Thursday, April 30, 2015

shifting versions

While I was recording my album Skeleton Coast, my producer asked me why I didn't assemble a I could promote the album with more complete performances. At the time, though, I already had a rock and roll band, and I was quite happy also doing solo performances. I had one music outlet which allowed me to make noise and another which allowed me to be self-sufficient.

But between the end of recording and the release, I got accepted for a local music fest. I got a wild hair and decided to put together a solo I could at least hear a full version of the songs once. We decided on a band name (The Antidepressants). Then the bassist had to drop out, so I had to reshuffle the lineup from beta into version 1.1 even before our first gig. In the end, though, we did the gig and did a good job. I liked the feeling of leading my own outfit instead of just being the "insert noise here" guy. As we played the festival, I had high hopes for more...but then, for a myriad of reasons, we broke up within a few days.

My rock band also broke up almost simultaneously, though, so in a matter of days, I went from having it all musically to having hardly any outlet other than just plunking on guitar. I did quickly join Midwest Tourist, and I love playing in this band. It does not, however, really fulfill my need to play loud guitar. There was one show where our normal guitarist couldn't make it, and I had to fill in on guitar instead of sticking to my normal banjo. It was fun, but it changed the band music way too drummer said it was almost as if we changed genres, and I had to agree.

I had real hopes to play with my own band again, but I really had no clear idea if I ever would be able to so. Musicians are usually a fickle group, though, and it's not like I was getting more friends or free time. But when I got another festival gig, the old familiar wild hair struck again. Plus my body was at too desperate of a state of rock and roll once again, I decided I needed another group of musicians.

The Antidepressants 2.0 only took a bit of wrangling to assemble. The first practice went well. The second practice went so well, I felt inclined to ask everyone if they might want to play together in the future... and they agreed. I had a rock band again! We played the festival, and it went great. I booked a show, and it also went well. Life was good!

When I attempted to set up another practice after our second gig, though, the drummer told me he couldn't commit to very much over the summer. I panicked, but my bassist announced that he'd solved the problem: he had found another bassist, and he was going to move to drums. And thus The Antidepressants 3.0 was born.

Of course, this level of certainty didn't even last ten minutes, because right after telling me about our new lineup, he informed me he was going to be moving at the end of the summer. Version 3.0 of my band might be ready, with gigs booked and everything, but it apparently has a built-in shelf life.
So now, I'm left with two opposing missions: prepare for the immediate active future of my band while simultaneously contemplating just how I might possibly assemble yet another version. This one is compounded by the fact my current bassist is borrowing his bass from my drummer...the same drummer who is out of here in a few months. This is no simple band realignment but a total reconstruction. My trombonist is staying, but I now need a new full rhythm section.

Problem is, however, I have no idea where to get either a new bassist or drummer. Where I will get both? No clue. The producer for my second album has offered to play drums, but he also told me he'd probably be moving in December. This would mean that version 4.0, which would replace the temporary version 3.0, would itself be temporary...and that I would have to immediately start work on version 4.0.

Frankly, I'm getting confused just thinking about it. I have no idea how or even if things are gonna work out. I guess I should be sort of confident. After all, if I can make this work three times, then what's to say I can't do so again? And again? Continuity would be nice...but I guess I gotta do what I gotta do. At any rate, I can always just do things myself if it comes to that.

If you, dear reader, is either a bassist or a drummer, though, you should really give me your number.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Magic 8 Ball needed

Is there legitimate reason to be hopeful at all about politics? Normally, I would say that any optimism in this area is really just delayed disappointment. After all, I didn't expect Obama to increase the police state when I went knocking on doors on his behalf.

This time, though, presidential politics could get interesting. Why? Bernie Sanders is running... and if there's anyone who can upend the process (as Matt Taibbe argues), it's Bernie.

