02022020

Palindromes fascinate me, even palindromic dates.

Here’s a video about what made yesterday (missed it by that much!) not only unusual, but unique in the Gregorian dating system.

Music! Laughs! Bad Hair!

And, more fun perhaps, here’s Weird Al’s take on one of the best music videos ever created, Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues. You’ll see why it’s in today’s post.

Al

Bob

Here’s some 02022020 art I made.

A Month into Winter

Not that the Phoenix valley has much of a winter, but this year was more wintery than the past two; December’s highest temp was 73º but the previous two years it was in the low 80s.

For the first time in 15 years, I’m not knee-deep in songwriting. I’ve participated in February Album-Writing Month since 2006, some years writing as many as 32 songs in a single month. I want to write at least one to celebrate my 15th FAWM, but I’m having a hard time dredging up the feeling.

I’m also 6 months or so behind on delivering the third Jake Calcutta story. And don’t get me started on the third Irish Adventure; poor Web Martin ended his second adventure on a low note and I’ve been meaning for years to lift his spirits with another chapter in his life.

The family band used to practice music 5 days a week. We’ve been up in the music room twice in five months. I’ve barely strummed my brand new 3/4-size Orangewood guitar. It’s beautiful, easy to play, great-sounding, and parked beside my desk. But, parked. In the same stand as my Blueridge tenor, the most wonderful musical instrument I’ve ever owned.

Moving my mother into assisted living absolutely trashed me physically and emotionally. Getting herself evicted in under 90 days because she’s so uncooperative was a gut-kick to Best Beloved and I after all the time, energy, and money we spent making it happen.

I usually ignore my age; I don’t celebrate birthdays, and the only reason I know my age most of the time is that it ends with the same number as the year. I haven’t been conscious of anything special about turning 60 the end of last month, but I have been feeling old, slow, a bit bleak.

Arthritis Finger

I’ve had some flexible squishy tape wrapped around the last joint of my left index finger for over 5 weeks. The doctor is treating a symptom of the severe arthritis in that joint.

On the surface, that sounds like typical old guy stuff.

Let’s dig below that surface.

First, a conundrum: the same joint on my pinkie finger on the same hand has the same severity of damage, yet feels no pain, no discomfort of any kind.

Next, the deeper issue: as a musician, the top joint of my index finger is vital to playing any instrument. You use your left hand to choose the notes you’re playing, and it has to be strong and flexible. Arthritis is neither of those.

The damaged joint affects me physically, and concern about its future affects me emotionally.

There’s good news. The pain and swelling has been exacerbated by a cyst at the end of a bone spur. The bone spur is quite small; the cyst was growing. And painful. And causing swelling and pain in the joint.

Large doses of anti-inflammatory meds plus a 6-week regimen of light pressure (thus the wrap) has almost eliminated the swelling, and reduced the pain, even when I’m playing an instrument, to negligible levels.

Videos of Les Paul, a great enough guitarist to have the most famous guitar in the world name for him, show his aged hands twisted with arthritis, the knuckles swollen.

He was still Les Paul, still one of the greatest jazz guitarists in the world, ever.

I’m gonna hang on to that image.

The Stranger on the Road

a barnEver since he’d set the barn up as a recording studio, he’d wanted a window so he could see his farm while he played. Windows not being inherently sound-deadening, it was a complication, but over time he’d hit upon a solution involving multiple layers of glass embedded in spongy soft stuff that helped reduce sound transmission.

So when the old man in the battered brown hat headed up his gravel driveway, he didn’t have to wait for the surprise of someone banging on the big barn door and messing up the track he was recording. He’d stopped playing his old Telecaster to watch as the stranger trudged up the drive, never raising his head enough to reveal his face.

But there was no banging on the door. With no windows anywhere else in the barn, he didn’t know if the old guy had gone around, or was just standing there.

Easy enough to find out.

He hung the guitar on the wall and crossed to the door, sliding the crossbar and pushing outward.

Mr. Brown Hat stepped back, blinking, obviously surprised.

“Um, hey, I’m sorry, uh, I was just . . . ” His hands wiggled around as he talked.

“Did you need something? Like, I mean, are you lost? Long way from anywhere, sir.”

