July 9, 2008

Got Me Some Press

I was interviewed in the Wisconsin State Journal this past weekend. The article is here if you’d like to read it. Like most pieces about me, I did the actual writing and it turned out pretty well. I don’t think anyone has asked those exact questions to me before so I had to stop and think for a few minutes before typing it up.

There was a picture that I sent with the article that got printed in the paper but did not make it to the online version. That picture is here and I feel it represents me quite well: slightly blurry, eyes unfocused, hair straight up, standing in my living room with abstract art in the background.

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June 22, 2008

yourspace

I frequently check up on my close myspace friends. The feature which lets you “subscribe” to what changes people make has helped quite a bit but there are things you don’t know unless you visit their page. I just learned that an old friend had broken up with her long term boyfriend. She didn’t email me with the news or anything, but was now suddenly listed as “single” on her page. Her ex is still number one in her list of friends but he too lists himself as single on his page. And both have rearranged their pictures so as to not appear together anymore. He actually went through the trouble of removing most of those featuring her; she merely re-captioned several and left the rest alone. I’m of course curious what went wrong but since I’ve not heard officially that they split (and we’re not that close anymore) I don’t have any reason to pry. But the spyglass that is myspace continues to fascinate and make me wonder how much people might be able to uncover from the mere facts that are posted on someone’s personal page.

June 7, 2008

Plugging

I’ve been hard at work (still) on the recording. James loaned me a nice bass and a strange microphone which works great for bass drum and such. I’ve got a lot of guitar tracks down but have examined many of them and found things to be a bit out of whack. And so I plunge on with re-re-re-recordings of songs which I haven’t played for really anyone and wonder when I’ll be done.

There are days when I feel like things will really come together and I’ll get this thing out and play some shows and get the ball rolling again. Other days I feel like I should just wrap things up quickly, burn some Cds for the folks who have been bugging me about it for so long (you know who you are) and concentrate on other things. Such is the life of a musician. Plus the Low Czars have a double feature this coming Friday: a wedding at Olin Park and then “headlining” a show (more like closing a show, actually) at the High Noon. We’ve cranked up the wedding tune machine and have it working well right now but don’t know exactly what we’re going to play at the end of the night. Perhaps the wedding show redux? Come on down to find out…

May 20, 2008

Has he lost his mind?

We were the only two people at Friday night’s showing of Paranoid Park but that suited the movie well. I’d never even heard of it until a couple of hours before we went, so all I knew was that it featured skateboarding and was directed by Gus Van Sant. Years ago I sat in a packed Chicago theater totally mesmerized by My Own Private Idaho, a flawed but deep and moving film about love and betrayal and friendship. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues was such a total mess that I assumed that GVS was a mere mortal director and promptly forgot about keeping up with his stuff. I’ve never seen Good Will Hunting (and I actually like Robin Williams) nor did I bother with the remake of Psycho he did a few years back. But Paranoid Park was intimate and light and lazy, showing so much more than telling. There’s some great super-8 POV skateboarding footage mixed in here and there, and some very keen slo-mo sequences that I’m sure are used all over MTV but seemed anything but cliche in this movie.

I’d actually been gearing up for weeks to see Iron Man with a fellow comic book enthusiast and we finally made that on Sunday afternoon. It really is one of the finest superhero movies ever. Robert Downey Jr. is a true movie star and deserves to be making this sort of comeback. And it had been a decade since I’d fallen deeply in love with Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love so it was great to have her melt my heart again. I was trying to describe Iron Man to Deanna and she remarked that Paranoid Park was probably its polar opposite; low budget, simple plot, no special effects, non-actors performing more or less as themselves. My passion and patience for film isn’t what it used to be but a two movie weekend IN THE THEATER is a rare treat that I am still savoring.

April 13, 2008

You dont even get a lousy copy of our home game!

We attended a Jeopardy! College Championship taping on Friday night. I’ve been scanning the local media sites for anyone else in bloggerland who checked this out and have found surprisingly little. There were certainly plenty of folks on hand to watch Friday’s tapings. We had VIP tickets so the ushers seated us on the floor in folding chairs. The upper bleachers were filled mostly with the non-VIP folks (aka college kids) many of whom held up Jeopardy-themed signs. Upon entering the arena, the men were presented with Jeopardy! sweat towels and the women were given Jeopardy! pom-poms which we were instructed to pump in the air during the commercial intros and outros. We sat and gawked at the huge stage that was stuck in the middle of the Kohl Center. The set was constructed from parts of campus buildings which, since I didn’t attend school here, I didn’t recognize (though I did figure out that the sort of U-shaped archways were from the Memorial Union.)

