Friday, April 29, 2005

Sometimes you get the bear...

And sometimes the bear gets you.

Is that a saying? I think it is.

Regardless, I think it's apropos in light of the recording session last night. I got down to the studio around 8:30, and settled on the song Fallout Grace as the primary target for the night. Dave and I started out in our usual manner, with me singing through the tune 3 or 4 times to warm up. Right off the bat, I had a feeling things weren't going to go my way. I was hitting all the notes okay, but there was something a little off about everything I tried.

And additionally, I figured out that Fallout is a much harder song to sing than I thought it was. It goes from a whisper at the beginning to nearly shouting at the end, and I was having trouble getting the quieter parts to sound good.

We tried a bunch of things, from singing closer to the microphone, to singing without a "P" screen (used to keep a singer's "p's" from popping), to changing the monitoring in my headphones. All to no avail.

Nothing was working.

I was frustrated.

We tried another tune, but at that point it was already getting a bit too late to start something new. So we tinkered with some background vocals and mults, and called it a night without really getting anything down.

Now intellectually, I knew I would have at least one of these nights while I was cutting vocals. There are just too many factors that can adversely affect the singing voice and the level of scrutinization on vocal tracks is incredibly high.

So... that's life. I'll head back in Sunday with a fresh approach and probably a hangover.

Sometimes you get the beer...


Thursday, April 28, 2005

Like a Rolling Stone(.com)

Here's an interesting page that came to my attention yesterday.

Pretty cool. I'm not completely sure how it happened, but I think it was through our CD Baby page.

They have a digital distribution which sends music out to various online merchants, one of which was Rhapsody, which I believe is partnered with In the next few months we'll likely also become part of the sprawling nexus of musical commerce that is iTunes.

So we got that going for us. Which is nice.

This kind of stuff makes me think our strategy of using our EP as an advance for our full-length album is going to pay off. By the time we get the album done and pressed and out, we will have used the EP to set up a pretty good distribution apparatus and to make good media contacts. So in the event that we don't find a label interested in working with us, we'll be able to solicit press and get the music into people's hands (and iPods) pretty quickly.

Revisiting the EP is interesting. Actually, listening to any of one's past recordings is always interesting.

The Burn Rome Burn EP is the first recording I've been a part of that has aged well for me. When I listen to it now, a year-plus after the fact, it still sounds pretty good to me. Not without its problems, but overall it's a really good snapshot of where we were as a band at the time it was recorded.

There a good energy to it, a certain focus and deliberateness that has been lacking in my past projects. Hopefully, it'll wind up being the first of many recordings by BRB that withstand the test of time.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Coffee = good

It's a pretty good day, in spite of the fact that I got 4 hours of sleep and feel like I fell down a flight of stairs because, well, yesterday I fell down a flight of stairs.

Not good times. No broken bones, luckily, but some pretty bruised arms and hands.

Anyway, my mood is buoyed by the fact that I got to have breakfast this morning with my friend Pete, who was in town for a few days.

Incidentally, Pete's biweekly restaurant review in the NY Times can be found here.

Although it was early (6:45 am!) and far too brief, it was good to see Pete. We ate at the newly transplanted Al's Grill in Oak Park, a staple of our high school years. After that, I got a chance to ride the Green Line into the Loop, which is a much more interesting ride than the Red Line and brings back childhood memories of Thanksgiving morning.

Good times.

My mood is also up because of a great rehearsal last night. We are busting our asses to get our album done and not playing out much, so we've been kicking around some new material, specifically a tune called Canary. I wrote it after listening to nothing but Wilco for about a month, so I didn't think it would be a good BRB tune... but everyone really seems to love it.

We've played it live twice, at Double Door and House of Blues, but last night we got down to some serious work on it and the result was a pretty kick ass arrangement. The key was that we spent the entire rehearsal on one tune. Trying subtle changes, throwing out ideas... it was pretty cool, and I hope it is the future all of all things BRB.

Canary is about how everybody's got a relationship that was kind of a sacrifice and a test, like sending a canary down a mine shaft. In print, the lyrics seem a bit too... obvious, but they work really well with the overall vibe of the song, which is almost that of a nursery rhyme. And a bunch of the songs I've written lately have this same type of almost Orphean imagery... which I find to be a pretty compelling story.

