Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Jason and Andrew Play at Schubas

Okay, one of you got that. But that's fine.

So Gina and I headed out to Schubas last night to check out Jason Molina as part of Schubas' Monday night monthly residency. Mr. Molina is the driving force behind Magnolia Electric Co. and before that, Songs:Ohia. He's probably my favorite living lyricist and doubles as the guy I steal from most often. I mean, the first line of Wait is ripped off from some of his liner notes. That's thievery.

Anyway, I've been trying to see him live for about... four years now, and it just hasn't happened. So when I saw he'd be playing every Monday in February at Schubas, I knew I'd feel like a complete idiot if I didn't take advantage of it. Of course I almost forgot and wound up getting tickets at the last minute for the last Monday of the month... but all's well that ends well.

Anyway, Gina and I rolled into Schubas at about 8:00. I read that the shows started pretty promptly and ran pretty short, and I wanted to make sure we got into the club in time. Of course, we were also hungry. So I ambled up to the doorman to scout out the schedule. Mr. Doorman told me the night had been "moved around" a bit, and as I started to inquire why, Andrew Bird walked out of the back room. I'm part of a very very small group of people in the world who would actually recognize Andrew Bird, and I was a little bit stunned.

I've been a big fan of his going back to about the same time I discovered Jason Molina, maybe longer. I saw him live about four years ago at a street fest in Chicago, and we had the pleasure of playing before him at another street fest about a year and a half ago. Mr. Bird is a violinist by trade and got his start playing with the Squirrel Nut Zippers (remember them?) before going on to a solo career in which he has produced some truly stunning music.

Anyway, Mr. Doorman says the schedule has changed because Andrew Bird (unannounced) will be joining Jason Molina for a few songs and then playing a set of his own. This (along with a new pair of horn-rimmed glasses) is a Chicago-hipster-indie-music-lovers' dream...

So Gina and I went next door to the Harmony Grill and inhaled dinner, taking advantage of the half-price bottle of wine night. We rushed into the music room just in time to hear the first notes of Jason Molina's acoustic guitar. The room was packed and hushed. Jason Molina played a set of about 7 songs, none of which were off of his last couple of albums. He's notoriously productive, so I can only believe that most of the songs were new and unrecorded.

He's a paradox on stage: no more than 5' 2", balding, assuming, but with a voice almost like Neil Young. His cheery persona was in direct contrast to the mournfulness that populates his songs in the form of outlaws, pain, the blues, wolves, owls, wind, the moon... stark stuff.

After he played alone, he invited Andrew Bird up and they put together a couple of tunes on the fly, which was immediately followed by Andrew Bird sitting down and playing a couple of his own newer tunes. He's also a virtuoso whistler. I kid you not. All in all, an amazing performance.

On the way out, we bumped into Jason Molina and I told him how inspiring I found his music and slipped him the Burn Rome Burn discs I had brought hoping to have just such an encounter. So that makes the week a little bit brighter.

That, and these White Castle sliders I'm eating for breakfast.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Paul Wester-who?

VAGRANT HEART Oh my vagrant heart Don't stray too far 'Cause it's just me and you Just me and you Oh my vagrant heart I'm in the dark And I need you here Need you here Oh my vagrant heart I don't know where to start But now that you're gone It's so hard to get along Without you Without you Without you Oh my vagrant heart I've got no spark I'm buried in the dirt Buried in the dirt Oh my vagrant heart When you come back home I'll split you in your sleep Just you wait and see...


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Falling Out

Forgive me if I'm a little incoherent this morning. That is, more incoherent than usual. I got up pretty early to drive Gina to the airport for a brief trip to New York to help launch the furniture line she designed. Heady stuff.

So I dragged my ass out of bed and now, after fighting rush hour traffic, I'm back home with a little time to kill before rehearsal. Add to that an erratic night of sleep fueled by the fact that I played basketball last night and was haunted by some severe foot and calf cramps in the wee hours of the morning... I get the feeling that today is going to be a bit of a trial.

After rehearsal, it's up to Deerfield to teach, and then to the Pontiac Grill in Wicker Park to play an acoustic set. No cover, cheap drinks if you're in Chicago looking for something to do. I play at 9:00-ish The drive out to O'Hare and back this morning was kind of a pain, but it did give me some time to reflect on another trip out to O'Hare, one in the fall of 2004 which yielded the genesis of the song Fallout Grace...

"On the edge of town, the planes fly overhead..." And now, for whatever reason, I just can't get the word ecnalubma out of my head.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Mr. Independent

Ever spend a day pretending you're independently wealthy?

