Jan 282010
 

As January draws to a close, I made good on my determination to upload some more gig video, with a couple of songs from 1/16/10 New People show from the Alchemy Cafe. The song of the two by me currently visible (though I hope to have more up shortly) is at http://www.youtube.com/user/MLinsenmayer#p/a/u/1/_-9pPUESKN4, and from that URL you should be able to see the other I just uploaded (a tune by my cohort Matt Ackerman) and a few earlier posts (be sure to check out the “Love Is the Problem” video if you’ve not already).

The song in question is “Little Mina,” written mostly in 2003 when my daughter was a mewling shrieking biting baby, so the “Don’t bite me” is not a metaphor, or not merely a metaphor. The song morphed into something about trying to impart wisdom to your kids and how none of the really important stuff can be put into words.

But, I realize that the sound on the video is low quality and you likely can’t understand the words anyway, so let me rant instead about the absurdity of gigging.

A great concert in my experience as a spectator, for a band playing original music, is one where I already know most of the songs in advance, and where I can show up and clearly see and hear the band playing these tunes, with more excitement and spontaneity than what’s on the album, sitting with other people who also love the music.

As a performer, this rarely happens, first because venues usually either have a crummy sound system where you can’t make out the lyrics, or they crank it so loud that it’s unpleasant to be there (and you still can’t make out the lyrics). More importantly, the only people in the audience who know the songs will be friends that I or other band members have personally indoctrinated. Bar owners have long understood this: going to a friend’s show is like going to your kid’s school concert; you MIGHT enjoy it, but mostly you’re there to provide support to someone you know.

So, despite the fact that I’m supposed to be entertaining, i.e. providing a service, audience members are generally doing me a favor by being there, supporting my selfish desire to perform and my empty hopes of “making it.” Club owners recognize this, and typically see letting bands play there as an opportunity to have their dead nights filled with musicians’ beer-buying friends. Some clubs seem to go out of their way to ensure that no one that you didn’t personally bring to the show will possibly see you, and that the only way you can play in a time slot where people you didn’t invite might show up is if you can prove that you can bring in 100+ people in on, say, a Tuesday night at 7pm (or 2am) all on your own. It’s a sucker’s game.

As an adult, I’ve for the most part tried to avoid these situations and accepted the fact that the best I can do is to provide a pleasant place for those friends who come to indulge us a nice place to hang out and a convenient time slot, which means playing out less frequently (very few friends want to come to one of your shows every month) at places with no built-in crowd, but who will give us shows on Saturday nights, have decent enough facilities where we can make sure that the sound quality/volume is tolerable, and who don’t particularly care how many people we bring in. It’s like putting on a piano recital, except louder, usually with booze (though in Austin a couple of coffee houses became our preferred venues after a while).

The venue pictured in the video is a slight step up, in that it has a built-in crowd and (for our last show anyway) the sound quality was not TOTAL mush, and we seem able to play multiple Saturday nights there (this was our second show there in three months), so there is hope that with perseverance and an accessible show, one can incrementally move forward toward the Platonic ideal gig. …Or maybe I’m still just a sucker.

Jan 202010
 

This week’s entry is an entirely new recording: “Came Round.” On one or two days in the summer of ’99 I wrote and recorded maybe five song fragments with nonsense lyrics that featured dual-vocals throughout the whole thing a la the Byrds. I was contemplating starting a folk duo that would feature collaborative songwriting and wanted to have some material that was purposely unfinished, with lyrics I had every intention of changing, so that the collaborative process could then polish them into songs. Well, of course I never ended up doing the folk duo, and my collaborative attempts in the future never made use of these. Still, I found the process of writing music with carelessly terrible lyrics and no obligation to finish developing the song idea very liberating and easy.

The first song from that batch proved to be something that really stuck in my head, with its bad lyrics intact: “You came ’round; I saw your shoes. You came ’round, and I felt used. You came ’round; I smelled your breath. You came ’round, I felt my death.” Well, at least those are a little cute, but the lyrics I had over the chorus were much worse, rhyming “crossing” with “lossing.”

