July 31, 2003

More Pics

My guest spot as Smugglers vocalist at the Great American Music Hall:


The MTX at the GAMH. The guy in the baseball cap is Vova from Moscow. I think he's the first Russian kid to make it out to the East Bay to see the band. It is very difficult for getting visa, he told me. He was pretty disappointed to have missed the Queers, but he seemed to have a good time anyway.


My good friends (and familiar Lookout Records devotees) Frank and Heather took those photos, and they stopped by the studio: here's a photo of them, me, and Spacetoast's favorite shirt. Sa-lute!


Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:50 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Man or Monkey?

I can usually tell what's going on in these studio pictures from the shirt I'm wearing, but I honestly can't tell by looking at it whether this was taken during my retarded monkey episode or not.


Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:33 PM | TrackBack

Nursing the Product of a Deranged Mind

Lookout Records has put up a page devoted to the new album. So far all it has is some links, the photos I've already posted here, and the XML feed from this blog. (There's a link and summary for each blog entry in the category "songs." Pretty cool.) We're planning to put more stuff up there, though (like more photos, audio, maybe some video clips, and who knows what else) so keep checking if you're interested.

People seem to like the photos, so I'll keep putting them up. Unfortunately, I left the blasted USB cable at the studio again, and I never got around to unloading the camera while I was there.

By the way, I think we managed to solve our country rock problem. I did another Byrds-y guitar to come out of the left speaker to complement the right speaker track that Ted had already done, filling in some of the spaces in between his notes but chiming in chorusy unison on certain "thematic" lines; and I added a rhythmic strummy guitar in the center. (This was using Bobby's Tele deluxe through the AC30 with an Altec pre-amp-- what a great-sounding little machine. Very shiny, shimmery, the single notes of the off-kilter arpeggios sounding like tiny glass bells, but the chords sounding pretty rough-edged when you hit them hard. You know how sometimes the attack of a guitar chord can have a sound/feel sort of like ripping open a corrugated cardboard box? No? Well, it can be very satisfying.) Then we just started piling them on, adding several layers of guitars of different kinds. As it stands, the song is a big, beautiful (in my eyes), tangled mess of many, many guitars doing a zillion different things in different frequency ranges and poking holes in each other's holes. Ted played some more great "fill" type licks on a track to be used as needed. I think it sounds nice. I've sullied nice things before, though, with my unruly vocals, so I still have to be careful. But so far, it has outdone my dreams sonically and arrangement-wise. I still may have to fight for the Johnny Thunders-y guitar I want to add to the B parts of the second and third verses and outro, but I'm up for it. If my pal Chuck Prophet gets back in town in time, maybe we'll get him to do it. Either way, he's gonna laugh when he hears it. Pretty cool.

No vocals yesterday-- it was a guitar day, pretty much, and we got most of the lead stuff and fancy parts out of the way. We finally got the right sound for the main rhythm guitar for the "Boyfriend Box" verses (after trying half a dozen guitar/amp/preamp/eq combinations over the last few days.) That's a relief, as that song is pretty much done now, except for the lead vocals. Today is going to be ebow day, and then we'll be all done with guitars except for a couple of acoustics.

Then I'm going to try to get the rest of the lead vox done, so we may be there all night.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:03 PM | TrackBack

July 30, 2003

The Retarded Monkey Effect

Hmm, how to characterize yesterday's session?

As usual, Ted played some great, great, brilliant guitar on several tracks with seeming effortlessness. Then we started to examine the song "Sorry for Freaking Out on the Phone Last Night." That was one we had done live, and we wanted a loose feel (Kevin kept saying "I want you guys to sound drunk.") Well it was loose all right, which is good, and we did indeed sound drunk, which was good, too, and maybe not all that unusual or misleading, but the guitars were so out of tune that it was utterly impossible to sing the scratch vocal. As I've said, I don't mind a little chorusing, or even a nasty, jarring "tune-y" effect at times, especially when you're doing a staggered stereo guitar arrangement. (I still want to save some of those parts, many of which are so messed up that they'll sound pretty cool when put in the right context.) But, this was just not working. We decided, for the sake of argument, to put a simple, strummy, in tune electric guitar in the middle to provide something to sing to and to see where we were "at" with the song. This role was going to be filled by acoustic guitars in the original plan, and I think that's still what's going to happen, but it's way easier to record electric guitar and we were already set up that way.

