Feb 252010

This week I mixed a demo from a failed 2000 collaboration: “Mush.”

One of the first musicians I met in Madison upon arriving in 2000 was Ken Labarre. “Mush” was a song he wrote for his previous band, and it rips on people who bare their feelings on daytime talk shows (not the kind of topic I typically write about, but if it’s good enough for Peter Gabriel, it should be OK with me).

I wasn’t fond of the lyrics (the previous chorus lyrics were: “Have I told you that I think you’re crazy; bag of bones hanging with your daisy; you talk so darn proud of the hurting inside; it’s MUSH.”), so I rewrote them and tweaked the melody to come up with this demo. Ken said he thought I captured the original intent well, but his wife Mel was supposed to actually sing it in the new band we were trying to form, and she didn’t like the faux tough stance (despite my already softening the word “shit” in the choruses to “bit”), so the two of them rewrote the lyrics again, in a way that I thought made it worse, so she quit the band, which led to the whole project getting scrapped. I started Madison Lint, and Ken (who for some reason likes being called “The Jammy Bastard” now) started a great band called Tangy, which apparently recorded part of some version of this, though I don’t know if any of the ideas I contributed were retained.

Despite this acrimony, and the apparent hurriedness of the demo (my guitar is out of tune, and this was recorded on my Tascam 4-track, which is what I HAD to record on prior to 1996 but at this point only used when too lazy to set up the more elaborate digital equipment), this song has been going in my head periodically since November when I digitized the original audio tracks (which had degraded quite a bit), so I used this as a test of my ability to make crappy tracks sound OK through heavy use of digital processing and effects. It’s a nice song, and it would have been nice to hear a full band version.

So, my question: Do lyrics matter? My biggest barrier in this and other cases to working with other songwriters is that I don’t like their lyrics. Most people write in clichés, or to be less harsh about it, they don’t write in a way that would feel natural coming out of my mouth, and this embarrasses me, despite the fact that listeners, especially in a live situation, just don’t care. Ideally, I like bands like Roger Waters’s Pink Floyd where the lyrics have a definite and consistent narrative viewpoint that goes across all the tunes, but at the very least, the different songwriters have to have compatible styles.

My chief means of songwriting collaboration in the past has, then, been my “fixing” other people’s lyrics, sometimes to their satisfaction, sometimes not. Collaborative lyric writing can be great, but should be argumentative, I think, to polish each and every line into something better than each participant could come up with on his own, and the respect and deference that you typically want to offer to someone else’s ideas when you’re working with them usually precludes this.

I think I’m less of an arrogant bastard re. this issue now, but that’s probably just because the other songwriters I currently work with usually don’t set me off, though there was a bit of the second verse to one of the songs we recorded on our last album that I asked Matt again and again and again to fix, and he just couldn’t think of anything better and didn’t like my suggestion… bah!

Feb 242010

Discussing G.W.F Hegel’s Introduction to the Philosophy of History. Though he didn’t actually write a book with this name, notes on his lectures on this topic were published after his death, and the first chunk of that serves as a good entrance point to Hegel’s very strange system.

How should a philosopher approach the study of history? Is history just a bunch of random happenings, or is it a purposive force manipulating us to fulfill its hidden ends? If you have asked yourself this question in this way, then you, like Hegel, are mighty strange.

Here we talk about the unfolding of the world-historical spirit, world-historical individuals (hint: not you), dialectic, his alternative to the social contract, the formation of the self based on what others label you, the geist of America, why a constitutional monarchy is obviously the best form of government, and heaps more.

Read with us: Pages 14-128 of this online version or buy the book with only the part we’re concerned with.

End Song: “Cold,” by Madison Lint (2004), described in my music blog.

Feb 192010

Responding to a listener request, here’s the text of the inspirational speech from the end of episode #14, so you can have it tattooed or mounted or embroidered or perhaps written in frosting on a birthday cake. I have rendered it in BOLD MAGENTA #3 (C031C7) for your pleasure:

What you see before you, i.e. me, is, admittedly, very awesomely partially examined, but I was not always this way.

I used to try to stretch myself to conform to codes of conduct and ideals of being foreign to my nature, like I tried not to swear at all for a bit when I was about 12 until I became very embarrassed about my saying “Gosh!” really loudly when punched in gym class.

I used to use my girlfriends in college exclusively as a sounding board for my hideous self-reflections, externalizing every little notion to cross my brain in an attempt to make myself an external clump of the world to pick at like a carrion-hungry buzzard.