Fast forward to the present, when the song has become one of the first things I play on my acoustic as a fun finger-picking exercise. How could I turn this cliche fragment with goofy lyrics into a full song? I determined while playing through it a couple of weeks ago that it should have a loud part in the middle starting on a G chord, but that’s as far as I got. Well, in the day before recording this, I wrote the bridge lyrics, wrote another couple of verse lines, decided to have the choruses be just instrumental, and, finally, figured out something to play under the loud part, which I’d originally envisioned as less repetitive chord-wise, but just kind of fell into being what it now is.

…and this brings me to my topic, which is related to last week’s: manufactured inspiration. Since completing this last week, I’ve gotten some comments that this is one of the best things I’ve come up with, that the intense part in the middle is especially rousing, which (quoting one friend of mine) “probably had something to do with the time I wrote it.” But here’s the thing: there’s nothing personal going on with me right now (i.e. when I wrote that part), or in 1999 for that matter, that justifies the level of passion I put in there. The lyrics draw on a couple of sentiments exaggerated from those I’ve either had in the past or have imagined someone else having, and I definitely was looking to recapture some of the magic of my last full acoustic album, “Spanish Armada,” recorded back in 1993 when I was young and angst-filled in the throes of unrequited love and loss and all. …But I’m not really feeling any of that now; instead, this was just fun and cathartic.

This is perhaps not such a great discovery. When an author puts drama in a book, or even more telling, when a filmmaker goes through the painstaking process of getting some emotional moment up on the screen, it’s not as if he or she is, through the many grueling hours required to do that, all choked with emotion about some personal tragedy. It’s imagined, and then manufactured and dressed up to get the imagined emotion out there, but with songwriting, we expect people to be writing passionately about their personal experiences, which in turn leads to the feeling that as an older person in a settled relationship and a generally happy situation, I should have nothing much interesting to write about, and for sure, my output has slowed tremendously now that I don’t need so much songwriting as therapy. So, unless I just want to be writing music as humor or social commentary or expression of the inevitable vague dissatisfaction that comes with living, then I have to make stuff up, but based on this song, at least, that seems to be a viable strategy, the “truth” of the matter be damned.

-Mark Linsenmayer

Jan 162010
 

I am considered by family, friends and business acquaintances to be calm, level-headed, rational, analytic, thoughtful, etc.  It was part of what made me successful in my many roles in corporate life.  And something that has perhaps prevented me from honoring my feelings and emotions in my personal life.  While I don’t think I fetishize reason and rationality, I seem to be coded to make them my primary mode of being (PEL is perhaps a reflection – or symptom?).

So my New Year’s resolution is to be more ‘unreasonable’.  By that I mean not only cut down on the rational, analytical approach to things, the measured intake of data and attempt to view things from multiple perspectives, but also to stop being so accomodating to everyone else’s requests – to be a bit ‘unreasonable’.  Open myself to interpersonal energy and the immediate Zeitgeist.  And guess what world, that might mean I take more risks and am a bit more selfish.  I’m 41 and I deserve it, so deal.

A corollary to this is that I am going to start setting unrealistic expectations and goals.  Got this from The 4 Hour Work Week, but it seems to fit.

Unlike Mark, I’m not going to commit to either doing or sharing weekly with y’all.

Cheers, seth

Jan 152010
 

This week I’ve finished another tune from the same project as “Write Me Off,” namely “Once in a Great While,” which was originally called “Therapy Song #141.”

The song is one of several I’ve written about inspiration and its masochistic character. What I want from moment to moment is a feeling of warmth, of involvement. When I finish a great movie or book or come back from a great concert, “real life” feels naked and cold by comparison, and you want to fill it. When you’re at peace, there’s no reason to write a song.

