more of an adult

beautiful, dreams, funny, love, music, pictures, Portland, sad, true, Yakima No Comments »

Hey, look, this is me!  Writing in the blog!  I didn’t procrastinate or anything, I just started thinking of something and decided that it could very well turn out to be blog-worthy.  Let’s hope this is the beginning of a trend.

Yesterday, I went to breakfast with a friend who used to live here in Portland but now lives in Europe.  She’s been married for a few years, and she and her husband have a six-month-old baby.  Dad and Baby stayed home and slept while Friend and I went out, and before too long I asked her how it was all going.  Among other things, she confided that she thought she’d feel like more of an adult than she does.  I know how that feels.

When I was a young kid, I always imagined that by the time I was the astronomical and somewhat arbitrary age of twenty-five, I’d be married with two kids and a career as a UFOlogist—yes, you read that correctly; I’ve written about it before—or an archaeologist in Peru or Mexico, or a reclusive writer who’s just successful enough to live on an island like Mont Saint Michel.

mont st michel

Truth be told, that last one seems like the most plausible and attractive of the scenarios, and I do still imagine that there’s a parallel universe in which that is a reality, and I live in a combination of cities, beautiful outposts in which I divide my time and write the stories that need to be told about those places and their people.

It may still happen; hope springs eternal.  I suppose it’s much more likely to happen if I actually start to write again, but hey, this is a pipe dream, and while we’re at it I might as well invite Winona Ryder to come live there at Le Mont with me.

I bring all this up because in reality, twenty-five, thirty, and even forty have come and gone, and sometimes I still feel like the same dumb kid blundering his way through life, wishing that things could be different but not knowing how to bring them to fruition.  I’ve changed my mind about wanting kids of my own—I don’t—but I do think it would be great to be married.  Given my track record of being a very solitary person who doesn’t do much in the way of dating, I have no idea when or if that will ever happen.  Again, hope springs eternal.

Perhaps if I’d become an archaeologist or a UFOlogist, things would be different.

communion

Come to think of it, I haven’t seen or heard of any current UFOlogists in a long time.  When I was a kid, they seemed to be highly visible in the popular zeitgeist, and many books such as Communion sold millions of copies.  These days, the subject is relegated to late-night AM radio pariahs.  My ten-year-old self sure didn’t see that coming.  Guess I made an okay career choice after all.

I always knew I wanted to be a musician.  I didn’t want to teach.  I didn’t want to be a concert pianist.  I gave up playing the clarinet (although I was first chair) when I was done with high school, in favor of the electric guitar.  I spent too many years living in Nowhere, and that caused precious years to pass by.  Ennui, inertia and a bleak worldview got the best of me for a long time.

The move to Portland (and years of therapy) helped tremendously, and I usually enjoy life these days, but I’m getting a bit tired of this town, if I’m honest.  There are many things to love about it; its beauty, its cheap and plentiful world-class food culture, its proximity to various types of natural surroundings, and its clean air and all-around livability, but I’ve been here for a long time, and I’m starting to feel a bit constrained by its lack of serious opportunities.   Also, I feel like I’m a bit past the age where I should be struggling with decisions like this.  I feel like I should be able to jump in with both feet.  It’s been occurring to me more and more lately that I really need to go elsewhere, and I can totally do that, but it will take a lot of planning and resources that I just don’t have at the moment.  I need to work on that.  I don’t want to ‘do a geographic’, as my friend’s dad would say (I love that expression) by running away from whatever problems or shortcomings I have here, because those will follow me anywhere I go.  I want to go for the right reasons, and to be prepared, with my head held high.

And then there’s the question of where to go.  New York seems like the best choice.  I love it, I have friends there, and it’s the quintessential land of opportunity.  It’s a bit daunting, and very different from weird little Portland, but I’m not too worried about that.

In the meantime, I still need to get a day job and pay some bills here, while I think seriously and have some conversations about what the future holds.   Here’s to the future.

 

 

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.

megalomania

funny, music, Portland No Comments »

This ad was posted on ListByCraig today, in the ‘musicians’ section.

“Very experienced drummer without legs. What I can do with the rest of my limbs will surprise you! Looking to jam or maybe start band with good people who can accept me for who I am.. Below are links to my drumming videos. Thank you to my brother for allowing me to post a few videos of me playing on his synth youtube channel! Love you and God Bless!”

