Archive for March, 2009

Lost Cause II

Posted by on Thursday, 26 March, 2009

I panicked. I sent out a number of strange emails to various people which I rather regret now. For someone who usually says so little, I am often surprised at just how much trouble I can cause by simply not knowing when to shut up. I wondered briefly if I am actually manic-depressive, but just happen to go years between manic states. Yet lacking formal psychological definition, I have to imagine that the very nature of bipolar disorder is rapid and frequent mood shifts.

I also quit my job. This was not a spur-of-the-moment decision, because I had been uncomfortable there for some time. The definitive factor though was the thought of losing something else. A few months ago, I inherited some assets. Most of it is in stocks and mutual funds and shares of jointly owned properties, which I do not really understand and have probably only lost value since coming into my possession. (With me cheering for “The Collapse” all the while.) There was also a not insignificant amount of cash. My sister put a down payment on a house. I bought a bass for $300, used. It was the cheapest of the ones that I was considering, and I never even got around to buying a much-needed larger amplifier to plug it into before the band broke up. I did not buy glasses to replace the ones that I lost a few months ago, that were ten years old anyway and could probably use a prescription update. I did not buy shoes to replace the ones that I threw away on Memorial Day almost two years ago. I did not buy a computer despite enduring months, if not years, of “You need a new computer” every time I saw a certain friend. In fact, aside from monthly bills, I rarely spend money on anything other than food and gas.

Truth be told, I completely ignored this development. And it probably goes without saying, I told no one. Maybe it was because when I first found out, I did not want to believe it until I actually saw it, and then when it took over a year for all the paperwork to be finalized I just did not care anymore. Maybe it is because it is really all just numbers on pieces of paper that have no tangible meaning to me. Maybe I was afraid that people would have different expectations of me and I like it when people make me dinner. Also, it seems that I just get off on keeping secrets.

I did not ask for this, I did not expect it, and it is not like I get to keep it. Please. I do not know if it will be the collapsing economy, mismanagement, fraud, identity theft, or whatever. (Am I concerned that by announcing it online that I set myself up as a target for a potentially nefarious international reader? A little, but I hope that the fact that my last name appears nowhere on this blog will slow them down.) But as I am sure to lose it, why get excited?

I had to make rules though. When discussing financial matters and concerns it is perfectly reasonable to refer to my low income, because I did have very low income, and I have gotten by my whole life on the simple formula money in > money out. Regardless of my bank balance, I do not like to operate “in the red.” However, I was never, ever allowed to say “I can’t afford it.” Bull crap I can’t. Unfortunately, one day I found myself saying those very words, and I immediately thought to myself, “Oh no you di’n’t!” I lied. Worse, having done so, I did not apologize, and I did not explain. I suppose in that moment I realized it was the beginning of the end. I would like to say that it was not personal, that really I was only lying to myself, in trying to pretend that nothing had changed. I do not know if that matters now.

Someone might ask, “Well why not just give it all away and then no one ever had to know?” But no, I can’t do that. Certainly not that. So what exactly am I afraid of losing? Money? It would not exactly seem so. [I don’t care too much for money, ’cause money can’t…] Yet when I think about how many of my family members worked hard, and then died in order for me to have the opportunity to be able to do whatever I want with my life… if I am not out there doing whatever I can then I am just pissing on their legacy.

So I quit my job to focus on music and my other projects, because I can. As someone who honestly can not remember the last time that I made a major life decision that I did not regret later, do I really think that *this* of all things is a good idea? Of course not. I know it is not so much money that I never have to worry about financial matters again, just not for right now. But this is the real world. Someone my age is supposed to have a career, a real job with benefits and a retirement plan and all that. You can’t just up and quit your job to chase your dreams like there is no tomorrow. Not in the real world. It just does not work like that.

Oh well… doing it anyway.

