Germination of Song Over Time

EdVerner-95

Sometimes a song just won’t go away. It lurks there in my head for long spells of dormancy and may even fool me into thinking it is gone. Only to suddenly re-emerge unbidden and sometimes even unwelcome. And then to make matters worse, I may become infected with hearing sounds and notes in it that I’ve not truly understood completely yet. I can hear them but when I play it on the guitar or the piano and try to find them, there may be a disconnect still between what I know in my head and what I can find on the keys so far.

This chasm between what I hear in my head, and what I can communicate with another is almost laughable at times. For example, I might sit down and play the guitar and hum or sing a song to someone who hears only the 6 strings and my feeble voice, and they might be able to enjoy it to some modest degree. Yet as they look at the excitement on my face, as I hear the rest of the score in my head and try to describe what will happen with the song as it gets “the rest” of it added, there may be a polite smile (or not), but there is an understanding between us both that there is something missing here.

I feel that many times when a song recedes and is just an infection in my head that I don’t attempt to create or transmit, that it is actually a good thing. Somehow it wasn’t time for me to attempt it, or maybe it just wasn’t time for someone else to hear it yet.

I feel sure that writers, songwriters, poets, and composers must all share this feeling to some degree or other and with infinite variations. And surely the visual arts would have similar “visions” ahead of their time as well. It is one of those aspects of the frustration of a creative art that gets ahead either of the talent of the artist as he grows, or the notice of the audience as it may be unprepared in some way that prevents the successful transmission of the ideas.
Now what to do with this idea? Just keep it in mind when an artist says something like “I’ve had this idea for a LONG time and …” There is something important there. Perhaps you will get it, perhaps they succeeded in communicating it, but surely it is important for it waited so long and would not die.

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Mindless Repetition in Music – Really?

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I heard once at a sales seminar how “seven times repetition equals 33% retention”. I remember it A) because I pay attention the first time and listen when I am spending money to attend a seminar, and B) because the man said it seven times during his presentation with laughs all around as the repetition became funny rather than the insult it should be.

Now turn on most modern radio stations, especially country or pop, and voila you will hear repetition. It is not done artistically, nor for a particular effect, or affect. It is done because it has become the formula for “success”. Don’t you enjoy repetition? Don’t you enjoy repetition? Say it again, Don’t you enjoy repetition?

Now Blues may get a pass, I say blues may get a pass……… that’s right blues may get a pass, cause … BLUES ……. has got a pass —- Key Change on rare occasions, take it up one, and bring it… Blues may get a pass.

So how does this all matter in singer songwriting. For me, I challenge myself to let a lyric come to me based on the musical melody as if it sprang from my emotional center while listening to it in the shower… or humming the tune while enjoying a left rotation spin in my biplane. I try not to fall automatically into verse chorus, and/or repeated line chorus unless there is a damned good reason for it. Like good writing, and the editing thereof, less is more, and critically deciding which items needs to go for the less to end on the recipe for the best stew.

Thus end-eth the lesson.

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Guitars, Pianos, People, and School Memories

TBT – Freshman year in college. My dorm room was a single which had previously been a closet. It had room enough for my guitar, an LP turntable and stereo set, and a tiny desk. At the time, I felt like it was heaven, but I may have underestimated its value.

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Within a few days I had discovered the music building and the dungeon below of old Steinway grand piano practice rooms. And I had figured out a way to enter an old lessor used auditorium on the “east” campus which still had a lovely concert D Steinway and the acoustics of a wooden stage and domed central hall area. Baldwin dome No wonder they had mostly discontinued it’s use in favor of a concrete blob elsewhere, because that old auditorium was truly divine acoustically and full of warmth and character. I’m told that later it was restored and now is again lovingly in use for music and drama performances.

My memories of it were mostly after dark, when I would steal back into it and find my way to the 9 foot concert D Steinway. I would practice there, and every once in a while I would encounter another music student who might wander in upon hearing my playing as he or she was walking back after their practice time in the music building, etc. One time, a lone trombone player wandered in – pulled out his instrument – and he proceeded to improvise a solo trombone part atop my playing a gentle ballad chord progression on the piano. I was truly shocked to discover how sonorous and beautiful the trombone could be as he teased it from imitation of a French horn all the way to nearly a trumpet’s range.

