Friday, February 4, 2022

Friday is My Day

When I was a graduate student, the only way that I could make sure that I got everything done was to compartmentalize my time. Monday through Thursday, on two of those days, I taught during the day, and on the other two, I was in a graduate seminar, just as I was for one or two evenings every week during the school year. For about seven years, this was more or less my life.

Throughout both my MA and PhD programs, I had to read a book per week for just about every one of my classes. This wasn't usually fun reading, either. It was dense academic prose, where I had to translate everything into common parlance, writing in the margins of the book with a mechanical pencil just to make sense of it. You might be amazed at how much can be reduced to three or four words on the side the page and still make the same exact point.

As you may have gathered, most days of the week, I was pretty busy. In addition to the reading, almost every one of these courses required that I write two thirty-page papers each, which involved research, outlining, thinking through, revising, etc. They also had to be good. One time, my computer died about a week before one of these papers was due, and that one week probably aged me by a year or two. I have since learned to back up my work on a regular basis.  

I kept Saturdays and Sundays reserved for writing lesson plans and grading papers. Not all day, necessarily, but at least part of it. Sometimes, I also had some reading to catch up on, more words to scribble in the margins. I was paying for this education, so I wasn't going to not read the books. Six days a week, whenever the house was reasonably quiet, I was either reading or writing. That left me with Fridays. 

Every major religion has a day of rest, so I figured that even grad students deserve that. Friday was my recharge day, which I did by playing music. See? You were thinking that I was accidentally posting this to the wrong blog, didn't you? Nope. It's about music, after all. 

As referenced in another autobiographical article that I recently reposted, it was on these Fridays that I wrote music with a friend and jammed with him on the porch or in the dining room. After he moved to California, I continued the tradition, and pretty soon, these were my songwriting days. I'd throw riffs together that I had come up with years apart and on opposite sides of the planet, and I would craft them into songs, one at a time. Plus I kept coming up with more. Once I got into it, it became a lot of fun.  

A musician has to practice, so I figured that I might as well practice songs that I wrote. Before I knew it, I had a shitload of songs. I'm not sure what that converts to in metric.

My Friday tradition led to the creation of all three of the albums that I released in 2017:


Over the course of about two years, I wrote thirty-three songs (plus a couple of throwaways that may resurface someday). I also wrote a dissertation, which later became a book... and they say that if you play my music backwards, you can even hear me typing. 

I recognize that a lot of these songs could probably be re-done by other artists and sound a hell of a lot better, but I was just learning how to make an album as I went along. I still do, in fact. Either way, prior to my Friday sessions, these songs did not exist, and one is infinitely more than zero. Always remember that.

Thanks for listening. Happy Friday. Enjoy it. It's yours. 


Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Capo Crunch

I only started using a capo on a regular basis about ten years ago, when I lived on a small tropical island that gets among the most rainfall of anywhere on earth. Rarely did a day pass without a tremendous downpour, after which the air became steamy as the equatorial sun pulled the moisture back up to the clouds. Rinse and repeat. 

Most of the time, I couldn't tell if I was sweating or if the air was just sticking to me, but it was probably both. In the afternoon, the temperature would reach 86°F or so, and at night, it got down to about 72°F. Sunrise and sunset were at the same time all year. 

Rats played the roles of squirrels as they scurried along the power lines, while smiling geckos scouted for ants from the living room walls. The steering wheel of my car was on the right side, which is also the side of the road that they drive on. Cheese was virtually nonexistent, but the fresh fish was incredible.

What does this have to do with a capo, you ask?  

The only guitar that I brought to Micronesia was my acoustic/electric. It was all that I could carry on an airplane. I quickly learned that between the heat and the humidity, the climate in this place is not kind to musical instruments. Guitar strings corroded within a day or two, and the fretboard absorbed a lot of moisture from the air. Within a few months, the neck had started to noticeably bow. 

I did not think to bring a truss rod wrench, nor did I really want to make any major adjustments to my guitar in this environment--so to compensate for the intonation being off, I started using a capo. Prior to this, it mostly just took up space in my guitar case, along with an old sock, a string winder and a bottle slide. 

Many of the songs that would later find their way onto my albums, particularly those that use a capo, started as riffs and chord progressions that I played on the back porch during the year that I lived on the island of Pohnpei. Examples include:

    Tunnel Vision (Out of Habit) from Embers (capo on the fourth fret - DADF#BE tuning)
    
    Wake Up! and Signs from Mechanical Bull (capo on the first and sixth frets, respectively)
    
        and
    
   Particle from Weather Patterns (capo on the fourth fret).

I'm sure there were others, but you get the idea. In most cases, it would be another six to ten years before I turned any of these "practice riffs" into fully realized songs. At the time, I wasn't really thinking about writing music. With no cell phones or televisions, where the electricity came by way of enormous diesel generators, playing guitar behind the house was just something to do. I kind of miss it sometimes.

By the time I left Micronesia, the pickguard on my guitar had almost completely slid off. Upon returning to the US, I had to take it off the rest of the way and then glue it back on, as well as make some significant adjustments with the truss rod. That said, I'm happy to report that the guitar still works perfectly fine. It is adventure-seasoned and well-traveled. I still use a capo quite a bit in my songwriting, too.

I guess if there's a point to any of this, it's that when I changed how I approached the instrument in order to adapt to this different environment, I came up with a bunch of stuff that sounded cool to me, which later became songs.
    
