Thursday, April 25, 2013

Revisiting myself

When I get in the crisis -- no _catastrophe_ of confidence that I've been mired in this past week I sometimes find it helpful to revisit my past work. I say "sometimes" because the rest of the time every mistake, flaw, and imperfection just get amplified a billion-fold sending me further and further down the spiral.

This time I went back to a tune I started in late 2005. I was playing around with a lot of augmented/whole tone types of chords and really feeling some of my prog-rock tendencies. I wanted to go beyond the easy tonalities and really bring in my composition background.

As with everything else of the time, I started by creating a skeleton in Reason. For a non-drummer, I'm still pretty damned happy with the drum track. I never got far with the lyrics so as with many tunes it has languished.

Unfortunately a double hard drive crash (my Mac AND my back-up drive) hit me in 2006. I *may* have the original Reason file backed up to CD/DVD. But I lost my copy of Reason. :(

Regardless, it's gonna be a challenge to rebuild - especially that bridge! WHOAH! #funwithtimesignatures

Friday, April 5, 2013

Some of the darker hours...

There are times when it feels like all of life, all of existence is just saying, "Stop. Stop even TRYING to go that route. Now. Just... stop."

Starting over is always a risky thing. Perhaps I'm a bit spoiled by what I already consider as my "golden years" - my time in NYC. It seemed like everything just took off right away - musically at least. I swear that within months I was rehearsing every night, gigging every other day, traveling the country every other week. It was glorious.

My move to Philly, on the other hand, was a *very* rough landing. What little music there was dwindled *very* quickly and income was negligible for the better part of 6 or 7 months. I picked up some of the gigging again. But it never got regular enough.

I'll be honest. This move... hasn't been as smooth as I'd like. I've seen a bunch of problems. My income is minimal. My locomotion a bit restricted (certainly in comparison to having public transit readily available). And my music opportunities virtually non-existent.

The past few months have been dark for me emotionally. Along with the Ménière's, I've been dealing with some other ailments. (God getting older sucks...) I've been depressed. I've been despondent.

I've felt like I'm dead inside - dead in my path, dead in my future.

The Ménière's has been sorta that "last straw", if you will. It's randomness, it's unpredictability, and it's effect on my hearing have been destructive to my already-atrophied optimism. Developing a regular practicing routine as an adult is already challenging. When your ears stop working properly, it feels impossible.

I feel like I'm developing some sort of PTSD from my own body. After all, if I can't get up to proper performance expectations, who will hire me? If I have to bail on a gig because of an attack, who will keep me?

So the question is, "what do I do? Where do I go? What's next? Why bother?"

Indeed. Why bother? What sort of future do I have? Do I even have one?

Is it denial that I keep attempting to practice? Is this some sort of ... emotional inertia that keeps me randomly returning to my instruments? Is it dedication? Is it foolishness?

Is it hopeless?


These are the questions in my head lately. A happy space it is decidedly NOT. I keep telling myself that a large part of the equation is stress: the jobs, the money, the stability - find those and things will calm down. Once things calm down, the future could return.

In the meantime, I'm trying to see if I can perform through the problems. I've done two gigs on double bass now while experiencing an attack. They weren't my best playing but I got through. Did I get through well enough? I'm not sure. We'll see.

I tried another video recording of me singing to see how that goes. It sounds mostly okay. I think. It's hard to tell. I still have a bunch of my other performance issues to deal with as well, of course, but that's to be expected.

Oh if only those would magically disappear with the right amount of XP...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fighting the craigslist Fight (Part 1)

I love craigslist. I really do - at least in theory. It's a simple, bare-bones-no-frills community moderated site. Yet, since having moved here, I find the Austin musician section to be, frankly, useless.

First off: a few "dedicated soldiers" seem to have taken it upon themselves to "reveal all the craigslist spammers" crying that these posts are nothing but phishing attempts. These digital do-gooders publish lists of alleged spam postings SEVERAL TIMES A DAY - flooding my feed with offal.

(click to view full size)

That. That is my RSS feed (searching for the term bass) for ONE DAY. The highlighted posts are these jack-holes.

(click to view full size)

Now, honestly, I don't know if they're right or wrong. I don't know how many of these posts on The CL are people just phishing for information. I don't know how many posts (frankly on CL period) are of ill intent.

But I also don't know how many of them are legit and/or if they're just someone who pissed off Señor Savior at some point. No substantive information is given. Only sometimes do they include a copy of the original post.

What I do know is that I've rarely - if ever - seen one of these spam posts. Further more, said spammers only seem to post once a day. These "anti-spammers" post SEVERAL times.

SRS?!? Who's the #&@*$ing spammer now? I know we're musicians but we still have brains! #&@*$ING USE THEM!

So I spend more than half my cl time flagging their posts instead of reviewing actual posts I could be responding to. X( Fortunately I'm not the only one sick of this bullsh*t. Around half the time enough people have flagged posts to have them removed.

Still... Argh.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

[ BtC ] "I Want Someone" (by Dave Montana)

I absolutely fell in love with "I Want Someone" the first time I heard it. There's something in Dave's voice on the chorus that is utterly adorable. It's catchy. It's plaintive without being whiny. And every time I'm listening I can't help but sing along while wanting to SnuggleCrush™ Dave to bits.

