Thursday, December 15, 2011

[ BtS ] Stolen (1.375)

It wasn't till my fourth year (out of six) at Oberlin that I finally started to put my own concept album project - Project::in•fin•i•ty - together.

I forget exactly how we came together. I'd already known Christopher (keyboards/production) a little and he was my RC. Charles (drums) lived at the end of the hallway and somehow he knew Jonathan (guitars). Something something something [cue flashback video montage] and I recruited them for my winter term project.

One of the songs from this unholy union was "Stolen (1.375)" - a quirky and fun tune in a lilting 11/8 (3 + 3 + 3 + 2) and 8/8 (3 + 3 + 2)[*]. The two riffs were something Jonathan had already developed and, as soon as he played the 11/8 one, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue.

By now I'd had three years of Oberlin under my belt and I was quite content with myself for being queer. There were still lingering issues, though.

First off: being queer is one thing. Being openly so - quite a different ball game. I was desperately trying to reconcile my progressive, activist leaning and the desire for a "normal" life. Could I find and live your Hollywoodified, picturesque house/picket-fence/kids fantasy(*cough*lie*cough*) when my mere existence was still illegal in some states?

Did I want to?

The second part? My own horrible attempts at meeting guys and dating.

I've always been on the shy and timid side. My taste always leaned towards the emotionally unavailable and usually straight guys. Approaching a guy... was something to be avoided at all costs - even the cost of my happiness.

Yes, it was many a cold and miserable night at Oberlin. [cue: lonely, sniveling shot in bed]

Ultimately the project never quite went where I conceived it. But the process and result were both still fun and worthwhile regardless. As tattered hat we recorded a total of six or seven songs - all of which I'm rather proud of. Though we only performed once as a duo on my senior recital.

  • We wound up recording this song twice in our year and a half together. The second time around, in the process of recording, we realized the verses were 11 bars of 11/8, a twelfth bar of 12/8 and the chorus was 8 bars of 8/8. FREAKY!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

[ BtS ] "If You Want Me To (I would run to you)"

My first year at Oberlin brought me a new experience: the opportunity to date _guys_ - the gender I am attracted to.

For the young ones today in a seemingly more progressive and queer-friendly field, perhaps it isn't a big deal. But for me - someone who grew up in this conservative and strange "normal" reality of the 80's and 90's in a backwater town of California... It was a second adolescence.

I wasn't completely in the closet in high school but neither was I exactly out. There were a couple guys - straight, of course - whom I'd developed strong feelings for but none of it was requited in the least. There were no other queer folk present or visible. The internet for the most part was still a few years away.

It was a bit of a lonely existence. But loneliness is a part of me.

Well here I was at a very liberal college[1] and dating was now more than possible[2]. All of a sudden feelings, urges, and complexities I hadn't ever had to deal with became very much a real roadblock to my personal life. Sex, intimacy, flirtation, pain, rejection... in a blink they all switched from something theoretical and abstract to a highly tangible and terrifying reality.

Most of my dating life at Oberlin can be summed up as: dismal. Only one song have I ever written pertaining to love during that time and that song wasn't till years later. But more on that later.

David was the first guy I *ever* dated. And... being me, it was both short and emotionally intense. For me.

He was kinda shy, awkward, and dorky - studying bio-chem if I recall properly. We were both outsiders of our own. Totally drew me in.

I think we dated for all of a week - around fall break. I certainly remember him coming back from it and calling it off. Just seven days or so. We never even had sex! (I don't remember if we even kissed...)

But of course in the intensity of my hot house-esque brain something went... further. I remember one "vision" or daydream I had - this image of us reuniting at some point in the future, he'd contracted HIV, and I was devastated.

The emotional response I had to that was pretty intense. The following break-up was also kind of intense. It was also my first, after all.

It wasn't a huge fight or some silly drama. No, that's not the way I tend to function. My feelings for him were fairly genuine. Instead of anything else, what would unfold to be my manner of coping, I turned inward. I withdrew a bit trying to figure out how to handle this new and rather unpleasant predicament with my emotions - how do I process and manage this new searing sadness?

Well by writing a song, of course!

I actually remember quite a bit from the time. I remember listening to The Magnetic Fields' "Charm of the Highway Strip" on repeat ad nauseum[3]. I remember the bitingly cold winter air turning to snow - another first. I remember a brief rebound-esque fling with another David...

