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We understand art when we relate to it, right? Why then do so many people relate to the same art? Do we all live the same life? One after another reliving the same ups and downs? And if so, why? Are we life imitating art?
Okay, that’s a bunch of questions. I’ve been thinking about this stuff lately as it relates to songwriting and song listening and songs. Great songs ask great questions and give us opportunity to answer greater ones–for ourselves. Take “Case of You” by Joni Mitchell*, a song whose title implies one thing, but mean something else in the context of the song.
*Yes, I know that I can’t elucidate this song any more for you than you already have for yourself, but throw me a bone here, alright?
When you heard this title, were you thinking that “a case of you” is like a case of the chicken pox? Like I’ve come down with a case of the yous? And then you hear this: “I could drink a case of you and still be on my feet.” And that could mean two more things. First, it’s clear that we’re talking about a case as in a case of some kind alcoholic beverage, so no more mystery there. But here’s the cool part: she either a) can’t get enough of you, b) can handle you, or c) both. She’s still on her feet because she wants more, and/or you are not too much for her.
So, the question here might have been, what is meant by “case”? And she answered that one, but made us think about it. And then she lets you decide, do you relate more to the “can’t get enough of you” interpretation or the “can handle you” version of the story?
Well, either way, you’re relating to something, and on first listen, you probably aren’t thinking about it too much. You probably are just going with your first impression and feeling whatever that impression tells you to feel. It says something about you which way you decide, but it says something about the song that you even have the option.
As songwriters, we turn emotional breakthroughs into creative ones. When we understand our own feelings, we put them into songs and let you in on them. But for you to understand them, they need to be your feelings too.
There will be more on this subject, because there is a lot left to be said about “Case of You” and songwriting in general, but I did want to start the discussion.
In the meantime, here’s something, this time from Lyle Lovett, to think about. He says: “I go for Penguins… Penguins are so sensitive to my needs.”
Stew on that, whydoncha?.
There may be an occasion or two when I don’t have time to write anything of consequence. I have a pile of ideas, but nothing fully formed–and we can’t have anything half-assed on this here blog–so I will resort to pictures of puppies in the meantime. I hope you enjoy.*
*I suspect that you might prefer to look at cute doggie pictures than anything I would write anyhow. Especially if what I write includes ridiculous photos.
This is my Brother’s new puppy. Her name is Sophie. It’s not just an awkward photo–she really runs like that. Both back legs go up at the same time, making her look like a kangaroo, or a frog or something. It also makes one think that she will do a nose plant into the ground at any moment. Don’t worry–she won’t.
In a slightly more normal pose, you can see how adorable she is:
We’re working on a bunch of new songs at the moment. That’s always the case, really, but never before have I had the gumption to let you all in on the process. The other day, I gave you a video of Sammy Bananas working out some production for “When to Say When” (Working Title). Today, you have the original lyric sketch for a song that’s a bit farther along: “(Gimme That) Welcome Back”.
I originally came up with the above concept in 2001. I awoke one morning, late for class, after having the most vivid dream: A man in a green suit, wearing a yellow beret, was standing on the roof of my childhood home,* serenading someone with a song. I heard the whole thing: lyrics, melody, harmony. There was a chorus, a verse, all kinds of things!
*Our original band, Jive Sucka!, recorded a music video on that roof many moons ago. What I wouldn’t give to have a copy of that right about now…
Well, I was late for class, you see, and I had no time, so I grabbed my books and my sketchbook and starting jogging toward class. The song seemed pretty memorable, but I didn’t want to take any chances, so I drew some quick staves on the paper and wrote in the melody with some lyrics. There is a bridge, and some backup vocals sketched out below what you see in the photo, and the verse lyrics are on another page. I didn’t include those because they aren’t likely to reappear anytime soon.
A couple of years ago, I shared the song with Wrall and he immediately wanted to record it for this new project he had with (then) P.Nice called Miss Fairchild. I said sure, but for whatever reason we never ended up doing it.* Then, a few weeks ago, Wrall sang me a verse idea that he had been kicking around, with the comment, “I don’t know where to take it from there…”
“I do: ‘Gimme tha-at welcome back…’ and so forth.”
