Dark & Stormy Night

For many reasons, watching movies is one of my favorite pastimes. It’s for different reasons that I love going to the movies, the chief of which, is that I really enjoy hearing an audience laugh as one unit. When different races, genders, political ideologies, etc, are all united in humor, I find it super cathartic. I find that being a part of a random & diverse audience laughing in unison, jumping in fright, or delighting in triumph is proof positive that there is much more in common between us all than social media would have us believe. As Sting would say, ‘the Russians love their children too.’

Of course it’s true, by and large, people who are on opposite belief spectrums love their children. The vast majority of us want the same things- we want to love, and live, and be safe and successful. We all gasp at heartbreak, and flinch at trauma. We all laugh, we all cry, and we all hope, dream and clench in fear. These unifying threads, when woven into stories, become archetypes. Combined with a bit of finesse and perhaps some technique, it’s one of the things that make a great movie, or a timeless song. Even to audiences with different beliefs. I love being in a movie theatre audience much the same way I love performing with a symphonic ensemble- it’s ground zero for the harmony.

Now, the harmony felt in a movie audience may be wide, but it can also be shallow. It’s not like you’ll be meeting people and making life long friends. But there are those rare works of art that really unite a fandom. It’s an unusual artist that stands for something so cleanly, that to hear that someone is a fan, I know enough about their personality to reasonably suspect that we’d be simpatico. Perhaps the Inklings, perhaps the great satirists: if you love Mark Twain- we can probably hang. Above all, there is perhaps no fan that I feel more of a rapport with, more of an affinity to, than the fan of cartoonist Bill Watterson.

His series Calvin & Hobbes was they key laugh trigger was I was little. In my life, before Star Wars, there was Spaceman Spiff, before any Marvel or DC hero, there was Stupendous Man, and before Jurassic Park, there was Calvinosaurus. His hard-boiled detective alter ego Tracer Bullet was my absolute favorite.

The thing about Calvin & Hobbes, is that it grows with you. It works when you’re in 3rd grade, and it works when you’re an adult too. As I grew older, I needed to know what inspired Mr. Watterson’s insanely lucid imagination. Researching Tracer Bullet, led me into Film Noire, which then led me back to a time before television. A time of pulp detective fiction, and serialized radio. Philip Marlowe, and Sam Spade, hard-boiled gumshoes with an unpolished grit that captured the imagination of a society that struggled with industrialization, prohibition, depression, and organized crime.

What a stark historical image, and highly stylized moment. Dark & Stormy Night is just the first of what I hope to be many adventures starring my detective, ‘Arthur Devlin’. In this song he is fresh off the case, having discovered that the “Garter Belt Strangler” was none other than his own secretary! We join our hero on a Dark Night as he seeks to drown his troubles in alcohol, but his ‘adult swim’ is interrupted when in walks trouble…

In this song I sought to pay homage to my hero Mr. Waterson, as well as the genre. It’s an intimidating legacy that goes directly back through Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and even beyond Edgar Allen Poe. In the Album version of the song I included a faux radio broadcast in the manner consistent with the process nearly a century ago. The full version is available on my album Born of Fire, which can be found on iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify, etc. One day I intend to do a whole album featuring my detective, Mr. Devlin and his misadventures, so stay tuned listeners, and don’t touch that dial!

Songcraft | James Taylor’s Copperline

 

I love this song. After the New England winter, months and months of snow yield to a rain somehow colder. By the time the air is dappled with the perfume of the spring’s first blossoms the hope of thaw has been fully exorcised. I’ve been tormented for so long that such memories have become foreign. The smell of spring is beautiful, but surprising and elusive in its familiarity. What is this perfume? I remember it from somewhere, perhaps a different life or a dream. I pause, Oh yeah, I remember this now, this is lilac. It means the cruel winter is finally releasing her grasp, and I can at last lower by guard. What was at one moment a glint on the horizon of memory becomes an all consuming flood. I remember lilacs, I remember the feel of grass underfoot, the sound of laughter by the beach, the smell of BBQ. I can FEEL it. The sun kissing my skin. It’s an unfolding. JT’s Copperline effects me the same way the soft spring air’s first trace of lilac does. The song, it too is an unfolding, and it’s deeply personal. I wonder if the significance is lost if you didn’t have the appropriate childhood. Specific songs speak to specific people.

