Sunday, December 21, 2008

I'm impressed

OK- been awhile here since I posted- first off, I must make a slight retraction to my post of "Get Over It".  Turns out that the pastor that I cited as wanting a bill passed to remove an atheist sign in the Washington State capitol building was in error.  He was trying to get his sign posted as a "15 minutes of rebuttal" to the aforementioned atheist sign.  If that were it, I'd probably be ok with it, but he decided to have a press conference that dissolved into saying things like because the governor allowed this to happen she was "turning Washington into the armpit of America".  <sigh>  Yeah, like that was better........gee, my mistake for inferring that this pastor was doing something stupid.........

Now that that's over with-

For those that haven't seen our weather up here in the Upper Left Hand Corner, it's been something pretty special, even for someone who has lived in snow before.  Since last Monday, we've had something like 13" of snow (7 of it last night, and another 3 today) along with 1" of sleet and 50mph winds.  Truly impressive.  Here's a couple of pix:
This is from my living room window, looking across the street.  Big fun.


Here's another shot, looking down my hill to the east.  This is not a fun street to get up and down on with this kind of snow.


A shot into my backyard from my upstairs deck.  This is a common yard, shared by 4 houses, and it's usually full of kids.  Not today.........they'd be swallowed up.

I did try to venture out today to the grocery store for my wife (who is terrified of driving in snow) - and I got stuck twice in snowdrifts.  Nice.  Not terribly manly, lemme tell ya.

So, for all my friends here that I refer to as "WWW" - "Washington Weather Whimps" - I'll give ya this one.  This has been a pretty good storm, and it doesn't look like we're gonna be in the clear anytime soon.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Get Over It

Let's get the precursors out of the way first.

I am a Christian. A Protestant at that. I don't believe in God, Jesus and The Bible- I KNOW them. God and my relationship with Jesus Christ is like air to me- I require them to live. I know that Jesus is The Messiah, that His death on the cross atoned for my sins and the sins of others; that He resurrected in 3 days and ascended to Heaven, and that He is coming back. He was 100% God and 100% man (at the same time) and that He lives to this day. These are incontrovertible facts, and nothing anyone does or says will shake me from this. I've seen, experienced, tasted and smelled God in my life in things big and small, good and bad, and all other points in between. And, I believe that this time of year has everything to do with the birth of Jesus, and not some kind of weird, materialistic thing that some have made it out to be.

And, that is why the atheist sign in Olympia doesn't bother me. (For those that don't know what I'm talking about, click here.)

Yep- you read that right- it doesn't bother me. I could care less. Display your sign, folks. In fact, make it bigger and put lights on it. Make it bigger than the Christian and Jewish signs, and when the Christians and the Jews make their signs bigger, I want you atheist folks to make your sign bigger again with more lights. Do it!!

I am in no way being sarcastic, either. Quite the opposite, in fact. I assert that the atheist folks have the inalienable right to do it, and we, as Christians (or Jews) do not have the right to do or say anything that would take that right away. I'm neither offended nor am I challenged by different viewpoints of this nature. I don't want to suggest that the US Constitution has anywhere near the veracity of The Bible, but I do believe it. The Constitution says that any US Citizen has the right to do what they are doing- or, more accurately, the Constitution says that the government shall not keep it from happening.

That said, I heard a radio spot today that a certain well-known pastor here in the Northwest is trying to get some bill passed that would remove this sign. This pastor basically has no other ministry other than loudly standing in opposition to things like this, and honestly seems to believe that his efforts are noble and right in how they line up with Scripture. I say that's crap. They don't. They are nothing but hot air designed to separate a loving Christ from those that say they don't believe in Him in the first place. The Scripture I read says to tell these people who have the atheist sign that God loves them, too, and by doing that, you place those who created the sign and the sentiment in the path of a God that will deal with them. At that point, your job, Mr. Pastor, is done and over with. Get over it.

So- my ire here is not with the atheists who put up the sign. They have the right in this country to be wrong. They have the right to miss the point and say what they want to say. My ire is with those who share my belief in God who are so empty and so shallow that their entire existence is do nothing more than shout and miss the point that they are to exhibit love and nothing more. (Please note that there is a distinct difference between "love" and "acceptance") Anything that any Christian would espouse that would fly in the face of redemption and reconciliation and just create more hostility is wrong, and serves no other purpose than just raising the rafters. If there's a bill to be passed to have something removed, it should be this pastor and those like him.

Just get over it already. No matter what sign they put up, it doesn't change the immutable fact that Jesus died for them, too.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Fascinating

It's 1969. I am 5 years old, and my parents have taken me and my baby sister to rural Florida to visit my great-grandparents, who spent their winters there. They were from Nebraska, and were farmers. My great-grandfather, Noel Bacon, was born in the late 1880's, and came from a family that was so poor that they had to literally sell some of their children to other farmers in the area- and this was a common practice. Grandpa Noel had an accident when he was a little boy, and broke both his knees, and he walks with two canes. He's a tough old bird- this guy used to walk behind horses with a disc plow on his fields in the hot Nebraska summer sun to provide for his family- on canes!

