Out Of Office Update

outJust a quick update on my Out of Office post from last Thursday.

I’ve kinda had second thoughts about taking a complete break from blogging, and have decided, instead, to keep one foot in the online publishing world using Twitter.

I’ve had a Fish & Bicycles Twitter account since I first started the blog, but I rarely post anything exclusively to Twitter, and instead have it set up so that every time I post to the blog a tweet is automagically posted with a link to the blog post.

My plan now is to use only Twitter for a while and post my tweets to the blog.

I have no idea whether or not this idea will work out, but it feels better than having Fish & Bicycles go completely silent indefinitely.

Out Of Office: My Muse Is Otherwise Occupied Edition

outIt’s been a longstanding tradition of mine, here at Fish & Bicycles, to announce when I will be unable to post for a while.

This series of Out of Office posts has spanned the last five years, they usually marked occasions when I was traveling, but sometimes I just knew I’d be too busy to blog during the winter holidays or other life events.

THIS, is not one of those occasions.

Though I actually am leaving tomorrow for Kaua’i, and will not be home until March 1st, the real catalyst for this post is the fact that my muse, who has been by my side as a writer for many years, with just one disappearing act from June 2013 to November 2014, has been completely and utterly occupied by a different creative pursuit of mine…

…music!

My muse isn’t very good at multitasking, and as my latest music project started to get serious, right around the beginning of this year, very little inspiration for writing has come my way.

The only place I’ve consistently found my muse lately has been here:

studio

I’m super fortunate to be playing with a group of musicians of the highest caliber, in a studio like this, making the most complex music I’ve ever attempted to play.

One of the founding principles of this band was that we are all treating it as an opportunity to learn and grow as musicians; no small task when you consider that, except for our 20-something keyboard player, we’re all over the age of 50, hence lots of new tricks for old dogs.

But, considering that there is growing scientific evidence that making music can help stave off dementia, this is probably the very best thing that I can be doing for myself right now.

A friend of mine who shares with me a love for the music of the Grateful Dead, just tonight sent me a link to a YouTube clip featuring Jerry Garcia telling a story about a time when he had to play a concert after he had accidentally been dosed with LSD. Jerry explains that he got very paranoid before he had to go on stage, thinking there were mafia gangsters in the crowd who might want to kill him, especially if he went out there and couldn’t play because he was tripping on acid.

And so, in order to get through the situation, Jerry said to himself, “I’ll play for my life.” It worked, and it became a kind of mantra for other times in his life when he felt, musically, in a tight spot.

I relate to that, in numerous ways. Making music feels to me as if I AM playing for my life, not thinking that someone will kill me if I don’t play well, but because making music gives me life, sustains me, makes life worth living, makes life MUCH more fun.

SO … I’m not really sure when my muse will steer me back to writing, but Fish & Bicycles means much too much to me to give it up.

Most likely, after I have focused on music for a while, once the band has fully gelled, once we’ve been through the learning curve for the 30-40 songs we’re working on, maybe then some of my brain capacity will be freed up, and my muse will sense this available creative resource, and the inspiration to put words together in hopefully compelling ways will return.

Until then, thanks so much to any and all of my readers out there. If you’re subscribed, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, etc., you’ll see me again when you see me.

Cheers!

Headline of the Day: Keeping It Real

starbucks-pumpkin-spice-latteIt’s hard to know where to start with today’s Headline of the Day installment, so let’s just start with the headline itself and see where that takes us, shall we?

Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte is now going to contain real pumpkin and it’s probably going to be disgusting

Salon.com

Listen, don’t hold anything back, Salon.com writer Lindsay Abrams! We can tell that you have strong feelings about this. That’s good. Maybe, even, as good as … real pumpkin?

I guess I’ve been out of the loop, but I’m shocked, shocked I tell you!, to learn that there’s never been, until this fall, actual pumpkin in Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Lattes!

Ok, so, I’m not really shocked. Nor am I particularly bothered by the fact that there hasn’t been real pumpkin in the lattes.

After all, the phrase “pumpkin spice”, to me, very clearly refers to the spices associated with the most famous pumpkin dish of all: pumpkin pie. Pumpkin, by itself, isn’t really all that flavorful. I doubt very many people even consume real pumpkin without spices of some kind, whether it’s sweet, like pumpkin pie or pumpkin bread, or savory, like pumpkin soup or pumpkin ricotta gnocchi.

I don’t really understand attacking Starbucks — a company that is certainly attack-worthy for other reasons — for adding real pumpkin. She brands it “pandering to an ingredient-crazed consumer base”, but it’s not like this ingredient-crazed consumer base is clamoring for more artificial ingredients!

