Sunday, June 19, 2016

Juneteenth III: Music

Got a lot to say this time around, so I've separated it into three 'blog posts: life, politics, and music. This is the music edition.

A new version of "Dangerous Babies" might be a great idea depending on how things turn out in November. I've been doing more work on the album, I'll Live, which I now intend to release in late summer or early fall. Still a little bit of recording to be done, but I'm happy with the way the songs have turned out thus far, and I really like my rendition of Greta's Unmentionables' "The Bite." Take a listen to parts of this song and three others below, if you like.




Maybe "The Bite" will have to be the single off the album, assuming I decide to release one. Heh. I like that it still sounds recognizably like the song I've worked out with Jon, Anthony, and Mike, but it's definitely got my own vibe to it. I also like that there'll be a GU song and a Not An Exit song (y'know, the eponymous one). If the Hellevators had ever written anything original (had we been capable of writing anything original), maybe I could've thrown that on there, too... The Unmentionables need to get ourselves back to the studio, to jam again but also to record some demos of "The Bite" and the few others we've been working out. And to come up with more! I'd love to do some gigs with Greta's Unmentionables.

I have no intention of changing my plans for I'll Live by writing any new political songs for it, but "Dangerous Babies" is relevant at any time, regardless of who's in the White House or Congress (I think). Ditto for "Human Thing." I do need to finish writing the lyrics to "They Might Be Roses," and then get it recorded. I think the last of the recording for the album should be done within the next month. I'm looking forward to being done with the process as much as I am to having a new album. As I've said before, I think I may retire the idea of recording full-length albums after this, and just put out the occasional single or EP if new music comes to me...

Although I may do a shorter album (or longer EP) towards the end of this year or the start of the next, featuring stripped down and/or remixed versions of some of the I'll Live songs. That'd give me the opportunity to revamp "Dangerous Babies" for the next occupant of the Ova Office. Heh. We'll see. As always, please feel free to comment on anything or everything.

Juneteenth II: Politics

Got a lot to say this time around, so I've separated it into three 'blog posts: life, politics, and music. This is the politics edition.

I've been trying to steer clear (mostly) of political posts and discussions on social media. Mostly it's because I know most people care as little for my opinions on the subject as I do for theirs, but increasingly it's also because too many people are getting way too incensed and enflamed when others don't feel the same way they do. I've got my convictions and my beliefs, too, but that doesn't mean I have to hate you or think you dangerous and/or an idiot just because you feel differently.

Much as the Prophets of Rage have declared that they "can no longer stand on the sidelines of history," however, I've decided that I can no longer stay silent - though I'll try to contain it to just this one post. Yes, I think Donald J. Trump would be bad for this country, and I don't think my opinion comes as a surprise to anyone who knows me even a little. No, I don't think Trump, or Clinton, or Sanders would be able (maybe not even willing) to fulfill all the campaign promises made. The people yelling shrilly about how Trump will destroy this country and the people yelling shrilly about how Clinton will do the very same thing are as reactionary as each other, and all part of the problem.

While I would love to see a real change and shake-up in Washington, D.C., I don't think Trump is the change we need. (In the interests of full disclosure: yes, I voted for Sanders in the primary, but I don't agree with everything he says, either. Still prefer him over Clinton, though.) I'm not going to level charges of "fascist" against Trump, but don't think he'd be the great leader that some seem to think he would, and it's clear that he doesn't hold the same inclusive views of what makes America great that I and many others in this country do. To be fair, it's clear that there's no overwhelming consensus in this country about what makes America great. (And yes, I do think America is great, even with its flaws and problems.) That's not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but the fact that there's so much anger, so much rage, about these conflicts of opinion should give us pause.

I consider myself pretty liberal and progressive socially, though I've got a few libertarian and even conservative stripes. I think everyone should have the right to live the way they want, worship (or not) the way they want, and love the way they want as long, as long as they're not harming anyone else or infringing on someone else's rights in the process or forcing others to do the same. (For those of you who don't get the "Juneteenth" reference, it commemorates the date the Union Army announced the abolition of slavery in occupied Texas after the Civil War ended, and ideally should be a day for recognizing equality and freedom for everyone in the US.)

