Monday, December 05, 2011

Again and Again (Again)

Listen to the record version:

A quiet thought on one of the quietest songs on Look Alive, Again and Again.

A quick review of my writing journal tells me this was written on October 18 and 19, 2006, very quickly, with almost no revisions.

As far as I can tell, it was the last song written for Look Alive other than When You Left, which was written almost as an afterthought as we were recording.  So Again and Again completed the group of songs we had when we started tracking.  In fact, I think in my cryptic notes I can even see where I got some recording dates from Jay... Weird.

Also weird is that I can see how I was simultaneously writing tunes for what became Look Alive, and still writing new material for Burn Rome Burn.  In fact, the creation of Again and Again is kind of folded into my work on BRB tunes called Slowly and Falling Into, which we never really got together.

I really enjoy revisiting this song because in both creation and recording it marks a turning point for me.

Its simplicity is really an emblem of me getting fully confident with both lyrical and musical directness in a way I had never been before.

And the performance on the recording... it was done in one take, all live, in the attic overlooking the highway where we recorded... in the second verse, if you listen carefully after I sing the word "faces," you can hear the Blue Line go by quietly in the background, like the city making a guest appearance on background vocals.

Everything about the song and take screams intimacy (kind of an oxymoron of an image for a quiet song, but still).

Truthfully, I envisioned all of what became Look Alive sounding like this song.  I'm forever grateful that we pushed some of the material into a more upbeat full band setting and even more grateful that we left this song exactly the way we did, a perfect record of an unsteady marriage of hope and heartbreak slipping towards the latter.


Meet me beneath the moon
We'll have our worries on the powerlines
And forget about the days
When we lost our way
And start over again
And again and again and again

Meet me beside the lake
We'll wash our faces in the waters
And dry our swollen eyes
In the golden sun
And start over again
And again and again and again

Meet me in the bed
We'll burn our fears with a midnight flame
And scatter the remains
With trembling lips
And start over again
And again and again and again
And again and again and again...


Friday, November 18, 2011

Three Chords and the Truth (Turn Redux)

Listen to the record version:

Harlan Howard, a famous songwriter, is said to have described country music as "Three chords and the truth."

I came across this quote in a biography of Hank Williams Sr., which I was reading the first weekend in August of 2006, when I wrote Turn, the third song on Look Alive.

And that very quote is written clearly in my writing journal next to the scribbling that became Turn, which was part of a three day writing binge that also produced a revised and finalized Skeletonskinandsky, and the quiet song Fight.

In case you're scoring at home (what a terrible pun), the chords for Turn are F, c minor, and Bb major.

And that's it.

Just three chords.

I find it interesting because Howard's quote is so simple that it's easy to miss what it actually means.

I also find it interesting that this is almost exactly the point at which my songwriting underwent a transformation from vague to direct.  From trying to write around the truth, to embracing the truth head on, as plainly as possible.

On Turn (and several others), I may have swung a little bit too far to the direct and simple but... I needed to.  These songs are so true, sometimes it hurts to listen to them.

I was trying not to turn my back on love, desperately.  Futilely, as I would later find out.

Anyway, the recording of this tune (typical for the Look Alive sessions) was like opening a new toy on Christmas morning.  I wish I had a demo of the original version, on which I was consciously imitating (gulp) Coldplay.  And boy, was it every bit as boring as a Coldplay tune.  Just straight eighth notes and three chords.  For three minutes.  Gag.

But, as happened repeatedly during these sessions, it changed radically once Jay and Darren got their hands on it... and we very consciously embraced a Motown production aesthetic.

Some percussion, a slightly out-of-tune piano (remedied during the mix by adding a flange effect, to our great delight)... some simple guitar parts and finally some fun layered counterpoint vocals.

And Turn had gone from Harlan Howard and Hank Sr. to Coldplay to Berry Gordy.

An unlikely transformation.

But when you're trying to get to the truth, you do what you have to do...



Whispers in the dark
The night is calling out
To all the lonesome hearts

Flickering in starts
The big star's burning low
And soon it will be gone

When love is overcome
When love is on the ropes
Don't turn your back on love

I won't turn my back on love

Under purple skies
Chicago's crying out
It echoes through the streets

And settles in the dust
Along the silent lake
Beneath the silver moon

I won't turn my back on love


Tuesday, November 08, 2011

How a Lyrical Crutch is Born (Travesty in Blue redux)

Read the Look Alive album recap.

Listen to the Travesty demo:

Listen to the record version:

Well then.

On to revisiting the second tune on Look Alive, Travesty in Blue.

I'm lucky enough to still have the living room demo of this tune, recorded in July of 2006, which I've posted above.  What a trip to listen to...  similar to the song Look Alive, the transformation of this tune from sparse solo acoustic to full-on produced band was very very important to me as a writer and Paper Arrows as a project.

Here was a song I had around since... 2005 according to my writing journal and suddenly it went from this quiet contemplative thing to a bouncy pop tune and... if my memory is correct it's one of the first songs of mine I heard with a piano part taking the lead as a rhythm instrument/texture.  The construction of this one was pretty indicative of the album process as a whole... I came in and heard a fully-realized rhythm section behind the song for the first time and my heart just welled up with happiness and wonder... I remember recording the acoustic guitar in a take or two, an electric part... the vocals very very quickly including backgrounds... and then watching Jay record a cool slide part.  Darren had added the distorted Fender Rhodes in the attic and the piano at Gravity and I remember sitting in the control room at Gravity watching Manny mix the whole thing, adding the cool vocal echo effects...

I wrote a pretty good overall chronology of the Look Alive project here at the time (also linked above)... another crazy thing to read given my memories of what I was going through at the time and where my life and Paper Arrows have gone since.  A lot of the wonder at how great our sessions were is there and quite touching, as is some of personal bitterness I guess at the subject matter...

The subject matter.  What a weird song lyrically.  I found the first time I wrote the phrase "travesty in blue": December 12, 2001.  As in five years before we recorded the song and (gulp) nearly ten years ago.  I remember very clearly walking from the apartment on Magnolia to Dominick's one weekday morning, horribly wrecked from whatever we had been doing the night before, wearing jeans, a blue t-shirt, and a blue flannel shirt and thinking I looked like a travesty in blue... and it just stuck in my head.  Of course I subsequently realized I was probably unconsciously spoofing Rhapsody in Blue.

Anyway, I didn't even start to write the Paper Arrows version of Travesty in Blue until 2004 and finally finished it in 2005.  Looking back at my writing then, I can see this turning point to the material that would become the Look Alive album and Travesty is right at the middle of it.  I was grabbing onto images that evoked something moving, some sort of emotion, but I wasn't quite strong or confident or aware enough to connect them to concrete things...

That's one of the things that makes Look Alive so interesting to me: there's this dichotomy between the five songs written before Jay and I decided to record an album (December Static, Look Alive, Travesty in Blue, Why I Had to Fall, Skeletonskinandsky) and the five songs written after (Turn, Again and Again, Come Home, Fight, When You Left).  The early five have this impressionistic bent to them that I described above, and the latter five are just brutally direct.

Or couse the two sets of tunes also straddle another event: being left by my ex-wife.  I can't imagine that has anything to do with the difference.

But the interesting thing is that for all Travesty in Blue works alongside the more direct songs about loss, I didn't really write it with anything particular in mind.  Was it some subconscious unhappiness?  Probably.  But the first lines are actually about moving my sister to an apartment near Montrose and Damen.  We were loading her stuff up some stairs, and there was this weird picture on the wall that looked like me.  Or, like an elven caricature of me.  Actually, I think there were two people in the picture and other looked like my sister, which made it doubly weird.

