Saturday, December 31, 2005

I'm unlikely to leave behind great art that is remembered through the ages.
I won't make a breakthrough that will ease the suffering of multitudes.
I won't further our understanding of the world and our place in it.
I hope to be remembered, for the brief time I'm remembered at all, as a good man. One who did his best regardless of the situation, but even that isn't working out so well of late.

A bad day yesterday and now Melancholy has once again got me by the throat and her sister Melodrama is putting the boots to me.

This passes, it always does. But in the meantime I whirl around the vortex of my own navel. That tidal spiral that denies the outside world and threatens krakens and sea changes at it's core. Never mind that it's all in my head. Never mind that the world is as beautiful and bountiful and blessed as it ever was, I can't see it. Or more accurately: I can't feel it.

Outside looking in. Surrounded by meters of glass. Immersed in heavy water. Pick your metaphores, mix liberally and swallow it straight, no chaser. I've tried to explain what depression feels like to those who've never felt it. I've failed. Repeatedly. And in my better times I'm glad that those who don't get it, really don't get it. In times like these however I wish for the science fiction gizmo that allows others to feel what you're feeling. Just for the briefest of instances, so that I'm not left with the falibility of words to convey something so slippery and personal.

Ah fuck it. I'll get a good night's sleep tonight and tomorrow I'll delete this. If it isn't documented it never happened. Right?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Riddim of Fear

I live in fear.

Dramatic statement huh? Verges on the melodramatic even. It's true however. I'm always worrying about something and unfortunately this world contains plenty of real things to worry about.

I had a childhood filled with fear and anxiety. From the neighbour kid who terrorized me to my father the alcoholic, there was little safety in my young world. In a sense I've been programmed to worry.

This is the sort of thing that adults are suppose to "just get over". I've heard that too many times to bother counting. As a grown-up somehow the insecurities are suppose to magically go away. Or so many people imply. Apparently acknowledging them is "whining" and makes you less of man.

Everyone has fears and insecurities, even the most well adjusted of folks. The difference lies in how well you cope with them, and well, sometimes I don't cope at all.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a coward in the strict sense. I've been robbed five times at knife-point and the last time I hit the guy with a piece of pipe and chased him out of the store. The other day at work I spotted a guy who, many years ago, assaulted me. Got convicted of it even. I stepped right up and kicked him out, even though the last time we'd stood eye to eye he had his forearm across my throat and his fist over my face.

And yet I fear. Constantly and systemically.

In music this has led to not trying. I'm not sure what outcome I fear if I really put an effort into it. I'm unlikely to get gunned down in a rap war; the worst that could happen is no one would like it.

This is the nature of the fear. It's illogical and unwarranted. It floats inside my head looking for something to justify it. I can rationally see what's happening but that doesn't help. Emotions are the stronger force, they work at a level that comes before conscious thought.

I wonder if this shows in my playing. In recordings I always feel like I sound tentative. I'm not the most objective observer though, but surely it must be there. It's such a part of me that in one way or another it informs everything else I do.

So once again the theme: "What the hell do I do about this?" and the familiar slapback echo: "Fucked if I know." are the riddim of my life.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Last night I dreamt that a large group of people and I were being hunted. One by one we were being killed and only I knew how to stop it. I kept screaming "You have to create! It's the only good humans do." Creating will save us, huh? I might not be consciously worried about my current lack of musical endeavourers, but hoo boy my sub-conscious pissed off. For some reason I find this deeply funny.

Friday, November 25, 2005


My days are filled with work, work, more work and the occasional bit of eating, sleeping and snuggling. I bought the new Metric album and it's been sitting, unopened, for weeks now. Life has gotten in the way of music.

This isn't the first time this has happened and it won't be the last. What I'm really worried about is how not worried I am. I mean, I'm supposed to love making music, right? Why am I not getting uptight about having no time to do it?

I've got another creative project on the go and that keeps the anxiety somewhat at bay. I'm building a fixed gear bicycle. My life has two points around which it ellipses, music and bicycles. Right now I'm swinging closer to the bike one because of the second job. With the coming of real winter that job will diminish to a few hours a week. I'm hoping at that point I'll pick up where I left off and finish the damn song that's sitting on the hard drive.

I guess like everything else, my desire to make music goes through ebbs and flows and right now it's ebbing. On the plus side, sometimes when I break out of the doldrums my playing improves rapidly. That'd be nice, I feel like I've not improved much since I recovered from the broken arm.

Enough whining and poorly constructed oceanic metaphors!

*The picture is the frame I'm using to build the fixy. I found it abandoned in the middle of a street late one night. I'm calling it Lonely because it's going to be single speed.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


THE E LEVATORS S eamy Y ellow U nderbelly (Independent)
Two songs, both clocking in at under two-and-a-half minutes, both instrumental garage-band takedowns of familiar numbers. It's hard to say which one is more appealing--the speedy, surf punk wind up of that old Sesame Street sing-a-long classic, "R ubber
D uckie," or the slightly ridiculous lurch through "F rankie and
J ohnny." Probably the most conceptually-perfect EP you'll hear all year.

T om M urray
From See Magazine (a free weekly arts paper)

Hmmp. I think that while F + J is slightly ridiculous but it might not seem so if it'd been mixed properly. The point of the tune is to show off E's drumming but she's too quiet in the mix. I'm not sure how conceptually perfect the thing is, although the cover art is brilliant. P has a knack for that stuff, but how can it be conceptually perfect when we really didn't have a concept?

Ah well, it's not for sale and we don't have any gigs lined up so the review is purely for our enjoyment, and truth be told: it did give me a little thrill. Oh and in the interests of full disclosure: Tom is an old friend.

If anyone has the slightest interest I'll mail you a free copy, assuming I can pry one out of P's clutching hands.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


We played the second of our two annual gigs on Saturday. The Halloween bash at the practice space. It went well, we played damn fine if I do say so myself. We're not a compelling band to watch, a bunch of finger gazers and nary a rock-star among us. That said it was a good time and I think people enjoyed it.

It's too bad in the one picture that my glasses have slid down and my mouth is hanging open. I'd wired the sunglasses to my prescription ones and getting them off mid set wasn't in the cards. The picture is me trying desperately to see the dots on the neck of my guitar.

