Thursday, December 31, 2015

stringing together this year's notes

I still get nervous before shows. It's not horrific or anything, and it's certainly not close to being called stage fright. It is, however, still there. My stomach feels a little funny, and once I get to the venue, I have problems talking to people. So I have to apply a laser-like focus to getting set up and mentally prepared (which I hope doesn't come off as jerkish). The second I hit the stage, though, and break into the first chord, I'm generally okay, fine, wonderful even. Everything else is downhill.

I played an emergency gig last night at The Stone's Throw. They have the best open mic night in the area (The Hump Day Revue), so whenever I feel the need to break in a song, blow off some steam, or just get back on the stage, they're my go-to spot. I got there early enough to hear the host break into a Buddy Holly song. Grabbed my pre-show Guinness and grabbed a seat, only to see that the second act was a friend (and the singer for my old band The Black Swamp Rats). I went to set up my merchandise suitcase just as my friend went into "Demons," my favorite song of his (from his band Kitty Glitter).

Then it was my time to hit the stage. It was a strange night in that the bar was packed...but it was mostly middle-aged adults and beyond, plus a couple of families doing a late dinner. Because of the families, I didn't think it would be right to do my newest Christmas song ("Consenting Elves," about partying elves at the North Pole and sexual consent), but I did do "I Don't Wanna Be Depressed This X-Mas." I had to do one of my holiday songs, as I now can't do them until after next Thanksgiving. I also did an acoustic cover of Motorhead's "Overkill" (RIP Lemmy)...which was probably the first time anyone anywhere has ever thrown a kazoo solo into a Motorhead cover. I got six songs total, and then I packed up to make room for a ukulele trio. Really.

It has been an interesting year for my music. I had a great run with one version of my backing band The Antidepressants, which included a festival gig. Then the drummer dropped out, the bass player moved to drums, his neighbor came in on bass, and several more gigs (including another festival). Then that drummer bought an RV and left to drive across the country with his girlfriend.

Solo-wise, I started the year determined to break into new markets. I got a gig at a farmer's market in Michigan. The first one was rainy and sparsely attended, but it was still fun. When I pulled up for my second date, I found out they had double-booked the I turned around and fumed on my two hour drive back home. I also booked a bunch of shows with a new venue in Michigan. I played the first show with my trombonist and had a good time (even though no one was there). Then the rest of the shows were cancelled on me. I still had my Bowling Green and Toledo venues, however. Partway through the year, though, the Toledo booking company went out of business, not even allowing me to finish out my last scheduled date. None of this was exactly good for the soul, but luckily, I still have Bowling Green. Still gotta expand, though.

My alt-country band Midwest Tourist started the year with a bang. We played an early January show (videos of the whole thing!) with a dear friend and songwriting inspiration Micah Schnabel. We played a February show where I moved over to electric guitar (and briefly changed the genre of the band). In March, we did a Couch-By-Couchwest video (in which I wore a funny hat). Then we just kind of stopped. We were going to record an album, and we got started. Then we were interrupted by band personnel turmoil. We got close to recovering from losing a member, and then said member rejoined the band on a limited practice schedule. Now it's been months since our last rehearsal, and there's no telling if, when, or where we will play again. Welcome to the holding pattern.

I had plans to record and release a decent amount of stuff this year. I announced 2015 album project number one. It stalled. I announced a Christmas single. It never happened. I announced album project number two, which I'm doing all by myself. It's going fine, but I had my computer die on me right when I had budgeted recording time. Tomorrow, I get back to it. It's gonna be great (I'm already getting much better quality than on the last disk). It's just not gonna be a 2015 release. Better late and great than never, I guess.

So I've had a lot of strange feelings towards my music career this year. I've lost gigs instead of gaining them. I've lost one band and seen the other one effectively mothballed. I've seen music projects pushed and pushed. On the other hand, I finally did get to hear my music played with a full band. I am still writing new material, and it is getting better with each song. And when I do get on stage, it is glorious.

I was thinking of all this as I packed up my gear last night. Then someone came up to buy a cd from me, and my spirits lifted. I sat down to talk to a former boss and her husband (who was also one of my professors), and they told me I sounded great. I got to talk to my former band member for the first time in ages. The Hump Day host thanked and complemented me about five times. I talked to the mighty Mechanical Cat, who told me he's seen real growth in my performances...before going on to buy a shirt. As I was packing up my shirts and albums, Mechanical Cat told me I had the best merchandise suitcase ever. Then I discovered five bucks in my tip jar. By the time I was loading up my car, thinking about everything just made me laugh out of joy.

