Saturday, September 25, 2004

Sucking and putzing

We rehearsed last night. First practice in a week with all the band members present. I've rhapsodized about how great it is to play with others, but ya know, sometimes it sucks. Nothing worked, we were ragged and un-energetic.

The band dynamic is a delicate system. The personalities and moods of everyone involved affect the experience. It's only been a week since we last got together but it sounded like we'd had a 6 month layoff. The problem wasn't lack of practice, it was mood.

I started the downhill slide by saying I was sick of putzing around with the recording. Because I own the 16 track recorder and the mics I end up doing all the mixing. On Wednesday I deleted almost 2000 megs of unusable material and really only scratched the surface of what's there. I have other projects that I want to spend some time on.

We've got the sound quality up to the point that all we need now is a good performance. I suggested that we pick a tune to record next and practice it a bunch. I also suggested we practice it individually at home and record it next time. The horror! The heresy! By the reaction I got you'd have thought I'd suggested baring Janet Jackson's breast while drowning kittens. live during the Tour de France. Ok, it wasn't that extreme but K made faces and stopped talking. I mean come on! Would it kill him to pick up his bass and run through it a few times?

Then it was P's turn. He said something that was extremely lacking in tact. E has a nightmare story in her background, the kind of thing that makes my emotionally abusive alcoholic father look like Mr. Dressup. The kind of thing that's so beyond the pale you can't even joke about it. P reminded her of it. Not intentionally, just a figure of speech gone wrong. I didn't notice anything but P thinks it affected her. It certainly affected P. He got all tense and quiet. Arrrgh.

Even when I was in a regularly gigging band, one that always got paid, I still didn't call myself a musician. It took me years to be comfortable with that. I never, ever called myself a professional musician. Not just because I've never made a living at it. To me a professional would have been able to overcome the distractions and focused on creating music.

I can't blame E, if she was flashing on her background all I can feel is sympathy. But the rest of us? Professionals or not, we have no excuse.

Good music is about the moment, if you're feeling anything it should be the emotions of the tune. Even an angry or sorrowful tune can take you away from your present concerns. Isn't that one of the best reasons to be making music, to escape your everyday baggage for 3 or so minutes at a time?

Time to sign everyone up for Method Acting classes and hire Ilsa the Nazi-Nanny. She'll make them practice or it's the wooden spoon and off to bed without supper!

Can't wait!

I know I said I didn't want to widen the focus of this blog, but, but, but....
I just got a call from a co-worker in another store, she found a VHS copy of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. For me! I've been waiting 7 years for this, literally, we keep records. I'm. So. Excited!

Ya, ya I could have found it on-line but it's only going to cost me $5.10 and that's Canadian dollars. Did I mention excited?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

In which the author blogs about blogging and begs for comments

Well, here I am four months into this blogging thing. Prompted by my first comment by a stranger (thanks Esther!), a quiz by Karol and the arrival of autumn, it's time for a review.

When I started my intention was simply to motivate myself to practice. I thought that if having a record of my achievements had already inspired me, then placing it in a public place would be even more motivating. Initially it didn't matter to me if anyone read it, I mean why would they? A bald list of things I've done wouldn't be very compelling reading.

Even as soon as my second post that began to change. Confronted with a blank screen and an ability to touch-type I started blathering, writing out my thoughts regarding music. I think a lot. Really. It never stops and drives me crazy because it usually isn't anything useful or insightful. I found that writing it out channeled those thoughts into something more concrete, forced them to some kind of conclusion. Those conclusions fascinate me, they aren't always what I expect. What a twisty little brain I have!

At the same time I became interested in seeing if anyone was reading this stuff. After some soul searching I added the Sitemeter counter, lo and behold, there are a few who do. (Thanks folks!) Ya coulda knocked me over with a feather. It shouldn't have been such a surprise, I do leave my site address when I comment on blogs. I tend not to follow those links though, and assumed that was true for everyone.

Does it really matter if people read this? In all honesty, not really. The act of organizing my thoughts enough to write them down is very useful. Do I want people to read it? Hell yah.

