Monday, March 28, 2011

style versus innovation

These chords are old, but we shake hands
'cause I believe that they're the good guys

I'm blessed by the ability to play music. Last weekend was a good one for me: an acoustic show, an electric show, converting new fans, getting to see some of my favorite bands, hanging out with my bandmates, feeling fully like a music guy again.

In spite of this, I do believe that in a very real sense, music ended quite some time ago.

When someone decided that kids in between the age of thirteen and eighteen needed to have their own separate culture, music started to change at an astounding rate. Shocking became the key trope in distinguishing "teenage cultural artifact A" from one belonging to your father. Depending on the genre and medium, this could mean any number of things. Obscenity. Blood. Brighter colors. Faster pace. Increasing illegality. Controlled substances. The street. Graphic whatever.

In music, this turned in many cases to an obsession with hardness. In rock, it was first in incorporating the forbidden timbre and groove of black music. Then lyrics became increasingly more... gritty... realistic... guttural... streetwise... obscene... whatever. In the meantime, some pioneer decided that using crappy, inefficient, prone-to-explode equipment could be, in and of itself, both beautiful and transgressive. Tempos increased. Distortion piled on top of distortion. The tone underwent went a slow crescendo into noise.

Unfortunately it was often missed, in this struggle to become more and more shocking, a realization, a certain subtle factoid, and it was this: at an eventual point in time, musicians would reach the point where they physically could not play any faster. Sooner or later, you would run out of startling lyrical possibilities. Eventually, you would meet the maximum level of distortion. Where would you go after you finally hit the wall? When there was no other side as a possible destination? Where can you go when you've gone too far?

I've never really known. My personal musical style could hardly be called progressive, futuristic, envelope-pushing. I am, at heart, just a blues-rock guitarists. My scale is the minor pentatonic. Yes, I use effects, but they are too far out of fashion to even be considered in the neighborhood of retro. I am far from the first person, for instance, to use an envelope filter or analog octave divider.

One friend, upon hearing me play, complemented me before saying she hadn't heard anyone play like me in a long time. My look must've been questioning, because she said, "y'know, like arena rock-ish." It took me a while to realize how accurate she was, and, more to the point, be okay with my arena rock influences. Hell, at one point in my life, I wanted to be a musical pioneer. Then I wanted to be unique. Now, though, I'll settle for just being the kind of guitar player I always wanted to be.

Sometimes, you gotta let the guitar talk. Sometimes you gotta just hit it. That's what I do.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

home improvement.

One of the real problems of being a media scholar is that you quickly run out of any entertainment options which might in any way be described as "brainless." I try out tons of programs in the pursuit for something that doesn't really make me think, but sooner or later, I'm breaking down everything. I quit watching food television because I couldn't turn off the gender analysis. I've tried NCIS, but the stereotyping drives me insane. The list goes on.

My latest effort in my pursuit of "not thinking for at least a moment" is home improvement television. Now, I've watched tons of shows in my years. For a while, I could've been described as a Bob Villa junkie. I've seen every single This Old House and Hometimes, many of them multiple times. I enjoy it, but mentally, I already have paper after paper planned. Some of them would be quite good ones, if only I had time to write them...damn job that doesn't reward scholarship.

I try to go more brainless by delving into HGTV, but that doesn't help. Many of the shows feature people looking for new houses...these always drive my thoughts into the area of class warfare, as I have very little sympathy for anyone depressed over the lack of housing options under $650,000. I watch the design shows, and they only make me want to invent a new game: "Gay or Canadian"...because all the hosts seem to be...well, you get the picture.

Lately, I've been watching the Mike Holmes programs Holmes on Homes and Holmes Inspection. They're particularly interesting, because they reverse the standard home improvement narrative. These shows are certainly not telling you "yes, you can do it yourself." No, they make absolutely no attempt at claiming viewer empowerment. You watch this show, and you have no thoughts about your repair competency. Moreover, they don't even hint that professionals in the field might be competent...quite the opposite, in fact. I watch Mike Holmes, and I feel utterly depressed at the possibility of there being anything close to an honest, skilled professional anywhere. Except Mike Holmes himself, of course...he is, according to the show, the construction industry Jesus, albeit with a Canadian accent.

Today's episode was particularly brutal. The previous owners of the hell-house in question had apparently, before selling to the now shell-shocked couple, found massive termite and rot damage, all caused by the fact that the foundation was made of dirt...simple, unpacked dirt. Their solution? Just insulate and drywall over everything. The crew's fix wasn't so much a gut job as a "bomb and start over job." It was truly horrifying.

The critical side of my brain is still trying to process a home improvement show which argues most professionals are incompetent, some of them at levels bordering on criminal. Are they telling us that experts everywhere inherently suck? Is a home improvement channel really trying to dissuade me from ever becoming a home owner?

I would worry about this all that much more if I wasn't doomed to enough poverty to never escape being a renter...and might even make the swarm of bees seem a reasonable price.

Thank goodness for debt.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

the Rusty Scotch-Aid

Sitting around late at night watching television? Depressed at the state of the world, your state government, the forthcoming sinus infection, and hopes of a successful resolution to the NFL labor situation? Maybe it's just me...but at times like these, I think the best thing to do is (wait for it) create a new mixed drink! I call it "the Rusty Scotch-Aid":

  • take a high-ball glass and add ice
  • pour in a healthy slug of cheap Scotch that someone gave you
  • squeeze in a quarter of a lemon and dump in the remainder
  • add a tablespoon or so of sugar syrup...more if the Scotch is particularly cheap
  • top off with soda water
  • stir, sip, and watch scary television

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

I am a rock star

One of these days see me driving round town
In my rock 'n' Rolls Royce with the sun roof down

I am a rock star.

