Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Favorite Movies: White Christmas

Some people have told me recently that they have never watched the movie "White Christmas" starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney.  To me this is really outrageous, especially if you are a music fan.

The Binger in full effect.  Check out the tie.
 The song "White Christmas" is the best selling single of all time, according to Guinness Book of World Records.  It has sold over 50 million copies as a single.  If you factor in album sales the total is 100 million.  It was the only song to ever hit Number 1 on Billboard three separate years - 1942, 1945, and 1946 (at Christmas time, of course).  It won the Oscar for best song in a movie in 1942 (it was first in a movie called Holiday Inn).  It also was the only Bing Crosby song to ever reach Number 1 on the Harlem Hit Parade - a black music chart of the time (before it was called the R&B chart). 

Now why would this song sell so much?  It touches a place in the heart that few other works of art ever have on a massive scale.  You just have to listen to it to understand. 

Bing and Danny Kaye putting on a show for the troops.
To me, the best way to understand the song's appeal is to watch the first scenes of the movie "White Christmas".  Picture the place, picture the winter of 1944... you're a soldier in France, at the front.  The Nazis are about to launch their counter-attack (a.k.a. the Battle of the Bulge) and the War's conclusion is still in question.  You are not sure if you'll live to see another Christmas.  Bing steps up in the war zone to put on a little Christmas show for the men, to raise their spirits - and to gently remind them what they're really fighting for. 

Hearts are full, grown men are laying their lives on the line to breathe free.  Many of their brothers in arms have already died, and their echoes will carry on in those who survive.  That to me is the setup for this song.  You're in hell, and you want to find a way to get back home, where things make sense.  At least in the solitude of your heart. 

Where tree tops glisten, where children listen... to hear sleigh bells in the snow. 

Therefore you can't understand this song without putting it into the context of the World War Two experience of the Greatest Generation.  It is really hard to contextualize the level of sacrifice and service that this generation of Americans gave to their country.  They all put aside their own personal ambitions time and again to give to others - family, neighbors, friends, nation.  Thank God they did - we are living in the aftermath of their sacrifice.  They paid with their lives for this sacrifice.  Over 400,000 American men lost their lives in World War Two.  By comparison, in Vietnam 58,000 Americans were killed.  In Iraq, under 5,000 Americans. 

I often wonder if J.R.R. Tolkein, in pondering the metaphorical allegory that was the Lord of the Rings, envisioned the Hobbits as these very Americans who came over to France and sacrificed everything to save the world from evil tyranny.  Perhaps the Hobbits - people like Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry - are those American GI's, at least in Tolkein's mind's eye.  They were so innocent, so fresh, so unjaded by life.  Despite all that was against them, they were ever faithful, ever hopeful. 

The Fellowship of the Hobbits.
Americans today should reflect on that generation's sense of mission, community, and sacrifice - especially in light of our current state of affairs politically, socially, and culturally.  We need to take the best of the spirit of that time and bring it forward to the present day. 

There is a lot wrong with our society right now.  A lot of it could be cured if people of all ages and income levels started thinking more about "doing the right thing" and "serving others" with their behavior, their attitude, and their decisions.  If everyone only thinks of themselves to the detriment of all others, our society can not survive.  Every time I get down reading about all the bad things that have happened in my country, I take a moment to reflect on all the good things that have happened, and all the good people who sacrifice every day so that we can all have a better life.  In the end of it all, it will be those good people - the Hobbits among us - who will save us from ourselves. 

We should start thinking about why those Hobbits were so good.  What made them so humble and strong.  What - or Who - gave them the power to handle the struggles of their time.  This particular time of year is a very good time to rediscover that power - the omnipotent power that entered the human world in the body of a helpless child. 

Hark! The herald angels sing.  Glory to the new-born King.
Remember that when you watch A Charlie Brown Christmas this year.  The one time of year you hear the Gospel of Luke read on a TV network - by Linus of course.

God bless you, and Merry Christmas. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Favorite Movies: The Big Lebowski

THE DUDE.  From Los An-guh-LEEES... now that's not a name I'd self-apply where I come from. 

