Storyteller Compared Against Writer

I’ve noticed how often it is that excellent authors may be pretty rotten live storytellers. To be a storyteller who is an orator, one must have the floor and also possess the talent of keeping it. More than just having a good story, they must become masters of gaining control of a room, avoiding hecklers, beating back those who rudely hog the oxygen of conversation in a relentless yearning for the spotlight. Like a great comedian, they must have a bit of a bully in them to claim control of their audience. Whereas an excellent writer may be the complete opposite. They may indeed be shy, reclusive, and hold bullies (even the slightest of them) as beneath their time.

After reading an excellent book of the modern era (not completely impossible) I’ve learned to take great care in stumbling upon video clips of the author being interviewed. Reading their book I have likely created a voice and cadence for them which in reality is utterly different from their true persona. Watching a great writer mutter and stumble through an impromptu question and answer session can destroy their written word for me if I’m not careful.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy comedians and storytellers, but I’m more and more convinced that the kinship between the writer and a storyteller may be very much like the relationship between a songwriter and a vocalist performer. Sure, there are times when a creative can be adequate at both skill sets; there can indeed be singer/songwriters or storyteller/authors, but I often wonder if those abilities for one side of the coin aren’t perhaps antithetical to the other. I wonder if the truly outlandishly gifted creatives in the end must decide which rabbit hole they will descend into and in so doing turn their back on the other.


Jazzturbation and the Black Hole of Ego

Jazzturbation is a neologism that has seen use a time or two, usually to describe ego trips gone wild amongst small jazz groups or improvisations that wander too far off the reservation of what even erudite ears can digest. Generally, I use the word to describe when a player either spews an improvisational solo that exhausts even a PHD in music theory’s patience, or when he befuddles fellow players to the point where a song ceases to function and he becomes essentially self-indulgent prick whacking off on his instrument until he has descended into the black hole of ego run amok.

More than a few of my favorite recording artists from the tail end of the era where such were produced by major record labels (though mentored and tutored at first) they wound up falling away from their devoted fan base after their first 2 or 3 major albums. And sadly, some were called away by runaway jazzturbation.

Sometimes they would be gobbled up by the lure of doing live performances and the thrill of audience energy exchange. So instead of recording new material, they simply kept doing live shows to rack up the millions for future alimony and child support while pretending to stay younger than they were. Sometimes they would be seduced by the medusa of becoming TV or Movie character actors and forget to “dance with them that brung ya”.

But to me the most annoying culprit of the recording artist death and disappearing act was the lure of jazzturbation. Sure, there is a glorious outcome if a songwriter wants to improve his craft on his instrument – sure even becoming a virtuoso can add dimension and depth to future melody and/or time spent drilling down into new words and syntax can improve lyrics, etc. But if you take your instrumental prowess beyond a point of no return, or take syntax to a point where no one can understand your meaning, then what is the point?

If you become so gifted on the piano that you develop genuine “independence” of the hands such that you can play “Happy Birthday” on the left hand in Db while playing “Amazing Grace” backwards in E major in the right, and then you waste time during a concert showing your audience the vomitous sound of that pairing while neglecting to play your former Platinum Record best selling audience favorite you wrote when you were 20 and not even sure of what time signature it was in until you thought about it… what good comes of it? Nothing….. you my friend are jazzturbating.

Now like its cousin, perhaps jazzturbation may indeed have its place in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps it can relieve stress or release tension. Perhaps it can lead to better command of personal control and/or discipline. But like rehearsal time, jazzturbation (and its cousin), out of respect for other people’s time, should be done in privacy.


Coffeehouse Klatch Playing Solo Guitar


Coffeehouse or Coffee Klatch small coffeehouse acoustic guitar performances at Duke when I was an undergrad were fun a time or two, but during those years my guitar playing was still less than 3 years in the making. The available piano at the coffee house was a pitifully un-maintained upright and thus my play sets were mostly guitar.

Two years later, during my year off from college I did 3 important things: 1) learned to drive a semi-truck/trailer rig, 2) chased girls mostly in vain (with one or two exceptions), and 3) I spent nearly every evening practicing my guitar songs in performance mode (no stops, playing through any mistakes). I pretended how one day I might perform them again to more than my faithful housecat, Scotty.

