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I Do Not Like The Beatles.

Oct 7, 2013 steve 0 Comments

I don’t like The Beatles.  There, I said it.  It felt good to get that out there.

I never have, ever since middle school.  Something about it just didn’t sit right with me. I tried to pretend at times, in the Napster/Limewire heyday downloading select songs, and listening for a bit, but the charm just wore off.

Yes, they wrote beautifully crafted songs.  Perfect melodies.  Groundbreaking arrangements.  But so fucking what?  To me, most of it seems to come from a self satisfied point of view, with an uptight feel, lacking any real darkness or mystery.  Rock music is about the mystery, the unknown, ghosts and shit.  It all came from blues…that’s all blues was! Pain and ghosts. It just may be the whitest music of all time.

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You could make the point that The Beatles were just a pop group writing pop songs for the masses, but some people don’t seem comfortable with that.

This leads us to the Stones Vs Beatles question.

The world is not divided into Beatles and Stones people.  It’s divided into Beatles people, and people who enjoy other types of music, and don’t believe in putting a god like figure (or group of figures) at the top of it.  Beatles fans are really not that far off from The Tea Party.  Funny how that works, isn’t it? Lennon is definitely Regan.

If anything, it’s comparable to Mac or PC, in which case the Beatles people are definitely the PC, no getting around that.

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It’s not that I hate every Beatles song.  If it’s on in a bar, I won’t go into a rant (maybe a small one.) It’s just that I would almost always rather listen to something else.  My choice of song to play will not be a Beatles song.  Unless it’s Desmond Decker’s instrumental of “Love Me Do.”  If I want some beautiful orchestral pop, I’ll listen to Harry Nilsson.  If I want a British sounding rock song, I’ll listen to The Who.  And If I want someone heavily influenced by American rhythm and blues music, yes, I’ll listen to The Stones.   For the life of me, I just can’t imagine a time when I think “You know what I need to hear right now?  A Beatles Song!”

Just had to get that out there.  Thank you for listening.

11 Thoughts On Touring: A Guide To The Occasional Traveler

Oct 2, 2013 steve 1 Comment

Well, hello!

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I’ve just returned from a jaunt around the northeast, and I’m just as confused as ever.  Here are some observations I’ve compiled from a month on tour with a folk-rock-americana type band.

1 – People act differently towards musicians.

When you check into a hotel at 2:30 am by yourself, the clerk does not usually say “What’s your band called?  Where did you play? Ooooh that sounds fun! Where are you going next??”   Music and the thought of traveling as a result of it excites the most unlikely of people, even when you’re just traveling through Pittsburgh on a Sunday.

2 – It’s incredibly hard to eat well.

After about a week, all I craved was something that was grown on a tree.  We at one point discovered a juice bar near a venue, and went back several times.  I was so full of wheat grass I burped lawn clippings for days.  Not really, but it sure tasted like it.  The lady at the juice bar even came to the show.  She was a life saver.

3 – You do not know what day or time it is.

Yes, this is a cliché, but it’s true.  I had no idea what day of the week it was.  When getting to sleep so late, just as a result of work (and the occasional good time)  you wake up and feel like eating breakfast at 2pm.  There is a delightfully euphoric zombie like feeling that goes along with this.  I’d imagine that’s what causes so many problems for musicians with nothing to do after a tour.

4 – Stop calling it “Tour”

That’s just stupid. Put a fucking article in there. You’re not leaving for “Tour,” you’re going on tour.  Please stop saying that.  Hipster asshole.

5 – It’s probably easy to develop a drinking problem

You could see how a successful band could develop substance problems with no effort at all.  We were traveling small time, but were still given plenty of booze at all hours.  Imagine if you had a rider full of alcohol?  And people who just wanted to hang around?  And if you were bored out of your mind, didn’t have to drive yourself or carry your own gear, you’d probably take part in whatever buzz is available.  Then repeat this every night for weeks/months/years….It could get iffy pretty quickly.

6 – No one is fighting off groupies.

If you’re carrying your own equipment, people are likely not fawning all over you.  Spouses or significant others don’t have too much to worry about…again until you’re very successful and someone else is carrying your stuff.

7 – You get very close with people

Remember those family road trips?  This is like that.  We had 6 people in a sprinter van, and although there were no fights or arguments, the air does fill with tension on occasion.  You’re rooming together, eating the same meals, basically being within 10 feet of everyone for the majority of the day.  You better like the people you’re traveling with, that’s all I’m saying.