But the song follows the hypothetical narrative of a purely mental sequence that never left my brain. It haunted me for some time. At some point I made the mistake of telling David about it. He assured me he wouldn't be catching HIV.

We tried to stay friends but not too long thereafter we lost touch. I don't remember much of him my sophomore year if at all. He graduated a year early and I two late. I suppose there would be some irony if we were to reunite and any of this were to transpire.

As a note, along with Diamond Rise and Half Moon Bay, this demo wasn't recorded for many years. It wasn't until eleven years later in 2006 or so - when I was in a VERY different point in my life - did this song ever get past my own ears.

  1. There are two particular points of amusement for me on this.
    1. I didn't choose Oberlin for the political landscape - I was quite unaware of it, in fact. I chose it for the ranking of the composition department
    2. Though I proudly thought of myself as liberal growing up, my arrival and exploration of politics brought me to a bewildering and embarrassing realization that I was still rather conservative.
  2. Though not necessarily probable! LOL
  3. It's still my go-to album for times of romantic crises and heartache.

Monday, November 14, 2011

[ BtS ] Half Moon Bay

It wasn't the first time I fell in love but it was definitely the quickest.

It was the summer of '93 and I had just turned 17 a few months before. I was hundreds - which at that age seem like thousands if not MILLIONS - of miles away from home attending the Berklee in L.A. program. Surrounded by musicians - mostly guitarists - my age from all areas of the west coast, it was a week of parentally-free late-adolescent bliss.

I don't remember exactly how I met Michael. I do remember that when he mentioned he was from Fresno[1] we had an instant bond. Nor do I remember him terribly well physically. He was a year or two my senior, slightly shorter than me, stocky, shaggy haired, and adorned with a goatee.

What lingers in my heart more is his personality. He had this wonderfully relaxed-yet-engaging, somewhat hippy-ish openness to his spirituality. Life was something to be experienced. And all experiences were meaningful in the long-run - especially deep, profound experiences.

Well Diamond Rise was more-or-less finished and foremost in my mind. In my freshly-out-to-myself, not-quite-sure-how-this-attraction-thing-works, and not-quite-yet-congizant-of-my-motivations innocence I asked him if he'd help me flesh out the guitar solo section. I was years away from having any multi-track recording capabilities so to have someone else play guitar and accompany me in this manner was a first.

He kindly agreed and we scuttled off to the practice rooms and got to work. I showed him the basic chord progression - C#m A C#m A C#m B A. I had a rather specific rhythm guitar part in mind but, for the sake of expediency, I may have not bothered with that. What happened then is ... an artistic moment caught in the amber of my mind.

Michael's style was a complete contrast from mine. His background was much more jazz and bluesy rock. Mine - such a strictly classical thing it hurt. But when they came together? In my ear fireworks were exploding, worlds colliding, oceans and cities moving.

I was lost in it. This was me diving head first, carrying a one-ton weight into the celestial waters of musical love.

The week - which somehow seemed closer to a year - came to an end of course. As I rode back to the central valley with my parents, I realized how crushed I was to be leaving it and Michael behind. And the clues hit me in the head.

I don't remember if I'd gotten Michael's number from him[2]. There's a footnote in my brain that says I looked him up using 411 or whatever system existed in those days. I do remember regaining contact with him and even getting to go to one of his gigs.

I also remember one phone call with him. He of course was in love with someone else - a young lady he'd met at Berklee in L.A. But over the course of this conversation he told me that he was moving up to Half Moon Bay, CA.

Half Moon Bay. I was in a highly romantic space - a nerd who spent much of his time lost in space and dreaming. The name itself conjured up some magical and enchanting realm that turned my mythical Diamond Rise to rhinestone.

Roughly two years later I'd perform it for the first time with my first band - Fen - at Oberlin. And finally, another six or seven years after that, I'd finally sit down to construct another beast - my "signature tune". What was once a fairly simple song would stretch to a 7+ minute spectacle with layers and layers of orchestration - culminating in a sort of sonic tsunami.

I have yet to ever visit Half Moon Bay, CA.

