Friday, December 08, 2006

Just back from a show at the Freighthouse Dunn Bros. It was all to benefit Toys For Tots 2006. We got five items and gave out five of the holiday CD featuring exclusive Christmas performances from five different bands including Great Uncle Helmer and Doc's Kids.

It was a weird show. I think there were some people at the place who were annoyed. I also think we played louder and perhaps more obnoxiously to needle them. I enjoyed the show, even though I am totally dad tired and had a long day that began shortly before 6 a.m. when my cats triple teamed me to demand my attention, food, water, and clean litter. One hits the door to the bedroom repeatedly with his front paws. One runs and jumps on me and knocks things off the nightstand if I don't respond. One just cries in a mournful, scratchy voice. By the way, I did mean to type "dad tired". I think it is an extremely accurate phrase.

I did have a lot of fun at the show. Bill Turner opened the show for us, playing Hope Of Deliverance and Biker Like An Icon (which I sang) followed by his new song "Corn Bend", his old song "Total Peace", and finally "Blackbird". I liked doing McCartney songs on a night when people would maybe expect Lennon songs. I meant to take a survey of the people listening as to who their favorite Beatle was. Shoot. Oh well.

Tried out a new segment celebrating freedom of speech called "Say what you want about Billy Joel". We learned that he is talented and that if you switch around the letters of his names it becomes "Jilly Boel" which makes some people feel happy. We also did another couple of "speaking in tongues" parts. These were great and in keeping with what I feel is the spirit of the game.

"Hold Me Only In The Dark" was said to be about worms that live on land and "worms" that live in water, meaning clams. I love that this interpretation ignores the lines about "She did such and such and I did such and such" and any romantic liaison suggested. The song has a lot of imagery of earth, shore, water, etc. I will think about those things as I sing it from now on and I will enjoy it more than I ever have.

"Oh, No!", possibly my favorite GUH song of all time, was said to be about "cleaning out your brain". I like that. In a way, that's how the song was constructed. Karl had a bunch of ideas for songs. They were not necessarily connected to one another. We ended up putting them together to make one Uber-song. (Perhaps I suggested they would fit together? It was more than ten years ago and I don't quite remember.) We worked out the transitions, the form, new words for some verses, and practiced it over and over and over. It is a very tricky song to play. I added the introduction - the a minor-C Major-D Major-G Major riff that also appears in Crayon Pictures and I'm Dead. I first started playing that riff while playing the Rolling Stones' song Wild Horses, which I was playing a lot right around then.

I improvised a song called "I Hate A Parade" about being stuck in traffic while the stupid Holidazzle Parade sponsored by stupid bank TCF went by in front of me. I was late to the show and we got a bit of a late start and I felt kind of stressed out at first. This song was good and I tried to recreate it after I got home. It worked okay but is not quite as good as the original improvisation. I'll keep trying. Sometimes that initial improvisation can never be matched. "Everything Makes Me Sad" and "Cold Feet" are two songs I tried developing from their initial improvised version and they just couldn't be improved upon, or even really effectively replayed ever again. Thankfully, I taped those performances.

We also did a "new song showcase" featuring two songs whose titles have four syllables and rhyme with each other. My "I Came To Play" met Karl's "Air Mandalay". Good stuff. Thanks to our good people who came out to see us and hang out and be cool and donate toys. It really means a lot to us and we're glad you're there. And thanks especially to those who brought toys to donate. We'll see you at Tuesday's show!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Absolute: Episode 2: Album of the Decade

I have decided to expand the thing introduced in yesterday's post. Instead of Five Greatest, it will now be called Absolute. For the next debate, I will name the Album of the Decade for this decade, the two thousand zeroes. It is:

How I Came To Cry These Tears of Cool by Colin Spring

For more information on this album, click here. Debate.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Five Greatest

Why does everyplace I use on the internet want me to change the way I work with them? "Try yahoo mail beta!" "Try new Blogger Beta!" NO. I want it to stay the same. Oh well.

Anyway, here's my idea. I will occasionally post the five greatest something then invite debate. This is episode 1 of this new feature.

The Five Greatest Male Lead Actors in Television History

5. Bruce Willis, David Addison, Moonlighting
4. Patrick Stewart, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation
3. David Duchovny, Agent Fox Mulder, The X-Files
2. David Boreanaz, Angel, Angel
1. William Shatner, Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek

You may suggest corrections to this list as well as suggesting new lists. Thank you. Begin the debate.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Tonight's Great Uncle Helmer show at the Freighthouse Dunn Bros. Coffee in Minneapolis was really fun and strange. Among other things, it contained the longest, silliest version of "Kansas City, Nebraska" ever. Karl sneezed right at a break in the verses and everyone cracked up. The song completely stopped. He said he always thought that the unavoidable sneeze was merely a convention of poorly plotted suspense fiction but that now he is a believer.

Then, instead of hacking apart another terrible bass solo over those slippery chords, I tried to tell a joke that required Karl to remember a single line. He did not remember it from the hour and a half before when I had told him it. This forgetting did not in any way detract from the joke.

Finally, the last part of the song was expanded with several good improvised rhymes about the mysterious woman while I insisted over and over that "it's just me". Sounds long and silly, doesn't it. Well believe me it was.

As promised, we also gave the "speaking in tongues" feature its Twin Cities debut and it was a huge success. Karl and I felt very impressed and edified by some of our favorite listeners' interpretations of our songs. Here are the ones I can remember (I just got home):

Zo Bid (click titles for lyrics)
A frequent listener suggested that "Zobid" was the name of a prescription drug and that the person in the song may have run out of their prescription. I love this interpretation, in that it accepts the words of the chorus (and title) as they are rather than shifting them mentally to their near equivalents in the English language, as I realize now I have been needlessly doing.

Rio Grande
Another frequent listener suggested this song was about "differentiating from your family of origin" an interpretation I immediately called "exactly right". I was challenged on this because I had said there were no wrong answers, so I clarified and said there were "right" and "exactly right" answers.

Bass Guitar
A previously total stranger suggested this song was a close cousin of "I'm A Little Teapot". This fascinates me and I will have to listen to it more, or maybe read over the lyrics again. A more frequent listener with the advantage of having heard the song several times suggested it was about a father's love for his child. These are all good readings of the song.

