On November 15, I attended the Hard Rubber Orchestra's King Crimson tribute at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver, BC. The theatre was packed, largely with older couples who appear to have followed the band since the 70s. One of the guest vocalists, Leanne Dunic, is a friend from high school; she's someone I've lost touch with, but I've followed her artistic escapades through social media for years. It was a good show overall, and the arrangers certainly had lots of fun with their arrangements of King Crimson classics like "Starless," "Frame By Frame," and "In The Court Of The Crimson King."
I've listened to King Crimson since high school, when a couple of my friends had copies of their debut album and THRAK, one of their most recent albums at the time. We often listened to them straight through, laying inbetween the speakers in order to fully experience the delicately-produced songs in stereo. We'd sit and talk about the perfection of "One Time," the absurd timing in "21st Century Schizoid Man," and the Mellotron-laced, despairing tone in "Epitaph." These are good memories for me, since the music seemed both passionate and interesting, perfect for someone like myself. Over those years, I collected a few more of their albums and enjoyed them immensely, even as my friends seemed to let them go.
There are plenty of songs I could talk about, but there's one that's been running through my head for the last few days, one I keep going back to despite its comparative simplicity: "Prozakc Blues."
"Prozakc Blues" follows a blues progression as closely as King Crimson can, despite numerous time changes and near-atonal solos. It's a wonder that one can hear the traditional blues format through it, particularly when it's so intensely dissonant. Despite the song's overall intensity, Fripp adds moody, airy fills throughout, and they inexplicably fall into place.
Lyrically, the song follows the blues pattern as well, but takes it to a ridiculous place. Sometimes King Crimson's lyrical humour can come off as a little too smart to even laugh at, but in "Prozakc Blues" it fits just fine. It's a narrative blues song that tells a story, that satirizes numerous classic blues tropes: "Woke up this morning," going to the Pearly Gates, etc..
When I hear "Prozakc Blues," I mainly think about the year I lived in Egypt. I had the song on shuffle on my Blackberry and spent a lot of time walking around the streets of 6 October City, trying to memorize it, trying to make sense of the time signatures, trying to hear the push-pull of the guitars and the drums. The song made me smile a lot because its humour, musically and lyrically, was pretty tough to come by in Egypt.
I've been looking for an acoustic guitar for quite some time. The old acoustic I used was my wife's and went with her, so I don't have one around anymore. This is fine, but it's hard to write music in a quiet apartment when there isn't a no-nonsense acoustic around to use at moments of melodic inspiration.
The fact is, however, that I'm really, really picky about acoustic guitars. I hate the "dreadnought" design and avoid most crisp-sounding instruments. I like old, plunky, parlour-sized styled acoustics, and those seem to be getting harder to come by. Also, I've started looking for an acoustic with on-board electronics so I can easily plug in for live shows. So I'm more picky than usual.
There are plenty of acoustics I'm interested in. I tried out a few here:
And what I liked the most was this Gretsch archtop... that isn't really much of an acoustic in the first place. Go figure.
I broke down a few days ago and bought a cheap guitar of off of Craigslist. I bought it for $40, but already regret it. It's a dreadnought, so it's way too big. And it doesn't sound a thing like I want an acoustic to sound like. Because it's just plain a terrible guitar overall.
Here's my first half-assed attempt at making it sound respectable.
Its action was way too high. But that's not what the guitar is for.
But I still hate it.
So today, after a meeting, I went out and got it some new strings. And I almost tuned it and tried again:
So I did it. I have an acoustic guitar to try to write again.
But all it makes me want to do is get a better acoustic so I can actually enjoy it. Today, it was this one, which sounds almost exactly like the guitar I picked for my wife:
But really I want this not-quite-an-acoustic that is much more my style, but a little too delicate for my to use at school or for campfires. This one:
And I'm super-duper interested in this one, despite its lack of on-board electronics.
I've grown to really respect Warren Zevon's overall aesthetic over the years. He's got a pretty big catalogue, so I tend to learn his songs rather slowly.
"Studebaker" has really stood out to me as of late. It's an excellent story song with loads of well-placed narrative gaps, and the "made a sound that cracked my heart in half" line is one heckuva setup for a punchline.
It appears that he never really made a proper recording of it, but here it is:
Zevon's son, Jordan Zevon, gave it the studio treatment and did a damn fine job at it:
Loads of people have covered it on YouTube, which I think is quite the testament to the song's narrative structure and overall craftsmanship. Here's the favorite cover that I've found so far:
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.
A few months ago, I picked up a copy of Sting's The Last Ship from a library sale. I gave it its first real listen just last week.
As usual, it's an excellent album. Loads of excellent storytelling and tasteful, pristine production.
But this song's my favourite.
YouTube: ephemeral ideas
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