The elderly gent chuckled. “I’ve been lost a long, long time, but not how you mean.” He shuffled his feet, glanced toward the road, shoved his hands in his pockets.

“I was passing, y’know, just walking down the road, and I heard the music, and, well, it drew me. I wasn’t trying to trespass, just getting closer to hear it better.”

That brought a chuckle. “You do realize that’s the shortest route to a musician’s heart, right?”

He pushed the door open wider. “If you want to listen, you might as well come in and get comfortable.”

The traveler pulled his hat off and held out his hand. “Morris. Morris Michael Miller. For which I apologize on behalf of my long-departed parents.”

“No apology necessary, Morris Michael Miller. I’m Reed. Reed Smith, most common last name in the English-speaking world, I guess.”

“There’s a reason for that, but instead of boring you with that, what if I sit down and shut up and you can play some more of that hopeful-sounding stuff you were playing.”

Reed smiled. “Hopeful? I guess the words made the music lean that way. Come on in.”

Morris found his way to one of the battered old kitchen chairs near the biggest speakers, and Reed grabbed the Tele and sat down to play.

He had no idea he’d just begun the greatest friendship of his life, nor that the stranger he’d taken in would live out the rest of his long life on the farm he’d been passing for no reason except that was where the road took him.

Three Applauses

I’ve noticed something about an audience’s reaction to live music: how the applause happens.

Obviously, there’s applause at the end.

And at the beginning, there’s applause—twice.

Some people recognize the opening notes on the guitar, the first piano chord, the drum riff leading it off, and instantly cheer for what they know is coming. There’s a medium sized round of applause in the opening seconds.

Then, the singer starts the song, and people recognize the words. That applause is a roar. People recognize words more than they recognize music.

Some bands play around with this. Bob Dylan is famous for rearranging his music so much that, until he starts singing, even fans aren’t sure where he’s going—and sometimes, not even then. Okay, we always eventually get it. He’s an extreme example. Sometimes a new intro delays the applause until the singer makes the song clear.

Comedians and storytellers play on this. Telegraph where you’re going with a joke, a humorous story, and people will slowly start to get it. A rising chuckle, a few laughs, and before the punchline everyone gets it—and then, you leave it there. They’ve figured it out and told themselves the joke. Don’t kill it by nailing it down.

Listeners, readers, those people who take stories in, whether they’re jokes, morality plays, songs, are smart. They love story, they understand it. They don’t need to be led by the hand, they just need a compass and a map.

As long as you’ve marked the trail clearly, letting readers find their own path makes a more satisfying experience.

A Winter of Sorts

You can tell when the conversation is running dry because the talk is all about the weather.

Turned the heater on this morning for the first time since a 4-day stretch in December. It was 63º inside the house. Upstairs. It’s normally about 76º up there.

Fiona sleeps with her window open and her face near the window. I used to sleep like that as a kid in San Diego. Winter nights there get down in the 40s, so I always had cold air to breathe. I like heavy blankets and cold air when I’m sleeping. Trying to sleep when it’s warm is hard.

Took a drive today and listened to all 19 songs I’ve written so far this month. I’ve done well. Two more I need to finish, a travel song for with Fiona, and a third song to go with Not Just Believe and Laminated Map of the World.

Thus far, every song has been entirely voice and tenor guitar (except a collaboration, which really needed bass and screeching electric guitar; if someone shares their lyrics I play what they need, not what I want.)

More Songs, Including My Daughters

I’ve written another handful:

but the real treat is that my two girls collaborated on one, and we can actually hear the Little One singing: Sister.

2 Happy Songs and 2 Long Drives

Tucson

Our little one visits her sister in Tucson every month. She usually stays 3 nights. They have a studio so while the little one and her sister are up all night singing and laughing and making videos, the good husband is trying to sleep so he can go to work in the morning. We’re all (especially him) hoping they can move to a bigger place soon.

It’s 3 hours down, drop her off midday, then 3 hours back. Two full days at home, then do it all over again, pick her up late afternoon, arrive home wiped out after dark.

Music

Two more songs, making it 4 for 4. Four for four. Fore! These two were happy.