The other picture is me and the fabulous E, drummer extraordinaire. Our band theme was Lounge Act from Garagistan: "We come to your country to play your women and marry your rock and roll!"

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


I just finished playing a little improvised nocturne for the LUC. She was complaining that I never play guitar for her anymore. It's true, there's just not enough time or energy of late. Even my calluses are starting to get a bit thin. Because I was a bit of jerk to her yesterday I pulled out my concert classical guitar and lullabyed an apology.

Just a simple ditty in A minor but, well, it was beautiful. I have no evidence but how I feel; she fell asleep not 3 phrases in. (Not unusual that, I take no offence.) It was one of those moments where my brain was a step ahead of my hands. I'd think "how about a triplet in E minor for colour." and it would happen. No muss, no fuss just a flow of music from..... somewhere. It felt more like pouring clear water from a glass jug than playing guitar. Just direct the stream and it sparkles in the light through no craft of my own.

A guitar, a sleeping love and a momentary connection to music of the spheres, I'm a lucky man.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


I'm keeping this post on top for until the project is over, look below for new posts.

Have you donated to one of the major relief organizations helping out the poor folk down New Orleans way? Still feeling like you've not done enough or that it was all too impersonal and what did your money get used for anyway?

Go here:

This is one person's direct action to help out with children affected by Katrina. She has decided to address a need not covered by anyone else and that is some good outside-the-box thinkin'.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


I haven't been watching a lot of tv now that the Tour de France is over and I've taken a second job, but I caught part of a VH1 special last week. It was a re-broadcast for the Canadian market of the Storytellers series, the episode featuring Bruce Springsteen.

Being a devotee of punk during the eighties I never gave the Boss much time. I knew that he was well thought of as a songwriter but that was about all I knew, despite hearing Born in the U.S.A. round about a thousand times too many.

On the show he was playing songs and explaining his intentions with the lyrics. It was eye, er, ear opening. It was obvious that he'd put a lot of thought into it all, at least after the fact. The emotional subtext stuff he was talking about apparently wasn't a conscious thing when writing the tune, but he claimed he'd felt every last bit of it even at the time.

A couple of days later I watched K.D. Lang performing the Leonard Cohen tune Hallelujah on live tv. It was jawdropping, literally. By the time she was done my mouth was dry because it was hanging open. The depth of emotion she presented was amazing. If it was acting, the woman deserves an Oscar.

I was much more aware of Ms. Lang because of the Cowpunk stuff she'd done with the Reclines. But I had no idea she'd developed into such a singer. Ok, I kinda knew because my Mum had played this tune for me last time I visited. For some reason the artist didn't register, although I was impressed by the song. But I digress.

All of this made me realize something. Something that I've been trying to get at since the CBC interview the band. Why do I do this music thing? I've given lots of reasons for that and now I realize there's yet another. Perhaps the most important one.

Music is emotion, or more accurately a means to convey emotion. But it's more than that, it's a means to repeat emotions. Some songs are evocative every time you hear them and, provided you don't over expose yourself, they will continue to be evocative until your personality changes. Here's the part that stunned me when I realized it: this is true for the performers too.

The ability to inhabit a song, to feel the emotions it's trying to convey while performing it is one of the most important aspects of performance, it's what separates art from pop. I've known this for a long time, but my little tv excursion last week showed me another aspect to it. If the song is true and meaningful to the performer then that performer can experience those emotions at will. Just sing the song and there it is.

This is a skill of course and perhaps not an easy one. But it does explain the addictive nature of music making. Unless you've studied Method Acting or are very in touch with your emotions it's very hard to simply make one's self feel a certain way. I can't do it. As an intermittent sufferer of depression ( the clinical kind) I'd give anything to be able to feel happy at will. And perhaps I can.

There's a couple of tunes the band does where I feel the same way every time we play them, this despite being an instrumental act. One of which (E cho B each) fills me with eager anticipation every time we play it. I take a solo 3/4 of the way through and I have to fight the temptation to rush to get to it. When it goes well I get goose bumps, literally. Some effort and practice and this emotional connection could be a more conscious part of my musical experience.

I've said before that I can't quit music until I've written something profoundly joyful. Everything I've done (more accurately, half done) to date has been sad, angry or both. I'm pretty sure I need to get that out of my system before I can move on to joy so I'm not too fussed about it. The potential for joy is within me, as it is for everyone. If I can get it out into song form I should be able to experience it over and over. A selfish goal perhaps, but one I'm willing to keep working on until it I reach it. Maybe not too selfish, if I really do achieve a means of feeling joyful at will, yah think I'm going to keep it to myself?

Shared pain is lessened and shared joy is increased. About time I started increasing stuff in the world.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

What the....?

I got 43 hits yesterday. I normally don't get that many in a week. Most of them were referred from other blogspot pages that have no link or reference to me. Very curious, it can't be because I used the word poop in the last post can it? Anyone care to enlighten me as to how they got here?


Context (Warning: frank talk about bodily functions below)

The hike in the Rockies was a treat. Well, a treat that came with a great deal of effort, some bowel problems and bit of pain. OK, a lot of pain, I'm not as young as I like to think I am.

It was three days of wilderness camping in bear country. Hoisting your food up 15 meter poles at night, no smelly soaps or deodorants in the tent, that kind of camping. Along with the mild danger there were spectacular views and the satisfaction of hard physical effort.

The highlight/lowlight was climbing a feature called The Notch. It's the highest elevation on the Skyline Trail. I'm not sure how many vertical meters it was but it was pretty intimidating looking at it from the bottom. I was first to the top. Not out of my usual macho sense of competition but because I needed to get away from the group.

I'd been having some bowl discomfort for an hour or two before The Notch. A bunch of years ago I was treated for Ulcerative Colitis. Basically a bad inflammation of the bowls. The treatment of non-steroid anti-inflammatories worked and my doctor felt that it wasn't likely to re-occur. Mind you everything I've read says it will come back, but I choose to believe my doctor. I still have some issues with my poop. Occasionally I just have to go, and go now, or I'm going to do it in my undies. That's how I was feeling staring up at this cliff face and wondering just were is the trail up at the top?

