Sunset F-Train ride last week, out and back over the Culver Viaduct, the highest point in the NYC Subway system. The soundtrack is my riding waves [disquiet066], recorded in 2012 as a posthumous duet with late-musician Jeffrey Melton, better known as nofi.
🎼: riding waves [disquiet0066] off 2013’s transient lines:
the cars were my fav growing up. their records and lateral solo projects not only will come with me to any desert island, they are my desert island — if i had to choose an island.
ric ocasek catalysed my adolescent desire and urgency to play the electric guitar and to write songs. all-lowercase, overdriven-jangle, and quirky-jerk, ocasek was also endearing, intelligent, and accessible. the cars became my crash course in how to bring depth to “disposable” music; that is, how melody married to meaning could still court the coolest girl in class.
more importantly over the long-arc of my teenage daydreams, some of which linger to this day, their music spoked out innumerable adventures in sonic discovery. riding with the cars, in the backseat i found (among many more) roxy music, david bowie, and t-rex; in the side-view there was robert fripp, steve reich, and john cage; passenger side would find buddy holly, the byrds, and tom petty; and in the way-way-back, crouched flat out of sight of the driver, there were new order, blondie, suicide, the cure, and eventually the ramones, the replacements, and much of what i’ve loved since.
the early 80s was still a world where intelligence and cool were a tough tightrope walk. ocasek and the cars hovered over it all, saying, “c’mon, man, the fringe is the cool. one foot in, one foot out — that fine line — that’s the place to be.”
i’m the american misfit kid / still wondering what i did / i’m on the inside, taking a fast ride…
throughout my songwriting life, co-opting ric’s icy reserve, black leather smirk, and reverence for poetic-yet-stuctured rock ’n roll let me embrace any style without care or ambition in my own music.
in a little structure we can find freedom. learning to break with structure comes later, and makes you comfortable as an iconoclast.
alienation is the craze…
ocasek’s passing on 15 Sep 2019 saddened me, though i never met him, never worked with him, never knew him outside of my own context of decades-long innocent-obsession, deep-inspiration, and distant-admiration.
i’m careful not to cry out loud online (or post stock pictures with sad-emoji captions) at the deaths of people I know, let alone people i don’t. that said, that’s okay if it works for you. dog eulogies always hit me hard. i’ll hit like buttons on memorial postings, with no irony.
sometimes you can’t help get emotional, thinking of connections a passed artist’s work threaded into your life.
when the dance night flies / and the broadway screams / connect up with me…
in december 2016, we put our dog Sterling to sleep in our living room, to a david bowie mix on shuffle. bowie died in january that year, and it all seemed fitting. now, i can’t listen to absolute beginners, the track that randomly came on as Sterling drifted off, without losing my shit. i can’t even write about it here, can’t even think about that song, without a deep-breath pause to hold back tears.
but that melodic association’s about Sterling, not bowie.
you’re emotion in motion, my magical potion…
aalong the same lines now, with ocasek’s death came another spectral transition, of a similar, though more distant, cosmic force to Sterling. each traveled astride me over time in a way, and what’s left of them, fortunately, will never die.
in the ethereal afterglow of their spirits, i can still return to a state of all potential and no past, with a wide-eyed worldview that, for better or worse, believed life was malleable enough to coax in my direction from sheer will.
beneath the stars / all souls are lucky…
Luna, our current companion, btw, is the dog in these photos. at 18-months-old, she’s an ever-more reluctant model, but as patient with me as Sterling was.
let the photos behold, let them show what they want…
on 16 september 2019, the day after ocasek died, i plugged in my guitar and mic for the first time in a month, and hit a record button for the first time in a year.
since returning to new york city last june from an extended california sojourn, i have made no recordings, written only a few tracks, and found scant musical and literary inspiration in my immediate surroundings. life curved sharp in 2019.
i always claw out with creativity. this time, tho, seems harder. not sure why. perhaps creativity herself required a vacation from my production demands.
could be this age. my age. age-old curses. could be the mirror never lies.
dancing ’neath the stars and the strife / going through the motions of life… the flowers of evil / will surely grow…
my new york city’s changed, too. it’s not the warholian bohemia that welcomed ocasek’s buoyant darkness when he decamped from boston to manhattan all those years ago. walking the city’s surface deterioration, surrounded by unrelenting collisions and widening gaps between manmade, systemic misery and negligent, indifferent opulence, you know new york will never be new york again.
