Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Today is the first day in about five that I've felt right. I managed to go the entire winter without a serious illness, and then... just as the thermometer began to creep up, I got that virus that moves from throat to head to sinuses to nose... and it's not the most gracious guest.

But I think a weekend of doing little other than watching the Bulls' lose their first playoff game of 2006 helped out and I've rallied to get back in the game. We also spent Saturday and Sunday (well, Gina and Terri spent Saturday, I joined them Sunday) putting our backyard back together from the winter and augmenting our front yard with additional plants and landscaping. I was in charge of edging and mowing. Which I'm good at.

Of course, after putting a substantial amount of flora in the ground, the Chicago spring has failed us and we're looking at a frost tonight... which is great for plants I hear. They love being frozen and thawed. So I'm off to Home Depot to try to improvise a solution. I do love the Depot. As one of my friend's once said, you go in to buy some lightbulbs, and leave thinking you can build a fireplace.

To top it off, it's a busy week for Burn Rome Burn. Yesterday afternoon, Barret and I spent two hours at Fearless Radio guest hosting The New Music Binge. We were the featured guests on NMB a couple of months back, and the folks there were nice enough to invite us back to serve as guest DJs. We joined with Kris, Jen, and producer Jason (a fellow OPRF Class of '95er) to waste a couple of hours bullshitting, playing music, and plugging our upcoming shows.

Barret and I played a couple of new tunes with Barret on bodhran (did I spell that right?) and in spite of my vocal health (or lack thereof), I think they went pretty well. All in all, a great time. The five of us had good chemistry, laughed a lot, made fun of famous people, took some phone calls, and just generally had fun. It looks like Kris and Jen are going to be the new hosts of NMB on a full time basis (Rocco, the previous host, is focusing more on film than radio now) and I think they're going to do great. And Jason is a natural in the producer's booth. Good times.

Thursday, we play down in Joliet at Harrah's Casino as part of a Battle of the Bands. That's right. I will then proceed to lose our life's saving at a Texas Hold 'Em table. Just sayin'... Saturday, we're at Double Door as part of the Shoeshine Boy Productions' 6th Anniversary Party. Should be a great time. If anybody in Chicago is interested, I've got discount tickets for sale for $10. Buying the advance ticket from us not only gets you in the door for cheap, but it also entitles you to attend the FREE HOUR OF DRINKING from 8 pm to 9 pm. Free Jim Beam and Absolut drinks for the entire hour. And then we play at 9:00 followed by three other great bands. How can you beat that? With a stick I guess. 

Anyway... email joe@burnromeburn.com if you're interested in tix. So things are humming along... I'm also doing an interview this morning with The Daily Herald, a suburban paper, which will probably run on Friday as part of a preview of the party on Saturday.

Finally, I just found out that my best friend from high school, Ben, is a daddy. A Big Daddy. He and his wife April are the proud parents of Austin Richard and Aspen Rose and I couldn't be happier for them. Brother and sister were born a bit premature and are in the ICU as a precaution but are otherwise healthy and doing well. Here's to their continued health and well being. And the sanity of their parents, what with twin babies and two Pugs in the house.

Good morning and good luck.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

On the Subject of Literacy and Drugs

So Thursday... eh? I don't know how I feel about that. The blur of multiple holidays, the fatigue of travel, the throb of gout, the dull pain of boredom from getting stuck listening to an elderly relative tell you about every car she's ever owned, in detail... it all adds up, dunnit? Well, it's nothing I can't handle.

Been kicking around some song ideas this week... but I've found myself being pretty selective, throwing out a lot of stuff I might otherwise keep. And no matter how hard I try to convince myself that I've broken free from my standard 2:1 ratio of completed songs to keeper songs... well, it seems to come back those numbers without fail. C'est la vie.

One of my resolutions of the last few months has been to start reading more fiction... reading is such a powerful source of subject matter for lyrics... from overall themes to specific words. I think I've mentioned it here before, but one of the ways I write lyrics is by "collecting" words (or sometimes phrases) that I find attractive and finding the right place for them, whether that be as titles or actual lyrics.