I took off first in the hope I could get over the ridge before everyone and poop in privacy. I made it but the climb was hard. Towards the top I was walking ten or so steps and stopping for a few seconds to let the lactate acid clear from my legs, then another ten steps, the way real climbers do in the high mountains. All the cycling paid off as I never even came close to being totally out of breath, but there's no way I could have gone any faster. My muscles just aren't in shape for walking, especially not when carrying a pack full of food, tent, cloths, water etc.

Over the top of the ridge was a truly unbelievable view. High mountains lining off into the distance, deep valleys, bright blue/green glacial lakes: awe inspiring. Unfortunately I wasn't in any position to appreciate it. No, the position I was in was squatting over a hole I'd dug with the heel of my boot.

Never has there been a more spectacular setting for a poop, but just I couldn't appreciate it. I was too busy with a basic bodily function gone bad and chasing pieces of used toilet paper as they blew up the hill in the 40kmh wind. Yah, fun.

As everyone else crested the ridge there was tired celebration and some oohing and ahhing. That got me thinking about context. For them the context was putting the worst climb of the hike behind them and being rewarded for it with a postcard-worthy view. For me it was much more internal, literally.

Another example of context confusion came later that day. We were on the decent towards the camp for that evening. One of the six of us (J) had never done anything like this before. We were all worried about her, could she do it? She often fell behind but never gave up and never lost her spirit. It was pretty interesting to watch her bounce back from such an unaccustomed effort.

One of the ways she kept her spirits up was to play tunes from here mp3 player on a tiny sound system. At one point there were three of us (not me) dancing down the side of the mountain to the sound of YMCA. It was funny and annoying at the same time.

I don't like listening to canned music in the wilderness. That kind of music is a product of civilization, of the city. I go to the mountains to get away from that kind of thing. I'd rather hear a strident bear bell and the crunching of boots on gravel than even music that I love. For me the context of the mountains in entirely wrong for that. Of course for them it was entirely appropriate. It got J through some of the harder moments of the hike.

The context in which music is heard makes a difference in how it's perceived. I not much of a fan of jazz, specifically hard bop. I can appreciate the skill of the players, but listening to it while sitting at home in a well lit room on a comfy chair just doesn't seem right. When I've seen it played live in a dark, smoky club, watching the musicians sweat as they work, well, that's exciting. Context.

I watched a friend's band play some kind of union benefit a bunch of years ago. They played the usual socialist kinda rock and roll, all very socially conscious. One of the songs was about how the rich were bad. It rubbed me the wrong way. The lead singer/guitarist was a white guy in his fifties. He was well dressed, had a neat hair cut and was playing a guitar that I would have killed to be able to afford. His amp rig was just as impressive. This was prime quality gear that a poor person couldn't afford.

Watching him sing that song left a bad taste in my mouth. I was thinking, "Yah, right buddy." and basically dismissed him as a hypocrite. Turns out I was wrong. My friend in the band told me after that he wasn't in fact rich. He'd just made the choice to spend his money on good gear and sacrificed much else to do so. But there it was, the context in which the song was presented didn't work. At least for me it didn't.

I have no idea what he could have done about it. It shouldn't matter what the performer looks like and yet it does. It shouldn't matter where you hear a song and yet it does. I like to think a truly great song will stand out, shine and move people regardless of how and where they hear it. I'm not sure most people are wired for that.

Most of us inhabit a world that encompasses all of our senses. Just because you're listening to music doesn't mean you stop smelling things. Sure, when you're concentrating the other senses take a back seat, but they're still there. I haven't the faintest idea what to do about this.

At the level I and all my musician friends are at there's no control over the venue. We can't control the context in which our music is presented. You take the gig you can get and hope for the best. You certainly can't control the situation in which someone listens to the radio or plays a CD. Mind you that's true even for the most successful musicans.

I guess the right context differs for everyone and it isn't something I should worry about. You can't make an experience perfect for everyone. Pesky people, all being different and all.

And yet I do worry about it. I want people to have that transcendent experience of the perfect song at the perfect moment. I want to bring that kind of joy to the world. Less altruistically, I don't want to put a lot of effort into creating something and have it sabotaged by things I have no control over. I don't want people to be looking at a view that has enough beauty to stun the rational centers of the mind into silence and have them miss it because they're worrying about shitting on their shirt tail.

Ah well, I've yet to write anything with that level of art so I guess it's a moot point.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

I hurt

The LUC and I hiked the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park over the weekend. 45km carrying way too much stuff uphill. Sleeping, eating and excreting in the woods.

Vitamin "I" * and the good feeling you get from getting completely away from your normal routine are the only things keeping me going right now.

Despite playing my backpack guitar only once it was a good musical experience. Back to work, more later.


Thursday, August 11, 2005

Place Holding

To those of you who come here so faithfully (all three of you) I will be writting more soon. The extra job has been eating up all of my time, but it's giving me time to think. A bad thing that, too much time to think, it leads to all sorts weird humours and vexations.

In the meantime, go create. Every action is an act of art if done with intention. The world is a big place, it can always use more beauty.


Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Wheels on the Bike Go Round and Round...

...or at least they do when I'm doing my job. Got a part time evening job wrenchin' and representin' for these fine folks. It's fun and challenging, mostly because the bikes are old and need a lot of care.

It's cutting into my practice time, but oddly I think it's going to help me be a better musician in the end. I'm learning just how much free time I really have and how much I can do with it if I stay focused. That's always been a problem for me: too much slacking.

The plan is to use this part time job to get used to being more productive. So when I leave it I'll be able to spend at least the same amount of time working on music. That's the theory anyway.

In the meantime I get paid to ride around and work on bikes, things I do for fun. Sweet.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Sharp. Really sharp.

I was just skimming a book on Jackson Pollack and it re-awakened my desire to be on the cutting edge. Unfortunately that edge is a long way from where I stand. Not like the fab D-Ray, she's so on it that I doubt she ever needs to shave her legs. Oh, and yes that is an accordion and no, it doesn't suck. You ain't never heard sounds like the ones she gets (wrangles, manipulates, outright-pillages) outta that thing!

