Friday, March 6, 2020
I occasionally post songs on a website and app, https://chords-and-tabs.net/, just to broaden the palettes of the usual culprits who frequent suck places. Mostly, I'm correcting chords or lyrics for the songs I perform, just so my own app has the story right for me to play. (I don't bother to remember many songs in my old age.) I think I have posted about 100 songs to now. This week, I got a surprise. I posted a 2005 Buddy Guy song, "What Kind of Woman Is This," and the site "rejected" it. I have posted songs like "You're An Asshole" without any sort of censure. I suspect the lyric, "You should be locked up, pretty girl, in my bedroom with me." is the culprit. Fuck 'em if they want to screw with Buddy Guy.
Monday, February 10, 2020
The title of a GetPocket.com article, “Are You Forgetful? That's Just Your Brain Erasing Useless Memories” struck a nerve with me. The contents of the article reinforced that reaction. For almost 40 years, I’ve complained that when I quit playing in bands in the early-80’s I lost the ability to remember song lyrics. A neuroscientist, Dr. Blake Richards explains that we mistakenly believe that the “argument is that memory isn’t supposed to act like a video recorder, but instead like a list of useful rules that help us make better decisions.”
For 15+ years, I had hundreds of songs memorized—lyrics, chord progressions, solos, harmonies and melodies—and within a few weeks, of my deciding that playing in a live band wasn’t for me, all of that vanished. Before the year was out, all of those once-useful memories disappeared and, for the most part, I didn’t give it a moment of thought. I was very busy in my new life. Off and on over the next four decades I would occasionally and unsuccessfully try to learn a new song and be mildly baffled at my lack of success. I wouldn’t make the attempt again for several years each time.
This idea that importance is linked to memory isn’t new to me. 30 years ago, I started a new career as an engineer in a medical device company. Part of my job included training new employees, sales representatives, doctors and nurses in the company’s products. I had been doing in-house industrial training since the 1970’s, but those experiences were considerably less formal (product certifications were involved in medical devices) and the outcome of my new job’s training product could be life-or-death. I was renting a room from a friend when I first started in that job and he regularly amazed me with his ability to remember our “students’” names. I am sure I told him, “I just can’t remember names.”
We regularly watched NBA games after work, I was still a big Showtime L.A. Lakers fan and we were watching a game at the time. He replied, “Bullshit. You know the names of every NBA player down to the 13th guy on the bench. You just don’t care about the sales reps’ names.”
Of course, he was right. I didn’t. For the most part, I never did care about sales reps’ names, ever.
A decade later, I was beginning another new career as a college educator. One of the instructors in my new department was fired, partially, because he couldn’t be bothered to learn the names of the students in his half-dozen student labs. Listening to my new boss talk about how he felt that was disrespectful, I promised myself that I would learn my students’ names if it required tattooing their names on my eyeballs. For the most part, I managed that objective and I did it be making sure that I always cared about my students as human beings and potential associates in the industry within which we were all aspiring to work.
Finally, back to why I can’t remember songs today, I really don’t care about individual songs enough to memorize them. I have to admit that. I don’t believe, at this point in my life, songs are an important thing in my life. Music is important, but specific songs are not. Pop music has been the soundtrack to my whole life, but it has been a 50-year-long soundtrack. Other than the jazz that I stumbled upon when I was 11 or 12, specific pieces of music have held almost no claim to my life. Music as an overall thing is not-lifesaving or threatening. Musicians and their music comes and goes and is forgotten or remembered at random based on mostly emotional, juvenile nonsense. People in my generation “love” the Beatles because they were young and cute and hopeful when they first heard that music. Today, they are mostly MAGA assholes who would burn the world to a crisp just to hang on to their gas-guzzling SUVs and golf carts. My kids’ generation clings to punk and metal and disco for the same lame reasons. And on that silliness goes.
I like all kinds of music from pretty much every generation that has touched my life: not all of any of it, but there is some music from every period between the 1920’s (my grandparents’ music) to today (my grandkids’ music) that strikes my fancy in some way. But I don’t love any of it, at least any of it that I’m technically capable of playing, enough to spend the energy and braincells to memorize it. And now that I know why I seem to be unable to memorize music, I’m going to quit beating myself up for that “inability.” I have almost 500 songs on my performance tablet, charted, organized,
The one exception to that failed memory in the last 10 years has been Tom Waits’ “Shiver Me Timbers.” The lyric to that song, if you know me and my life, is clearly why that song remains important to me:
- I'm leaving my family,
- leaving all my friends.
- My body's at home,
- but my heart’s in the wind.
