putain, fais chier

blogging, cello, music, sad No Comments »

Hello again.

I felt I should write about a more serious subject for the first time in what seems like quite a while, and it’s the reason I haven’t been writing as often as I have in the past.  The problem is motivation.  I’ve been really frustrated with myself and the state of my life for the last few months, and I just can’t seem to pull it together.  Eight solid months of constant financial difficulties have created a sense of foreboding and despondency that is, while not entirely new to me, certainly at an all-time high.  That kind of stuff isn’t fun to write about, and neither is it fun to read, so I’ve kept quiet.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, and I don’t want to you to worry about me.  Incidentally, ‘I don’t want you to worry’ reminds me of a funny thing one of my friends said recently.  He said that he’s going to start saying, “I don’t mean to–” and then say that very thing.  As in, “I don’t mean to be rude, but you look really fat!”  I responded in kind with, “Pardon my French, but ‘Putain, fais chier!’ ”  But I seriously don’t think you need to worry.  Actually, you can if you want, or not; I can’t really stop you.  But at least you know what’s going on.

In some strange news, two people have died very young recently.  One of whom I knew only slightly—a friend of a friend kind of situation, but he was a great guy—and the other I didn’t know at all, but who was my close friend’s brother-in-law.  Both men died from sudden heart attacks, and both men were in their thirties. I don’t really know what else to say, but my heart goes out to all involved.  Things like that freak me out, and with the news of the airplane crash in San Francisco and the nightmarish runaway oil train that derailed and decimated the heart of the little town in eastern Canada, it’s a miracle I get any sleep at all.  There are a myriad of things to ruminate over.

I’ve hardly touched my cello in months.  It never seems to get any easier, even after playing for almost nine years.  I play a ton of other instruments, and eventually I’ve gotten to a certain comfort level with them, but that comfort level on the cello continues to elude me.  It probably doesn’t help that some of the better cellists in town have either lived before or currently in my same apartment building, which has led me to be a bit self-conscious at times about practicing here, but that’s my own issue.  Learning the cello (and probably any other instrument) is a series of plateaus.  You strugglestrugglestruggle with one technique, and then it finally makes sense and you take a little step up.  You stay there for a while and strugglestrugglestruggle with another technique, and so on.  This is perfectly natural.  But when is it going to seem like I know what I’m doing on it?  My vibrato is terrible, I never sound or feel relaxed, I’m sure I have about a million bad habits, et cetera, et cetera.  By comparison, it only took about 2 years to feel comfortable playing the guitar, and about a year or two to feel comfortable on the accordion.  Drums, although I don’t play them very often, have always come fairly naturally.  Mandolin took about a week, but that’s an unusual situation, since it’s the same skill set as the guitar.  Cello is still, by far, the most difficult and frustrating instrument I’ve ever attempted.  I don’t need to be Yo-Yo Ma or join an orchestra or anything—although that would be great—but it would be nice not to cringe every time I hear a recording of myself playing.

That’s all I feel like writing at the moment, but I’m going to try to write at least a little more regularly.  Here’s hoping the despondency and foreboding dissipate before too long.  If and when they do, you’ll hear from me more.  If they don’t, then. . .well, I guess you won’t.  And you’ll know why.

See you around.


the party

cello, music, pictures No Comments »

Finally, the phrase ‘the party’ can be used to describe more than just a bizarre Peter Sellers movie from the 1960’s (from whence the band Birdie Num Num got their name), in which he plays a man of South Asian descent who wanders into a party and, completely befuddled, makes comments about everything he sees there.  Now—yes, NOW—it’s also the name of a stellar entry here on this very blog.  I know; it’s an impressive title.

After a week of starting a new job and re-mixing GhostBand’s CD (more about that at some point; it’s a very interesting story), I somehow manage to have a free afternoon, so I’m taking the opportunity to do what I promised the other day, and beginning the laborious process of posting pictures from the New England trip and sharing some of the stories behind them, rather than creating one super-extendo, fifty-thousand-word behemoth of an entry.

Might as well start from the first night (although I think the whole chronological ‘thing’ is unnecessary and even somewhat boring) since this was my first time in New York, and this beautiful night seemed to set the tone for the rest of the trip.

