ThThe Blog of the Phantom Airship

listed in descending order (newest first)






I've been putting one voice and character into another's for years. Favorite targets have been songs, swapping unlikely candidates into the singer's role. But movie characters are sometimes fun as well.


The most recent is Gomer Pyle. As with everyone chosen for such fun, I mean no disrespect for Gomer. He's got the over-the-top high voice and the deep accent, he's loud, and he's a little naive. But basically he's a good hearted guy who ends up in odd situations. Nonetheless, his voice alone is enough to make him perfect for substitutions.


Last night was the first. It was Gomer Pyle, Vampire. My girls have never seen Dracula, but they've seen Gomer, so they still laughed. I was doing Bela's lines from the 1931 version. (I'm not going to phoneticize, you'll just have to hear it in your head if you can.) "Listen to them, the children of the night. What music THEY make! The spider spinning his web for the unwary fly. For the blood is the life, Mr. Renfield."......."This is very old wine. I hope you will like it."....."You know too much to live, Van Helsing."...."Come here." The kids got a good laugh out of this. Unfortunately I forgot the line "To be really dead! That must be wonderful!" Next time.


This morning, for some reason, I kept getting Bob Ballaban's lines from "Close Encounters" in my head, in Gomer's voice. "He said the sun came out last night. He sang to him." "Before I got paid to speak French, I was a cartographer. This number here is a longitude." Of course the translations into French would also be a hoot, but, not being fluent, I can only imagine.

Gomer will no doubt appear again, he's too identifiable not to.


As I mentioned, I've been doing this for years, so it's worth mentioning some old favorites.


There's "Sweet Caroline", voiced by Peter Lorre in manic mode, rather than Neil Diamond. "Hands....Touching hands....Reaching out...TOUCHING ME....TOUCHING YOU!!!!! (suddenly sweet voiced) Sweet Caroline...." etc. I'd been doing this one for the girls for years, but the highlight was when I took them to see a science show at OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry), and the guy put on a tape for backing music. It was not only "Sweet Caroline", but it started at that line! "Hands...." We all started laughing. We were in the front row, and the guy looked down at us like, "What? What's funny?" Shook his head, and went back to his show.


Sometimes it's fun to imagine entire careers switched, but use just two songs to illustrate. My favorite for this is probably Robert Plant and Maurice Chevalier. "You need cooling...Baby, I am not fooling! Way down inside...I'm going to go give you my love, woh ho HO!" (rolls eyes)...and then "Thank heaven! For little girls! Little girls! Push, push!"


I am thoroughly convinced Elvis could have done most of the classic rock canon, but I am especially fond of putting him in prog situations, complete with altered arrangements. Imagine "Prince Rupert Awakes", from King Crimson's "Lizard" album, done by the King himself in his early '70s style, with gospel backing singers, horns and tamborine on the chorus.


Little Richard would have been great on Yes' "And You And I". But it would have to be changed up to have the same pace as "Slippin' and Slidin'", with a piano part to match. Same time and breaks though, just faster. "Polical ends our sad remains...The ocean revealed is the oceans made..Wooo!"


Back to KC again: Tom Jones on "Starless"- not kidding, that one could work!


Back to Little Richard again, for our finale:

"Ladies and gentlemen....from Yorba Linda Kansas.......LITTLE RICHARD NIXON!!! (Thunderous applause)

(He steps up to the mic in front of the piano. He says, in Nixon's voice, "I woke up this morning. Haldeman and Erlichman were not in sight. I asked my friends about it. But all they lips was tight." And the crowd goes wild! [crowd noises]

The crowd noise settles down, and in Little Richard voice, he says, "I am not a crook! Shut up!"


I no doubt have more, but these are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Hope you enjoyed them.




A Less Common Perception of Objects

For some reason, seeing potentially useful things being discarded has always bothered me, not just practically or morally, but also emotionally. This started when I was a kid. I was more naive about the facts then, of course. Some things break beyond repair, and while their parts may be good for something, the opportunity to use those may not come up quickly, if ever. It may be why I like thrift stores, salvage yards (which barely exist anymore, and are hard to reach when they do), and, spousal disapproval considered, dumpster diving. If I had more time, I could potentially make better use of discarded things.

There's an animist basis to this as well. It was there strongly when I was young, although more as a gut feeling, and a reasoned emotional response. Oddly enough, when I got older, after having discarded almost every animist leaning, I learned some things about objects which kicked a lot of those dismissals over, and caused the old animism to come flooding back. There's more reason to it now, and it has to do with our psychic and emotional creations taking on an existence of their own. You have to go deep, very deep, below the surface of everyday life to experience it, especially if you are an adult. Kids just automatically respond to it, but it's more a matter of belief than experience. If you actually experience this as an adult, in a way that is (eventually) rationally explainable, you'll never forget it, and the world of objects will never seem quite the same again.

But back to the usefulness of discarded items. For people like Reed Ghazala and Tim Kaiser, repurposing these things into musical instruments is central to their activities, using old electronic parts and various kind of objects for cases. This is creative and admirable and exciting. But for me extremely difficult to enter into without more time! At least, the electronics part of what they do. I do this with percussion, and that barely takes any effort. You pick something up, hit it, and if it sounds good, all you have to do is drill it and hang it up. Sometimes it's a little more complicated than that, but not much. Reuse of things for acoustic instruments is easy and offers a pretty wide range of sounds, you just have to be open to it and ready to experiment.

Reed and Tim pretty things up- again, admirable, creative, beautiful work. My objects are not quite so lucky. If they do what I need them to, good enough! They look just like what they are, repurposed objects, whose original identities are immediately recognizable. Aside from my laziness and/or lack of time, there's something I like about this. Their repurposing is blatant, the object in front of you says "Look! Did you know I can also be used this way?" It brings that idea directly to the front.

Why should a doll or a book or a tool or anything else made to please or help people, why should these things go unloved and unused? I was infuriated a while back when I went to "the bins", the last stop for thrift items, where things are sold by the pound. After that, it's off to the garbage. One day I went in there and found a whole bunch of crutches. What were they doing there? I asked what would happen to them if they weren't sold, and was told they would go in the trash too. There were more of those than walkers or wheelchairs, but those were there too. Why should those things be thrown away regardless of circumstances? Shouldn't there be somewhere they could be donated to, a homeless shelter or something? I asked that too. I was told that wasn't their problem. if someone wanted them they should come around and ask.

(mellow disclaimer:)

Here's where I'll have to ask you to pardon me for a particularly odd release of personal information. I don't expect you to buy it. I don't require or ask that either.

There's that island of dolls in Mexico, run by an old man who many people think is crazy. I don't think he's crazy. I get it. Maybe that's crazy. I don't know and don't particularly care. Dolls, especially, have a life that most people can't see. Why? Because they were once loved, the center of some kid's universe. This sounds too much like the Velveteen Rabbit, but that story is true in ways that most people cannot possibly accept. I also get that. And I wouldn't ask anyone to change their views. Just cut your kids some slack. And see if you can keep them from being too cavalier about these things. A loved object reflects what it's given, that energy becomes the center of its awareness. Yes that's right, I said awareness, and no, you can't see it with your daily perceptions, but it's there. And once that awareness exists, when it is ignored, it suffers, much as an abandoned pet or child suffers when shoved to the side, (as) if no longer needed.

(less mellow disclaimer:)

Yes, I know this is entering into wackyland, animism and magical thinking and craziness and bullshit. I'm not selling anything. I don't have a course to buy in six easy payments, or a club to join, I don't need anyone else to believe the same thing in order to keep faith in my experiences. They don't work on faith, they are experiences. They are what they are, take them or leave them in whatever way you choose. This is only the tip of the web of oddness my experiences have taught me. I will talk about them from time to time. If you find yourself disturbed by an area where my head is at, or has been, hopefully you can overlook it enough to enjoy the rest of what I do. They need not overlap.


This said: where strange ideas are concerned, avoid accepting anything anyone tells you as fact, unless you also have an experience of it and need that information. Keep it in the back of your mind, as you would trivia. If you are interested in trying to understand what I've talked about here, the exercise is simple: respect. Practice it everywhere, towards everyone and everything you can. The practice can only help, whatever you believe.




A HANDFUL OF ASHES extended notes

This post refers to the album at the following link:


DISCLAIMER. The following notes talk about several aspects of the album: The concepts behind it which inspired it; the creation of the music from a technical standpoint; the details of symbolism behind music and lyrics; and the arc of the concept, from start to finish.


These kinds of notes can make people uncomfortable. While intended to be informative, they can be perceived as pretentious, as an example of the composer trying to seem more intelligent or important than he is, as proof the music can't stand on its own without a bunch of mumbo jumbo to bolster it, and so on. So please note: IF YOU DON'T LIKE DETAILED EXPLANATORY NOTES FOR MUSIC, STOP READING NOW! Skip this and just listen to the music. That's fine by me. You won't hurt my feelings, I promise. If at some point you change your mind, come back and read 'em. No big deal. I don't feel the music, or the experience of it, is any less valid without these notes.They're here if you want 'em. End disclaimer.


Well not quite. This particular album requires more than the usual referrals to symbolism, is chock full of concepts most people would cross the street to avoid. There. Much better.


ORIGIN: While watching the Bill Moyers/Joseph Campbell show "The Power Of Myth", I listened as Moyers asked Campbell what he thought of the outpouring of sympathy over the death of John Lennon, and asked if Campbell thought he was a hero. Campbell answered that Lennon was definitely a hero, and that he thought the Beatles really connected with the public. Moyers then says: "Sometimes it seems to me we ought to feel pity for the hero instead of admiration. So many of them have sacrificed their own needs for others.

CAMPBELL: They all have.

MOYERS: And very often what they have accomplished is shattered by the inability of the followers to see.

CAMPBELL: Yes, you come out of the forest with gold and it turns to ashes. That's a well known fairy-tale motif."


This hit home with me, especially that last part- coming out of the forest, bringing back the gold, only to find that it's turned to ashes. On a personal level, it immediately reminded me of seemingly being led into music as my life's work by some higher intelligence, only to have nothing- or apparently nothing- occur.


I have covered the details of those events elsewhere. For the moment, we only need that basic premise, and I suppose for many, a suspension of disbelief. Let us treat it as real enough to influence my actions and leave it there, regardless of whatever the root cause ultimately was.


The album develops:


Returning to these events and their implications presented me with some problems. First, I did not want to make this an entirely personal story. The pattern it followed was true to a basic form of folkoric/metaphorical "hero's journey". This allowed me to keep the story personal, while enabling me to remove nearly all of the personal references. In this way, the emotions stayed real while the specifics all but disappeared. I felt this would make the album useful to the widest number of people, so that they could find themselves in it too. I would not have felt comfortable making the album strictly as a personal ego exercise, I would have shelved it.


The lyrics for the title track were written in 2006 during a period when I was in a greatly troubled state of mind. Say what you want, such states have been great for the arts! Not always great for the artists, however. The rather harsh line in the next-to-last verse comes from a recurring dream I had as a child, in which my family were religious monsters and I was some kind of royalty, who had somehow brought about the end of the world. I ran from all this through the streets, to find myself in an alley having a conversation with an old bum. He seemed to know me and verbally knocked me down to size, showing me or telling something horrible, which was always blocked out when I woke up right after, crying and terrified. His words right before were something along the lines of "You are nothing and no one". It was one of my earliest dreams and I had it frequently up to the age of 4. It happened one more time at age 9, and not again.


Not too long after the lyrics, I came up with the chords and melody for them. The chord changes were written above the appropriate syllables on a printed lyric sheet.I recorded a scratch version of just these parts as a means of remembering how I meant for it to go (since I don't read or write music notation).


And there it sat for a good few years, while first one and then another child was born, and raised to an age where I felt I could safely start concentrating some on my work again without detracting too much from their lives.


The lyrics for the rest of the album were written over that 8-year period. The music, in most cases, came after, primarily during recording. The album was actually recorded in sequence- A Handful Of Ashes, The Hook And The Point, Simple Answers, Laugh Gently, and finally At the End Of The Day.


"A Handful Of Ashes":


This starts off with a piano run, primarily single notes, introducing a main theme. The single notes have significance that can be explained later.


Stomping and banging a jingling cane onto the ground: the image of a fool with a story, perhaps like someone at Hyde park standing on a soapbox and ranting, or a carnival huckster inviting you to watch something obviously fake, despite his claims to the contrary. These two particular sounds were important enough to me that I built both the jingling cane (pictured with me on the cover), and a small wooden platform to stomp on, to get a resonant and authentic sound. Each took at least a day to make. But they were important to me, so I took the time and made them. They were used for maybe 30 seconds, tops.


The fool begins his story: "I have been on a journey, I have come back to tell"....and the basic idea is stated. A journey that leads to a treasure of nothing.


Production note:

The vocals, for the vast majority of the album, are dry- no reverb or effects of any kind. This was on purpose. I wanted it to be like you were sitting in the room with me, close enough to be sort of uncomfortable with the intimacy and immediacy and reality of it. I got this idea at a poetry reading David McIntire did back at BeBop Records in the '80s. He did it without a mic (not necessary for a solo poet in such a small venue), but also got right up close to you as he talked. I realized, despite him being a good friend, that the intimacy of the performance made me squirm a bit. Right away I started asking myself why, because it didn't really make sense to me. What seemed to be the truth to me, then and now, is that intimacy has become uncomfortable. We need reverb or room ambience added back in or some such crap in order not to be creeped out by the close presence of another human being. We have learned to need distance, even with those close to us. Now, maybe all of this was in my head. Maybe no one else is disturbed by this. But I was, and that's why the vocals sound the way they do. And not just the vocals, but the drums, and many other instruments too. The more immediate and raw it sounded, the happier I was going to be. This came to be a feature of most of the work I've done since.


Sidebar: a trip down Big Myth lane

Why the grandiosity of the concept? You need ego to do this kind of work, at least to an extent. But when you get, for lack of a better way to put it, a calling, you expect big things. There are many interpretations of what "big" might mean. When you're young and hungry for fame and fortune, especially raised in a place and time where little else has any serious credibility as success, that's what it means. Or bigger. I was not surprised to find out David Koresh was a failed rock star, for example. When people speak of being transformed from the inside by such experiences, the impatient young person says, yeah that's nice, that's really cool sure, but we all know that's not really big. JFK is big. Hitler was big. The Beatles and Elvis are big. Jesus and Satan are big, and when they come back to duke it out, with Jesus and the Antichrist going at it, that'll be the show to end all shows. If we're not talking mythical, what are we talking about? If it's not big, it's bullshit, it's lip service that sounds pretty and doesn't bring much but some smiles and nods from people who think they know things. I want to be on top, known by everyone, talked about for generations, for thousands of years, I want the world to move for me, even if just long enough for people to say I did it, and to remember it.


Dangerous thinking, eh? That's how monsters are made. And saints, and prophets. Sometimes I'm not entirely sure there's a difference.


So coming back down from those heady delusional heights, to something that resembles rational thought, takes a lot of work. It takes the will to even do it at all. Religious ecstacy, like many drugs, is euphoric, and makes you want to stay right there. Come back, to what? Look, I was called! I'm special, I'm chosen! Eh....yes and no.


The sperm that gets through to the egg might be said to have been "chosen". Probably inaccurate, but we can say it. Even if accurate, what can we infer? Destiny? Sure, but how many kids are born each day? Do they all grow up to make huge changes in the world? Everyone makes ripples in the big web of life, the butterfly effect and all that. But we can once again pay lip service to the uniqueness and ability to change the world, if we pretty it up and talk about little things adding up to big things. When you want to be something big, that's not what we're talking about. Not if you're convinced you have a destiny, in capital letters.


The world, with you in the center of it, then takes on a certain massiveness, an epic quality. All about YOU.


Of course, the truth is going to be closer to what you would expect if you weren't out of your head: you're a regular person who's had an unusual experience (or several, or many); but your shit stinks like everybody else's, and you need to get back down to earth and get on with things.


Now then, why have I taken this detour down Big Myth lane? What has this got to do with music? That's a complex story, but I'll sum it up as succinctly as I can. Things like "big dreams", or "visions"- things that come into your head and change your life- communicate in metaphors. They're not literal, and can be seriously difficult to interpret. Mine certainly was. And prior to this, I'd already had a feeling of "specialness", owing to supposedly unusual circumstances surrounding my birth, and the level of my recovery from what was then considered a very dangerous birth defect. Examined carefully, all of that falls apart, and I just got lucky. Combine that with a few misunderstandings, and I was raised with both the specter of death over my shoulder, and the sense of myself as somehow miraculous. Neither were true, but I didn't know it.


However, I had no interest in becoming a musician, and so this "vision dream" had to be referring to something else, and in fact becoming a musician didn't even enter my mind. I spent a year or so trying to figure out what things meant, without finding much that felt definite; until I found the broken guitar, and had a sense that "this was it". I didn't see how that could be the case, at the time, but a series of what seemed to be unusual events moved things forward; and I ended up moving away from my original goal of filmmaking, into the previously unthinkable territory of music-making.

After a few more years of trying to put my head back together, and nearly succeeding, I still believed that such a strong signal, strong enough to change the course of my life, had to mean success. Why else would I have had it?


To me, success, as mentioned previously, could only be considered as such if you got big, or at very least were able to make a decent living at it. As time went on, and efforts yielding nothing of the kind, I found myself becoming very frustrated, angry at the universe, wondering what the hell happened. And here we are, back at the song.




The main body of the song starts; it is dusk.


"Now I'm older and cautious": looking back on the events that led to this point; the journey and what was learned, and the rude awakening that you've got ashes instead of gold for your trouble.

There are lots of vocals, both for the purpose of harmony, and standing in for all of the people you had to be to get to this point, all of them tired, disillusioned, and pissed off.

The music that follows represents those feelings and ideas, and again, everything it took to get there, including things bigger than one person. There's still a kind of epic and cosmic cloud hanging over everything.


It's now about 10 p.m.


A rush of frightening things, suddenly ending in the start of the jazz/fusion section: depression gives way to anxiety, fears of circling the drain, of being used by larger than human forces for everyone's betterment but your own, fear of succumbing to delusion and sliding into insanity, of being lost without a trace to show you were even here, meanwhile your head doesn't really function well enough for most everyday things because you're lost in some kind of mental vortex... (eat that, Bulwer-Lytton)....


Anxiety crashes back to earth, as it always does, giving way to exhaustion, and quiet contemplation of the very same things, but from a calmer perspective. Not a happier perspective; more like a resigned one.


This proves to be true as the lyrics come back in: there's an acceptance of things as they are, or at least as they seem to be, which is at a very low point. Ego has been vanquished because the proof is there:


"you are nothing and no one, you've been outside for years/there is no point pretending you mean anything here"


And royalty falls, no different than the low man, and as Spike Milligan said, "All men are cremated equal."


"The Hook And The Point"


It is midnight.


A procession of monstrosities loudly passes. Bizarre creatures: some are only parts, moving on their own, others are stitched together in sometimes crude, sometimes elaborate ways. Hybrid creatures, pieces where symmetry was forced, or imagined, and then forced.


These are the cobbled-together pieces of beliefs, philosophies, and ideas used to make the intrusion of the unknown palatable. They're held together with hope, necessity, ego, blind faith, and rationalized bullshit. Without them, "the hero" wouldn't have even made it this far. But having arrived here, they can be seen a bit more clearly, and they're not what they at first might have seemed.


"Why lead me here and not deliver?" If this was real in any sense, was it a trick? Have I been discarded? Have I been following nothing but delusion all this time? I know what I experienced, but am I right to continue thinking there was anything to it at all? Maybe it was about something else, and this was just a way to get me to learn some things along the way- "Maybe that was the hook, but it wasn't the point."


Trying to desperately to hang on to something, some reason to believe this wasn't all for nothing. "Things may still mean something after all." And then there is a crash, as things fall apart. A bell tolls, as though something has died.


"Simple Answers"


It is morning, around 8 a.m.


We are in the garage of an old mechanic. We have had to be towed, when the vehicle of our beliefs finally fell to pieces. We are in a kind of limbo, where we can't go back the way we came, have no idea where we're going, and don't know what to do about it. When asked if "the fix" for this will take long, the mechanic replies: "Well, it's hard to say. You'll have to have a period of contemplation...that can take overnight to.....40 years."


"Well", says the old man, barely chuckling, "you can always walk." Translation: there's no easy way out of here.


And here we come to the paradox of "answers". The "simple answers" of minimalist philosphies are both true and false. Crowley once pointed out that any philosophy can be argued to the point where it refutes itself. Having seen this myself, I agree. This does not mean there is no truth available from them; but it does imply a relativity, a need for context, an open mind, a rejection of the kind of rigidity that forces black and white, yes-and-no answers on things which are in a perpetual state of flux and ambiguity. Taoism works well here, because it refers to things always in process.