I think free speech covers the right to be offensive, but I also think there can be circumstances where that offense might be considered threatening; also, the right to free speech is not the same as a right to evade consequences for what you say. I think adherence to law should trump party politics. I think corporations and lobbies need to have far less influence in the political and legislative processes. I think government needs to be smaller and more cost-effective, but I think a helping hand and a safety net of sorts for people truly in need is just human. I don't think everyone should make the same amount of money no matter what they do, but I do think that too many people make too much money for not doing enough, and too many people make too little money for doing so much. I think this nation should strengthen its own position in the world and its own citizens' security and standard of living before giving billions of dollars in aid to other nations... but I don't believe we should isolate ourselves, or build a wall, or pour billions of dollars and thousands of lives into wars and conflicts that haven't been thought through and linger on, and on. I know that there are radical Islamists committing acts of terror, against the West and against their fellow Muslims and others, but I also know that the percentage of Muslims committing or supporting such heinous acts is small, and portraying these events as a jihad of Islam versus the West only bolsters the arguments and the appeal of Daesh and al Qaeda and the groups like them. I think a licensed handgun (or a shotgun, or a rifle) and a small quantity of marijuana for personal use are equally OK; my eyebrow is raised when someone wants larger quantities of drugs or magazines holding larger quantities of ammunition. I think most police officers, and most deployed members of the military, are doing an extremely difficult job to the best of their abilities, and being human they're prone to making mistakes; honest mistakes should be addressed appropriately, but bad apples will turn up everywhere, and bad apples in law enforcement or the military (or Congress), who forsake their oaths and treat the lives of others with impunity, need to be dealt with severely and stripped of the ability to do so again, after due process of course.

Bottom line is, I don't have all the answers. Hell, I don't have any of the answers. But I do know that we all have to stop screaming at each other and accusing each other of ruining America and being responsible for Americans being killed. It's not that simple, and if you truly believe it is, you're not thinking for yourself and you're not actually listening to the sane people on the other side of the argument. Yes, there really are sane people on both sides, no matter what some would have you believe. Don't get all your news from one source, and don't build yourself an "echo chamber" where you only hear one side of every issue. I'm subjected to opinions with which I disagree on social media every day, but I'd rather hear them, and maybe think about the issues differently, or at least consider how other people view those issues, than convince myself that I'm right and they're wrong and that's that.

Anyway, that's that. Don't forget that everyone you talk to is human, too, and that most of them do want what (they think) is best for this country, too. I'll stop ranting now, though maybe it's time for an updated recording of "Dangerous Babies. Then again, perhaps I should wait 'til November...


Juneteenth I: Life

Got a lot to say this time around, so I've separated it into three 'blog posts: life, politics, and music. This is the life edition.

I'm done with the insomnia, save the sporadic one- or two-night bout since that horrorshow ended in April; thanks, everyone who expressed support and offered suggestions. I think stress played a large role, but the truth is I haven't felt quite like me in a while now. When I saw this "Bloom County" strip two weeks ago, I was struck by how much I identified with Opus in it:


Not so much herring in this one, please

While I've never done (or considered) yoga, or serious meditation, I'd always been able to conjure up a certain amount of zen, so that moments of anger or sorrow or what have you wouldn't overwhelm me for long... but not lately. Not for about three years now. It ebbs and flows, this self-diagnosed depression of mine, but it hasn't ebbed back as far as I'd like in quite some time. Maybe now that I've acknowledged that, I can do something about it, something that doesn't involve downing lots of Herring Wallbangers. I finally started using this Buddha Board, which I bought last year while visiting a Japanese cultural center with my cousin in Florida last year, at work:




I can paint on it with water, and as the water evaporates, my painting disappears. Not that I'm creating masterpieces, even ephemeral ones, with it, but I find it's a good way to get out my feelings or lighten my mood. I also realize that I haven't been running in far too long, and I need to start doing that again. Laura and I had both noticed that working out helped her "even out," and I'm sure it does the same for me.