This picture was taken at the home of our hosts, M and A, in Brooklyn.  Their home is a lovely, sparse, tasteful two-story apartment near the Green-Wood Cemetery.  They treated us like family in a million different ways, not least of which because A happens to be PolishCellist’s younger sister.  They didn’t know me from Adam before I showed up in their car and on their doorstep, but they welcomed me with open arms and instantly included me in the fold.  Both of them are engaging creative types (he’s a long-time Blue Man, musician and recording engineer, and she’s a freelance sound engineer and visual artist), so we had plenty in common to talk about.

They made us an excellent dinner of Caprese salad, grilled sausages, hot dogs, and bread.  We ate on their patio until the rest of the guests began to arrive in the early evening, when the wine flowed, a fire flickered, and PolishCellist and I played an informal cello and accordion concert or the small but substantial group.

Here’s a shot of us playing, taken by PolishCellist’s youngest sister E, who lives in Brooklyn as well.

Around ten o’clock, we decided to give the neighbors a break (although I suspect they rather enjoyed the concert) and set about roasting marshmallows for s’mores (as well as drinking more wine) and continuing the conversations.

Eventually the party moved inside and out came the cameras, because the three sisters aren’t in the same place at the same time nearly as often as they’d like to be, so when they are it’s a pretty special occasion.

From left to right are A, PolishCellist, and E.  Good genes certainly do run in their family, no?

Around two-thirty in the morning, we all went to bed.  PolishCellist and I were awake a bit later than M and A were, since we’re both night owls and our body clocks were still on Pacific Time.  She stayed upstairs and did some computer work, and I went downstairs and attempted unsuccessfully to sleep, while mentally going over all the places I wanted to see in the days to follow.  I decided to explore as many various parts of town as possible—downtown Brooklyn, the Bridge, lower Manhattan, and Central Park (including Strawberry Fields and John Lennon’s home at the Dakota) were on my agenda for the first day—but I also decided to ‘randomize’ and play things by ear, and to remain open to possibilities and suggestions from my new friends.

To be continued. . .


cello, music, pictures, Portland, sad, true 1 Comment »

Sorry for the silence on the blog front.  I’m sure that those of you who’ve been checking in here at BFS&T know by now that when I don’t write anything for a while, it usually means that I’ve been experiencing a deluge of activity in real life, which leaves precious little time for reflection, let alone writing.  This time has certainly been no exception, with lots of out-of-town gigs, lots of recording, and lots of gallivanting around the Pacific Northwest at all hours of the day and night.  Here’s the view from the cabaret venue where PolishCellist and I played in Seattle a week ago:

IrishBand played in Astoria, Oregon last weekend, as part of a poetry festival that brought in the likes of Bill Carter.  There was a freak snowstorm that night, and we somehow found ourselves in the midst of a snowball fight or three, always with random people.  That was probably my favorite memory of the trip.  Also, should you find yourself in that neck of the woods, you owe it to yourself to pay a visit to Clemente’s restaurant.  Their food is incredible, and they treated us like royalty during our stay there.  We became fast friends with the owners and staff.

In the midst of all this, my friend and I started a new band in which she sings and writes lyrics and melodies, while I write the music and play all the instruments on our recordings.  So far, I’ve been playing acoustic guitar at our gigs, but the recordings have lots of other instruments, so naturally, the subject of finding more band members arose.  I’ve been involved with the singer-songwriter scene for the last ten years, in which the members may change many times.  I’ve also been invited to join existing bands, whether to replace a member who has left, or to bring my own particular type of musicality to the band.  It’s been a really long time since I’ve played an active role in recruiting band members for a project of my own.  It’s exciting and daunting at the same time, and that calls for a story.

For about four years, I was the lead guitarist and producer for a woman who, for the pseudonymic purposes of this blog, will be called Bird.  Our original plan was for me to be the bass player, since good bass players are so hard to find, but after auditioning a few guitarists (and realizing that the overwhelming majority of guitarists play in the exact same blues-based way, which was of no interest to us), we decided that I should have that role and that we should seek a bass player instead.  We auditioned a couple of bassists, one of whom bragged about his ability to play the upright bass, but as soon as he pulled it out, it was obvious to us that he was clueless about it.  We finally did find a really good player, who had actually auditioned for us as a guitarist first, but was still interested even after he found out about our change of plans.

