Random ramblings.

Thursday
Sep222011

Sad Symmetry (Georgia On My Mind)

Sad symmetry for me this morning between the apparently inexcusable execution of Troy Davis in Georgia and the breakup of REM, a band from Georgia that sang and spoke so passionately about so many issues for 30-ish years. They were definitely a band that woke me up to the idea of music as something beyond entertainment, and as something that anyone could make. As for Troy Davis, he seems to be a classic casualty of our (very) flawed justice system. Aside from my many general ideological concerns about the death penalty, just the simple fact that we get it so wrong sometimes and end up killing someone unjustly seems enough of a reason to abolish it. As if imprisoning someone unjustly for years isn't awful enough, killing them is obviously something else entirely.

For anyone offended by me mentioning a band breaking up and a man dying in the same breath, I really do understand that even the most transcendent music isn't like someone being put to death. Music isn't real life. That said, if you're like me, music has been the most simple and profound way to process stuff that defies comprehension and articulation, whether it be really sad stuff or really happy stuff. REM helped me with that. If they were still on tour, no doubt tonight they would sing something -- maybe their version of 'Red Rain' by Peter Gabriel, which is itself a stunning tune, and maybe the most popular song speaking out against the death penalty ever made -- they'd sing and say something, and if I were there, I'd probably get to mourn Troy Davis, feel for his family and wonder about all of us in ways that I might not figure out without them, their music, in that moment.

 

Wednesday
Sep212011

Pearl Jam and Me (and Tsotsi?)

In anticipation of the new Pearl Jam documentary by Cameron Crowe (one of my favorite directors making a movie about one of my favorite bands, and I just found is his favorite song of theirs is my favorite song too?!?), I realize it's time to finish this ridiculous ramble about my memories of this oddly iconic band that's meant so much to me. A necessary disclaimer before this gets going, though: There is pretty much no way to talk about my love for Pearl Jam without talking about my own zig-zags through making money making music. It's their 20th anniversary of being a band, and it's my 20th of trying to make music for a living. So, apologies in advance for all the self-referential stuff. Overall, it's also important (to me) to emphasize that I don't feel at all 'cool' telling you about this stuff -- in fact, I feel a little embarrassed. It's the kind of shame, though, that I've always taken as a sign to keep going in that direction, to try not to worry about being perceived as an overly enthusiastic schmuck, to just be my dorky self, and let that be as close to 'cool' as I ever get…

I'd moved to Sacramento in 1991 to start talking about forming the band that we eventually called Far. We'd played a handful of shows and made a demo tape. That February, when they were still listed on the flyers as Mookie Blaylock, they played their 14th show at the Cattle Club in Sacramento (http://goo.gl/5L97b), where all the local bands would play (touring bands, too). They were opening for Alice In Chains. Drop Acid was on the bill, too. The singer for that band was Kevin, who is also the singer for 7 Seconds, a band that Ed likes, so I've always figured that was how that happened. Anyway, there they were. And there I wasn't. I was in Claremont, finishing school. When I next came up to Sac for a show or something, someone gave me a cassette. It was in a tan cardboard sleeve, with a little scribble of a character, arms wide open, and all this completely unnecessary information scrawled on it. I loved that they covered a Beatles tune ('I've Got A Feeling') with weird, maniacal intensity. I loved the other rock punk (as opposed to punk rock) songs on the tape. Mostly, though, I was fascinated by the storytelling in the printed handwriting. It was the same kind of gesture that I'd come to love in artists from Zeppelin to Prince to Rickie Lee Jones to U2, pretty much any artist I really loved… Artists that seemed in their art and promotion to enjoy a conspiratorial, intimate relationship with anyone that liked the music; an invitation to a community. I got Ten (Pearl Jam's first album) soon after, and it quickly joined my late-night, lights-dimmed, lyric-reading rotation. 'Release', the last song on the album, was my first deep connection to them. It's still my most intense. Here was this guy, singing so simply, singing such obtuse lyrics, then so painfully direct. Singing about his father, about holding pain, about opening up. I remember the room so well.