Introducing the Door
This song was said to be about wanting someone to leave and also about spiritual growth. I agree with both. I would add only that it is Karl's greatest "mystery" song and that no interpretation is complete.

There was another song that was said to be about baseball, but I can't remember which one. After that interpretation, we played "Ron Cey", which needs very little interpretation and is indeed one of our more overt songs and is definitively about baseball, marriage, and the passage of time.

I know there were more and if anyone who was there remembers them, please put them in comments on this blog entry and I will publish them. I am sleepy now and having trouble remembering. Thank you and thanks to all who attended this very fun, strange show.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Karl and I had a fun show in New Richmond, Wisconsin tonight.

Our idea was two high energy sets of our fastest, catchiest, most accessible songs. This was modeled after our polished and well received set at the Bryant Lake Bowl last April. Well, the people who come out on a Wednesday night in New Richmond, Wisconsin are maybe not exactly the same folks who come to Bryant Lake Bowl at 11 p.m. on a Thursday in April. We felt like we were a little too loud and high energy by the end of the first set.

We ended up emphasizing slower more "folk" like material. This is fine. I like that material at least as much as the fast material. Also, I guess we were guessing somewhat because we couldn't see the crowd or their reaction for the bright lights shining on us. (Incidentally, I counted the lights (not out loud, just in my head) during the break in "Starguise" "I can't see the moon...3,6,9,12,13, ooh 13!...but my rocket charts should be here pretty soon".)

Basically, we played a good show in a very nice venue, The Old Gem Theater. There were not all that many people there, maybe 15 or 20 at the high point. But we moved four or five CDs and Karl and I played very well together. Actually, from a musical standpoint, I felt like we played very, very well. I would even say we gave definitive readings of the following songs:

(Today I Don't Mind Livin' In A) Small Town
Road Movie to Berlin
Car of Jonas
I in the Sky
Bass Guitar
Introducing the Door
Buffalo Bill's Grave

Tonight also marked the grand debut of the new GUH innovation, "speaking in tongues". In other words, we acknowledge that some of our songs are confusing, mysterious, and obscure. In tonight's feature, we asked audience members to interpret our bizarre words and tell everyone what they felt a given song meant. Tonight's selection was "Bass Guitar". The audience member who responded said it was about a "bass guitar". So true.

And yet, somewhat incomplete and non definitive. Perhaps next time we will choose a different song for this feature. But make no mistake, it will become a regular feature of GUH shows. Prepare if you wish, although we are aiming for pentecostal church style inspired interpretations that just hit you like a lightning bolt.

Xanadu was interesting. I sang very, very quietly, letting the microphone do the work, and came a little bit closer to getting the harmony part correct. Only very rarely have I been satisfied with my part on that live. Maybe one or two times. I was not happy with tonight's either, but I came closer to something I think I could really settle in to. Is that weird for a song I've sung for twelve years?

Buffalo Bill's Grave had tremendous dynamic range. On the quiet, slow sections I flat picked individual strings for the first time instead of strumming. This is something I will do from now on as the dynamics of the guitar part then match the variable tempo.

Inkwell felt really great tonight too. It really flowed and I felt like I sang it gently and had a little bit of my young voice back that is audible on the studio version from winter 1995. Karl was really on tonight as well, on this song and on everything else.

Thank you to Kathy and Rick at the Old Gem, the town of New Richmond and the Wednesday night music series, and especially everyone who came out to see us. We hope you enjoy the CDs you bought.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Saturday, September 16: Joy to the World

I headed out to Karl's on Saturday morning knowing that I wanted to record a traditional Christmas song for the Toys for Tots program that Justin is organizing. I knew I wanted to do the one where the men stop singing, the women sing, then the men answer them. I just couldn't remember what song that was. Karl and I were going to go out and try to find an LBW (Lutheran Book of Worship) so I could solve this mystery. When I got to his place, there was one on his bookshelf already.

I looked through the book and found out the song I wanted was "Joy to the World". I had no idea how we would arrange it for Great Uncle Helmer. I thought maybe we could do four vastly different verses, recorded separately then spliced together. The first arrangement we decided to record was sort of a reggae thing. I played bass and Karl played the melody on trombone. We did several live takes working out parts. Finally we played through four verses and were happy with all four. I was still thinking we would only use one of the verses. But then we kind of decided maybe not.

Karl wanted to do another trombone part and I wanted to do a snare drum part. We decided to record these live at the same time. This took a few takes until we got one that I was thrilled with. Although Karl was not very happy with his harmony trombone performance, I really wanted to keep that take and told him, "I said everything I could possibly say on the snare drum with that take! I think your second trombone sounds great." So we kept it.

As we were listening back to it, Karl thought we should sing a little bit of "Angels We Have Heard On High" between a couple of the verses where there was some extra (accidental) time. We did two voices live, then I wanted to do a third part, so Karl also sang and doubled his original vocal up an octave, sliding down at the end to a funky little minor seventh. We had had a pretty fun vibe going already and now we were really cracking up.

The bass had slipped in to a heavy, non diatonic, chromatic quarter note riff during verse four. This was something Andy Honigman and I had started up at various times during Jubilant Dogs and Honigman rehearsals. Karl and I decided to stomp on the floor to go along with this. We tried a couple of different ways of miking it, but pointing the mike directly at our feet, then turning up the bass frequencies and adding a little reverb worked best. Karl also added a little bit of tambourine to verses two and three.

Karl added his banjo ukelele that was a gift from his bride. Initially this instrument was so badly out of tune that I only wanted it on verse two and only very percussively. But we accidentally activated the wrong microphone while recording it. We used the mike that was pointing at the floor where we had stomped. The ukelele sounded very far away and not as noticeably out of tune. It made us laugh and we left it in for three verses.

We wanted to have a sort of wheezing sound like in They Might Be Giants' song "They Might Be Giants". Karl got an ocarina and I got a party noisemaker from his case of weird instruments. We briefly considered a rainbow colored hooter, but it was diatonic and in D flat. We were in D. The ocarina and noisemaker we put only on verse four, which had taken on a parade like quality.