No, not really. In reality, I'm a guy who's married to a wonderful/pregnant spousal unit, teaches writing under an uncertain future (thanks, Senate Bill 5!), and who plays in a local (meaning we can't get gigs the next town over) band. But from the time I bought my first crappy guitar, I always had visions of being on stage, playing to a worshiping throng of admirers who would hang on my every note and scream at the end of the solo. It was my dream

This, of course, never happened for lots of reasons. I've known for ages I would never be a rock star. Going back to college perhaps sealed the deal, but I kinda knew long before that. But there are still times where, when I close my eyes, I wonder what it would've been like to play arenas.

I know, though, I will never be a rock star. So, a few weeks ago, I decided to do the next-best thing: I ordered some custom guitar picks!

I found a place online who sold custom guitar picks for a reasonable price. I went to town with GIMP on a photo from one of my past shows and made myself look like a cool line drawing. I uploaded my photo, moved some stuff around, and gave them my credit card number. A little over a week later, I recieved a bag of shiny, customized .73mm color delrin picks.

The picks are a geeky fantasy come true, something I've always wanted. I've given them to friends, most of whom seem inordinately thrilled to get a 50 cent piece of plastic. Some have told me they're the coolest thing they've seen. One or two (who were admittedly drinking at the time) said something about putting the pick with their special souvenirs. True, one friend, upon seeing the pick, said "DuBose, you're such a nerd" (admittedly, she does have a case), and my singer has threatened to quit the band if I throw a handful to the crowd during some gig.

This past weekend, I went to see Two Cow Garage, my favorite band in the world, when they played at a Toledo bar. I know both Micah, the guitarist and Shane, the bass player, so when I said hello to them, I gave them each a pick. During their set, Shane used my pick...and showed it to me from the stage. Maybe I became a rock star by proxy...just a little, mind you.

Afterward, I was saying my goodbyes. When I was talking to Micah, I told him that I showed one of my classes clips from a documentary someone did on them a few years back, and how it depressed the students. The students, I told him, focused on how hopeless it seemed to make it in the music industry. This puzzled me at the time, and, I told Micah, I couldn't figure out why the state of the industry was of such importance to them...because personally, I don't give a crap about executives, labels, or any of that. Instead, I care about bands and music. The industry? Stardom? Ultimately, it doesn't seem very important.

This does not mean, however, that I will ever give up my custom guitar picks. I'm holding onto at least a small fragment of the dream.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

just a number

But you know
The years make things different

When I turned 21, I actually did it at someone else's birthday party. It was close to midnight, and a friend asked who was of legal age. When I said I would be in 17 minutes, he insisted on driving me to the store...and then he insisted on waiting until 12:01...and then he insisted the clerk card me for my beer purchase.

After that, I don't really remember much about most of my birthdays. I understand why many people want to be sentimental about such things, and I kinda wanna be sentimental myself...but there is just very little of most of them that stick in my mind. There have been parties, there have been meetings at the bar, there have been times where I've just stayed at home and watched television. The one that sticks out most in my mind was when it was just me, my lovely spousal unit, and a vampire friend at Howard's Club H. I remember it because, after my spousal unit asked me three times if I wanted a delivery from The Cookie Jar, I finally asked her, "you want cookies, don't you?" She did that enormously cute pseudo-guilt look by way of reply. The cookies ended up being very tasty, though.

Moreover, my age itself hardly sticks with me. When I was 33, I remembered my age for two reasons: the play speed of an LP and the back of a Rolling Rock bottle. I remembered 34 because of a line from a Goober and the Peas song...of course, the song was about stalking, so I tried really hard not to think about it all that closely. I associated 35 with The Jayhawks song "Big Star" because of the line "a has-been at a mere 35"; that song ultimately is more optimistic than it sounds, but I still didn't think about it all that closely.

After that, though, whenever someone asked me my age, I would have to stop and think about it...and, embarrassing enough, do the math before I answered. While I realize some people might look at this as a sign of my encroaching senility, I've just never been that good at remembering some basic, simple facts. Hell, I still have to look at my hands most of the time to remember which side is my left and which side is my right.

The bigger issue is that I simply don't feel all that different. Back when I was still working in the pizza industry, I was sharing a cigarette with my supervisor, and we were talking about age. He took a drag off his smoke, looked into space, and said, "hell, Mike, I still have to stop and realize I'm not 22." When I was 25, this struck me as funny. Now, though, I can completely relate.

There was a time when I started to feel old. It was when I was working at another pizza place, and all the employees were teenies. No surprise there...the restaurant industry feeds on the young. However, I became acutely aware they were all younger than I only because they were all listening to more current music than I. I realized I was up against a decision. I could become a person whose references, experiences, and culture all came from his high school years (you know, the people who don't own an album that came out later than their 24th birthday). Or I could just dive into the world and experience it as I see fit...which might require me to reach a little bit outside my comfort zone. When I started to look outside of myself, age really quit being an issue.

Today, I turned 40. There's no tears, there's no freakout. There's really little significance at all for me. However, there's something better. When I woke up today, there was an awesome card and some organic dark chocolate from my beautiful preggie spousal unit waiting for me. There was about 40 e-mails and notifications wishing me a happy birthday, all of whom I appreciate more than I say. Tonight, there will be a good dinner and drinks with friends. If getting older brings all this, well, that is indeed alright.