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Tag Archives: Creative Writing

Overuse Of the Word ‘I’ Reaching Epidemic Proportions Worldwide

Having received more than a few inquiries from my Facebook friends and ReverbNation associates about my intermittent activity on the Internet, the following explanation is offered. As most everyone knows, these sites are capable of consuming huge hunks of time and it is with this knowledge that I have made a conscious decision to avoid the computer in order to devote all of my energy to songwriting, recording, and turning wrenches. Therefore, for the past month or so, I’ve been immersed in recording, guitar repair, and cylinder head work.

Inasmuch as the songwriting portion goes, there is, what I like to refer to as ‘passive’ songwriting. That is to say that I don’t ‘try to write’. It has become my modus operandi to simply let the music and songs come to me as they will, and the process works out rather well. Once in the ‘recording mode’, the songs just begin to filter down, and all that is left for me to do is to get onto tape what I hear in my head. That may sound somewhat esoteric and arcane, but this is simply the best way to describe it.

If I try to write, everything tends to turn out sounding redundant and contrived. This I hate. Once the process begins, however, it is something that is quite constant, and I find it more conservative in regard to total time spent to give myself over to it completely until such time that it ceases of its own accord, thus my absence from the Internet sites is duly noted and addressed.

I do like to post a blog on occasion when a subject comes to mind. It helps me keep up appearances.

A bit more on writing to those who may be interested.

A couple of weeks ago, my son was reading a piece I’d written earlier.

“You’ve used the word ‘I’ too many times,” he observed. It was humble pie directly to the face. My own advice had come back to haunt me.

“True,” I conceded, “but I was writing about me.”

“That doesn’t matter,” he continued, “you can always reword a sentence to avoid overuse. You used it six times in one sentence.”

He was right. I was identified with my subject matter and there had been a strong emotional attachment, which explained everything.

For many years now, it has been a practice of mine never to write a song in first person. To my way of thinking, this leads to no good. It also is the best way to develop writer’s block, create boring subject matter and come across as being self absorbed. When one writes in this fashion, the possibilities are immediately limited to ones’ own experiences. I don’t intend to speak for anyone else, but life has been pretty boring insofar as writing songs about me goes.

At best, all first person writing is good for is a couple of sappy love songs, and few more blues songs after the relationship has gone kaput.

Now, we all can name songs which have been written about courtship, and then there’s a couple of wedding tunes, but can anyone name a ‘We’ve Been Married Twenty Years’ song? Not too many ‘Honey, I’m Picking Up a Gallon of Milk and a Newspaper, See You at Six’, or ‘Meatloaf Serenade’ songs out there, are there?

Sure, there are songs full of promise, and tunes such as ‘I Love You More Today Than Yesterday’, but I can’t say with any amount of certainty that Dude was married when he wrote that.

This isn’t to reflect badly on marriage, it’s just that there’s such a limited amount of material there.

Unless you want to count that stupid ‘Pina Colada’ song by that guy whose name I don’t even remember.

Oh yeah. Rupert Holmes. What a dillweed.

Damn it.

Now that nonsense will be playing in my head all day long and I won’t get any work done. Sheesh. I hate that freaking song.

See why I stay off of the computer when I’m trying to write and compose?

The Mercurochrome Link to White Knuckle Gaming

That does it. I’m suing everybody for everything. Nothing is my fault and I just realised it.

I thought I was over it. The Nintendo 64 had been sitting on the shelf for years, untouched.

Sure, I’d played the 64 with my son when he was a kid. You know, why not? I had the toys, the candy bars, the paregoric, the mind-numbing Loony Tunes. I had the comic books, the Matchbox cars, and the model locomotives. Shouldn’t he have had a chance to enjoy it all, too?

So his mom bought him a Nintendo 64. The games were largely innocuous and cute: Zelda, Mario 64, Rainbow Six, Mohammad Ali Championship Boxing, Madden 98 (nothing to make him want to go out and mutilate anyone like the Black Sabbath, the Judas Priest, and Blue Oyster Cult did that I used to listen to), Aerial Assault, Star Wars… Oh…..and Mario Kart.

I looked at the dust covered gaming console too long. I remembered too much. Suddenly, I was a recovering heroin addict who was having his old drug of choice proffered to him again.

God damn Mario Kart. Images of Peach and Yoshi drifted through my mind. My blood boiled anew. I slowly reached for the device, and my palms were already moist with perspiration.

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When I was a kid, we’d all be outside playing, and sometimes one of us would fall and tear part of our tender little bodies open. It was an occurrence that we all dreaded and that we would try to wish away. One day, I ripped my knee open pretty badly. All of the other kids stopped playing to assess the damage as well, and looked at me solemnly.
“Are you gonna have to go home?” they’d ask.
Another would inquire, “Do ya’ll have Merthiolate or Iodine?”
“No,” I’d answer, “all we have is Mercurochrome.” My response would send a shudder throughout the group that you could feel and see.

Mercurochrome is how I developed my four octave scream. Even today, uttering the word even makes me tingle in a way that is vaguely uncomfortable. It conjures up something dark, evil, and foreboding. Mercurochrome.

Now, any compound which has, as its root words Mercury and Chrome, can’t be too good to smear into an open wound of any organic being. But as a kid, we were all routinely dipped up to the neck in this shit.

The kid who lived across the street from me rocked incessantly and would cry when jets flew overhead.

Another who lived farther up in the neighborhood would suddenly snap and beat other children up. He’s the only twelve year old I ever knew who had the “hundred yard stare.”

