Thursday, January 22, 2009

I am my daughter's father

I'm growing a beard. I do that sometimes. My new job allows it so I figure what the hell. Actually I'm trying to get all the fellers at work to grow one too. It's a fun diversion, and frankly it's just something to do to pass the winter. But I have an ulterior motive.

The first step in any good beard project is to stop shaving. Simple enough. Then once you've got a decent beard rolling you can shave parts of it off and make fun facial hairstyles. I think Im gonna do the reverse Abe Lincoln this time. You know the one where your sideburns hook up with your stache but your chin is naked. I'll rock that for a couple of weeks and wait for my mustache to get good and bushy and then shave the burns. I figure by the time my daughter is born I will have a full on Burt Reynolds, state trooper, 70's style stache.

When Ronnie is born I will be in numerous photos. I will be pictured holding her. Her daddy will be the tough looking guy with the bushy mustache. I'll have to make sure I'm wearing my Iron Maiden t-shirt when she is born. This all plays into the double standard for boys and girls. For my son its okay to be the silly dad, but with my daughter, I want to project the image of the scary dad not to be trifled with. Maybe I should always carry a fake mustache to wear whenever I'm photographed with her so I can maintain the mystique. So when boys come over she'll point to my picture in annoyance and say, "thats my dad" and those little pricks will think twice about doing her wrong. This is going to be so much fun!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

New President

I'm glad to have the 43rd person to add to my list of Presidents. Don't ever forget to count Grover Cleveland twice. At mid day today as the inauguration was rolling I hoisted my coffee cup and realized that it was now obsolete. My coffee cup has all the presidents on it, or it did until today. Now I'm missing one. I need a new cup.

So now it's midnight. After inauguration. The parties are probably still going strong in Washington, but I hope Mr Obama takes a few minutes away from the revelry to just wander the halls of the white house by himself. I hope our new president can find a moment to be just a man and to savor the awesome position he has achieved. Before he gets put through the harsh, aging process our presidents go through, I sincerely wish President Obama one night to just be giddy with the excitement and the novelty of it all, before the job itself puts it's crushing pressure upon his shoulders.

I hope he is allowed to wander the darkened halls of the White House tonight, alone, in his pajamas, to just explore his new domain. I love that image. Hopefully too he can be left alone in silence so he can hear in the distance the shadows of those who occupied that house before him. As he wanders and passes by the portraits of his predecessors I hope he quietly listens to their ghostly murmurs, and finds solace in his membership in this exclusive club. And I hope he passes the portrait of James K. Polk and pauses for a moment, and smiles and nods to the old curmudgeon. Across the hall ole Harry Truman gives the "new guy" a wink and wishes him the best.

Then as our newly elected leader walks into his new office I hope he sits down at his desk and rifles through all the drawers thinking to himself, "this is my desk now." Then I truly hope in one of the drawers is a gift that looks like it was wrapped by a seven year old and has a big bow on it and a tag that says, "To Barak, from George" Barack is spelled wrong. He opens it and within is a special totem passed down from one chief executive to another, and a note from Mr. Bush wishing him the best, because in spite of all our political fighting I like to think of all of us belonging to the fraternity of America. Under the gift I hope Barack sees carved into the bottom of the drawer, "Bill was here."

I wish this for him. Before he is expected to perform miracles, I hope he can just be the man who is in awe of his own accomplishment. To be able to enjoy his moment.

Good luck sir. I'll be sending you your card on Presidents Day. Someday no matter what you accomplish you will have a stamp, and a coin, and a few schools named for you. Do your best. Follow your conscience, and do what you think is best for us. Be true to your principles, for even if we don't agree that is all you can do. Make the hard decisions. Be willing to make the unpopular decisions, and lead. People love to have someone to look to. To be our king. So be our king for 4 to 8 years and then step aside graciously. This republic can succeed. It will succeed. And don't forget to have some fun.

And listen to the ghostly voices murmuring in the halls. They know how you feel.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Rocka Rolla

So I have been playing music for 20 years now. I just got done playing a rock show at the Kitty Cat Club and I thought it was fantastic. It was so much fun. This was probably the 400th gig I've played in my rock career, or something like that, and I was able to play and sing and feel comfortable and confident onstage. I can look at my band mates and smile and nod and even carry on small talk occasionally. I have even developed stances, and I strike my guitar with exaggerated flourish. I love performing. But it wasn't always this way.