Grandpa Noel and I are at a park, where I am playing on the playground- I don't remember if there were many kids there or not- but I'm thirsty, so I go to a drinking fountain to get a drink of water. There are two drinking fountains there, but one is much lower to the ground, so that is the one I use.

Without warning, a man walks around the corner and sees me, and begins yelling at me. I don't understand what he's saying, but he's very angry and he scares me and I run to my grandpa. My grandpa gets to his feet, and he begins yelling at the other man, and grandpa is very, very angry, calling the man "ignorant" and "stupid". I honestly think they're gonna fight, and I'm really scared. After a few minutes, the other man walks away, and grandpa says, "Come on, Marc. Let's go home." I'm happy to do it, too, because now there is a bunch of people standing around, staring at my grandpa and me, and they all seem very angry, and I don't know why. I'm just scared.

The reason that the man was angry was that I was drinking out of a "colored only" drinking fountain. Grandpa Noel's family were staunch Abolitionists during the Civil War, and grandpa made no secret of his disdain of segregationist practices. Grandpa Noel had older brothers in his "adopted" family that were killed in the Civil War, fighting for the Union because of this. (My sincerest apologies for my many southern friends here- you know who you are)

No, I didn't vote for Barack Obama. The reasons I didn't vote for him are myriad- I don't share his beliefs; I don't think he's qualified; I don't think the government's place is to be involved in the day-to-day individual's business; I like smaller government, etc., etc. I do think he's fairly genuine on many things- I truly believe that he cares about this country, and I don't see him as evil incarnate like many others do. I also think that since he's a politician, he's probably as scummy as the rest of them are, but that almost negates my point here: our society has progressed and evolved.

40 years ago, the great Dr. Martin Luther King gave his "I Have A Dream" speech. That speech really had little to do with the cause of minority civil rights- it had more to do with civil rights as a whole, and I don't think Dr. King had even the slightest notion that what occurred last night would be the outcome- and, more than that, last night's outcome isn't even something that Dr. King wanted, specifically. What Dr. King's message in that speech was that as we are ALL brothers and sisters in Christ, we ALL have an equal part to play in the world. We ALL need to recognize that and move through it.

No. I didn't vote for Barack Obama. I'm not terribly happy with the choice this country has made for its leader. I think there's going to be lots of fallout - good and bad - from this decision. I'm a little worried about the all Democrat White House, House of Representatives and Senate (and I would be equally worried about an all Republican version of that, too), but this country has weathered this kind of thing before. But, aside from those things - things I don't know and cannot forsee - I am thrilled beyond measure that this country has put aside a gigantic chunk of our shared history and has opted to look at man to lead this great country, and looked at THE MAN, instead of the color. Honestly, that does more to negate my misgivings than anything else. The people have spoken and the process has been worked. I am anxious to see how this all plays out, and even though I didn't vote for Barack, he is my President, and I will support him to the best of my ability.

God Bless the United States of America.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Let's Elect To Be Happy

Well, it seems that I do more than my fair share of bitching about this and that. Here's a change:

After last weekend's Saturday fiasco, I was really looking to jump start this week, and I think I got that this morning.  Had a great time at Soteria Church today- the usual cast of characters in Brad Boal, Ed Weber, Destry Lucas and myself in the band along with Chuck and Kathleen- but, we also had Mike McGee and Dave Yingling doing guitar duties, Eric Popowicz on B3 and my dear, dear friend, Dr. Ron Cole on trumpet and Chuck's daughter, Rochelle on vocals.  Big band, big tunes, big crowd and bigger fun.  While good tunes and good players are a good thing, something else struck me today.

I am blessed.  I mean really, really, REALLY blessed.

The other church, while a dismal and distressing failure at providing anything that remotely resembles Christianity or Christ-like behavior, did introduce me to Chuck, Ed, Mike, Dave and Brad.  Not only do these guys absolutely slay their respective instruments, but they slay as human beings- which in my book is really what matters.  The old church has taught me that it's not about the resources, it's about the use of those resources- and the ability to allow the flourishment of ones gifts to partake in those resources.  The old church couldn't care less if they had probably one of the best bands on the west coast of the US- or, that that band was made of some truly fine human beings who deeply cared for one another and loved worshipping Jesus.  For them- or more accurately, the senior pastor- it was about perception of control. 

Note that I didn't say control.  I said the perception of it.  In many cases, perception is not reality.  It's the ability to cast oneself in the visage of knowing everything while saying absolutely nothing.  Such was the case- and where I'm blessed in this case is that, due to my involvement with the old church, I now know the difference.  And I can discern it.  And- I can show others.

