Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Don't Draw Conclusions About A Person Simply From Reading A New York Times Article About Them. Read Something They Wrote Themselves.

This was an interesting article, shared without comment by a musician friend.

Now I am a songwriter and musician (please imagine Star Jones parody voice), but oddly enough my main initial reaction to David Lowery, the protagonist of this article, went something like this: Boo-freaking-hoo.

In 2012 he only made $440 in songwriter royalties from his 1985 debut album while back in 2002 he had made $1,147. To suggest that, thus, the system is broken, struck me as ridiculous. I was all set to blog about how writing a song has zero inherent monetary value. It's the promoters - the people who mesmerize journalists and other strangers into believing your song has value - who really earn the money. You made deals with multi-national corporations to record, release, and promote your music to the point where it gets a million plays on Pandora and now those corporations aren't giving you enough money? Again I thought, boo-freaking-hoo. You're actually impossibly lucky to have gotten as far as you have. Get some perspective. Get a real job.

The music business is the system by which the vast number of people who would not inherently care about music (hereafter referred to as Z for Zombies) are all but forced to care about music by people who forcefully shove that music down their throats (hereafter referred to as F for Feeders). The F can not create the product and thus require people who care deeply about music and create it themselves (hereafter referred to as B for Brains). Sometimes a young, naive, excited B, full of love for their craft (think 1962 Bob Dylan), makes a deal with a hardworking, highly skilled F (think Albert Grossman), to get their music to Z. Later B is sad to learn that F expected to receive money for getting B the attention of Z. "It's all because of my genius that Z loves me!" thinks B, deluded. B sues F, etc.


Then I read David Lowery's original blog post and most of the indignant wind went out of my sails like Roseanne Roseannadanna.

Now I get it. Songwriters can't negotiate a rate with Pandora. The government sets that rate. That is unfair. Agreed. Nevermind.

Am I even going to post this? What would be the point? I guess the point would be don't draw conclusions about a person simply from reading a New York Times article about them. Read something they wrote themselves.

Which I knew already, having been myself the subject of 3 (three!) newspaper articles, all mildly or wildly inaccurate, over my twenty-four years in (actually mostly out) of the music business. Anyway, I woke up an hour early today with no hope of going back to sleep, thus blog post. Enjoy. Could have written a song, I guess, but what would be the point? I don't have an F and wish to avoid the attentions of Z.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Modern Things. Bah!

I recently watched this video.

It's fine, right? No problem. It does the job it's supposed to do, which is keep a baby's attention and teach them some signs. For me personally, though, after about as many seconds as I am years old, I started trying to figure out whether the sound of the waves synced up with the actual waves because it doesn't seem like that pristine audio could possibly have been recorded on a windy beach. The rigid, repetitive, perfect sameness of the whole thing started driving me nuts. See what I mean?

Now I'm no audio engineer, but I am pretty sure she's lip syncing. She's doing it really well, which made me think there was probably a click track playing over speakers with the vocal when they shot the video at the beach. So what a baby is actually watching is a person lip syncing to a click track, probably some keyboards, and the vocal, all pre-recorded. An impossible illusion.

Later on, in post-production, my guess is they took out the sounds of everything except the vocal. Then they added in some quiet background waves. Well, fine, we just want the best end product, right? Just using modern tools. Nothing wrong with that, right?

Except that everything new is like this now. Everything is this digitally enhanced illusion of perfection. Long before this particular video was even over, I started thinking what it would look like if it had been taped for Sesame Street in 1974.

Susan's hair would be blowing around, her pitch would be wavering. She might crack up a little bit. You would hear the actual waves as they broke. She would be singing loud to be heard over the wind and those waves. It would be a real, one-of-a-kind, human performance. Factors beyond the control of the producers would have an impact on the final product. Watching her, you would think it was something you could do yourself. You would be right.

But back to 2013 (sigh). Every professional piece of video and audio that young people watch and hear now has this layer of digital illusion built in. They grow up in an acid bath of impossible, inhuman, auto-tuned perfection. And anything that hasn't been perfected by auto-tune is ridiculed. You're Star Wars Kid. You're William Hung. Ha Ha!

I wonder what cumulative impact this has on younger, more impressionable people than myself. Might they think, "Oh, I could never sing like that."? Because if they did think that, they would be right. But what if they stop trying?