Once that hurdle was behind us, the search was on for a drummer.  The three of us knew that this would pose the biggest challenge, since good drummers are already scarce enough, and a newly-formed band has precious little to offer, financially speaking.  We started by posting an ad on ListByCraig, which turned up the usual suspects of tire-kickers and carless (sometimes even drumless!) slackers.  We then posted a free ad in MessengerGodAlternativePaper, which yielded us a couple of interesting prospects.  ProspectOne, in his late twenties, showed up with an endless series of stories about bands he’d been in and tours he’d been on, and the layers of stickers adorning his drum cases lent credence to his stories.  His playing, however, did not.  He was horrendous, and if you closed your eyes, you’d have thought that a seven-year-old was behind the drums.   We slogged through three or four songs (he’d driven clear across town to play with us, after all), then thanked him and told him we’d let him know.

Not long after that fiasco, we drove out to BeaverSuburb to play with ProspectTwo, a guy in his mid-forties who was becoming overwhelmed by his career as a doctor, and who wanted to spice up his life by reconnecting with his love of playing the drums.  He had a beautiful house, and a beautiful drum kit, and a beautiful PA system to sing through.  He cooked beautiful frittatas for us (I had to check the spelling of ‘frittatas’ just now) and squeezed beautiful fresh orange juice for us by hand.  He was a great guy, and extremely intelligent, and we quite enjoyed his company.  His drumming, like that of the previous guy, left a bit to be desired.  His skills were not nearly as lacking as the other guy’s, certainly, but his playing was far from solid, and despite all the positive qualities he offered, we knew he would never be able to meet our drumming needs.

After that round of auditions, we were starting to become disillusioned, and (if I’m going to be completely honest) even a bit jaded.  We tried a new tactic, which was to actually pay money and place an ad in the Musicians Wanted section of the main weekly alternative paper in town, which provided us with a distinctly higher caliber of applicants.  The next person we auditioned was amazing.  He had just moved to Portland, he was a great player, and he had a great personality as well.  We felt like the four of us gelled as musicians, and we sounded like a real band for the first time.   After we had played through our list of songs, we sat around and chatted about Life In General, and about Music, and about Other Stuff too.  Before we knew it, another hour had passed.  Then, the subject of Money came up, and the atmosphere in the room completely changed.  He turned quiet and weird and defensive, and blurted out something about how he needed to be compensated for this and that if he was going to be in the band, and that he was used to making so much money in his other bands back in Colorado or wherever, and that if we couldn’t guarantee that much, he’d have to look elsewhere.  We had no delusions of grandeur, and we made it clear to everyone potentially involved that this was a brand new band, and we might never make money, but we believed in what we were doing, and we expected all of the members to feel the same way.  He made an awkward getaway, and the three of us were left scratching our heads.  Years later, he became a well-respected drummer around town, but I daresay that most people will remember him for being robbed and assaulted in the middle of the night while riding his bike, then being run over by TWO different cars driven by drunks who were friends caravanning home after a night of partying.  Both of them fled the scene.  Drummer did not survive, and the one driver that was convicted was sentenced to an insultingly small fine, a few days in jail, and a short time in a drug treatment program.  In a strange twist of musical fate, I was invited to play cello and accordion on a song that was written by a friend of mine a few months ago as a tribute to him.  The song has recently been released, and I just saw an update on SocialNetwork that said it will be played on a local music ‘spotlight’ show tonight.

The final guy we met had also just moved to Portland from Yakima, which is where I grew up too.  He asked lots of pertinent questions about the songs, and played very tastefully and dynamically.  He even commented on Bird’s blue guitar, which he said matched his blue drum set, and meant that he was ‘in.’  He was our guy, and we all knew it.  The lineup was complete.

The four of us played together for the next few years, until the electric version of the Bird band split up and morphed into an acoustic lineup that didn’t involve the three of us.  But we’re all still friends, and Bassist and Drummer are still out and about.  They even play together in a new incarnation of a really great band that’s been around for a while.  Drummer was lucky enough to tour with the Canadian band The Paperboys, which was a tremendous opportunity, not least of which because they were his favorite band.

We tried out a keyboard player for a month or two, but he could never make time to rehearse with us or learn the songs, and he was going to Australia, and he always wanted to come to my place and videotape my hands when I played the parts, so that he could learn them exactly.  He always seemed to have a reason why he didn’t know the songs.  To be fair to him, he was a genuinely nice guy, and he even came to watch a couple of our early shows, but it didn’t quite work to have him in the band.

