Friday, December 29, 2006

Fuck ringtones...

...I'm going to start writing music for these.

That's right: musical condoms. Yet another unforseen benefit of the demise of the Soviet Union...

(Thanks to Anne Bartow over at Sivacracy for the link.)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ringtones are all irritating

I know, I know. I've been spending too much time on YouTube. I swear, it's only cuz Time Magazine told me to. (Can I just digress here for a moment and mention how irritating I find that whole Person-of-the-Year-2006 thing? As if somehow grass-roots, independent communities never mattered until now?)

Anyway, Jill hipped me to the above video. Fucking beautiful, it is.

Incidentally, there's also a Birmingham (i.e., British) Complaints Choir, but they're not as good, in my opinion -- for one thing, they're less able to keep the straight face necessary to make the lyrics work.

Here, then, is another example of the kind of thing I was trying to get at a few posts back: "serious" humor as an effective resistance strategy. In this case, the juxtaposition of "boring dreams" and too-long reference numbers (for instance) threatens to produce laughter and tears all at once: is this the hoped-for utopia of the 21st century?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Slings and Arrows

In case you thought "classical" music was all love and kisses... that's right, this is video of a recent booing incident at La Scala. The tenor, Roberto Alagna, walks off the stage (after remembering which way leads to the exit), and is replaced by, well, the other guy: Antonello Palombi. Palombi is out of costume, but nevertheless just happens to be waiting in the wings. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Somebody somewhere in this scenario (Alagna? the audience? Palombi? the lady interviewed after the booing footage?) is taking themselves too seriously. I can't figure out who...

(NB: Unless you speak Italian, you'll probably only be interested in the first 45 seconds of the video.)

Monday, December 18, 2006

Survey says

Why am I doing this? You know I generally avoid such things...

It started with a set of questions circulated by the Bad Plus. It coincided with the gradual process of unpacking and organizing my CD collection. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Maybe it still is: you tell me.

Anyway, a few caveats:

1. I guess the survey wasn't meant to provoke comprehensive answers, but most dedicated musicians have the mania of antique collectors and baseball fans: we like making (and comparing) lists, and what's the point of a list if it's incomplete? In other words: it was painfully difficult to restrict myself to one or two responses in each category. One of the ways I was able to do it, however, was by steering clear, for the most part, of the obvious answers (hence the lack of Ellington, Monk, Mingus, Satie, Ives, and others; and the paucity of Zappa).

2. In general I tend to listen compositionally, by which I mean that for me the compositional element (to the extent that it can be distinguished) trumps things like sound quality or even performance skill. Of course, what is composition, really? Yeah, I know, it's an aesthetic problem -- anyway, indulge me for a moment as I use that term as a placeholder for my own listening proclivities.


1. Movie score.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (Bernard Herrmann). The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (Ennio Morricone).

2. TV theme.

East Side / West Side (Kenyon Hopkins). Pee Wee's Playhouse (Mark Mothersbaugh... I think).

3. Melody.

“Idiot Bastard Son” (Frank Zappa). “Surf’s Up” (Brian Wilson).

4. Harmonic language.

"Lush Life" (Billy Strayhorn). Piano music of Alan Hovhaness.

5. Rhythmic feel.

“Slow Down” (Larry Williams). “Da Doo Run Run” (The Crystals).

6. Hip-hop track.

“Jennifa Taught Me” (De La Soul). “Hole in the Bucket” (Spearhead).

7. Classical piece.

String Quartet no. 1 (Leos Janacek). Requiem (W. A. Mozart).

8. Smash hit.

"Lay Lady Lay" (Bob Dylan). "Doo Wop (That Thing)" (Lauryn Hill).

9. Jazz album.

People Time (Stan Getz / Kenny Barron). Kennedy Dream (Oliver Nelson).

10. Non-American folkloric group.

I'll assume the word "folkloric" (as opposed to "folk") gives me a little leeway here:

Rustavi Choir (Georgian Choral music). Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens (South African mbaqanga group).

11. Book on music.

The Real Frank Zappa Book (Frank Zappa). Music Alone (Peter Kivy).


A) Name a surprising album (or albums) you loved when you were developing as a musician: something that really informs your sound but that we would never guess in a million years:

I'll interpret this as something of a “guilty pleasures” category because I don’t think anything that really informed my sound would be surprising to the listener. So here are two albums I don’t want you to know I liked at one time:

Blue (Joni Mitchell). Sweeney Todd (Stephen Sondheim).

B) Name a practitioner (or a few) who play your instrument that you think is underrated:

If my instrument is the piano: Don Pullen, Chico Marx. If my instrument is a jazz ensemble: Duane Tatro, Tadd Dameron.

C) Name a rock or pop album that you wish had been a smash commercial hit (but wasn’t, not really):

Why would I wish such a thing? (I can certainly think of a number of these I wish had NOT become hits.)

Oh, I’ve got it! Song Cycle (Van Dyke Parks).

And another: My, I'm Large (The Bobs).

D) Name a favorite drummer, and an album to hear why you love that drummer:

Dannie Richmond (any Mingus record he plays on). In general, I love the way Dannie often sounds like he's about to lose it (the beat, the groove, his place in the form) -- but never does.

* * * * *

[Hey! I’m going to add a category, since 'tis the season and all that jazz:]

Name some Christmas music you can actually stand to listen to:

1. "Sleigh Ride" (Ronettes version).
2. "Jingle Bells" (Sinatra version (on A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra): worth it just to hear him sing "Jingle Bells, Jing-Jingle Bells." Also dig those hip, wacky backing vocals.)

And what the hell, a bonus:

3. A Ceremony of Carols (Benjamin Britten).

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Old man winter

Ah, yes. This blog has gone so downhill in recent days that I've been reduced to writing about the weather.

Of course, I do have an excuse: we had a storm. It was a big storm. It would have appeared even bigger if you had lived in a weatherless place like LA for the last ten years.

Thursday morning things seemed docile enough -- for Portland in the winter -- but by the afternoon the wind was really picking up. At around 4:30, Daphne and Thandie made ready to run a few errands, but as they were heading out the door, things started looking, well, apocalyptic. I stopped them so we could at least check the news. Sure enough, all of the local broadcasters were in full emergency mode (you know, that weird breathless combination of "holy shit, look at that!" and "here comes a great story!").

I went out to pick up a few extra flashlights / batteries, making a beeline to the closest Fred Meyer superstore megaplex everything-mart. There were about four or five ominous flickerings-o-the-lights during the ten minutes I was in there, and each time one of those flickerings subsided I stupidly said to myself Well, good. We still have power. Let me get one more emergency item. (Cuz ya never know, we might just need that extra package of dried fruit to make it through the night.)

Sure enough, I was still in the Fred Meyer store when the lights went out for good. It was like being at a badly managed rock concert, sans the music. By the time I made my way outside (the FM registers remained operational: I guess nothing can stop capitalism), there were huge blue flashes going on in the hills behind the store. The rain was really driving now. The cars? Not so much. Took me about half an hour to travel the short distance to Dolph Court.

There were still powered-up patches in the neighborhood around us, but our street and its immediate environs were black. As I approached the house I slowed down and -- oh, hello, there! -- barely avoided running over the powerline that was on the ground directly in front of our driveway. I surveyed the situation, and realized that that fucker actually extended across the entire length of our part of the street.

Though I was fairly certain that I could have just driven over the mess (non-conductive rubber tires, dontcha know) and gotten into the house the conventional way, I didn't want to take any chances: what with the rain and the lack of streetlights, I couldn't get a good view of what had actually happened. I called Daphne to let her know what was up, and decided to backtrack, parking at the bottom of the hill, where things seemed safer. Then I came around the back way on foot, through some of our neighbors' yards and into ours.

We got situated with our candles and our craptacular dinner, and eventually were able to see that the culprit in the powerline incident (which Daphne told me had produced a tremendous boom) was in fact an enormous fir tree (probably over sixty feet tall) that stood out by the street at the very edge of our neighbor's property, and just adjacent to our driveway. Actually, the tree was more like a victim -- the real culprit was either lightning or wind. In any case, the fir was down but not out -- from our kitchen window we could see the silhouette of its hulking mass leaning across the street, like a strange silent blue-green ghost hovering in the storm.

It was about 1 AM when the power company trucks arrived, with their yellow floodlights and their cherry pickers and their chainsaws. It was pretty exciting actually (though in a bad-Steven-Spielberg-movie kind of a way), and since the hubbub had awakened Thandie, we took her out to the dining room to watch from the picture window. It was still raining.

All in all, we had a fairly sleepless and cold night (even though I was able to keep the fireplace going until about 4 AM, when the power came back on). But we made out better than most. The experience, mild though it was, really brought home the cool, awful (in the original sense of that word), adrenalizing power of nature. This has been a recurring theme of our move to PDX, and I must say, it's a welcome one: at its worst, the static LA atmosphere can induce a kind of wandering zombie-hood, while storms like this tend to remind you that you're alive.

