Thursday, December 27, 2018

Quote From Jeff Tweedy's Memoir Let's Go (So We Can Get Back)

At the bottom of page 168 in his memoir Let's Go (So We Can Get Back) Jeff Tweedy writes:

I try to make something new, something that wasn't there when I woke up, by the end of every day.  It doesn't have to be long or perfect or good.  It just has to be something.

Those words really resonated with me.  For my own purposes, I would re-phrase that statement to read something like: "Try to create something new, something that didn't exist before, every week.  It doesn't have to be exceptional, or original, or vastly different than what came before.  It just has to be something."

I also like on page 158, when Jeff describes going through Woody Guthrie's writings for the Mermaid Avenue project and found a note by Woody that read "Write a song every day."  Jeff says That's the best advice I've ever gotten as a songwriter, and it wasn't directed at me. It was written by a man who died two months after I was born, as a reminder to himself.

For the last year and a half I've been trying to write about one tune a week (by "tune" I mean an instrumental melody).  I'm up to about 80 now so that's right on pace.  So far I've really enjoyed this process.  There is a high that comes from creating something new that wasn't there before but now is.  However, I've also given myself permission to let go of this goal if it ever becomes too demanding or no longer fun.


I ordered Chinese take out on Christmas night and drove by myself to pick it up.  On the way back from the restaurant a melody came to me along a dark stretch of road which I then hummed into my phone and didn't think about again for the rest of the night.  Then yesterday, December 26th, I had a bug or some kind of mild illness all day.  Even though I wasn't feeling one-hundred percent I decided to transcribe the melody I had sung into my phone the night before.

In my sickened state it didn't make me feel better to realize that my sung melody was not very original and pretty scalar, something I've been wanting to avoid.  So I cast it aside and then tried to gain inspiration from an obscure LP of Guatemalan marimba music that I had found in a thrift store on December 22nd.  That didn't work out so well either and I think might have inhaled some dust mites which made me feel even worse.

This morning I slept in late, to like 10am, which has pretty much shaken off whatever malady had me down.  The first thing I did after getting up was to revisit that melody I had hummed on 12/25 and transcribed on 12/26.  As is usually the case, something I wrote a day or two earlier that didn't seem to be any good at the time becomes a little more likable after sleeping on it.  This made me think of that Jeff Tweedy quote, "It doesn't have to be long or perfect or good. It just has to be something."

Here's what I wrote today.  If it survives, which I think it might, it'll be tune number 81 and will carry me through to 2019.


Saturday, December 22, 2018

Tunes 78, 79 and 80! Inspired by John Kadlecik, Dorothy Ashby, Steve Kimock and Hailu Mergia

I've got a little catching up to do because I've neglected to share tunes 78 and 79, and just this morning I wrote number 80. So here goes.

John Kadlecik has an excellent new CD called ON THE ROAD.  My favorite track on that album is the song Seen Love.  It's very well recorded and there are some jammy composed bits that really stand out.  So I came up with my own melody (hopefully my own melody) called Shooby Doo Weep based on parts of that song Seen Love.  A third part got added to Shooby Doo Weep and for that third part I pulled from the Dorothy Ashby composition Action Line.  (Dorothy Ashby was a jazz harpist.  Look her up, especially her album AFRO HARPING).  It would be best if the similarities between what I wrote and the source material is only in my head only not straight up plagiarism, but I don't have a good enough ear to tell.

Shooby Doo Weep

In early December I was reading Joel Selvin's book Fare Thee Well on the "Grateful Dead's" post-Jerry years, which made me want to re-listen to those April 1999 Phil and Phriends shows featuring Phil Lesh, Trey Anastasio, Page McConnell, Steve Kimock and John Molo.  I remember those shows being a huge deal when they happened almost 20 years ago and the music made across those three nights has stood the test of time.  On the first night 4/15/99 before going fully into Uncle John's Band the group plays around with a really cool sounding Caribbean melody, which I just learned for the first time is the Steve Kimock tune A New Africa.  I searched for another version of A New Africa and the first thing that came up was a Steve Kimock show from 2/22/2002.  I had never really listened to any of Steve Kimock's original music, but I was really taken in by this 2002 recording from the Gothic Theater in Colorado.  In addition to A New Africa, I found myself loving the tunes Cowboy and Cole's Law.  Long story short, Sudden Lee was brought to life by listening to that Kimock music.

I had an initial part that I recorded on glockenspiel which I'll share below.  But I had actually been adding more to this when playing it on banjo.  So here's the main theme on glockenspiel, and then the full version on banjo.

Suddenly glockenspiel

Sudden Lee tenor banjo

Saturday mornings have recently proven to be a very productive time.  If I get up early, around 7AM, and get straight to work, usually by noon I will have created something new that didn't exist before.  That happened again today, thankfully.  Today's tune was inspired by sounds heard on Hailu Mergia's WEDE HARER GUZO album.  (Hailu Mergia is another musician you should look up).  I'm calling this tune Za'atar after the middle eastern spice I used last night in an out of this world vegan-keto fattoush salad with baked ground flax seed in place of the bread.  I really like this one!  But of course the most recently written piece is always going to be a favorite.