The first time I heard that song, at the end of a “Numb3rs” television episode, it struck a chord (literally and pun intended) with me that stuck like glue. That song’s lyrics are important to me. In the last year, a John Mayer song, “Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967," is beginning to stick, too. The lyric, “with a library card and a will to work hard” found a place in me that is as personal and important as “Shiver Me Timbers.”
Sunday, December 15, 2019
Tonight, I tried to have a conversation with someone on an Apple garble-machine, aka iPhone. Holy crap! What is the point in having a microphone on a device that is that grossly incapable of audio communications? The iPhone owner tried to pronounce the name of the street where I was going several times; “Sturdvant,” “Stirant,” “Sylbant,” “Sylvan,” etc. I asked him to spell it, but that attempt was so distorted that I almost suspected he was including letters from the Cyrillic alphabet. I made my best guess and was wrong, but both Google and Garmin sent me to an address that didn’t exist without even the slightest mention that they had picked a spot in the middle of an intersection where, obviously, there was no house.
Another friend just got a new iPhone last month and has still failed to figure out how that silly device can be used as a telephone. It kicks ass on the web and texting, but talking to people is just not one of its capabilities. I suggested he try using Skype on the phone, just for laughs. He did, but the problem is with both the iPhone’s shit microphone and even worse speaker; although the speaker did work better on Skype than it does through the “phone app.”
It’s easy and unfair to ridicule young people for their texting default. They’ve grown up with telephones that are incapable of being telephones and as their voices have atrophied their thumbs have become nimble. While their thumbs are far more versatile than, for example, mine, the combination of trying to type with a pair of fat digits on a crappy virtual keyboard plus those godawful “helpers” that replace “their” with “there” and “weather” with “whether” and “you’re” with “your” and the rest of the syntax errors we’re being trained to ignore, their English language skills are atrophying into grunts and groans. Just in time for Trump’s “fake news” world to take advantage of a culture of total illiterate fools.
Monday, December 9, 2019
The school, as you would expect, turned out to be a fraudulent joke. The school’s “dormitory” was a 1920’s flophouse full of bums, drunks, thieves, and a dozen-or-so computer school “students.” After a week in the flophouse, a half-dozen of us started looking for a better place to live. We found a house we could rent for about the same money as the flophouse, sans flophouse food. That lasted for a month because one of our roommates ate everything that came into the house and bought nothing. When he tried to “borrow” money for the 2nd month’s rent, we scattered. Two of the guys, twin brothers (Larry and Gary) from Lawrence, KS, found an apartment in Old East Dallas and I rented a tiny garage apartment from the same landlord. By then, more than half of the school’s students had dropped out and most of them were suing the school for fraud; among other things. One of the more experienced guys had recommended that we join the lawsuit, but my father had already been conned into giving the school a 2nd semester tuition as a payoff for my dropping out. For an accounting teacher, his math skills were consistently suspect. His capacity for critical thinking was never suspect because it was never evident. I kept going to the school, even though most of the instructors had quit and the already obsolete computer equipment had been repossessed.
About the time I moved into the garage apartment, a friend from Kansas, Ed, who was burning time before his delayed induction into the Army date moved in with me. We had written a few dozen songs together and decided to try some of them as folk songs. There was a bar a few blocks from the apartment and coffee shops from Lakewood Heights to downtown Dallas. Best of all was the Rubaiyat, the premier Texas folk club/coffee shop of the day. Ed stayed for a couple of weeks, just long enough to help me connect to some of the folk music scene. Toward his last few days in Dallas, our act had started to attract a weird collection of “side men” to our act; percussion players, “singers,” guys blowing into bottles and South American flutes, an upright bass player or two. Some characters brought instruments they often couldn’t play at all, so they’d just bang on them. There was no money in any of it, so that act took on a name that included the words “jug band.” That is all I remember about the group name, too. Jug bands were a thing then, for a brief moment.
Once, we accidentally ended up being one of the intro acts for a major (for the time) folk singer. It kills me that I can’t remember if it was Tom Paxton, Tom Rush, Tim Buckley, Tim Hardin, or it could have been someone I have completely forgotten. The first name stated with “T,” I was not a folk music guy at the time, although I loved Bob Dylan and covered several of his pre-electric era songs. I wouldn't have known Rush from Paxton from Buckley at the time, but I did cover Hardin's "Reason to Believe."
Ed and I showed up, but the rest of the menagerie did not, so we did a half-dozen original songs and gave up the stage to the headliner. As I walked off of the stage, whoever that T-guy was said, “You know what it’s supposed to sound like.”
[The picture at right is just a Rubaiyat poster, not a bill that our group was on.]
