Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Sleeping Baby

You know what it's time for? Yepper, a new drink! I call this one "The Sleeping Baby":

  • take a highball glass/juice glass/sippie cup and put in a few ice cubes
  • add one measure of vodka while thinking of the gulags
  • add one measure of wild strawberry liqueur while thinking of the forests
  • add a half measure of raspberry schnapps while wondering why "raspberry" has a "p" in the name
  • top off with orange juice
  • stir, drink, relax, and watch your formerly sleeping child squirm

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

on establishing a permanent record

Because of the blessed nature of being in a really good band, I am and can fully conceive of myself as a musician. One of the things that musicians do (other than annoying their family, friends, passers-by; put on the facade of a monster ego to cover up mass insecurities; and make a lot of noise in loud venues populated by intoxicated people, some of whom would rather be either dancing or playing bar-top trivia games) is record. Hell, even if it wasn't part of the standard musician playbook, I'd want to establish a permanent record of my music if just for the "I must live on forever! MWAHAHAHA!" part of my personality alone.

So, how is the recording process? Surely, you are thinking, it must be fabulous getting the chance to finally document your material. How could it be anything other than interesting taking sounds in your heat, moving them from your fingers, into steel strings, through magnets, wire, effects, tubes, speakers...all in concert with other musicians who you love and trust? How could this not be utterly and completely fascinating? Enthralling? Transcendent?


I still want to eventually do good professional recordings one day, to have on tape (or some digital facsimile thereof) a version of one of my songs which approaches the version in my head. But, if my experiences are typical in any way whatsoever, I am not sure how bands can spend more than a few weeks in the studio and come out with their sanity. How, perchance, might someone be a member of Boston or Guns N' Roses? How could you survive multiple years in the studio working on the same damn collection of ten songs?

The above, though, was my current band's attempt to just do some raw, mic-in-the-room recordings, and there are occasional technical hiccups in any situation which have to be, for the record, we are not usually sitting around, reading, or passed out while someone twists knobs and hits things. We are, however, responsible for each other's feelings, attitudes, and opinions, so we have to give each other a lot of space...which means, rather than a "let's bust out our set in an hour" session, recording tends to be play once, wait while people listen and judge the take, and play again...albeit twenty minutes after the previous take. I understand the lack of flow, but it is still an issue for my level of playing and of interest.

Doing it on your own, though, is not really any quicker or less aggravating.

I have mentioned before that, after Analog Revolution goes away, I have another project in the works. In this new band-to-be, I will be shouldering a decent amount of the conceptual and songwriting load. Well, in the week before the progeny unit showed up, I decided to assemble some rough demos at the other band members would (1) be able to hear the riffs again (since, while I was in the final stages of urchin-readiness, we haven't been practicing) and (2) have a good idea of the structure and overall sound floating in my head.

Stage one was to find a drum machine I possess neither the massively expensive drum set nor the coordination required to play one. There are tons of good programs out there, and some came very highly recommended....but they all cost money, and I am, if nothing else, relatively broke. So I did some arduous searching (well...I googled it) and settled on a nice open-source program.

I then had to learn the program. Operating the software was not really the issues...the program I found is relatively intuitive. No, the difficulty is simply I don't know how to play drums. True, I have listened to drums all my life, and I have known many drummers. Apparently, though, I only gained a slight theoretical knowledge of their craft in the process of hanging out with them. Osmosis, I guess, only gets you so far. Ultimately, I learned the biggest thing to be gleaned by hanging out with drummers is an increased proficiency with profanities.

It took a few days of messing with the program, but eventually, I attained a certain proficiency programming drums. More than anything else, I was amazed by the innate mathematics involved in drumming. Fractions in particular. One song in particular tripped me up for a full day before I realized the drum part needed to be in triplets...which changed the mathematics considerably. This is all funny, because I never really saw any of my drummer friends as math savants...but I guess there's also some intuition at work.

After the drums were programmed, I then set out to record the guitars...which, as I have been playing guitar since 8th grade and had written all the songs in question...well, this should be no problem, huh? Should be "I'm gonna knock out ten guitar tracks, assemble a guitar army, be the envy of Brian May," right? Not the case. When we were doing the Analog Revolution recordings, I was chagrined to find we would only end up with three songs recorded in a three hour session. Why, I wondered, couldn't we speed up the whole process? Hell, Black Sabbath recorded their entire first album in twelve hours.

