Thursday, September 29, 2005

Sea Change

It figures that during a week that's seen a bunch of argu-, er, disagreeing, with our manager about some of the final album details and on a day in said week when I've been at it since 7:00 am without a break doing a number of exhausting things... I can't sleep and I find it almost midnight with no shuteye in sight and the alarm clock set for 6:30 am.

Of course.

Yet I feel like I'm on the verge of something... the album, regardless of these final skirmishes, does sound great and will go out into the world and connect with a wider audience.

This morning I performed the Odyssey out in Hinsdale at 9:00 am... then again at 1:00 pm, and a third time at 2:00 pm. I haven't really put down enough here about the Odyssey, but it is tiring to perform it just once so... three times in a day is draining.

From there, I hopped in the car and wove through the nearly rush hour traffic on the Tri-State up to Deerfield where I taught from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm without a break, ten straight students. Whew... 

When I say "on the verge"... I have no idea what I mean. I just know that I think I'm hitting a pivotal time. A bunch of things, from the album to the Odyssey to my songwriting are reaching a point where they could go either way.

Either the album does well and we continue developing as band or it doesn't and we lose momentum.

Either I get serious about the Odyssey and turn it into the legitimate business it could be, or it fades into a hobby.

And in all this, I've found that I'm literally oozing music. It's not as gross as it sounds. It's just that every time I've picked up the guitar over the last month or so, I've found myself writing something I like. It's productivity and quality that I've never seen, ever, in the 5 years I've been really serious about writing music, and I haven't even had much time to write recently... it's just been almost effortless.

I've got 6 tunes done and a good 6 others in the works. For those of you scoring at home, that's almost another album worth of material, and Bottle Boy isn't even out yet. Similarly, I hit the end of my third Odyssey performance today and, even though my voice was frayed from and hour and a half of singing, the last couple songs just flowed out of me... I could here it in my voice, how easy it was for me, how confident I sounded.

Which is strange because singing is still, in some ways, very hard for me. I've gotten to the point where I know I have a good voice, but I'm still figuring out how to use it, how to have good performances. 

Today... it was happening. The voice, the guitar, the whole thing. And it just felt effortless. I guess that's the theme here: working hard, feeling like it's effortless. That's what people who perform at the highest level in any discipline do. Maybe I'm starting to get closer to that from an artistic standpoint... maybe that's what this is headed towards.

Case and point: last Thursday, one of my students didn't show up. So I had a spare half an hour to practice and write. Almost immediately I stumbled into this delicate guitar pattern that just hit me as being... worth some attention. I started kind of humming some words and I realized the words were actually good.

Soon I has two verses and part of a third. On Monday on the train, I spent 15 minutes tweaking the lyrics and now I've got almost three verse of what I think is one of the most poignant tunes I've ever written...

It just... says exactly what I want it to say. I was thinking I would add a chorus, but after playing it today, I think I may keep these verses back to back and develop the song in a somewhat unorthodox way from there. The third verse, specifically the third and fourth lines, isn't quite there yet, but the rest is golden.

Maybe if I can finish it tonight, I can sleep.

DECEMBER STATIC December static streaked the sky The streetlights blinked as we walked by I didn't mean to let you down The darkness came without a sound You took the train, it made you cry I let the how destroy the why I didn't mean to leave you there To taste the salt hanging in the air The winter left us black and blue And the drugs don't work like they used to We try to make the embers flare If electrons stir, you had better beware


Monday, September 26, 2005

Bottle Boy

In looking back at the last few weeks, I can see my entries here have been consistently substance free. That is not, however, because my life has been substance free.

Wait. That sounded like I've been doing drugs over the last few weeks. Which I haven't. Really. 

Anyway, it's a pretty steadfast rule that the substance components of my life and blog are inversely proportional. Can somebody graph that for me? I seem to have lost my TI-85 graphing calculator.

What I'm trying to say, unsuccessfully it would seem, is that I've been really busy the last few weeks. It's been a mixed bag which has included: attending a wedding, doing a bunch of work on our rental unit, performing the Odyssey at a high school in Hinsdale, and, most importantly, finally finishing our damn album.

That's right. The ostensible original reason for this blog has finally reached a conclusion.

Over the last few weeks, we've listened to several different mixes of the album and offered Dave, our patient engineer and chaperone, our disparate feedback on said mixes.

Doc: Dave, I think the kick drum is too loud in "Darkness."
Barret: Dave, I can't hear the kick drum in "Darkness."
Aoife: There are drums on "Darkness?"
Joe: Can we talk about the vocals again?
Dave (pretending to twist knobs and type on keyboard): There... I cut the 1.5 mhz .25 db and increased the flob-fer 698 CX effect.
Band together: Sounds a lot better!!!