Lost Cause

Posted by on Friday, 20 March, 2009

It occurred to me recently that I seem to only be motivated by loss. I never really appreciate the things I have, or the things that are given to me. On the day of my “graduation” from college (nine months after I actually completed my degree), my family informed me that they had not gotten me anything for a graduation present because, “We know that you don’t like things.” My reaction to this was probably the polar opposite to what most of my readers are probably thinking. Something along the lines of, “Aww, they DO understand me…” Unfortunately, there was a “yet” in there somewhere and some options presented, but I figure they’ll forget eventually. “Gifts” is definitely not my love language.

I do not appreciate things; I do not even really appreciate people. I also tend not to take advantage of resources and opportunities available to me. I really do not care very much at all until it is too late… and then, boy, do I ever lament what I used to have.

I mentioned, last month, a sermon which caught my attention. It was on tithing. Now I have heard more than a few messages on “tithing” and “giving” and whether or not the mandatory 10% tithe as described in the Old Testament still applies under the New Covenant and so forth. These always come off as awkward, because on some level, when a pastor says to give to God, he is really saying give to the church, i.e. himself. It is not always so blatant as “God wants me to have a new private jet!” Yet I think that even the most honest and well intentioned of preachers have trouble objectively distancing themselves on this topic. This particular preacher was different, however, because the group did not come from a single church, but was comprised of people from all over the country. When he spoke of tithing, he was talking about going back and giving to their home churches, which would not directly benefit him. So he did have that going for him, but he was also an older gentleman, what I would best describe as “a preacher for a different generation,” who took the hardline conservative stance on every topic across the board and I had already spent most of the weekend disagreeing with him.

That is a lot of perhaps unnecessary build up merely to say that the sermon emphasized the blessings that *will* be received by those who tithe. Another member of the group also happened to be the pastor of a church, and shared that in the average church something like only 30% (I forget the number, maybe it was even less) of members actually tithe. Yet he claimed that a significant majority do in his church, and further claimed that as a direct result of this, not one single member of his congregation had been laid off in the declining economy. The message was clear: tithing leads to abundance.

I, however, walked away with the implied corollary: a firm conviction that I was going to lose everything. I was also quite certain that I did not want to lose everything, and that something needed to be done. This was a dramatic realization, coming as it did after more than a year of inactivity.

Yet, it had already begun. I had already lost my band; I had not literally lost my job, but I had made up my mind that I was definitely leaving; before the weekend was out I had “lost” two friends as previously described. I had lost something else that is harder to define – hope, faith, something like that.

To be continued…

Of Rather Little Consequence

Posted by on Monday, 16 March, 2009

Yesterday out of curiosity, I flipped my iTunes library to list in order of “play count” just to see what is at the top. I have to admit, it was a bit of an eyebrow-raiser.

The top five are: “My Country b3” by The Purple Robe with a play count of 46. Ah, the joke that started it all. Then comes “Vertigo” by U2 with 29. Now, you have to understand that for a fair amount of time after purchasing this computer, these were actually the only two songs in the library, so it is no surprise that they would be at the top. Even so, tied with 28 each are an instrumental version of “When She Walks in the Room” by The Purple Robe and “youreagirl” by Strong Bad. How quaint. In fifth place with 25 is… yet another Purple Robe song. What a freakin’ narcisist.

Alright so, the highest ten songs in the list that I didn’t do myself (which accounted for 9 of the top 20) were:

Vertigo (Single Version) – U2
youreagirl – Strong Bad
cinematic – Cool Hand Luke
Story of Our Lives – The Echoing Green
Gone – tobymac
Everybody To The Limit – Strong Bad
Everything Is Bad For You – Map
Such Great Heights – The Postal Service
Last Nite – The Strokes
Vindicated (acoustic) – Dashboard Confessional

About this point I realized that the whole exercise was rather meaningless, because a very large percent of the staggering 391 songs in my library (yes, that is the correct number of digits) is just stuff I downloaded for free (legally) from various places, and is not a particularlly accurate reflection of my actual music tastes. For example, there are 82 songs in my “Purchased from iTunes” list, two of which I literally purchased, the other 80 being free downloads. Of those, 11 actually have a play count of 0, and 14 more have a play count of only 1. Nice.