That's what I wound up doing yesterday. After taking delivery of a small china cabinet we bought off of Craig's List (long story), I executed my plan (detailed below) to perfection. A satisfying leisurely workout. A stroll around Lincoln Square, including stops to drop off my resume at Old Town School, to browse a record store, and to peruse an apothecary. A burger and a couple of Guinnesses with my friend Greg at The Daily Bar and Grill. An hour at home playing guitar and tinkering. A trip to the grocery store, and finally, the preparation of a splendid candlelit dinner of chicken baked in a pouch with red wine and mushrooms, and served with a caprese salad and baked asparagus wrapped in bacon and seasoned with rosemary and lemon.

Now that's a good day. And really, if I was independently wealthy, most of my days might not look too different from that, with the exception of maybe a little more time spent playing and recording music and the addition of my wife. I highly recommended this experiment.

In order for it to be successful, you need to be someone who works all the time. Then, you need a weekday off of work (it helps if it's only a semi-holiday, like Presidents' Day, where not everybody is off, or feel free to take a random sick day in the middle of the week). Finally, you need to have at least enough money to be able to go out and have some food, and maybe shop for some relatively extraneous objects, like a nice imported shaving cream. 

It also helps to drink in the middle of the day. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that I've won the Lotto. I did have a stake in our office pool, but the winning ticket was apparently purchased in Nebraska so... unless our secretary Sue took a road trip to buy our tickets... it's back to reality.

Although reality ain't too bad as it is. It's just not... independent wealth. Or even dependent wealth for that matter.


Monday, February 20, 2006

Presents Day

The rare paid day off... how sweet it is. I've never been more thankful for our presidents. But that's not saying much. Anyway... the occurance of a true two day weekend is so rare that I'm not quite sure what to do with myself today. So far, I'll be going to the gym and then heading over to Lincoln Square to stop by Old Town School of Folk Music and hit up The Daily Bar and Grill for a lunch of soup and Guinness.

Old Town is a Chicago institution which offers music and art instruction, and houses one of the best rooms for live music in the city. I saw Jimmy Scott there a few years back. Unreal. Anyway, I'll be sniffing around there seeing if I can worm my way into a teaching job. Not to replace Village Music, but to subsidize it. Old Town also happens to be walking distance from my house, which would be... a nice easy commute. And then it's on to the Daily. 

The Daily is a great place to have lunch and a drink. I'm hoping to meet my friend Greg there for just such a lunch. After that... I think I'll head home, write a bit, and start putting together a nice dinner. A two day weekend, indeed.


Thursday, February 16, 2006


I watched the movie Dig! last night. It's a documentary about the fortunes (and misfortunes) of The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, two west-coast rock bands which began making music in the mid- to late-nineties, and who had a close and sometimes contentious relationship as they took widely divergent paths towards "success."

It's a really compelling look at how talent and ambition interacts with the music business and vice versa. I'm not really a fan of either band, especially the DW's (their hit was "Bohemian Like You"), but like all good movies, this one is less about particulars and more about the characters and relationships. My one complaint, which was the same one I had about I am Trying to Break Your Heart, is that there wasn't much of an attempt to capture the creative process. But that criticism may be more about the question of the nature of the creative process.

Like if there was a movie made about Burn Rome Burn... would it really show me, sitting in my living room, writing lyrics and singing to my cat and dog? 'Cause that's how I write. But it would make for a pretty boring movie. It's much more intriguing to just portray the finished product, the fruits of the labors, rather than the labors themselves. Anyway, Dig! is worth checking out, for the fight scenes alone.

And I'm not kidding. There are some great fight scenes.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

sdfjlkie (My cat typed that)

Blah. Some weeks, you just have to say "Blah." Or even "Bah." And this seems to be one of those weeks. Nothing really all that exciting going on.

The usual work, students, rehearsals... although we're not rehearsing Thursday, which will give me some time to polish up a few tunes on which I've been working. Last week, I played three new tunes for the band, and it seemed like everyone was into them. I figure that if a tune impresses Gina, my sister, and my bandmates... that's good enough for me.

These new tunes are the first since I had my "New Year's cleansing" moment, and threw out a bunch of songs I wrote last fall. Actually, one of the tunes I just gutted and rewrote and it turned out so much better I had to keep it.

 SOMEDAY WE'LL WATCH THE HIGHWAY BURN Saw the night leave us behind Saw the light, it left us blind We tried and tried to see it through But all along you knew that Someday We'd watch the highway burn And you'd say "I wish that we could stay Until it's all gone away" Then shadows fall across our hearts As all we built just falls apart But I'm still here, and I've got nothing else to lose So tell me how you knew that Someday We'd watch the highway burn And you'd say "I wish that we could stay Until it's all gone away" One more time for all those years One more time, then disappear I'm still, I'm still a travesty in blue So tell me how you knew that Someday We'll watch the highway burn And you'll say "I wish that we could stay Until it's all gone away"

This song is going to be a good BRB song... it's uptempo, it's concise, but it's also pretty savvy. I don't think the lyrics are anything special, but I do like them a lot better than what I originally wrote for this tune. The whole idea, that sometimes things are just doomed from the start of a relationship, has some pretty universal appeal, I think.

