Friday, January 30, 2009

Two Cents Worth

Ah! Mostly done with my big workload. A couple of things to clean up this weekend - at a reasonable pace - and then I'm starting to give serious thought to doing some drawing this coming week. I mean real, God's honest sitting down and preparing a real comic kind of drawing.

Let's see how I feel on Tuesday.

See you back here tomorrow for a Weekend Listening.


The Handle Chronicles

Well, the band with no name that had a name is now back to being the band with no name, because of a dissenting vote. So I throw it open to the crowds - name that band! Thus far, we've called ourselves for convenience 'DeSk,' (acronym of the initials of the original four members' first names) and 'PCMA' (acronym for 'The Port Chester Music Authority'). The recent name - which we'd thought of as the actual name - was 'The Tappan Sea,' but was recently called on account of not being liked by the singer, who initially disliked it and then test-marketed it to confirm her dislike. For the record, it was the guitar player who shot down the first two.

So, any band names for the imaginary band you've always wanted? We're lightly stumped.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Some Stuff

Curious day, broken into three sections. And they all tasted like boring.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009


So I started my first day of 'classes.' That is to say, seeing that I was going to be in trouble with physics if I didn't shore up my non-existent math skills first, I opted to finally hit the math hard. And rather than pay any money (and dedicate what looked like way too much time in class), I took the semester off from RCC and instead am getting the knowledge right from the source: Ralph Kopperman.

That's right - my dad invented math. Well, he might as well have, since he seems to practically exist inside of it. And it was kind of a tough decision, since I've had problems working with my father in this way before, but there really isn't any other approach that makes sense, so I have to man up (or man down, in this case) and just do it.

And you know? Once I made the decision, I have to say today was very enjoyable. What usually happens when I'm working over problems on my own is that I get a pulsing pressure over my left temple, and I simply freak out and can't think. But when there's someone in the room who knows what they're doing - even if they don't help me - I telepathically pick up on their confidence and solve the stuff (more often than not) calmly and with ease.

If nothing else, it means I can finally take a part of my father's legacy that I've always avoided out of fear, ignorance or boredom - his knowledge.

But still... that calculus is going to be a bitch. I just know it.


The Overnight Scapegoat

One more late night of work, so no Rambler. And I don't even have a link to send you to entertainment elsewhere. Really, I'm sorry - hopefully you have some emergency entertainment contingency plan for these days, but I'll understand if the frequency of Rambler blackouts over the last two weeks may have exhausted your supply. Why not just take a nap? Dedicate it to me.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bell, Book, Candle, Oscilloscope

Click on each image for an obscene amount of detail.

Illustrations that I did for the next music magazine comic - it's a little difficult to explain, but they basically serve as counterpoint to images of an elderly woman talking about electronic music. The script was written by Duplex Planet legend David Greenberger, and I'l ask him if I can post the final comic over here at the Rambler. But in the interim, try and picture just what all those images have to do with each other. It's like a weird rebus, isn't it?


Friday, January 23, 2009

Shut Down Commence

Getting pretty close to the end of the current pile of crap. It seems like every time I get a little breathing room and decide to take the time - even a day - to do a personal project, suddenly a giant workload gets dumped on my desk, all of which is due immediately. The biggest problem is that the work is the kind of a nature that I should technically be able to bang through in a reasonable amount of time, but I'm terrible at organizing an approach to the pile, so rather than working through it methodically, I sit back and let my eyes glaze over at the sheer volume of work I need to do before a particular deadline.

Also, I'm kind of tired of working alone. Have I ever mentioned that? 'Cause it's true.

Anyway, Yesenia made me a nice scarf. So I'm good.

Most likely, no Weekend Listening for you this weekend, or Rambling of any kind. But we'll be back up to full strength next week, with some good content (I think). Enjoy your weekend(s).


P.S.: New Guava Stain, for those wanting a hit.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Busy Man

Sorry about the lack of Rambling this week - having one of those crazy busy weeks.