I am blessed in that God granted me a measure of discernment I might not normally have.  Such is the case with having M.S.- if it weren't for this ridiculous physical limitation I have in my life, I wouldn't be nearly as compassionate as I am.  In both cases, God took something that really should have been limiting, but instead turned it into something that has made me a better person, and all the while He gets the glory for it.  That's thrilling to be part of, because when measured up against the absolute, undeniable FACT that God is the king of the universe, I've had Him directly involved in my seemingly inconsequential lifetime- but I know now that God doesn't see me as inconsequential.  That's cool x 10.

So, I have decided that I will be happy this week.  I have a gig on Wednesday with my dear, dear friends at Alligator Soul in Everett (you really should check this out if you can) and another gig on Friday evening with more dear friends.  I have the privilege of hanging with cool people in cool places, playing cool music and serving a very cool God.  How cool is that?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Benjamin Franklin

"The absent are never without fault. Nor the present without excuse."

"Words may show a man's wit, but actions his meaning."

"The proof of gold is fire."

Benjamin Franklin was a very, very smart man. I've been a student of history for as long as I can remember, mainly from my father (who is a history teacher) and from internalizing the words of the great 19th century philosopher, George Santayana, who said "those that forget the past are condemned to repeat it".

Well all know the story of Franklin "discovering" electricity with a kite and a key in an electrical storm (which probably never happened) and some of us might remember Poor Richard's Almanac, and even fewer of us remember that Franklin was really the last great renaissance man. What always impressed me about the man was his uncanny ability in phrasing things in such a way that the listener was forced to view things that they had "locked down" in a completely different and satisfying way. Franklin's approach was winsome, but it had weight. And meat. And potatoes. A full meal deal.

So, I'm re-reading my post from Saturday about my horrifically sad gig; and I'm watching the markets go marching into the toilet; and I'm listening to stories about 16 year olds driving power boats while under the influence of alchohol into the backs of sailboats and killing people; and an old friend pops up on a chat to comiserate about life and times.......

....so, what are we gonna do about this?

There is an old saying, "Many people complain about the weather, but few do anything about it", (I believe Samuel Clements wrote that) and while that's a funny statement, again there is a weight to it. Seems like these days, most folks wait for someone else to do something about whatever the mal d'jour is. Today, it's become paramount for others to find their empowerment first, and we get to complain about it as our primary role, but I submit to you, my most humble reader, that this is the very reason we are in the boat we are in. We look to our government to provide bail-outs for company's who have trampled over the very laissez-faire spirit of capitalism that got them there in the first place; we look to our church leadership to make choices that are far, far better than they are equipped to make; we look to our own municipal bodies to enforce the rules for us- but we don't vote, don't stand, don't voice, and don't move.

I'm guilty here, too- lest you think I'm all about pointing fingers and nothing else.

Franklin's quotes were all about accepting responsibility for one's actions. Ben's thrust was that we have been given the tools to do the right thing and our reaction to the things around us are ours to make our own, and the only person that gets in the way of that is US.

So, what are we gonna do about this?

I'll tell ya what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna shoot straighter than ever. I'm gonna raise my game, and I'm going to lower my bullshit ratio. I'm going to get better at doing the things I do, and I'm going to quit making excuses for it. If I ever get a call from JA about playing at that church again, I'm going to tell him "no" and I'm going to tell him why. I'm going to vote. I'm going to make my voice count, and I'm not going to slough it off to others for their empowerment and then complain about it.

See, the great thing about this country is that we can do that. We have the voice and we have the tools, and all we need to do collectively is to stand up and take it all back, and stop waiting on everyone else to do the right thing. The right thing starts in your chest and radiates outward, not the other way around.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Painful

This could be a long one…

From August, 2005 through March of this year, I was playing pretty much every single week at a largish church in Everett, Washington. The band consisted of some of the very best players in Western Washington, and we functioned like a well-oiled machine, able to take whatever was thrown at us. The worship leader, DT, is one of the best worship leaders I’ve ever had the pleasure to throw down with in any setting, and the music director, CH, is one of my dearest friends and an absolutely great sax player.

Trouble is that the senior pastor is….well…..er……he’s an interesting character. He’s a control freak of the highest nature, and to boot, in the almost three years I was there, he never even got to know me or anyone else in the band. Oh, we tried, but he was “above” us. Additionally, he was at great odds with CH and DT because he figured that he didn’t need them. There’s much, much more here, but I just can’t go into it. The main thrust here is that while DT has been on staff for 9 years, the senior pastor and the gutless elder board would never add DT to the position of worship leader- he was always the “interim”.

