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. . .

The City

beautiful, blogging, love, music, pictures, true 1 Comment »

I don’t quite know where to start.

There have been a number of things happening recently, the biggest of which was a musical trip to New England, which included my first trip to New York City, which seems to have changed something in me.  If you’ve never been there before (or even if you have—ha ha), the scale of everything is enormous.  There are people everywhere, from everywhere.  Every place you go is crowded.  You can stand on one street corner for just a few short minutes and you may very well hear people speaking ten or fifteen different languages within that time.  Most impressive of all, however, is the scale of the architecture and infrastructure.  It’s staggeringly huge.  You can start in one part of the city, get on a subway train and ride for an hour, and when you get back up to street level, you find that the buildings are still crammed together as far as the eye can see.  Parts of San Francisco are built up densely like that, but not nearly as tall, and only in small parts of town.  New York goes on and on for miles in all directions.  Somehow it manages not to be overwhelming, though, and I actually found myself energized by the bustle.  Every street seemed to be associated with a song title, or a movie scene.  Here’s a picture from the beautiful West Village.

My goal for NYC was to see as many of the various neighborhoods as I could.  Obviously we spent the majority of our time in Brooklyn, but I had a few days to get out and explore, either on my own or with the help of one of my long-time blogging friends.  A lifelong Brooklynite, she was very familiar with the city, and she was a fantastic tour guide and host.

At some point, I’m going to want to recount the stories and pictures from the rest of the trip, but my head is still buzzing from it all and trying to make sense of everything I saw, and all of the interesting and lovely people I met, so for now you’ll have to settle for some pictures.  You can click on them to make them higher resolution.

I happened to be underneath the Brooklyn Bridge at the same time as this yacht (I think it’s a yacht; I have to confess that I don’t know much about boats, but I DO know that it’s one of the racing ones) was passing by, and another photographer and I were taking full advantage of the situation.  I love this picture, and it’s probably my favorite one from the entire trip.

From there, I walked across the bridge to lower Manhattan, all around the Financial District and to the site of Ground Zero and the new World Trade Center.  Here’s one of the new towers, in a late stage of construction.  I love pictures like this, because once the thing is built, you never get to see it ‘in progress’ ever again.  I feel lucky to have been there to see it and take this picture before it was finished.

This was a sticker I saw on a traffic signal pole in Greenwich Village near the Village Vanguard.  It may be blurry, but the message is clear.  I spent the whole trip with my camera—and indeed my entire brain—in ‘record’ mode.

After going full speed ahead for so long—and I haven’t even started writing about the Louisiana or Bay Area trips yet—I’ve found it a bit difficult to transition back into the ‘normal’ pace of life, whatever that is.  You could call this feeling the Post-Travel Blues.  Joseph Campbell might call these feelings ‘peak experiences’, which is to say that when people are operating at their highest levels of consciousness, the things they experience gain a certain amount of gravitas and significance, and settling into everyday life after times like those can be difficult.  I daresay that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs would support this theory.

I think—and this is me thinking—that when you’re in the upper levels of Self-Actualization and Esteem, it’s hard to be excited about everyday things like homeostasis and excrement.  When you’re traveling, you’re pulled out of the lower realities and pitched into the higher ones, which is what makes travel so exciting.

Incidentally, I just knew that I’d have to mention excrement at some point.  I had to drag this conversation down to my level, didn’t I?  Abraham Maslow, Joseph Campbell, and excrement.  I really should have named this blog High and Low.


There’s more to come on the blogging front, and while I was coming back from the beach this weekend, I thought of a few stories from back in the day that I think will be worth your while, so stay tuned.  Don’t touch that dial or whatever.  We’ll be right back after this important commercial message, courtesy of someone I photographed in Central Park.

disturbing cello dream

dreams, music, pictures 1 Comment »

This morning I had a dream that I can’t seem to shake off.  It was a very long dream, with multiple sections, most of which aren’t worth sharing, but the disturbing part is one in which I’m playing cello with two musician acquaintances; we’ll call them L. and A., since those are their real first initials.  A. is also a cellist, and L. is a violinist, at least in the dream.  I don’t think L. really plays the violin, but she is an excellent and fairly well-known singer and songwriter around town.

So we’re sitting in a room in A.’s house, playing through a tricky piece of classical music.  It isn’t a piece I’m familiar with in real life, and I’m not exactly struggling with it, but I’m certainly not playing at my best, and we’re all aware of that fact.  A. is prepared to overlook it, but L. puts down her violin and glares at me.  “Would you get it together, please?” she asks, crossly.

“Sorry,” I say.  “I’m still warming up.  I’ll improve, you’ll see.  Do you have any suggestions?”

“You always have questions about everything,” she snaps.  “Just play better.”

“Uhhh, okay,” I say, a little bit on the defensive now.  “I told you I’ll get better as I warm up.”

She ignores my response.  “What are you wearing?  A cube? Really?”

“What are you talking about?”  I look down to see that I’m wearing a perfectly good outfit of jeans, an orange crewneck sweater, and a black hoodie. “What’s a ‘cube’?”

She rolls her eyes, then turns back and launches into me.  “Why do people hire you? I thought you had a good reputation for playing drums, or piano, or something.“  She pauses, choosing her words for maximum damage.  “Do you really think we’re ever going to call you again? This is a total waste of our time.  And why do you dress that way?”

“What ‘way’?  I’m dressed fine.”

I’m angry now, and I decide that this has gone on long enough.  I gently place my cello on the floor, stand up and walk across the room to gather up my instrument cables, jacket, and cello case.  A. picks up my cello and holds it out in front of herself so she can inspect it.  I walk back toward her and crouch down to see what she’s looking at.  There are two metal clasps on either side of the back (cellos don’t really have clasps on the back) that are hanging loose.  I tell A., “I’ve never seen those before, but I’m guessing they’re supposed to be tightened, aren’t they?”  I reach over and tighten the one nearest me, and A. tightens the other one.  I notice out of the corner of my eye that L. is glaring at me with a look of disapproval.

Next, A. pulls out a long piece of white twine and starts to thread it through the back of the cello, making a square pattern that is raised about an inch above the back of the instrument.  “What’s that for?” I ask her, which makes L. scoff loudly from across the room.  A. finishes with the twine, and I take my cello over to the case and put it inside, avoiding L. as much as I can in the process.

The dream’s location changes, and the three of us are in A.’s yard.  She is walking across the lawn toward L. and me, and she says, “I carried your cello to your car for you.”

“Oh, thanks.”  I put my hand on the back of her shoulder.  “You didn’t have to do that.”

“I don’t mind.  It was nice to play with you,” she says.

I don’t entirely believe her, but at least her attempt at platitudes is better than L.’s blatant hostility.  “Thanks, you too,” I tell her.  “See you around.”

L. stands and silently watches me grab my remaining things and walk across the grass toward the dirt road where my car is parked.  For some reason, it’s not my current car, which I also have in the dream, but my first car instead, an ancient blue Toyota station wagon.

I notice that it has a new dent on the driver’s side, where someone has attempted to pry the door open.  The back hatch is raised, thanks to A, and the car and its contents are covered in a thick layer of dust from when cars have driven past on the dirt road.  I throw my belongings in the back, slam the hatch and open the slightly mangled front door.  I brush the dust from the seats and steering wheel, sit down, start the car and drive aimlessly for a while, until I realize that I’ve left a small bag of cables and music gear at A.’s house.  I’m not at all excited to go back over there, but I need my things, so I turn around and head back, with a sense of dread and foreboding.

That’s the point at which I wake up, so you can imagine why I’m stuck feeling kind of blue today.




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.