I’m sure I spent some time studying in my dorm room, but looking back on it, I remember the auditorium and the piano practice rooms more than most anything from my freshman year, except for some people now gone. In my memories, pianos, guitars, and people occupy nearly identical spaces of importance. And one might argue how pianos and guitars are more faithful over time – this of course includes myself in the comparison.

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Concerts and Mass Hysteria versus Lounge Gig

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In many ways, a large music concert of today is a species of mass hysteria, and the performers must at times be like conductors.

I’ve attended more than my share of musical concerts in their several varying types: intimate coffee house shows, stadium tin can blasts, mid-sized halls, garage rehearsals, opera houses, and festival-tent outdoor shows. And I’ve even been a performer in one or two of those types of venues as well, with varying degrees of reluctance. But as I reflect on those few shows that I genuinely enjoyed, and even in recalling several that made me wish to be elsewhere and yet were still being “enjoyed” by the crowd at large around me, the idea of a mass hysteria keeps returning to me.

Something about how many concert goers say something like, “Man, it was, like, you know, yeah, no, …. It was just… soooooooooo much energy. Man that band was just, like, really rockin’ it and …” – Often they speak of how the lead performer was “giving it their all” and many performers speak of being exhausted after they have given their energy to the crowd. And they are not wrong, it is exactly their energy which they are transmitting into the crowd. Often skillfully, a lead vocalist “star” can conduct a crowd into something that no one of them listening to the same song a thousand times would ever feel. The addiction to live performances, even if the music is wretched, is an enjoyment of the hysteria that often will prevail in that dynamic.

Compare contrast that to a lounge concert. There may be hundreds of people in the room seated and enjoying the “show”, but then again they are at tables of 2 or 4 and microcosms of conversation are not “massed” together. And if the music sucks, no amount of pogo-sticking or hair-tossing by the lead vocalist will generate a mass hysterical reaction that provides the energy to overcome the lack of music. But in a lounge setting if the music is outstanding, table conversation dims and sometimes even ceases and all eyes and ears may tune in – if dancing ensues a different form of grouplets of couple hysteria may exist.

There is beauty and reward in each of the types, I suppose (though I retain the right to personally feel that stadium shows lack such for me). Yes, I want a performer to “give” some of his energy to a performance; to invest sincerely in the message of his song. But for this old cowboy, I wish that songwriters would save some energy for the song and spend a little less on chumming up hysteria about things other than the music.

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Norman Rockwell Small Town Irony

It sometimes seems like everybody wants to live in a Norman Rockwell type of small town, and yet too often those same people also want to have the convenience of downtown Manhattan. They reminisce about Mayberry and the little family businesses run by loving and caring people who know each other. But then they complain about a penny difference in price at a locally owned hardware store when compared to an online juggernaut competitor.

5765.Dixie Restaurant, Reynolds St. (no date)

Part of the experience of living in a Norman Rockwell type of small town, and doing business in one is the often seemingly inconvenient moments when customer service must take a moment longer because it is being lovingly bestowed upon someone else who was ahead of you in line. Sometimes the wait in customer service is caused by how the purveyor knows what they are talking about and is giving genuinely excellent instruction to a customer about how to maximize their value in their purchase. Other times it might just be a cantankerous old fart who is gonna finish his cup of coffee, and “you whippersnappers” need to “hold on a second”.

And while you are in a Rockwellesque moment of slowing down just a bit, or paying a fair price for superlative care and concern for the service a local may give you, you might instead listen to them and learn something. The pace being a tad slower is not only a fact, but it is actually a blessing that creates the pace and feel that are, deep down, the heart of why you longed for the Rockwell moment anyway.