While those lyrics may be a little light... I've been struggling with another song pretty consistently for over 3 months. It's really a beast. But I've got this feeling about it... that it's one of those "special" songs that doesn't come around that often. So I've been really, really critical about it, especially the lyrics. It's actually a pretty good lesson in learning how to let go of lyrics or music that is decent, but not great. It's so easy to say to yourself "Well, Self, those lyrics are okay. They're not going to make anyone throw-up, or send anyone's underwear crawling up his or her asscrack (and speaking of crack)."

What was I saying? I guess that mediocrity is the crack whore of songwriting. What? Let's try again. Mediocrity is... easy to give in to. And with this other new song, I just feel like if I keep digging, if I keep working, if I'm not afraid to throw out decent lyrics and start over... I'm going to get it to a place it deserves to be. The process so far has involved writing lyrics for the entire song several times, and then pretty much throwing them all out except the last verse, which was so strong I moved it to the first verse.

That's a common occurrence. You write and write and finally at the end of the song get into what you really want to talk about, only to realize that everything at the beginning where you started, sucks in comparison to where you arrived at the end. Dylan (not Thomas) had this whole thing about making every line sound like it could be the first line of the song. Or something like that. It's a great goal to have. Anyway, this new (and as yet untitled) song has now got two out of three verses written and solid. What it needs now is a hook for a chorus and lyrics for the bridge and third verse.

 (UNTITLED) We're all waiting on an angel and a flood To come down and wash our hands clean of the blood So we built an ark And let the dark Embrace us while we pray But the waters never rose and the angel never came And the buildings that hang along the lake Swallow up our lightening from the moment we awake And in between the northern star And the old train cars A lion sits and waits Wishing that his fragile heart would just go on and break


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Learning How to Die

No, I'm not in one of those moods. Well, not really. But I did just finish reading the Greg Kot book about Wilco, entitled (you guessed it) "Learning How to Die." The verdict? What did Frank Zappa say about rock journalism? That it's "people's who can't write, writing about people who can't talk, for people who can't read..." I'm paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

Actually, the book is pretty good, but mostly because of the subject matter. Jeff Tweedy offers some interesting insights into creativity and music, and although you get the sense he's incredibly difficult to work with, you also see that the integrity that is a constant in Wilco's music is not an accident. The man represents flawed genius. All his faults, all his mistakes... but instead of ruining his art, they actually contribute to it.

Hendrix was the same way. His insecurities about singing, his sloppy playing... just go to enhancing his music. It's almost as if the faults make this person, this artist, into a real three dimensional person, and putting brilliant art in the context of its fallible creator... has a certain weight that I identify with strongly.

It makes it more poignant. It makes it more human I guess. Scarily human. I've had this fascination with faults and integrity in art lately, and LHtD spoke to those issues. Good times.

So now it's back to the grind. We're staying disciplined this week and getting our usual rehearsals in, which is good. Really starting to shape the four songs we're going to try to record sometime in the next few months. And I'm about ready to bring four new songs in that I feel may be some of the best ones yet.

I've been struggling a little lately because... I haven't been settling lyrically. I've been very hard on myself and I've been getting halfway through these songs, and then throwing out the lyrics and starting over. Sometimes four times a song. But every skin I shed, I feel like I'm getting a little closed to the serpent.

Whoa. Where did that come from?


Tuesday, February 07, 2006


It's a Boy. A Bottle Boy. Available now, HERE. Tell your friends. Tell your enemies.



Sunday, February 05, 2006


Why the heck am I awake? After a week of poor sleep and stretching myself thin with rehearsals and promoting our CD release show, I capped it all off by going to bed at about 4:30 am last night, thrilled at the prospect of sleeping until Super Bowl kick-off today... only to find myself awake at about 9:30 am and not able to go back to sleep. Typical.

The good news is this: last night's CD release show at Martyrs' was a resounding success. The club was happy, the crowd was happy... and it all pretty much went off without a hitch. Our set was... a little sloppy. I guess it's inevitable that a night meant to celebrate the 18 month process of recording Bottle Boy would wind up being a little anti-climactic emotionally. Which is how I feel this morning. But it was a great time.

The whole week, from getting played on WXRT three times, to doing an hour long interview on Fearless Radio, to getting written up in the Onion and the new monthly Wassup Live, felt empowering. Like things are really starting to happen for us at a little bit of different level. The key is (and this is probably the source of my morning sleeplessness): what now?

Well... now the real work begins. Now Bottle Boy goes off into the world and starts to (hopefully) work its way into people's hearts. Now we try to remain as pro-active as we were in booking and promoting the party last night. Now we lay out a plan and get Bottle Boy into the hands of people in the industry. And some of that is already underway.

Through our manager, we've gotten about a half dozen copies out to labels and "big time" talent scouts. So it'll be interesting to see what kind of feedback we get from that.

What does it mean, Corky? If only I knew.