That’s Life

I have been on tour for the last two weeks, greatly diminishing my ability to write.  Touring doesn’t always do this, but I’ve been a little under the weather this tour, leaving me blankly staring at the wall between gigs.  I’ve been to Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, and Tennessee.  I’ve read a Lou Reed biography and am now reading a Prince biography.  I’ve listened to more hours of music than I could possibly count.

Ted Cruz has fallen by the wayside, as Donald Trump has risen.  Bernie Sanders still hangs on by the skin of his teeth.

Do I really want to live in a world where Prince is dead and Donald Trump represents the face of one of our two main political parties?  It seems like some weird sci-fi movie where someone went into the past and fucked something up.  But it is here and it is now and that’s life.

I’ve read some interesting articles:

Andrew Sullivan tries to make sense of the rise of Trump.  I don’t agree with everything in his article, but it is a brilliant piece of writing that deserves to be pondered.  Sullivan dives into history and political theory to try and communicate just how dangerous Donald Trump is at this moment in our history.

Brittney Cooper has an interesting piece over at Salon that uses the death of Prince to talk about how our economy and culture has not only devalued black lives, but literature, music, and art as well.

 

……..

There is more, so much more, but right now I need to get my day underway before I head out to a sound check.  Just a few records worth checking out:

Kanye West – The Life of Pablo – West continues his winning streak.  For all those of you that don’t understand, West simply dreams bigger, goes further than most recording artists hight now.  He is simply one of the best producers and creates gigantic, imaginative soundscapes.  This record mixes the sacred and profane on equal levels.  A futuristic gospel record with lots of swearing?  Something like that.

The Wedding Present – Seamonsters – An early 90’s album that got lost in the shuffle between 80’s rock and the 90’s alternative movement.  A devastating series of relationship songs recorded by Steve Albini.  The textures of this album are so vivid that you feel like the album is in 3D, like you could chew on them.

Prince – 1999 – Never forget that Prince is a great album artist.  One of the things that I find shocking with this album is how he is using technology that is completely of its time, yet somehow hasn’t aged.  He is using synthesizers and drum machines that are now long outdated, but he uses them so well that it never for a second gets in the way of the enjoyment of the record.  Also for an artist often associated with sex, one should always remember that his music was always stuffed full of ideas as well.  The title track ends with a group of voices intoning, “Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb?”  I only wish there were more modern artists subverting our radio stations.

 

 

 

The Meaning Behind The Velvet Underground’s ‘Sunday Morning’

Today I was reading Aidan Levy’s excellent Lou Reed biography, Dirty Blvd.  I’ve been listening to The Velvet Underground since I was 13 or 14.  I always felt the first song on their debut, Sunday Morning, to be a pleasant, but slight, addition to their catalog.  But it is easy to overlook things if you aren’t paying attention.  In the book Levy talks about how the song is actually dealing with the issue of paranoia.  The song features the lyrics, “Watch out, the world’s behind you.”  I noticed, as I’m sure many others have, that the song adds reverb to the vocal part of the way through the song, an effect that makes a sound seem farther away, mirroring the sense of uncanny by the narrator.  Levy states that this song was chosen as the first song as a way of warning listeners at the time about the sonic insanity that was to come.

On Tour and New Single

On tour for the next two and a half weeks with Shinyribs.  We are touring the South.  Get dates here.

Taking with me a large group of books and records which I am excited to discuss.  Today is not the day as most of the day will be spent in the van.

I will also soon be announcing some of the first dates of my new project soon.  Check out our new free single Everyday American Thoughts here:

Everyday American Thoughts – New Single Release

Death

Death

There is no needle without a piercing point.
There is no razor without a trenchant blade.
Death comes in many forms.

With our feet we walk the goat’s earth
With our hands we touch God’s sky.
Some future day in the heat of noon,
I shall be carried shoulder high
through the village of the dead
When I die, don’t bury me under forest trees,
I fear their thorns
When I die, don’t bury me under forest trees,
I fear their dripping water
Bury me under the great shade trees in the market
I want to hear the drums beating
I want to feel the dancer’s feet.

Kuba, Zaire – translated by Ulli Beier

I was struck by this poem when I read it in the collection The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart.  When do you even see or hear of a poet in mainstream modern life, other than when then trot someone out once every four years at the inauguration?  I am reading a book on Lou Reed and recently got to the point where he meets the poet Delmore Schwartz.  Schwartz was a huge influence on Reed as you can tell by songs such as My House.  Only the insane would question Reed’s influence on modern pop culture.  Even if you don’t listen to Reed or know much about him, you probably have come across something he influenced.