Sad but true, the hurry up and wait mentality of many metropolitan areas is not something one should long for when in small-town rural America. The world has no shortage of places that are fast-paced and convenient. But when in the region of reasonably paced life of rural America, don’t long for the convenience of Manhattan, just move there, and leave Mayberry alone.  Randy Newman / James Taylor song “Our Town” covers it well.

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April Fools – Pranks Gone Wrong

LLL Header w address revised copySome pranks I am seeing these days on social media are very wrong. Now April Fools can be fun. Yet with the advent of every cell phone having a pretty good video camera and the ever-present hunger of social media for content that shows people being silly or embarrassed, there has been a rather sizeable increase in the number of “pranks” that people are playing on each other. And the creativity and artistry of many of them are rising – but at the same time a great many of them are downright cruel, traumatizing at the least, or even flirting with people being physically injured.

Sure, I remember having a prank or two foisted upon me when I was a kid at summer camp. Or in college there were certain “jokes” that were played on people – where maybe someone opened a door and a 50 gallon drum of water flooded their room, or a bucket of water doused them from above. And yeah, there was a guy with an MGB convertible that wound up being carried partway up a staircase to the landing halfway between the parking lot and the front door. But generally property wasn’t destroyed, and people didn’t have their entire life altered.

When I see some of the video pranks shown now such as having a blindfolded man drop a cinder-block unto a shovel wherein the handle racks his nads while his buddies laugh, I’m thinking to myself, ‘self, those buddies would be leaving behind mourners’, and revenge would be thorough indeed. Or when it involves pretending to be a kidnapper or gun-toting murderer and a scared witless victim runs into the next room to retrieve a weapon or delivers a well-thrown shuto uchi a shutoto the throat of a prankster’s larynx in a moment of reflex survival, it just seems to me like the danger of reaction is greater than any pleasure or art of the prank.

People, prank prudently and think before you set yourself up to be the target of well-planned vengeance or accidental survival reflex that could hurt somebody you love.

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What does being a baby boomer mean to me? Part II of II

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I’ve met a great many baby boomers who have learned how to sacrifice and manage their time and efforts with discipline. Yet sadly, there are many of them who also have buried treasure inside their youthful passions so long denied; those many things they dimly recall as being part of the “why” of their living life.

This is not to say one should cast off all balance scaleor semblance of work and duty. And of course, I agree with Mike Rowe in how one cannot just “pursue your passion” with blind faith that all things in life will magically come together to give you success in life that way. Surely the metaphorical highways are littered with many abandoned dreams that people sought after with great passion, and they crashed and burned with them. Yet to me, more sad is how many baby boomers just won’t even take a small step to begin to investigate their artistry or passion.

Looking over the past year, I stumble back upon my budgets and plans to spend time inside my passions. One of them has been my steady and increasing focus into my music of past and writing new music as well. My church, my music, my aerobatic flying, my sailing, and others all were given slivers of my time and budget as an investment by me to remember why the living can be such a blessing. And now, as I look back unto the past 12 months and recall 24 original song releases, 4 cover song recordings, working to learn the beginnings of playing the Hammer Dulcimer, IMG_20150114_113934_190and putting forth a slice of my time to promote a web page and better tell a story, my story, I am so glad that I didn’t wait for a more “perfect” time to begin.

Could I have done more? Sure. Can I do better? Sure. Do I wish I had waited another year or 3 before making the time to get off my butt and take those next, first steps? No way. If you had told me in the summer of 2009 that I would be now still taking joy-filled steps towards my 125th songwriting copyright, or working on a 169th recording, I would have likely said “yeah right.”

Sure, don’t kill yourself on the alter of passion out of proportion, but don’t rob your life with no portion towards your passion.  Video Snippet on this topic.

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Song Within A Song : Notebook

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It is especially nice when someone from far away pops me an encouraging email regarding a song of mine. It happened recently regarding this song, “The Road We Didn’t Go”. It was actually written during a time when I was waiting to enter the recording studio to record a DIFFERENT song of mine. Funny how that works.

