Month: March 2012

Nine things modern mainstream music videos have taught me.

1. In a post-apocalyptic world, survivors will somehow still manage to find hairdressers, hair products, and makeup.

2. All women and men wake up looking like they somehow groomed themselves in the middle of the night while sleepwalking, complete with immaculate hair and not a single blemish or bloodshot eye.

3. Choreographed dancing happens in public places and on city streets all the time. No one ever gets injured or hit by a car.

4. Timbaland has a neurological disorder that causes him to make stupid-looking facial expressions almost every time a camera is pointed in his direction. He’s a brave soul not to let his disability get him down.

5. It’s okay to treat your significant other like dirt, and you should go ahead and cheat on them if you feel like it, because true love conquers all and the one you claim to care for will almost always come back to you in the end.

6. Kissing Britney Spears will either kill you or make you bulletproof. Either way, you’re taking your life in your hands.

7. Nothing spells “serious” and “artistic” like a single unbroken take of a singer lip-syncing. Bonus points if the singer starts to cry at some point. Extra bonus points if they end the video by wiping away the tears with their fingers while staring into the camera looking intense and sad.

8. When attempting to create the illusion that you’re performing the song in your video, it isn’t necessary to pay attention to detail, because the half-baked subplot cutting in and out will distract the viewer from glaring inconsistencies like electric guitars not actually being plugged in, no amplifiers being present, a double-tracked lead vocal somehow being sung by a single person, or not nearly enough musicians and instruments being present on the screen to account for how layered the music is.

9. When all else fails, take off your clothes and/or make out with a model.

Time for something different.

For a good few years now, I’ve been making my albums available in public places so whoever wants them can take them at their leisure. I’ll let this blog post serve as the official notice that I’m not going to be doing that anymore. I was going to take the time to explain all the different reasons behind this decision, but I don’t really feel like getting into it all at this juncture. Suffice to say it’s time for a change.

From now on, it works like this: if you’re my friend and/or someone who acknowledges me once in a while (the two things tend to overlap, from my experience), I will continue to give or send you new albums as they’re released, without provocation, just as I do now. Anyone else is going to have to get in touch with me, give me their address, and let me know they want some music. Or if they’re nearby and they want to meet in person for a coffee or something, I can give them the music face-to-face.

No communication, no music.

One thing I’d like to explain: I’m not compromising or “giving up”, nor am I punishing anyone for anything. And while I like that I’m going to save some money by doing this, it’s not a financially-motivated decision.

What I’m doing is not allowing anything anyone else wants or thinks to exert any influence over any part of what I do anymore. I’m still not charging any money for the music, and I’m not putting full albums up in digital form here or anywhere else. That would be compromising and, on some level, giving up, because I would be saying, “My way doesn’t work. I’ll do it your way.”

What I’m doing here is the opposite of that. If anything, I think it makes an even stronger statement about not viewing music as a product or an attention-generating tool. I just don’t feel the need to be so vocal about it or throw it in anyone’s face anymore.

I’ve made myself and my music very easy to find for a long time now. While I don’t regret having done that, I don’t have the energy for it anymore. I’ve been doing all the work up to this point. Now some other people can put in a little bit of the work if they want me to keep sharing pieces of myself with them.

That’s not a threat or an ultimatum. It’s just the way it’s gotta to be from now on. I’m not going to give anyone any more opportunities to treat me or my music as disposable, and I’m not going to go through any of the motions of playing any part of the “game” on even the most tenuous level. For me that stuff has always felt like a colossal waste of time and completely secondary to what creating music is supposed to be about.

The best course of action, as far as I can see, is to make the whole thing even more personal and scale it back a little. So that’s what I’m going to do.

In plain language: for all intents and purposes, my music is now “free mailing list only”, and the How/Where to Get CDs page has been edited to reflect that.

And really, I think the occasional small moment of acknowledgment (I’m not asking for or expecting epic eNovels like the ones I write) is a pretty small price to pay for a lifetime of free music.

I see it as a win-win situation. If a large amount of my audience drops off because people decide they don’t feel like taking two seconds to communicate with me, I save an insane amount of time and money and probably feel an even stronger connection with the remaining few where there is something of an ongoing dialogue, whether it’s here on the blog, in emails, or in face-to-face interactions. If I get some emails from people I don’t know, giving me their addresses and letting me know they exist, I get to find out who some of these mysterious fans of mine are and maybe even get the occasional little bit of feedback from them. There’s a positive outcome either way.

I realize I sometimes have this way of writing that can come off as being angry and aggressive. As I’m reading this, I’m thinking, through arched eyebrows, “I kind of sound like i’m pissed.”

(I think through my eyebrows. Don’t you?)

I’m not saying any of this in anger. I just feel like it’s time for a change, and time for me to maximize the effectiveness of what I’m doing.

I’d like to thank Liam and the whole gang at Dr. Disc, Tom and Frank at Phog, James at AH Some Records, and the two Kyles at Bubi’s for all their support over the past few years, and for allowing me to distribute my music for free through their establishments. They’ve proven to me that there are other people out there for whom making money is not the be-all and end-all. Thanks to everyone at CJAM for playing my noise. And thanks to anyone who’s ever grabbed a CD, for whatever reason, whether they enjoyed the music or they chucked it out the window of a moving vehicle.

Those of you who are already on the “list” (I would hope most of you know who you are) can probably expect to keep getting music from me until I’m dead, or until you stop acknowledging me forever  — whichever comes first. As for the rest of you, the ball’s in your court now. You can bounce it around, or pass it to me, or break a window with it. It’s all up to you.

I’m going to keep making music and talking about it here either way.

Sometimes it’s hard not to be sickened by the sweet science.