The next one will be pensive. Many lines will begin “I remember . . . ”

I never know which list songs will end up on: lost and forgotten, performed once and abandoned, or regular rotation crowd faves. Some songs I thought were great when I wrote them don’t interest me much anymore, and some I thought were throwaways get played all the time because people love them.

This is the planting time. Harvest will happen later, and as always, will surprise me.

15-Minute Song

That’s not 15 minutes long, it’s 15 minutes to write.

Last Saturday we played some of my songs for a bunch of friends in our living room. During the show, folks scribbled notes on slips of paper and dropped them in one of 6 hats:

  • people
  • places
  • moods
  • things
  • times
  • ?

At the end of the evening, I drew a random sample of suggestions from all 6 and wrote a song. In 15 minutes.

The suggestions were

  • pensive
  • dark ages
  • Costa Rica
  • Aunt Jemima
  • old motorcycles
  • siblings
  • a cowboy who doesn’t like horses or cows

I chose 2 people which is why there are 7 on the list.

It pretty much wrote itself. The video below (lightly edited for bonehead mistakes) was shot 15 minutes after I drew the suggestions. I’m switching a lyric to specifically mention Costa Rica, but even though “dark ages” would fit where I used “medieval” it just doesn’t flow, so that stays.

Lyrics

I wonder why I didn’t post these before?

what do you do when you’re in the wrong place
in the wrong place in the wrong time?
thinking like that can ruin your breakfast
looking for reason and rhyme

roping and riding and drivin’ ’em in
is driving me out of my mind
so I’m moving on
next week I’ll be gone
the week after that I’ll fine

my sister just doesn’t get it
she doesn’t have to, she knows I’m okay
her Harley will get me to LAX
I’m flying south today

chorus

I’m off on a plane to the tropics
heading south as fast as I can
get away from those horses and smelly old cows
in Costa Rica I could work on my tan

chorus

no more bacon and eggs in the morning
Aunt Jemima’s got nothing on me
that medieval torture of saddle tramp days
is washing away in the sea

chorus

February Album Writing Month #13

Every February since 2006 I’ve participated in February Album Writing Month. (I joined up during FAWM’s 3rd year.) While I do sometimes write songs during other months, the bulk of my nearly 200 songs have been written during these episodes of shared mania.

Hundreds of participants commit to writing a full album, 14 songs, of new material during the 28 days of the month. Sort of a NaNoWriMo for songwriters, though with less emphasis on embracing low quality; it’s more like accepting it without actively chasing it.

Some of my very favorite music has been written by my fellow FAWMers during this month of madness. Here are four examples:

Fiji (Matt DiVito) Quickly (Resonance)
Dear Noreen (Phil Henry) Pig of Lovliness (oddbod)

Whether or not the styles are your cup of tea, the songwriting is as good as most of what you hear on the radio or elsewhere. Better, I think.

I’m still working on making better recordings, which these chaps have mastered. But I’m proud of my lyrics, confident in my songwriting.

And ready for February.

blow, wind!

blow, wind!
shatter leaves from the trees and slash them through my dream
pour them onto the road I cannot travel
smear them across the windows I cannot see

blow, wind!
tear the rain from the air and chase it from this place
dry the lies
and the hate and
upturn the funnel
empty the blackness till it whitens

blow, wind!
drag my heart from here to that place I belong
that place where I dreamt I was me,
myself,
and I—
where I dreamt I was myself
without dreaming

http://www.freeimages.com/photo/maple-leaf-1510431

My Music Website

After more than a decade writing music, I’m slowly putting all my demos online. There are more than 2 dozen already live at http://tunehenge.com (that’s out of 30 I wrote in February of this year, 2017.)

Eventually I plan to have all the demos worth listening to at tunehenge. Some of my demos are purely experimental or for my own fun. Trust me, you’re missing nothing. There are still more than 100 songs I’ve written and recorded rough demos for that’ll end up at tunehenge.

Continue reading “My Music Website”

Morgan the Musician and Shannon the Chef

After years of music school and uncountable hours of practice Morgan makes a decent living playing jazz guitar in clubs and coffee shops and as a session musician at a local recording studio.

Following a similar path, Shannon studied under a chef who was a family friend and has worked for the past six years in various upscale restaurants.

