Month: October 2009

Happy Hollow Weiner.

This is more silly than scary really, but still. Those duck voices always crack me up.

For a good year or so, Garfield in Disguise (a Garfield halloween special from 1985) was up here too, until it was removed from YouTube due to stupid copyright bullshit. Because low-quality streaming video on the internet is really taking a lot of money away from the poor floundering corporations that control this stuff. My heart breaks for them.

Leafy loafy lefty loosey larvae.

The other day I took some Polaroid pictures of leaves. It was about time I pulled out the old scanner and gave it some action.

This one was taken from the driveway. Not that I drive or anything…but it’s fun to see trees like this as soon as you walk out your front door.

LEAVES 3

At Willistead park.

LEAVES 5

I don’t remember ever seeing pink/purple leaves like these ones before.

LEAVES 2

Or these ones.

LEAVES 4

This one came out kind of blurry for some reason, but I like it anyway.

LEAVES 7

This one, not so much. There wasn’t much light left to work with, and the camera wasn’t feeling it.

LEAVES 6

I need to take more leafy pictures when there’s more daylight to work with, while there are still trees left that haven’t gone bald. And I’m not a photographer by any stretch of the imagination. But I’m enjoying this Spectra 2. I wonder if I can “pull a Grandpa” and fool people into believing I’m really a professional photographer, convincing them to pose nude for me and my Polaroid camera. I think I’ll try that on the next random person I encounter, regardless of age, gender, or shoe size.

(I’m not actually going to try that on anyone. Ever. Just so you know.)

Our man in Denmark.

Whoever is responsible for that horrific cover of “All You Need Is Love” that’s in the new Blackberry commercial deserves to be shot. In the penis. Sixteen times. Not only is it a generally abysmal musical performance, but the song is in 7/4 time, while this soulless cover version squeezes the music into a standard 4/4 arrangement, which just sounds…wrong. Shameful.

In less depressing news, did you know Dexter Gordon had a small part in Awakenings? I didn’t. I hadn’t seen the movie in years, and the last time I saw it I didn’t even know who Dex was. I saw it was on TV last night. Turned it on around the halfway point and thought I’d give it a watch in spite of my “never watch a movie you really want to see unless you catch it from the beginning” philosophy. I kept noticing the patient who never says a word but seems to have music in his head always, and reveals himself to be a brilliant musician when he finally sits down at a piano, and I knew I recognized his face. He looked kind of like Tom Waits’s darker-skinned brother.

I kept thinking of Dexter Gordon. But I told myself it couldn’t be. He would have been dead by then.

Imagine my surprise when I checked IMDb and learned it really was Dexter after all. Those are probably the last moments of his life ever captured on film. He died eight months before the movie was released.

As great as he was as a leading man in Round Midnight — where he’s essentially playing himself, but he had such an interesting self to play, he feels more authentic and perfect than any “professional” actor could have been in the part — he creates a really interesting and unique little character in Awakenings with maybe a total of ten minutes of screen time (if that), using only body language and facial expressions. I like that guy.

He wasn’t a bad sax player, either.

I like how the rhythm briefly takes on a Latin lilt at the seven minute mark before going back to swinging. Those guys could COOK. It’s a shame the performance is truncated by YouTube’s flexible ten-minute rule.

I don’t know how the people in the audience could just sit there without even jiving. If I ever saw a performance like that in a club, you can bet I’d be dancing.

This boy is cracking up.

I can’t get enough of this song lately. I’m not sure why. I think it could be Phil’s moustache. Check out the great piano solo halfway through, and the mournful bridge section in the pub.

I remember watching a Behind the Music special about Thin Lizzy years ago. They played about five seconds of this video, and it’s kind of haunted the back of my brain ever since. Sure, it was a little manipulative to have Phil singing about breaking down and looking soulful just as they were talking about his drug problems and death, but it was still a far cry from what I was used to hearing from the Liz. For years I had no idea what the song was or where it was from. Then I thought to try digging into Phil Lynott’s solo work, and there it was.

From what I’d read and heard on the radio, I sort of assumed Thin Lizzy were “The Boys Are Back in Town” multiplied by a hundred.

I was wrong about that. Phil was a lot more adventurous than classic rock radio would have you believe — particularly when it came to his solo work. Some of the demos he recorded with Junior Giscombe shortly before his death are so far removed from anything else he did, it’s kind of shocking. And Thin Lizzy didn’t really get the recognition they deserved. Though the band eventually hit on a commercial formula and didn’t often deviate much from the tried and true once they became successful, they made a few albums before they hit it big that aren’t really anything like that stuff, and for my money that music might even be better than the work they’re best known for.