Thinking about how that smell will taste with Smirnoff & Kahlua.
Has there ever been a greater beginning to a movie than the unfolding canvas of glory that is The Big Lebowski?  The husky-voiced narrator, the "tumbling tumbleweeds", the Dylan song, the bowling tableau, all flowing seamlessly into the first scene.  Breathtaking.  Watching it is like being high, even if you're not.
I find it particularly interesting that when this movie was released in Italy, it was called "Mr. Marijuana" in their native tongue. 

What is it about this strange, silly, plodding film that so captivates?  I guess a story so STOO-peh-FYEN can not be explained away easily.  But I reckon I'll take a gander.

Much obliged.
The Dude is out there, taking 'er easy for all of us folks who have normal lives.  He has basically perpetuated a lifestyle that many men of Generation X found a way to lead in their college days.  We perfected the art of slacking off, hanging out, eating pizza and drinking beer, and enjoying the fact that we were hours away from our parents and living off of their substantial benevolence.  It was really sweet.  We even attempted to extend that existence well into our mid- to late-20s.  Some were successful, some were less so...

Yeah, like that's just your opinion man.
Those days are gone though.  College life as we know it is coming to an end.  Tuition prices, unemployment... But -- whoa, lost my train of thought there.  What we're here for is the DUDE. He IS the Big Lebowski... the Dude abides.  And that's why we love this movie. 

It's just so cool watching Jeff Bridges as the Dude, bumbling his way through these crazy events, handling these complex, childish, very rich and very immature people.  He views them as children, really.  Even though they have massive wealth, power, and privilege, they really are childish fools.  Sort of a comment on America, and our obsession with youth, superficial beauty, sex... whoa, losing my train of thought again.

Lots of strings in the ol' Duder's head.

The idea here is that the Dude has found a way to navigate the vicissitudes of life by just being mellow, drinking White Russians, and bowling. 

Man, I am going to need at least 3 more posts to cover the Zen of the Dude. 

Consider this the beginning of a conversation.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Favorite Albums: Pet Sounds

To enter into Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds is to journey deep into your soul.  This album is a landmark in the pop recording era, by any measure.  Musicians love it because it tells sophisticated tales of young adulthood with emotion and with technical virtuosity that does not distract; it reinforces the themes and carries them to another level.

Pet Sounds - The Beach Boys
 Anyone who has ever wanted to write and arrange music wishes to achieve a complete statement such as Pet Sounds as the culmination of their creative output.  What amazes me about this work is that its progenitor was only 23 years old when he recorded it.  What kind of genius finds his creative peak at such a young age?  How do you gain the level of confidence that young to pull off something so bold? 

Brian was a California kid from Hawthorne.  He played high school football, and combed his hair neatly to the side.  He had two brothers, Carl and Dennis, and together they would sing in harmony.  Family members in harmony create a special sound - think of the Bee Gees.  They were a bunch of teenagers when Brian's father Murry, an modestly successful songwriter, got his sons a tryout at Capitol Records in Los Angeles.  Brian wrote a song about surfing called "Surfin' ", but he had never surfed before.  His brother Dennis was a surfer, and there was a culture building up around it that Brian tapped into with his song.  
A very young Brian Wilson on bass in the studio at Capitol

Capitol loved the song and signed them on the spot in 1962.  Brian then created hit after hit - so much so that by 1965 they were mentioned in the same breath as the Beatles.  A competition formed between them, which Paul McCartney has later confirmed. 

It is difficult to grasp now, but Brian Wilson essentially created an entire industry with these surfing songs.  Before the Beach Boys, only a few thousand people in the entire world knew how to surf.  There was no such thing as "surf music" or "surf guitar".  Now, millions of people surf all over the world.  When you think of the beach, or of Southern California, the soundtrack of those thoughts & dreams is almost inevitably Beach Boys music. 

This is the backdrop for Pet Sounds.  In late 1965, Brian Wilson was on top of his game - rich, successful, famous throughout the world, held in high esteem for both his artistic and commercial success - all at a very young age.  Capitol saw him as a cash machine and pushed him hard to create more new music.  Brian developed a nagging stage fright, and grew weary of touring.  He wanted to stay home and write.  So the band hired Bruce Johnston to stand in for Brian on tour while he worked on songs. 

Then the Beatles released Rubber Soul - their first album made up entirely of their own compositions.  Brian was deeply affected by the greatness of the Beatles' work.  He took it as a personal challenge to respond with his best work.  He even told his wife at the time, "I'm gonna make the greatest rock album ever made!"