Or course, sometimes it takes me literally years to find the right place for them. Case and point: "drugs." For awhile, I wanted to find a way to use the word "drugs" in a song. Not in the sense of "Hey, let's go score some weed," but because the word is so evocative, so emblematic of so many different facets of human behavior and interaction.

Also, it seems like a good number of my songwriting heroes, from Aimee Mann, to Jeff Tweedy, to David Byrne, have found creative ways to use "drugs." In songs. And probably otherwise. For years, every time I tried to use "drugs" in a song, it sounded forced, synthetic, and amateur.

But I was patient and finally, I managed to slip it into the song December Static, which I first wrote about here. The last verse goes: The winter left us black and blue And the drugs don't work like they used to I didn't mean to let you go To walk alone into the snow

I think (if one can ever be an objective critic of one's own work) that this is probably the best writing I've ever done. Anyway, the upshot of this story is that I've been trying to read more and find more words and phrases for my list. I just finished the book Kite Runner, which was quite good, and I'm on to Cosmopolis, which a friend lent me a couple of years ago and I just haven't gotten around to reading. Kite Runner fit in nicely with the theme of redemption I've been writing about and so far Cosmopolis is proving to be a cornucopia of poetic prose.

To be continued...


Friday, April 14, 2006

I forgot

Blue by Joni Mitchell. Jeez. That's another heart-pisser-on. Man.


In the mood for moods

Apropos of my mood this week, the details of which I'll spare you, I've been seeking out depressing music to console/embolden my feelings of despair. Okay, so the feelings aren't exactly up to the level despair. Maybe more like... extreme grumpiness.

Anyway... I got to thinking about sad music in general and I started compiling a list of what I think are some of the most heartbreaking songs in my collection.

1. My Mom - Chocolate Genius Any song about one's mom getting Alzheimer's... well... 'nuff said.

2. Family Life - Blue Nile This one I discovered fairly recently, but... wow. Like a ton of bricks.

3. Pink Moon - Nick Drake (entire album) Ever wondered what an album recorded by a guy so depressed he couldn't stand up would sound like? Well, now you know.

4. Lover You Should Have Come Over - Jeff Buckley Another album that is full of pathos, if only because it was his only complete one. This song, in particular, does something to the heart. Like tears it out of your chest and pees on it. Triumphantly.

5. Anna Begins - Counting Crows Is this song sad, or just cathartic? Or tragic? Hmmmm. I'm leaving it.

6. Dear Chicago - Ryan Adams Something about his voice on this song... something about how it cracks at the end. Makes you feel like the world is cracked.

7. Angel - Jimi Hendrix (Demo acoustic version on an old tape from high school) One of the most delicate examples of the fact that Hendrix was really a kick ass singer. Another song about a dead/dying mom. A sure tearjerker.

8. Not Dark Yet - Bob Dylan Really, the whole Time Out of Mind album, but this song in particular, with all its connotations of mortality. And somehow, he's still kicking.

9. Mercy Street - Peter Gabriel There's a lot of pathos on this album too... and in no song more than in this one.

10. Keep Me in Your Heart - Warren Zevon How can you not feel it when a guy with terminal cancer records an album knowing it will be his last? Good god.

11. Hold On - Tom Waits I think it was my sister that said that this song sounded like a classic from the first time she heard it. Like it could have been written 30 years ago. Lyrically, just amazing.

So... if you're in the mood for moody music and haven't heard some of these tunes... track 'em down. And you might also want to pick up some Prozac.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006


That's the number of posts I've managed to put together since I debuted BurnBlogBurn exactly one year ago today. Not too bad. I thought about going back and doing a "best of awards" entry, but that stuck me as the height of narcissism.

Me, giving myself awards, for my own writing, in my own blog. I could call them "Joes." And the "Joe" for "most uses of the word ghost" goes to... Joe! I'm sure I'd be objective about it.