For longtime readers, the conclusion to an ongoing saga: I got an A- in Physics.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Change of View

Well, there it is; time for everyone who has that "1.19.09" bumper sticker to break out the scraper and goo gone.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Guest Listening

Your Weekend Listening • 1/19/09
Genesis, Aisle of Plenty
Selling England by the Pound, 1973

Here's the first Weekend Listening that's not from the Dave archives - rather, it occurred to me that it might make sense to occasionally post artists who provided the foundation for my style. This one is pretty basic and should come as no surprise - the Genesis approach to music during their first decade wore itself into me stylistically so deep that I think you'd need to perform a full lobotomy to remove it.

What is it about the Genesis sound from this particular era that I love so much? I honestly don't think that there's a band whose sound I like more. The jangling, delicate 12-strings, the mellow keys, Peter Gabriel's soulful bray mixed with Phil Collins's chiorboy trill - yes, all of these get me going. But it turns out that the sound I love more than anything else is Phil Collins's drumming. I've said it before and I'll say it again - pound for pound, I think Phil Collins was the greatest drummer of the rock age. He could go all the way from Bonhamesque pounding to Stewart Copland frilly hit-hat work; he incorporated jazz phrasing into rock in a more convincing way than anyone this side of Bill Bruford, and he had an unmatched snare technique (what Carl Palmer was famous for, but Collins could actually deliver) and an approach to tom fills that clearly builds on what Ringo started.

On top of that, and what sets him apart from any other drummer ever is that he always played to the song (much like Ringo), and didn't try to fit something else in that wasn't needed. No wonder he went on later to become such a pop hit - you could hear his hit instincts at work just sitting behind a kit. Just the fact that he could segue from high-prog playing to tasteful pop drumming and do it without compromising a thing and making it seem completely organic, well. Can you think of any other drummer who could do so much and do it as well?

I was listening to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway in the car earlier today - for those who don't know, it's Peter Gabriel's final album with the band, and is their big prog-rock opus, a two-disk operetta about a Nuyorican gang member who gets lost underground in a sci-fi allegory of his life. Anyway, I was listening to Phil's performance throughout, and actually found myself emotionally moved. Scary, but true. I became misty listening to his powerful but delicate playing on that record. And believe me, the emotion doesn't come from the songs, which are about as lyrically obtuse as lyrics can get ("Echoes of the Broadway Everglades/With all mythical Madonnas/Still walking in their shades.").

Today's song, on the other hand, is from the previous album, my favorite Genesis album and easily in my top 10 favorite albums of all time. And this song has a lyric that manages to be cerebral but emotional at the same time - a short tale (the song is actually a reprise of the much bigger title track) of a lonely woman who tries to fill the void in her life by shopping - but also deep down knows that it's a crutch.

"I dont belong here," said old Tessa out loud.
"Easy, love, there's the Safe Way home."
- thankful for her Fine Fair discount, Tess co-operates.
Still alone in o-hello.
- see the deadly nightshade grow.

English ribs of beef cut down to 47p lb
Peek freans family assorted from 17 1/2 to 12
Fairy liquid giant - slashed from 20p to 17 1/2
Table jellys at 4p each
Anchor butter down to 11p for a 1/2
Birds eye dairy cream sponge on offer this week.

Placed in the context of the album overall, it becomes a poignant picture of a country caught in an expansionist consumer fever where the apparent end will be the ultimate dissolution of the national character - and perhaps the nation itself. Which makes it also pretty topical today. I particularly like the dual pun in the first verse, with the names of UK grocery chains also doubling for lyrical meaning.

And that moment where Phil comes in on drums moves the song from melancholy to despair, which is a pretty amazing emotion to be able to coax out of a drum kit.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

16 Random Daves

There will likely be a Weekend Listening in time for MLK Day. I've been putzing around and working and not sure what to put up. I keep thinking I should post a song that reflects on the events of the coming week, but I just don't have that kind of back catalog.

In the meantime: I got flagged on Christine's '16 Random Things You Don't Know About Me, etc.' Facebook list - streaming proof that it's not, in fact, porn that drives the development of every new media, but chain mail. Anyway, rather than just post to my Facebook page, I figured I'd also put my '16 Things' here and let the Rambler have some of that chain-letter luck.

Dave's 16 Random Things About Him That You Probably Didn't Know:

1) He can remove the marrow from the bones of a living dog just by looking at it.

