Friday, October 28, 2005

This week's ghost

In addition to obsessing over Time and the Sea (which is a working title for a future album), I also find myself leaning on the ghost... and what the ghost means and how it represents the relationship between the past and the future and the passage of time. Not a particularly groundbreaking lyrical convention, but a useful and effective one.

What raised the specter of the ghost this week, was that I'm starting to sort through the lyrics to all the new tunes and look for possible themes for the new recording project... most of the songs have been written over the last 6 months, with over half in the last 3 months, and that writing window lends itself to subliminal (or sometimes superliminal) overarching ideas and imagery.

One of the things I liked about naming the album Bottle Boy is that when I looked at all the lyrics, it seemed like an album about the past, about memories, and about, well, ghosts... things that continue to haunt you which you think are temporary but come to realize, after months or years, that they might just be a part of you forever.

So you have:

Nothing's Changed - that very idea of thinking you've escaped something from your past only to have it there again 

Revenant - almost exactly the same theme as Nothing's Changed... "coming back again..."

The Darkness - about those people (well, person) who help(s) you deal with time and ghosts

Four Words - sometimes, the ghosts get a little too loud and you give up

Bombs Away - walking that line between the past and future... trying to move forward

Fallout Grace - the wildcard... progress and the unknown... from all these ghosts come songs

Mermaid - as mentioned in previous entries, this song is the "ghost" of the album... seemed like it would haunt me until we put it out there.

The Soft Drown - overwhelmed by the ghosts

Seraphim do Mar - what's left when it's all gone?

And Bottle Boy... this song was on our first EP (a ghost of a song), and it's remained a bit of a mystery to me. It's about being between the past and the future, between the ghosts of the past and the ghosts of the future (I feel like I'm stuck in a Dickens' story now)... and that feeling of knowing that there will always be those ghosts there... so it seemed an appropriate title for the album.

When I wrote these lyrics, which I did in a cafe up in Madison, Wisconsin, on a napkin in 2003 (still have the napkin), I wasn't sure what they meant, specifically the choruses and the title. I'd had the phrase Bottle Boy kicking around for a bit, and really loved the imagery and what it evoked, but had no context in which to put it. And these fairly straightforward verse lyrics came pouring out of me in a cafe where I spent many a night during my four important years in Madison, and I was remembering all the ghosts, good and bad, and thinking about what they meant to me and how they made and continued to make me who I was on that day... and Bottle Boy was born.

Aimless AM radio, spinning through the dial I'm falling into silence, I've gone another mile When that feeling of suspense meets the skyline heading north Going down that road you've gone down many times before Like a moth into the light, I neglect the consequence Or perhaps it was the lure of electric eloquence One thing is for certain, the burn is something real The scar is just a shadow of the innocence I feel I'm in between the signal I'm in between the static I'm lightening in a bottle I'm thinking something tragic And on past the journey to the place where we were born On that quiet winter's night when the clocks had struck forlorn There's something stark and fleeting in walking down these streets There's something to the myth that quickens my heart as it beats I'm in between the signal I'm in between the static I'm lightening in a bottle I'm thinking something tragic I'm in between the moonlight The currency of strangers The noise is in the moonlight And the moonlight is the danger to me And back into the night, the sky is pushing me Back on down that road to the places I should be How can I forget the way you won weary eyes? Well I will not go dreaming as the days just pass me by ******* 

So now I can see that everybody's lives are made up of these choruses of ghosts... and maybe I'm just trying to get mine to sing in tune.

Cheers. Go Bears.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Melon Collie

You've heard the one about the cantaloupe and the dog getting it on? No? Maybe that's better for all of us.

Another semi-cloudy October morning at home with the animals, trying to get some things done around the house, failing spectacularly. If you're going to fail, fail spectacularly. I think that's a motto all musicians should live by. Maybe I can make a t-shirt with that on it, or a Demotivational Calendar or something.

This week is setting up to be work work work. A dozen students on Tuesday, a private student last night, eight students plus a private student today, and (as of now) fifteen students on Saturday.


That's a lot. Mix in the usual Monday, Wednesday, Friday downtown and it makes for some pretty serious exhaustion and a bit of a lull in songwriting. My goal is to have 12 tunes ready by the time we rehearse again, which'll be the week after next. I've got 7 completely done, and 2 more mostly done. I've also got about 3 tunes that have solid beginnings (i.e., nice guitar hooks, changes, etc.) so hopefully I can buckle down over the next 2 weeks and have a good batch of songs ready as we begin to think about our next project.

Harriet Miers, we hardly knew ye.



Tuesday, October 25, 2005

What's the plan, band?

It's a Nick Drake type of October Tuesday morning... as somehow my copy of Pink Moon has gone AWOL. Guess I'll have to score the day myself, with Mr. Drake as my muse.