On Karol's quiz a number of people answered that the reason they blogged was because they had something to say that was worth reading. The tone of these answers was often one of self-deprecating irony. I can understand this. I don't believe that I'm creating deathless prose here. I don't even believe that my thoughts are particularly original. But I do believe they have some value, at least to me. I also believe that other's opinions will be of benefit to me.

What I'm hoping is that someone will make a comment that will nudge the mad, whirling wheel-o-death of my thoughts. Something that will send them off on an unforeseen tangent. What's inside my head surprises me, but other people surprise me more. So if ya got something to say, speak up.

I think the blogspot comment interface puts people off. You don't have an account to comment, just hit "or post anonymously" and lay it on me. Include your email or site links in your text if'n you so desire.

The only question I'm struggling with now is: Do I want to gain a larger audience? It's really yes and no. I don't need one to get something out of this, but the more people reading the more chance of insightful comments. Do I want to broaden the focus of this blog to gain that? No. Do I want to post more often? Kinda. It takes me quite a while for things to jell enough to put it in coherent form. I'd rather not rush it. Ah well, practice may make me faster.

Well, I guess that about covers the self-justification and blog-navelgazing. Usually people wait a year to do this. What can I say? I'm a precocious.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

On a related note...

...I just realized that this blog isn't going to give me the validation I crave. I simply don't post often enough to get a real readership. Ah well, that wasn't in my mission statement anyway. :)

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Money, that's what I want....?

The Whiteboard
I've been on holidays. The perfect excuse to forget what I did when. I did practice. Sitting in a hotel room strumming my travel guitar, felt like a rockstar.

The Commentary

I met quite a few new people on this trip. Not being one to waste good stories my musical life came up a few times. The one question that never gets asked is: "Why do you bother?" I can tell when people are thinking it, usually after I make a statement like: "Nah, we don't make any money." There's lots of good reasons to play music outside of financial ones, I've mentioned them before.

On the flight home I was thrown a curve by my seatmate. She called the band a hobby. I was a little miffed by that. To me a hobby is something one does for the entertainment and nothing else. It implies that one isn't serious about it, and not being serious the activity isn't essential. I'm not sure I could stop playing music and still be happy. Hobby isn't the right word, maybe obsession?

It really shouldn't have bothered me, I like to tell people that I've given up the dream. I don't expect to ever make a living in music. But somehow the word hobby rubbed me the wrong way, in part because of the financial implications of the term. If you make money it's not a hobby. Why do I associate musical worth with monetary worth when I know the two have only a tenuous relationship?

It might have to do with music being a spectator sport. The audience is an essential part of the experience. Making music can be satisfying even without an audience but is so much more with one. Audiences however, are expected to pay. In North American society financial judgments of worth are so ingrained that it takes a conscious act to notice them. When was the last time you went to a free performance expecting to hear something good?

I wish this association was more motivating for me. A classic type A person would use such a thing to push themselves until they were making money. Unfortunately I'm a type Z, a lazy whiner who doesn't value the talent he has. Mistakes I make in performance and composition make me want to bury the results rather than work at improvement. Why I don't give up is something of mystery to me, but that's another thought for another time.

I'm going to have to do something about this. The financial unease I feel about my musical life doesn't motivate me. It only makes me feel bad and causes occasional fits of rudeness to perfectly nice airplane strangers. I'm afraid it goes deeper than just some latent capitalist tendencies. I suspect that it's part of a larger issue involving validation.

I don't have any real internal validation. I always feel like what I do is crap, even when I know intellectually that it isn't. The problem is that external validation doesn't work for me either. At almost every gig I've done at least some of the audience have said good things. I've even been complimented on my playing by musicians I really admire. Doesn't make me feel good, and, in a startling lack of respect, I usually dismiss such compliments. Whinge, whine, moan, poor, poor pitiful me. There, the pity-fest is over.

So what the heck am I going to do about this? I need a way to truly believe that my musical endeavourers are valid. Gobs of money aren't going to do it. On the other hand no one's ever offered me stupid mad cash. Hmmmm, the ad could read: One musical soul for sale, slightly bruised but in reasonable working order.........