OK - that catches it all up to now.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

My Favorite Books of the Year (2018)

I started off the year reading pretty heavily, had a mid-year lull, then got back on track in September and pretty successfully read about a book a week from then 'til now.  Enough to compile a list of this sort. These aren't necessarily books that came out in 2018, although most are fairly recent.

Many of my fiction selections for this year were what you might call magical realism.  Not quite traditional fantasy or sci-fi, but something a little weird was going on.  My favorite novel like this was GALORE by Canadian author Michael Crummey.  The book tells the story of the unusual residents of a small Newfoundland settlement over a period of many decades, starting in the 1800's. I've never read anything quite like it.  GALORE is now one of my favorite books of all-time.

Other novels I enjoyed include THE SNOW CHILD by Eowyn Ivey, THE SEAS by Samantha Hunt, and a quirky little book called THREE TO SEE THE KING by Magnus Mills.

2018 is also the year I was introduced to sci-fi/weird fiction writer Jeff Van DerMeer.  ANNIHILATION - the first book in his Southern Reach trilogy - is another that is now an all-time favorite of mine.  I loved the spell this book put me under...sci-fi with elements of Lovecraft or THE ROAD.  I feel like ANNIHILATION stands on its own as a complete work.  I also read the next two books in the series, AUTHORITY and ACCEPTANCE, but those didn't sparkle for me as well as the first book.

For short stories, I loved, loved, loved Neil Gaiman's retelling of the Norse myths, aptly titled NORSE MYTHOLOGY.  Believe it or not this was the first Neil Gaiman book I had ever read and it led me to others such as THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, CORALINE, and THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE.  This also inspired me to read other tellings of the Norse myths.  For example, NORSE MYTHS: TALES OF ODIN, THOR AND LOKI by Kevin Crossley-Holland.  I even, gasp, enjoyed watching a Thor movie!

 Another book of short stories that I loved this year is TALES OF FALLING AND FLYING by Ben Loory, which is a follow-up to his equally entertaining STORIES FOR NIGHTTIME AND SOME FOR THE DAY.  Loory's stories (hey that rhymes!) are so unique and imaginative that it makes me wish I had written them myself.  They are almost like Russell Edson poems expanded to a few more pages.

Speaking of Russell Edson, this year I became aware of another poet I would consider to be in the same league as him.  I'm talking about James Tate.  Tate passed away in 2015 but he left behind a lot of work.  I purchased his DOME OF THE HIDDEN PAVILION and have been perusing it when the mood strikes.

In the world of non-fiction, when I found out there was a book covering the inner squabbles and struggles of the four surviving members of the the Grateful Dead Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann in the post Jerry Garcia years, I just had to read it.  The book is called FARE THEE WELL by journalist Joel Selvin.  It was an eye opening read.

Last night I finished the Jeff Tweedy memoir LET'S GO (SO WE CAN GET BACK) and it is probably in my top three or four books this year.  Even though I had an Uncle Tupelo and Wilco mini-obsession period about 15 years ago, I wouldn't say that I am a regular listener to Tweedy's music.  I've never seen him perform live, for example.  Still, I had an interest in this book and turning its pages over the last few days has been a calming and oddly pleasant experience.  I laughed, I cried. I can't recall ever enjoying an autobiography to this degree.  You're a good writer Jeff.  We knew that already from your songs, but now we have further proof.

The book that had me laughing out loud the most this year wasn't CALYPSO by David Sedaris, although I liked that one a lot.  No the book that had me chuckling uncontrollably was VACATIONLAND by John Hodgman.  Don't let Hodgman's previous books of hobo facts be a deterrent.  VACATIONLAND is a turn towards dry, whimsical, nerdy, essays.  Like dad-rock in written form.  I'm hoping there's more where that came from.

Lastly I need to mention a cookbook.  It's a book, so technically it can be on this list.  The cookbook is called VEGAN KETO by Liz MacDowell.  It was the title that got me.  This is exactly the book I've been needing.  I've flirted with and had great success with the Keto diet since 2016 but you eat way more meat and cheese on that diet than I am comfortable with.  On the flipside, I also like to romanticize a vegan way of eating but that has always been too high in carbs for my body, among other excuses.

Along comes Liz MacDowell's VEGAN KETO - a compilation of recipes that take take into account two restrictive diets and through what must have been a lot of trial and error finds the Venn diagram where they can deliciously meet.  What I love about this book is she doesn't in any way sacrifice her Vegan Keto principles in an effort to gain flavor - she holds fast to the format and then finds ways to create incredible meals within those restrictions.

I haven't gone completely vegan or completely keto or completely anything in my overall existence, but I have cooked almost exclusively out of this book at least for dinner almost every day since after Thanksgiving and everything I have made has been not just tasty but also healthy and positive.  These are meals you have no complaints about afterwards.

OK I think that covers it!