The fact is, iTunes is simply not my prefered way to listen to music. I do not really need to download music, because I discovered a long time ago that I can almost always find what I want online, whether it be on a bands official website or myspace page, or a YouTube video (even if YouTube happens to be blocked… there are other sites). Now there is Pandora, which of course only allows you to select certain qualities, not to pick specfic songs, but I just recently discovered imeem, which does. Really the only reason to fire up iTunes at all anymore is just to listen to… my own songs. That explains that, I reckon.

I suppose if there was a point to all this (aside from the obvious amusment of “Seriously? ‘Last Nite’ by The Strokes…?”), it would be that, having recently [ahem] quit my job (in part) in order to focus on music, I have to wonder if anyone actually even buys music anymore. Oh, I don’t know… Maybe people who don’t surf the internet all day, and actually need something to put on the iPod for when they LEAVE THE HOUSE?

That, and also to point out that “youreagirl” is a fine song. If you actually know the song I’m talking about, you are going to go looking for it right now aren’t you? You know who you are. (The rest of you, it’s a bit of an inside joke. You are probably better off.)

On U2

Posted by on Friday, 13 March, 2009

I want to play the guitar very badly and I do play the guitar very badly.

When I was a young man, I fell in love with a rock and roll band. It was the sort of everything-they-do-is-perfect infatuation that is usually reserved for the opposite sex… though I highly doubt I’m the only one to ever make that mistake. Kids, don’t fall in love with a rock and roll band; they are only going to break your heart.

I used to think that U2 was Bono and the Edge and those other two guys. I remember one day in high school, I was listening to the radio as I drove when the (possibly stoned) DJ announced, “Here’s the theme from Gilligan’s Island.” What followed instead was a new version of the theme from Mission: Impossible, and I thought to myself, “This sounds like U2.” If you can imagine in the days before the internet was common, when information traveled a lot more slowly, I had no idea that – not U2 – but rather Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. were redoing the theme for the forthcoming movie. And here were these two guys whom I had always overlooked, whose contribution to the band was so fundamental that without any prior knowledge, I could immediately recognize their touch even on a cover of a well know piece of music.

What can I say, I was a man obsessed back then. When did the love die? Was it when Zooropa was pretty good, but certainly no Achtung Baby? Was Passengers: Original Soundtracks 1 just a little too abstract? Was it the continual delays that finally resulted in Pop, which was still so unfinished that almost every song released as a single from that album was a whole new recording? Was it their ever rising ticket prices, for ever crappier seats? Was it a little of everything?

I suppose I have been insulting U2 like a scorned lover for some time now. Particularly their (until last week) two most recent albums. I know that I am in the minority, but I really like Pop. I’m listening to it right now in fact. I admit that some of the electronic stuff is a bit over-the-top, but I think that lyrically, it is their strongest album to date. Then a few years down the road comes All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which had a few songs with lyrics that I honestly wondered if Bono let his kids write. I do not really hate that album as much as I let on. About half of it is really quite good. It is merely the fact that only half of it is good, when I had come to expect so much more, that makes it so disappointing.

Then we had the rise of the iTunes Music store, which I believe I was one of the first to get on board with (and definitely one of the first to jump off board.) But I did take the opportunity to download “Vertigo.” This song was peculiar in the sense that it reminded me most of “11 O’Clock Tick Tock”, a single from before they even had their first album… as if the twenty five or so intervening years had never happened. Yet, it was not really that good, and for the first time, I decided to pass on the new album. Someone eventually gave it to me anyway, and on my first listen, I could not help but think, “Man, there is not a good song on this album!” Maybe “Crumbs From Your Table”… MAYBE… I listen to it several more times before I finally decided that I was just trying to hard, and that I would never give an album that much of a chance if it did not happen to say “U2” on the cover. The problem with this album is that it is just bland. The online community seemed reluctant to criticize it, but I did read one person’s opinion somewhere that it suffered from “rank amateur mixing” and “too many producers, not enough of whom were named ‘Eno’ or ‘Lanois’.” Fair enough. Some time back I found a clip on YouTube from one of their previous tours, and one commentor mentioned about how this was when they used to be good, but now they “just play songs for your mom.” Well said.