then again, maybe it’s as it always mostly was, and i was just fortunate to live here for the last 20 years in an anomalous, halcyon blip of progressive serenity.
either way, while this city owns my tomorrow, it can’t touch my someday.
the good life is just a dream away…
thing is, tho, even after an “escape” or a “clean break,” nothing resolves, save pop song choruses. ric’s songs reveled in resolutions.
and IRL “codas” are a fade-out, however, most of the time. very few people go out for good in a fireball.
the passing of heroes always begs reflection that daydreams come with expiration dates, too. dreams not coming true is a form of dreams dying. and when dreams die before your eyes, regrets are more than willing to fill the vacuum.
well i think of you when i dramatize / the things we never did / and i think of you when i’m flyin’ / or when I’m feelin’ just like a kid…
when i hit “record” the day after ocasek’s death, a mournful version of my best friend’s girl poured out. as i played, i tried to sort out an unwanted-yet-uncontrolled sense of loss welling up from the fretboard. like i said earlier, it’s rare for me to lament on (or revel in) anyone’s passing, let alone in public — and let let alone to grieve in public about a stranger.
in many ways, even just cutting a cars cover song the day after ric ocasek died felt as the musical equivalent of instagramming a stock photo of him with a sad emoji caption. but i shared it anyway. can’t explain, other than i was driven, all puns intended.
all catharsis is tinged with selfishness, anyway.
the dead don’t mourn. grief, that is — your loss — is a one way street.
you weep for you.
who’s gonna come around / when you break?…
there are four songwriters whose deaths, if i am lucky enough to outlive them all, will have thrown me into a cycle of self-reflective sadness. ocasek and tom petty are already gone. ray davies and paul westerberg are still around.
they wrote songs that taught me how to make songs. i strum their tracks all the time to myself. to calm. to sleep. to salve the sense of time passing.
playing covers is a means to repay artistic debts to an inspiration.
the misconception is that playing covers casts a musician as a wannabe.
every musician starts out as a cover band.
yeah, you hang on tight / (and you’re running around / with your face in the ground) / like it was your last right…
through the years, i’ve recorded dozens of covers, but released only three: george harrison’s isn’t it a pity (on my 2007 release stay home vs. the love shoppings), the postal service’s such great heights (on my 2013 release :^D), and the psychedelic furs’ the ghost in you (as a spotify single in 2010).
harrison’s track cemented a record comprising stories of struggles to find spiritual centering in a post-kindness world. i couldn’t imagine that record without the cover song now. my isn’t it a pity was a series of live full tracks laid over each other. in true lo-fi fashion, you can hear my apartment radiator knocking in the more quiet moments. i loved that.
the postal service’s such great heights was one that me and a few friends got obssessed with on a road trip down the east coast in 2012. the fun i had on that trip — one of the best unadulterated adult good times i’ve had — comes through on an electrified version i coaxed out of my limited virtuosity, again layering a host of live run throughs to create the recording. the album’s song cycle was about that road trip, so as with the harrison track, i can’t conceive of the record without its inclusion.
the furs’ ghost in you was a moment where i channeled an homage to my 1980s highwire days into 6 minutes of jangle-crash. a bit of a love letter to my idyllic suburban new jersey teenage space, the track remains among my most spun on Spotify.
mostly, though, i record covers for myself, as a means to explore processes and attitudes - to try to get inside the heads of artists and tracks i’ve admired. so except for the 3 above, my covers sit on hard drives gathering digital dust. everything from the sonics’ you’ve got your head on backwards to kris kristofferson’s i may smoke too much to the cure’s just like heaven. there’s a cover record in my future, i keep threatening. :^D
in many ways, it takes courage to play or record cover songs. you allow avenues of comparison to your own work, with work that most likely has reached further and deeper into wider audiences than your work ever will. showing up to a party you’re not invited to is always a risk.
if you’re selective and creative about what you cover, though, your performances can inform and refract on your own influences and development, as i hope the ones i’ve released do.