I was slow to become a boxing fan. When I was younger, I expected all fights to be like the ones I saw in the Rocky movies and Raging Bull — bloody, visceral battles, with nothing resembling defensive strategy. Yeah, Rocky got smart in the third movie when Apollo taught him how to be a technical boxer, moving and slipping punches…but when it came time for the next sequel, he forgot everything he ever learned about footwork and counter-punching and reverted to blocking punches with his face.

Of course, if people really fought that way, few fights would go past the second or third round, and most fighters would die or suffer serious brain damage before they succeeded in building much of a career. In real life, Rocky would have been decapitated by the force of Ivan Drago’s superhuman punching power in Rocky IV.

But try explaining that to a ten-year-old who just wants to watch two guys beat the shit out of each other.

Though it took me a while, over the past few years I’ve grown to appreciate the way boxing at its best balances strategy and brutality. It’s a barbaric sport, but there’s something strangely compelling about watching two skilled athletes try to wear each another down. A kind of violent poetry. I’ve enjoyed fights as diametrically opposed as the Gatti-Ward trilogy — three exercises in “how the hell are they still standing after what just happened?”, where technique is thrown out the window for the most part in favour of a toe-to-toe slugfest — and the three fights between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez, which have been chess matches in which you can almost see the fighters thinking in real-time, each of them making adjustments to try and nullify what the other is doing and then reacting to the shifts in momentum created by those adjustments.

I used to find Floyd Mayweather’s fights boring beyond belief. At some point something clicked, and now I think there’s something fascinating about what a violent contradiction of a human being he is. Outside of the ring he’s an arrogant loudmouth who does deplorable things and gets away with them because of his celebrity status. It’s difficult to view him with anything other than contempt. When he steps inside of that squared circle, though, all of that goes away and he becomes someone else. It’s as if boxing is the one thing that purifies and focuses him.

Mayweather is most interesting when he’s fighting someone who’s able to bully him or otherwise throw him off his game for a while. You get to see him think on his feet, work out what he needs to change, and then rudely rip his opponent out of their comfort zone. He disrupts your rhythm and makes you beat yourself. Then he spits vinegar in the psychic wound he’s opened and toys with you, defeating you twice in the same fight.

As much as I’d like to see this fabled, doomed Mayweather-Pacquiao fight happen while they’ve both still got some gas left in the tank, I don’t think there’s any way Floyd would lose unless he got old in the ring. He’s too smart, and too good.

The thing I’ve been wondering lately is this: is there a single honest fighter out there? Someone who will tell the truth when a fight is over, even if it doesn’t flatter them? Imagine Manny Pacquiao, after his third and maybe last fight with Marquez, saying in the post-fight interview, “I didn’t win this fight. Marquez out-boxed me almost every round and landed the cleaner, more effective punches. This is a gift decision handed to me in case hell freezes over and the Mayweather fight happens. Marquez got robbed.”

Imagine how much respect he would have earned in an instant for having the audacity to confirm what almost everyone who watched that fight was thinking. Instead, he said, “Marquez is a great fighter, but I clearly won. Just forget about how you heard my trainer telling me I needed a knockout late in the fight because I was probably behind on the cards, and forget about how deflated and discouraged I looked once the fight was over, before the decision was announced, because I was pretty sure I lost.”

Nobody tells the truth in the heat of the moment. I mean nobody. Months or years later, maybe.

Oscar De La Hoya admitted Shane Mosley deserved to win their first fight years after the fact. And it’s true. That was a great, competitive fight, but Shane edged it. I doubt Shane would ever tell you he had no business winning the rematch. He got a boxing lesson that night, with Oscar jabbing him into oblivion and picking him apart. The judges were either on another planet or sleeping soundly in someone’s back pocket.

Antonio Margarito will never admit he might not have built up a reputation as a terrifying human wrecking ball if he wasn’t fighting with loaded gloves through his prime years. Notice how he hasn’t won a single meaningful fight since he was caught trying to cheat before facing Shane Mosley, who proceeded to hand Margarito’s ass to him after chewing it up and spitting it out in six different pieces.

Paul Williams, as great a fighter as he was, will never admit Erislandy Lara made him look washed up in their fight. You’ll never hear him say he had no right getting that decision after having the pants beat off of him (literally — the ref had to pull Paul’s shorts up in the final round because of how low they were hanging).

It would be refreshing to experience the absurdity of a post-fight interview with a candid fighter who doesn’t even attempt self-flattery or excuse-making. Aside from Chris Arreola, who deserves to achieve immortality just for having the courage to call Don King a “racist fucking asshole” on live television, I can’t think of anyone active in boxing who fits the bill.

Two fighters and the state of Texas had a chance to surprise me last night. They all came up short.

James Kirkland fought Carlos Molina on the undercard of the Erik Morales-Danny Garcia fight. It was an important night and a pivotal fight for both men.

Kirkland got his career off to a promising start, racking up an impressive undefeated record with Ann Wolfe sending him to hell in training camp so whatever hell he faced in the ring would seem like a beautiful dream. Then he ditched Wolfe and got blown out in one round by the pillow-fisted Nobuhiro Ishida. That’s like Mike Tyson getting knocked out by Big Bird. No disrespect to Ishida, who’s a fine fighter and has made the most of the tools he was given. That’s just the kind of bizarre upset it was. I don’t think Kirkland’s mind even got in the ring with him that night. He was somewhere else.

Since then he’s realigned himself with Ann Wolfe and regained his momentum. But that surprise loss raised some questions about whether or not he was capable of competing as an elite-level fighter.

Molina, meanwhile, is a much better fighter than his spotty record suggests. He’s been robbed in close fights because he has a habit of making things ugly to take the other fighter out of their rhythm. For him, this was a chance to show what he was capable of with a decisive win.

Both these guys are aggressive, they throw a lot of punches, and they come to win. On paper it threatened to upstage the main event.