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Major League Baseball Puts A Gun In Its Own Mouth And Pulls The Trigger

So every year for the past eleven years I've gone with some of my friends on a baseball road trip. We've gone to Kansas City (7 times), Milwaukee (2 times), Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and St. Louis (1 each). (Yes, some years there were two, Mathlete!) When the Twins' schedule was announced several months ago, I was excited to see where we would go this year.

We ain't goin' nowhere. There are zero three-game weekend serieses with the Twins on the road against those nearby teams. Because Houston was moved to the American League, putting 15 teams in each league, interleague play has to happen every day that all 30 teams play. The schedule this year sucks rocks. But don't take my word for it, listen to Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.

The Twins finish May with two games in Milwaukee, followed by two against the Brewers at home. Gardenhire was disappointed that the teams won't play three in each park like they used to.

"It's the first time, for me, that we have Milwaukee for two and we go there for two," he said. "We always played three and three. It's a big deal for our fans to go to Milwaukee, and for their fans to come here. It's a two-and-two during the week. That's always a big deal. Tons of Twins fans go to Milwaukee and pack that place, and just the same way when they come and pack our place.

"I thought that's what it was all about. The natural rival used to be the Brewers. That was always a pretty cool series, three over there and three at our place. Now it's two and two in the middle of the week. A lot of people will have to take off work."

Or just not go at all. For the first time since 2001. Stupid. Stupid baseball. Stupid Bud Selig. (Smart Ron Gardenhire.) The inevitable accumulation of wives, children, mortgages, and real jobs couldn't kill our enthusiasm and our determination to make this annual road trip. But now it's just - poof! - not even an option. You did it to yourself, baseball. Did you want me to stop attending your games? Does anybody really give a shit what league the hopeless Houston Astros are in? Thanks for the memories and change it the fuck back for next year. See you then.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Baseball Picks

In enjoying the first full page of Major League box scores yesterday, I noticed something strange. Mark Buehrle was not an opening day starter. Honestly I didn't even know what team he was on. Turns out he's on the Blue Jays and they had R.A. Dickey, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner as their opening day starter. Fair enough. Certainly Buehrle will start the second game? Nope. That'll be Brandon Morrow, who had a good season last year.

Thus my prediction: With someone the caliber of Mark Buehrle as their third starter, the Toronto Blue Jays are my pick to win the increasingly and delightfully unstable AL East and the 2013 World Series. They will be the antiTwins, as the actual Twins have a fourth starter as their ace and thus can not even bring themselves to say the word "ace" in regard to any of their pitchers.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Fellow guitarists! Learn from my mistake!

When you are going to use a whammy bar in performance on, say, a Fender Stratocaster, you should use the following sequence of events to prepare:

1. Screw whammy bar into that hole near the bridge.
2. Tune your guitar.

If you do these things in the opposite order, your guitar (if it is like mine) will end up almost a half step flat just as you are supposed to start playing. Then you will be tuning up while the band runs through its first few songs. Has this ever happened to anyone else?

The things you can learn, even after 25 years of playing guitar.


Memphis Evans is the composer of several pieces of serious music that explore the area between desireable and undesireable sounds.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

I Pray For Rain

Just a micro-post, slightly too long for FB. I am getting The Box Tops' The Letter/Neon Rainbow album from Hennepin County Library's Freegal system for free at a rate of three tracks per week. I found the track "I Pray For Rain" to be one of Alex Chilton's best vocal performances ever. People using Freegal or people who like Big Star/Alex Chilton should check this out. That is all.

To log in through Hennepin County Library (requires a library card):

Enter your barcode to enter the site.

Search for "The Letter/Neon Rainbow" using the "Album" search. Click on the album name when it appears. "I Pray For Rain" is track 12.

This album appears to have gone out of print in physical form, which is why I was getting it here in the first place.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The First 100 Albums That Occurred To Me, Roughly In The Order In Which They Occurred To Me

When I got out several pieces of paper and a pen to write down the 100 greatest albums of all time, these were the first 100 to occur to me.