Keeping busy helps keep my mind from dwelling on things too much, too, and I've certainly been doing that since my last 'blog post. I've seen Tania Stavreva perform at the Drawing Room again, got festive at Lambertville's Shad Fest, viewed "Purple Rain" on the big screen with Rhonda and her daughter Linda, went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Barbara for the "Manus x Machina" exhibition, watched my friends Dave and Shawn exchange their vows, took in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" and "Captain America: Civil War" on the same day, followed by some dramatic readings of Edgar Allan Poe's works, visited historic Smithville (and the Olive Garden) with my parents for my dad's birthday, tried several times to engage with a rabbit residing near the office, and enjoyed a much-needed boozy brunch with Yesika in Gramercy, and a slightly-boozy after-work get-together (so many hyphens!) with Jenn and Vaida in Ridgewood. Yesterday, I managed to fit in laundry, the Mermaid Parade at Coney Island and a bit o' sunburn, Trenton's Art All Night (during the early evening, but still), and a Trenton Thunder baseball game, though technically I didn't get home until today. (As always, photos from my excursions through life can be viewed in the Gallery... of Death!) While I'm comfortable with doing a lot of things by myself, it's always nice to know that there are people who do want to get out and do things with me.

And of course there's more comin' up. I need to squeeze in a trip or three to the Jersey shore this summer, of course, as well as at least one trip to the New York Renaissance Faire (and there be new Vixens!). I'll be seeing Tania again in two weeks, first at Carnegie Hall (Carnegie Hall!) and the following evening back at Tenri Cultural Institute. Before that, I'm going to catch Brazilian sensation Céu at the Highline Ballroom, and hopefully two or three shows next weekend. You know what I say about blurs and blurbs... There's a Thanksgiving in July event I believe I shall attend, the Coathangers at the Bowery Ballroom, the Boston Comic Con in August (and I've already bought my ticket to get a photo with Amy Pond and Clara Oswald - yes, it'd long been established that I'm a geek)... and the Prophets of Rage. Yep, I'm going to see the supergroup of justified anger in Brooklyn on August 27th, and help make America rage again. I'm also going to see the one-time Angry Young Man himself, Billy Joel, live in concert for the first (likely only) time, the day after my birthday.


Friday, April 1, 2016

I Don't Want to Sail with This Ship of Fools

Save me from tomorrow... What, no one remembers World Party?

I've been suffering from a rare, lengthy bout of insomnia since the 20th. To paraphrase U2, some nights are better than others (I actually managed a good sleep this past Tuesday night), but generally I've been slow to fall asleep and have woken up several times for way too long. I'm normally out in five minutes and don't wake until it's time to wake, so this has been, well, a rude awakening. Sorry, had to.


I'm more tired than I look, and that's sayin' something
Along with suggesting possible cures (drinking warm milk or chamomile tea or whiskey, ZzzQuil, reading, placing a glass of water under the bed, listening to soothing music), most everyone has been asking whether it's stress. While it certainly makes sense as a cause, I haven't been aware of feeling especially stressed lately... but there have been some involved issues at work, and the anniversary of my proposal to Laura just passed (I know, I know, but it's hard not to think about it when I did it on St. Patrick's Day), and my self-imposed release date for the album is looming.

That last one got me thinking. Again, I haven't been consciously stressing about it, but because I announced I'd be releasing I'll Live this spring, there are now less than three months to make that happen. It's still achievable, really, but it wouldn't be easy, and I don't think I want to put that kind of pressure on myself. Don't get me wrong: I've been working on it and will continue to do so (I finished up the music to "Let Me" last weekend and will hopefully record the vocals this weekend, which will leave seven more songs to finish up), and it's as important to me as ever to get this work done. If trying to finish it in time to get it out by June 21st is contributing to my issues, however, then I need to loosen the reins a bit.

