Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Hallows Eve!

Here's a little Halloween treat for you. This song is just delightful with it's dirty guitar tones and horn interludes. And Alice - always the showman!

Yes, Google Made Me Stupid, So I'm Learning to Play Wes Montgomery

In recent years, discussions on the potential effects the internet is having on our brains have become somewhat common.  I'm especially fond of Nicholas Carr's 2008 article Is Google Making Us Stupid, where he notes “I’m not thinking the way I used to think.”  To clarify, he adds,

“Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do.” 

I too have felt an unfortunate mental change brought on by the endless availability of non-linearly organized information the web provides.  However, in addition to a lower tolerance for deep reading, I’ve noticed my ability to focus on any plan or goal that requires more than a few minutes to accomplish has also diminished.

This lack of focus frightens me mainly because I’ve begun to question my ability to develop, maintain, and actualize long range plans for my life.  So, in order to re-strengthen that out of shape part of my brain, I’ve begun setting simple short term goals each month - goals that require focus and dedication beyond an hour or two to accomplish.

On of my challenges for the month of November is to finish learning the solo in Four on Six by Wes Montgomery.  Check out the clip below.

As you can see, Wes Montgomery is a ripping jazz guitarist.  He's also from Indianapolis, my hometown.  (We people from Indiana never resist the opportunity to trumpet the successes of our natives!) 

My boyfriend, also a guitar player, introduced me to this piece and it is the perfect challenge for a bluesy punk rock guitar player like me.  Learning these licks will improve my accuracy as a player and add to my musical vocabulary.  Moreover, while learning to play I spent little time perfecting the songs of others.  Rather, I culled the information required and began writing my own songs almost immediately.  While composing was always my biggest desire, I now see the value in gaining greater mastery as a player by challenging myself to play more difficult pieces.    

So, I began learning Four on Six over the summer.  But, as I said, I’ve had trouble focusing on things lately.  So, while I’ve already learned half the solo, I’m committing to learning the rest by the end of November.  The most difficult part is upon me, so this is more than a worthy challenge I think.    

Monday, June 13, 2011

Life in a Northern Town

I was 11 when The Dream Academy's tribute to Nick Drake, "Life in a Northern Town," hit American radio and MTV. I didn't know who Nick Drake was, and to this day, I have not examined his material in detail; but, after learning that his life and work inspired this song, and that David Gilmour co-produced the album from which the track originated, (thank you Wikipedia) I may take a closer look.

This song has always given me chills. Perhaps this is an autonomic response to the sound of wind at the start of the song; and certainly the video's montage of desolation, reinforces my "chilly" response. Whatever the cause, those chills ordered my brain to siphon off synapses for permanent storage of this song and it's melody.

Recently, those synapses were triggered and I went bumbling through the internet trash heap of information and found this SNL performance.

Upon watching, I couldn't help but notice the singer's resemblance to Billy Corgan, circa 1988.

Smashing Pumpkins, 1989 (Billy Corgan is 2nd from the right.)

While Billy Corgan has a deep body of work and The Dream Academy was a one hit wonder, I would argue that this song is better than any one that Billy Corgan has written. (I might reconsider after a fresh listen of the Gish album).  Based on my belief in the quality of this song, I was certain it would have been covered by some insipid 80s derivative Killers-esque band. Instead, it seems country band Sugarland took to the task.  Check out their live version below.

Now, I'm sure that when this song dropped, a 40-something music producer with Tim Burton hair and Buddy Holly glasses went crazy with anger that he didn't think to have the insipid Killers-esque band he's currently working with cover the song first. But I have to say, while I hate modern country, I'm glad it's Sugarland covering the song and not the former. At least Jennifer Nettles is old enough to remember the song; and she is a vocal powerhouse.

Still, even with Nettles' considerable vocal gifts, or perhaps because of them, the cover lacks the mournful restraint of the original. In fact, the chorus seems overly celebratory and anthemic. The original chorus is hooky, and thus easy to overdue. Still, to do so belies the sad origin of the song's inspiration; and it's that subtle feeling of sadness that made that song great. As such, my synapses shall remain committed to permanent cataloging of the Dream Academy version. Granted there was never any danger that they would jump ship. I'm a loyal broad when it comes to music!

Now, I'm off to download some Nick Drake - and thus fill in a hole in my music education. Listeners of Sugarland, and insipid Killers-esque bands, would be well advised to follow my lead.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

My Very Un - Rock 'n' Roll Family

Before we get too far down the rock n roll rabbit hole of my life, it should be noted that I was always a good kid.  VERY un-rock 'n' roll in fact...and I still am in many ways.  I've never been excessive in my behaviors and I come from a great family.  Seriously, I hit the lottery when it comes to parents.  They are strongly pious Midwestern folks - and they love the hell out of me...even though my life path has been quite different than the one they might have chosen for me.  To be sure, they weren't "COOL" parents.  This made teenage rebellion easy.  I didn't have to do anything too bad to assert my independence.  Playing guitar and listening to loud music was enough to piss them off at the time.  More on this in later blogs.  But first meet my parents: Sandy and Steve. 