playing covers live is a bit different than recording them, too. is there a musician alive or dead, who came with their own songs out-of-the-box? for years, i played mostly covers when i played for people. now, having written a couple hundred tracks, i play mostly my own stuff. but i always play a few covers when i play for others. there’s little pressure because the point of playing covers (except on american idol, i guess) is not to outdo an original, but to enlighten and elevate your own material.
with an audience, covers can complete circles in a performance, fill in narrative gaps with collective free association. as a performer, you can take people on a journey through their own memories so as to bring them back to you.
in early 2018, i played a cover of tom petty’s walls (circus version) at a local solo gig. a few months removed from petty’s passing, i pulled out a floaty arrangement i had played only to myself for years, never recorded. sharing it with a live crowd in that moment felt right, just to recall the joy and memories of the good times that petty fueled.
recording covers, as opposed to performing them for an immediate audience, however, is a private conversation between you and the artist you’re covering. eventually, if you release it, a crowd gets to eavesdrop, time-shifted, on that conversation.
my my best friend’s girl performance was not an interaction between me and an audience. only between me and ocasek, in my cluttered home office / studio, driven somewhat (in retrospect) by pure cathartic intention. no one told me to do it. but i had to do it.
jackie, what took you so long…
it always flipped me out a bit that my best friend’s girl was one of the last songs kurt cobain played live (in march 1994 nirvana opened their final concert with it). what did cobain see in his penultimate month of suicidal ideation inside ocasek’s jangled tale of lost love, blithe envy, and never-faded lust?
with where the song took me, i saw not only into ocasek’s head, but also a little bit into cobain’s head.
“she used to be mine.”
yeah, yeah, yeah
in many ways, ric’s world — the cars’ world — used to be mine, too.
i’m in touch with your world / and nobody’s gonna buy it / it’s such a lovely way to go.
A classic blue sky day here in Dunedin, New Zealand. Filmed on Tuesday the 25th of June 2019 in the middle of what has been a surprisingly lovely winter. We thought we would see if there was any surfers brave enough to catch a wave or two? We found one hearty soul! Conditions looked blustery out there.
Most of the shots in the video are filmed at St Clair Beach and the esplanade. As the sun started to set the views toward the end of the video are from St Kilda beach.
Music from Free Music Archive : Westy Reflector, “the other side of the end”
Callum McDonald, New Zealand videographer based in Dunedin, soundtracks a “classic blue sky day” in his home city with my track the other side of the end off my 2017 record cipher /e dreams [Bandcamp | Spotify].
Natuur en recreatie, genoeg te beleven voor een weekendje weg.
Ondanks het koude weer toch nog een uurtje gevliegerd met de Freilein.
Nature and recreation, enough to experience for a weekend away.
Despite the cold weather, still flying an hour with the Freilein.
Music: Westy Reflector – ‘Riding Waves’
The Internet is at its best when shared passions become community. When the net first started to gain cultural traction, smack was talked, of course, but digital space wasn’t a tool of division, so much as a journey of discovery and connections. It was a weird (in the best way) and wonderful window into what other people were thinking and doing, made even better when the most obscure and arcane pursuit saw a light of day in ways no other communication system in human history allowed. Net 1.0 was a network of tangible dreams built by concrete dreamers. The physicality of the network itself was way more evident, too: the iconic modem handshake sound; the wires into your computer; the relentless arrival AOL discs in your mailbox…
“You’ve got mail,” indeed.
It was work to get online, but a few dreamers did the heavy lifting and posted sites, or created and managed email listservs. All of a sudden, within a few years, anyone who did anything could find a critical mass. For example, a kite enthusiast’s passion no longer had to exist in a vacuum or in a mythology, or stay beholden to local flying groups, random beach encounters, or obscure magazines.
Freilein kites are among the more high-end, complicated, sophisticated flyers, sewn by master sailmakers, and retail for around $180. The dedicated kite flyer is no mere hobbyist, but a true outdoor sportsperson, in tune with wind, sun, climate, and terrain. The pursuit has its own language. A quick dive into the world brought surface knowledge of “handles,” and “lines,” and “knot settings;” What it means if a kite becomes “brake heavy.” Some flyers feel sensations with their eyes closed through their handles and know exactly what the kite is doing in the air.
