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.

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