Winter has stripped the trees, and on a recent sunny day we noticed that we have a somewhat awkward but nevertheless enjoyable view of the beautiful Mt. Hood -- there's a bad picture, badly enhanced, up on top of this post. I kept thinking about that mountain (and the three dudes who are currently still missing there) during the howlingest part of the storm, as I alternated between tending to both the fire and a good book. I later learned that some of the Hoodian gusts that evening exceeded 100 mph. Scary.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I was irritated by this. U2?

If any of you were brave enough to try those Bono cookies -- get ready to puke 'em back up again.

(Thanks to Ponty Lox for the link.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pomp and circumstances

The always entertaining Bob Stein at if:book blog recently linked to an interesting Marina Hyde article that appeared in the Guardian. The subject: the greed of rock stars, as expressed through the sledgehammer of recent copyright laws (and some that are still in gestation).

Hyde: "Rock stars, who sold themselves as anti-establishment, would too often have us anoint them the new feudal squires. It is an accusation that has been bandied about ever since these rebels deserted Carnaby Street for Epping Forest mansions, but these days seems more pertinent than ever. If they are not pursuing fatuous stratagems against underlings, they are attempting to extract charitable tithes from the public and redistribute them in the manner that they, musicians, see fit. [...] It is particularly easy, in this context, to sympathise with the anti-copyright-extension brigade's argument against children and grandchildren of artists earning huge incomes from intellectual property for which they never did a stroke of work. They are simply forming a version of the aristocracies they once cocked a snook at [...]".

It's hard to imagine where popular music as an industry is going to be in the next fifty years (and, since music doesn't happen in a vacuum, it's hard to imagine too the fate of "progressive" music -- if that's the term -- in that time). On one hand, the stubborn miasma of public discontent (or apathy, or distraction), coupled with the technological juggernaut (which I think will always ensure that information gets the freedom it so desperately wants), coupled with the inevitable consumer-bloc power of the next generation of music fans (who have grown up in the environment of downloading), coupled with the dispersal of canons and the emergence of the long tail, may mean that the days of MTV, American Idol, and Entertainment Tonight are numbered. Like the structural supports of the original aristocracy, these things, which seem fortress-like in their solidity, can eventually crumble.

On the other hand, one has to wonder, as per Bob Stein's suggestion, the extent to which America, which doesn't share Europe's long and bitter history with a real aristocracy, is paradoxically fascinated by the power and authority of an "entertainment class." Perhaps it's that drooling fascination that makes the subject of copyright so freakin' litigious. It might thus help explain why (for instance) Mariah Carey thinks she has a legitimate claim against porn star and ex-candidate-for-governor-of-California Mary Carey. What's next? (Harry Caray, you wanna get in on this from beyond the grave?) As Charles Isherwood put it in a NYT article about plagiarism lawsuits a few weeks back: "Doesn't it seem wearying?"

Yes. Yes, it does.

(By the way -- those are indeed Bono cookies in the picture above. Hyde has some funny things to say about the U2 frontman, so I couldn't resist...)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

In defense of fun

The amazing Destination Out recently had a nice post on Dutch master Willem Breuker, whose music I must admit I have a weird affinity for, and who more than one observer of my own compositional ramblings has cited as a clear influence on the IJG. Odd, isn't it? I don't own too many Breuker albums (the featured tracks here were brand new to me), so I guess this is sort of like Zappa citing James Joyce in the liner notes to Freak Out... and then admitting that he had never read much James Joyce. I explain it like this: with certain artists, you sense a very strong resonance straight out of the gate. In my case, from the moment I heard it, Breuker's music made a kind of immediate sense. It's just that I haven't delved too far into the discography yet.

Little by little. These tracks -- especially "Driebergen-Zeist" -- only reinforce my initial impressions. Sure, Breuker has his Zappa-isms (I suspect the first part of the opening drum fill to "D-Z" is a quote of the famous beginning to "Peaches En Regalia") and his Weill-isms (consider the lovely saxes-in-octaves thing that happens at about 1:20; who else but Weill could have inspired that?). But if this music is retrospective, it's also retrospectively iconoclastic. At least that's how I understand the much ballyhooed break with the Instant Composer's Pool: rather than searching for wholly "new" compositional methodologies (in this case, approaches to improvisation), Breuker turned to traditional techniques (mostly through-composition for large ensemble) in order to focus on playing with what the listener already knew (and how!). Creative re-juxtapositions, brilliantly alternating between satisfaction and subversion of the listener's expectations: that's where this music is at.

The D-O guys do a beautiful overview of this stuff, though I can't help finding tidbits to cavil over. For one thing, the Wallace Stevens device didn't ring true for me -- Breuker seems to require a riff on e.e. cummings, or (much better) the prose writer Donald Barthelme. And then there's Chilly's argument that "The avant garde gets a bad rap for not having a sense of humor. Especially free jazz. This gives the lie to that notion." Maybe. Certainly some of my favorite "out artists" (Lester Bowie, Monk, Ornette, to name three) have moved me by (at least in part) cracking me up. But come on. When was the last time you actually laughed out loud at an "avant garde" performance? (I'm talking about a good celebratory -- and perhaps even tearful -- guffaw, not a snarky "I'm in the club" chuckle.) And -- more importantly --why does it actually take effort to imagine that laughter might be a relevant aesthetic response?

Some old French guy famously said that "life is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think." But that's not quite accurate. When done right, comedy itself is suffused with emotion. And not just the emotions of "instantaneous thrills, like a good rollercoaster ride" (Chilly again). In the right context, comedy can be deployed in ways that are extremely serious (think Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, or the role of humor-as-resistance in the Holocaust). Even now, at this particularly dismal historical moment, it has been the comics and humorists (the Stephen Colberts and Bill Mahers and Onions of the world) who have succeeded in poking the biggest holes in the thick, scuzzy film that covers our political life.

For me, no matter how absurd or obscene Breuker's arrangements get -- and I for one will always argue that there is an important place for both absurdity and obscenity in art -- there also always seems to be room for the qualities that D-O holds in high regard, but does not hear in the Kollektief (Chilly's "heat-rending lyricism or spiritual uplift"). In "Driebergen-Zeist," that moment happens twice for me: the first time at 6:38, with its ecstatic descending figures, and the second time at 7:57, where Breuker finally makes good on a melodic promise that was introduced at 1:22. Brief though they are, these moments suggest that Breuker is up to much more than just a light-hearted shtick.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Three months in the life of a bandleader

Consider this entry, written a few weeks ago when I was in a particularly foul mood, as a personal testament to the oft-made claim that live music is dying a horrible death. It’s a blow-by-blow account of the sort of nonsense that has gone on behind the scenes as I’ve been booking our upcoming east coast tour. Which is not to say that I haven’t come across / worked with some wonderfully helpful people in the process (Darcy James Argue comes to mind, and Tom Lubelczyk, and Mike Baggetta, and Curt Howard, and Jill Knapp, and a few others). Still, I don’t know what it is, but the ratio seems to be really skewed toward the assholes and incompetents these days. It’s sorta like politics, I guess (you know the old argument about how the system drives away all of the truly qualified people?).

Keep in mind that what follows -- a sort of transcript of my attempts to book us into this one club -- is just one slice of the overall panoply of booking tasks for this tour. I was simultaneously going back and forth with numerous other venues (probably about thirty altogether) throughout the same period, in the hopes of maybe having four or five of them come through with gigs for us. Keep in mind too that I wrote this at a particularly desperate moment -- it appeared that we were going to have a very, uh, leisurely tour. Usually I’m able to maintain a kind of zen-ish calm in my role as booking agent for the band, but this guy really gave me a run for my money. Check it out:

September 6: I send an email to two east coast DJ friends asking for recommendations for places to play in NJ. They both resoundingly endorse a venue that will for the purposes of this tale be given an alias. Let’s call it “The Flouncing Boat.” Contact information is relayed, and I send out an introductory email almost immediately. Keep in mind that I am trying to book a date in January, which at this point is still four months away. Like a fool, I assume I am way ahead of the curve.

September 11: I receive a response from the booker at the Boat, who for the purposes of this tale will also be given an alias. Let’s call him Dickhead. Mr. Head requests that I go through the usual routine: send in a CD and press, and we’ll see what happens.

Ha! I’ve had a stack of press kits, a stack of CDs, and a stack of large envelopes, all ready to go since April. And in fact, Mr. Head, I already sent a package in to you as soon as I got your information from my DJ friends back on September 6. So you should probably have received it already. Like I said, ahead of the curve, right?

Dickie also asks if we have an audience out east. My reply is instantaneous (for you booking people who might not know, that means I replied right away): “Yes, we do have an east coast following. This will be our second trip out your way -- we toured NY / NJ / DE in spring of 2005, and at our NJ show we had around 60 people. I actually think we'll do a little better this time because of IAJE.”

September 14: I send a followup email to make sure Dickhead got the package of our materials.

September 19: I get a response which reads (and I’m quoting): “u did not reply to the question of a nj following //how many people can u pull into [the boat]?????”