So at some point, they were officially called Pearl Jam. Ten was out, they kept on touring, the secret started to spread. But not really. There were plenty of people that didn't feel the same pull that I did; just about all of my friends thought they were overblown, not punk, not cool, whatever it was. The people that did like them really loved them, though. They were mostly geeky little music zealots like me; people not real interested in the latest hits, but also a little confused and turned off by indie elitism that seemed to revere bands for being distant, ironic, abrasive. The early fans that I met were hyper-idealistic and romantic about music that reached and yearned, melodies that stuck with you, sincerity that seemed to be for real. The word about the live show was good. They were coming to the Troubadour (http://goo.gl/UCIls). I'm not sure who I went with. I do remember all the promo stuff stapled up around the club, being a bit put off by it, the band being put off by it too. Ed biting the hand that fed the whole set, climbing all over the place, the band leaving the stage seemingly grumpy about the whole industry-tinged affair. It didn't look like they were coming out for an encore. Then after a while, Ed came out onstage alone. I had the feeling he'd wanted to do the encore, but the rest of the band didn't. I forget what sticker he'd had on his shirt the whole show, some old punk band I think. He peeled it off, and under the sticker, it was a U2 shirt. That juxtaposition still defines them for me, and further endeared them to me in that moment. Then Ed sang an a cappella version of 'Suggestion', a song about sexual harassment and assault by Fugazi, and walked off the stage for good. Weeks later, I would take that sparse, combative arrangement and paraphrase it at a benefit show for House Of Ruth (http://houseofruthinc.org).

From that Troubadour show forward, I went into ultra-geek mode. A woman that worked at Tower Records with me, Kari Necker, was similarly hooked, so we became PJ buddies. Two women from Seattle called Tracey and Melissa were in our little gang too. We all followed them around so much that when Ed went out to the field where the first Drop In The Park (a free show) was to have been (on May 20 at Gas Works Park), to apologize to the stragglers disappointed by the sudden cancellation due to some city council screwup, he asked someone somethin like, "um, you aren't with, um, Jonah, are you?". Bless Tracey's preserving heart, there's actually a YouTube vid of a muffled VHS tape documenting this surreal moment:

(right at the beginning, then around 2:30ish again). When the show was rescheduled (http://goo.gl/wc8tV), of course we drove 14 hours to get there and I nearly killed us all trying to learn to use cruise control.

Ridiculous fan-boy that I'd become by this point, of course I decided to write Ed a letter. I'd always loved mix tapes (still do), so I wanted to make him one. I wanted it to be full of stuff that he may not have heard, but that if he really was the kindred spirit I was imagining, he'd love as much as I did. I remember putting a few tunes by this wacky, thoughtful, noisy punk band called Victim's Family, and a lot of stuff by this brilliant, mercurial songwriter called Rickie Lee Jones. The letter talked about all the different bands and songs, along with who-knows-what else. The first song on the tape, I think, was also the first song on my favorite record of hers. It was called 'We Belong Together'. It's a truly incredible song, full of indelible images and phrases ("…the only angels who see us now watch us through each other's eyes"). 

In the weeks and months after I sent the letter, PJ really did start to blow up, along with that whole Seattle scene. They still seemed to be the misfits of the scene; not punk enough for Nirvana-lovers, not spooky-glammy enough for Alice In Chains folks, not rock enough for Soundgarden heshers, still just a bit too vulnerable and ballad-y. Perfect for me, though, and perfect for more and more people. I pretty much figured that my letter was long-lost in the mounting deluge of fan mail. I was okay with it, if a little crestfallen.

Then came MTV Unplugged. For gazillions of people, it was the lightswitch that 'Release' had been for me. The band playing with such abandon and passion, the setting perfect for showcasing their particular songs, sentiment and style. There were two moments that came out of the TV and nailed me to the couch. One was Ed scrawling 'Pro-Choice' on his arm during that epic take on 'Porch'. The other was near the end of 'Black', the lovelorn, instant-classic anthem that would play such a part in their attempt to retreat from fame when they famously refused to make a video for it a few months later. As Ed howled the 'I know someday…' bit (one of so many bits near the end of songs that became as important and memorable as any chorus) and the energy built, he started singing, "We… we… we belong together! Together!"