Still, it would be nice if someone or something could tell me if I should I should have hope.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

research ideas for sale i

I get a lot of ideas which could easily become focuses of my research. The thing is, I no longer do research, and I have no real intention of doing any for as long as I live. Usually, when I get one of these ideas, I just try to figure some way to beat it out of my head before moving on to more productive lines of inquiry (such as how to perfect my hot chocolate recipe). Now, however, I have another idea: license them out to people who in the academic game yet not completely disillusioned by said game. For a modest fee, this idea can be yours. Here's my first possibility:

For a while, I have been fascinated with fake product reviews on Amazon. I particularly love it when they move into activism (usually aimed at some example of industry malfeasance). The most known of these are the Amazon user reviews for the Bic Cristal 'For Her' pen. Yes, this is a pen specifically marketed towards females. It differs from normal pens by having a daintier barrel and pastel packaging.

This is truly a product which deserves to be mocked, and the customers do so in wonderful ways. One of my favorite parts of this listing is in the user questions. Someone asks if the pen is safe for her husband to use, and the reply is "It is unknown if a male can actually use these with their big strong hands they might just end up snapping the pen which would result in ink spillage and possible ink stains." And if someone is not currently working on an analysis of the gender activism in the contents, I would be mightily surprised.

My idea for sale, though, goes deeper into the phenomenon. The product in question is the AudioQuest K2 Terminated Speaker Cable. Unlike the pens, this originally became the target of snarky reviews because it was listed with a $6800 price tag. The reviews are generally great. What's even better, though, is that one reviewer went further and created a science fiction story review.

Hence, my brilliant idea: literary analysis of sarcastic/activist Amazon reviews!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

agony and the ordinary

The hardest thing I ever have to do is, while in the midst of a depression fit, try and perform some/any normal task. Everything in my mind wants me to shut down and whimper. Every part of my body wants me to just stagnate. When I, on top of all this, have to hold back the floodgates to do something... total and complete hell.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

it runs in the family!

I'm in my study grading. My daughter came in, climbed on the futon, grabbed my mandolin, and started strumming. This, however, wasn't enough. She soon started singing a number of her own composition. I'm not 100% sure what it was about, but I know it started, "some things are big, some things are small."

Her mom came in to change my kid's socks. As soon as she finished, my daughter turned to me and asked, "would you like me to play more songs for you?"

That's my girl.

the greatest thing you will see today, 4/21

Ever wonder what classic video games would look like if done by renaissance artists? Well, wonder no more. Isn't this a great time to be alive?

Monday, April 20, 2015


I'm at the coffee shop with my kid. John Mayer comes on the radio, and she turns to me and says, "this is good music to go to sleep to." Wise beyond her years, my girl.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

letting the Depression Monster loose

In the very immediate future, I will start recording the follow-up to my debut solo album Skeleton Coast. I swore this wouldn't happen until I broke even on album one (I still need some sales to hit this mark), but an unexpected opportunity it's time to start album prep work.

I had a blast recording Skeleton Coast, and I'm fiercely proud of it. This one will, however, be different. For one, I'm collaborating with two people not on my first album. The producer will be Nic, a drummer/musician/instrumentalist. I will also be joined by my high school friend Thom, a bassist/fuzz pedal aficionado. Different band equals different vibe by default. But there will be other, more conscious differences.

First, the actual recording structure will be different, primarily because Thom lives in California. Yes, this is going to be a long distance band! I'm excited to see how this will affect the final result.
This will also be a much more acoustic album for me. The main texture will be of acoustic guitar, with liberal doses of banjo and mandolin thrown in. I'm not saying I won't pick up the electric, because I will...I've got a great sounding new amp that I want you to hear.

Part of the reason I won't be slathering distorted electric on this is that we will be going for completely different textures. The producer really knows his electric toys. Furthermore, the bassist loves his effects almost as much as I love mine, and you don't hear enough distorted bass in this if I can help you hear more, then I must do so.

I also expect there will be much less layering. One Skeleton Coast song (can't remember which) has six guitars and mandolin, plus a few ambient sound addition to bass, drums, vocals. I'm really gonna try to not employ the "everything but the kitchen sink" approach this time.