Never mind the irritating use of letters for words (I thought only Prince was allowed to do that with impunity?). Never mind the excessive punctuation (do five question marks somehow signal greater curiosity than one?). The real issue is how did he miss my response to his question?

No worries. I will assume that I made some sort of mistake; I’m in no position to quibble, since I’m the one who wants the gig (read: I am at his mercy). I make this assumption even though I can easily go back and check my sent mail folder to see as plain as day that I did indeed give him information about our draw in my initial response.

Once again, I respond instantaneously, beginning with the following self-effacing nonsense: “Sorry -- I thought I had sent along another email but possibly I forgot.” I then proceed to re-articulate the relevant data, more or less exactly as in the email quoted above.

I get an uncharacteristically quick reply from Dickhead. (Woah! Maybe you do know what “instantaneous” means!) Here it is: “send 4 dates that could work 4u,,,asap.” Okay, if five question marks are confusing, three commas are even more so. But no matter -- I have this in the bag now, I can just feel it! I respond sometime in the wee hours on the morning of the 20th that we are available for the whole week of the IAJE conference. Hooray!

September 25: No response from Dickhead. The silence has motivated me to send him a “checking in” email to see what’s up.

September 29: More silence. I send out another email. Where is this guy?

October 4: More silence, another email from me. (Several times during this period, I also try to use the telephone to reach Dick. No dice. The recorded voice on the other end always tells me the number is no longer in service.)

October 13: The silence continues. Does he get paid for this? I send out another email.

October 15: Do you see a pattern here? (That’s right, I send out another email.)

I must clarify: my complaint is simply with the lack of a response, not the hypothetical content of that response, should it ever come. In other words, if Dick had gotten back to me within a day or two of my last email and said "Look, I've changed my mind. We can't book you because we don't like your music," I would have much preferred that to this inexplicable communication vacuum. Booking a tour is mostly about transforming variables (e.g., "we might be able to play this club") into concrete, reliable data (e.g. "this club wants us to play on this date or that date"), and then manipulating that data in such a way that you have an optimal schedule. But when there are only variables, and when they seem intent on remaining variables, you can't do much, and you get stuck in a kind of limbo. (And the longer you wait the more difficult promotion becomes -- but that's a topic for another post.)

October 17: It has been almost a month since our last contact, so you can imagine my joy when I see that I have a message from Dickhead in my inbox. I open it up. Cue my jaw hitting the floor. Here’s the missive: “STILL NO MENTION OF HOW MANY PEEPS YOU WOULD DRAW INTO MY CLUB/CANT CONSIDER A BOOKING.”

All caps! Are you serious? Are you?????????

My response is a little less generous than it was the last time he lost our information. I go so far as to point out the fact of that previous loss, forwarding him both of the emails I sent with answers about the question of a draw. I’m not rude, but I think I convey a sense of urgency, because once again he goes against the grain and actually gets back to me the same day with this: “SEND DATES AGAIN /THEY WERE DELETED DY MISTAKE/AND I WILL TRY TO HOOK U UP.”

I’m done commenting on the syntax, grammar, and so on of these fucking emails. I foolishly give Mr. Head the benefit of the doubt, allow myself to have hope anew, and restate the dates that we’re available in what I hope is one of the last emails I will ever have to send to him.

October 19: Oh, no. I’m not letting you get away, fucker. Here’s my courtesy follow-up email reminding you that you at least owe me the decency of a response, even if you aren’t going to book us.

October 23: Each time I send out one of these “Hi! Just checking in! What do you think about a booking?” emails (burying my annoyance under the rosiest demeanor I can muster) I have to include all the relevant information (availability, potential draw) because I just know this guy is preparing to lose it all again.

October 24: I’m really working it now. Two emails in two days! Both of them saying the same thing! Neither of them getting a response!

October 30: Again, I ask: what exactly do they pay this guy for?

November 9: There are still two months before we’re out east. Thus there is still hope, right?

November 14: A few days after my last email, I had gone back to my DJ friends to see if they knew what was up. Shortly thereafter I learned Dickhead had been canned, and was no longer booking at the Boat. (Hey, Dickhead, thanks for telling me.) I was therefore not surprised when I received this final (I hope) missive from him (sorry, I can’t resist quoting verbatim one more assinine email): “THE BOATBIS PROB GION UNDER OR BEING SOLD SOON /MAY HAVE ANOTHER VENUE /WILL KNOW IN A FEW DAYS /U DONT WANT DO THE BOAT.”

Well, whether I want to or not turns out to be irrelevant -- by the time I track down Dickhead’s replacement (who is also fairly slow in responding to emails from out-of-town musicians), the moment for setting up an IJG show there has passed.

So there you have it. Three months, sixteen emails (at least), a buck-fifty on postage, and a lot of stress; all of which seems to have been a more or less complete waste of my time. Whee!

Later that week, while crawling off to sleep in the bath, I have a vision of a time, perhaps hundreds of years from now, when bookers and musicians will realize that they are both actually after pretty much the same thing, and that a little civility can go a long way toward making sure it is achieved.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


"To the Bird Who Flew Into Our Second-Story Picture Window Earlier This Week"


Oh, bird.
Why did you do that?
Surely you noticed my bald head
as I sat on the couch reading a book.
Did that not alert you to the impending danger?
Shall we get a shade?
Poor little guy.
What kind of bird are you, anyway?
Several pretty yellow feathers,
and many more gray ones.
You're too big to be a finch, methinks.
Here's another question:
How am I going to get you off the lower roof?

As I stare at you, I wonder:
Are those Xs that were your eyes?
And are both legs really sticking straight up into the air?
'T'would be comical if it weren't so sad.

Going back to the fact of my bald head in the window
(You know, the thing that should have warned you),
I have to wonder further:
Was this self-inflicted?
My broken or bruised rib
(a story for another post)
My chronically aching back
Perhaps these are as nothing
To whatever birdy woes beset you.

If it matters to you
Wherever you are
You have conveniently provided my daughter
With her first real-world illustration
Of the mystery of death.
For this I must thank you.
Bird, bird, bird; bird is the word.


Waking up this morning
I see your now-frozen body is still on the lower roof.
Ah, godammit, I must buy a ladder.

But no! What is this?
A murder of crows
Seem intent on carrying you off somewhere
And... uh... what?! Eating you?!


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Two bits

Gotta be quick (it's 4 AM, after all), but here you go:

1. lowercase lifestyle recently had an interesting post on P-Music. I'll let you decide for yourself whether the results are worth listening to (I for one enjoyed them), but I can't resist the urge to mention that I have long been skeptical of the old saw that (traditional) recordings (be they LPs, CDs, or whatever) are unchanging artifacts -- that view (often trotted out as a deficiency of recorded music) seems to overlook the (admittedly subtle) ways seemingly stable objects can appear to change depending on the context in which they are consumed. To take a banal example -- most recordings sound different depending on whether they are experienced in a car, via headphones, in the company of others, solo, and so on.

2. I recently relocated an old email in which my friend Alex Tarr pointed me toward this amazing post on X-Ray music (over at Kevin Kelly's blog). Holy cow! Talk about bricolage! Talk about the uncanny! And talk about fascism -- as fucked up as things are with the music industry nowadays, at least we don't have to deal with "music patrols." (Yet.)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Flashbacks and free associations

Just a moment ago, sitting in this comfy chair, listening to some music, I had two flashbacks.

Flashback the first was brought on by a late-night showing of the classic Eisenstein film Alexander Nevsky that I happened to catch the last half of the other night. Man, what a beauty. The first time I saw it (maybe fifteen years ago) I had just had my wisdom teeth removed and was spacing out on all sorts of pain-killers. I realize now that the thing is just as weird when seen straight. Strange, surreal edits, evocative panoramic images, and a killer, sorta creepy score by Prokofiev.

Flashback the second has to do with all this rain. That may be the number one question I get since moving to Portland: "Does it rain a lot?" Well, sure. I love it. Once, while still in my first or second year of high school (back when I was seriously considering filmmaking as a career) I wrote a sort of science-fictiony screenplay about a young man who lived on a planet where it rained all the fucking time. I imagined that planet in part because I wanted to live there, I guess. So maybe Portland is that planet. Home at last!

Okay. Enough reminiscing. More turkey, please.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

It's tricky, alright

Can't imagine what is driving this lawsuit against Run DMC. Unless maybe it's the fact that capitalism makes assholes of us all.

Counselor Schultz has it backwards, by the way. Copyright wasn't created specifically for protection, but rather to provide "incentives" for producers, artists, writers.

"It's Tricky" really is an entirely different song from "My Sharona." It is driven rhythmically more by the rappers' (original) lyrics than by the (altered) Knack riff. In other words, while "My Sharona" has a melody and lyrics that follow the riff's rhythm pretty closely, Run DMC play with and around that rhythm in fresh and exciting ways. Not that one tune is necessarily better than the other; the point is only that they are different.