Me? I had a little fling with OCD. I hid it most of the time, but I’d give it free run when I was out playing by myself. I say the same word over and over and over and over and over and over and over. I’d hold my breath and then stagger it until I got it all back in time with something that I didn’t understand. I was a slave to ADD all throughout my time in school, although I wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my forties. All of my afflictions came out in the form of art or music or mailbox bashing. I got over the bat wielding, but the effects of the Mercurochrome still make themselves apparent in my music from time to time:

http://www.reverbnation.com/johnnynowhere/song/10524830-equinox

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Or…..when I play Mario Kart.

And before I know it, there I go. I’m hooking up the console…desperately seeking RCA patch cables. I can’t find them after a two hour sweep of the house, and I find myself hunkered over my project bench, soldering cables up in the sweltering heat of the halogen lamp… and I know that it already has a hold on me. By God, I’m giving it to Mario Kart. Next I’m blowing in the cartridge, washing my hands, using alcohol and then talc.. getting ready.. to win. Charlie Sheen is right. It is all about winning, and my son’s ancient Nintendo 64 has shown me the way.

I go white knuckle so fast, and want to kill Toad and that stupid little lizard. As a matter of fact, I get to where I can’t stand my own driver. I’ll crash him into walls and see if he can virtually die if he pounds the wall hard enough. I hate the controller. I want to jerk the game out of my mind by the roots because I know that I’ve blown the lid off of my self-imposed moratorium and am completely re-addicted. I won’t stop until I win every course, curse every driver to hell, or hurl the controller through the television screen in total disgust.

Or until drained, I slowly rise from the couch and turn off the set and awaken from this video induced hypnotism. My God, it’s two thirty in the morning. It seems like it was just eleven a.m.

Telling myself to just unplug the game and put it away, hide it in a closet, or take the evilness to the Goodwill outlet to bait some other poor fool, I go to bed and cry myself to sleep at night.

But the console sits in the floor still. Until the next time that I look at it, and feel that shiver of excitement… and then the uncontrollable rage.

So you see.. none of this. is.. my fault.

I’m suing everybody.

Johnny Nowhere is a songwriter who is currently undergoing therapy.

Voluntary Versus Involuntary Personal Slavery

I know this big, friendly fellow who had a severe heart attack a couple of nights ago. The prognosis isn’t good. A wife, three teen-aged children, and there he lies today, not yet forty years old, in a coma, somewhere in the middle of time itself.

As in all such instances, the fragility of life got me to thinking about my own achievements, or lack thereof, made in the time that I’ve been so far given. As I’ve aged and suffered setbacks, I’ve become a pretty reliable authority on how to do things.

Mostly on how not to do things, unfortunately. But one way or the other, we learn.

As far as my own choices go, I like to contrast my life against that of Arnold Schwarzenegger. It keeps me humble.

According to Arnold, he was a poor kid from Austria who had developmental issues, and one side of his body was a good deal weaker than the other. As a result, his doctor prescribed weight training to address the problem. Arnold quickly adapted to the regimen and decided to take big, giant steps to become the best he could be. And he did.

He came to America, although he barely spoke English. He lived in his car for a while. He took lots of risks, but he believed in himself so strongly, he didn’t allow anything to stand in the way of him and his dreams.

His abilities and achievements are a direct reflection of his dedication to, and practice of, his craft.

This same thing can be said for each and every one of us as musicians and songwriters.

One can argue with this logic all day long (mostly in defense of one’s own lack of achievements), but at the end of the day, the fact will stand as testimony to the undeniable truth that can be found there.

Universal truths are glimpses of universal facts, tucked into timeless proverbs.

For instance, if one wishes to be a guitar player, yet practices drinking beer more than he practices guitar playing, he will become a better drinker than guitar player. The facts bear my words out. I know some devoted drinkers who play guitar only tolerably.

Several years ago, I quit drinking and applied myself to the craft of practicing guitar, within five years my guitar playing improved 1000%. Seriously. But I was encouraged early in life to play to my strengths, and one of my strengths was to make rational decisions. I decided that I wanted to play guitar more than I wanted to get a buzz.

A man who I much admire once said, ‘a man who wishes to become a Man cannot sit between two stools for very long without losing everything’. Now I, at fifty-eight years of age, understand the meaning of his words all too clearly.

I wasted time sitting between stools, and by the time I got good enough at my craft to write and record suitable compositions, the music industry had taken a hard turn. Within a decade, a once thriving business was going down like the proverbial Titanic. The model changed, largely on account of the digital revolution, and it caught a lot of musicians with their pants down around their ankles. Others perceived the coming cataclysm and diversified.

But the losing horse blames the rider.

I went through that phase for a while. It was bullshit, of course. Now I blame no one but myself.

I still have beautiful melodies arise from the ether in my noggin, and I, ever dutiful to the Muse, pick up my instrument and do my very best to transpose the sounds in my head onto tape. I do it for a different reason now. But I do it. And I do it the best way that I know how.

Unconscious, or Involuntary Personal Slavery is a terrible thing. It is the worst form of slavery, for it is the hardest form to release oneself from. It is so much easier to designate a scapegoat. Most people who cling to Involuntary Personal Slavery secretly love their chains. They’ll come up with every excuse under the sun to justify staying chained down, rather than rising up and leaving the plantation. Most of the time, fear is the prime motivator for remaining clapped in their imaginary irons. Fear of failure. Fear of nothing of real value in the free Man.

This type of slavery takes many forms; addictions to food and alcohol, religion, sex, fame, anger, notoriety. All such slavery is simple stupidity. Until one can break these chains, one will never truly be free. But most people do not really wish to be free, for slavery gives them the option to apply blame to an outside instigator or oppressor.

Let us use the analogy of slavery in America. Now, slavery hasn’t been practiced in America in over 100 years, but most modern Americans have been taught very little about the role of slavery in America, or of the War Between the States for that matter, which was more over money and states rights than slavery. Even free blacks owned slaves in America before the War, but that is never discussed because it cracks the mold; and although most modern American blacks wouldn’t recognise a cotton stalk from a corn stalk, they live as if they are still on the plantation.