Last summer, CH split the scene. He just couldn’t take it anymore, and no one blamed him. Immediately after leaving the senior pastor began one of the worst played power plays I’ve ever seen in moving DT to the background. There were innuendos and politicking that made the Obama/McCain race pale in comparison. There were also bald-faced lies told by everyone in charge. The keyboard player in the band, EW, and I finally had enough and left, and have found refuge in CH’s new endeavor, a new small church in Everett that has big plans and a lead pastor who is just fabulous. The old church finally made a decision, and instead of hiring DT (as they had promised the congregation so many times) they made an end-run and hired a completely different guy into DT’s job, and relegated him to part-time status. A class act if there ever was one. The new guy is, according to all accounts, somewhat wanting in his directorial and people skills.

This last Wednesday, one of the guys in the band at the old church called me and asked if I’d be available for the Saturday service tonite. I told him that since I hadn’t “embraced the horror” first hand, I really should- it had been awhile since I’d been there, and I missed several people in that church very much. I took the gig- and it’s choir weekend, so they’re gonna pull out all the stops.

I meet the new guy. He can barely look at me. I’m thinking he feels a little threatened by the fact that as I walk in, the whole choir breaks ranks and begins making a big fuss that I’m there. (They like me- they really like me…..) We rehearse- wow- I’ve never heard the choir sound this bad. The new guy – we’ll call him JA – seems to treat all the musicians as second-rate citizens because they’re paid- a fact that is confirmed by drummer BA. When JA hands me my check for the evening right after rehearsal, I turn to him and smile and say “hey- thanks, man! I appreciate that!” and he literally skulks off. After the service, I meet him with drummer BA, and I walk up to him, stick out my hand and smile and say, “I just wanted to say thanks for having me. I hope we get to do that again.”, and his response is something that’s a little hard to put into written words- so I’ll put it this way:

“Yeah,thanksitwasgreat” – and he gets out of his chair and walks away from me.

The senior pastor saw me, and made no attempt to talk to me at all.

Neither of these guys knows me. Neither of them know my walk, or if I even have one. They don’t know if I’m married, saved, baptized, homosexual, Martian, college educated or what I do for a living. They’re too wound up in their own little worlds to even make the attempt at a connection. They’ve taken a vibrant, topical, relevant church and reduced it to their own little empire where a sermon that is based on 4 words that all have the same starting letter is all they need. They make no attempt at a relationship with anyone- another fact borne out by me asking other choir members “So, how’s it been going here?” and me receiving the same vacant 1,000 yard stare and the words, “Not good”. And, what’s even worse is that JA and the senior pastor and their elder board don’t care as long as the offering plates are full.

In my earlier years, I was a drug addict. My dealer, Skip, had a saying of “Christians are God’s worst P.R.” and folks like JA and the senior pastor make that a reality and it’s very, very sad. It’s taken me years to get to the point where things like this roll off my back, and every time I think I’ve arrived at “You-Can’t-Touch-This” land, I see the faces of people like DT, BA and choir members who have given their hearts to a principle only to see it stomped on, and I get mad again. In the meantime, senior pastor, elder board and JA will continue to hurt folks who’s intentions are among the purest, and even though God can and does get glorified in this process, it is still very difficult to bear.

I guess I have no great lesson here to give. Only to ask that my readers pray for places like this, and that they take time to treasure and protect those fragile relationships.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

MIA

Well, I guess my blog has gotten a little bit of notoriety among a select few, and when I don't write for a few days, they get a little cranky. Sorry about that- been kind of a busy week. I did a session yesterday where this blog actually came up in conversation. Apparently, my client had been reading it, and made mention of my "adapt and overcome" post of a few days ago. In bringing this up, it made me realize that I might need to clarify what I mean about being able to roll with the punches, musically.

Being that I am a bassist, I'm a big fan of Jaco Pastorius. It has little to do with his undeniable chops and facility, and has everything to do with his musicality. I've been playing bass longer than Jaco was alive, and while I can play a majority of what he played, I don't have his heart. I lack the personal experiences that drove him to do what he did the way he did it, so all I can really hope for is to try and interpret what he did through the filter of my own experiences. With that, I can lend my voice to the instrument, and maybe come up with some cool things along the way.

The way that this happens is for me to constantly strive for excellence. Again- excellence is not being able to play a million miles an hour and have all these unending riffs that I just cobble together for the sake of being able to play "well". Excellence is being able to hear things and have the facility to pull them off, no matter what the style of music is. Sometimes I hit the mark, and sometimes I don't- I think I hit somewhere in the neighborhood of about 55%, depending on the day. Also, being that everything I play, I play for God, it's doubly important that I put my best foot forward, all the time, every time. As I get older and wiser, I find that I have less and less time to put up with people who don't see it that way.