I also hope this goes a bit quicker this time. I'm generally not a huge fan of the recording's too "hurry up and wait" for my tastes. Last time, we were going at it for five months or so, which meant I hurried up to wait an awful lot. This time, I'd like to save my sanity a bit.

What won't change is the lyrical themes. I did try to move in different directions, but the depression monster started to rear its ugly head every time I set pen to paper. Oh well...better to have him running rampant in my words than in my life. This is why I've decided to name the album Depression Monster...give the bastard some credit, you know.

I've also decided to blog the whole watch this space for more details...and start saving your money for your own copy when I finally get to release Depression Monster.

It should be good.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


It's true that I might be setting myself up for heartache, but I gotta admit: I'm pretty psyched. Why? This:

and now, to balance the doom, a moment of cuteness

My daughter and I have an interesting dynamic. When my wife is home, my kid likes to play hard to get with me. She'll duck out of the way when I try to hug her. Lately, if I do kiss her, she'll tell me she took the kiss and threw it out the window (or something even sillier). It's a fun game we play, all the more contrasted that, when it's just the two of us, we'll often "play a game of hug & a kiss."

Yesterday, when she woke up, she came into my room to snuggle. After a few minutes, she turned to me and said, "Daddy, when we play hug & kiss in my bedroom, I put your kisses in my heart." Of course, I started to liquify. But then she clarified: "My heart is in my back. That's because I'm a unicorn." I started to laugh, and then she looked at me, adopted the look of a sage, and informed me that "girls are unicorns, and boys are trucks."

Where trucks keep their heart, however, is still a mystery.

an update on pain

A while back, I chronicled my increasing incidents of arthritis. This post provoked a bit of reaction, most humorously from my mother, who told me that entering middle age was really entering "a world of pain." Pleasant woman, my mum, particularly when she uses language cribbed from professional wrestlers.

Shortly before writing the post, I started to experience discomfort in my right hip. I thought I'd pulled a muscle or something...but seeing as the pain still hasn't gone away, I guess you can chalk up another body part to the arthritis monster. I've been puzzling for ages as to why all my arthritis seems confined to my right side. This morning, however, there was a bit of soreness in my left thumb. Yay.

Be prepared for an increase in the admittedly sizable volume of moaning! Also, I probably should start buying Aleve by the barrel.

in defense of bullies

If you've been following (or even glancing at) my "time to be scared" category, you know that I am particularly afraid of government surveillance. This just happens to coincide with the articles I've ran across. I actually have much greater--exponentially larger, in fact--hatred of the world of big business. Big business, in my opinion, is a much greater and inescapable force of oppression in most people's lives. That people trust businesses more than government? This makes no sense to me at all.

So, when I ran across the editorial "It's Okay to Bully Corporations," I couldn't help but be a little thrilled. I completely agree with the point that we should use every tool in our power to fight for economic justice. But I'm enough of a wordsmith (sorry to be pretentious, but I can't think of a better term) to really cheer for the article's claims about diction. I have more than a bit of wrath for anyone who co-opts the language of the oppressed to support the oppressors.

We should also be allowed to bully those nimrods.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

time to be scared v

By now, you know that I'm not the biggest fan of the NSA. I am a firm believer in the right to privacy. Privacy is important for many reasons beside the "I want to get away with something illegal" excuse. But don't take it from me. Instead, listen to the expert:

What bugs me about the NSA is the attitude that anyone concerned with privacy must be a terrorist. Hell, just using online privacy tools makes you a surveillance target. For this reason if no other, everyone should download Tor and use it to browse the most disturbing sites they can know, just to make the NSA's job more interesting.

The wacky folks at the NSA are, however, now one-upping themselves. NSA director Michael S. Rogers now wants front door access to all cryptography used in the US.  In simple terms, they're saying that no one should be able to have any secrets or information the government cannot access at will. This frightens me. I don't really think the government is pure evil. However, making them all-powerful and giving them the tools to invade every aspect of each citizen's life seems a little too trusting...not to mention a bad idea, because it would take just one evil person armed with the right tools to destroy you.