Anyway, this past weekend was a good one, all around. Friday, we met up with a group of friends at Da Sero, a Mexican place on West Randolph, for some dinner, and proceeded to a wine bar for some drinks afterwards. The occasions celebrated were a visit from our friends Leslie and Matt (from Florida), and Matt's 30th birthday.

After a long day of teaching on Saturday, I took the Metra down to Grand Ave., and we met my parents, sister, and sister's boyfriend Will for dinner. The occasion celebrated was my sister receiving a no-strings-attached grant for a year's worth of college tuition and books. Good times indeed.

Sunday found me running a couple of errands and then settling in to watch the Bears defeat the Ravens. I also stopped by Aoife and Barret's to say hello and go over a couple of band-related things. The happy couple had just returned the night before from their honeymoon in England and France, and seemed happy with the trip as well as with finally being home.

We discussed (and I think decided) to adopt a slightly modified plan for Burn Rome Burn over the next six months. As I've mentioned a few times over the last few weeks, we've been having some professional disagreements with our manager about how to release Bottle Boy. We want to release it all, as is, as a full length album, whereas our manager wants us to break it into two separate EPs (shorter releases). He'd also like to see us spend a little more time tweaking it artistically, but that's not going to happen.

Anyway, he has his reasons for promoting the "two EP" strategy, and the best one is that he's going to be shopping our music to record labels, and if a label is interested, he wants to have more material to give them. Which is a sentiment I've heard a lot in the business: you always want something more in your pocket to show people.

So I was thinking (read: brooding) about this over the past week, and I hit upon this idea: by the time the album is in our hands, we have a "hard release date," put on a big CD release show, get CDs to record people, and have the record people actually listen to the CDs, it'll be 4 to 6 months from now. In that time, we're going to get back to working on new material, pick 2-4 tunes from the huge batch I've written, and spend a weekend in a really nice studio in Chicago laying down these 2-4 tunes, working quickly, trying to implement a lot of what we learned over the course of recording Bottle Boy.

So when all the record companies come to us begging for more material (wink), we'll have another EP for them to swoon over. Is it a risk? Sure. We've never written or recorded anything that quickly. But I figure the worst that happens is that we have a high-quality demo of new material. I'm hoping to lay down a couple of acoustic tunes, too, and maybe include one of them on the EP.

One of the big problems I've experienced in previous bands I've been in and seen in a lot of "local" bands, is that it's really hard to get going again after you finish a full length. You've put all your time, energy and money into this project and suddenly it's done and... it's hard to get back into the studio again. So this strategy should remedy that situation, challenge us to write and record in a new paradigm, and satisfy our manager's concerns.

Now there's just the little matter of actually making it happen...


Thursday, October 20, 2005

It Will Always Rain

The sky was low and the Streets went on for miles and the Spires hung above the tracks but they Couldn't reconcile The noise from above with the Noise from the ground and the Choir began to sing as the Summer sun went down It will always rain It will always rain If you pray for long enough It will always rain He faced to the east with his Eyes fixed on a star and he Tried to put in words what he Knew in his heart The lightening touched his tongue and the Sparks began to fly and the Night sky opened up and the Angels began to cry It will always rain It will always rain If you pray for long enough It will always rain jbg

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Awoke at 4 a.m.

I hate it when I live out my own lyrics.

I did, indeed, awaken at 4:00 a.m. this morning (after crashing at about 1:00), although I did not try to find the answer as the world began to end. As far as I can tell, at least. I instead worked on a new song tentatively entitled "It Will Always Rain" and then fell back asleep at about 5:30, just in time for our 6:30 alarm.

My hour plus writing foray yielded little worth reporting... the new song has only a chorus, and an unfinished one at that, but the music is pretty much there and the melodies have been flowing pretty freely. It's a simple, rootsy two chord thing and once I dial in exactly what I'm trying to say, I'd like to write the lyrics as quickly and honestly as possible.

Yesterday I also managed to finish December Static and I think once the band gets its fingers into it, it'll be something pretty good. It turned into a two part song with the first part as a quiet, folk tune with lyrics, and the second part as a dynamic electric long-form instrumental build, something we haven't really done. I also tinkered with another new tune called "Someday We'll Watch the Highway Burn." It's a real rocker that should go over well live.

SOMEDAY WE'LL WATCH THE HIGHWAY BURN Saw the light on the city behind Saw the firefight in your eyes Just another day coming on Just another restless dawn Someday We'll watch the Highway Burn Thought that maybe I would stay As the morning fell away Thought that maybe I would break The midnight spells you couldn't shake Someday We'll watch the Highway Burn

So we're still a good three weeks from the next BRB rehearsal, and by that time the new song list should be at least: Travesty in Blue December Static Ark Atlantis Why You Had to Fall Losing Kind Regret It Will Always Rain Someday We'll Watch the Highway Burn

Whew. We've got a lot of work to do.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Charlie Rose v. The White Stripes

I dozed off last night flipping between the Monday Night Football game and David Letterman, and woke up 30 minutes later to Charlie Rose interviewing Jack and Meg White from The White Stripes. I was forced, forced I tell you, to watch the rest of the interview and then lie awake for another hour or two thinking about it.

