Month: October 2009

happy hollow weiner.

trick or treat [1952]


more silly than scary really, but still…those duck voices always crack me up.

also, 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 horrible-quality streaming video on the internet is really taking a lot of money away from the poor floundering corporations that control this stuff…

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 (polaroid cameras don’t seem to like a lot of distance…the depth of focus starts to get dodgy), but i like it anyway:

LEAVES 7

this one, not so much…there wasn’t much light left to work with.

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 that 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.

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 disgusting news, did you know that dexter gordon had a small part in awakenings? i didn’t. i hadn’t seen the movie in years, and back when i did see it, i didn’t even know who dex was. i saw that it was on tv last night and caught it from about the halfway point, so i thought i would give it a watch. i kept noticing the patient who never says a word but seems to have music in his head always, and reveals himself as 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’ darker-skinned brother. i kept thinking of dexter gordon…but it couldn’t be. he would have been dead by that time. imagine my surprise when i checked imdb and saw that 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 was essentially playing himself, but had such an interesting self to play, it feels more authentic than anything a professional actor would have done with the part), he creates a really interesting and unique little character in awakenings with maybe a total of five minutes screen time, and without ever saying anything, only relying on 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 ten minute cutoff point. 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. all i can tell you is that i grew up in the 80s, so while some people probably can’t get past the production values of the time, that stuff generally doesn’t distract me from a good song. and this isn’t exactly typical 80s fluff…check out the great piano solo halfway through, and the mournful bridge section in the pub.


i remember seeing some “behind the music” special about thin lizzy years ago, and they played about five seconds of this video, which has kind of haunted the back of my brain ever since. sure, it was manipulative of them 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 lizzy. for years i had no idea what the song was or where it was from, until i realized it was actually phil lynott solo. from what i’d read and heard on the radio, i assumed thin lizzy were basically “the boys are back in town” multiplied by 112.

turns out i was wrong. phil lynott was a lot more musically 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 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 blow it all to pieces. there’s some really good music there…i think shades from a blue orphanage alone destroys just about everything else they did. 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 songs buried on the later albums too, and from interviews that 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, phil seemed genuine and even kind of shy when he wasn’t on-stage.

more importantly, this video has taught me an invaluable lesson: the best way to make a girl 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 have said invisible flugelhorn become a real one.

if you’re into 70s rock/power ballads/lengthy guitar solos, you might dig this 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 tirade two posts down, 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, and 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 at wifflewag. i just get a kick out of typing that name, too. 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 in order to illustrate how i came to realize that 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 more than anything else. 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 fairly well so far. i mean, look at all the attention i’ve been getting at the AVN awards shows 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 made a tiny movie for your viewing pleasure. more than half of 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 regardless. 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 quickly and didn’t have the patience to get a decent image to accompany it. i also wish i had 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 that 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 head space 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, so 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 simply 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 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, or having to pull out at the last minute to avoid looking like an idiot on-stage, 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 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 playing the role of a musical paperweight, but i won’t be there. you wouldn’t have heard much of anything exciting coming from me anyway, aside from occasional organ stabs, so you’re not missing much with me being absent.

another thing worth noting is that i’ve been taken advantage of thanks to the dreaded nice guy reflex more than a few times when it comes to musical matters (wifflewag is only one 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 fairly sound. this is just one of those times that 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 labeled “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 licorice.

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 time 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 significantly 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, i certainly wasn’t good enough now just because there was a slight buzz around me locally), and the simple fact that somewhere along the line live performances stopped being fun for me, and became nerve-wracking.

after a hiatus that lasted a good few years, i thought i would tentatively dip my toes back into the water by playing with other people. not being the singer/frontman/center of attention made for a slightly 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 normally just use when recording drums or loud electric guitar, and they afforded some much-needed hearing 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 experience in particular was a good lesson in how being nice and going out of your way to help people out can blow up in your face. someone we’ll call “wifflewag” put a band together for a show that was a pretty big deal, and i became a part of that band. we all had a lot of fun, and i was told that the band was put together based on the personalities of the players more than anything else, so it seemed like we would become a long-term band and get together on a regular basis.

that didn’t happen. there were long periods of silence, and 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, the night before the show). some of these shows were built up to be big deals as well, only to turn out to be completely unorganized. for one show, the music was advertised to start at 9:00 pm. the opening act didn’t go on-stage until well after 11:00, by which time many people had shown up, waited, seen that nothing at all was happening, and eventually left. by the time we got up on-stage there was barely any audience left, and no one got paid anything. at least that time the sound on-stage was surprisingly good for a change.

another show was part of an outdoor music festival, also touted as a big deal. we ended up playing for about six people (that’s not an exaggeration), and the sound on-stage was so abysmal i couldn’t hear a note i played the whole time. good thing i knew the material well enough to play deaf. that show didn’t pay anything either, even my isolation headphones weren’t enough to protect my ears from the ridiculous volume, and i left feeling incredibly angry and thinking i should have stuck to the “no live shows” credo. we were told by wifflewag that there would be some paying gigs after these shitty free shows were out of the way, played to audiences that exceeded single digit numbers. only, 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 different band, though we were never told about this or even informed that our services were no longer needed. for all i know, all of the guitar/piano parts i wrote 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.

after that, i cut down on the whole sideman thing, but still had trouble saying no when someone would ask me to play with them. then something happened just recently that involved more last-minute stuff, and made me rethink the whole thing all over again. the details aren’t worth delving into, but i will say that 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 discovered that the show was being billed as a special performance with me, which seemed kind of odd…that makes it sound like i’m either playing a set of my own, or at least doing a lot more than only playing 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.

ultimately i decided to bow out, lest i have a panic attack on-stage from a lack of adequate preparation time. it felt like the only thing i could do if i didn’t want to be incredibly uncomfortable up there once again. the fact that my sleep is a complete mess once again 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 that 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.

it's hard out there for a sidedog.

basically, the whole sideman thing was fun for a while, but it’s gotten old. everyone seems to think i’m some kind of superhuman session musician who doesn’t need time to prepare like other people do…i can just get up there on-stage 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, and i think maybe it’s time to start thinking about myself for a change. one thing i’ve learned is that i’m not a sideman. i can pretend to be one and it’ll be fairly 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 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 that we were both comfortable up there. ryan fields also made sure we could actually hear what we were doing on-stage, 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 be a jack-of-all trades. 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 something 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 with one instrument, 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 that i have. i don’t like being put in a box, or being 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. hell, if i said i wanted to do a show where we went back and forth playing our own songs, split 50/50, 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 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 a really enjoyable experience, but i feel like i’m at a point now where i’ve gotten just about everything i can get 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.

(p.s. 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 only. 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 “nice guy” 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 even a little bit probably knows this. i think just about everything that gets played on commercial radio and music-themed TV stations today is insipid, unmusical, generic, pathetic drivel.

i have nothing against anyone who feels differently. that’s 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 bullshit 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 just 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-tuned garbage that allows such “artists” who can’t actually 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 like that maybe six years ago and emailed it to george stroumboulopoulos, just for something to do. i have no idea why i did that, or how i ever thought 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.

not that george cared. why would he? i’m nobody.

i know now that 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, and all those like him. master cale was a huge influence on me back in my angry young days, and for my money 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.