Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Weight Of The World

Every morning, I drop my two oldest sons off at school.  Each day there is the same drama – they are slow to get ready and out the door, they complain of the cold, they gripe about the size of my truck and its narrow bench seat and how squished they are and having to hold their heavy book bags on their laps…

Once they settle in, though, the short ten-minute ride to school is occasionally the highlight of my day.  I listen as my boys make inappropriate jokes and comments.  I marvel at the sharp observations they make about the people and things they see and how the things I know as truth are filtered through their new eyes. 
Today I had the radio on in the background.  I’m not sure if it was NPR or some AM news show, but there was talking so… one or the other.  I was spacing out in my driving fog, when my oldest son asked me “Dad? How did they weigh the whole Earth?”

“What?”

”The guy on the radio just said how much the Earth weighs and I don’t know how they did it.”
At first I started thinking about the logistics of such an endeavor: Would you use some sort of hoist?  Where would you put the straps so as to minimize loss of life and property damage?  Would some giant simply pinch our little blue planet and set it down on a scale?

My head was spinning now… If the Earth was brought into a room where it had external weight, wouldn’t the oceans drain all over the floor?  Wouldn’t the people fall off?

Holy shit – wait a second: “weight” is a function of the amount of gravity the celestial object on which you are standing is creating.  Do you calculate the weight of the Earth by the estimated gravity of a hypothetical planet large enough to house beings capable of performing this exercise in measurement?  Because you can’t use the Earth’s own gravity, right?  You couldn’t put a scale on another planet the size of Earth and set the Earth on it.  And you can’t just measure a planet and base its weight on its own gravitational rate.  That would be like trying to put a ruler on someone’s forehead to calculate how intelligent they are.  Or using waist size as an estimate on a person’s capacity for empathy.
 
“They’re scientists,” I answered my son. “They have ways of doing these things.  They probably used a computer model.”

We pulled into the school parking lot.  My youngest son struggled to release his seatbelt and open my heavy truck door.  Then, with a quick “I love you guys. Have a great day!” they got out and stepped into the stream of children headed in for a day of learning a few new things.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Today’s Shower Idea


I do my best thinking in the shower. I guess it’s that one moment during the day I am truly free to think without even the smallest distraction. The problem is, the shower is also the one place I have no method of capturing any passing glimmers of brilliance. I can’t begin to tell you of all the beginnings of great pieces of music or potential epic novels that have circled down my drain over the years. But today’s post isn’t about thinking in the shower – rather about a thought I had today and actually took the time to jot down for later use.

Today I read an article about a space phenomenon that led me to develop in my head a quick high-level story arc. I could envision my saga being spread out over the span of multiple volumes featuring generations of characters and taking place over several centuries – life, love, determination, death, heroism and courage. Now I know I’m being a bit vague here as there is the potential I could one day sit down, put pencil to paper and get this epic yarn out of my dreams and into my car and into your sweaty little hands in the form of a book (or other new-fangled paperless reading device). But the scale of this story brought about another thought I actually would like to share: I wonder if humanity could muster the vision and maintain the support to accomplish something greater than any individual person.

Here’s where I’m going with this: Those oft-cited most important accomplishments in human history – like the pyramids or the Great Wall of China – took lifetimes to build. One person has an idea to build something. This idea is maintained by a series of other people as a motivator and morale builder for leading a society of non-workers. The actual “work” is done on the backs of slave labor which is easy for non-workers to then support for extended periods – even generations. Eventually it becomes an assumption that the work must continue and the job will be completed, hence the burden of maintaining the momentum becomes simpler. When you are born with a project underway, it is all the more difficult to make the leap to questioning why the project was even started; why it is continuing.

The story I came up with today dabbles in this idea of the need for a group of people to inspire the current (or slightly future) Human Race to come together and begin a project that will take multiple generations/lifetimes to achieve. Those that start the project will never see it come to fruition. Neither will their children. But it requires resources, input and support from all members of humanity to achieve. With the culture of immediacy we live in today could you imagine us being able to transcend politics, transcend the instant gratification to embark on a project that will require global sacrifice? Where those making that sacrifice today may not live to witness tangible progress on said project?

I don’t have the answers. Maybe they’ll come to me in the shower sometime.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Douchebag Songwriter Strikes Again!

Over the past few years, I've written songs with the intent of them being played by a band. Band songs sort of fall together organically, requiring a riff and a hook and the rest kid of takes care of itself.  But as a douchebag songwriter, I always strive for more deliberate melodies - as though I really meant it to sound like that.