I always feel a little awkward when covering a friend's tune. There's a part of my head saying, "how could you be so conceited as to think you could do this song any justice?" Another asks, "how do you think [super-awesome-friend-and-musician-in-question] feels about having their song co-opted and altered??!?!"

Oh, I know that some musicians actually enjoy having their stuff covered - they understand and see the flattery. But I still feel a little paranoid. Perhaps it's because I'm such a perfectionist/control-freak when I write my own stuff. Hrmmm...

I met Dave - then known as Dave Montana and now as Storybox - back in 2004. We were both performing in a show for the Seattle Bear's "Spring Thaw" and it was one of the tunes on his set. And it was just absolute love at first ... listen?

I first threatened to cover it with a former band - the bootLICKERS. John (the lead singer) had a similar quality to his voice. I think we actually did manage to perform it once. But then the John sorta disappeared and... well, the band folded.

Full disclosure: I don't feel like my voice quite suits the song. I like what I've done with my take on it. But I feel like it loses the sorta genuine and innocent quality of Dave's and almost becomes angry. His voice is higher and lighter, mine lower and throatier. Hrmmm. You're welcome to disagree, however! :D

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The inconsistency of inconsistence...

It's rare that I drink a six pack in a day. Very rare.

I took the last dose of Prednisone Wednesday. My hearing, however, had made no improvement. In fact, when I woke up Friday, the hum in my ear was so loud I'm surprised no one else could hear it.


A friggin' factory cacophony in my ear. It was nigh unbearable.

But it was Friday! It was the first day of a camping outing with a bunch of friends and strangers. And it was my responsibility to handle check-in throughout most of the day.

A couple of us went back in to town before noon for one last round of supplies. As we scuttled around the grocery store I decided to grab a six pack of Shiner's Wild Hare (an IPA). I wasn't sure if it was a good idea. But, at the same time, I think a pessimistic part of me had sorta given up. Tossed in the proverbial towel. Why not have a little bit of decent drink, eh?

I never got _drunk_, mind you. Frankly I didn't even really get buzzed much. I had one beer with a slightly late lunch, one beer with dinner, one beer in between those two, and the others between 8 and midnight or so after I was done with my responsibilities.

I did reach that nice relaxed state, however. You know - where the weight of your worries is massaged a bit from your neck and back.

So to wake up the next morning with a slight hangover? Robbed, I tell you. ROBBED!!!

But the first thing I noticed after the small stab of pain? My hearing had returned to normal.

Wait... What? Yes. Normal.

I'm happy, mind you! It's quite relaxing to have my hearing at least temporarily back to a normative state. But... it makes no sense. I thought drinking was to be proscribed - as a possible aggravator for the Ménière's.

There is a chill chasing me, of course. I know that this may very well be temporary - that the symptoms could return even as early as tomorrow. (That it's been four days *is* significant, however!) The only thing I can do moving forward is determine what triggers there are and which ones I can reduce.

And hope it doesn't cause too much mayhem in the meantime.

Wheee! The adventure continues!

Friday, September 28, 2012

And the challenges begin...

So, as of two days ago, I've been living in Austin for two months! It's a huge change of pace and culture, of course. I love this, I like that, I don't care for this, I... I'll probably grow to hate that... But it's a new town, a new life, and I'm looking forward to a bunch of new challenges.

Unfortunately only about a week after I landed, this started happening again:

With the magic of insurance I got in to an ENT today. Ménière's disease is what he's going with for now. I'd be lying if I said I was surprised. During my last bout, a friend introduced me to the disease[*] and suggested this could be what I was experiencing.

I think, in retrospect, I clearly entered the "denial" stage of grieving...

The first time? It was terrifying and new. I didn't know what was going on. I didn't know why. I didn't know how long it would last. But then it was gone and, while I was shaken, it was in the past.

The second time? Not as new and not as unknown. Yes, it was a recurrence. But that could just be bad luck, right? Both ... outbreaks had revolved around a trip to my grandparents' place in CA. Maybe something environmental or allergies or... But then again it was gone.

Well now it's a third occurrence and much harder to ignore. I still think it *could* be something else. But... the reality of the situation is starting to firm up. The "but it could be something else" voice sounds more petulant than promising.

A little googling comforted me to see that Kristin Chenoweth suffers from Ménière's. It gives me hope that my musical career isn't completely in the bucket. Lord only knows my self confidence has been shaky. At the prospect of having random bouts of unable-to-hear-properly? I damn near fall apart.

I've got some prednisone now and I'll start taking that tomorrow. With luck my hearing will return to normal soon. And then it will be off to see what sort of changes and further challenges I'll have to adapt to.

In the meantime, it's National Drink Beer Day. So let me go out and celebrate. Could be my last one for a while!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Remnants and Resurrections

Hard drive crashes... In this age of the digital they're the fear that haunts us the most. I can't think of anyone who's managed through life without at least *one* drive going platters up to the bit-bucket in the sky.

In 2006 I suffered the worst I could ever imagine. Not only did my Mac's hard drive die but also my backup drive toasted itself not but two days later. Data-wise I had a fair amount of stuff backed up to CD. But it was the loss of the computer itself that bankrupted my soul.

