Random ramblings.


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.





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.



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:


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.


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.



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


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. 




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? 



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.




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.




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.



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.


3 Great Moments From The Velveteen Rabbit

"How did you know I could do that?"

"How did you know you couldn't?"


Everything that's real was imagined first.


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




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.


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.


Birthdays And Majestic Moments

On the heels of a really fun birthday of my own, Ker just reminded me that it's Robert Plant's birthday today. When I met him (years ago, in the parking lot of a restaurant), I blurted out, "I lost my virginity to side 3 of Song Remains The Same (true, No Quarter and Stairway over and over). He gazed at me for a moment with a big, knowing smile, and simply quipped, "Took you that long, did it?" and strolled off into the morning sun. Perfect. Happy birthday, hero of mine. 

That 'trying to find the way I feel' bit of Kashmir (right around 4:20, natch) is as majestic as rock ever was or will ever be.


The Cat Removal Performance Was Majestic

The Cat Removal Performance Was Majestic


Ker through the window hissed

But alas, the little kitty got pissed

So Ker left the kitchen

And to a Jo she was bitchin'

The kitty jumped in

JoKer yelled 'Win-Win'

Jo chased the kitty round and round

And into Jo's arms the kitty abound.

And with the momentum of it's leap

The kitty was into the hall thrust deep

And thus, the kitty was removed.


Pinky Be Praised.