You get the idea. Somehow, it came down to two Sundays ago at about 10:00 in the evening. We had reached about the fifth hour of tweaking and massaging these 9 tracks we had started working on over a year ago.

Suddenly, we realized it: there was nothing left to do. All of us were sufficiently happy (or perhaps insufficiently unhappy) with how it all sounded.

We. Were. Done. Last Thursday, Barret and Doc took the final mixes to Colossal Mastering in Bucktown and the talented Dan Stout added the final layer of audio post-production called mastering. Mastering adds the final polish, brings the volume of the CD up, cleans up the beginnings and ends of the tracks, and fixes any problems. Dan is a pro, probably the most in-demand masterer in the city, and the fact that he was impressed with the quality of both the sound and music was a good sign. Also a good sign was the fact that it only took 3 hours to master our disc instead of the estimated 5, largely because Dave had done such a good job with the mixes that there was little for Dan to fix.

So on Friday, I popped by Doc's and got a copy of the final, mastered product. Gina and I drove around and listened to it from beginning to end, and let me tell you... It sounds amazing. I'm not one to be big on my own work as I am hypercritical of myself, but I really believe we have something special here.

The thing I'm most proud of is that the album has a sound and it is the sound of Burn Rome Burn. This album could have only been made by the four of us, with all our various tastes and influences. There are moments that, even after hearing them literally thousands of times in the last year, give me chills. There are moments where I think "Only Burn Rome Burn would do that." There are moments that scare me and make me nervous.

But most of all, there are moments that make me think we are building a body of work, an ouvre that will continue to grow and develop but always sound like us. Like Burn Rome Burn. And this sound has come out of the last two and a half years of late nights in our rehearsal studio, out of shows we played to a dozen people in Cleveland on a Tuesday night, out of fighting with each other, out of making up, out of drinking and laughing together, out of disagreeing, out of weekends in the studio, out of care, out of just being us...

Tomorrow morning Barret and I are going to the CD duplicators to put the duplication process in motion. We'll likely have the CD in hand in three weeks.

So I'll let you all know when you can get your copy of Burn Rome Burn's first full-length album: Bottle Boy


Monday, September 19, 2005

More frickin' lists

Things done:

1. Wrote portions of 3 new songs
2. Performed Odyssey 3 times at Hinsdale High School
3. Got hugged in front of class by senior year history teacher from OPRF (now Asst. Principal at Hinsdale)
4. Attended wedding
5. Smoked a cigar
6. Watched Bears kick ass
7. Went to studio and finalized mixes

Things to do:

1. Blog
2. Buy flowers for wife for anniversary number 2
3. Listen to completed album
4. Send CD artwork to duplicator
5. Send artwork to web designer
7. Perform Odyssey 3 more times at Hinsdale High School
8. Sing National Anthem at charity run/walk on the lakeshore
9. Obsess

Things to buy at store:

1. Beans with bacon
2. Toothbrush
3. Floss (?)
4. Soy Milk
5. Feta cheese


Monday, September 12, 2005


Things to do this week:

Monday - sleep
Tuesday - listen to final mixes of album
Wednesday - teach private lesson
Thursday - perform Odyssey 3 times for high school English classes
Friday - ?

Songs to Demo for Band: Atlantis Ark Losing Kind Travesty in Blue Why You Had to Fall Regret Orpheus Rising

Songs to Finish Writing: Maybe (Almost) A host of other bits of ideas I haven't had time to work on lately.

Things to Buy at Grocery Store: Pledge Lunch meat Milk Parmesan Cheese Cetaphil


Thursday, September 08, 2005

Ah Sleep

I'd like to see you again soon.

For whatever reason, you haven't been around much lately. Sometimes I sit up reading, writing or watching TV, hoping you'll call. Sometimes I stay up late carousing, hoping I'll bump into you. Sometimes I have to get up early to go to work and just miss you. Sometimes I wake up an hour before my alarm is set to go off and you're gone.

Tonight I've been on my knees for the last three hours ripping up carpet. That's not a euphemism. And I've got to get up in six hours to finish ripping up carpet.

Ah Sleep. I haven't seen your friend Mr. Sleeping Pill for a week now. Maybe he could convince you to see me again. Can't see you tomorrow night (teaching until late, getting up early) and Friday night's out (playing up in Madison, working Saturday morning), so let's set a date for Saturday.

Saturday it is then. That's when I'll next have the pleasure of your company. And if I play my cards right, maybe you'll even share my bed.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005


I guess I'm not alone in noticing that it's been a little less than four years since tragedy so completely dominated the news.

That is, if you don't count war, global climate change, poverty, disease, and genocide. I got to the point last week where I just had to stop reading and watching the reports coming out of New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf coast. It was just too much. In some sense, it was worse than watching 9/11 (at least for me) because the actual events of 9/11 unfolded in just a few hours.