My mom, Sandy was never a risk taker and she has lived her life according to very traditional values.  For most of my childhood, she stayed at home and shuttled me and my brother to sports practices, music lessons, and the like before eventually resuming her career as a Medical Records Administrator at a children's hospital in Indianapolis.  She is truly the kindest woman I know.  I've never heard her say a bad word about anyone; and her patience is her greatest strength.  As a kid, I vowed to never be like her (housewifery looked so damned un-fun).  As an adult, I work everyday to be a little more like her.  Cliche' I know...but what are you gonna do.  

My dad was a bit more of a firecracker.  He and I are alike in many ways and I have always been a bit of a daddy's girl.  As a young man, my dad was a scratch golfer who played on the University of Florida's golf team while simultaneously dreaming of a writer's life - all cigars and Cuba and long hair and libraries.  Ultimately, the tide of his times carried him down a more traditional path and he attended law school, got married, and became a father.  He has really been a wonderful dad but there were times when he struggled with both his faith and his life choices.  A dark depression descended in his mid-30s and even after trudging through that difficult time, he experienced mood swings and stress-related anxiety attacks that occasionally cast an ominous shadow over the household.  Anything could set him off on a bit of an angry tirade during those times - music playing too loudly, a B- on a report card, a pair of shoes not put away.  To cope with this uncertain energy that occasionally hung over the house, I developed a habit of sitting in dark rooms with music blasting - my respite from those brewing storms that usually passed into a new day without incident.  In more recent years, much of my dad's tensions have settled and he's become quite calm and satisfied with the outcomes of his life...even as he has watched me trudge through my own struggles.

As blessed as I am to have come from such a solid and loving family, my parents' relationship was a bit of a conundrum to me.  On one hand, they followed very traditional gender roles.  My dad worked while my mom handled the household management.  My dad is all-man and my mom is quite petite and girlish.   On the other hand, they always encouraged me to do whatever I liked - especially if it WASN'T a traditionally girlish pursuit.  They embraced and encouraged my natural athleticism and assured me the proverbial glass ceiling didn't exist for me - that I could accomplish anything I wanted.  Meanwhile, the gender attitudes within my hometown were very traditional.  When I followed my big brother into little league baseball and peewee basketball, random strangers would occasionally say things like "girls don't play sports" or "girls shouldn't be competing with the boys."  As a good athlete, I was allowed to be smart but not pretty. Some people in town assumed I was a lesbian because of my interest and aptitude for sports.  In short, I received a lot of contradictory messages that related to being a girl; this undoubtedly fueled my interest in pursuing paths that challenged the barriers of what women can and should do...what they can and should say...etc.  As music became a fundamental aspect of my emotional balance during stressful times, it also became the primary forum through which I felt I could explore and challenge these issues.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Heaven's On Fire

Do you remember the "Here are the doors, here is the steeple, open the doors and here are the people" hand/chant church game???

Here is an example if you don't, or if you had parents who spared you the childhood church-going experience.

When I was about 9, un-cool make-up free Kiss released "Heaven's on Fire."

I'd never liked going to church and was in the nascent stages of agnosticism, when I first heard this song. As such, the juxtaposition of raging flames against my gauzy white robed image of heavenly boredom was titillating. I knew my mother and the other church-loving ladies of Sunday would not approve of this song, a fact confirmed when I decided to change up the sing songy "Here is the Church" rhyme by having the people belt into the chorus of "Heaven's on Fire" as soon as "the doors" were opened. My creative mash-up was met with looks of disapproval when first shared with my sweet as peach pie Sunday School teacher Mrs. Jones. But, when I took my mash-up to the secular playground at Harney Elementary School, my KISS worshipping church goer phalanges were a mild comic success.

Clearly a little satan with your gospel was a good thing. Elvis had proved that years before. But I learned this lesson by mixing bad era KISS with a church rhyme.

Doe a Deer, a Female Deer

The Soundtrack to my Mom's Favorite Movie
Deborah Harry may have been my first inspirational LADY of rock. But Julie Andrews was a close second.

The Sound of Music was released in 1965, my mom's senior year of high school. It is probably her all-time favorite movie. As such, when NBC began a 20 year stint of annual airings of an edited for TV version of the classic in 1979, my mother made a point to tune in almost every year. I was probably 6 or 7, and already a lover of music, when I first joined her for this annual viewing.

In my Norman Rockwell childhood living room, where a warm wood fire flamed under a stone hearth as snow swirled into violent front yard drifts, I watched as Maria charmed mean old Captain Von Trapp while teaching his children to sing. A new obsession was born - one spearheaded by the repetitive spinning of my mother's already worn copy of the movie's soundtrack, which I anxiously pulled from the dusty record collection shelf the next day. For weeks, I listened to and sang along with my favorite Sounds of Music while imagining I was Liesl or Maria.