Monday, July 04, 2005

Posture and Philosophy

We played the bikefest last weekend. Our first gig in at least a year. The whole band was a bit trepidatious; we haven't practiced much in the last couple of months. Half way through the first song there was a noticeable change in mood. It was like we all realized at the same time that: "Yes, we know how to do this!" Not only was it more fun than monkeys wearing pants, but we played better than we've done in a long, long time.

So much of music is in the brain. Assuming you've spent the time getting your hands to obey orders, a good performance comes down to attitude and mindset.

I've been practicing standing up straight. I've had bad posture since my early teens and I used to suffer terrible back spasms. None of the myriad advice I was given worked, possibly 'cause most of it didn't make sense. I mean, how exactly does pretending there's a balloon attached to your head help? I felt like I should be ducking in doorways and avoiding anyone with a lit cigarette.

The hardest part about standing up straight is remembering to do it. I have to force myself to remember when I'm taking a shower, washing dishes or playing guitar. It feels really strange, strange "down there" when I try and be more, er, erect whilst playing guitar. Something about that pelvic tilt stirs the Rock God in me. I want to stick out my tongue, put my foot up on the monitor and make the girls scream. Fortunately the ironic/sarcastic portions of my brain are overdeveloped. There's little possibility I'm going to make an ass of myself by rocking out too much. In fact other than bobbing my head there's little moving I'm going to do at all. The curse of Classical training.

I'm going to have to learn to move around a bit if we're going to gig more, and that is the plan. Or so I'm told. Play a few gigs and use the money to record in some guys livingroom studio. Sounds good to me, I'm tired of trying to make P happy with the recordings I've been doing.

The other thing I've been thinking about is philosophy. Specifically the nature of reality. Seems like I'm surrounded by new-age hippy types, all of whom are trying to convince themselves that they're more powerful than they actually are.

There's nothing wrong with self improvement and there's certainly nothing wrong with valuing one's self, but there are limits. When you start to believe that the whole universe is subject to your will, that's when you lose me. We certainly create our own circumstances by the actions we choose, but reality as a whole? No way.

To believe that would be to deny those great moments of community that happen when playing with the band. Those moments when the group rises above the sum of it's parts, when things go goosebumpy in the night. Moments like we had halfway through R ubber D uckie last weekend.
If I create the universe out of whole-cloth then everything I around me is, well, me. The others in the band couldn't be separate entities that I've managed to achieve a fleeting and wondrous connection with. At best they'd be parts of myself that I was unaware of. A worthy goal I suppose, meeting the hidden parts of ones psyche, but in this case I refuse to believe that's what's happening.

My universe is inhabited by more than just me. And I don't mean light-beings, spirit-guides or pod-people. (Well, I'm not entirely sure about the latter.) No, my universe is full of humans: strange, wondrous, almost unfathomable in their thoughts and actions. I cherish those instances of connection that go deeper than day to day communication. Those moments, that for me, come from a band in full cry, eight hands speaking with one voice. Keep your crystals, chakras, signs and spaceships-behind-the-comet, humanity is mystery enough for me.

*That's me, hiding on the left. Yup, I wear my guitar really high, another curse from a Classical upbringing. Can yah say "Rawk God"? Hmmph, me neither.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


Been thinking a lot about exclusivity. We're had a minor flood last week. The big river was about 6 or 7 meters above it's normal level. Nothing too severe, there are a few houses with flooded basements but not many.

I live near the river and ride along it every day getting to and from work. There's always people about, especially on nice summer days, but never that many. The flood brought out the gawkers. Can't really blame them 'cause I've been gawking some myself. But they are annoying me. There's a little voice that complains every time I have to go around a group. One that says "You don't belong here." Primitive territorialism rearing it's hoary old head.

I've never felt this way about the music I've made, even when I was in a regularly gigging band. The few times I was confronted by a fan I felt embarrassed. For me, cause I never felt what we did was that great and for them cause why the hell would anyone waste their time listening to this crap for? Hey, I had self-esteem issues, er, well, "have" is the proper tense.

I wonder now if I should be more territorial, if that's a route to valuing what I do? I know I have it in me, over and above my current annoyance at the flood gawkers.

On our trip to Ireland the LUC and I attended a gala dinner/dance for the conference. She loves dancing and I do too, but I've never learned how to dance with someone. In my early 20's I spent one summer going to a nightclub every night, seven days a week. I was too shy to try and pick someone up and too poor to drink much so I spent a lot of time dancing by myself. I loved it. Dervish trance all the way. So the LUC and I get up to dance and she looks around smiling at everyone, everyone but me. Or so it seemed at the time. Lots of guys come up and talk to her, people she's met at the conference. Most of them don't know about me. A percentage of them, and not an insignificant percentage, have a little more on their mind than just saying "Hi". Nothing serious and no cause for alarm on my part, not really. But somehow I got really jealous. Not a proud moment. (I went for a walk, gave 10 euros to a homeless guy sleeping on the steps of a church and felt better about myself)

I lack these feelings in regards to music I've created. I don't share it with the world because I don't value what I do rather than wanting to possess it all for myself. It's in me somewhere, that "Me, Mine!" territorialism. I can see how that feeling, transferred to my creative work, could be motivating. Make me more likely to put something out, get over my apprehension. I kinda like the idea of my inner caveman bullying my inner-child; the whiney little git needs a good spanking. Or maybe some cookies and a nap, hmmm, nope that's my outer-adult that wants Bourbon Cremes and bit of a lie down...Tah.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Flummoxed, Flabbergasted and Flattered

A couple of days ago the fabulous Jett Superior wrote a post triggered by something I wrote. Wow. Hell, calling it a post is to do it a dis-service, it was nothing less than a rhapsody. I take no credit for it, but am overjoyed to have provided a spark for one of my fav bloggers. For those of you who didn't get here through the link in her post: go now, read her work, savour the verbal fireworks, humour, irreverence and honesty that is the Superior way.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Noisy Old World

Well, I'm back. The trip was a long one. Well, it was only three weeks but we did so much that it seemed longer. I'm too tired to write anything coherent, in fact I'm barely able to type. Jet lag is such a first world problem that I can't complain about it. Or at least I can't complain about it without feeling a twinge of guilt. The vast majority of humanity never gets farther than 50 miles from home in their whole life. Here I am, having just flown back from across the Atlantic having had the opportunity to explore another country and I'm going to whinge about being a little tired? OK, I am but...well...there's the twinge.