With "It's Tricky," Run DMC were simply riffing on a riff. And at a basic level, what else is the history of music?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

It's the timetable, stupid (or: It's about freakin' time, part 2)

It's really a pity Russ Feingold has bowed out of the '08 prez race. Here's the latest bit of (very welcome) logic and sanity from the good senator.

It's so simple, really. Allow me to quote the above-linked piece:

"My legislation recognizes that a target date for the redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq will help pressure the Iraqis to get their political house in order. Simply announcing when we will begin redeployment, without any end date, is unlikely to put adequate pressure on the Iraqis. [...] A target date isn’t just critical to our Iraq policy, it is essential for our national security policy. We cannot adequately focus on the pressing national security challenges we face around the globe when so many of our brave troops are in Iraq, and so many billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are being spent there. A timetable ensures that we can refocus our resources on fighting terrorist networks and on addressing trouble spots around the world that threaten our national security."

July 1, 2007: keep your fingers crossed.

My new motto

To be taken with the requisite grain of salt:

"There is nothing worse than cold coffee and warm beer."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

It's about freakin' time

Man, I really got behind with the posting and the blogging, eh? I think it was Zappa who once said that "time is the thing"; that's my only excuse.

Music update: we were back in LA two weekends ago, and I managed to get some more tracking done for the new IJG album(s), which are, in any case, still pretty far from completion. Certainly nothing else will be ready for release this year. (If I had my way (read: if I had the cash) we would bang out each record pretty quickly, because I hate feeling like there is a backlog of compositions to be committed to disc. But alas, that's not the world we live in.)

Apropos of nothing: I absolutely love being in the studio. Almost any studio. If I could, I would live there. Okay, that's an overstatement, but I really do get off on the whole context -- the topography, the culture, the lingo, the heightened sense of perception, and, perhaps especially, the uncanny sense of being able to stop time -- which I suppose is one of the byproducts of looping a single performance over and over in order to evaluate, punch in, mix, or whatever. Yeah, time is the thing.

Incidentally (still), that "time-stopping" quality is particularly interesting when you're doing what is essentially a "big band project" -- cuz that's what the IJG has become, at least in terms of its instrumental structure -- via the more rock-oriented technique of overdubbing. With the exception of two moderate sized sessions (one with five and one with seven players), most of the personnel for the current crop of recordings have assembled and done their thing in groupings of three or less.

Anyway: far more important things happened last week, as we all know.

The evening before the election, just before heading up to Simi Valley for the second of the abovementioned sessions, I spent an hour or so with my good friend "Charlie" (of IML fame). We hung out for a while on the porch of the Santa Monica apartment he shares with his wife and two boys. The whiskey was flowing, and believe me, I would have partaken if I hadn't been on my way to the session (alas, I discovered that evening how incredibly great (and windy!) is the distance between Simi Valley and LA). But I had to content myself with the stimulating conversation, which inevitably wound around to the subject of politics. We were both a little anxious about what was going to happen the next day.

And as it turned out, Daphne and Thandie and I spent most of election day itself in the airport, trying to get back to PDX. We were a little desperate, in fact -- our brief reunion with LA had grown old fast, and now that we had finished all of our tasks for this trip, we were more than ready to get home. While making our way through security, I noticed Flavor Flav (of Public Enemy and now VH-1 fame) sending his famous clock through the x-ray machine. It seemed oddly portentous somehow -- about time, indeed.

And then, at some point while we were 30,000 feet above it, the landscape changed -- though none of us would really know about that until much later in the evening.

So what do I think of the Democratic "sweep"? After the initial giddiness and (hell, I'll admit it) the cheap satisfaction of watching petulant pricks like Tony Snow and Ken Mehlman get their various degrees of come-uppance -- there is the recognition that this is only the first step in a much longer process. In some ways, the damage has already been done. The election does not change the impression that Mr. Bush has been the "winner" all along -- having signed the death sentences of (so far) nearly 3000 American soldiers (kids, really) and many many more Iraqi civilians in order to follow through on his personal bloodlust against Saddam Hussein. For those people, and for others, like Malachi Ritscher, this election came too late. (Thanks, Darcy, for the link.)

The narrative that seems to have taken hold is that America was "duped" into going into Iraq, and now the Democrats, the new sheriffs in town, are going to give us a saner foreign policy. All well and good, and the sooner we get out, the better -- but there's a deeper, more accurate way to describe what has happened in the last few years. Many of us who actually paid attention in history class understood from the get-go that the prospect of forcibly establishing a democracy in a foreign society -- a society that hadn't chosen that path of its own accord -- was what the sages would call a really bad idea. I remember literal rioting in the streets in San Francisco when we were playing a gig there on the evening that this fucking war started. None of these folks were duped, I can assure you. They and many others knew this was going to be a fiasco from the beginning.

Now there's a subtle but very definite swoon running through the country as old man Bush -- you know, the one behind the first Iraq war -- seems to be taking over behind the scenes, pushing his son's insane administration back toward a more "palatable conservatism." Maybe that was the game all along -- a weird plan to check a few more items off the Bush family wish list: Bush 43 gets to "kick Hussein's ass," and Bush 41 gets a second term (or at least two years' worth). Let's not forget: Bush the elder may be more pragmatic than his son, but he is still an asshole. Let's not forget that it was his careless parading of American forces through the gulf region during the first war that provided Osama bin Laden with a key pretext. And, though one is tempted to surmise that Bozo the Clown would have been a better Defense Secretary than Rumsfeld (no offense, Bozo), let's not assume that Robert Gates is necessarily the best solution to that particular problem either. Two words: Iran-Contra.

(And by the way, shame on you, Tim Russert, for your pronounced fascination with the father-son story unfolding here. The tale may read like one of the Henry plays, but you sure ain't no Shakespeare.)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Goo Goo Ga Joob

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Thandie Durkin "eggman series." A delightful addition to any living room. Shall I start the bidding?

Eggman no. 1:

Eggman no. 2:

Egg family:

(Artist background: a 2-and-a-half year old who makes her home in Portland, Ms. Durkin learned to draw faces, eggmen, and four letters ("T," "H," "A," and "N") sometime in the last week. Her father can barely keep up with her.)

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Apparently the latest IJG record recently got a bit of good exposure from our friends at KZSU. We were in rotation for nine weeks, and we made the CMJ Jazz Top 10 Report the whole time (even holding the number one slot one week). Here's the breakdown, for those of you who are statistically-minded:

July 30 -- #4
Aug. 6 -- #5
Aug. 13 -- #4
Aug. 20 -- #1
Aug. 27 -- #2 (and #22 overall at the station)
Sep. 3 -- #3
Sep. 10 -- #7
Sep. 17 -- #6
Sep. 19 -- #9

I must admit that this was a bit of very welcome news, both because I've been a little disappointed overall with the reception Go Go! has received (I think it's easily our best and most original record, and so far, though people have liked it, they haven't exactly been bowled over (so sue me, I'm ambitious)), and because I've been pretty frustrated with the experience of booking this January 2007 East Coast Tour, which has been a little bit like pulling teeth (only three shows have been confirmed so far, and yet I'm trying to fill an entire week).

KZSU Jazz Director Craig Matsumoto published a quick sketch of the album, which is as good an introduction to this phase of our work as I've seen.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The things you learn

Peppers being broiled outdoors in a large cylindrical metal broiler (turned with a hand crank), on a crisp Autumn morning, at a local farmer's market, smell vaguely but distinctly like marijuana.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Zappa sighting

Heard "Peaches En Regalia" as bumper music on the Randi Rhodes show today, and was quite glad. It may in fact have been the first time I'd ever heard that tune -- or indeed, any Zappa -- on the radio.

I never quite understood why PER (or the Hot Rats album in general) tends to get whipped out as the quintessential FZ (it's the only FZ tune I know of to have made it into the Real Book)-- but I'll readily admit that it's a beauty all the same. To me it sounds like the perfect combination of self-effacing bombast and genuine joy.

I'm sure that's what this clothing company was thinking too. (That's right: the first thing I think of when I hear Zappa is fine men's and women's apparel.)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Rex's take

And here is Rex Butters' review of the new IJG album.

BTW, I wish I really did have a clown car.

Anyway: thanks, Rex.

Monday, October 23, 2006

News flash

Hey! Barack Obama is considering a run for president in '08.

He's a little late (like, by eight years), but who knows? Maybe he can help turn things around.

What do I mean? Well, of course there's the "buzz" that surrounds his career. But he really earned my admiration when he appeared on Sacha Cohen's Ali G show a year or two ago. Unlike most of the other (unsuspecting) guests, Obama came out of his interaction with Cohen pretty much unscathed -- that is, sans embarrassment or frustration. I guess when you don't have to protect a gargantuan ego from mischievous deflation, you do better in that sort of scenario.

Yeah, Obama seems to have all the old school "good guy" qualities: integrity, an ability to speak articulately, a sense of optimism, an identification with the little guy, a pretty wife... compare that with someone like Dennis Hastert, who, with his lumbering frame and his constantly-slobbering mouth, seems (like some modern-day Roman overlord) to physically embody the rot that infests Washington.