The Beatles, Abbey Road
The Beatles, The Beatles (The White Album)
The Moody Blues, Seventh Sojourn
They Might Be Giants, Flood
They Might Be Giants, They Might Be Giants
Kirsty MacColl, Kite
The Beatles, Let It Be
The Beatles, Revolver
Scot Ninnemann, Moon June Spoon
Scot Ninnemann, Slight Change of Plans
Flip Nasty, Guitool
UFO Catcher, The Tale of a Sad And Lonely Boy Who Dreamed of Love
Kaptain Karl, Art Is A Lie, Baby
Kaptain Karl, The Chicago Tapes
Kaptain Karl, The Kepler Agenda
Jubilant Dogs, Abby
Prince, Purple Rain
Prince, Dirty Mind
Simon and Garfunkel, Bookends
Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water
Ben Folds Five, Ben Folds Five
Ben Folds, Rocking the Suburbs
Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited
Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde
Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks
Bob Dylan, Oh Mercy
Bob Dylan, Time Out Of Mind
Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan, Bringing it All Back Home
Bob Dylan, Desire
Bob Dylan, "Love And Theft"
Bob Dylan, Live 1966
Lou Reed, Transformer
Lou Reed, Set the Twilight Reeling
The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico
The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground, Loaded
Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville
Trip Shakespeare, Across the Universe
Trip Shakespeare, Lulu
Matt Wilson, Burnt White and Blue
The Beatles, Rubber Soul
Billy Bragg, Worker's Playtime
Billy Bragg, Don't Try This At Home
Joni Mitchell, Hejira
Joni Mitchell, Blue
Joni Mitchell, The Hissing of Summer Lawns
Joni Mitchell, Court and Spark
Paul Simon, There Goes Rhymin' Simon
Paul Simon, Graceland
Paul Simon, Paul Simon's Concert in Central Park
Joni Mitchell, Ladies of the Canyon
Paul SImon, Hearts and Bones
John Coltrane, Giant Steps
John Coltrane, Africa/Brass
John Coltrane, Live at the Village Vanguard
Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um
Sarah McLachlan, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy
Sarah McLachlan, Surfacing
Enya, Paint the Sky With Stars
Steve Miller Band, Greatest Hits 1974-1978
James Taylor, Greatest Hits
Gram Parsons, GP
Gram Parsons, Return of the Grevious Angel
The Minnesota Orchestra, The Complete Beethoven Symphonies
Les Miserables, Original Cast Recording
The Byrds, Mr. Tambourine Man
The Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo
The Band, Music From Big Pink
The Band, The Band (The Brown Album)
Bob Dylan & The Band, The Basement Tapes
Paul McCartney (or whatever), Band on the Run
Billy Joel, The Stranger
Billy Joel, Turnstyles
Billy Joel, Cold Spring Harbor
Paul McCartney, Tug of War
Paul McCartney, Venus and Mars
Paul McCartney, Flowers in the Dirt
Jimi Hendrix, Are You Experienced?
Jimi Hendrix, Axis: Bold As Love
Cocteau Twins, Heaven or Las Vegas
Elvis Presley, The King of Rock and Roll: The Complete '50s Masters
Elvis Presley, From Nashville To Memphis: The Essential '60s Masters I
Elvis Presley, Promised Land
Elvis Presley, From Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis, Tennessee
Elvis Presley, Memories: The 1968 Comeback Special
Elvis Presley, Elvis Country
Elvis Presley, Moody Blue
Elvis Presley, That's The Way It Is
Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run
Bruce Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town
The Kinks, The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation Society
John Lennon, Imagine
John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Double Fantasy
George Harrison, Brainwashed
George Harrison, All Things Must Pass
George Harrison, George Harrison
George Harrison, Could Nine
The Moody Blues, The Other Side of Life
"Weird Al" Yankovic, Dare To Be Stupid
"Weird Al" Yankovic, Alpocalypse
Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster
David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars
David Bowie, Hunky Dory
David Bowie, Low
David Bowie, Heathen
David Bowie, Reality
David Bowie, Station To Station
The Kinks, Muswell Hillbillies
Falco, Falco3

And I think that was 100.

Next time I sat down/stuff I thought of immediately afterwards:

John Hartford, Areo-Plane
Guster, Keep It Together
Guns -N- Roses, Appettite For Destruction
The Carpenters, 1969-1973
Big Star, #1 Record/Radio City
Big Star, Third/Sister Lovers
Evan Johnson, How Could I Know
Colin Spring, How I Came To Cry These Tears of Cool
Trip Shakespeare, Volt
Semisonic, Feeling Strangely Fine
Ted Hawkins, The Final Tour

I thought about looking over my CD collection and adding anything I forgot, then cutting up the pieces of paper and physically assembling the absolutely definitive list, in order. But I'm 41 not 14.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Top Ten Most Inspiring Keyboard Moments

Number. Title - Artist - Keyboard Player - Album - Year

10. One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces - Ben Folds Five - Whatever And Ever Amen - 1997
My reaction upon hearing this in 1997 was, "Hey! Someone is making great piano music in a way that no one else has since Billy Joel and Elton John started dramatically overproducing their records in the 1980s! Hallelujah! Must acquire everything by him."