[The next morning]

Ah, that's better, nothing like a good sleep in your own bed.

So, on to the music. I spent some time considering the musical nature of transportation. Things in motion have a rhythm almost by default. But where is that rhythm in a plane? It's not like a train clacking over the tracks, the deep throb of a ship or even the swaying of a bus. All there is is a hiss. Very un-musical. But after too many hours in the air, bored of my book, uninterested in the movie and with the LUC asleep, I noticed something. That hiss had harmony.

It was composed of three distinct parts. One very high frequency hiss, another a bit lower, not more than an octave or two and a much lower frequency roar. I'm guessing that they were caused by, from top down, the plane's air pressurizing system forcing air into the cabin, the wind of our passage against the fuselage and the engine noise vibrating the whole plane. My ears aren't good enough to tell what the actual harmonic relationship was, but any two notes sounding at the same time is harmony regardless of their relationship.

The jet age, it's all about speed baby. It's certainly not about comfort or beauty. The clip clop of horse hooves brings a smile to most, it's almost restful. The clickity clack of trains is a well know sound of romance as are those made by big ships These are human sounds, despite their mechanical (or equine) sources. Their frequencies are within the range of human heart beats and that makes them comfortable. The noise of a plane is pure industrial. It's frequencies are so fast that it becomes a hiss and a roar. It's not on a human scale. Despite that, it is musical.

The harmony of an airliner is one unending chord. It speaks of speed and efficiency but it also speaks of life. The environment outside a plane at cruising altitude is deadly. If any of the three sounds were to stop you'd be in a world of trouble. Heartbreaking pictures on the nightly news kinda trouble.

In the end all sound is life, that's what the plane was whispering to me in it's un-aesthetic way. Everything we hear is created by life or in some way necessary for life. Coughs, snores and sniffles. Barks, howls and chirps. The neighbour's lawn mower, a passing car, a distant siren. These are all obvious sounds of life. But so too are storm winds tearing up trees and houses. It's the sound of the world's lungs at work. Thunder on a summer's night promises life giving rain. The roar of a forest fire is the sound of old growth giving way to new.

Life, it's everywhere and it won't shut up: music universal and unending.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005


I'm on holidays, in fact I'm in Dublin. Great trip so far.

Musically, I've discovered that airplanes do indeed make music, albeit very monotonously and that an Irish crowd has a different sound than a Canadian one. Still haven't heard any live indigenous music, but then it all seems a little touristy when we find it.

Tah for now.

Saturday, May 07, 2005


Last night I crashed my road bike. I made it through the entire winter commuting on my mountain bike only to crash on the driest, sunniest spring day we've had this year.

No serious damage although I am hobbling around with a huge bruise on my thigh. I did however hit my head. The LUC was quite concerned in that exasperated way women get when their menfolk do something asinine. You know, pronouncing your name with three distinct syllables even though it only has two.

To all 3 or so people a day who end up here: If you ride a bicycle, WEAR A HELMET.

I hit my head hard enough to see stars, if I hadn't been wearing a helmet I'd have been seriously injured. This is only the second time in around 20 years of bike commuting that I've hit my head hard. The first time I wasn't wearing a helmet and I lost consciousness for a minute or two. No fun, it ain't like the movies it takes a long time to recover. Since then I've probably spent $400 or so on helmets. The sound my head made when it hit made me realize that every penny spent was well worth it. I'm not even resenting the need to replace the helmet I only bought last fall.

No helmet=no brain it's a literal equation.

I really have been no-brained in general this last little while. I have been managing to practice a fair bit but that's about it. Yesterday, for the first time in months, I listened to the tune I've been working on. Man it sounded good. It might be the blow to the head or the pain-killers but I really thought I was on to something. So maybe the doldrums are over? Or maybe I'm about to expire from a concussion, either way things are changing.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Hey you.

To the person who found this site by Googling "Is it too late to start classical guitar at 17?":

No it's not!

Yes it's easier to learn things when you're so young that everything you do is a learning experience, but that's not the whole story. Passion, enthusiasm and focus are easier at an older age. At 17 I suspect that passion, obsession even, is something you understand completely. Where a child might work at something because it captures their quicksilver interest for while or because Mom told them to, teenagers will focus to point of exclusion of everything else. And that's what it takes to become an expert.

Another thing to consider: while tiny guitars exist for very young students most people can't really learn to play until they've settled into the body they're going to have the rest of their life. At 17 you could still have a growing to do but you're closer to your final size than a 10 year old is.

If you read the bios of the Yngvie Malmsteens, Eddie Van Halens and Steve Vais of this world, (you know: guitar heroes) you'll find that most of them spent the better part of their teen years sitting in a bedroom practicing. There's no reason that this wouldn't work for classical too.

I think it's a shame that the Classical world focuses on prodigies so much. It creates an unrealistic impression of who can and can't play classical music. Just because you weren't playing Bach Suites at 3 months old doesn't mean you don't have something to offer. If more people who grew up outside of the Classical music world would take up playing it, then maybe we'd have more interesting interpretations of the repertoire. I'd love to hear someone who hung with Dad on the construction site as a wee tyke play Stravinski, or someone who's childhood passion was ice skating play Debussy.

Yet another thing to consider: Classical musicians can have careers that last until they die. The ageism that is so prevalent in pop and rock music simply doesn't exist. So why is there this emphasis on young prodigies? Craziness I say.

There we go, my 2¢ worth. [steps off soap box]

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Have you ever wondered "what if?" . What if I hadn't moved to another city? What if I hadn't sent that email? What if I said "No" rather than "Yes"? Almost everyone indulges in this game, we're speculative beasts by nature.

One of the things I like about music is that the "what if" game is played out on such a small scale. This is especially true in improvised music, but there are still plenty of places in composed stuff where you have to make choices. I love the way you get to try again in music. All it takes is "Hey, guys. My solo sucked, could we do that again?" and you get a do-over. Well, in rehersal anyway, gigs are another matter.