Needless to say, he was sold. The song is gold. And we hope to share it before it’s too old. Well, older than parts are already.
*We started a demo which I might share someday.
Well, this is strange. Just days after my first time playing ‘Celebrity’ on I discovered my favorite columnist writing about the game. I’d guess that he’s wrong about it being something that his friend invented, but that’s okay.
Speaking of which, I do have a story for you…
Our good friend Don DiLego has invented something, and it’s something that you use. Maybe not often, but from time to time. And even if you don’t use it, I’ll bet you’ve heard it used a time or two. It’s a word. It’s ridonculous. That’s right, I know the guy that coined the term ridonculous.
First off, of course a guy named Don invented that word, right? If I remember correctly, he invented it while playing video games with his brother and disseminated the word through his taste-making friends in Company Flow. I have no way to substantiate his claim, but I’m not sure I really need to. Despite the occasional prank, I have no reason to think that he would make something like this up.
That said, Daddy Wrall has another friend that claims to have invented this word. So, maybe neither of them did, because you never know what the brain knows.*
*Alright: here we go… (I think I may have explained this at some point, but I’m going to give it another shot. I can do better.) Some time ago, Daddy Wrall, Sammy Bananas and I were driving on some highway somewhere and I pointed out that there was a vanity plate on a car nearby whose message related in some significant way to our conversation. I saw this as some kind of a synchronicity and said so, but Sam balked, saying that I probably had seen the plate and that triggered me to initiate the conversation. I said “no way, I just saw it for the first time now” to which he replied:
“You never know what the brain knows.”
This sounded as ridiculous at the time as it sounds logical now. You never know what the brain knows? Well, if the brain is the one “knowing” in the first place, wouldn’t it, well, know? Incredulous, I concluded that Sam’s ridiculous statement rendered his whole point irrelevant and that was…
…not that. No, not at all. DW and I were all over him. Every time one of us noticed a coincidence, we said, “you never know what the brain knows, right?” by way of needling the Nice one. We did this especially when we knew the phrase not to apply.
You see, the statement actually does make sense. Let me try to explain it like Sam would (he’s really good at ‘splaining stuff). So, our brains are constantly working, gathering, processing and sorting sensory information. This information goes in new and immediately becomes a memory. It can also trigger old memories. Now, we have so much stimulus available to us at all times that we can’t possibly process all of this information consciously, so much of it is done sub-consciously. The brain “knows” that the vanity plate said FR8 TRN, so the fact that I’m singing Elizabeth Cotten is more than a coincidence. There is a causal relationship. I don’t know this because the trigger happened sub-consciously.**
**Or is it unconsciously? I’m always confused by that.
Okay, so it makes sense. Sometimes there are these coincidences, “synchronicities”, whatever you want to call thems and they are really just the result of some super fast connection making by our brains, behind the scenes, if you will. Sometimes, there is no possible way that the brain could have known unless you believe in one of many theories*** It is those cases that Wrall and I were known to pounce most mercilessly, because those are the moments that made the theory look silly. If I start singing “Freight Train” by Elizabeth Cotten and then my friend Tim, who not only introduced me to that song, but is listening to it in the background, calls unexpectedly after nearly a year of being incommunicado, would that not be impossible to explain from a “you never know what the brain knows” perspective? Indeed, so that makes it the perfect opportunity to make fun of the catchphrase.
***Okay, here’s a theory: some of us agree that time probably isn’t linear. Much like space, all time seems likely to exist simultaneously. If that’s the case, we may only experience as we do to make things simpler. If we could access “memories” from the future as well as the past, it could explain how our brain would make connections between things it can’t possibly know. Take the above example. When Tim calls, it can’t be explained as “known” unless the brain knows the future, right? Just stew on it, whydoncha?
At some point in the story, all this talk of brains brought us to that all important brain: Krang. Krang, for both of you non-TMNT fans out there, was the leader bad guy in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic. He was just a brain that lived in the belly of a robot* and ordered around the masked Shredder. He was famous for saying “Shredder, I want my body!” in a very raspy and annoying voice. When saying, “you never know what the brain knows” became too much to say every 45 seconds, it was shortened to simply, “krang.” What we had was something like this:
Try it out sometime. It’s very satisfying. It seems that the more you try to notice this stuff and point it out, the more there is too notice, but I’m sure that’s just a case of Krang…
*Here’s a krang for you: We’re talking about this brain inside a robot, right? Well, the post that inspired this tangent is about Don DiLego, who’s in a band with Bree Sharp called Beautiful Small Machines, whose latest release is called… Robots in Love.