Rick Allen, the drummer for Def Leppard, has shown the world that a person doesn’t need all of his or her limbs in order to rock huge arenas around the world.  I was expecting this guy to be using a modified drum set of some sort, or maybe he was even a guy like Trilok Gurtu, the amazing Indian percussionist who used to play with John McLaughlin and Mahavishnu Orchestra and all that. He has legs, and he uses them on occasion, but his main Thing is to sit on the floor, surrounded by a mountain of percussion instruments, creating a soundscape that is both big and small.  He sounds like a drummer, but so much more.  He’s amazing.

trilok_gurtu

So I’m giving the guy who posted his ad the benefit of the doubt.  He seems like a good guy, is really confident, and he isn’t going to let his disability come between him and his dream.  This being Portland, there are a million hippie percussionists out there, and this guy could be one of them.  Good on you, dude, and more power to you, I thought, as I clicked on the links to his videos.  Do not read the rest of this entry until you’ve watched both of the videos.  Don’t worry, they’re not very long.  Here’s the first one. . .

. . .and the second one.

I can imagine him twirling his virtual drum sticks at the end of that second one, or holding his iPhone aloft with the lighter app flickering on the screen.

I almost fell out of my chair laughing.

I have to commend the guy for his positive attitude, and his gumption or moxie or whatever, but OH MY GOD.  SO FUNNY.  Here he is bragging about how what he can do with ‘the rest of his limbs’, and he can’t even keep a solid beat.  And ‘very experienced drummer?’  What does that even mean?  Very experienced playing the drum machine with his fingers in his bedroom?

Okay, so assuming that all the stars align, and that a band actually wants someone to do that for them, what would that look like on stage?   A couple of guitarists and a bassist with their big amps, a singer strutting around on the front of the stage, and a guy sitting in the back tapping out beats with a drum machine on his lap.  Hilarious.

I hope he gets in a band.  I’ll absolutely go see them play.

This all reminds of a band I saw about eight years ago at the venue formerly known as the Rabbit Hole.  It was a female singer-songwriter and her ‘band’, which consisted of two electric guitarists and a CD player on the back of the stage, which provided their backing tracks.  She would say something like, “Here’s another new song,” and one of the guitarists would turn around and push the button on the CD player to make it play.  It was the (unintentionally) funniest musical thing I’ve ever seen.  I seem to recall that she even counted off one or two of the songs with, “One. . .two. . .three. . .four—” before one of the guitarists started the CD, but maybe I just wanted that to happen so badly that my memory is playing tricks on me.  It’s been known to happen.

In the interest of full disclosure, my first band (back in 1987) used the same Yamaha drum machine as the one in the top video when we recorded our song demos, and I played it the exact same way, by tapping on the big buttons.  We made a video for one of the songs at the local community-access TV station, and I’ve heard that they still play one of our other videos on their ‘Flashbacks’ series, which is simultaneously very flattering and slightly cringe-worthy.  Suffice it to say that I have first-hand experience with playing that exact drum machine in that exact way, and I’ve played all kinds of  instruments (including a keytar) on all kinds of stages, but I would never dream of doing that in front of people, for any other reason than a humorous one.

Some of my favorite things to watch on the youtubes are videos made by people playing in their homes.  Guitarists who shred and dance around in their bedrooms are always a hoot, but amateur drummers seem to take the cake when it comes to megalomania.  This guy is one of my favorites, for many reasons.  Most of all, he’s just not very good (but he THINKS he is, and THAT’S funny), but it’s the ridiculous and ergonomically challenging setup of his drum kit and the way he keeps looking at himself in the mirror that tell me all I need to know about the kind of person he is.

The best news of all is that he has his own channel (of course he does!), with an entire series of videos that we can all watch and enjoy together.  I recommend his version of “Limelight” by Rush.

The subject of auditioning and dealing with potential band members dredges up similar feelings, and I’ve written about that before, so if you’re so inclined, you can read more about it.

Okay,  I admit it; I’m an elitist musical snob.   Are you happy now?

 

 

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.

Yakima’s little secret

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Back in the day, I used to be very clever with the outgoing messages on my answering machine.  It was the kind with the two micro-cassettes in it, and the sound quality was great.  That may sound like a ridiculous or trivial detail to mention in the context of an answering machine, but it was the only one I ever had in which you could have background music, or sound effects, or whatever you wanted.  The other advantage of the tapes is that you could create messages that were huge in length; only limited by the length of the tape. I used to hold the machine up next to the speaker of my stereo and play sound effects or music behind things I would say.  Sometimes they were long, rambling messages, but other times they were miniscule, nonsensical ones, like, “I’m going to play a guitar solo for you now,” followed by five seconds of a blazing, 80′s metal scale.  One of my favorites was simply me saying, “Hello?” and then I left a long pause, followed by the beep.  People would invariably start talking, only to have the beep interrupt them, which would completely derail their trains of thought.  Friends would sometimes call my number when they knew I was at work, just to hear what I’d put on the machine that week.