For so many people, this was the moment they found out about and/or gave in to Pearl Jam. It would have been incredible no matter what, but after the letter and the tape and all, I was literally frozen in my friend's living room thinking, "Either he loves Rickie Lee Jones as much as me, which means we really are long-lost brothers, or he got the mix and the letter and loved it and that song so much that it made it into that moment and…" at which point my brain pretty much short-circuited. All I knew was that I had to figure this out.

The next step up for them was places like the Warfield, a 2,000 set venue in San Francisco. But by the time they were getting to the venues on that tour, they had outgrown them, so it was very, very sold out (http://goo.gl/GSxvb). The opening band, by the way (along with a weird South African trio called Tribe After Tribe), was Rage Against The Machine. Rage's first album wasn't out, most people there hadn't heard them or even heard them. They utterly decimated that place, absolutely conquered it, more than any opening band I've ever seen, by a longshot. In their 30 minutes onstage, Zak (RATM's singer) raised dramatically my aspirations as a rock singer and frontperson, forever. Anyway, before that, back outside, way before the show started, I was wandering the streets around the Warfield in a Drop Acid shirt. I found the Pearl Jam bus, asked Jeff Ament (PJ's bassist) if anyone in the band liked Rickie Lee Jones ("yea, she's great!")... but no Eddie. Then, walking away, there he was, walking with his girlfriend Beth, right towards me. I showed him my Drop Acid shirt as a would-be icebreaker. 

"Oh cool," he said, "I lost mine in Detroit."

"Wanna trade?" (He was wearing a DRI shirt).

"No, that's cool, thanks."

At which point I tumbled into some ramble trying to let him know that I'd sent a letter, with a tape, and what about that moment at the end of 'Black', and did he…

Somewhere in my incomprehensible mess, he stopped me by saying, "Oh my god, that was you" and giving me a big hug and a tough, tender kiss on the neck. He said some stuff about how much it meant to him or something, but for all the other details that are still so clear up to that point, I honestly don't remember much. In those moments, my most goofy and romantic of ideas had actually made sense to someone else. Someone doing exactly what I was trying to do, doing it so well. Anyway, at some point, he and Beth ambled off, and I collected myself enough to get inside the show. I immediately bought a PJ shirt, took off my shirt, balled it up as well as I could, and right as they walked onstage, I hurled it towards them. It flew right past Ed and slid under the drum riser. Tons of stuff followed as the set went on, all sorts of would-be gifts, band demos, who knows. The roadies would cross the stage periodically, cleaning it all up. My shirt lay hidden, though. It stayed that way for the whole show. At first, I was really happy about this, thinking that someone in the band would find it. Then, as the show neared ending, I started to realize that no one at all might find it til well after the band was gone. During the last tune, Ed jumped into the crowd as just about always, and came up out of the crowd with his shirt half-ripped off, as just about always. The band went offstage before the inevitable encore, and finally, during the last stage-sweep, a roadie saw and grabbed my shirt. I was kinda dejected, but still glowing from the day and the show. Then, when the band sauntered back out to play some more for us, Ed was wearing the Drop Acid shirt. The perfection of that moment is right up there with anything before or since for me.