There is something magic about the time and place you happily spend your childhood. The memories are especially sweet if you move away before you get too old. Once you’ve grown up and learned about the traffic and the bill paying of a particular area, the place loses a bit of wonder. The first bit of my mostly happy childhood was rather country-mouse. Since my family moved before I grew up, I never really learned what an adult life in the country was all about, and from what I hear it’s a lot of work.

I’d say the country childhood is the best type of life for a child, but I am rather biased. Empirically, there are some things best for adult perspectives, and I’d argue the inverse is true as well. I’d say one of the best things seen from the perspective of a child is the wonder of a country pond froze over for the winter, ripe for ice-skating. Or going horseback through the trails with an imagination lost dreaming about dragons, quests, and adventures. Slightly less epic, but certainly as magical is the experience of catching fireflies barefoot sprinting across wild meadow grass. It’s for falling into childhood memories like these, that I love this song. Every relisten beckons with a fresh journey. What started as a glint on the horizon, becomes an all consuming flood. It’s an unfolding.

For 1 or 100

As was their weekly early morning ritual, Ken and Amal stood in line at ‘The Coffee Ring.’ All they had to do was walk right in, Amal holding the drawstring bag of chessman, and Levon the barista had automatically started creating their usual drinks.

Ken spoke over the counter to Levon, “I heard someone tried to steal the tip jar again.”

The espresso maker howled as Levon worked the steamer, he nodded sleepily, but he answered loudly over the noise, “Yeah, change went everywhere! It was awesome.”

Ken asked, “Does it hurt them? When it explodes like a grenade? I mean, quarters and nickels hurt if someone throws one at you. I saw a video of A-Rod getting pelted at Fenway when the Yankees came into Boston, and you could tell he was not happy.”

Levon said, “Yeah, I’ve been nailed before and it hurts. I think it mostly scares the hell out of ’em though. It scares the hell out of everyone, even us and we know what’s happening.” He frowned slightly and shook his head when Ken offered him money.

Ken smiled in thanks, shrugged and put the money in the tip jar, “Bro, it’s been like eight years since I worked here.”

Levon looked quickly out the front window to make sure he could neglect the till for a second, and help the manager, Sarah, set up the pastries. “You know how much coffee we throw out.” He stated matter-of-factly, “If you want, you can show your appreciation by helping us setup..? Come on man, for old times sake, you used to be the set-up King!”

Ken rolled his eyes, “Hell no. We’re gonna make that streak nine years.”

Levon shook his head in mock sadness and moved to join Sarah in the back. Over his shoulder he said, “If someone comes in holler, the bell’s broken.”

Ken grunted in affirmation, and joined Amal who was adding milk to his coffee at the island. “The tip jar explodes?” Amal asked.

Ken nodded, “Yeah, when someone tries to steal it. I’ve never seen it, but I heard it once. It was crazy.”

Amal shook his head in acceptance that he was not going to understand. He and Ken sat at their usual table with the chessboard painted on it. Amal brought the subject back to their last phone conversation. “So are you gonna let me help you make money? Or are you gonna stay in the past?”

Ken was very familiar with Amal’s harassment. Amal was very entrepreneurial and very self-actualized. He was always up to date on new ways to monetize his life, and optimizing his efficiency. He was also very generous, and wasn’t afraid to tell anyone who would listen all about it. Amal believed that part of his journey was to give back. Not just financially, but with career and personal advice for everyone around him. Most people would have probably paid him to leave them alone, but Ken enjoyed the way his mind was always engaged. Ken could relate.

Ken said, “In a parallel universe you have a job as a life coach.” Ken paused to grin, “You don’t do well, but you do ok.”

Amal smiled at the ribbing and said, “I am a life coach, my only client is myself, and I do very well.”

Ken asked, “What do you do again? Like, what do you tell people you do for a living? I know it’s contracting, energy, with some kind of imaging software..? It’s like you assembled whatever you do from a Chinese menu printed on the back of a recycled night-school flyer.”