How the music ties in to all this:


First we have the customer and the mechanic, and right away we know the album has changed. The dialogue seems to have nothing to do with what preceded it, and has a comedic tinge. And then the music comes in and seems like a joke as well, because instead of complexity, we have something that sounds more like a library of congress folk music track. But the lyrics are still about the same kind of things, only...simply presented, folksy. It doesn't jibe with what came before it, it's jarring, it's odd.


Why did I do this?


When your impossible constructs fall apart, built painstakingly from many pieces gathered over your lifetime, you're stuck. You don't know where you're going, but you can't start over completely, and you can't go back the way you came. You're left surrounded by those who don't know and don't want to know. That was the case before, but the arcane nature of it made it all seem special. It's not that special any more. You still have what you know, but you're stuck in Hooterville with Mr. Haney and Eb. Or are you?


You try to think it through in this setting, but it seems to mean everything and nothing all at once, it balances out to zero.


And now the music goes to the strange and the confused. Time to think through this and take stock and make sense enough to act.


How the hell do I get out of here? I asks meself.


Try simple answers, I sez.


Simple? I don't know nothin' 'bout simple. I'm a complex sensitive artist type.


Maybe, I sez. But you didn't know nothin' about that other stuff before you started either. You're stuck here and you've got to try something or stay here, which to you is nowhere. I know us, and we can't do it. So what are we gonna do?


OK, I sez, though I don't know nothin' about 'em it's time to learn. I can't do complexity no more, mine's broken and I can't ride it anymore anyway. I could just walk away from all this, but who am I kidding, no I can't. Simple answers it is.


And the song portion resumes, this time embellished. Also, one line is changed, or augmented, from the first time through. It had said, "Watch as all points cancel all other points", which is nihilism talking- nothing means anything. But the second time around, the voice on the other side of the speakers says "Watch as each point cancels its opposite point"- not ready to give up nihilism yet, and this point isn't much better- but it's a start.


"Laugh Gently"


Late afternoon through closing: bar hours.


This is the punchline of the album. If there is one bit of practical advice to be taken away, it's here. You may think all this is weird and funny. You may have wandered down some bizarre paths in your life. You may have gone on some long journey to find yourself, and meaning, and come back only to find that you were there all along, what you were looking for was always with you, and the treasure was in the journey. It seems to make the entire trip silly. Maybe you should have known better. Shrug your shoulders, laugh, and move on. And maybe, you really did learn something. Meanwhile, if you're outside of this and want to judge, be careful...laugh gently. What you need to know may not be as weird as my journey, but you may need it just as badly, maybe more. The truth you need could be right under your nose too, and you may have been unable to see it for a long time. Maybe you still don't. This could easily happen to you.


And the music?


I wanted it to be anti-prog, and something like a Rolling Stones song came to mind. There's a sort of partying feeling about it. Simple, straightforward, pub humor. Small Faces came to mind too. So that's what I did. This continues to take the album in the direction of simple and basic but this time with more vitality and power, self humor and acceptance. I sometimes with I had made it longer, but the brevity of it continues the point, so I accept it.


"At The End Of The Day"


This is an epilogue. It's very late at night, everyone but you is asleep.


So, we've had the punchline. But after the return party, when we're through laughing at and justifying ourselves, what's left? Where do we go?


When you've finished with putting trophies and ends at top of your needs pyramid, you see something else: you need the basics, and the rest will fall into place, or at least be easier to get. For some people, this means having kids and living a "normal" life (which like all stereotypes, exists as a statistical abstraction rather than anything concrete). I tell you, honestly, that I came out of the whole thing with no answers to questions outside of this, and I'll I've got are ways to keep going. And with the bringing of new people into the world...the cycle continues. Every life represents some kind of quest. Maybe you just need to find a way to survive and get through. Maybe you need something more. Maybe you'll actually find something that works for you; many people find religion. That didn't work for me, but it works for many. Meanwhile, life goes on.


Musically, it's as simple as its concept. Piano and vocal. The vocal was recorded as a note to keep track of the melody; I had a chest cold and partial laryngitis at the time. But the tired quality of it appealed to me and matched the lyric, I thought, so I kept it. As for the piano, it stays completely simple until the lyric ends. Then it multiplies and branches out like a geneology, until the numbers overwhelm the sense you can make of it. It becomes too much to take in clearly. And then that fades down to a very simple exit, which winds down slowly- the personal view- and ends on one note. That note is important and there for a reason. It's the individual point of view. Even if everyone takes their own journey, that's just it- we all take our journeys, our experiences, our point of view, alone. And when we leave, we take it all with us. We make our single note, and fade. This may sound very sad, but it's only meant to be bittersweet, because that's what I think it is. We're here, we go "ding!", and we're gone. That's just how it is. But there's beauty to it, and in the end, there's a feeling that it's OK.





Expecting to Fly

Dishwashing disc today was "Bufallo Springfield/Retrospective". When "Expecting to Fly" came on at the end, it took me back to a dream I had, shortly after moving to Portland.


The move had felt a bit like crash-landing; we'd made it but now we had to keep making it, and there wasn't much to work with. We were broke monetarily, and somewhat broken psychologically. All three of us had extensive baggage, if you know what I mean. And I believe at this point, my physical and psychological ailments had hit me very hard, and I was in a fight, and I was in trouble.


I try not to play "the blame game" with other people. "If they'd only done (x,y,z), they wouldn't be in this position." It's hard not to sometimes. But the person I've usually hit hardest with this is myself.


I have spina bifida. It's a birth defect, you're born with a hole in your spine. Many people with it are paralyzed from the lesion down, some are brain damaged, the list of concurrent ailments is considerable and unpleasant. I got lucky, and was not hit with many of those, and for the most part, it wasn't even visible. This is good, but there are drawbacks. People can expect more of you than you may be capable of. If you're me, you try anyway, and do everything possible not to show any difference.


If someone tells you that you are somehow "lesser than", even if it's through no fault of your own, you only hear that first part. You can be told over and over, as I thankfully was by my family, that I could do anything I put my mind to. But there's always a subtext traveling beneath the words, showing through eyes and posture and slight nuances of vocal tone: "believe that because we love you, we think you are great, but something really is wrong, and we know it. You know it, but hopefully we can help you not to focus on it." You can't get away from that. Also, if your body malfunctions in a nasty way on a daily basis, you can't get away from that either. But you can try.


So I spent a lot of my life refusing to let a birth defect define me. To call it an uphill battle doesn't cover it. It's a case of compartmentalizing, splitting off the part of you that deals with it every day from the part that won't dwell on it except in the most mechanical way. On the surface, you can make this work. Beneath, it's a war every day, with your psyche as the battleground.


When I was very young and still believed in God, I would wonder why I was made this way, was there a purpose, was it a sick joke, etc. One day- and a bad day it was- I started cursing to the ceiling, and suddenly realized that was exactly what I was doing. I was at the end of 6th grade, 11 years old.


After that, I went through a period of internal drifting, being sad, trying to figure out what I was going to do because my way of dealing with my disability was coming to an end, and I had no idea what would come next, or if I could deal with the suggestions that finally did come. There came then a period of stubbornly refusing to move on, a halfway return to a sort of arrogance I'd had a year or two earlier when I had succesfully been cruising on the belief that I was some sort of superior kid. It didn't last the year, and when it finally came crashing down and I was left scraping bottom, I had to fight my way out. That took a couple of years, and the method I hit on was a kind of self determination. It was a decidly psychotic, mutant self-determination for a number of years after that. I was about 16 before I fully realized my progress was up to me, and nothing beyond that. And I still wonder.


But: enter the the late '70s, early '80s, and all the self-help everywhere stressed: you are the captain of your ship, it's up to YOU! I'd already been on that road for a long time, although my head seemed much clearer by this point. But things kept going wrong. I couldn't handle college, I dropped out. Job after job made me feel like I was losing my sanity, depressed me, made me feel useless. But it was always MY fault that this happened, you see; the weakness was mine. Other people did these things every day. So what was wrong with ME? I'd heard that far too much where my disability was concerned, and I wasn't having it: nothing was wrong with me, or if there was, I wouldn't let there be something wrong with me, I had to fight it and win. If I lost, it was my fault and that was that. If I couldn't make it in the world, then I was too weak to be here. Every failure in my life, everything I'd ever wanted and didn't get, was down to my own weakness. I had talked myself into this and couldn't see any truth outside it.


But after moving to Portland and trying to get a new life going here, I hit a wall hard, and I couldn't get around it. And I was having to deal with finding another way to make it, and I felt very, very weak, and very "lesser than". And there was no way I could feel otherwise, at least not consciously. I'd been reduced to asking for help. That sat very badly with me.


I'd skirted the law when I was 15 to get my first job. (You're not legally allowed to work in the States until you're 16.) I'd paid, ultimately, for my own musical instruments, sometimes working dirty and even dangerous jobs so that was possible. I didn't ask for help. And yet here I was having to do it.


The circumstances that led me to this are probably best left as a story for another time. But I had reached the point where if I didn't fight for some kind of relief, I would make it permanent. One night I sat with a sharp piece of my father's bones, which had somehow survived his cremation. While divvying up his ashes in summer, I took it for myself. Here I was in winter, maybe six months later, and was about to slice my wrists with it. And then I thought, there's one more thing I hadn't tried- asking for help. It was not an appealing thought, but it kept me alive. Meanwhile, the bone was still mine, and if it failed, I could always come right back to this and finish the job.


Nonetheless, I couldn't escape feeling really lousy about myself- weak, without any qualifiers. I couldn't make it on my own and it was my fault. It had to be, there was no other reality.


And then, one night, to bring us back to the song that started these words off, I had a dream. It was a flying dream, or should have been. I'd had them before. Your body becomes airborne, you can rise into the air and fly where you like. I kept trying to take off, and every time doubt crept in, I fell. And after a somewhat visible start, I simply couldn't do it anymore. And I blamed myself, I was angry at myself. And then suddenly, this song was everywhere, coming in on one line in particular. I thought about my spina bifida, as though from the outside, and all my head troubles. And it came through: you've been trying all along, but you couldn't have helped these things. They are not your fault. Forgive yourself, you did nothing wrong. And the line in the song was, "I tried so hard to stand, as I stumbled and fell to the ground". And there wasn't a drop of falsehood I could discern in what was coming through to me. I couldn't argue with it, it felt undeniably true. It said, Look! Take a good look! These are things you did not choose. These are things you could never be at fault for. You cannot be to blame for this. Accept that. It's true.


This is something I'd never wanted to see, because of its negative side. I'd run from it because I'd never wanted to take the easy way out. "I couldn't help it". Because then, I'd be defined by it, "the poor little handicapped boy", and I couldn't stand that. Can't do it? I'l fucking show you what I can do. So I shoved that all into the background until I could no longer recognize any validity to it, I would not allow it. And yet it was still real and it was still true. And I suddenly knew it was all right to forgive myself for not having done better, I really did have some seriously heavy shit to deal with that others did not. Even typing this now, I find the idea hard to accomodate. But in that dream, it was undeniable and real. It comforted me as only a truth you cannot face consciously can do, when suddenly it comes and insists you see it. I felt a lot better in my sleep. I woke up with tears on my face and the feeling was still there. It wasn't all my fault. It was a relief I deserved to feel. It was OK.


If I told you not only what I dealt with on a personal level, the kinds of things I saw as a kid, many of them on a daily basis, I suppose I could make a better case. In my elementary school, I saw almost every birth defect you can imagine, disabilities from parental abuse, or from horrible accidents. Or kids simply not showing up one day and you didn't know if they were transferred, got better, or died. Then there was all the family stuff- so much, a parade of stories with harsh lessons. There were really things in my life that I had no choice but to experience, truths I learned early whether I was ready for them or not. There were genetic time bombs all set to go off in my psyche as soon as I hit a certain age and certain types of stressors triggered them- my father suffered with these terribly. Again though, these are other stories for other times. Now we're talking about a song and a dream. I can't hear the song without thinking of this, even though I know that's not what it was about. The experience was a bit of wonder, a valuable gift, maybe from one part of me to another, whatever the case, I don't know. But I'm glad it came when it did. I'm glad it came at all. Because I'm still here, and that might not have happened otherwise.



MONDAY, JUNE 6, 2016

Confession of a Metaphysical Atheist

I'm not sure if that title is quite right; but I'm not sure how else to say it. In just about any conventional sense you can frame, I don't believe in God. Nor then, do I believe in Satan; this should go without saying, but there are people who've convinced themselves they can somehow have it both ways. Why don't I believe? It's not for lack of societal pressure, I can tell you. It's simply that it doesn't really make sense to me. I don't believe it because I can't.


Regarding larger cosmology: the idea of a universal being or mind which is solely or primarily concerned with us is preposterous to me. The universe is just too big for us to be of primary concern to something in charge of running all that.


I could see the possibility of a more localized non-physical (not matter-encumbered) system somehow looking out for us or keeping things running smoothly; but to think that we actually understand the workings of such a system, based on our limited and one-sided knowledge of what it might be, is equally preposterous to me. I would say it makes a lot more sense to start with sociology and history, and understand reasons why belief systems might have taken the forms they did, reasons which have more to do with immediate earthly influence than with what may have been at the core experience of their prophets and saints.


Mystical (contemplative) experience is one thing; religion is another. And religion is essentially sociological. It is the product less of a mystic, and more of a social response and resulting framework for the mystic's observations. It is always destined to depart from the meaning of mystical experience, and head in directions never intended by its core observer. Internal and external methods of governing are incompatible. Where one flourishes, the other inevitably declines.


Because religion involves the social, and as such is not particularly mysterious to me; and because it is near and dear to a good number of people in my life who are very important to me, I have chosen to not go further into that than I have just done, and I'm not interested in ridiculing or tearing down belief. People's beliefs are their own business. Belief only becomes my business when it impinges on me. My friends aren't like that. Were they to become like that, they would not stay my friends for long. Understand also, that by stating my lack of belief, I am not "going after" my friends or family or anyone, really. It is not my business to tell anyone else what to do or think, if they are doing no harm.


As I have said elsewhere, I believe the word "supernatural" should be thrown out of the dictionary. It too does not make sense. There is nothing above or outside of the natural world. It either exists or it doesn't. It may fall outside of our knowledge, but that's different. There is the explained, and the unexplained. Unfortunately, there is also the "explained away". And it's there that this article will soon go, because I have a big problem with this. It's a problem that has everything to do with science and nothing to do with "belief".


I forget who said "Belief atrophies the mind", but it's a good quote. You may remember the poster in the office of the show "The X-Files", the one with the picture of a UFO on it, and underneath it the words, "I Want To Believe". Here's the thing: I DON'T want to believe. I don't need to believe. I want to KNOW.


Throughout my life, seemingly through no fault or intent of my own, I have run face first into odd things. Over and over and over again. I am convinced that many of them have explanations beyond the simply psychological, and beyond coincidence. Because my efforts to ignore such events, and thereby make them go away have been unsuccessful, I have spent years studying what literature was available to me. I have paid very close attention to the details of my own experiences, in an effort to learn and understand. I don't "believe" these things happened. I know I experienced them. On what level and to what extent they are physically real, and not a product strictly of psychological processes, it has not always been easy to say. In order to explore that, I have had to be both objective and open-minded, willing to be self-critical as well as having a critical eye on my sources. This is not an easy way to go, but it's a must. It is uncomfortable to lay a trap door under yourself-" I know x, y, and z, but I may be deluded just the same and everything I know may be wrong and I might be nuts". I see no other way to keep one eye always open for the truth. That said, you would have to prove to me how and why I am not in my right mind. The interest alone is not enough, nor is the sense that real things happened.


Some people may be critical of my insistence on the validity of subjective experience. I believe all science and knowledge and exploration starts there." Observation! It's what's for breakfast". But because observer will almost always have some effect on what is reported as observed- in other words, acting as a filter of the objective experience- I do not believe you can get by entirely without taking the observer's psyche and biases into account. These things don't always influence the observation. But they can, certainly, and need to be figured in, to form as complete a picture as possible. This is especially important when dealing with things that can't be physically observed at will, repeated in a lab setting, etc.


It also means that the unremitting bias of many skeptics must be considered as important as that of any starry-eyed believer. Unless you can treat an unknown as just that, you are at a huge loss when it comes to having what it takes to find the facts. I was disappointed to discover that the SPR (Society for Psychic Research) had an agenda to go along with their telepathy experiments: they were searching for proof of the soul. Feh! Just focus on establishing facts! One thing does not establish anything else, that's a different set of experiments and proofs. It did the entire field a disservice and cast a very bad shadow on what was otherwise some really useful and good work. On the other side of things, you had the French Academy of Sciences denying the existence of meteors all the way up to late 1700s. This, despite massive physical and observational evidence; or medical science's initial resistance to recognizing the existence of micro-organisms and the need for sterilizing techniques before surgery. It seems very real and natural now, but the idea was first met with much derision by the medical and scientific communities.


Often, criticism will come regarding these "unknowns": they make no scientific sense, there are no known technologies which can do such things, etc. Such criticism ignores a very simple fact- we don't know everything. If something is observed repeatedly, by people all over the world, people with different cultures and different sources of influence, and have been observed in much the same way for centuries, I contend it's not wrong to assume there is some basis in fact for it. It does not disprove anything to say that we do not currently understand them. And it proves nothing to say that because we have no proof such things are possible, that such things cannot happen, and the observers are all liars, delusional, or dishonest. How then, to handle such things? Examine the extant reports and theories. Collect and report new data. And theorize anew, because we know more know than we did, say, a hundred years ago. Know where the line is between speculation and something repeatable under controlled conditions, and act accordingly. And remember that things which are now proven were once speculations too. Last, never, ever, get so attached to one explanation that you become unwilling to keep an open mind to new info.


So it is the non-religious, odd experiences that interest me. Telepathy, precognition (and other time-related phenomena), remote knowledge/viewing- these things have all seemingly happened to me at various times. My experiences have forced me to theorize, because they were intense enough that I could not simply let them go. I hold out no hope of converting anyone, but if I open a mind here or there, that would be nice.


UFOs interest me. I had a sighting in 1979, and it was not a high-flying amorphous dot of light in the night sky. It was very visible, and very obviously not any kind of conventional craft open to common knowledge. I do not have an explanation for what I saw. I have speculated a lot, as is natural when faced with an unexplainable experience. I do not automatically equate UFOs with space visitors. I honestly do not know what they are, and feel good in stating my lack of knowledge clearly. I wish others would do the same. A guess is not proof. The one thing I detest more than automatically assuming these things are from outer space is that they are all hoaxes, misperceptions, or the products of overactive imaginations. Read the literature amassed over the last 70 or so years- the best of it, the rest of it, as you like- and you will see: something has really been happening something beyond the psyches of the witnesses. We don't know what, but that doesn't mean anything beyond itself. There are definite patterns, some of which have never been particularly obvious, in an "everybody knows those stories" kind of way. There are almost as many theories as there are theorists.


A parting, summarizing note now. Not believing in God does not mean I believe we know everything. We most certainly do not. I think a realistic approach to things formerly and wrongly painted with the brush of "unreal" is a worthwhile thing. I do not want to believe. I want to know; to the best of my abilities, limited though they are. I'm fine leaving questions open until thoroughly answered. That's exactly as it should be. That does not remove the questions. It only challenges us to keep looking for answers.



SUNDAY, MAY 15, 2016

Noodles on my noodle we are. (Tap, tap. Looks down at floor, over at wall.) Yep. Back.

(Clears throat.)


(Coughs. Clears throat again. Deep breath.)

Guess I'll, About. Something.


Music? Yeah, OK, that's easy enough.


Work continues on the current project, "Noodles". Up to a couple of days ago, it consisted of three instruments- drums, Hammond organ, and nylon string acoustic guitar. I was going through and doing what is essentially a combination of editing and mix; each track put as close to even volume as possible, then adjusted manually a section, a phrase, or a note at a time, whatever's necessary. Panning is done at this point too (placement in the stereo field). Nothing' fancy going on there anymore- I usually just pick a spot for each instrument where it helps everything get heard properly and then I leave it there. That's especially relevant to this kind of project, where it's supposed to be as close to a live situation as a multi-tracker can manage. The idea then, trying to evoke a situation similar to a jazz session. (Or Paper Bag/Jugalbandi, etc.) It was a really cool recording session. The drum tracks were assembled first, left over from a few different sessions, including one with multi-instrumentalist/filmmaker Jeffrey Von Ragan on congas (and me playing his kit). I had the order set up, master at the ready; ran the headphones over to the Hammond, turned it on and let it warm up for a half hour. (It's a lot like an old car in that way.) And when it was ready, I got the recording rolling and improvised organ through the album in one go. When it was over, I ate lunch and set up for the nylon-string guitar, then did the same thing there, hit record and just ran through the whole album. There are five pieces in all.