So, while there are so many other stories and memories… Them opening for Nirvana and RHCP New Year's 1991 (http://goo.gl/VKsQz), Kari and me flying to New York on New Year's Eve 1992 (http://goo.gl/cQy86) with no tickets to a relatively tiny show and having a pair given to us by the singer from (I can't for the life of me remember!!!!) -- then, once inside, somehow scaling up to the booth where Ed & Beth were watching Keith Richards, giving them a Far t-shirt and CD… After their first Bridge Benefit show (http://goo.gl/IyEyI), where they played 'Daughter' live for the first time, just after Vs. has sold a million in its first week, hangin out with Dave (their drummer at the time) in his hotel room at The Phoenix, talking to him about their burgeoning fame, having him play us that first Christmas single tune… Far being on a compilation with Henry Rollins, knowing Ed loved him, giving Ed the comp with a letter at their Warfield show that Rollins was the opening act at (http://goo.gl/0TKdC), bawling when they opened that show with 'Release' straight into 'Animal', having Ed reference the letter onstage before singing 'Blood'… Ed recognizing me ("hey, Jonah from Far") while walking around in the crowd at Lollapalooza 1992 (http://goo.gl/MxYtY)… Far getting signed by Immortal/Epic (Pearl Jam's label) at the height of PJ's popularity and wanting nothing more than all the PJ promo stuff they could find, cherishing my basketball picture-disc of 'Ten'… saying hi at the Grammy afterparty in 1997, thinking Ed seemed pretty sad… Hearing 'Given To Fly' way before Yield came out in someone's office at Epic, laughing about how much it sounded like 'Going To California'… 2002 in London (http://goo.gl/a995K), backstage only because my friend Scott worked for Epic (Far had broken up, I was touring solo by then), purposely not booking a show because he could get me into theirs. We ran into Ed walking through the halls under the venue. After years of not seeing him or anything, he recognized me immediately and I had to awkwardly introduce him to his own label rep. Then, later that night, everyone was standing around after the show. Ed was giving Mark Arm (singer for Mudhoney) shit about his microphone coming off the cable when he was swinging it around. I mentioned that I'd hear a great story about that same thing happening to Eddie Money. All of a sudden, Ed's eyes lit up and he launched into a story about Eddie Money. He grabbed me and stood me in front of him, saying, "Okay, you're Eddie Money and I'm Eddie Money's bodyguard, telling you about all the people you're meeting at the record label party..." I just stood there, smiling and shaking my head, not even trying to be cool, just soaking up the fan-boy moment.

All those indelible memories aside, though, that Warfield day & night is still the one. 

Again, I really don't feel 'cool' telling you about any of this. Quite the opposite really, feelin pretty self-conscious reading through it and trying to edit typos -- it's just fun to share this with anyone that's ever loved a band this much; my particular tales of how much one band meant to me as an artist, as a person. I think of the people who have sheepishly said sweet things to me over the years, how I've thanked them profusely, assuring them that I'm as big a geek as they ever were. Here's the proof.

They're pretty much the last band that I really loved in that teenager way. My arc through making a living making music is now seemingly waning, in a way that feels complete and healthy. I let my Ten Club (Pearl Jam's fan club) membership lapse, rejoined, let it lapse again. I'm not particularly into much of theirs after Yield, though 'The Fixer' and some other very recent softer stuff has gotten me pretty good. I don't even listen to any of their stuff particularly actively. When my last band Gratitude was looking for a drummer and I got to play music with Dave Krusen (PJ's first drummer) for a couple hours, my head didn't explode (but it was really neat). I haven't gotten jaded or anything, I'm still a total geek for them and music and life, but I guess they're more just a part of me now, rather than some entity I'm goofily obsessed with. 

The last time I saw them live says it perfectly. I didn't try to get backstage or anything else. I just went to some shows. They were at the Bill Graham Civic in San Francisco for a few nights. Yea, I went to all three. On the last night (http://goo.gl/Lbor7), near the end of the show, when they were deep into a great extended freakout in 'Crazy Mary', I found myself welling up with pure love of the band, the music, the moment, as I so often have at their shows. At that instant, I looked to my right and there, up in the cheap seats with me, was my original PJ fan-friend Kari, who I hadn't seen for who knows how many years, similarly lost in the moment. Our eyes met and we both completely lost it, just reveling in the serendipitous PJ world we'd both grown up in. We hardly spoke, and hardly have since. Didn't have to. The music did it for us.

Speaking of the music, how cool is this (http://www.pearljam.com/music/songs)? A database of every song they ever played, how many times they played it, the lyrics... So ambitious, so complete, so neat.

======

An epilogue to the preface. So glad I wrote what I wrote before seeing the movie. Won't even try to articulate that further. Yea, just sitting here not typing. What's left out of what's written after this is all the inarticulable stuff, stuff I felt listening, seeing, reading. A me that's gone, and so still here.

