keep you posted

funny, music No Comments »

I went to the grocery store today and ran into an actor/comedian acquaintance who was waiting in line ahead of me.  While she was checking out, I zoned out for a second—as I’m commonly known to do—and started whistling.  The checker called me on it after my friend was finished, and while she was ringing me up she asked, “Is that your Waiting-In-Line whistle?”

“Nope, it’s my I’ve-Got-A-Song-In-My Head whistle.”

She took a beat.  ”What song?”

“One I wrote, actually.”  She has no way of knowing that it’s a brand new GhostBand song, and it’s a safe bet that she, like most other humans, isn’t even aware of GhostBand’s existence.  ”I was working on it all morning.”

“Oh.  That’ll be $15.99.”

I handed her a twenty-dollar bill.  ”Hopefully you’ll be able to hear it out there in the world before too long.”

“I wouldn’t really know what to listen for.”

“Well, then. . .I guess I’ll have to keep you posted.”

There was an awkward pause, while she counted my cash and returned the change.  ”Okay, have a good evening.”

I love my life.

Okay.

funny, music, Portland, true 1 Comment »

A few months ago, I had a funny conversation with a friend of a friend, whose very unusual first name began with an M.  When my friend introduced me to M, I said, “Oh, you must know [GhostBand singer].  I think she might have been in the same school program as both of you were.  Were you at the Goodfoot?”

“Nope,” M replied.  “Never been there before.”

“That’s weird,” I said, “maybe I’m wrong about the school program, but I met another friend of hers—maybe from college?—and there are two of you with the same name.”

“I don’t think so,” she said.  “If there was another one of us, I’d know about it.”

“Yeah.  It’s an unusual enough name that I wouldn’t forget it.  But she exists.”

“I doubt it,” she said.  This is starting to get weird.

“Okay.”  I said.  Resistance was useless.  Fast forward a few minutes into the conversation, and the little group of us was talking about food and restaurants; a favorite subject here in Portland.  I mentioned one and gave it a good recommendation.

“Oh, I love that place,” M said.  “Too bad it closed down.”

“Really, when?  I was just there.”

“A few months ago, or a year, maybe.”

“No, it’s still open.  I ate there a couple weeks ago.”

“No, it’s totally closed.”

“Okay.”

I get no pleasure from arguing, and only resort to it if the subject is really something worth fighting about.  Things like people I’ve met, or restaurants that aren’t closed, those aren’t even arguments, they’re wastes of time that could be better spent in a good conversation.  I had a similarly funny and surreal one with my stepmom this past weekend.  The subject of music came up, and she had a question.

“Who’s the guy from Hoquiam [tiny town on the coast of Washington state] who died?  The musician?”

“Kurt Cobain?”

“Yeah, that’s him.”

“He was from Aberdeen, though.”

“No, he was from Hoquiam.”

“I don’t know if he was born in Aberdeen or not, but he grew up and went to school there.  I’ve watched a bunch of documentaries and stuff about him.”

“Yeah, that’s Hoquiam.  There’s a bridge there, and a memorial.”

“But that’s all in Aberdeen.  I’ve been to that bridge.”

“It’s Hoquiam.”

“Okay.”

Well, here it is, the bridge over the Wishkah river.  I didn’t make this video, but it’s a simple and touching tribute.  And it’s in Aberdeen.

 

And since we happen to be on the subject of Nirvana and documentaries, I can’t recommend this one, “About a Son,” highly enough.  It’s told exclusively through audio interviews, and filmed in a very compelling way, and it walks you through Kurt’s entire life story.  You never see him speak, but his voice narrates the entire thing.  It’s candid and haunting, and I think you’ll agree. 

Okay.

taking care of business

funny, music, recording, Yakima No Comments »

I always knew that I wanted to be a professional musician.

I grew up in a remote, small town in the middle of nowhere, however, which meant that opportunities for music careers were limited at best, if not completely nonexistent, and that there were no links to the music industry—or any other industry save agriculture—in that little town.  I knew that I didn’t want to be a classical pianist or a jazz bassist (both of which I studied), or a teacher of either piano or guitar.  I knew that I was much too geeky-looking to be any kind of rock star or celebrity, but I figured that at if I could at least play guitar well enough, I might gain some sort of notoriety or interest that way.

All that didn’t stop me from dreaming, however, or from honing my musical skills, because even back in the day, you’d always hear stories about these so-called ‘talent scouts’ who comb the country looking for the Next Big Thing.  Never mind that my little town was so far off the map—thousands of miles from anywhere—and that talent scouts pretty much stick to the four or five biggest cities in the country; I had no concept of any of that, so I thought in my early teenage heart of hearts that if I could play well enough, and if I had a good enough musical reputation, word would spread and somehow get back to those scouts, as if they could show up in a random little town in rural Washington state and say, “Who’s the good guitarist here?”