CANARY Went down the open hole Into the dark black coal And even if you're there for years Every spring I'll shed your tears Don't look back it's no remedy A sweeter song won't set you free And even though your eyes may bleed No blinding light will let you see No blinding light will let you see Chorus: If you love it, let it breathe If it breathes, it'll let you love But if that mockingbird don't sing Just go on and pull off its wings You were once the golden prize So it should come as no surprise That you're still on my mind And I think the night is falling So you sit in your broken cage Until your feathered voice gives way You didn't give your life in vain 'Cause you made me so happy I'm so happy Chorus Bridge: And I see the yellow streaked with black And you're like a train upon my tracks So don't come round here looking for sympathy 'Cause we've all got a bird like you Yeah we've all been a bird like you Chorus X2


Monday, April 25, 2005

Is there a draft in here?

As far as good weekends for the football obsessed, few can compare to the two day circus that is the NFL Draft.

For me, there are two levels of entertainment to this spectacle. The first is the pure volume of cool football highlights you get to see. The second is watching ESPN (try to) put together over 15 hours of live television on the fly.

Over the years, I've even come to appreciate the freak of nature that is Mel Kiper Jr. Can he be annoying? Yes. But as far as providing information and analysis across the entire draft, he's a monster. I mean, he'll have his initial board for the 2006 draft out this week.

Just sick. I hope he at least goes home and washes his hair.

I didn't get to watch much of the draft live this year. I was teaching all day Saturday, and sleeping/recording a good portion of the day Sunday. However, thanks to my friend Mark, the miracle of the interweb, and a somewhat slow day at work, I feel up to date on the Bears' prospects.

It seems to me that the Bears did a pretty good job of addressing their needs with talented quality selections. The most glamorous and immediately important pick for most teams is (obviously) the first round pick. This pick becomes more important when 1) a team's first round pick is the number 4 overall pick, and 2) there are talented players available at the very positions at which the team has needs.

For the Bears, I felt this was a really hard pick to screw up. They needed help at RB and WR, and there were 3 great RBs and 2 great WRs in the draft. So sitting at fourth, they were guaranteed a talented player at a position of need. And the player they got, running back Cedric Benson, was the best man for the job. Of the three RB prospects, he was the most productive, consistent, and healthy. He ran for 5500 yards and scored over 80 TDs as a four year starter for a Big 12 program.

I think he also ran for something like 8000 yards in high school. So at every level, this guy has been spectacularly productive. To boot, he and Thomas Jones are good foils for each other. I wasn't too high on Thomas Jones after last year, but I think he'll make a great back-up/change of pace guy for Benson. 

Of course, Suzy Kolber (who is not hot, Finn), she of I-want-to-kiss-you-Joe-Nameth fame, conducted one of the worst interviews I've ever seen with Benson right after he was drafted. Instead of asking something like "How does it feel to be drafted by the Chicago Bears, given their history of great running backs?" she asks him the grand existential question "Who is Cedric Benson?"

I don't blame him for getting pissed off. This isn't the Oprah Show. Overall, great choice by the Bears. 

The WR in the second round seems like a solid choice too. Fast guy who played for a big college program. Another dimension for the offense. And Kyle Orton in the 4th round, while not really a need pick, is a great value pick. He comes from a pro-style program and should flourish under Ron Turner. Of course, I hope he doesn't take a snap over the next three years, but still. He could have been a second round pick, easily.

Taken as a whole, this has been one of the strongest offseasons in recent memory for the Bears. After finishing last in offense last season, they've added the following pieces: 1. New, proven Offensive Coordinator in Ron Turner; 2. The most productive receiver in the league in the Moose; 3. Two new proven starters on the offensive line; 4. A franchise running back; and 5. Young depth and speed at wide receiver.

That's a pretty good haul for one offseason. And they've done it without breaking the bank. So it should be a pretty good year for the Bears.

Of course I say that every year.



Spent another Sunday in the studio getting some good work done on the vocals. It seems to be getting easier as we go along, with each song happening a little faster. Yesterday we got a strong lead vocal take done on the song Nothing's Changed, which will probably be the first song on the album. It's also the oldest song (with the exception of Mermaid) and it was actually written while we were recording our EP in late 2003/early 2004.

I was able to take a rough mix of it home to listen to, and I can already see that it will help me out a lot in terms of working out background vocals. I'm really interested in focusing in on background vocals for this album, because it's something that I think has been lacking from previous projects I've sung on.

And Nothing's Changed is a perfect candidate because it's a short poppy tune that has single potential. So I want to make sure it's as polished as possible. After we got the lead vocal track done, we messed around a bit with The Soft Drown and Seraphim Do Mar.

