Monday, December 10, 2018

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. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A HANDFUL OF ASHES  extended notes

This post refers to the album at the following link:
https://gregsegal.bandcamp.com/album/a-handful-of-ashes

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.

AND NOW BACK TO 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."
"WHAT?"
"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.






Saturday, January 20, 2018

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

So...here we are. (Tap, tap. Looks down at floor, over at wall.) Yep. Back.
(Clears throat.)
So.
(Coughs. Clears throat again. Deep breath.)
Guess I'll, uh...talk. 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. And....it 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.

Love,

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 (gregsegal.bandcamp.com). 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; but....eh. 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: http://kows107-3.org/  Thank you, Charles!

Find out more about Charles' music here: http://www.geocities.com/padukem/

See you round the ranch, kids!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

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 drums....it 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.   

Friday, January 31, 2014

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"...wow. Soul with a capital "S". Do I care that it doesn't sound like the '80s stuff? Yes! I care. I'm thankful.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ready or not! Here I come!

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

Hmm?

Oh hello! Look who's back after a year! Good to see you again. Glad you could join us.

Well....no. 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, so...no hermit's life for me.

Nope! I have opted to try to have it all. If that sounds impossible...it 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

No.

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!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

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.