I was living back home in CA with my parents. I had given up in NYC and returned crushed to live with them. Philadelphia and any number of things weren't even in my head yet. It was ... it was just that last straw.

I'll spare the reiteration of that story for some other time and just skip forward a bit. The pertinent detail is that a friend donated a laptop to me. This laptop was... possessed, however. Among a number of problems it had, it liked to spontaneously purge it's OS.

I got *VERY* used to reinstalling Windows over the next couple years.

My desk today, July 14th.

Eventually I took some time and resurrected my old Mac. In the end, all it really needed was a new hard drive. A hundred dollars later and I had it running again. It was at this point, however, that I really began to discover just what I *had* lost.

ProTools. I'd bought my Mbox in 2000 just as OS X was about to appear and revolutionize Apple for the first time. At some point after that, I got the upgrade from ProTools 5.x to 6.0. However, in a move completely unlike me, I LOST THE SERIAL NUMBER. I don't know how. Nor do I know when. But... I discovered it was gone.

On my unreliable Windows machine, I'd started using Sonar. And, since I was working at Sam Ash, I used my employee benefits and earned myself a free copy of Live. I decided to install *that* on my Mac. (I may have installed it on the PC first... but... irrelevant.)

I wasn't terribly active writing-wise at the time. I did, however, start to take part in the RPM challenge of '09.

I didn't finish. Just a few months earlier - December of '08 - the guy I had been seeing moved back to Austin. That ended what was really only my second relationship ever. The following weeks had been a bit of a roller coaster and, since his birthday was at the end of February, I needed to get some stuff out of my head and heart.

P.S. it's a horrible song. I'll share it but I'll save that for later.

Regardless, aside from one (questionable) song and some interesting beginnings, what I learned from the challenge was just how unusable my Mac had become. It was just too under-powered to really act as any sort of production environment. I'd still fire it up from time to time. But, frankly, it had little place in my life anymore except for sentimentality.

So when the hard drive started to die _AGAIN_...

Or... at least I thought it was dying. I think... I don't remember now.

What I do know is that yet another year later or so the PC laptop finally hit its end. This time it was *NOT* a hard drive failure, thankfully. Another friend gifted me another computer - a desktop this time.

I bought a 2.5" hard drive enclosure and transferred the laptop's data to the new desktop. I then formatted the 2.5" drive and popped it in to the Mac - placing the Mac's now-former harddrive in to the enclosure. Voila! New life again! This time I set up the Mac as a dual boot - Mac OS and Linux (Mint PPC). Figured I'd use it as a netbook of sorts.

Forward another year and a half to today. I decided that, since I'm cleaning and packing, I'd peek back at that drive. After some fumbling around with connections and startup drive conflicts, I realize: there's still the data from that RPM challenge!!

So here's what's been making this fun. The data on the now-external drive conflicts with the Mac OS side - I'm guessing it's the fact that it's still flagged as a start-up drive. So... I can only access it on the Linux side.


However, as it's an old Mac, all I have are USB 1.x ports. ONE. POINT. SOMETHING. USB. ughforeverslow... The PC (desktop) has USB 2 but won't read the drive since it's Mac formatted.


So... I have to copy the files on to the Linux partition. I then need to chown the data so I can access it. THEN I have to copy it over to the desktop.

And apparently I need to babysit the final transfer as some files are corrupted or... just not transferring politely.

WHEEEE! The things I do to myself. LOL.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Flashes and Flashbacks

"The lightning crashed too closely
From Austin to San Anton'
Maybe that's when the world blew up
And we made one of our own..."

A fireworks show on an oppressively muggy July night has turned into a different sort of light show. As I sit here in the dark of my room, listening to the rain and thunder, the flashes of lightning lite up my room like some absurd press conference.

It was February of 2007 and it was in my first month of caring for Karl - a dear friend fighting cancer. Going back to San Antonio from his house in Austin, we were caught in an insane rain storm. Every gust of rainfall battered the windshield like the inside of a car wash. The wipers were all but useless - dark blacks smear which did naught but create a ripple in the visual distortion of waterfall.

If he didn't need to be at the hospital the next morning for more treatment, we probably would have stayed overnight in Austin. The roads seemed just shy of being rivers - better traversed by boat or ark perhaps.

My memory of the conversation is fuzzy now. I think there was a joke about the lightning in the distance. Certainly SOMETHING tempted fate and, within a few seconds, FLASH/KERPOPAPOW! It hit less than a few hundred yards away. I could see burning debris flying from the impact.

How I managed to keep the car steady and NOT swerve ourselves off into some sort of tail over bumper nightmare... I do not know. Certainly we both screamed.

"Where I was finally working
And you were no longer sick
Where love was a breeze and cars never stall
And irony was never so thick..."

It's now June 30th, 2012 and only a couple weeks remain before I relocate from Philly to Austin. Tonight's storm seems a perfect match for the craziness of the past couple months. Work, health, and a handful of other woes have joined up with my moving plans and made life an... interesting challenge lately.

At the same time I realize I'm nowhere near as miserable as I once was while working for Sam Ash. Despite all the stress, my world is nowhere near so dark, so foul, and so hopeless.

Some of that is because of what I'm moving to. But some of that is also a change in my own temperament.

I've come to accept adversity better. I've come to accept most of the hard spots in life. They can help us grow. They can make us stronger. I've come to appreciate (perhaps in a rather ironic manner) the importance of the not-fun side of life.