Finally, I said I wanted to do an Elvis like recitation. I love Elvis' songs where he talks ("Are You Lonesome Tonight", "Are You Sincere", "Hurt", and, most like this project, "America The Beautiful") and I wanted to try to capture that same sincere, heartfelt speech. I was glad Karl went along with it. I really felt the meaning of the words as I was saying them and tried to phrase them in a way that conveyed something important and true.

As I recorded it, the juxtaposition of the heartfelt recitation and the completely goofy background music became increasingly amusing. Karl was laughing so hard he was almost crying. He was trying not to make any sound and I could see his shoulders shaking as he was hunched over with his face in his hands. Finally during the fourth verse, only two lines from the end, I lost it as well. We did a punch in where I spoke only the last couple of lines and we were done. We had our traditional christmas song that was also a completely creative thing that only Karl and I could have done. It's both one hundred percent public domain traditional Christmas song and one hundred percent Great Uncle Helmer.

The Show

We played a show that night at a new place, Goochy Noochy's in St. Croix Falls. It was great. They have a PA there, so all we brought were mikes and instruments. It wasn't as big of a room as the Freighthouse Dunn Bros., but it was a much better arrangement with a real stage, nice tables and chairs, and a real back room where people who don't care about the music can get the hell out of our sight. A few people told me they really liked the part where I strolled around the room and even went out the front door briefly during "Shadowy Figure". I don't sing on that song and the guitars weren't plugged in, so it was a natural thing for me to do.

We went back to Karl's house and had some popcorn and beer and watched Arrested Development until I was falling asleep.


The next morning we started on another Christmas recording, not for the Toys for Tots thing but maybe for a GUH holiday CD. Karl really wanted to do "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and I have always liked that song as well. He recorded a brilliant one take fingerpicked nylon string guitar backing. Karl's fingerpicking is not like anyone else's I have ever heard and I love it on this tune. (And on "Tall As The Mountains", "It's All Too Clear", etc...)

I had a very low, resonant voice from staying up late the night before and the night before that (reading a very moving and captivating book, Winning With A Bad Hand by Mary Christopherson - I couldn't put it down.) So I recorded all five verses in the LBW, leaving one verse for an instrumental.

Then I recorded a low humming during the instrumental with the idea that we would add three parts above it. It took me about twenty minutes to write the other three parts, using my voice leading rules I memorized and practiced over and over at St. Olaf. There were parts where I heard a lot of movement and parts where I just heard block chords, so that's what I did. Then I recorded the other three parts, doubling only the "soprano" where my voice was a little thin.

I am really happy with where that recording is at right now, and it might only need a violin on the instrumental verse and maybe as an obligato on verse five. We'll see if Karl gets any good ideas about it. It is as normal as our "Joy to the World" is unusual, which was our intention all along. Or maybe it just became our intention after it happened. Yeah, I think that's it.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Questions And Comments From Readers

I here at memphisevans got a surprisingly insistent, almost hostile denial response when I accused myself of a possible lack of professionalism. Read the comments from Chazz Vader on the previous post if you have not already.

Without using inflammatory, loaded, and value judgment types of terms such as "professional", "tight", or "smooth" I will try to explain more concretely some habits that I sometimes feel derail a typical show I might play:

-Long moments where the performers stare at the disordered set list in ten point type on the floor at their feet for 30 seconds or more, killing any momentum.

-Songs utterly destroyed by instruments that are dramatically out of tune with themselves or one another.

These are really the only things I can think of right now that I would completely eliminate. Other things that are questionable, but sometimes acceptable or even enjoyable would include:

-Blown chords and lyrics where other chords or lyrics are substituted on the spur of the moment.

-Playing songs we do not know (see also previous bullet point).

Things I enjoy and have no intention of getting rid of are:

-Leaving room for improvisation, whether it is a)a part of undefined length or melody in the middle of a song, b)playing a different song from the one on the set list, or c)completely making up a song on the spur of the moment.

-Responding to questions, requests, and general crowd mood

And speaking of questions, let's reply to some of the specific questions raised by Chazz:

CV: Isn't the point to be entertaining?

ME: Yes. But there are so many different ways to be entertaining. I certainly do not want to play things the same way a brazillian times or try to sound just like a given recording. But I want people who have never heard me before to be drawn in by something they can possibly begin to understand and feel they are a part of.

CV: What if, during Cowtown, you break a string. Does the list change? Does that event decrease your percieved "professionalism"?

ME: Yes, the list would change. What I think would be utterly, totally "professional" would be to have a backup guitar handed to me by a roadie during the song so that it would hardly be noticeable that I had broken a string. This is an area where economics has an impact on a band. I am not willing to purchase and bring an extra guitar to shows. I am not willing to pay a roadie or guitar tech. As it is, in a GUH show, Karl would do a tune or two by himself and I would go to a different room and change my string.

CV: Some of my favorite shows have been due to some strange, unexpected event that happens during the show. I don't consider this less "professional".

ME: This is very true. I like unique and strange events and value their ability to help create a unique and strange show, never to be repeated. That is always special. Honigman's "Nuclear War" at The Hall in Milltown WI occurs to me in this regard.

Lilpudn writes: Looked at the playlist for Saturday and was amazed at how many songs you do in a 2 hour show. It doesn't seem like that many.

ME: Actually, that may be a little over ambitious on my part. We will probably not get through that many songs. But we will have a possible roadmap we can either jump off from if we feel like it or completely rely on and stick to if we want to.

Thanks for the thoughtful, passionate comments on shows. I appreciate your interest and look forward to tonight's show. I have added a special "relentless melancholy" set pending Karl's approval. We'll see what we do when we do it.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Another Fun Show with Justin

Had a fun show at Grand Ave. Dunn Bros. with Justin last night. Inspired by a misspelling on the set list, I went by the new name of Blue Bassa during the show.

It was about what I expected - more polished because we rehearsed but at the same time some of the immediate thrill of reconnecting with old songs I haven't played in years is wearing off. "Heart Shaped Things" and "Bittersweet Love Song" bored me a little, but not so much that I wouldn't want to play them. And I'm also realizing that several of those old songs, most notably "Hourglass" last night, are very high quality even without any nostalgia factor.

Plus there were, as always, a lot of really fun spontaneous musical moments playing with Justin, who's the best other technical guitarist I have ever played with on a regular basis.

Politics a Hit!

