Writer’s Block

I’m sort of dealing with writer’s block right now on two fronts, but really songwriting is where I have a worse time.

Let’s be real- not every post here is a keeper and some of the posts that I think are keepers turn out not to be.  But for the most part, I write something, put it out there.  If some people comment, that’s great.  If not, then the post sort of disappears.  Sometimes I’ll go back to it if it’s about someone or something I care to expand on, or if it’s part of a series.

On the other hand, if I write a song, I have to look forward to hearing several times at the very least.  I write it, practice it enough times that I can show it to the band without fumbling.  Then I teach it to the band.  If it’s a terrible song, then it ends right there.  On the other hand, if everyone likes it, the band learns it, tries to perfect it and then play it at shows.  If the audience likes it, we keep playing it at shows.  There’s one song in our set that I think I’ve played at every show since at least 2009.  Maybe earlier.  That’s 5 YEARS.  So if I write  a song, I have to put some extra effort into it.

And most of the time, since we’re a for-fun band we aren’t expected to play something we don’t want to play.  So we’re not going to have angry fans demanding to know why we didn’t play that signature hit that the band got sick of or the early hits that the band grew out of.  If we don’t like it we stop playing it.  That being said, there are at any given time a handful of my songs in the set that I’m not that big on, but I’m playing them because other people like them or they came up with interesting parts they like to play.  I shouldn’t say “a handful”, usually it’s more like one or two.

My process for writing songs is pretty simple- I get an idea, usually while walking around or driving, and I write it down.  Most of the time I’m like Eminem in 8 Mile carrying a piece of paper full of scrawled notes in my pocket.  I eventually transfer that to a notebook.  If it’s a good idea I try to add music.  Then I put it away and come back in a week or so.  When I get time I’ll sit down with my guitar and try to build the rest of the song around it.  Then I usually put it down again and come back a week or so later and fill in lyrics.  Or a month.  I band out the occasional song in an afternoon (almost always a terrible one) but for the most part it takes me a few months to finish one.  Just so I don’t get too behind I have multiple ones I’m working on simultaneously- something I also do with books.

Right now I’m feeling some pressure because we’re planning on recording this summer.  I have a couple of songs I want to record, but just to be sure I want to finish some others just so I have options.  I also am planning on playing keyboards (since we fired our keyboard player) and I need to have my parts planned well in advance so I can practice.  It’s kind of stressing me out a bit.

Writing blog posts is usually a process of having an idea in the morning, rolling it around in my head all day, trying to hold onto it until I have a block of time to write, then writing.  I edit a bit, then hit publish.  Sometimes I don’t edit much.  Every now and then I’ll have a big idea and I’ll spend days thinking about it and even a day or two writing.  But not much.  A lot of the time, this being one of those times, I am just trying to keep the rhythm of writing.  It can be tough.

I haven’t gone anywhere I just have writer’s block

and a ton of things going on.

My seldom seen co-blogger is in town this week so I’m hanging with him.  My band has a show.  I’m catching my first baseball game of the season and my beloved Padres are at 6-7, which is not bad for them.  Plus it was my son’s birthday and he’s got two pairs of grandparents to meet with.  And I’ve got some other things going on.  Too much.  I need a break.

Dev

Like I’ve said before, I don’t usually say I’m a fan of famous pop singers.  Obviously, since their music isn’t really made for me.  I can appreciate it, but I doubt I’d even go to their concert if someone gave me tickets.  When a radio announcer says “we have a new song by…” my ears don’t perk up.   I don’t even think it’s cause I’m too old, although that could be a part of it.

But I like Kesha and I like Dev.

Dev first came to my attention in the most played song of 2010:

The hook from that song actually came from an earlier song she put out:

I don’t know if I could put a finger on exactly what I like about her.  I know she gets compared to Kesha (and apparently doesn’t agree with this), but I’d say they’re only similar in the sense that the Sex Pistols and The Damned are similar.  Yeah, the two women are kind of working the same genre- trashy white* rapper/singer, but they don’t sound alike and they’re from different backgrounds- Kesha the daughter of a Nashville songwriter, Dev from central California.  Manteca, wherever that is.

Maybe that’s what I like about her- she reminds me of someone I might have gone to high school with.