The contestants got huge cheers as they were herded out and a member of the “Clue Crew” talked to the crowd and ran a fake round of questions to get the players used to the buttons in their booths and being on camera. Then Johnny Gilbert, the Jeopardy! announcer, came out to schmooze us and explain to us that the microphones on the audience are so sensitive that if we even whisper the answers to the questions on the show, they’ll have to stop taping and nobody wants that to happen. Then Alex Trebek came out and they started the first game. (Part of me was hoping he was going to fly in across the crowd and slide down a pole to his booth, but no such luck. He just strolled out and went to work.)

The show is filmed in real time, so during the breaks Alex wandered through the audience and took questions. He was asked many things: what happened to his mustache (“I shaved it off”), his favorite animal (“The muskox”), would he like to play Rock Band with the Math Club after the show (“No”) as well as some that led him on tangents about his life. Someone asked him if he had tried much Wisconsin cheese and when mentioned California cheese the crowd booed. He then declared that response to be “undignified” and lectured us on how you can always say something nice about your competition and still fully support your side of things. When it was time to get back on stage for the next section, he made fun of the tech person who was following him around, no doubt because he knew the audience would eat it up. Alex seemed pretty much unflappable in every part of his performance.

The UW Cheerleaders were in the audience to help us along when it was time to get crazy with the applause. Bucky Badger was there, of course, egging folks on and jumping up and down. He was seated in the front row and, as they cut to the long shot of the whole set before the commercial, he leapt up from his seat and his huge head poked right into frame, accidentally obscuring Alex and the players. The producers grabbed the badger and moved him back a few rows to attempt to contain the excitement (and to not have to re-shoot too much). I’ve never made it to a sporting event here in Madison but after watching the Jeopardy! taping I sort of get the idea of what they’re all about.

January 25, 2008

What's the time?

Sometime in junior high I got a really nice watch for Christmas. My grandparents (who gave it to me) came from an era where a nice watch was an important gift and I was flattered. I always suspected that my parents had a hand it the gift as well because I was chronically late. I used my new watch all the time on my paper route, at school, when I was traveling, etc. (My lateness continues to this day) Somewhere in there I lost the watch and never got another one.

Now that I’ve started running again I’m wearing a watch to time myself, but I take it off whenever I’m done. I don’t like the feel of it on my wrist and there are so many clocks in my house that I hardly need to have a personal timepiece. But out in public, without a watch (and rarely with a cell phone either) I’m dependent on public clocks. Two of the ones I relied on the most–the one on the north wall of the far check-out area at Woodman’s and the exaggerated clock face at Target–have been taken down in the last year. There’s still one at Woodman’s by the customer service station, but if I’m far away I can’t read it accurately. I was at Target yesterday and I still looked over and remembered that, oh yeah they remodeled in 2007 and disposed of their ugly clock.

I guess I could look at my receipt for the time or ask someone around me since every other soul has a cell phone. But public clocks are a wonderful concept and a service that just isn’t as vital anymore. I was crushed when the tore down the building with the Bucky Badger Clock as I always liked looking at it when I was stopped at the light at Park Street. I just noticed the other day that they put it up on the New UW Welcome Center. The clock is not close to the street and not as noticeable, which to me defeats the purpose of a public timepiece.

January 22, 2008

Honesty

In my quest to play piano I’ve had to dig deep into my record collection to find piano-based stuff. In many cases, I’ve had to dig deep into records I used to own and tonight it dawned on me that I could probably figure out some Billy Joel tunes. He’s a baritone like me (so I can actually sing ’em) and I used to have his Greatest Hits and I played the shit out it–though it’s more likely I taped it and played the shit out of the tape. Nobody seems to take Mr. Joel all the seriously these days but I grew up in the late 70’s/early 80’s period where he cranked out some tasty hit songs. I immediately dialed him up on YouTube and found that, like many smart artists, his entire video catalog is officially posted. My immediate pick to figure out was “Allentown” as I’d always liked the way the chords flowed. I listened and watched for a while and fumbled on my guitar and couldn’t quite keep up with what was going on, so I searched for someone else’s chords–and, like usual, found a page that was about 2/3 correct. It got me on the right track and I figured out everything that was incorrect and then I noticed at the top of the page it said:

“Have you seen a mistake? Has someone defaced this transcription? Help Lovebolts by editing it or reverting to an older version.”