However, having really put a ton into Nothing's Changed, I wasn't projecting quite well enough to get anything else finalized. Still, I think we'll settle into aiming for getting one lead vocal track done per session, and then going back and working on backgrounds for the previous session's song after I run out of steam. Backgrounds aren't as demanding energy-wise, so even if I'm a little burned out, I should still be able to get some backgrounds and/or mults done every session.

Nothing's Changed has really taken on a Coldplay/U2 vibe, which is cool. Looking back on the lyrics, I think they're okay. A little simple, but in a good way. I like the sentiment too, the whole idea of thinking you've broken out of a situation or relationship, and then having it kind of crash back onto you without warning and seeing that you really haven't changed at all. I think everybody's got something like this in their life. Looking at the lyrics for the whole album, that seems to be an undercurrent to a lot of it.


The lyrics to Nothing's Changed:

Living in yesterday it's hard
To know exactly what went wrong (what went wrong?)
Did it crash and burn and leave you lying there
In the dark before the dawn?

Chorus: I went looking for you
Are you looking for me?
Just when it seemed like we weren't the same
Somehow nothing's changed

The consequence is creeping in
The last goodbye was like the first (like the first)
Bloodshot eyes and cloudy skies and you
I don't know which of them is worst


I want to know
Where you go



Mixed Bag

Busy, busy weekend all around.

Lots to write about, including: 1) More recording, 2) Passover, 3) staying up too late, and 4) sports obsessions.

I see that I have a few comments on previous entries from a certain "Finnegan Jones," the partner in crime of the famed Schlomo Roosevelt.

Good old Finn is a funny guy. In fact, his comments will generally be wittier and more interesting than my actual posts. Although he got the part about our hot junior high school teacher wrong. It was Mrs. Farmer, I think, not Mrs. Heinrich. Or perhaps Finn was really thinking of Mr. Gates.

In any event, you can also read about Finn's literary exploits on his blog.

Boy are they scintillating.


Friday, April 22, 2005

Through thin and thinner

Seeing as the NBA regular season has wrapped up, it seems like a good time to reflect a little on the 2004-2005 Chicago Bulls.

The Bulls' marketing campaign for this year, which seemed especially ridiculous when the team was 0-9 and then 4-15, was "Through Thick and Thin," essentially implying that the organization deserved a mulligan for as long as necessary because they won 6 championships in 8 years.

And there's actually a certain logic to this.

That is, if the teams since the last championship had been even competitive. Even competed for, say, the 8th playoff spot. Even finished within, say, 20 games of .500. But no... over the last 6 seasons we've been treated to teams that have gone a combined 119 - 341, a .260 winning percentage. (The "best" team in this span finished 30-52, although many of the wins came in meaningless games towards the end of the season.)

We've been treated to Tim Floyd, Rusty LaRue, Corey Benjamin, Matt Maloney, Ron Mercer, Marcus Fizer, A.J. Guyton, Jake Voskuhl, Dalibor Bagaric, Jalen Rose, Eddie Robinson, Jamal Crawford, and Paul Shirley.

If your response to the above list was "who?" then a) you're in the majority of Chicagoans, and b) you obviously haven't been there "Through Thick and Thin."

I am (not) proud to report that I, myself, have been there through thin and thinner. Through the "Ron Mercer-as-our-go-to-scorer" years. Through trading Elton Brand. Through the charade that was Tim "Pink" Floyd. Through the triangle-offense-without-Michael-Jordan years.

My friend AJ and I have made a point of following every team, every year, no matter how bad they were. And now the time has come when we can, again, proudly say we're Bulls' fans. Basketball is the one sport in which I have some playing experience. I'm not very good at it, but I do "get" it intellectually. I've always been able to surpass my given athletic ability by 1) playing hard and 2) playing smart. I can generally recognize and distinguish between good and bad basketball. And I think basketball is the perfect sport for television, namely because you can see all the players, all the time. Football is great, but you can't see the entire field on the TV broadcasts. If you want to watch the receivers running their routes and how the defense is adjusting... well, you're probably out of luck for most plays because the camera will be on the QB until he throws the ball.

So I really enjoy watching basketball on television because you can see the plays, the motion, the defense, the rebounding... everything. And this Bulls' team is just fun to watch. I'm sure there are a lot of Monday morning QB's on this season, but I can say that I had a feeling about this team even when they were 0-9 and 4-15. I distinctly remember exchanging a few emails with AJ around the time the Bulls were 4-15 in December, looking at their schedule, and plotting out, almost to the week, when the team would hit .500.