I will never know if that was a compliment or sarcasm. If you know me, you would be correct in assuming I lean toward believing it was sarcasm. We were 19 and 20-year-old kids from Kansas.
A day or two later, Ed headed off to basic training. I ended up dropping out of my bogus computer school, shacking up with my wife, Robbye, diving into the Dallas hippie world (sans drugs), and almost giving up music entirely. I really wanted to be an R&B guitarist, but couldn’t cut it in that competitive environment. I loved playing guitar or bass in an R&B band, but playing solo folk music scared the crap out of me. Still does. Occasionally, I would stop in at the Rubaiyat and play with one of the other groups or do a couple original songs. One of those songs, “Dixie Lead,” was recorded at the club and got a little late night FM radio play, as a protest against one of the many grossly polluting factories in east Dallas. And that was my first experience in the big city.
Monday, December 2, 2019
I responded with, “That goes both ways, with most of the folks in our generation pretending that no good music has happened since the 70’s or 80’s.” That was not received well.
I just reviewed a book that I, mostly, disliked for the same reasons, A Craftsman’s Legacy by Eric Gorges, and you can read my opinion of that book on my Geezer with A Grudge blog. Every old generation imagines that it not only invented the wheels of society but perfected them so that every following generation can only screw up the work that went before them. It takes a special sort of arrogant blindness to believe that, but humans are really good at both arrogance and blind belief. It’s one of many things that has always convinced me that the natural state of human “civilization” is chaos. I wrapped up my review of A Craftsman’s Legacy with this:
“Finally, I firmly believe that everything that requires skill is improved by every generation. You may be one of those addled characters who imagines that ‘good music’ stopped being made in 1960, 1970, 1980, or whenever, but you’re wrong. Likewise, most 1970’s era pro basketball players wouldn’t make the team for, even the freakin’ Clippers, today. Even Michael Jordan would have a hard time playing on a winning team today. It’s true that many people knew how to repair their cars and motorcycles in the 1950’s; because they needed to. A vehicle that lasted 25,000 miles without needing major work in 1950’s was a rarity. Today, we call any vehicle that fails before 200,000 miles a ‘lemon.’ Today, if I had to go to battle with a 15th Century sword I’d just use it on myself to get it over with efficiently. Vintage ‘skills’ are that because they are no longer state-of-the-art and, as such, are obsolete. If you think someone with a hammer and coal-fired forge can turn out a better steel tool than a modern factory, you’re only fooling yourself. If you don’t think a modern adventure touring motorcycle isn’t as well crafted as one of Gorge’s hippo-bikes, you don’t know what the word ‘craftsmanship’ means. If you think someone cobbling out plodding, non-functional ‘choppers, bobbers, and diggers’ could get a job on a modern factory motorcycle race team doing . . . anything, you are probably the ideal reader for A Craftsman’s Legacy.”
I absolutely believe all of that and even a moderate amount of exposure to the best of today’s young musicians would force almost anyone to acknowledge that the “good old” stuff is practically unlistenable in comparison. I admit that I’m not a typical Boomer in my tastes. I didn’t like the Beatles (but I am a huge George Martin fan, he could turn sow's ears into silk purses, repeatedly) or much of the British Invasion in the 60’s and I like most of that stuff even less now. A lot of great music, from R&B to jazz, was bounced off of popular radio by “yeah, yeah, yeah” and other teenybopper bullshit between 1964 and the early 80’s and I don’t think popular music has ever recovered from the damage done. Another Boomer friend commented on the “trivial character” of current music lyrics, as if songs-about-nothing like the Beatle’s “Hey Jude” or “Long and Winding Road” or “Number 9” and pretty much every Led Zeppelin song that wasn’t stolen aren’t only trivial but annoying. At least the Stones had “Street Fightin’ Man” had a point.
That is such a lame complaint. It’s pop music, dude; music for kids by kids. Don’t expect poetry or meaningful commentary on the state of humanity from kids.
Just because we’re old and full of ourselves now doesn’t mean that we were solid citizens or brilliantly insightful and creative 50 years ago. I am a firm believer in Theodore Sturgeon’s “90% of everything is crap” rule. I can’t think of a period where the overwhelming majority of popular music wasn’t garbage. For example, the furthest up the US pop singles charts Jimi Hendrix ever made it was #20 with “All Along the Watchtower” in late 1968. The chart topper at that time was “Harper Valley PTA” followed by the Beatles’ lamest ever “Hey Jude.” Hendrix had 4 successful albums, If you look at almost any moment in pop music history, you’ll be discouraged at how generally mediocre the “hits” are. It was true in 1920 and it will be true in 2020 and 2050. The tastes of the average imbecile are predictably dismal. That casts no reflection on that period’s best and brightest, who will likely be an improvement on the skills and creativity of previous generations until humans vanish from the planet.