I wish life had that facility, the equivalent of band rehersal. A way of experimenting without reprecussions. Not that I'm dissatisfied with my life, I've got it pretty good. But I'm intensly curious and the "what-if's" drive me crazy.

Maybe my desire to make music stems from this? Maybe I need a microcosim where I get to safely explore possibilites? Maybe I'm a real-world coward. Hmmph, or maybe I'm just not getting enough sleep.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Still down*... so many ways, but at least the home computer is working again. (He says, blogging at work)

So how do you stay motivated?** I haven't cared enough to work on anything in the last little while. Blogs, guitar, personal hygiene, it all seems so pointless. Never mind all the good reasons I've given for doing music, I'm in a slump and can't find my motivation.

*Another mild bout of depression, nothing new, nothing interesting, nothing even to be concerned about, just have to ride it out. Thank God for bad tv and good books: self medication at it's finest.

**This isn't intended to be a rhetorical question even though my recent absence from these here internets does kinda make it rhetorical. Maybe some mis-spelling living-fossil fish lovin' researcher will have the answer. ya?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Grrrrr Pt.

Turns out that the great computer crash isn't entirely my fault. Some kind of killer worm was eating its binary guts out. We won't talk about where the worm came from, a gentleman doesn't kiss and blog.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


Home computer is in the shop, and it was my fault it ended up there. Not comfortable blogging at work. May I say grrrrrrr?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Excuses, Excuses

The recent technical difficulties seem to be under control. Computers bah!

As far as I know, no one heard the broadcast. Not even my mother. Hell, despite setting my alarm I didn't hear it. I assumed that 3am Vancouver broadcast time would be 4am my time, surprise! Caught the last five minutes. Ah well, not in it for the fame.

I did learn a lot from M when he helped with our recording. Some very basic things that I was doing wrong. (note to self, gear from Radio Shack is never a good idea) I'd say we're 2/3 of the way through getting a decent 3 song demo. Demo for what exactly still remains a mystery. But hey, life is mysterious isn't it?

As soon as I get some time I'll write the next installment of "What the Hell Was I Thinking..." in which I damage my hearing and quite possibility my ability to father children.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Fame at last! Well, not really.

In a bid to make this blog non-anonymous:

The band is getting played on CBC Radio 2 at...wait for it...wait for it....I said WAIT damn it...
3 AM on Saturday night. I figure there'll be all of 4 people listening which is about how many hits I get in a week. The tune they're playing is F ranky and J ohnny.

On the CBC page the link to listen in on the right bottom. If you're up at that hour, tell me what yah think. Kay?

Monday, January 24, 2005

Musical Milestones; or...

...What the Hell Was I Thinking; Part 2/B The "Fame" Years: Out With a Fizzle.

You can either be a good musician or a good student, that's the essential paradox of music school. It's all about time. Unless you're a prodigy or a genius you can spend as much time as you have becoming a musician. Everyone at the college who was a good musician was already one when they started. Sure they got better, but it was incremental.

I wasn't a musician when I arrived. I spent most of my time learning my instrument. The rest of my school work suffered. Of course it didn't help that I got mono from my girlfriend in the first semester. It wasn't the flat-on-your-back-for-months type of mono, but it left me without much energy. Add to that the depression I was battling and, well, I really wasn't an exceptional student.

I failed bunch of courses in that first semester. The second went better, indeed, I kicked ass in the few courses I had. My load was much lightened because I couldn't take the continuations of the ones I'd failed. Third semester I tried to take the regular load plus the stuff I'd failed. Bad idea. It was really down hill from there.

I hung on for a year and a half before surrendering to the inevitable. In that time I got great marks in guitar. I think those marks were influenced by the need to make the fledgling program successful. Be that as it may, I worked really hard and possibly deserved them for that reason. Despite my guitar marks the performance aspect of it was no better than it had been in highschool band.

In fact, recitals were much, much worse than highschool concerts. I was no longer one of a crowd. If I simply didn't play my flute no one, other than the conductor and possibly the people sitting next me, would know. This by the way was the technique I used in choir at college.

The first choir class I hung out with Bobby. He was another classical guitar student and unfortunately a tenor. I'm a bass.* A true bass as it turns out. We did a few exercises and scales at the start of the class. Karl (yup, him again) came over and listened to us. He put me over in the basses.

After that we developed a pattern, a system really, that made choir go smoothly. I would open my mouth to sing and he'd cut us off. "Just the basses." he'd say, looking at me. I'd look back, shrug or smile and stop singing. The class would continue. It was efficient, and eventually I made it more efficient by not singing at all. Of course you can't take choir for years without learning a little something, eventually I would be able to sing little bits here and there.

Back to recitals. You had to do one recital a semester. They were attended by your classmates and maybe a couple of bored students from other faculties. If I was nervous in a band of 30 odd, imagine how bad it was sitting on stage, in a spotlight, all by myself. Hell. I was seeing psychiatrist by this time. At the suggestion of my guitar instructor I asked him for some beta-blockers. They're a drug that inhibits the production of adrenaline. They work. You still get nervous and can make mistakes because of it but your hands don't shake, your heart doesn't race and you don't get the flop sweats.

The only time I remember taking them was for a master class I attended. Master classes are where you do a lesson in front of an audience. Yah, it's fun. Nothing like playing in front of an audience made up of other guitar students then being criticized for it by a professional who you've paid a lot of money. Bah. I think I didn't use them again because on leaving I found I could barely walk up the stairs. No adrenaline to help with the extra effort. Unpleasantly like having a heart attack.

To be fair it wasn't the total misery-fest this account portrays, there were great times too. It's just that they don't stick in my memory the way the bad stuff did. The musical one that stands out came in my last semester. I had just done my last recital ever. I knew it, my money was running out and my girlfriend (not the mono-giver) was moving to E dmonton and I was planning to go with her. I decided to pull out all the stops, really ham it up. The piece I played was a Romantic* one by a Spanish composer. It was very melodramatic and I decided to milk it. I played it very broad and what I though of as over the top. The adjudicator tracked me down at my private guitar lesson to tell my instructor how well I'd done. She said that it was the first time she saw that I might have what it takes to be a musician. So her phrasing could have been better, but by that time I was used to the faint praise that everyone on the faculty there damned me with.