It didn’t. Molina fought a hideous, barely-legal fight. It proved to be a smart tactical decision, because it threw Kirkland off something fierce, but it wasn’t pretty to watch. Molina would nail him with combinations. As soon as Kirkland would open up and try to get something going, Molina would swarm him, tie him up, and fire off a few more shots.

Kirkland couldn’t get his punches off. After a while he stopped trying. He looked tentative, spending too much time looking for one big shot that wasn’t there. Molina just kept on switching it up between holding and using Kirkland as a human heavy bag.

Between rounds, Ann Wolfe was telling him to let his punches go, use his jab, and hammer Molina when he came in to discourage him from closing the distance. “He’s fighting dirty,” she said, “but he’s winning. You need to get more aggressive.”

Solid advice. But Kirkland couldn’t or wouldn’t adjust, and coming into the tenth round Molina was running away with the fight. At worst, he’d lost one round of the first nine.

Before the tenth round Wolfe found some of her own aggression and said, “Act like this motherfucker got your kids and you’re gonna kill him!”

That flipped the switch. Kirkland came out of his corner looking like a different fighter. He dominated the round and caught Molina with a punch that sent him to the canvas at the bell. Molina was on his feet almost right away. He looked like he still had his legs. With the round over, one of his corner men started climbing into the ring as referee Jon Schorle was giving the eight count.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Schorle said, and pushed the guy back out of the ring before he even got the lower half of his body through the ropes. He told both fighters to go to their corners. Then he waved off the fight, disqualifying Molina because a member of his team entered the ring before the round was through. Even though the bell signifying the end of the round had already sounded. Even though Schorle pushed the over-eager corner man out of the ring before he properly set foot in it.


The booing started right away. Kirkland was coming on after looking lost all fight long. He might have gone on to get the knockout or a late stoppage. Or maybe Molina would have countered the aggression and continued to outwork him. The last two rounds could have been as exciting as the rest of the fight was supposed to be.

We’ll never know now. Both fighters were robbed of a clean win by a referee who beat a hasty retreat before any questions could be asked of him.

When he was asked after the fight why he looked so unimpressive until the tenth round, Kirkland said his strategy was to pace himself and wear his opponent down. He claimed he was executing that game plan and winning the fight. When your trainer is telling you between rounds you’re blowing it, giving you good advice, you keep going out there and not throwing punches, and she has to plant the image of your children’s lives being threatened in your head in just to get you to do something, somehow I don’t think you’re following any game plan, real or imagined. You’re sure as hell not winning the fight.

Two of the three Texas judges still had Molina up on points after the knockdown. He would have been leading even if he lost a point or two for excessive holding, which wouldn’t have been out of line. When the judges in Texas are making good sense, well…that’s a little scary.

That would have been enough weirdness for one night of boxing. But there was more on the way. We still had Morales and Garcia to attend to.

Again, this looked like it could be an entertaining scrap. It also carried the threat of turning into a one-sided beating. Morales, as tough and determined as he is (he was the last fighter to officially beat a prime Manny Pacquiao) has had a pretty spotty record lately. After countless wars in the ring — three transcendent, soul-destroying fights with Marco Antonio Barrera among them — it isn’t clear how much he has left.

Garcia is a cocky dude who rubs me the wrong way in a number of places. His father and trainer Angel is ten times worse. But Garcia’s young, fast, and undefeated. As much as I wanted to see Morales put him on his ass and wipe the smirk off his face, it looked like it would take a miracle for that to happen. More than anything, I really didn’t want to see the declining veteran get smacked around the ring the way De La Hoya got embarrassed when he fought Pacquiao. As exciting as that fight was as a torch-passing moment, it was pretty sad to watch.

Right from the opening bell this was a much more interesting fight than the undercard. There was almost no holding at all. The boxing skill on display was in a different league from what Kirkland and Molina offered. Garcia, who promised to come out fast and embarrass Morales, found himself being timed and outsmarted by the older man. They both took some good shots, but Morales was blocking, slipping punches, and working effectively behind his jab. While not as fast or explosive as he was in his prime, he had a few brilliant moments when he let Garcia get him on the ropes and seemed to be in trouble, only to duck and weave out of the way of Garcia’s punches before smacking him in the face with jabs and uppercuts.

Going into the ninth round, Morales was winning the fight. Anyone with working eyes and a hunk of functioning brain tissue resting inside their skull could see it. I say this with the caveat that, again, the fight was taking place in Texas, where a whole lot of shady shit has gone down.

Open scoring gave each corner access to the score cards after the fourth round, and then again after the eighth, when it became clear the judges had Garcia winning by a mile. Morales’s father yelled at him, called him a bastard, said he wasn’t his son, and told him he needed a knockout.

Ann Wolfe would like this guy.

Morales responded by coming out and throwing more punches. The ninth round was close. It could have gone to Garcia. Morales won the tenth round almost going away.

And then he just kind of went away. He stopped throwing so many punches. He abandoned his jab, which had been a great weapon and one of the best punches throughout the fight. People who write about boxing and consider themselves students of the sport will probably tell you Garcia was too fast and he was hurting Morales. I didn’t see it.

Morales, for being older, slower, and probably not carrying all of his power with him above his natural fighting weight, opened a nasty cut above Garcia’s left eye and broke the younger man’s nose with that stiff jab of his. By the end of the night, the towel in Garcia’s corner was almost soaked through with blood. Morales barely even looked like he’d been in a fight.

But he did give those last few rounds away by not doing enough. Garcia caught him with a left hook in the eleventh for a questionable knockdown. Morales was off-balance, but he didn’t go down until Garcia gave him a shove with his right hand. I thought it was interesting how HBO cut off the slow-motion replay of the camera angle that would have shown the push right before the knockdown. Gotta protect that young money fighter you’re hyping.