Then again, maybe not.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


The Whiteboard

A little guitar practice.

Practice for a couple of hours whilst watching the Olympics.

Band practice. Last one before Saturday's gig, went really well

A couple of hours practice.

Played Ka and A's wedding. Possibly the most fun gig I've done.

Helped two friends move but still managed to put in a half hour of practice.

Band practice. K was absent but we played a few things anyway.

The Commentary

Well, who knew a garden party would be such fun to play? (Actually I did, the 4 0r 5 outdoor shows I've done have all been good.) It was a wedding gift from me to the happy couple so we didn't get paid. Despite being in a cover band of sorts, this is the first wedding I've played. All these years and I'd never done the staple of starving musicians everywhere. I'm not sure whether to be proud of this or not.

I was looking forward to this gig, really looking forward to it. The thing I love about weddings is that they bring together people who'd never normally associate. Not only are these disparate groups, usually the bride and groom's families, hanging out but they're drinking too. Fun, in a sociological sorta way. For the band it meant that we'd be playing to a new crowd.

You never know how that's going to go. The usual way to get to a new audience is to open for a well established act. Just as usually that audience ignores you. Mind you, that's probably because I've never been in a band neither good nor accessible enough to really grab people's attention. There also seems to be a "cool" factor at work, a sort of herd mentality. No one wants to stand out by enthusing about a band that their friends aren't already enthusing about. The wedding audience was mostly old enough for that not to be an issue.

I got some really good compliments. One woman said that she had been practicing her "That was really......interesting" speech and was really glad she didn't have to use it. A bit left-handed but a nice compliment anyway. The audience also seemed to get the joke of the band. A few people said that they enjoyed how they recognized the tunes but couldn't place them. Must be the same sort of folk who enjoy crosswords.

Playing in broad daylight is interesting. You can see the audience. In a club with any stage lights at all only the audience at the front is visible. Applause isn't an accurate way to judge attentiveness, people will pause in their conversations to applaud when they hear others clapping. Outdoors in daylight you can see where they're looking. For the most part they were paying attention. There were a couple of tunes in the middle that lost 'em, I wish I'd been paying enough attention to tell which ones.

You can tell a good gig by how fast it goes by. The bad ones last forever. The good ones are blur. This one was in-between, and yet I had real fun. That may be because I didn't play all that well but wasn't bothered by it.

I'm beginning to get a handle on something my college guitar instructor said. He was trying to get me to stop correcting myself when I played a wrong note. He said, "Music happens in time, if you play a wrong note just move on." I didn't really get it. I hate screwing up and when I do I have to fix it. This makes me a pretty good employee and/or friend, but a less than stellar live performer. It took him a month or so of constant badgering to stop me apologizing out loud every time I played a wrong note.

In my teens I was one of those people who apologize for everything. I'd even apologize when someone told me to stop apologizing all the time. To this day I still get a gut-twist when I think about mistakes I made years ago. I guess it should be no surprise that this carried over into my musical life.

The most memorable moment at the gig was when I flubbed a three chord sequence. At the last practice I deliberately made the same mistake. Well, sort of deliberately. I noticed that I was in the wrong position before I hit the first chord and did it anyway as a joke. Trouble with jokes like that is that everyone assumes that you simply messed up. Sigh. At the gig I didn't notice until I played it. It went like this: {sour chord}...crap...{another sour chord}...dammit! (getting a little rattled)...{right chord but poorly held}...FUCK!...then I look up and saw the drummer laughing at me. I lost it, all I could do was laugh too. Fortunately I had time to gather myself before the next phrase. It was a good moment that really made the rest of the set go well.

Live music happens in time, mistakes are gone as soon as you make them. I think I might be beginning to truly understand this.

Life happens in time too, it's just a little more complicated. Sometimes you can let a mistake go and sometimes something has to be done. I'd like to learn how to let things go when it's appropriate. Hopefully, for once life will imitate art.