2) Was original member of the Beach Boys, later fired for beating Murray Wilson with a firehose.

3) If your body meets Dave's body coming through the rye, just let the magic happen.

4) Paid his way through college forging Caravaggios.

5) Cautions you against "it."

6) No. 6 redacted by the P.C.M.A. on the advice of their lawyers.

7) Once had a dream where the Devil said of a chuckling Fred Flintstone, 'This one's going to be a tough nut to crack.'

8) Is actually sampled at a 44100 bit rate, which is why he always seems a little slow.

9) Wonders why you don't call more often.

10) Is the world's sixty-fifth largest economy, after Angola.

11) Occasionally does voiceover work for industrial films.

12) Is the sole beneficiary of your estate.

13) Frequents equestrian stores, but waves away clerks, saying, 'Just looking.'

14) Owns 'Tubular Bells' on vinyl.

15) Is optimistic about his chances of seeing either the Zodiacal Light or the Green Flash in his time on Earth, despite the fact that he lives in the Northeastern United States and only very infrequently actually looks up.



Thursday, January 15, 2009

Free Argument Clinic

Bored yet? Go over to Walrus Comix and have fun picking around their new forums (launched just today). I already wrote enough for five Rambler entries over there - take a gander to follow interesting, geeky discussions about Disney films, the Star Wars prequels, etc. I really let my freak flag fly, and it ain't pretty.

If you do go over there, you must back me up - any Lancourt enterprise always features a lot of tag-teaming, and it's thirsty work, keeping two threads of argument going at the same time!


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Indefensibles

I'm not going to list it here tonight, but I was thinking about what my all-time top ten favorite films list would look like, and it's a pretty shaggy lot. So I thought I'd make a Rambler contest out of it - How Well Do You Know Dave(s taste)? Get five out of ten right and you win nothing. But still, it'll be fun. Get ten out of ten and I guess I'll have to give you something. Try me and see.

Of course, it'll stop being fun if you look at my Facebook profile to see what films I have listed over there, so don't cheat; you'll only be ruining it for yourself.

Barring actual cheating, I'll give you two hints:

1) Give me way less credit than you think you should give me;
2) The 70's Auteur School? Fuck 'em.


Simple Minds

Can someone explain Camille Paglia to me? Maybe it's just a case of changing my expectations, but I always read her scanning for well-reasoned arguments, and end up wondering if it's a big joke. Her current article over at Salon features her holding forth strongly on a number of different topics - few of which, btw, she's in any way accredited in. I mean, she's professor of Humanities and Media Studies at Philadelphia University for the Arts, which makes for a frothy rich bit of irony when she laces into the 'elite social flatulence' of the 'elite school libraries' of Eastern Universities for teaching a book she doesn't happen to like.

But at least that would be an area of expertise; Paglia goes on to make the common mistake of weighing in with definitive opinions on topics about which she knows nothing except her own opinion. Seriously, we all have opinions on global warming and causes of homosexuality and the like. And you know what? We're usually fucking wrong, since none of us are climatologists or geneticists (or behavioral theorists), and guess what - neither is Camille Paglia.

But even within the areas of her professional letters, I'm literally dumbfounded by the speciousness of some of her arguments in that article. It's not so much her ideas (which have roughly the same accuracy as the proverbial stopped clock) as the tone-deaf, self-contradictory way in which she presents them: spinning a personal dislike for Katie Couric into a broadside on her journalistic credentials; bemoaning the fact that blue collar work isn't considered respectable (where did she get that?) when she hasn't so much as changed a lightbulb in her life; that current pop culture is dreadful and what Americans need is more Toni Braxton. That's right: a return to the glory days of the '90s R&B ballad will enlighten us all.

Even the asides are suspect: she chides Kate Winslet for her performance in Titanic, saying, "Her period high-class Philadelphia accent was all wrong (bad speech coach)." I'm sorry, but how the fuck would Paglia know? Was she alive in 1912 and privy to the drawing room conversations of the Philadelphia gilded age? What is she basing this on? How upper-class Philadelphians speak a century later?