Wow, I really want to see how this movie ends...

Steveland Judkins, aka Morris

That's right, I'm talkin' 'bout Stevie Wonder. Got him on the brain tonight because I was recently turned on to Innervisions, one of the few good Stevie Wonder albums I didn't already own (though I was more than a little familiar with a few of the tracks on it). Turns out that this may have been his best ever. Who knew? (Well, apparently everyone but me.)

A few measures of SW's genius:

1. The lyrics, though generally admirable in terms of their content, are sorta amateurish from a purely aesthetic standpoint. But it doesn't matter, cuz the compositions (and the performances / recording techniques) are so astoundingly beautiful.

2. SW can get away with synths-pretending-to-be-real-instruments like no one else. (Witness the pseudo-strings in "Village Ghetto Land." Again, it doesn't matter, cuz the other musical ingredients are so strong.)

3. On band road trips, SW albums are generally in that elite club of recordings that are more or less guaranteed to meet with approval from everyone in the van.

And besides, he shares a birthday with my daughter (May 13).

Photo by Chris Walter

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Getting and Spending

I'm in serious trouble. This week we discovered two local establishments that I sense are destined to take all my money: a massage therapy place and a used CD store. Both within walking distance, both down in the "village" section of Multnomah Village (which is the technical term for the area of Portland that we live in).

The massage therapy place was actually one of three such places, all within blocks of each other. The one that I went to is part of a "healing arts clinic" that also offers acupuncture and chiropractic work. What can I say? I had a great session there with Becca, who slowly and meticulously found trigger points I didn't even know existed, expending very little of her own energy in the process, and shunning the flashy repertoire that characterizes most LA therapists. Forgive me, but I can't help reading this as somehow exemplary of more general differences between LA and PDX. And speaking of those differences, get this: by the time I had arrived and filled out all of the necessary paperwork, I was about ten minutes late for the session, which was scheduled for 4 PM. Becca's question to me was whether it was alright if we went beyond 5 PM, so I could get a full hour session.

Was it alright if we went beyond 5 PM?! Holy crap, I love this town. In LA I would have been out on my ass by that time, whether I had been late or not.

Anyway, the used CD store is called Post Hip (you won't find it on the web, it's that small). Here's how the owner describes it in a free brochure entitled "The 2006 Portland Guide to Independent Record and CD Stores" (which lists -- count 'em -- 27 such establishments in the city): "Used Jazz Blues Classical Multicultural CDS. Hand-picked eclectic books cheap. Comfortable. Conversational. Gap-toothed amicable. Trendless commendable quality. Propitious prices. Munificent buying. Multnomah Village."

Indeed. Again with the comparatives (I'll get over this soon, I promise): I found that Post Hip kicked Amoeba's ass, despite the fact that the latter is a much more comprehensive, ambitious, and busy place. You see, the thing I like to do most at a used record shop is browse: an activity (some would say an art) that requires certain preconditions: a finite set of merchandise, non-pushy clientele, not too long of a line to get to the cash register, a sense of connectedness with the merchant. Amoeba violates all these conditions. It's like Costco for just music: it's great if you know exactly what you're looking for, but it's awkward and unweildy (and for some folks even frightening) if you just want to relax and explore. It embodies what Alvin Toffler called "overchoice," a phenomenon that (in the end) may be even more threatening to new music than American Idol.

At Post Hip, the parameters are doable. A tiny single-room shop in which I suspect the ideal shopping experience is to take frequent, fleeting dips into an ever-changing pool (can't wait to see what's on the racks next week). The proprieter / clerk (who Daphne is convinced must be independently wealthy, because he's surely got to be losing money with this joint) was jolly, even giddy. He seemed unwilling to let us leave when the time came. Not out of desperation or a desire to get us to buy more -- rather, he seemed genuinely, sort of irrepressibly friendly. How novel!

My haul included a copy of Ellington's SRO (a longtime favorite of mine that may even have been the first Ellington recording I owned, albeit originally in cassette form -- don't get me started on this one, but it's a live recording that swings like a motherfucker (thank you, Sam Woodyard), especially on the version of "Rockin' in Rhythm"); an untitled (or eponymous) Don Pullen / George Adams recording, originally released on Soul Note; a compilation featuring pieces by Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Lou Harrison, and Terry Riley (quite beautiful, and a hit with the kid; may need to comment on the liner notes in the weeks ahead); Herodotus' histories; and, I don't know, a whole lot of other stuff that I hope I have the time to actually sit down and enjoy someday.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Two reviews

Found these this week:

First, a very flattering take on the new album and the group in general at Courtesy of Sheldon T. Nunn.

Despite the kind words contained therein, I feel obliged to correct a few of Mr. Nunn's statements: 1. we are not in "constant demand" throughout the states he lists (though I wish we were, and maybe someday we will be), 2. "the Industrial Jazz Group experience" is not "beyond comprehension," and 3. the latest CD does not rely on a formula that has gone "virtually unchanged in [our] six years together." In fact, with respect to the material on Go Go!, we're a totally different band from the one we were six years ago.

No need to dwell on these points, of course, and again many thanks to Mr. Nunn for writing such a positive review. But I mention the bit about the so-called "formula" because of the other thing I found this week: a writeup on Hardcore (our first album, released in 2001) that appeared in the electronic version of some east coast fanzine (the web version is called BLOG TO COMM).

First of all, fuck CBGB. I don't know the latest details on the whole fight to keep the club alive, and I don't really care. But after they served me up an enormous helping of grief and stress by cancelling the show we were scheduled to play there during our first east coast tour (June 2005) -- cancelling it, I should add, a week before the show was supposed to happen (remember, we're from LA -- that's a long commute) -- I've gotta say I don't have a lot of sympathy for them.

Needless to say we were never "front and center" at CBGB. But even if we had been, we wouldn't have been performing any material from Hardcore, which, while a good album that I am proud of, is admittedly more "in the tradition," and in any case is light years away from the sort of thing we're doing now. That's not to say that Mr. BLOG TO COMM (what does that title mean, anyway?) would be more interested in the kind of thing we're doing now, but, unless he were stone cold deaf (a possibility, I guess) he'd be hard-pressed to dismiss it as "old hat."

Hmmm. Am I being cranky?

Sunday, October 08, 2006


Random bits of data pertinent to our second week in Portland:

1. I learned of the imminent demise of both "new music" series at Club Tropical (Cryptonight on Thursdays, and Ear Orchard on Mondays). The reason? Carlos, Club Tropical's owner, is selling the restaurant. Hard to say whether these series (these serieses?), which collectively make up a good portion of the lifeblood of interesting music in LA, will resurrect somewhere else. Probably -- the LA scene has always been something of a moveable feast. But given that CT has been the IJG's "home base" for the last few years, I have to add this particular development to the list of reasons I'm glad I got out of Los Angeles when I did. Sooner or later, the band was going to wither and die due to a lack of light.

2. Continuing with the botanical theme: Thandie and I spent at least three mornings this week raking leaves. Holy crap, it's Autumn! We never really enjoyed that season in "the Southland." Here, we've got lots of trees, and thus lots of colorful dried foliage lying around. Raked up a bunch of it and had a blast demonstrating to the kid the art of "leaf pile jumping."

3. And more: gonna have to learn how to take care of a full-on yard (I was about to say "a garden," but technically there are numerous gardens scattered throughout the property). That's right, urban Durkin is gonna have to develop a green thumb, right quick. I must say that I'm actually anticipating this, much to my surprise. I still identify primarily as a city-dweller (which is why I'm thankful that downtown Portland is a mere ten minutes away). But I have always enjoyed yard work -- at least the somewhat simple tasks I had to do as a kid (mow the lawn, rake the leaves, clip the hedge) -- because, strangely enough, I did some of my best thinking while engaged in it. When I was a kid, yard work ran a close second to walking in terms of providing a, ahem, fertile context for conceptual creativity.

One last twist on this point: now there is the added benefit of really feeling the resonance of the famous ending to Voltaire's Candide, where, after a series of unbelievably unpleasant run-ins with the worst of human nature, the hapless hero decides literally to focus on cultivating his own garden (the language is Voltaire's). I can feel the value of that now -- living in this increasingly horrific world, with its litany of problems -- I suspect that from this point forward, my own contributions, whatever they may be, will need to radiate outward from a carefully nurtured backyard.

4. What with the move and all, I had originally been planning a brief sabbatical from the group. Let me clarify: work on the new recording, and whatever new compositions might develop, would of course continue, but I wanted to step away from the drudge work of booking and promoting for the rest of the year. I sort of felt like I needed this for my own sanity. But with our upcoming trip east (for IAJE in January 07), there's just no way I can let down my guard. This will surely be our most complicated trip yet -- putting it together is sort of like the hardest game of chess I have ever played.

Of course, I remain optimistic that IAJE could pay off. But I also have to admit at this point that the show I am most excited about is our double bill with Darcy James Argue's Secret Society -- one of a handful of other big bands out there playing original music. Check out Darcy's blog if you haven't already -- he's a motherfucker composer, he writes (prose) well, too, and in general he's fighting the good fight.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

North by Northwest

Well, here we are, in our new house, in our new city, in our new lives.