Why, one time I was caught midway between a watering hole and a big, juicy steak, and being unable to decide between them, just stood there contemplating the choice until I starved to death.

So I can confidently say that while the unexamined life may not be worth living, the constantly, strenuously, annoyingly examined life sucks!

But now, but now, I can read and watch things that are dumb and not feel bad about it. I can put myself out there without being so self-conscious about how I can’t actually fit all the caveats I would ideally like to into everything I say. I can, much like the Ramones, create explosive idiotic songs that are not meant to expose the entirety of my psyche, but only to repeat and elaborate a trope in a way that will resonate with, and hence extend, a mere tiny slice my emotional life.

For I am partially examined, dammit, with enough reflection for me to know the foolishness that is me without so much reflection so as to be unduly bothered by that.

But you, you sad sack sitting out there with Being and Nothingness under your pillow. You objects of a voyeuristic God that not only sees right through your soul but commands that you do the same. You people that constantly need to talk talk talk talk talk through all of your problems. I know you don’t like it. I know it’s hard. But there is hope.

I stand before you today as living proof that if you fail to try hard enough, you might just succeed. You too can have a partially examined life, with only some of your experiences spoiled by excessive reflection and omnipresent irony, with relationships that are only partially built on a narcissistic desire to expand your echo chamber, with some expectations undefined and some options not considered.

When you hear about, e.g. someone living under a bridge, you don’t have to imagine yourself what it would be like to live under such a bridge, and decide for a second that it would be cool, but then decide, no, of course it would not be. When you hear a new band that your friend likes, you don’t have to go and listen to everything that band has ever recorded and really wade into the music up to your eyeballs until you have an “insider’s view” and only THEN dismiss them as actually pretty shitty. When you read a book, you can just read it, without stopping to write down your own philosophical musings inspired by the sentence you were just reading but in fact only tangentially related to it. When someone calls you untalented, you can just say “screw off” instead of asking follow up questions about WHY the person thinks you’re untalented and, when you don’t get clear enough answers, make up a lot of answers yourself and then dwell on them for months afterward.

No, I say, there is hope. By just mostly giving up and not worrying about it out of sheer disgust with yourself, you can, like me, slowly become a more nearly tolerable person to be around who doesn’t drive himself absolutely batshit for no reason. With just a touch of philosophy (and just a touch, now!) and some good old fashioned elbow grease or some other meaningless cliché that you don’t think about enough to edit out of your inspirational speech, you too can, like me, have the partially examined life.

Feb 192010

The first newly completed song from the “Madison Lint” album: “Cold.”

I’ve been singing this a lot to myself as I walk around this horribly frozen wasteland that is Wisconsin and thinking about when I wrote the words to this while wandering around the building of my crappy office job back in early 2001, when both the job and the city were new to me after leaving Austin.

Some bits of the music were born a few months earlier when I had a “professional” songwriter I’d just met come over and try to write some music with me. Now, I don’t actually work that well with other songwriters as a rule, though I appreciate having someone in the room forcing me to come up with ideas and not run off to watch TV or something. So I came up with most of the melody, and the other dude tried to wedge in some ideas that didn’t fit, and he got disgusted with the tune and said it wasn’t good enough to submit to his publisher in Nashville. I proceeded to expunge his contribution, simplify the chord progression into a Nirvana-esque soft then loud thing, and write all new lyrics. I’m still waiting to be sued regardless, as the dude seemed litigious.

The song became a staple for Madison Lint, the band I formed soon after, and was recorded for our initial demo in the fall of 2001. Several lineups later, we recorded this version in March 2004 for our full album project, which I then proceeded to abandon when the band fell apart a few months later. I don’t think I’d actually listened to this take between recording it and late 2009, when my crime was revealed: I had a pretty damn great recording of a sickly good band that I had not been responsible enough to finish up.

…But I knew that already, and the point of this blog is to address that sin among others.

You may notice that after about minute 3.5 when the singing is all done, the song keeps going and going, wanking about a la the Grateful Dead, repeating the same two chords as first the keyboard, then the lead guitar take solos, then the lead guitar keeps going while the drums get silly, then my acoustic guitar just won’t shut up, bringing the thing to over 8 minutes. This is not a feat I intend to repeat, and the tune may get edited down in the final reckoning, but trying to shove my style into a jam greater than I myself could personally manage as a solo performer was sort of the point of that band, and the groove is all right, so who am I to knock it?

It was my belief in forming my first bands (in the late 80s) that improvisation can never be as good as something thought out beforehand, but many years listening to jazz has convinced me otherwise. I do not believe that one’s soul magically emerges from one’s body to squirt around in a shower of glory during such a procedure, but the thing certainly did seem to gain its own momentum, and I felt excessive but gleeful about it at the time.

