Month: May 2008

A-two, a-three, a-four…

I guess when you’re sick sometimes good things come to you. When I was a kid it was watching a movie or reading a book that would probably make me wince now but seemed like the perfect setting for my childhood illness. This time it’s something a bit different: the live Lindsey Buckingham video I mentioned HERE that was pulled from YouTube not long after it surfaced.

I did some fruitless searching on the internet last night, hoping I’d get lucky and find it hidden away somewhere. Couldn’t find much of anything until I rearranged a few words, and then there it was, stashed in a secret place. Figuring out how to download it was tricky, but I found a way.

So here it is, for any Fleetwood Mac/Lindsey Buckingham fans who might be interested.

Linds is obviously a little wired on the kind of coke you don’t drink out of a can, or some other such substance, and his voice hits a few sharp notes, but I still say this is the best version of “Trouble” there ever was. The rough edges just make it deeper and better. Check out the three-part harmonies behind him, the little guitar fills he throws in between lines, and the way he bounces his head back and forth while playing the two solos, looking kind of sinister. I’m not sure why I like that last guitar solo so much, but I do.

And I like the edge here. It feels like there’s something unhinged swimming beneath the surface of a nice pop song, where on the album it’s just a nice pop song. The video/sound quality is decent, and it looks like it was probably ripped from a videotape that was recorded right around the time I would have seen it on TV myself, given the Comedy Central tag at the top right of the screen.

Crazy to think there was a time people with actual talent performed on Saturday Night Live and the performance was live, warts and all. Then again, these days it’s almost better when someone like Ashlee Simpson just mimes to her song, because when she sings live you realize why pitch correction software was invented. At least people had the good sense to boo her when she gave an abysmal performance at the Super Bowl or whatever it was a few years back. So there’s that.

(I felt bad for her when I saw that. You never want to see someone fall flat on their face on such a large stage when they don’t seem to be an awful human being. But man…that performance was not good. Not good at all. And the crowd let her know it.)

La fatigué tué; faites une pause.

Blog neglect is a sad thing — so sad, it makes Paris Hilton’s designer dog weep. I think Bono probably gets choked up about it as well.

I just haven’t had much to say lately. The sleep was out of whack again for a bit, and then I was out slaying giant dragon-like beasts who attempted to impale me with their enormous pikestaffs. Never were genitals wielded with such precision and skill.

Anyway. Yesterday I trekked with Johnny Smith to Folkway Music in Guelph. This place might be the coolest guitar/stringed instruments store there ever was. I first found out about Folkway a few years back through the Smithster’s investigative potpourri when one of my guitars was attempting to off itself (it’s kind of a long story). The folks at Folkway convinced the guitar life was worth living if it was to be struck and caressed by my fingers and nails, and a potential tragedy was averted.

We thought it was about time to go out there and look at actually buying something instead of just having an existing instrument worked on. So yesterday we paid ’em a visit.

Folkway sells some new instruments, but the main attraction (for me, at least) is the vast assortment of vintage instruments from various walks of life. There are acoustic and electric guitars, banjos, mandolins, ukuleles, basses, lap and pedal steel guitars, resonators, dobros…you name the fretted instrument with strings, and chances are they either have it or will have it before too long.

It’s probably the only place a left-handed guitarist can hope to find a sexy twelve-string or Gretsch guitar (not that I’m left-handed…but some people are). They’ve got some insane vintage amps too.

I went there with a list of about fifteen different instruments to play, and there were a few I was pretty sure were going to be on my shortlist. I kind of had my heart set on a 1932 Washburn 5200 (remarkably similar in appearance to Nick Drake’s supposed acoustic guitar of choice), and/or a 1955 Gibson LG-2.

To my surprise, when I was finally standing face-to-face with these instruments, while they were physically quite fetching they didn’t feel or sound like what I was looking for. I ended up playing somewhere around twenty or thirty different instruments, spending a good hour aimlessly searching for something after realizing my list was useless. I almost got a Fluke or a Flea (cool little ukuleles), and the price was right, but in the end I decided I wouldn’t be able to do too much with a uke given the way I play. It’s one of those instruments, like a traditional banjo, where you can do a lot more if you actually play the right way, with more than one of your fingers on the fretboard. Maybe next time I’ll grab one just for fun.

I played some resophonic guitars. Those Nationals are sexy beasts. And then a fella named Rich came over and directed my attention to a different guitar, simply saying, “That one’s a really nice slide guitar too.” And he went back to working behind the counter.