And I remember at the exact time I noticed the picture, there was this light on the wall right next to it cast from a window that looked like a cross.  And it was just really striking.  One of those weird moments in life where you're moved or take notice but don't know exactly why...

And in the second verse, we get to "travesty in blue" and it's not really a concrete idea it's just... this picture of a feeling I had on and off for years that I was losing.  Losing something.  I thought it was myself and my dreams, but it turned out to be something different.  Or something more.  Or maybe even less.

So the word "blue" has become this crutch for me lyrically and still is.  There were Burn Rome Burn songs with "blue,"(there was even a BRB song CALLED The Blue).  It's made an appearance on every Paper Arrows album and even on the new song we recorded just two weeks ago as well as in a couple other tunes that are candidates for the next session.

So maybe it's time to put a prohibition on it.

Maybe the blue has run its course...

Or maybe it still serves me a purpose and helps me see my life and creativity as a line rather than a series of unrelated struggles.

Maybe it's the connection to that me of 2001, who seems so far away from who and what I am today.

Maybe I can benefit from trying to figure out exactly what the blue is, where it goes, and why it keeps coming back to me.

I like that.



The picture where we moved you looked like me
And somehow the light arranged itself in a "t"
They always take at the start what matters the most
They always shoot first and ask questions once you're a ghost

It's raining glass on the lake tonight
As clouds divide the nightmare sky
And lightening strikes the Tower's heights
It echoes...

I saw him hanging on Western Avenue
His eyes were born in a travesty of blue
And the empty car lots gave way to something else
And the pavement cracks grew up as winter fell

It's raining glass on the lake tonight
As clouds divide the nightmare sky
And lightening strikes the Tower's heights
It echoes...

It's raining stars on the lake tonight
As clouds divide the nightmare sky
And lightening strikes the Tower's spikes
It echoes...


Thursday, November 03, 2011

Still Looking Alive

Read the 2006 post on Look Alive.

Listen to the demo:

Listen to the record version:

Prepare yourselves (plural, generous):

I'm about to blog about my own blog.

It's gonna get ALL META UP IN HERE.

Okay, got that out of my system.

I don't even know what's meta anymore.  Is that meta? Ironic? Or is it just egotistical as shit.


Anyway, I digress.  Or regress.  Or undress.

I've enjoyed writing about the Paper Arrows tunes on In the Morning a ton and feel like it helped me flesh out the content of our new website.  So I've decided to go back and write a bit about our first record, Look Alive.

This presents several challenges.

The material was written in '05/'06, recorded in '06/'07, and released in '08.  It spans a very difficult period for me:  losing a marriage and breaking up with a band that was to that point the best creative thing of which I'd been a part.  Half the album was written before it all went down, and the other half was written very purposefully about loss while it was going down...

The funny thing is, at our Paper Arrows session at I.V. Labs on Saturday, this was the album we talked about the most... recording in an attic in the winter, no idea what we were doing, what it would become... in a lot of ways, Look Alive the album and specifically Look Alive the song has informed Paper Arrows through its entire run: we established a creative trust very early on and really have managed to keep egos almost completely out of it.  We rarely record with any sort of "rules."  We work very quickly and mostly fearlessly.  All these things, which were on exhibit prominently at Saturday's session, were there from the very beginning.

So when I started thinking about revisiting this material for blog purposes, I went back and read my post from 2006 (almost exactly 5 years ago) on Look Alive and was surprised to find it captured everything perfectly.  And I listened to the home demo and the recording and... I was really really touched by it.  I could see the connection from the very first thing we did as a group to the most recent.

Clarity is a rare thing in life, but sometimes, some very few times, the way truly is clear.

And it does really all come down to you.


Friday, October 28, 2011



Listen to the home demo:

One last In the Morning-related post for the final and quietest song on the album: Near.

I'm posting the version from the record and the demo version because... I want to.  I like both of them.

The studio version features Drew playing some beautiful, beautiful piano.  We hadn't rehearsed this one at all (shocking): I just emailed him the demo version and we went over it as Shane was setting up the piano for recording.  Darren contributed by literally hanging half in the open piano and, at Drew's direction, helping to create the harmonic heard throughout by holding down one of the strings just so.  We ran the tune a few times to practice with me in the vocal booth doing rough vocals... and I think Drew captured the usable take on the second or third try.  I went back later and cut some quiet relaxed vocals.  The mix I believe uses primarily the room mics, which gives it an old ambient sound.

I think this song is simply lovely lyrically.  I'm most proud of having written something direct, sincere and sentimental without veering into sappy.

Near closes not only In the Morning but really the Paper Arrows three album cycle as a whole.  I wanted it to stand in contrast to the song When You Left which ends Look Alive: same key, same solo instrument backing, same sense of conclusion, but this time instead of the loss and emptiness and despair of When You Left we get the calm reassurance of Near.

We get the resolution of acceptance.

We get the promise of a future together.

We get the specific references that mean something only to me and one other person.

We get the window into what comes next, what comes after the deep blues fade into the bright blue sky.

We get...


Restless dreams are taking flight
Along the darkness of a quiet night
On the heights of the Avenue
We build our lives within these rooms

Close your eyes
I'll dry your tears
And when you wake
I'll be near

In the sky, beneath the planes
You breathe in time, I try to do the same
We rise at dawn, we ride the trains
And dream of growing old, of trembling again

Close your eyes
I'll dry your tears
And when you wake
I'll be near
When you wake
I'll be near


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dirty Engine


Listen to the home demo:

Two more In the Morning songs left upon which to reflect...

Today's focus: Dirty Engine.

I suppose any song from which the title of an album is culled deserves some special attention.

Dirty Engine was the first new song completed for In the Morning. It was written at the very beginning of my early a.m. writing experiment in the spring and summer of 2009. I actually wrote about it more contemporaneously on a friend's blog, Head Above Music.

I guess I'll rely on that post for the creative details (although I notice I called it "In the Morning" and not "Dirty Engine") because I think it captures nicely the feel of the environment from which Dirty Engine and really all of In the Morning sprung.

Harmonically, there's nothing to this tune: it's probably one of the simplest I've ever written. It started as more of a blues thing, with a chugging shuffle-ish guitar that wound up being jettisoned once the rhythm section got involved. Check the home demo above to hear me aping Pete Yorn.

Lyrically, I was really pleased with how I tied together the work of writing with the work of being in a new relationship. One of my favorite lines I've ever written is "the days of easy love are gone." At that time, I was simultaneously struggling to write from a place other than pain, and also coming to understand how falling in love at the age of 30 is vastly different from falling in love at the age of 20. Connecting the two through one line really resonated.

The recording process was one of my favorite... we rehearsed this tune once or twice the night before the sessions, and then went out to the bar for some band bonding. The next day when we reconvened to track, the Springsteen-shuffle of our rehearsal version was replaced with... synth-electro-pop.

I loved watching the band create this completely unique sound seemingly out of thin air. Jay and Drew locked in on a fantastic little melodic feature around Darren's drum hook, which was created on the rim of a tom tom.

All I had to do was piece together a little guitar part for the verses and then bash the shit out of a Telecaster on the choruses. We overdubbed only a keyboard pad and a little piano so the sound of this song is essentially the sound of us playing in the studio getting the arrangement right for the first time. We even got Darren to do (much to his chagrin) a "drum feature."

There's one moment in the last chorus where we all hit the same accent pattern... it just tickles me. Really. Hard to explain. I love the unrehearsed moments that come out of the live recording setting... it's energy captured on tape (or Pro Tools). So cool.