What happened then was this big argument about how the song was supposed to go rhythmically. It's weird how you can work so closely on something for so long, discuss it endlessly and in great detail, and not realize that the other person has all along had a completely different idea. I suppose my reference points for what makes country rock work are different than his, and I have no doubt that his are "better" and more authentic. The whole thing became this kind of philosophical argument about what constitutes country rock and whether you should worry about what they would do in Nashville, which might have been pretty interesting in another forum. ("Issue 1: Country rock rhythm guitar... Byrds or Stones approach? Or, as some say, Dwight Yoakam? I ask you, Pat Buchanan...")

Anyway, in my song, the bass and drums play almost utterly regular thump (snare) thump-THUMP (snare) through the whole thing, while the guitars play on a lot of the off-beats and up-beats and leave holes for each other and quite often for the bass note/beat on beat 1 when the IV chord happens. It's that particular hole that seemed to be the biggest point at issue. I tried strumming through, and playing a big, straight chord on top of the bass on the downbeat of that IV chord, but it just didn't sound right. To me anyway. I don't think I was doing it the way he wanted.

So we pulled out my demo to check that out and we realized that we had unintentionally recorded the song slower than the demo version. It would have been easier to play faster, no question about it. We have sped up the tape on songs before (on "Hey Emily" it made the snare sound really cool.) It wasn't going to work this time, though. So that led to a discussion/argument about whether to scrap the song entirely so that no more time would be wasted on something we couldn't use. I was for scrapping it simply in the interests of stanching the relentless flow of the budget's life blood all over the tracks, but in the end I decided and we all agreed that the slower version was superior. The question was, were we equal to the task of playing it? (This has been the downfall of many of my country-ish tunes: I write 'em by the bucket-full, and they're pretty good, but it's so hard to play them well that they end up getting scratched and never see the light of day. Or we end up just playing them like Ramones songs, which makes me just as sad. More sad. But then, I'm a sad guy.)

After that whole brouhaha, I knew that, if I tried to play the song at that point, I'd end up sounding like a retarded monkey. And this definitely wasn't the song for the retarded monkey effect. So we took a break to cool off. The idea was that we'd come back and try a vocal or something, just to see what would happen. If nothing came of it, we'd clear out and let Mark work on some editing that would have to be done at some point anyway.

It's a bit early in the process for lead vocals, and I still had a bit of retarded monkey-ness coursing through my veins. But for some reason, I did what I think was probably the most efficient and the best singing I'd ever done. We ended up with four completed lead vocal tracks, which is unprecedented for one night, especially the first one. (I can take a long time to warm up.) Two of them I just did in one go with no punch-ins or anything, which is definitely a first. We'll have to see how they sound today. Maybe we were crazy. But at the time, it sure seemed good. For anyone who is keeping track, the one take, no punch-in songs were "Fucked Up on Life" and "Oh, just have some faith in me." "Elizabeth or Fight!" and "Take all the Time You Need" were the others. I tried "The Boyfriend Box" as well, but Kevin wasn't "feeling" that one. And I was spent. I have some pictures, but I left my USB cable at the studio, so I'll have to post them later.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:54 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

July 29, 2003

Blatant Vocalism

The tuning demon seems to have left the building. Yesterday was extremely productive, and we ended up with the basic guitars on all but one song. Towards the end of the night I did some scratch vocals. These are for a guide and so you can make sure that your overdubs don't stomp all over the vocal melody, not intended to be kept or used (though sometimes you end up using some if something really cool randomly happens.) Despite the fact that they were just scratch vocals, we did spend a bit of time getting a sound. You have to get the right combination of mic, mic placement, pre-amp, compressors, and EQ. Where you stand in the room can make a difference, too, believe it or not. Anyway, it was worth doing, as now we have a mic set-up and headphone mixes dialed in so we can do the real vocals pretty much any time we feel like without a lot of preparation.

You really learn a lot about your songs from singing them for the first time in the context of the real recording. I've been working on some of these songs for years, and I know them backwards and forwards, but, in a sense, up until a few days ago they didn't really quite exist. You always have a plan for how they're going to "come out" (which very rarely happens) but even those that match the plan perfectly present you with an experience you've never had before the first time you put the vocals on.

Recording singing is different from other singing, not just in terms of technique (which as you may know, I don't have any) but rather as a psychological and conceptual matter. You have to make decisions on how you're going to sing it, where to hold back, where to let loose, how to articulate, when to moan or sob or scream or belch (if you're that kind of vocalist): in short, how to make your delivery be a help rather than a hindrance to getting the song across. Essentially, the vocal delivery, if you take it seriously, is like a mini-arrangement within an arrangement. And the criteria are completely different from those that are brought to bear when you're playing live or sitting around in your bedroom strumming your guitar and annoying the neighbors. This is where singing songs can start to feel a bit like acting. You're playing a character, delivering lines, though all you've got to work with is sound and a backing track. On some level, in my head, I'm doing this kind of Dustin Hoffman method acting kind of thing, actually pretending to be the narrator, trying to make my delivery hint at or suggest what it might sound like in a funny world where people give little rhyming, melodic self-revealing speeches when they pass each other on the street. I know it's goofy. I am a big goofball when it comes to this stuff.