I don't expect that everyone who picks up a guitar to be Pat Metheny, or every keyboard player to be McCoy Tyner. I don't expect that everyone will have my overarching, somewhat obsessive need to push themselves- but I do expect that everyone will at least try. Nothing makes me more angry than the statement of "Well, they aren't a great player, but they have a great heart" with respect to giving them a pass on learning their instrument and being able to perform well.

A slight tangent- I've been party to the old "playing worship has nothing to do with performance" conversations. In a word, that sentiment is CRAP. You simply cannot have a musical experience without performance, period. And, that extends to playing worship music, as well as anything secular or any point in between. Everytime I hear someone make this hair-brained statement, I'm struck by the mediocrity that goes with it. It's like demanding excellence is an insult, and those of us who make the attempt at trying to excel are doing so with pride- I suppose that for some, that could be true- but I'd ask those that who really think that to see if they really know what goes on with those things that seem like worship vs. performance at all levels. Do you really think that bands like Mercy Me don't have the very best people running sound and lights, let alone play the instruments? Come on, folks- it's all the same thing.

It's the above statement and the lack of drive by some Christian musicians and church staff members I know that have put the state of "spritual music" where it is today. They're afraid. They're lazy. They don't have a clue. For centuries, the church has led the way in the arts- from Michelangelo to Degas and Bach to Handel, art began as a means to worship. J.S. Bach wrote in the footer of every page of every Brandenburg Concerto that the piece was to the glory of God Almighty. Michelangelo and Vermeer were hired as artists in residence for various large churches in Europe, and created pieces of art that are transcendant to this very day.

Somewhere, we've lost our way. I wish I knew why that was- I think a little of it comes from some folks penchant for overstating and misusing the "causing their brother to stumble" verse in Romans 14. "Stumble" isn't "offend" or "challenge"- it's an obstacle that one places in the way that causes another to fall into sin. God holds us accountable for our brother, and I submit that if all we do is place obstacles in our brother's way that forces him/her into a state of unwarranted and inescapable mediocrity, THAT is more of a stumbling block than if I can play well. Ever think of it that way?

So, what's the point of being able to play well? What's the point of having facility that allows you to twist and turn on a dime? It's simple- to inspire. That's it. That's all. I am truly blessed to know that I have inspired a few folks along the way in my mere musical meanderings, and in turn, I expect those that I inspire to do the same. If someone's desire to be better truly gets in the way of their walk with God, then that is a different thing altogether- and natural selection can and does take over and those people are eventually shown for what they are. In the meantime, I exhort you to listen to things with the idea of making them your own and exploring your heart to see what kind of voice you can add to the instrument that you express yourself with, be it a bass, a guitar, a paintbrush or a voice.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Weird Weather

Not much to add today- got a gig in Lake Stevens tomorrow; session after that. Sunday morning at church; a session in the afternoon and a gig Sunday night with Dustin Blatnik...... busy, busy, busy.

The big news- the weather in Seattle. Earlier this week, cool and rainy. Then, on Wednesday, it's 90; 92 yesterday; 94 tomorrow- and then- Sunday- it's supposed to be 80. By Wednesday next week, we're supposed to be in the mid 60's and raining again.

Hey- if you like climate changes, Seattle is the place for you. Don't like the weather- wait 20 minutes and it will change.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I'll buy that for a dollar

Nothing musical related this time, but terribly funny nonetheless.

If you're like me (and, by virtue of the fact that you're reading a blog, you probably are) you get inundated with spam. Personally, I take great comfort in the fact that so many people I don't even know have such a desire to help me with my sex life. Recently, however, I've been getting new spam that says it's from CNN Alerts or MSNBC Breaking News, and the headlines are just hilarious! Do people actually click those links? Is anyone really that stupid?

Here's a couple of the ones that have just cracked me up lately:

  • Madonna's Former Home Destroyed By Jesus
  • Switzerland To Be Devoured By Black Hole
  • Barack Obama Can Fly Through The Air Like That Guy On Heroes
  • 3 Die In Bus Accident In Antarctica
You have got to be kidding.........

Monday, August 11, 2008

Buckle Up

An interesting gig on Friday nite last. My band, "The Jazz Collective", has a regular thing at Alligator Soul in Everett (we're there next on 8/20) and a couple of weeks ago, someone who works at Arthur Murray Dance School in Everett came to the show and just fell in love with the band. (Small wonder- it's a fantastic band in spite of me) They talked to our sax player, Chuck, and asked him if we'd be interested in playing their summer party on 08/08/08. Chuck of course, upon finding out that it paid well of course said, "yes!" and then set about finding out what kind of music they wanted. They said, "the stuff we're hearing tonight would be great", so this should be easy, right?