Now, Lindsay Abrams, who I might say is overall a solid writer who covers other topics, such as politics and the environment, makes a fair point about just how little real pumpkin will actually be in a Pumpkin Spice Latte. She includes the list of ingredients published by Starbucks, where “pumpkin purée” is listed as just one sub-ingredient in the “Pumpkin Spice Flavored Sauce”, which is the third overall ingredient on the list, after espresso and milk.

And yet, she loses credibility with her sarcastic addition of a photo of the pulpy inside of a pumpkin, calling it disgusting, either ignoring, or ignorant of, the fact that the flesh of the pumpkin, not the pulp, is what’s used in pumpkin purée, and that purée, by it’s very nature, has a smooth, creamy texture, perfect, right?!, for a latte.

All in all, much ado about nothing, and embarrassingly, I suppose I’ve merely added to the ado.

I can’t wait to wash down my shame with a delicious, real Pumpkin Spice Latte!

Video Fridays: Patti Smith

pattiI’m on a real women-in-music kick these days.

Last week’s Video Fridays installment was on the late-great Nina Simone, inspired by having watched the wonderful documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?.

This week, I’m inspired to feature Patti Smith after having read her amazing autobiography Just Kids.

If you go into reading the book having only heard of Patti the musician, you will either experience disappointment or revelation; disappointment, because music, while woven throughout the story, is by no means the primary focus; revelation, because Patti the poet, Patti the visual artist, Patti the muse of her longtime companion-then-friend, the groundbreaking artist/photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, comes to vivid life in the reading, along with the explosive New York City art scene of the late 1960s and 1970s.

Patti, being a poet and musician, writes her autobiography with such lyricism, such raw emotional presence, and there were many times when I’d re-read lines, and sometimes whole paragraphs, because they were rendered so beautifully, so movingly. She has an incredible eye and ear for small details that add so much depth to the story, peppering her narrative with mention of items collected or exchanged, often cheap trinkets or handmade gestures, brief interactions with legends like Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin, things that, out of context, would be seemingly trivial, and yet in the very mentioning and describing of these things you learn how meaningful these smallest of details were to Patti.

I was particularly touched by her relationship with Mapplethorpe, a relationship that weathered the extreme poverty and struggle of their early years together, the emerging awareness of his homosexuality, the transition to a radically accepting, loving, loyal friendship, and through it all the powerful support they gave each other in the pursuit of their art. A relationship Patti describes thusly:

We were as Hansel and Gretel and we ventured out into the black forest of the world. There were temptations and witches and demons we never dreamed of and there was splendor we only partially imagined. No one could speak for these two young people nor tell with any truth of their days and nights together.

It wasn’t easy choosing a video to include with this post, because, as Patti has endured, losing none of her potency as an artist and performer over the years, I could have selected some of her more recent work, such as the amazing 2005 Live at Montreux concert, available, at least for now, in it’s entirety on YouTube, rather than what I have here for you now, a precious document from her 1976 European tour, featuring songs from her classic debut, Horses, as well as cuts that would soon appear on her sophomore album, Radio Ethiopia.

Observe her total, unapologetic commitment, as she bravely claims her place in Rock&Roll, despite how male-dominated it has always been. Observe and enjoy and check out Just Kids when you have a chance. You won’t regret it.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Headline of the Day: Christian Freakishness?

jesusThere’s an utterly fascinating article right now at The Atlantic, that also happens to be worthy of a Headline of the Day installment…

….for this headline certainly caught my attention:

The Freakishness of Christianity

The Atlantic

It’s a thought-provoking introduction to ideas put forth by Christian evangelical theologian Russell D. Moore in his new book Onward, ideas that I find encouraging, however skeptical I might remain.

First, a quick detour: My earliest memory of the use of the term “freak” as a non-pejorative noun was when I heard David Crosby‘s CSN&Y song Almost Cut My Hair, from the 1970 album Déjà Vu.

Crosby sings:

I feel like letting my freak flag fly

…and I didn’t really understand it at first.

But, as I became more and more interested in hippie culture, listening to more music, reading books, and watching films on the subject, I eventually got it, and I LOVED it.

While I never felt the need to label myself a freak or hippie or overtly dress the part, I certainly related to the 1960s & 1970s counterculture’s rejection of conservatism’s sense of superiority, its judgement of others, and its capacity for hatred. As result, I’ve always had a very healthy inner-hippie.

Back to the Atlantic article, it’s interesting to discover that there’s a prominent evangelical Christian leader who seems to have come to some of the same conclusions, proposing the idea that Christianity’s marriage with American conservatism is ready for a divorce.