How about that?!
Where the heck was I? Oh yeah, Donnie D. Well, Don may have (probably) just heard the term “ridonculous” somewhere and noticed it because, well, his name is Don. And he picked up on it subconsciously. When he said it during a heated game of Contra with his brother, they noticed how cool and new it seemed. You never know what the brain knows, after all. When new people heard him use it, they adopted it as well, and since these new people were also popular people, well, it’s not hard to extrapolate a theory in which Don inventing this word is possible… nay, likely. And once we’re at that point now, we may as well say it:
Don DiLego is an inventor of words.
Speaking of the game celebrity, if not for the 80% rule,* I would count Don Dilego a celebrity. Or, heck, 80% of the people in any room that I’m in should know Don D’Motherlovin’ DiLego; that’s for damn sure.
*In celebrity, you must choose the celebrities by the guideline that 80% of the people playing the game would know who that person is.
This is my brother, Caleb, totally pooped and sleeping in his American Girl Doll bed. My other brother lives in Portland, OR so he couldn’t be with us for the holiday, otherwise you’d have at least one more goofy element in this photo. Merry Christmas everyone!
I’m stuck at the ferry terminal in Hyannis, waiting to go to Nantucket for Christmas. It’s a very familiar experience for me, waiting to get on a boat. If you extend that feeling to include planes, trains and buses (not to mention people), then I would say a pretty significant chunk of my life has been spent in such a state.
In order to go home from high school, I would have to walk to a commuter rail stop and wait for the train. The train would take about forty five minutes to Boston, where I would walk to the T and take three subway trains to the bus station. The bus ride to Hyannis took about 2 hours with a few stops, followed by a walk to the ferry. It seems as though I always arrived just after a ferry had left, so then I would experience this particular wait that I’m experiencing now, and finally a two-plus hour boat ride. In those days, I would always have a book to read, but I really just spent the time (most of a day) worrying. Would I arrive in time for the next leg? Would I get off at the wrong stop? What if I fell asleep?
In college, I would walk to the local bus, which would take me to Hartford (after many many stops). From there, I would catch another bus to Providence, then change again for Hyannis, and the rest would be the same as above. By that point in my life, the experience was familiar enough that the worry was replaced by whatever my predominate mood was at the time- usually out and out exhaustion. College included a lot of all-nighters. Between my need to get the absolute most out of my time in college (not to mention my tuition money) and the wealth of options for how to spend my time, there were more than a few bus rides that acted as my only sleep in at least 24 hours. I felt very confident that I would wake up at precisely the right moment. Just as the book acted as a distraction for my worry in high school, in college, I wore headphones and listened to music, but mostly slept through it. Under normal circumstances, I’m a pretty light sleeper, and can’t listen to music and fall asleep, but these were far from normal circumstances. Whether I had Schoenberg piano works, Ornette Coleman improvisations or Smashing Pumpkins in my ears, I only “heard” the music in my dreams.
After college, I traveled around the world, from Ireland to India to Ghana to Brazil. I used London as a pivot point throughout my travels, so I spent a lot of time on intercontinental flights. Most of the waiting, though, was done in the airports. I was always afraid of being late for my flight, so I tended to arrive far far far far far in advance of the departure time. More than twice, I spent an entire day in the airport. Worry had crept back in, so there would be no sleeping for me. Instead, I would open my journal* and write about what I could see in front of me: thousands of people of all nationalities and ethnicities moving to and fro. It’s easy to start to think about how personal our lives are in these cases.
*I’m going to dig those up and see if there are any good stories in there. As I recall, there just may be…
It’s not a new thought: most of the time we see the universe as centered on ourselves, but occasionally we realize that there are 6 billion other centers of the universe among humankind alone. Each person is the protagonist in their own movie, even more than they are supporting characters or extras in my movie. And as interesting as my life may seem to me, it’s only as interesting to others as their lives are to me (present company excluded, of course.)