Seriously. This woman is - and I'm not even going to try to match her 'elite' university-speak, here - utterly full of shit on every subject about which she chooses to opine. That she can't see that she's the exact kind of clueless, pompous East Coast intellectual elitist that she rails against in her article is exactly the kind of irony that she seems blind to. I mean, how can anyone who teaches a class called 'The Art of Song Lyrics' refer to - with a straight face - My Heart Will Go On as 'moving and riveting?'

For Christ's sake, Paglia - for the sake of us all - please develop a workable set of aesthetic criteria, and then maybe I'll start taking what you have to say about anything else seriously.


Monday, January 12, 2009

The Distaff Report

Ever wonder what it's like to live with me? John, you're excused. The rest of you, wonder no longer! Yesenia, the far better half of me has taken up the pen - uh, keyboard - for a semi-regular tour of her life.

Which is good, since I maintain a policy of not discussing anyone else's private life here, and that includes the bits of life between Yesenia and I that are private. I imagine that it's unlikely she'll give you a detailed accounting of our sex life, and her blog (like mine) mostly focuses on daily minutia, but her style is definitely much warmer and more personal than mine. Just like real life. But what really makes it good is that Yesenia is the most awesomest person I know, and you should all get to know her like I do. Again, minus the sex.

Anyway, I present: The Guava Stain. Make many comments of support - she'll feel guilty if she doesn't write for a few days.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Sound of Old America

Your Weekend Listening • 1/10/09
Square One
Selling the Downtown Dream, 2002-2004

What's with the inexact dates for this entry? Surely my memory isn't so poor that I can't get any more specific than the earliest years of this century? Well, no. Selling the Downtown Dream (the album "Square One" is from) had a fairly extended recording schedule, with the original rhythm tracks* being recorded in December of 2002, followed by sporadic and furtive overdubs and mixing over the course of the next two years.

Further confusing the carbon dating issue, "Square One," I'm sorry to say, is one of the least memorable songs (in terms of writing, and possibly terms of listening) on the very lengthy record. There are two possible genesises (genesii?) for the song; 1) it was written in late 2000, part of the initial burst of songs that came when original Copper Man guitarist Rick left for more verdant pastures, or 2) it was written in Summer, 2002, when I began to get a clearer picture of the concept of the concept album that I'd been slowly inching towards.

I think the latter is more likely - "Square One" isn't such a deathless composition that I'd hold on to it for the sheer sake of its brilliance, especially given that there are quite a few Downtown Dream outtakes that I prefer. It really has the hallmarks of having been written to fit a hole in the narrative that had opened when the other songs fit into place. Taking a cue from Dark Side of the Moon and The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner- and you can tell the ambition was high when those were my working templates - I saw the narrative of our album as being a fictionalized take on the last decade of my life (being post-college until that point), displayed in the major arcana, with the first 'side' introducing themes of childhood nostalgia, provincial frustrations, confused musical ambition, guilt over betrayal, creative stagnation and romantic misadventure, and the second side picking up ten years later to see how those themes had deepened or altered in the compromised life of an adult (relatively speaking).

Of course, the narrative is cloudy, and even with the short, Peter Gabrielesque** prose in the CD sleeve, I'm forced to believe that I failed in my mission to create anything resembling that narrative in listener's headphones. Let's see if I do better here; here's the story, as it appeared in the sleeve:

"When Dan is seventeen, a dream of music is sown in him by unsavory characters. Not the easy dream of commandeered Lear jets, supermodels and sold-out sports arenas. Dan instead dreams that it is still 1977, and the music moving from dozens of small East Village stages and SoHo lofts is so thick in the urban summer night that it pushes he and his friends together. Echo a response. Music that matters. A statement to savor.

With amplified instruments, heroin chic and a 1990 Dodge van, the band travels the country, staking out pulpits from which to spread the gospel of the downtown dream. In some flyover town, from the stage of a nearly empty club, Dan hooks a disciple. A beautiful co-ed, who receives the dream and Dan as its true prophet.

Later, she quits their shared midtown NYC apartment, and Dan is left to wonder how she can move on while he must search for a future. He is without fame, without fortune, without a diploma, without a clue.

