I Hope You Won't Believe…

…how much of a sap I am for Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.”

Hearing it tends to make me physically helpless for its duration plus at least a few minutes more, and emotionally helpless for anything from a half-hour to the next day. And the effect is not wearing off. So I’m starting to wonder about this song and its power over me.

Two old friends, long out-of-touch, sitting down to dinner and remembering “sweet romantic teenage nights… hanging out at the village green” and we’re rolling our eyes, right? Right. But still. There’s something about the way Joel completely inhabits the point of view of a guy who is starting to notice his age, who thinks he’s been working hard on his career and second marriage, and is seeing in this moment that it doesn’t mean to him what he thought it did. He dismisses ten or fifteen years of life with

I got a good job, I got a good office
I got a new wife, got a new life
And the family is fine…

The friends fade into a memory…

Brenda and Eddie were the popular steadies
And the king and the queen of the prom
Riding around with the car top down and the radio on
Nobody looked any finer
Or was more of a hit at the Parkway Diner
We never knew we could want more than that out of life
Surely Brenda and Eddie would always know how to survive…

Of course, they wouldn’t. “The Ballad of Brenda and Eddie,” the middle section and beating heart of “Scenes…” is what I love most in it. Brenda and Eddie are human after all, divorcing when “the money got tight.” Maybe our singer feels better knowing that nobody’s life is turning out perfect, or even as they expected to.

“Scenes…” is a meditation on change – big life changes – and the struggles of broken people as they try to navigate them. The key for me is at the end of “The Ballad…”

Then the king and the queen went back to the green,
But you could never go back there again

It’s a bittersweet moment of clarity that home, if we’re ever going to feel it again, lies ahead of us.  Never behind.

And really, it’s only with that insight that the possibility of home reappears.  Attachment to a past that “you could never go back” to actively prevents the realization of home.  All of a sudden, I find myself in very Buddhist territory.  (This is also how I read Genesis 3:22-24.)

That’s the truth that draws me back to the story of Brenda and Eddie over and over.  -h

What if…

…you made hip-hop beats at a faster-than-usual 130-135 BPM?

And then sang new wave vocals over that?

As of today I have a new Mac mini, including GarageBand, and I intend to find out.  I’m telling you because maybe you will take this idea and do something awesome with it, and I could feel good about that, too.

In related news, I got a 160 Gb iPod as well; I’ll keep you posted on its impact on my listening habits.  Right now I mostly listen to full albums on CD and don’t skip tracks, and I don’t make mix CDs.  -h

Project Update

Just a short what’s-going-on today.

Jill and I saw The Combine at Davey’s Uptown in KC last night; this hip-hop duo are friends of mine.  I mastered their new album (still unreleased) back around November and they’re still slotted to put out an exclusive EP on MFR.  Big ups to opener Jus Kos from Denver
B is coming over in a couple hours to record his vocals for SR’s “You Have To Wear The Boots”!  I’m excited to be making progress on “…Boots,” and it’s been fun to have the songs bubble back into my consciousness after a long break.

5*C has been playing shows, with two new songs in our set.  We’re hoping to arrange two more at our next practice.  It’s too early to say anything about recording, but a 10-song disc with remastered tracks from both EPs, “Bang! Bang!” and an interlude by Danny is available at shows.
Fifty Bears in a Fight worked up a new song at our last practice based on a riff I wrote in Mexico in June.  We’re going to demo five (!) new instrumentals at our next get-together.  We’re also collaborating with a local singer who is interested in working alongside Tim to provide us with vocals.  The shape of that relationship is still being formed.

Matt is working on a customized kick drum stand for me that will let me mount my kick with the heads facing up and down, so I can hit it with sticks from one side (like a floor tom) and a reversed pedal from the bottom.  Clear as mud?  This is a necessary piece of equipment for the way I envison the rhythms for “Ventura” will come together.  I’m pretty stoked.

I was working on a new tune last night, nothing finished, but in the vein of “Cooky” (see lyrics posted below).  Looks like my album after “…Not Nothing”/Sleepover?/”…Boots”/”Ventura” might be a kind of straight-up pop like I haven’t done since the echoes stuff.  It would probably be less punk and more eclectic than those EPs.  Also, Cari Ann sang some harmonies with me the other day, and that was pretty kicking.  We were singing “Ventura” songs, so I’m not sure how much sense it makes to have guy-girl vocals matched with those lyrics, but there’s some rich potential there for something.