So there.

That and $1.75 will get me on the train. Of course by summer it'll probably take $3.00 to get me on the train.

Anyway, I don't think we anticipated they would win 47 games and finish with the 3rd best record in the East, but still... you could see something different about this team from the top down almost immediately.

And at the top is GM John Paxson. I don't think it's possible to overstate what he's done in such a short time as GM. One measure of how much of an impact he's had: since taking over the team before last season, he's turned over the entire roster with the exception of Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler.

His draft picks have been nothing short of brilliant. In two drafts, he's picked Kirk Heinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, and Chris Duhon. He signed Andres Nocioni as an undrafted free agent.

That means any team could have had him.

To boot, he gave the Bulls' first round draft pick next year to the Phoenix Suns for the right to draft Luol Deng with the 7th pick of the first round this year. The Bulls' first round pick next year will be the 21st pick in the draft.

In the NBA draft, the difference in quality between the 7th and the 21st pick is... well, this year it was the difference between Deng and Pavel Podkolzine. Paxson's trade dealings have been saavy. He started with a group of big-salaried/under-producing/often-injured players like Eddie Robinson, Jamal Crawford, Jalen Rose and Jay Williams.

He cut the lemon-like Eddie Robinson outright and ate the salary.

Ditto the injured Jay Williams, even throwing in a million dollars the team didn't have to as a gesture of goodwill.

He traded Crawford for what turned into Othella Harrington and Eric Piatkowski, two solid vets who work hard on both ends of the court.

He traded Rose to Toronto for Antonio Davis, a good rebounder and solid role-model for the young big guys.

In considering Paxson's approach to refortifying the roster, I'm even more impressed. He knew his two big men were 1) under contract until after this season, and 2) still developing as young college-aged players. So he decided to start with adding talent to the backcourt, an area that has been dominated with selfish/ineffective/injured players like Crawford, Rose, Mercer and Williams, and letting his big guys develop.

I still say you can't judge a player until the season that would have his first had he gone to college for four years. That will be next season for Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler. And if Sean May can dominate the NCAA tournament at 6'9", what would Curry be doing at 6' 11" with more touch and range? He'd be the first pick in the draft this year, if he had gone to DePaul for four years, no doubt.

So Paxson was patient with Curry and Chandler and took the time to evaluate them and see how they would respond to a real, proven, demanding head coach like Scott Skiles. And that brings us to Coach Skiles. What a great choice. I love that even towards the end of the season where the Bulls have doubled if not tripled their expected win total and done so in part without Eddy Curry and Luol Deng, there's still a buzz in the Chicago sports' media about replacing Skiles with... Taaaaa-Daaaahhhh: Phil Jackson. Or Pat Riley. Or Larry Brown.

Okay, so maybe it was just Sam Smith in one of his Monday Morning "Shit, I have to write a negative column on the Bulls?" moments, but still: the advance press on Skiles being an overbearing, micro-managing, distant, hot-head who alienates players by demanding unreasonable things like, I don't know, playing defense and running the offense, is, in retrospect, hilarious.

Has Sam Smith watched any games? When they show the Bulls' bench going crazy during a victory or Skiles as the first guy on the court hugging his players during a timeout, does it look like he's alienating them or has trouble relating?

Nothing builds chemistry like winning. What has made this team so interesting to me is how from the beginning they've bought into Skiles' approach 100%, even when it looked like it wasn't working. They've kept on trying, kept on hustling, settled into their roles with an incredible unselfishness, and just generally played as a team all year.

Through thick and thin.

So maybe the Bulls' marketing campaign isn't quite a laughable as we thought: there is something to the idea of "Through Thick and Thin" in this team.

To quote Jim Mora: "Playoffs?"


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Hump Day

Had a pretty damn fun band meeting last night to go over some business.

Listened to a mock up Doc did of the song Mermaid, complete with sound effects, and I have to say, it sounded great considering it was unmixed and had no vocals on it. A good recording often capitalizes on serendipity. A "wrong" note that everybody winds up loving. A new idea that comes out of a mistake, but takes the song to a whole new level. This record is filing up with them, and I like it.

On Mermaid, I wound up changing a rhythm guitar part up quite a bit. When Dave gave us the rough mix of the instruments to play with, he left my old guitar part in along with the new part, and the result was one of those happy accidents where the two parts work perfectly together. They clash in all the right places, and leave space where space should be. And the fact that this was unplanned really give it an organic rough feel that suits the song perfectly.