And in one sense, they still are.

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African blacks regard American blacks with disdain. They think that they (much like the modern Jew) are big crybabies who have every opportunity to make something of themselves, yet who prefer to spend all of their time and energy making themselves out as victims, blaming past events for keeping them in their present set of ‘circumstances’.

Ask anyone who has spent time getting to know the blacks who inhabit the continent of Africa. African blacks are very tribal. If an American black is unable to trace his tribal ancestry, he is not considered a ‘long lost brother’. He is just another Black American. Neither is he referred to as an ‘African-American’. African blacks will tell you that they would gladly trade places with any American black in order to be able to take advantage of all of the opportunities available to them. However, African blacks, in spite of all of their difficulties, such as walking miles daily simply for water, are among the happiest people in the world, always smiling, always joyful.

These native Africans have every reason to wear their daily struggles like a badge, but they choose to have a bright outlook on life, unlike American blacks, whom the Africans think are a bunch of brainless fools, shooting one another up, running drugs, and rapping about how ‘hard’ life is. African blacks feel that American blacks know nothing of real struggle.

I pretty much agree with the Africans, because the so-called ‘struggles’ of the American blacks are primarily imagined. The mindset is passed down like a disease from one generation to the other. These days it is referred to as ‘white privilege’. Meanwhile the genuinely enfranchised class becomes extremely jealous of their lawfully granted privileges: Although American blacks, who in the past thirty years have been born into a society which, through all sorts of legislation, grant them more rights than most other American citizens enjoy, the majority of them still choose to blame their own failure to act on white people, primarily because it has been made too tempting to whine about some perceived inequality.

And many whites exacerbate the image. They choose to believe that they, via inheritance, are partially to blame for the black population’s imaginary suffering. This further allows the American black population to keep themselves ‘down’, while allowing many of the white population to actually defend the mindset.

Both attitudes, incidentally, insure the continuation of the Status Quo.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but once the squeaking stops, the greasing stops. Some American black ‘leaders’ have figured this out, as ‘spokesmen’ in order to keep the wheels greased, as well as their pockets.

What a sad joke. It is unfortunate that so many people buy into the whole facade, because there is no solid foundation on which to base the belief, only a lot of justification for imagined anger.

The point I am attempting to make here, is that this is just another form of Involuntary Personal Slavery.

This form of slavery almost always takes on the form of justification and false inculpation.

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If one cannot look objectively at one’s position in life, one will never be able to make the most of one’s skills and talents. Merely mimicking another person’s way of doing things is not being true to oneself.

I discovered that until one is made aware of the fact that he is indeed a slave, he never feels the need to escape. This is a fact that I did not discover this on my own.

By quite accidental and ‘miraculous’ intervention, I found the student of a teacher of a ‘school of another kind’, who tempted me to ‘look’ at myself. It was said that if I could only realise that I was enslaved, that I might, through cunning, obtain certain metals in order to devise tools which would then enable me to design and file a skeleton key which might then unlock the shackles of imagination, but nothing was guaranteed. The prescription was not an easy pill to swallow. The idea, in and of itself however, was painfully simple. It required me to sacrifice my ‘self’ to the will of another for a period of time, to sacrifice my imaginary suffering, and suspend all of my beliefs. This can be thought of as Voluntary Personal Slavery. I found that this was much easier to discuss than to put into practice. This work necessitated a great deal of inner struggle, as one of the requirements was to mercilessly destroy all of my idols. As prescribed, it took years to reach some semblance of achievement. It also caused me to become very calloused.

What I found left was nothing more than an empty shell, a raw animal, devoid of form. There was nothing of my self to be found. All of my ideals were baseless. I was an idiot in the truest sense of the word. All of my opinions were those of others. All of my ‘beliefs’ turned out to be little more than silly Jewish fables parroted to me in my earliest days, from one hyperventilating idiot to the next.

Then I was sent to ‘school’, where I was ‘educated’. Simply put, school gives us ‘vocabulary’, teaches us how to crunch numbers, and instructs us in all of the vogue sciences of the day, but gives us very little solid knowledge.

It took me far too long to shake the shackles of my musical influences, The Beatles, the Doobie Brothers, and the ‘singer songwriter’ phase that I went through. I was none of these. I was simply trying to copy someone else, but wasn’t aware of it.

This was the slavery that my so-called ‘freedom of thought’ consisted of.

It was during this extended period of ‘wandering the wilderness of my soul’, that I experienced a ‘shifting of poles’, wherein everything seemed very superficial and inverted. But then I began to practice my instrument in a certain way, and things began to take order.

Robert Fripp’s school of Guitar Craft was extremely instructive in this regard.

Robert was also a student of the same particular ‘school of thought’ which I had discovered, and there was a ‘secret language’ of sorts which I immediately recognised as school terminology. His instruction in guitar led to further ‘enlightenment’ for his approach to practice was completely different. It was only then that I began to distinguish the Muse from otherwise distracting thoughts, and gave myself over to it.

In this realm, the music has existed from the moment of the beginning of time, and the musician is merely an instrument which makes himself available to the Muse. In this respect, the music makes the musician, rather than the opposite. The feeling is much like being taken down a wooded path blindfolded. Often, the musician is only vaguely aware of what he is doing until he is done. Music is a moving and ‘religious’ experience.

Everyone already really knows what I mean: The annual television cartoon ‘Merry Christmas Charlie Brown’ is really only good because of the music. And everyone gets that fuzzy feeling inside when Linus quotes the short biblical scripture and everyone begins the a cappella ‘oooh’s to ‘Hark, The Herald Angels Sing’ around the proud little Christmas tree. You don’t have to be religious to feel religious. The secret is the music. Not the religion.

