Thursday, December 22, 2011

Singing the Accounts Receivable, Dancing the Accounts Payable

He's a guy
(who knows some guys)
Who have some money
In Asia.
And right now
That's all
I know.
But until his guys pay him
(and he can pay me)
I'm afraid
The answer
Is no.

Monday, December 12, 2011

One Man Studio Band

The energy of musicians bouncing off each other is palpable, both live and in the studio, but when a single musician writes, arranges, plays, multi-tracks all parts, engineers, produces etc. then how does he keep the energy of the piece on the boil? How does he prevent it from sounding wooden? Is their a knack to keeping the feel of the piece alive and kicking? Is it a state of mind, or is it more complicated than that?

To start with, I'm not sure if I have enough perspective to really answer this. I've been pretty much a solo act for 15 years now (and I don't know if it is the impending holidays, the fact that I'm operating on four hours of sleep, or what, but just thinking about that reality threw me into a paroxysm of defensive rationalizations on the order of a middle aged divorcees answer to the question - "so, have you met anyone yet?" ).

But anyway, my experience in the studio is almost exclusively recording myself - I think Lee Knight has a lot more insight into playing and recording from both sides of the glass. That being said, here are some of my thoughts.

The studio is actually a terrible place for pen-and-paper style songwriting. I don't even turn on my DAW until I have the melody, chord progression and key lyrics already written. First step is to block out the drums. Start by figuring out exactly how many sections the song has, how many measures in each section, how many beats per measure, how many beats per minute. Pick a drum kit/sound, and create a basic midi drum pattern for each section, either using something from one of my midi drum libraries or playing it by hand on the keyboard. Make sure that the drum patterns match up with the rhythm of the melody and support the meter of the key lyrics. Generate drum fills to mark section transitions and hand edit/tweak the fills as necessary.

When I get all the sections of the drum track done I'll loop the drum track and run through the song on guitar or piano (whichever instrument I used for the pen-and-paper style composition) to make sure that everything works together. When I'm writing on a single instrument I don't always keep an accurate count of how many times I'm playing a given figure or notice that I needed an extra measure here or there to get from point A to point B, so frequently I have to go back and tweak the drum patterns.

Once the drums are done I lay down the bass. I'm a competent but not ambitious bass player - if the bass part has a groove and follows the chord progression I'm usually satisfied - it's very rare that I'm trying to drive the melody or show off some technique from the bass. I'll usually rough out the bass part against a loop of the drum track, but then I eq the drums so that the kick is extremely prominent and I can make sure that the bass part is going to lock in with the kick drum. If there is a particular phrase that I'm in love with on the bass that doesn't work with the kick I'll go back and edit the midi for the drums, but in general I try and play to the existing drum track.

When the bass track is done I'll loop the drums and the bass and run through the song on guitar or piano and make sure everything works together. I usually record a scratch track of this. Then loop the rhythm section and play the melody on a sympatico keyboard patch (usually organ these days) and record a scratch track of that.

That's probably 4-8 hours right there, so if that's done in a day I've had a pretty good day. Bounce a copy of the track to listen to and go explain to the family why I've been hiding in the basement all day and not doing anything worthwhile around the house.

Now it's time to work out the arrangement. Unlike the pen-and-paper composition process, the DAW is a great place to write the arrangement. In many cases, the arrangement flows organically out of the songwriting. If the solo acoustic demo already says everything that you want to say with the song, then you're done. If the song is firmly anchored in a particular genre you go with the standard arrangement components for that genre - a jazz standard is probably going to sound good with a clean guitar and piano, an R&B song is probably going to sound good with a crunch guitar and organ, a rock song is probably going to sound good with two clean/crunch/fuzz guitars, a dance song is probably going to sound good with phat synths and tempo-synched filters, etc.

On the other hand, I'm not usually super concerned with matching any particular genre marketing expectations, so this phase can be really creative/crazy/exploratory. However, unless there is some compelling reason not to, the arrangement will usually have at least one guitar part and one keyboard part. Writing the arrangement tends to be a lengthy process that overlaps with both tracking and mixing - if there is something that is making the mix impossible it probably has roots in the arrangement, and you have to fix the arrangement before you can fix the mix.

Ok, I think I've finally gotten to the point in the process that you are asking about.

I usually refer to this as Tracking. I'll defer to Lee's comments on this (if he chooses to contribute ) but for me tracking in the studio is almost completely unlike playing live with other musicians (especially in a jam-type situation).

When I'm tracking an instrument in the studio it is all about executing the part. The part is not necessarily written in stone before I start, but the only way it's going to end is with me executing the part in EXACTLY THE SAME WAY twice in a row. The part might be a verse, a chorus, some combination of contiguous sections or the whole song, but I am going to set the DAW to loop record and keep playing until I nail it twice in a row. Over the years I've gotten much better at this (I rarely have to track more than 4-5 takes these days), but when I started reproducibility was a huge problem.

Tracking, in it's very nature, is not creative. It's all about executing the part, and a lot of the parts are not, in themselves, musically challenging. I didn't go to music school to play a barre chord upstroke on the 2 and the 4, but a lot of times, that is what the song requires. When I'm tracking, I'm listening very hard for three T's - timing, intonation and tone - if any of those three T's diverge from the rest of the part it needs to be both intentional and expressive (and repeatable). Some ears, very little brain and mostly muscle memory.

You need to be in a disciplined, professional state of mind to do it successfully, and if the part doesn't wind up exhibiting some vitality or energy that's the fault of the writing, not the studio performance.

Writing the part is, superficially, more similar to playing live in a jam setting. In a jam you listen, understand, and react to what is going on around you; if you make a compelling new thematic statement you expect the arrangement to dynamically reconfigure itself to accommodate your idea. All the other parts of the arrangement exist at the same moment in time and are (reasonably) flexible. In the studio, you have to write your part of the arrangement before the other parts of the arrangement even exist, and once a part is written it is a PITA to change it, so you are largely confined to only using the open space left to you by the previous part writers.