So what the hell was I thinking? I can't remember. As I sit here I can't think why I continued on. I never gave up. I never dropped a course before the deadline, I always thought I could pull it off. There must be something perverse in my nature to go through with it all and not bail. I really did feel pretty hopeless much of time. But I never gave up. It's a conundrum.

Part of the answer was my friends. None of them were in the music program with me, but most were at the college. I think their acceptance sustained me. I certainly didn't know it at the time, but looking back I find I owe them a lot.

Next up, Part 4: The Electric Years

*Bass is the lowest male singing range. Typically the bass section is the weakest in the choir because voice students tend to be tenors. We won't talk about sopranos, the whole soprano section were voice majors. Mind you, it was the sopranos who gave Karl his stroke. Seriously. We were rehearsing and Karl cut us off. When he stood to go to the piano he fell over. 35 or so people stood there and gaped. He rolled over, sat up. Hung his head for a moment or two and then went to the piano. Hung over it for a while, then banged a key "Sopranos, there's your note, from the top." He finished the class, went to the hospital where they found he'd had a mild stroke. The guy really was wound too tight for his own good.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Musical Milestone; or...

...What the Hell Was I Thinking? Part 2/A. The Fame Years: An Inauspicious Beginning.

The summer I graduated from highschool my mother took me and my brother to visit relatives in Africa. It was an incredible trip, full of new experiences and sights. Unfortunately it was also full of people asking me what I was going to do with my life now that I'd graduated.

My mother was keen that I go to University, my brother didn't look to be headed that way and as Mom had two degrees she thought it was important. I did too, sort of. Truth is, I was burned out. I barely made it through my last year of highschool. I wasn't a very happy student. Indeed, I wasn't a very happy person all round.

To say I was depressed, in a clinical sense, would be true. The doctors thought so anyway. I felt I needed a break, some time to catch my breath before moving on. That didn't appear to be an option. I was under pressure to decide what I was going to do. Add to this a parade of people asking me this in front of my mother, I had to say something.

I remember saying "The only thing I enjoyed in highschool was music. I think I'll look into that when we get back." Why I said this boggles my mind. As addressed in the previous post, music wasn't exactly a pleasant experience for me. For what ever reason, that became my rote response. I didn't really mean it, I expected that by the time I got back to Canada it would be too late to register.

The day we arrived home coincided with the delivery of the weekly free newspaper. I hadn't even unpacked when my mom handed me the paper. There, buried in a middle section was an ad from the local community college. They were looking for students for the Bachelor of Music transfer program in guitar performance. Yikes! It was a two year program with a transfer to a major university for the second two years. I didn't panic, I still thought it would be too late.

I called and they were still accepting students. Damn! But what's that? You need me to do an audition and theory exam? Hooyah, year off here I come! My audition was awful. Classic guitar is played with the instrument propped on the left knee. I played in typical rock fashion with it on the right. The one classical tune I knew was very basic and I didn't play it well. Karl (the mad Pole) said "Well, I can see you don't play Classical." This implied something I didn't realize until years later. He thought that although I didn't play Classical guitar, I could in fact play guitar. He was wrong.

The theory exam didn't go any better. I'd been taught minimal theory in highschool music class. The school's emphasis had been on winning competitions and the players don't need theory for that. The exam was three pages, I completed one of them. The rest of the questions stumped me, what on earth is a "third"?* To be fair, the questions I did answer I got right.

Karl checked my exam and grunted "Well, you know the real basics." and then left the room. Just like that, no explanation, just walked out. I thought, year off here I come! When he came back he had a text book. He opened it, circled three chapters and as he handed it to me said "Learn those chapters over the weekend and I'll see you in harmony class on Tuesday." Fuck.

I was literally stunned. I was so sure I'd fail that I had no response to this. I walked out to the front office. The secretary gave me my schedule. I managed a weak protest, "Choir? But I don't sing." "That's ok" she said, "It's marked on attendance. You don't play an orchestra instrument and you have to have an ensemble credit. Choir it is." Oh. Of course I was too confused to notice that choir was on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 8:20 am. A good mark turned out to be trickery than anticipated.

At the time I just accepted my fate and did my best. I never really questioned what had happened. In retrospect it was obvious. That year was the first time the offered a Classical guitar program. They were desperate for students. It didn't hurt that Karl was mad. Really.

The harmony class he taught that first semester was Baroque counterpoint.** In the first week he didn't teach so much as reminisce about his time in Russia. Our first assignment was to write four melodies in the Baroque style. When he handed them back he was looking a little odd. His nose was red and he said, "I couldn't pass any of them. I feel I'm a failure as a teacher..." and started to cry. How does one respond to that? I remember wondering if all upper education was going to be like this. Fortunately it wasn't.

Thus began the Fame years. So called because on good days it felt something like an episode of the 80's tv show about a highschool for gifted artistic kids. There were people practicing in the halls and jamming the class rooms. There were regular recitals and of course just about everyone had a band on the side that we all had to go see gig.

To make it even more interesting at the same time I had met some people who changed my life. A group of friends, all a little older than me, who accepted who I was and made me welcome. Quite a change from highschool. I can't call any of us punk exactly but we went to one punk club a great deal and because of that and them my musical horizons broadened. By day I was studying opera and all the great classical composers, by night I was going to gigs. Gigs where three chords might just be one too many and dancing involved physical contact but had nothing to do with sex. I loved it all. (Indeed right now I'm listening to Richard Hell and the Voidoids and next week the LUC and I are going to a Puccini opera)

So, what the hell was I thinking? Initially I was thinking that I didn't want a conflict with my mother. After that I mostly just went along with what was happening. Don't get me wrong I don't regret any of it, despite how it all turned out...

*a third is the basic construction block of western harmony. It's the distance between one note and another of 3 or 4 semitones, 3 being called a minor third and 4 a major third. Or, on sheet music, any note and the one above or below it one line and one space away. This notation is why it's called a third. Counting the first note as one, the next line or space would be two and the next after three. It took me a while to wrap my head around this, maybe as much as a year. Shows what state of mind I was in at the time.

