This short video (from Denmark) can make us all feel better. Come on, open up, open wide…
I seem to be finally passing out of stage 1 of the 49 stages of grief, and am getting back to putting dinner on the table in a timely fashion. A couple weeks ago, while I was still zoned out in stage 1, rather than fix dinner I spent a few hours going through the voice memos on my phone. I use voice memos to record music and lyrical ideas, and there was quite a backlog from years past.
Most of the material was forget-able and delete-able, but there were a few good ideas, and an especially fetching one from 2013. I began transcribing that idea, when I noticed the date on it – my dad’s birthday. On his birthday in 2013, he was in upstate New York at a facility that was supposed to be great for Alzheimer’s care (it wasn’t). I was home in Berkeley caring for my wife and child who were going through the stomach flu, and trying to pack up our house for a pending move that coming weekend. My piano was in my studio where much of our belongings, and things like the washer and dryer, had been moved for storage. I guess I must have gone back there with a box of stuff to store, and sat down for a moment to play something in honor of my dad. I recorded it on my phone, but then forgot about it.
But the curious thing, is this is yet another piece for right hand piano, like the one I wrote just after my dad died. I don’t usually write for one hand – I’m a two-fisted guy. Perhaps I couldn’t find a place to put down the box of stuff, so wrote this while holding the box? Or maybe my dad was, in some ways, my right hand man, and this is the universe trying to get me to realize the metaphor?
Well, it’s mildly cosmic. The music is not a typical happy birthday kind of piece, but he was going through a tough time in New York, and I was stretched thin, so it expresses that day in 2013. And I like it now.
My dad had passed away 2 weeks before, I was still in a fog from that. On Tuesday I was coming down with a cold, by Tuesday night had the shivers, fever. Wednesday morning awoke to the election results. Triple whammy. Flu, grief, and more grief. In this state, I couldn’t do much, didn’t feel like doing much. Looking for a place to sit, I sat at the piano. Too much energy to use both hands, so just let my right hand start plunking. And this is what came out. Sadness, dissonance, exhaustion, but still a whiff of hope mixed in.
I feel as if some far-off inheritance that I’d been expecting, but not depending on, has been taken away. You know, some kind of solidity that gives you a sense of security, that allows you to step out and take risks, knowing that the ground will still be under your feet after you’ve fallen and gotten up.
Such a vain and shallow man, who can spew such hatred in so many directions, who thinks so little of anyone except himself – he won? That so many could vote for him, either just to shake things up, or because he’ll move things in a more rightward direction, or because they really do share his hatred and disgust? It shakes my faith in America, in my country.
I’m so very sad. And afraid. Afraid the economy is going to tank. Afraid of nuclear missiles. Afraid for the glorious diversity that is my family, my neighborhood, my city, my country. Afraid that my health insurance is going to be cancelled, that my social security will be gone, that everything from here on out will be a fight for basic decency. Afraid for the whole world. And, did I mention sad?
“If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game
If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame
You want it darker
We kill the flame”
After a long decline into Alzheimer’s, my dad passed away on Wednesday. Peacefully. As a young man he was incredibly dynamic. In middle to older age he was wound up pretty tight. The first years of memory and control loss were fierce and difficult, but a few years ago he sloughed off all bitterness and became a remarkable warm and happy person, a pleasure to be around. As sentences and then words abandoned him, I would run out of things to say to him after a while. But I would sit at the piano and play through a fake book, or just improvise, and he would dance, howl, and smile. He liked it when I went wild – clusters and forearm bashes and wrong notes tickled him.