To work around this, I try to be very conscious of how much space any part is taking up in the arrangement and to make this space as small as possible, especially for parts which come early in the arrangement process. I still struggle with this, but not fully appreciating this when I started doomed me to years of over-stuffed arrangements and unsatisfying mixes.

There is a fair amount of knob-twiddling that happens during the Tracking phase. Juiced about that new Fuzz pedal? Knock yourself out. Connect a line-level signal to a Hi-Z input by mistake and decide that you like it? Why not? But in addition to being fun and hopefully inspiring, your sound choices in the arrangement are going to have a direct and immediate impact on the mix. When I'm mixing I want a variety of textures; wave forms with transients and wave forms with sustain; instruments with a strong fundamental and instruments with a lot of secondary harmonics; coverage across the audible spectrum and no uncomfortable signal buildup in any one EQ band range. I don't want too many (any?) instruments using reverb, panning or delay at the track level, especially if those settings conflict with another instrument.

So there are a bunch of more creative elements in the arrangement and tracking - it's not all a grind. I suspect that I am more naturally disciplined than a lot of musicians, but even beyond that I just get really juiced and excited to be playing in front of a band that is really bringing it; driving the beat and riding the groove and letting me blow over some tasty changes.

Arranging and Tracking; deciding what to play, twiddling knobs, and actually playing it, takes a while - on the order of 1-2 hours per instrument per part. If a song has 3-4 sections and I manage to track all the keyboard and guitar parts in a day, that's been a good day. Bounce the track, get up from the chair and go upstairs to find out if anyone has thought about what to have for dinner.

Vocals and solos.

Given my druthers I would never sing on any of my tracks. I don't have a front-man style personality so I have never wanted to be the singer; I smoke, so my tone is inconsistent; as a lyricists I frequently write lyrics that are difficult, if not impossible, to deliver effectively; I have to mic the vocals so the room has to be reasonably quiet - vocals are just a drag. Still, the main reason I started songwriting was to have a cooler/more popular vehicle for my prosy-poetry; and there is no one else volunteering to sing my songs, so I suck it up and try to sing. Frankly, the less said about this the better.

I have the opposite problem with guitar solos. I love them too much. Objectively, I am a semi-competent but not very interesting lead guitarist. Why I think that entitles me to 16 or 32 bar solos is a mystery. Again, the less said about this the better.

Once all the tracking is done it's time to mix. I do believe that if you get the arrangement right, the mix should be a matter of just pulling up the faders, but it doesn't seem to turn out that way very often. After singing, mixing is my second least favorite part of the process - I don't have a great sounding room to mix in, a lot of time the arrangements are crap, the whole process is a lot of minute and fine-grained decisions with endless ramifications that I don't really hear until I bounce the whole thing, take it out to the car and realize "Wow, this isn't very good". Mastering is almost as bad except I care less - a compressor, non-surgical eq and reverb to taste. Bounce it, covert to mp3, upload to soundclick, post on the blog and then check back madly every 30 seconds to see if anyone listened. ;)

Sunday, December 04, 2011

From the Coast of Malabar

A tee shirt and sandals for Christmas
Bulbs blink in the bar on the sand
No pine trees are here to be slaughtered
But there's a plastic one up on a stand
The music's a Malayam pop song
But there's no local word for reindeer
The drink is some black market whiskey
That takes me to a place far from here

Dublin is grey and it's snowing
The Chieftans with Cooder beside
A song called the Coast of Malabar
That I live out from the other side
I married that raven haired woman
Set down roots in this place far from home
But on days like the day before Christmas
I feel sad and like I'm all alone

And I remember with fondness that auburn haired lass
With freckles and eyes like green colored glass
But by evening I'll stand up and my mood will have passed
I'll come back to my raven haired wife and my home
My dusky hued brood, three sweet girls all my own
Pull out my oud and sing songs of today
Rice and sambar for dinner; enjoy Christmas day.

And here is the traditional Irish folk song, performed by The Chieftains and Ry Cooder:

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Ornamental Cabbage

A little warm up instrumental from a hypothetical Sunday Jazz Brunch Jam.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Angry Birds

A little one-take instrumental about the iPhone game.