8 – It’s work

Yes, it’s work that people choose to do and many do for little or no pay, but it’s not that easy.  I was lucky enough to not have to drive this time, but everyone shares in the carrying of equipment.  Want someone to help you move?  Ask a musician.  They’re very efficient and have had years of practice.  Packing, unpacking, carrying up steps and narrow doorways, loading and unloading…it’s a universal musician skill that survives by evolution.  Those who do not carry things are probably not invited back.

9 – You get very little sleep.

This is true for even the most successful of bands.  No one gets any great rest in a moving vehicle, and things need to be done at odd hours.  You need to check out of the hotel early, regardless of what time you got it.  You also need to be at the next destination at a certain time, the schedule remains constant despite each day’s activities being different.  Then on the day you have off…you bolt out of bed at 8am

10 – Everything depends on monitors.

You’ve spent thousands of dollars on your equipment, many hours practicing alone and with the group…but by the time you get to a venue, none of it matters if you can’t hear yourself.  And you rarely can.  I never harbored much animosity towards sound men until this trip.  Everything is feeding back, none of the monitors are loud enough, the whole PA has a terrible buzz, the DI sounds like a dying frog….it goes on and on.  Yes, it’s not always the fault of the sound man, but a majority of the ones we encountered seemed to have no idea what they were doing.  And you could instantly tell the ones who did.

11 – Technology is amazing.

For the life of me, I cannot imagine doing this in 1994. I have always loved technology, but I want to kneel at the feet of the iPhone.  And Google Maps.  And Google in general. And Yelp.  Say what you will about technology being too present in every day life…our life is far better for it.  We would have missed out on a whole lot of great food, coffee, and all sorts of things.  For any place you can think of, someone has been there before you and logged their experience for you to learn from.  Think of how amazing that is.  Don’t even get me started on driving directions.  That’s worth twice the price of whichever device you’re using.  We never got lost, beyond an occasional wrong turn which was quickly corrected.  Unreal.  Now we just have to solve that battery life problem when you’re not near an outlet for 6 hrs…..

Well, there you have it.  11 is one beyond the classic list form, so let’s leave it at that for today.  I’m feeling a little restless, like when you’ve been swimming in the ocean and still feel the movement on your sleep, but I’m happy to be home.  It turns out being in the space where most of your life has occurs can be a comforting experience.

Thoughts For July

Jul 18, 2013 steve 2 Comments

Recently, I’ve been practicing a lot.  Break out the metronome and Ted Reed’s Syncopation, and work on a different part of your brain.  Its strange how slowing something down to a fixed time keeper and playing strictly from notes from a page shakes everything up.

I also made what is perhaps the most “grownup” decision of my life thus far.  I sold my 1973 Telecaster and bought a suit.  We have a few weddings to attend, and I could only get away with the mismatched blazer and trousers look so many times.  I’m and adult male, I should have a suit. It’s made in the USA, I feel good about that.

It fits in with the constant theme of paring things down.  I want less equipment, less clothing, less technological devices.  The obvious counterpoint, is that you have more money when buying and storing less things, something everyone seems to be ok with.  Gawker had a great point about these early Dot Com Millionaires, who now fancy themselves self help gurus.  Some preach that the key to life is living simply and getting rid of possessions.  They never say get rid of your money though.  They’d like to keep it just in case they change their mind about possessions.

An opportunity has come up recently to go on tour for about a month, and it seems like the right time to do such a thing.  Although I’ve always played music, I’ve never toured beyond a 2 week period.  Life is quite unsettled when traveling with a band (the very definition of it,) and the economics have always boggled my mind.  I still don’t understand them.  But in a few years, that might not be possible.  I currently have no mortgage, no children, no high interest debt, so might as well go for it.

Its a frightening proposition though.  No one wants to be away from loved ones, and as much as I’d love not to go to the office every day…I’d like to have health insurance when I get back.  How ridiculous is that?  My main concern about embarking on a musical endeavor is whether I’d be able to afford JUST IN CASE medical care when it’s over.  Let’s not turn this into a healthcare debate though…save that for the pundits.

In my younger Jam-Band-Enthusiast days, Web Master Eric Tarn and I were in New Brunswick New Jersey to see the band Moe.  I refuse to do a Google search to see if that band is still out there, I have a hunch they are.  But on the printed newsletter they stacked by the merch, was a statement that will stick with me forever.  Under a list of tour dates, it read;

“Remember, no show is confirmed until we are on stage playing.”

That may be the greatest piece of musical advice for any fan or performer.  We were scheduled to go to Canada next weekend to play a festival…Yesterday I received an email that one of the main singers has ruptured his ear drum.  Always on your toes!