A couple of impressions:

1. Charlie Rose. He just plain knows his shit better than anybody else in the business. He can go from interviewing Mohamed ElBaradei to Sean Penn to The White Stripes and seem equally prepared and comfortable. Is he going to ask the "tough" questions? Not usually. But he always seems to put his guests at ease and get thoughtful in-depth pertinent answers out of them. Now he just needs to get some sleep.

2. Jack White. This guy is the real deal. I knew he was one of the best guitarists around, but he proved to be articulate, down-to-earth, intellectual, and able to crystallize his aesthetic in multi-syllabic words. Also, he had great insight into writing, performing, producing, and recording, as well as a lot of interesting thoughts on the blues, which I put into the "Ideas for Joe's Future Book About the Continuing Influence of Blues on Rock and American Culture" (working title) file in my mental file cabinet. Really. I have one. Anyway, Jack White is looking more and more like Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka everyday. He even carries a cane.

3. Meg White. I've always been a bit bored with her, but she too (the few times Jack let her talk) was articulate and extremely sweet. Like Jack, she seemed honestly amazed at and thankful for their commercial success. And she talked about the choices involved in her spare drumming style. Which gave me a better appreciation of her. I always knew The White Stripes were a freaky blues band, and Jack talked about how a lot of their thing is tricking people into listening to the blues without realizing it. And it's pretty clear that he thinks of himself as Robert Johnson, with Meg White playing the role of Robert Johnson's foot. He also talked about the experience of producing the Loretta Lynn album Van Lear Rose, which is a favorite in the Goodkin household.

All in all, worthwhile viewing. And the interview concluded with an acoustic performance, which was really... visceral. Jack White's voice is a challenge, but he attacks his songs so directly and with such genuine abandon that it usually makes for a pretty compelling listen. I think he's in the tradition of Dylan in this respect.

Now that I think about it, I don't actually own any White Stripes' albums.

Better get on that.


Monday, October 17, 2005

A week in review

So last week I tried a new approach to socializing... instead of taking it easy on the weeknights and going out on the weekend, I went out Monday through Thursday nights, stayed in Friday and Saturday nights, and threw a little party on Sunday afternoon. Just to, you know, mix things up.

Monday, my good friend Pete was in town from NYC and we drank some wine to celebrate the publication of his first cookbook.

Tuesday, I joined my good friend Colin at the Andersonville staple Hopleaf to celebrate his move to NYC where he'll begin his career as a superstar lawyer. We stayed at Hopleaf too late, and he, his friend Chris, and I got into the stupidest argument ever about Barack Obama, stereotypical Democrats that we are.

Wednesday, I stayed in the Loop a little bit late and met up with our manager Paul to discuss the album and try to put a few of the last remaining issues to bed. I don't know if we succeeded, but it was a good meeting nonetheless.

Thursday, I met up with Barret's brother Collin at the Cork Lounge to, er, transact some kilt-related business and have a few cocktails to celebrate our kilt-related accomplishment. Such as it was.

So Friday left me feeling a little... dehydrated. After working Saturday, and taking it easy again Saturday night, AJ and Sarah (and Doc briefly) joined us to watch the Bears and drink bloody marys. A carrot cake with Bears- inspired frosting baked by a future famous pastry chef was consumed, as were snacks.

Comcast cable was cursed for relegating us to standing around in the bedroom watching the game on a tiny TV screen with rabbit-ear reception, and doubly cursed for their worthless customer "service" "hot"line. e.g.

Joe: Hi, our cable's out. What's the story?
Comcast Representative (no doubt drooling on phone): Is your internet out too?
J: I don't know. I'm calling about the cable.
CR: Yes. I can see your cable's out. We have confirmation of that. Yes. There's an outage.
J: Okay... can you tell me when it might be back on?
CR: Yes. There's an outage.
J: I get that. I'm looking at a black screen with the words "One moment please. This channel will be available shortly" only "one moment" should read "one hour" and "shortly" should read "after that game is over" at the rate we're going.
CR: That's because there's an outage.
J (growing red in the face, banging phone on head): ...

Service was returned early in the second half, which reflected the Bears' performance: their first half play was barely worthy of 12" antenna-based resolution, while the second half translated nicely to crisp 27" digital goodness. There was much celebration.

So now we're back to Monday... this week I think I will avoid last week's social calendar in favor of rest and meditation, specifically paying attention to the growing amount of song-related material that seems to be gathering in my head and piling up on the pages of my notebook regardless of the hours I keep.

So many songs, so little time.