I was killing an hour or so while waiting for my producer to pick me up from the hotel. And the day’s plan was for us to work on an entirely different song. But as I pleasantly and aimlessly roamed around in solitude in a “new” town, watching the shops open and begin their day of retail, etc., the lyric and melody for this song came to me. And I plopped down with my notepad and pen (nearly always with me for just such occasions) and I worked out this song’s basic structure.

Many times, such songs never make it to production, but this one did and I’m glad. And so is someone about 2,100 nautical miles away

Fl to Ca

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New Song Etiquette

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A pet peeve of mine is when people are sometimes totally disrespectful in how they listen to a song new to them, even when they have specifically asked to hear one.

There are several variations on a theme of how it can happen and how the scenario starts, but allow me to describe some “typical” situations:

Scenario #1 – Somebody hanging around the studio says something like, “Hey dude, have you heard anything cool recently?” Or, “Hey man are there any songs you really like that are, like, you know, indy… you know something different maaaan?” And so then I will take a second to find something that fits the bill in my music library and say, “yea, here listen, check this cool song out.” And the music begins to play — and they listen for anywhere from 5-12 seconds as the song begins to unravel itself and get going. Then right as the intro is wrapping up and the song is going to deliver its first line or melody, the person blurts out something relevant like, “dude, that reminds me, did you see that cool commercial with the fat guy and that pregnant cat?”

Scenario #2 – Somebody hears that I play piano and write songs and while at my home they ask with genuine sincerity, “He man, why don’t you play me one of your songs, man?” I try to let them off the hook with, “tell ya what, here’s a disc with some of my better works so you can listen later.” And they insist now with, “No man, I want to hear you play something live guy.” So I go sit on the bench, crack my knuckles, and start into a song – to which after listening for 5-12 seconds they blurt out something about how the song sounds great and then they ask me some sort of question as I’m playing the melody and singing a line. Something like, “That is cool, man, it kind of reminds me of… oh what is that song about the bull horn humping the unicorn? — You know!” It’s as if, to them, that my providing a radio quality performance of an original song is only taking maybe 10% of my mind and surely I can answer a question on a non-sequitur topic while I’m doing it.

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Scenario #3 – A fellow musician who is going to play on a song of mine asks me to play it for him one time, “so that I can hear it man.” — To prevent their pissing on my peeve I say, “Ok, but do me a favor and listen to it all the way through one time before you doodle around with it, ok?” They agree. I relax into performing the song as if I am at a coffee house style soiree’ setting. Less than 30 seconds into the song, and long before the 8 key-change bridge that will totally surprise them and make it impossible for them to just “wing it”, they say something like “Oh, that is cool” and then they start jumping in – though not really jumping in, but rather smearing over (since they have no idea where the song is gonna go – even though they may have already complimented my songs on being “unpredictable” at times).

FOLKS: If you have requested to hear a new recording, or a live performance, please be prepared to listen with quiet attention for at least 30 seconds before launching into turning the spotlight back unto yourselves. Just sayin’ – really. OK OK, rant accomplished.

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The Week After Valentines Day

I recall quite well being younger and times when it almost felt good to be single and unattached during Valentines Day.

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And then I recall also how it could be a very lonely holiday indeed; full of reminders of past loves gone wrong, or simply just gone.  I also look back and reminisce about the joyous activities in my life and how glad I am to have someone with whom I have and can share those times. Of course there are things that are a pleasure to share, or a talisman of remembrance of trips together or romantic moments of the past. But so too it is hard sometimes to conjure up the urge to provide a romantic “thing” on cue. 

 

When asked about Mother’s Day, my father used to say how he tried to make every day feel like Mother’s Day. In many ways I think about trying to make the feeling of Valentines Day extend out to be a lifelong habit. Of course it doesn’t always work out, but so too how often does the idea of a particular day being forced on you in a holiday like this coincide with your feeling perfectly romantic about a loved one?

I think the main point for me now is how Valentines Day feels different to me when compared to how it felt when I was younger, or compared to how it felt when I was single, etc. And so be prepared for how the way it feels for you will change too over time. Just what does it mean for you these days? … Think about it.

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