The various roommates I had back then not only didn’t mind the weird outgoing messages, they actively encouraged them, and occasionally participated themselves.  The all-time best one, which I kept up for quite a while, was one that my friend and I directly quoted from a phone-sex line.  We used to dial random things like 1-800-SEX-4-YOU, or any combination we could think of, and one of the ones we stumbled upon had a hilariously detailed introduction, which we promptly wrote down and adapted, almost verbatim, into our own message.  I’ll transcribe it like a script, since that’s how it’ll make the most sense.

ME [reading in a low, seductive voice]:  Thank you for calling Yakima’s Little Secret.  Straight men and women, press ’1.’

ROOMMATE [in an even lower, more seductive voice]:  Gay men and women, press ’2.’  For the man-to-man Cruise Line, press ’3.’  For the Tool Line (and he put a funny emphasis on the word ‘tool’), press ’4.’

ME:  Please have your credit card information handy, and thank you again for calling Yakima’s Little Secret.

BEEP.

Coincidentally enough, less than a week after we had created this message, ClassicRockRadioStation’s morning show announced a contest for the best outgoing answering machine messages, the best of which would be played on the air.  I worked nights at the time, so I never listened to the show, which meant that I woke up to find a bunch of messages, starting with one from a friend.  “Dude!  [RadioStation] is doing an answering machine message contest, so I called in your number for the show.  You’re totally gonna win.  See ya!”

The next couple of messages were blank, followed by laughter, which meant that the station had called, listened, and hung up.  The final message was, “This is Scott and Dave from RadioStationMorningShow, and your message has been selected as our favorite, so you can expect to hear it on the air.  Congratulations!”

Naturally, I had slept through all of the hoopla, since I don’t like mornings and I REALLY don’t like those cloying morning radio shows, but a few friends heard it, and the show’s hosts played it a number of times on the air.  “How about that Tool Line, Dave?  I think I want to call it.”  “Yakima’s Little Secret, indeed.”  That evening, when I arrived to work at CrazyVideoStore, a bunch of people told me that they’d heard it too.

For the record, my dad hated every single one of those messages.  Each of his calls would start with a variation on the theme of, “Do I have the right number?  I don’t even know, because there’s no name or anything, and I guess I’ll have to hope that this is correct.  Anyway, if it IS correct, please blahblahwhateverblahblah.”

After a number of years of faithful service, that answering machine finally gave up the ghost.  The digital ones that replaced it limited you to something like ten or fifteen seconds’ worth of a message, which was too short a time to really hit my stride.  I felt that I’d lost a tiny but important creative outlet.

The other factor in the death of the weird messages was the natural human process of aging.  After many years of creating strange or funny messages, it got to be hard to keep improving on the art form.  I’d always try to one-up myself, without repeating, and it’s more difficult than you might think.  Also, that kind of stuff is funny when you’re nineteen, but by the time you get to be twenty-four or twenty-five, it becomes a bit juvenile, and you look for more productive outlets for your creativity.  At some point it’s an issue of Trying To Be Clever, rather than simple fun, and the charm of doing it wears off.

These days, my message is totally generic and lame.  In fact, I don’t even remember what it says, because I never hear it.  I do realize, of course, that I could punch it up on EyePhone and listen, but I’m content to keep that little mystery unsolved.  Incidentally, I’m still friends with the person who made Yakima’s Little Secret with me, and we have plenty of fun leaving each other funny voice mails, instead of worrying about what our outgoing messages are.

I do occasionally toy with the idea of making weird messages again.  Technology has come so far, with ringtones and all that, I could easily turn my boring message into a big production, but what would that accomplish?  Hardly anybody uses a phone as a phone anymore.  I use mine as more of a miniature laptop computer than as a phone.  Everybody texts and Skypes, and e-mails, or (dare I even say it) hangs out in person.

So chalk this up to a funny memory of antiquated technology, I guess, and how for some things, there’s just no substitute for tapes.  I wish I’d kept the tapes, at least.  One of them got eaten (which was always a problem with tapes, micro- or otherwise), but the other one would have been a nice souvenir to have from that time.  I have a couple others floating around, including the one that my friend made by smuggling his micro-cassette recorder down his pants to get it into the Paul McCartney concert (in 1990, at the Kingdome in Seattle, on Paul’s first ‘comeback’ tour since his days in Wings), but all you can hear on the tape is me singing along.  You can hardly hear Paul at all.  That would be a pointless funny thing to try and record onto my computer someday when I have absolutely nothing better to do.

Thank you for reading all of this, and thank you for calling Yakima’s Little Secret.  Vive le micro-cassette!