Been here since Monday, in fact. I brought up the rear of the caravan, providing transportation for (among many other things) our two cats. (Any of you who have ever traveled with cats know what that was like.)

I've had my handyman hat on since my arrival -- which so far mostly means that I've been doing a lot of painting.

The week before the move was fairly stressful. Played the last IJG gig of '06 at Safari Sam's on Thursday -- and it was sort of an anticlimax after the fun we had on our August tour. The band played well enough, though we were (in my opinion) seriously crippled by an unusually large number of subs. Further, the LA audience, which had come out in full force for our previous show (at Club Tropical), had seemingly retreated back into the warm comfort of a living room, a TV, and a beer. In other words, hardly anyone came out to hear us. All of this is quite frustrating, given that Safari Sam's is one of the coolest spaces we've ever had the opportunity to play.

Aside from the gig, pre-PDX week was full of recording sessions, as I continued to ready the material for our next album, The Art of the Mixtape, vol. 1. We got a nice chunk of work done, but it ate into valuable packing time, so I ended up having to delay my planned departure from 6 AM on Sunday to 3 PM on Sunday (an adjustment that also meant I was doing the trip in two days instead of one).

Anyway, so far, all our most optimistic expectations regarding life in Portland and our new house have been confirmed. Thandie absolutely loves the big-ass yard. Twice already the three of us have walked down to the nearest cafe for breakfast (a cozy little joint called Marco's -- stellar omelettes and coffee), a trip that involved following a "trail" (railroad ties set as steps into the side of a hill) through a mess of blackberry bushes. And twice now neighbors have popped over to welcome us -- one even brought cookies. Coming from the frantic lack of neighborliness that we found in LA, such acts appear extraordinary. They take some getting used to, in fact.

There'll be more details to relate in the weeks ahead, but for now I'm quite confident: this will be the perfect place from which to launch my plans for IJG, phase two (in which we finally are able to pay our bills by playing in said band).

Thursday, September 21, 2006

My life this week

Packing, packing, packing, recording, packing, recording, recording, packing, performing, packing, recording, packing, getting in a car and driving to Portland.

Whew! I'll fill in the details when I actually have time to think.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Why Erik Satie is better than Lynyrd Skynyrd

There are 841 reasons, actually.

Redundant? No way.

By the by, it's worth noting that the instructions on the original score are actually conditional: ""In order to play this motif 840 times consecutively to oneself, it will be useful to prepare oneself beforehand, and in utter silence, by grave immobilities." In order to play it that way -- not that one should be expected to play it that way.

So kudos to Kenneth Goldsmith (the guy behind the recent performance, linked above) for taking liberties with this one.

(No, I haven't listened to all eight hours.)

Free Albums points to a good article on the man and the piece.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Why Lynyrd Skynyrd is not a great band

All of the ingredients are there, sure, but check this out:

"Well I heard Mr. Young sing about us.
I heard old Neil put us down.
Well I hope Neil Young will remember,
a southern man don't need him around anyhow."

Aside from the knee-jerk defensiveness of these lines, have you ever read anything so fucking redundant? Couldn't they have, like, dispensed with the same sentiment in a couplet or something?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Five years on

When I was at Drew University way back in the early nineties, earning my bachelor's degree in English and History, I went through a period when I was obsessed with two of the most disturbing events of the 20th century (not that there weren't plenty of those to choose from): the Holocaust and the Vietnam War. In my last real semester as an undergraduate, I took one particularly mind-blowing class (led by Dr. Ann Saltzman) on the psychology of the Holocaust. I think that was probably the first time I had heard the term "routinization," which in this context was used in reference to the majority of citizens under the Nazi regime, who may have initially been horrified by the actions of their "overlords," but who, as time went on, became anaesthetized to Hitler's violence. That is, though these citizens may not have explicitly approved of the gas chambers (for instance), they grew to accept them as part of the "new world order." It was that weird resignation, that weird casual refusal to take responsibility, that (many would argue) actually enabled the Holocaust to happen.

At around the same time, the first president Bush took us all into Iraq for Gulf War no. 1. What a crazy thing that was. Yellow ribbons (despite the extremely low casualty rate), full-page spreads in all the reputable news magazines, rah rah, we whupped 'em good, didn't we? I can remember being against that war too, getting into arguments with friends about it, convincing a few of them of the stupidity of it all. I was in the minority, alas. For my little east coast community, at least, Iraq 1.0 was kind of a purging of all the demons of Viet Nam (which was seen as "the first war American lost"). And even for me, an avowed pacifist, I had to admit that the swiftness with which we kicked Saddam out of Kuwait made me feel like, well, what the fuck... nothing can touch us, right? We've got it together as a country, even if we're being led by a jerk who often seemed like a parody of himself (believe me, Bush I made Dana Carvey's job easy).

I hated that war, and I hated the way that my family and neighbors seemed to think it was no big deal. But I was young, I was in college, and I was looking for a fight. The sad thing is that I didn't know -- none of us knew -- how relatively blissful that period actually was.

It occurred to me today that it's strange, very strange that we don't have national days of mourning for 9/11 and Katrina -- two of the most concentrated catostrophic fuckups in American history (conveniently packed into one godawful presidency). But then I wondered, if such official recognitions did exist, would they really make any difference? I can still remember everything about where I was and what I felt on Septmber 11, 2001 -- and I feel like I should be forcing myself to recall my own experience of that day as vividly as possible whenever the anniversary rolls around. Stoke the anger, I muse: maybe that will lead somewhere productive.

But I also feel as though, as Americans, we've gone through a process of routinization, responding as any sentient being would to a constant barrage of violence, lies, and affronts to decency: tune it out. Make yourself numb. This in fact is a psychological defense mechanism: it helps one to maintain sanity in an insane world. But it may also be the key insight of the strategists who got Bush II elected in the first place: in a mostly apolitical world, one can be as evil as one likes. In other words, create a context of constant evil, and evil itself no longer appears as an aberration. It is, instead, the way we do business.

Maybe this is where art can step in and actually be valuable. For instance: as I type I am watching Spike Lee's documentary on Katrina. Wow, it brings that disaster back with an unbelievable vividness. It's a merciless artwork that drives directly to the heart of the evil.

Man, I gotta do that too. Even in the midst of all the comedy in my own group, there has to be that arrow to the heart of evil. Otherwise what's the point, in a world like this?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Bernie, we hardly knew ye

Half-watched (a replay of) the Leonard Bernstein American Masters presentation on PBS (okay, so they're not total fuckups) the other night, and was quite inspired, in spite of myself.

What an interesting life this guy led.

I can remember quite distinctly the first time I heard the soundtrack to West Side Story -- it was in the basement of our house in Florham Park, NJ. I was maybe 11 or so, had just aquired my first cassette recorder (which I thought was the coolest thing in the world), and had made my own copy of the LP. We had this old-school yellow formica table down in that basement, and I was seated at it, trying to complete some dumb homework assignment or other. Alas, I couldn't stop checking out the music -- an early example of my inability to put what I needed to do above what I wanted to do. Play, rewind. Play, rewind.

Then I discovered Candide -- thanks to our very ambitious high school band director, Andy Stachow, who apparently thought nothing of asking a bunch of pimply-faced teenagers to attempt the (rather gnarly) overture from that work. Can't remember if we ever got to play that one in concert... but does it matter? What's important is that I found out about it. And that overture continues to be one of my favorite pieces (indeed, I have earmarked it for the IJG "cover" album that I may try to do someday).

I suppose the thing I respect most about Bernstein now -- having discovered much of his other chamber and symphonic music (goodness gracious, have you heard Chichester Psalms?) -- is that, aside from being a consummate musical personality, he stuck to a particular concept and saw it through to the end. In other words, like another hero of mine, Samuel Barber, he never got aboard the twelve-tone bandwagon, but rather stayed true to an ideal of lyrical, melodic, harmonic music, not because it was or was not fashionable or "progressive," but because he liked it. Not that either side of this duality is "better" -- just that I can admire people who ignore a given zeitgeist in favor of their own aesthetic desires.

Ah, pleasure. What a complex phenomenon.

What has always baffled me about Bernstein, on the other hand, is that his total compositional output was not really commensurate with his talent. In that sense, I suppose he recalls Mendelssohn and Saint-Saens. But it just doesn't make a sense that a moron like me could seemingly be unable to stop writing, while Lenny suffered writer's block. Huh?

Ah, personality. What a complex phenomenon.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

What is Thandie watching?

Don't ask me why this one is such a big hit. I have no idea if she understands the plot or anything like that. But it is currently in heavy rotation for some reason.

Anyway, we're in Portland once again, continuing to dance the real estate tango -- the house inspection went well enough, but there are some big-ticket items that we're hoping to avoid taking on ourselves. Should know more in the next few days.