I've been in some horribly rough places. Oh, some people go through much worse. I'm not going to compare my burdens with those of some around me. My daily commute now takes me past a methadone clinic. And I realize that some of these people have seen *much* worse.

But I have survived my own little dance with the devils. I have returned (at least somewhat close) to the surface after embracing that murky mud at the bottom of the sea. I am still alive and I'm moving forward and up. (I think. LOL)

"'Cuz I was down from Cali
And the life of a highway cone
You were the pet of the doctors and beds
A hundred miles away from home"

There are two songs I have on the table still. They're of or set in those dark times. One is about Karl and I, the other just about me and my own battling failure.

It's interesting to be so far removed from those moments now. They might as well be second-hand memories. I treasure them now for they are a part of me, who I am, and where I've been. But they're harder to access. Less immediate.

I'm hoping Austin will help bridge that in a way. I'm hoping that some of my inspiration will return. What was a brief sort of pit-stop in my life is going to be the next chapter. I think it will be good. It could be horrible. I'm learning how non-proficient I with my omniscience...

But a couple circles are coming round for me and, for a change, I'm looking forward to this! Even while I may be terrified at the same time.

Oh, life!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

[ BtS ] Ghosts of Roses

I'm primarily a bassist. No, really! I am.

Of all the instruments I play, I'm most at home on the bass. I should be. I've been playing since I was 12 - almost 24 years now. I'm just not as comfortable on piano or guitar much less anything else like flute or sax.

But writing on the bass isn't so easy... And sometimes I'm just as much a writer as anything else. (Well, except for that whole _finishing_ something...)

"Ghosts of Roses" is the other song inspired by The Ex. Unlike "Your Arms", however, this one is actually written *to* him (or at least at him). It still carries some of the same self-blaming weight, of course. But this time the narrative is between us.

There's disappointment at not being able to break through his wounds - as if his emotional scars and damages are somehow *my* responsibility. Yes, I still blamed myself at least in part for the breakup. At the same time I'm picking the two of us, our faults, and our failure apart.

Our whole affair was just so messy from beginning to end (especially the end) that... I just didn't know what to think. How was I supposed to reconcile our incompatibilities? How was I supposed to process my damaged heart and terminated dreams? How was I supposed to love someone and no longer be with them?

How was I supposed to move forward?

To make matters worse, along the path of our relationship, I found myself time and time again ignoring lessons I'd learned and advices I'd given. I sacrificed ideals and needs. The things I'd told both myself and others, "don't do ___" only to suddenly find myself doing just that...

There was constantly a part of my brain asking the rest of me what the FUCK I was doing and why the HELL was I allowing it to happen.

We had one vacation as a couple. Provincetown, MA, September 14th, 2001. Yeah, it was a strange time - the events of 9/11 were obviously *VERY* fresh in everyone's psyches. But we'd already made the reservations and everything a while before and... well, it seemed silly to not go through with our plans. Besides the running motto was, "don't let the terrorists win! Live normally."

Now sex was one of our more frequent fighting grounds. There were things I needed that, contrary to what he'd said when we met, he just couldn't... handle. Maybe it seems absurd. Maybe it doesn't. But the battle quickly became a path-more-traveled for us.

Anyhow, we'd had one of our sex arguments earlier. I'd been feeling *very* frisky but he was just not. It blew up into more than it should have because I can be like that.


So we're in bed. I am pissed off. And he starts grinding against me. I told him to stop: I was definitely no longer in the mood. He kept at it. I told him again to stop. He kept going. Eventually I figured I might as well get a little something - even if it's not what I really wanted. A few minutes later he's done.

"See how quickly you change your tune," he said, rolled over, and went to sleep.

At that moment I was *so* irate I could have injured him. It was a scene out of a cheesy, poorly written drama. And here I was in the reality of it - pissed off at him for being (once again) so manipulative and pissed off at me for having been (once again) manipulated.

Yes, The Ex: someone that I loved and yet couldn't fathom how to deal with sometimes. We were wonderfully destructive for each other.

"Ghosts of Roses" was written as a bass-highlighting piece. I was really in a point of writing where I wanted to spend time trying to use the bass as my primary accompaniment and see where that would lead me. [I have at least two other songs yet to be finished that feature the bass as the primary accompaniment. Someday...] In fact there's absolutely no guitar on the track at all!

Frankly I think it's also one of my most complex songs harmonically and compositionally. At one point - at 2:34 - I've cycled through so many chords that I wind up briefly on an E Major chord. I then turn around and land back perfectly in the home key of C minor.

Yeah. It makes me warm inside. :D

I don't remember what particularly prompted the verse bass riff. I've long had a fascination with tapped harmonics on the bass. Unlike the guitar, the octave difference brings them down into a more accompanimentally-viable register. It might have been luck. It might have been knowledge. But there's a wonderful Cm9 chord I spell as of the second verse.

The pre-chorus moves into Ab as well as 7/8! Again I utilize a bunch of easily accessible tapped harmonics to flesh out the chords adding 7ths and 9ths.

To end the song I really heard a sort of spoken-word thing going on. I really wanted to dip into a quasi Ani/beat poet kinda thing before departing with the title and final image of our now-sundered lives: the ghosts of roses.