Cyberpunk circa 2002

The Adventures of Pip Cracker

1.1.1 Assembler Life
Flying Trapeze
Pip leans forward in his block, trying to piece together the bits of manpage in front of him. When he picked them up, he thought he was getting a recipe for making a stream device driver, but after two hours of pattern recognition all he has is a bunch of troff commands and a data section which doesn’t connect to anything else. He is about to give up, and try fetching again with another manpath, when a slow heavy crunching starts, first in the far outer cylenders and then echoing throughout the slice.
“Lucio, wake up man, it’s a fucking defrag! Come on, we’ve got to get out of here.”
In the next block, Lucio stirs sleepily. For a sprite, the guy sleeps like a log. Or a narcoleptic. Or a dead man, if he doesn’t get a move on. It had been Lucio’s idea to go exploring in the varman, slipping out quietly for a few hours before anyone is awake, but with the defrag going on, they’ll be lucky to get back to home before dinner. Nanny will be pissed.
Pip grabs his kit and climbs out into the toxic air. Breathing through his respirator, he vaporizes the bits of his half assembled manpage and resets the block inode counter, covering his tracks, just in case. He locks the lid of his block and jumps across the void to get Lucio.
“Wake up Lucio. Grab your stuff. It’s a defrag. We’ve gotta catch a proc and ride it out.”
Varman, like all the other slices, is a vast warehouse of bit blocks arranged in a long spiral. Some slices have large, spacious blocks, but varman is one of the old-style slices, with barely room to turn around. Still, even the smallest blocks are a welcome respite from the toxic air of the warehouse with full life support systems, climate control and neatly stacked bit arrays. In the space between the tops of the blocks and the ceiling of the warehouse, spindle arms whirl in great circles. Attached to the bottom of the spindle arms are grappling hooks, which slide up and down the length of the arm to trace the spirals of the block layout.
In the distance, they see the one arm doing the defrag. Unlike the other arms, it swings very slowly, dropping its hook down into each block, opening the lid, and inspecting the contents. Most of the time it just restacks the bit arrays and puts the block away again, but if it finds any foreign material, like, for example, a naughty sprite out exploring, it pulverises the contents of the block, turns off the life support, and removes the hook from the top of the block, marking it as taboo for all time.
The spindle does a very thorough job, which, fortunately for Pip and Lucio, is correspondingly slow. Atop their abandoned havens, they stand with their fstick eyelets held high above their heads, waiting for one of the free spindles to swing by so that they can catch hold and ride it to another sector.
One, two three; they watch the spindles flying by, timing the seek speed and noting the orientation of the grappling hook. On the fourth pass, Pip nods to Lucio and bobs his fstick. “Steady, steady, NOW”.
The two sprites leap into the air, swinging their fsticks towards the dangling hook. Pip catches cleanly, but Lucio’s eyelet is too high, and clanks against the cable. Lucio kicks his legs, trying to levitate for another desperate second. Pip grabs the handle of Lucio’s fstick with one hand and yanks it downward while raising the hook with his other hand. Lucio’s dead weight yanks on Pip’s arm as the spindle swings away. Under the mechanical crunch of the equipment and the shrieks of his friend, Pip hears the soft click of Lucio’s eyelet catching on the grappling hook. The next instant, the pressure on Pip’s arm is gone and they are flying across the warehouse, with the sounds of the defrag fading into the distance.
As they approach the loading bus dock, they twist their fsticks loose and fly free, hitting the floor with a tuck and roll, and coming to rest against the front of an incoming queue of buffered ios. They unscramble themselves and move away from the door and the incoming stream of ios, telescoping down their fsticks and putting them back in their kit bags.
The loading bus dock is shaped like a wide corridor. The warehouse side of the corridor is completely open, and transfer arms move bits one at a time out to the receiving edge where they can be snagged by the spindle arms and delivered to their destination blocks. The opposite wall is a collection of channels, pneumatic conveyor cars which shuttle bits back and forth between the slice and kernelspace. Pip lies down on the dock floor, safely underneath the transfer arms, and watches the cars moving in and out of the channels.

“Where do you want to go?”
“Let’s try surfing L2 cache.”
“It’s probably pretty dead right now.”
“That’s what you said last time, and it totally rocked.”
The last time they had been out in kernelspace had been an epic day. They were sitting in history class when the first tarball flew over. Mr. Hand, who despite being completely boring himself was totally keyed in to possible distractions, gave them both a sharp look, so they picked up their pencils again and tried to refocus on the grim dates and details of woah woah one. But by the time the seventh tarball came rushing across the sky woah woah one was a distant, surpressed memory, and after the twelveth tarball they were shimmying around in their seats like cats in heat, desperate for the bell to ring. When the bell finally, mercifully, did ring they rushed out of class, ditched their books, grabbed their wetsuits and headed for the beach.
As they scrambled down the path over the sea grapes a cluster of patches was coming down.
“Hurry up. It looks like a compete apt-get. Let’s go for L3.”
“I hate L3. The curl is really slow, and if you get caught in the eddy you could be there for the rest of the day. Let’s try L2.”
“The last time I was there I coredumped so bad.”
“Yeah, but the nurse wrote you a great excuse note for skipping assembly.”
Down at L2 it was already blowing three threads. They zipped up their wetsuits and headed out, pushing their boards. At the kiddie break they pulled up onto the rough board surface, nosing high over the whitecaps and paddling hard in the troughs. The flow was already pretty high, so the paging tide pulled them out quickly.
Out in the swell, Pip sat up on his board and surveyed the grey, heaving horizon. As far as he could see, the peaks were rolling in about 50 ns apart with a uniform break of 6-8 feet.
“They’re all keepers. Let’s go.”
Pip turned his board and climbed the back of a passing wave. He felt the wave start to grab him, and pulled back, to the edge of its reach, riding slowly forward to the edge of the coral shelf. As the wave picked up power, he turned and slid down into the trough, watching the break in front of him, rushing right to left, and counting beats as the wave behind him rolled forward. On five, he started paddling like a madman. At seven, he felt himself rising slightly, as the tip of the wave slid under the back of his board. At eight, the full strength of the wave reached him, and with a final, two armed pull he grabbed the edges of his board and raised up into his riding crouch, setting up crazy foot style, and leaned back slightly, turning the nose of his board down the length of the pipeline. The water spinning into the edge of the reef threw him forward. He swooshed down the face of the wave, piling gravity into the equation, and then turned back up, slowing as he approached the tip of the wave, and then turning again, rushing down again as the tip of the wave, still carrying the foam of his track, crashes into the shallows behind him.