And Doc's sonic additions (waves, sound effects) really add to the emotional punch of an already deep tune. It's going to be great when it's all done. We also went over some artwork and settled on a cover for the disc. I like it and I like the fact that we're dialing back some of our initial ideas about the packaging and going with something simpler (and cheaper). I really think the music will speak for itself and the more austere we make the artwork, the better.

Good times.

When we get the million dollar record contract, then we can have a 32 page insert. And we kicked around a bunch of ideas for new band promo pictures, which was a good laugh, as always. We have two or three ideas, any of which should turn into some good shots. Although my idea of us standing in line naked at E2 was nixed by Aoife.

Go figure. Then, of course, I wound up staying up too late after getting roped into watch a Texas Hold 'Em Tournament from 2004 on ESPN2.

Yep. And I'm not proud of it.

Maybe it was residual interest from having lost all my money to my friend Dave in Reno a few weeks ago in a long game of Texas Hold 'Em. But it was pretty gripping.

Tonight, it's back to the sleeping pills.


Monday, April 18, 2005

Strong News

Every Monday I get a copy of Newsweek in the mail.

I usually get home from work, and spend an hour or so reading it.

Many of the issues leave me feeling like the magazine should be called Newsweak. Very little depth, irrelevant cover stories, gossip about Britney Spears' baby. No wonder it only takes me an hour to read it cover to cover.

However, this week's issue is one of the best in recent memory, if only for the opinion columns. Jonathan Alter has a column on the recent bankruptcy bill and what it says about our government's priorities.

The always reliable Fareed Zakaria has a column entitled Conservative Contradictions, which starts ostensibly as a discussion of John Bolton's nomination for the position of Ambassador to the United Nations, but segues into a nice discussion of the benefits of global governing bodies.

The hit-or-miss Jane Bryant Quinn hits with as compelling and number-based an evaluation of the privatization of Social Security debate and the choices it entails as I've seen.

And just when I thought he would spoil my complete enjoyment of this week's issue, George Will delivers a column on... Greg frickin' Maddux. Baseball is the one subject on which Mr. Will and I completely agree and his baseball-related columns are consistently good and interesting reads.

So I say cheers for this week's columns.

Now let's see if they can do it two weeks in a row.


"Don't sing like Michael Bolton"

That was Dave Lill's advice to me last night, as we dug in and really started working out the vocal tracks for the Burn Rome Burn album.

Advice like that makes him the producer/engineer extraordinaire he is. Dave is also the drummer for the Chicago band Stylus. And, the above nugget aside, he is one kick ass engineer and producer. What makes him so good? What makes any engineer/producer good?

I guess each role requires different skill sets... A good engineer, first and foremost, has great ears. And knows how to get good sounds onto tape or hard drive. Dave's technical knowledge of his equipment is strong, as is his ability to manipulate his digital recording program. His prowess at editing (he calls it "Frankensteining") is second to none, although BRB generally doesn't require a ton of editing (do we?). From a purely sonic point of view, I've realized I should just defer to Dave. If he hears a problem, well, there's a problem. If he's happy with the sound quality, it sounds good.

Now as far as a good producer goes... this is such an incredibly important aspect of making a great album. It doesn't really matter if the album sounds good sonically, if the performances or the artistic approach suck. And the producer is responsible for managing these aspects. Really, the producer has to play psychologist more than anything. We're producing this album together with Dave because we all have pretty well-shaped ideas and good ears.

That being said, Dave has really stepped up in this role. And we are all deferring to him on performance-related questions. Which helps immensely, especially when recording vocals, where you can go around and around about whether or not a take is good enough and really damage yourself mentally and physically.

The uniting principle here is that Dave is willing to try anything we have in mind. And then tell us honestly if it is worth keeping or not. We had a lot of fun recording guitars because we spent the majority of the time getting the right sounds. We also blew a bunch of fuses in the various amps we used. I have one extended guitar solo on the album, and it is basically the sound of three amps self-destructing.

Good times.

It also helped that we got Brett Semenske (bass player for Stylus and owner of the house where the recording studio is) involved in working on guitar tones. His approach is pretty simple: turn all the knobs to the right.

Back to yesterday.

We spent an hour or so Saturday night just working on microphone placement and some other technical aspects. Dave worked his ass off to understand the sound of my voice and how he could move the mic and tweak the knobs to best capture it. We went back and listened to the four song EP we did last year, which Dave also recorded.