I was in a couple of bands, and when it was time to record some of our songs, I was lucky enough to choose a studio that was run by a guy who’d moved up from AngelCity, and still had some connections there.  He was (or at least he claimed to be) friends with Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet, so he seemed like a good person to know.  And he was, I guess.  He turned out to be a pretty weird dude, and I’ve told a few longish but interesting stories about him already (here, here, and here), so I’ll gloss over him for now.

I figured being a studio musician for hire could be a good and interesting way to get noticed and to connect with people, so I worked with Enigma (not Enigma Records, but my blog pseudonym for the studio owner) and did whatever was necessary.  I played guitar, bass, keyboards, and played the drum machine.  I worked with a group that Enigma had put together that was inspired by the New Kids on the Block, and the two of us collaborated on writing songs for a group of three teenage Hispanic girls who couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but who were attractive enough that Enigma felt like they’d have a certain appeal.  All of these projects went nowhere, naturally.  Funnily enough, I do still have a couple or three cassettes of some of my sessions from back then in a box somewhere.  They always turn up when I least expect them.

I had read enough guitar player magazines to know that versatility was the name of the game in the recording studio, and I felt like I always had to be on my game, capable of doing anything, in case one of those shadowy and elusive scouts happened to show up in town, looking for Talent.  I befriended the major studio owners in town (of which there were about two or three), and let them know that I was interested in working on recording sessions, regardless of the musical style.  Occasionally, people I had worked with mention me to studio owners when they needed a guitarist or something, which I always appreciated, and usually jumped at the chance to do whatever they’d recommended me for.

My favorite of the recommended gigs was when one of my friends called me and said, “Hey, I know a guy who’s going into the studio to do a demo.  It’s kind of 1950′s style music.  You’ll like it.”

“Cool,” I said, “sounds good.  Where and when?  And does it pay?”

“Yeah.  He doesn’t have a lot of money, but it pays.”   He told me which studio at which it was happening, and when, and I thanked him and told him I’d be there.

My roommate at the time was (and still is) a musician as well, so occasionally, I used to invite him to come with me to things.  I said he could come if he drove me over there, because then he’d have an excuse to stick around without any of the studio guys raising an eyebrow.

So when the day came, we drove into the studio’s parking lot and saw an Elvis impersonator leaning against his slightly battered but still cool red convertible, talking to an older guy.  My friend used to tease me for some of the sessions I played on, and he liked to call me a ‘musical whore.’  He couldn’t resist needling me as we saw the pseudo-Elvis.  “Man, you are way more than a regular whore.  You’re a gay whore.  You’re taking it in the ass on this one.”

I laughed and told him to shut up as we parked and walked over to meet Elvis, whose real named turned out to be Steve.  He introduced us to the older guy next to him, who was his manager.  I shook his hand and successfully resisted the temptation to say, “Colonel Tom; nice to meet you.”  [FYI, Colonel Tom Parker was the REAL Elvis's manager for his entire career.]  We all walked into the studio together, and set about the task at hand.

The song he’d brought in to work on was called “Jukebox Fever”, which was an oldie that sounded like Johnny B. Goode, only sung like Elvis Presley.  I ended up playing drums, bass, and electric guitar on it, and spent all afternoon doing that.  I remember that the drums weren’t actual drums, but Space Muffins, which were a weird electronic hybrid trigger system thingy that attached over a regular drum kit and made it sound electronic.  It was a stupid idea for many reasons, in retrospect, but it was the early 1990′s (in other words, just BARELY out of the 80′s), and that kind of thing was still considered viable at the time.  But that’s not the point of this story.

The point is that once I was done playing everything, it was time for Steve/Elvis to do his thing, and I’m here to tell you that he totally ruled.  Everyone in the room, with the exception of Colonel Tom, had no idea what to expect from the guy, but he delivered the goods on that day.  Our jaws dropped, and we were completely impressed with him.  Suddenly, I didn’t feel like a ‘gay whore’ anymore, I was proud to have worked on this project.  IF ONLY I HAD A CASSETTE COPY OF THAT RECORDING.  Oh, how I wish I could hear it again.  Truth be told, I’d probably cringe at it, after all these years of experience and time, but I know that it would be awesome, and I imagine I’d be able to find some hint of the kind of work I’m doing now in it.

Not long after that session, the well-known British rockabilly/country swing guitarist Albert Lee came to my little town to give a guitar workshop at a local music store.  I’m not sure how that was arranged, and I wasn’t even remotely familiar with his music at the time, but I jumped at the chance to go to the workshop because I’d seen him in magazines, and knew that he was from The Outside World, which meant that he’d probably be a good person to ask for advice about becoming a session musician.  I went and watched him, and couldn’t have cared less about the music (I was still a metalhead/jazz fusion snob at the time), but liked his guitar playing well enough to stick around after the workshop to ask him a couple of neophyte questions.  Here’s how it went.