After graduation, and a short marriage with a long divorce, I wound up for a time as a recluse in a small duplex apartment. I again dove into mock solo guitar show rehearsals now to my Alaskan Malamute who gratefully never howled. Once the lawyers were finished and paid off (hers and mine), I eventually moved back into a house and brought with me a recently restored 1875 Steinway grand piano. Now I began practicing piano songwriter performances and guitar sets together.

Sometime later that year in 1990, using a Sony WM-D6C Pro Walkman (which was surprisingly good at capturing small rehearsal performances) I recorded 31 of my piano songs and made a compilation of them for myself to save them in hopes on one day recording them “for real”. While I was intent on doing my best to capture the songs for the future, I was also trying to improve my ability to play and sing simultaneously. In addition, I was trying to get back some piano skills that had atrophied during my divorce proceedings.

Once I had the piano songs recorded to my amateur satisfaction, I used the same Sony Pro to record 46 of my guitar songs during 1991. The Coffee House Guitar – Solo Acoustic selections are from those. Some of them have been subsequently studio recorded, but a few of them have not been played except as solo performances on rare occasions.

Listen at: CLICK HERE



The Show Tune Style Collection

With over 52 minutes of music, these 14 original studio recorded songs have been chosen in part because I felt they carry a vibe that easily could have been put on stage. Each one has a personal narrative feel to it, and despite how each is other directed, the word ‘I’ is in all but three of them.  And the way their melodies sometimes hang around in my head remind me of how a show tune behaves.

Often when songwriting I am seeing a scene in my head as it comes together. That juxtaposition between the emotion of a melody and the story I want to tell in lyrics, the memory I want to bring into the future with me, or a scene I witnessed that inspired me to capture it in music, that balance between the story as it was and what it could or should have been makes a show tune to me every bit as much as whether or not Broadway has or ever will hear it.

To enjoy the play list in a new window for free CLICK HERE


The Artist Dance and The Inner Circle

Ed Verner in studio session

The very act of creating a song, or works of prose or poetry can drive a wedge between an artist and those inside their inner circle of love and social contacts. There are several possible causes for the rift that may arise.  Some are: Jealousy – Projection of Betrayal – Selfishness – and more.

Jealousy – The desire from others for one’s time who want it above all else can be found here. In this arena someone close to the artist may very well know an artwork is about them and is full of love, compliments, and joyful leaping from the heart of the artist, and yet the time to create it is seen as competing with time that could be spent in mutual activities instead. Imagine Miss Mona Lisa badgering Leonardo da Vinci for choosing to spend many days in creating a timeless portrait that would outlive them both for centuries when he could instead have taken her out for a picnic. Or the artist who jealously over-protects his time but denies his children who need him, searching instead for peace and quiet to write a novel.

Projection of Betrayal – If you’ve written something artistic about anyone else, or any inspiration not found from within your inner circle then those in that circle feel they are somehow uninspiring or worse yet that they are losing their value to an artist for not being a sufficient muse. If a poet conjured a romantic thought, even if from a vacuous void of being in a sensory deprivation tank, a dear loved one may project a story of betrayal upon the work anyway. Consoling such a fear is impossible and frustrating to both artist and nearby loved ones and then both may grow bitter and avoid sharing any art created from within that bubble; the artist becomes reclusive and the inner circle of loved ones learn to keep a distance out of self-preservation. Conversely another form of betrayal can occur if someone well distant from the artist misinterprets a work as being about them when in fact it may have been inspired by a dear close loved one of the artist instead. Such a devoted fan may impregnate the art with their own story, but in so doing they hijack what should have been the joy belonging to another.

Selfishness – In a sad way sometimes creatives can be like the popular kids in high school in that they want to isolate themselves from effective competition for the role of popularity and instead wish to have only devotee’s as friends. Here artists can become selfish in how they attempt to choose their loved ones and even exclude a few who belong simply out of a desire to avoid even healthy criticism. Fragile egos of artists have strewn many a drama upon the fabric of history with attempting to wield the art inside them for gain, or power, or personal glory.

If art becomes more important than the people around you, for shame.  And I’ve learned to write or record, get it out there, and then put it on the shelf and go back to the people and places I love.




Temporary Becomes Permanent Via Art

Sometimes people can latch unto a song lyric or the image of a photograph in very powerful ways, and completely alien to the state of mind of the composer or photographer. Of course such connections are quite a compliment on the one hand, but may carry a heavy price in misunderstanding if the artist and fan ever attempt to discuss it. Yet all of that is part and parcel of the bond between a creative and an audience. Yet there is another aspect to consider as an artist, and that is whether or not you can stand perhaps lending additional permanence to something meant to remain only temporary and fleeting.