That was the extent of the salesmanship, or whatever that sort of thing wants to be called. No “can I help you look for something?” or getting in my face. They left me alone to do my thing. That’s the way it should be at every place, as far as I’m concerned.

I picked up the guitar Rich suggested, and that was it. Slide guitar heaven. What’s funny is if he hadn’t mentioned the guitar I never would have even given it a try. I’m kind of shallow in that I automatically gravitate toward the National Resophonics and the like, because they just look so stunning. And they sound nice too. This guitar didn’t scream, “I am pretty and you should play me!”

But damned if it didn’t sound just as good as the dobros that cost two and three times more. And unlike some of those guitars, it was also agreeable to being played without a slide.

Praise Jesus. He’s a mighty good leader, he’s a mighty good leader. He’s a mighty good leader, all the way. All the way, up to heaven. He’s a mighty good leader, all the way.

(I think that’s how the Skip James song goes. It’s probably derived from an old spiritual.)

I played a bunch of electric guitars. Again they were full of surprises. Immediately I went for the 1957 Gibson and the 1966 Gretsch. They were nice, but they didn’t get my fingers dancing like I thought they would.

Then I picked up this cheap Japanese Teisco thing, and there it was again. Instant inspiration.

I went there expecting to buy one acoustic guitar and leave with almost nothing left in my pocket. I walked away with an acoustic and an electric guitar after spending only half the amount of money I was prepared to part with. Iggy Pop knew what he was talking about when he sang about success, hills, and Chinese rugs.

This is the teisco.

Kind of like a strat on acid, but different.

I’m not sure what model it is. I think it’s technically a “no-name” guitar. As far as I can tell, it seems most similar to a K 4L or a Del Ray Spectrum ET-440, but it’s a little different from either of those, with two pickups instead of four.

It’s not like any guitar I’ve ever seen before. The body shape is not unlike that of a Strat, but the colours are completely different from any Strat I’ve come across on this planet, and the tone is pretty different too. Kind of thin and twangy, but in a cool, versatile way.

This thing is about forty years old and it’s in mint condition, aside from only one of the pickups functioning. Not a mark on it anywhere. The intonation is solid, the frets are issue-free, and the cool tremolo arm works without knocking the guitar out of tune at all. I even threw it in an old tuning I haven’t used since GWD dissolved six years ago (E B E F# B D#, if anyone’s interested, which is a slight modification of an unresolved/diminished open E tuning I used for more songs than I could count, at least up until 2003 or so).

Some guitars don’t like that tuning much. This guitar didn’t have any trouble with it at all.

For the price I paid, this axe is a steal. And it just looks cool. It’s bizarre playing some of these GWD songs again after not touching them for six years or more. Fun, too.

This is the acoustic guitar.

The blues beast.

I think this guitar must be possessed by the spirit of some old blues man or something. Every time I pick it up I start playing these bluesy licks unlike anything I’ve ever played on a guitar in my life. I haven’t played slide guitar in years, but this beast is ridiculously inspiring and a slide makes it sing. It’s got that resonator sound I’ve been lusting after ever since I saw Paris, Texas and heard Ry Cooder’s soundtrack, but it might be a bit earthier. How a little parlour guitar that’s so light and comfortable can sound so big and full is beyond me.

The Folkway website — which is where I’ve borrowed these pictures from — has some fun facts about this guitar. Back in 1932 the case sold for $19.50, while a similar Regal guitar went for $10. The case is as cool as the guitar itself, with the green felt that lines it in remarkably good shape, and they’re both seventy-six years old.

Inside the case is some hidden treasure:

– An old metal slide that looks like some sort of strange dull razor.

– An ancient rusty capo that doesn’t look like any capo I’ve ever seen. Funny how I’ve avoided buying one of those things all my life because I never had any interest in one, and now I own one by default, even if it’s probably not wise to use it on any guitar.

– A Hohner “Little Lady” — the world’s smallest harmonica, which looks to be about as old as the guitar and case and fits on your key chain.

– An old white guitar pick that looks like someone used it to play a game similar to Tic-Tac-Toe, with rules only they understood.

– Two La Tosca guitar strings, still in their individual packages, one not even opened (fifth and sixth strings). Again, they look to be seventy-something years old, but in perfect condition.