  1. Fresno is a mere 40 minutes north from my hometown of Visalia and a completely different world than the coast of CA which is where a majority of the attendees were from.
  2. Hard as it may be to believe, this was essentially pre-internet. BBSes existed but e-mail was still a couple years away from being even close to a household thing.

Monday, October 31, 2011

[ BtS ] Diamond Rise

I was about 16 when I wrote Diamond Rise and it’s the earliest song I still make any claim too.

It was 1992-ish give or take a few months. Silent Lucidity had inspired me to add guitar to what would soon become an ever growing list of instruments I play. I’d spent the past couple years both kinda dating a young lady and, at the same time, going through the rough process of coming out to myself and all that entails.

I remember a lot of the pain that caused both of us. In all fairness I told her before we began our month of official dating. Then year or two of unofficial dating/hanging out was an interesting symphony in … pain and confusion. I liked her, cared about her, and clearly wanted to be close to her. She wanted the closeness in a different way, however, than I was realizing I could offer.

I was tired of it all - the pain in my eyes and the pain in hers. I won’t even more than mention the brief time when I was in love with her best friend, he with her, and she with me. There was no romance in any of it. Just anguish mixed with awkward camaraderie.

I don’t think I ever read either of them the lyrics. I don’t think I even played it outside writing it by myself. And I’m not sure who the song was really written to - me or her. But there it was: the desire to be somewhere far from pain, to live in this mythical and magical world where everything was beauty and peace...

12 years later I’m living in Brooklyn, NY and I suddenly have the means for recording my music. Armed with ProTools and Reason I set about something of a mammoth task - trying to reconstruct a song I'd written over a decade prior using only a bare minimum of actual live instruments (guitar, bass, and vocals). The irony came circle - that I had gone to college to study composition to orchestrate rock songs only to end with a degree in performance of classical music. Now here I was putting Diamond Rise together at long last.

Overall I kept most of the writing I’d done back then[*]. What was once more electric did become more acoustic. Some of the lyrics got revised - still on the naive side but a little more mature. But the structure, the chord progressions and most of the guitar riffs remained - even some bits of the orchestration! (Yeah, I was already throwing in random key changes at that age! LOL)

I have yet to ever perform Diamond Rise.

  • Okay. Writer's geek moment. My favorite spot is that lone G# in the solo around 2'50". Something about it just has that extra kick of passion and always catches my ear. *heee* Yes, the whole song AND THAT.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Adventures in Buskingsitting

Fellow guitarists take note: I learned today that (in the case of an emergency), if you pop your B string, you can move your high E string over and tune down to a B. Fairly effective!

James and I have done a number of gigs with an organization here in Philly - the Community Cultural Exchange. Their recent engagement is to bring back live music and buskers on South Street which is pretty cool. Tonight he and I took our turn on the famous Village-esque street of Philadelphia.

We plopped ourselves down at 6th and South - across from a fire department (where a former student of mine works or used to work) - and got ourselves set up. After a couple moments of discussion we got to work.

Wouldn't you know it? The middle of the FIRST verse of our SECOND song - TWANG! I felt the B string go. Fortunately I know the area moderately well. So after I muddled through the rest of the song, I told James what happened and then darted off towards Bluebond Guitars at 4th and South.

Rounded the corner to see what I was most afraid of - the metal gate was down indicating they were clearly closed. Turned around and huffed my way back to the pawn shop at 8th and South. Same damned gates.


At this point I'd run the options I knew of. I ducked inside a used CD/record store figuring if they didn't sell strings then maybe they knew another alternative. The clerk was friendly but only knew of a place west of Broad street (9 blocks too many!) and thought he'd seen one on 4th St south of South[1].

At this point I figured too much more delay was just silly. Went back to our spot[2], detuned the string, and swapped the pegs it was on. Tuned it back up to a B and, after a couple seconds of strings setting, started the set back up.

It wasn't the best tone, no. And the lack of an upper E string threw some of my chords a little wonky if not outright confused me for a second. (D major or minor chord? How do I... Oh yeah.) But it was serviceable - certainly much better than just trying to play without the B string. That gap is just... completely confuddling.

And the bottom line is that we still did pretty well. The tips could have been more generous, of course. But we enjoyed ourselves and the weather was almost perfect for busking. Maybe just a *tad* cold (for me at least) but not quite so cold that our muscles, joints, and vocal cords were affected.

