the mental game of music

blogging, cello, funny, music, pictures, recording, sad, true, Yakima 1 Comment »

I’d like to take a minute to tell you a story in the long string of heart-warming online tales that illustrates the power of the internet to connect people who have been estranged for decades.  It also illustrates the power of music, and the power of a certain kind of mental pathology, too.  You’ll see what I mean.

One of my cohorts from Iron Horse received an out-of-the-blue message on Facebook yesterday, at 1:30 in the morning, from someone he didn’t know, that said, “Are you [misspelled his last name] from [our high school]?  I remember you; we wrote a song in detention.’  He named the song, and correctly wrote out the chorus.  No, I’m not going to quote it here, because then it would be searchable, but he totally nailed it.

His profile was private, there was no picture, and he had a very unusual first name, but my friend didn’t recognize him in any way.  He had eleven online friends, all of whom shared his surname.  My friend responded, “Yeah, that was me.  I kinda remember writing that in detention. . .I changed the lyrics around, and my old band used to play that song.  Do you have a picture or something to jump-start my memory?  What years were you at [our high school]?”

The guy wrote back that he moved away from Yakima in 1987, and that he’s living in California now.  He’s of a certain nationality, and “try to get sum pic’s.”  (I took the liberty of cleaning up his grammar and punctuation before, but it was all typed lower-case, with slightly awkward punctuation.)  My friend accepted his friend request, and we’ll see where the story goes from here.  The two of us can’t help but wonder what the guy’s life is like, since he’s writing to someone he met only one time, in high school detention, twenty two years ago (!), and seems to be hoping to rekindle a friendship where it left off.   I mean, sure,  my friend is a great guy, and we were a pretty good band, but this guy doesn’t even know about the band, because he left town before my friend and I even started it.  Oh, AND.  I should mention that my friend was neither a miscreant nor a ne’er-do-well (I love those two terms, and I love it when I get the opportunity to use them), he was only in detention that one day, and never saw this guy ever again.  He’s not anyone I knew, either then or now, but I haven’t been able to find my yearbooks to investigate him.

Incidentally, speaking of the band, the community access TV station still plays our videos to this day, which completely mystifies my friend and me.  These are not new videos I’m referring to, either.  They were filmed and originally aired during that same time period, from 1987 to ’89, which is when the band was in existence.   We were just a bunch of high school kids, playing some songs that we wrote ourselves, and I can’t imagine why anyone watching now would even enjoy the songs these days, let alone find a bunch of kids from twenty years ago compelling.

Be all that as at may, I admit that it’s gratifying (in a weird way) that they do still play that stuff.  We had a good time making the videos, and like I said, we were a pretty decent band, but we had no delusions about our abilities or chances for stardom, either.  We were just a bunch of kids who had a band, like a million other kids in a million other bands.

Just for fun, here’s a picture from our very first show.  In fact, it could well be of the song in question, too, because I just now remembered that I actually sang the whole second verse of it (and I didn’t sing lead very often), so it seems very likely that this picture was taken during that song.

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I just love the oversize mirrored sunglasses, and you can see that I was working hard on Mullet Number One as well.  Gee, I wonder if this was the 80′s?

Meanwhile, back to the topic at hand.

In the interest of full disclosure, and the interest of fairness to this guy, I’ve spent the better part of this month reconnecting with friends from years ago, one of whom had also been twenty years ago (she reads this blog, too, by the way), and it’s been really great for everyone involved.  You probably already knew that if you’re reading this, though, since I’ve written a bit about it lately.  More than once but fewer than three times, in fact, just in case you were counting.   So I have no business knocking the guy for trying.  As human beings, we all are basically social animals (some of us more than others) who are looking for connections wherever we can find them.  But the people I’m talking with are people with whom I had actual relationships and friendships.  They’re based on more than just a one-time meeting, in detention, more than half a lifetime ago.

The title of this entry, incidentally, comes from a book that our high school’s choir director had on the bookshelf in his office, and it seemed apropos to use it here.  Iron Horse shortened it to ‘Mental Game’ and we used it as the title of our album.  I mean cassette.  Oh, how dearly I wish I had a copy of that.  I have a lot of old videos, and tapes, and pictures, and notebooks, but I’m not sure I have that cassette cover floating around anywhere.  I’ll have to do some digging.