Roller Coaster
“All right”, Pip answered. “Let’s give it a shot.”
Pip and Lucio crawl across the loading dock floor and climb onto the back of an outbound DMA transfer. Pip takes out his zip wand and compresses the block in front of him, so he and Lucio can squeeze on without causing a buffer overflow when they arrive in kernelspace. The transfer arms move a few additional blocks onto the train and then the train, feeling a full load, takes off.
The DMA transfer to kernelspace is a windy, twisty tube which rises, falls, coils and straights through a mass of other transfer routes and communications infrastructure. It was originally designed to handle the leisurely rhythms of sequential access tapes – hooking it up to modern storage devices is like driving an Indy car down a goat path. For normal blocks, it’s not too bad – if they haven’t repaved the road at least they pay a lot more attention to fastening the seat belts. But a sprite is not a normal block, and riding compressed is even worse – you have to keep yourself on the sled as well as the unwieldy deadweight directly in front of you, or be run over by the next train or zapped as a buffer underflow if you arrive without your cover block.
Pip holds on to the sled with one hand and uses the other to steady his block. He carefully watches the glowing track in front for advance notification of the next twist, adjusting his center of gravity as well as that of the block, and steeling his arms to deal with the g-forces to come.
The train starts with a straight, and then a hard right turn. After the turn they start rising in a tight spiral, corkscrewing counter-clockwise so tightly that the induced magnetic field causes Lucio’s hair to stand crazily on end. Pip just has time to point and laugh when the spiral ends and they start on a straight, steep descent. The sight lines in front fall away faster and faster as the descent gets steeper and steeper, until Pip has to operate on pure intuition. He closes his eyes for an instant and sees a loop loop down left. He opens his eyes to check, and is starting to yell the pattern to Lucio, when he sees that his friend is screaming like a lunatic and holding both hands in the air. As they enter the first loop, Pip closes his eyes again, this time not for intuition’s sake but so that he doesn’t have to see Lucio splattered against the tunnel wall.
Lucio must have gotten hold of his senses and his handles, because when Pip opens his eyes Lucio is still on his sled. The track slaloms through communication moghuls, left round right round right round left thud over thud over left right flat. Just as his arms are beginning to ache and tremble uncontrollably Pip sees a light ahead, the end of the ride, kernelspace.

1.1.2 Pursuit

Pip and Lucio unzip their cover blocks and tumble out of their cars onto the buffer floor just ahead of the waiting bit verifier. Coming to a rolling stop, Pip realizes that the light was not the end of tunnel, it is the headlamp of an oncoming train.
When the last car in the input channel enters the buffer an alarm sounds and a spolight clicks on to illuminate the whole of the channel opening. As Pip and Lucio scramble towards sheltering darkness, they hear more alarms firing and an unbuffered stream of sensor readings flying towards an array of logwriters.
On a normal day, the DMA buffer is not a bad place to be. All of kernelspace is atmosphere conditioned, so they would have flipped off their respirators and sat back to enjoy the cool air. Unlike the creaky magnetic mechanics of the slice spindles, everything here is quiet and efficient, running silently on pneumatic beds of electric current. The buffer is huge, so if you move below the low-water mark there is plenty of time and opportunity to have a rest, take stock of your options, and plan your day. And if you just want to joyride, there is easy access to the IRQ port, which whisks you off to an awaiting runqueue with all the luxurious priority of a diplomatic motorcade.
Unfortunately, this is not a normal day. Things have changed, and, at least for our young sprites, not for the better. Someone is paying very close attention to the IO subsystem, receiving event notifications in real time as well as logging system calls for future reference. As a cracker, you survive by following two simple rules: don’t let anyone know you are there, and don’t let anyone find out that you ever have been there. Tracers up the ante on both fronts.
Pip moves farther back into the darkness and tries to figure out the mask on tracer events. Clearly, read is on, since they tripped that when they arrived. The logwriters seem to work without alarms, so write may be off, but more likely it is just bypassing the system calls and just using raw registers. As another DMA train arrives Pip swivels towards the IRQ port, just in time to see the darkness obscured by the ignition flash of a spotlight.
“Shit, they’re watching interrupts too. Kiss that runqueue goodbye.”
“Let’s just longjump out of here. This is crazy.”
Before Pip can respond, Lucio has his jump pointer out and is scanning for stored offsets. The dial stops at 0x00100000 and the display reads “_text”. Lucio nods to Pip and begins his jump.
“Lucio, wait, we haven’t recalibrated since…”
But his friend is already dissolving into the transport beam. Faced with the prospect of frying alone in the frying pan or frying together in the fire, Pip jumps into the unknown.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Year In Review


April grey
Empty beach
Sand and waves
In my reach

Cherry blooms
Falling snow
Empty rooms
Does Spring know

Summer day
Oh that dress
You wore

Autumn leaves
Love remains
More than needs
Phantom pains

Falling snow
Cherry blooms
Sand and waves
Empty rooms

Summer day
Oh that dress
You wore

Winter day
Terns and waves

Summer day
Oh that dress
You wore


Cmaj7 D6
Emin7 A7

G A C9 D

C#dim F#7 Bm7 E

Sunday, October 02, 2011

A Hard And Demanding Man

My father was a hard and demanding man
Though he did not think of himself as such.

He was there for all my childhood failures
His gestures made hollow by the sadness in his eyes
He always acted as if he had come up from nothing
Although I know he had been given much more than he managed to retain.

And for years and years I do believe
That he did hold it against me
That on the day when I finally left his house
That on that day I said to him:

“I'm not like you dad - I'm clumsy and weak
I'm not like you dad
I'm not like you dad - I'm clumsy and weak
I'm not like you dad”.

As he got older and his drinking took its toll
I went down to the hospital.
We sat together in silence
Finally, he said to me:

“My father was a hard and demanding man
But he always did his best by me.
I am truly sorry
That I could not do the same for you”.

“I'm not like my dad - I'm clumsy and weak
I'm not like my dad
I'm not like my dad - I'm clumsy and weak
I'm not like my dad”.