Problem is, a few nights into the mix/volume editing, it hit me: this sucks. Not a pleasant thing to hit one, smack dab in the middle of the creative process. But I don't ignore these things when they come to me. And it came: this sucks.


Now, I was also not likely to just take this little realization, which was more of a snide remark by my inner devil's advocate, at full face value. It was late- really, really late- and I hadn't even made it into the studio before having a 15 hour day of child-rearing and domestic duties. I was falling asleep in my chair and couldn't really focus. So I knew better than to buy into this too much. And yet I also knew it would be dangerous, creatively speaking, to simply ignore it. So I stopped and decided to come back to it when time permitted, and when I was awake and as fresh as only strong coffee can make me.


When that time came, I tried the usual stand-bys to save things. Check levels; try changing the panning. See if some dynamic shifts were either ignored, buried, or not supported. Also, try taking sections of tracks out, muting them, to bring a more definition to things. You might think something with such simple instrumentation wouldn't need to be scaled back, but I played the hell out of every instrument, the result being the sonic equivalent of NY cheesecake in the stomach at 4 a.m.- dense nearly to the point of uncomfortable. I fixed everything I could, and it was better; but it was not enough. So now, it was time to consider adding to it.


I did not want to. It ran contrary to the entire concept of the album. The point of compromise would then be, keep it simple, as simple as possible. Maybe one instrument played throughout, as with the previous 3 tracks? What would work?


For the first piece, I tried piano. And it worked! Swung like a bad bitch! Really cool, I was relieved. Did some level balancing, found a proper place for it in the stereo field, which meant having to do some quick re-panning of the guitar and organ; but it worked. Phew.


When it came time for piece no. 2, however, it did not. It might have, had I been patient enough; but I was not. I started playing it against the existing tracks, and was immediately rubbed the wrong way. Meh. Next! What now? It was very late so I couldn't get loud. I thought I might try a more exotic acoustic instrument, maybe a homemade. But the idea of waking people put me off. I tried various virtual instruments, and they were as unappealing there as the piano had been. And then at one point, my finger slipped and an instrument came up when I was not actually trying to turn one on. My spider sense got tingling- these kinds of 'accidents" were often auspicious. I played the default sound and right away felt this would be the case. The program was "Scandalous", and the default sound was pretty much pure sine wave, monophonic. I've always loved that sound, but in the wrong situation it can be boring as white on milk. Not so here! It was so different- even from the Hammond- that it sat both alongside the other instruments, and stood out from them, perfectly. The interface of Scandalous is so simple that it's really easy to tweak while playing. I did here as I'd done previously, play straight through. worked. Really well. In fact, with almost no work, the sound cut through yet did not obscure, and I was able to drop the volume significantly and have it fit in even better. Yuh!


I started nodding when I started reviewing track three, so it was time to pack it in. My memory, of what I was able to stay awake for, is that this one may just work as a three piece. If so, cool! If not, I will figure something else out. The format has changed from the originally conceived simple trio to "trio with a friend" TBA per track. This doesn't bring things too far from base. Breathing easier. This does not suck. It just needed some help. I repeat: phew.


I am still a-hankerin' to do a lyric/vocal/song-oriented album, as I was supposed to do at the start of the year. My urge to do so now is warming to the point where it may soon start burning a hole in me. The recent remix/remaster/release of "Darkland Express" has really stoked this.


More later! I'm going to try to make a habit of these, ideally doing more than one a day. And not skipping a year and half between posts. If I keep the focus on music, I'll probably do a lot more yapping, I can go on, can't I? And hopefully people find them all enjoyable like.


Manny LaMancha



FRIDAY, MAY 13, 2016

Well goodness me....Been a while, hasn't it? I will attempt to post more often than every year and a half. Famous last words, I know. But here we are. So what's up?


First of all, I have been doing a lot on Facebook. If you want to chat, get the latest news, see pictures of babirusa pigs and the like, go there and look me up and say hi. My news travels fastest there, even faster than on my website. Certainly faster than here!


Lots of stuff to mention since 2/15. Albums: quite a few. I think by that time the "Building" album with Bret Hart and Bob Jordan had come out. But if memory serves, "A Handful Of Ashes", my first solo outing in 8 years, did not come out until March. That one has vocals and lyrics and songs and whatnot. Then I fired my first volley of fusion interpretation in the form of "Beauty Sleep". Doesn't really sound like fusion, but has a jazz influence. Also classical, also avante-garde, also rock, etc....If I've done it right, it won't sound quite like anything you've ever heard before. That came out...June '15. Followed up late August '15 by "Skeleton Parade", another one in the same vein as "Beauty Sleep". Cut ahead to January '16 and out comes "Moving", more along the same lines...then in mid-February, "Energies Coarse And Fine", my all-synthesizer album- always wanted to do one of those. Finally in late February came "Birds", an hour-long piece of natural bizarreness featuring a synth that only mimics bird sounds, used with music concrete techniques. And during this time, I was remastering and releasing things to my bandcamp site ( So yes, been busy, getting back into the saddle.


My urge to communicate through writing never left, of course, but time is not always easy to make. I have done a fair amount of work on Facebook (!) some of it postworthy for a blog; Hard to make time. I now have a machine that's devoted solely to my creative work, so I'm going to hope that gets me here more often. I'd like to not just rejuvenate this blog, but make it the kind of outlet I'd always hoped it would be.


So, hope to blather at you again soon. Maybe even tonight!


Speaking of tonight, the great Charles Rice Goff III has a radio show, an hour if memory serves. He usually plays a variety of underground artists. Well tonight, he's doing a show on my work! Very cool! It will be on 12 midnight pacific time tonight (AKA Saturday morning) here: Thank you, Charles!


Find out more about Charles' music here:


See you round the ranch, kids!





Found Percussion

Found Percussion: a guide for Jeffrey Von Ragan's film and the found sound enthusiast by Greg Segal


Why "found percussion"?


The name isn't exactly precise; it's not always "found", as in by the side of the road, or in a dumpster. It can be; but there are cleaner options. They aren't free, but they can be dirt cheap. Anyone can see the appeal in that.


Beyond the term itself then, why?


With the exception of cymbals, of which no two are ever exactly alike, store-bought percussion is very close to standardized. You know when you buy it you are getting roughly the sound you've heard elsewhere, and presumably that's what you want. Under many circumstances, this is desirable. Few people want a drum with head sizes you can't find, which would have to be custom made. You could simply tune microtonally or in some eccentric way. You could put things on the heads when you hit them, or hit them in unusual ways or with unusual strikers. So standard is good. Standard means maintanence is not usually problematic.


For many drummers and percussionists, there's no reason to look any further. They don't play, or have interest in playing, music which requires anything more. In fact, anything else might get in the way.


There are those of us, though, for whom unique sounds are really important. Percussion offers almost limitless possibilities for unique sounds. Percussion is a very large field. Essentially, it's anything struck. (By this definition, the piano was originally considered a percussion instrument, before the more general "keyboard" definition came into use.)


Where is a good place to start? For me, anyplace I can get my hands on metal or wood objects as inexpensively as possible. Other materials are certainly not off limits, and I'm open to them. But they are often more fragile than metal or wood, or not loud enough. Bamboo is probably the best exception to this. Some people like glass or ceramic objects. Personally I find them too fragile, and while I would be fine to record special projects with them, using them as routinely struck objects makes me nervous.


Cheap objects are most easily found at thrift stores and garage sales. How much you want to pay is up to you. I am a cheap bastard and want to pay as little as possible. But some objects will sound so magnificent they make you gasp, and for those, sometimes you have to cough up the cash. Otherwise you'll be cringing for years to come, every time you think about passing on buying them. At least, that's what happens to me. So there's a ratio here of desirability to price.


When you first start out, there will be lots of sounds you want. Let's start with pot lids. Every pot lid is a little different, and ones with nice, bell-like tones will hook you. And this is good. Eventually though, you may find yourself at the end of what you can do with those, and pot lids will suddenly seem less desirable. My advice here is, don't give up yet. Other than those bell tones, you can find some really odd metal sounds. You'll be buying fewer pot lids, but when you find something new to you it will make you want to jump around a bit and let out some yelling sounds, scaring your fellow shoppers. If you're shy, try to abstain from that. If you're not, go for it! Enjoy your discovery.


If you are of a boy/girl scout mindset, by all means Be Prepared and bring some strikers. I usually don't bother if I'm going to a thrift store. I'll grab one or more things to strike with from the kitchen utensils section. Wood is usually easy to find, metal too. Hard plastic makes a good compromise, and can also clue you in as to what hard rubber might sound like. If you like using soft mallets, you may have to bring those. Also, be on the lookout for unique strikers! You may find some good things to use. Be open to them.


Other than pot lids, likely objects from the kitchen section include: the pots themselves, roasting pans (both sections), baking sheets, and so on. You will begin to recognize which objects are likely to offer the best possibilities. I could go into it in detail, but unfortunately I wouldn't be doing you a favor. You are better off using trial and error, because even objects which seem unlikely can surprise you. Conversely, some things you think of as tried and true might not sound good. So the best thing to do is get familiar with the basic types and your basic assumptions about them, and find a way to move quickly and effectively through whatever sized stack is in front of you. If time is not a problem, there is no need to worry about it. But for most people this is not the case. Don't get paralyzed by a fear of missing something spectacular by rushing through. Most strong, striking sounds make themselves known on the first or second hit.


Moving right along for more metal, check out the section with candle holders, housewares, chatchkes, etc. You can find some spectacular stuff in this section. So far the two best things I've found in this section have been made of pewter, a metal I'd previously dismissed as too soft. If it's thick enough, it can be strong, and will often give a gorgeous clear sound that will ring for a long, long time. This said, I would still be careful of striking too hard. I believe pewter is kind of brittle. This would account for the tightness and clarity of the sound but also the possibility of shattering. Yes, I said shattering. It may not be like a water glass, more like safety glass. But if the metal is thick enough and you use your wrists to strike, rather than your arms, you will hopefully never encounter this.


On to the wood! Usually there will be a wood section in housewares. Wooden bowls, boxes, and all sorts of things can yield good sounds. Most importantly, your chance of finding an actual instrument placed in a wrong section by mistake is probably greatest here. I have found an African slit drum (which was being displayed as a knife rack, with knives stuck in the slits), wood blocks, guiros, flutes, wind dulcimers, thunder just goes on and on. Also, interesting strikers, like ridged sticks.


Further into the tchatchkes and keepsakes and seasonal items: jingle bells; ornamental bells; decorative trumpets (as long as the tubing goes through from the mouthpiece to the bell, they're usable as long bugles.


The toy section might have electronic toys and noisemakers; toy instruments; little metallic xylophones...again, there are more possibilities than you might imagine.


Among the tools, you might find saw blades, rake tines, interesting jingly things...many possibilities.

Let's not rule out the obvious: you may actually find some musical instruments which are not hiding, but sitting out in plain sight. Even non-working instruments can be used for parts, or conversion into some other kind of insttrument.


Thrift stores are funny. You may find overpriced garbage; or you may find hidden gems for next to nothing. It's a hunt. It's a quest for cheap music makers. To me there are few things as exciting.






February 27, 2015 at 8:43 AM

Yes, unique percussion is a wonderous thing! Very nice presentation you made here Greg. Are you recording something percussive currently? I'd like to direct you to a post where the sounds presented are ALL percussion, much of it very unusual (including a metal sink, hub caps fitted with handles, gutter elbows, lots of toys, bells, etc.).


archive (dot) org (slash) details (slash) AFantasticArrayOfOceans


Nice to read your words, best, C Goff III



Lulu Brings Back The '80s

As many of my hapless Facebook friends know, Lulu has taken to a couple of '80s music compilation CDs with a vengeance, and plays them daily. Certain tracks get played over and over and over and well you know.


It's been a mixed blessing for me. This is music I spent that decade trying to avoid. I was mostly successful. I was too busy making my own music to have to deal with much of it, I usually had command of the radio in my car, and when I couldn't keep it out, I would shiver and marvel in disgust. Why? A lot of it was the production. It's not reverse snobbery, honestly, the sound was just an instant turn off. Like biting on a saccharine tablet. To people who don't feel the same way, I have had a very difficult time explaining exactly what about it drove me up the wall. But it did. And I actually like some synthetic sounds. Wendy Carlos, Synergy, early Tangerine Dream, Bowie's Berlin trilogy, '80s King Crimson drum and guitar sounds, etc. But the majority of '80s pop stuff...uh uh. Perhaps it was the combination of production with a lot of insipid writing/marketing/image, etc. My opinions have mellowed, or my nerves have deadened (more likely the latter, but hopefully some of both). And I have actually found more to like. This is a good thing, or life around here recently would have been intolerable.


My FB friend Ric Parnell will be amused to know that one of the discs opens and closes with Toni Basil's "Mickey"- once in English, once in Spanish. (Ric played drums on this.) I have many alternate lyrics which I try to keep to myself, but as I tend to mutter under my breath and the girls have caught on to this, I am frequently unsuccessful at being discrete. One section suffers the most from a "fill in the blank" treatment: "You take me by the heart when you"

"take me by the gland"

"take me to Japan"

"call me Ray Milland"

That last is the only one that still makes me chuckle because it's completely absurd, but the other ones keep spilling out of my mouth out of decades of habit. Oops.


Each disc comes with a big fold out with a little picture of each band. Lulu keeps this open to learn more about each one. A huge favorite for the last few days has been Limahl's soundtrack tune, "The Neverending Story". (I told her the song was for a children's movie and she got even more excited.) She searched through and found Limahl's picture. She wanted to see more of him. I told her, "If you've seen one, you've seen Limahl". She didn't get it.


Back in the early'90s, the poet Vivian Wallick gave me a very cool blank book with a hand-decorated cover as a gift. Several years ago I started keeping prospective song titles in there. I've been keeping lists of these for years (as has Hyam Sosnow), and they do come in handy. The girls have been very good at bringing me funny titles like little gifts, sometimes intentionally, often not. Today Lux warped a title from one of the '80s songs, and "Living In A Box" became "Living In The Bobs". Yes! Grab that book! It's a done deal!


I was never a big Culture Club fan. Nothing to do with homophobia, I could care less about him being in drag. Just didn't really like the music. "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me" would come on and I would shout "Yes!" at the radio. Which I didn't, but the song irritated me. There was one exception with them, "Church Of The Poison Mind". To me, that's a really good R 'n' B song, and the performances are wonderful. So I've been enjoying hearing that one again...and again...and again...well maybe I could have done with a few less repetitions. But I like it. Nonetheless my Norm Crosby gene snuck in, as it will do; and it became "Church Of The Poison Mime". Hmm. Interesting. Has possibilities. A mime as a sinister villain. Sure, why not? You know, the makeup, they don't talk, it's kind of creepy. But then I thought, no, a mime is bound to be ineffective as a predatory killer. They're always getting into problems with unseen forces. Here's your killer, he's stalking a frat girl or the guy who just screwed the frat girl or the mime who stole his act, whatever. And he's creeping up behind, creeping, creeping closer- and suddenly he's trapped in an invisible box! And the intended victim gets away, never knowing how close he was. Or he's coming up on someone, the knife gets raised- and suddenly he's stabbing against the wind! And he can't make it, he keeps getting blown back! It's sad, really. Pathos.


Finally, after ten reps of "Neverending Story" and another return visit to a hit by T'Pau, I'd had enough and told Lulu, "OK, daddy's turn, time to listen to something daddy wants". She protested loudly, demanded to know what I was going to put on, and I told her the truth- I didn't know but it wasn't going to be the other '80s disc. Eventually I found something that floated my boat and I put it on. "What is it, what is it?" I said, "Something I've been playing you off and on since you were a baby. I think you like this. Anyway I like it and I need something like this for a few minutes, you'll live, just listen." And then "Dance To The Music" came on and she said "I know this, what is this called?" Sly and the Family Stone's greatest hits dear. Enjoy. And she did! She wanted to take the cover and look at it, which she did; asked me who was who in the picture, which I told her to the best of my recollection; told her what the songs were called as they came on. The nicest surprise was Lux, who was sitting at the table with me, eating apple slices and goldfish crackers. She was DIGGING HARD on it! Closed her eyes and shook her head around blissfully and danced in her seat. Nice! As for me, some of those arrangements, 45 years later, still make the hairs on my arms and legs stand up. "Everybody Is A Star", "Hot Fun In The Summertime" Soul with a capital "S". Do I care that it doesn't sound like the '80s stuff? Yes! I care. I'm thankful.




Ready or not! Here I come!

.....and that is why I am known to the Greeks as Testicles (TEST-ih-klees).




Oh hello! Look who's back after a year! Good to see you again. Glad you could join us. It's me who's been off galavanting. I have been spilling my thoughts on Facebook rather than here. Facebook has the advantage of a providing an extant dialogue platform, whereas this is more like a lecture. EAT YOUR VEGETABLES!


There are some things I'd like to write that don't lend themselves to a more or less short format like FB. I find it much too easy to abuse that forum when what I should be doing is writing such things here. It is both a disadvantage and an advantage to have a platform like this to turn to as an alternative; heaviest on the scale is that it is a courtesy to my friends not to swamp them with word tsunamis, when they may have come to FB for quick chats with as many people as possible. So the quandary ends and here I be, matey.


ONE: Same Old Blues


I want to write far more often than I get to. I am reminded of a woman I met when I lived in Los Angeles. She lived alone, had no phone, no television and no personal life. Why? Because she was a writer and did not want to be disturbed. I asked her if this was lonely and she said no, not most of the time. Her work was the most important thing in her life and if she was writing she was happy. Everything else to her was a distraction. I found her fascinating, and her intellect and devotion to her art were a major turn-on. But she wanted none of that, because it would interfere with her writing.

You would think my memory of her would be full of pity, or fear of ending up that way. But in fact I have often thought back on her with admiration and envy. What dedication. What strength. I have had long stretches of involuntary solitude at various points in my life, and have learned to not just make the best of such a situation, but to excel. Nonetheless I have friends and family and like it that way, hermit's life for me.


Nope! I have opted to try to have it all. If that sounds pretty much is. Time spent away from my creative work can be hellish, full of anxiety, compulsiveness,and strong feelings of deprivation and overload. However, time spent away from my girls gives me a feeling of sadness, of their short childhoods and sweet little selves slipping away from me. As if these two competing feelings weren't bad enough, my mother is aged and ill, my siblings are all nearing retirement age, my friends keep dying or developing disabilities that take them out of music, reminding me that time is slipping away for me too....You begin to lose track of how many directions you are pulled in.

My everyday life taking care of kids and household keeps me so busy that any activities outside the immediate require a bit of effort, and most likely, careful scheduling. I am lucky to have a spouse who is aware of all of this, and who does her best to help me with the juggling act. Nonetheless she is at least as busy as I am with domestic matters, and can only do as much as she can do. Most of the time for us, it's just a matter of keeping the ship running and seeing what's left of our energy and time when opportunities present themselves, or can somehow be made.


I am told by many people that things like spare time will return, and I'll be glad I spent the time the way I did; and so it most likely will be. Still, most of us wag a finger at ourselves sometimes, with pretended wisdom about how we might have done things better. Perhaps, let's say, this would have been easier if I'd had children earlier. Then I might have felt less under pressure to produce creative work- before I found myself, through threat of age and/or infirmity, potentially unable to do so.


There are two problems with that idea.


One, I'd have been a crappy father if I'd been one earlier. I was not patient enough, I was not mature enough, and I'd have been hell to live with. It would have ended badly and no one would have benefitted.


Two, the spectre of death has been standing by, drumming his fingers and pointing at his watch since I was born. Because of a birth defect, my parents were told that I might make it to six months; then I might make it to a year; then two years; then hopefully five; and that if I made it to ten, then it was anyone's guess. My parents being worriers, and my father being morbidly obsessed with his own mortality anyway, there was NEVER a time when I wasn't aware of life as something which could end quickly. Every day felt like living on borrowed time. As if to reinforce this, I went on to see examples of quick disability and mortality all around me during my first 12 years of life.


Everything has two sides. Being drilled with a sense of mortality from earliest memory has had advantages, among them having a natural sort of 'carpe diem' mentality. The down side is that it made the usual trappings of settling down seem like having a heavy wet blanket thrown over you shortly before you're shot. My view on this only changed when I was at an age where, presumably, I should have started "having a life"; and people my own age, who had done more in that direction than I had, started dying.