Some say that if you have nothing to hide, you shouldn't need privacy. I say that if you have nothing to hide, then you should be the one speaking out most vociferously in its defense.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

it's been that kind of day

One of the best things about embracing the randomness of life is that it saves one a lot of trouble and heartache. If, for instance, one has the kind of afternoon as have I, it's easier to believe that there's no order...because if there was, I'd feel way too persecuted to be able to function. It's hard to be paranoid if you know that life is just a bunch of random, heartless crap.

time to be scared iv

Our country is so obsessed with terrorists that we put up with the TSA's security theater and the NSA's massive domestic spying operation in spite of the dubious success rate of these agencies's invasions of privacy. Yet who's the biggest enemy? As it turns out, police are more likely to kill you than a terrorist.

Feel safe?

Monday, April 13, 2015

career planning

My 3.75 year old (who should really be sleeping) informed me she was getting ready for "super hero unicorn school." The school apparently provided her with her Hello Kitty backpack. The cape (a bra, with her head through one of the arm holes) is her own.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

stupid fingers, dead skin, and pain

Dead skin. My fingers are coated with it, calluses like I've never had before. Tender, sore fingertips.

I've been playing guitar about thirty years. Before that, I played classical violin for a few years. I played bass in the high school jazz band for a year (the band teacher really hated me). I briefly dabbled on the dulcimer. A while back, I bought a 6 string banjo which is strung like a guitar (some people call this a banjitar; these people should suffer great pain and agony for their sins). So I have a varied background on many stringed instruments.

None of these has confounded me like does the mandolin. It's tuned way differently than the guitar, so not only does no knowledge translate, my knowledge of the guitar fretboard actually interferes with my mandolin attempts. The frets are very close together, so my fingers have to bend in new I don't even have muscle memory from which to pull. It has thin double strings under high tension, and these dig into my fingers.

I bought it over a year ago, but after playing it for a few weeks and a brief appearance on my album (just buy it already), I got busy and set it down. When I realized it had been months and months since I put it away, I vowed to make a concerted effort to become competent on the thing. For the last couple of weeks, I've been spending at least a couple of hours a day practicing. Today, I had stupid fingers that didn't want to cooperate with my brain (which itself had trouble switching into mando mode), but that's just part of it.

I don't expect to become bluegrass good on the thing...just competent enough to add different textures to my solo act and my next album. It's going slow, and it can be unbelievably frustrating, particularly with nights like tonight, where I was having trouble finishing a single song without stops and starts...but overall, I am (very) slowly getting better.

It's good, though, to challenge one's self, to push one's boundaries. Plus now, I can brag about my suddenly awesome calluses! Yeah....maybe that will make them ignore my whining about finger pain...

Friday, April 10, 2015

joy and chaos

When I was younger, I used to believe in such things as order, fate, justice, and the like. I used to believe that hard work would inevitably lead to success. I used to think that there was such a thing as right and wrong. Karma, just desserts, whatever you want to call it...while I didn't think of it on the level of dogma, I did believe there was some kind of general structure at work in the universe.

Over the years, this certainty burnt away, and I realized that there was no structure to speak of, that the world was essentially random. I knew this on some deep level, but it took a while for this awareness to reach my consciousness...and when it did (the great mental breakdown of 2011), it leveled it to me. Typical existential depression, yes, but one never expects it when it happens.

It took ages to find my way through the worst of the depression. I never found the structure again or the certainty...and I'm certain it never existed in the first place. Dealing with it was never about reconnecting with the order, though. What I instead had to do was just come to terms with the chaos, embrace it.

So how does one embrace chaos? I used to think the drinking helped, but I found out when I quit , my ability to cope only increased. The music helps. The best thing, though, is finding and latching onto any burst of joy, particularly those outside of any expectations.

Luckily, I have a secret weapon: my child. She constantly exceeds any expectations I might seems she's constantly coming at the world from an odd angle. This would make me wonder, if she didn't have such joy...and if she didn't spread that joy so easily. She's the perfect embrace of joy and chaos.