As with acting, the process can be embarrassing, both for the "actor" and those in the room to witness it. (Or hilarious-- you know, embarrassing and hilarious are two sides of the same coin, depending on which side you happen to be on.) It's really important to work with a producer or engineer with whom you are comfortable and who you trust not to inhibit you or deter you from doing the embarrassing stuff. I've always been self-conscious about my singing anyway and there was a time when I used to insist that everyone leave the room. I guess I'm just so used to the humiliation now that nothing phases me. But I can't really imagine recording a vocal with anyone other than Kevin Army at this point.

One other angle about how context changes the sort of vocals you do: as you get closer and closer to the final version, your options become narrower and your choices become more and more irrevocable. Like I say, I've been working on some of these songs for years. Like the proverbial battleship or the proverbial Cher, many of them have been gradually tweaked and parts replaced piece by piece several times over. I don't want to get into a philosophical discussion about whether Cher is still technically Cher, or "The Boyfriend Box" is still essentially "The Boyfriend Box," even after every single part has been replaced with a new improved part. I have no information on Cher. But let's just say that if you wanted to go back to the original version of "The Boyfriend Box" lyrics you'd have to do hundreds of undos. I'm still tweaking the lyrics even now. Needless to say, that process comes to a halt with the final vocal track. (Well, it doesn't come to a halt, actually, as you still keep tweaking after it's been recorded, but no one knows about it and it doesn't really count. I read an interview with Jimmy Webb where he said he has continued to tweak and rewrite the lyrics to "Macarthur Park" continually over the last several decades, like Walt Whitman or something. Success or failure, it never ends. In your head, that is. But as a recording matter, the final one is it.)

That's where people run into trouble with the delivery, since it's very tough to have natural-sounding phrasing when you're singing something for the first time. I hear records all the time where I can immediately tell which lyrics were hurriedly written in the studio as zero hour approached. Including some of mine, which is how I learned the lesson. I imagine there must be professional singers who are so sharp that they can pick up any lyric sight unseen and deliver it perfectly, but we are not that kind of singer, are we? You need to be really comfortable with the phrasing. Of course, it really, really helps if the lyrics scan properly: there's just no way it will sound right if circumstances force you to sing "im-poss-IB-le" instead of "im-POSS-ible." Or if you have to cram too many syllables into a single beat. Unless you want to sound retarded (which is perfectly legitimate, if that's what you're going for, but it really should be your choice, rather than the lyricist's.)

Also, you're way more comfortable when you know it's not "for real." That's why Kevin saves all the scratch takes (I think that's why) because in the midst of all the funny, amateurish, vocal debacles, there may be moments when you do something uninhibited that sounds cool. But as the zero hour approaches, it becomes more stressful, since it's all leading up to an eventual track you can no longer fix.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:27 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 28, 2003

A Scene from the Great Tuning Debate

Kevin on the left, me on the right, and Bobby's '77 Telecaster Deluxe in my quivering but not-yet-defeated arms. It's a great-sounding guitar, and it stays pretty well in tune, but arguably the most wonderful thing about it is the fact that its pickguard looks almost exactly like the linoleum in the kitchen of the house where I grew up. Anyway, that's my best guess as to why it makes me feel warm and comforted, yet somehow hungry as well. I think it's called Hacienda Rust, or something like that.

Now I've got to go practice before heading down to the studio so I'll have a shot at not sucking quite so bad today. See ya.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:17 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Tuning Issues

Yesterday's recording session was a bit off-kilter because everyone was still a little wrecked from the previous night's show. We got a lot accomplished, nonetheless, finally finishing all the bass, putting down the sketchy basics of some of the sound effects, and getting a start on the guitar.

All in all, the rhythm stuff went remarkably smoothly. Now that we're in the guitar phase, though, we're faced with a new set of challenges. Yesterday, we hit what was pretty much our first snag: a big tuning kerfuffle. Tuning seems like it would be straightforward, but with multi-track recording, string instruments, and high fidelity, keeping everything in tune with everything else can be a real struggle, particularly when, like us, you're trying to use a lot of second-hand (I believe the technical term is "vintage") equipment. Absolute perfection is not possible, nor even really desirable: it's possible to be so utterly accurately machine-certified in tune that it sounds bad, unnatural. You can quite literally be so in tune that you're out of tune. The trick is to try to manage your tuning, with the goal of ensuring that the degree of out-of-tuneness is going to work with the track you're working on. To make matters more complicated there are times when you want to have the guitars a bit out of tune for an occasional wake 'em up sonic assault that is itself an "instrument" in the arrangement, or more often when you want a pretty chorusing effect, or even more subtly when you want to make a wall of guitars sound a bit "thicker." On the other hand, too much chorusing in a wall of guitars can make them sound too distant.