Here's some broken lines from just now:

Riding my bike back from seeing PJ20 (http://goo.gl/35Huu)
After seeing Tsotsi (http://goo.gl/BYTI3) hours earlier
Lost young men
Surrender
I'm probably the only idiot seeing parallels
Putting myself in the middle of them
Crying and laughing about it all
Two lives I didn't lead
That both make me yearn to know theirs
And so happy to have mine
Both films perfect
For me, at least
PJ20 makes me hate video so much
Those moments deserved film
But maybe that's just nostalgia
I don't think so, though
And all of a sudden I'm thinking of Boogie Nights
Another lost young man story
All absent fathers
My family tree
Thursday
Sep082011

What's Happening When Nothing Is Happening

 

Things That Are Happening When Nothing Is Happening

Sometimes I feel some weird self-imposed pressure to 'announce' stuff regularly. For once, I'm not going to over-analyze this TOO much, but it does bring up this great idea I heard about a while back concerning the word 'fallow'. That word basically refers to something that's inactive or not in use. I've generally heard it used in terms of nature, as in a field or something that's fallow, with no visible vegetation, life, etc. I heard this great bit on the radio a while back about the desert, and how even when the desert is in its fallow state and looks completely barren, there's so much goin on behind the scenes. The new growth is literally getting ready to get above ground. There's as much goin on then as when we can see all the pretty flowers and such. That moment of hearing the nature-guy talk about it changed me forever. I worry so much less about times when I don't feel 'creative' or 'productive'. I can be sure that there is no moment in which 'more' or 'less' is happening. Every single moment is just the same. And, of course, utterly unique.

So, with that in mind, here are some things that are happening while nothing appears to be happening: 

I just wrote a sweet new song while thinking of and missing my girlfriend. I've showed it to some friends and I'm sure I'll share it more publicly soon. It's not that it's scary or overly personal in any way, it just feels nice to listen to it myself, have it on a personal level before letting it out to anyone that is curious. Speaking of which, the fact that anyone outside my immediate circle of loved ones is curious about what I make or these very words I'm writing right now is something which I am forever ridiculously grateful for. 'Nuff said.

I wrote another song that arrived after a young woman died of cancer. I'd played a benefit for her about a year ago, sorta gotten to know some people close to her. The song just arrived. I didn't 'try' to write it. I sort of hate the idea of 'trying' to write songs about 'important' things, actually, but that's a whole 'nother story. Again, I've shared the song with her community, and I'm sure it'll make it into the world in various ways, but I'm really just into enjoying it (songs, making stuff and sharing it, etc) on the most personal levels.

I'm relatively close to having completed a children's book. I've had the text for a while now, but I've partnered with an amazing young design group called Just Our Thought that is working on the imagery with me. I have no idea how it'll be realized and released (there may be a Kickstarter invitation comin your way soon). 

I just rocked a beautiful, progressive Bar Mitvah in Portland and got a little ceremony for myself in the process. I wasn't raised Jewish or anything, so I got given a Hebrew name and stuff, it was really neat. Turns out my mom's (whose name is Ann) Hebrew name is Hannah, which is my daughter's name. I've kinda known that for a while, I think my mom told me when Hannah was born, but it never really occurred to me how cool and symmetrical it is until I learned that my Hebrew name is Yonah ben Hannah. Here's what the rebbe said:

Rabbi David Zaslow: Ann is a derivative of Hannah, which means "grace."  So your full Hebrew name would be Yonah ben Hannah which translates as The Dove son of Grace or Dove-man son of All that is Graceful. (Yonah means 'dove'). 

Me: Wow... My daughter's name is Hannah :-)

DZ: That's the way the soul works sometimes...in some mysterious way, something not completed by your mother Ann will be healed and fixed by Hannah. Something like that. So as you are Yonah ben Hannah, your daughter is Hannah bot Yonah

So yea, pretty neat.

I'm singing at a sweet wedding this weekend. I'm in touch with some more folks about various personal occasions and my music being a part of them. I'm loving the fact that people that grew up listening to music I've been a part of are getting married and having kids and all sortsa other life stuff and that they're asking me to be a part of all that in so many ways. Overall, I'm just really enjoying this awareness that music I've made has really been a part of people's lives, the same way music that others have made has been such a significant part of mine. Simple, I know, but it's really gettin me good lately.

I'm gathering songs and ideas for another Covers album (might be another Kickstarter for that one, I like the idea and the way they're makin it happen). Through Unique Recordings, making them for friends and loved ones and just general music geekiness, I've got quite a few ideas. We shall see.