Now you see, I'm a contrary guy. If I have a guardian angel, it's certainly bald by now, having long ago torn out its hair in fits of frustration, given the thankless task of trying to steer me right.(I'm sure Chrissy feels this way with some degree of frequency.) But I eventually come around, if it seems to me there's something to come around to. I'd always wanted to be married. I'd always imagined that some day I might settle into my version of what settling down might be. And, surprise surprise, I'd harbored paternal urges for years. But for the reasons outlined above, I wasn't really keen on pushing too hard in that direction. Still, when the time came that I really felt it was imperitive that I do so, I did it with everything I had. The result is the life I have now, which, all told, is pretty amazing. But mind lodged in a meat bag is a limited reality, and there's only so much you can actually accomplish in the limited years you live, no matter what you think when you're younger. Some things are so demanding- rewarding too, but that's not the point- that they require large chunks of you for you to have them. They move in, they take up room on the pie chart, and other things must be moved, stored, or let go of. And that is rarely anything but painful. At first.


I don't believe in absolutes. I'm a 'percentages' kind of guy. I believe there's a really good chance I'll manage to do a decent job with all of the above, including the biggest longshot of all, keeping myself happy and not needing to bitch quite so much. And with that in mind, let's move on.


TWO: Where'd I go? Oh There I Am


Over the last few years, I've experienced a level of disinterest in a lot of my old favorite passtimes. It feels weird, but I know it's logical.


I used to love to hit used book stores. But for a number of reasons it's become pretty unimportant. For a start I have almost no time to read. Sad but true. Given that, I have a very large number of books. Some of the topics I used to collect are of less interest to me now. I have much less room than I used to. And I have a need for cash. So starting soon, I'll be whittling down the collection yet again to help me put some money towards musical endeavors.


When I go into thrift stores now- which isn't very often anymore- I am extremely conservative, and it's unusual for me to leave with much. I went through my phase of buying metal and wooden objects for percussion. I still check, but there's almost nothing to get that isn't in the same ballpark as what I already have. Unless it's really unusual sounding, which rarely happens, I leave it.


I don't buy videos or DVDs. I have no time to watch anything. Really.


I do have to stay away from "record" stores. It's the one habit that's still with me, or would be if I allowed it. Can't afford to, but the desire is still there. I have found a lot of new music through the library, and as of last year, Pandora. Used properly, online services can be a way to find a lot of new things that really float yer boat. This is good and bad. Now I want all the Broadcast CDs and all the Besnard Lakes CDs and a lot of Porcupine Tree and a fair amount of other things besides. Reissues with bonus tracks and boxed sets and....Oy. If I was plopped down at Music Millenium with a couple o' grand and told to spend every penny of it, there and nowhere else, there would be no problem. Not likely to happen but it's a nice fantasy. I will retain my composure while things are real and see what happens. The fact is this: the only time I manage to listen to anything is when I wash. Limited time equals limited use equals lower priority and so, less interest. But where this is concerned, still bubbling away on a back burner.


THREE: Do You Wanna Be A Rock 'N' Roll Star




I'm fifty. I've got a pretty obvious gut. My physical problems are worse than they were when I was in my twenties; no real surprise there. The part of me that wanted to travel and have adventures has gone the way of many other interests, swirling down the sucking drain of life. Meh. In its place, enjoying the forward position, my writerly, painterly, crafty side has settled hard into its seat and shows no signs of leaving anytime soon. That may sound boring, but I'm excited. I have so many ideas for projects of all kinds that I'm actually more afraid of not getting to do them than I am of being bored. Creating things, if even for the sake of it, is the breath of life for me.


Also, in the decades I've been at it (or not), the nature of celebrity itself seems to have changed. I know that in the past, long before I was here, it wasn't unusual for the falsehoods, facades and expectations of stardom to drive many people who'd achieved it to despair. And yet the lack of rights of celebrities to be private people seems to have grown. The Altamont moment, for me, was the death of Princess Diana. Despite there being an outcry over paparazzi going too far, not much changed, and the vultures only became more bold and sure of their place in the food chain. "They wanted to be famous, they shouldn't complain." While given the types of things I do, I would most likely never have to worry about fame of that kind, I still am not interested in pushing it too awfully hard. American Idol doesn't want me and I don't want them. I want to make the kind of music and art and writing that I'm interested in, and then find a way to get it to people who like it. For what it's worth, I am reasonably sure such people exist. This way seems like the logical procedure to me, rather than not being myself in the hope of someday being myself, then hoping that the people who liked me for not being me will follow when I am. You know?


FOUR: The Write Stuff Baby, The Write Stuff


I always enjoy writing, but there are some minor things and a couple of major things I am extremely keen to get working on. The problem of course is time. But perseverence and practice have helped me keep things moving on most fronts during this seemingly bench-warming time. I have not given up on the idea of possibly making some money off my writing. I have also not given up on the idea that for many projects, the ideas and execution follow the lines of imagination first, rather than commerce, and are presented for sale afterward. I don't believe that anything I have to offer as a writer is so far out or abstract that I will be writing only for myself and scholars of the unknown. It should all be mainstream enough. Then again, that's what I thought about "A Man Who Was Here". We who make things, don't always know.


Still to be written, or currently partially written: I have a dark Western; a futuristic/utopian/dystopian anthology with framework; lots of musically-based essays; and lots more besides, but those three seem to be the starting lineup. I figure I'd put 'em up for sale as e-books, or with companies who print to order. I'd be an idiot to bank on selling a whole bunch. But you never know, and I believe it's worth doing.


One of my concerns has been to not step on M.'s toes, or into his territory. He has been working on some writing for a while, and I believe he's pretty close to doing something with it. I've played with the idea of psuedonyms again, the most recent of which, Craig Segall, is a joke based on the most common mispronounciations of my names. But maybe we can be like the Brontes or the Huxleys or the Bensons or the Winters, etc. If it's all good- and I have reason to believe both parties would deliver the goods well- who cares? Good is good. Mark has a really distinct voice and approach as a writer, and despite similar interests our styles are easily told apart.


FIVE: Hmm, Very Nice. Are We Done Yet?


Just about. I would love to get back here before next year. If you like reading my stuff, hey- maybe we'll both get lucky. Salut!




The Recreated Post

Yesterday, Hal McGee, a great and prolific musician, did a Facebook post with a photo of a book,with a quote from him in it. I found it very inspiring. I first thanked him on that post,in the comments section. Then I shared his post to my page. Then I tried to write my own response to it. Hell, I DID write a response to it. I must have had a moment when the writing fairies came to me, because I was flying by the time I finished writing it. I was feeling so good about it that I tagged a ton of people, including many artists I wouldn't normally bother with such things. Then I hit the button to post it. And it disappeared.


And I bitched, and I moaned, and my head hit the skids, hard. Depressed in a big way for the rest of the day. Chrissy tried her best to help, and help she very much did; but got mentally banged around a bit for her troubles too. Sweets, I love you. Don't know how you put up with me.


Anyway, she wanted me to try again, so I did. I didn't entirely care for what I wrote, so I went to sleep depressed, and woke up that way too. Took care of the kids while she slept this morning. But when she woke up she wanted me to try again. And this time I think I've come up with something worth posting. Not the same magic or heavenly choirs upon reading it, but it functions and doesn't make me want to retch or throw the computer against the wall. With that ringing endorsement, here it is.


While I agree with the general tone of Hal's post, some things are of course different for me. Music is not the only thing I live for, and actually never has been. More generally, creating things- and giving new life and new purposes to old, discarded or orphaned things- is what I live for, on this particular level. These have made up my main purpose, the path that has sustained me through tough times, the way that has given my life a sense of meaning and my self a sense of value. When I am making things I am lost in the action and living for that moment and it feels really, really good. When I am reusing or repurposing things in my creative work, I feel good on so many levels it's hard to describe. It's a little bit of animistic love that projects the idea of not wasting things, of finding use in the apparently useless; salvage, or from probably the same linguistic root, salvation. Salvation in a very hands-on way.

Of course, in the old days I could have just lived for that, but now I have a family. My kids bring a different and deeper level to my life. A parent has two choices: attend or neglect. Every day is a little tug of war between those two poles. I'm not saying you have to hover over every little thing, but you have to at least be aware, even if you're hanging back and letting them grow. Which makes it kind of hard to take time to create in the way that I'm used to. When what you do is dependent upon a level of concentration which demands that you shut everyone and everything else out while you work, it becomes more of an all or nothing proposition when it comes to choose how to spend your time. This is especially true if you and your wife ARE the support system, and can't afford too much child care. There isn't the choice of taking a break, playing with the kids, then going back to work. Running

opposite to this, pulling hard in the other direction, is the reality that childhood moves quickly. If you are busy you'll miss it, and there are no second chances. With that in mind, Chrissy and I have been trying to spend as much time with our kids as possible. That shouldn't feel painful to me but it does, because what I'm putting in the background is an entire way of life. It is a living part of me, it's my connection to the world and feeling like I even belong in it, it's what keeps me sane. I am not active in it to the extent that I need to be. And I mean that for me, on an inner level, not in any concrete way. The world can do quite fine without my work. But I can't. Nonetheless, my kids need me, my wife needs me, and I need me to be there with my kids, for me as well as them. I will sometimes spend all day waiting for a moment's peace or time to work, then find myself feeling so much love for them at night that I miss them and want to wake them up and hug them. This is not a black and white, easy, simple situation.


Something I liked about Hal's post was that he refuses to be put off by some of the uglier thoughts you might face when your work is done for the sake of doing it, not for a paycheck, and not, horrible though it is to say, because there are necessarily even many people waiting for it. He's proud of how prolific he is (as I think he should be). He is not at all concerned with other people's concerns about too much audio getting out there into the world cluttering up people's choices- he seems to poke fun at that whole notion, to laugh at it. Good. I needed to hear that. I needed- seriously NEEDED- to hear someone say that.Thank you, thank you, and again, thank you.


This brings up an important point about creating that seems to have eluded many people: living as a creating person is a process, and cannot be about goals or projects. Those are what give you the traction to stay on the road, the guard rails, even at times the gas. But projects end, goals are realized (or not), and you are....where? If you are not living the process, you're in trouble. And if you're constantly questioning things like if you're doing too much art (? seriously), are you getting paid, is it worth your while....something will rot right out from underneath you. I seriously dislike having my state of mind constantly undermined by this crap. I'm going to have to stop listening, it's simply bad for me. Yes, I deserve to get paid, damn straight. But I deserve to create without having to worry about that too. I can be bought, but my creativity is priceless to me. Of course I want to be heard; but if I'm so busy worrying about that that I get depressed and stop creating, no positive purpose is served. It is becoming clear to me, with a little help from my friends: full speed ahead, as blindly and blissfully as need be. Let the rest sort itself out, or deal with it as you can. But keep going- for the right reason: because it feels right to do so.




Amy PurdyJanuary 1, 2013 at 11:58 PM

Beautifully written, and it really put things in a new perspective for me. I struggle merging the creative side of me with the responsible side of me. I feel such a pull to express myself through written word, but being a stay-at-home mom leaves me little time (and energy!) to write much of anything. I'm practical and realize that my children will not be children for very much longer, and they need my attention more than anything else in this world. But still, I'm not really whole when I am not creating something. Even if it's horrible, it's still words that I bled out by my own hand so they have to count for something, eh? The truth is, I can't blame the lag in writing totally on my kids. I make excuses. I procrastinate. I choose to watch a mundane TV show in what little spare time I have instead of working on the ideas I have jingling up there in my head. It is hard to find a balance, and I will make a wild guess to assume that it is this way for most artists-whether their trade is music, painting, writing, or any other creative asylum. I put such high expectations on an ideal writing career-one that pays, damn it!-but I'm letting dreams carry the load while I avoid the hard labor. I keep telling myself "when the kids get older I will buckle down and write something substantial". But my soul isn't quite satisfied with that notion anymore.



lJanuary 2, 2013 at 10:33 PM

Thank you Amy. I think most, if not all creative people with kids have to deal with this. I can only speak for myself, while here you speak for you, but together we state the facts and don't feel quite so isolated in the struggle. Which is a very good thing.


It's very difficult to explain that these activities, which can seem selfish, are simply a part of us, one that can't be shut down without losing ourselves in the process. I have developed all sorts of ways to try to keep on task in at least minor ways, and still be a responsible dad. But some days are harder than others and some days are hell and it has nothing whatsoever to do with not loving your kids. THAT is what is so hard to get across.


As far as doing things that reek of procrastination and goofing off instead of creating....Look, in an ideal world full of ideal people, everyone would have the strength and the discipline to use every spare moment efficiently. Let me know when we magically wake up there, I'll be looking forward to a new and better me. And I think I'm actually not bad at it! I have a suspicion that a certain amount of what appears to be goofing off actually functions as a sort of lubrication for the mind. What happens to an engine without oil, or coolant? Not good. I think it differs from person to person, how much of this is necessary and what forms it will take. Aleister Crowley, who was one of the most prolific and accomplished people you can imagine, regularly blasted himself in his writings as being slothful, the laziest person in the world. Meanwhile he wrote a huge number of books and poetry on all sorts of subjects, climbed mountains, travelled the world learning various religious and mystical practices from the sources- rather than watered down versions at home- and so on. Thought of himself as a slacker. Could have fooled me. We are often our own harshest judges.


I do know that hard labor at a creative pursuit pays off in art at least, if not in money. The key is to be a bull dog about it- dive in and don't let go until all the work is done. At least that's what works for me, or has in the past. But that is the very reason I'm having so much trouble now. That is currently an unworkable method. So I am having to find new ways to actually stay productive. If anyone tells you it's not hard, I believe that's easy enough to say, but most likely they don't know what they're talking about.


Realistically, it's possible you'll have to wait until the kids are older. You may be right about that. If that's the case, don't let what you can't do stop you from doing what you can do. Write notes, outlines, synopses; keep files. Any time an idea comes to you related to one of these ideas or projects, jot it down, and try to keep them together. Read up on subjects that tie in to what you want to work on. Watch t.v. shows that do the same.


I'm going through it too, so obviously I don't have all the answers. But maybe a small discussion like this can help. It's helping me focus, I know.


Also, cut yourself some slack: you're writing a blog, and a good one at that. That's not nothing, it's a lot. The worst it could possibly be is good practice, but I think it's more than that. I hope it gives you some pride (it should), and some relief.



SUNDAY, MAY 20, 2012

I Hear Martians

A couple of weeks ago, this was almost ready to post. Then life intruded and, eh.....




Not literally. Ever have one ear plug up or get enough pressure in it that the natural pitch you hear is changed? The result is two ears hearing in different pitches, and sounds something like ring modulation or detuning. Anyone familiar with the narration on the track "Legacy" from "Darkland Express" knows the sound. You would think, with my background and interests, that this would be really interesting and that I would enjoy it. That is true some times, but those are in the minority. Overall, it's pretty annoying, especially when the girls are running around and screaming as they play, seeing who can laugh most shrilly and loudly. (This usually happens during tub time, when the sound is amplified by the tub walls and glass doors- which pegs my meters, bounces my eyes around in their sockets, and inadvertantly gnashes my teeth together in a lock-jawed grimace. Ah, parenthood.)


The first time this happened to me, many years ago, I found it more interesting, despite that it still was annoying, and in fact the pressure making it possible was painful. I remember standing in line at a local grocery store and listening to music at the checkout, and finding the weird harmonies produced to be very educational and fascinating. But all the voices sounding so garbled definitely got on my nerves after a while.


Sometimes I will fall back on not actually listening, but letting my brain interpret the dialogue and songs around me. Sort of an autopilot function, it keeps me distracted and occassionally amused. Lulu will start singing a school song with the melody of"Frere Jaques", and my semi-idle grey matter will chime in: "Hairy jock strap/ Hairy jock strap/ Dormammu/ Dormammu/ Where is Talky Tina/ Where is Talky Tina/ On the stairs/ Giving glares."


I'd like to get my hands on an actual ring modulator, it's one of the few things missing from my tool box. Of course right now I would't be able to tell what it sounded like. Or, it would sound like everthing else. Or twice as bad. It would be like checking out cologne or perfume if you've got a cold. Of course these days all efforts and funds for the Airship are going into finishing up the studio. I hope to be finished with this sometime before I die, so that I can gaze upon it once before going into the promised land of the eternal jam session, where free grub and free love combine with free expression, and home for my free Willy will be transient yet serially eternal.


Sorry, daydreaming again. Need a cello still, of course, that's actually number one on the list. I recently read the liner notes to the remaster of the first ELO album and took heart from Roy Wood saying that the cello on "10538 Overture" and the rest was actually of the cheap Chinese variety. So as I've often suspected- what I can afford will probably do the trick just fine. I have plans to build something for "long string bowing" (meaning, deeper notes than violin), but getting to that may take some time. Anyway.....Other equipment thoughts....I have been in need of a better drum throne since shortly after getting the one I still use, and that was in 1980. I have this crazy scheme to build something that will mimic the height and angle of the passenger seat in our car, which affords me perfect flexibility and thrust. I don't know how it would work with the actual height of my bass drum though. I think it would be too short. I'd end up looking like a shriveled old lady behind my kit. Of course I could give a crap what I look like, but if I have to play way up over my head, like I'm driving a chopper with ape-hangers, I'm probably in trouble. I may measure the height from the floor to where my butt would theoretically rest, and try to replicate that in front of the kit before I build anything. The ape-hanger routine would be especially problematic considering I have quite a few nice additions to the kit and am trying to build (or buy, if somehow that would be cheaper) a setup to include them. Example: a local hardware store had a huge range of cowbell sizes. They aren't as sturdy as LP bells, but I'm not going to be smacking the crap out of them on a nightly basis either. I think the total, with my oldest and largest LP bell Mark got me 30 plus years ago, will come to around 8 bells. You know what this means; however I manage to mount them, I will have to put up a sign saying "More Cowbell". I have thought about stacking them all vertically on a single rod, possibly fanning them out bit for greater accessability.


The cowbells, then, don't necessarily make for trouble in ape-hanger city. (Take that sentence and say it out of context in conversation, preferably within a group of people; if it's in public, perhaps at a restaurant, or at work, even better. Don't explain yourself; at most, be cryptic and hint mysteriously.In fact, the stranger your bullshit explanation is, the better. Tell me in detail about the event and I'll post it here and send you a free CD from the PA catalog, your choice. Seriously.) But I have also been collecting, and making, various chimes to hang over my head. In the old studio setup, the beams above my head were exposed, so I could hang them from nails and just reach up and hit them. (The best examples of this currently on CD are scattered throughout "A Play Of Light And Shadow".) I intend to add to this, not just more chimes but eventually a set of woodblocks and all sorts of other things. So some kind of cage setup will almost certainly become necessary. Ape-hangers...cage...maybe it's destiny appearing in the form of linguistic kizmet. Huzzah!


Seriously, I have boxes and boxes of stuff I've been collecting- mostly cheap toys and percussives and incredibly cheap stringed things- that have just been stored, waiting for a time when they can rise and bring their ancient evil to a sleepy little northwest town. I had to move around a bunch of stuff to clear the studio to work on it, and got a fresh look at some of it. Makes me salivate in a way that only thoughts of Thai food and certain cunning linguist experiences have before.


EPILOGUE: The hearing eventually cleared up. It took the better part of a week though.


The autopilot song distractor has kept me very busy over the years. It provides me with all sorts of possibilities for mishearing language, and has been an invaluable source of inspiration for my little book of potential song titles. I do hope you'll get to meet some of them later. This will of course mean me producing more music for public consuption, so...Like I said, I do hope etc.


I'm still not much further ahead on settling the apehanger drum quandary. I measured the passenger seat: if I were to recreate it as a drum throne, my ass would be approximately 10 inches off the ground. Don't see how that would be possible playing a 22 inch bass drum, with toms over that and cymbals over the toms.I can solve lots of mounting problems without too much hassle; maybe just build a rack/cage out of threaded pipe. But how to solve that "sittin' low" problem.....I'm as stumped now as I was when the thought first occurred to me.


I am no closer now to a ring modulator or a cello than I have been in ages. I occasionally think about selling some books, but when I go to make the cut, I vaporlock and stall out. As I get older, more crotchety and have less time- WAAYY less time- old dreams of reading every interesting thing I picked up cheap are starting to give way to sardonic realist assessments wherein I choose the most utilitarian or enriching tomes and axe the rest. It's like getting the itch to hack off a big head of hair and just enjoy the simplicity and coolness of a buzz cut. (I have just recently done this, in fact.) This particular dream is a bit of a leaky boat, 'cause I keep buying books. Just not as many, or as often. But the books are different, and hair grows back, It's taken a few decades but I'm almost where I want to be in terms of creative tools. The list is getting shorter all the time.


How was that entry? Was it informative and fun, or more like watching paint dry? Please send your answers to 1-800-UBITEME.