What I'm saying is, Tuning Issues can be way more subjective than you'd think, a matter of opinion, taste, debate. You can spend hours arguing about it, and I've witnessed and been involved in some quite bitter such arguments. The tuner says you're in tune, you've got a great sound going, two out of three engineers surveyed think it's pretty close, but it doesn't work with the track. You fiddle with the intonation, try continually re-tuning and punching in every four bars, try a dozen different guitars, listen to the playback muting the other tracks one by one to see if there's another culprit. Maybe you're hitting the guitar too hard; maybe too softly. Maybe it's the humidity or the temperature in the studio. Maybe you should change the strings. Maybe you shouldn't have changed those strings, that sounds even worse. Maybe there's just something wrong with your ears. Man, you should have just gone to graduate school after all. Forget this rock and roll stuff.

Sometimes there's something about the room, some angle or acoustics-affecting plane, that exaggerates the overtones, making things sound out of tune when they "really" aren't.

That was the case in the biggest Tuning Freakout of my recording career, the Great Bass Tuning Debacle of '97 (during the recording of Revenge is Sweet and So are You.) We eventually reached the conclusion, hotly contested by the studio owners, that something about the control room at the studio made the bass sound out of tune no matter what we did. So how did we check the tuning? We made cassettes at various points in the tracking and mixing and went out to listen to them in the van. A very time-consuming solution, but the only one available. The second biggest tuning freakout was during Alcatraz, when we finally figured out that the two different classic/vintage/antique two-inch tape decks we were using for the guitar overdubs ran at speeds that varied too infinitesimally to be caught by the normal calibration process. I blamed my guitar, and I blamed myself, I cursed God, the Universe, and the day I was born, but it never occurred to me to blame or curse the tape deck. Once we figured it out, we were able to recalibrate using special tones and a special gizmo and everything worked out, but there were a couple of days there where I felt like I was losing my mind. Needless to say, when you're forced to obsess about technical things like that, your playing can suffer. There's some guitar stuff that was supposed to be on Alcatraz that never happened because I was too rattled to make my fingers work properly and we never had to time to revisit them once the problem was solved. It can be a psychologically shattering experience.

What happened last night was nowhere near that serious. When I referred to it as a Tuning Freakout, engineer/studio dude Mark Keaton said "this isn't a Tuning Freakout. It's just tuning." He's right. Tuning is part of the process, you have to do it, and it's always hard. This fell well short of Freakout level; it didn't even really reach Episode status. Still, by the time I started trying to play my parts on "Everybody Knows You're Crying" I was sounding a bit like a retarded, thumbless five year old who couldn't tell his IV from his V. Ted had just recorded what I think is the most beautiful, perfect guitar part ever to appear on an MTX record, and I just wasn't equal to the important task of complementing it. That's first on the agenda today. I hope my nerves can take it.

Here's Ted, trying to see if using my quirky batwing would more closely match the tune-scape of my earlier quirky batwing track. It kind of did. (That's camera shy Kevin Army's head on the left.)


And of course, the whole time I have this little spinning digital display of the depleting recording budget in my head. You know how the gallons and price numbers scroll around when you're getting gas, or on that big national debt sign in New York? That's the kind of thing I mean.

Anyway, don't worry about it yet.

And trust me: our music is really a lot better than it sounds.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:45 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 27, 2003


I had a really good time at the show last night (and I'm still feeling a bit of that lingering g. t. even now.) I don't have time to give a full report right now. The Queers cancelled, but the show must go on and the show did go on. One of the hilights for me was singing "Coffee, Tea, or Me?" with my Smugglers:


That fellow on the left is the Smugglers' Grant, who danced and sang on the choruses. The guy in the middle in the Converse All-Stars is me. I'm usually not that blurry, but I've had a rough week.

Off to the studio. More later.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:26 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 26, 2003

I played at parties, I played in bars, I spent my money buying new guitars

I was going to do some blogging today, but a massive Lookout Party aftermath headache has made even the sound of the keys a bit too much for me poor little head. I better get over it fast, though-- tonight is that Great American Music Hall show, and it's going to be much louder in there.