I'm trading lots of music with some friends and in doing so remembering how much I love Prince, Miles and lotsa other artists.

I cleared out a storage space and found so much cool stuff. I'll be posting it soon somehow for sharing, for sale, who knows.

Oh, so much more could be said about all this and more. My daughter's nearly grown and off to her own adventure, being in love continues to pry my strange little heart open (which keeps being scary and beautiful in equal measure), music keeps reminding me how much it means to me, making stuff continues to be so much fun, keeping in touch keeps going right along with that. I don't have any shows booked right now (a few in the works, but nothin planned and no plans to try to plan too many, really). I have a relatively new album that I still love lots, and I might do more to tell the world about it. I have website and various internett-y places that I try to keep up with and have tons of ideas about. I'm recording all the time, whether it's ideas from people or ideas from me. Basically, though, this is me lately, going through life. Wherever you're at, if you're feeling fallow, hope this helps you remember how full you really are, all the time.

 

Love,

Jonah

Monday
Sep052011

Happy Creation, Creator.

Happy b-day Freddie, you mad genius creator, singer, ringmaster, connector. My awe and admiration keeps deepening. Anyone reading this who wants to be in a band or just loves music, watch this for a reference point of what true excellence in rock really is.

Freddie & Queen are a perfect example of artists I had to acknowledge I'd just never be as good as (Prince, Dylan, Zeppelin, Joni, Neil, Miles, so many). It's brought me peace and happiness making the stuff I make. I'm not worried about matching Abbey Road, not trying to be someone else. What a relief. Now I can just get on with making stuff.

 

Saturday
Sep032011

Waking Up: A Love Note Of Sorts To Sacramento And Music.

I woke up this morning slow-thinking and sludgy. Does anyone know that feeling when your head feels all gauzy and numb, yet tears are brimming for reasons you don't understand? Still haven't really cried, don't really feel sad. Not sure what I feel. I think it's on the sweet side of things, but who knows. I've had this feeling since the show started last night. As good ol' Francis sang so well, where is my mind? What's happened since yesterday? 

The always-sluggish Friday afternoon drive to Sacramento, amplified by Labor Day weekend warriors. Why does everyone go to the same place at the same time every time, thereby guaranteeing that everyone's drive sucks? Sometimes I think I've lived my life in the chaotic way that I do primarily to avoid that sort of mundane madness. 

Then, the hazy weight of nostalgia that always waits for me in Sacramento, amplified by the presence of friendly filmmakers over from the UK, working on a documentary about DIY art and culture, curious about the place I (and so many musicians that I admire) grew up in musically. I showed them parks I played in, a photo of one of those shows on a wall downtown, places where I worked my last day jobs, houses where I wrote songs while my then-toddler daughter took her afternoon nap. I took them to The Beat, the local record shop that has sold me stuff and sold my stuff for 20 years now. After all the labels, I'm back in the Local Artists section these days, selling my stuff on consignment, checking in when I'm in  town. It feels perfect. As it turned out, I'd sold a couple things, they gave me $37.67, took a few more records from me happily. It's hard to explain how much I love Sacramento, but that sort of says it.

Instead of the standard opening-act thing, I thought it'd be neat to invite people at the show to sing songs before I played. Worked out so well. Lots of nice people playing with heart. Then me, trying to do the same. All of the singers, the whole day, all the years, they were all in the room. I was just trying to keep up, give the moment a voice, give my voice the moment. Babbling anecdotes and running commentary between and during verses, looking for new spaces in songs. 

The aforementioned nostalgia is becoming a recurring character in the strange show that is my brain. It's not best-days-behind-me silliness or anything, but there's some sort of reflection happening. It actually feels nice, just grateful that I've somehow cobbled together a career from just the kind of fun mess I made last night. The main feeling by the end of the show was happy amazement that people had hung out through the chaos, the heavy moments, the goofiness, the quiet stuff, the off-mic yelling, all the pretty-much-directionless banter. Seems as poetic a microcosm of my musical life as anything. Trying to find something new and worthwhile, happy that anyone else is as curious as me about that process. I'm almost ashamed sometimes of the liberties I take at shows. Storms of self-consciousness. Grateful for the trust.