My father was a hard and demanding man
I'm not like my dad
My father was a hard and demanding man
I'm not like my dad

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Think About You

When you're in homeroom
He's looking at you
When you're on Facebook
He's looking for you
When you're in Starbucks
He's coming right towards you

Because you're super cute
And he wants to know the things you do
And if you want a latte too

When he asked you out
You were floating on thin air
Finally a boy who noticed
Those things you do with your hair
This is the way you learn
That love just isn't fair

Now when you're in homeroom
He's thinking about her
When you ask about Friday
He says he isn't sure
When you see them together
Your tears turn it into a blur

Because he is just fourteen
I know I did the same thing
Growing up makes some people mean

I think about you
I think about you
I think about you

Thursday, September 01, 2011


I want to ride in a big old Lincoln
With Florida Citrus plates
Drive 45 in the left hand lane
Blinker going all the way
I want to go pee ten times a day
And leave for dinner at three
Oh Lord, I don't want to die out here
Send someone to rescue me

My babies will never know their daddy
No grandchildren on my knee
Never be able to toast my wife
At our silver anniversary
There are so many things I have yet to do
So many things I still need to see
Oh Lord, I don't want to die out here
Send someone to rescue me

I know we haven't always been right
There are things that I shouldn't have done
And maybe I'm out here fighting a war
That didn't ever need to be won
And maybe I shouldn't have acted so quick
Unaware of things I should have known
But Lord, please send someone to rescue me
I can't die out here alone

Night is falling, it's getting cold
And I'm so very far from home
My leg is hurting awful bad
I can see right down to the bone
I scan the horizon and listen for signs
A glint of something or a buzz in the air
Hoping that it's a chopper for me
And not you coming here on your own

Oh Lord, send someone to rescue me
I can't die out here alone

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Let's Write A Song 2

Mama had a tramp stamp
And she passed it down to me
I used it to authenticate
My medical degree
Just a hint of the Harvard crest
Above the top of my bikini
Nonchalant I stuff the rest
And drive my Lamborghini
Well festooned with bumper stickers
And truck nuts swaying in the breeze
Cruising round in la la land
And parallel realities

ive got ink
got ink
got an inkling you'll remember me
ive got ink
and you think
i'm a member of the faculty?
ive got ink, yeah I've got ink
And I got that ink to challenge what you think.

Cause my mama was born down in the holler
But she wasn't the sort that was born to follow
And she pulled herself up from where she was from
Without forgetting who she was
Or being ashamed of what she'd done
So even though I never had to work harvesting the ramp
And went to all the finest schools
I got my own copy of the family tramp stamp
To help me remember you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Life at 45

So I was in the middle of my pitch
To a group of investors
When I got your text
That you had struck out
With the bases loaded
To end
The game
And would I
Be working

But I was in the middle of my pitch
And it was for ten million dollars
So I ignored the text
And finished my pitch
And then took the investors out
For a drunken
Steak dinner.

In the morning
When I read the text
I felt bad
So I called in sick
And picked you up from school
And took you bowling.

We found an eight pound ball
In a manly royal blue
And you bowled a 54
And we laughed at the funny videos
That play
Whenever you get a split
Or a strike
Or a spare.

I bought you a hamburger
And I ate a hot dog
And we shared a plate of fries
With ketchup
And I hoped that this
Was the time
You would eventually

But the hamburger was spoiled
And you spent the evening
Throwing up and retching

So after I got done
Mopping the floor
And washing the sheets
And getting you
To sleep
I looked at my phone
And read the text
That despite the great pitch
And the wonderful opportunity
The investors
Had decided
To pass.

Some days
You just
Can't win
For losing
And sometimes
That's the way
Life is at 45.

Monday, July 25, 2011



From time to time
Spread across the city
You will see a house
Sited askew.

Below the lines
Of the grid and the spokes
The house is aligned
With the ghost of a cowpath
Or the long gone bed
Of a forgotten stream.

Similarly, in language
Beneath syntactic structures
You encounter irregular
Constructions and idioms
Reflecting a reality
Long since passed away.

I will move to Brasilia
And speak Esperanto
Live as a New Woman
Freed from the past.


I have become old fashioned
In the sense that my habits remain fixed
While society changes around me.

When it is cool
I wear a grey woolen suit
And when it is warm
I wear poplin.

In the morning
I walk to a sidewalk cafe
To buy an espresso and an ink smudged paper
To thoughtfully read the news of the day.

But today my routine
Lies around me in ruins
Rereading your note:

I will move to Brasilia
And speak Esperanto
Live as a New Woman
Freed from the past.


I've got a four track mind now baby
Care to put the headphones on
Kick off your shoes and stay a while baby
It couldn't be that wrong

I'll solve quadratic equations baby
On the back of your hand
Step on up to the boom box baby
I'll introduce you to the band

Don't you wanna?

Step on up to the microphone baby
Do a couple of lines
Just lean back and go with it baby
It's gonna be just fine

I speak fluent Italian baby
A little Portuguese
Come on down to Rio baby
Get topless on the beach

Don't you wanna?


Thith ith not the Brathilia I wath led to ethpect.
And what ith thith gibberish that you speak?
I will leave this land
And return to my home
Return home to my love,
Beloved Roderigo


Have made a great mistake
Returning home
I sail on the steamer SaraLee
Please throw out the tapes
And dispose of the guidebooks
Landing home
Two fortnights hence


Rereading the telegram
In my favorite cafe
My world is restored
To its rightful condition
I put on my hat
Pick up my cane
And walk down the promenade
Whistling softly.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Driving Up and Down the East Coast

We are those poor players
Who strut and fret
Treading worn boards
That groan and squeak
Entertaining you
Five nights a week


Afternoon in the bleachers at Camden Yards
Evening spent crawling through Inner Harbor bars
Blue Points in Fells Point
With the ghost of Edgar Allen Poe
His raven quoths "Nevermore"
I do love you, Baltimore


New England town
A decaying mill carcass down at the river's edge
A whitewashed steeple up on the top of the hill
And a covered wooden bridge connecting the two


Be free
Of your broken
And leave
Your broken mind
Live with me
In memory
In the golden sunlight
Of a 1970's

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Socks and Shoes Chords

I printed out the chords to Socks and Shoes.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Lima, Ohio

So there is a place called Lima, Ohio
And all anyone eats there is Lima beans.
Mysteriously, no children live in Lima
They have all run away to nearby towns
Like Fishstick, Indiana.