Feb 142010

I have spent some time listening to other philosophy podcasts, particularly the ones on iTunes that are listed as “Listeners also subscribed to”.   Some are good, some absolutely unlistenable and a few in between (I’ve put some links at the end of this post).  I won’t say which I feel fall into which categories, but I do invite our listeners to chime in with their own reviews of any other philosophy podcasts. 

After listening, however, I have decided to hyperbolically extoll the virtues of PEL.  Please to enjoy…

  • All the participants contribute.  We don’t have some random dude who has no apparent connection to the material introduce the discussion and then disappear.  Nor do we have ‘interviewers’ or ‘hosts’ who offer up nothing but a set up questions to guests, allowing them to solliquize.
  • We are having a genuine dialogue.  None of us is the acknowledged leader and we each bring both an open mind and unique perspective to the table.  Our purpose isn’t to lecture, educate or browbeat you from a soapbox.  (OK, well maybe Wes has a soapbox…)
  • We have focus.  Beyond framing the discussion around an issue, we have textual grounding for the discussion.  This both lessons the likelihood of random stream-of-consciousness rambling and provides an anchor for the discussion when things are in danger of going off the rails.
  • We prepare.  None of thinks ourselves so clever, intelligent or well read to come without reading the recommended texts.  Which correlates with,
  • We have respect for each other and the texts/subjects.  Regardless of how much fun we make of someone’s ideas (Hegel), writing style (Aristotle) or life (Nietzsche), we take them seriously as thinkers and try to respect the context and goals of their enterprise.
  • Authenticity vs. Authority.  We are genuinely interested in the philosophers and their ideas and struggle understanding them.  We don’t represent ourselves as experts or falsely claim insight or entitlement.
  • Enough education, but not too much.  We all have the academic background and general smarts to treat the ideas and readings respectably without insulting your intelligence or wringing the life out of them with process, theory, -isms or technical specialization.
  • The Real World.  We aren’t just evaluating ideas based on logic, tradition or intuition.  We allow our real life experiences to inform our reading and responses to the texts.
  • We have a sense of humor but we aren’t ‘making fun’.   Our goal is to entertain, inspire, enlighten and amuse with a sense of decorum and integrity.  Jokes and humor are integral but not dominant elements in that quest.
  • Minimal jargon and fetishism.  While it is *extremely* difficult not to use technical terminology or inside jargon, particularly when one has been “schooled”, we do our best to keep the discussion ‘right down to earth, in a language everyone here can easily understand.’  We also are not in the business of hagiography (I had to find some way to work that word in here.  I love it.)
  • Universal approach.  We are performing for anyone interested in the ideas, philosophers or texts that we are discussing.  Our topics are only limited by that – you don’t have to have a certain background, education, geographical location, academic affiliation, gender, race, hair color or other trait to get engaged.
  • Production and audio quality.  Hey, we’re not perfect, but we try to maintain a certain level of quality to our podcast, even though we are in three separate cities using Skype and different audio equipment and software.  At the very least we try to clean and equalize tracks so that one person’s volume isn’t radically different from another.   As someone who listens to podcasts at the gym or in a 9-year old car, this is really important to me.
  • We edit.  “Um”, “yeah”, “right”, silences…ugh.  We try and get rid of the chaff, keep the wheat and provide an engaging dialogue (I’m sure with more or less success by episode).  We actually record 2 1/2 to 3 hours of stuff to get around 1 1/2 hrs of material, FYI.
  • We have fans, ratings & responses.  Check us out on iTunes, Facebook or the PEL web page.  It isn’t American Idol level mania, but people listen and care enough to communicate, review and rate us.
  • Better music and logo.  ‘Nuff said.

To be fair, I should point out areas where we are lacking as compared to the other podcasts.

  • We don’t know famous people or prominent philosophers we can get for interviews or guest spots. 
  • We haven’t been around for years to build up a body of work.
  • We don’t have the luxury of time or resources to attend philosophy conferences or festivals.
  • We don’t have the luxury of time or resources to produce episodes more frequently than we do.
  • Our file sizes are large and our run time varies from episode to episode. 

For your reference, here are a few links to other philosophy podcasts – again, we’d love to hear what you think!

This blog post is dedicated to Marvin Levich.  –seth

Feb 122010

Here’s another new recording: “Ann(e).”