The blog on Pawlenty's speech got the most comments of any of the 37 blog entries thus far. I can see why bloggers write about politics. Such attention! Nevertheless, I think most of my writing about it would be boring and pedantic and so will leave it to those who don't care that they are boring and pedantic.

Preview the Saturday GUH Show

I have decided to release the set list for Saturday, July 1st's 7:30 p.m. Great Uncle Helmer show at the Freighthouse Dunn Bros. three days ahead of time. Check it out here.

My goal is to have the show go a little more smoothly and professionally than our Anodyne show last week. Not that it wasn't good and fun, but I would like to see if we can run a two hour show that is as tight and engaging as our 45 minute Bryant Lake Bowl set last April.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

I had a really good time playing a show at Anodyne Coffee House with Karl last night. (reconstructed set list) It was a strange show. We made a lot of jokes. Karl made a joke about someone walking by, not hearing the Eagles, and walking right past, so I played Desperado. Karl and I used to play that song years ago and I was stunned to hear myself recall all the words perfectly. I sang it in a somewhat "jokey" but not unpleasant and strangely powerful feeling voice. It is the voice I would use if I were in musical theater without microphones.

I was not very surprised to find myself blowing the words disastrously on Foreign Movie and California. Foreign Movie is always a gamble, since I don't rehearse it, it's never been a regular part of our set, and C) it's a very different texture than most of our songs. There is no supportive strumming. It's just a lead guitar riff I sing words to. Karl plays some nice harmonica blues to fill it out. We should emphasize it more in our sets as I really like it. It also worked well as an intro to California, which I am a little sick of and should maybe retire for a while unless it is requested.

We also played "Synthesis" which was fun but very silly, as always. I did a new Metallica-like guitar riff for it instead of trying to play anything like the parts on the 1993 tape. That was good. I wonder if Karl ever wishes I would play the same, reliable thing every time on a given song. Probably not. (Speaking of which, last night I even diverged from the preset solo on "Rio Grande" when it was noted I had not used my whammy bar on my electric guitar. I then did extreme whammy overkill.)

We also improvised a song called "It's All Your Fault". All I can remember is that it was in Bb, capoed fret 3 for Karl, on bass for me, and the chords were Bb, F, cm, Bb, then a descending bassline thing. I hope Karl can remember the rest of it, as he sang the words and melody. It was pretty good.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if Karl and I meticulously mapped out and rehearsed a flowing, smooth, professional two hour set of our best songs and cut out the jokes, requests, and mistakes. We sort of did that at a 45 minute set at Bryant Lake Bowl a few months ago. It was a real stage, theater, and good PA with a sound engineer. It was a world of difference from our usual shows.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy it tremendously either way and I think we are good at playing an appropriate show for a given room, crowd, etc. We've planned out long shows before and it's not that much more effective for the coffeehouse scene than just having a list of songs up there with us. I don't think. Maybe it is. Which leads me to another thing I would like to be able to do, which is to experience a GUH show as an audience member experiences it. Any thoughts on this, regular GUH show attendees? Comment below if you wish.

We ended with "Inkwell" which I really like. That song was the reason I felt like I needed to make a really good recording of our repertoire. That became the old man will travel CD. Karl sort of "ba-ba"'d some horn parts during some of the final lines of verses last night and I thought, "Yeah! That would be cool!" I am almost never satisfied with any recordings I've made and now I wish that "Inkwell" had those cool mellow horn parts during some of the verses. They would make the connection to '70s mellow rock so tremendously overt. Maybe a little Hal Blaine or Karen Carpenter drum part. Yeah. The horn part would resemble the horn part on my solo recording "Milestone Motel (The Weird Thing Was The Rain)". Maybe when we sell out of the first printing of omwt (about 50 left from the original 471 from January 1997) we'll remix some of the tunes for the second printing.

The other thing about Inkwell is what a totally joint composition it is. I tried improvising with a lot of different people in 1992-1994 (my last couple years of college) and coming up with stuff where it was "I say something, you react, I react, you react, etc." and "Inkwell" is by far the most fully and perfectly realized result of that ideal.

Don't forget to comment on the GUH performance issues raised above if you wish. Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 09, 2006

So I understand blogs are supposed to have a political component. Here is a quote from our governor taken from his speech accepting his party's endorsement.

"Now I know I may not be in some of your wildest dreams but I can tell you what your worst nightmare is," Pawlenty told delegates at his party's state convention. "It's one of the big spendin', tax raisin', abortion promotin', gay marriage embracin', more-welfare-without-accountability lovin', school-reform resistin', illegal-immigration supportin' Democrats for governor who think Hillary Clinton should be president of the United States."

To me this sounds like (very) thinly veiled hatred. At the very least it suggests and exploits resentment and bigotry towards gays, immigrants, and the poor. Am I wrong? How is that statement supposed to be interpreted?

Now yes, I hate paying taxes. I give plenty of money to charities that reflect my values, partly in an effort to reduce the amount of my money going to the government, since they generally waste it on foolish endeavors. (Iraq anyone?) But I don't think putting the hurt on hard working Mexicans, needy families, and gays who just want to have legal love is the answer. I don't see why that's even a priority.

While I would never have voted for the governor, I had heard him speak on the radio and thought he was a reasonable person. I did not think he was one of these hateful, pandering idiots. It appears I was wrong.

There. Now my blog has a political component. Enjoy. What do YOU think?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Memphis Earns, Writes Rave Review of Self, Friend

Awesome show with Justin at the Grand Ave Dunn Bros. Coffee. Really nice crowd, including several friends and family. Played some requests for originals which is always nice. Good people working there gave me a free sandwich and coffee. I feel so blessed to have so many good friends who are also great musicians. Who else would get to play such fun back to back shows with Kaptain Karl and J. Bell in the same week? Maybe BPZMAG I suppose. Thanks Justin for inviting me and thanks everyone who came and enjoyed it.

We revisited a lot of the Urban Rust material and it was really fun to look back and play that stuff again. I was playing bass like I did in that band and I really missed Ben hitting the kick drum beats with me. We played Hourglass last and it was really cool how much meaning that song took on.