SUNDAY, APRIL 22, 2012

Musical Amphibians

I use the term amphibian here as Aldous Huxley did in a wonderful essay called "The Education Of An Amphibian". He used it to refer to a being at home in two (or in the case of humans, many) worlds. In this case, I am referring to myself and certain fellow musicians who have this habit of making music in both abstract and song forms. I will be taking the liberty of speaking for us, without having checked or cleared anything beforehand. This is something I normally would not do, and I hope I don't misrepresent anyone's views.

We are surrounded by categories: specialization and niches and pigeonholes into which we, and our activities, are routinely expected to fit. Not doing this can be viewed as suspect or just plain weird by people unused to that level of artistic diversity. Those of us acting in this way are not doing it out of indecision. On the contrary, we have made a very definite decision that no such division is acceptable to us. We try to make good music, whatever form it takes. We like a range of forms; we produce in a range of forms. We deviate from those forms, and combine them, as we see fit, to match what we want to put across. Many musical judgments and conventions taken for granted in the world of commercial music, and in traditional musics, may not be adhered to; for the simple reason that to experiment with these boundaries may produce interesting, entertaining, and artistically satisfying results.


It is also not unusual for us to be multi-instrumentalists, poets, and visual artists/designers. We're not showoffs, we're just having fun while taking care of the necessities of making things to share with other people. Again, it's about not limiting yourself. You're not supposed to do those things yourself? Who says? Why not? What a silly restriction. Who came up with that one?


In a previous blog entry, I made brief mention of a few of these fellows. I'd like to add a little more detail now.


Don Campau (pronounced "Comp-O") has been at this probably the longest of any of the folks I'm going to bring up here. His use of multiple forms goes back into the late '60s, early '70s, to the best of my knowledge. In many ways he epitomizes this musical polymorphousness. Experimentation with any and all possible instruments (and combination of instruments), acoustic and electric/electronic sounds, field recordings, poetry and singing, melodic songs and noise, he's basically done it all. And yet even for those of us who've been listening a while (I first heard Don back in '85), he continues to come up with surprises. Let me tell you about a few things he's put out recently that come immediately to mind. One of his recent releases, "Moldable Head" was made of record skips from classical records, along with a few very subtle bits of added instrumentation, mostly synth. This could have been a fun bit of noise only; but Don manages to make it thematically interesting, melodically involving. I thought the whole concept was refreshing, but what he managed to do with it raised it well beyond novelty to the point where I was more focused on it as good music, and that was a very pleasant surprise. Further into the abstract realm is the wonderful "Lilly Pad", which features two long tracks of atmospheric music, sculpted from diverse types of sound- all sorts of instruments conventional and unconventional, field recordings and short wave radio, and so on. This is the type of album I used to hunt for back in the old vinyl days, when I was discovering how huge the world of music could be, and a find like early Tangerine Dream or early Ralph Lundsten or Popol Vuh could change the way you heard things forever. A warning though: this is not new age lite, with breathy synths and tinkling piano. This sounds like something alive, in all its complexity. Last, I'd like to mention Don's most recent compilation, a "best of" from 2000-2009. Here you get to meet Don the song writer. He's a great lyricist, and often has a strong and sardonic sense of humor to his words. Titles such as "I Nailed Sarah Palin" and "I Wish I Was Suave Like Peter Jennings" tell a bit about that. There's a hilarious L.A. metal parody, "Stop Don't Go". And just a bunch of imaginative narratives with great music. Don's website is Those three releases I mentioned are seriously just the tip of the iceberg. If you're not already a fan, check him out please.


Charles Rice Goff III has done plenty of solo work, and also work in various projects, such as The Magic Potty Babies and Turkey Makes Me Sleepy. He's the only one I'll be mentioning that I've actually met in person, back in 2003. He came out to visit his friend and ex-bandmate Eric Matchett, who lived within a couple miles of my old place. I was in the middle of recording so we were having trouble scheduling; but the night after I recorded "Planet Of Garbage", he and Eric and I met up, went for Thai food, and talked for hours. I had a wonderful time. Since then we have stayed in touch, and have listened to plenty of each other's work. Among CRGIII's many releases is the excellent "Songs For A Blacksmith's Apron". This is his take on country music, and it is wonderful. Does it sound like country music? No, not especially. It sounds more like country music than Loren Mazzacane Conners sounds like blues. It sounds like...well, like something only CRGIII could do. The first track is about seeing William Burrough's house and the locals being disinterested and ignorant of its history; it mentions "my friends in the good ol' avante garde!", which gives you perhaps a better idea of its country cred. He does an old traditional song about Quantrill's raiders, and explains that Quantrill was a psycopath who, with his raiders, went around during the civil war slaughtering non-combatants (men, women and children) for living in the wrong place. The song, however, was written as a celebration. It gets the treatment it deserves; very creepy.I could go on; I'll just recommend it very highly instead. For a bit of CRGIII's more abstract work, you might try some history and check out "RE:". It's a collection of early pieces that is good and solidly interesting straight through. Check it, and tons of other stuff, out on the Taped Rugs site.


The work of Bret Hart covers many different song formats, and like the rest of us I'm talking about here, the vision for the music is primary, and the consideration of "format", unless it is specifically chosen ahead of time, is something best decided afterwards if at all. You can hear a lot of different influences: country and blues and folk, screaming hard experimentalism, industrial avante garde. One of the main elements creeping in to gently tug at the direction of things is Korean music; Bret lived and taught there for years, and became familiar with the instruments and the music. He has his own highly inventive and inspired take on it, of course. And of course no combination of the above-named elements is off limits. Bret has solo releases, a whole series of excellent duets albums (I did two with him and had a blast), work with the band Hipbone, and a lot more. Like Don and CRGIII, Bret is an immediately recognizable musician. His approach is simply unique. When he sent me his tracks for our first duets CD, my first thought was, "I've never heard anything like this." Which to me is almost always a good thing, and in this case, definitely. By turns whispy and harsh, it sounded like someone scratching pictures into the air with a magic bone. What could I possibly mean by that? Listen to his stuff and find out.


Now, my apologies to all three gentlemen mentioned here; I had tried initially to do something more in depth for all three, and ended by doing progressively smaller paragraphs. I also need to do some street preachin' for my friend Eric Wallack, who is one of the most amazing musicians it's ever been my pleasure to work with. My excuse for stopping here is that after starting this entry months and months ago, I'm finally at a point where I might be able to get it finished and posted, and I want to make sure that happens. I suppose it shouldn't be difficult; but because I'm not just spouting BS and have to actually THINK about what I'm writing, and maybe even go look at CD covers and take good care with things like titles and facts, it increases the difficulty factors, under these circumstances, by about ten. Can't trust my memory, I'm getting daddynesia; then, it's so difficult to find time here these days....blahblah etc. But true. I now sleep less yet accomplish less of (potential) cultural value than I have at any time since I started trying to make art as a pre-teen. I have reason to hope this will improve as time goes on. I'm counting on it.





2011 draws to a close in a few hours, 2012 begins. No, I don't expect the end of the world next year. I think the Mayans went as far as 2012 and said, "Yeah, that's enough for now. We'll do more later." If anyone's in doubt, think back: Y2k, the Harmonic Convergence (or as Richie Hass put it, the Harmonica Virgins). And being raised in L.A., I can think of probably half a dozen predictions of "The Big One" (quake) that turned out to be nothing. The first one I can think of back in...'69? was responsible for two songs that I can think of right off: Deep Purple's "Faultline" and Shango's "Day After Day", which even had lyrics descriptive of the big event (California was supposed to split off from the mainland and become an island):


"Day after day more people come to L.A.

Shhh! Better get ready, the whole place goin' be slippin' away

Where can we go when there's no San Francisco

Better get ready to tie up de boat in Idaho...


Do you know the swim?

Ya betta learn quick Jim

Those who don't know the swim

Betta be singin' de hymn."


And so on. And people really did believe this, they were scared. The way I see it, if it's gonna happen, it's gonna happen, and there's no point in living life according to that. If you do, you could just end up doing stupid things for the sake of being part of something huge, which proves to be nothing after all. And won't you look silly! How about that comet cult, wearing unisex clothes, the guys castrating themselves with dental floss or whatnot, all killing themselves so they could meet the cosmic whatnots. Er, thanks.


I have a saying with my family...not the family I've recently made, the one I was born into...It's fairly simple and direct. "Happy New Year, let's hope it's better than last year." Which sounds kind of doomy and pessimistic, but, well, my family definitely have, shall we say a certain outlook. It's not terrible, but things could always be better. Of course if pressed, we will tell you things could always be worse. You had to mention that?


So let's say it another way. Inclusively, so as not to upset anyone.


Happy New Year. Let's hope it's better than last year. Let's dare, and hope it'll be a downright good year. Let's hope it's a year for resolving old difficulties, moving into positive new directions which will last a good long time. Let's hope Congress gets their collective heads out of their collective asses and starts acting like they care about the people who elected them. Let's hope the resistance we've seen around the world, from people who are sick of being pushed around, continues. Let's hear it for bloodless revolutions. Let's hope a few good trends slip in among the crap in (insert your field of interests here). Let's hope for humanity rather than vanity and greed to make a good showing. Let's hope for some different outlooks rather than the same old shit in new clothes. Let's hope for understanding to outpace ignorance on a few more occasions. Oh, and a cello and a ring modulator.


Now that's not too much to wish for is it?

Don't answer that.

Happy New Year, everyone.




A Good Old-Fashioned Muse


Well, obviously I knew this kind of gap between posts could happen- nay, was likely- which was why I warned about it in the very first post. That said....


OK, well as many of you know, time hasn't exactly been standing still around the Segal household. We've welcomed another daughter into the family and have been ridiculously busy, busier than we ever knew was possible.


In the sleepy little town of Cliche's Green, an ancient evil has arisen. No wait, a diaper needs changing. False alarm, sorry.


I was supposed to not worry too much about literary worth, just improvise a post and slap it up

there, above all keep it constant and not be dogged by nagging questions of quality, relevance, cohesion, etc. Eghh...Once an English major, always...


So...a new year begins. My energy level for creative things is predictably low right now, whicheverything in me wants to fight against because my INTENTION for creative things is permanently set for HI/MAX. Finding time to match the intention to the reality has been dwindling more every day, every year. I worry that like one dead spark plug in a series, a long lull or series of breaks could stop the engine. Scary stuff.


My stopgap measure these last few years has been "acquisition". Basically, the plan for the Phantom Airship involves: acquisition (hunting and gathering things off the master list to properly stock the toolboxes and make all the various departments ready to fly); education (AKA continuing ed- study and practice, etc.); workspaces (creating or improving them); creations (projected/existing/ongoing work); and promotion. I have done a little of each of these, out of necessity; but more often than not, the easiest one to advance while on the go and while having little time to expend on the more demanding aspects, is acquisition. Look for deals, hit thrift stores and garage sales; spend some time on education and learn how to make some things myself.


Acquisition as a means of satisfaction does have its drawbacks, especially when time to make immediate concrete use of the acquisitions is barely available- if at all. Add to this the strain even small purchases have on our budget right now and acquisition starts to come up somewhat afflicted in the short-term gratification department. Creating is obviously the main goal but there's almost no time for that, currently. Education...the study part of that can be (and has been) done sporadically, as time permits.


For some reason this all reminds me of a joke told by (if I remember correctly) Jackie Mason. It

went something like "How do you like this AIDS? I tell ya I want to find a good old fashioned girl, the kind that will just give me syphillis."


Meanwhile,I do have some things in place to help me catch ideas as they come hurtling through;

several notebooks of musical ideas, a portable tape recorder to sing, hum, tap and talk into. There should be plenty of raw material to sort through when I 'm able. I've managed to take pictures, plenty of them, and have even done a few new pen and ink drawings. It's all adding up, getting stored for future use.


And there's always the "titles" book. In this are collected all the bizarre song titles that come to

me from various sources, again for use at a later date.


So I must keep on a keepin' on and hope I can keep slowly moving ahead, always with the eye on sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss


No that was not intentional, I actually fell asleep while typing. This is what I get for trying to

update in the middle of the night after doing a giant load of dishes. Well that's all the spews

that's fit to post for tonight. With any luck or with proper doggedness I'll be back sometime in the near future to discuss the continuing saga.





Ramble One

OK, here we go. You know....the usual. But eleven months later.


Obviously I've been busy with the kids, being a stay-at-home dad, and all that goes with that. But I've also managed to keep other interests afloat, mostly in the form continuing education- mostly listening and reading. Doesn't seem like much but it can count. Helps to keep things from drying up, having new info flowing in. More on that shortly.


Anyone who also follows Phantom Airship proper knows that there have been a few advances with my online capability- finally on high speed; this in turn has led to bigger site storage (which I have yet to make much use of!), and the uploading of Paper Bag's "Music To Trash" for free download. I am also working on other things to make available for free. Short on that morely.


In other news: Kevin Costner is slated to star as composer Antonin Dvorak in the upcoming biopic "Dances With Slavs". By itself the soundtrack promises to be a megahit, with tracks by Brian Adams, Survivor, Justin Bieber, Korn, System Of A Down, Ezra vs. Jehu, and Josh Grobin. Those who've seen sneak previews of the film call it sensitive, romantic and action-packed. Sounds great. Better get camped out for that one early.


(They'd tried to get the Moody Blues to do a version of the New World symphony for the soundtrack, but it didn't work out.)


Anyway, back to reports of life at stately Segal Manor, the cover home for Phantom Airship's secret base of operations. Fun things around the house: Lulu and I did an improvised operatic duet one morning over whether she was going to come into the bathroom for her morning pee or not. (I sang yes, she sang no. I won.) She turns four late this month. Four going on fourteen. What a character! Very animated. Goes around singing "House Of Four Doors" from the Moody Blues' "In Search Of The Lost Chord", regularly requests either Abba's "Fernando" or Love's "7&7 Is" to dance to. Recently around dinner time she was humming Roy Wood's "See My Baby Jive", which she knows just from me singing it to her, I don't know if she's even heard it. One might think from this she's musically inclined, but she mostly just listens at this point. She spends a lot of time with her art supplies, she loves drawing and painting.


Lux just turned one the middle of last month. She's definitely an animated bundle too. Good sense of humor, definite opinions which she's not afraid to share (even if they're not intelligible in English, the message is usually crystal clear). She's just started walking, doesn't do it much, still getting used to it. She is getting into things, which causes some friction between her and Lulu. Lulu is often very good about cleaning up after herself, and has certain places she likes her stuff. Along comes little Lux to pull everything out, scatter it on the floor, stick it in her mouth, etc. Lulu rarely takes this calmly, and....sneak preview of the next ten years, probably. Nonetheless they play together well, especially in the tub. Lux gets mad when you take her out of tub time with Lulu, not when she goes in.


Chrissy is Supermom, remembering all the normal stuff that routinely slips my mind; and she feeds us all with five-star restaurant quality cooking. I am the proverbial deer in the headlights in the kitchen. She, on the other hand, can look around for a couple minutes and whip us up something amazing out of leftovers or frozen stuff; or, given time, she'll plan something out. The last time I had a bad meal was at a restaurant. Probably the last 10 or more bad meals I had were at restaurants. It doesn't happen often, but it happens. I can't remember the last time that happened at home.


My health continues to take various twists and turns. Still basically good but I seem to keep needing more equipment and supplies. Sometimes I feel like a Fiat (whose letters are said to stand for "Fix It Again Tony"). I can't complain, I just wish I wasn't such an expense to maintain. Chrissy never complains about that, but it still bugs me. I know others who are in far worse health than me, It is what it is.


Books: currently reading "Holding Oniah" by Raven V. Brook. It's a supernatural thriller, and it's very good. New book by a new author, local here to Portland. Intriguing concept (people with psychic abilities kidnapped/brainwashed from an early age, used as spies and weapons on missions they have no memory of after). Part one of a projected trilogy. Looks like I'll have to wait for each book now. Good books are worth the wait but I am sometimes (ha!) impatient. I'll have more to say about this one when I finish it. Despite the wealth of things I'll be mentioning here, this is all spread out since the last post (January!), so... Priah (prior) to Oniah was "How To Wreck A Nice Beach", the story of the vocoder from WWII through to Hip Hop. Pretty amazing stuff, good book....Before that was a biography of Steve Marriott called "All Too Beautiful", also excellent. The next one back was a biography of Arthur Lee- not the recent one by John Einerson, which I want to read, but an earlier one by Barney Hoskins. He actually interviewed Lee and Bryan Maclean, shortly before Maclean died. Once again, good stuff. And I almost forgot: I always need a good browsing book, for times when I want to read but don't want to get caught up in something I'm involved heavily in (I HATE getting pulled away). Good books of this type are usually encyclopedic rather than narrative. My roots as a film freak show when I say I'm really enjoying the current one: "Hammer Films: The Unsung Heroes", by Wayne Kinsey. It's a history of Hammer Films which focuses not on the films or the stars, but on the people behind the cameras and the infrastructure of the studio. This guy got everybody, from the studio heads and directors to the camera operators all the way down to the people who took care of food and tea! This gives a unique perspective, the kinds of things I've personally been interested in for years but which never turned up in any other book. And not just about Hammer, but in general. As someone with a personal interest- how did such a low budget operation turn out such classy product? If there's one definitive book to answer that question, this is it. I've barely scratched the surface but am excited to find out more. Browsing books usually take me months, and I can't imagine I'll grow tired of this one.


Listening: much classical (Chopin, Dvorak, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Moussorgsky, Brahms, Grieg); Jazz (catching up with Miles Davis' transition from mid-60s to early 1970 with "ESP", "Miles Smiles", "Nefertiti", and "Live Evil"; Bennie Maupin, Jimmy Smith); a slew of world music offerings, from all over Africa, eastern Europe, and Asia; and of course a perpetual reexamination of old favorites. For example, a recent evening's dishwashing music: Savoy Brown/Raw Sienna; Amon Duul II/Wolf City; Hawkwind/Hall of the Mountain Grill. Great arrangements, textures, playing. Heavy on atmosphere. Now of course, this might lead some to complain: "Hey, howcum ya nevah listen to no new music? Hahh?" To which I would reply: " Who sez I don't?" First off, great new music from many of my fellow independent musicians comes my way. Eric Wallack, Don Campau, Bret Hart, Charles Rice Goff III. If ya don't know them people, shut ya piehole about new music, I sez! And of course they're all veteran musicians and have been making great stuff for decades, Well if you haven't heard it, it's new. But then there's other stuff....


I suppose the biggest surprise for me was Opeth. Now....I'd heard my share of what some, including myself, having not so lovingly dubbed "cookie monster vocals". Always thought it was kinda dumb. I didn't remember that had anything to do with Opeth when I picked up a CD or two from the library to give a listen. So when I heard the first minute or two of "Ghost Reveries", my instinct was to chuckle and turn it off. But this time, something seemed different. It seemed....right? Like there was a genuine artistic intent, with a lot of thought, behind what I was hearing, and I do just mean in the first couple of minutes, right off. So I kept listening. And when, after a few more minutes, the music changed dynamics, the guitars changed to Crimsonesque interlocking patterns (sometimes on acoustic) and really fine, melodic, regular vocals, I knew I was on to something. So why didn't they let this guy sing all the time, and tell cookie monster to go back to being roadie or fuck off in the bar? Eh eh. Same guy, singing both vocal styles. Also playing one half of the intricate guitar parts, writing most (or all?) of the music...So, not so easy. HAS to be intent there, just like I thought I heard, and not just somebody trying to scream way down through his balls. Well I listened to the whole CD and then I listened to some others, like "Blackwater Park", and a more recent one, whose name unfortunately escapes me. Dug 'em all. Who knew? I found the stuff not only well played, well written, and well produced, but also- and this was by far the biggest surprise- emotionally involving. I repeat- who knew? Not me. All hail the library.


I heard some other current bands, more highly regarded (at least in the press and prog circles), and just didn't think much of 'em. There are people who seem to be afraid of solos the way politicians became afraid of the term "liberal". Wouldn't want anyone to think they were self-indulgent, no. And while rhythmically complex stuff has remained pretty easy to find, melodic complexity (or even melody) has not. And most attempts I've heard which try to fill that gap with sonic texture are equally lazy, unvarying, and unimaginative. But then there's other stuff....


Ya gotta love the library, I say. Things I would never have known existed are sitting there, waiting to be checked out and discovered. Let me throw some names by you, and if you are able to check them out, may I recommend you do so:


Temple University Percussion Ensemble: Forests Of The Sun. What was I saying back there about lame use of texture? And a few other complaints? Everything missing from the music I was alluding to in that paragraph is here in this CD. Never heard of the ensemble or the featured composers before, but am very glad I have now. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.


Bela Fleck: Throw Down Your Heart. Of course I've heard of (and have heard) Bela Fleck. A pretty well-known guy. But I'd never heard of this project. He took a banjo around the world and sat in with various musicians, and recorded the results. This disc highlights some sessions from Africa, and it's a doozy. His aim is always to fit in, his approach respectful to his brother and sister musicians, never pushing to (super)impose himself. Superb.