And then this message this morning. In some sort of time-travel way, it sort of explains everything, all these clouds.

"Subject: dear jonah

Message: for many years you have been part of the soundtrack of my life. Your songs have helped me through many difficult situations and inspired me. Now I am starting the most difficult situation of my life. A few months ago I woke up in a hospital paralyzed from a motorcycle accident. actually, had I not crashed, I would have been watching you and Rival schools in San Francisco two days later. But now I am forever heartbroken having lost basically everything. but thankfully your music will accompany me on this hard road. From the bottom of my heart, thank you Jonah for the music you write and for just being your wonderful self. Keep it up."

And my response, overwhelmed, searching for words, just like last night:

"Hi,

I can't even imagine. I'm just stunned. With all that must be going through your mind, thanks for taking the time to say hi. I'm so happy the music is there, and that the songs get to have such a place in your life. If there's ever anything I can do, please let me know. Meanwhile, fuck, I dunno. All the things I could say seem so lame. All I really know is that whatever's going on, there are mysteries that await us. Sometimes in the difficult times, that's the best it gets. Love to you and your family.

Jonah"

And then this via Twitter:

"I think the music of @JonahMatranga has saved my life -- multiple times. Honest. Inspired. Last night=amazing. Finally heard Crush On Everyone!"

And so I sit, finally just letting this day be this day. All of a sudden, things make some sort of sense. Bolstered by history, reminded by tragedy, grateful for sweet people, appreciating my inscrutable moods and all these moments that have arrived through the music. Thank you. For so many moments just like this one and nothing at all like them, thank you.

 

Tuesday
Aug302011

I Can't Take It, Take It, Take No More

I recently wrote an essay of sorts, fuzzily focused on music and technology, for a Sacto publication called Midtown Monthly. Here's a link to it there, and here (below) is my homemade version, featuring links and my weird formatting. Many thanks to Tim Foster for asking me to write it and for being generally awesome over the years.

 

I Can't Take It, Take It, Take No More


Britney

Whenever I hear that latest Britney track (or it's stuck in my head, which is pretty much constantly lately), I don't imagine a human being. I can't imagine her actually in the recording studio hour after hour, one headphone off a la We Are The World, going for that perfect take. I imagine her as a collection of bytes and samples, a projection. I imagine that they've amassed and organized every syllable, breath, inflection, in order of importance, and painstakingly arranged every hit in order to best manipulate the listener (first and foremost)and make any sense at all (least and leastmost). I'm making up words as I go along. It's only fair. 

http://youtu.be/7DVPdzXLJ94

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HoloGrammy

This is really happening. There is a band in Japan, playing to click tracks to keep them in sync (pun unintended but welcomed). They are fronted by a larger-than-life hologram of a pop star. The shows are attended by many thousands of people. Armaggeddon it? 

http://youtu.be/DTXO7KGHtjI

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Idol Worship

The Simon Cowell of Japan has done that evil genius one better and just made a group of constantly interchangeable people whose fate in the group is constantly in flux depending on their Like™ability. Pretty sneaky, sis. Just for fun, someone created a composite of various features of the most popular members and literally fashioned a new, if imaginary, member. She was in ads, getting voted on along with all the rest. Probably still is.

http://bit.ly/8hCRoC

http://youtu.be/VGYTWBrtR14

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Transformer Man

The list of reasons for which I admire Neil Young to the point of a mild mania is long and winding. I'll happily defend even the crappiest of crap he's created. This one is easy, though. One of his kids is somewhere pretty far along the autism scale, totally non-verbal I think. Neil and his awesome wife Pegi have been tireless in their search for  gadgets that will help their son interact with the world more readily. On the way, Neil decided to make a record called Trans about these ideas, with these ideas. It was such a weird and wonderful concept adventure that it got him sued for not being enough like himself. If you're an artist and that happens, it generally means you're forward-thinking, curious and therefore awesome.

http://youtu.be/eblFQppJfyg

http://youtu.be/27J2yH_6YQ0

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Do You Believe?