Case in point? Earlier this week, she was running through the house, and she tripped. I asked her if she was okay, and she said, "yeah,...I tripped when my unicorn tail got tangled up in bubble wrap." She then got up, smiled, and went back to running.

How can one be depressed when in the presence of that?

Sunday, April 05, 2015

two quick observations

First: Danger 5 is the best television show ever.

Second: One of the most entertaining tasks one can do is go to Etsy, do a search for Cthulhu, and browse the results.

Friday, April 03, 2015

shaking in 3...2...

Ever had a "guess I had too much coffee at brunch" moment? That's me right now.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

pills and aching joints

I never got to know my grandmother all that well, but the pain is making me think of her.

My dad was in the Air Force, and although I was born in America, my first memories are of Germany, where we lived until I was seven. My grandmother only came over to visit once, and she was not a good traveler. She was exactly the kind of person who would complain that the food wasn't the same as back home, that they didn't put ice in the get the idea. When we moved to South Carolina, we spent a few weeks down in Florida at her house. I know this would've been a good time to try and know her better, but I was a shy kid and was still a bit shaken up by the move to do much of anything.

When my dad retired, we moved down to live in her old house, actually. She was close by, but I still never really got to know her that well. My parents tell me it was because she wasn't easy to know, but I suspect the truth is more that I was still a shy and painfully awkward kid...and becoming a teenager didn't help at all. Still, I did try, but I suspect there was some basic incompatibility at work. 

What I do remember most vividly is staying over at her house and watching her in the morning. After she got me cereal (which, after I put some sugar on my corn flakes, she made me stir it into the milk for some reason), she started to massage her swollen knuckles for a minute before taking some pills from her industrial-size bottle of Tylenol. When I asked her about it, she told me that arthritis was just something that happened to us when we got older. But I was in my teens, and the entire concept of getting older seemed somewhere between remote and implausable.

A few years ago, after one of my old band's first shows, my shoulder started hurting. I told my singer it was because I carried her heavy amplifier, but I suspected that wasn't the truth...and she even refused to accept the guilt trip. The shoulder pain persisted, though, and after a few runs to the doctor and through physical therapy, I had a diagnosis: a compressed spinal disk along with arthritis in my shoulder.

This wasn't all that much of a shock to me. I went to the college in the "sling your backpack only over one shoulder" era, and I had played music for (I was shocked to realize) decades at that wear and tear was only to be expected. It was only when getting a suit for a wedding when this was really driven home, when the seamstress informed me that one of my shoulders (the aching one in question) was actually measurably taller than the other. One of my first thoughts was that if I found any more physical deformities, I could change careers and enter a circus freak show...but another early thought was of my grandmother's swollen knuckles.

I soon found I could crack my shoulder joint at will when the arthritis was (to use my grandmother's phrase) flaring up. In some ways, I could look on this as a war wound, a physical manifestation of my suffering for my art and my scholarship. When I told this to my parents, they informed me that being a martyr was also something I probably got from my grandmother. But then one day a few years ago, I started to feel the same twang in one of my fingers. Pretty soon, I could pop it on command. Not every day hurts, but enough days hurt to make me have my own industrial size bottle of pills in my own medicine cabinet, which, with every pain and prescription, starts to resemble that of my grandmother even more.

The last few days, I've started to feel that pain in one of my thumbs...which is undoubtedly proof the arthritis's sphere of influence is surely expanding. The pain usually is pretty ignorable, though. On its most intense days, it's simply annoying yet usually easily treatable. Compared to my recent kidney stone pain, it's quite laughable.Yet it's still troubling. So far, it has stayed out of the hand which fingers notes on my guitars. But I'm beginning to realize that it will eventually grow, spread, start to disrupt, and maybe even take away my music...which is sobering and more than a little scary.

This morning, on the drive to work, the pain started to flair. After pulling into the lot, I sat in my parked car and broke into my car's emergency supply of pain pills. After swallowing, I rubbed my sore hand for a minute. It was only then when I realized that I now am beginning to know my grandmother a bit better.