9. Let It Be - The Beatles - Paul McCartney - Let It Be - 1970
I have basically fetishized every aspect of this entire performance. The way the left hand octaves interact rhythmically with the right hand block chords. The way the F chord has an e in it which goes down to a d that sounds like a mistake at first. The actual mistake on "Mother Mary" during verse three. The way the gospel riff happens exactly one and a half times total. This song provides the crossover with my top ten guitar solos list. Fascinating alternate version from the movie.

Shoot, I could make this whole list Beatles songs. I could ALMOST make the whole list from Let It Be. So let's give honorable mentions to Billy Preston, electric piano on One After 909 and Get Back and Paul again for The Long And Winding Road. Don't know who did the Moog solo on Because from Abbey Road. George Martin's double speed classical solo on In My Life, which was copied by me on Jubilant Dogs' Stratosphere.

8. Green-Eyed Lady - Sugarloaf - Jerry Corbetta - Sugarloaf - 1970
I love the snaky riff, but what grabbed me the most was the punchy, breathy SOUND of this thing. I'd never heard anything quite like it and I still haven't.

7. Hungry Heart - Bruce Springsteen - Danny Federici - The River - 1980
The solo, (1:39) in a different key from the whole rest of the song. Little grace notes sliding up to the main notes. Like the previous entry, the sound of this solo is awesome - part ice rink, part silent movie, all rock and roll. Listen on headphones. It's panned all the way across the stereo picture but isn't monolithic. The Phantom never sounded sweeter.

I can't believe I didn't put any Roy Bittan on the list. Let's just give honorable mention to his work with Springsteen (duh) but also Meatloaf's Bat Out Of Hell and Bob Seger. While I love his playing, I can't honestly say he's literally inspiring to me because, like Eddie Van Halen on guitar, his playing seems impossibly out of my reach.

6. Scenes From An Italian Restaurant - Billy Joel - Billy Joel - The Stranger - 1977
Mainly the part (2:48) where everything drops out except the rolling octave bass in the piano (I think, like me, Billy Joel listened to Let It Be a few dozen times or more) and then the right hand comes in, tumbling down the stairs a couple times but landing on its feet.

See also the fast piano intro and outro of Miami 2017. I have played them many, many times and never quite perfectly.

5. James - Billy Joel - Billy Joel - Turnstyles - 1976
The always groovy Fender Rhodes. The melodic and harmonic shifts you didn't expect but recognize as perfect. The little scales. I have played the intro approximately 95 percent of the times I have sat down at an electric piano.

I could make the whole list Billy Joel, too, of course. The gorgeous flow of "Summer, Highland Falls", the simply perfect intro triads of "She's Got A Way", the guitar-doubled arpeggios of "She's Always A Woman", and even the funky, electric live version of "Los Angelenos" from Songs In The Attic.

4. Philosophy - Ben Folds Five - Ben Folds - Ben Folds Five - 1995
So many little grace notes ripping up to the main melody notes. It's like Floyd Cramer times a thousand and speeded way up. It displays such a huge range of feelings, the piano basically sings this song and everything else is background.

3. Bennie & The Jets - Elton John - Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - 1973
The solo! The solo! (2:22) This also has a whole lot of little grace notes ripping up to the main notes, which I seem to love. Huh! Never thought about that quite so overtly before. Love the way it starts folky then builds to a honky tonk scream.

2. Streetlife Serenader - Billy Joel - Billy Joel - Streetlife Serenade - 1974
It's the long bridge passage in the middle (2:24) with just piano where a mournful, graceful melody plays then gives way to a cascading fountain of notes before the singer comes back in. I explicitly copied this idea on my song "Eddie Gee". Now that I think about it there are two such passages in just this one song! This is my favorite Billy Joel piano moment of all.

1. Still Crazy After All These Years - Paul Simon - Barry Beckett/Richard Tee - Still Crazy After All These Years/Simon & Garfunkel The Concert in Central Park/Paul Simon Concert in the Park - 1975/1981/1991
Not many people who study twelve-tone serialism come up with an evergreen top forty hit. Even fewer have it played on a silky, liquid Fender Rhodes electric piano. The 1991 live (skip to about 49:50) version has Richard Tee and Michael Brecker (both now jamming in another world) taking the song to the next level.