Cher can officially be called the grandmother of all this. That makes double-sense, since her enjoyment of and/or addiction to plastic surgery is the perfect analog to all this digital blurring and deepening. I place the moment when her voice surrenders to the vocoder (3:20ish for the magic moment) in 'Believe' near the top of the list of most prescient and significant pop moments.

http://youtu.be/LbXiECmCZ94

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All this doesn't simply sicken me as much you might think. I'm careful about reflexively dismissing present-day pop culture happenings these days. The most reliable constant is one generation attacking the conventions of the next as being less authentic / healthy / whatever. I remember seeing Kick-Ass with some friends, someone being disgusted. I was thrilled. I know that I just don't get where this is going, this hologram-pop. I know that it has been headed this way since forever. I like basking in its surreal glow, literally and figuratively. All will be revealed.

Monday
Aug292011

3 Great Moments From The Velveteen Rabbit

"How did you know I could do that?"

"How did you know you couldn't?"

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Everything that's real was imagined first.

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You were right, Rabbit. Love does make us real.

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Thursday
Aug252011

Voices.

So, I just got back from auditioning for this show called The Voice. Spoiler alert: I got about 90 seconds into my first tune and they politely showed me the door. I'm pretty sure I wasn't what they were looking for, and vice versa. The whole leadup to the audition was a classic big-production mess of well-meaning people, vague communication and changing information, the place was teeming with ambition and aides with headset mics, and I'm, well, the guy that just wrote a tune about wanting a simple life (along with so many songs with similar sentiments over the years). While I really would've loved to sing more, and it would've been neat if they'd announced that I'd instantly won the whole competition with that one staggering performance, the main feeling I had walking out to my car was relief. I felt so excited to go back home to record and say hi to people and make more stuff, knowing that the next bunch of months wouldn't be in flux waiting for schedules and weird ideas from producers that I might get completely freaked out about and whatever else happens on those shows. The defining moment of the experience was actually upon arrival at the studio. I had my guitar and the tracks and all that stuff, but I'd forgotten my wallet, which had my ID, which I needed for the check-in process. Oops! As they decided whether they'd let me through or not, I chuckled to myself thinking, 'I forgot who I am'. It occurs to me now, as I type, that maybe I just didn't want to show them.

As always, though, the way through was the fun part. I'm really grateful for the invitation to try, and I'm happy I did. It was fun to tell my daughter I'd been invited, and that my audition would be on her birthday (Happy b-day, Hannah!). My brushes with the mainstream are fun to share with her, give her somethin to talk to her friends about. I'm happy I put the time into preparing (not a ton, but enough), thinking of songs that would be fun to sing, thinking about what I might enjoy about the experience, what I might not. It was fun to daydream about being my weird self in the context of the show, whatever fun trouble I might find. I'm sure I would've enjoyed the dialogue with all the sweet people that have been around for all the other twists and turns over the years, as well as with grumpy scenesters whose rules I would be breaking for the gazillionth time, and of course with the people that would have learned about me through the show. It was fun to feel the fears of failure, of success, of the unknown. Those feelings that only really get to happen when I dare to care. I had great talks about it all with my girlfriend, who through her career in acting and modeling has been through that particular wringer a whole lot. I haven't, really. I've just kinda done my own thing, for better or for worse. I've said 'no' to plenty of offers and stuff, sometimes kind of compulsively. For that reason and others, the few people I told about the audition were skeptical, curious and ultimately supportive. That was pretty much my attitude too, really. Overall, it was a great and timely opportunity to think about the stuff I've made, the places it's taken me, the places it hasn't, how I've felt going through the various adventures.

Oh yea, I also just had fun learning the tunes I picked (again, all thanks to Ker for the ideas): 'The Scientist' (Coldplay) and 'Mr Brightside' (Killers). Those are two songs that I always kinda liked, but never would have thought to play. Now I've got two more tunes to rock at karaoke. 

I love music and making it so much. In honor of this latest little moment in the string of surreal moments I'm so grateful to call a career and a life, I think I have the perfect name for the next Covers album I do, that is beginning to begin: Voices. See you there. Happy we're here.

Wednesday
Aug242011

One Of The Best Things

One of the best things about learning to write songs

Is that they help you see the world like one

And that helps when it hurts.