About a week ago, I got a melody in my head. Often when songs come to me, I hear them played on other instruments but I ultimately translate it to guitar. This song I heard as a piano song and when I took a shot at doing it on guitar, it was both thin and difficult to play. I'm no pianist. I could pick out a tune if there was a gun to my head, but I don't spend any time practicing it. And any times I've recorded keyboards on my songs it's never been the primary instrument; more a noodly background buzz.

Anyhoo, this song simply has to be a piano song. Now I don't actually have a proper piano - just an electric wannabe. But for the purposes of this 'proof of concept' demo, it's sufficient. With a little rigging, I've put together a fairly listenable rendition of the noise I've had in my head for the past week:  



There's a few more parts I didn't have time to get together. I'll post the finished song whenever I get around to it. If you're interested, here's the lyrics. I tell the story of a hopeless lonely fella who sits in the bar night after night and, having given up any hope of finding companionship himself, has found a sense of superiority as he watches others on their desperate search for love:


Last Call
You see the weak and lonely ones
Their desperation entertains
You see them come and go and come
Just to go and come again
-
You see yourself above the fools
Far beyond the dirty ones
You keep your distance from their claws
Safe and sound alone
-
From the first round they escape the silent room
Until the last call
So they don’t leave cold back to their quiet tombs
Until the last call
They’re all so afraid
-
You hold your cards close to your chest
Trust withheld from everyone
So sure that they can’t comprehend
Not a glimpse for anyone
-
And still they circulate false smiles
Radiate their welcoming
To greet a wink with open arms
Open knees and hearts
-
From the first round they escape the silent room
Until the last call
So they don’t leave cold back to their quiet tombs
Until the last call
They’re all so afraid
-
When all is said and done you pack your things
Head back to your soft empire
Kept company by the judgments in your head
Cleanse your soul of old desires
-
Sometimes you call
She doesn’t speak
To reinforce
She’s strong/you’re weak
But not afraid…
-
I don’t need the want, I don’t need the pain
I don’t need the tears, I don’t need the shame
I don’t need disease, I don’t need the fear
I don’t need the risk, I don’t need it clear
I just need the one, the one who holds me in
The one who chains the doors, the one who won’t begin
To tell me that I’m wrong, or tell me that I’m small
Or make me insecure, when faced with the last call… 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Life In The Hive pt 2

I'm not going to post every single song on the Bees album, but there are a few standouts I'd like to share. And here's one: track 2 - This, My Cave.

Originally intended to be a mile-a-minute punk tune, This, My Cave has been reduced to its simplest form. The original riff played at quarter-speed on acoustic and lyrics written for shouting now set to something of a melody:



I think the lyrics are straight forward enough, not requiring much translation. But I will make a quick note:

After my Dad took off, he moved away to California.  I kept in fairly regular touch with Pops and even sent him a Bees tape to check out.  He called me after listening to it and was kinda bummed that there was a song where I said I hated him.  Here's the offending section:

I've got some friends
They live three thousand miles away
I don't see them until the weekend at Christmas when they stay


I'm feeling lonely
I'd rather be alone than live a day like them
I can't help but hate them
Empty circles filling up their brains
This, my cave


In fact, my intent here was actually to say "I've got nobody except some loved ones who, because of geography, I do not get to see as often as I would like to."  The rest is directed at (of course) those fucking Bees.

I explained this all to my Dad, but I don't think he believed me.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Modern American Dream


My first reaction to these whole "Occupy Wherever" rally things was to dismiss it as a small genuine protest that became an excuse to hang out, party and break things. I still sorta think that's what it is. But being a guy who has at many times in his working life been frustrated by the seemingly heartless decisions made by those above but not had a platform or outlet to purge it - I can now appreciate why this thing hasn't stopped yet. There's a pervasive unhappiness in our New Country here. And more and more, the unsettled masses who know something is wrong but have no idea how to fix it are being inspired to support those who at least are voicing their unhappiness.

Having the stones to stand up and say "this country stands for something more than what we're getting" is not unpatriotic. And I don't say 'getting' like I or anyone else deserves to be given something they didn't work for. We at the mid to bottom work hard every day - legitimately harder than many seen above us who are compensated exponentially more than us below. I'm not talking physical 'work,' but rather carrying the heavy burden of a workload previously carried by several people in ever thinning organizations and being told if we cannot manage the burden then we are failing. We are motivated not by the positive reward but the threat of the burden being taken away and the security of even an unfair position not being ours. 'The Modern American Dream' is not the pursuit of freedom from oppression through hard work and fair reward... it is the avoidance of destitution through a hard built perception of value to an organization that genuinely feels you are lucky they pay you at all.