That’s precisely why all churches make use of music. Closer to God. It’s that simple. Oh, some denominations will split hairs about the use of instruments and whatnot. That’s just a lot of nonsense. God invented music. Don’t believe me? Just go to church and tell everyone that you don’t believe that music or singing have a place in the church. They’ll look at you as if you’ve lost your mind.

But you won’t do that, will you?

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Since finding my Muse, I have developed into an instrumentalist which I would have never imagined myself, and have ‘ghost written’ many tunes which It has presented to me. Fame and fortune were not to be mine, but I would not trade my task for anything in the world.

My achievements are mine alone, and the rewards are likewise.

Due to illness, there are many activities that I have been forced to discontinue, but my guitars and my Muse will be the last things that I will surrender when I follow the others into that timeless void that John is edging ever closer toward tonight.

Recording Mythology, Pt. 49 / Being a Slob Is Hard Labour

I might ask that I be forgiven, for the following article is a lengthy thesis concerning the creation and playing of Music, although it may not seem as such, or inasmuch, at least as as one may expect. Presented in two parts, and in a roundabout way (out of necessity), it will draw on several other subjects, all interconnected, that I shall ellucidate on along the way. Because of the somewhat arcane nature of the proceeding, I may lose many readers. This is a calculated risk that I am prepared to take for a purpose greater than my own.

I have borrowed the title for today’s article from one of the many aphorisms used in Robert Fripp’s Guitar Craft courses which were held during the late eighties. Robert turned out some ground-breaking material with Brian Eno and others over a period of three decades, but he is undoubtedly best known as guitarist for the band King Crimson, who turned out some astounding (and what some would call bombastic) record albums during the seventies.

I discovered Mr. Fripp’s Guitar Craft through happenstance in 1989. I firmly contend that I would not have realised what it was that his instruction had to reveal, had I not become a seeker through the study of a particular system known as the School of the Fourth Way, only two years prior.

As it is demonstrated in the School, Luck cannot be wholly discounted.

Upon perusal of Mr. Fripp’s technique, it quickly became apparent to me that Robert had also submitted himself as a student to the School, and that his approach to music was centred around the application of the studies. In due course I was a ‘card-carrying member’ of Mr. Fripp’s league of practitioners.

A short sidebar is necessary at this point.

As a member of the School of the Fourth Way, students are shown that:
1) there are many Universal Laws which man must live under as a condition of life, and
2) there are likewise many unnecessary laws which man normally lives under, of which an individual may possibly free himself, granted a general knowledge of these laws has been acquired.

One of the irrefutable Universal Laws is one of scale. That is to say that all things follow an embedded pattern. Thusly known, all things become, to a great degree, predictable, except that only their scale differs. This has been demonstrated to my satisfaction in more than music and mathematics.

For instance, absolutely nothing within the known Universe shares any particular balance. In actuality, the existence of imbalance accounts for the movement of all things, seen and unseen. If any sort of ‘equality’ existed, movement would cease, and everything would come to a halt, except unless to immediately change direction. Consider the pendulum.

In every respect, ‘Equality’ is an imagined value around which many of man’s ‘laws’ are based, but such are the follies of mankind. An objective observation of nature is all that is required to see that nothing will ever be ‘just’ nor ‘equal’ in life nor in death, and that the entire facade of ‘fairness’ is an unachievable ideal. No amount of dreaming can change this reality, as this law is omnipotent within universal physics.

Likewise, any time a member of the School recognises another member, it readily becomes apparent which associate is the more advanced in their study by application of a ‘special language’. I do not mean to imply that a different language is spoken, only that in the School, certain key words are given particular meaning, through which a great deal more information is transmitted than would normally be possible. Usage of these words, and subsequent construct of phrases, thus communicated, and received by the aware pupil, establishes a status among individuals, admitting free exchange of knowledge.

It was in this way that I realised Mr. Fripp’s superior School knowledge, much of which he explicated through his Guitar Craft series.

In the School, I larned that most people rarely ever acquire any knowledge of genuine value for one of two reasons:
1) because their ego cannot bear to allow that someone else might actually be in possession of some bit of knowledge that they themselves are not already in possession of. Thus, a man who imagines himself to already be in possession of something is less likely to really ever have it, nor attain the ability to recognise the genuine article should he ever happen to stumble across it.
2) because they imagine that there is some special reward for their inactivity, and that if they simply believe long enough, wishing very hard, they will suddenly be endowed with knowledge in some miraculous manner. These are the sort of people who believe in sorcery, magic chants, free government health care, and manna from heaven.

Knowledge is a possession of true value, and cannot be stolen, nor had through any sort of deviation. There are no ‘short cuts’ in acquiring skill or knowledge. It may only be achieved through difficult work, applied over a long period of time. Even then, nothing is guaranteed. A lazy student will learn nothing, and soon the opportunity to learn will be removed.

Another shortcoming of man is his imagined ability to teach himself. This is another artifact of ego’s design. As he is, man possesses no true will, and is therefore incapable of committing himself to anything, in addition he hasn’t the tools nor the knowledge to teach himself. Therefore, in order to be taught, a man must become sincere with himself and the ego must be humbled.

As soon as the ego is sufficiently broken, a man may realise the need for a teacher. The teacher will be one to whom the so-called ‘will’ of the student must be surrendered for a period of time. This period of access allows the teacher to create veridical will within the student, after which time the student may be capable of directing his self-will, bringing about the possibility of further development.