Tuesday, October 29, 2019
Because of the previous repair, the amp panel had already been removed from the speaker box and the wiring disconnected. My first suspicion is always “connectors and solder connections.” To remove the first likely candidate, I always check the connectors, physically, and clean the connections. A smarter person would re-connect the amp to the speakers and confirm the initial diagnosis, but I wasn’t doing this for money and I didn’t really care if the solution turned out to be overly simple. I was back in my teenage mode of just wanting to see how the product was assembled and looking at the thing out of curiosity, first, and problem-solving, second. There are advantages to being less-than-meticulous about documenting an organized repair. The first of those advantages is that I spend more effort exploring, examining, and learning than I do ticking off boxes and accounting for my time.
A disadvantage to this process is that it is entirely possible to trip an intermittent fault back into operation and I wouldn’t know that I’d even passed over the intermittent. In my experience, at least 50% of the electronic problems I’ve been asked to troubleshoot are intermittent, which is the nature of connectors and solder connection failures. They rarely outright fail, unless there is enough current in the area of the fault to cause complete failure by burning, arcing, or in-rush current causing damage to other related components.
What I found during my inspection was that several of the Molex connectors (see red circled connectors in the picture at right) had received enough tension from their attached wires to pull the male base up along the length of the pins; possibly removing contact from the female socket. That isn’t a problem you’d expect to see in a typical application, but Mackie had cut the speaker wires short enough that there was no strain relief possible and the weight of the wire put some strain on the connectors. One of the first things I noticed in inspecting the power amp board was that the woofer male base had slid more than half-way up the pins. Looking around the boards, I found at least two more connectors with a similar appearance.
With that background, I disconnected, one-at-a-time, all of the Molex connectors, pressed the male header firmly against the PCB, cleaned the connectors with Caig DeoxIT, reassembled the male and female connectors, and glued the connectors to each other and the PCB with a latex adhesive. After cleaning and reattaching all of the Mackie’s connectors, I power up the speaker and found that it worked. I let the adhesive cure for a few hours and gave the amp some signal while tapping all over the amp and power supply assemble looking for intermittent operation. Not finding any evidence of intermittent operation, I “burned it in” for several hours at a variety of volume levels. With some confidence that I’d found the problem, I gave the speaker back to its owner.
This kind of repair reminds me of the many things that were always frustrating as a repair tech. First, troubleshooting intermittent failures is miserable work. When you are "finished," at best you feel you've done everything you could to be certain you've fixed the problem(s), but you are never even close to 100% confident. Intermittent faults have a Murphy's Law mind of their own. I used to joke that about half of the problems I'd been called in to repair "fixed themselves the moment they saw a toolbox." Of course, half of that half were user error issues that often cleared themselves up before or immediately after I arrived. That kind of repair is really difficult to convince customers that my time still needed to be paid for.
Early on in the last version of Wirebender Audio Services, I quit taking telephone calls for service work because a few customers would pretend they didn't know who called me, when the problem "fixed itself." A few of those customers learned that I never forget being stiffed and whined like spoiled children when they learned that under no circumstances would I ever do work for them again. In the case of the Mackie speaker repair, I have a couple other ideas to chase down if the intermittent operation comes back to haunt me, but since I didn't have an associated bill with the original repair I can be fairly relaxed about the whole affair.
Monday, August 26, 2019
He said, “There are three things that you have to have to be a musician; 1) you need to know music theory and technique for your instrument, 2) you need a decent sense of rhythm, and 3) you need to listen. If you have any one of those qualities, you could be a musician. If you have all of them, you probably are a good musician. Most of the people in that room (the local jam session) couldn’t make a claim to any of those qualities.”
And he was right.
To be fair, some of the people in the jam session were beginners; regardless of age. However, my friend’s #3 point, listening, is something anyone who wants to be a musician should develop really early. Honestly, it should come easier than it apparently does.
One of the many things that drove me away from live performance was the fact that it was close to impossible to put together a group of 4 or more people who would bother to listen to the output of the group. In the recording studio, you can compensate for your performers’ inability to listen to the music. You track every instrument and every voice, one-at-a-time, and you mix the outcomes into something that may resemble a “performance.” Getting human beings to act like musicians is, sometimes, as close to impossible as getting old white people to think about anything but themselves.