Change in Environment-> Learning to Adapt -> Finding Inspiration in the Unfamiliar -> Writing Lyrics to Fit the Music

Thus a song is born.

The Art of Happiness

On a personal note, this past year and a half or so has been kind of rough. I'm sure that a lot of you can relate to some degree. 

Entropy, from Better Days (2019):


    In this state of entropy
    Empathy is everything
    In someone else's shoes
    Would you choose the same...?

Back in July of 2020, my dad died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Not long after that, my mom got sick with covid. By the time she recovered, due to the pandemic, my job teaching English and tutoring students in the writing center at a community college had essentially dissolved. This, in turn, may have contributed to my marriage of sixteen years falling apart, which left me little choice but to move back to the place where I grew up and have spent most of my adult life trying to get away from. I now live over two hundred miles away from my two kids, whom I miss dearly. 


   

    Wherever you are, I hope you hear me
    Wherever you are, I want you near me
    I'm sending you a life preserver
    Put it on, kid. You deserve it... 

Haunted, from Petrichor (2021):


    Is it everything you wanted?
    Is it everything you hoped it would be?
    Because this old house is feeling haunted
    By the ghosts of memory...

Music and writing are what gets me through it. While I generally try to not conflate art with therapy, sometimes these things do overlap. 

Quicksand, from Embers (2021):


    I don't expect you to understand
    How it feels to be swimming in quicksand...



    Don't forget who you are
    Is unforgettable to me
    Your eyes are lit up like the stars
    And only you know what they see
   
    Share your mind, share your heart
    And let yourself be free
    Because only you know who you are
    And all the possibilities...
    
Since the pandemic began, I finished and fully revised the novel that I had started writing back in January of 2020. Coincidentally, it's about an event that disrupts and transforms the lives of all Americans, causing a sudden reevaluation of our priorites. Sometimes life only makes sense when you step back and look at the big picture, and sometimes it takes years for this to happen.



    I know you wonder what might have been
    If you had taken the other road instead
    But you know it's only in your head
    
    It takes a lifetime to get it right
    And only sometimes do we recognize
    It takes a lifetime, takes a lifetime...

I also recorded two albums last year, the first of which I began writing back in late autumn of 2020. Embers is essentially about trying to save my marriage and find meaning in existence, while Petrichor is largely about accepting what I can and cannot control. 

Original Miles, from Embers (2021):
 

    Take me as I come
    Because this is who I am
    I'm not fooling anyone
    I don't even think that I can...

Wasted, from Petrichor (2021):


    It's not what you anticipated
    I know it's always complicated
    But everyone would be so devistated
    Another day, another night, another life is wasted...

As I mentioned in a previous post, I haven't played an actual show since before the pandemic began. Now that I'm back to living in the very small town where I grew up, I don't even know where I would perform if I wanted to. I still practice, and I've toyed with the idea of writing another album, but my priority right now is in finding a viable way forward from my present situation. I certainly never expected to be here now. 

Holiday, from Petrichor (2021):


    Restless again at two a.m.
    Trying to dream
    Myself away to another place
    Where everything is as it seems...  



    Where do we go from here?
    It could be anywhere
    We don't know where we're going
    Until we get there...

My mom appreciates the help around the farm, and I am thankful for the time that I get to spend with her, especially since it's time that I never really got with my dad. Besides, who knows where I'll be living after this? I am excited by the possibilities. At the same time, being here is kind of therapeutic in its own way, an opportunity to recharge for whatever comes next. Life is precious, and it's easy to take the things we have for granted. Right now, I'm just trying to make the most of what I've got, one day at a time, while trying to create and pursue new opportunities to look forward to.



    Got my life, and it's ok
    It will be brighter another day
    Can't blame the rain or curse the night
    It will change again by morning light...
 
It's also nice to be reminded that I have friends who care about me. When I lived in Ohio, most of my friends were in the graduate program with me and have since moved on to better things. I had expected to be there for five years and ended up staying for about nine, in what was unquestionably my least favorite place that I have ever lived. In the end, it got kind of lonely, while being quarantined and unemployed certainly didn't help. 



    You and I are drifting by like contrails
    Parallel lines through the sky, don't know where
    Don't know why, that's just life and all it entails...

Signs, from Mechanical Bull (2017):


    Home is a house in the dark
    The rough stone that makes you sharp
    Don't let it fall apart
    Don't want to go back to the start...

I am sharing all of this with you not only as a means of self-therapy, but with the hope that you might get something from it as well. Fundamentally, I think the most important thing we can do is to see to it that the world is better off because we're in it, whatever that means. Our contributions do not need to be gradiose in order to be significant. 

Better Days, from Better Days (2019):


    So make today a better day any way that you can
    Make today a better day like only you can
    And we'll keep making our own better days
    Isn't it just like fate to change...?

To everyone who is reading this, I wish you the best. I believe in the beauty of the soul, and that art and love are its greatest forms of expression. That in mind, I hope you will find the beauty within yourself and share it with others, whether through a song, some other work of art, or a simple act of kindness. 



    It seems to me
    That life could be
    So simple....

Love. Create. Find happiness wherever you can, and try not to take it for granted.

If you like what I'm doing, please share it, add my music to your playlists and follow me wherever you listen. This is how it spreads, and I can't do it without you. 

As always, thank you for supporting independent art. 

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[Here are all fifteen of today's songs in a Spotify playlist:]