I also like that she doesn’t oversing.  Pop Music is (sort of) part of what I consider The People’s Music.  It’s made for everyone to enjoy and everyone should be able to sing along.  Don’t get me wrong, I like the occasional Mariah Carey, but no one should try to sing along to that.

For a while Dev was being ill-served by whoever was making her videos.  I like this song, but the video was derivative.  Who does this remind you of?

So I really liked her latest:

It’s not a great song.  It’s basically a one-hook song, with the hook borrowed from a children’s lullabye.  But it’s fun and the video is trashy (have I mentioned I like trashy stuff?  I do).

Maybe I prefer things that are low-key like this.  It’s just a fun song that pretty much anyone could have sang.  It’s not profound, not particularly shocking.  That’s how I like my pop music.

*Dev is arguably a Latina.  I don’t know how she identifies.

The Definitive Guide to Guitar Moves Part 2

OK, so now you’ve got your stance and strap length down, it’s time for some moves.  Let’s start with the classics:

Jumping

Keith Richards compares being a band that’s playing really well to flying.  Jumping can translate that feeling to the audience.   There are a lot of variations here and I’d like to just focus on two- tucked leg jumps and scissors kicks.

Tucked Leg

This is a Pete Townshend classic.  Actually, there probably isn’t a guitar jump that Pete Townshend didn’t master at some point.  He’s basically the Michael Jordan of jumping around while playing guitar.  He should have his own Air Townshend shoes.

Benefits: Looks cool if done right.  Less likely to kick nearby band members.

Difficulties: If that doesn’t look hard to you then you’re a young person.  Danger of not getting your legs back under you in time.  Guitar smashing into your crotch.

For Extra Coolness:  Do it off something high

Scissor Kick

Another Townshend classic.  There was no stopping this guy.

Benefits: Ability to jump kick nearby band members.  If you mess it up and don’t get your feet totally beneath you, you can play it off like you were jumping into your Power Stance.

Difficulties: Guitar smashing into your crotch.  Retaliation from kicked band members.

For Extra Coolness:  Tuck your Legs while doing a scissor kick.  Do the air splits.

The Definitive Guide to Guitar Moves Part 1

What are guitar moves?  They’re things you do on stage to make your show more exciting.  In this case while holding a guitar.

There are two basic secrets that I will share from you.  They come from an Ancient Japanese Master.  Actually they come from my Japanese buddy who owns a rock and roll club and told them to me.  He’s not really ancient either.  Just a few years older than me.

They are:

Do Everything Like You Meant to Do It

Do it quickly

I’ll get back to these, but these are the two basic rules that must guide every move you make.

For all these moves, I also suggest practicing them while you are practicing.  This is super important- you have to make your situation in practice just like you expect the show to be, because you don’t want to be figuring out that your moves look stupid in front of an audience.  Also, if you like to have a drink before playing a show, you should have one before practice too.  Whatever it takes.

Also, these are applicable to bass too, if you are so inclined.  There is a whole separate school of Bass Moves, mostly created by that dude from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Some people have adapted them to guitar playing, but for everyone’s well-being I’m going to pretend that the 90s never happened.

There are two things to consider before you start busting out moves.  They are strap length and guitar stance.

Strap Length

This will have a strong effect on your ability to perform your moves.  Try to avoid what I call The Beatle Length

Yes, you can probably reach your strings better.  Yes, you will look dorky.

Ideally you want your guitar centered right around your belt buckle.

I’ve seen people go lower than this

But frankly, it looks awkward, like you’re shuffling around on stage with your pants falling down.

Guitar Stance

Let’s start with guitar stance.  There are two basic stances.

Standing Up

Benefits: being able to move around

Difficulties: none really

For Extra Coolness: Move around.  Bend your knees.  Do a little dance.

Power Stance:

Benefits: if your guitar is slung low you can reach your strings.  You look cool.  You won’t fall down if other musicians bump into you.

Difficulties:  None if you don’t get too low.  But if you do get too low you might have trouble getting back up again

For Extra Coolness:  Face the audience, stare them down and plant your foot on a monitor, if there is one.

#Cancel Colbert, Lorde’s Song is Racist and I Have No Answers to Anything

In the summer before I went to university I took a class at UCSD for minority students* that they used to put on, in this case the class it was kind of a overview of civil rights movements.  It was in a big lecture hall but there was all kinds of discussion going on.