The Eye Of The Bird

Drona and the Pandavas were walking in the woods
Learning the noble pursuit of archery.
Drona stopped and asked Yudishtra, the wisest,
"Look over there, and tell me what you see?"
"I see the sun, the sky
The clouds, the trees,
And on the fourth branch of the tree,
Partly obscured by leaves,
I see a bird".
Drona turned and asked Arjuna, the greatest,
"Look over there, and tell me what you see?"
"I see the eye of the bird."
"What else do you see?"
"I see only the round black eye of the bird."
"You have passed the test my son, now bend your bow and shoot."
And with a pluck and a swoosh, the bird fell dead.


"But Bill, she's barely half your age".
So given the equation
x/2 = y
Is there any value of x
For which the function intersects
Acceptable behavior?

Friday, June 03, 2011

Let's Write A Song

Is it the randomness that makes words into art
Or the eye that allows them to swirl off the page?
If I write down your words is that foolish of heart
Or a wine we will share, having blossomed with age?
Are we twinned pairs of quarks, entangled by spin?
I feel your pulse beat from miles away
My words are your meaning, your thoughts are my breath.
But if sense and sound are sundered apart
I have lost you, my love, and must return to the start.

So is it the randomness that makes words into art
Or the artist, who channels from life and time
To map raw thought to a measured line
"You are a fool" she says, "my dear foolish heart
I am unique, irreducible, only myself
My words are my own, and I pour them like silver
You will never find anything that rhymes with me."
So true, my dear, so true indeed.
This lyric is finished, the song is set free
I put down my pen, and give it to thee.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Millicent Demo

Finally recorded a demo of Millicent. Straightforward doo-wop progression, with a tiny turn-around in the bridge. Using Sony Vegas: it does a much better job with the external mics, but it doesn't seem to be able to render 720p/HD.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Rhythm Changes

I spent a week working out the rhythm guitar part, I spent a couple of hours making the rhythm guitar fit with the bass part, and then I decided that a cold first take of vocals and lead guitar would be fine. Is this counterproductive behavior?

Anyway, the Gershwin chestnut.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Out Of Sight

Just back from a week on the beach, trying to squeeze a couple more of these into this month.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Round Tuit

The greatest gift is time
To do with as you will
And fill it as you would
If you could be
Completely free.

And you ever
Found the time
To get
Around to it.

Phone Voice

Don't you talk to me with your phone voice, honey
Save it for your customer calls
It makes you come off like such a phoney, honey
Like the world is hanging from your balls
And if you really want to get your hands in my pants
You'd be better off speaking Chinese

Be my Wisconsin tenor, baby
Your voice doesn't need to be that deep
I hate those deep dark English sounds
But your Chinese really speaks to me

I'm the Tiger mother to your daughters, baby
The dutiful wife who cooks you Chinese food
Just talk to me in your real voice baby
Because I fell in love with a Wisconsin tenor
And that's the voice that puts me in the mood

Be Prepared

Courtney was a painter
And a sometime figure model
Who liked to read Cervantes
And used a pair of chopsticks
To roll her hair into a bun

She lived out with her single mom
On the darker side of town
Her mom worked nights as a bartender
And sold a little weed on the side

Bobby was an Eagle Scout
Who liked to follow rules
His social clique were awkward boys
His mom and dad were awful proud

Courtney had decided
She was going to go to Bonnaroo
Get a week long pass
And camp out on the grass

She could have taken anyone
But she said Bobby Smith's the one
Cause he's a Boy Scout and they're always prepared

So Bobby packed his lean-to
And a pair of sleeping bags
His scout knife and some water
And a camp stove just in case

They hitchhiked down to Bonnaroo
Set up their tent and caught the shows
Danced in the mud and partied with strangers
Went back to the tent under the full moon

She climbed into his sleeping bag
Caught him by surprise
He said "I've never done this before"
She said "I'm not surprised"

She took a packet
From her pocket
And rolled it down his shaft
"If you don't come prepared, you won't come at all
And a Boy Scout should always be prepared"

They dated all through college
Got married in grad school
Bobby loosened up
Even if he never became cool
They still go out to festivals
And camp under the stars
Climb in the double sleeping bag
And do what couples do

And she says
"Back at school you were a dork
But when you put those drops of honey
On my plastic camping spork
I knew you were the one for me"

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


A song about one of my co-workers

Don't you talk to me with your phone voice, honey
Save it for your customer calls
It makes you come off like such a phoney, honey
And if you really want to get your hands in my pants
You'd be better off speaking Chinese

A song about marital discontent

Can I tell you
That when you

It really made me feel sad

A song about a high school girl who takes a Boy Scout to Bonnaroo because he will be better prepared to handle the requirements of camping

Back at school you're a dork
But you put those drops of honey
On my plastic camping spork

Monday, April 11, 2011


The Holland/Dozier/Holland song. The bass part is not harmonically complex, but hitting all the grace notes and articulating the arpeggios was very challenging. The guitar part turned into a 4/4 funk groove instead of the original 2/4 backbeat groove. I couldn't decide which drum track I liked better, so I kept them both.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Midtown Manhattan on a Saturday Night

A martial snare plays rat a tat tat
On the marital rhythm of tit for tat
But now the tux and the gown are all packed in a bag
And they're off to Manhattan for a Saturday night.

An expensive dinner and a cab downtown
To a basement in Alphabet City
Jazz, funk and rhythm and blues
With a modern sensibility
The dance floor is packed with the lust and sweat
Of familiar possibility

Slinking through the darkened lobby
Empty bottles of water from the minibar
The mirror reflects on the king size bed
She stands on her head
With legs spread wide
Like an apple tree weighted with fruit

The kick drum plays thump a thump thump
On the quick deep strokes of an oft postponed fuck
In Midtown Manhattan on a Saturday night

Terry cloth robes and a room service breakfast
The sun through the curtains above Hackensack
While he reads the paper she looks in the mirror
And it seems like her wrinkles are written in black
But she turns into the room and looks hard at the roses
And says "there's time for a quick one before we have to pack
And get back
From Midtown Manhattan and our Saturday night".