Then they got in bed with Apple and had the U2 iPod, and The [semi-]Complete U2; and then there was the Best Of-According-To-Who-Exactly? And now we have all sorts of ‘Remastered’ this and ‘Limited Edition’ that. One might overlook the selling out if they were still putting out butt-kicking music, but to sell out while releasing boring music? Inexcusable.

FREEEEEEDOM has a scent
Like the top of a new born baby’s head!
The songs are in your eyes,
I see them when you smile.
I’ve had enough, I’m not giving up
On a miracle… A miracle drug!
–U2, “Miracle Drug”

Uhhhhhhhhhh… what?

Even so, on a good day, in a generous mood, I might be willing to admit that there are as many as four decent songs on How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Yet after trying to convince myself for so long that it maybe was not so bad after all, I popped Achtung Baby in my car CD player for awhile… and yeah, they have fallen an awful long way. Even the weakest song off of that album [which after much difficult deliberation, I am going to go with “So Cruel”] will still kick the stuffing out of anything off of ATYCLB, HTDAAB, and really probably most albums by a lot of other artists one might care to mention.

U2 3D was pretty amazing though. Maybe “they’ve still got it” when it comes to live performance. You know, if you can actually see them.

It also bares mentioning that I still consider it to be my “useless superpower” to be able to recognize a U2 song in any environment. I have even been so bold as to claim that I can name any U2 song “in one note.” Which is probably not true, but I have made some modestly impressive identifications in crowded restaurants. (The sort of thing where the response is often, “I don’t even hear a song,” then after a pause to listen intently, “Oh yeah, you’re right!”)

So the new album came out last week. I was in denial for awhile. I resisted listening to the new single, “Get on Your Boots” for quite some time. When I finally did, my impression was that it was not exactly ‘bad’, but that it did seem to have “one hit wonder” written all over it, which is sad for a band with a thirty year career. “Sexy boots”? What are you talking about? I read somewhere that the song is about how men have ruined everything and it’s time to let the women take over. I happen to come from a family where I think that idea would go over quite well, but I do not buy it myself.

Anyway, I have not yet bought the new CD. Last week they were unprecedentedly the music guest on Letterman for the entire week. I missed Monday night, but Tuesday and Wednesday they played new songs, one of which was “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” and the other I have completely forgotten. But it seems like they went from being too “Adult Contemporary” to trying to appeal to preteens. Then on Thursday they played “Beautiful Day” from two albums back. What, so after three songs they have already run out of new material? Nice.

I was thinking about all of this when it occurred to me that U2’s latest albums are not even my least favorite. You know what album I really do not like? The Unforgettable Fire. Sure, you have “Pride” and “Bad” which are classics, but can you even name another song? [A Sort of Homecoming-Pride-Wire-The Unforgettable Fire-Promenade- 4th of July-Indian Summer Sky-Bad-MLK-Elvis Presley and America.] Wow, okay… I guess I do. (Wrong order though.) Do you know any of the words then? And you hunger for the time/Time to heal/Desire time/Hmm hmm hmmmm/Hmm hmm hmmmmmm…yeah, I’m out. Well, amusing diversion aside, my point was that this album is (ironically) quite forgettable. But they followed that with The Joshua Tree which was pretty okay I guess. So maybe they just have an off album now and then, or an off year… decade, whatever.

I guess this concludes my review of the new album, without touching the new album. I leave you with an observation I made a number of years ago, but since then the pattern has continued to the point that I can only assume that they are doing it on purpose, though I can not imagine why:

October *song title*
The Unforgettable Fire *song title*
The Joshua Tree
Rattle and Hum *song lyric (Bullet the Blue Sky)*
Achtung Baby
Zooropa *song title*
All That You Can’t Leave Behind *song lyric (Walk On)*
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
No Line on the Horizon *song title*

In the Meantime, There is Music

Posted by on Friday, 6 March, 2009

Some months back I decided that I absolutely despise 80’s music, and was so bold as to further assert that if I had my way, I would erase all of 80’s pop culture from history, saving only Calvin and Hobbes.