Shades from a Blue Orphanage is a criminally neglected album. Some of it makes me think a bit of early Springsteen, which is the last thing you’d expect from Thin Lizzy. It’s funky, and complex, and jazzy, and folky, and “Sarah” is just a gorgeous song any way you slice it.

There are some great unsung songs buried on the later albums too, and from the interviews I’ve seen Phil was a much more down to earth and humble Irish rock star than Bono, which just makes me like him even more. Where Bono usually seems painfully full of himself whenever there’s a camera anywhere nearby, Phil seemed genuine and even kind of shy when he wasn’t onstage.

The most important thing of all is the lesson the video at the top of this post has taught me: the best way to make a woman in a business suit smile is to gesture to her that you’re preparing to play an invisible flugelhorn solo from somewhere across town, and then produce an actual flugelhorn and make the invisible visible.

If you’re into great ’70s rock power ballads and lengthy melodic guitar solos, you might dig this awesomeness too:

Video that didn’t originate from YouTube and has something to do with me coming soon…maybe some more recording footage or something.

Copulating cows.

happiness...

Evidently I should have chosen my words a bit more carefully when I was hastily composing that big rant two posts back, because some people have read things into it that aren’t quite what I intended to get across. So here is my final word on the subject:

Gurgle.

It’s a good word, I know. But to use a few more words:

It’s about me more than anyone else. The point of it all was my ultimate realization that the live sideman thing simply isn’t for me. It isn’t a personal attack against anyone, and the only real bitterness is directed, again, at Wifflewag. I just get a kick out of typing that name. Wifflewag. Chuckle.

I mentioned some recent happenings not as a way to point the finger at anyone (though the ring finger really should get more love in popular culture, don’t you think?), but to try and illustrate how I came to realize I have more reasons to avoid playing live now than I did back when I decided to make a point of avoiding it in the first place, and most of them just have to do with personal feelings and preferences. For better or worse, the studio is where I’ve become most comfortable, and maybe that’s where I should stay most of the time.

It seems to have worked out well so far. I mean, look at all the attention I’ve been getting at the AVN Awards lately. Nikita Denise doesn’t lie.

Basically, it was a personal journey of discovery, full of awe-inspiring sax (tenor sax, if you must know), and ancient, stale Halloween candy. I don’t have the mental energy to get into it with anyone in any more detail than that.

The end, case closed, roll credits.

Moving on. Johnny Smith and I just returned from a weekend trip to Toronto. I shot some video of random moments along the way, and then I edited it into a tiny movie for your viewing pleasure. More than half the footage is stuff I shot from my window seat on the train. Don’t ask me why. I just thought it looked cool. My simplistic, mostly monosyllabic narration began as a joke but soon became a way of life. It might start to annoy you after a while, but I enjoy being silly, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Therefore, there is nothing you can do about it either.

I’ll never forgive myself for missing the opportunity to film two cows engaging in enthusiastic sex, but at least their love will endure.

The brief musical interlude is poorly shot (all you really see is the front of my shirt) because I wanted to get the ukulele idea down before I forgot it and didn’t have the patience to set up some decent framing to accompany it. I also wish I remembered to bring the little video camera along with me when Meryl and I were having adventures in the city on Saturday. Next time I shan’t forget. Adventures can always use occasional video documentation and goofy narration.

When you see the Belgian waffles I had for breakfast Saturday morning, you may find yourself weeping. Be not ashamed — I too would have wept, had I not been wrapped up in the eating of beautiful things.

A cleansing of the cavity.

I realize my last post may have come across as being asshole-ish, so I’d like to offer a disclaimer:

I am an asshole.

There. I feel much better now that we’ve cleared that up.

But seriously…I’m in a bit of an odd headspace right now, for reasons that would take too long to explain without writing a novella. Maybe some of that spilled over into music-related things needlessly. Or maybe my rant was justified. I don’t feel a need to defend what I said as much as I’d like to stress that I realize pretty much everyone flies by the seat of their pants when it comes to playing live, and that’s just the way things work. What it comes down to is that I just can’t work that way in a live setting. I’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt, and it doesn’t even fit. I need my ears and my brain intact. Otherwise I’m just a grizzly bear with no teeth.

I’m not saying I’ll never play live again (not that I ever did much of that to begin with), but when I do it’ll either be with Adam/Field Assembly or to play my own music, and that’ll be about it. I really need to stop this occasional musical freelancing thing for my own sake, and so I can avoid last-minute stuff in general, whether it’s me being left with little time to prepare, having to pull out at the last minute to avoid feeling like an idiot onstage, or feeling like I’m being used as little more than a promotional tool for someone else’s benefit.