That the narration and intro of the video are in Dutch, and that I don’t understand a single word, is all the better. Sometimes listening to and/or watching someone demonstrate their passion in a foreign language brings you to the pure essence of their pursuit. The tone; the smiles, the laughter, the furrowing of brows at something serious, the dreaming faraway gazes, the connection to the greater. It’s all there, in a borderless communication.
One of the more famous kite flyers in history, Benjamin Franklin, had this to say about his Kite Experiment, wherein he proved the connection between lightning and electricity (in 18th Century English, which sometimes presents an air of impenetrability):
As soon as any of the Thunder Clouds come over the Kite, the pointed Wire will draw the Electric Fire from them, and the Kite, with all the Twine, will be electrified, and the loose Filaments of the Twine will stand out every Way, and be attracted by an approaching Finger. And when the Rain has wet the Kite and Twine, so that it can conduct the Electric Fire freely, you will find it stream out plentifully from the Key on the Approach of your Knuckle.
This sounds like what happens when I play the guitar. Perhaps a kite is a single string instrument…
In any event, I treasure this video for all it reminds me. On one level, it serves as a reminder of why I release all my music as Creative Commons. It also layers on a reminder of all the good stuff the internet can still bring. The net doesn’t have to be ping-pong political noise. It can still be a place where you just share your love of the wind. Wind lovers united.
As a sidenote, Riding Waves was a “posthumous collaboration” with talented Indiana-based musician Jeffrey Melton, who recorded as nofi and passed away in 2013 at the age of 42. He was an early and prolific contributor to the Disquiet Junto, and one of my first friends on Soundcloud. For this track, Junto members all took a piece from a long live Nofi set, and played along live with it. Every time this track’s CC license use pops up in my alerts, it brings back memories of too-cursory electronic interactions I had with nofi, and the bittersweet elegiac joy I had recording the song.
From January to June 2018, my wife Cat costume designed the Amazon series adaptation of the podcast Homecoming that shot in L.A., so we decamped Brooklyn for a 1930s cottage aerie perched halfway up Laurel Canyon. I bought a knock around Seagull guitar at the perfect scaled All-In-One guitar shop in Koreatown, and recorded a couple dozen tracks in our Gould Avenue house. My Gentleman of the Canyon adventure took me to a songwriting time zero, stripped down and raw, to that place where I just sat and thought and wrote and strummed. And listened. And learned.
These tracks are destined for evolution. But for now, they float the aether in a simplest, stripped state, kicking up some glorious west coast dust for me. Who knows where we’ll meet again. Hopefully, in The Canyon.
Rainstorm / 20170717
Close friends’ house, Cottage bedroom
improv on a 44-key upright Grieg piano, un-tuned, sticky keys
iPhone w/ a Shure MV88 lightning condenser sitting on a windowsill
“A bee, a bird, and a chicken are hanging out in the Hollywood hills…” sounds like the start of a joke, but it’s just a field recording. The bees are pollinating a perpetual-blooming Echium Candicans (“pride of Madeira”) flowering shrub in our Laurel Canyon Garden, while a mockingbird, a scrub jay, a few other birds, and a chicken across the street join in the chorus. Live iPhone recording via a Shure MOTIV MV88.
pride of Madeira
subshrub invasive ornament
soda jerk two-straw shake
canyon hillside date
10 minutes drive
from a retrofit-rail-car diner
The Blues makes us aware of how the universe perceives harmony through our ears. Its “source material” is not so much sadness, but a universal alienation. Everyone fears loneliness from different directions. Handy’s song says to me, “There’s no use for home where you always lose who you are,” which was the launch point for my recording. Suzassippi lends wonderful visual, grounded context to all the tracks she highlights, and quotes me at the end of her article.
Back a number of years ago, I first read about where the Southern Cross the Dog in a Farm Bureau magazine quiz. I had never heard of it, and it was an intriguing story about the town of Moorhead and the junction of the old Southern Railway system and the “Yellow Dog”–commonly thought to mean the Yazoo Delta Railway.
Winner: Westy Reflector cover of Yellow Dog Blues. Of it, the judge Marc Anthony Thompson said “I just wanted something that I really liked to listen to.” Westy Reflector said “no one in the story is in a fixed place” and “blues was never fully about composition as an end, but about a rich community of shared source material.”
My faves: All of which, “I just really liked to listen to.”