“Man, that was great!  Do you do a lot of recording sessions?”

“A fair amount, yeah.”

“What does it take to get into that?”

“I’m not really sure.  They just call me and I go down to the studio and play.”

“Wow, you must know how to play all kinds of styles and stuff.  Do they call you to do your own thing, or do they usually have something specific in mind?”

“It varies, but usually they’ve heard something I’ve done.”

“Yeah, okay, cool.  Thanks a lot.”

I nervously walked away, feeling like a small-town nobody.  When this guy was my age, he’d already performed all over Europe, and had later played with the likes of Elvis (the REAL one, not an impersonator), and Eric Clapton.  But I felt like I’d been lucky to have had a conversation with him, no matter how brief or awkward.  In the decades since, I’ve realized just how much I managed to glean from that tiny moment.

The secret to being a studio musician is a very simple one:  someone has to have heard a recording you’ve played on, or seen you play live, and then come to you and said, “I want you to do that for me.”  Everything else is just frosting on the cake.  So yes, you have to have skills.  It helps to have your own distinctive style, but you also have to be humble enough to listen to any ideas the people you’re working with may have.  It helps if you can take suggestions without feeling criticized.  It helps if you’re creative, and open, and relentless, and patient.  It helps to be prepared, and that can mean a lot of different things.  It helps if you’re able to trust your instincts, and occasionally even fight for them if you need to, but you also need to do so in a diplomatic way.  Above all, your love for music has to be the most important thing.  Serving the song, and doing what it seems to call for, should be everyone’s ultimate M.O.

To tie this all up in a nice, Presleyan way (in what is already a very Elvis-heavy story), you have to be able to Take Care of Business.  [Elvis's band was the TCB band, and those also happen to be my initials.]  You have to be able to give people what they are looking for and expecting from you.  And don’t forget to have fun.  If you’re easy to get along with, and if everyone has a smile on his or her face at the end of the session, you’ll get called a lot more often.

This began as a funny little anecdote about an Elvis impersonator, but ended up being much more than that, in a way that I didn’t foresee when I started writing.  I hope it was enjoyable.

“Thank you; thank you very much.”

Todd has left the building.

finally, a bolus

funny, true, Yakima No Comments »

When I was a kid, even well into my teens, I didn’t like very many foods.  These days, I eat and enjoy pretty much anything from any part of the world, but it wasn’t always so.  Peas and cole slaw were my two least favorites.  The first grade school I went to had notoriously nasty peas.  I don’t know what they did to them, but I’ve never tasted anything like them either before or since.  It was a Catholic school (despite the fact that my family wasn’t Catholic; that’ll be a story for another day), and one of the nuns would stand over you and force you to finish everything on your plate.  It was nightmarish.

Ironically, the same school had one dish that was a hit with everyone, and we always looked forward to it when it came up on the menu.  It was called Hamburger Gravy Over Rice, and I’ve never seen that anywhere else either.  I somehow talked my mom into making it at home once, but it wasn’t the same.

I’ve grown to like peas, particularly the ones in the pods, but cole slaw still remains elusive to me.  The other day, my friend made some that was delicious, and that reminded me of a story that has become famous in our family.  Not long after Mom and Dad split up, when I was about ten, Dad took Brother and me to ColonelChicken for dinner.  We sat in the ‘terrarium’ room, with the fountain and leafy plants.  I ate my chicken and mashed potatoes, and even my biscuit, but I left the dreaded cup of cole slaw untouched on the table.  ColonelChicken’s was the worst.  Dad told me that we weren’t going to leave until I ate the entire thing.  I balked, and he got angry, so I picked at it and ate it as slowly as possible, washing it down with water as I did so.

The minutes ticked away, and Dad was getting irritated.  “Come on!” he yelled.  “You could eat that whole thing in one bite!”

“No I can’t,” I said, “I’ll gag.”

Do it,” he said sternly, wrinkling his forehead in the way that signified genuine anger.  “All in one bite.”

“Okay, but I’m gonna spit it out.  It’s so gross!”

“I don’t care.  Eat it.  Now!”

“Okay, but don’t be surprised by what happens.”

I dipped my spork into the cup until I had the entire contents resting on it.  I held my breath and slowly moved the spork to my mouth.  I had to breathe, eventually, and as soon as the smell hit my nostrils, I had to fight back my gag reflex.  Dad was still giving me The Look, so I had no choice but to ease the spork into my mouth.  It was the worst bite of anything that I’d ever tasted.  I chewed a little bit, but I could feel my gag reflex about to happen.  I reached for the water glass, but it was too late.  My body rebelled, and the disgusting bolus (I love the word ‘bolus’, and finally have the opportunity to use it!) exploded from my mouth all over the table and floor.  Dad was furious, and he grabbed a bunch of napkins and cleaned it all up.