No hard feelings toward anyone, except, again, for Wifflewag. And maybe one or two other people. Like Sean Kingston. Apologies to anyone who might be expecting to see me somewhere on Friday, but I won’t be there. You wouldn’t have heard much of anything exciting coming from me anyway aside from an occasional organ stab, so you’re not missing much with me being absent.

Another thing worth noting is that I’ve been taken advantage of more than a few times when it comes to musical matters (Wifflewag is only the most recent example), so it’s possible that I sometimes feel like someone is trying to do that sort of thing when it really isn’t the case. But in general I think my instincts are pretty sound. This is just one of those times I need to put my foot down and do what’s best for me for a change, in spite of the inconvenience it might cause, instead of trying to make everyone else happy and inconveniencing myself. If pulling out of one show gets me saddled with a reputation for being “difficult”, well…maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Who wants to be called “easy”?

On a lighter note, here is something I wrote quickly on the mandola the day after I got it. I’ve since written other things on it I like more, but what are you gonna do? I’ll tell you what i’m gonna do. I’m gonna find me some shoelace liquorice.

Dig how I apologize for my disheveled appearance only to chop most of my face out of the picture. At least you can kind of see what my hands are doing for a change. Also dig how I ran out of time on the camera five seconds or so before the song was over.

The last human sidecar.

Something has been gnawing at my brain for a little while, and I decided it might be a good idea to address it in a somewhat public forum.

Some years back I decided I never wanted to play live again. There were a lot of reasons behind it. The two main ones were the overwhelming indifference I was met with about six years ago when no one would give me a show anywhere no matter what I did (only to have that change about a year later when certain people heard my music and decided I was “cool” enough to be given some attention, which put a pretty bad taste in my mouth about the whole thing; if I wasn’t good enough before, how was I good enough now just because there was a bit of buzz around me locally?), and the strange, simple truth that somewhere along the line live performances stopped being fun for me and became nerve-wracking.

After a hiatus that lasted a few years, I thought I would dip my toes back into the water by playing with other people. Not being the singer/frontman/center of attention made for a less stressful situation, and in some cases I was even able to kind of enjoy playing live again. After a while the absurd volume of live music got to be a bit too much for me, but I pulled out the Extreme Isolation headphones I would use when recording drums or loud electric guitars at home and got over the idea of looking funny pretty quick because it meant my ears had some protection.

Then the other shoe dropped, and I began to see things in a different light. I won’t name names (ooh! gossip!), but one recent experience was a good lesson in how being nice and going out of your way to help people out can blow up in your face and rob you of your sense of smell. Someone we’ll call “Wifflewag” put a band together for a show that was a pretty Big Deal. I became a part of that band. The show was a success, and we all had a lot of fun. Wifflewag told me they put the band together based on the personalities of the players more than anything else. They led me and everyone else in the band to believe it would become a long-term project and we would get together on a regular basis.

That didn’t happen. There were long periods of silence. Then we would get a call from Wifflewag out of nowhere asking us to play a last-minute show. We invariably said yes and, if we were lucky, got to have one or two rehearsals before the show. Often it was only one rehearsal, and more than once that rehearsal would happen the night before the show because that was all the time Wifflewag gave us to prepare.

Some of these shows were built up to be Big Deals like the first one was. They weren’t. They were poorly-organized messes. For one show, the music was advertised to start at 9:00 pm. The opening act didn’t get onstage until well after 11:00. By then many people had shown up, waited, seen that nothing at all was happening, and left. By the time we got onstage there was almost no audience left, and no one got paid anything. At least that time the sound onstage was really good for a change.

Another show was part of an outdoor music festival. It was also touted as a Big Deal. I didn’t want to play another last-minute show I would have no time to prepare for without getting paid anything, but Wifflewag begged me to do it, telling me my name had already been mentioned in the paper as part of the band and there would be a lot of people there expecting to see me. We ended up playing for about six people and some mosquitoes. That’s not an exaggeration. The sound onstage was such a mess I couldn’t hear a note I played the whole time. Good thing I knew the material well enough to play deaf. My headphones weren’t enough to protect my ears from the ridiculous volume (even if I couldn’t hear myself, I heard a whole lot of the bass), and I left feeling angry, telling myself I should have stuck to never playing live again.

Wifflewag kept telling us there would be better, paying gigs after these shitty free shows were out of the way, with us playing to audiences that exceeded single digit numbers.