There is a lot of poetry in songs, Reed being a prime example, but it is not the same thing.  Songs often have certain rhythmic and structural requirements that are not imposed upon the written word.  Also, music itself adds meaning to words that for better or worse changes them.  Even if you can make the case that there is poetry in good songwriting, as I would, it not exactly the same art form. True poetry needs to create something in the imagination with words and words alone.

I know the poets are out there.  I even know some.  But I can’t help but wonder why poets aren’t more prominent in our culture.  Meanwhile Donald Trump’s garish mug stares out of every type of screen under the sun without consent.  Is there a connection?  I don’t know, but I can’t help but wonder.

 

Why I Am Releasing Free Music Online

I’ve begun posting my own music here.  The stuff that I am posting here, so far, is for free, as it is stuff I have recorded at home at no expense.  I would be recording this stuff anyway, whether anyone ever heard it or not.  I’m trying to treat the music I post on a regular basis as something different than my studio work.  These recordings are not as spontaneous and as fleeting as a live show, but they are somewhere between that and the much more deliberate making of a proper record.  I learn as I go, and I also hope to capture that moment when things are new and exciting, though maybe not always fully realized.  Much like my writing here, where I attempt to create an outward looking journal, mistakes will slip through the gates on occasion.  It’s more about capturing the now, than the definitive version of anything.

There are times I will go back and revise these recordings, if I discover a mistake I just can’t live with.  When I write I have long stated that I won’t change what I’ve said.  If I realize I was wrong, I will simply write something else to own up to it.  But sometimes mistakes recording something are more like spelling errors.  You can change something without the intent being lost. I already know some things I want to make better.  But perfection is not only not the end game, but not even the direction.  I’m simply trying to capture a moment, and will stop working on something when I feel like the emotion of the moment is properly communicated.

If you listen to something today and then a week from now, it might be a different mix or vocal take.  Something may never change, or might even be deleted.  I am simply trying to create a space where I can share my creative world with other people.  I also like the idea of music being a living changing thing.  Don’t get me wrong, I like having a definitive recording of something, where a place in time is captured that you can always return to.  But there is no reason one can’t have both.

At some point I might remix things and release these songs as a budget compilation.  But this would really be more of a way of trying to create an alternative revenue stream in the impossible world of the music business.  That is not my reasoning in creating these things.

I believe artists should be paid fairly for their work.  It’s their vocation.  Art means a lot more to me, and many others, than other things that people make a great deal of money off of.  I could survive without a car, but not without songs or books.

With these recordings I am inviting you into my house to look at sketches I am making for a future painting.  Sometimes these might even be sketches that I know are ideas that will never be followed up on.

I also think in releasing some work this way, it can be a way to contextualize other things I’ve done, or to create music that is of the moment.  I can record a cover song that will help to better define the things I am interested in.  I can also put out more political music, that would be outdated by the time I got around to releasing a proper record.

Although I quite often wish we could go back in time and uninvent the internet, there are obviously interesting things that can be done with it, if you view it as a different medium with which to work in.  So if you go to the following link you can hear music of the moment.  Songs that come and go like a leaf on the wind.  This is where they will be, for a little while…

My Music

 

‘The One and Only’ – Kirsty MacColl

There is probably no artist that brings me near tears more easily than the late great Kirsty MacColl.  She has filled my life with a great amount of joy.  I’ll sometimes listen to her records while walking around Lady Bird Lake in Austin.  It might be months without a spin, but there I am again:  With an ear to ear smile, or trying to hold back tears, depending on what emotion is pouring out of her in any particular song.

I’ve written about her before, but whenever I listen to her I can’t help but think, “God, how do more people not know?”

One of my favorite songs of hers is the last song on her album Electric Landlady, called The One and Only.  The last few lines of the song destroy me every time:

Some lives read like a postcard
And some lives read like a book
I’ll be happy if mine
Doesn’t read like a joke on an old Christmas cracker

(Here is what a Christmas cracker is if you are unaware.)