Morgan, the musician, has always loved to cook. Guests at Morgan’s special dinners have always said “You should open a restaurant!” Morgan just smiles.

Shannon, the chef, took piano lessons as a child and a few years ago, started practicing in earnest. Guests at Shannon’s living room concerts say “You should play down at the coffee shop!” Shannon never took it seriously—before now.

One of Morgan’s friends was hosting a special dinner party for out of town business guests and begged Morgan to cater it. “Nothing fancy, do what you always do, but please, feed my guests!” Though Morgan initially refused payment, the friend insisted.

Without even asking, a friend of Shannon’s booked a gig at a local coffee shop. Based on some recordings the friend had made at a living room concert, they were glad to pay a small fee for the performance.

Since Morgan and Shannon share a network of friends, each is aware of the other’s vocation—and their avocation.

When Shannon was invited to a dinner party hosted by Morgan the musician, Shannon expressed genuine appreciation for the food, for the flavors and presentation. It never entered Shannon’s head to expect a professional presentation at the level Shannon was capable of. Morgan was, after all, a hobbyist, and amateur simply having fun with friends.

After one of Shannon’s living room concerts, Morgan asked about some of Shannon’s original songs, and expressed genuine appreciation for the arrangement of a cover tune Shannon had performed. Morgan wouldn’t dream of critiquing Shannon’s fingering on the fretboard or choice of material. Shannon is, after all, just having fun, an amateur. Music is Shannon’s hobby, that’s all.

Now, though, things are different. Morgan, a musician, is being paid to cook. Shannon, a chef, is making money with music.

Would you expect them to have different expectations of each other’s hobbies now?

Folks who hire Morgan to cater a dinner are delighted with not only the food, but the price. They couldn’t afford Shannon’s highly professional service anyway, so they’re just glad they can get something they like at a price they can afford.

The coffee shops where Shannon makes a few bucks, the living room concerts that pay in generous tips, are glad to have lively music played by someone who loves what they do, who does it well enough for their guests at a price that allows them to have live music instead of prerecorded.

If these clients are happy to pay Morgan and Shannon for what were once only hobbies, should the other be miffed that “Shannon’s guitar playing isn’t studio-ready” or “Morgan’s cooking would never make it in a fine restaurant”?

At what point does it become a professional artist’s right to set expectations for another artist?

When a hobby morphs into a side business does an artist owe patrons the same quality as leaders in their field?

Is an artist obligated to be excellent, world-class, top of their game, before they’re allowed to exchange their art for money?

Or is that between the artist and those who are exchanging their money for that art?

Greenback Blues

You should have married Andrew Jackson
I know that you think more of him than me
I’ll bet Ben Franklin would be fine with you
and that’s fine with me as far as I can see

Alexander Hamilton is only half as much
as Andrew Jackson in your twisted mind
George Washington is peanuts and Lincoln’s not much more
but Grover Cleveland would be quite a find

too bad Woodrow Wilson don’t circulate no more
got your hands on him he’d never leave
but gimme just one Roosevelt to call a cab
and I’ll be gone for good you’d best believe

And Now, Something Without Words

icebergLast February Adam Young started posting what he calls a “score” at his website. His other website. His primary website, in case you don’t recognize his name, is where Owl City lives because Adam Young is Owl City, every 12-year-old girl’s favorite group. Okay, at least my 12-year-old girl’s favorite group. And her father is a songwriter, right? Whatever.

Each month on the 1st, Young uploads a new score inspired by some historical event: the sinking of the Titanic, moments in the Civil War, and this month, Ernest Shackleton’s “failed” voyage to Antarctica. (Not failed. Not according to history, folks. Hero stuff there.) The scores each have about a dozen tunes lasting a total of 30 or 40 minutes. Sign up for his list, and all the scores are free to stream online or to download. Yeah, hours and hours of free music. Good music.

Did I mention it was good music? Some works are reminiscent of Owl City’s retrodisco, but all of it stays close to the theme he’s chosen for each collection.

Oh, the title of this post? They’re instrumentals. For a guy who is one of the snappier lyricists in juvenile pop music, he shows remarkable restraint and maturity by creating these epic and enjoyable wordless wonders.