As soon as those paying gigs came along I never got a call again.

The band dissolved almost overnight. None of us have played together in anything approaching that incarnation since. Wifflewag now has a whole new band and likes to pretend our band never existed. We were never told about any of this. We were never even informed our services were no longer needed. For all I know, all the guitar and piano parts I came up with have been given to someone else to play and pass off as their own. I wouldn’t know for sure — after all of that, I have no desire to see the new group live.

I cut back on the whole sideman thing after that experience. But I still had trouble saying no when someone would ask me to play with them. I wanted to help if I could.

Then something happened that involved more last-minute stuff, and it made me rethink the whole thing all over again. The details aren’t worth delving into, but I will say there’s no way I could carve out a comfortable place for myself as a keyboardist in a band I’ve never played with before when the show I’m supposed to be a part of is a few days away and none of the previous rehearsals have included me. Practicing to a CD isn’t going to cut it.

I also found out the show was being billed as a special performance featuring me, which seemed kind of…odd. That makes it sound like I’m either playing a set of my own or I’m at least doing a lot more than only playing in the background on a few songs. I guess it’s a way to get more people in the door. Come see Johnny west playing keyboard in a corner. Gawk at his funny headphones.

I decided to bow out, lest I have a panic attack onstage from a lack of preparation. It felt like the only thing I could do if I didn’t want to be incredibly uncomfortable up there once again. My sleep being a complete mess right now would only make things more stressful. ‘Cause, you know, sleep-deprivation totally lessens anxiety.

Maybe pulling out makes me look bad because my name is on the bill in at least some places, but I was never told my name was going to be showing up anywhere, and I’m tired of being put in stressful situations that could have easily been avoided. I also feel a need to make a more public statement than just telling one band I don’t feel up to playing a show with them after saying I was on board.

Here’s a picture of a dog.

it's hard out there for a sidedog.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way…

The whole sideman thing was fun for a while, but it’s not so much fun anymore. Everyone seems to think I’m some kind of superhuman session musician who doesn’t need time to prepare like other people do. As if I can just get up there onstage and wing it and it’ll be great. That’s flattering, I guess, but it also feels kind of disrespectful, and there isn’t much truth to it. Yes, I can improvise and work without much in the way of rehearsal if I have to, but I’m not a session musician (session musicians get paid, for one thing). I’m not a machine. Playing live is an incredibly nerve-wracking experience for me at this point, even under the best of circumstances.

I don’t think it’s fair to be put in situations where it really isn’t possible for me to be prepared or comfortable just so I can help someone else out at my own expense. I’ve done a whole lot of that. I think maybe it’s time to start thinking about myself for a change.

One thing I’ve learned through all of this is that I’m not a sideman. I can pretend to be one, and it’ll be pretty convincing, but that isn’t really me. And it feels a little strange to be billed as a selling point of a show when really all I am is wallpaper. I’m not sure what people who want to hear my music get out of seeing me play a supporting role to someone else’s music. If I went to a show hoping to catch a particular artist only to find them doing nothing but playing the sideman role, I would be kind of disappointed.

Maybe it says something that one of the few genuinely positive experiences I’ve had playing live in the past several years was when I played my own stuff with Max at the FM Lounge. That was my gig, I did what I wanted to do, and I made sure we had enough rehearsal time beforehand so we were both comfortable up there. Ryan Fields also made sure we could hear what we were doing onstage without being deafened by it, which made a world of difference.

The whole thing is strange to me, though. No one even wants me for what I can really do. While I’m no virtuoso, I can play just about anything you throw at me as long as it isn’t a wind instrument or a fretless string instrument. But no one wants me to show off my versatility. Generally I’m only wanted as a keyboard player, I guess because it must be hard to find someone who can throw something together at the last minute and then hammer it out on an instrument with keys. Or maybe it’s because if I’m juggling piano, guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass, percussion, melodica, ukulele, and other things, and the other musicians just stick to playing one instrument each, I become more interesting than just a cog in the wheel and divert attention away from them.

I’m there as a wild card more than anything, yet I don’t get to go wild.

It starts to get frustrating after a while. If people come out to see me, what are they getting that has anything to do with me at all? It’s strange to be used as a promotional tool to bring more people in the door when I’m stuck there on a leash, tied to a stake that’s hammered into the ground, and I have to stay within certain confines to serve the music, which sometimes goes against every musical impulse and instinct I have. I don’t like being put in a box or having to operate on musical autopilot. I don’t want to play the same song the same way twice, or even play a song more than once to begin with if I can avoid it.

Good luck finding someone else who feels the same way.