I’m overgeneralizing, of course. You can be inspired by another work, like I’ve on occasion written some songs (lyrics, at least, and maybe the rhythm of the melody) basically while listening to another existing song over and over, so that what I come up with is essentially a child of whatever it is I’m listening to, even if no one else would notice that listening to the two back to back.

But I don’t want to talk about inspiration and its many varieties here, but only the kind where you’re amped up with emptiness, probably late at night when all around is quiet, maybe walking the dog, which is in fact how I’m pretty sure I came up with this tune, walking around my neighborhood in Austin on a warm evening in 1999. While the emptiness is vertiginous, it’s also exhilarating, and is probably the kind of productive sort of suffering that Nietzsche was always on about.

Like the previous tune, drums and electric guitars were recorded back in 2000, and I put down the bass that summer, I think, shortly after moving to Austin. I was surprised that Mark Doroba the guitarist, who recorded all of his parts on his own at his house onto my recording equipment, had not really recorded a lead guitar part on this one, and I pictured getting some really good classical player to do it. Instead, of course, I, just now, ended up doing it myself, which involved a lot of punching in and overdubbing, as it inevitably does when I play lead. I also recorded all the vocals just now, mostly very quickly, though I was somewhat lost for a bit as to how the whole key change near the beginning was supposed to work (I’m not sure what made me do that originally and likely wouldn’t have included that now.) I’m pretty sure that there was supposed to be more of an instrumental break instead of quite so many repeats of the choruses, but I’m pretty satisfied with how it sits now.

Jan 072010
 

This week’s newly finished recording is “Write Me Off.”

This is part of the “Sinking and the Aftermath” project; the story of my utter irresponsibility in not finishing these songs (from 1999-2000) earlier is told here.

This is one of my favorite songs of those I’ve written, and it’s gone around my head quite regularly in the 10 years since I wrote and partially recorded it. Why did I not finish it? Why is this blog even necessary? Well, perfectionism, for one. It’s easy to find excuses not to finish things when, in this case, you envision a full choir singing the goofy “ba-ba-ba-bah” backing vocals. I also only recently got a steel-stringed acoustic guitar in my house this year (and still don’t have a really adequate electric setup, though I’ll try to overcome that for one of the next weeks), and my classical just wouldn’t cut it on this one.

The other reason is also the main theme of the song, i.e. frustration with the absolute (or, OK, relative) indifference of any substantial number of people to whether any of my music gets made or not. Like most of my songs, the lyrics to this express some momentary, extreme sentiment that I captured and wrote down in all its snarly, pathetic glory. And yet, one of the reasons it’s been so resonant with me is the number of times when something like that sentiment recurs. Just like there’s a canon of philosophers and I feel like people look for any excuse with a newly heard-of figure to disregard that person so that they don’t have to expend the energy learning about him, the same thing goes on in popular music, and even I am no exception to this celebrity culture mindset.

What remains when you try to get past insecurity about the quality of your creative output is first, pleasing yourself, which is great and necessary, but doesn’t necessarily consistently motivate the great effort required to have a constant creative stream running over the majority of your life, and second, sharing with others: The immediate impetus for this song was discovering that a CD (that I’d worked my ass off to create) that I’d given to someone who I know was into music and whose approval I apparently sought had been sitting in his drawer unlistened to for like a year after I gave it to him.

Ultimately, the song is about whether you care what other people think of you or not, and as independent and self-assured as you’d like to see yourself as, it’s still pretty galling to be written off in the face of your best efforts. So there you go.

Jan 032010
 
Werner Heisenberg

On Werner Heisenberg’s “Physics and Philosophy” (1958), and talking about it with an actual former particle physicist, Dylan Casey.

What weird stuff about reality does quantum physics imply? Is Heisenberg (of the Uncertainty Principle fame) right that we need to reject “metaphysical realism” based on this very well established scientific framework? The discussion ranges over the uncertainty principle, relativity, wave/particle duality, Pre-Socratic metaphysics, why Kant is wrong about space, and lots of very weird things.