Once we got the recording set-up straight, I was able to walk in yesterday and start recording immediately, without wasting any energy on technical aspects. After working through the song Four Words three or four times to warm up, we settled on the "verse/chorus at a time" approach to make sure that the energy stayed up throughout the tune.

One of the biggest things I've learned in recording with Dave is how to go for feel over perfection. I generally sing in tune, so I've learned to not even worry about hitting notes and focus on emoting, phrasing, and vocal quality. Which means leaving some "mistakes" if the take has the right vibe, especially on a song like Four Words.

We took a really stripped down approach to this song. One seamless guitar take throughout (best-guitar-tone-ever) and just a few violins. And we'll likely have a string quintet on some of it, too. So the vocals had to match the intensity and character of the recording.

The song is about a writer who is just crushed by his own artistic ambition and futility of it. Crushed to the point where he can't go on for another day.

I used an apocryphal story about Hemingway's suicide as my starting point and kind of went from there. My friend Ben told me that when they found old Ernie dead from a self-inflicted shotgun wound, he had hung a sign on the door of his cabin that just said "Ex-Writer."

So the character in Four Words hung a sign on his door that said "Bury It Over There." The whole song is a cautionary tale about the dark side of artistic ambition. And the vocals turned out great. There's all sorts of great character and cracks and really... vulnerability.

That was the biggest thing the song needed. The vocals needed to convey the tragedy in the story, and I think we really nailed it.

Here are the words to the tune:


When he checked out, he put a sign upon the door
Four simple words, what they meant no one was sure
Can't say I blame him, for giving up his bones
All the wasted hours left him empty and alone

Bury it over there

Love was the question that split his head in two
And sometimes in the morning he'd believe that it was true
But silence overwhelmed the day and with it his resolve
It left him to fade away and watch his faith dissolve

Bury it over there

Now the stark fluorescence is the wound that wouldn't mend
And every word he writes it brings him closer to the end
Finally with sympathy the daylight starts to creep
Four words on the door, there's something of him in me

Bury it over there

And even though he's gone it still remains
Running through the room like blood in vein
All the shattered hope written in the birds
All the shattered hope written in four words
Give me four words


Friday, April 15, 2005

What a Fellow

My uncle is a professor of French at the University of Wisconsim - Madison.

He also happens to be one of the funniest, smartest people I know.

Which is why I was thrilled to find out that he's just been granted a Guggenheim Fellowship. This will allow him to take a year off of teaching and focus on writing.

How do you say "congratulations" in French?

I guess I could just ask him.

He probably knows how.


Thursday, April 14, 2005

Troy Vey

I'm generally a good two years behind on watching movies.

So last night I decided to take advantage of the On Demand feature on our cable and watch Troy, which I hadn't yet seen. It does seem ridiculous that a former Classics major, a guy who makes part of his living performing a folk opera based on Homer's Odyssey, would wait over a year to see a movie ostensibly based on The Iliad.

In my defense, recent movie adaptations of classical subjects have, well, sucked donkey balls, (vid. Armand Asante's made-for-TV Odyssey) and I was scared that Troy would be no different.

I decided to set aside my dork credentials and give the movie every benefit of the doubt. I swore to myself I would judge it on its spirit rather than how faithfully it stuck to the exact conventions of The Iliad. I noted it was called "Troy," and not The Iliad, reminding myself that a key part of the cannon of Greek myth is the freedom of interpretation it gives the artist.

So I took a deep breath and started watching...

My verdict? Troy does not suck donkey balls.

It sucks goat balls.

Let me try to briefly explain how big these goat balls are.

A big part of the brilliance of The Odyssey and The Iliad is found not in what the author has left in the stories... it's in what the author has cut out. It's in the use of a big historical setting (e.g. The Trojan War) as a frame for the smaller stories of Odysseus' homecoming and Achilles' anger, respectively.

Actually, that's backwards: these works frame a huge historical event in smaller, personal stories. Which is how most historical events are lived and experienced. The Iliad, the entire epic poem, is centered around a few weeks in the ninth year of the ten year Trojan War.

There's no mention of the Trojan Horse or of Paris killing Achilles. The Iliad is a story about the tragedy of war, and the struggles of a brilliant warrior within this tragedy, and by limiting the story the reader experiences more depth and weight.

The movie?

Tries to tell the story of the war from beginning to end.