We played some of the best of Justin's more recent stuff like "If I Had My Way", some of which I've never played on or have only played second guitar on. I was reminded of Art Garfunkel talking about the 1981 Central Park reunion show with Paul Simon. He said he was excited to sing stuff like "American Tune" and "Slip Slidin' Away" which Simon had written and released years after they originally broke up.

Possibly complete set list from tonight (as best as I remember it) is here. Other highlights were a long, long "Dream I Had Last Night" which incorporated and, by the final verse, completely fused with the Doc's Kids song "Alison's Quiche". We traded some lead vocals - I enjoyed singing "Melody Dances" and it was cool that Justin knew all the words to "Bittersweet Love Song" and seemed to have more fun singing it than I might have. It completely cracked me up when we were playing "Nothing At All" and I realized Justin's lyrics sheet had been printed out directly from the part of my website dedicated to Urban Rust, complete with web address at the top of the page and underlined purple links at the bottom.

At the beginning during my solo set I was somewhat nervous and I felt a little shaky, but I was proud to debut my solo guitar fingerpicking arrangement of Paul Simon's "The Obvious Child" and my own brand new song written this month "Big Day Tomorrow" (lyrics). I played "Echo Some Tune" (lyrics) for the second time in public and ended with the GUH favorite "Chimney", which sounded weird and lacked for Karl but my background verse about "my plan for loving Tam" was brought out somewhat. Not that that is necessary or even necessarily beneficial.

As if it wasn't enough to reunite with a great musician and play a great set of nostalgic, heartfelt music to appreciative friends and some new fans (I even got rid of 4 Urban Rust CDs, or 1 percent of the total supply in my basement), when I got out to my car I heard the last out of a rain delayed Twins victory over Kansas City, Joe Nathan making his third save in as many tries in a 2-1 victory.

And as if THAT weren't enough, when I got home and was loading my gear back in to my basement's resting-gear-keepin'-spot I noticed a water bottle I thought I'd lost at the GUH show in February. Turns out it was wedged in a dark place between my speakers and my power amp/mixer. A water bottle not such a huge deal, you say? This water bottle was a gift from my wife and was meant to show her support of me. It is purple and sporty and sentimental and I had been feeling very sad thinking that I lost it. What a sweet night.

In summary, I had a blast and sincerely wish to do it again. If you have not heard Justin you should check him out here and if you are reading this blog and do not have Urban Rust's 1999 "Leave This Place" CD, e-mail me at my website with your mailing address with the subject line "Leave This Place" and I will send you one at no cost to you. J. Bell you rule. Thanks man.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Two Cool Websites

Another great GUH show last night at the Freight House Dunn Bros. in Minneapolis. Thanks to all who came. Show is documented here. But that's not necessarily what we're here to talk about.

Two websites recently came to my attention. The first is a must see for all nerds such as myself. It is Ten Ways To Destroy The Earth.

The second is The Truck Driver's Gear Change Hall of Shame. This site has nothing to do with trucking. Rather, it makes affectionate fun of musical artists who have nothing more to offer with a given song and so simply change keys at the end for no particularly good reason.

Personally, I like the gear change. I have consciously inserted it in at least two original songs, "Maybe" (from GUH's Synthesis tape) and "We'll Go On Forever". "Forever" is a joke love song that exists primarily to modulate up a whole step 6 times until finally the chorus is being screeched out an octave above its original home. A song which, with the benefit of hindsight, GUH should not have played at an actual wedding reception.

They have missed a famous one that occurred to me immediately - "The Letter" by the Box Tops. There is no foreshadowing of the rather sudden, if well executed, move to D flat from C. This is painfully obvious during the Great Uncle Helmer version of this song as the chords become barred instead of open and the sound changes with substantially less panache than on the 1967 hit single.

Also, "Free Again" by Alex Chilton has a pretty obvious heavy handed gear shift, although it's up a fourth, not a half step.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Great Uncle Helmer Seventh Album Progress Report

Today's GUH recording sessions went very well. We started with "Bass Guitar". I recorded acoustic guitar and a vocal, playing both at once. The first take was plenty good. Then we set up for live recording of both vocals with acoustic guitar and moved on to "The Longest Conversation". After the first take was disrupted by severe coughing the second take was not very good and stopped almost immediately. The third take, however, was good. We listened back to it and were cracking ourselves up.

We pressed on, trying and succeeding in remembering the words and structure to "Army Issue Eggplant Eyes", a high quality song it had always bugged me we hadn't recorded yet. With only a small vocal overdub at the bridge section, the live recording of guitar and two vocals is very enjoyable and will likely be "the take".

After this success, we considered the astonishingly old yet high quality and never recorded originals "Boots", "River Sticks", and "Michaelangelo" but ultimately went with the more recent Kaptain Karl composition "Car of Jonas", which we could easily remember all of without any time consuming research into the archives. I recorded acoustic guitar while Karl sang his lead vocal. The second complete take was good. We considered breaking for lunch, but decided against it, as things were going extremely well. We had done basic tracks for four songs in about two hours. We were quickly agreeing to each others' arrangement suggestions and tightening up certain things but leaving the overall vibe very spontaneous and loose.

I overdubbed my brief vocal to "Car of Jonas" then I put bass on "Car" and "Conversation". "Car"'s bass makes it sound somewhat like Evan Johnson's "Moments, Days, and Ages", on which I also played bass. I wasn't sure if bass would work on "Conversation", but I tried it and we both liked it, although it's just augmentation and reinforcement of the acoustic guitar, not flashy melodic stuff. I don't think bass is appropriate or necessary for "Army Issue", although some light percussion and possibly a shimmering, chorusy electric guitar may be added later. That song had some of the improvisational acoustic guitar/harmonica interplay I enjoyed creating on the old man will travel album.

Finally, we went back to "Bass Guitar" (for which Karl is going to create and record a bass part on his own) and finished the lead vocals and arranged some backing vocals. We sang backup on each others' verses. It was pretty sweet and we had a lot of fun and laughs.

Add to this the tracks I've started at my studio over the last few years - "Cricket", "Iceland (Reykjavik Revels)", and "The Sequel To Behind The Curtain (Now That I Know (What's Back There))" to name three, and we've got the beginnings of a pretty decent GUH CD of all original material. I am going to lobby for inclusion of "Introducing the Door" and "Stop, Drop, and Roll", but that may be a tough sell, as I think Karl thinks of those as Karl solo songs. Maybe, like "The Children", they could appear on GUH and KK CDs. Or maybe I can just play backup on the versions that go on his CDs. Yeah, that might be better.