This is what the audition process is like, ladies and gentlemen.  It’s challenging, and grueling, and fun, and interesting, and frustrating, but ultimately rewarding, and it’s a necessary part of the musical life.  The good news is that I’m not just starting out anymore, and I know a bunch of people, and I have lots more experience under my metaphorical belt, and I have a MOSTLY good reputation, but it’s still going to be a tough process.  Who knows; I may even end up being the drummer in this new band.  For now, the biggest news is that the two of us submitted a song to the annual compilation of up-and-coming Portland bands, and we’ll find out this spring if we make the cut or not.  IrishBand submitted a song too, and both songs are very unusual in the overall Portland ‘scene’, which I believe will help our chances immensely.

Naturally, I’ll keep you posted.


beautiful, cello, funny, pictures, true No Comments »

Earlier today, I heard someone mention the phrase, “We only use ten percent of our brains,” and that got me thinking of a number of reasons why that statement isn’t true.  First of all, most human beings are very highly evolved, and every part of our bodies (with the possible exception of the coccyx) has a specific function and purpose.  Things that don’t serve any purpose get evolutionarily ‘weeded out’, you might say, and tens of thousands of years of that process have left us pretty dang streamlined.

Different brain functions are handled by different sections of the brain, so while at this very second you may be using only ten percent of yours by watching television, or by having sex, or by reading this blog, you’ll be using different parts of it to know where your limbs are (without looking), or to recognize your childrens’ faces, or to simply keep your balance, or to recognize subtle social cues, or to play the cello.  You’ll have used your entire brain in just a few minutes without even, dare I say, thinking about it.

Where did the ten-percent myth originate, and why does it persist?  According to Barry Beyerstein, it seems to be a skewed modern outgrowth of an idea put forth by Victorian-era psychologist William James, who was fond of saying that people rarely achieve more than a small amount of their potential.  From there, the idea spread into the public vernacular, where it somehow morphed into ‘ten percent of their potential’, and then into ten percent of the brain.  Once that meme spread out across the world, it never really went away, despite the enormous scientific and technological breakthroughs on the subject during the intervening decades.

I love to find out about the modern discoveries that prove how ‘plastic’ and changeable the brain is, especially following a brain injury.  If you lose your sight, for example, your brain will learn to process things you TOUCH with the visual cortex.  A friend of mine used to have a little blind cat who knew her way around the entire house, could walk right over to you wherever you were, could jump to window sills (and even knew which window sills had decorative stuff in them she needed to avoid, or were sills that she was unable to jump to), and could even climb up and down the fire escape without ever missing a step.  My own cat, who had normal vision, wouldn’t go near the steps of the fire escape because she could see how steep the angle was, and how high up our third-floor apartment really was, and it was all too much for her.  The blind cat would run up and down without a care in the world.  She had the place completely mapped out in her brain, and knew exactly where everything was.

The ten-percent theory seems to rank up there with other misinformed phrases like ‘sweat like a pig’ and ‘eat like a bird.’  Pigs don’t sweat, which is why they lie around in the mud to keep cool, and birds have to eat twice their own weight every day in order to have enough energy for all that flying.  My favorite thing to say, when someone says they eat like a bird, is, “Oh, really?  Twice your own weight every day?  Or do you mean you peck at the food on your plate, without using your hands or utensils?”

The good news, possibly the most heartening of all about the brain theory, is that if you DO only use ten percent of your brain, but you use it to think about THE Brain, that should bump you up to at least a good fifteen or twenty percent right there.

best of BFS&T, 2010 edition

beautiful, blogging, cello, dreams, funny, love, music, Oregon, pictures, Portland, recording, sad, true, Washington, Yakima No Comments »

2010 has been very strange.  At the beginning of the year, I was still on blogging hiatus, so it took a while to get back up to speed.  Springtime was crazy, with lots of great musical endeavors and memorable trips.  By the summer, both my life and this blog went into overdrive, when I really started writing again, and found my full stride while sharing a bit too much about my childhood.  Suddenly it was October, which is the month of my birth, but this year was also the month of my stepdad’s death, which has sent everything into a tailspin since then.  A surreal trip to Yakima for the funeral was followed by multiple trips to Seattle, both for gigs and for family functions.

There were some standout moments from this last year that didn’t manage to make it into the blog, for various reasons.  For example, here’s a video of a particularly interesting recording session that I was lucky enough to be involved with, albeit in a small way.  A local singer-songwriter, who is also a friend, put the word out on SocialNetwork that she wanted to create a cacaphony of 50 pianos, all playing an F chord at the same time.  I jumped at the chance.  She rented a piano showroom downtown, and my friend and I (and forty eight or so other people) joined in to participate.  I brought my camera to capture a bit of the action.