I think there's a significant irony that the tune would turn into something with an almost old-school porn funk/elevator feel. It just seems appropriate.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Google Drive, Spring Cleaning, and... WTF?

I've been a user of Google Docs for quite a long time now. Well, by internet/technology standards that is.

I jumped on the bandwagon back in 2007 (half a decade ago!) around when it was launched. Overall my experience has been pretty good. But then I admit that I haven't really used it for anything extensive - mostly just as a place to store and edit my lyrics and writing ideas. Simple word processing, really, that I can access anywhere I have a computer and the internet.

So today when I saw that they were launching Google Drive (a Google version of DropBox more or less) I again hopped on the bandwagon. My immediate reactions are about the same: neither mind-as-blown nor highly-disappoint.

On the "meh" side of the line, I'm disappointed that my document files are nothing more than links or aliases to their Google Docs URL. I'm not sure why I would have expected something different. Certainly it would be nice to have offline access to these documents finally. But... meh.

On the "plus" side of the line, I find the interface - actual computer files and folders in the Windows OS - seems just a lot more ... right. The online interface, while similar in function, just seemed a little stodgy in reaction/interaction. I suppose it's because it's relying upon the browser to interpret the mouse and then render things properly. The lag was sometimes quite noticeable.

Suddenly it just felt MUCH easier to rummage through all my accumulated crap and, thus, I began some long overdue organization and cleaning. Yay!

During this process I ran across a file named, "Tommy Watkins". Finding myself clueless as to its contents, I opened it up to something of a surprise.

I remember Tommy Watkins back in middle school. He was one of those strange sorts. Lived all by himself in this squalid little shack of house down the street. Yard full of waist high weeds, shutters broken and dangling like the clothes on a discarded Barbie doll.

Nobody really knew much about him. We rarely ever saw him. I once dared Janney to go peak in his window but she totally chickened. Even Darren was too scared. Occasionally we'd happen to see him darting from his car into his front door as if it were raining acid or something in whatever alternate dimension he was living in.


Certainly we heard more about him than we saw. They say he had issues. Demons, actually. Heard voices 'n shit. Yeah, they said he had a lot of inner demons to battle. I guess so. I remember when the police found him they said he'd slashed open his own belly - all hari kari 'n stuff like.

I guess he thought that was how he'd get rid of 'em.

I honestly don't know where this came from. Is it something someone sent me? Is it something I ganked from somewhere? Is it something I wrote? I... I'm not sure.

I did a bit of Googling to no avail. Of course, if it is something a friend sent me, it's very likely that I won't be able to find anything. Nor do I remember knowing any Tommy Watkinses.

There is the possibility I did write it. Lord only knows I've been going through a bunch of these lyrics and stuff and finding myself often surprised at the lines I've written and then forgotten. It has a certain dark humor to it that is *very* me. The voice is not exactly mine. But then I do enjoy the challenge of changing my voice around from time to time.

Yet... if I *did* write it then what was it supposed to be? It almost seems like an introduction to something - that preface or prologue that starts off the novel. Was there supposed to be more? Is it just a sort of dark and twisted pun?

Hrmmm. The mystery...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Evolution of process

A couple weeks ago I installed Figure - Propellerhead's slightly Reason-esque iPhone app. At just a buck, I figured it was worth playing around with. Overall, I'm not terribly excited by it. You can't save anything. You only have a two-bar length for a loop. And you can't even change the time signature from 4/4 to... anything.

Still it's been a quaint thing to have sometimes while I'm commuting on the bus or just killing a little bit of time.

The other day I came up with something that tickled me enough. So Sunday I hooked my phone up to my DAW and recorded it into Sonar LE. From there I putzed around with it in both Live and Audacity.

I'm not sure whether or not I'm done with it yet. It's still begging for some things here and there - reversed noises, ambient/room sounds... something.

Any other musicians out there have recommendations for iPhone-based software? I'm not looking for super-elaborate stuff necessarily. It would just be nice to put together some basic ideas - perhaps just beats or melodies - and do things like SAVE them or transfer them to my desktop.

Synths would be fun, too. I need to bone up a bit on my understanding of general synth controls and programming. I know my basics and understand most of the general principles. But getting a better experiential understanding would be awesome. There's so many sounds I hear but have little luck producing via the software I currently have.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

[ BtS ] Your Arms

By all rights, the beginning to my chapter in Boston should have sounded like a dream coming true. I took a practically blind leap and landed in Boston. Within just a few months I secured a pretty sweet apartment (with an awesome roommate), a $40k job, and was living it up making new friends and carousing around the city almost every weekend.

I mean 40,000 smackers a year. Just for perspective: that's what my parents bought our first house for. It was also about the same income my father - a school teacher - was making at the time after 20 years of working. Holy shit!

But of course there was stuff lurking under the image.

My last semester at Oberlin was a rather rough one. I had one particularly disastrous encounter with a professor and... well, let's just say that I left Oberlin feeling like there was not just a knife but rather a giant sword in my back.

And given that I'd just taken six years to get a mere bachelor's degree, I wasn't ready for another two to four for a Masters. I needed some time off school. Plus I didn't really know what to do next to further my career - if I still had one.

I needed some time off: time off from studying, from practicing, from dedication, from isolating myself away for hours. I needed some time to live.