After some layered lead vocals, we got a good mix and there you have it: Dirty Engine.

Go listen in your car and bob your head like some Europeans on their way to a discotheque.


And in the morning this dirty engine's turning over
Breaking the silence, the hardest part is letting go
Is giving in

Hey this room is full of noise
And voices hanging in the air
But if you listen now
You just might hear the sound
Of moving on

And in the falling light there must be something more to see
The days of easy love are gone, we're gonna have to dig a little deeper
And deeper

Hey this room is full of noise
And voices hanging in the air
But if you listen now
You just might hear the sound
Of moving on


Monday, September 19, 2011


So it's been several months since I posted here... but not for a lack of news.

I've been preoccupied with training for and completing my first Ironman Triathlon.

To wit, an Ironman Triathlon is the following: a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike, followed by a 26.2 mile run.

If you think that's crazy, then you're sane.

It's a long way to go using any means of locomotion, let alone only one's own.

So on Sunday, September 11, 2011, I sat just before dawn on the parking deck of The Monona Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin, watching 2500 athletes nervously shuttle back and forth with bicycles, bike pumps, wetsuits, gear bags... final preparations before we all took the first step towards our ultimate goal: completing the 140.6 mile course in under 17 hours.

I felt the still-cool late summer air on my face and a calm spread through me.  I imagined myself in a bubble protected from the frantic buzz around me.  I breathed in and out at a measured pace and instead of reviewing my race day plan or rechecking my bike set up, I thought back on the journey that brought me to this moment, just an hour from the start of what many consider to be the most difficult and grueling athletic event ever created.

To quote David Byrne, How Did I Get Here?

Although I signed up for the 2011 Wisconsin Ironman on September 13, 2010, and started training for the race in March of 2011, the real beginning of my odyssey lies over 5 years ago in July of 2006.

It started with my neighbor Terri provoking me into signing up for the Chicago Half Marathon.  I had been an on and off recreational runner since high school but had never run more than a 5k.  I consider myself reasonably athletic but after playing organized basketball and baseball up until high school, my athletic pursuits took a back seat to music and theater and I mainly dabbled in intramural, pick-up basketball, and gym workouts from high school on.

So there I found myself, the 2006 Chicago Half Marathon just 10 weeks away, staring at a computer print out that told me I needed to run 5 miles the following weekend.

Some additional context around this moment is that my first wife had just moved out of our house, initiating what a year later would become our formalized divorce.

So I will forever be thankful that Terri pushed me to fill my suddenly empty life and house with something productive and healthy: running.

Our training plan, in retrospect, was pretty spartan.  Just a bunch of distances leading up to our first crack at 13.1 miles.  Nothing about quality of training, nutrition, hydration... stretching.  Just... running.

But we got lucky: race day was beautiful, near perfect running weather with a start in the 50's and a finish temperature of barely 70.  This afforded me the chance to make some wonderful beginner's mistakes, namely 1) wearing a winter hat, and 2) not taking in a single drink of water or nutrition for the entire race.  Right.

I did manage to complete the race in 1:57, averaging 9 minute miles, really not a bad time all things considered.

Additionally, I was hooked on the energy and pay off of completing a race: the crowds and my family and friends provided amazing support and Terri and I basked in the glow of our accomplishment, namely by both contracting severe cases of... uh... 'upset stomachs' and spending the large part of our "celebration breakfast" trudging up and down our back stairs to use my bathroom.

Good times.

So on into 2007, I decided I was going to do the Chicago Marathon.  I registered and did what I normally do when undertaking something: buy a bunch of books and read about it.  This was helpful.  I got a little book called "4 Months to a 4 Hour Marathon," which was a great start.

Additionally, Andrea moved to Chicago that spring and she became my biggest supporter and constant training partner in each and every athletic undertaking.  She's remarked (and I think about this a lot) that part of the reason our relationship is so good is that we immediately started exercising and training together, and there's a certain type of intimacy that comes with this... You deal with sweat, dirt, fatigue, bodily functions, ailments... failure and success, emotions and frustrations... all of it in front of the other person with complete transparency.  There's nothing to hide behind after a 10 mile run.

So after (again, in retrospect) a fairly scattershot training season I headed out to the Chicago Marathon in October of 2007 and was greeted by... 90 degree humid temperatures and the Hottest Chicago Marathon on Record!!!  This race was truly awful.  It was like running through a riot for hours on end.  I did a lot of walking and did manage to finish albeit not in the 4 hours I was aiming for.

Feeling cheated, I registered for the 2008 Chicago Marathon and Andrea and I registered together for the 2008 Chicago Half Marathon.  We bought cold weather running gear and trained through the winter.  We moved in together that summer and our training took on a wonderful pattern of me leaving early in the morning, running 8 or 9 miles, and then picking up Andrea to run another 8 or 9 together.  We completed the Chicago Half Marathon (with Terri as well) in a driving rainstorm (it was a great race) and then at the Chicago Marathon I was greeted by... 85 degree humid temperatures and the Second Hottest Chicago Marathon on Record!!!


I did, however, finish this race almost an hour faster than the 2007 Marathon, fighting through cramps in both my quadriceps for the last 12 miles to post a respectable showing.

Feeling as if Mother Nature was conspiring against me, we investigated options other than pure running races (it should be noted that the 2009 Chicago Marathon had PERFECT running temps in the 50's and 60's... thanks Mother Nature, thanks a whole fucking lot).

We landed on triathlons as our next endeavor, which was weird because neither one of us was a particularly strong swimmer and we didn't own bikes.  But it seemed like a natural progression from running races: a more diversified experience and slightly less punishing on the body (or rather, punishing in different ways).

So Thanksgiving weekend in 2008, we bought swim caps and goggles and headed to the XSport Fitness on Elston to give swimming a shot... and it was awful.  I couldn't swim two laps without feeling like I was drowning.  Literally.  Out of breath, flailing... this was going to be difficult.

We persisted through the winter, improving our pool swimming to the point of tenuous comfort, and registered for the 2009 Chicago Triathlon, Olympic Distance: a .9 mile swim, followed by a 25 mile bike, followed by a 6.2 mile run.

I know we followed some sort of training plan, but can't remember which one or how detailed it was.  I do remember we didn't buy bikes until Memorial Day weekend (12 weeks before the race) and didn't buy wetsuits until near the end of July (less than 5 weeks until the race).

We were blessed with perfect race day temps, although the lake water temperature plunged to the low 60's the week of the race, making the swim even tougher than even we expected.  I fought through to finish with an extremely strong run and a decent time, and Andrea battled a later start time and some nutrition issues through a more challenging race.

But similar to my 2006 Chicago Half Marathon, we were hooked.

We plotted out a more extensive schedule for 2010, signing up for 4 races: The Galena Triathlon in May, the Bigfoot Triathlon (Lake Geneva) in June, the Chicago South Shore Sprint in July, and the Chicago Olympic in August.

We got more serious about our schedule and nutrition and the season went fairly well: in the middle of the summer, we got married.

The one blemish was an injury Andrea sustained while getting ready for the South Shore Sprint, pulling a calf muscle in transition just minutes before the race start.  We also battled hot temperatures for the Chicago Olympic and were not able to improve on our previous times, which was a disappointment.

It was at this point that I decided to sign up for the 2011 Wisconsin Ironman.


I don't know.  It just seemed like the next step.  The next insane step.  Andrea showed no interest in doing the race, but encouraged and supported me doing it.  I took a deep breath, and on September 13 I waited online until registration opened and quickly plunked down the $600 race fee.