I can’t wait to see how this story unfolds.

best pics of 2008, BFST style

beautiful, blogging, funny, pictures, sad, true No Comments »

As I promised, here are my favorite pictures from this past year, in no particular order.

utahidaho2
The landscape between Utah and Idaho is vast, and seems quintessentially American somehow.

snowpath
This picture was taken outside the studio when we were mixing Andrea’s CD.  There had been a freak snowstorm overnight, and we all woke up to this beautiful scene. Amazingly, the snow was all gone by the afternoon.  We finished mixing the songs, and then I drove back to Portland and went on a great first date.  That was a good day.

reed3
Andrea had just read and been inspired by the book Blue Like Jazz, and she wanted to take a little hike around the campus of the college here in town in which the book is set. Though it has changed in the decades since the book was written, this was and still is a beautiful place to hike and explore.

shoreline6
This is one of my favorite locations to take pictures.  It’s an abandoned cannery town along the Columbia river. Sorry about the small size.

postcard
When Breanna and Justin and I were on tour in Reno, Justin was getting his CD mixed in Portland, and the guy would send Justin mixes via e-mail, for him either to approve or to request some small changes. After our show, he and Bre were listening to the final mixes, so I left and walked around for an hour, and took about a million pictures of the city at night.  Came back and listened for a while, and when they went to bed, our host and I stayed up talking for another hour and a half afterwards. That was my favorite day (and night) of the tour.

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ViolinistKarlee, me, Breanna and Justin on our tour, after our show in Redding.  This picture just puts a smile on my face every time I see it.  Karlee is such a lil thug.

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This is my car, all loaded up with instruments to go to the studio and record my parts for Andrea’s CD.  I’m always amazed at just how much stuff this car can carry, despite its diminutive size.

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ChefDave, in an instantly classic pose.  I love the way the light is gleaming off the knife.  Incidentally, you owe to it yourself to eat at the Sego Lily Cafe in Bountiful, Utah, by the way, next time you’re there.  Dave’s food is phenomenal.

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There are lots of abandoned military bunkers outside Port Townsend, Washington, and I could easily spend a weekend just taking pictures of them. I love the way the light interacts and contrasts from room to room.

astoria1
Ah, beautiful Astoria, Oregon, seen from the highest point in town.  That’s another place that provides an almost endless supply of photographic opportunities.

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This picture I didn’t take, but it’s such a classic that it warranted inclusion on the best pictures of the year.  It’s the Cinemagic theater here in Portland, when they were in transition from the movie Hancock to the Dark Knight, and this was the sign change, in progress.

I love looking back over the year in this way. Even though this was a particularly difficult, painful, and challenging year, there were certainly plenty of good times too.

Here’s to a better 2009, though.

six degrees of randomness

blogging, cello, funny, love, music, pictures, true, Yakima 4 Comments »

I just got tagged by Carolina to reveal six random things about myself.  You may be surprised to find out that I’ve never been tagged in one of these things before, so I’m rapidly trying to think of what I can write about, since I usually have something in mind before I ever start writing.

Okay, here goes.

NUMBER ONE:

I love Bach’s organ music.  I mean LOVE IT love it.  If I could marry it, I would.  I love it so much that if it’s playing, I can’t do anything else because I get absolutely sucked in by its perfect structure and beauty. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.  E. Power Biggs playing “The Jig.”

One of my favorite memories of my dad (How many times do you hear me say THAT?) is when the two of us were attempting to play this particular piece on a beautiful pipe organ in Ellensburg, Washington. I was sitting on the bench, playing the manuals (that’s organ terminology for keyboards) and my dad was on his hands and knees underneath the bench, playing the pedals with his fists. It was hilarious and touching, even moreso when I think about it now. I’ll never forget that moment.

NUMBER TWO:

Speaking of Number Two, I find it absolutely repulsive to have to listen to someone go Number Two in the bathroom (I’m thinking of the bathroom at work, by the way), especially since most guys are notoriously disgusting and loud when it comes to this particular activity.  I’m so disgusted by it that if there’s someone else already in the bathroom when I walk in, I’ve been known to go downstairs so that I don’t have to listen to that happening.  I mean, really.  The sound, the smell, everything.  Ewww.  And if they’re sitting there tapping away on their cell phones, that grosses me out even more, because I imagine them wiping their asses and then grabbing their phones before they get the chance to wash their hands again.  NASTY.  I hope no one ever has to borrow their phones for any reason.