Debasi Bhattacharya: Calcutta Chronicles: Indian Slide Guitar Odyssey. Do I really have to go any further than the title? Well maybe so. This brilliant musician does the string bending associated with sitar on guitar, using a slide. That's the seriously dumbed-down version, there's so much more to it than that, including all kinds of crossover technique. If this description produces the slightest itch of curiousity in you, you should probably check it out, I doubt you'll be disappointed.


Buzzcocks: A Different Kind Of Tension (2 cd edition). This one's got all the associated singles from the time period, plus some live stuff. Effin' cool, sez I. Dig the melodies, the arrangements, the lyrics, all delivered with leadfisted passion.


Steven Mackey: Dream House. An analogical mix of building a house and the history of a relationship, and the security of relationships and houses, etc. Not too specific lyrically, which helps. Delivered by a lead vocalist, a small choral group, and a small electric guitar chamber group, within a bigger orchestral setting. I was half afeared it would suck, but I truly enjoyed it. It is by turns sparse, dense, eerie, genuinely sad, thought-provoking, image inducing...any and all of which make it worth a spin, at very least.


Well, er....seems I've done some reviews. Perhaps if I aim at doing more next time, I'll get back here sooner. I sure have some good listens and reads and views to tell you about. Mostly listens, because that's what I seem to manage to make the most time for on a consistent basis. If I don't manage to get another post up before the holidays or year's ends, Happy Allofit, everybody!




A Multi-Part Post In JIVE Format


By Any Other Name


The other night for inspiration I turned, as I have so many times in the past, to a book given to me by the late, great Tom Shannon. It is full of knowledge, history and truth; in times of low mood it will help pick me up. Its message is both thought-provoking and profound.


I am of course referring to the Dictionary of Slang and Euphemism. It delivers all it claims on the cover, where it proudly announces that it encompasses: oaths; curses; insults; ethnic slurs; sexual slang and metaphor; drug talk; college lingo; and related matters. New worlds may thus open for the reader.


I will frequently pick it up and open it at random, many, many times before I am ready to put it down. Often I will find myself skipping to some recommended corrolary term (foaming beef probe: the penis in an act of copulation. For synonyms, see YARD).The lists of synonyms are not always where you might expect them, but once found, will probably hold your attention for a while.


The prize for favorite discovery of the previous evening goes to: canyon yodeling. By the sound of it, this could be a reference to several things, among them chundering (AKA the technicolor yawn); but in fact it lies squarely in the province of my dear friend muffy diver, the cunning linguist.


Slang And Euphemism is by Richard A. Spears and is highly recommended.




"Daddy, Play...'Roar!'"


So says Lulu when she requests that I play her "Adventures Of Forever and Nowhere". The first time she did it, I was very surprised and definitely moved. Why be moved by my 2 year old's request to hear my music? Because she really does have her own taste, regardless of her age. She knows what she wants to hear, and if you don't play it, she complains. She hasn't taken to "Rivers", even though I played that for her first. She seems to prefer the more rock-oriented stuff. It also probably doesn't hurt that there's a dinosaur on the cover.


She's recently been introduced to early Bee Gees, ('67-'69), and requests that pretty frequently. I'm surprised she liked it, so much of it is minor key and sad-sounding.


But the big surprise for me, as far as music not made by her daddy, was Ginger Baker's Air Force. Or, more specifically, "Aiko Biaye", which she calls "Gobi Yayay!". She's been requesting it a lot lately.


That's my girl!


Dementia 13 And Other Recurring Themes


The other night I was taking Lulu up to bed after tub time, and Chrissy called me into our bedroom to see what was on TV. She said, "Do you know what this is?" I smiled and said "Of course", because I recognized "Dementia 13" immediately. After I got Lulu down to bed, Chrissy and I watched the last 5 or so minutes. What a great film. Decapitation, girl hung on a meat hook...what can I say? Ya gotta love it. When Chrissy was in nursing school, she had to take a unit of Psych, and for her term paper she analyzed this film, after we'd watched it together. The paper went over well. Yet another place for this movie to slide neatly into my life. I can remember seeing parts of it at least twice when I was four; once when I had the flu and was pretty much incapacitated, and left to watch TV in the tiny bedroom I shared with my parents; and again in that same room in the middle of the night. That time I was asleep on my little folding cot when I was awakened by the noise of my parents fooling around. As usual, the TV was on- it usually was, day or night, and I'd learned to sleep through it, probably from the time I was brought home from the hospital. That particular night, I was awakened by my parents making what sounded like distressed sounds, and it scared me. I asked what was wrong and was told, in between laughs and annoyed sighs, that nothing was wrong, I should go back to sleep. No, those sounds weren't bad things, mommy and daddy were fine. So as I'm trying to fall back asleep- or more accurately, look like I've fallen asleep without really doing so, so I could hear more- "Dementia 13" comes on, with that creepy harpsichord music and the sound of the drowning radio. Now there was no way I was getting back to sleep, and not even much chance of faking it. I knew what the movie was, and I was both spooked by the sound of it and absolutely drawn to watch it again. So much for keeping my eyes closed. One of my parents noticed my eyes were open and they demanded to know why I was still awake. I said it was the TV, which was at least partially true, if not terribly accurate. Yeah, it was the TV, because I wanted to watch it. I told them they could leave it on, it wouldn't bother me, but my mom then insisted on turning it off. I think I killed their mood, and I seem to recall a later advance in the dark by my dad being rebuffed by my mom, who insisted they should just go sleep. But instead, the TV went back on. I snuck more peeks at the movie, when I could. "Little fishy in the brook...Papa's caught you on a hook..."


It's funny that around that same age was when I had my introduction to "Carnival of Souls", which also has popped up repeatedly in my life. Most importantly, it was the date/makeout movie at the place I lived, the night I hooked up with Chrissy, and Steve Shaw hooked up with Kate, who was the mutual friend of Chrissy's and Emily's who provided the all-important link. Emily was then with a fellow named Mark, who was also there, and soon enough no one was watching the movie. We might as well have all been teenagers instead of 30-somethings. Unlike teenagers, the two on the rental agreement had seperate rooms to go to, so all three couples had space to explore possibilities (Steve and Kate got the living room). The rest of course is history: Steve and Kate got married, as did Chrissy and I. Emily moved on and is also happily married today. And we owe it all to quality low budget horror. Well maybe not all of it, but it definitely didn't hurt things.




SUNDAY, JULY 11, 2010

The Dance Of Lulu

Sorry about the time between entries- I warned you this might happen. At least I'm consistently inconsistent.


So the other day it was too hot here to play outside, Chrissy was sleeping to prepare for a work night (12 hour graveyard), and I was taking care of Lulu. This means, of course, not only making sure she's fed, safe, gets to the potty on time, etc., but also that she's entertained and is keeping her brain (and hopefully her body) active. We generally don't let her watch t.v., having learned from experience that she gets addicted to it. Even though we make sure she watches good stuff, she doesn't need to learn any kind of obsessive behavior at this early an age. We have even had a problem with as healthy an interest as reading. We'd put her to bed for the night, and after we'd left the room, she'd go and turn on the light, grab a bunch of books, and start going through them. We have no idea how often this happened before we caught on, or how long she'd go before she'd get tired and go to bed. One night it took us the better part of two hours to get her to stop. We finally succeeded only because we made the difficult decision to remove the books from her room and put them in ours. We obviously don't want to discourage her reading, but we do want her to get some sleep. Now she gets read to before bedtime in our room.


But I digress. I allowed her to watch her "Little People" DVD repeated times yesterday, and some "Thomas The Tank Engine". Also an extended bit of "SciGirls", which is about girls excelling in science; this episode was about archeology. Lulu was the one whose attention was caught by it, which made me happy. It kept her attention clear through to the end of the show.


While she watched, I took this rare opportunity to do some work, which is possible because my desk is in the family room, along with the t.v. After a point it dawned on me how much time I'd left her in the care of the DVDs, and that I'd better get back to being an active dad. I came out from behind the superyard fence seperating my desk from the rest of the room, and thought maybe it was time for a break from the kiddie stuff.


I grabbed a DVD of Atomic Rooster and before I put it in, I told her quietly that I wanted to see if she'd like this, and that we didn't have to watch it for long if she didn't want to. She said "OK daddy". I put the disc in and pressed play.


This is live footage from "Beat Club", the era of the band with Chris Farlowe on vocals. As soon as the music started, she was rocking and jumping in her seat. She looked at me with a big smile and said "This is CRAZY music daddy! I LIKE IT!" and with that, she got up and starting dancing furiously all around the room, jumping and waving her hands and making up her own lyrics, which she yelled out exuberantly. They kept changing and I couldn't follow them, except for a word here and there. She was going at it with such abandon and energy that I figured she'd have to burn out pretty quickly. Nope. She stopped about 15-20 minutes into it, and only because she'd danced herself into having a poop.


Bear in mind, we listen to a variety of music, hours a day- EVERY day- and she's never reacted to anything like this before.


I found this whole thing so funny that today I brought Chrissy downstairs to see it. Lulu had been asking all morning to do it again anyway (and several times last night). Today, she danced over 30 minutes. Chrissy loved it. She was on the couch with me while Lulu gave vigorous expression to her muse. (No poop today, thankfully.)


Apparently, Lulu wasn't the only one rockin' and rollin'; Chrissy told me our gestating girl, currently nicknamed Peanut, was going nuts inside her. This was the first time anything like this had happened during the pregnancy (she's halfway home). Chrissy wondered aloud if this could be bad for her, and I said, well, maybe she's reacting to Lulu's singing, that's the loudest thing in the room anyway. But Peanut continued to rock during the spots where Lulu got quiet. So we might have another rocker on our hands. My comment to Chrissy was, "Well, inside I'm doing the same thing". Rooster's always made me react that way. If I'm alone there's a lot of furious head bobbing going on, transported air organ/drum/guitar, etc.


Lulu has so far taken to all kinds of music. She can already identify Beatles, Moody Blues, Bob Marley, Duran Duran, Abba, and a few others only a couple of notes or so into a song when it comes on the radio. She also likes Pink Floyd, bluegrass, brass bands, etc. This being the US, there's no chance she'll ever hear Rooster on the radio, but there's no chance it won't be a part of her life. Not in this household.


In other news: as mentioned on the update at, I've finally managed to get some musical things happening. I sent Hyam Sosnow 3 CDs of improvised source tracks for him to cut/paste/loop as he pleases; and I've sent Eric Wallack a CD of p'ipa improvisations. One of those p'ipa tracks will be for his upcoming "duets with friends" type CD; the rest will be up for consideration for our long overdue 2nd CD.


I've also been working on some instrument construction, most succesfully with a (finally) growing set of tubular bells.


I have more to say, but I'm thinking it would do well as a seperate post, hopefully in the next day or two. (Stop laughing.) So until then....




The Strange Unconscious Strikes Again

Had a bizarre dream last night; told it to Chrissy and she suggested I make it into a blog update, which I thought was a great idea. What's more, she handed me a notebook and said "Here, write down some notes so you don't lose it". And she did this right at the beginning of breakfast! Let's hear it for pro-active support!


So....I'm in a large music store with Mark, and we're looking around the drums and percussion section. Mark picks out something he's going to buy- I can't remember what- and suddenly the sales in the store pick up, it creates a buzz and now everyone feels they ought to buy something. It's even said by someone, can't recall if it's a customer or one of the sales people, "When Mark buys, everybody buys!" It's said with admiration and excitement. (Non-dreamtime Mark will no doubt be very amused to hear this.)


I go over to a section with all kinds of exotic percussion, and go straight to a set of interesting looking brass hanging wind-type chimes. It has two plates that are cut out in a sort of floppy triangle shape, a bit like the profile of a lemon meringue pie; one is bigger than the other and they hang in series, smaller one below the bigger one, not touching. (Wake-world Mark actually had something made by Ufip that looked something like this, back in the Paper Bag days.) Paired with these, hanging to the left, are a series of plates set up like shingles, all of them irregularly shaped. I take a stick and hit the pie-shaped ones, and they have kind of a bell-like sound. I hit the shingles and they sound trashy. I like both types of sounds, but in this case I'm not immediately impressed. Neither of the paired sets are particularly vibrant- the bells not ringing enough, the shingles not trashy enough. It's just not grabbing me. My inner money manager thinks: no, can't see spending money on these, not dramatic sounding enough to consider. Then I get a little devil's advocate voice in my head saying, give it a chance, maybe it's supposed to be more subtle, and so I start striking at them again. This time there's a sense of something unusual happening; the bell-like sounds are starting to become vibrant and swirling, and I can almost see the sounds swirling around the chimes like little balls of light. The bell sounds and the trash sounds are starting to interact in interesting patterns, weaving a nicely evolving sonic picture.


Just as it's starting to get really interesting, I notice that the strings that have held the whole assembly suspended have gotten tangled up, and I figured I'd better straighten them up before moving on to check out other pieces. I flip them over while trying to decipher which string needs to unwrapped from where, and I notice that on the back, there's a thick, quarter-sized wad of what looks like a cross between bearing grease and old earwax stuck to the back. I'm not sure what it's doing there but it annoys me enough to even see it that I poke at it a little to see if it comes off easily.


The wad softens up almost immediately with my touch, and seems to grow, and more startling, appears to be alive! It seems to be responding to my circular rubbing motion, and to be aroused. Little eyes and mouth form on it and show a face caught up in intense arousal, almost furious and savage.


Needless to say, I'm shocked by this and stop rubbing so I can assess the situation. The little face glares at me harshly and desperately, as if to say "No, no, don't stop now!". I'm even more taken aback by this. But almost as soon as that's happened, the eyes close, the creature appears to die, and the whole mobile sags and becomes like lifeless grey ashy foil, brittle and ultra thin and ready to fall apart. The whole appearance of it as a robust metal percussion instrument is gone.


I am now confused and worried, because whatever it was, I've destroyed it, and will I have to pay for it?


A salesperson sees what's just happened and yells, "We've lost another one!". The manager comes over to see, and I try to object. Why didn't they have some kind of a sign up about it, warning customers how to handle it, or not to touch it at all? I say, sorry, I had no idea it was alive, much less any idea that it was so fragile. He says "It's OK, don't worry about, it happens, we won't hold you responsible. We'll take care of it."


"Yeah, I certainly didn't mean to kill it. It died so quickly. It was weird, it was like it was horny."


"Oh yeah, once you activate it, it's got a short lifecycle and it needs to mate right away, then it dies."


"It creeped me out, it glared at me when I stopped."


"Sure, it only gets to do this once, and you stopped in the middle! You'd die angry too!"He laughed a little.


At this point I woke up, and the dream drifted away as my daughter's waking calls from the other room brought me to consciousness. I got into the morning routine and forgot all about this, until breakfast.


After I'd written my notes down, several things occurred to me. One, I could see a purpose for this creature on the back of the supposed chime. It gave an enhanced version of the sound of the instrument it was supposed to be, one that could operate directly on the listener's mind. It would pull you in and then give you enough psychic suggestions to get you to stimulate it. I never did figure out how things were supposed to work from there, but I imagine I'd have found out had I not stopped. Would it have given birth to additional instruments? As for the shop staff, they were probably keeping quiet about the actual nature of what they were selling and figured that the little critter would snag a lot of customers without their knowing how it had happened. I also figured that the particular one that I'd checked out had perhaps been sitting there too long, and needed to fulfill its life cycle, and so pulled me in all the way. If it had been more "fresh", it might not have pushed things along so quickly, and I'd have bought it and had it at home for a while before getting sucked in and induced to help it mate and die (and so, become useless as an instrument). No doubt these things were sold "as is, no returns".


The second thing that occurred to me was that I'd just recently read a Philip K. Dick story, and that this was very much in the character his work. One of his most common plot elements is the masquerading of living, sentient beings as objects. So...Not too far of a stretch to see where that part comes from. But I do wonder why it surfaced as erotic percussion! Very odd. The circular rubbing motion is self-explanatory to anyone with experience; the disgusting appearance of the creature is totally at odds with my feelings towards (human) female genitalia, which are highly favorable, I am a long-time fan. The orange-brown earwax/bearing grease appearance has nothing to do with any kind of genitalia I'm familiar with, and in fact the only orifice that comes to mind is indeed the ear. Considering it's masquerading as a musical instrument, this sort of fits.


And there is a recent event which corresponds to this. When Chrissy's Dad was in town, we played him Atom Heart Mother and Meddle. After he left, I was looking at the cover of Meddle, which, thanks to living in a slightly less uptight age, had been restored in the US to its original UK cover, which is a picture of an ear, tinted green and orange. Someone at Floyd's label at the time of the original release found the image to be too sexual and insisted it be changed, which is how we ended up with the pink and blue rippled picture familiar to US buyers. So...there's a suggestion of erotic ear-ness.


An odd, but not unusually odd, by-product of my unconscious. It probably means something, but I'm not quite sure what yet, and I may never know. But it's amusing to speculate. Just thought I'd share.


GS, 4/3/10




MONDAY, MARCH 15, 2010

So what do you do?

Anybody who's had the good fortune to read Bill Bruford's autobiography has discovered what to me, at least, is a shocking fact: you can be a legendary player and still get that question, followed by confusion or disbelief at the answer. He offers these as a couple of his favorite follow-up questions: "Yes, but what do you really do?"; "But what do you do during the day?" This is reassuring to the rest of us, if we choose to see the glass as half-full; you can have really made it and still encounter this. It can be equally disheartening if we haven't had enough sleep, are of a generally downcast state of mind, are cynical to the point of disfunction and low-grade insanity, etc. I myself have had this conversation more times than I care to remember, always coming away from the encounter in a worse headspace.


"So, what do you do?"


I used to attempt to have fun with this otherwise grotesque business of having to explain myself. "What do you do?" "Oh", I'd say cheerfully, "I'm a professional dilletante". Sometimes people would be quiet, not wanting to let on that they didn't know what a dilletante was. Sometimes there'd be a nervous laugh as they wondered what other meaning or slang there was for the term. Male escort? Euphemism for a fancy caterer or some kind of semi-legal courier? Was it anything like a liason? " you enjoy it?" "Oh yes, it's fun."


But eventually the truth would come out.


"I'm a musician."


"Oh, what do you play?"


OK, everybody who knows me knows we've just arrived at problem #1. If I start listing instruments, I come off like a braggart, which I can do without. I eventually came up with something that usually only leads to one more explanatory question in response. At least to that one question, then there's more. Like this:


(what do you play)


"Anything I can get my hands on."


"Oh, (chuckle chuckle, confused grin, was that a double-entendre, etc.), "So like, drums, guitar, sax...?"


"Yeah, mostly drums and guitar, but whatever else is necessary."


"So... do you do sessions, play clubs, are you in a band...?"


At the sound of the tone, turn the page to arrive at problem #2! DING!


Here we are at an answer requiring a history, the upshot of which will be a general all-purpose "No". Yes to all of them at one time, especially the latter two. No to all of them now.


"I make my own music and sell the CDs on the internet." Thank Jah for the internet, that catch-all of confusion where anything is probable, if not actually possible.


"Oh, so you play all the instruments?"




"So you actually make enough to make a living?"


Ugh. This one used to trip me up, but finally I learned to say, with little smile, "I get by".


If anyone has maintained interest to this point, the next logical question they'll ask is: "So what kind of music do you play?"


Double ugh. Again, anyone who knows me knows that's not an easy question to answer. Unless the questioner is unusually well-versed in musical genres, my answer will leave yet another individual trout-faced and attempting to maintain. "Well, it's sort of like a cross between progressive rock, hard rock, jazz and world music, but with a lot of classical avante-garde influence, and electronic stuff, like musique concrete." Even well-versed people will be wondering what the hell that particular blend could possibly sound like. Lately I've had the thought that I should just make up some terms, and if they don't satisfy, make up some more, and just keep going until the inquirer gives up.


"Well, it's kind of a blend of Harminozetshky and Portamentico."


"I, uh...I don't think I know those. What, uh, what bands?"


"Well, it's kind of like a cross between Harold Clam and old Hairpie Mayonnaise."


"Hairpie Mayonnaise?"


"Old Hairpie Mayonnaise, before they got too commercial. Like, the first four albums."


"Oh...uh...No, sorry, don't know 'em."


That's if your questioner is honest and actually interested, otherwise you may get "Oh wow, that's great. Listen, I see some pork rinds over there, would you excuse me?"