Like Moonriver or Somewhere Over the Rainbow, this is one of those happy/sad songs, that can be mined for more or less of either emotion, without ever completely shaking off the other feeling.  Even if that place over the rainbow doesn’t exist, even if it is a dream that never comes true, the dream still allows us to temporarily transcend our circumstances.  You can sing a song like that and communicate the sadness of the reality, or the beauty of the dream, you can choose one emotion over the other, but that other emotion is still there, giving the song a complexity.

The One and Only can be viewed as being defiant in the face of heartbreak, of one refusing to give in, of transcending.  Or it can be listened to as being sung by someone that is trying to put the best face on the sadly realized reality of lowered expectations.  The song can be one or the other at different times, or it can even be both at the same time.  The song ends on a hope, that just as easily could be posed as a question.

I once read author Nick Hornby say something along the lines of how pop songs are puzzle, that they hold are interest until we can solve them.  The thing that is so beautiful about a song like The One and Only is that there is an interpretive element to it.  It can’t ever be solved.  Therefore, it will always be out there if needed, like Kirsty, ready to move us again.

 

The Molly Maguires – Free Download

MOLLY MAGUIRES, Sean Connery, 1970, mustache
MOLLY MAGUIRES, Sean Connery, 1970
Download Now

Make way for the Molly Maguires
They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men
Make way for the Molly Maguires
You’ll never see the likes of them again

Down the mines no sunlight shines
Those pits they’re black as hell
In modest style they do their time
It’s Paddy’s prison cell
And they curse the day they’ve travelled far
Then drown their tears with a jar

So make way for the Molly Maguires
They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men
Make way for the Molly Maguires
You’ll never see the likes of them again

Backs will break and muscles ache
Down there there’s no time to dream
Of fields and farms, of womans arms
Just dig that bloody seam
Though they drain their bodies underground
Who’ll dare to push them around

So make way for the Molly Maguires
They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men
Make way for the Molly Maguires
You’ll never see the likes of them again

So make way for the Molly Maguires
They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men
Make way for the Molly Maguires
You’ll never see the likes of them again

An old Irish folk song, recorded at 4am.  I love this song both as a song and for its topic.  My favorite version is Luke Kelly singing it with the Dubliners.  There is no point in even trying to match there version, which casts it as a celebratory drinking song, so I did something different with it.  I know where not to tread!

As the media drifts further on into the realm of the ridiculous, as income inequality builds, remember that people actually fought for the rights working people take for granted every day.  Though there is some dispute as to the exact story of the Molly Maguires, their story is not near the only one.

The photo above is Sean Connery and it is from the 1970  The Molly Maguires.  It’s a film I saw as a kid.

New Single Lyrics and Link to Free Download

Everyday American Thoughts – New Single Release

Everyday American Thoughts

I’d like to carve my name in your ribcage
I’d like to wear your face like a mask
I’d like to ground your femur bone into powder
I’d like to burst your ears with this blast

When I look out the window
And see what some do and don’t got
These are the kinds of things that I’m thinking
Everyday American thoughts

What stops me from stealing your gate code?
What stops me from hopping your fence?
What stops me from hiding in your pool,
Cutting your throat without sense?

When I look out the window
And see what some do and don’t got
These are the kinds of things that I’m thinking
Everyday American thoughts

Keep thinking!

 

Gone Fishing

A mask, a mask, it’s just a mask
This world outside your door
A play, a play, it’s just a play
A shadow and nothing more
A shadow and nothing more

The dance, the dance, it meant so much
Now you don’t know who you took
You might have passed them yesterday
Without even a look

Is there an eternal?
Is there a deep calm?
The news is a game show
Rich win, drop the bomb
Drop the bomb

Watch the woods for a stranger
Listen to static for a voice
In the absence of meaning
We’ll make due of course

Is there an eternal?
Is there a deep calm?

God’s gone fishing
God’s gone fishing
God’s gone fishing
Oh god…

For those of you that are subscribers, I apologize about the multiple posts promoting the new single.  It takes a lot of time to make these recordings, much more than any single piece of writing, so I want to make sure that I’m making those that aren’t subscribers aware of them.  My blog is linked to my social media and so on.  Why must this be how the world works today?  It has made whores of us all.

Writing has been slow here.  I haven’t felt that I have had anything intelligent to add to the conversation, and in such times I just choose to remain silent.  Part of it is that I need to stockpile ideas from books, records, and movies, which takes time.  The other part of it is there is an election going on, one of often such clownish horror that I often feel like shrugging my shoulders is the only response.  Clearly from these songs you can tell how I feel about it.  They say more than a thousand essays I think.