I'm thinking that late summer / early fall is a more realistic timeframe. Even if my birthday arrives and I haven't yet released I'll Live... I'll live. It's not exactly like you frakkers are clamorin' for it, anyway... heh. My state of mind is precarious enough as it is without adding sleep deprivation to the mix, so we're just going to back away from that precipice slowly.

"Nobody ever hears him
     Or the sounds he appears to make,
 And he never seems to notice..."

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

You Let Your Hopes and Dreams Make You Go Insane

I spent the night before Valentine's Day at a Hunter Valentine show at NYC's Bowery Ballroom. As frigid as the night was, going was a great idea!

Two months back, I decided that I should go see a band over Valentine's weekend rather than sitting at home, and when I realized that HV was playing on the 13th, well... who better to see on Valentine's Eve? I'd heard of the band several years back and had heard some music online, and I figured I'd splurge for the meet-and-greet ticket. I had no idea just how cold Saturday night was going to be when I ordered the ticket...

I headed into the City anyway, and I'm glad I did. After partaking of happy hour at the bar by downing a pair of Brooklyn Winter Ales, and stopping at the merch table to pick up a shirt and chat with the lovely young woman running it, I headed up to the front of the stage, where a group of friends, some of whom had driven up from Pennsylvania for the show, determined that I might be fun and asked me to join them in a selfie. (Apparently, my CBGB shirt was quite popular that night.) One of them, a young woman whose real name was not Veronika, proceeded to smack everyone on the ass good-naturedly, and I wasn't left out. Of course I replied in kind. Heh-heh.

The Frail (who are now known as Vacances, but were performing that night as the Frail) opened the show and put on a great set, and Hunter Valentine put on an amazing set! Everything sounded great, and I'm especially digging the new single, "Hurricane." Kiyomi's an awesome and energetic frontwoman (and being up front, I got to help her off and back on the stage when she surfed the crowd twice). Lisa just rocks, with and without her guitars. Leanne had an infectious smile on her face throughout almost the entire show, and you knew she was enjoying herself. (They brought a former bass player, Adrienne Lloyd, on stage to join them for a song with her Rickenbacker, too.) And Laura can pound those drums and sing her great Canadian love song... and drink champagne. :-D They're on their "So Long for Now" tour, because the band is going on an indefinite hiatus, but I'm really hoping they get back to making music again before too long. I'd definitely see these rockers again.


Kiyomi, Lisa, Leanne, and Laura

The meet-and-greet took place after the show, and while they must have been exhausted, the ladies were most gracious and down-to-earth. I got my chance to meet with them briefly, at which point it was after midnight and technically Valentine's Day, and it was pretty cool to hear, "Oh, yeah, you were right up front! I saw you!" Lisa and I talked about CBGB a bit, and Sick of Sarah's Jessica Forsythe took my picture (well, took practically everyone's picture) with the band before I got my CD copy of the new EP, The Pledge, autographed.


Hunter Valentine and me

The uptown F train didn't show up for nearly 30 minutes, I had to run to and from the PATH train while gasping in lungfuls of frozen air and came thisclose to missing the last train back to Lyndhurst from Hoboken anyway, and I'm still surprised my ears weren't frostbitten by the time I got home around 2 AM, but it was well worth it. What a fun night!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Something Happened on the Day He Died

David Bowie had a huge impact on rock and pop music. I'm always sad when any real musical talent passes away, and I use the term 'idol' very sparingly, but to me Bowie was one of those artists who earned the right to be an inspiration to many, and I'm definitely feeling the loss. Whether or not it shows in my music, he was an inspiration to me.

I'm pretty sure the first chords I really learned to play on guitar, when I was still a teenager, were the C major and E minor that open "Space Oddity." As a young man, I used to get occasional comparisons to the young David Bowie, and for Halloween in 1992, I shaved my eyebrows (again - but that's another story) and made my own jumpsuit and dressed as Ziggy Stardust.


I played it left hand...