Garcia didn’t go in for the kill or do much to capitalize on the damage he’d done. He didn’t knock Morales down again. He wasn’t able to stop him. I figured Morales just got tired after being pretty cagey and effective for the first three quarters of the fight, and he ran out of gas down the stretch. At most, he lost by two or three points. I didn’t see Garcia winning too many rounds before the eighth.

As expected, the scores were wide in Garcia’s favour.

He may have added another win to his record, but Garcia didn’t look impressive against a man twelve years older than him — maybe more, in terms of punishment absorbed and dished out in the ring — and an opponent many expected him to dominate. I think it speaks both to Garcia’s lack of top-shelf quality and Erik Morales still being a smart, tough fighter, even with all the wear and tear he’s accumulated. He didn’t embarrass himself by any means, even in defeat.

Later, I started thinking Morales might have gone out of his way to give those last few rounds away. He knew he was too far behind on points to ever win a decision. He needed a knockout. He knew he didn’t have a goodnight punch to take Garcia out with. For all his lack of anything spectacular, the guy seems to have a solid chin.

Maybe Morales decided there was no point in laying it all on the line in the championship rounds and taking a beating for his trouble when he was never going to get the win no matter how well he fought. The judges saw the fight they wanted to see, or the fight they were paid to pretend they saw. So in the final rounds, Morales let them have the fight they were scoring all along, and he walked away in one piece when it was over, still on his feet, still clear-headed.

I could be wrong. But that’s what my gut says happened here. He saw the futility of it all and chose to stop trying.

Part of me respects and understands that. There’s another part of me that wishes he’d gone out on his shield, knowing he couldn’t win, extending his middle fingers through his gloves as he lost just to show everyone one last time what he’s really made of.

There’s a great expression I never heard until I got into boxing. Going out on your shield. It derives from the latin e tan, e epi tan, which loosely translates to: “Either bring this back, or be brought back dead upon it.”

This was said in Roman times by a Spartan mother to her son as she handed him his shield before he left for battle, or so the story goes. The sentiment was, “If you come home alive but without your shield, you threw it away so you could run faster and save your own ass. That makes you a coward. If you’re carried off the battlefield on your shield as a casualty of war, at least you fought and died like a warrior.”

In boxing it means fighting your heart out and going down hard even when you know you can’t win. And it might gnaw at Morales a little, knowing he didn’t do that this time, even if what he did was the smarter way to end a fight he knew he was going to lose.

Easy to say when you’re not the one eating punches.

Garcia cried when the fight was over. Sometimes that seems like a genuine expression of joy, surprise, and exhaustion. With Buster Douglas, who broke down after he knocked out Mike Tyson in one of the most stunning upsets in boxing history, it was something deeper and more meaningful. He was able to feel the full weight of the loss of his mother, who died during training camp, while experiencing the joy of achieving something no one believed he could.

This time, coming from a guy who mimed cutting his throat as a show of disrespect toward Morales at the weigh-in, and whose father is a racist douche canoe who should be fined for some of the things he says about his son’s opponents, it rang hollow. Garcia offered no real comment on the fight itself or his performance, only babbling some vague drivel about dreams coming true.

Again, here was an opportunity to give his opponent his due and say, “Morales was tougher than I expected. He made me really work hard to win.”

There was none of that.

There were two moments, one in each fight, that made watching the whole debacle worthwhile.

In the main event, before accepting he was never going to win the fight no matter how much he jabbed Garcia’s face off while making him miss a lot of his big shots, Morales did something kind of beautiful. A lot of Garcia’s punches were sloppy, looping shots, not very accurate or powerful even when they did connect, in stark contrast to the precision punches he kept getting hit with from Morales. After slipping a few of these loopers, Morales stopped, stared at Garcia, and did an exaggerated little impression of the punches that just missed him with a deadpan expression on his face, looking like he was trying to swat at a fly with broken arms.

I cracked up laughing. It was a pretty good fight most of the way through, but that taunt put it over the top for me. It felt like a nice little moment of moral victory for Morales, and a welcome bit of unexpected levity.

The other moment came after the bullshit disqualification killed the first fight. Carlos Molina, to his credit, didn’t pull a Zab Judah. He didn’t throw a tantrum. He didn’t even seem to get angry. He just looked shocked, and disappointed.

Ann Wolfe hugged him and said, loud enough for everyone in the ring to hear, “You were winning the fight.”

The most honest person in boxing’s boys club just might be a woman. That seems fitting somehow.

This morning, while you slept.

Standalone phrases have been inspiring songs like mad lately. I can’t explain it.

First there was an email I sent the other day in which I stumbled onto a nicer way to say “son of a bitch”. A few hours later I was holding a guitar and a song was seemingly writing itself. Today my friend Bree posted a series of photos on Facebook, giving the album the title “This Morning, While You Slept”. Before I even looked at one of the pictures, another song was in the process of being written.

It’s a very simple little thing, and pretty much the opposite of everything that’s in my head right now musically, but there’s something about it I like. I’m not sure yet if I want to flesh it out more or just leave it naked like this. I’m sure the song will let me know one way or another. I like the lyrics, and it was a little strange how fast they came tumbling out. These days I usually have to dig a bit, or at least wait until the words want to show up. Right now they’re showing up on the regular, with little or no provocation from me.

I’d tell you the story behind the music, but there isn’t much of one. It’s just another love/hate song for someone who doesn’t exist, starting out with hate before winding its way around to love at the end. I’m really kind of proud of that vocal melody in the verses, though I couldn’t tell you why. It just felt good to climb up and down through those notes.

Thanks to Bree for the inspiration.

(Note: when I sing “diaphragm”, I mean the thoracic diaphragm. Not the contraceptive.)