My God, What Have I Done?

We spent the winter in what is termed Active Recovery, getting our exercise in activities not related to triathlon disciplines: we lifted weights, did core exercises, practiced yoga... Andrea did exercise classes at the gym while I played basketball.  We allowed ourselves some down time...

And then in March of 2011, we started training for the 2011 Race Season.

The plan was this: we would train together for the Galena Triathlon in May and the Bigfoot Triathlon in June, at which point our plans would diverge and Andrea would train for a short race in July to be determined and the Chicago Olympic in August while I would train for Ironman in September.

Things generally went according to plan.  We battled some awful weather in the early months and just focused on building our base distances and staying healthy.  We both had great races in Galena in May, significantly improving on our 2010 times.

The Bigfoot Triathlon was a mixed bag: I had a great swim but got a flat tire on mile 5 of the bike and had to withdraw.  Andrea battled a tough swim and some unexpected heat.  In retrospect, our challenges in this race helped us both: I learned how to change a bike tire and saved myself some of the impact of completing the race, and Andrea developed a better understanding of how she could approach the swim to improve her overall race.  This is a common theme in triathlons and one of the things that keeps us coming back: you always learn something about yourself and your race approach.  Every race is a different situation, a different piece of information.

At this point of the summer, things got interesting.  First of all, the weather went from cold and shitty to hot and shitty.  Humidity.  Thunderstorms.  Wind.  It seemed like we NEVER trained in any sort of favorable conditions.  Second of all, my training plan started to take off... I was less than 12 weeks from the Ironman.

I picked a training plan which embraced a philosophy that less is more.  It was still a LOT of training, but the general approach was to get up to longer distances a little bit faster, try to stay healthy, and focus on heart rate zones for lower impact on the body.  Andrea had gotten me a heart monitor/GPS watch as a gift and my eyes were opened to the wonders of heart rate training.

My training weeks followed this scheme:

Tuesday: Off
Wednesday: Bike 13 - 25 miles, Run 5 - 7 miles
Thursday: Swim 2000 - 4000 meters, lift weights
Friday: Bike 13 - 25 miles, Run 5 - 7 miles
Saturday: Swim 2000 - 4000 meters
Sunday: Bike 50 - 112 miles
Monday: Run 9 - 20 miles

Every fourth week, I got a second day off.  The build up to the peak distances was pretty extraordinary... the long runs on Monday went from 9 to 20 miles in 6 weeks (a normal marathon plan would take you at least 10 weeks to build this distance).  The long bikes on Sunday went from 50 to 112 miles in 8 weeks.

We trained together as much as possible, with Andrea doing parts of my long bike rides and swimming with me on Saturday mornings.

For almost two months, we were getting up at 4:45 a.m. 6 days a week to workout.

In retrospect, I'm not sure how we did it.  I managed to miss only one workout the entire training plan... a short bike ride that was hijacked by two flat tires.

My memories of the actual sessions are too numerous to recount... there were epic runs in rainstorms, there were bike rides that took me from the South Shore Country Club to Lake Bluff and back home, there were swims at Ohio Street beach at dawn in a warm, quiet and empty Lake Michigan ... As we trained, we experimented with various nutrition products, and both settled on a couple which our stomachs tolerated.  I got my bike professionally set up at Running Away Multisport.

Andrea completed a short race at Lake Holiday, IL, in late July, and I biked the 65 miles back home from the far southwest suburbs.

When you look back at an extended effort, you can generally see moments at which you made decisions that pushed you towards success or failure.  Turning points.

The first turning point for me was 3 weeks before the race when we went up to Madison for some on-course training.  There was an organized swim in Lake Monona called the Madison Open Water Swim, which utilized the same course I would swim for the Ironman.  Our plan was for me to do the full race (2.4 miles), Andrea to do the half-distance (1.2 miles), and then for us to jump on our bikes and ride the Ironman bike course.  We would also stay up in Madison on Saturday night and on Sunday do a run on the running course.

After the swim was delayed by an hour for a thunderstorm to pass, the day went downhill... Andrea lost her wedding ring about 5 minutes before race start: it slipped off and likely into the water somewhere.  Distracted, I got into the water and had a pretty challenging swim, clocking a 1:37 time, or about 7 minutes slower than I wanted.  Andrea, on the other hand, channeled her distraction into a very solid swim, which would later help her in the Chicago Olympic Distance.

We spent a couple hours looking for her wedding ring, even renting a metal detector, but to no avail.  As such, we didn't get out onto the bike course until well into the afternoon.  The course was set up as a 16 mile ride out to a 40 mile loop done twice and then 16 back into Madison... does that make sense?  16 + 40 + 40 + 16 = 112.  It is notoriously hilly and challenging and is regarded as the second or third hardest Ironman bike course IN THE WORLD.  Did I type that loudly enough?


There, that's better.

So the combination of 1) starting late, 2) having a shitty swim, 3) dealing with hills, 4) not having enough water... it was toxic.  I had a tough ride, doing the 16 out, one 40 mile loop, and the 16 back...

Just 3 weeks from the race I legitimately doubted that I could do it.

What it did do was the following: 1) Force me to reevaluate my hydration strategy, 2) force me to reevaluate my time goals, and 3) force me to figure out how to ride more hills for the final 3 weeks of training.

The second turning point came a week later, watching Andrea complete the Chicago Olympic Triathlon.  She executed her race to perfection, beating her previous best time by 16 minutes and finishing in the top 25% of her age group and top 28% of the 1000 woman field.


And she did it by being patient.  She had a slow but peaceful swim in the face of some awfully choppy water and because of this, she was able to excel on the bike and run.  I could not have been prouder.  And it showed me the virtues of patience, which I had been preaching all along but having a much harder time actually practicing.

The last two weeks of training flew by.

Taper week, the 7 days before the race when I rested my body and only did a couple workouts, was excruciating.  With little training, your brain turns to the next logical target: doubt.

Did I not train enough?  Should I have added a second weights session?  Did I train incorrectly?  Should my last long run have been closer to the race?  Should I have done more hills?  Should I have bought a tri bike instead of using a road bike?  Why didn't I take swimming lessons?

Any and every detail of my training bounced around my head and was fodder for obsession.

Luckily, a third turning point: my old neighbor Chuck, an excellent athlete himself, who had done the Wisconsin Ironman in 2004, emailed me a three page word document from his trainer.  It contained both specific and general advice for the week before the race and the race itself.  It highlighted the following mantra: "Slow is smooth, smooth is fast."

Andrea and I read through this and it all clicked for me: everything was going to go fine.

I came home from work one night and found the mantra taped all sorts of places around the house: on the bathroom mirror, on our training calendar, next to the bed...

Before I knew it, it was Friday morning and time to head to Madison.  We got out of town in the morning, but not before I tripped and fell getting out of the car at breakfast and tumbled onto the sidewalk before a surprised Andrea... skinned my hand and bruised my knee but, luckily, nothing more serious.

Friday and Saturday in Madison were administrative days.  I checked in on Friday afternoon and on Saturday brought my gear over to Monona Terrace where I would stage it for the following day.  The organization was incredible.  Like nothing I'd ever seen.  Gear was separated into bags, which were placed in different ballrooms... on the race day it seemed transition would be a case of the Keystone Cops, with people running between gear pick up and changing rooms and then out to bike or run... an added wrinkle of Wisconsin Ironman is that you have to navigate two parking ramps, which curl in helix shapes four stories on either end of the Terrace.