One of the things I love about rock n roll is that, sometimes at least, it has the ability to present you with the ugly truth, but along with a burst of energy, that allows you to keep going, instead of defeating you.  In feeling something more intensely, even if it is absurdity and horror, it can shake you awake from the deadening stupor of our modern media.  That’s at least partly what I love about the form, and what I hope to do with it at times.

All the best…be back soon…

The link at the top will take you to wear to download the new songs.  

 

One of the Best Books About Touring: On the Road With the Ramones

If you have ever wondered what it is like to be in a touring band, I think I just read the most realistic book on life on the road.  It’s On the Road With the Ramones by Monte Melnick, their tour manager who was with them for their entire careers, and Frank Meyer.  It’s an easy to read book, one of those books where they divide it up into chapters that focus on a theme, and then have a cast of characters comment on the themes of that chapter.  A perfect book to hop in and out of.

Now the Ramones were not an average band or an average group of people.  They were one of the most influential groups of all time.  However, despite the fact that they are now rightly recognized as that, this was not always the case during their actual careers.  They often found more success in other countries than they did at home in America.  Although the people attending their shows were often a who’s who of rock n roll history, they were usually only playing to between 1,000 and 2,000 people a night.  In order to make a living and to play over 2,000 gigs in twenty-or-so years, they had to run a tight operation.

They also had many personality quirks, if you could call them that.  Joey and Dee Dee both had issues that plagued them throughout most of their careers.  Joey suffered from extreme OCD, and Dee Dee was an addict with a host of personality disorders.  You throw in Marky, who was an alcoholic for a part of their career, eventually getting fired for three albums, only to return later, and Johnny, who was a right winger that had very little empathy during his career for those who crossed him, and you’ve got quite a stew of insanity.  The Ramones also were in constant conflict with each other.  Joey and Johnny spent have of their career only talking to each other through intermediaries.  Monte’s job was often babysitter as well as tour manager.

Despite the fact that the book doesn’t gloss over any of these problems, it still makes you understand why they were so revolutionary and why they are so beloved.  As a working musician I also found it extremely interesting how their operation was run, what allowed them to overcome the difficulties that they faced.  Despite any problems, their organization often ran like a well oiled machine.  They almost never missed gigs, even Dee Dee!  They took measures to cut down costs, such as the band always traveling in a van, instead of a more expensive tour bus, even when they could afford one.  From the very beginning of their career they were focused on how to make their gigs sound as good as possible.  Even in the early club days they would often bring their own PA.  They had a rider that was based on common sense, so that they would actually get what they asked for.  Everything from their lights and the way they moved on stage, was planned out in advance so they could constantly give people the best show possible.  There was an order in their organization that allowed them to overcome the chaos of their personal lives.  These are just small details that the book elaborates on.  The book always has a conversational tone, so it never bogs down while communicating these details.

A lot of people read rock n roll books for crazy rock n roll stories.  There are plenty of those here if that is your deal.  I personally probably wouldn’t have finished the book if that was only what the book was about. I always want to know how someone that created something lasting and unique did it.  If there is a slight downside to the book it is only that their records aren’t discussed at any deep length, but because their tour manager is the one guiding this book, that is to be expected.  However, this book deals with the practicality of touring in a way that is rarely discussed in most books on musicians.  If you are a Ramones fan this book is a must, but I think if you are interested in the music business at all, this book is worth your time.  I personally think the Ramones are one of the greatest bands ever, and this book gives great insight into how they became that.

Ramones, Remixes, and the Road

This last weekend I spent 20 hours in a van?  Something like that.  Kevin told us if we had gone straight, instead of in a triangular route, we could have driven to California.  The whole time I was in the van I was basically living in the world of the Ramones, in my opinion the greatest American Rock N Roll band.  Up above is one of my favorite clips of them.

While I was traveling I was also listening to our our new single release to check out the mixes. (I’m releasing a series of home recorded singles between now and when a new studio release comes out at the end of the year.)

Everyday American Thoughts – New Single Release

I realized that I dropped the ball on mixing the B-side, Gone Fishing.  Don’t attempt to mix something at 1am the day before hitting the road at 7:30am!  Anyway, I fixed it and replaced it.  If you haven’t heard it take a listen.  If you downloaded the first version, I’m telling you, this version is better.