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Wordless Songs of Winter

I recorded this on 4-track cassette 10 years ago – the label says Jan/Feb 2004 – and I called it “Sleep Song”. There are a couple of other instrumentals I recorded over that period that I had intended share as a small collection I would call “Wordless Songs of Winter”- but all my gear constantly fails so this might be the only one for now. I hope you enjoy it.





The Curse, the Purse and the Dishes

One of the worst things I ever did to myself, I did when I was five years old and when I was ten years old – somewhat simultaneously. Let me explain: I was pondering about the nature of time. I was marveling at the fact that I had just turned five years old and that I was already halfway to being ten. I really wanted to be ten years old because that was big and awesome and had two digits instead of just one. But, just as I was really psyched that I was already halfway there, I realized that five years was an awfully long time to wait. And (I don’t remember if I thought of this back then) five years, at that point in my life, would be equal to my entire lifespan thus far. So basically, I would have to wait a lifetime to become ten. Too long.

But another thought occurred to me: In the present, the memories of long spans of time felt as if they were compressed into a temporal nothingness – an infinitely small amount of time. In other words, I could think of a time in the past, and then think of the right now, and the thoughts of those two different moments would occur in my mind consecutively in the blink of an eye. Contemplating that phenomenon, an idea occurred to me of how to arrive quickly to my target age of ten. All I would have to do is to remember the exact present moment that I was currently experiencing at five years old and, in the blink of an eye, I would become ten years old. Perfect!

And then it worked. I became ten years old and I remembered that exact moment when I was five and going to travel forward in time to be ten. It felt as if no time at all had passed.

And now I’m scared to death that I’ll blink my eyes and, in an instant, be somewhere in the middle of my seventies. I now have a wife, two daughters, two cats, two and a half bands, a house, a car and a thousand things I feel I should have done but haven’t. And if I blink my eyes, who knows what I’ll have, what I’ll have lost and what I won’t yet have done.

How to break the curse,

And, how it relates to cursing:

My older daughter is thirteen, knows most, if not all, of the most common curse words and has the good graces not to use them very often (or at least not in my presence). My younger daughter, however, is only eight months old and is just discovering the novelties of every new syllable. Soon she will have the ability to accurately mimic the exact words her sister, her mother and I say. In other words, it’s time to cut out the cursing.

One way to do this is by instigating a curse jar. Many will be familiar with the simple fine/penalty method: you curse, you put a quarter in the jar. The problem is that it doesn’t work very well. This might be because the fine is too small. So how about a dollar? Still too small to matter. So how about ten dollars? One problem is that I don’t always carry a bunch of cash around with me. But still, I could simply owe the curse jar and pay it at a later date. The real problem is that this money will most likely be designated for feeding into a college fund or something similarly constructive for my baby daughter. It’s simply too positive an outcome to be a true deterrent.

So what do I have that can’t be bought or replaced? Time. Time is what I will have to give up if I curse in the house or around my baby now. The way in which I must give up this time will be in the form of a household chore. And it must be surrendered immediately. That means if we’re in the middle of watching a movie and something big happens in it and I drop an f-bomb about it, that I must then pause the movie, go into the kitchen and do the dishes that couldn’t go into the dishwasher. Or clean up and put away all the junk that built up on the coffee table over the last few days. Or go upstairs, gather up the laundry and start the washer.

So now I have a positive outcome while maintaining the deterrent. And I’ve paid in non-renewable time while avoiding the fungible pitfalls that accompany the exchange of money. This is important because, contrary to popular colloquialism, time is not money. If it was, we could all spend some cash and relive our 20’s or whatever. But it’s not. We are subject to time’s passage. And even though it’s possible to compare the incomes of two persons, boil them down to their hourly rates and draw the conclusion that one’s time is more valuable than the other’s, neither of them can have (barring lifespan) more time than the other. And neither of them can reclaim their past moments outside of their ability to remember them. And because time cannot be bought, my conclusion is that all time is priceless.

I realize that from the description, my time/chore penalty may seem like just another contributor to the seemingly constant loss of time. But, in effect, it might be just the opposite. It has been my experience that there are certain instances or activities which actually create the effect of a slowed down experience of time: Sitting in class in high school watching the minute hand of the clock crawl slowly around, moments of particular embarrassment, lying in bed awake in the middle of the night trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep, reclining in an expensive plush leather chair trying not to count the individual borings of a root canal, and, of course, performing household chores instead of watching the next scene in a highly exciting movie. While these time-elongating situations may typically be categorized as unpleasant, they do serve to increase my perceived experience of time. So I’m learning to try to enjoy them. Watching the minute hand move is a subtle meditation I rarely have the privilege to experience, embarrassment is a ticklish feeling that can heighten awareness, awaken the senses and indulge potentially buried desires for attention, the ability to simply lay down in bed and do nothing, at any hour of the day or night, can absolutely be described as a luxury, and even my time served in the dentist’s clutches, feeling the tiny file slowly grind out chunks of my tooth’s nerve endings, can indulge the delusional fantasy of grandeur that I’m a heroic prisoner who will suffer through the torture and emerge victorious having not divulged my state’s topmost secrets.

And so, if I can muster the wherewithal, I can bask in the constant flow of water traveling in unfathomable numbers of directions, the splashing, warm, subtly massaging, luxurious moisture rushing over my hands while I accomplish my unscheduled doing of the dishes. These are the moments when my awareness has the potential to be heightened, revealing a finer granularity to the passage of time. It is in those places that I can learn to appreciate and elongate my experiences. How often have I engaged in activities whose primary purpose it was to crassly/cynically/brutally/coarsely/thoughtlessly kill time? Those moments from which I’ve mostly sought to escape can possibly hold the cure for my curse.