Wrong again, idiot self. When I recorded on my own, I still did about three songs in a three hour session. I'm not sure if the recording process makes me over-think everything, or if I'm really just that tremendously sloppy/imprecise of a guitar player...probably the latter, which is a tremendous blow to my ego. Even though I was in control of all aspects of these fledgling demos, it still took me forever to do a job that was simply...good enough. Sigh.

I'm now realizing that I need to get back to the live element. I'm much better when there's immediacy between myself and the band, between the band and the audience, when we can get locked into the energy, the emotion, the pure awesome sound, and just let the music take us where it needs to go.

That our audience is drinking and, as a result, has lowered expectations is just a bonus. Yeah...that's what it is.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

delayed notification

I've been understandably busy, or I would've posted about this earlier, but in case you haven't heard from other sources:

World, please say hello to Sylvia Emily DuBose. She arrived on Sunday, 6/12, at 3:35pm, weighing in at 8 pounds, 14 ounces, measuring in at 22". Please be good to her and help her develop into the awesome person she is destined to become.

bugs redux

Remember the Great Bee Invasion of aught-ten? Well, last night, as I was gaining a few brief hours of passing-out, the spousal unit, hauling the progeny unit, came in exclaiming "bugs!"

I wasn't sure if this was deja vu or flashback. I also suspected sleep psychosis, as the progeny unit, who had been on her best behavior until 11ish, decided to forget how to sleep, rest, or be quiet.

I stumbled out to the living room and saw a few ants with wings on the corner. I grabbed our eco "safe for kids and pets but still stinky" bug killer and returned. I killed the little buggers. I looked down. There were twenty to thirty more. Assassination. Looked around. Thirty ants on the door. Similarly dispatched. I then went outside and soaked the porch, the window frames, and pretty much the corner of the building.

This AM, after finishing the morning pass-out session, I called the landlord, who, after hearing the word "newborn," responded with due haste. I then went into severe clean-up mode...and when I moved our corner lamp, I found even more bugs, this time with ugly-ass bug eggs.

First the bees...then the ants. I'm wondering if I have watched so many fifties monster movies, I've unwittingly entered one.

(Yah, I know. I'm brimming with news, but there is no time/amount of consciousness to tell the accompanying stories. Soon, though...and if you're on Facebook, follow "Sylvia Emily DuBose"...I will be posting videos and photos before too long.)

Friday, June 10, 2011

waiting, art, and science

Yesterday, I learned about the limits of both art and science.

As y'all undoubtedly know, the spousal unit and I are expecting an urchin. Said urchin was actually due Wednesday. Mighty isn't here yet, though. We're hoping that urchin's lack of punctuality doesn't carry over into the high school years.

Yesterday afternoon, I was introducing the spousal unit to the under-appreciated pleasures of The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr. when she started to was less a cramp and more a contraction. Eureka! Mighty might actually be beginning preparations for the debut appearance!

So, having read all the books, website feeds, and such, we knew, in order to figure out when we needed the services of our birthing professionals, we had to start the counting, the collection and collating of data. Everything, including the advice of doctors, told us to head to the hospital when contractions hit five minutes apart. I grabbed a pad of paper and pen, and I started writing down times. Contraction one: 1:45 pm. Contraction two: 2:06. Interval: 21 minutes. We stayed at around the 20 minute mark for a few cycles. The 15 minute gap lasted about two hours. Then 10 minutes...then 7 minutes. When we had a couple of consistent 5 minute marks, we made some notification calls & texts, got dressed, and went to the car to start the voyage.

After getting the car parked, getting up to the third floor, and finding the maternity ward (we've been there before, but it's a's not tremendously diverse in decor, so the hallways have the distinctiveness of Jeffrey's Tubes), we found out that the female population of Toledo (or at least a significant portion thereof) must've decided last night was the perfect time to spit out a child...the maternity nurses were slammed busy. There was no room at the Inn, so to speak (well, no bed in the triage), so we were pointed to the waiting room. The spousal unit read, I watched NCIS...that is, when we weren't pacing around the waiting room, spousal unit panting, me trying to be kind and sympathetic (as well as anyone who will never personally experience a contraction can be).