Brian working in the studio.  He always recorded in mono because he was deaf in one ear.

Pet Sounds was the result - a deeply meditative inner search for meaning, for love, and for purpose from the perspective of a young man, surrounded with lush instrumentation and rich harmonies.  Each song deals with emotions any young man contemplates - will I ever get married?  What kind of woman will my wife be?  When does childhood end and adulthood begin?  How can I survive?  What happens when that first flower of a new relationship settles into something less exciting?  What makes it last? 

I have listened to this record hundreds of times since I was a baby.  For me part of the appeal is that it conjures memories of my youth when my mother would often play great '60s-era LPs while she was doing her household chores.  The Beach Boys are a reminder of that time, with their divine harmonies permeating my young mind.  So I always loved how the music on this record made me feel.  As I grew older, the lyrics began to reveal to me a sensibility that was very deeply mature and personal.  And now that I am older, married, and a father, my focus is on studying the virtuosity of how he combined his feelings that inspired the composition with the lyrics and the baroque arrangements.

On this album, Brian hired the best studio musicians in Los Angeles to assemble the instrument tracks.  He wrote intricate arrangements that defied normal pop/rock convention.  For example, Brian's bass lines were very innovative in that on most songs on this album, the bass note is rarely playing the root chord.  What I mean is if the song is in G in a certain section, usually the bass note is a G.  Brian would make it a B-flat, or another melody line altogether, like Mozart does. 

Carol Kaye, bass player for The Wrecking Crew - Brian's studio band
 A great example of this compositional technique is on the song "Don't Talk".  I love the break where Brian sings, "listen to my heart...beat" and when he sings "heart", the bass line suggests a heart beat with a walking-down line.  The effect is so sublime; it perfectly captures the mood of intimacy.  You almost feel you are naked in bed with your lover, in the dark, with your head on her chest listening to her heart at that moment.  The music conjures just that kind of imagery. 

I have always loved "Sloop John B" which takes you on a metaphorical journey aboard a sailing ship.  For me, it has always represented the wandering aimlessness of the single life, with its constant trips to bars and parties every weekend.  The life can take its toll on you physically.  At some point, you just want the trip to end; you want to find love and settle down.  But you're still on the ship.  "Home, let me go home..." they all sing. 

A sloop - a two-mast boat of 50-75 feet made from cedar; many were made in Bermuda for the British Navy in the 1800s. 
 "God Only Knows" has always gotten a lot of critical attention.  For me it does what John Lennon's "Across the Universe" from "Let It Be" does - it takes the listener beyond the boundaries of time and space.  But Brian went beyond what Lennon conteplated in his song by putting a man's love for a woman in the context of the eternal.  Just magnificent. 

"Wouldn't It Be Nice" is a daydream about marriage.  What will it be like to sleep with a woman, wake up with her every day, sharing everything?  "Here Today" discusses how fleeting relationships can be.  To really discover love, you have to be vulnerable; you have to expose yourself to the danger of being hurt by that other person.  Sometimes it ends quickly.  But you have to keep trying, because if you don't take that risk, you will never find the love you seek. 

This album is my favorite ever.  Thank you, Brian.  I will treasure it until my days on this earth are done.  I recommend it to you, dear reader.  Listen to it and share your thoughts. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Too Long, Blues Junior, Craigslist, Connections

It has been too long since I posted, yet my totally lame explanation is that I started a new job and I'm trying to ensure that I don't lose said job.  In case you weren't aware, we are in a global recession.  Being unemployed means you're in deep trouble these days.  Three of my best friends - including two current band members and one former - have been laid off in just the last few months.  Two other current band mates are back in school at night to learn new skills - to add value to their resume and show their employer they are valuable employees who are serious about their future. 

My new job entails, among other things, learning how to run a fairly complex software system which is used to forecast performance in a loan portfolio.  The better I do my job, the better able my employer is to lend money to people who need it.  At least, that is what I tell myself.