Yes indeed, sometimes a tiny moment in time, or an incredibly poignant convergence between nature and a temporary man-made space flows across my perspective and inspires a melody, or an entire cascade of lyrical ideas for poetry or song and then I’m faced with that quandary: Do I want to disturb a breath of the moment, otherwise lost in a flash and only available to me thereafter as a memory with all of frailty and fiction in the hereafter recall of it? Do I really want to steal time away from enjoying it by taking a picture? Do I really want to give that moment a fixity and longevity it otherwise can never have?

A 9 second video here below captures a tiny moment of what I’m talking about.  It hit me and could have inspired much more.

9 Seconds Underway

Countless times I force myself to simply breath in and out and not to move towards my camera or my keys. I steel myself to simply be with the temporary smallness of a moment, to let it go unmolested by and through me.

Temporary things gain mass via art


Music Theory And The Quest For A Perfect Chord

I’ve been enjoying Rick Beato videos on youtube. His breadth of knowledge and his ability to communicate issues in music are very enjoyable and entertaining. To leave my blog and likely be better entertained, he can be found at: CLICK HERE but the reason I bring him up stems from my looking at my own process in songwriting sometimes. Listening to him sends me into a deeper line of theory thinking pretty quickly, and yet some of my favorite songs of mine I never even gave theory a thought at all.

Of course, there are several different approaches I’ve enjoyed or been infected with along the line of writing my songs. At various moments when I’ve been at a crossroads in a song under construction, searching for the thing that needs to come next and I guess there have been a few different approaches, such as:

The hunt and peck method – I remember when recording my song “Come” I got all the way to laying down the piano track in the studio with a producer and still knowing I needed a bridge and a getaway chord without knowing for sure what it would be. I kept playing the part leading into that moment and then just bouncing unto a chord at random. If you listen from :56 – 1:04 CLICK HERE you can hear what I had, and what I eventually found that led into the “next” area of the song. I was not thinking theory at all, nor was I interested in chaos, I was just letting my fingers do the walking until my ear said “ahhh, thank you”. My producer called it the “panty dropper chord”, though I’ve not encountered that reaction yet.

The theory based classical feel method – Sometimes when searching for the bridge or key change my fingers just fall back unto their classical training. And then I mainly try to make sure that though it may be classical in bent it is not actually shamelessly swiping anything of old without credit. A good example of this would be how I found my bridge in “Beautiful Liar” CLICK HERE

It was just there method – This is when as I’m playing something new and it just doesn’t stop until I’m done and there is no searching on my part to fix something. There are more than a few examples of songs of mine where the writing of them was improvisational, immediate, and (though I may have tried to polish it or change it with something later) it wound up not changing at all. Sure, once I took it into the studio setting and collaborated with others great ornamentation added on it perhaps would happen, but the song structure was anchored from the moment it left my guitar or my piano. A good example of this would be “Tomorrow” CLICK HERE wherein that song ambled out with many of the lyrics coming to my lips upon my first playing of it.


Doing Cover Songs – They Teach Me

For a long time I resisted doing cover songs mainly for two main objections in my mind.

1) I felt it was disrespectful to any previous recording which made me love the song in the first place.
2) I felt like I was snatching some gold fairy dust from another’s work and trying to hijack that for selfish purposes.

So, I went a long time without really trying to enjoy doing covers. If I loved a song of another I always felt it would be more polite and better for me to simply share what they had done with others, especially to the younger generation who otherwise might not ever know the song existed. And by doing this I could feel good about how I didn’t muck it up trying to do it myself, and I might actually help a likely starving artist of yesteryear who probably got raped by his record label and might need the ½ penny of streaming revenue.

But lately I’ve had a change of heart about my doing covers and so I’ve been working on a few. One of the things I’ve grown to love about my doing this is the deconstruction I do in reverse engineering the sounds I love about some old song. For example, I was recently agonizing over “Wildfire” by Michael Martin Murphy and Larry Cansler and I really had to spend some time listening critically to the song with fresh ears. I had not really paid attention to how the drums are in your face immediately after the haunting piano introduction. I mean they just boom are right there and prominent, and I never really heard that before. The piano introduction gives a subtle haunt, but once the guitar starts the song is at full throttle right from the get go and though I’ve heard the song countless times, my attempting a cover of it now has revealed something new to me about it.