Ten years on, Dan awakens to find that summer vacation is long over. Stable relationship? Check. Full-time job? Check. Living beyond his means? Absolutely. He still dreams of music, but no longer as a release. It has become an escape.

One night, while he is tuning up on stage, he imagines cracking in a spectacular manner. Scaling his office tower, bellowing, “Fortuna, Imperatrix Mundi!” he prepares to wow the crowd gathering in the streets far below. He remembers his youth, and thinks of the dream.

Now, Dan can’t be sure if he is about to take his first step upon a high wire vibrating in the thin city air, or if it’s just the E-string on his guitar, quivering in anticipation of the first chord of the evening’s show."

That is to say, the entire album is Dan's reverie that takes place in a single moment at the very beginning of a gig. The middle of the narrative represents a ten-year jump, between ten summers, with "Square One" being the first official song of the 'adult' era, illustrating specifically the breakdown of his post-collegiate romance. I should note that a lot of thought went into this transition at the time, even going so far as to give each half of the album its own dedicated drum reverb - the sound for side two being something Ryan Ball (the engineer) and I referred to as 'The Padgham Sound,' for shorthand.

Of course, all of that thinking was kind of pointless, since the hole that "Square One" was likely written to fill in the narrative was likely an unnecessary one - looking at it now, it's obvious that the lyric should move directly from "Summer Vacation" to "40 Hours" - after all, what greater shock than to wake up ten years later to find yourself a corporate wage slave? But I'd thought that it was too sudden to get there, and wanted to ramp up to it a little more both lyrically and musically.

Anyhow, "Square One" ends up being neither here nor there - an album track that doesn't need to be on its album, and a song that isn't strong enough to justify its existence on its own. To the positive, though, I like the un-fussiness of its chord change and structure - you can tell that it was written quickly, without too much agonizing, which always at least imparts an energy to a song. I also like the playing, with the bass and drums locking together nicely (go Edz!), Shaun's arching guitar in the Wings-like intro, bridge and outro, and a few of the lyrics, especially the opening line, "Hey... as we're un-introducing ourselves..." It's somewhat superfluous, but there's a little bit of the Moog Source to fill out that (by design) Wings vibe.

The Downtown Dream production is also too slick for its own good - or my own good, which you can tell by how out of place my voice sounds in the arrangement, but, hey, we tried. The below live version - from a no-joke rooftop concert in Red Hook in the Summer of 2004 (with Shaun already gone, replaced by Bran and Eric) better brings the song to life. When I first saw this video (courtesy Karl), I noted that it looked like the only reason Bran agreed to play in the band was because I'd threatened to eat him - and I wasn't particularly overweight at the time! Skinny bastard...


*That is, if you don't count the tracks on the album from the original demo sessions back in 2000.
**Yes, it's true: everything I do is a reference to something else.

Weekend Holding Pattern

There will be a Your Weekend Listening coming up later on Saturday, so watch this space.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Little Red-Haired Girl

Blah. Yesenia went out to dinner with some friends, while I festered about the home, eventually gave in and picked up some Wendy's for myself. It's pretty rare these days that I want anything like that, and even less frequently do I allow myself to have it even when I find I do want it. Tonight was apparently some kind of syzygy of emotional state, appetite, weather and ebbed self esteem, the solution to which was a Single and Biggie Fries. I didn't do the trifecta, though - usually, when I really want to punish myself, I top that off with a small Frosty (the brown one), but since I'm still doing the 'no sweets' thing, I had to leave off that last bit. Which is all right, I suppose; it's usually the Frosty that ends up driving me Squirtsville and kicking me out of the car right at the outskirts.

Anyhow, the meal was kind of a nice break from all of the real food I had over the holidays. That's the great thing about being American - sometimes you just want crap, and it's never more than five minutes away. And they'll just sell it to you, like it's no big deal.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Exeunt Tree

De-ornamenting a Christmas Tree has always been kind of a sad rite, and this year it seemed somehow a more deeply sad and symbolic act than before. The Christmas Tree, after all, represents home, family, and prosperity - all things that the future holds unusually pointed questions for. So to see the thing that we all gathered around not two weeks ago, genuinely happy and laughing while it glowed bright over a mound of gifts, lying dry and denuded on the curb, well.