It's been an up and down year, but ultimately, I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing...because nothing makes me feel better. I've got big plans for next year (at least one album, more festival and other gigs, a new cover band so I can make money, a new version of The Antidepressants)...but there's plenty of time to let that all unwind.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

today's reason i wish i was rich

If I had stupid money? Enough to spend truly frivolously? I would commission a study to measure the accuracy to Netflix's recommendation algorithms. "Because you watched 30 Rock, you might like Broadchurch?" Really??

Friday, December 25, 2015

taking stock

Some time this morning (whilst my kiddo was no doubt playing with one of her awesome new My Little Pony toys), my wife looked at me and said, "I'm so glad you're in a much better place than this time last year."

This took me aback a little. "Was I in a bad mood last Christmas?" I honestly couldn't remember.

"All I can remember is that you seemed to be mad at me."

This took a moment's contemplation before it hit me. "Ah. It must've been the gout, followed by the kidney stones, which all meant I was behind for months, panicking."

"Well, that's not the only thing. Getting your meds adjusted and therapy. But I think it was mostly getting your meds fixed."

She's not wrong. There have been plenty of complications. I wasn't expecting to have my Buick explode...but it did, and the car payment and the insurance bump are just unavoidable realities. I was expecting my music career to go better, and it was for a while...but then my solo band broke up, my alt-country band has pretty much ground to a halt, and my full schedule blew up for reasons which are still unclear.

Yet in spite of these, I persevere and actually do okay...for the most part. And I have even have optimism for the forthcoming year (upcoming classes in poetry instead of only "welcome to college" classes, a cover band which should also morph into a backing band, and another album in progress and coming along nicely). I feel it would be unwise to dwell on such things, though. Better to manage expectations.

Survival is a laudable goal, no?

Monday, December 14, 2015

thoughts during several arguments lately

"What are we? The PC police?"

I've heard this phrase bandied about lately. It irks me.

"If you can't handle it, you should just shut up and get out."

I am not afraid of anyone having a strong opinion. I am, however, worried about misplaced priorities.

"We don't need guidelines to stop offending people. What are we? In middle school?"

I know the chances of my words really affecting any change are not great. And I know this is something which shouldn't need saying. Yet I feel compelled, so here goes...

Being afraid of political correctness? That's really just you saying "My right to be offensive is more important than your right not to be offended." And if you really feel this way? This means your priorities in life are really messed up.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

on semester's end

There are plenty of ways for teachers to think romantically about their chosen profession. We don't get paid all that much...this is basically social work for the the rewards have to come from elsewhere.  Our ultimate dream is to, years from now, have former students tell us that our course changed their lives.

This has happened to me a few times, and it always knocks me out. However, if I'm to be honest, it doesn't happen all that much. Part of it is the nature of my position. When people are successes, they tend not to really think about the person who taught their "welcome to college" classes as major influences. It took a while, but I'm actually okay with my job's main feedback being either delayed or absent. It is, after all, my mission to plant seeds which, if they bloom, rise up sometime in the I gotta be okay dealing with very little immediate gratitude for doing my job.

Still, though, it would be nice...and because of this (and something relatively perverse in my nature), I still tend to do the post-semester tally after my last class. This semester, one "happy holidays" and one "you have a nice semester too." But that's okay. Good work is its own reward. Right?


Tuesday, December 01, 2015

black humor, parent style

As I have a kid, I watch a decent amount of kid's programing. Some of it (such as Octonauts or My Little Pony) are quite awesome. Others are...much less awesome. And it seems that the worse the show, the worse my tolerance.

When faced with the worst shows, my only real coping mechanism is bleak humor. I don't really have a good outlet for this humor, though. Additionally, I could also (much like most parents) use extra cash.

I just, however, figured out how to solve both problems. I will start a series of bleak versions of kid's shows, such as:

The last episode of Doc McStuffins. Doc, on the cusp of becoming a teenager and losing her ability to talk to toys, faces the ghost of every toy she couldn't save.

Calliou's parents finally break the news to their son that his cancer is no longer in remission.

Jake and the Neverland Pirates enter adolescence, start experimenting with pixie dust, and get mortally wounded by pirate/pusher Captain Hook.

Daniel of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood realizes he's a carnivore and eats everyone at his daycare.

Swiper gets tired of trying to rob Dora the Explorer and just decides to shank her.

The Teletubbies have a bad trip.

The gang on Little Einsteins crash their ship in the Andes and have to resort to cannibalism.

I think many parents would appreciate seeing these. Go out and find me some backers!