Our developmental goal in Music is to become a ‘musician’ with a capital M and without quotation marks. This development is likely to take many years. If we are to become this type of being, we are to answer to a higher calling than that of ego which dictates trendy styles, or strange and unconventional behaviour. These are typical distinctions of guitar slamming morons.

Morons are of no use to Music. It normally takes them more time to get properly dressed and made-up for a performance than they ever commit to the practice of Craft. Getting all decorated to play guitar is unnecessarily hard work. Striking artfully masculine or feminine postures, and flailing the instrument with energetic flourishes may be entertaining, but are all uncalled for when they are merely part of a calculated act. Worse yet, the quality of the music generally suffers.

But as Mr. Fripp stated, being a slob is hard labour.

Let us return to our example involving the idea of equality, or as I refer to it, man’s ‘mirage of perfection’.

With equality, there would be no struggle, and without struggle, there would be no friction, and without friction there would be no tension; without tension there would be no movement, and without movement, there would be no development. Consider the tuned and plucked string in contrast to the slack, resting string. The taut string ‘neutralises’ a specific quantity of tension, struggle, and friction, through the development of the sounded note, full of possibilities. The string at rest exhibits none of these properties. Without movement, neither time nor music exists. But as artists we are in luck, for we have an universal supply of tension, struggle, friction, and unrest.

Our purpose in Music is to become the messenger which the aforesaid qualities may resolve themselves through. Alchemising the raw articles of discord, chaos, and disarray, we convert them into their polar opposites. The resulting sounds should sooth the soul, for this is the true purpose of music. Our job in Music is to make ourselves available.

Morons, having been given precedence over the musical landscape by money hungry ‘producers’, and due to their musical obfuscation, have caused great harm to the soul of music. They have disoriented the consumer, and they have assaulted Music, much as a leech might attach itself to its host, and drained it of a great deal of its medicinal properties.

It is always easy to identify these musical imposters. The music that they make is always of a coarser texture than the raw materials used in making it. The subject matter is generally inflamatory, espousing anger, and radiating negative energy. Individual pieces rarely seem to resolve musically, and the favoured frequencies tend toward the extremes with very little utilisation of the midrange frequencies.

The flourishing genres of darkwave, gangsta rap, techno-industrial, noise, porn groove, and death metal are the most common carriers. Coincidentally, this type of anti-music is most often created by those individuals who arrogate peace and ‘equality’, but whose works often share their hatred, betray their underlying disdain for women or anyone who disagrees with them, and their nazi-like proclivities.

Another of Mr. Fripp’s aphorisms applied here might be: Everything we are is revealed in our playing.

Music can assist us in finding ourselves, but only if we go forward with the expectations of finding ourselves. If we pursue music in a foolish attempt to ‘become someone else’, we will never find anything of lasting value.

One individual who said it best was also a member in an extremely successful tribute band. “It was like being a drag-queen man,” he said. “After playing for half my life, pretending to be [someone else], I realised one day that I’d allowed him to make a failure out of the musician that I should have been.”

The argument has been put forward that those driven to produce music typically suffer some emotional instability or trauma inflicted during childhood, and therefore seek out music to deal with the affect of the scars. Whereas this myth may sound a ring of truth, it is a canard on the whole. Many musicians have been known to suffer from nothing more than normality, but it seems that those with the aforementioned formatory defects end up receiving the bulk of the attention, if only because they appear more exciting.

Let this account serve as proof of another fact: Music has the ability to provide a theraputic counter-effect, but only when approached in a proper and respectful manner. When used as a vehicle to promote, or reinforce emotional instability rather than quell it, nothing but explosions can result. Consider Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix.

After having seen both sides of the veil, I can assure the reader that neither drugs nor alcohol have a positive effect on music nor the musician. If the above examples are not enough, they bring to mind dozens of others. Artists from Billie Holliday to Eric Clapton have attempted to wage their internal wars using various substances as allies. Billie lost her war when her perceived ally turned out to be her foe. Eric won his fight when he realised what his enemy was. In neither case did the substances in question provide any of the aforementioned artists access to a ‘supernatural music portal’.

One cannot be dosed or maddened into becoming a musician. A musician is merely one who is drawn to play music, and one is, or is not. If, however, one is drawn into it, there is risk that the individual become consumed, that is to say that the individual may come to seem ‘single dimensional’ to some, perhaps eclectic to others. This may not always bode well for the musician if he allows himself to become obsessive in his development.

A humourous account will drive my point.

I once happened to become acquainted with Robert, a classical guitar teacher whose obsession gave rise to a most unpleasant key feature. His fixation on his musical discipline was such that it spilled over into his daily affairs, apparently making normal hygenic functions seem unnecessary. Although his speech was eloquent, and his teeth pristine; his hair was stringy and oily, his beard unkempt, and his clothing unwashed. He wore these sandals that appeared to be taken from the corpse of Moses, and all of his nails were in need of attention. He was generally accompained by a very pungent aroma. I felt he looked out of place without military fatigues and a cigar.

One day, he came into the music store in which I worked. ‘Sven, I’m in need of several good metronomes, and I am hoping that your establishment might be capable of satisfying my needs.’ (For those who may wonder, my name is not Sven, but that was the name which I’d chosen for my name tags during my ten-plus year tenure in retail.)

‘What sort of fire do you require, Squire?’ I asked with typical Cyrano de Bergerac bent. (Everybody who knows me would have known what I really meant.)

‘Well, it mustn’t be one of the analogue sort, ‘ he said (if only to irritate me), ‘only the digital ones will do; I attempt to impart perfect timing in my students, and I expect no less from the time-pieces that I provide them with.’

I looked him over. ‘For pause, the pendulum served Segovia satisfactorily. Now what once befitted the boss bumbles the bookmen?’ I touched a finger to my cheek, cutting my eyes skyward for effect.