Simony, the visiting girlfriend of our tenant Chris (which I guess makes her a tenant, too) says that she finds our area beautiful, and she's glad, since she loves to walk and enjoys the scenery. I told her that January is actually the bleakest month for Rockland - the driest of the winter months, with little or no snow to make the landscape glisten under the moon. And of course spring, summer and fall are still luminous things around here. But there are still two weeks plus of January to get through, while the land lies dead and still, and now all of the genuine cheer of the Christmas decorations are gone as well.

Of course, she should have said right back to me, "No, it's not about weather. You're getting it confused with an uncertain future in an uncertain world." And it's true. Curious - we're none of us farmers, those that I call friends - but somehow I believe in my heart that the entire world will be born again with the spring, and I think you do, too.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Lights & Darks

You know what I've done more of than anything else over the last couple of days? Laundry. Got on a laundry roll, and cleaned every dirty item we had on hand. The plus? We now have many nice things to wear. The minus? Doing laundry, as much as I enjoy the (illusory) sensation of having accomplished something that accompanies it, really is about the least intellectually stimulating activity around.

The laundry-doing is part of an overall low-energy push to get the house into some real kind of order. Both Yesenia and I are packrats who never deal with anything in front of us when it first presents itself. So things pile up, unfiled, and entire rooms are given over to piles of items whose classification is stamped 'T.B.D.' As it turns out, living this way really does contribute to a freeform, low-level glumness.

But many of those piles contain gold; or at least the Proustian equivalent of gold. I know I've been promising the arrival of the new Copper Man site for some time (close to two years, now), but I've been having such a fun time with the web stuff I've been doing lately that perhaps that will carry over to a much-needed site of my own? I'd also like to parlay some of that energy into a P.C.M.A. site, which will be much more simple and streamlined, given that it's just going to serve as an online brochure with some songs. The Copper Man site promises to be crazy big, an unwieldy collection of almost everything I've been about over the past nearly four decades, somehow organized into an easy to navigate whole.

Which is far easier said than done, since we're talking about crap that's been lying around in unexamined piles since the mid-80's, in some cases. Every time I go into the attic to move something around, I stumble across something that just has to go up here.

Seriously, there's a lot of crap to draw from in the archives. A scanner-melting volume of work. Anyhow, it seems like sorting, scanning and filing will take me quite some time - I've never been one of those people who just scans along at a brisk clip. A real handicap for a graphic artist and illustrator, I tell you.


Monday, January 5, 2009

Jam On It

As if right on cue to celebrate the new year, the rear driver's side tire on the Subaru went dead flat. So I called the garage today and ordered my tires, then went out to change over to the donut. Or tried to - the nuts came off easily enough, but the wheel was completely locked on. Kicked, pounded, under, over, pried, nothing. I started to wonder if I'd forgotten how to change a tire?

Looking online for a solution, someone recommended a lubricant named PB Blaster. Caught a ride with my mother up to the auto supply store, and there it was:

It's a little hard to see, but that graphic at the bottom of the package is - for reasons a little esoteric - a simple line illustration of a styrofoam cup dissolving in stages. So I figured that PB would follow the laws of package craziness to product quality ratio laid down by Dr. Bronner. Sure enough, a couple of sprays with that and a well-placed whack with the rubber mallet, and the wheel came loose.

I actually let out a whoop of triumph - it's the little things in life that count.


Coding Break

I'm staying up late tonight (being Sunday, where I sit) to finish up a draft of a new clients website. And, curiously, I'm enjoying myself quite a bit. Which is a vanishingly rare event.

Every time I work on a site, I learn something new about tools and techniques. It used to be a huge drag to go through sites, even with the minor triumphs of figuring something out (or being told). But I seem to have passed some kind of threshold recently where I have enough background knowledge and know-how, so that the adding of method to the pile is genuinely gratifying.

On the other hand, I know that the stuff I'm learning is so incredibly basic that I'm a little embarrassed to mention it here, lest I open myself up to well-deserved comments mockery. So let's just leave it at me being, for once, happy with my work, and hope that it bodes well for 2009.