This Morning, While You Slept

This morning, while you slept,
I thought of ways to kill you
while staring at the pale blue sky.
It was the ugliest blue I’d ever seen,
and I believe it’s going to make me cry.

This morning, as I woke,
I found the rhythm of your breath
by timing each rise and fall
of your diaphragm responding to
signals from the carbon in your blood.

I’ll come by when there’s no one here,
just to imagine the lives we could have had
if we hadn’t been born
with these goddamn bodies and brains
that betray us at every turn
in a multitude of ways.

This morning, while you slept,
I thought of ways to hold you
without waking you premature.
Instead, I left without a word.
You would have done the same, I’m sure.

Dream about Bob.

I had a dream last night I was a part of some sort of high school class that was also a focus group. We set up shop on the stage in Walkerville’s auditorium, and the teacher (or group leader, if you like) played us a snippet of a brand new Bob Dylan song.

The bit we heard went:

Love is a pile of shit.
You set it on fire just to watch it burn.
Love is a dung heap.
You piss on it just to make it stink.

Then she hit the stop button and the critique began.

She said she felt Bob was shamelessly trying to recreate the sound of his classic 1960s albums Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde and the whole thing smacked of hollow nostalgia. A few other students made comments along the same lines.

I put up my hand and said I thought there was a subversive element at work that was being overlooked. He was going out of his way to emulate the “thin wild mercury” sound he hadn’t come anywhere near in decades, yes, but it was being used in service of words that were venomous, bitter, and weary in a way only a more wizened Bob Dylan could be. The grizzled “old Bob” voice added another emotional layer to the whole thing.

A guy who looked a little like Idris Elba nodded and said he picked up on some buried sadness, as if Bob was singing to someone he both reviled and cared for, imparting his knowledge that nothing good can ever last. As the debate raged on around me, I was a little taken aback by the realization that I actually raised my hand and participated. I wasn’t one to do that sort of thing back in high school.

I wish I could remember the chord progression and vocal melody from Bob’s song. At least the lyrics stuck with me. Upon waking, I thought, “That’s some pretty angry stuff right there. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Bob swear in any of his songs. And I’ve heard a lot of Bob Dylan songs.” Those lyrics are pretty Westian, when you get right down to it.

Good on you, dream Bob. Spray that venom all over the place.

Compile me.

I have mixed feelings about compilations, anthologies, best-of collections, greatest hits albums, and the like.

I’ve been thinking about this a little more than usual. Not long ago, a friend asked me if I’d ever given any thought to making my own best-of collection. A few more people have asked me the same thing over the past few years.

While it’s a valid question given how much music there is, I think what I do kind of resists being anthologized. There’s a reason the albums are as sprawling as they are. As much of a minimalist as I’ve been in the past on the production side of things, I think I’m a creative maximalist at heart, and I think it would be almost impossible to put together any kind of collection that came anywhere near giving the listener a full-bodied picture of what I do.

I took a shot at making a Papa Ghostface anthology some years back. By the time I was on the third disc I realized it was pretty hopeless. The only way to give anyone a solid idea of what we were all about would be to hand them copies of SCREAMING NIPPLES, YOU’RE A NATION, SHOEBOX PARADISE, PAPER CHEST HAIR, KISSING THE BALD SPOT, and call it a day. When it comes to my solo work, the well to draw from grows even deeper and more daunting.

The only approach that would make any sense at all, to my mind, would be to focus on the most recent chunk of albums, from 2008 to date, and grab the songs that feel like they’re the most accessible or “normal”. Otherwise, I would disappear down the well and never be seen again.

Just for fun, I made a rough sequence of what I felt the obvious choices would be, trying to limit it to around four songs per album. I think the result is (or would be) a pretty strong, consistent, cohesive collection of music.

If you’re interested, the hypothetical track list looks like this:

CD 1

1. A Well-Thought-Out Escape
2. He Was Saved by Poultry from the Shadow of Beef
3. Peculiar Love
4. Blue Cheese Necklace
5. The Sun Is a Red Ball of Lies Tonight
6. Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fondue
7. Defenestrate Your Heart
8. Do the Mountain Hop
9. The Ass, Enchanted with the Sound
10. Sad Excuse for a Muse
11. Is You My Lover Still?
12. Getting into Character
13. Midland Michigan
14. A Fine Line Between Friendship and Baked Goods
15. Generic Love Song to Play at Your Wedding
16. Weird Sex Dream #72
17. Anthropomorphism Dance

CD 2

1. You Make Me Feel like an Impotent Squadger
2. The Cost of Allowing Yourself to Remain Living
3. Jesus Don’t Know My Name
4. Animal Altruism
5. Can’t Get but Been Got
6. I’m a Witness, Not Your Waitress
7. Everyone You Love Is Dead
8. An American Dream
9. Hold onto Your Friends, for They Will All Turn to Dust
10. Laugh like a God of Death
11. Emaciated Crack Monkey
12. Purgatory Waltz
13. To Be Frail Is to Begin to Be Free
14. Bring Rain in Case of Fire
15. Light Sleeper
16. I’m Optimistic
17. Stutter Steps

The problem is you could easily grab thirty-four different songs from CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN to GIFT FOR A SPIDER, and I think it would work just as well. You could swap any of those tracks out for things that aren’t there, like “Knee-Jerk Howl”, “Crustacean Cancer Survivor”, “Fat Mouth”, “Zombies on Parade”, “Different Degrees of Wrong”, “Ass Dildos”, “Will Work for Food”, “Condensed Journey of a Tree”, and the list goes on. All kinds of key album tracks still aren’t going to be there, no matter what. And no matter how a compilation is sequenced or what songs are selected, gigantic pieces of what I do are going to get lost. That’s just the nature of the beast.