On the flip side I'd spent most of those six years desperately seeking my "True Love" only to finally realize that I needed to be happy with me first. So here I was in Boston as a free man happy and determined to make it on his own.

Then enter a guy who turned my world a bit upside down... He'd come in town periodically for work, we'd get together, and I just had an amazing time. Smart, sexy, adventurous... It was very nice.

But this isn't a chapter about him. (Don't worry. He'll come back in later chapters.) No, the idea of taking things further wasn't on either of our minds. Strange as it may sound I was clearly too intent on being single to even begin to realize how much of an impact he had on my mind and heart.

It wasn't for another several months until some encounters at a gay weekend caused me to start re-thinking things. No, I wasn't about to become some neurotic, love-desperate foolish thing. I just started to re-evaluate my stance on me and dating.

Was I being a fool for not taking opportunities? Were there not some advantages and benefits to dating? Was I being short-sighted in my determinedly-singleness somehow?

So enter a man who would later become The Ex. (Capitals necessary!)

It was a quiet midwinter night. (And yes, this was Boston - a VERY COLD midwinter night.) I went out to my bar of choice - the Ramrod - to partake in a pool tournament and meet people and relax in a different setting. Less cruise/sex, more camaraderie and competition.

I was wearing a leather biker jacket which I'd recently acquired (in a Philadelphia bar that years later would become my home bar: the Bike Stop). I remember because this burly guy with a shaved head, a goatee, some scars, and wicked-thick Boston accent took it as an invitation to chat - asking me if I rode.

I didn't. In fact I didn't even have a driver's license at the time. But it was a convenient starter for conversation.

There was clearly some sort of curiosity/sexual tension going on. And, at the end of the night, he offered to drive me home. I accepted but with some hesitation.

He was aggressive - not in a menacing way, but in a domineering sort of way that both intrigued me and yet concerned me. The conversation turned from pool and various other things to a decidedly sexual direction. The snow had begun to fall in thick flakes and I remember a part of my brain thinking, as he took me on this long-and-unknown-to-me route back to my apartment in Somerville, that for all I knew he was about to stop the car in some back alley and rape me.

Yes, this is the beginning of a good story, isn't it.

Nothing happened, however. We exchanged numbers and he dropped me off safe and sound with but a mere hint of sexual "indiscretion". Something stuck with me, though, and a few days later I found myself dialing his number and suggesting some further time together.

The next eighteen months became... well, an interesting lesson on the roller-coaster of interpersonal drama. He could be selfish, self-centered, and manipulative. I was neurotic and a mess. A perfect match.

Oh he wasn't all evil; he had some good qualities. He also had this one hint of humanity that just shot straight to the achilles heel of my martyr complex.

At fourteen years my senior, he'd had a partner for fourteen years who died very suddenly from an aneurysm. They'd been together since they were both about 21 - each other's first loves. They'd had just about everything a gay couple could have - a house, pets (kids). Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, one half was gone: no goodbyes, no "I love you"s, nothing.

This happened a few years before we met. He'd already been through a few short-lived and self-destructed relationship in that interim.

John, The Ex's lover, was an interesting presence. Only a couple times did I ever feel like my Ex really directly compared us (or forgot that I was NOT John). He was that far along in the grieving process. But John's ghost - his memories - did linger: a lot of projects had yet to be completed, some belongings still remained, etc.

I was respectful of this, of course. It's not like I could tell someone I was growing to care about to just rip a third of his life from his memories. In my own way I actually cherished some of it, too. At one point, when I realized that I did truly love the man, I made a silent promise to John that I'd watch over him and take care of him in John's absence.

I'm not sure why we lasted as long as we did. We certainly weren't great for each other. I think my naivety and stubbornness combined with some other random life events (we spent a good chunk of that time rebuilding his kitchen) delayed the inevitable. Regardless I remember taking a vacation without him - our relationship problems were just getting too much. When I got back, he came over and put an end to things.

"It's just not the same," he said, in tears.

Now at this point in my life a lot of things were still new to me. I really hadn't suffered death much - it just wasn't that immediate for me. Aside from a few acquaintances passing away, I'd only lost my grandmother on my dad's side - with whom I was never terribly close - some years prior. (My grandfather, her husband, actually died a couple months after this break-up.)

But now so many things started to become more tangible. Pain, loss, heartbreak... It was insanely overwhelming. The gruesome image of a loved one much decayed entered my brain and I realized the utter horror of that reality.

The common saying is that, "pain shared is pain halved." But in this case pain touched pain and it exploded inside my head. For all that mattered it might as well have been my own love who was now rotting in the ground...

At one point I demanded that my Ex (who was now officially an ex) take me to his lover's grave. He'd been interred with in my Ex's family's plot. I think I had strange notion that it would somehow ... I don't know... confront my Ex about his issues? Whatever it was, I don't think it did what I wanted it to do.

But the deeper reason, for myself that is, was that I needed to admit to John that I'd failed - I'd failed my promise to be the person that could take care of my Ex and spend the rest of our lives together.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

[ BtS ] Leo's Lullabye

Summer of 1999
While a bastion of liberal wonderness during the school year, Oberlin, OH during the summer is... well not the opposite. But the town and residents are just a definite shade more conservative. And, given that Oberlin is a good 30 minutes in the middle of nowhere in a state in the middle of nowhere...