There is a place in my webpage where one can listen to some covers for free, and it is my hope that if a song there catches your ear you will find the original and honor its songwriter/performer by purchasing it.  Or there is a soundcloud playlist of some of my covers there at CLICK HERE.


Inspirations as a Songwriter

I was with a friend today for lunch who is a gifted and productive writer, and at one point he said how sometimes for him the hardest part is coming up with a topic. And I got to thinking about my songwriting and how inspiration appears to me and motivates me. Looking back over my 170+ finished songs and the one currently under construction I spent a bit of time in retrospection about it.

What is it exactly that moves me to find a song? What things seem unable to? Etc.

There is no shortage of inspiration in life from all directions, and it is almost hard for me not to find it around me and yet often my receptors are jammed and creative flow may stop for a while. Other times it can’t turn off and I can hardly keep up and/or the output becomes too thin of substance for the rush in getting it down and out before a next idea hits me and infects me.

Some examples are:

Suffering; frequently that can indeed be it with me and so certain ballads are a release of small parts of agony into music or lyrics – like “Drift of Snowor “Tomorrow

Joy: Sometimes moments of joy have given themselves to personal inspiration – like “Unwind”.

Humor: This is an infrequent visitor to my musical inspirations, but sometimes I witness something of the ridiculous in others or myself and can’t help but put it into a song – like “Mad as Hell

Natural Beauty: “I Wish” covers this one both in the beauty of nature and/or the simplicity of time with horses.

Irony: Again this can be cheating towards suffering with personal ironies or disappointments of romance, but it can also be the irony of people wanting one thing and doing everything to prevent it, like “Bobcat Blues” or “Little Squaw

Mourning: Like “Ebb and Flow

There are others and I don’t wish to belabor the point, but I appreciated afresh my friend’s comment.


Success As An Artist

A question was put to me regarding my definition of success as an artist. It is a difficult thing to vocalize and thus a frequent question asked of creatives; with a universe of platitudes given in reply. So, since it is asked to the point of commonplace, and creatively dodged by many I decided to pen my answer.

Let’s begin with stating the one obvious preamble counter-definition of artistic success: It is NOT simply and uncontrollably relegated to the response to the artwork by others. Many works of mine have created immense personal satisfaction in me, though denied any accolade at all by another living soul, and vice versa in how some works of mine I regretted but were quite well-received. Sure, feedback is important, but it cannot be king, or even a member of the Royal Court.

OK, enough dodge, then what is success to me regarding an artwork of mine? I think it is best exemplified when I return to something I’ve done after the joy and work of creating it has lost its viral hold on me, and I still hear it, read it, see it, or feel it with a sense of joy at how it indeed captured that desire to satisfy portraying the inspiration that initially drove me to leave behind things of the world and enter into the world of creation. Often times I think creatives can be their own best and worst critics once the euphoria of creating has faded and they can take a work of their own back into themselves almost as a virgin with it again.

When first a melody or song strikes me, my mind can immediately fill in the missing holes in the orchestration not yet made, or the harmonies and sub-harmonies not yet found upon the fingers and keys, but they all are there in the mind’s eye. Then as the process of trying to find those words, or those notes, or that camera angle and image occurs the act of baking the item into reality takes on a secondary artform – namely the dance between pure inspiration and the facts of life when recording on a budget, or stealing time to craft a sentence properly before the cell phone rings, etc. In the music studio, the crafting of the arrangement takes on a life of its own and over time I can fall in love with the process a bit and forget to remain in love with what I started shooting for. And like any contest between passions, there may indeed be a loser and a winner.

But months or years later when next I encounter the artwork after having “let the baby be born” as a former friend used to say, if I engage with the artwork like a fresh observer no longer stricken with joy of how it was made, and I feel utterly satisfied that I struck a bullseye with it in speaking about the inspirational moment — THAT is a true success to me as an artist.

Meanwhile I can have all kinds of pride in things I’ve created, sometimes as fun, or beautiful in an unintended way where I spun off a bit, but it is ok with me, etc. However, an absolute bullseye in writing, or songwriting, or creating a visual is a rare and delightful treat to me, and those rarities embody success.