Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Dance Of Lulu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Multi-Part Post In JIVE Format

By Any Other Name

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

That's my girl!

Dementia 13 And Other Recurring Themes

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

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

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Strange Unconscious Strikes Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GS, 4/3/10

Monday, March 15, 2010

So what do you do?

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

"So, what do you do?"

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

But eventually the truth would come out.

"I'm a musician."

"Oh, what do you play?"

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

(what do you play)

"Anything I can get my hands on."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh, so you play all the instruments?"


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Hairpie Mayonnaise?"

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Great Ink Conspiracy

One of the reasons I went full-tilt into the Pale Series method of production- home print jobs for my CDs- was that, relatively speaking, ink was cheap enough to make it worthwhile to do so. It was that, vs. the $300 and change to have 1,000 2-panel covers printed up (per release). While it's still basically cheaper (both in spite of and because of the size of the catalog), the cost of ink for my printer seems to have taken a ridiculous hike lately. Over $80 for three color cartridges and 2 blacks- at Costco! This is about a $30-$40 rise since the last time I bought. What the f..k?
While I wandered around the aisles of bread and giants vats of mayonnaise and pickles, my mind jumped from one conspiracy to the next, starting off with something realistic (and most likely to be true) to something which most likely was BS, but still....sometimes you can't help but feel paranoid and oppressed. I shall explain.

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

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

They know we're out there, see...the RIAA and the five families that run the five record companies, in an international conspiracy to keep the little guys down. First they screwed us out of internet radio, so that power could stay consolidated in the big companies...and the really galling thing of it is that supposedly, they did it FOR us!!! To protect us! To protect us from who? Illegal downloaders? You can't sell product nobody gets to hear, and nobody gets to hear the majority of independent artists- TRULY independent artists- if we wait for our pals at corporate radio to play us. And you are well and truly screwed if you do anything that is outside of the
nauseating little "indie" boxes that are available: nerd rock, state-certified traditional punk, trendy glam throwback, country, rap, "traditional" blues, "traditional" jazz, deadass boring jamband navel-gazing crap, "world music" that will make people feel culturally diverse in a way that eases their consciences without asking too much of know the stuff. If it's got lyrics anybody can sing along; the uninitiated will find it authentic, heartfelt or really daring, like Medeski Martin and Wood or the String Cheese Incident. Nothing against those named directly,'m afraid I fail to find them daring. Maybe by today's standards. Not by Sun Ra or
Albert Ayler standards. Nobody says that was ever their number one goal, or that they get up and say to themselves every morning "Hey guys, let's be daring!". But in the land of commercial radio programming or public broadcasting, that's wild and wooly stuff. When was the last time YOU heard Sun Ra on your local jazz station? Or on NPR? When was the last time you heard Iqbal Yogi and party doing authentic snake charmer music, as opposed to setting that to a canned shishka-boom track, so that older refined Debbie can still dance to it? I tell ya, it makes me want to bang my head against the wall. But then THEY'd win....

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

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

At about this time, an image comes in my head that both makes me laugh and makes me step back, shake my head, and STAY back from all this paranoid crap. There was a segment in Ken Burns' "Jazz" (another wrong on so many levels...). There was a black female vocalist, talking about the British invasion, and how in the mid '60s all the work and the support for jazz artists dried up. She gets this angry gleam in her eye, a mixture of insanity and righteousness, backed by the emotional powderkeg of horrible history...and she says something to the effect of, "We knew what they wanted to do. They were trying to BURY us." She practically hisses it out. Now sure, who can't see the point of a black woman in the early '60s feeling oppressed? Anybody with a sense of history gets that. I see it, she's....lacking in perspective. When in doubt, think money. Her problem was, she had no doubt, even when she should have. The British invasion knocked jazz out of the charts, and rock and roll took over (even earlier), because there was a lot of money to be made. Yes, rock and roll got its start from black artists.
Yes, Pat Boone became a star as the white world's public face for Little Richard. But by the British invasion, that was all ancient history and Chuck Berry and Little Richard were becoming known quantities; Motown was slowly eroding the color boundaries, blues and soul and jazz artists were not swept under the rug but were becoming better known, despite the lack of gigs (this, thanks to records). And that was even before '64, thanks to the folk movement. The British invasion reinvigorated interest in many criminally neglected black artists who helped
inspire it. The British invasion knocked a few white pop artists into the background too- ask Brian Wilson. The bottom line here is, nobody did this to bury anybody, they did it for bucks. But if you can't get ahead and your world falls apart because nobody gives a rat's ass about what you do, while you on the other hand live and breathe for it- that hurts. And sometimes it's easier to blame someone for that than face the truth. Nobody wants to bury you. You're buried. You're not even a blip on their radar, and if there is a "they", they couldn't care less. And I hate to tell ya, sister, but I'm buried way deeper than you are. Nobody picked up a shovel, they just went about their business and chased the bucks. You and I form part of the fossil record as history piled up on top of us in drifts. That's really all there is to it.

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

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 5, 2010

more on Stein, Dementia 13, etc.

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

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

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

"What a loo"....

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

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

Meanwhile here, Abba plays on in the background.

"How can I ever refuse
I feel like I win when I'm loose"....

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

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

"Did you brush your gums Fernando
For gingivitis is a terrible disease
And it can rob you of your teeth
Before your time..."

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

"Chicken Tikka you and I know..."

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

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


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

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

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

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

I got a CD in the mail today that I've been wanting for a couple of years now: "Not Of This Earth: The soundtrack music of Ronald Stein". This guy counts as a major influence on me, even just based on his work for "Dementia 13", Francis Coppola's first mainstream flick. My first memory of that goes back to around the age of 4, when they started to show it pretty faithfully on t.v. in L.A. I have early recordings I did with a couple of friends where I initiated a jam based on riffs inspired by that soundtrack. That's music that prepared me for things like "Lark's Tongues" and "Red". But not only is "Dementia 13" on there, but so is "Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman", "The
Terror", "Attack Of The Crab Monsters", "Not Of This Earth", "Spider Baby", and others. He worked a lot for American International (AKA Roger Corman and friends). So this guy's stuff was going through my ears and writing its way into my brain functions long before I knew who he was, and more frequently than I ever realized.

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, January 18, 2010

"Dancing With The Stars" variations

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

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

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

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

PS: a big hello to Bruce Ray!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

post-breakfast quickie

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

The Older You Get...

The More Dead People There Are To Dream About.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So tonight I had a dream where the dead folks in question didn't actually appear, but were being sought. My cousin Geshe, his wife Ellen, and my aunt Esther- all gone. I don't recall now why I was trying to find them- something to do with a concert, with babysitting, it's blurry. Other people were looking for them too. There was a heavy-set black girl in particular who couldn't understand why she couldn't find them, it was like they were suddenly gone with no trace, it was very upsetting to her. She had my old telephone book, the one held together with business
cards and scotch tape as replacement covers. It had fallen apart and she couldn't find the rest of it, and there was no one left in the neighborhood who remembered them or how to find them, and now she didn't know how to get hold of them or where to look or why this had happened seemingly so fast.

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

Monday, January 11, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GS, 1/9/10

Sunday, January 10, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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