I checked in my gear and tried my best to visualize exactly how things would work the following day.  Then we went to my uncle's place, which is I kid you not under a mile from the swim start.  This was another key piece of my experience.  Instead of being in an unfamiliar hotel room and eating restaurant food all weekend, we got to sleep in a comfortable bed and eat home cooked meals... a huge advantage.

That night my parents showed up and Andrea prepared our standard pre-race meal of pasta, a light marinara, and bread.  I felt very calm, very quiet.  I drank water and listened.

At 9:00, we went to bed and slept well until the 4:15 a.m. alarm... at which point we quietly made our way downstairs for a quick cup of coffee and then headed out the door for Andrea to drive me to the race start.  Only there was a problem: both of our headlights were out!  Now, if need be I could have walked to the start, but my dad came to the rescue and drove us up to the Capitol Square where he and Andrea left me at 5:00 a.m. to drop my "special needs bags" (which contain supplies you pick up halfway through the bike and run) at the appointed location, and then head down to transition for a final check of my bike and then to the swim start for a 7:00 race gun.

I took a quick check of my bike, loaded it with my water bottles and some nutrition I would carry, and then sat down with my back against the convention center wall, just an hour from a beginning which began 5 years prior.

This is it, I thought: Time to go to the bathroom!

You think I kid... the pre-race bathroom strategy is among the 5 most important aspects of a race... Andrea and I developed the euphemism "Executing Our Race Plan" to describe it...

So after executing my race plan, I pulled my wetsuit half on, and walked down the parking ramp to ground level and swim start.  My mom, dad, uncle and Andrea greeted me there as I stretched.  I still felt calm.  I laughed.  I goofed around.  Andrea zipped my wetsuit up and I joined a procession of similarly-clad athletes in a river of black rubber and neon swim caps, which poured into the calm 70 degree waters of Lake Monona.

There was a moment of silence for the 10th Anniversary of 9/11.  I stepped carefully into the lake and made my way to the back of the swim pack... no reason for someone as slow as me to be anywhere near the front.  4 minutes until start.  I talked with a couple other athletes and shared with them my own guiding race acronym: S.I.F.R. (Save It For the Run).  They laughed.  Suddenly, the cannon went off.  I started my watch, put my head down, and started out along with 2500 others... we had to swim 800 meters before our first turn, and it was actually not as bad as I expected... yes, I got kicked and jostled but no worse than any other race... as it turns out, there's very little difference between 100 people swimming together and 2500 people swimming together.  The first turn was a little congested, but I managed and swam the 150 meters to the next turn easily... on the backside of the rectangle, my calfs tweaked a little bit, but I relaxed my legs and the cramps subsided immediately.  Breathing out my left, I could see Monona Terrace lined with people... so cool.  I made it to the third turn, did the 150 meters, and I was already on my second lap feeling good.  I relaxed more and tried to keep my head down... I could hear frantic kicking around me and tried to stay away from the overkickers... energy wasted on limbs needed later... I focused on my arms and nothing else, turning over my stroke and sighting every 3rd one... again I could see Monona Terrace as I breathed, meaning that I was on the backside of the second lap and under 1000 meters from finishing.  I made the final turn and set my sights on the red arch which framed the finish... 200 meters from shore, two F-16's flew over and I had a brief thought that something terrorist related had gone down... I bore down on the last 50 meters and pulled myself up the concrete ramp and onto dry land... looking down at my watch I saw: 1:30:35, almost 7 minutes faster than my time at the Madison Open Water Swim 3 weeks prior and right at the very fastest end of the range I had anticipated.

Fuck.  Yeah.

Which is what I screamed at my uncle and dad as I ran by, pulling off my wetsuit.  Or something like that.  I think I actually yelled "One fucking thirty."  It was all a blur as the wetsuit strippers (10% as salacious as they sound) helped me struggle out of my wetsuit.  Once free, I ran up the helix, egged on by the crowds the lined every foot of it.  I felt great.

At the top I hustled into the convention center, picked up my bike gear bag, and settled into the men's changing room.  A volunteer helped me collect my swim stuff in my bag, and I pulled on my bike jersey, bike helmet, and socks.  I was calm in chaos.  I took a long pull from a nutrition/endurance energy drink I had stashed in my bag, anxious to make up some of the calorie deficiency I'd sustained during the swim.  With all my bike gear on and my bike shoes in hand, I ran out another door to an army of volunteers in rubber gloves who rubbed sunscreen on my arms and legs.   I made a pit stop (number 1, number 1) in a port-o-potty, and then ran a couple hundred feet to my waiting bike, which I pulled off the rack and pushed to the bike mount line at the top of the opposite parking helix.  I threw my overall time watch in my bike jersey, started my GPS watch to track my distance on the bike, and pushed off onto the ramp, riding the brakes for caution but picking up some speed...

After the first 50 meters or so, I saw Andrea and my mom and let out a yell.  I was off!  The first couple miles of the bike are a no-pass zone and some twisting turns so it was a good occasion to relax and remember my mantra... at mile 3, the course opened up a bit and I celebrated by running over a stray water bottle and almost crashing... whew.  Crisis avoided.  I also saw the first of many athletes on the side of the road with flat tires and/or mechanical issues... heartbreaking.

I settled in and took stock: feeling good.  I began my hydration and nutrition campaign, trying to consume two bottles of water each hour along with two shots of 150 or so calories each of liquid endurance energy.  The 16 mile out was uneventful if not slightly uphill and I constantly monitored my pace and heart-rate.  Now... onto my first 40 mile loop, the source of my most significant doubt.  As I progressed, I noticed something different: the crowds.  On every hill, people lined the road like it was the Tour de France: wearing silly costumes, waving humorous supportive signs... drinking even though it was not even 10:00 in the morning... the energy was amazing.  I stopped several times at aid stations to refill my water bottles and stopped once to use a port-o-potty (Number 1 for the second time), a very encouraging sign that I was still hydrated.  I saw my friends Greg and Tim two separate places, and their antics and cheering buoyed my spirits still further.

In what seemed like no time, I was starting my second lap.  I took stock again.  My legs felt great.  My heart felt great.  The temperature had climbed into the 80's, but I was not feeling any ill effects due to my commitment to hydration.  I was consuming my calories at the correct rate.

Let's.  Do.  It.

As the second lap went on, I noticed I was easily passing people.  Like lots of people.  Passing them on flats, passing them on hills... I had an incredible energy, so much so that fellow athletes began shouting encouragement and praise to me as I passed them.  I tried to keep my effort in check, remembering that I had a marathon to run.  I kept consuming water and calories, stopping another couple times for water and once again to use a port-o-potty (Number 1, Number 3).

At about mile 70 I felt a sharp pain on my back, which I later learned was probably a bee stinging me.

I accidentally rolled over another water bottle and some other piece of rubbish on the road but managed to avoid bike disaster.

I looked at my watch and it read 90 miles.  Sure enough, I soon finished the second lap and pulled onto the stem back to the transition area.  This stretch is more downhill than up, and I started to really fly.  A woman named Judy and I passed each other several times and there was some spirited encouragement, but I noticed I looked fresher... not long now.

Then... Monona Terrace beckoned in the not-so-distant skyline.  In a flash, we were at the base of the helix, cranking up it past loads of cheering spectators, and handing our bikes to volunteers.

I hustled into the run gear room feeling tired but taking note of the fact that my legs were not cramping and I was breathing normally.

I changed into my run gear, positioned my lucky red bandana (I've done every race I've ever done with it), shot a GU Endurance Gel (my run fuel), and chatted briefly with an athlete sitting next to me... he said he was going to have to wait in transition a bit to rest... I sprung up, back to the sunscreen appliers, stopping at the port-o-potty (Number 1, Number 4) and began my journey on the run.