*OK, so you’re probably like, SatanicPanic is a minority?  Well, sort of.  My mother is Mexican American.  My father is white.  By most accounts I look like a white person (there’s really no PC way to put that) and nearly anyone who knows me probably thinks of me as one.  I think of myself as mixed heritage, for what it’s worth.  Just trying to provide some background.

It was my first time in that kind of setting and at one point I stood up and said “I think a lot of this is because of economic issues.  If we solved those we wouldn’t have to deal with these things.”

A few people agreed, a few people didn’t.  I felt really smart that I brought that up at the time, but if you asked 2014 me what I thought, I’d probably say “nah, that’s not really right- racism doesn’t need an economic rationale.”  In fact, I might think, yeah that was kind of naive.  I also realize now that probably a few people there were saying “easy for you to say white boy.”

I was thinking about that reading this interview with Suey Park on Salon.  Mainly- good thing no one gave me a big media platform back when I was entering college- I’d have to live with all the things I said back then.

If you weren’t following the #cancelColbert deal (I wasn’t following it all that closely either) the brief summary is that Colbert was satirizing racial insensitivity on his show; someone from the show sent out a tweet with part of the gag, naturally resulting in said joke being out of context; people, in particular Suey Park, got mad at Colbert for making what appeared to be a racist joke; Colbert responded by pointing out that it was a joke and explaining the context; people responded to Park on Twitter, where there was allegedly a huge Twitter war, which I didn’t witness because I only use Twitter for food trucks.

Jay Caspian King’s response at the New Yorker provided for me the best context, in particular this:

There’s a long tradition in American comedy of dumping tasteless jokes at the feet of Asians and Asian-Americans that follows the perception that we will silently weather the ridicule. If I were to predict which minority group the writers of a show like “The Colbert Report” would choose for an edgy, epithet-laden parody, I’d grimace and prepare myself for some joke about rice, karate, or broken English. The resulting discomfort has nothing to do with the intentions of the joke or the political views of the people laughing at it. Even when you want to be in on the joke—and you understand, intellectually, that you are not the one being ridiculed—it’s hard not to wonder why these jokes always come at the expense of those least likely to protest.

I’m not totally endorsing his theory that Asians get the worst of it, because it seems like every time I watch Colbert (which is not often, since I don’t have a TV) there is a joke about some dude in a sombrero.  But I’ll stop right there because discussions of who has it worst are themselves some of the worst things ever invented by man.

But it got me thinking.  For white people racist is mostly just an analogy for dumbass.   Haha, look at that uneducated fool!  He doesn’t know people are all created equal! 

Non-white people might not see it that way.  I don’t want to speak for anyone but I wonder.

I talk about racism a lot on this blog, for several reasons.  My mother’s family experienced it firsthand- not being served in restaurants in the 50s type of stuff.  I grew up in a place where people were not treated equally.  I want to understand why these things had to be.  And the more I’ve learned the more I realize that racism played a giant part in American history, and I want to understand that too.

My personal experience with racism is pretty limited.  Part of why I went to Japan was to experience what it would be like not to be in the position I am in the USA.  Even there it wasn’t that simple- Americans are often held in privileged positions there, even while they were considers outsiders with ridiculous customs.

I had some uncomfortable moments in Japan- being refused service, being spat on (once), being treated like a child.  Those things were rare.  But if that were a regular occurrence I would have gone nuts.  Just thinking about what I did experience makes me want to punch things.

So I wonder if, after having been treated rudely, I had gone home and turned on the TV and seen a Japanese guy parodying a racist/xenophobic person on TV if I would have laughed.  I don’t know.  It’s pretty much impossible to say because I never heard anyone discuss racism in Japan.  That in itself was a learning experience.

Monthofsundays94 was kind enough to comment on this blog a few weeks ago so I’ve been going through posts over there and I found this one

Why “Royals” Is Racist

I liked the context Monthofsundays94 provided in his post.  I actually wrote on this question myself a while back.  My answer for whether the song was racist was- maybe it is.  I don’t know.  Typical for me right?  Well, that’s how I am- someone too broadminded to take my own side in a quarrel.