It’s a pretty old song, written I think late in 1991, back when I was in a psychedlic band called The MayTricks, and though the recording is entirely new (OK, I started the click track and the acoustic guitar back in 2000, i.e. this is another tune destined for the “Cheese Stands Alone” album), the ethic and even the recording technique are MayTricks, with my co-frontman from that period, Steve Petrinko, chiming in on drums and the heavy distortion guitar part. I experimented a bit on this, bringing back my cheesy 80s keyboard that hasn’t been operational in a while and recording my first electric guitar part in a long time, and some of the psychedelic effects plugins–on the vocals at the end and on Steve’s guitar and the keys–are new to me.

What is the song about and why does its title have parentheses in it? Well, this was about finding yourself attracted to multiple people of the same physical type, possibly the same type as your ex. The lyrics exaggerate the situation a lot from there. The verses somewhat embarrassingly play up the verbal similarity of various rhyming names (putting the “Ann” or “Anne” in “Dianne” as if this implied that one woman can stand in for another), and the chorus betrays the fact that I’d been reading too much philosophy:

Dim sentimental monism or an unhealthy grieving for the long gone
Or a mean, shallow way to use people or a fine strategy to move on
Or a general desire to capture the moment or a desperate attempt to feel secure
Or a vicious betrayal of the others and the self
Or religious sublimation, I’m just not sure

So there’s that. I’d put off recording this for so long because I wanted it to be BIG and didn’t really know how to do that, and I’m not sure I entirely succeeded here, but it was pretty fun trying, and certainly great to work (at a distance) with Steve again, who I’ll hopefully drag in for more of these new recordings.

Feb 072010

Reading Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince and Ch. 1-20 of The Discourse on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy.

What’s a philosophically astute approach to political matters? What makes a government successful? Should you keep that fortress or sell it for scrap? If you conquer, say, Iraq, do you have to then go and live there for the occupation to work out? Is it OK to display the heads of your enemies on spikes, or should you opt for a respectful diorama?

Besides the famous Prince, Mr. M. wrote, at about the same time, the Discourses on Livy which focus on republics instead of princedoms, so the combined picture is less out of sync with our time than you might think, meaning we talk about G.W. Bush for a bit (sorry).

Plus: An inspirational speech to play at middle school assemblies across the land!

Skim the texts at here and here, or you can buy this book that includes both works.

The Isaiah Berlin article we talk about a bit is “The Originality of Machiavelli,” which you read most of if you search for the essay title in this book preview.

End song: “Se Piangi, Se Ridi” (Mogol/Marchetti/Satti), recorded by Mark Lint in 2000.

    Feb 052010

    More video this week: http://www.youtube.com/user/MLinsenmayer#p/a/u/1/u3nNXdV8tbQ.

    The linked song is one of two I’ve just put up there from a 1997 gig by The Fake Johnson Trio. This was the very last gig for that band, and one of the few played as an actual trio: I switched to bass for a couple of shows for that incarnation. The song is “Retrogress,” a cheery tune with lots of little arrangement nuances to screw up the band. It’s about not letting yourself get pulled back into moldy old modes of feeling.

    Also now on my channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/MLinsenmayer) are songs by two different line-ups of Madison Lint.

    Both of those bands (FJT and Madison Lint) had a good deal of turnover, which brings me to my topic: how much ownership do you have to have for an artistic project for it to feel fulfilling? From a young age, I was always someone who had to either lead the game, or I wouldn’t play. So though I’ve flirted with being “just a sideman” in bands, it would never stick: I like playing my own songs. I do enjoy my current situation as co-frontman, though; I am able to feel good about filling out my fellow New Peoplers’ songs, so long as that isn’t my only role.

    So I’ve fundamentally never understood the sidemen I’ve played with. Why are you here? Why would you put up with being in your situation for very long? Well, they don’t. For some (drummers, mostly), playing in a band is like doing a sport, like intramural soccer or something. Few would SUFFER for a commitment like that in the way that is routinely required to play in a band (i.e. driving a lot, hanging around dingy clubs with bad sound, small crowds, long hours in the studio). Clearly, these guys were doing me a favor, and in return, I, the leader, was obliged to set up situations for them to enjoy themselves, which usually involved getting lots of good shows, which I was–through ineptitude or lack of patience or simply facing tough odds–seldom able to do, so of course these awesome musicians would wise up and move on for the hope of something more stable and rewarding.

    …And, like a VH-1 Behind the Music special, I’m supposed to say now that that’s all behind me, and I’m in a good place, playing with people who do not see themselves as sidemen and so will not quit. So that’s what I’m saying. All is right with the world… for the moment.