There should be a class in school called “Expectations, Reality, and Plans: A Study”

Father John Misty @ Maxwell’s, May 17, 2013 – And Commotion On 6th Avenue

May 19, 2013 steve 1 Comment

It’s a risk every time you leave the house.  Step off the curb…you’re hit by a bus.  Catastrophist?  Yes.  But on the way home from the Father John Misty show Friday night, we stepped off the PATH train into this.

We had finally reached the West Village after an arduous journey.  Walking down 6th ave from the 9th st PATH train stop, all we could do was exclaim how great it was to be back in New York.  Then, just in front of Gray’s Papaya…we heard a loud bang.  The block went silent for a minute.  The crew of party boys on the corner exclaimed “Yeah, that’s how we do it in the hood!”  They were obviously joking around, the consensus was that it was an M80.  There was a general feeling of unrest though, so we crossed over towards Greenwich Ave.  People seemed ready to dismiss it, but a man ran straight into traffic to hail a cop.  Within the time it took us to get to 7th st, one block south, there were 5-6 police cars on the scene.  We even saw the undercover police taxi.  If anything, it has given me renewed faith in the NYPD.

We saw no action, and had no idea what happened until the news trickled down through Twitter, but you could feel the commotion.  It was an unsettling end to an unsettling night.

The question that has come up most often recently is “What the hell is wrong with people?”  A few weeks back during a friend’s show at Brooklyn Bowl, some jerkoff unloaded a fire extinguisher during the final song.  Everyone thought it was a fog machine until it became difficult to breathe.

This lead to the venue being cleared out, 2 fire trucks called to the scene, a good portion of the venue covered in fire resistant powder, and instruments damaged.  A gigantic waste of resources at the behest of some entitled hipster fuck.  What the hell is wrong with people?

Over the past year, I have evangelized Father John Misty every chance I get.  It took a minute to warm up to his debut album, but once it connected, I was all in.  It’s a mix of great songs and showmanship, a magical combination.  And with the next New York show being at Prospect Park’s “Great Googa Mooga (which will forever have a giant shitstorm cloud hovering over it,) followed by the West Side Highway cavern known as Terminal 5, I jumped at the chance to see him across the river at Maxwell’s in Hoboken.  Despite Hoboken’s reputation as Murray Hill literally on steroids, I’ve had nothing but good experiences at Maxwell’s.  It’s so far north, that the bro’s usually find some trouble long before they reach the quiet northern streets.

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It was billed as a Solo Acoustic show, and I was willing to give Misty (Josh Tillman)  the benefit of the doubt.  Seeing songs performed by one person with an acoustic guitar is like a look behind the curtain.  If a song can’t stand up to this bare bones arrangement, then it’s just sauce without a sandwich.  So while there would be no Freddie Mercury style dance moves, we would get to the essence of the music, and I was ok with that this Friday night.

A friend’s father was a police lieutenant in Jersey City, and told us no officer wants to take the Hoboken shift, because the bro’s don’t think twice about fighting a cop.  I have no doubts about this.  I am a Hudson County defender.  As a former 5 year resident of Jersey City, there are plenty of things to love about New York’s annoying little brother.  Great food, cheaper rent, lovely views…but it’s hard to defend Hoboken.  While standing on line for the bathroom at Maxwells, I heard this exact conversation:

“Dude, we’re two short guys with muscles, we’re definitely starting a riot tonight.  Someone’s gonna wanna fight us.”

“Yeah Bro!”

Had I been a more instinctual and spontaneous decision maker, I would have left right there.

The show was sold out  – The place only holds about 200 people, and the man sold out Webster Hall, so this was to be expected.  But the crowd was still a surprise.  Usually at Maxwell’s, people who want to talk and whatnot hang towards the back, so up front you get a good experience.  But this was no holds barred. Upon taking the stage, Misty (let’s refer to him as this from now on, because it sounds better than Tillman) invited the crowd to sit on the stage.  The phrase “oooh, mistakes were made!” was uttered from the crowd.  He immediately seemed to regret the decision.  “Now, don’t abuse your privileges!” he muttered.

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An adorably sad looking girl clutched the giant stuffed white tiger, perched on a stool as a stage prop, and clung to it for the remainder of the evening, singing every word.  A more enthusiastic yet lyrically challenged girl sat directly behind Misty, throwing herself fully into only the verses she knew.  And just to her other side, the VERY bro who made the “short guys with muscles” statement, plopped himself directly on the chair set up for Misty to sit on.  The guitar tech kindly asked him to sit on the floor, much to the bro’s dismay, and he proceeded to drunkenly knock over said chair, and sit with his feet just inches from the performer.  Not the best of omens.