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Not a Denny Dias fan. Blues with a bridge, huge swaths of harmonized guitars and needless chromatic slurs.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Body And Soul

The Swing standard. I spent some time working on Coleman Hawkins' solo, but it was a very slow process, so I cut bait and moved on.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Strings Of Our Genes (Synth Version)

Spent the weekend playing keys.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Modern Science

Late one night, a man is standing under a streetlamp, looking at the ground. Another man comes by and asks him what he is doing. The first man replies “I'm looking for my keys”. The second man starts to help with the search, and asks “where did you lose them?”. The first man replies “in the bushes, down there”. Annoyed, the second man asks “but, then why are you looking here”? To which the first man replies “well, this is where the light is”.

We started off
Trying to design a new drug
Which would treat a common illness
In a novel and exciting way.

But drug development
Is a long and expensive process.
And when we suffered a setback
In our second round of clinical trials
Our investors had grown tired of the game.

So we decided to sell a tool
(To allow researchers
To design new drugs
Which might treat common illnesses
In a novel and exciting way).
This approach
Promised reduced marketing costs
And a shorter path to profitability.
Our investors were rejuvenated
And ready to get back in the game.

I went to go visit
A lab that used our tool
To design some knockout mice.
Their hypothesis is novel and the theory exciting.
They hope to start clinical trials
By the middle of next year.

The only problem is that the mice
Refuse to breed or even coexist.
Inside the cages they attack one another
Hacking off mouthfuls of raw flesh and fur
Till they have eaten each other alive.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Ain't Too Proud To Beg

The great Temptations I-IV groove. I also like the Stones version. I've played this one for years - recording it wasn't much of a stretch.

Monday, February 28, 2011

I Don't Mind

A little 12/8 shuffle blues with some call and response between the bass, guitar and organ (subbing for backing vocals).

Strings Of Your Genes Arrangement Sketches

A couple of different arrangement ideas.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Lead Sheets

I spent some time dinking around with Band-In-A-Box today, and finally got it to print out a lead sheet. Woot.

I spent some time dinking around with Band-In-A-Box today, and finally got it to print out a lead sheet. Woot.

An Economic Melodrama

It was the 80's. I was reading a lot of Raymond Carver.

      “I can't pay the rent” she said.
      I'd been sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a beer, before Deb came in.
      “Um” I swallowed. “When do you get paid?”
      “Next Friday. Where did you get the beer?”
      I watched her bend in the trapezoid of light flowing out of the open refrigerator door. She looked thin. The fruit in the crisper looked pretty rotten.
      “What happened to the TV?”
      Deb was looking for a bottle opener. “Finally threw it away. I was going deaf from having to turn the volume so high over the static.”
      “Use your teeth”
      “How I opened mine”
      “No, I found it.” She came back into the kitchen, her longneck smoking just like the advertisements on Monday Night Football. She took her pocketbook off the table and lit a cigarette. Ultralights. Sounds like airplanes. I fidget with the matchbook. It was from some bar on the North Side. O'Flannery's. There was a phone number written on the inside cover. I closed the flap.
      Deb went to the other side of the room, by the sink, and ashed on a pile of dirty glasses.
      “Been to Jimmy's Bar lately?”
      “Every Thursday night. It's work.”
      The tobacco embers hissed in the dregs of a wine glass.
      “You always hated doing the dishes”
      “Still do”
      I went to the refrigerator. I took the fourth of the six pack I had brought. Then I looked around in the crisper, searching for the least rotten apple. I found one, on the bottom, not quite so bad as the rest. I opened my beer and went back into the kitchen.
      It was awkward, silent. Deb smoked.
      “So Deb, how have you been?”
      “Okay. Fucking job sucks. I don't know. What have you been up to?”
      “The usual, I guess. Wanna go out and have a drink someplace?”
      She looked at my hand. “You've already got one.”
      “Oh yeah, I forgot.”
      Deb lit another cigarette.
      “What I really came over here tonight … well … I need a place to stay for a while.”
      “Can you help me with the rent?”
      “Yeah, I think so. Play a few more bars.”
      “Old habits die hard.”

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Strings Of Our Genes

An original which I hadn't recorded before. Still not happy with the webcam microphone.

Chords and lyrics

Bm7 Em9
A7 Dmaj7
C#m7 F#7
Bm7 Am7 G F#
Em7 A7 D
Bm7 G A

I try to be calm
In the face of your rage
Your grandmother's face
Your grandfather's rage
Pulls you out of your seat

A dancing marionette
Tied to the strings of your genes.

The stone and the sod
Whiskey and God
Run from the law
Sleep in the straw
Pulls you onto your feet

A dancing marionette
Tied to the strings of your genes.

I curse you to never feel satisfaction
To see injustice in all of its forms
I bless you with strength
Quickness of mind and
A hurting desire to learn.
I curse you to be unable to follow
This curse and these gifts I give to you
Because I carry them too.

We're dancing marionettes
Tied to the strings of our genes.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Something Light

Give us something light, love
To lift us on our way
A melody to sing or hum
Some warmth on a winter's day

Everything is not your life or love
Or death or a family dispute
Our time is spent mostly working or sleeping
Or shuttling between the two

So give us something light, love
Because I've got my dark places too
But to make time pass more pleasantly
I don't always share them with you.