Inside one of the guitar string papers are two of these identical little vintage advertisements the size of a matchbook. One side has a picture of a Gretsch guitar on it. The other side has a La Tosca piano accordion on it. You open it up, and inside it says this:

It’s fun to play a musical instrument. And profitable, too, when you get good enough to play professionally. But whether you play for your own amusement or whether you play for your living, it’s a safe guess that when you do get around to choosing an instrument, you’ll pick either one or the other of these two outstanding favourites — GUITAR or PIANO ACCORDION. Entirely without obligation, we’d like to tell you more about these fascinating instruments. For full information just sign and mail the coupon today!

And then there’s the bit you tear off after filling in your address and other relevant information. I’d send one of these off in the mail to get some literature about La Tosca piano accordions if I had any reason to believe the company still existed. It’s kind of neat to have this sort of thing.

Back to the instrument itself. There’s a chance this guitar really was owned by a blues musician in the 1930s. Back then a lot of bluesmen and women used smaller guitars like this, since they were widely available at the time and somewhat affordable. Even if it doesn’t come from blues lineage, it’s got some serious mojo.

It was in an open D major tuning when I picked it up, and I expect it’ll be staying there for a while. Maybe I’ll have to look into getting another guitar or two for slide playing down the road and experimenting with different tunings. I wouldn’t want to stress this one too much by detuning it all over the place.

Some serious fun is going to be had recording with these puppies.

What’s up with CMT today?

That’s Country Music Television for all y’all who aren’t familiar with the TV channel.

They just played the unplugged version of “Layla” by Eric Clapton. Now they’re playing “Mr. Jones” by Counting Crows and “Constant Craving” by k.d. lang. I don’t think that exactly qualifies as country music. It’s almost like the old days, back when they used to play Springsteen and Bruce Cockburn videos and other such things once in a while. I can hear the country element in something like “Glory Days”, but “Secret Garden”? Not so much.

Maybe they figure not a lot of people will be watching the station on a Saturday so they might as well dip into some videos that don’t get any action during the week, just because they can. A few times over the years they’ve played a few things by the Be Good Tanyas.

It’s a nice surprise to come across something like that on what’s normally a country music channel. It’s just a little odd at the same time.

As of right now I have been awake for more than twenty-six hours straight. Some would look at that as something of an achievement in the elbow-waxing field, but it really ain’t nothin’ compared to some of the other times. You know the ones — those times when we was makin’ intricate sculptures out of straw and yellow grass.

At some point today I realized I’d been playing “What a Fool Believes” the wrong way. It’s pretty subtle, but a few changes needed to be made. It’s funny what a difference a few slight alterations can make. Move your thumb down one note here and up one note there, and it sounds a hell of a lot better.

I also now have a melodica. It kind of looks like this:

the thing you blow into and play

But mine is blue, and the design is a little different. It’s pretty neat how the thing works. You blow into the little mouthpiece at the top and play the keys, and the sound that comes out is a little like a harmonium.

I’m thinking maybe this is what that partially rhythmless song I talked about a week or two ago needs. It’s worth a try. And so tomorrow, after crashing and shaking off the approaching vampiric state, tried it will be.

And look at that! Springsteen’s on CMT right now as I type this. Speak of the devil, devil appear. It’s gonna be a long walk home.

He came from somewhere back in her long ago.

Haven’t been saying much here lately, because my sleep has been completely out of whack. To become a vampire, or not to become a vampire? That’s the question.

The sleep seems to be in the process of half-ass fixing itself, so I’ll see what happens. I’ll either return to a somewhat normal and productive state in the next few days, or I’ll end up looking like a zombie and my vocabulary will be limited to sounds like urgh, grak, and other such indeterminate grunts.

I did at least manage to remember a dream song from the night before last — sort of a jaunty ballad on acoustic guitar in waltz time with a refrain of, “I have nothing invested in you, darling.” I always find it interesting what melodies and lyrics will come in dreams. They’re not often things I’d think to play or sing in the waking world, and sometimes the songs are pretty simple when stripped of the dream’s context, but they all tend to be pretty catchy.

Played my second show with Adam at The Room tonight. I’d never been there before. It’s a nice place. I wasn’t really that nervous at all this time out, which surprised me. I thought it would take a bit longer before I started to feel comfortable about the whole live performance thing after such a protracted break from that world.

Alas, the sound onstage was a big ambient mess by the time we played, thanks to a dying patch cord that shorted out our main monitor. Again everyone said it sounded good and balanced out in the audience, but I couldn’t hear what I was playing half the time and had no idea how loud I was. On top of that, the rented keyboard I was playing tried to screw itself up in the middle of one of the songs and I had to figure out how to get out of “edit” mode without much light to see what I was doing.