This is not an assimilated, salable Christianity. If anything, it troubles the anodyne, dog-whistle-y “values” rhetoric that Moore rejects. It calls for politicians to be committed to living out Christianity beyond the breath it takes to utter “God bless America.”…

And inevitably, it undermines Bible Belt identity, which has long depended on pairing God with guns and Republican politics. Not to worry, Moore says: “The Bible Belt was no Promised Land.”

Right on!

I’m still troubled by the whole idea of evangelism, and I’d much rather all religions evolved away from doctrines of proselytization.

And, while this sounds incredibly exciting:

Moore is making an argument for embracing Christian strangeness. “Our message will be seen as increasingly freakish to American culture,” he writes. “Let’s embrace the freakishness, knowing that such freakishness is the power of God unto salvation.”

…it’s decidedly odd language coming from a guy who looks like this:

russell-moore

Still, to judge Moore by his appearance is shallow and utter hypocrisy on my part.

So, I’ll let that go, and I’ll hold out hope that some good may come from his ideas.

Headline of the Day: Wordy & Grim

AP-FOXOne slight problem with doing this Headline of the Day series: When the original source of a news item is a wire service, such as Associated Press or Reuters, and the item has been posted to a news website that has a wire service subscription, there’s no real way of knowing who has written the actual headline that has caught my attention.

In the case of today’s Headline of the Day installment, FOX News.com posted the item, which they got from Associated Press, and though we’ll never know who wrote the headline, one thing we do know is that the writer was intent on fitting in all of grim details of the story, in one of the longest headlines I’ve ever seen:

Man who hit pedestrian and drove with him stuck in car’s windshield sentenced to prison

Fox News.com

To Write, Or Not To Write Original Songs

scaleI came across an article at Wired.com today that touches on something I’ve thought about a LOT!

Since I am a musician and play in a Rock&Roll band, since I play a guitar specifically, THE iconic instrument of Rock&Roll, the instrument most commonly used to write Rock&Roll songs, I am often asked whether or not I write original songs.

And, for years, I’ve had a pat answer that includes these points:

  • No, I do not write original songs.
  • Yes, I’ve tried, but the world is better off without the songs I’ve written.
  • There are only so many notes and combinations of notes, only so many chords and combinations of chords, only so many words and combinations of words, it’s all been done.

Back to that Wired.com article, the author starts off referencing a couple of recent high-profile cases, and one legendary case, of alleged songwriting plagiarism, and he posits essentially what I stated in my third bullet above, that, mathematically speaking, with only 12 notes in the Western chromatic scale (he actually uses the figure of seven notes, omitting the sharps and flats), there are only so many combinations you can make of these notes, therefore only so many songs that can be written, and so plagiarism is unavoidable, regardless of intention.

It doesn’t take long, reading the Wired piece, to conclude, thanks in part to the author’s clear and oft-stated admission, that he doesn’t know much about music theory.

Additionally, about halfway through reading, I was reminded of an axiom of my own invention, which states that over-analyzing art kills it. (I also argue that it induces pain in puppies and kittens, but some disagree with me on that point.)

And yet, I believe he makes a valid point.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that I’ve heard thousands and thousands of songs over my 50 years, and I’ve learned to play some thousands of these thousands on the guitar. As a result, I’ve learned a lot about how songs are constructed, and one thing that jumps out at even a novice guitar player is that many, many, many songs share the same or similar chord progressions.

My attempts at writing an original song, then, go something like this:

Ok, let’s start by strumming this G chord, la-la-la, nice…

This feels good! La-la-la…

Now, let’s move to a C chord…yeah…I like that! La-la-la…

Hmmmmm, where to next? La-la-la…

Let’s go to D…um…wait a minute!…

Shit! That’s a Beatles song!

In music-theory-speak, this chord progression is referred to as I-IV-V. The song is in the key of G, because it starts there (I), then it goes to C, which is the fourth (IV) note in a G Major scale, and then it goes to D, which is the fifth (V) note in the scale.

HUNDREDS of songs have been written using the I-IV-V progression, and thousands more have used the same exact chords, just in a different order. (Check out this great article at Gibson.com, titled I-IV-V: The Little Chord Progression That Could, where they break down just 10 well-known songs using I-IV-V.)

Now, put these chords in a different order and add a minor chord — I-V-vi-IV — and the list of popular songs using the progression is staggering. (See many of these songs put together in a briliant medley in the video below.)

This is why I don’t write original songs, and why anyone who does earns my deep, deep respect. Because, they’ve heard the same thousands of songs that I have, and yet they conclude they’re capable of writing something that no else ever has.

That is awesome.