I remember seeing this video (embedded below) on MuchMore Music maybe 20 years ago, maybe more. I knew enough to understand how cool it was to get these guys together for the performance, but I didn't quite realize just how special it was. What a performance, and what a way to introduce people to an excellent song.
For the last few months, I've been working on memorizing songs I know, but I don't quite have memorized. I started with "Gentle on my Mind," a song I feel like I've known for as long as I've been alive but never quite memorized. It took a while, but eventually I was able to get the imagery in my head into an order that made sense, and I'd like to think the song's basically in my long-term memory for good now.
Then I moved to "My Back Pages," which challenged in a much different way. Each verse is built on strong imagery, but the images smash into one another; they don't quite create a full photograph like the verses do in "Gentle on my Mind." It took a few weeks of singing along, practicing verse-by-verse, copying out the lyrics by hand, before I could have it memorized. And even now, when it's all in my head, I still struggle to make some of the lines flow from their previous ones.
The last stanza mentions "abstract threats too noble to neglect." Dylan writes,
Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats too noble to neglect
To me, this sort of lends itself to our current "identity politics" moment: the Venn Diagram of Abstract to Practical is kinda' messy right now. That messy overlap is ok, but I hope we can acknowledge its blurriness. Everything's always more nuanced than it seems, no matter the side we pitch our tents. And abstract threats... are still threats. We need to move beyond threatening one another to move change in a useful direction.
I've never taken New Year's resolutions very seriously. So I haven't really made any over the years.
This year might be a little different though.
For the drive to Smithers, I listened to most of Gary Taubes' The Case Against Sugar, which basically posits that sugar leads to most of the "Western diseases" that plague our society. In the end, Taubes does not offer much of a solution: he claims that there's no way to scientifically prove his point about sugar's toxicity, but that his correlation-causation conclusions should nonetheless be heeded, that there would be no way to narrow down the culprit to sugar for type 2 Diabetes, hypertension, and cancer, specifically. I listened to another podcast on the way back from Smithers that featured The Science Moms who essentially debunked most of Taubes' points,
But perhaps this year I will aim to minimize sugar in my diet, if only to learn how to cook properly for myself. I'm a sucker for processed foods—in particular, cookies—and perhaps minimizing sugar would help me rely a little less on processed foods. I don't expect to go full sugar-free, but I'd like to get it back to the point where sugar is a bona fide treat.
Beyond that, though, I think it's time to focus on music again. I've written about this before, but it's been tough over the last few years to play music. My musical ego was slowly worn away over the decade since I made my first super-independent CD, and it even got to the point where I didn't want to play music barely at all anymore.
But over the last while, I've been able to get a bit of that mojo back. Regularly playing at that restaurant in Harrison Hot Springs has really helped me regain some of my footing as a performing musician, and those two community theatre performances helped me regain some of the pleasure of being on stage.
What I haven't been able to do, however, is sit down and write. I have a couple dozen extracts of songs sitting on paper, on the computer, on my phone, but I don't think I've completed a song for the last few years. There are numerous reasons for this lack of production, but if I write them down I'm sure they'll come off as excuses. So I won't write them down.
Instead, perhaps I can base a New Year's Resolution on this idea: Quantity over Quality.
Perhaps, if I commit to a certain number of blog posts or completed songs on a weekly basis or something, I'll get some good stuff out of it. Amongst all the quantity, some good quality, or quality practices at least, might emerge.
So here goes:
What I need to figure out is a system for keeping up with them. Perhaps a filing system? Perhaps a calendar?
And how will I keep myself accountable? Especially as separation stuff gets overwhelming?
I don't know yet, but I'll start by trying to post my status updates here.
So here goes?
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:
There's this photo of me on Facebook. My friend Peter, who's playing congas with me here, is playing with me. My guess is that the photo was taken in 2001, but it could have been taken a little earlier.
The thing is that I don't remember what I was singing about. I think I was playing at Felicita's at UVic, but I don't remember why. I have no idea what songs might have showed-up on that setlist hanging from the microphone—printed characteristically on a used piece of paper, a photocopied article. It was 2001 and I thought myself a musician of sorts... but what did I have to say? I have no fucking idea.
This is a problem as I try to find my way through all this separation stuff. In the vernacular, a psychological assessor said my "values are all over the place." And it seems like, as I listen to podcasts and read self-help and leadership books, it's highly encouraged to follow your vision. It seems as if happiness lies in one's ability to live out their singular purpose, to live out their message in such a way that lets them live a life where message and life are blurred and beautiful.
I have no idea what my message is, what I'd like to say to the world. I feel utterly lost in this. I don't think it's a matter of religious apostasy, but over the last few years my ability to access my "voice" has diminished until I don't know what to do with it.
And I don't have to go back to 2001 to figure it out. I wrote a personal weblog on a near-daily basis between 2001-2005; I made a CD of original songs in 2006; I wrote a CD's worth of as-yet-unreleased material over the few years that followed—but by 2013, my writing essentially stopped. I no longer played riffs and thought "I should use that" and built something around it. I had nothing to say.
And I could feel it happening. I tried a few things to fight it: I worked with a drummer and tried to write some songs using riffs; I would record mini-moments of inspiration on my phone and hope to make sense of them when I came back to them; I sat down and wrote journals; I tried to write semi-creative blog posts; I tried to attend open-mic nights and pub jams; I tried to record videos of cover songs, secretly hoping that they'd turn into something of my own. I'd sit down and try to learn proper riffs, hoping they'd lead to new flashes of inspiration. But they never did. And I still feel like I have nothing to say.
There are ironies here: I know people want to hear what I have to say; I know people care about me and think I have worthwhile ideas; I know people can see that I have a vision for things. And I'm anxious to get it out, myself.
I imagine a good portion of it is separation-based. This whole marriage-falling-apart thing has been a pretty enormous blow to my ego, and it's been a long process that continues to take up an inordinate amount of brainspace in any given moment. So perhaps, as I learn how to be myself again, maybe I'll find a way to articulate my vision again, whatever it is.
But it's not there yet. My vision simmers at best.
But I could sure use some of that overflowing confidence to express myself again.
And using "simmers" reminded me of this special moment from last summer:
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.
YouTube: ephemeral ideas
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