Summers are different.

Early in that summer an interesting character popped in to my life. He found me on some (probably long-defunct) internet site. His pictures: him decked out in goth-style wardrobe; one crouching down like some sort of lion about to pounce... I was intrigued.

His name was Mike or Myke. He was a "townie". And I was now the only other gay person (in a reasonable distance at least) that he knew.

We started to date - taking it slowly. I was, after all, soon to start my last year at Oberlin.

I remember the first time we kissed. He had driven me back to my apartment and we were in the car with Sixpence None the Richer's, "Kiss Me" guiding us on the radio. It was something out of a teenage romance movie, I suppose. Silly perhaps. But it was our moment.

Over the next few weeks I grew to care about him quite a bit. We're both of a sort - feckless dreamers lost in our own heads. We hung out rather frequently either clubbing or just hanging out. He sometimes jokingly called me "Uncle Tosh" in regards to his nephew or friend's child. (Or maybe it was just a future/potential nephew.)

But our relationship was rocky. My state of soon-to-be-leaving and his turbulent emotional swings brought me to end the romantic part of our time together. I admitted to him I just couldn't handle it. At a length of two months (at most) it was my longest relationship to date.

We kept hanging out afterwards, though. One rather traumatizing incident later that winter, however, and... I started to back out of the friendship bit by bit. By the early spring of 2000, I was carousing Cleveland with an entirely different group of compatriots.

In May of 2000 I graduated.

I don't remember if I said goodbye to him or not. I don't even remember if I saw him before I departed for the next chapter of my life in Boston.

Winter 2004
I was now living in NYC and had been there for about a year. Myke and I had regained a little bit of contact but not a whole lot. I got a message from him that he was in town. We tried to catch up with each other but Fate was not playing along and he left without us meeting.

It was shortly thereafter that he told me the news. He'd been dating someone, they broke up, and somewhere along the line he discovered his boyfriend wasn't up front about his HIV status.

Myke was now HIV+, too.

Fall 2006
My life in NYC - 3 years - was a failure and I had returned, tail between my legs, to live with my parents where I'd grown up in Middle o' Nowhere, CA. Contact with most of my NYC and Boston crew was lost as I couldn't bear to face the pain and humiliation. Hope seemed scant. The future: bleak.

The neighbor across the street had a band in need of a bassist. I joined. It's my one lifeline out of my depression, despair, and desolation.

One night, during rehearsal, the notion of a bass riff spilled from my hands. It's simple-ish but tasty little thing - incorporating a bunch of tapped harmonics. After rehearsal I rushed to my room and proceeded to put ideas to computer.

I decided that the entirety of the work (the accompaniment at least) will be nothing but layers of bass playing. A few days later, the structure and textures of a song are in place.

Some time between Fall 2006 and 2007
"I'm gonna die. Will you write a song for me?" Myke asks.

"You're just HIV+ - not dying," I reminded him.

"I know, but..."

The conversation is a tad morbid perhaps but just sorta par for the course for us. I remind him that when people ask me to write songs for them, they usually don't turn out so much in the subject's favor. He doesn't care and wants a song for himself. I acquiesce.

Fall 2007
Earlier that year I finally managed to get my pull myself together enough to get my butt out of CA. I'd spent two months - February and March - betwixt San Antonio and Austin helping a friend through bone marrow transplant. This provided me the seed money to get out of California and, as of that May, I've started another chapter now in the Philadelphia area.

After struggling with the lyrics for months, Myke's song "Leo's Lullabye" is finished. It's a bittersweet tune - trying to capture the essence of both of us being naive dreamers with worlds in our heads and stars in our eyes and ending with the our realities splitting us apart.

I send him a link. He sends me thanks.

Over the next couple of years we'd chat every so often - pretty randomly. On several occasions Myke mentioned the desire to leave Oberlin and start a new life, a new chapter for himself. The reasons vary: job dissatisfaction, lover dissatisfaction, health care dissatisfaction, etc. I invite him to try out Philly and he sounds interested but he never visits.

A couple of times I mention the desire to return to Cleveland and Oberlin to visit and/or gig. But I'm still unbelievably broke and nothing ever pans out.

June 16th, 2010
Myke's body is found in the front yard of the home he shared with his father. It's first suspected that their dogs attacked him and/or that he died of a heart attack out of fright. An investigation is started but I never hear the results.

There's a memorial for him but I can't attend, of course. I'm too poor and can't afford to lose work nor get myself to Ohio.

It's now been eleven years since we met and at least ten since I've seen him last - since I'd seen him period. We never reconnected in person. I never got to see the person he grew into. And by all rights he grew into someone spectacular who found his place and touched many lives.

Life is short. Life is unexpected. Love who you love and make sure they know.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

[ BtS ] The "tattered hat" Years

[ I'm gonna hit the rest of the tattered hat tunes in one post. They were all written so long ago that it's hard to remember enough details to really devote single posts for each. ]

My foray into a sort of bluegrass feel. I had a patter-esque song in mind - something rather dark and cynical. I wrote most of it pretty quickly and even to this day I'm pretty happy with it. I don't play it much 'cuz it's effing FAST. Whew. Jon and I performed this on my senior recital at about twice the tempo of the recording. DA-A-A-AMN.