Yesterday, I left the studio around 5 to head over to the Parkside for the Lookout Cocktail Party/solo gig. While I was gone, they did a couple of bass tracks and some editing. Tracking and overdubbing can be tedious and repetitive, but I hate to miss even one moment of it. Before I left we finished the bass on "London," and I have to say it sounds really nice. Bobby told me the rest went pretty well, too. I hope so, because if not, we'll have to make one of those awful decisions: fix it and take time away from some other track, or live with it and spend that time on something else. Actually, recording sessions are pretty much made up of those decisions from beginning to end. Even dinner breaks and sleeping enter into the calculation. Today, however, is our day off. We've got the show tonight, and then we're going back in tomorrow to work on the edited stuff.

The Lookout Party was fun. Many people there I hadn't seen in years. Talked chess with Jesse Michaels. Got caught up with my dear friend Tristin, whom I don't see nearly enough now that she has moved to New York. (New York was pretty well represented-- Frank and Heather and Bill and Christine also made the trip out.)

I suppose my set went all right, despite a practically non-existent sound system. No one could figure out how to get the input for my acoustic guitar's pickup to work, so they had to mic it. I'm not used to that, and I kept forgetting that if you move the sound hole of the guitar more than a few inches from the SM58 on the taped-together stand, your strumming simply disappears and all the audience can hear is your funny, slurry, wavery voice. (Sorry about that folks.) Or if you move it too close, you get this tremendous, booming feedback sound. That was pretty cool actually. I have to admit though, once or twice I got caught up in experimenting with sound hole feedback calibration and sort of, like, forgot I was supposed to be playing a song. Hey, it's all part of the act. Really.

I played a few oldies but moldies with scattered new tunes, including "She Runs Out when the Money Does." (That was the first time I'd ever done that in public, and it seemed to go over pretty well.)

I have this song called "Even Hitler had a Girlfriend" which is pretty popular, and people often call out requests for it. Because of this, I often find myself in the following strange situation: I hit the final chord of a song, and the crowd starts applauding and yelling "Hitler! Hitler!" It has happened so often that I hardly even notice it, but for some reason last night my soul left my body, surveyed the scene, gazed upon the tableau, picked up the audio, and returned to tell me what was up. And I believe I truly realized for the first time just how bizarre my whole Hitler situation is. Of course, I could take care of it by playing that song first every time. Maybe that's what I should do.

But what is it with San Francisco audiences when it comes to acoustic/folk performances? I've done solo shows in a great many cities, large and small, and they pretty much go like this: you play a song, the audience listens and claps when you're done, and you repeat this process till the end of the set. Sometimes you'll get heckled, which is all right by me. Sometimes they're indifferent.

But at every single solo show I've ever played in San Francisco, it's a different story altogether: the audience smiles politely and just talks amongst themselves about this and that through your entire set. It sounded like the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in there. I was trying to introduce the songs with these cute little stories, like I do, you know, but it wasn't easy. I was the Eleanor Clift of rock up there, constantly shrieking "let me finish, let me finish, will you let me finish? Tony, you had your chance to talk, don't I get to finish? Let me finish..." Except there was no moderator to say "hold on, let her make her point..."

Actually, of course, I didn't go all Eleanor on the crowd. I just played my songs as best I could, and finally stopped when I got tired of fighting them. The weird thing is, a lot of the chatterers seemed to be listening, maybe even enjoying the songs. I guess maybe they were multi-tasking, listening to the songs while simultaneously taking the opportunity to remind their friends how much money they used to make at their old dotcom jobs.

Tonight, however, I'll have a big old amplifier, so it shouldn't be a problem. See ya tonight.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 11:16 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

July 25, 2003

More Studio Stuff

Today is going to be a little strange at the studio. We're going to try finish all the bass and get to work on the guitar overdubs. Then I've got to head over to the Parkside for the Lookout Party where I'm playing a solo show. (Tonight at 9pm. If you're in the area, stop in and say hey.) Chris Appelgren is going to give me a lift to the show, and there has been some discussion that he'll bring along and drop off my buddy Joe Queer to do some guest backup vocals while I'm away. That would be a good use of time, but the idea feels weird: I'd kind of like to be there, you know? He'll walk in, and I'll say "hey Joe" and he'll say something like "Francisco! Madre de Dios!" and we'll do one of those kind of awkward guy half-hugs/half-backslaps, maybe, and I'll say "have fun" and leave it all to him and Kevin? See what I mean? Weird.

Also, it would mean I'd have to do some kind of lead vocal on the tracks we want him to sing on, and we're not really at the lead vocal stage on most of this stuff. No idea if it's going to happen.