Oh, yeah, and I have a question: there aren't really any "stars" warring in Star Wars, are there? I mean, the Jedis and the Empire are warring, but they aren't "stars," right? So what the fuck?

(Sorry, I'm very tired, and drunk again.)

A nice debunking...

...of the whole "appeasement" argument.

Verrrrrrry interesting...

MySpace to Enable Members to Sell Music.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

IJG in the VV

So Tom Hull's blurb on us (for his Village Voice column, "Jazz Consumer Guide") has been published. It really is just a blurb (among many blurbs), but it's in the fucking Voice, which is kind of cool. Anyway, it's short enough for me to quote in its entirety: "Andrew Durkin's big band unveils new models—Dion, Elmore James, Pérez Prado, Oliver Nelson." Hopefully that's enough of an interest-pique-er for people to want to buy the record.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

IJG August 2006 tour

(photo by Kim Tiner)

August 24: Culver City! August 25-6: Carson City! August 27: Oakland! August 28: Bakersfield!

Before I forget, there's a Mike Richardson quote from this tour that I simply need to record for posterity. Uttered on Friday: "It was a good day for emergency vehicles." (Mostly these had nothing to do with us, except for that fucking cop on the 5 freeway -- thanks for the ticket, Officer Chuck!)

Anyway, we're back! Here's the quick sketch of the last five days:

The first show was in our "home turf" of Culver City, and I must say it was the most fun I've had with the group in a long time. Not because of the performance (which is always top-notch, let's face it), but because of the audience. I don't know where our LA fans have been hiding for the last year but this time around they came out in droves. It was what is referred to in the business as a "good turnout," and the audience responsiveness made a great show so much better.

In fact, in general we had good audiences for this tour, at least in comparison with the recent past. Bakersfield proved the most disappointing in this regard, but what that city lacked in bodies, it sure made up for in enthusiasm.

We also had some new faces / sounds in the group, and, oh my goodness, the resulting stew was some kind of wonderful. I had been flirting with the idea of vibes (and other auxiliary percussion) for some time, and had only recently gotten around to following through, thanks in part to the urging of IJG stalwart Dan Rosenboom. DR turned me on to the playing of Drew Jorgensen, who joined us for the beginning and the end of the tour, pushing the eerieness factor in our music up by a few notches.

And that factor was pushed up a few notches more with the addition of Tany Ling, a world-class soprano who ably jumped into the void left by the absence of Jill (our regular singer, herself world-class, whose Burning Man commitments prevented her from doing this tour). Big band + vibes + soprano = chills! (Incidentally, I am now drooling at the possibility of getting Tany and Jill together for some future show to start re-presenting at least some of those long-silent Evelyn Situation harmonies -- in an IJG context, of course. I can dream, can't I?)

Tany sang with us in Culver City, but she couldn't do the rest of the tour, so in Oakland we had Dina Emerson, and in Bakersfield, Amanda Tiner. Tany was the only one who had had the benefit of two rehearsals, but each of these other chicks stepped up to the task with a bravery that I find humbling. Particularly notable was Amanda (that's right, sister of our esteemed colleague and good friend, Kris Tiner), who performed with us in Bakersfield and who is the first singer to actually have brought a jazz sensibility to the music, sending things in new, unanticipated, and totally beautiful directions.

On top of all of this, there is footage of at least two, maybe three of the shows from this tour. More than enough footage, in fact, for me to seriously think about the possibility of putting some sort of DVD thing together. (Or at least for me to finally get some sense of how ridiculous I look when I'm conducting.)

The trip was not without its drama, of course. (Another quote for the ages: KT, I think, pointing out something to the effect that it just wouldn't be an IJG tour otherwise.) Mostly this had to do with the Carson City festival, as (through some combination of miscommunication, misunderstanding, and lack of a contract) the initial offer of three sets turned into two sets, which turned into one set, which turned into one set with the rhythm section being drafted for some other group. In the interest of putting this shit to bed (as Carmine Lupertazzi would put it), these are complications that I'd rather not revisit here. Suffice it to say that things were ultimately resolved. We ended up using the quintet version of the group for the festival, playing a totally bitchen show late on Friday (immediately after completing an eight hour van ride), and then on Saturday providing background music for some strange, starched, private party (apparently the festival folks wanted to give us a chance to play twice after all, but this was the best thing they could find). We're not exactly good at providing background music, but no matter: we got fed, we got bread, and we got beer. Lots of beer.

(Speaking of the quintet, I'd be remiss if I didn't give mad props to Ariel Alexander, who over the past few months has cheerfully taken on the somewhat formidable task of learning three separate IJG alto books (quintet, tentet, and big band) in record time. Ariel was a particularly big hit in Carson City, and her willingness to travel in the midst of so much unbridled testosterone betrayed a pluckiness that I won't soon forget. She's a strong, strong addition to the group.)

There is one last theme that came up several times during this tour, and that bears repeating here. In Oakland, a guy came up to me after the show and said that he would pay a lot of money to see us in a bigger venue. In Bakersfield, someone else mentioned that I should be getting paid a lot of money to write music. "A lot of money": this is a phrase that I have never been able to realistically associate with the IJG, but as we get tighter (and believe me, by the end of this trip, the group was tighter than a flapper in a speakeasy), and as we build our vocal book, and as we get funnier and funner and weirder and cooler, it's a phrase that I hear more and more.

We'll see. Cross your fingers.

Anyway, thank you, musicians of the IJG. You never cease to amaze me.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Our New Home?

Well, maybe. We're in escrow now.

If we get it, though, we will have really lucked out. Ironically, after a long weekend of looking, this house was one of the last things we found. We saw a lot of cool stuff, but this was the only one that really jumped out at us. Oodles of square footage and a huge back yard with various fruit trees. Lots of green in general. Big windows. Privacy. Peace. Maybe even room to build a studio (but at the very least space for rehearsal and visiting musicians and a piano and a drum kit and stuff like that).

I won't say more until it's a done deal, but obviously, this increases the likelihood that we'll be living in Portland by October. By a lot.

Holy crap!

As far as we can determine, the same house / property would cost more than twice as much in LA (in other words, there would be no way we could afford it).

Cross your cyber-fingers (digits?). And your real fingers too.

(Pix by our good friend Sarah.)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

How I know we're losing the "War on Terror"

So you mean you're asking me, my wife, and our baby to get to the airport terminal two hours before our scheduled departure, go through all the requisite security check-in procedures, be told our 9 PM flight is delayed until 9:30 and then to 12 midnight, wrangle with the airline company to try and get an early morning flight for the next day, secure said next-day-early-morning flight (thank you, whoever is in charge of the universe), go home (without our checked-in baggage, and thus without our car seat -- nice one, whoever is in charge of the universe), grab a few hours of sleep, get up at some ungodly hour, stand in a long line to get revised boarding passes, go through security again, and just barely make it to the gate for our 7:15 AM flight to Portland... all this, and I can't bring a lousy cup of good (and damned expensive) coffee on the plane? I have to guzzle my steaming hot Starbucks cappuccino in the three or so minutes between purchasing it and entering the boarding walkway?

It's become something of an evening news cliche to show a bit of footage of passengers at an airport terminal saying something like "Yeah, it's a pain that we have to [insert whatever new security procedures have been recently implemented]. But it's all meant to keep us safe."

Maybe. But if we truly are at risk of being blown up by liquid explosives, then nota bene: Daphne and I both accidentally violated the edict against liquids and lotions, once on our departing flight (a fairly large bottle of spray-on sun block I had forgotten was in my backpack), and once on our returning flight (a small bottle of hand sanitizer Daphne had transferred to her purse and neglected to remove). Nobody stopped us.

Friday, August 11, 2006

And, oh yeah, another reason to leave LA

Like a too-tightly wound spring, it is. (Be sure to check out the animation located in the right hand column.)

Actually, I'm sort of fascinated by this subject, and if I weren't so protective of my family, I'd probably stay in LA just to see what the "big one" was like.

[Looks at animation again.]

Okay, maybe not.

Monday, August 07, 2006

So, "wha happen"?

Editor's note: Because my lawyers have advised me to exercise extreme caution in the presentation of this data, some details and names have been changed to protect both the guilty and the innocent.

Hello, my name is Les Tremain. I used to work at the world-famous Institute for Muckracking Lunacy. I don't work there no more. This is my story.

[Cue opening credits / music.]

Gather around, children, this is a real tale of intrigue.

First, the backstory: I was brought on to the IML "team" two years ago, thanks to the urging and politicking of my good and brilliant friend, Charlie Graumann. Graumann warned me in advance of what he was getting me into, though at the same time he seemed to hold out hope that if enough good people came to work for the organization, we'd together overcome its pathologies with wit and good humor, not to mention the sheer bouyancy of our ideas. From my perspective, any paycheck that I received for thinking about stuff (as opposed to paychecks received for teaching spoiled teenagers how to ace the SATs, which was my day job at the time) sounded pretty good. My daughter (Tina Tremain) had just been born, and and my wife (Mrs. Tremain to you) was on leave, and we needed money.