The only way I could see this sort of thing serving any purpose at all would be if I sent music to a bunch of campus radio stations, or if I ate my words and started sending music to record labels again. They would probably be much more agreeable to checking out a slim anthology covering a relatively short period of development instead of fumbling their way through eight very long full-length albums covering the same period of time.

But I’m not about to eat those particular words. And when it comes to people who are new to my music, I’m much more comfortable just giving them those most recent eight albums to dig into. I think boiling things down to “highlights” would make it a lot less interesting. It’s not supposed to be so neat and tidy. To attempt to make it so would defeat the whole purpose of what I’m doing here. I could shave THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE down to a two-CD set that would be pretty tight and eclectic without getting too unwieldy. But why? It wouldn’t be the album it needs to be anymore, or the album I want to make. And then there would really be no reason for it to exist at all.

“Highlights” are always subjective anyway. I’ve had a lot of surprises over the years when it comes to the songs people really connect with on my albums. Some of the things I’ve been proudest of have never been mentioned by anyone. Some of the things I’ve tossed off in five minutes with little thought given to what I was doing have been among the more popular(ish) songs I’ve written.

The really interesting compilation, to me, would be one someone else curates. You could pick ten different people and get ten completely different collections.

I tried to do something like this back when I had a band. My idea was for the three of us to make our own individual best-of collections. I was fascinated by what differences might emerge out of three different takes on the same source material.

I only managed to get Gord to make his own personal cut. As expected, it was wildly different from mine in terms of both the songs selected and the way they were sequenced. I’ve always found it interesting how your ideas and someone else’s ideas can have nothing in common when it comes to what’s supposedly your (or their) best work.

This is more or less my roundabout way of saying I don’t see any sense in making any kind of compilation album of previously released material, and I don’t expect that to change in the near future. The only compilations that really make sense to me are the ones that give you a lot of new/unavailable material or offer some unique insight into an artist’s creative process — things like the John Lennon Anthology box, Orphans by Tom Waits, Springsteen’s Tracks, David Sylvian’s Everything and Nothing, and Johnny Cash’s Unearthed. Or there’s something like Message in a Box, the Police box set that gives you every single song from every studio album they ever made, along with a huge pile of B-sides and live tracks, all in one place.

When it comes to compilations, I guess i have an all-or-nothing attitude. I think a compilation needs to be a huge, sprawling, almost intimidating thing you can get lost in. Otherwise, why bother?

Having said all that, if there’s anyone out there who’s interested in trying their hand at putting together a mock track list for a Johnny West compilation just for fun, by all means have at it. I’d be fascinated to see what you might come up with.

Be quiet.

There’s this dumb thing that’s been going on in the world of recorded sound for a while now called the Loudness War.

On some level, it goes back many years, to the days before digital recording existed, when vinyl records and singles were cut “hot” so they would have more energy and stand out when played on a jukebox. You can only make a record so loud before it won’t even play, though. So there’s always been a cut-off point. It’s one of the reasons a vinyl record will often have more headroom than the CD version of the same album.

For the first decade or so after CDs became a viable medium, most of them were pretty straight transfers from the vinyl record or the original master tapes, with little or no processing. But somewhere along the line, this “louder is better” mentality came back with a vengeance. People started looking for ways to push the limits of just how loud a CD could be made. Brick-wall limiting became a regular tool at the mastering stage. Dynamic range became less important.

You can grab any random CD from your collection that was mastered in the 1990s, and chances are it still sounds pretty good, and a good deal quieter than anything being produced right now. It’s over the past ten years and change that things really seem to have taken a nosedive, as this idea of “louder is better” has become so important within the music industry, the actual sound quality of a piece of music isn’t often given much consideration. As long as an album is as loud or louder than everything else, it doesn’t matter what damage is done to the music in getting it to that point.

Buying a new album is a bit of a crapshoot now when it comes to sound. Some mastering engineers are able to get things loud in a somewhat musical, invisible way. Others crush the life out of the music to the point that it becomes painful to listen to.

A few examples:

Bruce Springsteen’s Magic is a pretty good album. I wouldn’t put it up there with Bruce’s absolute best, but there are at least three or four songs I really like. It’s also an album I almost never listen to, because it was completely crushed at the mastering stage. It always makes me shake my head, thinking of the amount of time and money that goes into recording and mixing an album like this, only to have that work undone in the final hour because the record company says, “Make sure it’s REALLY loud.”

There’s the reissue/remaster of Raw Power by the Stooges. That one came out in 1997, before the Loudness War was anywhere near as bad as it is now. Here was an opportunity to beef up an album that was always criticized for its flawed rush job of a mix.

Iggy beefed it up alright. He beefed it up so much, it’s still louder than just about anything else on the planet fifteen years later.

I understand the logic behind this. It’s aggressive music. It was meant to sound confrontational. But the end result is so harsh and fatiguing, anyone with a working set of ears can only get through a few songs at a time. Some of the distortion created at the mastering stage is so bad, it feels like you’re being stabbed in the cochlea with a potato peeler when a guitar solo kicks in.

I think it’s a great album. And I haven’t been able to listen to it in years because of how horrible it sounds.

The 2010 vinyl remaster that was released for Record Store Day proves just how good it could have sounded if it was mastered with some amount of sanity. Compare this (1997 butchery) to this (2010 restoration). It’s not even a fair fight.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are some remastering campaigns that get it right. The recent Sly and the Family Stone remasters are so not-pushing-the-envelope-into-the-realm-of-stupidity in the volume department, it’s a little daring, and they sound fantastic. Even There’s a Riot Goin’ On, a notoriously murky, lo-fi album, now has real depth some actual low end, without losing any of the atmosphere that helps to make it so compelling.

And the reissue of Fun House by the Stooges demonstrates what can happen when a different mastering engineer tackles music by the same band. The music is loud, and it hits hard, but it also has dynamics. Nothing ever sounds harsh or compromised. You can’t hear any out-of-control clipping.