For example, that same jam session occasionally attracts a local character who thinks of himself as being almost famous. He knows a half-dozen songs, mostly old time bluegrass/country tunes, and he plays and sings them really loud. The format in this session is generally set and designed so that everyone gets a chance to pick a song and sing it; if they want to. You can always pass on your turn, but everyone usually gets one. Unless “almost famous” shows up. He uses every pause in the action as his moment to either tell a story about himself or to start hammering away on another song. At best, the cycle goes: someone in the group picks a song, “almost famous” does a song, someone else does a song, “almost famous” does another, and so on.
Not surprisingly, “almost famous” complained that he couldn’t hear the other players guitars over his own instrument; especially when someone took a solo on one of his tunes. His solution was to get a PA into this normal, reverberant room. The person he complained to, one of the better players in the group, suggested that he try to hammer his guitar more quietly when others were playing. His response was, “This guitar just doesn’t do quiet well. It’s really loud.” I was fortunate not to be eating or drinking anything at that moment. Otherwise, I might have sprayed the group.
Guitars, especially acoustic guitars, are capable of substantial dynamic range. Guitar players, especially electric guitar players, are rarely able to shut up or lower their volume at all unless you put sheet music in front of them. This particular acoustic guitarist had never been in a situation where he had to listen to anyone else while he played. At almost 70-years-old with five decades of “music" performance behind him, it’s probably too late for him to learn the most basic requirement of being a musician. That is something really scary to consider.
What's the reward for putting up with that sort of disrespect? Continued employment, I guess. Of course, at the pay rate most music provides you'd be much better off taking a 2nd job at a convenience store.
The often neglected motivation for doing any art is self-gratification. With music performance, there are at least two ways to achieve that: 1) pleasing yourself and 2) the power associated with manipulating an audience. Most art is some kind of self-expression, but not all art is that. Advertising art is absolutely designed to manipulate consumers; the "art's" audience. Cover bands are very similar to advertising art, especially show bands that cater to corporate gigs. A good friend has occasionally mentioned how much he enjoys reading a crowd and manipulating their energy with his song selections (and the resulting small fortune he makes in tips doing that). When I read the chapter on performing in Rockonomics, I was intrigued and a little baffled by the idea that many artists feel "powerful" or "indestructible" on stage, which sometimes leads to feeling weak and fragile when they are off-stage; followed by drug abuse and death. Tom Petty's story, alone, is a terrible example of that, since Petty practically had to be carried to the edge of the state, due to his broken hip and pain, but once he stepped out on the stage he was "indestructible." Until he wasn't.
Performing has never made me feel anything but incredibly nervous. In my cover-band and original music band years, I would almost always stay on stage playing solo while the rest of the band took a break, because the odds were good that if I left the stage I'd find a reason not to go back. Some of the open mics I frequent locally "offer the opportunity" to take a second pass at the performance stage. I often avoid that. Once I've managed to struggle through a song or three, I'm ready for a drink, something to eat, and a good while to unwind.I have to believe that if I had become a performing, professional musician I would, also, have become a drunk or drug addict to calm my nerves. None of that has improved with age, either.
Monday, August 12, 2019
Not that many years ago, my author-music-reviewer-daughter Holly, wrote a review of Bad Plus that included some pretty silly proclamations about the gap between her music knowledge and appreciation and mine. I was entertained. In a similar conversation earlier, she had said, "Dad, I'm a music reviewer" as a statement of superior expertise when we had a disagreement about what qualified as ‘good music” and what didn’t. There are few things on the planet musicians or artists of any sort despise and ignore more than reviewers.
Our other daughter once told me that "It is great being in a family that is so musical," in reference to her husband's family who are dedicated karaoke fans. My kids grew up in a house full of musical instruments, musicians, recording and live sound equipment, and with music of some sort happening all the time, but somehow none of that registered. With all of that background, the first time she held a cheap microphone and sang along with canned muzak in front of a crowd of drunks in a karaoke bar was her first “real musical experience.”
Holly's son is now 22 and is convinced that none of the adults in his family know squat about music. Holly has written one of the biggest selling music theory books ever, The Dummies Guide to Music Theory, and gets a buttload of free CDs in the mail every month from her history as a music reviewer. Not a credential in her son’s mind, because . . . I don’t know what. When I was paging through the weirdly disorganized music list on my car stereo, he had to ask, “Why do you have all of that crap in with your music?” I don’t even want to know what he calls “crap.” He is his mother’s son, with even sillier tastes, and my interest in educating or even talking about music with non-musicians is vanishing into nothingness.
No matter what you have done, your kids will think you have done nothing. Tony Hawk’s kids, apparently, think he is a loser. Of course, most likely the only thing Tony Hawk’s kids will be ever be known for is being Tony Hawk’s kids. So, there is that.