Here's the background tho- my band doesn't do dance music. We're doing things like Weather Report, Return To Forever, Herbie Hancock and a bunch of original tunes, but unless you're into things like the Ethopian Dance Of The Anteater, you're gonna have some trouble. Chuck tells me who the venue is for, and I'm instantly thinking that this is gonna end up being a problem. Chuck says he'll handle it, and I know for a fact that he verified at least twice what our repetoire is gonna be.

We get to the gig, and we're approached by someone in management. Guess what- they want dance music so that they can......gasp....... dance. Latin stuff mainly, but they also want a bunch of swing numbers. Now, it's not that we can't, but we're only 5 dudes, so it'll be difficult to pull off the big band numbers.

Quickly, we retire to the Chinese restaraunt next door, and commence to pouring over our books. We end up pulling things like "A Train", "Desifinado", "All The Things You Are" and "Wave". We can make this work- after all, we're pros.

We slayed 'em, too. They were ecstatic and asked us back, which we will of course do.

Point is that we had to adjust and overcome. "Overcome and adapt" is how Clint Eastwood put it in that movie, "Heartbreak Ridge". There just isn't a quick way to be able to do that. It requires commitment and practice, and pledging oneself to furthering their art. How many times have you been on a gig and had to make a change? No, it isn't possible always, but you have to be willing. Sometimes it's following a singer that forgets the 4-bar interlude between the first chorus and the second verse, and sometimes it's just adapting feel. It requires ears to listen and a heart to bringing joy, the latter of which is something that a lot of musicians forget is the reason they do what they do. (Guilty as charged here, your Honor.)

Next time you're on a stage- be it a gig or at church or whatever- and a curve ball like that gets thrown and you don't make it, ask yourself why you couldn't, and ask it in such a way that you don't cast the blame outside of yourself. You should be able to do it.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Ouch

Later evening gig than I would have liked last night and a really nifty migraine today, so no post- except that I did get my beloved '62 Precision copy back today after a long absence. Probably gonna play it tomorrow.........

Friday, August 8, 2008

Lift and Separate

I've now got two active projects in the studio right now, and it looks like I've got a third "short run" project of 3-4 tunes to put drums on for a new friend along with another EP/album for someone I've produced before twice, and now the distinct possibility of one of "those" projects coming up, too.

What's one of "those" projects, you ask?

As a session player/freelance producer, not all the projects you do are ones you're 1,000% wild about doing. Don't get me wrong- I'm really honored that anyone even still asks me to participate at this level (I'm overweight, balding and middle aged....) and I honestly make the attempt at offering the very best effort I have no matter how much investment I have in a project. It's just that "those" projects that make it all worthwhile.

For the last 6 months or so, I've been playing with a guitarist here in Seattle that just makes my head spin. I am truly blessed to know quite a few really good guitarists, and even more blessed to know a lot of really fine musicians, but this guy- there's something here that I haven't seen in a long, long time. Yeah, he can flat out play - imagine Robben Ford crossed with John Mayer and a little Hendrix and Clapton for spice - and he can sing - but it's more than that. This guy is
pretty young (28) and he has his head on.......gulp.....straight. No delusions of grandeur, and he wants to work to earn it, too. The group is a 3 piece power blues thing that basically came together after all 3 of us had done a few sessions together and thought "hey- why not?" -
after all, that's how Toto did it after playing with Boz Skaggs, right? (Boy, did that ever work.) We did a couple of rehearsal recordings at my place, and they turned out pretty good, but what was really interesting about them was the vibe of them- that was REALLY good. Now, he wants me to work on the new CD, and I can tell you right now- this thing is gonna SLAM.

So, why am I posting this? What's this got to do with the other pseudo-expository statements I've been making over the last 3 days? Well, I'll tell ya- the new guy is also a Christian. The tunes have a decidedly spiritual bent to them (think Los Lonely Boys meets John Mayer and Justin Timberlake groove) but the keys to what the new guy wants is ..... I can hardly believe it........ready? Here goes:
Simplicity and musical integrity.
Real guys writing real tunes and playing real instruments. Stuff that matters. And, before we record anything, he wants to work out roles, schedule, credits and pay and leave nothing to chance. How refreshing is that?

This is precisely what is missing from today's music, especially in the Christian arena. A work ethic and a vision of the bigger picture where the little things are concerned. Too often, the music business is about laziness and plagiarism; take a little from here and a little from there, and throw it through Alsihad and make it into something that lasts all of 10 minutes on the grand scheme of all things artistic. Everytime the industry foists these "artists" who know nothing outside of a barre chord and a couple dance steps on us, artistic quality and ability are diminished exponentially.

Maybe.....just maybe......if enough people stand up and say "enough", we could change the industry and compel a little quality. Or, are you too busy buying Paris Hilton's new album to care?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Context is Everything

OK, I'll admit that The Saga of WJ is a weird way to open a blog. Some may read this as a first post and think, "holy cow- does this guy have an axe to grind or what?" - not true. There is context to this, and perhaps it would be somewhat valuable to hear that.