After seven hours of contractions and an hour and a half in the waiting room, we were finally shown to triage...which was nowhere near as cool as even MASH made it appear (either the show or the superior movie). They had a radio playing. The song was "How Long Has This Been Going On?" I found this hilarious, but I was very unsure if I should or should not point out the humor to the contracting spousal unit. Score one, though, against the power of art to uplift.

After monitoring, checking, waiting, testing, more monitoring and checking, our doctor (who happened to be on hospital duty) came in to see the spousal unit and immediately declared the spousal unit looked too good, calm, and restful to actually be in labor. We were given a choice: we could either wander around the halls, hoping that a few hours of walking would spur true rather than false labor...or we could go home and wait for the actual labor to start. I innocently asked how we would know when we (well, the spousal unit) had real contractions, real labor if the counting obviously didn't work (as we did the 5-minute-between-contraction thing, which did not lead us to delivery as advertised). Our doc said the spousal unit would just know. I wasn't sure if this was an appeal to the sacred mystery of female intuition (of which men will never understand) or a Yoda reference. Score one, though, against science and procedure.

Yeah, I know it's still early in the process...but this pregnancy/delivery thingie is, to this point, confounding. Oh, well...I'm sure it will just get easier.

Friday, June 03, 2011

infants and mad scientists

It all started off with technical incompetence. It ends with mad scientist laughter.

When the spousal unit and I got our ultrasound photos of our impending bundle of joy, we decided we wanted to share our images of the little urchin with our friends...never mind that they looked mostly like blobs at that state. Figuring e-mail would be the easiest (not to mention most science-fictiony) way to share the shots, I took the images with me to work. I scanned the photos, tried a whole bunch of settings, but I guess I suck, because the scans were blurry...I mean, even blurrier than ultrasound photos of a few-month-old fetus normally would be. While the department's copier/scanner is great for making pdfs, it's apparently not up to image scanning....or, what is far more likely, I'm just a bit of an idiot when it comes to using it.

So, on the advice of our department secretaries, I hunted down the building's IT guy, and he was happy to scan the ultrasound shots for me. He also heartily congratulated me and told me how happy he's been after having a daughter. He treated me, a complete stranger, in a way which was, upon further reflection, almost like being welcomed into an exclusive group.

Unfortunately, out of those people I've told about Mighty who have their own kids, he's one of the few who've responded in this way.

Usually, I will tell my parent friend that the spousal unit is expecting. Then the lights will dim. Color will seep out of the room. Thunder will crack while lightning flickers simultaneously. And my friend will get that specific evil look in their eye. "Congratulations," they will say, and, following an ominous pause, "your life is going to change in ways you've never suspected."

They warm to their subject. As Tesla coils begin to flash, as the air fills up with the smell of burning ozone, the vibrations of ancient vacuum-tube fueled machinery, the unearthly whine of aertherphones fills my ears. A subtle vibrato creeps into their voice. "You will never get a good night's sleep again. You will hear crying, screaming, gnashing of teeth..."

"um, I don't think my urchin will come out with too many teeth."

They ignore my appeal to logic. "Your child will most certainly be colicky...the crying will never stop. There's nothing you can do. Waaaah. WWWWAAAAGGGGGHHHHHH!!! It's all you will ever hear. It will permanently implant itself in the deepest recesses of your brain."


"And then there's the future. Have you planned for the future? Do you have a good daycare lined up? Have you started on pre-school applications? Do you know in what your kid will major in college?"

"I think I have a little time to..."

"And the money. Did you realize how much babies cost? There's supplies...workout equipment...drum sets...dictaphones....All this costs money, you know."

"Gee, really?"

"And then there's the time. Kids take time. You have to be with them. They always need something. They demand your attention. This means your life as you know it is over. You will have no more social life. No one outside of your work will ever see you. You will have no time to go to bars, see movies, talk to strangers, eat food, use the bathroom."

"Have you considered decaf?"

"It's changing! Everything in your entire world is over. It's all changing. It's all about the kid. This means there's no more room for anything...ever...BBBWWWWWAAAAAHHHHAAAAAAHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!"