I have website ideas too.  I’m getting super-itchy to get a new release out; Matt and I just need to block off some time and wrap up “There is Something and not nothing.”  Then we’ll have a killer release party at my house, I have it all planned out.  Including a treat for you guys who won’t be able to make it to KC :-)



For your Saturday pleasure, here are lyrics to a brand-new song, “Cooky.” I haven’t been writing a whole lot for myself lately, but this is a fun one. -h

I was wrong
You were right
#$*%&# (Go on) you can spell it how you like
Common sense be damned, full speed a-
Head; conventions never were your thing
Type those pretty thoughts into the
Talking hard
I used “proscribe,” you called me out
You know I love to argue, babe, I
Don’t take prisoners but I’ll fight you fair
Maybe I’m the lunatic you’re looking for…

I don’t need to win, don’t ever walk away
From an honest debate
Hey, it doesn’t matter, doesn’t mean a thing
When did we stop having fun in here?
My Heart, I’m yours
And your sketchy spelling doesn’t change a thing about us
Trust me when I tell you…

Doesn’t know
Your name – I didn’t tell her who was
Talking like a cookbook from the
Fifties, I just said you were a friend
Anonymous as ever
At my job
Slacking off
Can we sharpen wits without it being
Hurtful? God I hope so, kid
I need to feel we’re cool with repartee
Holding back holds us apart…

Are you coming out tonight? I want to sing,
Run my hands through your hair
Your taste is like a tide that’s sweeping over me
When did this become a fight worth fighting?
Love, I’m yours
And your quiet, casting eyes don’t change a thing about us

Cowboys, Beastie Boys, crazy boys
All have a better claim on you than I can make my case for
Love, the dictionary has defeated me
We lost the battle, let’s win the war

I wuz rong
U wer rite
U kan spel it how u lyke

Because I don’t need to win, don’t ever walk away
From an honest debate
Hey, it doesn’t matter, doesn’t mean a thing
When did we stop having fun in here?
My Heart, I’m yours
And your sketchy spelling doesn’t change a thing about us
Trust me when I tell you that
My Heart, I’m yours
And your sketchy spelling doesn’t change a thing about us

JV All*stars at the Main Street Cafe, 1 August 2008

My crew was standing on the street outside Main Street Cafe when the maroon Dodge van with Nebraska plates rolled down Wyandotte.  It had been at little more than three years since I’d seen JVA at the 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis; during that time the band had released “Girls Forget Your Boys…” in Japan, toured the US, taken a year off, and recorded their new album “Take Me Back To Spectre.”  I’d moved to Kansas City, had three jobs, joined Five Star Crush, and written three records.

The theme of distance – geographic and relational (and the title of the band’s first full-length) – has kept JVA beautifully and almost achingly relevant for me as I’ve moved around the midwest, through circles of friends, away from some of the things I grew up with, and recognized that for better or worse I’m not particularly good at keeping in touch.

“Well, it’s wrong to say I wish you would stay;

Good luck in Boston,

I’ll see you around…”

The All*stars are heading up a four-band, 10-day package tour.  Young openers Get Down!, Four Word Cause, and Avery all played serviceable, appropriately impassioned pop-punk.  Sets seemed short, which I assumed was the venue’s responsibility but found out later from Eric Mellow is just the way these bands play shows.  Jill noted that keyboards are apparently the new necessity for the genre.
Avery’s rhythm guitarist cranked out a nice, rich tone with a borrowed Telecaster that, on its own, made their set sound 50% better than it would have otherwise.  Punk bands take note; rediscovering the midrange of your guitars and amps can make you sound bigger and better in a hurry.  It’s probably the best bang-for-your-buck sonic enhancement you can make!

It’s never less than thrilling to see four quirky, unassuming Lincolnites* shuffle around the stage, plugging gear in, checking mics…  and ripping into their first loud, fast, catchy-as-hell tune.

JVA tore through tracks from “Take Me Back To Spectre,” closing with a brand-new tune (“Prevention Kids,” demo up on their MySpace) and two from “Girls Forget Your Boys Forget Your Girls.”  The sound was good, though Mikey and Eric’s vocals weren’t loud enough (not too many bands have three lead singers, but the guys have gradually come to share songwriting and vocals almost equally).  I rocked out, sang along where I could, and generally lost myself in a moment that blended the new and the old.  New and old friends, new and old music, and an honest but hopeful look at the distance we’ve traveled and the road ahead, embodied in sound.
Afterward Nick was talking about when the All*stars played what seemed at the time to be their last show, which was howie&scott’s “signs.comets” CD release in 2004.  I remembered the show but not the weight it carried at the time.  Eric told me his grandma has had some issues with meds but is doing well now; we used to practice in her basement and eat leftover pizza with Milford kids.

We went to Jill’s house, where the band spend the night (Thanks, JG!), wrapping something like nine years of life and music into one moment, and it was heartening to think about time and friends and songs.  -h
*Mikey and Matty are originally from Wayne, how punk is that?!