‘I can tell the difference!’ he huffed and puffed. ‘Neither my students nor I are bumbled, as you put it. With all respect to the maestro, digital precisions have made the pendulum obsolete.’

‘So your skills, Castro, deals killing blows to those of the Maestro?’

He protested with the demur of a lemur, to such extent that Dennis, the owner of the store, made a rare emergence from his official retreat. ‘What’s going on out here? What’s wrong?’

‘The sun is on fire! He says we’ll expire!’ I told him, pointing at Robert.

The look of indignity on Robert’s face became one of bewilderment. ‘This asshole won’t sell me a metronome without giving me the third degree in verse,’ he explained to Dennis the Penis.

‘Everyone learns from third degree burns.’ I interposed.

The owner began to make excuses for me and told Robert that he’d fired me over a month ago, but that I continued to show up to work.

I returned to the task I’d been attempting all morning, with Dennis tending to Robert’s needs and putting his feelings right. ‘Have a good morning, Your Weirdness,’ he shot at me upon departing.

‘Bye-bye, Fry Guy.’ I was heard to reply.

Dennis turned, pointing toward the door with his hand held close to his torso, whisper-hissing,’You know that guy?’

‘Something inside has soured and died?’ I anticipated.

Dennis lowered his voice, ‘He fuckin’ stinks!’ he winced, heading back to his office. ‘Oh, by the way, you’re fired.’ he called out before re-entering.

Dennis was a horn-hating trumpet player. But then, everybody has their hang-ups, right?

Just don’t allow it to become an obsession.

 

Recording Mythology, Pt. 47 / Habits Were Made To Be Broken

 

 

I was listening to one of those radio stations on which they loosely format their programming around Big Band era music, but will play almost any contemporary vocalist whose tune has, over the years, achieved ‘standard’ status. There was a Barry Manilow song being played, and I was paying attention to the arrangement of the orchestral accompaniment.

 

 

Barry came up in music the working man’s way, through jingle writing. He was responsible for the old MacDonald’s commercial tune, you deserve a break today, so get up and get away to MacDonald’s. His own break came in the way of getting discovered by Bette Midler.

 

 

It occurred to me that, since his accomplishments in earlier recordings, that as his carreer progressed, his arrangements had become somewhat formulaic, and as a result, all his tunes had taken on the same shading. In other words, Barry had begun to sound like himself.

 

 

I soon began to wonder if this wasn’t actually true in everyone’s case to a great degree, even my own, and what could be done to thwart the development of this, what I considered to be, a terrible hinderance to creativity.

 

 

I recalled a thread on Facebook of which I’d been a participant, where scalar practice was being discussed, during which time another individual, who was not only a formidable guitarist, but instructor as well, repeated the mantra “practice, practice, and then forget it all”.

 

 

Practice, practice, and then forget it all.

 

 

This is a rock of advice which will always contain more secrets than it will reveal. The problem is that barnacles of habit will begin to form, and the rock itself is forgotten. More often than not, one may come to repeat the phrase like a parrot, for the dissemination of such advice is generally much easier than heeding it.

 

 

Those who discover the true purpose of practice understand the value in ‘forgetting it all’.

 

 

Many individuals fail to take the same advice regarding production work, however. These habits may begin innocently enough via ‘favorite settings’. After having recorded for over twenty-five years, I cannot for the life of me understand the logic behind these favorite settings, be it on an guitar amp or a stereo compressor. The fact of the matter is that, for every new recorded tune, the dynamics will change considerably. Unless you are recording all of the songs at one time (unlikely) or the style is identical for every tune (Boston), you are going to want to change the settings of one or both in order to convey the difference in feel of that respective song.

 

 

Albeit I have a ‘basic’ setting for my vocal mic compressor, I still have to torque down the attack or release time depending on whether I’m recording an alpha screamer or a beta boy tune. Sometimes I may crank up the compression for the effect itself. Fact is, you simply can’t ‘set it and ‘forget it’.

 

The constant redialing of settings assures that at least every tune won’t suck, just in case one may.

 

And turning the knobs also keeps potentiometers from oxidising.

 

 

Another habit that may creep in is the order of processing units. It’s too easy to lay out all of the stomp boxes based on how they look coolest, but in what order will they achieve the best sound? This is a point of contention among guitarists and shouldn’t be discounted.

 

 

Then there’s the subject of which instruments to include in the composition. We might be tempted to follow Barry’s lead and involve the entire symphony orchestra on every number. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want every tune that I write to emulate the sound of God emerging from the clouds.

 

 

For instance, during one session, I was working on an elusive sound bed. The finished product was destined for a tense underwater scene in a big movie production with a colossal budget and a cranky client. I was so desperate to capture an ambiant sound I was hearing, that I groaned down into an empty coffee can and… good Lord, that was it! But dare I take such a low-tech risk with Mr. Cranky himself? Well, if my procedures were drawn into question, what he didn’t know would be referred to as a trade secret, and therefore could do him no physical nor emotional harm.

 

 

I socked on the headphones and held the closed end of the can to my guitar mic and groaned hard and loud. I laughed as I reached over and turned the reverb onto ‘cathedral’ or ‘oil tanker’ or whichever, and blended a wee bit in. Presto. I hit the record button. It took a few dry runs to get the breathing breaks right and then it required double tracking both groaning and humming so that the proper ‘ethereal feel’ was achieved, but after a little work and a bit of oxygen deficit, I had the sound bed that I needed. The rest was just guitar swells using false harmonics, a slide, a volume pedal, and delay.

 

 

How did my ‘trade secret’ end up sounding? http://www.reverbnation.com/johnnynowhere/song/3137441-trouble-brewing

 

 

The point here being, if we don’t continue to try new ideas, devices, and/or settings, we risk falling instead into the same predictable habits, thereby becoming boring, and we’ll never know what we may be missing.