As Grandmaster Flash once said,

It's all about money
Ain't a damn thing funny
You gotta have a con
In this land of milk and honey

So don't go getting high and mighty on me.  I am doing what I gotta do to make sure my wife and 3 kids can eat, can have a roof over their heads, and can live with a relative sense of comfort and security.  If the whole world comes crashing down, well I'll deal with that as it comes and trust God has my back.  I find the Sermon on the Mount to be most comforting when despair sets in... Take Mathew 6 for example.  In verses 26-29, Jesus says,

Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
In other words, Let Go and Let God.  So that's what I try to do when it comes to worrying.  Just give it up to God.  God gave me my talent; God gave me my wife, and my children too.  As my wise Capuchin confessor Brother Ron has said to me, "God got you this far."  Letting go isn't easy.  But I'm trying. 
I allowed myself a treat upon getting the new job.  I wanted to get a new amplifier.  For the last 10+ years, I have used a 1975 Fender Twin Reverb, which weighs about 70-80 lbs.  Many a night I have hauled that thing up and down wet fire-escape stairs at various venues.  And being that it is so old, it behaves like an old woman.  By the end of gigs, it coughs out notes like a chain-smoker after a jog around the track.  So the time has come.
First I looked at a Vox AC15, and found one for $500.  But those are made in China.  A big no-no there.  The British made ones are over $1200 each.  Too much money.  Then I looked at the Orange.  They look cool, but who uses those?  So I settled in on a Fender Blues Junior.  My friend Kieran turned me on to BillM, a real electronics pro who has a famous website showing folks how to upgrade Blues Juniors so they achieve much better tone with more power while keeping the convenience & light weight.  So I priced it out.  A new Blues Junior runs $500, and the standard BillM mods are about $200.  Total $700. 
Then, my friend Sam Starr heard I was in the market for a Blues Junior and turned me on to a Craigslist posting.  Some guy who likes to tinker posted his Fender Blues Junior, which he had just completed BillM mods for, at $300.  So of course I just saved myself $400 by picking one up.  It sounds amazing - I can't wait to use it next Friday at the next gig. 
I think that in the new era we are entering, friendships - connections - are becoming so important.  I got my new job because a friend I know works there, and six months ago she and her husband were over for dinner.  I told her I was desperate to get out of my job because my company had been sold and I would probably lose my job.  She said she'd help.  Six months later, someone asked her if she knew anyone who could do this job, and she gave them my name.  Now I'm here.  The guy who hired me used to work on the same floor as me - over 9 years ago. 
Everything in life, for me, seems to come down to friendships and developing a large network of people you can trust in all walks of life.  Whether it's a plumber you can trust to fix your overflowing toilet and not totally rip you off, or the mechanic to change your brake pads and actually replace them with new ones, or your booking agent who gives you a great gig and makes sure to get you that nice bar tab comp'd, or your doctor who decides not to prescribe you a drug because he thinks your body will heal itself.  If you want to survive, you have to take care of this. 
Two days ago I met a woman from a marketing firm who I used to work with at the company I just left.  She brought a guy with her who she works with now.  It was essentially a networking lunch - they do business with my company, and we were just getting to know each other.  Turns out the guy lives in Philly and plays in a band (I think called the Tall Boys).  In addition, he is personal friends with the owner of the Princeton in Avalon, NJ.  His band plays there all summer long.  So he says he will introduce me to her and help us get summer gigs.  Can you believe this?  It felt like Christmas Day when he told me.  I've been trying to crack the Avalon bars for 10 years and got nothing.  My parents have a house there so the band has a place to stay.  Suddenly I meet the right person and I'm in - those will be the band's highest-paying gigs by far.  They regularly pay bands $1000+ down there.  Connections...
Mahalo ;=~

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gigs... gigs... GIGS!!!

This week marks two excellent gigs.  Friday we play at an original venue called the Logan House in Wilmington with another band opening for us.  Saturday we play at our home base, the Deer Park.  Having a back-to-back like this reminds me of the old days, when we played three gigs a week.  It was a bit nuts back then, but of course I was younger, with no family and a job I really wasn't interested in.

The band practiced Monday, and it was one of our better practices.  It was such in part because I came into it with a defined game plan, coupled with the added pressure of the upcoming gigs.  I knew I could drive them hard because they knew we weren't ready.  So in the first half we cranked through covers in our regular set that needed polish.  In the second half we reviewed originals recently added, and we added a new one.  I have so much new material that it is really becoming difficult for me to contain my anxiousness to work on them with the band.  But with looming big gigs I had to bite the bullet and do what was right for the gigs.  Adding one song was all I could expect to accomplish.  The rest will have to be saved for another day.