“What about U2?” I was asked.
“Eh, screw ’em.”
“But wait, if you get to save Calvin and Hobbes…”
If you are rushing into a burning building, I reasoned, and you can only save one thing… that’s my one thing I am saving from the 80’s.

Now in truth, I was not talking about U2, Queen, Tom Petty… or really any band with a multi-decade career that happened to include the 1980’s. What I can not stand is the 80’s pop one-hit-wonder types; the kind of thing that they play on “flashback” specials, “awesome 80’s” collections, “80’s night” or what have you. The kind of thing that people enjoy for nostalgia value, or like specifically because it is so cheesy… really for any reason other than because it is actually any GOOD.

I put quite a lot of thought into this because it was irritating me so. I realized that 80’s songs weren’t really ABOUT anything, or more specifically, they were about something silly and/or some bizarre analogy for sex. (With quite a few songs specifically about partying/dancing/playing music/having a song on the radio/etc.)

The 00’s has not been such a great decade either when you get down to it. It seems like everything is “over-produced” this or “a cheap imitation of” that. Even my favorite bands from the past are disappointing. Radiohead has transcended the need to make music to which people can relate; I hear that Robert Smith, Simon Gallup, Porl Thompson and some drummer are now in a mediocre “The Cure” cover band. And U2… [sigh].

Last year, despite (or perhaps due to) my profound lack of productivity in other areas, I actually had quite a number of ideas on the music front. At one point I thought of an album title that was so good, it really made me wish that I actually had some songs to put on it. Well, how many songs do you have? I dunno, four or five I guess, if I finish everything that I have been working on. Really, everything? The question was, “How many songs do you have?” Oh… like 30-40… but I was talking about recent stuff.

I came up with a new song in the middle of my “Scarecrow” sessions a few years back. It served as a nice bridge between my older guitar work and my more recent computer based stuff. It even had lyrics based upon a few of my then-recent blog posts, but I never quite managed to “bring it home.”

I put a lot of effort into adapting a certain other song, which I felt that if I ever performed was sure to get me sued, fired or excommunicated depending on the context. It is that good.

I wrote another song with some challenging [for me at least] strumming patterns, and unusual […for me] chord progressions – including one chord that I just plain made up. I can not even play each piece of the song consistently, let alone string them together. I had a concept in mind for the lyrics but had trouble coming up with specifics. In one verse I merely stated, “Je ne sais rien/Je ne comprends pas” while jamming one time, and decided to keep that for lack of anything better. I have the sinking fear that this song really sucks, even if I could put it all together. That is particularly distressing, because the subject of the song is such that it is very important for this NOT to suck.

I started another song and only got one verse and a chorus before hitting a wall. This one seemed to want to be in a Dean Martin/Frank Sinatra sort of style… a genre about which I know almost nothing. I do not know the structure of such songs, and more importantly, even if I did finish writing it, I would likely need to find someone else to sing it, because there is no way I am capable of “crooning” this baby. It was a good start, but I do not know if it will ever get finished. The particular state of mind I was in at the time has passed and I do not know if I could recapture that mood.

It was while working on that last one that I finally had to ask myself, “Man, what are you doing? Why don’t you stop this nonsense and try to remember how to play ‘Last Night I Slept in the Garden’?” So I returned for a time to my older songs. It was a strange sensation; in trying to remember songs that I had not played in years, which now seemed so foreign to me, I found myself asking, “Did I really write this? I don’t remember writing this.” Then it came to me: You didn’t write those songs… *I* did. Oh. Well that is not exactly good news is it?

I had another new song as well. It started off well enough: I was trying something different by fretting with my RIGHT hand while hammering/plucking with the left. Although that part was rather innovative, in trying to flesh out the rest of the song I kept thinking that I have done something like this before musically, or that I had used that same lyrical pattern in the past – I had to change one line specifically because I had definitely done that kind of wordplay before. It just did not seem that there was anything “new” about this song. Then it hit me: 80’s music had no substance, the 00’s have no teeth… but kids, this is how we did things in the 90’s. (You know… more or less.)