In fact, minus the flat tire, 2009 is going swimmingly so far - at least the 1% that's elapsed. But any real mention of upcoming hopes might bring the blog Luck Gods down on me, and their wrath is mighty and ironic. I'll fill you all in as things go along (or you can just ask me personally, you know, in real life).

Anyway, back to the site. See you tomorrow - and try to enjoy your first day back at work in the new year.


Friday, January 2, 2009

A Man, A Plan, A Canard

Your Weekend Listening • 1/2/09
Untitled (Think Like a Soldier)

Long time followers of the Rambler will probably know what I mean when I call something a 'Dave Special,' but I'll refresh. For the first portion of my musical life - starting in 1991 and ending in about 1995 - it was a pretty rare thing for me to play with other musicians. This didn't slow down my musical output, as I'd bought my friend Dave's used Tascam Porta-One, the classic cassette four-track recorder that many musicians of my generation rightly fetishize. I put the TPO through its paces, and it put me through mine, with several albums' worth of poorly written, poorly played and poorly recorded songs - poorly played because every instrument was played by myself, and even the instruments I could play, I couldn't.

Eventually, I got better. And by the end of that phase, I'd gotten enough experience with using the TPO and arranging for my one-man-band that even if the writing didn't improve much, the recordings got better; almost, arguably, to the point of listenability. But one man's Joe Meek is another man's Kenny G (or something like that), so listenability is debatable. The point is, I can go back and listen to some of the last few Dave Specials from the day and not cringe, which is certainly a victory of sorts.

But then I met Edz, and I didn't have to play my own drums anymore, and then came Rick, and Ryan, and Rob, and Elliott, and Shaun, and Eric, and Bran, and Ansley, then Shaun (again), and now Karl and Christine, so I barely even have to play an instrument or sing at all anymore, and no-one lets me anywhere near the mixing desk. Now, the collaborative nature of P.C.M.A./DeScK means that the songs are generally complete as fully-arranged instrumentals before melody and lyrics are added - which is entirely the opposite of the way I used to write. And there's a not-so-small part of me that misses the days of living in the basement, sitting up in bed, reaching for the nearby acoustic and quickly writing a song - and then rushing it through production the next day, with a speed that makes CSNY's 'Ohio' look like Chinese Democracy. True, the finished product was never what you'd consider polished, but the immediacy and sincerity is something I've come to prize.

So, finally having some free(ish) time, I decided to try to see if I could resurrect the Dave Special last Sunday. Karl came over and kindly set up the drum mics, and we spent an hour or so getting 'the sound.' I've gone on at length about getting 'the sound' for drums before, so you can revisit that here.. Suffice it to say, mics were moved around several times, and then we called it 'good' and Karl went to do some laundry, leaving me to it.

Ah, but leaving me to what? I'd had the idea of recording a song, but no real song to record, yet. I'd been toying around with the idea recently of going back to record the lost Copper Man album, Americana, but that's all going to be Edz on drums. And, minus the material I'd contributed to P.C.M.A. over the last couple of years, I didn't have any other finished songs sitting around - after the demise of Copper Man, I'd taken to only writing when a song was 'needed' for a project, and seeing as P.C.M.A. writing is a group effort, I go out of my way not to write songs for it, and it's not a band that I can write effectively for, anyhow.

Still, there have been a few aborted ideas and sketches that I've had over the period - mostly things that started as possible P.C.M.A. contributions - a bridge, a chorus, etc. - and either didn't pass muster in practice, or never even got to the point where I felt they were worth presenting. And my writing engine has been a little primed lately, since there's a song needed* to complete the P.C.M.A. album that doesn't yet exist, and the process of searching for it has generated a few further ideas.

Also, a recent email exchange had P.C.M.A. singer Christine encouraging me to get back on the writing horse for my own emotional well-being, so I've been taking to sitting down with the acoustic - still my writing tool of choice - and trying to, you know, write.

As is the case with a lot of these things, I just chose the song at the top of the pile, the most recent one - still missing a bridge and lyrics and any kind of order for the various parts - basically, it was just three chord changes and a few sketchy melodies, with one embryonic stanza accompanying it. Having some faith that I'd be able to write a lyric (see, that's my 'thing') I quickly put the pieces in some kind of order - verse, pre-chorus, chorus, repeat, bridge, etc. - and went ahead and recorded the drums and bass before I thought better of it.

