Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Pee in this cup

The Whiteboard
It's been what, 17 days since I've posted? I'm afraid I've lost track of what I did. This is not unusual. Back when I used a physical whiteboard to keep track of my musical progress there were week long gaps here and there. At least this time I have the world's greatest sporting event as an excuse.

I did accomplish at least one good thing in the last couple of weeks. We finally managed to get a good take of Wasted Days and Wasted Nights. Good enough to use on a demo at least. The performance is interesting and enthusiastic and the sound is probably the best we've achieve to date. Little by little I'm learning how to do this. Recording that is, I'm not sure I'll ever figure out how to play guitar. :)

The Commentary
I mentioned performance enhancing drugs in the last post. An odd bit of coincidence that. It came up in this year's Tour (surprise!) and, despite my resolve, it spoiled my enjoyment. It also came up at rehearsal. No one is shocked to hear that drugs are kinda common amongst musicians. Even at this level. The first bass player in the 10 year project got hooked on heroin and ended up getting tossed, despite being good friends with the band leader. Pot and booze aren't even considered drugs, or so it seems. I've always found that I enjoy playing more when I'm straight, but then I've never really been one of the cool kids.

We were talking about when your internal voice says "That's great!" just before you screw up. It happens to everyone. There's even a book called The Inner Game of Music that describes the problem. I've never managed to get through the chapters about dealing with it. I really struggle with non-descriptive writing, but I dirgress. Until this conversation it never occurred to me that self medication can and does help with the "That's Great!" syndrome.

I spent several years in a basement band with my roommates, gettin' stoned and makin' noise. There were no songs, it was supposed to be totally spontaneous. The fact that the same riffs and changes came up every time, often in the same order, was lost on me until I quit smoking dope. I thought I had a handle on the question: mess your head up and the music sucks. I couldn't understand why bandmates would say that they needed to be intoxicated to play well. I assumed it was a case of self-deception aggravated by the chemical suppression of critical thinking. I had ample evidence for this belief, by the time you're obviously polluted your playing has been off for a while. Of course the Bob Marleys of the world make a case against this, but he was a genius and shouldn't count.

The surprise for me was the realization that suppression of critical thinking was the point. Shutting up that inner voice helps. The problem with this coping tactic is that the line between not enough and too much is pretty thin. I don't drink much anymore because there's only about a half an hour where I'm drunk enough to let loose before it starts to make me tired. The time between a "mmmmh that's nice" stone and feelings of paranoia is even quicker, I rarely bother anymore. The musicians I know who "need" their poison of choice to play follow a similar pattern. Their playing is stiff until it kicks in, play well for a while then become less and less able but don't seem to notice. There's also the constant re-teaching new material. Every practice it's "How did that one go again?" But that's another rant.

Seems to me that using drugs and booze to help play are like using a sledgehammer to turn off a radio. When you're not playing you want to be able to turn your critical functions back on. How else can you figure out how to do it better next time. It's a matter of finding the switch rather than disabling the system entirely. Damned if I know how to do this, but I'm trying.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Starry-eye Sangfroid

The Whiteboard

The Tour! For those of you bicyclically challenged that's Le Tour de France. Watched two stages on tape and practiced guitar during the second. Two hours of practice, felt great.

Half hour practice.

Band practice. Not great, but we did record a couple of takes of our hillbilly version of Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.

The Commentary

I find the Tour inspiring, not just as a cyclist. It really is an incredible feat of strength, training and willpower. Three weeks, 3360 km and an average speed of around 40 kmh, it boggles the mind. The riders spend so long in the saddle and deplete their bodies so much that they lose measurable bone-mass in their spines. Yup, I enjoy people suffering for my entertainment.

But it's more than just entertainment. I've said before that I intend to outlast the better musicians around me. The Tour reminds me just how strong humans can be, it reminds me that finding the energy to pick up a guitar is not impossible, regardless of how tired and out of sorts I am. If Tyler Hamilton, the 4th place finisher last year, can ride the whole Tour with a broken collarbone then surely I can play guitar for a half an hour a day despite a sore wrist.

The Tour always provokes talk of doping and I'd be surprised if some of the riders weren't awash with chemicals. It's unfortunate that we let that kill our sense of wonder. We live in a cynical world and I'm far from the least cynical person in it, but sometimes being a little starry-eyed is the best way to go. So, from now till it's done I'm going to be in awe and hopefully that inspiration will help keep me going.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Architectural fishiness

The Whiteboard


A little guitar practice. No improvement.

Worked the propaganda table at Smilin' Jay's Happy hour. No practice.


Tore down gear at practice space. No practice.


Entertained LUC's out of town friend. Did repairs to practice space door. Attended Campus and Community Radio Conference party at practice space. No practice, but free beer.


Spent the day with the LUC and friend. Ate good food, watched tape of Tour de France and saw Spiderman 2. No practice.

Band rehearsal. Went well, we didn't record which always feels like work. Ran through the set once and well, it's a good thing the bike-fest gig fell through. A little rough around the edges we are. Fun though.

The Commentary

Frank Zappa once said "Talking about music is like fishing about architecture." Taken in context Zappa was right, English has very few words specifically for describing music. We tend to borrow words, soaring melody, crunchy guitar sound, driving backbeat and so on. This doesn't stop me, I love talking about music. I'm not sure what he'd have thought about sitting at a table and talking about a not-for-profit music society.

I'm good at it, but it feels futile. I sat at a table in a long hall and tried to propagandize people on their way in. I make it amusing so they stop and listen, most of the time they even take a brochure. Does this do the society any good in the end? Dammed if I know.

I got involved with this society because of the great practice space it gave the band. I stay involved because I believe in community. Groups can achieve things that no individual could possibly obtain alone. What this group is trying to achieve is a bit murky and yet there I was, explaining it to the public. All I could do was outline the small things we've achieve so far: a regular live broadcast of local bands and a compilation CD of previous performances. I also painted a picture of what I hope it will become, a rallying point for some kind of musical community in this clique-ish town.

The Saturday party was inspiring, afterwards I went home and listened to my song in progress for the first time in weeks. The source of my inspiration was a friend's band. Shitstorm (whata name!) is very similar to my band. They're instrumental, the members are around our age and they're not trying to make a living at it. The difference is they're great musicians. Truly incredible. Abrupt time and feel changes, elaborate arrangements and a sense of humour. The party was for conference delegates, music geeks, every last codder and shiggy. The perfect audience for a band who's songwriting strategy is to make it as hard on themselves as possible. It felt really good to watch friends get the recognition they deserve.

I'm really not sure why it was inspiring. I guess I want that recognition. Which is strange because I view with suspicion any praise that comes my way. I certainly would love to have people enjoy themselves as much as that audience did. Maybe that's it.

Or maybe worrying about motivations has a slightly architectural fishiness to it and I should just get on with it.