Despite a few weird sound adjustments in the beginning of the set, it was great to see these stripped down arrangements.  The hits were just as exciting.  Also a slew of new material was performed, and it’s fun to guess how they will sound on record.  It’s reassuring to see that he’s still a magnetic performer in this setting.  There were times when the rowdy crowd was enraptured, unable to text, talk, or take Vine’s with their smartphones.  The highlight of these included a slowed down version of “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings,” which is not one of my favorites from the record, but tends to be favored as the one to belt out at the show.  But slowing it down without the admittedly awesome broken sounding electric on the record, the song came through. And that’s a great chorus.  Even the meat head enthusiastically erupting with laughter at every remotely sarcastic lyric was stunned silent.

The performer was aware that the vibe felt off.  The on-stage-chair-knocking-muscle-bound-tiny-bro began talking to the girl next to him.  And texting.  While on the stage.  Yeah.  Misty had had enough.  He turned around before a song….

“Oh my god, SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

The little stout and surly fellow looked stunned, and shifted uncomfortably.  While tuning, Misty paused again….

“You’re SO close to me right now.  SO CLOSE!”

It continued this way for a bit.  When someone is on stage with an acoustic guitar, and there is a sold out crowd there to see them, just use some fucking manners.  That’s really all there is to it.  Yes, sing along at the big parts.  Laugh at the jokes between songs.  But relax with the fucking iPhone videos every song.

Recently, I’ve begun to turn the brightness on my screen all the way down before the show.  Then, I allow myself a few quick photos.  I don’t take videos, and it’s not hella distracting.

It was a startling evening.  The fashion/freak  show that is Washington Street in Hoboken on a Friday after midnight is astounding.  It was a mad dash for the PATH.  Couples were fighting (possibly about who was more tan,) dudes were sniffing each others asses and asserting alpha male dominance.  Something is in the water over there.

Closing the night with a hate crime shooting in the West Village…well I don’t know what to think about that.  At least we made it home unharmed.  I’m going to let it stir for a minute.

Thinking and Running.

May 15, 2013 steve 0 Comments

I’ve been writing a few long form pieces.  My question to you, is do you have the stamina to read them? You probably do, its about the length of half a kindle single, and is worth half your lunch break.  (Or that meditative period where there’s a software update, and you just have to relax.)

At the first sign of spring in New York, I suddenly felt the need to go out for a run.  My hamstrings disagreed, but ambition won out.  Brooklyn Bridge park gets more verdant and beautiful by the day, and you have to explore that stuff as it’s happening.  I ran over this bouncy foot bridge connecting the Brooklyn Heights Promenade to the newly graveled path below…and ran straight into Bjork.  Not physically, but she was standing at the corner where the path meets the street.  I took it as a sign, because our upstairs neighbors just told me she lived there.

We had a great moment of negotiation with these neighbors.  There was a noise issue, stemming from the game Rock Band.  Our house turned into their extended resonant speaker, we could hear every click of the sticks.  A few month of silent hatred went by, with occasional banging on doors, making that hatred mutual…and then we decided to talk.  Who talks anymore, I’ll just send a tweet or some shit.  But as our favorite internet comments tell us, its much easier to be facelessly mean online.  We arranged a time, and they came downstairs to perform a firsthand listening test and see what we were dealing with.  The noise was acknowledged, they got rid of their subwoofer, bought some sound treatment for the house, and the relationship has improved a billion fold.  A lot of energy was wasted before that.

Turning 30 has made me feel both more and less “Rock and Roll.”  I’m playing more music, and appreciating the music I love in a different way.  I’m reflecting more on lyrics.  At the same time, the prospect of a crowded show is less and less appealing.  I mean, how great are reserved seats?

Anyway, while on that run I was thinking of selling all my instruments.  This is a common theme while exercising, can someone put the connection together for me?  It always seems to go like this:

“I have too much stuff.  I can only play one thing at a time.  Really, how different do each of those 5 guitars sound?  That drum has just been sitting there.  Ugh, I paid too much for that pedal.  How many unused XLR Cables do I have?  Can I just strip and sell them for parts?”

Every time though, I think of keeping 2 things.  The Fender Stratocaster I bought when I won $1000 on a scratch off lottery ticket when I was 12….And my Elvin Jones kick drum. It was actually Elvin’s, not some signature model reissue.

I don’t even like the Strat, the attachment is purely sentimental, I’d love to pass it on one day.  But the Elvin drum is magical.

It’s a story worth telling.  Before I pass the next milestone birthday and my memories start to instantly deteriorate, I might as well document it.  Keep an eye out.

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