I was hoping to have my pal Chuck Prophet play a bit of guitar, but sadly, that's looking unlikely at this point, as his touring schedule exactly coincides with our tracking schedule. Rats.

Moving right along, here's a photo of me at Sharkbite last night with my '57 Les Paul Junior:


It's a cool guitar that, like everything, I should take way more care of. I hardly ever use it these days, as I explained before, because I like the Epiphone Coronet so much. The last time I took it out of the case was in Haarlem, Holland a couple of years ago when we did that Euro-tour with the Queers. I know that because the strings were still loosened for air travel. Lame.

Anyway, more later, and I'll see you at the show tonight. Those of you who come, I mean. You know what I'm getting at.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:29 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Struggle Continues

Here I am with Jym listening to the playback of a drum track-- I think it was "She's not a Flower." "


To my amazement, we actually managed to finish all the drum tracks today. Some of it still needs to be cleaned up, but this puts us further ahead than we have ever been in three days. Jym had done a great track to the Boyfriend Box demo yesterday, and today we spent some time making sure it synched up perfectly. So now we can use bits of the drum machine if we want, and much of the other demo tracks will work if we need them. (I haven't decided whether to use the machine for the fake percussion bits-- finger snaps and frog-- or do something fancier or loopier to replace it.) But it's great to have the option. Heard in the right context (with real drums and a new bass track) even the vocal, which I recorded at my house with a hand-held SM-58, didn't sound too bad. We tried using some of the original bass guitar as a subliminal super-low end "presence," and even that sounded pretty good, if weird. We've still got some things to do to it, and I'll probably re-do the vocal with a good mic and pre-amp, but if we had to we could almost use it as is. Amazing.

The basic tracks of six out of the eleven "band songs" were done "live" in the big room. "Live" means you all play together in the drum room, hearing the isolated amps through headphones. It's a pretty uncomfortable and disorienting way to play guitar, especially if you're half-deaf like me. The headphones can never be loud enough, and the whole thing has a ghostly, distant quality, kind of like how rock bands used to sound, and occasionally still do sound, on TV shows: loud drums, funny, thin guitars. If you're lucky, some of the guitar might be usable, but the main point is to capture the drums and the sloppier-than-a-metronome feel of a live band. You generally do the faster, more "rockin'" ones that way, though sometimes it's nice to try mid-tempo tunes that you want to sound loose. (We did the country rock-ish "Sorry for Freaking Out on the Phone Last Night" and the sixties-y guitar-oriented "Everybody Knows You're Crying" that way, for that reason, even though they're mid-tempo and not super aggressive.) We haven't recorded so many songs "live" in quite awhile, and I have to admit I find it a little discomfiting. But I think we got some good stuff nonetheless.

Part of me wonders whether it's a good idea to be writing in such detail about the process here, as the ultimate goal (in many if not most instances) is to produce a recording that creates the impression that it is a "performance" by a band. Of course, it is that in a sense. But in another sense it's not that at all.

But now that I've written that, I'm not all that sure it's true. That is, I'm not so sure that listeners hear recorded rock music that way. For example, do people hear, say, "Wouldn't it be Nice" and picture a bunch of guys on a stage playing instruments and singing into microphones, and when that first horn comes in they imagine that one of them puts down his guitar and pulls out a baritone sax (or is that a trombone?) and blows a couple of notes before picking the guitar back up and joining the rest to sing "woo oo oo oo"? Or in "Across the Universe" do they imagine John playing an acoustic guitar and singing into a mic, while George sits across from him with a sitar in his lap, which he deftly ditches just in time to pick up the electric guitar and somehow play it backwards here and there, while a crowd of around 12 castrati huddle over on the side piping in with "nothing's gonna change my world" every now and again?

Maybe those aren't good examples. How about "Safe European Home"? When people hear that recording, do they automatically get a picture in their heads of a group of four guys with leather jackets and bad teeth playing in a garage after a meal of fried poster paste? Because I totally don't. I hear "Safe European Home" and I picture Sandy Perlman saying "and we're rolling" on the thirtieth take as the drummer rolls his eyes, and, months later, punching in one of the multi-tracked leads in the little instrumental bridge part; and I idly wonder whether, when they did those guitar overdubs (famously at the Automat in San Francisco), that was before or after three or so Mick Joneses sang "where'd you go?" on tracks 14, 16 and 18. What amp was it? It sounds like a Mesa Boogie to me. Was it a Boogie? Mark III? A Fender bassman, maybe? 4 X 12 cab with two of the speakers mic'd with 57s? Celestions or EVs?