I looked at my overall time watch and it read 8 hours 35 minutes, a whole 25 minutes ahead of my run-start goal time.

I committed early to walking briskly through the aid stations that broke up the course at each mile and got to the first one on the other side of the Capitol feeling good and starting to find my rhythm... I turned onto State Street and two blocks down I saw Andrea, and my dad and uncle for the first time.  It was hot as heck (almost 4:00 in the afternoon) but I felt strong.

After running a lap on the field in Camp Randall (the football stadium) I ran past Greg, Tim, and Kirsten, and Greg ran alongside and gave me encouragement.  I noted that many people were already walking at mile 4.  Several more miles and I was onto the lakeshore path and the first major hill of the day, Observatory.  I dug in, cranking small steps, and watched van Hise (the language building) slowly go by... at mile 6 I saw my support crew again on Library Mall and enjoyed immensely the short stretch of State Street before turning around... my walk through aid station strategy was paying dividends.  I was getting good drinks of water, cold sponges, a little rest, and then picking up again.  I had done three of my race gels and my stomach was tolerating them with no problems.  Back out the lakeshore path past Picnic Point to the first split (mile 9) and I could see I was hitting 10 minute miles even with walking aid stations.  It was about this point I started seeing more people throwing up.  Gross.  The aid stations were a buffet of liquid and solid foods, and I was so pleased that my simple nutrition was working well... I saw my dad and uncle at mile 12 along with Andrea and the rest of the crew... and I was at the halfway point.


13 miles to go.

The second lap was a battle of attrition.  I clicked off the miles, emboldened that I was passing 10 people for every 1 who passed me.  My legs were on fire.  I was expecting cramps any minute but they never came... I just kept churning.  I allowed myself a little bit more walking time at the aid stations and I also walked Observatory Hill the second time I got to it.

I saw my support at mile 19/20, handed my sunglasses to Andrea, and told her I might have to walk more but I would see her at the finish line... the sun dipped and it cooled off and I saw that as much pain as I was in, I looked stronger than 90% of the people out there.  I got to the last split checkpoint and knew that I was only 4 miles from the finish.  At mile 23, I used a port-o-potty (Number 1, Number 5): still hydrated properly! At mile 24, I shot my 10th and final race gel.

This was it.

Past the SERF and my freshman dorm one last time and I was within a mile... I entertained the idea of not stopping at the last aid station on the Square but decided to stick with what had worked and took one last short walk and drink of water... and picked up running until I was on the backside of the Capitol and the crowds grew and I rounded the bend to the last straightaway, put my fist in the air, and saw Andrea and my crew.

I honestly don't remember the last 200 yards... I remember running as hard as I could, crossing the finish line, hearing my name called, and letting out a scream...

And there, 13:20:07 seconds (give or take 5 years) after I started, I was an Ironman.

Two volunteers took me under each arm for support we had this exchange:

Volunteer: "What do you want?"

Me (gaze comes to rest on a folding chair): "I want to sit THERE."

The volunteer persuaded me to instead drink some chicken broth and have my picture taken.  He then released me to my waiting family, which showered me with hugs and love... my dad called my mom, who had to leave in the middle of the day to head back to Chicago for a play.  I went to the food tent, gathered three slices of pizza and a Coke, and devoured them.

I wobbled.

I smiled.

Everyone smiled.

We made our way to get my gear and head back to my uncle's and there I took a shower, ate more, had a beer, and finally went up to bed at about 11:00...

At 11:45, as we lay in bed with the window open, we could hear the booming voice of the announcer at the finish line less than a mile away still announcing finishers some three and a half hours after I finished, names drifting on the night breeze, Ironmen (and -women) who were completing the course nearly 17 hours after they started ... and at 12:00, everything went quiet.


And I was left with my accomplishment.

With our accomplishment.

I don't know if I'll every do another Ironman.

I don't know if I want to.

I know that I ran the best race I could have on September 11, 2011.

I was me.

I raced like me.

And it was good enough.

It was better than good enough.

This accomplishment was the outcome of years of work.

Of failures and successes.

Of perseverance.

Of love and support from my family, friends, and most importantly, my partner in life and everything else.

It's no surprise to me that this journey spans the time I've known Andrea, because it has been through my relationship with her that I've become myself.

And it has been through this journey that I've learned that I can persevere through anything.

That I'm strong.

That I'm unique.

That I'm a success.

That I'm an Ironman.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Heart Monitors (Echo in Disguise)

Echo in Disguise

So I've recently started training with a heart monitor.

And I have to say: it's been a revelation.

I wish I would have embraced it sooner in the saga that's been the last 6 seasons of endurance training.

The basic idea is that you calculate your maximum heart rate and then conduct your workouts according to certain percentages of this maximum.

For instance: during a run you might keep your heart rate at 70% of your maximum, during a bike 80% and so on.

The idea is that by training at specific levels relative to your maximum you 1) moderate and track the impact of your workout, and 2) bring your fitness level up at lower heart rates, i.e., increase your capacity to exercise at sustainable levels of effort.

And it's pretty fascinating to watch how my performance has varied at identical heart rates depending on, for instance, the weather. I've seen my pace swing by as much as 2 minutes per mile for identical heart rates depending on the temperature.

Today, a mid-run rainstorm cooled me down enough that I ran the second half of an 11 mile session nearly 30 seconds per mile faster than the first half.

Having done more racing in extreme heat than I'd care to remember ('07 and '08 Chicago Marathons, '10 Chicago Triathlon in particular), I know from direct experience the impact heat can have, but to quantify it and literally see a digital representation of how my heart was working? Crazy.

Which brings me to the song Echo in Disguise.


Stay with me. This might make sense.

While I now have this device to give me objective data on how I'm functioning during a workout, there is no similar tool to analyze how your heart is working with respect to a relationship.

It's all subjective.

Sure, there are markers here and there, but they are mostly emblems that we hope match up with what's going on inside.

Hints. Tendencies.


One of the things that struck me about getting into a new and serious relationship after getting divorced was how the first steps and interactions between two people (especially two people who have been hurt in prior relationships) take on this kind of incremental game of reverse chicken, which I wasn't really aware of until much later on.

You wait for the other person to be vulnerable and then you give back an equal amount of vulnerability. You give a little more. The other person responds.

One person says "I love you" for the first time. The other person replies.

It's not a calculated game per se. It's just each person doing his or her best to give without opening the door to being hurt. Making sure both people are on the same page. Protecting his or herself.

So sometimes you feel like you're just echoing what the other person says, hoping that's really how you feel, hoping that you are being true to your heart... because you don't have any sort of heart monitor to help you out.

See? I knew I could get there. Sort of.

So that's what I was after with Echo in Disguise.

The recording of the song was pretty much what I expected it would be. We did a kind of Wilco-ish/60's thing with it, the band took out my stupid key change for the last chorus and Drew had the genius idea to reinsert it for the guitar solo (a move we dubbed "The Lenny Kravitz Trick" (which sounds like Lenny's turned into a prostitute... oh wait)).

We got a good live take, added very little to it save for some handclaps, a guitar solo, and vocals... and we had it. I like the energetic vibe we got. It doesn't sound like anything else on the record and it's nice to have variety.

The lyrics I enjoy because I packed them with (I think) pretty neat imagery which also happens to correspond to real things. It's meaningful without being ponderous and actually (gasp) sort of fun.

What a concept...


