Fall reads 2016
Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen.
I have heard many times over the years that I "get in my own head" and it makes it hard for me to see things clearly and empathically. My ex-wife bought me Hardcore Zen to help me get a better sense of what mindfulness can look like so that I can perceive myself a little better. I finished it in just over a month, but I bet I could have finished it in a couple days. It's a pleasant, easy read, and a sane introduction to the the ways of Buddhist meditation and philosophy. FINISHED READING OCTOBER 13 2016
Marah J. Hardt's Sex in the Sea.
For writers and for scientific laypeople, I cannot recommend this impressively easy read enough. I'd first heard of this book on an episode of Inquiring Minds; the moment I saw it at the local library, I assumed the book would be in high demand and immediately borrowed it. I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer pleasure of reading it; Hardt peppers its pages with effective alliteration, poems, and vignettes that make the content delicious to ingest. I imagine I would have finished it in a weekend if my life didn't seem so stressful. FINISHED READING DECEMBER 5 2016
Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist.
So I heard The Alchemist recommended on this podcast, and I remembered that I had a copy of it in my classroom library. So I read it. It's not really my style, but I loved Coelho's stark language and abilit to leave out just enough information that it feels timeless. The message, about listening to the Soul of the World and following one's Personal Legend, is admirable, if a bit naïve. I mean, it's a nice sentiment, but it's so sentimental. Nonetheless, I feel like this just might be the type of message-by-fiction that I should be picking up more often these days. FINISHED READING DECEMBER 14 2016
Jeff sings "My Songbird."
I appreciate the song's inner tension: I enjoy this thing, even "crave" it, but it's also wrong, because I have my share of analogous obessions. There are things that I enjoy that are wrong; there are activities that I love to partake in that aren't cut-and-dry in their ethics. Just like there's no clear ethical way to eat seafood, hedonism always carries a few ethical quandaries. And yet we still do them because life simply isn't bearable with a perfect ethical standard.
Be sure to check out the more polished, professional performances of "My Songbird."
"35, 17" a day before 36.
Back in 2011 I wrote, "35, 17;" I recorded most of it in 2013 and put additional frills into it over the year that followed. I really hoped I'd get it professionally mixed and mastered by the time I turned 35, but I never made it happen; today, a day before I turn 36, I feel a little desperate about releasing it in one way or another, so here it is. It's mixed a little quietly and not mastered at all, but I feel as if time is of the essence here.
If you follow my musical endeavors, you've probably heard it before: I performed it for that Tractorgrease Studios thing almost two years ago to the day. I'd post the link, but the video really embarrasses me; despite an excellent guitar performance, I had a cold and my voice sounds terrible, and I even screwed up on some of the words. So here's the "studio" version of sorts, rough throughout, but acceptable.
I never meant for the song to be prophetic in any way. In it, the speaker begins a relationship because he feels lonely, and despite it giving him life for a bit, eventually the passion fades and the couple splits up—at age 35. And here, as I get ready to leave 35 behind me, I find myself also alone again, "boxes filled and stacked to the ceiling, […] my memory reeling." Of course it's not word-for-word analogous, but it sure feels weird to hear the lyrics from this side of 35, even though I wrote it when I was 30.
The guitar riff had been sitting around for a year and a half or so before the words came together. I wrote most of the lyrics over a two day span while we lived at an RV park, weeks after we'd sold our house in Hope. It's pretty rare for me to write lyrics in such a short period of time, but they just came together this way. It's a bona fide expression of emotion from me, something that doesn't happen very often. This time it worked out to give me one of those songs with loads of narrative gaps, but a concise, lyrical story laced with a smatter of vignettes. I actually take pride in this set of lyrics.
Recording-wise, I wanted to keep it simple. I laid out the drum machine track with I still lived in Hope, and the synth track when I lived in Smithers in 2011-2012. I recorded the guitars at my brother's house in the summer of 2013, and the vocals later that winter in Agassiz. I may have redone the vocals a few times over the year that followed, but I can't quite remember. Beyond that, the only additional frills were the ride cymbal (recorded in Agassiz at the school) and the synth pad, which I believe I recorded in Chilliwack, although I can't quite be sure without the files in front of me. I tried to record a new bassline last night, but I wasn't happy with it, so the simple one will have to do. It was a long process for such a musically simple song.
Anyhow, it's rough, but I turn 36 tomorrow and I don't want to hate the song, so I'm posting this mix now. It might be the most pure expression of the disappointment of dislocation and heartbreak that I've ever written, and perhaps may ever write. Enjoy my melancholy.
Noisey posted this documentary on December 1, 2016, I Saw The Light. I watched it today. It's a well-made little film about Christian evangelical culture's relationship with music.
I attended a few Christian festivals with my church youth group: Sonfest in Abbotsford and Jesus Northwest in Vancouver, Washington, both in the mid-90s. As a Christian teenager, I had a good time at those festivals. I admit that I enjoyed the concert elements far more than preaching or "worship," so perhaps I didn't get the full experience as described in the documentary. But I remember feeling really good and meeting lots of other Christians who introduced me to really great music. I still listen to some of that music, even 20 years later, even after my faith has long gone.
A few days ago, I was filling up a couple booklets with CDs for my car. Going through the old CDs—all on spools at this point—I was a little bit floored that I had such a significant Christian music collection: Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Daniel Amos, Starflyer 59, etc.. I'll probably keep those CDs forever; they're an essential part of my collection.
Funny thing is, I've had The Hold Steady's "Chillout Tent" running through my head for the last few days, which tells a very different music festival story. Enjoy:
Should I feel guilty about enjoying this lovely, melodic, narrative drug-trip song? The Ottawa School Board might think so.
Makes me wonder what the Shewens are up to these days.
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