Music does not come naturally to me. I've had to work at it. It's taken me 20 years to have the confidence and presence in a band that some of my peers achieved in their first couple years of playing. Creative thought however does come naturally to me. In high school I began my musical journey by writing song lyrics when I should have been paying attention to algebra. Three of my earliest songs were called, "My Head Explodes", "Fucking Gay", and "Battling Nations". I would show these to my buddy Paul who had already at that time made his first solo demo and was the guitar player in his brothers' band. Paul was and is very good. He put music to the latter of those three songs and it came out on one of their demos. My name was in print. I liked it. I liked it a lot. Paul wanted to start his own band and decided I was weird and flamboyant enough to be the front man. I could write lyrics, so it seemed the perfect way for me to become musical. It was perfect, I wouldn't even have to learn to play an instrument. But there was a problem. I couldn't sing. Singing is an instrument I later realized that has to be learned. I just couldn't get it right. I was off pitch and I didn't even know what that meant. I was clueless. Useless. It wasn't like singing in chorus. Sigh.

That was when I was handed the bass guitar. There was an electric spark of destiny as I put that thing on my neck. Only four strings, and they were big ones, it was like remedial reading class. I figured it would be a snap, but I had to work at it. It was difficult at first. I learned some easy songs, and then I started writing my own parts. The thing is while I was really bad at playing bass, I was very quickly able to actually write simple things. I had the creativity but none of the skill or talent.

Anyway that was 20 years ago. My first band made a demo which I am still strangely proud of and drawn to. We did things out of ignorance which I now would never even consider. It was awesome. When we played our first show I was meek and nervous. My tongue was probably sticking out as I was counting every plunk in my head, nervously studying my fingers, terrified to look away for even a micro-second lest I fall off the groove. Later that night I met a girl, and she seemed to think I was interesting. I never looked back.

A year after my first band began I decided to learn how to play guitar. Maybe I was hoping for a promotion. I took it very seriously and I learned what all the notes were. There were lots of kids back then who couldn't tell you were a G was on the guitar, they did it all by ear. I figured if I understood guitar I could at least communicate with my bandmates better. I wrestled with that damn guitar. It was so hard. Chords! Fuck me. My fingers were not meant to bend in all those strange shapes. I can remember lying on my bed crying because I could not transition from a C chord to a G chord without ten minutes of prep time. And bar chords? Forget it. Simply impossible. I was not going to get that promotion any time soon. After time I did learn to play guitar, but I've never been more than adequate at it. I have guitars lying around all over my house now, and I play them everyday. I write songs on them and play Beatles songs for my son, but I've only played guitar onstage once, and that wasn't anything to brag about.

After I mastered being really crappy on guitar, I went on to learn how to be really crappy on the piano, and then later how to be even crappier on the drums. That entire time I was still practicing on how to be a crappy singer. And I wrote songs. I kept writing songs. After a couple years I began to realize that I was not crappy on the bass. I was somewhat adequate. When I would jam with people I was even complimented occasionally as having a "style" of my own, (which I was ripping off from Peter Hook and Paul McCartney). People seemed to like me on bass, and I liked playing bass, so I just kept doing it. I became and have remained a bass player. And I am now proud to be a bass player. Bass players rule! But I wanted to write music too.

My problem as a bass player, was that it is difficult to bring forth song ideas on that instrument. Guitar players need more to go on than I was able to provide and I would often have the songs I wrote being changed simply by my inability to communicate my vision. The other big problem was that while I could sing to myself, or hear the vocal melody in my head, I simply could not sing and play at the same time. I worked on this all the time. I eventually was able to sing while strumming chords on a guitar, but singing while playing bass was simply not a feat any human could accomplish. Except people did it all the time. I then spent years simply not trying to communicate my ideas. I became just the bass player.

Ten years ago I was in a really good band. I was having fun playing bass at shows, but I was still terrified on stage. I was obsessed with not making mistakes. I could barely make eye contact with another band member while playing a song. I had to focus on the task at hand. That worked for the shoegazer style of music we were doing, but I wanted to do better.

After some time I found myself without a band. I spent about a year just writing songs on the guitar. I practiced writing entire songs, with beginnings, and ends, middle eights, verses, choruses, codas, etc. I just wrote. And I did some demos. I loved the demos because I could track everything separately. Most of it was crap but the bass lines were good. I then learned to bring those crappy demo ideas to other people and have them put their own talents into them. Somewhere during this time my confidence was building. I learned to communicate with other musicians. I was able to step up to the mic and sing while playing. It just happened. Suddenly I was capable of singing backup vocals live. I'm still not the best singer, but damnit I can sing and play at the same time finally. After that I was able to let my concentration drop while playing. I was able to look around, to smile, to develop exaggerated movements. And I didn't care if I made a mistake, I was able to simply enjoy the moment and get back on track if anything went wrong. I still try to not fuck up, that's what practice is for, but still this was a major breakthrough for me.

So here I am now 20 years later, and I'm just finally doing what I want to do musically. But I'm still honing the skill. It doesn't come naturally to me. I'm continually working to be better. Maybe in 20 years I'll be that grandpa musician who makes it look easy. I'm a slow ass learner. Actually that applies to every aspect of my life. Possibly the effort is what generates wisdom. I hope so. Tonight I played adequate, but I felt awesome while doing it. All that really matters in the end is that you enjoy the ride.