At least this has been my experience.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

heading out to the country

Whenever I ask my classes about music, I have at least one (and often many more) who claim "I like every form of music...except country."

I don't believe them, of course. They cannot possibly like absolutely everything. For that matter, they cannot even have experienced a significant sampling of every form of music. My first response is to ask them "Everything? Cool...well, who's your favorite Klezmer artist?" They usually look at me stupidly. I'm expecting that, though, as the whole point of the exercise (and in my class, pretty much everything is an exercise of sorts) is to get them to recognize labels....which, since I annually have students try to convince me there are no genres, is a worthwhile endeavor.

I then slam them on the "country" label. What exactly do they mean by "country?" Do they mean every single artist performing every single variety? Do they include (or have even heard of) alt-country? Bluegrass? Breaking down the country label is important, because it works as a perfect counterpoint to their supposition that there are--or at least, they do not subscribe to--any notion of labels.

Thing is, though, in regard to their distrust of country music, I kinda know how they feel.

I grew up in the South. This means that, for me, there was an influx of Hank Williams Jr. and Garth Brooks (although, to be fair, the latter was probably not geographically limited), and there was something about the music from these two which struck me as...well, formulaic, with a particularly pungent example one being Brooks's song "Rodeo." New Country (so it was called) just hit me wrong. Later, during year one in Ohio, I was riding the off-campus shuttle, and the driver had the radio on a New Country (which, by this time, had achieved such a level of saturation that it was just plain "Country") station, and I finally was able to narrow down exactly the contrived nature of the genre: take out the steel guitar and fiddle, insert a distorted electric, and you would have a hair metal power ballad (which I also loathed). You would, though, have to add a higher level of lyrical obnoxiousness to reach the depths of "She Never Cried When Ole Yeller Died," for which the offending lyricist should be sent to the iron maiden (the medieval torture device, not the band...nah, hell, to one than the other).

It wasn't until I gained a roommate who listened to old-school country (Johnny Cash, Jerry Jeff Walker, Tom T. Hall) where I started to get country, to understand its diversity. Moreover, Cash alone struck me as exponentially more honest than any New Country I've heard. If more people knew this was country, I suspected that maybe the genre wouldn't have such a bad name. In fact, now that I think of it, if I really wanted to get to my students, maybe I could just play them "Sangria Wine" or "Pancho & Lefty."

Most people, though, only have the negative/hokey/cheddar connotations with country music, and so, if they hear anything country-ish, tend to tune out. This includes accents (many Southerners I know hate anything where the singer has a drawl) and instrumentation (fiddle or steel guitar? must be hick!). Hell, I know more than one person who will dismiss a band's whole output if they have one acoustic-based G-C-D song...even if that band happens to be, say, Australian.

This all comes to mind because a few days ago, when I was sorting through my cd collection, I ran across my copy of Billy Squire's Don't Say No and decided to rip it to mp3 for nostalgia's sake. Earlier today, right before lunch, I played the album and live-tweeted my reactions under the hash-tag "isBillySquireStillListenable?" While I found myself still ultimately liking the album (after skipping over a few cheez-puff tracks such as "The Stroke" and ignoring the gloppy production), I kept finding myself thinking of the ineffable connection between country music and arena rock.

There was the obvious one where Squire is, on the cover, playing a Telecaster...which is typically considered a country guitar (though not always; it was in fact their use by the Jacksonville rock bands Radio Berlin and Piewackit which made me want one). There are country chord progressions all over the album, particularly in "I Need You, "My Kinda Lover," and "Don't Say No." True, this is still definitively a rock and roll album, but that doesn't mean country is forgotten. It might even be the nods to country which often contribute to its sing-a-long nature.

Moreover, this is significant in a historical sense. Rock and roll was originally the mad bastard stepchild of a marriage between blues and country music. If you trace rock back to Chuck Berry (as you should), you find yourself with an artist whose songs were remarkably close to country. Slowly, however, in the heavier and more extreme, the familiar country chord structure has been jettisoned, to the point where, in the rare instances we are open to its perception, we don't even recognize it.

Is country now passe? Permanently the land of stereotypes and hicks? Can one even hint at its presence in rock and roll without being castigated, tied to bales of hay and beaten with an old pair of chaps while wearing a crown of tumbleweed?

These are questions I now need to answer.