There are even some people putting out new music who care enough not to value maximum volume over the actual sound of their music. Scout Niblett’s latest album is so dynamic, it’s almost shocking when compared all of the compressed-to-death music we’re subjected to now. It gets really quiet. It gets really loud. There are peaks and valleys instead of just a flat line. The most recent Idaho album is rich and full and not fatiguing at all. The most recent Wilco album is competitively loud, but it also happens to sound really good.

The worst part of all of this? From what I’ve read, most mastering engineers don’t want to crush the life out of anyone’s music. They work hard at what they do. They want to take a good-sounding recording and make it great. But there are so many artists and labels telling them to make it louder at any cost, if they refused to fall in line they wouldn’t be able to make a living.

It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when you spend years learning a trade and refining your craft, and then you can’t do your best work because everyone is too half-deaf and narrow-minded to know what sounds good anymore, or else they just don’t care.

Even I’ve been guilty of falling prey to the absurdity of the Loudness War, to some extent. For years I didn’t care that my CDs needed to be turned up louder than just about any modern commercial release. Then around the time of CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN I started to care. I realized I could push things and get the overall master volume a lot higher than I ever thought possible. While this introduced some clipping in places, I thought it kind of suited the material, and it was nice to have an album of my own that was loud enough to compete with just about anything else out there.

I stuck with this approach for a while. I think it was a worthwhile experiment in some ways. But if I could go back and do it again, I never would have bothered. IF I HAD A QUARTER in particular has some moments that get pretty ugly and distorted in order to keep the master volume high, and there was no real need for that.

Over the past two years or so, I’ve found myself starting to pull back a little, and my albums have gradually been getting quieter again. Something like MEDIUM-FI MUSIC FOR MENTALLY UNSTABLE YOUNG LOVERS needs to be turned up a bit louder than an album like IF I HAD A QUARTER. The sound quality is also light years ahead of QUARTER, and I don’t think anyone could make an argument in the other direction.

I care about sound quality. Maybe I needed to make a few albums that were a little too hot in order to hammer that point home for myself. Sure, I want my albums to have a healthy overall volume. They shouldn’t be so quiet you need to dime your stereo’s volume to hear them. But they don’t need to be as loud as everything else to sound good.

An instructive moment for me — and I wrote about this once before — was hearing one of my songs on a radio station that wasn’t CJAM. The radio is not like a jukebox, and here the mentality of making something as loud possible so it commands the listener’s attention becomes self-defeating.

Most radio stations use a limiter to keep everything at an even volume, since there tends to be some disparity in levels between the songs they’re playing. This means no matter how loud your song is mastered, it’s going to be the exact same volume as everything else when it’s played on the radio. And if it’s already been compressed and limited to hell, when it goes through another stage of limiting before hitting the airwaves it’s going to sound even more strangled and lifeless than it did before.

Your song may stand out, but it’ll be for all the wrong reasons.

With that in mind, I was listening to this radio station. Pretty much every song sounded the same when it came to the dynamics. Which is to say there weren’t any. As you would expect.

Then I heard one of my songs off of LOVE SONGS FOR NIHILISTS, which is right about where I started to pull things back a little. My song was just as loud as everything else, thanks to the station’s limiter, but it seemed to jump out of the speakers. It sounded alive when everything that came before it sounded dead.

A lot of the songs that were played before mine were recorded in professional studios. Here was something I recorded in an untreated room in my house. It sounded so much richer and more three-dimensional than any of those other songs, it was kind of stunning. My song stood out because it refused to be a participant in the loudness war.

Since then, I’ve put a lot less effort into making my music loud. I still try to get it to a pretty healthy level, but if anything starts to sound compromised I bring the volume down, and I think I’ve managed to find a more comfortable middle ground. The next album that comes out with my name on it will have the quietest overall volume of anything I’ve put out since the NOSTALGIA-TRIGGERING MECHANISM EP. I think it’ll be a much better-sounding and more dynamic album because of it.

See, there’s a great way to make music loud without compromising the sound quality at all. It’s something you use long after an album has been finished, when you’re listening to it in your car or on your stereo. It’s called a volume knob. It’s too bad so many people in the music industry seem to have forgotten all about this little mechanism. It truly is magical.

I’m dyin’ and I don’t know why.

Been a while since I just posted a new song here without some kind of video to accompany it. Let’s remedy that, shall we?

Here’s something that’s going on THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE. It’s one of those things I write every once in a while that could give off the impression that I’m an atheist. I’m not (just what I am is kind of up for debate), but I enjoy playing with these kinds of ideas sometimes.

The song is a deathbed fever dream, delivered from the point of view of someone who can find no meaning in their death or the life they’ve lived. Bubblegum pop, in other words.

It was written during the GIFT FOR A SPIDER sessions but left unrecorded until just a few weeks ago. I got it most of the way hammered down. Then I got hit with that stupid cold and had to wait until my head cleared before I could finish.

My Dying Bed Is a Dire Mess

Some recording details, if you’re interested:

The acoustic guitar is the 1951 Gibson LG-2. The leg slaps and some of the vocal tracks were recorded using the “distant microphone with lots of preamp gain and compression” method, and you can hear some room noise at the beginning between vocal lines. I recorded some shaker but decided not to use it.

The electric guitar here was not something I planned on adding. I’d just put new strings on the Thin Twin. I hate the sound of new strings. There aren’t words in the English language strong enough to convey how much I hate them. I know I’m very much in the minority here, but I think they make just about any guitar sound cheap, thin, and edgy, and I have to fight to make myself play a guitar enough to break in new strings.

The good news is, I don’t play in an aggressive enough way to break strings on the regular. The last time I snapped one off was in the middle of a guitar solo in early 2002. So I almost never have any cause to change them unless rust sets in. And that hasn’t happened yet.