As I mentioned previously - gigs coming up are so important to adding some focus and a sense of urgency to a band's musical work. 

If you, dear readers, are interested, stop by this weekend, saddle up to the bar, have a beer, and listen to the band.  One thing about us is that we keep coming.  We keep trying, keep getting better, inch by inch.  We're the little engine that could.  I'm so happy that each band member has gotten better over time, and we are more in synch than ever.

There truly are few things in this world like a good band in sync with each other and with their audience.  It can bring a higher state of consciousness & connectedness.  The venue in which it has been easiest for this band to accomplish that feat is the Deer Park.  If you want to feel a great live environment, stop by there and see us.  A fine event with music to sooth the soul is guaranteed! 

One recommendation - bring earplugs.  We can tend to be loud.  But in a good way.  Really! 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How do I find balance?

OK so I just started a new job... and I'm lucky to have one at all these days.  That said, it has been kicking my arse.  I keep telling friends that the "garden of my life has been upset" and I'm "trying to figure out the new normal."

Let me tell you why the new job is good.

1. I didn't have to move.  In fact, my commute is exactly the same.  My office is on the riverfront, about 100 feet from where I was.  So everything I had going can remain intact - same home, same schools for kids, same church, same walk in the park.  This is HUGE.  For anyone out there looking for a job, you know how it is.  First you start looking within about a 20 mile radius, then that quickly turns into 50 miles, and so on until you find something.  I met a guy who told me how he commuted from Media, PA to NYC - for three years!  That is my worst nightmare.  I was preparing to commute a long way, then didn't have to.  This is important.

2. I got a raise.  This is really amazing because I was willing to leave without getting a raise.  My previous employer has been sold to a much larger institution that everybody hates.  Typically in a merger situation in the US, between 1/3 and 1/2 of the workforce is laid off within 18 months of the merger.  Given that fact, I wanted to quickly jump off the lily pad for what is called a "lateral move" (i.e. the same pay) without question.  Getting a raise is a blessing because the cost of food and gas has gone up, squeezing our budget.  Commodity inflation, courtesy of your friendly neighborhood FED, has crushed Americans' budgets.  We were living lean & mean anyway, and any extra $ that comes in will go into savings.  It's a jungle out there - only the fittest of the fittest will survive.  Have to continue to prepare for hard times. 

3. My boss is cool.  Anyone who gets up in the morning and works knows that you are happiest at work when you like your boss.  If you don't like your boss, you need to move or leave.  "Hating my boss" is the #1 reason why people leave their job.  My boss plays hockey, has a wife and two little kids who play soccer, lets me work from home if I want, is smart, and generally is really happy that I'm there because I'm helping him get home at a decent hour.

4. The company is growing.  This is important.  You want to work somewhere where things are looking up.  People are talking about how much work they have to do.  That is a good thing - it means job security!  So instead of talking about when can I leave work, or when will I take my next nap with my eyes open sitting at my desk, we are crushed with work.  Which for me at least is a good thing.  The best situation for me is to have interesting work to do.  Boredom is the playground of vice and depression.  Growth means excitement, energy, passion, and avoidance of boredom. 

Sounds great, right?  Well these are not necessarily the days of wine and roses.  Let's review why this job is rough.

1. I'm working longer hours.  There is so much work, and we are so behind on everything, that the only way to keep all the plates spinning is to work longer & harder.  I have no problem with that, but it is cutting into my time dedicated to playing with my kids, meditation, composition, prayer, reading, and writing. I'm composing this post in 5 minute spurts between work assignments where my boss comes around my desk behind me.  It's totally nuts.

2. The company I work for is disorganized.  There are all these opportunities, people are coming and going, there is a lack of leadership, and it's barely holding together.  Imagine a stick of chewed gum holding the O-rings on the Space Shuttle... there's chewed gum all over the place.  There are lots of critical functions outsourced to India, like IT & technology functions, and it would be real helpful to have those people right here in the trenches.  What a mess! 

3. The job is occupying more of my brain than usual.  This is important because the dream of creating an album seems farther away.  I have to learn a lot of new stuff - which is good.  I enjoy learning.  But the issue is that it is occupying larger amounts of my bandwidth as I get up to speed.  So songwriting, reading, meditation, and creative energy in general are all being pushed back farther until I can get a grip on this job. 