So the audience loses a good portion of the pathos the book so brilliantly conveys. Okay... maybe this is inevitable. The Greek audience would have know the entire back and front story for the Trojan War. The modern movie audience, not so much.

But... setting that aside, certain decisions that were made in the writing really took away from what I think should be the essence of any story about the Trojan War.

So... before my disgust gets the best of me and I start dissertating on the flaws of Troy, I'm going to go find a used copy of season three of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.

There's nothing a little Kevin Sorbo action can't cure.


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

I am not a writer

That should be pretty evident by the fact that I'm "published" by a blog.

My friend Peter, however, is published biweekly by a little liberally-biased rag you may have heard of called the New York Times. More specifically, he's a restaurant reviewer and has a review today that manages to mention shiitake mushrooms and the band Pavement. What's not to like about that combination?

Pete and I went to high school together and most of our pubescent energy was directed towards four pursuits: smoking dope, playing guitar, getting drunk and chasing girls. Our opportunity to continue in these pursuits together today is limited by a few things, most notably that he lives in New York and I live in Chicago.

The potential for Dionysian collaboration is further compromised by the fact that 1) I haven't smoked dope in about 10 years, 2) we're both happily tethered to wonderful women (Pete's girlfriend Hannah, another high school friend, makes incredible jewelry that famous people like. You know the opinions of famous people matter more than yours.) and 3) Pete doesn't play the guitar much anymore.

I guess we can still get drunk together, something we proved in Reno/Tahoe a few weekends ago at our friend Ben's wedding.

The thing on that list that saddens me the most is Pete's separation from the guitar. He'd take issue with me saying I learned to play the guitar from him since I had a six year head start, so I'll say I learned to play the guitar with him. We'd sit for hours upon hours playing in one of our basements, soloing over the same three chords, trading ideas, listening to the newest CD we were into.

We'd badmouth our mutual teacher, Damian. Pete went on to play the bass for one of Damian's bands, and was a pretty damn good bass player too. Over the years of playing together, we developed a certain musical chemistry. Our jams would stop on a dime, go off in unexpected directions, and somehow make it back to where we started, all without a word being spoken. I'd like to say we could read each other's minds, but really it something more tangible and important: we listened to each other.

And knew each other.

And cared for each other.

I think I was a stronger rhythm player in terms of sense of time, but Pete was a more creative rhythm player, and his rhythmic explorations inspired my solos to places I never would have thought to take them.

Thinking about it now, the thing that saddens me more than Pete's separation from the guitar is my separation from Pete and his guitar. I feel like if we lived in the same city, regardless of whether or not music was Pete's primary pursuit, we'd still be getting together in some basement somewhere to bang out our own little brand of rock and roll.

We'd still be inspiring each other in the sort of competitive-but-caring way that friends often do in life. 

Hell, maybe we're still doing that for each other anyway.


Sleeping Pills

In the "cliched-artistic-tendency" department, I often suffer from insomnia.

It's a particularly crippling kind which can strike at any time of the night, i.e., beginning, middle, or end.
I either can't fall asleep, wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep, or wake up way earlier than I have to.

I actually don't mind it most of the time. I read, I write, I watch endless reruns of the Daily Show (N.B.: when they start creating Comedy Central spinoffs like they have for ESPN, shouldn't one of them be Comedy Central: The Daily Show where they just show Daily Show episodes all day and night? I'd watch it).

Lately though, I'm beginning to think my 2005 calendar year battles with on and off illness is directly tied to my (lack there of) sleep habits. My sleeping problems are generally exacerbated when Gina is out of town, so last night I decided to try your basic over-the-counter sleeping pills.

Preliminary verdict: they work. Really well. Less than an hour after taking one, I was OUT and slept through the night.

I didn't even need to put in Gina's Desperate Housewives tape, which has, to this point, been the most sleep inducing thing in our house.


Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Sky Songs

I forget who said that some songs just come from the sky, out of thin air... I think it was an old blues singer, but I'm sure I'm stealing it from an interview with someone more contemporary.

In any event, sky songs (at least for me) are the exception. Most songs I have to dig for... they're unyielding and just when I'm about to give up and move on to something else, something gives way, I see a spark buried in the ashes and it's enough to keep me working... I work until finally the spark bursts into flame and I have a song. Then that song has to be massaged and obsessed over until it's finally (and finely) shaped into something presentable.

Then, maybe, the band will dig it enough to tear it apart and put it back together into something infinitely cooler than what I intended. So when a sky song presents itself to me, I tend to blow off anything else I should be doing, like going to the gym or unloading the dishwasher, and take care of business.