At any rate, a super day and one of our most successful ever in a recording studio. I think the next disc will be a combination of the polish of Generic Mayhem and the spontanaeity and improvisational room that made old man will travel special.

A)Possible titles for the album include, but are not limited to:


B)Confused by the headline? I'll break it down for you:
1. Synthesis - originally released in 1993 on cassette only. Digital remixing and remastering awaiting retrieval by the band of original 1/2 inch reel to reel four track session tape of "Smilin' Joe" from Scot Ninnemann's mom's basement.
2. Anybody Seen My Wallet? - abandoned cassette four track recordings. Technical problems assure material not likely to be heard in this form. Most but not all of the tracks were rerecorded later and better on...
3. old man will travel - released on CD and cassette
4. Generic Mayhem - CD only
5. Generic Mayhem Live - signed, numbered limited edition promotional CD given away with the first 20 copies of #4.
6. Fall - currently held up by difficulty (and some laziness and cheapness) obtaining rights to release cover songs.
7. The new one documented above.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

On a trip recently, we passed a sign for a town in Iowa called "Swaledale". I told my friend they should start a brewery there. When she asked why I said so they could brew

Swaledale Pale Ale

Then I thought how awful it would be if that particular brew went bad. You would have

Stale Swaledale Pale Ale

And what if the reason the brew had gone bad was that the U.S. Postal Service had taken too long getting it to its destination? Then you would have

Snail Mail Stale Swaledale Pale Ale

But what if you had a great story about serving it one time only to find out it had gone bad? Then you would have a

Snail Mail Stale Swaledale Pale Ale Tale

And what if a musician heard your story and was inspired to create a boisterous song? Then you would have a

Snail Mail Stale Swaledale Pale Ale Tale Wail

It would be sad if the musician was playing a show and that song didn't go over well, because you would hate to see the

Snail Mail Stale Swaledale Pale Ale Tale Wail Fail

Although it would all be worth it if the musician left music and started a business with trains and train tracks and made a ton of money running the company that would of course be named after the incident that caused him to switch careers, which is to say the company would be called the

Snail Mail Stale Swaledale Pale Ale Tale Wail Fail Rail

Then years later the historic "golden spike" that was the last component of the main line of the main train would be in a museum labeled as the

Snail Mail Stale Swaledale Pale Ale Tale Wail Fail Rail Nail

Feel free to continue this nonsense in the comments if you dare.

Friday, March 17, 2006


I was going to the library to return some books and get some new ones. I put on 89.3 the Current, which I almost always enjoy. Its only real competition is 88.5 Jazz 88. The Current was playing Neil Young's electric version of "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)". The electrics were spitting and snarling with the heaviest guitar sound ever recorded. I've always loved that song and I hadn't heard it in a long time. He sang

It's out of the blue and into the black
They give you this, but you pay for that
And once you're gone you can never come back
When you're out of the blue, and into the black

A long time ago on a beach in Ohio I was sitting with my sister looking at the lake. We had been silent for a while and she asked me what I was thinking. It was shortly after "Freedom" had come out and Neil Young was popular and in vogue again. I said I had been thinking that if I bought some Neil Young and listened to it I bet I would really like it. My sister thought that was very funny and indeed it was. With great affection and appreciation, she said, "That's really what goes on in your mind, isn't it? You were just sitting there, looking at the sand and the water and the sky and you were thinking, 'I bet I would really like Neil Young's music if I bought some of his albums.' That's great." We laughed because it's true.

As I drove on, Neil Young sang

"The King is gone, but he's not forgotten."

I thought about Elvis and how much his music has meant to me. I thought about all the songs I've played that are either about or inspired by Elvis. "Dream I Had Last Night", "California" and Karl's trilogy of songs. I thought about that time long ago on a beach. I thought about all the music I've made that I'm often tempted to just give up on. I sometimes see no reason to do anything but let it rot in the basement. Sometimes it just feels like a nuisiance to even be a musician. Nothing else makes me as happy as being a musician. I often wish I was happy being something that made money, helped my family, and made sense instead of something that requires money, takes time away from my family, and occupies my mind with senselessness.

I drove by a church. The church often has a funny saying on its lit up sign rising out of the ground by the road. I thought about Elvis. On the radio Neil Young again sang "The King is gone, but he's not forgotten" The sign on the church said

GUH Fall CD Progress Report

I am trying to find out how to obtain licenses to legitimately release the cover songs on our CD. I've looked at

1. I think four of the tunes are licensed from there and it had publisher contact information on four of the songs.

2. Representatives of Lou Reed, TMBG, R.E.M., Billy Bragg. Site was fairly useless, except for its link to...

3. All but Sweet Child are represented by the harry fox agency and we can obtain mechanical licenses in 24 hours online. Here's the catch - they only do licenses for 500-2500 copies of CDs. We can get the right to print (up to) 500 CDs for $400, not including Sweet Child. We are likely only going to print 50 or so, as we are not technically a terribly "popular" music group.

I'm thinking that even though it will take longer I will try to get conact information for the songs' individual publishers and write, call, or e-mail them explaining the situation. I have addresses or phone #s for four of them already. I am hopeful that process will not take a terribly long time and may result in some or all of them saying, "just go ahead." or "just send us a check for 15 bucks." So that's where that's at.

I didn't go to Memphis South, our graphics preparation haven, because of the snow today, so no further artwork progress. I'm going to take a picture of the rock garden where the heads were, which is now 2 feet deep in snow. I will now call the photo series "Apr├Ęs L'Automne, L'Hiver". Assuming we go with a clear tray, there will be a very generous 6 (six) high quality artistic photos included with the disc at no extra charge. I will also be previewing these on the web at the earliest opportunity.

It's after midnight now and I'm too tired to continue. Inspired by Chazz Vader's blog, I was going to put up a bunch of stuff about setting goals, finishing this CD and thinking about other future CDs, promotion, promotion of songs, etc. But it's simply too late. This is an interesting quest, as production of a CD always seems to be. One of these years perhaps I will get the whole process down to a science and release like ten CDs all in the space of a few months. That would be sweet. The music is all there and mostly even good!

p.s. Recording on Great Uncle Helmer's next original music CD will continue at Mandimae in Deer Park on April 1 with the latest composition from the band, Bass Guitar, being the only currently targeted composition. Now I have actually fallen asleep and am only typing with general momentum. Zzzzzzz...