Don’t get me wrong — I enjoy having to think in different ways musically, and sometimes it can be rewarding. Adam’s a good example. There’s no last-minute bullshit when I play with him, and I’m given free reign to play what I want. If I said I wanted to do a show with him where we each took turns playing our own songs, songwriter’s circle style, he’d probably be open to that. And doing the unpaid session musician thing in the “studio” is easy enough, because that’s where I’m most comfortable anyway. If I mess up, I can just take another shot at whatever I’m doing until I get it right.

Maybe it isn’t even about people thinking I’m some kind of machine. Maybe it’s just that some people don’t place that much importance on organization and preparation. Who knows. Maybe this is just the way things work when it comes to live music. If that’s the case, I can’t mesh with that way of doing things, and it isn’t for me.

And maybe some of this sounds bitter, but it isn’t meant to come across that way, and I don’t have any negative feelings about anyone involved. Except for maybe that douchebag Wifflewag. I mean, look at the stunning lack of profanity overflow. That should tell you something right there.

It’s really flattering that there are people who have wanted me to play with them in one form or another, and in some cases it’s made for some really enjoyable experiences, but I feel like I’m at a point where I’ve squeezed just about everything I can out of it, and now it just feels like going through the motions. I don’t want to turn into a Hall & Oates song just yet.

(If you get that reference, marry me.)

The point is, the next time I play live, whenever that happens, it’ll be to play my own songs. I think I need a break from leading an occasional double life as a fake sideman when all I really get for my trouble is temporary hearing loss, a lot of anxiety I could do without, and an overwhelming desire to drink a vanilla milkshake.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, aside from that other thing I learned, it’s that if you give some people an inch, they won’t just take a mile…they’ll take a whole continent. I need to suppress that instinct and kick it in the head until it stops moving for a while. Time to do some weight training to strengthen the old legs.

Let’s make another music video that takes place in a bowling alley. Please.

it's a swirly tuft of shit.I don’t like a whole lot of current popular music. Anyone who knows me a little bit probably knows this about me. I think just about everything that gets played on commercial radio and music-themed TV stations today is insipid, unmusical, generic crap.

I have nothing against anyone who feels differently. This just my opinion. It does nothing for me. Actually, it does something to me: it makes me angry if I spend any amount of time thinking about how the vast majority of people just lap up this stuff like starving animals.

Still, I am cursed with a strange musical memory that latches onto just about every piece of anything musical I’m exposed to, whether it’s good or not. Play me random songs by popular artists, and even though I don’t listen to them, I can probably tell you who most of them are after only hearing a short snippet of a song. I don’t know why this is. It just is.

Generally I try to avoid that which causes me to grow more profane than I already am, and that’s that. But then I heard something that changed my life. You see, Sean Kingston has just released an album on which he gets personal. He’s not just lifting the music from “Stand By Me” completely unaltered and singing some horrible shit over it anymore. He’s going deeper.

In one song he sings:

Sayin’ that I’d look better if I was thinner —
don’t you know you should have loved me for my inner?

What
the FUCK
is that?

Seriously. It makes me want to rip my small intestine out and eat it. That’s an insult to music. It’s an insult to my brain. It’s an insult to the written word. Hell, it’s an insult to the universe. Even the Auto-Tune-drenched garbage that allows “artists” who can’t sing to make a living takes a back seat to lyrical brilliance like that.

If I hadn’t said to hell with trying to build an audience and achieve any kind of success in the music industry long ago, this sort of thing would work me up into a lather and you’d be reading a furious diatribe somewhere between five and ten thousand words long. I wrote something just like that once, maybe six years ago, and emailed it to George Stroumboulopoulos. I have no idea why I did that or what made me think I might get a response to what amounted to little more than a cross between an unsolicited rant and an essay that swallowed itself in a sea of its own bitterness. I think I was in a pretty angry place after putting a lot of effort into getting gigs and sharing my music just to get ignored repeatedly, and I thought maybe I’d somehow find a kindred spirit and an unexpected champion in him.

Not that George cared. Why would he? I’m nobody.

I know now there’s no point in fighting battles that can’t be won and screaming into a void. So instead, here’s some psychotic John Cale live footage from the early 1980s to combat the musical abomination that is Sean Kingston’s latest material and the music made by all those like him. Master Cale was a huge influence on me back in my angry young days, and for my money he had (and still has) one of the best blood-curdling screams in music. And as for his version of “Heartbreak Hotel”, that’s how you cover a song and make it your own.

Some of the songs are followed by full-band performances from a year later, but I think the solo versions trump them all.