What pathologies, you ask? Well, the IML has always been crippled by its founder: the very dangerous, very powerful, and (ah, what the hell, let's not mince words here) totally insane Dean of USC's School of Phantasmagoria, Lizzy P. Nightly. She's perfectly qualified to be a dean, of course: she's wealthy, she name-drops like a constipated pigeon, and she doesn't know doodly-squat about education. Like the Hollywoodland from whence she sprung, she only cares about the sheen, the veneer, the glitz, and the dog and pony show. She's plastic to the core. I suspect she may run for president someday: don't vote for her.

Nightly's basic stance, arrived at in conversation with (of all people) Han Solo (she will never, ever stop telling this story), is that moviemaking is the academic language of the future. She doesn't exactly put it that way (instead of "moviemaking," she usually substitutes the phrase "image and sound") but that's what she means. She posits a world in which writing and critical thinking, as academic pursuits, will join the horse-drawn carriage on the dust-heap of history. Books will become obsolete. Ideas will be "communicated" and "argued" with pictures (and, to a lesser extent, sound). There's a New Age naivete to this position, as if "going digital" is an entirely benign enterprise.

Now, those of you who know me personally know I'm no Luddite. My resistance to Nightly's vision was not derived from technophobia. Computers? I love the little buggers. The web? I'm there every day. But I do resist the idea that traditional writing (you know, with words) will ever become outmoded as an academic or intellectual practice. Like George Orwell and the late great Neil Postman, I think it's the best tool we have for the precise articulation of knowledge and (especially) argumentation. Besides, I think writing actually thrives in a digital environment (look at the so-called "blogosphere," for fuck's sake). And furthermore (excuse me while I climb on this soapbox for a moment): in this era of creepy -- no, evil -- politicians co-opting postmodernism's penchant for linguistic play (e.g. "Mission Accomplished") in order to stay in power, it is more important than ever that we teach students to think carefully, which means teaching them to use language carefully, which means teaching them to write. Again, considering our political context, poo-pooing that traditional responsibility of academia is an act of pure hubris and irresponsibility. And because the IML did poo-poo that traditional responsibility of academia, the rest of the University (particularly those with vested interests and proven track records, like the Writing Program) looked upon us with distrust and, in some cases, loathing.

Complicating things further, the story of the IML has always been a tale of struggle between those who lorded it over the Institute (primarily Nightly and her two lackeys, one willing and one reluctant (Stephan Hashish and Annie "Balsamic" Vinegar), on the one hand, and those who were working at education's "ground level": TAs, post-docs, junior faculty, etc. The focus of the contention was always the disconnect between rhetoric and actuality. The IML's slate of course offerings were all (in my view) crippled by this problem. The curricula (such as it was) called for courses that got "beyond writing," but instructors were consistently at a loss to demonstrate what students really knew once writing was no longer the common currency. There was little agreement among IML faculty / staff as to what we were actually doing, or what "multimedia literacy" -- er, sorry, muckracking lunacy -- even was. When things went wrong -- usually because of the abovementioned disconnect -- the TAs took the brunt of the stress, as our leaders conveniently checked out to attend some ridiculous function or other. Suggestions for improvement, offered by those who were actually involved in the teaching of IML courses, were generally met with deaf ears. Not surprisingly, rank and file morale was typically low. People put on a brave face in the hallway, but behind closed doors there was seemingly no end to the discontent.

Technically, I was hired to write a textbook that explained the IML's methodology. But the IML didn't really have a methodology -- at best, it had a loose hodge-podge of half-formed ideas that had been only partially jotted down in a few brochures and articles like the one linked above. It didn't take me long to discover that what was actually expected of me was that I would create literature that adhered to the party line -- i.e., Nightly's simplistic notion that moviemaking is the new academic language -- rather than working to help flesh out an actual philosophical position for the IML's cart-before-the-horse-ism. To put it more ironically: because I can write, I was hired to write a book to explain why universities no longer need writing. It was a cleverly disguised PR job, rather than an academic appointment, per se. Luckily for me, no one really kept tabs on (or seemed to care about) what I actually did. But over time, I became more and more disenchanted with the Institute's grand claims, and came to think of myself as the resident interloper at our endless meetings (I suspect many of my colleagues secretly felt the same way about themselves).

Charlie was probably my closest confidante in this regard. We had many long surreptitious conversations about the problem, which eventually took on an ethical dimension: as fathers with young children who would be entering some lousy school system or other in a few years, it didn't take long for us to feel the pressure of working for an organization that seemed hell-bent on dismantling the very thing that we thought a liberal arts education was for. Then, one particularly frustrating week last fall, we sort of accidentally created the class (IML 499) that we would have wanted to run had we actually been in charge of the IML (I still remember the night I wrote the draft syllabus: there was a huge thunderstorm that seemed to presage the road we were going down). The distinction was that our course was actually built on the USC Writing Program's foundational course (a requirement for all incoming undergrads at USC), rather than pretending that writing was no longer important. It used a single, user-friendly and text-friendly software -- Robert "Dark Lord" Stevens' ICK4, rather than forcing students to learn a suite of professional design tools like Flash and Final Cut Pro. It was modest, cautious, "gradualist," and logical.

All this was well and good as long as IML 499 remained hypothetical. But at some point we told the Dark Lord about it (since we considered him a fellow traveler of sorts, and never had anything against darkness per se), and that really set the ball rolling for our demise. The backstory here is that Robbie (as we called him) -- egomaniacal, brilliant, curmudgeonly, high-intensity Robbie -- himself had sort of a strained relationship with the IML, not to mention with "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" (as we called her). He was affiliated with the Institute in some way that I still don't completely understand, but the long and short of it is that he seemed to feel that they wanted to use his name (because of his fame in intellectual circles), but they didn't actually want to make use of any of his work. As a result, ICK4 had been languishing on IML computer screens for several years before anybody had gotten around to incorporating it into a class. When Robbie found out we had gone so far as to make it the staple of a proposed course, he got a little, uh, excited.

So we had a few surreptitious meetings with him at a local Starbucks, and began to plan what was essentially an insurrection: use Robbie's connections at the University, and my and Charlie's connections with USC's Writing Program, plus the support of fellow IML-er Lucia Koop (who already had developed a national reputation for her work with new technology and education), and do an end-run, offering the class to the University without bothering to check in with any of our "superiors."

It was, in retrospect, a very cheeky move. We had gotten some very positive feedback from the University right away (someone pretty high up in the hierarchy actually told me off the record that this was the sort of thing he had been waiting for the IML to produce all along), so I think we were a little arrogant about what we could accomplish. We thought the "best idea would win" (as Charlie put it) and we knew we had the best idea. As I said, our course was much more logical than the typical IML offering, and it didn't run roughshod over the academic tradition. It was also very inexpensive (mostly because it didn't require a lot of software or tech support). As a matter of fact, Nightly and Vinegar were at the time in the midst of trying to get the University to agree to a gianormous budget for an IML General Education program they were proposing for Fall 06 -- and were meeting with some resistance, to say the least. So we thought we were timing our coup perfectly.

Alas, were we wrong. In academia, as in too many other areas of American life, the best idea doesn't win. We had hoped to quietly submit the course to the University and then lay low for a few months in the hopes that it would be approved, at which point it would be unveiled as a fait accompli. As it actually happened, word got back to Nightly-Vinegar almost immediately. As the IML's resident "powers that be," they had the authority to pull the plug, and we were essentially fucked. Or, more specifically: the Dark Lord was always safe, cuz he was a senior affiliate of the IML. But Charlie, Lucia, and myself were called into Vinegar's office for an "urgent meeting," during which we were read the riot act for undermining her authority (and during which I had an uncanny flashback to high school). It was actually sort of comical, because she was essentially reaming us for having had the chutzpah to create what she admitted was exactly the sort of academically strong course that the IML should be offering. And the only reason for the reaming -- just to be absolutely clear here -- was that Nightly had her heart set on more of the kind of nonsense the Institute had always specialized in.

They couldn't fire us outright, because we hadn't done anything wrong, technically. But the die was cast. When June rolled around, Charlie and I did not get new contracts (Lucia was allowed to remain because she was a much more recent hire). If that sounds harsh, consider the Institute's turnover rate as evidence of a deeper problem: we were joining seven of our recently departed colleagues, and would soon be joined by four more (and who knows who else in the months ahead).

Despite the fact that I moved to LA to get a PhD and try my hand at an academic career, and despite the fact that I still do get a certain thrill from delving into what is sometimes loosely called "the world of ideas," I've known since 2000 or so (the year I formed the IJG) that I wasn't made for the kind of place that academia has become. I suppose I should be thankful to the IML for reminding me pretty definitively of that conviction. For all the frustration that comes with being in the "music industry," it still seems a saner, more generous place than academia. Of course, there was never any question as to where my passions lay: I have been identifying primarily as a musician / composer / songwriter since high school. But I always assumed I'd need a day job to support that passion, and at one time academia seemed the best option for making a living.

Boy, was I wrong!