NUMBER THREE:

I used to have two mullets.  No, not at the same time, but consecutively.  I liked them so much that I grew one out until it got all scraggly, and then I cut it off and grew another one, which was only a slight improvement over the previous one.  Here’s a picture of the first one, in progress, in 1988. . .

. . .and here’s a picture of the second one, in full effect, not long before it got cut (THANK GOD) in 1995:

I know; I was hot.

NUMBER FOUR:

The longest time that I’ve ever dated someone was five years (on again/off again).  The shortest time was three days.  Does that count as two things?  I don’t know, but I’m counting it as one two-part answer to one two-part question.

NUMBER FIVE:

I have no tattoos or piercings of any kind.  I used to have my left ear pierced, around the time of Mullet Number One, but I only wore an earring in it for about a year, and I haven’t worn one since then, so the hole has long since closed up.  No, I don’t have any pictures of that.

NUMBER SIX:

I’ve made more money playing the accordion than any of the other instruments I play.  It’s paid for itself many times over.  The cello is in second place, then probably the electric guitar.

NUMBER SEVEN:

There is NO Number Seven.  Thank you.

So, which six people would I like to tag and to see respond to this in kind on their own blogs?

Andrea

Josh

Emily

Sarah

Jo(e)

BoringFish

Thank you to Carolina for including me in this, thank you to YOU for reading, and thank you six participants (or anyone else who wishes to) for lending your metaphorical voices to this endeavor.

OneYearAgo

Elliott Smith, R.I.P.

music, pictures, Portland, sad No Comments »

Five years ago today, Elliott Smith died.

It was officially considered a suicide, but the possibility of ‘foul play’ was never really ruled out.  I’m here today to pay a small tribute to someone whose music has moved me more than almost any other.

Although he had been living in L.A. for many years, those of us from Portland will always consider him one of our own, because Portland plays a large part in his songs, and there are a multitude of locations and references to the time he spent living here.  He wrote very dark and honest songs, in a way that very few other people are brave enough to do.  He’s most famous, probably, for his music being featured prominently in the movie Goodwill Hunting, and that early-to-middle period of his songwriting is my favorite.

The album “XO” was the first one that I bought.  I heard the song Waltz #2 (XO) on the radio, but didn’t catch the name of the artist.  The next time I heard it was about a month later, in Seattle.  I was in the back seat of a car, riding around with two of my friends, and the song came on.  I said, “I love this song. . .turn it up; I need to know who this is.”  That afternoon, I drove straight to a record store in the University District and picked it up.  I will always remember driving around Seattle in my little green Toyota truck, with the windows down, listening to that CD.

Elliott recorded many of his early songs and albums at Jackpot! Studios here in Portland, and his piano was at the studio for years after he had moved away, but it has since been donated to the Experience Music Project museum in Seattle.  At the time he died, the band I was in (listen to the songs “Please Let Me”, “Shadow” and “Windows Down”) was in the process of recording our album at Jackpot, and all of the piano tracks were recorded on that piano.  It was a haunting and surreal honor to be playing it, even moreso in retrospect.

Here’s one of Elliott’s earliest songs, “The Biggest Lie”, the video for which was filmed the day after he died.  The location is the Solutions Wall in a neighborhood of L.A., which was the backdrop for Elliott’s album “Figure 8.”

Miss you, Elliott.  This planet isn’t quite the same without you on it.

OneYearAgo

on tour, day 4

beautiful, blogging, cello, funny, music, true 4 Comments »

Thursday, June 26th was our longest day. We had a twelve-hour drive ahead of us, from Reno to a tiny town in Utah called Torrey.

I was the first one up, at 5:45 in the morning. I took a shower, got dressed, and then took some pictures of the hazy morning street scene of Reno. The haze is actually the smoke from the California wildfires. It didn’t clear up until we were well into Utah, by the way. Incidentally, all of these thumbnail pictures expand to full size if you click on them.

While I was packing up my suitcase, Kate woke up. We talked for a while, she in her makeshift bed in the windowsill and I on her papasan chair. I took pictures of the cats, and of her place, and out the window, and even some of her. The best ones were of her, waking up and snuggling with her cat Samantha.

From there, it was time for breakfast and various morning activities, which on that particular day meant more picture opportunities. Here we all are.