So give us something light, love
To lift us on our way
A melody to sing or hum
Some warmth on a winter's day

Monday, February 07, 2011

A Hard and Demanding Man

A Hard and Demanding Man

My father was a hard and demanding man
Even if he did not think of himself as such.
For every one of my failures
His sadly disappointed look
Rendered hollow his words and gestures of reassurance.
He always acted as if he had come up from nothing
Although I know he was given much more than he had managed to retain.
And for years, he held it against me
That on the day I finally left his house
I said to him:
“I'm not like you dad
I'm clumsy and stupid
Little and weak
I'm just not like you”.

As he got older, and his drinking started to take its toll
I visited him in the hospital.
After and hour of silence he said:
“My father was a hard and demanding man
But he always did his best by me.
I am truly sorry
That I could not do the same for you”.

Friday, February 04, 2011

197 Words For Snow

The wind is my enemy
The rain is my enemy
The wind is my enemy
Are you my friend?

The sleet is my enemy
The cold is my enemy
The snow is my enemy
Are you my friend?

The snowflakes fall fast
And fill the night sky
A spiraling dementia
For a Friday commute

The flash and the boom
The strobe and the crash
Lightning, then thunder
And through it more snow

The measures get shorter
As the storm gets closer
The flash and the boom
The strobe and the crash

The cold is my enemy
The snow is my enemy
The wind is my enemy
Are you my friend?

Sunshine on a Saturday
An arctic blast blows the clouds to the east
Leaving a blinding glare and prisms of ice
My breath hangs frozen
Before floating away

I pull my muffler
Close to my face
First moist, then wet
Then frozen in place

Shovel the snow
Crack the ice
Salt the steps
So very nice

Whatever did possess us
To come so far north?
I'm going back to Borneo
An old man of the forest
To swing through the trees
With a belly full of fruit

I'm sick of snow
Why don't you take a warm shower?
It'll make you feel better.
I'll be out of the bathroom in March.

Did you talk to your mom?
Yeah, she's ok
But there were people stuck on Lake Shore Drive for 18 hours.
That thunder snow is some freaky stuff.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing

Another jazzy Ashford-Simpson number. The Motown Monday thing was supposed to be a time to work on my bass playing, but I decided to just cut a video of solo guitar and be done with it.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Girl From Ipanema

The hoary bossa-nova standard. Song is in F, but there is a bunch of chromatic business between G and Gb and B and Bb. The bridge is a pretty straightforward circle of fifths progression.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Reelin In The Years

On Saturdays I am working through "The Best of Steely Dan: An Inside Look at the Guitar Styles of Steely Dan". The tab seems accurate, the CD is useful, and the text is reasonably insightful. At the core "Reelin In The Years" is a straightforward G-D-A song, but there is a bunch of harmonic stuff happening in the solos that is hard to nail. Learned this one pretty much by rote repetition, hopefully I will gain some understanding from future efforts. I'm in the right channel, the original is in the left channel.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Working through "The Great James Brown Rhythm Sections - 1960-1973" on Wednesdays. The playing on this one is pretty bad, but my new RME Multiface is allowing me to record four tracks as once, which is giving me more options for fattening up individual instruments. Right now I've got it set up to record the DI, the line out of the amp head, a close mic on the amp cabinet, and a room mic.

Not much to this song - the original drum part is kind of erratic and hard to follow - my version is more regular (if less funky) - but a pretty straightforward shuffle blues. Main thing to be conscious of is when you double and when you lay out on the bass and guitar.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ain't No Mountain High Enough

It's in D major, but you spend the whole song avoiding D - voice the III, voice the V, voice the IVsus4, just don't voice the I, because that is reserved for Tammi. The bass line has some funky chromatic passing notes, but I didn't really have time learn the whole thing, so I kind of faked it. There is also one of those classic Motown moves where the bridge returns to a modulation of the verse, but again, party over out of time.

Ain't No Mountain High Enough, by TheWoodshedTapes, on SoundClick.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Just The Happy Times

When mom was in the nursing home
I stopped by every day at lunch
And after she passed, I kept going
Partially out of habit
And partially for the good karma
But mostly because I'm a social person
And if I don't get out and talk to people
Something is not right in my day.
So there's this one old lady
Not as good as some, but better than most
She's got a VCR and a big stack of tapes in her room.
When I visit I ask the people if they want to watch
A different channel on the tv
The news maybe, or one of the soaps.
But all she ever wants to do is
Play those tapes again and again
"Just the happy times, Bill" she says
"Put in one of the happy times".
And it's the standard sort of home movie stuff
From when her kids were little and she was young.
So I've seen these kids
Opening presents and blowing out candles
Dying Easter eggs and climbing trees
Over the span of several years.
But I realized today
That while I know exactly what they looked like as babies
I have no idea what they look like now.
I try to ask her about it but all she will say is:
"Just the happy times, Bill
"Put in one of the happy times".

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Vertigo in Massachusetts

The jungle gym casts
Trapezoidal moon shadows
Onto the sloping ground

The Flying Wallendas
Triumph again
To the roar of our fantasy crowd

I remember her hands
Slipping through mine
The blood and her tears
On the hard frozen ground

For our album covers
She never once smiled
Everyone thought
She was depressed

But I knew the truth
It wasn't her mind
It was the tooth
Of a flightless Wallenda.


Whiskey and ice
On a warm summer day
A bead of condensation
Forms and falls
From the end of the glass
Onto the carpet below.

Her head on my shoulder
She started to cry
A single tear poised
On the tip of her nose
I kissed her and said
"I'll always be there to watch over you".
Knowing, even then, it was a lie.


Only in the past
Can we discover
The present.

Our future returns
To unearth
The artifacts.

How people must have lived
In this place
With these things.

Strange yet familiar
Forever retracing
The invisible outline below.

Amidst the noises
Of water and china
She sings, under her breath

The record sounds different
The production is dated
But the core of her voice remains.

She steps out of her shoes
Slips her arms around my neck
And we dance

It is familiar, yet strange
To be on this side
We never danced up on stage

But now here we are
Dancing together, turning slowly
In the darkening parlor of our past.