Archive for January, 2006

January 26, 2006

Sorry, we won't be doing Tommy

In February I’m (hopefully) starting up a concept that Peter Fatka and I have thrown around for a long time: Rock Opera of the Month. Out of the boredom of practicing and the easy access of the internet–and our brains breaking down the chord structures of our favorite albums–we decided once upon a time that for the local open mic we’d learn all of a specific album and then recreate it on acoustic guitars for the locals. That never materialized but rather turned into a hilarious 3 am sort of thought. Now that I’m doing a regular gig and have some feel for what that’s about it’s time to forge ahead and mix things up a bit.

We’ve started work on Forever Changes, the classic by Love and so far I’ve figured out the whole record. It’s slow going with Peter and Bob Koch, mostly because Bob is in 4 bands (not counting playing with me which is not a band but a “happening”) and has been playing his ass off of late. Learning a whole record–even one that you are very familiar with–takes a special kind of patience and devotion.

This also means that I get to entertain people without having to do any of my own material. I love playing my own stuff but I get tired of it sometimes. Does that sound weird? I’m greatful that I can write stuff and for years after I was able to create my own music that was all I did in my shows–but recently all I want to do is show people what made me want to play and what tickles me to play. Hopefully the Rock Opera of the Month will give folks a big picture of that as well.

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January 24, 2006

Ram on(e)

One of the latest vinyl delights for me is Paul McCartney’s Ram. Paul was never my favorite Beatle but after listening to this record I’m quite impressed. Ram is from 1971 and is a one-man-band effort where Paul shows off his drumming chops (which are pretty good, better than the drums he did on The White Album) and his great piano and guitar skills and of course his killer bass playing. There’s quite a bit of filler on this record and that bothered me at first until I realized that all of his records have lots of filler. Paul likes to fuck around a lot–he knows how to make hit songs but he also sounds like he has fun in the studio. After being in the best/biggest music act of the 20th century what did he have to prove? That he didn’t need Lennon to rock out? The rockingest song on Ram is “Eat at Home” which is an homage to Buddy Holly (and reportedly Lennon’s favorite track on Ram) and I could almost hear John taking over on vocals.

The real surprise (which is not really a surprise) is Paul’s voice. John was my favorite mostly because his singing was so cutting and powerful but when he did harmonies (like on “Hey Jude”) he could make it sound sweet and light. Over the years of analyzing Beatles songs I’ve noticed that Lennon was not the most accurate singer in many circumstances–but it didn’t matter in the scope of things. On Ram, Paul really sings beautifully and goes high and low without missing a beat–his voice is like his bass playing: simple but damn effecting and unbelievably accurate. And as I sit at the piano and sing these songs, I find that singing like Paul means I have to relax and lighten up my breath–which means that I’m singing the way that would make my choir teacher smile.

January 19, 2006

Don't Tell the RIAA

I’ve just gotten back into vinyl after a long absence. I sold off most of my collection about 10 years ago to help finance my move to Madison but now I am re-armed with a turntable and ready to dig the wax (thanks Bob!). Vinyl was still the best format available when I began my mass music consumption in the early 80’s. My friends bought their music on cassette but I resisted, mostly because the fidelity and durability of commercially manufactured tape was dubious at best. With xmas money I got a Walkman and a tape deck and made much better copies of my vinyl on the high-end cassettes that TDK and Maxell produced. I got real pleasure out of the process: fast forwarding and rewinding each tape before dubbing, testing the levels, copying down the track titles and whatever information I thought would be important, etc. I didn’t realize at the time that I was helping preserve my vinyl but moving up a format did just that–I didn’t wear out my records because I didn’t need to roll them out every time I wanted to listen (I was actually forbidden from touching my parent’s turntable so I dubbed mostly in secret but that’s another story).

In 2006 I find myself doing similar work–transferring vinyl to the computer. My friend Shinky loaned me a bunch of Harry Nilsson records and I decided that yes, I wanted copies of these and the best way to do that was to use my recording software to put them on the hard drive. The process is the same as my cassette days but now I chop the songs up with my mouse and save them individually and at the end I burn a cd. My scanner is too small to accurately capture an album cover without multiple scans and a long struggle with Photoshop but thanks to Google I can usually track down a passable copy of the cover to print out. I’ve uncovered sites that are devoted specifically to hi-res scans of album covers, no doubt for folks who are copying their friend’s cd collection.

In this age of downloading controversies I have to laugh a little. I’m still just a home taper like I’ve always been, only now I’ve gone digital. Sure, I could go out and buy all the Nilsson on cd but why spend $12 when you can pick up the used record for $5 and spend $0.05 for a burnable disc and look at the beautiful record cover while you kick it to the hard drive? I still buy cds for modern stuff but I’m guessing the Recording Industry would prefer me to be less thrifty (and less technologically savvy as well). I’m reminded of a great line from an old Life In Hell comic:

Q: Is home taping killing the music industry?
A: Yes, Yes, Yes. Instead of making billions and billions of dollars, the music industry is only making billions of dollars.

January 12, 2006

History of Us

I’m obsessed with the picture site at the Wisconsin State Historical Society. I thought for a long time about going into a historical type field but I nixed that when the History of England courses I had to take for my English Major put me literally to sleep (It may have been my lifestyle or lack of hydration that also did me in). History really comes alive for me when I have plenty of visual aids–maps, pictures, renderings whatever can be unearthed helps me store it all away.

Since I’ve become a cab driver, my interest and fascination with local history has skyrocketed and the WSHS site feeds me on an almost daily level. I already referenced some pix in a previous post about Madison but since then I’ve uncovered some great stuff. Here’s a picture of the Jamaican Shop on Atwood in a much much earlier incarnation. And here is closest image to where I live: this building is now the Wash Basket Laundromat down a block from me. You can see the building that is still Birrenkot Appliance is visible but the Glass Nickel building has yet to be built. Our house was built in the first decade of the 20th century so this grocery store was probably where everyone in the neighborhood did their shopping. I’m having fun imagining stepping out the door with Soren and going to the corner store to pick up the day’s food and fresh bread…

January 10, 2006

Dia verde

I am standing on the steps of the childhood home 524 W 22nd Street with some strange folks I went to high school with. They were dreamscape high school chums, not really folks I recognize. I am telling these folks about seeing a show by Green Day who have now dropped the punk/pop posing that they’ve been famous for and are now an alt-country band. My “friends” don’t believe me but in the middle of the discussion my brother shows up and hands me a cassette of their “new” sound which I proceed to play for everyone. I am excited because Billie Joe writes a twisted couple of lyrics which I am quoting for everyone. I am already so familiar with the band’s new sound that when the cassette is played I realize the live show was a different record and this one my brother delivered is unfamiliar but also genius and genre smashing at the same time.