 

 

Playing it safe and falling back on a proven technique only sounds fresh for so long, kinda like Tom Morello using that ‘wild & crazy’ string stretching effect in every single freaking lead that he plays, and that becomes pretty tiresome rather quickly, according to reliable sources.

 

 

One might do well to ask oneself, ‘What does the song call for here?’ rather than pouring over banks of presets and asking ‘What sounds are available for me to use?’ The first question is open ended, it allows our mind to ponder different possibilities. The second question limits our imaginations to some other goofball’s ideas.

 

 

In another scenario, I was tapping on everything I could find, using a drumstick, a mallet, even my fingertips. I was hearing something between congas and tabla, but not bongos. Nothing I had was giving me the sound that I required and soon I was in my milk crate, throwing boxes around. With nothing to be found, I went to my repair bench and picked up a coconut shell half that I used primarily to create wood dust. I clattered it on the bench ala Monty Python horse hoofs. Ah! An idea. I picked up the other half and re-mated the two halves with hide glue. After it dried, I bored out two of the three ‘eyes’ of the shell and alternately slapped on the openings using my fingers. Knowing that I was almost there, and realising that one more larger hole would give me more variance in tone I needed, I used a paddle bit to make a one inch hole in the side of the shell over which I could cup my palm while slapping the first two holes with my fingertips.

 

 

Many of you may be thinking, ‘Dude, that’s too much damn work,’ but in the end I got exactly the sound that I was looking for, and all it cost was a little time. Granted, it wasn’t very loud, but that’s what clever use of proximity effect and reverb is for.

 

 

Just in case I’ve piqued your curiosity, here is how the resulting ‘percussion’ turned out:

 

http://www.reverbnation.com/johnnynowhere/song/10472671-un-poco-andante

 

 

Remember, the hard part is the fun part, so if you don’t enjoy being uncomfortable by constantly having to break old habits to make room for new ones, you’re probably in the wrong business.

 

 

 

Recording Mythology, Pt. 46 / Twenty Years After Hell Froze Over

 

New Years Eve.

 

I didn’t have anything to do.

 

I refuse to give the police state more leverage against me, so I didn’t get on the road at all, nor did I set off any fireworks.

 

The county that we live in has outlawed fireworks, restricting our ability to celebrate freedom from oppression. Right. Naturally, thousands of normal folks are forced to become ‘outlaw for a night’ and take the scenic thirty minute drive just over the county line where mobile firework stands appear and disappear within a week. Needless to say, the skies around here burn on the holidays.

 

The dude down the road must spend a fortune on thunderous nuclear warheads which he patriotically detonates with fierce defiance every July 4 and New Year, so we just watch his money explode instead.

 

I quit drinking.

 

I no longer allow the government to tax my pleasure. It had become apparent that they, as well as big alcohol, profited far too much from addiction, depression, and violence, and I despise crony capitalism. I still miss a good glass of wine, but my CFS had gotten in the way anyhow.

 

As far as pot goes, I used to enjoy it when it was a inspiring buzz rather than a useless stone. The new stuff sucks. And once the government gets a taste of the revenue they can obtain in taxing the stoners in Colorado, we’ll see who “won”.

 

Coffee is my drug of choice now. French Roast.

 

To be completely honest, I had no yearly resolutions to make. I work on big things in a nine year cycle, so this was a typical night for me.

 

I decided to settle in and review a concert documentary which I’d stumbled across a few days before.

 

Jeez,” I thought aloud when I came across the DVD, “twenty years have already passed since this concert was recorded!? Where has the time gone?”

 

Believe it or not, 2014 marks two decades since hell reputedly froze over.

 

The Eagles formed innocently enough back in 1973 when Glenn Frey and Don Henley sat down to try and write a few songs together. Things coalesced, and the band got really big, really quickly.

 

In the ten years that followed, there were minor personnel changes. There was the addition of Don Felder, later the departure of Bernie Leadon, the addition of Joe Walsh, and finally the departure of bassist Randy Meisner whose shoes were filled as well as could be expected by singer/bassist Tim Schmitt.

 

The perfection that such an act expects from themselves and one another takes a toll over the years and as the old saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. In many ways it had gotten to where they were competing only with themselves. By 1980 the fellows couldn’t stand to look at each other so they parted ways.

 

The friction was supposedly the worst between the two who had started it all. When asked if the band would ever perform together again, a frustrated Henley replied, “Yeah…when hell freezes over.”

 

Tough odds to overcome. 

 

But hell froze over fourteen years later. The members last comprising the band were carefully reunited with the assistance of Irving Azoff, everybody shook hands, and rehearsals quietly began.

 

If only everything could be done so expertly.

 

Now, I was always impressed, above all else, with the quality of the songwriting of the members, thus was a fan of the band off the bat, so my objectivity in this respect may be drawn into question, but few acts have garnered my monitary support throughout their entire existence, and the Eagles were no exception.

 

There was one album which I didn’t buy due to my severe distaste for all things cowboy.

 

Never caring to stand out, I certainly never have gone out of my way to fit in.

 

The explosion of the urban cowboy fad in the mid seventies was too much for me. I heaped scorn on anybody who wore boots, and especially a hat. Pure Prarie League, Michael Murphy, Marshall Tucker, and many other acts that ‘went cowboy’ received the butt of my ire. To this day, I do not own a copy of the Eagles ‘Desperado’ album, so that should prove something.

 

Finally, the band hit their stride in bucking trend and playing to their strengths. Dead-splat in the middle of the disco era, the Eagles were writing gems like Hotel California.

 

The performances presented in this reunion concert were absolutely spot on.