The chorus was originally supposed to be "Hallelujah, God is dead again!" - commenting more about religion and how it starts to eat itself. In particular, of course, Christianity - how God becomes dogma and cant, then lost... Jon and Chris, however, didn't feel comfortable with them. Although I think the lyric packed a bit more punch, I decided it wasn't enough of a point to fight about so I switched it up.

The guitar solo was a fun little section to write. I really wanted the chord pattern to go somewhere else and decided that B-7b5 would be PERFECT. Construction-wise I'm actually rather pleased with myself.

The best part of the whole is story is that we must have done a bazillion takes on that guitar solo. One after another, Jon was just NEVER happy with any of them. One day, as Chuck and James were loading stuff in to the studio, we decided to let him warm up on the solo. Luckily we hit record! Chris and I looked at each other and smiled, "that's it!"

Hold the Light
There's a bit of irony for me that people have heard this song and compared my voice to Eddie Vedder. For the longest time I COULD. NOT. STAND. Vedder's voice. So... it wasn't much of a compliment to get.

Black and Blue
It would little surprise to mention I developed a strong love for Alice in Chains while at college. I LOVE Layne's voice and especially all the vocals he and Jerry Cantrell would layer in their songs. I think I bought all of their albums in one sweep and had them on repeat for a good year.

At this point I'd started to really try and break out of my need for storytelling lyrics. I decided to follow the grunge/alt-rock sort of train (Nirvana, as a good example) and work on something a bit more stream of consciousness. I'm not really sure if the song has any particular meaning other than to string a bunch of cliches 'n stuff together.

Well that and I wanted an excuse for the background vocals to sing, "I still self abuse". LOL

I also remember having a very strong desire to have this song end the album with a mere drum beat fading away. I still like the effect.

Heaven On Time
When I started to write Heaven On Time, I really wanted something ethereal and soupy. And for the verses I wanted everyone to pitch in their ideas and contributions.

Originally I don't think the chorus did that half-step transposition. But Chuck said he loved that kind of shit so... somewhere along the line I tossed that little nugget in. All of it followed by a progression going down in whole-steps. Wheee!

As with Black and Blue, Heaven On Time was intentionally written from a more stream-of-consciousness type approach, lyrically. There was, however, one theme that really popped up in my mind: HIV

I grew up in the early days of HIV - being in elementary school and junior high, finding Ryan White to be one of my role models. During college (when I finally had the chance to actually pursue non-platonic relationships) I really started to ask myself how I would handle dating someone who is HIV+. Would I be able to? Would I freak out?

I think, unlike the heterosexual and lesbian community, that can be a pronounced difference - that dating someone with HIV is a probability and not just a possibility.

There's a slight irony to the story that must a couple years later I would forswear dating almost entirely.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Year Ago Today(ish)

A year ago today - February 16, 2011 - my grandfather passed away after a bit of a drawn-out struggle with a head injury. The end snuck up as it always does. It caught him quicker than we expected but not so fast that we didn't see the pages about to turn.

No, this isn't a woeful and lamenting story about how life became an unyielding nightmare of chaos and drama afterward. There's no tales of betrayal, family feuds rekindled, no surprising debts uncovered. Fortunately it was all far from that - for me at least. In fact it was a turning point.

Death has an interesting way of acting as a catalyst sometimes. The loss of someone can bring perspective around: the shared grief, the memories, the pain, the priorities... We look at what is now gone and what we have yet to lose.

And sometimes we see just how much we have left to grab on to.

Up till then there was a LOT weighing in on my soul. The years I lived in New York City still clung to me - fighting for survival, for control of my life. My failures - returning to live with my parents in CA - convinced me I had none, that I didn't deserve them.

Four years or so later and I still carried those demons, skeletons, and wounds around. Further struggles served little but to reinforce this destructive self-hatred: years at a hellish retail job, inadequate income, a lack of health insurance... I'd survived but not really prospered.

And yet life *had* gotten better. In May of 2010 in a rather ironic twist of events I'd finally escaped the dead end world of retail and started a second part time job at the school doing reception work and accounts handling. It's not glorious work (still no benefits for example) but it turns out I have something of a head for it. And I could move upwards.

However my eyes were still backwards. (They *still* are sometimes...) I was only looking at what I once had and how I felt like I'll never have any of it again.

Failure stood taller than future. And cast its shadows out to engulf hope in a cold mouth of futility.

But then there I was: standing in front of the saplings and seedlings my grandfather had been planting up to his dying day. In years they could be glorious and he'd spent so much time on things he'd never get to witness.

So why was I still living like I was dead?

The past year I've re-opened myself to life. I still have my moments of wallowing in the the muck, of course. But my heart is open to new things or things I thought I wasn't good enough for. I'm once again entertaining the idea of enjoying life. I am seeing more things to life *for*.

The scars I bear are still there. There are days when the wounds still ache. But, at the same time, they're my wounds. They're those wonderful little things that make my life *mine* in all the crazy detail they weave. And what's more? All the future wounds and triumphs will be, too! (Though I admit I'm not necessarily looking forward to some of that painful process.... Ah well.)

I'm somewhat disappointed that it took his death to wake up. But... I woke up. That's saying something.