Of course, my feel on drums is different than that of myself as a guitar player, so I found that not only had I changed a couple of major accents, I'd also recorded the drums about 15 bpm too fast. I digitally slowed the drums, which actually improved the tone (although it did make the drums sound a little sloppier, ala 'Rain'), re-recorded the bass, and overdubbed a couple of acoustic tracks. Embarrassingly, the bass took the longest of all, maybe because I think of myself as a bass player. The lyrics came very quickly, taking about ten minutes to write and another ten to record:

I never know when it's over.
If I could think like a soldier, now,
I'd never walk into a room
Without knowing the best way out.
But my plan goes astray in every way, every time.

I can see that you're thinking it over.
Never one for pretending it's black and white.
Maybe I could be right.

My mind is a vacuum.
I wear my scars like a calling card,
Handed off in a back room
To the man from the Scotland Yard.
What the fuck did you think I was on when I called?

I never did have the patience,
But I'm making some headway, now.
What do you want to see?
That's what I'm trying to figure out.
If you can... indicate, bat an eye, anytime.

Not any kind of words of genius - lazy rhymes, really - but serviceable, and, most importantly, 'true.' At least in the sense of being a baldly accurate yet therapeutic snapshot of my frame of mind these days, which was one of the reasons I missed songwriting.

I put down some percussion - a tambourine and about eight tracks of handclaps - and called it done, about four hours after starting. The next day, I realized it wasn't done, and I laid down the guitar solo, mixed it, and then called it 'done.'

And, you know? I couldn't be happier with the results. The playing is still off and sloppy, and the engineering (minus Karl's mic'ing) could be better... but I wonder if perhaps there might be an entire 'Dave Special' album coming in 2009? I found this whole process very freeing, both from my specific role in P.C.M.A, and my own self-imposed sense of quality control. Just get down there, hit record, and play - I've been doing this for long enough at this point that something will come out.


PS: I realized after sending this song via email to a number of friends that I'd misnamed the genre the 'Dave Classic.' Apologies. Clearly, it's the 'Dave Special,' with 'Special' meaning that it arrived at the studio in the short bus.

*This is a hotly debated point, with myself feeling that there's a particular and specific musical and lyrical absence, and other members thinking it's fine as is. Such is the inner life of a band.

The Incline to 2010

Amazing how much we shut down, mentally, over the last week of the year. Maybe 'shutting down' is the wrong word, because finally being free of my 'studies' as well as having a much lighter work load than usual has let me relax and play around a little bit. It almost feels like the closing days of December are the period where you get to remember who you are, and try to set priorities for the coming year.

And please note that by 'setting priorities,' I don't mean 'resolve.' The New Year's Resolution is a somewhat goofy tradition, essentially a joke with a punchline of twelve months of unused gym membership dues. To illustrate; my New Year's Resolution is to not eat any sweets for the month of January. Which I will easily achieve, unless I just plumb forget. No big deal either way. But the setting of priorities runs far deeper. That's the thing you must do, otherwise you forfeit a chunk of your soul, the size of said chunk being directly proportional to the importance of the decision.

I've definitely reached a point in my life where these decisions do carry a lot of importance, so you can imagine that the peril to my soul is steep. But the easiest of all these priorities will be to keep the Rambler going. Ever since its inception during a period of Olympic-Level Extreme Scheduling in my life (really, there's no other way to put it), this sometimes seemingly pointless little conclusion to my day has gained surprising purpose in my emotional makeup. Even on those days when you visit this space and read little more than a three word sentence saying that there won't be a Rambler on that day, that small parcel of time I've spent thinking about it has been oddly satisfying to me - allowing me to feel that I've accomplished something, however small, on those days where nothing else has quite gotten airborne.

I know what my priorities are for the year to come. And rest assured that you'll be reading about whatever pride, shame, anxiety and smugness that comes attached to them over the course of the next twelve months. But for now: take a breath, close your eyes, and remember who you are and why you came.