Adam surprised me by suggesting we play a bit of “What a Fool Believes” between songs. I played it for him on the piano yesterday after figuring out the chords, joking that we should play it live. I never expected he would actually call my bluff. I only played the first verse in truncated form because I thought it was a joke, though in hindsight we probably could have done the whole song. We harmonized on the chorus and it was pretty hilarious, both of us singing like Michael McDonald. Adam nailed those high notes, while I took the lower harmony. The audience seemed to enjoy it, too.

It’s strange getting compliments from people when you couldn’t really hear what you were doing so you have no frame of reference for what they heard. Stranger still to have people you’ve never met telling you how much they like your music when you haven’t put out a new album in what feels like an eternity. It’s beyond flattering, but it boggles my mind. How do they even know who I am? I haven’t exactly been a social creature in recent years, and I was never allowed to be a vital part of the local music scene even when I tried.

In any case, fun was had. Maybe someday I’ll even play a show where the sound onstage doesn’t suck and I can hear what I’m doing for a change.

Since my sleep has been a mess, there hasn’t been much to do over the past few days aside from messing around on the computer. The other night I spent a few hours watching clips on YouTube from General Hospital, circa 1995-1999.

I can’t believe I just admitted that, but there you go.

I used to be kind of addicted to that show. I was never sure why exactly. I watched other soaps once in a while, usually for the eye candy when I was going through puberty. I followed The Young and the Restless on and off for a while, to the point that some of the characters still show up in my dreams from time to time. Victor Newman and Brad Carlton seem to pop up most often, for whatever reason. But for the longest time I just watched soaps because I didn’t have anything else to do, mostly during summer vacation at my stepfather’s mother’s house when I was a kid.

I think the first time I ever saw two people kiss and felt it make some impression on me was while watching an episode of General Hospital, with Mac and Felicia locking lips. I remember thinking, “People do this? Really? Why?” It looked to me like their faces were made of wax and they were melting into each other in some strange way.

It was the summer of 1997 when I really got into GH, as the faithful tend to abbreviate it. I was on my summer vacation, having just finished grade school, waiting for the ominous blur that was high school to begin. Aside from improvising songs and recording them on cassette tape, I didn’t have a lot to do with myself most afternoons when I was home alone, so I took to watching TV and got sucked into General Hospital.

I still remember the episode in which “Hold Me Now” by the Thompson Twins played a pivotal role. I think Lucky and Elizabeth were playing pool. They were a cute couple, especially when they were dancing to a Bryan Ferry song. I couldn’t believe my ears when that happened.

Back then it wasn’t all about Sonny Corinthos and his criminal empire, with everything else just glorified fluff taking up space around a single semi-plausible, meaty storyline. There were other stories to tell.

Then they killed off Lucky in 1999, only to reveal the death was staged and he was being held captive by Cesar Faison as part of some murky revenge plot against Luke (Lucky’s father). And then they re-cast the role with some cardboard cutout pretty boy when they brought Lucky “back to life”.

That was the end of the love affair for me. My heart was broken. I mean, Jonathan Jackson was Lucky. The actor they replaced him with had no screen presence at all. Changing the angle his head was tilted at to show off his cheekbones was about as much emotional range as I can remember him demonstrating. The chemistry between him and Elizabeth was gone.

It was the same thing when they replaced Sarah Joy Brown with some other pretty face. Tamara Braun was pretty good, and she looked enough like Sarah that there was at least some semblance of continuity there, but after that it’s been downhill all the way. No one has come anywhere near injecting the character with the kind of pathos Sarah brought to the table.

Over the years I’ve caught a few episodes here and there, but it only serves to hammer home that the writing isn’t what it used to be. The combination of several more roles being re-cast with inferior actors and some absurd instances of SORAS (Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome) conspired to kill whatever made GH unique, and now it’s just like any other soap. Fluff. There’s nothing there to make me want to go out of my way to watch it anymore. I can’t even remember the last time I tuned in.

I’d be curious to see how Sarah fares in her new role on the show, at least. Apparently she’s back after an eight-year hiatus (not as Carly, alas). But I’m not sure I’m curious enough to actually turn the TV on at three in the afternoon and check it out.