 

Most of the best songs throughout the band’s tenure were there, and the absence of Meisner was held in silent respect by their not attempting to perform any of the tunes which he’d penned and sang. A sensible move. Schmitt did a couple of his own memorable songs instead. He’s a fantastic bassist, and also sings as good a high harmony as anyone, but there’s only one Meisner.

 

This is a sticking point for me: I’ll always remember Tim as being a member of the band Poco. He wasn’t in the Eagles long enough to replace the image I have of Meisner in the lineup. To be honest, it took me a while to get comfortable with Walsh as a member of the band. He’ll always be part of the James Gang to me.

 

The guys claimed to be nervous their first time out before an audience in so long, but once on stage, the professionalism which they’d honed from previous years and countless tours came back in a performance which melded the five into one, and it all appeared so effortless.

 

When the band began the opening chords to songs such as ‘The Last Resort’ and ‘Wasted Time’, I held my breath. These fellows were really putting themselves to the test, but they delivered with astounding accuracy. This was no half-assed concert put on on in an attempt to make some fast money. It was obvious that the band was hell-bent on proving, not only their durability, but their merit, and they did it with colors flying.

 

Professionalism at this level is something to behold, and nothing short of mesmerising.

 

 

Recording Mythology, Pt. 45/ Ghosts In The Machine

Recently, I was at a client’s home tuning the family console piano when he asked me if I’d like to take a look at his latest acquisition.

This fellow is in the habit of acquiring some pretty interesting stuff from time to time, so of course I told him that I’d be glad to have a gander at his new toy, at which point he held up a finger and slipped away, reappearing momentarily with an old acoustic guitar case. He popped the latches, opened the case and extracted an old Martin.

“Oh! An old 00-18!” I enthused.

He peered into the soundhole, “Ahh….yes, indeed it is. Reputedly a 1961. Here, tell me what you think about it,” he said as he passed it to me while I still sat at the piano bench.

As I began to chord the instrument and play, my smile slowly melted. I held the guitar out and looked at it in disbelief. All it wanted me to do was play The Kingston Trio’s “Tom Dooley” on it.*

“Where did you get this guitar?” I asked him. “This is awful. This guitar has hardly been played.”

“Why do you say that? What do you mean?” he asked with a confused look.

“As you are well aware, these instruments are made of several types of wood from different trees. Well, it’s only through continued playing that the seperate pieces of wood become familiarised with one another, and that the instrument becomes whole, and learns to talk. I don’t mean to get all esoteric with you, but these things open up as they are allowed to resonate. They have to be played before they can learn to talk.”

“This guitar isn’t familiar with itself at all,” I said, staring at it, “It doesn’t speak music; it doesn’t even recognise it’s own voice. This is a terribly sad guitar. It has spent nearly it’s entire existence in this coffin of a case,” I continued, waving at the case in disgust. “The worst kind of afterlife for a living tree, is to be killed, and then turned into an instrument that is never allowed to breathe, let alone speak. This poor guitar only knows a couple of songs.” I said.

My client stood there with his arms folded looking somewhat incredulous.

“So where did you get it?” I asked, handing it back to him.

“Well, I can’t believe that you can tell all that just by holding it and looking at it, but you are correct indeed,” he said, “it has hardly ever been played.”

He went on to tell me the story behind the 00-18. It was a tale that is repeated far too many times: Some well meaning parents invest in a really nice guitar to present to their only child on his 13th birthday. The kid plays around on it until it becomes apparent how much work is going to have to be invested in becoming proficient on the instrument, at which time the guitar goes back into the case and into the closet, never to be pulled out except when the owner moves from place to place, or someone wishes to see it.

If android phones had been invented back in the 60s, a lot of the guitars made at the time would still be like new, but luckily, most kids weren’t as lazy back then as they are now.

Most like-new old guitars (or ‘closet classics’ as Fender likes to call their clones), are really a mixed blessing when you find one, and almost every one that I’ve ever played hits me on a visceral level in the same way.

Guitars that are destined to become pretty but miserable trophy wives for some wanna-be guitar player are sad instruments once they’re discovered and unchained. They can’t rock and they can’t play the blues. They haven’t been taught any language by their owners.

They sound like Buddy Holly’s Stratocaster did, new and virgin.

It’s weird, but the first thing that most players will do is play some lick from the appropriate generation when they first pick up one of these instruments. It is as if that is all that the instrument knows how to do. It is the only language. The musician merely responds; he is generally unaware that he is attempting to communicate with the instrument.

There is no soul, no mojo, no voodoo. Only the ghosts of dead trees.

It may only be my imagination, but when there are ghosts in these instruments, I hear their stories, they talk to me.

My client had obtained this particular Martin via the original owner in lieu of losses contracted through the same. He was hoping to recoup some of those losses in the sale of the guitar.

He told me that he had already received several offers of varying amounts, but none that quite suited his expectations.

“Why not give it to one of the girls?” I asked him, knowing that both of his daughters played.

“Oh, it’s too nice for that; it would just get banged around at coffee houses and stuff. I’d like to see someone get it who would really take care of it.”

“Dude,” I replied with a bit of exasperation in my voice, “this damn guitar has been ‘taken care of’ its entire existence. What it needs, is to be played for a change. Why not forget about top-dollar this time.” I suggested, “Do this guitar and your karma a favour instead and let the player who you believe will give it the best voice have it. This instrument deserves a home and a loving pair of hands. You owe that much to it.”

That’s how I feel, and that is my advice to anyone who has such an instrument tucked safely away inside some closet: Play it or sell it to someone who will.

 

 

* The song was originally an old Blue Ridge Mountain folk tune called “Tom Dula” which ingeminated a true story. I have been unable to determine who the songwriter was.