Read the text online or purchase it.

Plus, we spend far too much time talking about an article by Thomas Nagel about intelligent design; you can read that here. And the blog post by Brian Leiter that got us talking about it is here.

End song: “Neutrino of Love,” written and sung by Dylan Casey, with backing and production by Mark back in 1997 or so (remixed and cleaned up just now). A different version appears on his Neutrino Sessions album.

Jan 022010
 

Per my immediately previous post, feel free to download and listen to the song “Space;” it’ll be at the very top of the visible window when you click here. Then come back here and read this post. (I’m not linking directly from these posts to the audio files to avoid their being sent out as part of the Partially Examined Life podcast feed.)

This song was written in 1997 or 1998 smack in the heart of my Texas grad school tenure. That’s what the reference to “Every day I get up about three hours late” is about; I tended to sleep until 11am in those days.

This is a song that seemed too sappy, simple, and uncool to do with any of my subsequent bands, and it in fact was the proximate cause to one of my band mates not wanting to work with me any more (he’d already quit the band earlier but was considering jumping back in to help us finish recording the album), with the sentiment “all Mark writes any more are goofy songs for Kim” (i.e. my girlfriend, now wife of over a decade).

Still, it stuck in my head, and was on the list of songs to record for an aborted solo album “The Cheese Stands Alone,” and I had the first drummer I played with upon moving to Madison in 2000 play this part against a guide guitar. The tape then sat and sat and sat along with the many other tapes that are the reason I needed to start writing this blog, but is something I have commonly played when screwing around on my acoustic guitar and whose lyrics I had almost entirely memorized without intending to, so it’s good to hear it now “done,” though I suppose it could still use a plunky lead guitar part to round it out if I end up sprucing this up for the revival of the “Cheese” album.

What is it about? Well, it’s a love song to someone who isn’t there, whether at the moment, or at all is left unclear. Maybe she’s dead. Maybe she left him (i.e. the narrator, who is not exactly me though has stolen my sentiments, as per my normal technique). Maybe she’s just at work while he lies around the house not working on his dissertation? What’s clear is that the environment is imbued with her, and that’s a good thing.

Jan 022010
 

Yes, it’s a new year. Big, fat arbitrary deal. Well, yes, but I find it refreshing that something in our life of mostly culturally created pressures presents itself as an obviously merely cultural, arbitrary creation, as opposed to money, or romance, or politics, or your job, all of which, though largely if not wholly cultural, intrude in our lives in immediate ways that make them seem objective in some stronger way.

So, here’s my New Year’s resolution: I have a lot of recordings that need finishing, a lot of songs that I’ve never bothered to record decently, or at all, lots of recordings (video and audio) of old live shows and/or significant life events that I should digitize and put in an order such that if I die, then my relatives will be able to find things easily. I hereby resolve to fix, finish, or at least make progress on something 50 times (i.e. approximately once a week) over the course of 2010, and to prove it, I aim to post and possibly analyze to death at least some if this for the amusement of you, the kind readers of the world.

And I’m starting right now.

Jan 022010
 

Yes, it’s a new year. Big, fat arbitrary deal. Well, yes, but I find it refreshing that something in our life of mostly culturally created pressures presents itself as an obviously merely cultural, arbitrary creation, as opposed to money, or romance, or politics, or your job, all of which, though largely if not wholly cultural, intrude in our lives in immediate ways that make them seem objective in some stronger way.

So, here’s my New Year’s resolution: I have a lot of recordings that need finishing, a lot of songs that I’ve never bothered to record decently, or at all, lots of recordings (video and audio) of old live shows and/or significant life events that I should digitize and put in an order such that if I die, then my relatives will be able to find things easily. I hereby resolve to fix, finish, or at least make progress on something 50 times (i.e. approximately once a week) over the course of 2010, and to prove it, I aim to post and possibly analyze to death at least some if this for the amusement of you, the kind readers of the world.

And I’m starting right now.