The destruction of NO is an ongoing affair, now reaching into its second week. I'd rather take the bandaid off all at once, really fast. My feelings on the situation vacillate from anger to nausea to helplessness... and while I'm usually one of the first to get involved in thinking and talking about the politics of any given event, the bitching on both sides has really gotten to me.

Who screwed up and why are both legitimate questions to ask with regard to a failure of public authority on this magnitude, but PLEASE: can't we wait until people are safe, dry and fed? Can't we dedicate the time, money and energy we put into immediately assigning blame and deflecting criticism into actual relief efforts? Couldn't the news companies, instead of hiring security and flying Anderson Cooper and Shephard Smith in and out of disaster areas in helicopters, use these resources to save people?

I'm getting angry again thinking about it. I don't usually cry at things. I have pretty high tolerance for both physical and emotional pain. But I was reading a story in the Tribune yesterday about a lawyer from the north suburbs who got in his car last week, left his work and family (with their blessing) and just drove down to Houston to volunteer at the Astrodome. He helped feed people, carry the injured, he even read stories to children. Then, he took one of the refugees and personally drove this man hundreds of miles to a family member's house.

So I was trying to read this story out loud to Gina and it just got the best of me. I got choked up and couldn't get past the second paragraph. A similar thing happened at a family get-together on Sunday. We gathered at my parents' house in Oak Park to belatedly celebrate by parents' birthdays and to preemptively celebrate (two split infinitives in one sentence!) my sister's birthday.

As usual, it was a good time. Food, presents, a lot of laughter. Then, out of nowhere, my dad got really serious and gave a little speech about how sometimes we fight, sometimes we yell, but we never really know the last time we'll see each other and he wanted us to know that no matter what, no matter what the last thing he said to us was, the thing we should remember is that he loves all of us. Wow. Not a dry eye in the house.

You'd like to think that tragedies can change people permanently. You'd like to think that we can learn from them, both as individuals and as a people, as a country. I'm pretty cynical about the latter, but the former is up to each and every one of us alone.

And it seems like a lot of little gestures, from donating whatever you can to the Red Cross to telling your family and friends that you love them, can add up to something real, something palpable, something that'll help those in immediate need and also help us all get out of bed in the morning.

So let me follow my father's example and say that I love you all with all my heart.

It says so in my blog.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

Possum Hunter

At around 10:00 pm last night, I let Hendrix out.

Gina was in the yard with him, and called to me to bring the keys down and let our tenants' dog Uno out, too. So I did. Uno is a big friendly lab/pit bull mix. He's extremely happy and not the least bit aggressive, but when he wants his 100 pound plus body to go somewhere, it usually does.

So Uno comes into the yard and immediately heads for the dog run in the back of the yard, barking, and jumping up against the back fence. This is not an uncommon occurrence. There seems to be no bigger offense a neighbor can commit than to, gasp, walk his or her dog in our alley. Can you believe the nerve of some people?

Anyway, I immediately noticed that this commotion was for a different reason, namely that there was a huge possum perched on our back fence, some seven feet above the ground, but just inches above the jaws of a lunging Uno. Not one to feel left out, Hendrix too was barking and jumping, although I'm not sure he even knew what he was barking and jumping about.

So from my vantage point on the porch I can see this R.O.U.S hanging on for dear life, but Gina can't... until she gets to the back of the yard and comes nearly face to face with said R.O.U.S. Which sends her literally screaming back towards the house. Screaming. I get the hose and turn it on the dogs to get them away from the fence.

Our elderly neighbor to the west emerges to see what the screaming and barking is about. Gina has taken up a position as far away as she can get from our furry visitor, who is still perched on the fence, looking dazed and pissed off. I requisition a 12 foot piece of wooden trim that is sitting by our garbage can and start to poke, prod, and eventually bang away at the beast in an attempt to get him to jump down into the alley.

But he's having nothing of it. He bites the wood, he grabs the fence tighter, he even wraps his spindly tail around my weapon as I try to push him. Next, I try shining a bright flashlight in his eyes. No luck. He's now entrenched at one end of the fence and looks content to fight me from there. So I bring out the big guns: the hose.

Now there's a soaking wet possibly rabid definitely angry obviously resilient feral marsupial running back and forth the length of our 25 foot back fence as I chase its path with the hose. I felt like I was playing a carnival game.

Finally, the thing relents and disappears over the fence into the alley and I'm left feeling like an urban Steve Irwin. Although I guess Steve would have gone over, picked the possum up, antagonized it with his fingers, and then expressed amazement that it bit him.

There's always next time for that.

Joe Goodkin: Possum Hunter.