The water-drinking one actually has a little video too, as if by technology.

I would be remiss if I didn’t post a picture of Kate’s other cat, Secret. She and I became instant friends, and she actually slept on my sleeping bag for a while during the night.

Suddenly it was time to say our goodbyes, give hugs all around, and hit the road. The scenery in the rest of Nevada was uneventful. If you haven’t driven through it, it basically consists of many hours of rolling hills covered with sagebrush. There are only a couple of sections where it’s beautifully desolate in a good way, and the rest of the time it’s pretty much God-forsaken wasteland, broken up only by the occasional bit of run-down machinery or mining equipment, or even a power station out in the middle of nowhere. At one point there are even a couple of tunnels. Wowee! Breanna and I both took pictures of the tunnels, in fact. That’s how exciting it was. Nevada is a very strange place. Luckily, we had an especially deep (and private) conversation that day, with which to while away the hours.

Oh yeah, I just remembered. We stopped at the same rest area that Stephanie and I were so horrified by when she and I played in Elko last summer. This time was not nearly so eventful, but I should mention that each of the rest areas we stopped at in Nevada had neither soap nor running water, so we weren’t able wash to our hands. Pretty sexy, huh?

Incidentally, and apropos of nothing, the lasting inside joke from this day was when I told Justin, “I’m gonna punch your mouth right in the face.” That would have been the name of this entry, if I didn’t have the more plebeian title so firmly established already.

This trip, for all its amazing qualities, was not without tragedy. Justin realized at some point along the way that he had left his pillow behind in Reno. This was not just any pillow, either, but a super-special pillow that was bluish gray in color, weighed a ton, and was apparently the most comfortable pillow in the history of pillows. He was seriously distraught about it. I imagine that he’s gotten it back by now, because he offered to pay Kate a bunch of money to ship it overnight that same day.

Utah is as beautiful as Nevada is barren. Almost from the minute we crossed the state line, the landscape became more interesting. We drove through the Bonneville Salt Flats, which are gigantic, and a bit eerie too. We kept expecting the weather to be cold, because we were seeing what looked like snow on the ground everywhere. Very strange.

After that, the landscape became more green, the hills became more steep, and everything seemed more inviting somehow. In the immortal words of the Lewis and Clark journals, ‘we continued on.’

As we got closer and closer to our destination of Torrey, the landscape just kept getting more and more beautiful. The hills turned red, and the sun started getting lower and lower in the sky. The Picture of the Day Award definitely goes to Breanna for this lovely, cinematic shot. My pictures I had to touch up a bit with Photoshop, but this one is perfectly fine without any so-called enhancements.

We arrived at the venue and met Wendy, who was very sweet. She opened for us, and also took pictures for us during our set. At first we thought we’d play unplugged and unmic’ed, which ended up being too quiet, even for the smallish space we were playing in. So we mic’ed everything and played a normal show.

Can I just take a minute to say that while Reno was definitely the place I had the most fun, the gig in Torrey was by far my favorite venue we played. I mean, here’s this tiny little venue in the middle of nowhere, with these amazing red cliffs all around. And I’ve never seen as many stars as I did that night. We kept looking off into our surroundings the entire time. It’s a miracle that we didn’t play any wrong notes. Here’s what I’m talking about. Justin was singing, and Breanna and I were totally staring off into the distance. And yes, Justin and I did the same thing on Breanna’s songs too.

Between the cliffs and the stars, and the interesting people, we had a total blast. Afterwards, Wendy put us up at her place. We all stayed up for a little while, and then Justin and Breanna went to bed. Wendy and I stayed up talking, and she asked if I played with any other groups. I told her about the people I play with, and the various instruments that I play, and when I mentioned the accordion, she said, “Oh, really? I have two accordions. Maybe you could show me some things.” I agreed to do that, and we pulled them out. So after getting up at 5:45, driving twelve hours, and playing a gig, I stayed up until about 1:30 giving an impromptu accordion lesson. After a while, exhaustion got the better of me, and I had to give in and go to bed. The room I stayed in was very warm, so I opened the window and the blinds, which meant that I fell asleep staring at the huge canopy of bright stars, in which the band of the Milky Way Galaxy was clearly visible. That’s a nice way to fall asleep, by the way. I totally recommend it.

More to come in the next installment of. . .ON TOUR.

OneYearAgo