Nowadays, I do a bit more driving as my method of travel, which means that I’m not nearly as prone to worry, reflection, or sleep- thankfully- during travel. Instead, I have the act of driving and the content of my iPod to keep my mind occupied. Music can be a little too influential, as far as mood goes, and lead me to drive too fast or slow, or something else, so I have a few audiocasts on which I rely for many drives. Today, I listened to a This American Life episde from a 2003 that blindsided me with familiar voices. One of the contributors was a man from Nantucket named Jim Sulzer, who used to sing in a group with Daddy Wrall’s daddy and uncle, called Willie & The Whalers.* Jim interviewed a number of island personalities, and though I never heard his voice, I did hear their voices and they were ones that I recognized. It was quite poignant; nostalgia, both happy and sad, got me in the mood to take a ferry ride through the fog. (Man, it’s foggy like you read about right now!)
*Willie & The Whalers was a very influential group for DW and Todd the Rocket, and me too, in a more indirect way. They were a barbershop quartet that did all the standards and they were fantastic.
Jim had a son in Wrall’s class in school, the same class that my brother was in. In first or second grade he had the great idea of coming into the school and having the kids write songs that he would help them record. Wrall and my brother wrote a song called “My Brother” about Todd and myself. They each took a verse and joined for the chorus: “We are The Rockers and we came to Rock you. We’re gonna do something that’s fun to do. Let’s rock.” As far as I’m concerned, we should absolutely steal “we’re gonna do something that’s fun to do” for a Miss Fairchild song. That’s pure and unencumbered brilliance right there. I didn’t even really know Wrall at the time, but I think the present incarnation will be amenable. It’s strange to think that he was involved in writing a song who’s co-central subject was, well, me. And now look at us. (And by the way Dan**, the movie is all about me, and that song proves it.
Where was I? Oh yeah, now that I don’t live on Nantucket anymore, I identify more than ever as a “Nantucketer.” When I see people wearing Nantucket sweatshirts and hats, part of me wants to tell them, “that’s my hometown you’re fronting on!” When I see products made in New Jersey (no jab*) that have Nantucket in their name, I want to tell everyone, “that’s not really made in Nantucket!” I want to let people in on my secret, but keep it secret at the same time. Even when I’m on the island, if I hear the word Nantucket or see someone with a t-shirt on that says “Madaket” I want to set the record straight.
*Yep: another catchphrase, but I’d guess you can figure this one out on your own.
When I moved off the island, people would ask, “what’s it like growing up there?” I wouldn’t have a clue what to say; Nantucket was the only thing that I knew. I’ve since learned that beyond the normal small town stuff, you could add: no fast food chains or department stores, everything is 5 minutes from everything else, unless you need to go to America, in which case, pack an overnight bag. Also: it’s warmer than New England in winter and cooler in summer, but it’s windy as heck, and foggy, too. There aren’t any stops lights or multi-laned roads, but you still have to be a good driver, because all the roads are one-way, and barely wide enough for a horse-drawn carriage, let alone a plumbing van. When you grow up on Nantucket, malls are more than malls: they are special. They are a treat. What if you don’t get off the island for a bunch more months?
Nowadays, people say “you’re so lucky!” when they hear that I’m from Nantucket. They’re correct, of course. I had a great childhood and feel like a come from a very special, if misunderstood place. They usually add, “you’ll always be able to go back there,” which may or may not be true, but what they may not realize is that there is no going back. The island, like every place, has changed so much. (Don’t worry, this is not a good old days lament.) Not only are the people and shops different, but the actual land is different. There is a lot of development that wasn’t there when I was exploring it with my brothers, and even scarier, some of the land is gone. When my grandfather was a kid, Madaket Road extended something like a mile farther than it does now. Erosion has eaten away at the island. Some folks have to move their homes, and others watch as they fall into the ocean.
Don’t get me wrong, Nantucket is still a gorgeous gorgeous place. In fact, I credit that landscape as being a part of my aesthetic sense. Not my taste per se, but the fact that I have any. Being surrounded by that kind of beauty had me take it for granted so much that I wanted to be a part of it. At first, I wanted to do visual art and then music.