Summer Blockbuster Replacement Book: Robopocalypse

If, like me, you have a newborn or somewhat newborn baby on your hands, you may have been having a hard time getting out to the movies lately. That’s where Daniel H. Wilson’s Robopocalypse comes in. Robopocalypse is creative and satisfying in an action-adventure-sci-fi-must-experience-oblivion-of-all-we-know-is-familiar kind of way. Not a great work of literature in any classical sense, this book will fill the void (if you happen to feel one) created by your inability to go out and veg in some air conditioned stadium seating.

Robopocalypse is essentially a screenplay turned novel. Wilson takes the summer blockbuster genre and translates it seamlessly for those of us who crave such things. Every moment has a cinematic familiarity in its slick, visually descriptive style. The story is delivered in classic apocalypse movie format: via neatly divided chapters, each relaying the disjointed perspective of one of the book’s protagonists until their individual experiences gradually converge. The impetus, plot-wise, to deliver the story this way is that the narrator is a soldier who discovers an electronic archive of the entire robo-apocalyptic experience and takes it upon himself to translate the video images and sound files into a single written historical account. While this is a fun literary device that somewhat justifies the scene-scene-scene (a la action flick) format of the book, the author deliberately falls short of telling the entire story in this way. He instead relies on italicized post-chapter summaries to fill in the blanks. But even though it’s relieving to read that your protagonist(s) then went on to do great things, it would have been more fun to actually read the story of it. And while it’s possible to assume that the author is implying that, maybe in the story, there were no archived documents of the post-chapter described events and that therefore it lends the book an amount of literary integrity, this plot-summarizing device comes off more akin to story-telling laziness. And while it’s true that maybe I don’t need every detail of every plot point examined to exhaustion, what suffers is a sense of distance in both a physical and temporal sense. The passage of time just sort of happens magically while in reality (reality?) every struggling moment of the kind of situations that Robopocalypse presents would feel like an eternity (to me at least).

But to focus on such literary shortcomings in this book is to miss the point entirely. This book is candy. Actually this book is popcorn. And if this book is, at times, cheesy, it’s supermarket brie. It might just be melted supermarket brie on popcorn. And do we want to try that at some point? I think maybe we do. And fortunately, it’s not too long. Because if it was anything of a lengthy book, I’d probably have suffered a brie covered popcorn induced stomach ache. Fortunately, it’s the perfect length. And very satisfying.

The takeaway is this: Dads who can’t readily get to the multiplex – put on your baby sling, support your local book store and go buy Robopocalypse. Everybody else – can probably wait for the movie.

(Or just go and buy it here.) 

What String Quartet?

This is poppanotes, the blog to help negotiate my two prevailing identities: dad and musician. Hopefully, this will not only become a place for conversation (monologue at the very least) on any number of musician, technician or fatherly topics, but will also help to satisfy my need to share some of my music.

There are, of course, many ways to share music. So why put it into a blog? Because a blog is informal. Why choose an informal venue? Because my music often remains unfinished, the in-betweenness of the blog format feels most appropriate for sharing the experiences of music potentially perpetually unfinished, if not the music itself. And/or maybe there can be conversation (monologue at the very least) sparked by the common experience of shorn art, unmade music, inspiration deferred – for even prolific writers must have pieces of projects that, for whatever reason, never see the light of day.

Take, for example, my string quartet. What string quartet? Exactly. I’ve been working on it for a bit over a year now. And, I actually finished it about half a year ago. Then I un-finished it. Why did I do that? In this particular case, I felt that most of the sections could use a considerable amount of additional development. In its present state it feels a bit banal. It says something, moves on, says something else, moves on. It plays out like: part – part – part – blah – blah – blah. As it stands it runs approximately 17 minutes. It should probably, in its to-be not underdeveloped future state, be closer to 23-25 minutes long. But discussing an unfinished string quartet in the abstract isn’t fun for very long so I’ll move on.

Partially in lieu of having the ability to share my quartet aurally, I’m posting a couple of old rock songs I recently recorded.

They were originally only to be sketches, a tool for my use only, to figure out a final arrangement for songs that had been haunting in and around my head for years. So because of that, I made no effort to approach the recording process properly. But then I kept adding and overdubbing stuff and developing it beyond what is rational for what was supposed to be a mere skeletal representation until at the end, I found myself actually making my first foray into the mastering process. This may make the technicians/engineers/people-who-know-what-they’re-doing laugh, but I “mastered” my totally amaturely recorded sketches (the first tracks were the drums recorded on my little Zoom H2 in mp3 format).

Genre wise, they could probably be described as garage rock. I’m not really sure why I’m still making garage rock, to tell you the truth. But that’s what I did. And because I don’t currently have a band dedicated to my own original songs, this may very well be their final resting place. And if that turns out to be the case, it is very well because a home is better than no home. And I no longer care if they’re too much Don Henley/Glenn Frey – not enough Bruce Springsteen/John Lennon. They’re their own songs now and I wish them well.

In any case, here they are and maybe that’s enough. In a way these songs overlap with my parenting in that respect: Just being present. Often I have no idea, no plan for what to do with my children. But it doesn’t stop me from hanging out with them.

What do you want to do? I don’t know. I’m bored. Let’s go for a walk. Where do you want to go? I don’t know. ok. Then we go for a walk.

A couple of notes on the recordings:

Turf Club features Lyrics written by Andy McCarthy, Flute played by Allegra Avila, and Drums played by Todd Mason.

Delivery In Sinkingland and Shadows Discuss feature Todd Mason on Electric Bass.