Amal smiled and said, “I am an entrepreneur. I wear many hats, and I change them as a function of profit. Did you know the average American person who has made a million dollars has seven different income streams? You have to diversify, brand, and monetize. That’s what this blog could do you for you. You could introduce your music to a different niche of society.”

Ken and Amal set up the chess board and began their usual mechanical opening. Ken never deviated from Giuoco Piano when he was white, Amal pushed it with Two Knights Defense.

Ken took both the conversation and the game in stride and said, “Obviously I could share my music on a blog, but that’s boring… well, not boring, but that scope would be too one dimensional to keep my attention for long. The idea I had, was that it wouldn’t be just sharing music, it would also be sharing the music making techniques: the successes, but more so the failures! Every time I’m on stage, I’m so concerned with the image, this could be a place where I could be a fan! I could open up that rare conversation that happens after literally, EVERY single show. –And every recording session. Big things, little things, both that’s not the distinction- it’s about earnest things. When people start talking music, something happens. People start sharing their deepest sorrows, their deepest regrets. People get passionate like you’re talking politics or religion, but it’s always nourishing. What songs, what music really reaches? What is that thing that can open doors and knock down walls? It’s not skill or talent, it’s not the production, it’s something else. Van would say it’s the Mystic and Bob would probably mention the Ghost. I call it soul, that’s what the bluesman had, that’s how I’d approach blogging. Being authentic enough to be uncool. To share success, but also sorrow and sadness.

Ken continued, “I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I think you’ll be surprised, but I think it’s a fun idea! I could write articles, take polls, and put up videos. It could be a place for people who can’t afford me, or who don’t live near me, to have access to guitar or songwriting lessons. It could be a chance to really help someone who feels stuck in an overwhelming passion, just as I did when I was younger! They say if you want to make a million in music you gotta start with two. How the hell do you move forward with something that costs an arm and a leg just to get started? Creating a blog wouldn’t just help me answer these questions for folks, it could help me pose these questions to people who are far bigger fish than I. At bare minimum, it would be a broad extension of my favorite conversation.

“Imagine having the opportunity to create something that you would have loved to have had in your life when you were younger, tell me that’s not an awesome use of time and energy?

Amal shrugged, “Dude, that stuff is great, but it doesn’t matter almost at all. You could hire someone else to write your posts- which many people do- as you know, most artists these days don’t even write their songs, and most people don’t even listen. It’s just the content being there for the brand. How does all this extra work and energy make you money?'”

Ken inwardly sighed at what was easily the most asked question in his life. He opened his palms in emphasis and said, “Look, it’s not about making money. Music was and is not about making money. I do music… — people who do music, across all idioms, genre’s and levels of success, do it because it nourishes their souls. Fans do this too! Fans do it more so than the musicians themselves. People who listen to music because it makes them look cool are not fans of music, they’re fans of ‘cool.’ They’re not even fans of cool, they’re slaves of cool. People who do music exclusively for money or fame, are always tourists and it is always obvious. Those people you reference are not artists. I don’t know what they are, they’re celebrities or entertainers or something.

“And don’t misread me, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with celebrity, and there are some killer artists who are great and fun musical entertainers! I believe that any artist who isn’t entertaining isn’t going to have a successful or happy career. As far as blogging goes, I can’t do it for money. Over the years, I’ve proved I’m completely unemployable in a paycheck job. I need to do it for passion, otherwise I won’t do it.

“That which exists outside of a function of profit, or a for-profit business making decisions is what I call ‘for one or one hundred’. The side that’s done for a hundred people, sure- but it’s also done for the sheer joy by one person by themselves. The side of art, love, and creating that keeps people up late at night. With music it defines eras and moments in people’s lives. I was thinking, if I approach blogging this way, I’d actually do it!

Amal took a piece of Ken’s and said, “Ken, I know you love your passion and art, and you know I respect that, but you know what floats passion and makes art… Money. Can you look me in the eyes and tell me that if you suddenly had a massive influx of cash, you wouldn’t immediately disappear into the studio for a month? Blogging, music-ing, farming, whatever; you can be as inspired and passionate as is humanly possible, but nothings going to happen if it doesn’t make money. You’ve already got enough passion for way too many people, I’m not trying to see you distracted on another passion project. I want to see you do this, and get paid.”