I'm no anti-establishment zealot nor a hipster who thinks it's funny to protest against evil corporations while sucking on a $7.00 Starbucks coffee in an ironic fashion statement. But I sympathize with the current unfocused display of confusion and frustration and hope it opens up a few eyes from on high. Anyone will work hard if they believe they are getting a fair deal and what they deserve (or at least the knowledge that someone above is not getting multitudes more on the backs of their poor treatment). America has been spoiled by foreign slave labor and as a result is willing to sacrifice Quality in their products and the long-term success of the country whose creative and innovative spirit developed their products in the first place for a lower cost/higher margin/greater profit bottom line. It's short-term money grabbing without long-term planning for future growth and development. America is more than capable of sustaining strong profit while creating brand loyalty through production of Quality products. But 'strong profit' is no longer enough. And businesses have a difficult time creating and sustaining morale when they are not sufficiently inspired or compensated. It's hard to solve the problems of your employer when you have to choose between paying your entire rent or mortgage or putting gas in your car or food in your kids mouths.

A great leader would address these protesters directly (and they would certainly also be speaking directly to many too weak or burdened to protest themselves - but share the frustration) and inspire them to channel their current passion for change into creative, productive outlets - outlets that can generate the rewards they cannot find in the modern working world. A great leader would inspire American business to create opportunities (be it government intervention, tax concessions for businesses that generate X amount of legitimate jobs and opportunities or subsidizing education to create a new generation of inspired American business leaders) and invest in America - leveraging our strengths with long-term vision for long-term success.

At the end of the day, America will not survive if it is not allowed to do what it does best: invent, solve and make. And today our passion is wasted on yelling in the street.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Life In The Hive pt 1

Around the time of recording the band's demo in 1991, I was a bit of a mess.  I had effectively dropped out of school so I could 'party' with pals all day (I ultimately got my shit together and graduated), get high on whatever was available to get high on and create music and art.  This was a creative high point for me - I was putting together comics, making psychedelic line drawings that were getting some attention in the community and the band had a rented out practice room (that smelled more than a bit of piss, but was a good place to get drunk and jam all night) and a few shows under our belts.

Anyone who's seen my Youtube or Vimeo page knows I'm no stranger to the ways of The Pink Floyd and those epic, bloated conceptual double albums of the 1960s and 70s.  So my stroke of genius (heh) was of course to write a hardcore punk theme album, with a story that could be told both musically and visually but would not compromise on the down and dirty simple and loose structures of punk and the violent rage and 'moshability' of thrashcore.

The concept was called 'Bees' (as you will see, I had a thing in my head for always titling albums with a four letter word - my har-har inside joke) and the story is as follows:

Our hero has isolated himself in a small apartment type room (the cave) refusing to exit into the outside world, surviving only on food and drink and smoke and whatever he can order by phone and get delivered to his door.  His only entertainment and joy comes from drawing images on his walls with graphite pencil.  From his window all he sees is a large bee hive hanging from a tree limb and a steady stream of bees entering and exiting and doing their mindless thing.  Eventually he becomes paranoid of them and believes society as a whole have become giant thought-controlled bees who have been programmed to capture him and make him into one of their mindless drones.  For some reason the authorities (it is not revealed, but one can assume it is neighbors or family or his landlord or someone) kick in his door and he kills the first person to enter his room.  During the grand finale of the story our hero has been placed in some sort of  facility where he can be contained and perpetually drugged - which he perceives as having been brought into the hive for removal of his free thought.


A lofty concept, with obvious nods to other such concept albums - dealing with madness, isolation, violence and rebellion.  A string of songs were written by 18 year old FM, and were presented to the band with some positive reaction.  The opening track is actually what I considered a rather hard edged yet epic acoustic song which sort of sets the scene and the general feelings of our hero towards those bees out there beyond his window.  Here's the original solo acoustic demo of the track as recorded within hours of writing in 1991:



This song was a huge departure from the Too Baked To Skate punk we were playing previously, and the band (although sympathetic to the project) didn't really see it as something they could get behind.  There does exist a practice tape with a full band version of the track, but it was never formally recorded.