Some of my friends called me Ziggy for a while after that. My first Yahoo! E-mail account was ziggysdust. In '97, I started working on an ambitious cover of "Heroes," which I eventually shelved because the computer hardware and software I had at the time wasn't able to handle 6+ minutes and 10+ tracks; I did end up covering "Rebel Rebel" some months later, and while it's hardly my best work and the drums still sound like they were borrowed from the Human League, I'm kinda proud of it.

When Bowie announced he was starting his own ISP, BowieNet, in 1998, I eagerly prepared to switch Internet providers. It was pretty awesome to be AndyS@davidbowie.com for a few years! Anyway, I'm not claiming to be the world's biggest David Bowie fan. I never got to see the man in concert, and I don't have every album (though I do have seven on vinyl, and eleven on CD). I actually just bought  today, and I imagine many others have or will, too, in a fitting tribute. It's another incredible album, and if you haven't seen the video for "Lazarus" yet, well... here.



What I admire most about Bowie is changes. Yes, the song is great, too, but I mean the fact that he constantly reinvented himself, and wasn't afraid to completely alter his look and his sound and risk alienating his fans. "Space Oddity" and "Changes" and "Suffragette City" and "The Jean Genie" and "Diamond Dogs" and "Young Americans" and "Heroes" and "Fashion" and "Let's Dance" and "Blue Jean" and "Jump They Say" and "The Heart's Filthy Lesson" and "I'm Afraid of Americans" and "Slow Burn" and "Sunday" and "Reality" and "Dancing Out in Space" and, yes, "Lazarus" and so many more are all amazing works of music... and that they were all created by the same musician makes them all the more amazing. The man had conviction.

If you want to hear six seconds of that abandoned "Heroes" attempt, I've got it posted on my Vine account:



I'd like to think that I've picked up a little of that willingness to experiment musically. I'm focusing on finishing I'll Live, my own album of original music, of course, and I don't really spend time on covering others' songs these days, but I was inspired to finally play around with the Acapella app this morning and record this 30-second video of the beginning of "A Better Future," from Heathens. Not one of his better known songs or albums, but I'd rank both as among my favorites, and the time just happened to run out after I sang "Please make sure we get tomorrow..."


Friday, January 1, 2016

...And A New One Just Begun

Happy 2016, everyone! Hope you enjoyed your New Year's Eve, whether you stayed home and crashed before midnight or went out and didn't get to bed 'til after the sun had come up. I was closer to the latter, having caught They Might Be Giants playing two sets (and two encores) at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. This was my third time seeing them, and they're still so funny and full of energy and simply an amazing live experience. Pictures from the show, and from everything else I've seen and done in 2015, are of course in chronological order in the Gallery... of Death!


TMBG!

No resolutions for me, thanks... I'm driving. 2016 will be the year I finally get a second album done and released. If it turns out to be my last, I think I'll be OK, more than OK, with that. I'll continue to write and record songs as the fancy strikes, but in the future I'll probably just put out the occasional single or EP rather than being overwhelmed by the concept of an album. For now, though, I'll Live is moving along nicely and still earmarked for a springtime release.

I've gotten some feedback on one of the songs (from strangers... because my friends don't seem to listen, or at least to share their thoughts). It's somewhat humorous that the elements some people like are the same ones that others don't, but I get it; art is subjective, and music is art, and not everyone is going to enjoy the same things. My music is, well, my music. It's not intended to sound like Top 40, and so it's never going to make it on most (maybe any) radio stations. I'm influenced, I think, by the Beatles and David Bowie and Talking Heads and Nine Inch Nails and other musicians to varying degrees, but I don't sound like any of them, except possibly for this little bit here or that riff there. I'm no more interested in being a tribute act than I am in writing huge pop hits, and to me music is more than one sound.

So, more music, more running, more fun, more focus on the future, and less dwelling on the past. That's the plan for 2016. I wish you happiness, good health, and good fortune for the New Year... even if you don't wish it for me. Especially if you don't wish it for me. And hey, maybe 2016 will be the year some of you start interacting with me here and giving me some feedback. It could happen... Heh.