**The Baroque is a time period in history. The time of J. S. Bach and Handel, from around 1600 to 1750. Counterpoint is a style of composition where two or more melodies are being played at once.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Rantin' and Recordin'

Coming soon: What the Hell Was I Thinking Part Two: The "Fame" Years

But in the meantime some current events....

We haven't been practicing much lately. Christmas obligations took their toll and E has decided to get a real education. Last semester she was taking accounting, but this January she switched to Arts (surprise!) and her new schedule conflicts with our practice nights.

We had a stand-in drummer for one night. S is a great drummer, one of the best in the city. He was surprisingly tentative and differential. He said that he was holding back because it felt like we could jump back to the top of the tune at any time . We do that a lot, abruptly switching up the feel. Changes of sections and style are suppose to be a bit of a surprise and I guess they work. Anyway, it was fun to play with him, but not as much fun as I thought it would be.

Last night E managed to come to practice. God, it felt good. All was right with the world.

Today I got an email from P. He's been in touch with a sound engineer friend of ours. M is a great guy and really good at what he does. I have no problem with bringing him in to help us record. I realize that I'm a novice and even though I enjoy the process of recording and mixing our stuff M kicks my ass at it. Years of experience will do that.

Begin rant
No, what has me pissed off is that P said in his email to M that "the guitars sound too dry, too direct." WTF. He never told me this. I've asked again and again for my band mates to tell me what they think of the recording. What do they say? Nothing. Now I find out that P has problem with the guitar sound. Off the top of my head I can think of three ways to make the guitars sound less direct. I have no idea if they'd work, but I love experimenting and figuring things out. I taught myself how to solder and etch circuit boards for fuck's sake...grrrrrr!
End rant

I'd rather figure things out on my own, but I'm going to learn a lot from M. That is, if I can restrain myself from killing my passive/aggressive band mates.

Oh, and the reason we need to get a better recording is that we have a chance to get something on CBC radio. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, nationwide) S has some kind of script in with CBC. I'm kind of hazy on the details but I think it involves interviewing us and some other local bands and playing a song or two from each. I'm not sure what the angle is, I suspect it's finding out why aging idiots like us, with no hope of fame or fortune, continue to play music.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Musical Milestone; or...

...What the Hell Was I Thinking? Part 1: The War Years

Music wasn't part of my childhood. The only thing I remember is my father playing the occasional cowboy tune or barbershop quartet. We watched a lot of tv. I had a transistor radio that I'd listen to but it was always tuned to a country station. I think it was out of fear of my dad that I did so, I didn't enjoy the music and didn't listen much.

There was another problem with music in our house. My father was an alcoholic and my survival strategy was to remain as inconspicuous as possible. Playing loud music was definitely contraindicated. Mom did buy my a Jimi Hendrix double greatest hits album for Christmas one year but I suspect that was after my dad died.

So why did I join my elementary school band? I don't know. I have a vague memory of going into the band room in the basement and everyone was already there. I can't for the life of me figure out how I ended up there. That tardiness, a sign of a true musician if there ever was one, is probably responsible for my choice of instrument: the flute. I'm pretty sure that was the only thing left by the time I got there.

I never practiced. I only remember doing so once. Sweaty, heart racing waiting for it..."Shut the fuck up!"...The expected response for dear old dad, obeyed instantly.

Another great mystery is why I kept it up? I played flute in my school band until the end of grade 10. I still never practiced, I was awful. I had stage fright like nobody's business and at every exam choked to the point of sputtering silence. I'd be interested to see what marks I got, they can't have been very good and yet I was allowed to continue.

As you might imagine I was teased pretty mercilessly about the flute. I was a skinny white kid with glasses and braces, bully bait in other words. The "fag" taunts were endless and eventually wore me down. I used to ponder how this could be. There were two other male flute players in my highschool. One was my best friend, Andrew, who played in the same band as me and the other was a nouveau-hippy child. He used to wear a floppy leather hat and sit in the middle of the sports field playing his flute for a small crowd of tight-jeaned, tie-dyed, long-haired hippy girls. Man I was jealous.

I never saw anyone hassle hippy guy, but teenagers being what they are (barbarians) I suppose they must have. On the other hand A was never bothered at all. He was Chinese and cultivated a reputation for martial arts. I have no idea if it was true. I always suspected that it wasn't, he wasn't very good in gym and never had to bail on anything to go to a lesson. On the other hand I once saw him throw a pencil 6 meters and have it stick point first, dead center of some poor kid's sweater. He also knew for sure where the big nerve in your upper arm was, a favorite trick was to pinch it and make you scream. So I don't know.

Years after we'd lost touch I ran into him late one night. He was depressed and over a plate of cold fries in a all-night diner he confessed that he was gay and didn't know how to tell his parents. I really should have seen that one coming, god is after all an iron.*

After I gave up on the flute I did take a basic guitar course in grade 11, I think. I wasn't very good at it, but I'd decided that if I was going to play anything it was going to be something more modern. Of course this was 1983 and guitar was anything but modern, but that's how I thought of it. I retrospect I wish I'd picked bass or drums there's more call for those instruments. Seems like 1 in 3 people play guitar and 1 in 4 people play guitar in a band, but that might just be the kind of community I'm part of.

That decision to take up the guitar was the first conscious one I'd made about my musical life. What was I thinking? The only thing I remember was that I didn't want to be mocked for my instrument. (insert penis joke here) I had no aspirations to play in a band. My self esteem was so low that getting girls out of it was laughable, or at least would have been if I'd even thought of it. My experience with learning and performing music was uniformly one of teeth gritting, flop sweating anxiety. What the hell was I thinking indeed?

I can only speculate that while I was cringing consciously some part of me was hearing what I was a part of and glorying in it. There's nothing quite like playing in a big band. To be immersed in the music, literally. To be a part of the creation of something bigger than oneself that, even in a highschool band, has moments of true beauty. Somehow it got into me without my being aware of it, an infection of the soul that has no cure. It snuck in while I was dodging spit emptied from trumpets and choking on my fear of being noticed and has never left.

*If a person who commits felonies is a felon, then surely god is an iron.