I have to figure out a way to get everything back into balance in my life.  BALANCE is the key to a happy & fulfilling life.  I've always been able to figure out a good balance.  This job may help me improve my ability to multi-task and to compartmentalize different roles & responsibilities. 

For me, the band has always brought balance to my life.  Work has always been on the intense side, because of my chosen day job.  Music has been, from the moment I left college, my counterweight to the stress of work.  I get this opportunity every week to blow off steam in an extraordinary way.  It has kept me young, creative, fresh... happy.  My wife, thankfully, knows that. 

Work affects everything else.  If you spend 50 hours per week somewhere, that is bound to happen.  Perhaps due to the impatient rush of my new work life, I'm growing impatient with the band because I have so much new material, and I can't seem to get them to engage.  Especially since the Queen show, I know the material is really solid.  I have strong ideas about how to arrange it & record it.  I'm chomping at the bit to take a weekend and demo the songs. 

In past cycles, I have driven to NYC to demo my songs with Kieran at his studio.  But it is really difficult now to go up there.  Plus Kieran is so good at it now, I can't afford him anymore.  I'm thinking I may demo the songs with someone more local - Brian Fitzgerald, known as Fitzy.  He accompanied me at the Queen show and he really liked the songs.  In fact, he offered to help me record the songs at his home studio, where he has recorded three of his own full albums. 

My thinking is that Fitzy and I could bang out 8 songs in one weekend - that's how he works, and that's how I have to work now, given all my other responsibilities.  And I'm at a stage in my music life where I believe I'm capable of bringing all my talent & experience to bear in one intense weekend of recording.  Once that is done, I can give the demo to the band and they can just interpret what we have done.  This will be so much quicker than trying to get them to write their parts.  Thinking back, this has always been the approach we took.  Tom Demos the Songs, then The Band Plays the Songs. 

OK, back to work... talk amongst yourselves...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Do unto others

Tonight the band is playing for an event called "Relay for Life" which is a cancer charity.  The deal is that cancer survivors and their families camp out all night and walk in shifts, as a symbol of their perseverance in the face of the fatal disease.

This will be our third year participating, sharing our time and talent, and celebrating together with these fine people.  I can not say enough that if you want to be happy, do nice things for other people.  It's "good karma" as they say.  But of course it's more than that. 

As Paul McCartney once said to Chris Farley, "In my experience, the more you give, the more you get."  I am here to tell you that is true!  Giving your time to a charitable cause connects you with people in the community; keeps things in their proper perspective; reminds you how blessed and good your life really is; and brings you happiness and a warm heart. 

Let me tell you a story about Page, our keyboardist.  Yesterday he was laid off by a company he worked for over a decade.  For 10 years he had worked with his boss, who had to fire him.  His boss cried when he gave Page the news.  But my friend told him not to worry, he will be all right.  There are people all around us who are going through this - people who always did the right thing, studied in school, worked hard.  People who did what they were told to do to succeed.  They are losing their jobs their homes, their lives, their happiness.  For what?  Who took this American Dream away from them? 

I have a good idea who it is... and none of the people who did this to us are rotting in a jail, or even mildly humiliated.  They didn't even lose their jobs.  They are laughing while counting their piles of gold while We The People wither on the vine.  I ask again, for what?

Some day the cream will once again rise to the top.  The chickens will come home to roost.  Those who have taken from us will be called to the witness stand.  Until that day comes, we are all, as John Mayer says, "waiting for the world to change."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dealing with Bars...and their booking guys

Anyone who has ever played in a band and dealt with booking gigs has encountered issues with their intermediaries (bar managers, owners, etc) in the booking and confirmation of gigs.

There is a certain bar in West Chester.  I contacted their booking guy, Rob.  We agreed back in July on a show Friday, September 9th.  To confirm the start time & end time, I emailed him last Wednesday to say we were looking forward to the gig, and when do you want us to start?  He comes back... "Oh, I had you on the calendar for Thursday night.  Call me ASAP."  Unbelievable!  I dig up the old email where he confirmed the date with me.  Check.