Today, my own music may contain little evidence of my Julie Andrews influences. But if you happen into my home while I'm in the kitchen baking muffins or whipping up a little chicken marsala, you might hear me spontaneously bust into a rendition of My Favorite Things or Do - Re - Mi. My cat will be looking disapprovingly down from his cabinet perch and my boyfriend will be humoring me in all of my notationally imperfect joy.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fab Five Freddy Told Me Everybody's Fly

The Jacket for the Blondie Single "Rapture"

My brother is four years older than I am; and he was responsible for much of my early exposure to the pop music of the day. When he was 9 or 10 he began collecting vinyl singles, which I ultimately loved more than he did. Blondie's "Rapture" was one of the "records" he brought home from the 3D, a KMart like superstore that dotted the Midwest landscape in the early 1980s. I was six at the time and I couldn't get enough of that song. I loved the rap. I loved the horn solo at the end. I loved the bass line and the overall groove. As far as I was concerned, this was the perfect song. In fact, this is the song that prompted my first grade self to march into the kitchen where my mother was whipping up a meatloaf, and announce, "Mom, when I grow up, I wanna be a singer, just like Blondie."

I don't recall my mother's response. I was only six so I'm sure proclamations about my future adult life were fairly common. But it's interesting that I remember the situation in which I asserted this particular desire. Under those bright kitchen lights, where my stay-at-home, dinner making, cookie baking, model of traditional housewifery mother did some of her best work - that's where I announced my desire to be like Deborah Harry - the pouty, ex-playboy bunny, with a come-hither squint, a cat-like wail, and a reputation for boinking her boyfriend in the bathroom at CBGBs.

Just six - and already a flare for ironic juxtapose - or so I like to think.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It All Started with The Fab Four


Perhaps it's way too cliche to cite the Beatles as an influence in the pursuit of a rock 'n' roll life. But this greatest hits album, released in 1966, and the only Beatles album in my parents' collection, was my very favorite from the ages 2-5.

Almost every afternoon, my older brother would cue this up on the turntable and together we sat, side by side, in rocking chairs and, literally rocked to the harmonies of classics like Drive My Car and Day Tripper.

Nowhere Man was my favorite track on the album.  It really got my toddler toes tapping.  My brother probably hated it but I would sing along to the chorus, sometimes quite obnoxiously:  "He's a real nowhere man / Sitting in his nowhere land / Making all his nowhere plans for nobody."  Pretty heavy stuff for someone still required to take a nap - but then I didn't understand the subtle comment on directionless nihilism contained within the song's verbage.  I just loved the sing-songy repetitive rhyme of nowhere phrases and the relatively dark, descending note pattern of the hook's melody and harmony.  The nasal delivery delighted me too.  Perhaps this is my adult projection.  But I do know I loved the way that song sounded; and I would listen to it on repeat, a habit I still have when a song delights me.

Interestingly, the original cover for this album was quite controversial.  It featured the band wearing butcher smocks and draped in pieces of raw meat, and blood covered body parts from plastic baby dolls.  That photo was more in line with the band's dark sense of humor than the banal images usually associated with their releases; and according to Paul McCartney it was "a comment on the war."  But, ultimately the label deemed the cover too shocking and it was replaced with the placid group shot above.

I stared at that shot for minutes at a time (remember, I was 3).   I realize this is random, but I was drawn to the trunk probably because my parents had a trunk similar to the one in the picture and, for some reason,  this confirmed the group's cool in my child's eye.   Moreover, I liked the idea of sitting in a trunk the way Paul is in the picture.

After I got over my obsession with the trunk, I carefully examined  the individual members and ranked them in order of preference.  John was my 3rd favorite Beatle.  I liked his smug expression and crossed arms, but his shoes and socks bothered me (shallow, I know).   And George was always last, probably the result of his placement in the photo more than some attribute that failed to meet my pre-school standards.  But, I could never decide whether Paul or Ringo was my favorite.  Compared to the others, Ringo looked small and childlike and his name was fun to say.  Ringo!  Riiiing-oooo!  But Paul felt familiar, like the older boys in my neighborhood.

Years later, in 1983, when Paul collaborated with Michael Jackson on the song Say, Say, Say, he temporarily moved in to a solid first place in my complex Beatle ranking system, which I continue to update from time to time. (In a twist of irony, George is currently my favorite Beatle).  But, it was 1978; and Thriller hadn't been released yet; and I just couldn't decide - Ringo or Paul.  I knew I loved Nowhere Man and all his nowhere plans though; and I knew I loved sitting side by side with my big brother in those bark cloth covered rockers listening to that album on repeat.  The seeds were sewn for my future rock 'n' roll pursuits; and I was barely out of diapers. 

Monday, January 31, 2011

New Year, New Direction!

I'm one of those millions of kids who dreamed of becoming a rock star.  I'm one of the thousands who actually pursued it.  And, like most of them, I failed. 

Henceforth, Frock Rocker Rants shall be an online collection of memories and a reflection on my personal pursuit of the rock star dream.  It may end up entirely too self-indulgent - an uninteresting and un-relatable exercise in self-back-scratchery. 

But, I hope not.