You're never alone if you've got me
So let's fly to the coast and sleep on the sea
I opened my eyes and saw you were there
Reading the news and breathing the air

But I am paralyzed
An echo in disguise
But that's alright

What you say, I say
You say, I say
Word by word by day by day by day

Did you know a push is the same as a win?
And fighting the dark is just letting light in
And the bigger the heart the harder it breaks
And you can't beat the game if you don't know the stakes

But I am paralyzed
An echo in disguise
But that's alright

What you say, I say
You say, I say
Word by word by day by day by day


Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Resurrection '06

Resurrection '11

An added feature here at BurnBlogBurn today (and going forward): audio!  Slowly but haltingly my tech skills have crept up to the year 2006... the year in which I wrote the tune about which I'll be blogging today.

I managed to find the lyrics on March 10-11, 2006, and I dug up the very first demo I did of it, in my living room, in the summer of 2006.  It was the first time Jay and I worked together on anything and it was part of the batch of songs we tried for what would become Look Alive.

It didn't make the cut for Look Alive.

I demoed a different, more uptempo version for Things We Would Rather Lose.

It didn't make the cut for Things We Would Rather Lose.

Finally, I demoed it for In the Morning and I'm pretty sure we recorded it just because Jay was sick of hearing it demoed.

I only half-kid.

It actually fit the mood and theme of In the Morning pretty well so it made sense to go after it during the sessions... I seem to remember this was one of the last songs we did during the 3 days at IV... particularly noteworthy I think are Drew's keys (the Prophet!) and Darren's percussion.  I added an acoustic guitar and some weird electric overdubs with an eBow that build throughout the tune until they crest for the final chorus.  I enjoyed cutting the vocals very much because of where they sat in my range.

It's so weird to listen to the original demo version from my living room... in some ways, I like it best.  That living room session was a turning point for my entire musical career if not my life.  It was one of the first times I actually liked the sound of my voice on a recording.  It was recorded right after my ex-wife left.  Like the same week I think?  Or maybe the week before when a bunch of shit was going down and she wasn't coming home.  So the damage and vulnerability in my voice on the demo recording is very very real.  And touching to me.

Lyrically, it's very strange.  It's around the time I was just kind of writing things that grabbed me without much regard for what they meant, mysterious things that I think turned out to be my subconscious wrestling with unhappiness.

It seems to be a song about someone seeking things: faith, reassurance, comfort, love.  Security.

Funny that it took me until In the Morning to find it all and finally commit the song to tape.

Or maybe it's not funny at all.


Take this blood
For it's not mine
Take this sea
And make it wine
Take this mark
It's yours to wear
Take this cross
It's yours to bear

I'm on your side

Take this sand
It's yours to cross
Take this door
It's yours to lock
Take this air
It's yours to breathe
Take this heart
It's yours to leave

I'm on your side


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

(I Distinctly Heard You Say) Still Got You


So... yet again, a month-plus passes without a peep, marshmallow or otherwise.

But it's not for lack of effort, really.  I promise.

To wit, the efforts have resulted in:

Licensing In the Morning to 12 shows and networks, including: The new "Teen Wolf" on MTV (no, I'm not kidding: apparently werewolves are the new vampires) and a blanket license for any show on Discovery and its suite of networks.

This, is a good thing.

Additionally, there are efforts being made on our behalf to secure some additional advertising and movie licensing... more news as that comes in.

Individually, I've spent the last month wrapping up a really cool spring of Odyssey shows.  Already some nice opportunities lined up for the fall, including a September trip to Jackson, Mississippi, to perform at Millsaps College.

And finally, we are in the swing of triathlon season, having completed our first race at Galena this past weekend... both Andrea and I overcame some obstacles to finish more than 6 minutes faster than we did last year at the same race.  We were both really pleased and are looking forward to our next race in Lake Geneva next month, and then to the Chicago Triathlon in August for Andrea and the (gulp) Ironman Wisconsin race in September for me.

So... that's my excuse for not blogging more often.

And I'm sticking to it.

Now, on to a quick exegesis of the sixth tune on In the Morning... Still Got You.

This song turned out almost exactly as I heard it in my head when I wrote it.  I wanted something upbeat, rocking and loose.

I tried to walk a line with the lyrics between simple and profound.  I guess one doesn't need to walk a line between the two but... simple can very very easily be shallow, and I was hoping to capture something simple, elemental but ultimately meaningful.

The idea was to embrace this basic idea of being "okay" (which I've talked about in previous songs like Fading Days) but be able to simultaneously acknowledge some of the shit from the past.  And try to be a little... I don't know, maybe playful with it?  Wry?  Something... less than heavy.

So I peppered these lyrics with a lot of real life stuff from when I went through my separation and divorce...

Yes: I did sleep on the couch in front of the television for... two years.  Not because there was anybody in the bed I was avoiding, but because there was nobody and I needed the company of the blue light.

And that's okay.

Yes: there are streets that remind me of particularly difficult times, certain goodbyes.

And that's okay.

Because I've still got everything, all of my life, good and bad.  And out of all that shit grew the incredible life that I have today, with my amazing wife and family and friends and music.

It's essentially the antidote to the sentiment of Things We Would Rather Lose (and there's a "skyscraper hearts" reference to boot).

I think I also had classic Motown in mind... the line about "seeds" is an homage to The Onion Song on Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell... and the chord pattern/harmonic progression is a straight up Motown rip-off (c.f. C-Lo, F*ck You).

For the recording of this one, we wanted an early Wilco, live-in-the-studio feel... but first, the band had to banish a couple of my stupid arrangement ideas to the "overly-cerebral-songwriting" graveyard.  I had a modulation for the last verse and a couple other things which just detracted from the garage band feel of the tune as we ran it... so Drew deftly created the guitar solo chord pattern and the rest of the tune fell into place.  We initially intended to fade the end, but the band sounded so good on the outro, and the end is so fun (including my stupid semi-sarcastic G'n'R meets Gershwin guitar quote) that we kept everything.

I went after the guitar solos with a vengeance and the results were one fairly composed Allman Bros-esque result for the main solo and a semi-unhinged outro passage.  Very cool.

Finally, we went after some conversational vocals and Jay added backgrounds.  And we had it.



Can you tell that I've been down and out?
My heart's a bell and it's ringing, ringing loud
Been up all night and sleeping on the couch
In the blue light, just waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting now

Things change
That's okay
We're still here when the heartache fades
Still got you
Still got you
And nothing's gonna take it away

Now we dream of when it fell apart
How they beat, these skyscraper hearts
See the dawn following the dark
Feel the sun swallowing the stars

Things change
That's okay
We're still here when the heartache fades
Still got you
Still got you
And nothing's gonna take it away

Where the streets mark memories and goodbyes
We planted seeds which are growing to the sky
From the cracks in the pavement in our eyes
Coming back as proof that we survived

Things change
That's okay
We're still here when the heartache fades
Still got you
Still got you
And nothing's gonna take it away from me


Friday, April 15, 2011

Here and There (Dry)


Yet another lapse in publishing... largely due to traveling here and there (mostly there) for some wonderful Odyssey performances.

It's not every month you find yourself in Rochester, New York, and Fayetteville, Arkansas, on successive weekends, to perform a folk opera.  Isn't there an old proverb about that?  Also, has anyone ever started a Kansas cover band called Arkansas?  Probably.

On to the next song on In the Morning...


There's actually not much to say about this one.

Lyrically, it is what I like to call a "promise song."  It had been a long long while since I was able to write about the future, and I took this opportunity to try and say everything I could to my then girlfriend, soon-to-be-fiancee, now-wife.

I recorded an acoustic version of this song as a wedding present and we played it at our ceremony.