So I clicked through and found that you could indeed do real editing to an existing chord page. I spent about a half hour combing over “Allentown,” making sure I caught every detail and fixed all the broken chords. You can view it here. I added a little note at the bottom that explains that Mr. Joel adds lots of notes to his chords, thus making it almost impossible to render this song accurately on an acoustic guitar. I was impressed by the ease by which I was able to fix everything and it made me wonder why more chord sites aren’t set up like this. I’ve done a few Kinks chord pages over the years and corrected many more and I love to lend my ear to the world in this way. As I’ve said before, I love searching for chords and coming across disturbingly accurate work.

December 11, 2007

Blahrgh

I haven’t been here in blog-ville in a long time. I can’t even remember what I last wrote about but that’s not really important. I’ve actually been hard at work on my 5-years-in-the-making record but the weather is now starting to interfere a bit. My basement gets a quite frosty around December and so this year I’m breaking down and buying some sort of heater for the studio. Progress on this project only comes in small bursts but thus far my return to recording has been a lot of fun. I have my Wurlitzer electric piano more or less fixed (thanks Peter!) and have the Hammond Organ running well enough (it still needs some hum-zapping) and have come to the conclusion that my $700 acoustic guitar sounds good but my 25-year-old $250 guitar actually records better. Go figure.

Guitars have not been in vogue for a while. After doing a wedding this summer and learning a few songs on the piano (and faltering through them at the show) I decided it was time to live out my fantasy of being a competent piano player. So for the last four months I’ve spent at least an hour a day in the office, banging away on the upright we got a few years back. I’m approaching this in the same way I learned guitar: I practice my basic skills and try to figure out familiar songs. I look around on-line for cheat sheets and it’s the usual hit-or-miss but in this case even the wrong chords can help me find the right ones. And new songs open up new windows: for the wedding we learned “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” which forced me to learn how to do a walking bass line. My left hand was not happy and it made me sort of dizzy but I got it down and now can add that feel to just about anything. Learning “Hello, It’s Me” forced me to learn how to play major and minor 7th chords which helped a lot when I started working on Steely Dan songs (ha!).

I’ve always loved playing the guitar and really felt like it was my calling as a musician. In my late 20’s I actually became a good player but soon realized my limitations. I can’t really play leads, even with a lot of rehearsal. I can play lots of chords and keep my bands from going off the rails by being rock steady but time has not made me into anything fancy. Yet on the piano I surprise myself every time I sit down to play. My muscle memory has really come to life as sometimes when I try a new song I already know how to create an unfamiliar chord. And on the piano there are so many ways to create a chord. On the guitar you have 3 octaves spread over six strings and that limits you to 3 or 4 different ways to make even a three note chord. On the piano there are 100 ways and I’m just starting to tap into that reservoir. Plus all that music theory that I learned as a kid is suddenly so valuable when trying to figure stuff out.

So, sometime down the road I’m going to drag the Wurly out on stage with the Low Czars or whoever will have me. I wish I had a nice keyboard piano thing to tote around but that will have to wait (It’s a shame there aren’t pianos at every venue and bar in the world anymore, but that’s a whole other blog!) My current “figuring out” project is the Zombies’Odessey and Oracle of which I have about 2/3 finished. Look for that one coming to a future rock opera show near you.

September 19, 2007

Sweet Jesus, that's smooth!

I guess I’m pretty late to the phenomenon of Yacht Rock. For those of you who haven’t felt it’s healing powers, Yacht Rock is a fictionalization of the music scene in Los Angeles in the late 70’s and early 80’s, centering around the studio of one Koko Goldstein. Included in the cast of characters is Kenny Loggins, Michael Mc Donald, Steely Dan, Hall & Oates among others. Having lived through the radio of that era, I was truly stunned by the sheer genius of this show. The show description here sums this phenomemon better than I ever could. If you’re even half the music nerd that I am, scroll down from that summary and start downloading these episodes. Now. I’ve watched them all a dozen or so times and still can’t stop laughing.

September 1, 2007

Hot Town

On Friday we watched Summer of Sam on WGN. Spike Lee’s films are usually powerful and at the very least enjoyable and after watching the edited for television + commercials version I almost want to go rent it to see what I missed. Neither Deanna or I really knew all that much about the Son of Sam killer but the one detail that I recalled was that he claimed that his neighbor’s dog was possessed by a demon and ordered him to kill. Sure enough, in the middle of the movie, The Killer gets a visit in his apartment by a black dog (who we see earlier barking at him) who tells him to go out and murder some more folks. During the next commercial break was this ad for Bush’s Baked Beans which also features a talking canine. I’m guessing WGN programmers did not for see the hilarity of this juxtaposition.