But then, I'm a little weird.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 10:15 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

July 24, 2003

What's the noun for slovenly?



I don't know why I took a picture of this, but it's the Sharkbite couch with some of my ADAT demos strewn about. This is the stuff I recorded at home (some of which I put out on that "eight little songs" self-release.) We're using them as a reference, since I worked out some arrangements on them that I'll have a hard time remembering; and we're considering using pieces of some of the bedroom tracks, mixing them in to the recordings we're making now. How much we'll do this hasn't yet been determined, though at minimum I think we'll probably snatch some of the sound effects, at least, from "London" "The Boyfriend Box," and a couple of other tunes, and maybe some back-up vocals, too. Some of the sounds on those tapes have me scratching my head trying to figure out how I did them, so it's nice to have the option of using them without having to deconstruct everything. I should write this stuff down, but of course I never do. I should take better care of my tapes, but of course I never do.

Over on the left is my taped-up Epiphone Coronet/batwing, which is the main guitar I use these days. I have all sorts of others that I've acquired over the years, including some with pretty impressive "stats", but I always come back to that one. It's as old as I am and sounds better than anything I've ever tried. So, I should probably take better care of it. But of course I never do.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:21 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Lemme introduce the band, continued...

Here's the MTX bass player, Bobby J. I think he'd just done the bass track for "Oh, just have some faith in me."

Was it rockin', aggressive, innocent yet jejeune with a soulful been-around-the-block, Slade-o-centric joie de vivre, an oddly human, if primitive, feel, and just the barest hint of she can really do the brontosaurus?

You bet it was.


Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:21 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

30 Days to a More Irritating Vocabulary

We got a lot done during the second day of tracking, though it didn't feel like that was what was happening while it was happening. Trying to judge sounds and weigh the merits of the performance of parts that are, for the moment, disconnected from the context in which they're intended to be set at some future point is pretty difficult and confusing. You get disoriented, lose perspective, and end up having intense arguments about whether a given beat or phrase or fill or run or what have you is doing a proper job of helping the as-yet-non-existent track to embody a set of qualities that can only be described in vague, often largely meaningless, terms. Well, I know what I mean when I say "loose" or "easy" or "mechanical" or "rockin'" or "stilted" or "sloppy" or "clean" or "dark", etc. But I think it's safe to say no one in that room completely understands what anyone else really means. Describing a sound or a "feel" in words is, as far as I can see, impossible.

Sometimes people take this maddeningly vague, irritatingly picky critical sub-process personally (though I have to say there is remarkably little-- in fact, practically none-- of that action going on in these sessions; but we haven't run into any big snags yet.) Sometimes that can lead to arguments about whether or not that's happening. Then the whole thing can take on a momentary guise of a kind of therapy session: "now, Joe, try to tell Tim why you think it fucking sucks..."

For us, though, it's mostly a case of the inarticulate leading the indecisive on a quest to verbalize the inexpressible, the critical- and self-analysis equivalent of a Jerry Lewis movie where, say, the dog takes the steak and goes from room to room with it while the Jerry character chasing him keeps guessing wrong about the dog's next move, causing more and more chaos till the final scene where the love interest arrives to find him lying in the middle of the living room floor tangled up in the contents of the house, curtains, bedclothes, rugs, clothing, furniture, various foodstuffs, while the dog calmly eats the steak in the foreground. The girl gives him an exasperated, indulgent, demi-smile. Dissolve. (I don't think that's a real Jerry Lewis movie, but it would make a pretty good one. It might be called "She Runs Out when the Money Does.")

"Rockin'" is probably the most-used and least specific of those recording studio words, but there are many, many more. (Kevin Army's word of the day yesterday was "poopy.")

Many folks who have played and recorded with me have expressed mild surprise at my gormless, retarded way of describing my own stuff in terms of analogues to other stuff, often in crazy combinations. Plus, I have a tendency to use negative words as though they described desirable qualities. It's true that quite a few musicians feel that they should downplay or remain silent about the "borrowings" from other, more famous, people, but I've always figured that flagrant incestuous interpenetration (if f.i.i. is the phrase I want) of material and musical idiom is what makes rock and roll great. And even when it doesn't actually make it great, you might as well admit it and get on with your life. It's not "I hope no one notices who I am ripping off here." It's more like, "I hope everyone notices the extremely interesting and cool way I've figured out to rip off x while invoking y and stomping all over z." That said, it leads to some funny, eh, discourse in the control room.