The quality of the state of music today is kind of a hot button for me these days - why can't anyone write a song anymore? Other friends of mine point to the advent of bands like Nirvana for "dumbing it down" for all of us, but yet, bands like The Ramones were around much longer ago, and their songs are hardly difficult or heady. Being that the bulk of the recorded music that I do is "Christian" in nature (and I like it that way) there is a spate of Christian music that is just......what's the word I want........derivative. Pedestrian. Dreck.

Seems like today, someone who has knowledge over this process is viewed as a threat. What's worse is the fact that apparently, heart is all you need (and the prerequisite number of mentionings of "Jesus") and you're valid. Not so. Folks seem to forget that the only place that success comes before work is in the dictionary. The Bible tells us that players in the temple had to be schooled for years in order to participate, and now, hey- you want to play? You have a heart for worship? Good enough for us!!! Come on up! Your in! Audition? No way........we can't offend anyone....

So, even though I left WJ's employ some time ago, I guess I'm a little raw still. The bulk of my session work is the Christian version of "good enough" or has a sentiment that if I'm paid, it somehow flies in the face of all things ministries, and through all of that, people like WJ go on and actually find validity. And, who suffers? We do, as listeners.

I want to make a difference. I want to glorify God. I want to make sure that the things I do, I do in such a way that they express the tiniest amount of perfection I can hope to contrast against the absolute perfection that God offers us all freely through relationship with Jesus. To do less is to disservice. To settle accomplishes nothing, and sets the bar lower and lower until there's nothing of any validity to offer. To sublimate the actual task of learning a craft and then perfecting it in favor of "God put it on my heart" does nothing to build God or God's presence in anybody's life.

So, I ask you- why is that a wrong thing to think?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Saga of WJ

I need to be careful. Before I tell this story, I need to make you all understand that, while this story is mildly funny, there is a very serious undertone that is the old statement that "all things are possible, but not all things are profitable". And, I am changing names here to protect the innocent.

Way back in 2003, I was contacted by a guitarist friend, "LV", to play a recording session for an artist named "WJ". LV warns me that this will be one of the weirder sessions that I've ever done, and LV knows that in 25+ years of playing for hire, I've pretty much done it all, so this is a statement not to be taken lightly. The session will be done in a fairly well-known studio in Seattle- a studio not to be named here.

I arrive at the studio and meet up with LV, who introduces me to drummer/percussionist "BM" and to WJ (more on that in just a second). Now, BM and I have played on quite a few album projects over the years, but we've never actually met face-to-face - a quandry that a lot of session players find themselves in from time to time. BM and LV have been playing for WJ for a bit now, and they get me alone before the session starts and tell me, "Dude- we're gonna need help on this one. WJ is seriously not-in-the-know on process. There's no charts, and you can't ear it out." Both LV and BM are seasoned players, and they're demeanor suggests that this one is not gonna be fun.

I meet WJ. WJ is about 45-47 or so, blonde and - well, my personal radar goes off and says she's on something- like drugs. Like.....I don't want to guess, and I don't care. This pays. WJ informs me that about a year before this session, she was sitting in church, and God told her that she was supposed to record an album, even though she'd never written a song in her life. God also led her to LV, who had in turn gotten ahold of BM, and another bassist- but the other bassist couldn't handle her material. (I'm thinking- cool! What is it? 12-tone avant-garde? Acid Jazz?) Things are about to get a whole lot more interesting.

So, we get started with the engineer we'll call "ED". ED is knowledgeable, fast, and he owns the studio, so we're good to go. We're gonna track piano (WJ) with a scratch vocal (WJ) and LV on guitar (from another room) and BM on drums in the drum room. I'm playing mainly electric, but I'm in a gobo'd section of the performance room because I'm also playing acoustic upright on a couple of "jazz" numbers. And, we commence to running the first tune.......and we have a MAJOR problem.

WJ tunes aren't just terrible- they're almost psychotically bad. There's no charts, because there's no form. There's a tonal center, but the chords have absolutely no diatonic quality to them whatsoever- and, hey- I like King Crimson and Ornette Coleman, so I'm not really needing any of that- but this is WEIRD. The changes modulate over a completely random set of changes, with a "melody" that has no inflection and doesn't reflect any type of structure. And, even better, every time she "plays" it's different- VASTLY different. Whole phrases and "passages" just appear and then disappear. Not fun.....and charting anything is going to be a nightmare. So, I basically throw my hat in the ring to start writing scratch charts with extremely dumbed down extensions- C, F#m, Bb7, a bar of 6 with Fmin9 - and, yeah, that's what the changes actually look like. We spend a total of 8 hours on the first session, and knock out 6 "tunes" while racing outside in breaks to play basketball in the parking lot and comiserate with LV, BM and ED, while WJ and her other vocalist, "W" eat copious amounts of the food they've brought in. Now, understand here that WJ is unemployed and is using her life's savings to foment the creation of what BM referred to as "Porgy And Bess Meet Jesus", and this studio time ain't exactly cheap. Nor are the players. I'm making about $1K for each of these sessions.........and so is every player. You can just imagine the price of this thing.