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Fall (GUH Covers CD) Update

Good news. I got a very professional looking "p in a circle" font from this British guy. It has 26 ps in a circle for matching several fonts. I sent him $5 for "drinking money" and lo and behold it was legit. If only a bar code series was so cheap.

One more visit to the Memphis Evans graphics wizard and we will have finished the artwork. The ceramic and paper maiche heads are dazed but unharmed after being
1. placed in a bed of leaves and given "headstones" (pun intended - back of booklet),
2. camouflaged in a rock garden (inner booklet spread) and
3. cuddling up to whisper secrets to one another in a fallen tree trunk (front (wide angle) and back (close up) covers).

I have put "call Brad Cassetto" (the guy who mastered Generic Mayhem) on the refrigerator whiteboard and in the "home love opportunities" binder, which means it will likely get done, possibly as early as today or tomorrow. I have located the necessary Karl Kreated Data CD dated 12/11/04 featuring the 24 bit stereo masters for the 8 songs. These represent our second and, I hope, final round of mixing.

Depending on Brad's schedule, the April 21 show has a small outside chance at being a CD release party. Assuming, of course that I get the finished master, listen to it at home, and fall immediately in love with it, which always happens. Ha, ha. Is all this activity happening because I happen to have had two caffeinated drinks every day for the last three days?

It makes perfect, perverse sense to me that the photos for a Great Uncle Helmer CD entitled "Fall" should be taken on a sunny morning in the middle of March using washed out leaves that have been through the freeze and thaw cycle several times. Thank goodness my wife had a tremendous pile of them covering her garden.

If you are confused and did not realize that Great Uncle Helmer had recorded a covers CD, you can get the back story for this episode of the Memphis blog right here. That currently extremely minimal site will be updated this week as much as baby naps allow. I would like for it to eventually include the following:
1. An essay and/or fake interviews about the CD by me and another by Karl, probably about what the songs mean to us, how we came to learn them, etc.
2. Complete information about the songs' original authors/performers
3. Information on obtaining the right to release someone else's songs on a CD similar to the information we provided in lieu of lyrics for I in the Sky from Generic Mayhem.
4. A link to purchasing information (once the CD is done).

Fascinating p.s.: When I spell checked this document using blogger's own spell checker, it did not recognize the word "blog".

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Post Oscar Haze

I really liked Syriana and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which were about the only two movies I saw in the theater last year. Obviously I went to them for vastly different reasons and had different expectations and both exceeded my expectations. I think the academy could definitely loosen up and reconnect with more popular, fun, humorous movies. Either that or they should just be up front and change the award name to "Best Dramatic Picture" or even "Best Dramatic Unpopular Picture".

Crash I saw kind of by accident on DVD and wasn't expecting much, but it was quite good. Best picutre? Maybe, but I didn't see enough of them to know. Didn't see "Brokeback" and was never interested. My wife asked me why not. I asked my wife if she would be interested if it were two women. She said no, probably not. I am glad a "gay themed" story got so much attention and I will be so much more proud of our country when gay people are allowed to marry each other. However, I don't like the lead actors that much and I don't really want to see them make out.

Movies are not nearly so important as they were a few years ago and my expectations for a theater experience are extremely low. I avioded seeing "Match Point" in the theater because I like Woody Allen and Scarlet Johanssen so much I would hate for the movie to be ruined by some losers. "Gosford Park" and "The Two Towers" both were completely ruined for me by idiotic discussion and laughter happening around me. But "Match Point" is already in my netflix queue.

The last truly great, magical, communal theater experiences I had were "About Schmidt" at the Uptown and "Vanilla Sky" at Grandview. What was that, five years ago? I've given up on it.

As far as "deserving" awards goes, John Stewart (who I thought was a great host) summarized the Oscars (and all the other "major" awards) when he said, "Martin Scorcese, zero oscars, 3-6 Mafia, one". The "deserving" are not rewarded. Take the grammys (please!) and Elvis. Elvis won two grammys - both for the song "How Great Thou Art". Elvis in the 1950s? Bob Dylan in the 1960s? Zero grammys. Indefinsible.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Meme Part II: Seven Other Gangs of Four
Warning: certain Meme sections resulted in bonus tracks of thought (btot) listed separately.

Four movies I can watch over and over
1. Garden State. I haven't tested this theory, but when I saw it in the theater I really enjoyed it and it just seemed so mellow and it struck me that it would be a movie one could watch over and over.
2. Star Wars. duh.
3. The Empire Strikes Back. see (2.)
4. The Usual Suspects. The complexity and twists of the plots and characters make this a movie I had to see at least twice.

btot: If you said "What about Return of the Jedi" I say to you "I hear you and accept you, but it's just not that good, especially the DVD version with the alterations that give new meaning to the word 'craptastic', which word had a pretty clear meaning to begin with."

If you said "What about 1999-2005 Star Wars trilogy?" I say to you "Jar Jar step in Poo Poo!"

I also want to mention Python's Holy Grail, Amadeus, and Lone Star – all movies I love, but am not sure I could watch over and over.

Four places I have lived
1. Mellby 324. St. Olaf College. 1993-94. I got a single room on a quiet floor my senior year. Then I turned it into a mini recording studio, much to the annoyance of my neighbors. I am sorry about that, but I had to do it. Please forgive me and contact me if you would like a free copy of the CD I made from those recordings.
2. Fairport, NY. August 1975-August 1986. A suburb of Rochester where we knew all our neighbors and there were a ton of other kids to play with. It was great.
3. Silver Spring, MD. August 1986-September 1990. See (2.) substitute D.C. for Rochester. Home of rock band Suburban Decay.
4. Northfield, MN. September 1990-May 2003. Home of acoustic duo Great Uncle Helmer. Three room, third floor, numerically aligned and satisfyingly large apartment housed fairly elaborate and well-equipped digital recording studio for final six or seven years. Saw successful recordings by Great Uncle Helmer, Jubilant Dogs, Doc's Kids, Evan Johnson, Siobhan Meehl, Eric Rohn, and others.