“See?  I told you that would happen,” I said, unable to stop myself from laughing.  Dad couldn’t even look at me, he was so mad.  I sat in the chair and laughed as he mopped the floor.

That was the last time I ate the cole slaw at ColonelChicken, and quite possibly the last time Dad ever forced me to eat anything.  I guess he learned, albeit the hard way, that my warnings had merit.

These days, the tables have turned.  I got my mom to eat sushi for the first time two years ago, which is funny because she actually lived in Japan for a couple of years before I was born, but never tried sushi because she was afraid of it.  I told her that was hilarious.  “It’s good enough for them; good enough for you.”  She said that on the air force base, food would sit around for a while, sometimes, and if I’d ever smelled some of the things that were in storage, I’d be afraid of sushi too.  Fair enough.

As a bookend for this story, here is the secret recipe for the cole slaw in question.  I will pass, thank you very much, but please report back to me if you actually make it and enjoy it.

 

they’re not for me

funny, true, Yakima No Comments »

My favorite thing to write about lately seems to be my childhood, between the ages of about eight and eleven.  Not sure why that is, exactly, but it’s interesting to revisit those times from an adult perspective.  Here’s one that’s particularly memorable and funny.

When my parents split up, I became the ten-year-old de facto Man of the House, which meant that sometimes I had to do things that Dad would prevously have been asked to do.  I remember being sent to the store once by Mom to buy some tampons.  She was unable to make the trip herself, for obvious reasons, and my brother was too young, so the task fell to me.  I rode my bike to Wray’s Thriftway and parked it in the bike rack.  As I walked through the aisles, I became increasingly mortified by what I’d been sent to do.  I attempted to distract myself by looking at the candy bars, and I decided to purchase one, in order to make bearable the awkward situation I was preparing to face.  I carried my candy bar and walked quickly to the mysterious tampon aisle.

As I stood there, staring at the huge and confusing array of pastel-colored boxes, I quickly realized that Mom had neglected to tell me anything about which kind to buy.  I knew nothing about them (and I still don’t, let’s face it!) except what I’d seen in advertisements on TV.  I knew that mothers and daughters seemed to talk about them in great detail at the breakfast table (as well as ‘douches’, whatever those were), and that women loved to play tennis while they were using them, but I knew nothing about sizes or materials or shapes or any of that.  I grabbed a box by a brand name that I recognized and made a beeline to the checkout counter, avoiding all eye contact and making sure not to go through the line of any of the checkers that I knew.  I decided on the counter nearest the exit, and I nervously placed my two items on the conveyor belt, candy bar first.

The lady in front of me had about a million items in her cart, and I stood there fidgeting, praying that no one would get behind me in line.  My prayers went unanswered, and a whole family of people appeared behind me.  I turned my back to them and kept my eyes facing the door, where freedom beckoned.  When the woman in front of me was finally finished, the checkout lady saw my tiny Twix bar and huge pink box of tampons and absently asked, “Did you find everything you need?”

I nodded as she scanned my candy bar and placed it on the other end of the counter.  As she scanned the tampons, i blurted out, “Uh—they’re not for me.”

She gave me a polite laugh and said, “No kidding.”  She was in her forties, I think (but kids have no gauge for age; you’re a Kid, then you’re a Teenager, then you’re an Adult, then at some point you become Grandpa), and she certainly didn’t need me to explain the situation, but in my heightened state, I was convinced that she was trying to humiliate me even further when she asked, “Paper or plastic?”

Unaccustomed as I was back then to that innocuous question, I thought she was talking about the tampons, but I finally realized that she was merely inquiring about what kind of bag I wanted to carry the stuff home in.  “Paper,” I said, which was more difficult to carry on my bike, but at least the contents of the bag would be safely hidden.  I paid for the items, zoomed out the door, got on my bike and rode home before anyone else saw me.

In retrospect, I don’t know why that was such a humiliating experience.  It certainly wasn’t weird for the checker until I MADE it weird.  Maybe my mom was uncomfortable asking me, so I internalized that discomfort and was ‘primed’ for the situation to be awkward.  I was years away from being familiar with Hamlet, but his line, “There is neither good nor bad but thinking makes it so,” would have been a useful one to keep in mind that day.

I still think of my hilariously asinine statement every time I see tampons in the store.  They’re not for me.  For the record, I’ve bought them a few times since then, and it isn’t awkward at all.  I’m sure that’s because when I was ten, I learned that I don’t need to blurt out that they aren’t mine; everybody already assumes that.