I guess I’m saying that there is a reason that so many artists have landed there over the years, for recharge, for retirement, for retreat. I guess it’s appropriate that I’m listening to John Sebastian’s album Welcome Back right now. It arrived in the mail yesterday, it’s ordering inspired by this:
From what I know of his drumming style, I would highly doubt that our good friend Richard Manuel* is actually drumming on this, but it doesn’t stop it from being truly amazing. When Daddy Wrall discovered this, it reminded me how much I love some of his work, from the Lovin’ Spoonful** to the theme from Welcome Back Kotter. Signed, Epstein’s Mom.
*I think we’re going to do a whole post on him soon.
**How could I not like a band named after a lyric from a Mississippi John Hurt Song. It’s good to the last drop.
Well, this post has been way too long. Nantucket is important to Miss Fairchild, though, whether we prefer it that way or not.
I want to talk to you about an acquaintance of mine and a strange experience I have had with him. His is Donald Ramsey and we went to college together. He’s a very talented artist and a good guy to boot. We’ve worked together a little, but mostly I know him through his many collaborations with close friends of mine.
One of those friends, a guy named Astro, visited me in India back in 2003, shortly after we had graduated from college. We traveled through the once upon a socialist state of Kerala together, spending time in crowded trains and on black sand beaches. One night we decided to catch a private overnight river boat, on which we stayed up late playing songs and swapping stories. At some point, Donald’s name came up.
“Hey Astro, do you ever talk to Donald Ramsey?”
“Yeah. We stay in touch.”
“How is he? I’ve always liked that guy, though, truth be told, it always seemed like he didn’t like me. I’m probably just being paranoid. I have no basis for thinking that.”
“Right about what?”
“That he doesn’t like you.”
“Your name came up and he said, ‘I don’t really like that guy.'”
Now, I’m not so narcissistic that I feel like everybody should like me, but it’s a little weird to me that he offered his unsolicited opinion of me to one of my close friends. I was equal parts dumbfounded, intrigued, irked and even impressed. Despite my general feeling of “if you don’t have anything nice to say…” I still felt a little respect for his chutzpah. I mean that’s some moxie he showed there. Real cojones. Okay, I’ll stop now.
I saw him one time after learning this, unexpectedly, and I avoided pulling a Larry David (confronting him, dragging Astro into it, making a messy public scene , declaring some kind of rivalry, having encounter after encounter escalate, making common friends choose sides, organize feats of strength and endurance in an attempt to air our differences through competition, etc.) on him. I played it cool and haven’t seen him since.
For some reason, though, I was reminded of the story last week when I was having dinner in Brooklyn with Sam and our friend Cam Neely (no relation).
I finished the story and we all agreed that the whole thing was a little weird. Cam interjected, though: “I wasn’t going to say anything, but he actually told me the same thing.”
Recently, I was on the telephone with Mr. Bananas and I mentioned letting my day-job co-workers in on one of our inside jokes. It’s such an an “inside” joke that even though three people know about it, I’m sure that I’m the only one who even thinks about using it. He was impressed that people with zero vested interest in the “joke” would latch onto it and said, “You’re good at that, actually. You can tell people about our jokes and make them feel a part of it.” I don’t know if this is an innate talent, or just a relentlessness in using the catchphrase* and explaining it’s uses.
*Let’s go with catchphrase from now on. They aren’t jokes**, even though they usually elicit a smile, but it’s fun to have this insider lingo anyhow.
**Okay, here’s a joke: A priest, a rabbi and a minister walk into a bar. The bartender looks at them and say, “What is this? Some kind of joke?”***
***My apologies for telling a joke about a joke.
Anyhow, in case I do have an innate talent, and in the interest of developing some content for this here blog, I thought I’d start going through some of our lingo, and get you all saying some of this stuff too. Many of these things you have heard and said yourselves, like “motherlover,” “strong,” and “sha-sha.” I will go over these again if you’d like, and add as many as I can recall.
No, not all in one post.
Today, we will be covering the ever popular “Nah, Bro. Seven.” Part of the humor in this phrase is understanding who said it and what he was like. I won’t use his name, but will instead make up a different name. How about… Mookie?*
*Believe me, his real name is just as ridiculous.
Mookie had three characteristics that I remember distinctly:
1) He was a terribly unreliable worker.