Anyway, I did go back and skim my entries a bit to try and see if I could find any development, any improvement, in how I've approached writing here, as well as any subconcious (or otherwise) changes in why I write and what I'm trying to accomplish with BurnBlogBurn. Which, of course, brings us (the editorial "us" that is) to the question of why we (the editorial "we" of course) do this little exercise in semantics with regularity (apparently, an average of a little over once every three days if numbers are to be believed).

What strikes me about considering this question now, is that it's really the first time I've thought about it. A year into writing BurnBlogBurn, I'm finally really thinking about why I'm doing it, what I'm trying accomplish, and what it means. And I guess this goes to a larger question of why people Blog in general. I think, for me, blogging dovetails with the act of writing songs in both form and function. I don't even know if that's the right way to say it.

BurnBlogBurn has helped me make sense of the last year, has helped me stay disciplined about being creative, and has kept my brain working in a way I think is valuable for other aspects of my life. It is also somehow connected to the whole idea of leaving a record of oneself, leaving an artifact of one's thoughts, feelings, presence... which is a purpose it has in common with writing songs.

Additionally, I often think one of the wisest sentiments I've ever heard expressed is that life is lived forwards and understood backwards. I forget which philospher said it, but it rings truer and truer to me with every passing year. And both songs and BurnBlogBurn are tools I use to help me try to understand life a little quicker. To help capture experience as it happens, accurately.

Songwriting is much more visceral and impressionistic, blogging is more cerebral, concrete, and episodic. And both processes serve to keep me honest. I can always go back and sing what I felt, read what I was thinking... and it's much harder to practice the revisionist history that we so often practice with our own lives when it's written down in cold black... uh... 1's and 2's.

So there you have it. That was heavy. Now... back to lips and assholes. (from the ridiculous to the sublime and back again) Thanks for reading.


Thursday, April 06, 2006

Lips and Assholes

Our house has been an infirmary the last week and a half or so... Gina's been stricken with some sort of virus that's given her everything from a fever to a harsh cough, and it's happened to coincide with the week she has exams at school.

So I've been running around, trying to nurse her back to health, and hoping that I don't catch said virus. I also just finished reading Jim Derogatis' love letter to The Flaming Lips. It's a pretty good read. The nature of the book brings to mind Frank Zappa's quote about (I'm paraphrasing) music journalism being people who can't write, writing about people who can't talk, for people who can't read.

Actually, that's not completely true: singer Wayne Coyne can definitely talk. And the whole arc of The Lips' career is truly inspiring from the perspective that Mr. Coyne was over 40 before he got his first gold record, and along the way, he and the other Lips (!) never really compromised for anybody. They always (at least if the book is to be believed) pretty much operated the way they wanted to, and made music they wanted to. With integrity. And that's what's important.

And in the Department of Serendipity, I turned on the TV Sunday night to find that Austin City Limits was replaying a 2004 episode featuring a spirited performance by The Lips, complete with dancing animals, confetti, balloons, and fake blood. Good times.

So that's the "Lips" portion of this entry... Now for some "Assholes": Tom Delay, Bill Frist, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Charles Krauthaumer (sick) (sic), Dennis Hastert.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Hello, hello, hello...

How-low? Anyone there? Yeah, I'm here. A bit lacking in the "free time" department, but here, nonetheless. Shit has been flying fast and furious, mostly on the law firm front... which is good for money, bad for energy.

If it's one thing I've learned from doing this split-schedule thing for... over three years now, it's that things go in phases. One job will pick up, one will mellow a little... and then the reverse. Although I'm a bit scared of the end of April, which will see a bunch of BRB stuff, a (traditionally) busy time for teaching, and most likely continued craziness at the law firm. Should be a fun ride.

So if I seem even loonier than usual (I know, hard to imagine)... you know why. And what sucks is that I've had a lot to write about lately, just no time to write. What with my bedtime and all. 

Oh, well. Whatever. Nevermind.