Four TV shows I love
1. Angel. Especially season five with Spike.
2. Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Especially season two with Angel going evil.
3. Seinfeld. There can be no debate that this is the best sitcom ever. Only possible challenger Curb Your Enthusiasm.
4. The X-Files. Sorry, Moonlighting. Mulder and Scully stayed good longer.

Four places I’ve vacationed
1. Ibiza, Spain. May 2003. Sweeeeet. Honeymoon of a lifetime. The food, the myriad swimsuit optional beaches, the mini-golf on wildly unpredictable concrete. Plus - honeymoon. Sweeeeet.
2. Iasi/Codaesti, Romania. October/November 2000. Working in a clinic for children whose parents could not afford to care for them. Totally different but equally satisfying to (1.).
3. Virginia Beach. (A few times, including September 1997) Nice house on the beach. Bodysurfing, saltwater, family, seafood, seagulls, snapshots, tennis, journal writing, playing cards, mini-golf. Very relaxing. The vacation you think of when someone says "vacation". Excellent.
4. Excalibur Hotel, Las Vegas. July 2005. May it Viva forever. What an exciting town. Once you find a cheap source of gatorade, that is. We were also blessed with a terrific native friend to guide us to the best places to go.

btot: I feel I must break the rules and mention my favorite other vacations ever so briefly – Colorado Springs (3x), Hawaii, Madden's Resort in Brainerd, MN, California (3x). These "eight of four" were not necessarily listed in order of quality of vacation. Plus various road trips to Kansas City, Milwaukee, Wisconsin Dells have been pretty great. And the many enjoyable vacations I took primarily to visit people are not listed at all.

Four of my favorite dishes
1. Pizza. duh.
2. Mock Duck Pad Thai.
3. Anything my wife makes for me
4. Anything my family makes for me

Four sites I visit daily
1. Yahoo! (news & e-mail)
2. Amazon (CDs)
3. Blog by Chazz Vader:
4. Blog by Prosecutor/Mommy:

Four places I would rather be right now
1. In a recording studio where I have all the time and money in the world, several clones of myself, Kent, Andy, Dave, Stu, Karl, Justin, Ben, etc., and a sympathetic, knowledgeable producer (Scot?).
2. See also vacations listed above.
3. Visiting family.
4. Near interesting people – people I know but also maybe people I don't. Is "near Paul McCartney" a legit answer to this one? I think so.

btot: Where I am at any given time usually ranks from acceptable to excellent since leaving the banking world.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Meme Part I: Four Jobs

1. Full Time Dad. Best job ever. Highly motivated to succeed. Benefits too numerous to mention. Large challenges, but I enjoy meeting them and finding creative ways for Baby and I to rise above.

2. Bank Teller/Lead Teller. This job was almost completely not primarily about what I thought it would be about. I'd always liked sorting baseball cards and other such obsessive/compulsive activities. I thought I'd be great at it because I thought it would be a lot of keeping track of pieces of paper, numbers, and working on a computer. And I was great at that.

The thing I didn't know it would be about was SALES. I don't know why anyone would go to a bank teller these days when everything is available online or at the ATM. But people do, and when people do, they are supposed to be offered a new banking product or service EVERY TIME they do. That is the official policy of my bank and prior employer. And what surprised me was that I was also really great at that.

I studied the various products and services the bank offered – who knew there were so many and such variety? And most of the people who came to the bank could have saved time, made more money, and paid fewer fees with new or alternative bank products, so suggesting these things to them based on my extensive product knowledge was good for everybody. I made about 15-20% more money than my regular wage and won trips for two to Hawaii, Colorado Springs, and Madden's resort in Brainerd. And for every septuagenarian who was annoyed at being offered online banking or an ATM card for the 3,000th time (and, btw, I have no sympathy) there was at least one person who ended up saving hundreds of dollars in fees they didn't have to be paying.

Still, the whole time I felt like "Why the hell am I (just) a bank teller?" The job didn't pay that much, and while I was really, really good at it, it didn't really play to my skill set or use my education. In fact, one of my coworkers, when we were talking about our backgrounds and I mentioned my college degree and revealed my relatively advanced age said something like, "Don't take this the wrong way, but why are you working here?"

I thought to myself, "A lifetime of truly colossal underachievement and breathtakingly poor decision making." I actually said something about being burnt out on guitar teaching and wanting to earn more money, which was also true. Still, the general public, at least that somewhat deficient cross section of the general public that still uses actual live bank tellers, often uses them as venting targets for deep seeded "my mommy never loved me" style oedipal rage. I now hate the general public. When I got the call at work that my wife was in labor and my daughter was being born, I walked out the door knowing I would not miss the industry in the slightest and I haven't.

3. Guitar teacher
This was intermittently an extremely rewarding job. There was about a three-year learning curve for me during which I learned to a) teach fast or slow according to a student's background and ability to learn and b) charge people when they skipped a lesson. After that I had my part down and it all depended on the skills, habits, ability and desire of the students. I had some great ones who went on to make their own music they shared with me and I feel very proud of them.

I also had some complete duds, but the fact that I was a complete dud as a teenage piano and voice student then went on to enjoy making music more than anything else in life is encouraging to me. The money was inconsistent, however, and I did get burnt out after nine years so was not too sad to leave. I enjoy music more when I'm not teaching it – especially teaching theory, which a person should learn thoroughly, teach for a while to fully internalize, then actively, consciously forget and just get on with it. Still, I may go back to this someday.

4. Camp counselor
This job was a lot of fun, as I loved the kids and I am basically just "the world's tallest nine year old" as my friend Evan once called me. The drag was the bosses. I can't remember exactly why or what precise stupid things they would say, do, and suggest. I did it for two summers and have a lot of good memories. This was the worst paying job of the three paying jobs I mention here. At the Christian Church camp I think I made about $15 a day – which was because I was working for the Lord. Uh-huh. Amen. The following year at the YMCA I made $5/hr. There are a ton of stories from these two years – more than I have time to go in to here.

I got the idea for this blog entry from a blog by a friend of mine. Check her out if you want. Maybe I will finish the rest another time. Hope that was interesting to someone. Meffis out.