The Thin Twin decided to disturb the peace by letting one of its strings just pop right out without warning when it wasn’t even being played. I had no choice but to replace them all. I lucked out in choosing a set of strings that weren’t too horrific-sounding coming out of the gate. There was an extra bit of brightness, though. I found myself enjoying the sort of snarling sound I was getting out of the bridge pickup with a bit of distortion.

Messing around on top of this song led to thoughts of, “I ought to try recording what I’m doing just for fun,” and then, “I ought to keep that.” They were probably the first two thoughts I ever had that contained the word “ought”.

This kind of electric guitar-playing/sound is the last thing I ever would have thought to add to this kind of song, but in a funny way it fits. I also like how the line, “I’m dyin’ while the sky leaks rain,” sounds a lot like, “I’m dyin’ while the sky heats rain.” I’m not sure which I prefer. Maybe the second one, just because it’s an unexpected turn of phrase.

So there you have a sort of folky little song, with deceptively happy-sounding music playing off of the hopelessness of it all. Juxtaposition — it’s what’s for dinner. Maybe not a final mix, but good enough for now.

The game is rigged. But you cannot lose if you do not play.

MuchMusic has this contest going on right now called “Coca Cola Covers”. You submit a video of yourself covering one of six predetermined songs, and whoever ends up being crowned the victor more or less gets a foot in door of the music business, with money for a music video and digital distribution for one of their original songs.

Today I came within a belch of submitting my own video. If you know me at all, you’re probably wondering right about now if I suffered a traumatic head injury that destroyed two thirds of my brain.

Let me explain.

A handful of people have, at one time or another, told me, “If you just got rid of some of the weirdness and unpredictability in your music, promoted yourself, and went through conventional channels, you could really go somewhere and make a career out of this.”

My thinking was this: by submitting a cover to this contest only to have a whole lot of nothing come of it, I would be able to say to these people, “Look. Here’s solid evidence that you’re wrong. I’m not a bankable artist, even when I try to bend myself in that direction. I’m not even bankable when I’m playing bankable songs. It just isn’t going to happen. So stop saying that shit to me.”

I didn’t expect there was any chance I would win. I didn’t expect there was any danger of me even making it to the semifinals. The whole idea was to use the contest as an excuse to make a small statement. And maybe, while I was at it, I’d be able to slip in some subversive ideas about music being more than just a product.

(If you must know, it was a Selena Gomez song I was going to put my own spin on.)

Then I came to my senses and realized there was no point. The whole thing would be a complete waste of time, and here’s why. I can tell you right now who’s going to win this thing. It’s going to be a guy or a girl, probably about eighteen years old, with more looks than talent.

Sure, they’ll be able to strum a few chords on an acoustic guitar and sing more or less in tune, with a voice that has no real personality. They’ll also be completely devoid of any creative fire. They’ll be someone cute enough to sell a music video that’s made to look like a phone sex commercial, and meek enough to do whatever they’re told. The person who wins is going to be the most marketable, inoffensive, cookie cutter karaoke singer they can find. Anyone who has anything approaching a unique voice or something interesting to say won’t even get a second look.

The more I ruminate on this, the clearer it becomes to me. The moment I start to think there’s any point in someone like me getting involved in this kind of farce, it’s time for me to sell all my gear and hang it up. My cynicism is not a shield. It’s a weapon. And I don’t feel I have anything left to prove to anyone. I need to cut that impulse off right at the knees anytime it shows up.

But let’s assume for a second that I did go through with submitting my video cover, whatever the motivation was. Let’s pretend it caught someone’s attention, it picked up steam, and then the unthinkable happened: I won.

They would hit me in the ass with a giant boot before I even walked through the door, because I would reject the digital distribution deal (I’m not selling my music…we’ve established that before). And if I was given a platform to speak to a large group of mainstream music fans, this is what I would say to them:

“I don’t like popular music. I entered this contest as a bit of a joke, and I think me winning it is an even bigger joke. But since I’m here, let me give you some food for thought.

If you like the pop music that gets played on commercial radio, that’s great. Enjoy it. Don’t let me or any of the hipsters who smell their own flatulence make you feel guilty about it. By the same token, just because Pitchfork tells you some indie band is brilliant because they have good taste in the artists they steal their ideas from, it doesn’t mean they’re any good, and it doesn’t mean you should buy their albums. Everyone is entitled to be moved by whatever it is that moves them.

I suggest you unplug your television, get off the internet, and make an effort to seek out things you haven’t heard before. Step outside of your comfort zone. Figure out what it is that really hits you in the gut, divorced from any hype or marketing gimmicks. Go see some live shows happening in your city. Listen to your college or university radio station. Pick up some music magazines you’ve never read before and buy CDs by artists who seem interesting to you, without knowing what the music actually sounds like beforehand.

Take some chances. Surprise yourself. Don’t let the media determine for you what music has worth and what doesn’t. You have this thing between your ears called a brain. Use it. Decide for yourself what speaks to you.”

I would either hear a whole lot of crickets, or maybe it would stimulate some discussion. And fuck man, we don’t want that. What kind of world would it be if we weren’t all mindless consumers who ate whatever shit was put on a plate in front of us and announced it was the best meal we ever had because someone else told us it was delicious? What kind of horrific fucked up world would we be living in then?

Let me be clear. I have nothing at all against anyone who enters this contest. I think it’s great if they get something positive out of it. I hope someone with some real talent and something to say wins, and I hope they get a chance to be heard. Hell, I hope someone from Windsor wins it.

Is that going to happen? Not on your life. But you know what George Michael said, before he was entrapped by a cop at a urinal.

“I want your sex.”

Maybe that wasn’t the quote I was going for. But it’ll do for now.