From here, the album was to take an unwavering hardcore stance with what I considered fairly brutal lyrics.  Each song was bridged with a hard spoken word segment that sort of led from one part to the next - a la Henry Rollins or Jello Biafra or Kurt Brecht.  Only one song - titled 'Society' was ever put together as a true hardcore song before the band fizzled out.  Only one recording exists of a band practice in late '91/early '92 where the 'Society' lyrics are completely illegible and the sound quality almost unlistenable.  If I can lay my hands on it, I may post it so you can at least hear what it was to sound like and the truth behind the intent that this was to be a true hardcore punk project.  That song had a level of complexity we had not achieved previously with lots of rhythm changes and catchy mosh riffs and all of us were really proud of it as I recall.  But it was not to be.

The Bees concept would stay with me for a few years and even today (at age 38) I am considering revisiting it.  The next couple of posts, we'll discuss what became of Bees and it's ultimate recorded structure and expansion.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Songwriters Are Douchebags


I had this guitar.  It was a no-name brand 'flying V' style thing that I spray painted flat black then took my box of acrylic paints and made a large multi-colored nuclear explosion up on the big big pointy part there with a red smiley face on it and wrote underneath it "FUCK OFF AND HAVE A NICE DAY" and of course made all the As into little Anarchy symbols.  I was 14.  I had already popped the lock on Mom's liquor cabinet and had scored a few nickel bags of pot from some scary black dudes who hung out all day on their porch.  I had purchased my first Black Flag album and was just learning the evil ways of the Dirty Rotten Imbeciles.  The appeal of punk (as most stuffed shirt revisionist history ass hole rock writers will surely tell you) is that anyone can do it.  Or at least anyone will think they can.  At 14 I thought I could.  So me and my trusty flying V rocked one out.  These are the lyrics to my first song: "Too Baked To Skate"  - written in 1987 at age 14:


It's Saturday afternoon
Had too many bongs
Try to thrash around
But you're too far gone
The road starts to spin
Board begins to shake
Do a 'skull grind'
Because you're fucking baked
You are bleeding now
But you do not care
Time to go home
And put superglue in your hair


Spike your fucking mohawk
Spike it three feet high
Need some money for more weed
Tell your Mom a little lie
"Mom, I need some money
for a school trip.
Yeah, maybe tomorrow
I'll bring home the permission slip."
Your Mom gives you the money
For a nice fat dime
Time to start the whole fucking thing
Another fucking time


This time on a half-pipe
Going 'round and 'round
Do a hand plant 
You're fucking upside down
Your wasted friend comes at you
Rail slide on your head
You should've known you were too baked to skate
Too fucked up to shred
Fucking Nazi punk
Shouldnt've smoked that reefer
Now you're in a wheel chair 
Watching reruns of Leave It To Beaver!


Not exactly world shattering stuff but considering the time and the age of the writer it's fairly edgy I guess.  And really, how many songs have you heard with a Leave It To Beaver reference?  The music was a bouncy thing performed as fast as I could spit out the words somewhat legibly.

Here's how it sounded when recorded by my shitty band in 1991 in my friend's basement by the drummer's Dad who had a primitive recording rig.  We had a lead singer/yeller, but this was always the song where I stepped up to the mic and belted it out.  Here's 18 year old FM at the peak of his angsty testosterone-fueled rage:





I ultimately became the driving force behind this anarchic underage booze fueled Connecticut Hardcore punk garage band called "Chemical Persuasion."  In those days it was pure shocking rebellion.  I used to bring my songs to band practice with lyrics written on a wadded up piece of paper in my back pocket and a rough tune in my head.  Generally the guys would read it through, laugh and then see how many times they could fit the word FUCK into the lyrics without messing up the phrasing too much.  I was now officially a 'songwriter.'

The term 'songwriter' fills my head with images of thin, pale young men in black, skin tight and long-sleeve turtleneck shirts with wisps of stringy beard hair and bad skin with a chain smoking habit and an air of superiority.  Simply put: douchebags.  And I guess in later years I fell into a douchebag songwriter phase.

I have spent the past few days converting a bunch of songs I wrote and sang solo acoustic into my beat up boom box in the early to mid 90s after the band fizzled out and I slipped into married working life.  I've never performed a single one of these songs live or in front of anyone - not even my wife - and only shared them with a few pals (who generally were nice enough to tolerate my shit).  But listening to them almost 20 years later, some of them are quite good and mark a few rather momentous events in my life.  The time has come for me to bring them out of the box.  You're welcome to join me for what will surely be an uncomfortably revealing and potentially embarrassing display over the next few weeks.  For the record, I'm a little freaked but mostly excited.
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