Saturday, December 31, 2011


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

"Day after day more people come to L.A.
Shhh! Better get ready, the whole place goin' be slippin' away
Where can we go when there's no San Francisco
Better get ready to tie up de boat in Idaho...

Do you know the swim?
Ya betta learn quick Jim
Those who don't know the swim
Betta be singin' de hymn."

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

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

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

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

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

Don't answer that.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ramble One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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