hunger?

none of these things are prerequisites to playing an instrument…playing it well, even.

but if you want to learn, there’s no substitute for being hungry.

and one other point i’ll make about learning an instrument…a point that applies to learning anything, really. write this down.

no one ever learned a fucking thing while their own lips were moving.

that’s all. class dismissed.