 Left something beneath the moon that night
As the desert sky swallowed our hearts
Had the pitch, the count and all the signs
Couldn't knock it out of the park

Regret, you mean nothing to me
You mean nothing to me

We all believe that time stands still
Even if we act like it don't
Got a silver bullet and a bulletproof voice
And I'll never leave you alone

Regret, you mean nothing to me
You mean nothing to me

I wish I was there before
The ghost signed its name on your door
Maybe the part of this you never knew
Would have been too much
Would have been too true

Now it's done, time to move on
And let the chips fall where they might
Years and miles could never keep us apart
And I'm not going down without a fight

Regret, you mean nothing to me
You mean nothing to me
Regret, you mean nothing to me
You mean nothing to me



Okay... it only took me an hour to figure out how to get my picture on this page.

Not so much tech-savvy here.

Ah well.

I guess everybody's got a routine they follow throughout the week. For most people, Monday through Friday involve getting up at the same time and going to work. My schedule sets up a little differently...

Monday, Wednesday and Friday I'm up pretty early and heading downtown to the Prudential Building to fake my way through the world of corporate law at the self-proclaimed "largest law firm in the world," Baker & McKenzie. Oops. I mean Baker & McKenzie LLP. For legal reasons. Because years ago, some lawyer decided to throw M & M's down a secretary's blouse.

And she sued.


So... Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I work as a Paralegal in the Immigration Practice Group at B & M. I wear pants and tuck in my shirt. Most of the time.

I get curious looks for sporting long hair, a beard, and my uncanny resemblance (thank you Mr. Nose) to a certain fairly popular religious figurehead who's name begins with a J, ends with an S, and has a "ESU" in the middle.

What do I get for braving the world of corporate immigration three times a week?

Well, a paycheck for one thing. Health insurance for another. A 401(k). A measure of security. And the nice thing is, the people I work for and with are incredibly understanding about my music. I essentially come and go as I please and still get vacation and sick time. I'm more or less left alone to do my work. I'll spare you a dissertation on what I actually do at B & M, but let's just say it's repetitive and not all that intellectually rewarding.

But I shouldn't complain about anything having to do with B & M... hell, I work 20 hours a week there and still have an office on the 36th floor with a window. Actual natural light. Not too bad.

On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday I teach guitar (and some bass) at Village Music School in Deerfield. I have about 35 students a week. Private half-hour lessons. If it sounds like a lot, well, sometimes it is. But the vast majority of my students are great. My teaching style, at least what I go for, is a combination of laid-back personality and genuine passion for all things music. I try not to judge what the kids are listening to and bringing in, and focus more on getting them excited about some aspect of music, whether it's improvisation, music theory, playing tunes, or songwriting. Even the crappiest music has some teaching value.

I've had some of these kids for over two years now and watching them develop as musicians and people is pretty interesting and generally rewarding. I digress. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I don't start teaching until 3:00 pm, so I get the morning and early afternoon to myself.

These are important times for me... sometimes I have things to do: doing work on the building we own, running an errand, picking up or cleaning. But some days, I get to sleep in a little bit, make a pot of coffee, and enjoy the morning. Usually these days will include an hour or two of serious songwriting. And by serious songwriting I mean really getting into the crafting of a song, often something I've written on the train coming home from work on a Monday or Wednesday (my love/hate of the CTA is a story for another time).

This Tuesday is shaping up as a perfect songwriting day.

First off, it's raining, great for the mood.

Secondly, my lovely wife Gina is currently in Milan, Italy, so it's just me, our dog Hendrix, and our cat Phoebe.

Letter C, I've got two songs that have been screaming for attention. The first (working title: Regret) is a folky number in 3. The second (working title: Dance Song in 7) is... a dance song in 7.

Doh. Anyway... better get to work on 'em before the gym and teaching.

I'll post any progress tonight if it's worth posting.



Monday, April 11, 2005


I'm new to this, so it'll probably take me a few posts to get the hang of it.

I'd like for this to be a record of my adventures with the rock band I play and sing with, Burn Rome Burn, as well as the other music I write and perform, most notably the folk opera of Homer's Odyssey I've been doing in high schools for the last two and a half years.

That being said, my passions for sports, politics, philosophy, and the Classics will no doubt rear their ugly heads from time to time too... 

So stay tuned for whatever's on my mind on any given day.

Hopefully it'll be entertaining for some and at the very least an interesting read.