This past week he was confined to the bed in his room, with no piano around. So I brought a guitar, and sang some songs, sometimes made things up. There was a lot of waiting, too much time to fill with talking, so the music helped me and my mom (and, we’re hoping, my dad). The wheezing and clunking of the oxygen machine was constant. When he passed, the machine was turned off, the room quiet. I kissed his head, one kiss for each of his 4 children (I was the only offspring present then), and reminded him how he lived on through us and his grandchildren. Then I was moved to play a last song for him. The music is from a production of Truman Capote’s “Holiday Memories” at the Aurora Theater. My dad came to all my local productions – he sat through all the radical left-wing Brechtian stuff I cut my teeth on in the 70’s, came to quite a few Bobs concerts in the 80’s, and attended the variety of stuff I got up to in the 90’s, including “Holiday Memories”. Can’t say why this is the song, why I needed to sing it… It just happened that way. As my nephew said: Love in all directions 🙂
This is one of my favorite early songs my son wrote (age 9). The guitar lick is classic rock style. Again, he sang it to me, I played it. He wrote it, baby. He produced it – that opening bit where it goes from small and tinny to full-blown stereophonic splendor is all his idea. Then when it came time to sing, he rocked it hard, so hard – from 2:00 out he’s possessed. It’s not like we ever even thought about Monster Trucks in our house, but he latched onto something in coming up with the lyrics. Is it really about Monster Trucks? Who knows. Who cares. Listen and bleed…
5 years ago, when our son was 9 years old, he became interested in writing music and songs. He was a very good beat-boxer, and a fearless vocalist, but he didn’t know how to play any instruments. That’s where I came in. He would tell me the tempo, help select a drum loop, sing me the guitar and/or keyboard parts and I’d play them until he’d say “yeah, that’s it” and we’d record it. He worked fast – most songs were completed in one or two hours. Once all the tracks were laid down, he would improvise a vocal – usually one take. He had the outline of the lyrics in mind before starting the recording, but never wrote them down, and it was apparent that he was just letting them flow as he sang them. This is one of the quieter songs he wrote:
He also designed and made the cover art for his albums. We did 3 releases together before he decided he wanted to learn how to write music all on his own, and since then he writes all his melodies and arrangements inside the computer. No more Dad 🙁
I grew up not really realizing what the bass does for music. I could hear guitars, pianos, voices, drums. But what happened on the bottom was invisible to my ears. A degree in music later, I kind of got it, but… After a decade of writing for 4 part acapella, I certainly understood the importance of the bass, but still… It’s taken a pretty full lifetime for me to appreciate the glories of all that goes on down under. Watching this fantastic visualization of Motown great James Jamerson bringing bouncy groovalicious life to Stevie Wonder’s hit helps me really ‘get’ what he is doing – rhythmic, melodic, adventurous, witty genius.
Once you’ve heard/watched the video above, listen to Stevie’s original, and see how the bass just dances around (the bass comes in around 15 seconds into the song). Cool, eh?
A bit about James:
“Motown’s tormented genius, James Jamerson is unanimously acclaimed as the first virtuoso of the electric bass. Plagued by alcoholism and emotional problems throughout his career, James has influenced (whether they know it or not) every electric bassist to ever pick up the instrument. Arriving at Motown in 1959, James’ bass playing evolved over the next decade from a traditional root-fifth cocktail style of bass playing into an astonishing new style built upon a flurry of sixteenth-note runs and syncopations, “pushing the envelope” dissonances, and fearless and constant exploration.
A converted upright bass player with bear claw hands, James plucked the strings with only the index finger of his right hand (which he dubbed “The Hook), and effortlessly and routinely pulled off head-turning, technical feats on the ’62 P-Bass he nicknamed “The Funk Machine.” His explosive, earthquake-heavy bass lines have had the entire world dancing and grooving to Motown records for over four decades. But he labored in total obscurity – a condition that ate at him throughout the last years of his life.” (read more at MetaFilter)
“Great Again!” got a whirlwind of postings/repostings via Facebook, BandCamp and SoundCloud, and it’s just been released on Spotify, iTunes, and other heavyweight commercial carriers. It was also featured on the redoubtable Dr. Demento Show 🙂
Since the song’s release, Mr. Trump has gone so much further than was thought possible, and he may well have killed off the idea of irony. Oh my stars…
I’m very busy writing music these days, and will be posting new songs and musical works pretty much every week on Soundcloud. There’ll be something for everyone, even lovers of the ancient outmoded ironic.
This week’s piece is a lovely, mysterious and sad bit of soundtrack, titled “Doubt”. Put it on loop and let it play in the background for a while…
With this year’s resistable rise of Mr. T(rump), I got inspired by the question “What do women see in him?”. Some lyrics soon followed, then a melody, now a recording. The Bandcamp player on the left allows High Fidelity downloads, the Soundcloud player on the right gives Good Enough fidelity – either way allows sharing:
The song hearkens back to the songwriting style of The Bobs, though this time it ain’t acapella. Kind of a Goldfinger-y big band 60’s pop vibe. Old pal Laurie Amat (famed as an avant-gardist, collaborator with The Residents, and singer of overall repute) signed on to be the lead singer, and delivered big-time, with a big, bold, brassy sound. You can share it, post it, download it – it’s yours to keep as our gift to you!
With all the political stormclouds hanging over us, a bit of levity is in order. And some understanding – people seem to want desperately to be saved, in a big way, a romantic way, an impossible way. Their yearnings aren’t wrong, but the object of their affection – This year’s Mr. T – is some kind of awful.
Special big thanks to Dann Fink, Richard Bob Greene, and Joshua Raoul Brody for valuable input/feedback/help in the writing and production of Great Again!