The Great Ink Conspiracy

One of the reasons I went full-tilt into the Pale Series method of production- home print jobs for my CDs- was that, relatively speaking, ink was cheap enough to make it worthwhile to do so. It was that, vs. the $300 and change to have 1,000 2-panel covers printed up (per release). While it's still basically cheaper (both in spite of and because of the size of the catalog), the cost of ink for my printer seems to have taken a ridiculous hike lately. Over $80 for three color cartridges and 2 blacks- at Costco! This is about a $30-$40 rise since the last time I bought. What the f..k?

While I wandered around the aisles of bread and giants vats of mayonnaise and pickles, my mind jumped from one conspiracy to the next, starting off with something realistic (and most likely to be true) to something which most likely was BS, but still....sometimes you can't help but feel paranoid and oppressed. I shall explain.


First, I shaved it on down with Occam's razor; when slashing with that baby, one usually finds a solid basis of money underneath. I own an older HP, with photo-quality printing- a wonderful machine, which cost around $100 new maybe 7 or 8 years ago. Still works perfectly. Between then and now, HP has had lots of chaos and drama in their organization. They haven't stopped producing machines, and they need money even more now than they did then. So needless to say, it's not in their best interest to have people holding on to their old machines. Somebody screwed up and didn't follow the great American way of planned obsolesence; good product got out, printers good enough to survive a decade. Not good for the company's bottom line or the GNP! Dispose dispose dispose! Consume consume consume! So they can't take these machines back once they're out in the world...what can they do? Charge more for the ink. You can now probably buy a new printer for a little more than what they're charging for one ink combo pack. Oh, but of course then you'll have to buy new ink, in new cartridges, for just a little bit more. Enough so that you'll notice, maybe, but not so much that you'll say no. After all, the new printers have new doodads, better x,y and z, they slice, dice, and make julienne fries...So you're getting more for your money. It may not be more you actually need, but it sounds good when read off the side of the box. (Special improved quality items and attachments sold seperately.)


Now this is a reasonable enough interpretation of events that I didn't feel like I should be living in a small apartment with newspaper and aluminum foil on the windows, waiting for the CIA to steal my thoughts with the help of the grey aliens that run the IRS and the Satanic cult that runs the NSA. But then, but then...well, it hits you on a personal level, and start taking it personally. And paranoia sets in.


They know we're out there, see...the RIAA and the five families that run the five record companies, in an international conspiracy to keep the little guys down. First they screwed us out of internet radio, so that power could stay consolidated in the big companies...and the really galling thing of it is that supposedly, they did it FOR us!!! To protect us! To protect us from who? Illegal downloaders? You can't sell product nobody gets to hear, and nobody gets to hear the majority of independent artists- TRULY independent artists- if we wait for our pals at corporate radio to play us. And you are well and truly screwed if you do anything that is outside of the

nauseating little "indie" boxes that are available: nerd rock, state-certified traditional punk, trendy glam throwback, country, rap, "traditional" blues, "traditional" jazz, deadass boring jamband navel-gazing crap, "world music" that will make people feel culturally diverse in a way that eases their consciences without asking too much of know the stuff. If it's got lyrics anybody can sing along; the uninitiated will find it authentic, heartfelt or really daring, like Medeski Martin and Wood or the String Cheese Incident. Nothing against those named directly,'m afraid I fail to find them daring. Maybe by today's standards. Not by Sun Ra or

Albert Ayler standards. Nobody says that was ever their number one goal, or that they get up and say to themselves every morning "Hey guys, let's be daring!". But in the land of commercial radio programming or public broadcasting, that's wild and wooly stuff. When was the last time YOU heard Sun Ra on your local jazz station? Or on NPR? When was the last time you heard Iqbal Yogi and party doing authentic snake charmer music, as opposed to setting that to a canned shishka-boom track, so that older refined Debbie can still dance to it? I tell ya, it makes me want to bang my head against the wall. But then THEY'd win....


So back to Costco, and it occurs to me next that somewhere along the line somebody'd just LOVE that...keep the little guys down, all these outsiders trying to do things their own way. Hey,'s a little kicker on the side, pay off some debts, give your CEOs nice bonuses...just uh...raise your ink prices a little on those older machines. We win, you win, the money and the power stays with the right people, the upstarts are made to tow the line...


And, as will happen in my head at times with these inner dialogues, I fight back! The people will not lose! Justice will prevail! We will gloriously justify the right of the individual to BE individual! Or blow the whole thing up trying. Nahh...Nothing gets blown up. All the truly indendent artists...the ones who will do what they're doing regardless of anything and everything...We'll do hand drawn covers if necessary, we'll do photocopies if we have to. Look, we (or many of us) lived through doing this in the '80s, when things were really rough if you wanted to home produce. We are cockroaches, there's no stopping us now. We'll block-print covers if we have to, or if we want to. (Right, Mike?)


At about this time, an image comes in my head that both makes me laugh and makes me step back, shake my head, and STAY back from all this paranoid crap. There was a segment in Ken Burns' "Jazz" (another wrong on so many levels...). There was a black female vocalist, talking about the British invasion, and how in the mid '60s all the work and the support for jazz artists dried up. She gets this angry gleam in her eye, a mixture of insanity and righteousness, backed by the emotional powderkeg of horrible history...and she says something to the effect of, "We knew what they wanted to do. They were trying to BURY us." She practically hisses it out. Now sure, who can't see the point of a black woman in the early '60s feeling oppressed? Anybody with a sense of history gets that. I see it, she's....lacking in perspective. When in doubt, think money. Her problem was, she had no doubt, even when she should have. The British invasion knocked jazz out of the charts, and rock and roll took over (even earlier), because there was a lot of money to be made. Yes, rock and roll got its start from black artists.

Yes, Pat Boone became a star as the white world's public face for Little Richard. But by the British invasion, that was all ancient history and Chuck Berry and Little Richard were becoming known quantities; Motown was slowly eroding the color boundaries, blues and soul and jazz artists were not swept under the rug but were becoming better known, despite the lack of gigs (this, thanks to records). And that was even before '64, thanks to the folk movement. The British invasion reinvigorated interest in many criminally neglected black artists who helped

inspire it. The British invasion knocked a few white pop artists into the background too- ask Brian Wilson. The bottom line here is, nobody did this to bury anybody, they did it for bucks. But if you can't get ahead and your world falls apart because nobody gives a rat's ass about what you do, while you on the other hand live and breathe for it- that hurts. And sometimes it's easier to blame someone for that than face the truth. Nobody wants to bury you. You're buried. You're not even a blip on their radar, and if there is a "they", they couldn't care less. And I hate to tell ya, sister, but I'm buried way deeper than you are. Nobody picked up a shovel, they just went about their business and chased the bucks. You and I form part of the fossil record as history piled up on top of us in drifts. That's really all there is to it.


With that in mind, I went back to thinking about how expensive ink had become, and wondered if it was time to have a discussion with Mike about the advantages of block printing.




more on Stein, Dementia 13, etc.

I've been listening more to the Ronald Stein CD and feel there's more to say about it. Of course, I'm doing this in the dining room, while my girl plays and hopefully entertains herself. This kind of autonomy is not entirely new, but I'm just starting to get comfortable doing things and not being fully interactive with her. She is helped by the large boombox we have in our dining room, which can be set to infinite repeat. It got set that way about two, maybe even three months ago and hasn't gone off since. This has been a test of my patience, and I feel I have passed with flying colors. Why so sure of myself? Let's see what's been in the player.


There were the two discs of the Fisher-Price "Little People" 50th birthday set; these are sung in character by the voiceover actors who do the animated Little People shorts. Before the play button was first pressed, I made a little bet in my head, with no one in particular, that there would be lots of perky surf/mashed-potato beats, which I tend to hate (unless accompanied by something adequately ripping, a la Dick Dale et al). People who do music for kids, and who do family-oriented or "fun" commercials, always find this particular rhythm an essential. The accompanying smarminess makes the whole thing that much worse, like somebody giving you a wet willie with hot sauce. (UK readers be advised: wet willie in the states refers to having someone stick a wet finger in your ear when you're not expecting it. In UK slang of course, a wet willie could be a very good thing, depending on the moisture source.) Of course the guess was a no-brainer, and the album was full of examples of smarm-surf-potato (both discs). So I first had to learn to hear around that. Then there were some awful cover tunes, such as Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" and the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine". The topper for me is when Farmer Jed goes to the beach with the Little People and sings Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" (in character, of course). That one was actually a turning point for me; it was too funny to stay annoyed at. The rest of the album sort of fell into line behind that, and I mellowed out. My kid loved the whole thing right off, of course. Is it still five kinds of lame all at once? Oh yeah. But I get to do the chicken dance with my girl, both of us flapping our folded arms and making chicken sounds, every time it comes on. Sometimes we play it multiple times in a row.


Next up, with Chrissy's help, she discovered Abba. Now, I never had any beef with Abba, but they were never top of my hit parade either. I felt they were harmless fun. But anything played that many times in a row might get a bit grating after a while. I simply learned to tune it out and make it background. Of course the ear/mind combo tends to play tricks on me after a while, and my inner Norm Crosby goes to work.


"What a loo"....


As it turns out, that's what's on now, the Abba CD, by request.


But after Abba, Chrissy turned her on to Duran Duran. Again, no major beefs, and some of their stuff I actually like a lot. Other tracks took a bit of tuning out, but I found myself dissecting the writing, the production, etc. While I found that some of it initially remained borderline annoying and gave me that "quick, change the station" feeling- until I managed to tune it out- all of it was fascinating to pick apart, and some of it really raised my opinion of the band and their talents. The one that really grabbed me was "Ordinary World", which I never paid any attention to when it came out, but which I now think is a very well written, arranged and performed track. Emphasis on the writing; it's not only far ahead of what a lot of their contemporaries were doing, it's way better than a lot of what even they were doing. But they did have a good track record, so it's not that huge of conceptual leap to imagine. It's not as jarring as, say, a useless tosser of a band like Bon Jovi turning out the melodically and harmonically superb "Wanted Dead Or Alive" (the lyrics live down to the rest of the band's output, however).


Meanwhile here, Abba plays on in the background.


"How can I ever refuse

I feel like I win when I'm loose"....


Where did we come in? Oh yeah, back to Ronald Stein. The two highlight sections of the album are the "Dementia 13" pieces and the tracks from "Spider Baby". The Spider Baby tracks are a highlight because they're fun, especially the last two, which feature in-studio chatter between Lon Chaney Jr., who sings the title track, and Ronald Stein, who is producing him through the recording. Can't say too much without giving it away but it's hilarious. Then, on to the title track itself, which is no less funny. Goofy and creepy at the same time, much like the film.


But man..."Dementia 13" is REALLY a standout, not just on this album but possibly in the guy's whole career. Most of the album sounds like what it was meant to be- good horror movie music. But it's fairly conventional, almost to the point of being cliche'. Here, I think Stein is probably a victim of his own success; he did so many of these, that, like book cover artist Richard Powers, he appears to be an entire wave or period of a genre all by himself. You might have thought that at one time, all horror soundtracks sounded like this, or in Powers' case, all science fiction and horror paperbacks looked a certain way; when in both cases, it was one prolific artist creating the impression of an era in commercial art. But "Dementia 13" is a whole 'nuther ball 'o'wax. The most direct comparison might be to Herrmann's Psycho soundtrack, and there are certainly some similarities. But Stein's work goes into some really adventurous territory, with prominant discordant harmonies for the melody line, big bold punches for the ax murders, the creepiest harpsichord ever recorded...amazing stuff. I am so tempted to drag the main title theme into my digital studio and do my own remastering of it...not that the existing one isn't terrific, it is; I've never heard this music sound so good, in fact I'd say it's pristine. But the dynamics are a little different than how I hear them in my head, and I'd love to tamper with it and make it more obviously the raging powerhouse it deserves to be. This, in essence, makes me co-conductor, but it's for me so WTF.


"Did you brush your gums Fernando

For gingivitis is a terrible disease

And it can rob you of your teeth

Before your time..."


The movie "Dementia 13" is no less superb, and has been one of my top 3 favorite horror films for many years. (The other two are the original versions of "Carnival Of Souls" and "The Haunting".) It's the only one of the three to have any gore, and even at that, by today's standards it's pretty tame. It's the overall product- acting, lighting, music, editing, script- that makes it so good. I don't know if Francis would agree today, but I'd rate it in another top 3- one of his best three pics. (The other two being the first two Godfathers combined as one- OK, cheating, sue me- and Apocalypse Now.) It just barely beats out "The Conversation" for inclusion. That's a kicker too, highly recommended.


"Chicken Tikka you and I know..."


All right, it's time to move this party downstairs. Bye bye for now, Abba. Nap time for the kid, possibly for me.


Downstairs, turn on the tube...What's this? Perry Mason (a favorite- great cinematography and guests). Wait, who's that, playing the wacky heiress, and this episode's focus? It's Mary Mitchel, who played the "good girl" in "Dementia 13"! Cool! (And she was also in "Spider Baby"!) The gods of reruns and syndication and synchronous references have smiled upon this endeavor. Huzzah!




Those Tasty Swedes, One Sauve Italian, and a Galaxy of Prizes

First off, a big welcome to the big Mac himself, David McIntire, now a registered reader. As I'm sure you all know, David is real, unlike various fictional Big Macs. (My favorite of these was Mac Tonight, who managed to turn a bizarre congenital deformity of the head into a short-lived career shilling for the Big Mac Supper Club. Say what you like, he was a star.)


On rereading the last entry, I realize I had not paid Abba much in the way of compliments, and all the while I was having fun with their lyrics. They were, in my opinion, very good pop writers and arrangers. Tasteful, yes, tasty Winslow, tasty. I find it kind of amusing that they are thought of primarily as a very up, happy band, but the last third or so of their career was chock full 'o' depressing lyrics about dissolving relationships, crappy dating scenes, depression, messy divorce settlements, etc. And very much inspired by real life. How the hell did they keep working together during that time? Just like the Ramones. (Mark that one on your calendar: the one and probably only time you'll hear someone suggest "Abba: just like the Ramones".) You know, long-term bad blood over relationships. OK, so with the Ramones it was over a non-band member, not within the band, but...they still went years and years playing gigs and not talking to each other. Jeez.


I was realizing the other day, once again, how much of my memory is taken up by tidbits of inane commercials from my youth. Sometimes it surfaces with no warning and no apparent provocation. Chrissy and I and the baby were driving somewhere and suddenly it came into my head: "Ham...and cheese. Everyday it's ham....and cheese." Now that's obscure and not particularly memorable, but there it was. No jingle attached to it. Jingles are fiendishly effective pnemonic devices, which might explain why I can still spout off about various L.A. area car dealerships. ("Dial, Dial, Dial Chevrolet, two blocks off the Santy Anna freeway, one one nine eight oh east Firestone, Dial Chevrolet." Yes, I know it used to be called something else- can't recall what, Hyam knows- and that the jingle was courtesy of Les Paul and Mary Ford. Or: "If you think you'd like a hand in buying a Chevy today, come on down to discount land, Cormier Chevrolet [cue corny heartworming- er, warming- harmonica]". Sometimes it was simply an astonishingly poetic turn of phrase: "A beautiful place to lease or buy your beautiful car...Bob Spreen Cadillac...Where the freeways meet in Downey." It didn't have a jingle, but it had a kind of magical swirly harp "Calgon-take-me-away" music behind it; and it was uttered as though to help you picture the distant and wondrous land of Downey. Think about this for a minute: it was the place where the freeways meet. I! That's a big deal! That's like, super crossroads or something. Over the mountains of the moon, if you search for an El Dorado.


(A side note: I'd originally thought about naming the "Driving Life" trilogy, from "Tales Of Today...", "Where The Freeways Meet In Downey". As happens to me fairly often, I decided to go with something less specific, but it still comes into my head every time I hear one of those pieces.)


It was a discussion about lame commercials of the '70s which led Splatt Winger, host of KXLU's "Brain Cookies", to dub me "The Hans the Woodcrafter of the guitar". We were at X=Art, a short-lived but truly fun and memorable club, and I don't recall how the subject of commercials came up. We went through various classics, like the dancing musical "Cup-o-Soup" commercial, and the switch to the nauseatingly conformist "I'm a Pepper" from the more likeable, underachieving "Dr. Pepper, So Misunderstood...". There were the commercials that led to careers, like the bank commercial that brought both the Carpenters and Paul Williams to prominence through "We've Only Just Begun"...Or another bank commercial that rocketed Sandy Duncan to short-lived fame, or Rodney-Allen Rippey ("I can't, I got...unh..."). There was the Coke commercial that led to the "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing" hit. And then somehow I brought up Hans the Woodcrafter, and Splatt let out a hollering "Yes! Yes!" of recognition. We ran through our memories and checked them against each other, for the delivery, the dialogue ("Carnuba and monton!", "Look at that shine!", etc.), and whether or not Hans was played by Bo Svennson (we decided we thought he was). Why we were so excited about this is pretty near impossible to explain, but we were. This is the kind of thing where, if you get it, you get it, and if you don't, you take a step back or two back and excuse yourself. In retrospect it doesn't seem very rational. But then I've only been accused of that on rare occasions.


But anyway, Splatt said, "Well, that's it. Dude- you ARE Hans. From this day on, you are the Hans the Woodcrafter of the guitar, the only guitarist with both carnuba and monton." There was no point in arguing, I'd been dubbed.


The other night, once again for no reason I can recall, another product of the advertising arts invaded my thoughts; a mythical fella named Aldo Cella. He was this short guy with a mustache, looked like Dennis Franz or my brother Jeff, all decked out in a white suit and a white hat, with various beautiful women pawing at him saying "Aldo...Aldo!"etc., like he's the first guy to figure out what to do with a clit. A total "Seven Beauties" takeoff. He makes his way to a bottle of Cella wine, opens it, and to the camera, he smiles, looks up through the caresses of his laidy- er, lady friends, and says, "Chill a Cella!" Very heavy on the Guido, when the guy was probably from Pasadena. Hadn't thought about this in years, but...there it was again. Meanwhile there's always things in my immediate environment that won't stay in my head five minutes. Gives me a feeling of dread, truth be told; alzheimer's runs in the family. But I can push back the fear and cover it up, along with all sorts of other things, with babbling inanities that make me laugh:"Aldo...Aldo!!! Aldo!!"


In the far distant time of my first decade, I can recall the wonders of cheap commercials on the cheapest of the local L.A. stations, channel 13. They had a giveaway contest called "KCOP's Galaxy Of Prizes", and the commercial involved a large poster, and zooming in at various speeds on various parts of it. The opening had the wonderful bad sound of a worn-out 8mm school film: "You can WIN!!!" (A warbly fanfare sounds.) "Fabulous PrrEYE-zezzz!!!" (More warbly fanfare.) "With KCOP's Galaxy of Prizes-zez-zezez......" Meanwhile, the camera is twisted side to side and zoomed in and out from the promo poster, until at the end, someone spins the poster very quickly in front of the camera. Imagine the worst possible version of what I'm describing and you'll probably have a pretty good idea of what it looked like. Now the commercial went on to show fuzzy close-up shots of little print ads for their various advertisers. "Spend a night on the Riviera...convertible sofa that is!" "Win a fabulous mink stole!" [breathy woman's voice:] "From Mannis furs...". etc. The Riviera folks had their own commercials, as did several of the Galaxy of Prizes sponsors. Chrissy eventually learned to understand the absurdity of me saying, out of nowhere "I spent a night on the Riviera- convertible SOFA, that is!" She will sometimes say this to me out of nowhere too. And I like it.






Well, predictably, I've slacked up a bit here on posting. But I'm here again, so let's start off by welcoming Mike, and congratulating him and Tonya on the arrival of Geoffrey! Got the pic today, thanks, it's now on my fridge. He's off to a great start.


Also, let's welcome Jerry, glad to have you here. Hope the book is going well.


Nice to see the readership grow, I'm up to nearly half my listeners now!


OK, err...uhh....content, content, gotta have new content....


I got a CD in the mail today that I've been wanting for a couple of years now: "Not Of This Earth: The soundtrack music of Ronald Stein". This guy counts as a major influence on me, even just based on his work for "Dementia 13", Francis Coppola's first mainstream flick. My first memory of that goes back to around the age of 4, when they started to show it pretty faithfully on t.v. in L.A. I have early recordings I did with a couple of friends where I initiated a jam based on riffs inspired by that soundtrack. That's music that prepared me for things like "Lark's Tongues" and "Red". But not only is "Dementia 13" on there, but so is "Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman", "The

Terror", "Attack Of The Crab Monsters", "Not Of This Earth", "Spider Baby", and others. He worked a lot for American International (AKA Roger Corman and friends). So this guy's stuff was going through my ears and writing its way into my brain functions long before I knew who he was, and more frequently than I ever realized.