Ken lowered his voice and moved a pawn forward. “In 1978, at a time of Civil War in Jamaica, Bob Marley took the stage at the One Love Peace concert, and he had the supreme leaders of the two waring factions embracing on stage. Even though this was at the height of the Cold War, and one faction was financed by the Americans and the other was taking money from the Russians. Marley did this TWO DAYS after surviving being shot by a would be assassin who was likely paid by the CIA. Imagine Lincoln and Jefferson Davis embracing onstage, in front of the public? King George & Washington? Imagine Trump & Hillary. That’s what I’m talking about.

Ken continued, “Why did the FBI tap John Lennon’s phone, and why did Nixon have him illegally deported? Why did Napoleon pause in his bombardment of Vienna to honor a dying Haydn? He posted an honor guard outside of his home so he would be safe! The night after Martin Luther King was assassinated, EVERY major American city was rioting, and most were on fire. President Johnson declared a state of Emergency, and the Army was deployed. The morning after, what plan did the smartest humans, in one of the greatest cities of the strongest country in the world, come up with to protect themselves? They humbled themselves, begged, and ultimately paid what it took to broadcast James Brown rocking Boston Garden live. Not only was Boston spared the rioting that was experienced in other cities- the night James Brown played, Boston experienced less crime than any other average Boston night…

All this, because of the power of music. Even the most evil humans know this- in Nazi Germany do you know what Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda said? He said, ‘Music affects the heart and emotions more than the intellect. Where then could the heart of a nation beat stronger than in the huge masses, in which the heart of a nation has found its true home?” Ken paused for effect, and then said, “Goebbels considered radio and control of what was on the radio to be, and I quote, ‘the most influential and important intermediary between a spiritual movement and the nation, between the idea and the people.‘ When Hitler put him in charge of indoctrinating the masses, their first move was to attack the music and musicians they disagreed with. This, for fear of the power of music. This in respect of the power of music.

Amal nodded smugly his eyes fixed on the chessboard in front of him. “Bro, I love you. I understand where you’re coming from, and with respect, I think we both know your defenses are up. Let me ask you in a sideways manner: is what you hope to do with your blog exciting to you, and potentially of value to your would-be readers? Your friends, fans, students, and clients?”

Ken recognized his old friend was asking a closed question, but he resisted the urge to get distracted by questionable linguistic framework. Ken reminded himself that just because a question only allows for one answer, it doesn’t automatically invalidate what was trying to be communicated. He finally answered, “Yes, I think blogging would be both really fun for me, and super useful to my people.”

Amal took a break from the game, and nodded as he grabbed and shook a couple sugar packets back and forth in his hand. As he ripped off the tops and sprinkled the sugar into his coffee he said, “Ken, if you think what you are doing has value, then attach a value to it. If you don’t, the public won’t. That’s how the public behaves, I’m not making this up. I’m trying to help you. You’re so much smarter than me, I should not be wealthier than you.”

“Listen, I’m not against making money, I don’t want to put up a money wall that could potentially cutoff the modern incarnation of the young version of myself… I want my blog to be what I would have wanted in my life when I was just learning. Remember, I couldn’t afford a working electric guitar until I was 16, and I didn’t get my first acoustic until college. If I do a post on how to inspect a used guitar from a yard sale or off craigslist, it being a free resource is exactly what I want. Music and guitar shouldn’t be about who has money, it should be about who LOVES music.”

Amal moved his bishop to QS 4 and asked, “Do you charge a cover at your shows? Do you charge money for your albums?”

Ken paused long enough to double check the Chessboard and then commenced a rapid exchange piece swap with Amal. Ken said, “I dig where you’re coming from, but I don’t think you understand where I’m coming from. I don’t wanna blog looking for fans, I AM the fan! I’m doing the blog for the other people who feel like me, other guitar/music/songwriting super-fans!

Amal shook his head and said, “If you go too deep, too passionate you’re gonna be inaccessible to the public. Society has always and will always want to be entertained, but society is not looking to be bugged by passion. What if you’re the only one?”

Ken answered, “Then I do it for myself. If I’m the only one, how much more of a reason to do it, The authentic side is for 1 or a 100!”