Anyway. The other night I was going through clips that aired back when I was in the deepest throes of my addiction, catching some bits I missed back then. It struck me again why I watched the show so often during that time. The writing was pretty damn good back then, with some surprisingly witty dialogue. Most of the actors could actually…well…act, on a level far above most other soap opera actors. And the plot twists, while sometimes a little absurd — okay, more than a little absurd — were at least genuinely surprising and fun to watch unfold. The writers and the actors were able to sell it.

One of my favourite bits of dialogue came when Lucky was apparently killed in a mob-related explosion. Luke blamed Sonny, who offered a quiet apology, to which Luke responded, “Well, that makes all the difference. I mean, what’s a dead son between friends? The important thing is you’re sorry.”

And then there were exchanges like this:

FELICIA: I remember the last time we were on Helena’s yacht.

LUKE: Yeah, when that boy-toy got skewered like an over-ripe chunk of green shish kebab.

FELICIA: Oh, you just have this way with words! It sort of turns me on a little bit.

When do you ever hear dialogue like that on a soap now? Man. Talk about a guilty pleasure.

Watching some of this stuff on YouTube again, I felt like a little kid slipping into my favourite pyjamas and finding they still sort of fit me. I would seriously buy a few years of that show on DVD if they ever released it. Although, given the way soaps work and the sheer number of episodes, it would probably cost five thousand dollars and be a 2,500 DVD set. I’ve learned some people sell “edits” that concentrate on particular characters and story arcs, but I think I’d rather have the full episodes. You’d think the editing would get a little jarring at times if entire chunks of them were being excised.

I guess anyone who reads this has some dirt on me. Now you know I was once a pretty serious General Hospital fan, when I was thirteen or fourteen years old, and for a few years thereafter. Take up thy stethoscope and walk. Roger Waters commands it.

The return of Bono in lingerie.

Last night was the show at Phog. Really. If you look it up in the Book of Nights, “the show at Phog” is the definition/explanation for “last night”.

It was the first time I’d played live in any capacity in well over three years. Crazy, man. I think I was more nervous during the sound check when only a handful of people were there than I was during the actual performance, though the nerves were there in full force during the first song I played on. I fucked up pretty horribly right at the beginning of the first verse. My hands knew what they were supposed to do but somehow ended up in the wrong place anyway. It wasn’t one of my finer moments.

I managed to recover and didn’t fuck up like that again, and after the first song the nerves more or less went away. Figured if I could pay little to no attention to the audience and just concentrate on playing music with Adam for the enjoyment of it, I’d be alright.

All things considered, I think it went pretty well. Adam sounded good, anyway. I’d never done anything like that before — playing someone else’s songs live and singing harmony with them. I think my harmonies were a little dodgy, particularly on the last song where I sang a bit I’d never actually rehearsed just for the hell of it.

The main thing that threw me off was that we weren’t coming out of the same speakers, so the sound onstage was difficult to gauge. Adam was coming out of the house PA system. My keyboard was coming out of a separate amp the keyboardist in another band was kind enough to let us use. Because the keyboard amp was about four feet away from my right ear, whenever I would play with any amount of force it sounded to me like I was drowning everything else out, so I ended up playing with more restraint than I might have during some passages. But apparently everything sounded pretty balanced out in the audience, which is the important thing.

Next Thursday should be better, onstage-sound-wise and piano/harmony-wise. I think it also helps that we got the first show out of the way and I didn’t bomb as badly as I could have. I don’t think I’ll be as nervous when the next one rolls around.

I had fun in spite of the nerves. A nice surprise, because I kind of expected to be a trembling wreck. I should have remembered the words of Kate Beckinsale in Cold Comfort Farm: “You can’t feel sick. Everything’s arranged.”

After the set was over the real fun began. A group of renegade women abducted me and held me overnight in a janitorial closet without any hope of escape.

Actually, that didn’t happen at all. But I did see a dog unlike any I’d ever seen before. And I saw the great Ron Leary for the first time in quite a while. That guy must have the most impressive sideburns in the history of sideburns. Also, when one of the guys in one of the other bands was repeatedly saying “check” into his microphone I found myself tempted to say, “I’m Czech. Throw down some Czech! Show what you know!”

Instead, I drank a pint of good beer. An even trade.

I went on to have several dreams full of captivating music that I sadly can’t remember anymore. I mean, I can remember pretty much every detail — the instruments that were played, the treatments, the tone — except for the actual melodies. It’s always frustrating when that happens. Especially when one of the songs is tied in with Nick Nolte just being released from prison and looking a little like a beached goldfish, and another is a spontaneous a cappella moment in a restaurant that serves all-day breakfast.