And it was the first song we recorded for the In the Morning sessions... the live arrangement was frighteningly simple and we got a good take pretty quickly.  I wound up redo-ing the guitar part with a wonderful tone on my old Gibson... and I played with my fingers rather than a pick, which seemed to be one of those small recording decisions which made a huge difference.

We brought in a guy named Brian Wilkie to record some pedal steel and he knocked it out of the park.  Did like 3 takes, any of which we could have used almost wholesale.  Really beautiful playing.

I did the vocals very quickly without thinking.  The best way to do vocals.

And we got a really pleasant sounding mix.

I really love this song for its simplicity.... there are a couple little personal references... to old songs, to specific things between Andrea and me... and I guess writing this song made me realize that there's a subtle dark undercurrent to every shining love song... namely that when you consider staying with someone for the rest of your life, you also have to consider mortality...

But that's a little bit heavy for today.

So... here are the lyrics.


I'll take away all your sorrow
I'll take away all your pain
Before today becomes tomorrow
I'll say the things I couldn't say

'Cause time won't wait for us
The sky might open up
But I will keep you dry
Until we're gone

I will try and change the season
As summer fades and embers smoke
If the fight destroys the reason
I'll write the song I never wrote

'Cause time won't wait for us
The sky might open up
But I will keep you dry
Until we're gone

I will cry when you are grieving
I will smile when you are true
When the time has come for leaving
I'll fly with you into the blue

'Cause time won't wait for us
The sky might open up
But I will keep you dry
Until we're gone

I will keep you dry
Until we're gone


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fading Days


Who can go two months between posting?

I can.  Yes, I can.

Already almost a quarter of the way into 2011 with very little chance to catch our breath... because of mostly good things.

We officially released In the Morning this month, coordinated with a big college radio push to 300 stations.  Results so far seem good: the record has been added to and played at about 150 stations, and only rejected from 10.  Additionally, we've seen top 30 chart placement as high as number 3 on some stations, which is higher than Things We Would Rather Lose ever made it.  Looking forward to seeing how the next month goes and how many additional stations add and play it.

It's available on iTunes, Amazon, and online retailers including CDBaby and Quell Records.

It's always interesting getting a little distance from a recording project.  There is such an intense focus on it, from writing to pre-production to recording to pressing and marketing... you start to lose perspective on it somewhere in the process, and it's not until months after it's done, when you stop listening to and thinking about it all the time, that you can really assess what it means, how it turned out, and how you feel about it.

Sometimes it takes years to sort it all out.

So this week, as I've been working on press, radio, publicity and licensing, I've been listening to In the Morning again.

Maybe for the first time, actually.

And I like it.

A lot.

I'm proud of it and I think it says exactly what it means to say and sounds the way it should sound.

Actually, if I had to pick my favorite thing about all three Paper Arrows records, it would be that: a sense that each record (and really, each song) sounds the way it should sound.  And each record embraces its own unique identity for (mostly) better or worse, but always for the sake of honesty.

On a personal note, I'm especially proud of the lyrics.  They fit next to Look Alive and TWWRL, but I feel like I found a slightly different voice on this one... something both more personal and a little more universal, easier to grab onto.

So in honor of getting back into In the Morning, I'm going to finish what I started late last year, and do a little posting on each of the remaining 7 songs in the hope that it encourages readers to check the record out, and also because it helps me understand what I wrote and where to go next...

Today's song: Fading Days.

(Deep breath)

This one is a bear.

I think it qualifies as what I call a "kitchen sink" tune... I tried to throw everything I had into it, every meaningful image, every poetic device... every theme from the album as a whole.

I'll begin with the recording of it and then get to the lyrical content.

This is one of the few songs on which we started with a concrete idea of where we wanted to take the production and overall sound.  We worked a wonderfully simple arrangement... and this song contained one of my favorite collaborative moments... well, ever.  We got to the bridge and in about 30 seconds, everyone in the room contributed an idea, from the texture to the chord progression, down to leading tones on each instrument.

I wish this moment was recorded because it was just a beautiful example of everyone sublimating the ego for the betterment of the song.

Drew came up with a fantastic little variation for the double chorus at the end. And we had an organic and very live skeleton upon which to create the rest of the sound.

Darren added a second drum kit, and even with two drum tracks, the song maintained a certain amount of sonic space.  I believe Drew added an organ track to go with the live piano he tracked.  I was able to use my live rhythm guitar track in its entirety, which is always a nice feeling (all those lessons, finally paying off!).

This song has maybe the most involved guitar part on the record: a dense, Jimmy Page inspired lead track that fills up the choruses.  Jay and I wrote and recorded this two nights before the Chicago Triathlon.  I remember because I was abstaining from drinking for the race, which in the studio feels... different.  I generally really enjoy a beer while I record, especially for tracking guitars.  But in this case, I think I focused a bit better and the result is a simple but layered line which we doubled and put an octave pedal on for further impact.

I cut the lead vocals in Studio A and we did some cool layers on the choruses, making use of the space in the Vault... which Jay augmented with his typically great background parts.

And... we had it.  To my ears, an awesome combination of space and density (god, I sound like an idiot rock critic... oops, that's redundant).

Although I guess the space/density was what I tried to navigate with the lyrics.  As I wrote above, the verses have a certain labored over approach.  They all follow the same imagery pattern and somewhat tricky rhyme scheme.  Which is in contrast to the simplicity (both in verbiage and theme) of the choruses.

The basic idea, which pops up all over In the Morning, is that of just being "okay" with things.  Which sounds... simple? Trite? Boring? Stupid?

I don't know.  I think when we go through loss we tend to focus on being "good" again, when really we have to feel "okay" before we can be "good."  And we have to be "okay" with the stop and start nature of recovery, that even when we think we're "good," we're still going to have shitty days.

And Fading Days is a way better title than Shitty Days, and actually, as I write this I realize that Fading Days and Shitty Days are two different things entirely...

Wow.  I'm now having an argument with myself on my own blog about my own lyrics.

One more point and then maybe I should shut up and post the lyrics: this song also has instances of me writing something I thought I should believe, but wasn't really sure if I did at the time (or even now still).

Does that make sense?

Sometimes I write things that I want to believe in the hope that the act of writing it and putting it in song will make it true.  Or at least help me believe it.

Maybe like an act of prayer... which is something I'm starting to connect to the fourth Paper Arrows record, which I've been writing for the last few months...

Anyway, here it is:


If I could take your scars I'd lay them in a line
And stitch the skin with needle and thread
Like the thread that runs from your life to mine
And pulled us in until our damage met

If I could live your days I'd put them in the ground
And work the dirt until the colors bloomed
Like the red that runs in rivers in these rooms
Within my heart as it beats for you

Do the echoes ever keep you up at night?
Why did someone have to leave for us to get it right?
It's okay to still have fading days
I know you do

If I could catch your tears I'd drop them in the sea
Where they would mix and finally disappear
When they were gone you know our lives would be as clear
As the lights on the lines that lead us here

Do the echoes ever keep you up at night?
Why did someone have to leave for us to get it right?
It's okay to still have fading days
I know you do

Where there is none
Don't look for pain
You can call it love
'Cause all love's not the same
If we can stay
Then we'll both be saved

Do the echoes ever keep you up at night?
Why did someone have to leave for us to get it right?
It's okay to still have fading days
You know I do


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Goes to '11

Two months since I last wrote?


Almost like I've been preoccupied with... everything.

But never fear (I know, you were afraid): big plans for '11.

How do you top a year in which you made a career change, heard your music on TV, got married, recorded two albums, and played a month of shows without repeating a song?

More soon.