That was a nice thing about t.v. back in the 60s and 70s, you could usually see at least one decent horror or science fiction movie a day, especially if you were willing to get up in the middle of the night to do it- or were already awake. The t.v. was usually on in at least one room in whatever place we happened to be living in. (I lived in 17 places before my 11th birthday.) L.A. stations not only had a great library of Hollywood movies from the 30s on up, but we also got a lot of dubbed Mexican horror, some of which was great fun. "Brainiac" or "Curse Of The Puppet People", anyone? How about "The Aztec Mummy", who was so slow he made Kharis from the Universal pics look like he was racewalking? (The Aztec mummy's given name was Popoca, but to me he was, and shall remain, Slopoca.)


It's not just music I picked up from horror/science fiction/fantasy on t.v., but also sounds. They've been showing the original Outer Limits on a local station here late at night, and they recently had on the one with Barry Morse and Carol O'Connor, where they're undercover Martians going to witness a murder. They have a machine that tweaks time back and forth, so they can sort of rewind events, or watch them in slow or fast motion. The sound the machine makes when it's turned on can now also be heard on the Dog Neutral set, because I found out how to mimic it pretty closely on guitar. Obviously it was done in a totally different way originally- sounds like something with an interesting envelope and decay turned backwards. So many great sounds in these old movies and shows, things like the flying saucers stuttering and crashing in "Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers", or the death ray sound in "War Of The Worlds". How about the ant sound in "Them"? At the Jr. College I went to, I used to hear something very similar to that coming from behind a locked door, but couldn't figure out what was making it. Then one day I saw it open, for maintenance. It was apparently some large cooling system, and what I was hearing was a very squeaky and large fan belt (probably 3 ft. from flywheel to flywheel). Great sounds are everywhere, you never know where you'll find them or where they'll turn up. But I'm probably more attuned to that than most because I grew up watching horror and science fiction on t.v., and those films, regardless of budget, had more inventive sound designs than almost any other kind of picture. The content demanded it.


Would we have space rock without space movies and shows? Seems unlikely to me.


Listening to a lot of Le Orme lately. They may be my favorite Italian prog band. Great stuff. Back when I was first starting to play (drums), I had an 8-track of the English language version of "Felona and Serona" (English lyrics by Peter Hammill!). Played that sucker religiously, that whole first summer I had my kit. Looking forward to the arrival of my other mail order purchase, "Sync Or Swarm", a book about improvisation by David Borgo. Looks great. Currently making my way through "Modern Times", a book about the historical context of 20th century music. Well at least classical music. One day someone will take on a more comprehensive view, which I think is a must, but this is still very interesting.


Well, I'd best finish my evening- due up with the munchkin in the morning. Hats off to all.




Unknown (Dave McIntire) February 10, 2010 at 11:18 AM

Love the comments about noises/sounds! I learned to listen for such things first through Andy sykora and then Paper Bag and have been doing it ever since. What a strange joy it is to be standing by my press at work and suddenly become aware of a really cool rhythm or a particularly interesting squeeeeeel...




"Dancing With The Stars" variations

It should come as no surprise to anyone that such a popular show would have imitators. So far my two favorites have not made the primetime schedule yet, but are still being considered for production.


Dancing With SARS: A gaggle of B list celebrities and their dance trainer partners are infected with the SARS virus and set loose on the dance floor. The last couple standing wins. Created by Horace McCoy and Josef Mengele.


Dancing With The Czars: A succession of celebrity dance couples do routines of increasing opulence, decadence, and irresponsibility, until the finale when the audience rises up, takes the winners down to the basement, and shoots them.


Until those reach the air, hey, at least "Chuck" is back on.

PS: a big hello to Bruce Ray!





post-breakfast quickie

Odd thoughts come to me at odd times, like this morning, putting my daughter's breakfast together. I found myself imagining a theme restaurant, the Wallace Stevens Diner. "Uh yeah...I'll start with Hearts of Palm at the End of the Mind order of Concupiscent Curds...and...I can get it later, but I'm gonna have some of that Emperor Ice Cream for dessert." This could extend outward to include franchise diners for all sorts of writers, maybe some musicians or composers. I'll get back to ya.



The Older You Get...

The More Dead People There Are To Dream About.


Seems like a truism and yet it's true and I should know. Tonight it was Geshe and Ellen and aunt Esther. Usually it's Dad and Cyndy, but...not tonight.


Cyndy was a vibrant and wonderful young woman who died at the age of 26. Cyndi and I were never intimate but I certainly cared for her deeply, and I doubt she ever knew the half of it. I wasn't in love with her, I just loved her. Good people. We worked together at an insurance job called Spectra. I don't know if Uri Geller got his powers from us, or if it was the Hoova company down the hall. We never tried to kill James Bond, as far as I know, although we did get a few of those calls and had to tell them sorry, wrong number. Anyway, we worked in the same department for a few years and got to be really tight.


I was no longer working there when she died. One of our co-workers- our ex-co-workers- called me very upset to give me the news. It hit me very hard, although true to form for a guy who needs not to feel a whole bunch, it manifested in subtle ways. My upper lip started to feel like it was in mid-spasm or mid-twitch, and this didn't go away until a long while later. I was depressed but the whole thing seemed both very heavy and encompassing, but at the same time very distant, as though it were casually happening to someone else. My world had taken a nice, swift kick.


Lots of people in my family had died when I was too young to really appreciate it; lots of people at my schools from kindergarten through 7th grade had died, but I wasn't close to any of them really and hey, like it or not that was just part of the environment there. At this point in my life she was the only good friend to have died, and done so very suddenly, without even a hint. Pretty jarring. I went about my business looking slightly subdued. A journal entry from shortly after she died gives an idea of what things were like under the surface. When I wrote it, I was in a dislocated, sort of trance-like state, and the connect between my rational brain and my writing had been pushed aside by something else. "My blood is all over me. How interesting it is that no on but I can see it. Well, not so surprising I suppose. After all, it is my blood..One gathers cuts over the years; some heal, others don't. They just keep bleeding."


Cyndy's funeral was an interesting experience. The twitching, eventually numb feeling in my upper lip had not gone away, and had in fact reached disturbing intensity. I half wondered if it was some kind of stroke. The casket was open, which I hadn't expected, especially considering the condition the body had been found in. Her mother had found her, asphyxiated and grossly discolored. She'd had a massive asthma attack in her sleep, not been able to rise fast enough to get her medicine, blacked out between the bed and wherever she'd been heading, and died. She used to get really bad headaches, and supposedly on that night, she had taken something to help her sleep through one.This slowed down her body's signaling of "danger" at the start of the attack, and by the time she woke up, she didn't have enough air to make it. This is what I remember, anyway. Her poor Mom was just a wreck. They'd been more than mother and daughter, they were best friends- vacationed together and everything. Her Mom needed to see Cyndy look like herself once more, or at least more like herself- hence the open casket. Nobody was prepared for it. Reactions ranged from casually disturbed to deeply shocked. How was I? Numb, as usual. Sporting sun glasses, as were many people. Tears ran freely from under every pair of shaded eyeware in the place, nobody was fooling anybody, but we all persisted wearing them for some reason. Her Mom asked me to be a pall bearer. "I know you really cared for Cyndy, would you please help lay my baby to rest?" I was honored; and had I the strength, I would have picked the coffin up myself, like Nosferatu, and carried her there, and laid her gently down. There was one other person there who really had a right to hold her and carry her, and I don't recall if he did. I think he did, I'm almost positive. But my memory is a bit foggy on this point.


I'm getting ahead though. Before that, there was a procession to view the corpse and say last goodbyes. One person we worked with, who had left the company long before, came with a picture of the two of them, and secretly stuffed it in the casket with the body. She showed me ahead of time, told me she was going to do it. OK, whatever. I was astounded by the level of drama and showy emotional displays put on by people. Some of them genuinely loved her, I know, so this was forgivable to me; but there were people who somehow needed to make it about them, put on a show, and this I found troubling and not a little reprehensible. Only one person got bad enough to say something to, but that was well after the funeral at the "after party", thankfully. One guy at the funeral who sticks out in my mind was a boyfriend of a friend of hers- can't remember who he "belonged to". He started talking to her, acting like he was out of his mind. I don't really think he was, and in fact there seemed to be more than a little "Look, I'm grieving, see?" in his response. That could easily be just my interpretation; ultimately it doesn't matter. He looked down at her and said "What are you doing down in there, girl? Get up! Come on! Come on baby, you got to get up! Come on!" Etc., until somebody moved him along. He continued to look back at her as he was led away. Interesting. My suspicion of him may seem unkind. But...My brother Jeff's 17 year old fiance' suddenly took ill and died from throat cancer. At her funeral he jumped in after the casket. Jeff doesn't give a rat's ass what anybody else thinks of him, as long as they think he's funny when he's trying to be funny. As far as stuff like this, he could care less. He never put on that kind of show for anybody. That was real, a product of complete despair. So...ah, who knows. None of my business I guess.


As for me, I walked up to her, mostly curious to see how much, or how little, she still looked like herself. To me, she looked like a propped-up waxwork that suggested the image of my friend but didn't really capture it. She was no longer in there and it was obvious. I tried thinking about her while I looked, all the while feeling the anxiousness of people in line behind me to get their turn, for whatever reason, to linger themselves or to get it over with. I could have stayed there longer if I'd wanted, after all, to hell with them, you only usually get one chance to say goodbye. But I couldn't belabor it because she wasn't there, and the waxy body on display was not helping me think of her, it was distracting. I moved on and thought of her when she was alive. And it was a lot easier to smile then.


After she was buried, after the after party, after everything, I went home and lay down on my bed, exhausted. That damned tingling and twitching in my upper lip was still going strong but at this point I didn't care; for all I cared I could have had a stroke and died right there, it would have been fine by me. As my body settled into a state of near sleep, and I was laying very still, I felt a slight but definite kiss on my lips, along with a sense that everything would be OK. And the tingling, twitching feeling disappeared then. I've felt it once or twice over the last couple of decades, at times of extreme stress; but never as strongly as when I'd felt it originally.


So that's Cyndy, or at least a little bit about her. Hard to believe she's been dead nearly 20 years. As for my Dad- well, lots to say there, but not necessarily here. He died in his mid-70s as the result of several illnesses, from which he'd suffered for a while. When the end came, four days after his last birthday, it was a relief for everyone, especially him. He was never going to get better and life had become awful for him long before he breathed his last. Needless to say he popped up in my dreams a lot after that too. It took a long time for him to show up looking healthy, before I could dream of him without his illnesses being dominant in my memory of him. Eventually though, he did show up looking like his old self, sharp-minded and smiling.


One dream that comes to mind had he, Cyndy and I at a bar. We'll get back there in a minute, but you should know that Cyndy popped up in my dreams a lot too. Usually there was some talk of how I thought she was dead, but it was a hoax perpetrated so she could get some space from everybody, or she'd moved and then moved back, had been on vacation, on retreat...Anyway, she'd come back, I'd spotted her; she was nervous to see me but accepting, and we would hang out a little before something weird would happen and I couldn't find my way back to her.


So this night, Cyndy and I and my Dad were at a bar. The only one this was in character for was Cyndy, who liked her occasional social drink, and whose liquored-up watermelons (made from miniature liquor bottles she'd saved from various flights to Cabo and the like) were legendary, eagerly awaited fare at the company picnics. My Dad just didn't drink. He wasn't an alcoholic, he simply did not like the stuff; it gave him a headache and nausea, and he never saw a reason to put up with that. He wasn't opposed to a little valium to steady his nerves, and back in the days when Vicks 44 cough syrup came over the counter laced with codeine, he was never without some. (He could justify this- not that he ever cared to, but he could- because his voice was like a deep-pitched dead-end kid, barking out of a gravel pit. This is what happens when you start chainsmoking at 10.) As for me, I drank, but not very often. A social setting like this wasn't completely out of character, I suppose; it just wouldn't have been common. But we were having a good time.


At one point, Cyndy gave me her keys and asked me to get her something from her apartment, which wasn't far away. My Dad said he'd come along too. Don't recall what Cyndy was up to, exactly. So there was this nice sense of cameraderie when my Dad and I went to her place. He was quiet and respectful, had some nice things to say about the apartment. But before we were to leave, I desperately had to pee; asked him to wait for me, told him what I had to do and that I'd be right back. He seemed a little disturbed and sad, which seemed slightly out of proportion to me for a response; but I didn't think too much about it and went down the hall towards the bathroom.


At that point all the lights in the place went out, like a blackout, but there was a little bit of light from streetlamps outside. I had this uncomfortable and immediate feeling that something besides the blackout was wrong, and then I remembered: Cyndy and Dad were dead. I tried to hold on to the dream, and made my way to the living room, trying to turn on the light in there, but Dad was gone, the place was empty, and he and Cyndy were really gone, not just out the door but dead.....I couldn't hold on any more and I woke up, goosebumps all up and down my arms, and yet sad, missing them both. Even so, it had been nice to see them, if only in my own head. Which I've never been entirely sure of, you know.


If there is contact with the dead, it has to come through our minds anyway, so...who knows. I don't, not for sure. I act and experience "as if", in the tradition of John Lilly. You suspend your disbelief and act within the logic of the situation, all the time knowing that it might not be real in the way that hitting your head against a wall is.


So many people have died since then. Some of them, like Cyndy, have been what seemed to me to be unreasonably young to be dead, as if there were reason to such a thing. Tom Shannon, Brigid Segal. Hard to get my head around those. I accept their deaths, overall; but can do so mostly by not thinking of that part, I think of them when they were alive. My Mom's third husband Jay, who went from having a backache to pancreatic cancer and was dead in a pretty short time; he wasn't that young but he wasn't that old, and for a multitude of reasons that one just seemed really wrong to me, and my response wasn't grief but anger. Anger at who, at what, there's no point in asking, anymore than there was in being angry, I suppose. I was likely to respond somehow, and that was it. Mom had already outlived two husbands, now she was going to outlive a third? Wrong. And thinking of Jay as not being there anymore- wrong, it just seemed very wrong to me. My Dad had been sick for a long time. Her second husband, Harold, had been nearly killed in battle a number of times (3 Purple Hearts and one congressional note; Guadalcanal survivor, Korean war vet, etc.). He'd been fighting major heart problems for a couple of years before they caught up to him. Jay had had a number of close calls too, but all before he'd met my mother; and nobody was expecting cancer. Does anybody ever? Maybe if you work too closely with radiactive materials. He did for a while, for the government, but not for many, many years. Anyway...


So tonight I had a dream where the dead folks in question didn't actually appear, but were being sought. My cousin Geshe, his wife Ellen, and my aunt Esther- all gone. I don't recall now why I was trying to find them- something to do with a concert, with babysitting, it's blurry. Other people were looking for them too. There was a heavy-set black girl in particular who couldn't understand why she couldn't find them, it was like they were suddenly gone with no trace, it was very upsetting to her. She had my old telephone book, the one held together with business

cards and scotch tape as replacement covers. It had fallen apart and she couldn't find the rest of it, and there was no one left in the neighborhood who remembered them or how to find them, and now she didn't know how to get hold of them or where to look or why this had happened seemingly so fast.


As the night has gone on, and I've been busy writing emails and writing this and making coffee and burning copies of "Wonder, Doubt And Curiosity" for Dave, the importance and the impact of the dream has faded very badly. But it got me to tell you a bit about Dad and Cyndy and a few other things, and I'm happy about that. If I see them at the bar again any time soon, I'll let you know how they're doing.






from technically proficient at making conventional music with conventional making music with raw and processed sound: the integration of both within an intentionally expressive context.


To eventually cover as many ways of producing sound as there are; to play instruments from each type, and in each way possible on that type; to finding new sounds from unconventional sources, to be used in all ways- textural, melodic and rythmic.


To be conversant with, and expressive in, as wide a range of styles as is truthful to my taste (no sellouts). From conscious pre-structure to "free form" expression.


To understand and be expressive in both electronic and acoustic methods of producing sound and music.


From boldness and even harshness to subtlety and mix these in ways still furthering both, to multiple levels.


To explore and become capable of intelligently using a range of ranges: old forms/new forms, short pieces and long pieces, quickness and slowness, spareness and lushness, forms and textures both coarse and refined. To be able to turn from one extreme to the next if desirable, and do so seamlessly; and to know how and when to use the range anywhere in between.


A harmony of elements, a rich education and hopefully a richer expression.


To extend and practice this understanding of range extremes to other art forms, and to everyday life. The abstract/diffuse to the plain/concrete; the complex to the simple. Understanding and creating the one within the other: the simple within the complex (sub-rhythms/forms; repetition/variation ala DNA) and the complex within the simple (multiple fields effected by seemingly simple or bold forms). And at the other side of this, strong expressions of only complexity or only simplicity.


To illustrate that all this is a matter of choice, and that rather than all colors blending to mud, all colors are available for every form, but that it is our responsibility to use what is available in an expressive way, to our best abilities. This gives all choice and only chosen restrictions.


To serve each piece and each project according to its needs, without recourse to systems, expectations common or uncommon, unless these are part of a piece's intrinsic nature. What needs to be said? What method/coloration/forms will best get this across?



I reject complete indeterminacy as a cop-out. In the first place, it's impossible; there is no removing the composer from the composed. So, the rejection and attempted removal of the composer's intent is fallacious. On some level, the composer has played god and handed out a set of variables. Even if, at a performance, the organization of variables reflects the player's sensibilites during the immediate experience; or it's more about the audience's sensibilities, or it's intended to be about both- the choice of variables hugely effects the whole, and so reflects the composer right into the proceedings. I can see no way out of this, nor do I see any further value in pursuing some more complete version. Tell someone to improvise for a set period of time, with no more instruction than that, and you'll have accomplished full indeterminacy. Which, to me, is a promoter's job, not a composer's.


I reject the composer's complete control over what a listener feels or thinks upon listening. Scores will be interpreted differently every time; recordings will sound different over every playback system. Lyrics have ever-changing multiple shades of meaning. Attempts at kinesthesic writing for an audience hit a dead end at the garbled bag of symbols within each listener's unconscious. The color white means something different to someone from the west than it does to someone from Cambodia or Africa. To us, it may symbolize purity, as it is often used; to a Cambodian or African, this is a color frequently associated with death and fear. Associations change meaning with geography, with time, with personal experience. In the present, in this part of the world, some are very obvious, such as minor key for sad, major key for happy, dissonance for confusion or terror. And yet in every case you can be sure of some historical, cultural instance or personal instance where the opposite is true. Generalities are the best that can be accomplished here, and as such they will be of limited range.


With both extremes of music, the music itself may be excellent. But there's wiggle room aplenty, and personality aplenty, and I see neither as bad, and in fact see those limitations as cause for excitement and celebration. It means ego can't go too far into people's business, and it can't disappear either. And why should it, in either case? Abuses of ego are no excuse for abdication or dictatorship. Ultimately you can't do either, and that to me is very good news. Instead, the artist just has to keep trying to communicate- in whatever fashion, and with whatever message. I like that. To me art is about communication, even if the message is meant to be that beauty and inspiration are everywhere, not just in the ego of the composer. In art as it is in life: too much control is the rigidity unto death, and too little control is the disintegration unto death. Each is an interesting experience, but repetition at the extremes gets old after a while, as extremes are likely to do. Combination and variation, that's the stuff.

GS, 1/9/10





testes, 1, 2, 3: or, the swingin' dance of the polyorchid pawnbroker

Is this thing on? Welcome to the premiere posting for the Blog of the Phantom Airship. Expect the unexpected, until that in itself becomes expected, then...don't.

Here will be various thoughts of the man behind the curtain, er, Airship. The plan is to have a forum for all sorts of things, occasionally leavened with parentheticals of an obtuse and potentially humorous nature.

My odds for frequent updates are hideously poor. But the one variable in my favor is simply the lack of formality. Show up, improvise a post, piss off again. That ain't too tough, since I can type almost as fast I can talk. Sometimes faster. Definitely with bigger words.

This day in rock history: Keith Emerson premieres his touring version of Thaddeus Cahill's Tellharmonium. Promising "An ELP concert in every home", the plan at first is to send performances on the instrument through local phone lines during the concerts. The prospect of having lines blocked with extended versions of "Take A Pebble" and "Tarkus" makes the phone company uneasy, and this part of the plan is scrapped. The instrument is ultimately abandoned from touring after a few months because of its excessive weight (although at 200 tons, it is still lighter than Carl Palmer's stainless steel drum kit).

You see there are things that just don't fit the usual news and info section of the Airship site proper. What to do? Well, blog, for one. There must be a place for various types of expression, be it steam-valvedness, silliness, or even weighty ponderousness. Although that could easily go into the writings section. Whathaheck. Nice to have someplace less formal. Okey dokey?

I'm cheating when it comes to the next post: I wrote something this afternoon- uh, yesterday afternoon, since it's after midnight- that finally made me say OK to the blog idea. So that'll get posted soon. Be on the lookout!