Monday, October 10, 2005

The future, Conan?

I should really be asleep right now. The last 96 hours or so have been pretty bad for rest, as they featured Barret and Aoife's wedding festivities.

I could probably write at least 5000 words on the event, but in the interest of time, let me just say this: Saturday night/Sunday morning, 2:00 am found me running laps around the 6th floor of the Lexington Hyatt wearing nothing but a kilt. That's all you need to know.

So today at work, I was a bit unfocused. I hate Mondays after big events. I'm always worthless. I'm always tired. I'd always much rather be writing. And again on the train ride home, I was struck by this continuing productivity. Just 30 minutes of writing yielded the final lyrics/approach for December Static, some nice new lyrics for another new tune, as well as two new titles/ideas for song themes.

Life is supposed to slow down a bit for the next month or so... Barret and Aoife will be on their honeymoon and then Jeff and Barret will be out of town, so BRB will be on hiatus for about a month.

The album should be in hand in a few weeks, once we 1) sort out one last issue with our manager and 2) tweak the cover art. So this little break will be good for writing, for getting our ducks in a row in terms of shopping the album, and for redesigning our website. The writing time is what I'm excited about. So many ideas, so many songs already done.

Is it way to soon to think about the next Burn Rome Burn album? Absolutely. But I don't think that'll stop me.


Thursday, October 06, 2005


Well... it's just your average Thursday. But it's been a strange week. Because of the Jewish New Year, I had no students to teach in Deerfield on Tuesday. It worked out all right though, because I was actually needed downtown at the law firm to work on an urgent big project. So this week I went into the office on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the first time I've worked in an office for three straight days in... years.

Can't remember how long.

Additionally, on Monday I worked almost 12 hours on said urgent project, staying downtown until about 8:00 pm. Luckily, I have Friday off to go Lexington for Barret and Aoife's wedding. But the whole Monday-Wednesday thing made me appreciate my usual schedule of every other day in the office. Some people might not like the idea of one day downtown, one day teaching, etc., but I think I thrive on it. I think it keeps me on my toes and gives me some variation, so every day I'm using different parts of my brain and different skills. 

You can tell I was a Psych major for a semester, no?

Anyway, this whole upcoming weekend will be filled with Barret and Aoife's wedding. I'm really looking forward to it. Not only am I honored to be an usher, but I'm wearing a kilt. A kilt! Barret's wearing a kilt, and he asked the ushers if we would like to wear one too and I figured... how often does one get to wear a kilt? So I'll get my "If Jesus were Scottish" look on. And I won't be wearing underwear.

To boot, my whole family will be attending and the wedding, planned to the smallest detail by Aoife's mother, is going to be incredible. A fun weekend.

Speaking of fun weekends... last weekend, my wonderful wife surprised me with a belated anniversary trip up to Door County, Wisconsin. We stayed at a friend's cottage, located right on Sturgeon Bay. We had beautiful weather and nothing to do and it was fantastic. Friday night, we didn't leave Chicago until about 6:00 pm, so it was 10:00 pm when we arrived at our lodging. We couldn't see much of Sturgeon Bay (the town) in the dark, other than the gigantic ghostly ships which sit in the port, waiting to be repaired.

The cottage was perfect, and we high-tailed it down the road in search of food and some drink. We found both at a little roadside bar not even a mile away, and also found a jukebox with a lot of Earth Wind and Fire and a strangely intoxicated and horny clergyman. After sleeping in on Saturday, we drove up the coast about 40 minutes to have breakfast at a place called the White Gull Inn in (I think) a little town of 1500 called Egg Harbor. Or Fish Creek. Or Fish Harbor. Or something.

We had to wait about 40 minutes for a table, so we wandered the downtown area, finally settling in a bar for a bloody mary and a few minutes of the Wisconsin game. Breakfast was delicious, and we began to work our way back towards our cottage. Gina planned a couple of stops at wineries so we could live out our Sideways fantasy, and we also stopped in some of the small towns along the way. 

After buying an antique mirror for our living room, we finally made it back to the cottage. We sat on the lake, watching the sun set and drinking a bottle of wine we'd just purchased. It was one of those moments that strikes you as completely unrealistic, like you can't believe reality actually looks and feels like it does. It was amazing.

As my sister would say, nature has no sense of irony. After that, we headed into Sturgeon Bay for a great dinner at a place called Sage. More wine, more laughs. In the morning, we ate breakfast in town, and headed back to Chicago, this time staying off major highways in favor of the smaller county roads that hug the coast. It took us a little longer to get home, but it was a much more pleasant, interesting drive.

And we had ice cream. Mmmmm... ice cream.

The whole moment watching the sun set, drinking wine, listening to the lake... will no doubt rear it's head in song at some point. It was just one of those moments that deserves to be chronicled and... relived.

Let's hope I can do it justice.