Another memorable moment from this last year was Trek in the Park.  This theater group gets together every year to re-create a famous episode from the original Star Trek television series.  This year’s was Space Seed, in which we meet the infamous character Khan (who returned in the movie The Wrath of Khan).  It was a very well-done production, with live music and everything. . .and it was all free of charge.  Here’s the climactic fight sequence between Kirk and Khan.

IrishBand released our self-titled EP this year, as well as an amazing animated video that a friend created for us.  I would post that here, but our band name is very unusual, hence the pseudonym.  To celebrate, we went to Port Townsend, Washington (the hometown of three of the band members, and an adopted home away from home for the rest of us) to play a CD release party and catch the Rhododendron Festival and parade and everything.  It’s always a huge party weekend for PT, and this year was the tenth reunion for PT High School, which included Violinist and a bunch of other friends, so I actually went to the reunion barbecue in Chetzemoka Park during the afternoon, since I knew so many of the people there.  (God forbid that I actually go to any of my own class reunions; I haven’t yet.)  I also performed in the parade, in disguise, as an honorary member of Nanda.  I’m the guy with the Mexican wrestling mask, playing the bass, miming along to the dance music that was blaring from the speakers in the back of the truck.

I had the opportunity to see the Oregon Symphony perform many times this last year, with some pretty big-name performers.  Violinists Midori and Hilary Hahn, violinist Pinchas Zukerman and his cellist wife Amanda Forsyth (who, incidentally, gave a cello master class at the Old Church that afternoon, which I also attended, even though I’m far from being a cello master) who performed Brahms’s Double Concerto together, and a number of others.  This month, I have a ticket for pianist Emanuel Ax’s concert, which I’m very much looking forward to.  Yo-Yo Ma performed here a month or so ago, but his concert was sold out in the spring, only a few weeks after tickets went on sale.  Curses.

So it’s been a good year, overall, but I’m really hoping that 2011 is better, or less confusing at the very least.  I have lofty goals for the upcoming year, which include finding a job, finding love and a real relationship, taking care of some things that have been dogging me for a while now, and producing more CD’s.  I have a bit of news on the music front, actually.  A friend of mine hurt her arms a year ago, and has since been unable to play the piano, but that hasn’t stopped her from singing, or from writing lyrics and melodies, or from having tons of ideas.  She e-mailed me at some point to ask what people in her position do in the music business.  I told her I don’t know about ‘the music business’, but I’d love to give the songs a listen, and that maybe I could put music to them.  She sent me some mp3’s, and I instantly felt like I knew where the songs should go.  They felt familiar without being predictable, which is always a good sign.  That was about two months ago, and we already have five or six collaborations in the works.  Pretty awesome and exciting.

In other news, December is the fourth anniversary of this blog, so it seems appropriate to have a little birthday party, no?  Come on, let’s have some sis-boom-bah.

So anyway, on to the Best Of.  Here are the lists of what I consider to the best entries BFS&T has to offer from this past year, which naturally includes a list of the most interesting dreams, as well.  Enjoy!


SteamCon – the steampunk convention in Seattle in which PolishCellist and I played, and had a total blast doing so

tragedy – the death of Stepdad

struggle – the early aftermath of the death of Stepdad

sitting here thinking about the Holocaust – one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard on the radio

folk festival fun – Portland Folk Festival, starring IrishBand, Dan Bern, Roll Out Cowboy, etc.

I’m kind of an a-hole – see for yourself

birthday present – prostitute schmostitute

the unicorn code – love it, learn it, LIVE IT

no one’s laughing – a peek into our family dynamics

d̩ja vu Рwhat it feels like, and a friend who claims to never have experienced one

the truth is out there – interesting UFO story, I promise

it’s not for shaving – Occam’s Razor, and how it applies to recording music

what if it is? – a very memorable and touching moment from the show Six Feet Under



love and curiosity

he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

the final innocent tryst



lights, camera, dream

festival dream

shape shifters

inimitable and imitable

subconscious and libido

this needs a name


Just in case this wasn’t enough for your insatiable appetite for blog entries, here’s the Best of BFS&T 2009 entry, for your gluttonous pleasure.

Thanks for being here and reading all this, and for supporting this blog for such a long time now.  I really appreciate it.  I hope we all have an excellent New Year’s Eve, and Day, and that 2011 allows us to learn, and to grow, and to change for the better, a little bit each day.

Happy New Year!