But I like Monthofsundays94′s point here:

But the absolute worst lyric in the song, the one that I find the most offensive, the one that makes me want to banish Lorde from the pop landscape for all time is this:

“We didn’t come from money.”

Do you think that the majority of rappers came from money? Do you really think that?

That paragraph made me laugh*- yeah, that’s a pretty stupid thing of Lorde to sing.

My problem is that I grew up in a place with a lot of racist people and I realize there are differing levels of racism.  There’s burning crosses and lynching, there’s name-calling, there’s “I wish my child hadn’t married you”.  There’s “I wish my child hadn’t married you, but now that you have children I’ll kind of forget about it because I want to play with my grandkids.”  At a certain point, if you want to not be angry all the time in a rural area like where I’m from, you have to overlook some things.  Or a lot of things, depending on who you’re around.

So when I hear Lorde I think well that’s dumb.   But I said stupid things when I was her age.  Maybe she’ll give it more thought.  And when I read Suey Park’s angry interview in Salon I think, well, I said things in the moment at her age that didn’t make perfect sense, especially when I was dealing with racist people.  I’m not agreeing with Park or saying she’s a great social justice crusader, I’m just saying I could see being in her shoes.  Being treated unfairly stays with you.

And that’s another post on racism that goes nowhere and answers nothing.  Someday I’ll have some answers, but not today.

 

*Oooh, internal rhyme in this sentence.  If I rapped I would use that line in something.

Hoarders is funny when it happens to someone else. When it happens to you it’s just a bummer.

So my grandmother and step-grandfather both died this year, within a few months of each other and left a house full of crap.

It wasn’t all crap.  But the crap to useful stuff ratio was way worse than I would have tolerated.  I vaguely remembered that when my grandparents got married 20 years ago, we all went over there to clean stuff out of the garage and some of the other rooms.  I ran this by my cousin who confirmed that it happened (we were in high school at the time) but that it didn’t stick.  My new grandpa was a hoarder and was not about to change.

So my aunt put out a call for our family to assemble and make one last go of getting the house in order to sell it.  I could only make it up there for one day this weekend (most of the rest of my family lives much closer), but it was a good day.  Kind of a bummer, but also pretty fun.

I don’t know how other families are, but on my mother’s side it’s at least 95% fun all of the time.  I’m the oldest of my generation, but I have seven cousins and one brother.  The next eldest is six months younger than me, my brother is two years younger, my other cousin is three years younger and the rest are in their 20′s, except for the very youngest, who is 11.  So we’ve always had a pretty good group of kids.  And some of us kids never really grew up.  Some of our uncles never grew up either.  But we all pretty much like each other, which I imagine is rare.

My cousin who is three years younger and I have always got along really well.  I spent a lot of time at their house in high school and we’re both into similar things- going to the beach, music, skateboarding, beer.  California dude stuff.  Pretty much every time we’re together it’s madcap hijinks. When he showed up to help we immediately came up with a set of goals for the day – find the liquor and find the nudie mags.

We were not disappointed.  We found some tequila- the drink of choices on my mother’s side (my father’s side= whiskey).  We found some Playboy magazines and even tried to dispose of them quietly (well, we did tell one of my uncles) before any of the women could find them, just to save grandpa’s reputation, but the old man outsmarted us by placing them in several places around the house and in the back shed.  My mom found one and said “well, it just proves he was a man.”

My grandpa loved to discuss history and current events, and I’m pretty sure he’d have wanted me to read a few of his books.  So I took a few that looked interesting.  I doubt they’re worth auctioning at the estate sale.

It was hard work though and the shed was the most appalling.  Just full of junk.  This is now the second hoarder house I’ve visited and I’m going to generalize and say, it’s not collecting stuff that makes someone a hoarder.  Everyone has collections of something.  It’s not throwing away stuff that has no use.  There had to have been at least 3 records players in his garage and several more in his house.  There’s really no need for that many record players, especially since I doubt the ones in the garage even worked anymore.

By the afternoon I was covered in dust.  I had wrapped a bandana around my face for the worst of it, but even that got too dirty to wear.  I was there from 9 to 5 and my back was aching.  But I had a great time.  It was kind of nice that so many people showed up and were laughing and having a good time.  It was a nice way to send off my grandpa and grandma.