I call him... he goes on this long story about how the owner has established a "piano man" scene on Friday nights, with bands on Thursdays and Saturdays.  Which is fine in itself.  But why had he not called me and let me know?  Is that too much to ask?  Had I not emailed him Wednesday, we would have showed up Friday night with all our gear (including PA) for a jam session with Piano Man, and not gotten paid.  
Sing us a song, you're the piano man.
This kind of thing goes on all the time.  It's par for the course.  That is why it is so important to find good people and work with them - to build relationships with bars where the people are cool and the bartenders treat you well.  I have a personal relationship with a certain individual in our area, Jim Miller, who books two of the best live venues in the state - Deer Park and Logan House.  We have a relationship going way back.  He takes care of us, and we take care of him.  This is exactly the type of situation you must create as a band in order to succeed for any length of time.

Because the simple fact is, if you do not have a relationship like that, it will be very difficult to keep your band together.  When all else fails - when you are fighting inside the band, when other members play in other bands, when you are tired - it's the gigs that pull you back together.  It's the gigs that make all the work and the sacrifice worth it.  It's the gigs that focus the minds of the members and get guys off their horse to practice.  The gigs are the big payoff.  That's why you pick up a guitar and play.  To play your music for people to enjoy.

The man who invented the phonograph, and therefore the music industry.  Thomas Edison.
I have never understood this fantasy of selling records and making millions... if it were ever true it isn't any more because music is free now.  Anyone can download any song without paying for it.  So we are back where we were before Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, before large corporations controlled the distribution of music, before these same corporations forced people to buy entire albums of lousy music just to get that one song you really like (it was a place called the '90s).  I have a Case Logic CD case full of albums like that - Blind Melon, Black Crowes, albums with one good song and the rest suck. 

One-hit-wonder: Blind Melon
I think it is hilarious when bands try to sell their CDs for $10 now.  I wonder how many they have sold?  There is a new paradigm in music now, and the sooner everyone adjusts, the sooner bands will be the better for it.  
The man who blew up the world of popular music - Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs is a genius for a reason.  He not only invented the personal computer; he re-invented the music business.  He removed the middle man - the big mean music corporation - using technology (iPod, iTunes) and common sense.  99 cents per song is very easy for everyone to understand. Except many musicians who still try to get $10 for their CD. 

So, Will, what's your point? Well, the reason to play music now is the same reason that men played music 1,000 years ago.  To entertain the locals with your talent; to give the young a reason to move their feet and meet a mate on the dance floor; to grease the wheels of commerce at your local saloon; to find yourself in the company of a woman you have no business being with otherwise; to have a darn good time making people happy.  That's why. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Playing at World Cafe @ Queen

News flash for all who are interested:

Yours truly has been invited to play at the World Cafe Live @ the Queen Theater in Wilmington, Delaware on Friday, August 26 for their "Free At Noon" show from 12-1pm.  So if you want to know who Will Smyth really is, then come to the show and find out!  I could use your support & encouragement.

World Cafe Live is an extension of 88.5 FM WXPN, which is a very important non-profit public radio station connected to the University of Pennsylvania.  They have an afternoon broadcast called the World Cafe which is syndicated nationwide on public radio, hence the name. 

How did I get the gig?  It was pretty simple really.  I heard they had an open mic night on Tuesdays at 7, sign-ups at 6:30.  I showed up with my acoustic guitar last week and played 3 new songs.  Totally new - didn't rely on the old successes.  The woman who runs it dug my voice and called me the next day offering me the gig.  This was last week. 

Anyways I have very little clue how to promote a gig like this, other than to tell you that the World Cafe serves lunch - excellent lunch - and you come in for your lunch hour, enjoy the food, and hear me sing.  I checked out my man Kevin Sarkissian play last Friday.  I had a pizza and a cappuchino - both of which were excellent.  I have asked for a little help from my friends so we should have some interesting accompaniment for my music. 

I will be playing a selection of new compositions coupled with some very interesting covers.  With one hour, figure that there will be time for about 15 songs, maybe less.  I will prepare 15.  The first half will be just me alone, then I will bring up my friends to help for the second half. 

If you are reading this, please PLEASE consider coming.  If it goes well, then I can get the band in there ultimately, and then who knows what will happen?  I'll be a step closer to realizing my dream - to record and release a full album with my band.  And the best place in these parts to do a CD release party is at the Queen.  Bands like Mad Sweet Pangs and New Sweden have both done CD release parties there with much success. 

Thank you - thank you - thank you for your support!

Mahalo ;)=~