Some high/low lights:

  1. Telling WJ to play with her left hand behind her back so that I can actually play a bass part that doesn't collide with the random psuedo-tonic changes.
  2. Trying to get my head around the improvised hand-bell choir solos in one of her "jazz" tunes. (No. I am not kidding.)
  3. Trying to explain key centers and motifs to the person who wrote the songs in the first place. (And why these things are necessary)
  4. Watching a white woman attempt to "rap" while I and the other players jam on a spur of the moment set of changes. (And, she's paying for the studio time to do this)
I did a total of 5 sessions for WJ, totalling somewhere near 25 tunes over a span of about a year or so. After the first session, LV disappeared and was replaced by my good friend, guitarist "BA"- who I told that he really should make sure that he somehow lets WJ know that he's spoken for, relationship wise- which he didn't do- and was promptly hit upon by WJ for dating purposes. (Not gonna go into the gory details of that one)

So, here's what I'm getting at- at the end of session 5, I had a phone and email conversation with WJ to talk to her about her songwriting. Now, normally, being that I am a musical whore, I don't get involved in trying to make someone "follow the rules" of songwriting - setups, hooks, motifs, form, changes, etc.- but these tunes were so bad that I just had to do something. I inquired about her influences, to which she replied with something like "God", and I told her that to be a good songwriter necessitates being a good listener first and foremost, and gave her a list of 3 records to listen to: Carole King's "Tapestries", James Taylor's 1993 live album and Joni Mitchell's "Hejira". I explained to her that if you listen to these things critically, you can't help but pick up the rules (and I forwarned her that Joni Michell was a tad heady) and her reply was something like this:

"God has told me to do this, and He didn't tell me to do it by the rules. If he laid it on my heart, it's right to do it this way."

At this point, I was faced with a rather nasty quandry. Do I continue to whore myself for the money (which was very good) or do I try to educate? Do I discourage this because it is a frivilous expenditure being made by a very nice woman who hasn't a clue or the means to support herself and risk incurring the "wrath of the God who told me to do this", or do I bolt? I honestly don't know what to do. My professionalism and integrity being paramount, it doesn't seem like there is any way out of this, and what's more, when I try to extricate myself because I'm busy with other projects, she elects to move the scheduling of sessions around my schedule. Looks like I'm in- and now, after session 5, she wants to switch studios to a very good friend of mine's studio- someone I do a LOT of work for - and I know full well that the well of funds is rapidly drying up and my friend is gonna lose his shirt on this deal. Finally, to top it off, I've told session player buddies about this project, and we're all making fun of her, and so is everyone around her- and she doesn't know it. I'm really left with only one thing to do, and that is to be brutally honest with her and tell her I can't go on with the project, no matter what the cost. Karma be damned- this isn't good.

So, I call her and I tell her that I won't be continuing on. And, I tell her that I don't think she should, either, because quite frankly, she has no ability or talent. Her songs are terrible, she can't sing, she is a horrible piano player, and I hate telling her this way, but I would be doing her a disservice by molly-coddling her any further. I don't want your money, and I really don't think that God is in this project. Simply and bluntly, heart does not equal ability, and it requires a lot of introspection and musical familiarity to be able to do something that is pleasing to God, and she is wasting her money. I will not be a part of this anymore, and I will wish her well, and there's no hard feelings. Please don't call me.

Probably needless to say, she didn't take it well, and she continued recording. She updated me on her progress, and told me that it seems like the new players she'd gotten don't "get her" like I did (not sure how to take that) but she was trudging on, because God wanted her to do this. Her friends kept telling her that her heart was all that mattered.

I truly believe that WJ's project(s) are a heightened microcosm of what is wrong with the church today where music and performance is concerned. We're commanded by God to always put our best foot forward for Him, and, hypocritically, the church suggests that as long as you claim God in some form in whatever it is that you do, that God is in it. I say that is BS at the core, and the testimony to that is this very story- and many, many others.

WJ now has a web site where she has proferred her rough mixes. They aren't good- in fact, they're just awful. There's nothing I or anyone can do about it, and I will not link to it from here. All I ask is that if you read this, you become aware and steeled against all things mediocre and try to make a difference in whatever sphere of influence you have.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Here we go again -again.

Yeah. We're trying this again. So sue me.

Seems like I try this once a year, but never seem to have the time or inclination to keep it up.

Will this be different?

Only time will tell......