2) He wrote “G-Unit!” on everything.
3) He would never ever admit to being wrong. Ever.
Okay, so let’s flesh this out: The G-Unit thing was weird, but 50 Cent was, at least, popular at the time that I knew the guy. He wanted to be a part of something, even if he had no business doing so. He latched on to 50 Cent and G-Unit because that’s what MTV told him to do. Fair enough.
He was unreliable. Well, almost everybody in our [Wrall and my] job at the airline was pretty unreliable because they were young and didn’t have any really good role-models.* When I saw his name on the schedule I was always a little bummed, but not much more than with a lot of people. I expected him to be fired for a long time before his last day, if that means anything.**
*I remember that, while being trained on my first day, the guy training me wanted to show off his customer service skills. He asked a fifty-ish woman, who was clearly very vibrant and healthy, “Ma’am, can I get you a wheelchair out to the plane?” I was completely mortified standing next to him, but not half as mortified as she was. I hope she realized that his statement said more about his idiocy than her appearance.
**Mookie’s last day was classic. At one point, he and I were the only ramp agents on the tarmac and he called me on the radio to tell me that he was “going to use the bathroom, bro.” (At least he didn’t say “broseph.”) Well, a few hours later, when my boss radio’d for him and he didn’t respond, I realized that I hadn’t seen him since that moment. As it turns out, he had walked out of the airport, wearing his orange vest and radio, carrying his wands, got in his car and drove to the boat- we worked at the airport remember; we could fly for free. Now, he got on a bus on the other side and left the state, where he was on trial for possession with intent. I would emphasis that, but we’re already in italics here. So let me say it again: he walked off work and took a boat and a bus to go on trial for dealing cocaine. Okay? The trial and all that, you can take from that what you will. The fact that his plan for showing up to this trial was to say, “I’m going to the bathroom, bro” on the radio and then leave me, and everybody, high and dry, so that he could take a ferry and a bus out of state… I’m sorry, I can’t tell it again. It’s totally ridiculous.
Alright, hopefully now you get a bit of an impression of this guy. He was a weirdo. But it’s the fact that he couldn’t admit that he was wrong-ever-about anything is the part that I’m here to talk about. If he said that it was Monday on a Tuesday and you corrected him, he would stick to his story no matter what. So, one day, when he asked Wrall to switch shifts with him, we should have expected something to go wrong.
“Hey, Wrall. Can you work my 8-4 shift on Tuesday, and I’ll cover your 10-6?” In those days, Wrall was not an early riser. Nowadays, he opts for the 5:30 shift, but back then, he really didn’t like getting up early. It would take some convincing, even for just a couple of hours. But, being a nice guy, Wrall eventually said yes.
That morning, Wrall showed up at 8am to an unhappy boss. “You’re working Mookie’s shift, right? You were supposed to be here at 7.”
“He definitely told me it was 8-4.”
“His shift was 7-4.”
Wrall was perplexed. There was no way he would have agreed to work a longer shift that started that early. No matter how much he needed the money, the guy was not going work any more than he was scheduled. When Mookie arrived, Wrall asked him about it:
“You told me it was an 8am shift.”
“Nah, bro. Seven.”
“There is no way I would come in at seven. You told me eight.”
“Nah, bro. Seven.”
“Listen, Mooks. I’m not trying to get you in trouble here, but I can’t be looking like I don’t care about this job. I showed up at the time that you told me, and you must have told me wrong when you said eight.”
“Nah, bro. Seven.”
“Mookster, listen to me. When counting, the letter before nine is eight.”
“Nah, bro. Seven.”
“I’m pretty sure there are four horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
“Nah, bro. Seven.”
You get the idea. He was sticking to his guns until the end. He’d believe the same thing on Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened on Tuesday.
And it would likely include a “bro” or two.
One more carry-over from our Thanksgiving strong is a set of ridiculous photos that Sammy B. took of me wearing a Lacoste shirt that he was given as a part of a promotion. I was trying my darnedest to look like a naive schoolkid when he took the photo, but I’m not sure that I pulled it off. I think the result, while not exactly meeting my intention, is pretty good. My cohorts agree, and expect me to share with you all:
Sam wanted to give me this shirt. I declined.