  1. I only remembered what place he was talking about LONG after the busking was over. But that place is open only randomly. I suppose I could have checked but...
  2. James and I did try and contact a couple other people in hopes they might have or have access to a spare but that garnered no results.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Past Revisited

Oops. It's been almost a year since I updated things here. Life has actually been pretty good - it's a shame some of the better parts haven't gotten mentioned - at least yet.

Time. In time I'll recap the past few months and point forward for a change.

In the meantime, during my evening commute to work, as the specter of my face transgressed the shadowy substance of streets, I found myself reflecting upon a very specific moment in my life.

It's a slice of that homeless stretch that I (kinda ironically) mentioned in my previous post. I had taken a trip to Boston to visit a friend and to get away from my predicament. On the ride back to NYC, I found myself poring over my thoughts and spilling them into my laptop.

It's not a terribly happy post, mind you. In fact it's rather melancholy. Later I even deleted the blog that this was on in a much worse bout of depression. But it's such a quintessential piece of thread in my own tapestry...

Missives in Motion... (Or Rambling on the Road?) (2005-01-03 15:00)

(Ed: Wrote this last night on the bus ’home’ and, while I’ve done at least one round of spellchecking ’n stuff, it’s long and there are other things I should be wasting my time on. So fellow nitpickers, you’ve been warned. *heh*)

It’s shortly past 2:45 am and the streets and buildings of Boston are passing behind me - the Citgo sign, Jillians, Microcenter. The Charles is on my left and the dark waters capture and release the late night reflections of the city lights.

First stop Providence. Then Foxwoods. Then another stop then another... Final destination: New York City.

Small patches of snow remain like dust in a poorly swept room.

The streets and houses seem to shift slowly though perceptibly. Gone are most of the taller buildings and residential units - houses, double deckers, brownstones, those three story things, churches, parks, auto shops... all signs that my 3 years are once again sliding back to the far east coast of my consciousness.

At one point I could probably have mentioned which cities I was passing through as my ex and I took route 90 back to his place.

No longer.

The overpasses and breakdown lanes look just the same as they do in New York - at least by moonlight. It’s funny how similar things seem at night...

Memories lurk just beneath the surface of my consciousness like pasta as it boils - each briefly snagging a tiny piece of my thought processes and throwing almost random imagery into my mental eye. But I decide not to dwell on them.

We reach the Mass Turnpike and pass through in a matter of moments.

A matter of moments...

I’m not on this bus to get to NYC fast. Quite the opposite. Before long I hope to sleep - a bed on the back roads of the USA, I guess. Well, maybe not the back roads but...

For a night I’m not worried about lodging - about becoming the guest who never left. My body is, in its own way, in tandem with my mind - drifting the vague stretches of existence. I find that, in the midst of my housing and domestic crisis that I do feel strangely at home.

Images of Boston and NYC blur together and somehow they become indiscrete places. New York melts into Boston as Boston slides from the urban womb of New York City.


Yes, it’s lonely. But I’ve been contemplating the loneliness my life exists in all night. It’s not the weepy, teary-eyed, I’ll-never-find-a-date-and-die-a-horrible-old-harridan kind of loneliness. Rather, it’s the singularity and disconnected from everyone yet connected to everyone kind of loneliness.

Yes, instead it’s the type of loneliness where I belong to no one by choice and by design. Yet, my heart seems to wander to everyone. My friends in both New York and Boston know of my love for them and they are part of my amorphous and wonderfully dysfunctional family. And, as I ponder the open sea of possibilities I can feel my heart strings cast out on the lines of the world wide web - reaching to touch faces and hands in other parts of the country.

There’s friends and lovers in Austin, Rochester, Toronto, Hawaii, San Francisco, Seattle, Kansas, Ireland, Manitoba...

Well, maybe not Manitoba. I’m not sure these days.

But with the dawn of the ’new year’ freshly behind me the sense of ’fresh starts’ and ’recaps’ seems horribly artificial. The road stretches on and on and as houses finally begin to give way to trees and shrubs, and no distinct point of departure seems to exist. Rather I was about there 10 minutes ago and back there at least four Dunkin Donuts and one ChiChi’s ago...

Fox 25 bursts out from the blackness in a strange and alien sort of colored bubble ice cream cone with pastel colored scoops and a somehow decrepit atmosphere. Orange sorbet stares at me from the number of street signs that flash back the buses headlights - reminding me of the temperamental and transitional nature of my thoughts and existence.

Yes, there was a time when I thought that love was where it’s at. I gave my heart to someone that I thought was doing the country a wonderful service - containing some of MA’s most despicable citizens. I gave my heart to someone who had seen 15 years disappear in a moment, in the span of one heartbeat to the deafening silence of forever.

So I turn and watch as a few non-descript factory or some sort of vaguely warehouse-ish constructs pass by the window.

It all seems to connect, though. My pain to his. Or perhaps it was his to mine. But as those threads were torn and those fantasies broken. As truth was revealed to me in bits and pieces of second hand-me-down information my life was already in change.

No longer do I believe in _one_. In fact, it had been a while since I did. it was like I had forgotten ’cuz I was so taken by playing with this new toy called ’partnership’ or ’domestication’ or ’relationship’ or a number of words and phrases that protected me or hid me from the reality of my lonely existence.

Yes, the toy was broken now. just as the streets grow dark and the lights fewer, it was time to put the pieces behind me and work past the points that most people would refer to as ’normal’ or ’productive’ or various other tokens that would seem to somehow attempt to capture what it is to be human or otherwise alive.

But me?

Well, the darkness begins to abate as it always will and another city or such group of dwellings and workings begins to form out of the darkness. This one we’re not stopping at. No, it’s another series of images destined for being overlayed with my reflection.

But me? No, there’s the darkness again - both on the road and, perhaps ironically, obscuring the metaphysical and philosophical and metaphorical roads of life that are in front of me.

What next? Where’s the next stop? Will it be a piss ’n shit stop here? Or will it be an eat and drop off there?

Well strangely, as I sit here and contemplate this contemplation of contemplating; as I reach my imaginary heart strings to the threads of my friends existences; as my numbing behind glides effortlessly above the pavement; as I reflect on the travels past and the travels ahead; as I think about where music - my essence and definition - may or may not take me, has and hasn’t taken me... I find myself holding an answer.


This. At 3:33 am, in near darkness of deserted highway, this concept of my life as a transient seems more palpable than ever. And, in this sort of feedback-loop, it unfolds... Like a half-cadence music propels my life from one spot to the next, from one verse to another, from one refrain to the bridge and back again... I love no one yet love everyone. I live nowhere yet live everywhere. The lines drawn in the sand are discarded by the indifferent waves of reality.

Another city folds into being like a cloud entered while flying only to dissipate shortly thereafter into another string of walls and lights then to lights then to strangely effervescent green signs that indicate the next interruption.

It’s approaching 3:45. Lights and buildings are more consistent now. The next stop is Providence. In a way, I hope the metaphor remains and that the next point of my life will be more fulfilling than the current stretch of anxiety, desperation, despair and disillusionment.

Yes, we’re in Providence. The twisted roads, confusing scribbles of highway and streets bring back memories I haven’t danced with in ages. The bath houses we used to frequent... The one strip bar I’ve visited... Contrast that with the extremely old-world, puritanical architecture and the paradox is amusing and refreshing. My life is a sort of paradox. Old and new, baroque and experimental, acoustic and electric... again, single yet poly-affected...

I notice that the battery indicates 2 hours remaining. Yet recent sessions seem to hint that my battery is becoming unreliable. I’m tempted to shut down shortly and draw this monologue to a close.

The moment seems right. The driver may be lost, I’m running short of time, someone behind me is shouting out directions - to the driver, I suppose.

Once again my silent sophist sojourn returns to the same thing - ever changing yet constant in that change. A series of chord patterns that I improvise my life over, hoping to hit the stops together and develop some sort of timing that one might call ’tight.’

It’s nearing 4 am and, yes, I think this we’re near the bathhouse. Ironic in a way yet appropriate.

The bounce of the bus would only be so kind as to rock me to sleep but no... However I know I need to sleep so I prepare to shutdown and hope that further inspiration will somehow retain in my head... Although the lights intrude on my spiritual reflection they enhance my physical reflection.

Aye, this tune ended bars ago and now we’re far into the coda... It will be played again. But for now, the band needs a break.

Night, kids, from a life on the road - just me, my bass, a handful of dreams and ambitions, and a bunch of unknowns.