"Hey, you know the Byrds part after the sweet home alabama bit, right before the lead in to the Husker Du-y section where I'm doing the Duane Eddy thing? I want it to have a kind of muted Swell Maps/Peechees effect, but an overall Eagles feel, especially during that Carpenters part because I'm planning to add some Funeral Oration-style reverb to the Styx guitar once we get the pictures of lily thing happening. It should have an overall unpleasant, claustrophic feel. That's what I'm shooting for, anyway. You know the kinda thing I mean?"

"Er, uh, yeah, I think so... But don't you think it should be more rockin'?"

Yeah, well, whatever. You get the idea.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:58 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

July 23, 2003

Relative Classic-ness

MTX guitar player Ted Angel in the medium guitar room with Rickenbacker guitar and Vox amp. My favorite old Silvertone amp is over on the right.


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Board Games

Most recording studios I've worked at have some kind of "vintage" board that was acquired from somewhere else, some other studio that either replaced it or went out of business. (And of course, older is better in perception and reality: when we have a choice, we'll usually opt for 70s-era recording gear and 50s-60s instruments.) Often the studio will be built around the board. Sometimes there's an interesting story about how the board was acquired. Always, there is some kind of board pedigree, a folklorish tale of origin and history encompassing a list of records that are known or alleged to have been recorded on the board back when it was in the other studio.

The way it usually goes is, you ask some question about the board, and the engineer will tell you where it came from and say something like "you know, this was the board they used for 'Layla'." And you say, "no way." And then he explains how Eric Clapton always used to record overdubs at such and such a place, and this is the board that used to be there before the studio went out of business and they turned the building into an Olive Garden. (Of course, that means you eventually have to go to that Olive Garden, order the spicy sausage, and tell your date, "you know, this is the room where they did 'Layla'." And your date says, suspiciously, "who's Layla?") Maybe it was only the handclaps, and Lord knows it probably means all sorts of nasty stuff was spilled into it in those golden years of pushing the limits of middle class morality, but still-- it's pretty cool. For some reason. (That "Layla" example is totally made up-- but it's the kind of thing I'm talking about.)

When I first started hearing this, I assumed that they meant "this model" or this type of board. But no, they mean the actual specific physical piece of equipment. Is it always true? There's no way of knowing, and I've had my doubts before. The Rolling Stones' Black and Blue is one of those that pops up often enough that you start to wonder how it would have been possible for the band to have used quite so many boards in the relatively brief period between It's Only Rock and Roll and Some Girls. (Maybe they were on the board-a-day plan.) Well, you'd start to wonder about it if you were a cynical, soul-less cretin with little imagination and not much of a feeling heart in ya. Because it is cool, the technological-electronic version of meeting a celebrity. There's some fancy studio down in LA that has the board on which "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy" was recorded. Now come on: how awesome is that?

At Sharkbite Studios, where we're recording, the board is a very nice-sounding 1978 Trident TSM:


Pedigree: Steely Dan's Aja (extremely cool); and overdubs for Pink Floyd's The Wall (not all that cool, maybe not even remotely cool, but kind of funny. All right, all right, I admit, some little part of me thinks even that is kind of cool.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:41 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Exposing the Ingredients of Rock and Roll's Sausage

As I suspected, yesterday proved to be a bit chaotic. Much of the day was spent getting the drum sounds, which is probably the most mind-numbing, peace-of-mind-shattering activity of the whole process. But you have to do it. We "got" some rather good ones, as it happens. Towards the later part of the evening, we even started tracking, and ended up with pretty great-sounding basic tracks of three of the songs, which is two more than I had expected. "London" was the most complicated, since I wanted to preserve the option of using some of the back-up vocals from my demo, and we had a bit of trouble getting it all to synch up. (Did you know that the beats-per-minute vary slightly, but enough to swim, from drum machine to drum machine? They do. I did my demo at 130, which ended up being somewhere between 129 and 130 on the studio's identical model. Or maybe the time code on my ADAT was to blame? Whatever, setting it up was a challenge.)

Playing along to a previously recorded track, especially one of my idiosyncratic, semi-retarded ones, is really tough, but Jym is very good at it. He ended up playing to the demo's lead vocal, which worked out well believe it or not, though it caused some embarrassing moments in the control room as (of course) my ungainly home-recorded "vocal" was blasted sans eq or effects through the Genelecs. Engineers love to do that kind of thing. Anyway, the drums sound great, and when we played back the whole thing (essentially, the demo with real drums instead of the machine) it sounded really beautiful.

The two other songs, including "Sorry for Freaking Out on the Phone Last Night", were recorded live in "the room," though I'm not sure how much of the guitar we'll end up using.

Anyway, so far, so good. The plan for today is to get the basic tracks for all but one of the other songs. That will be a challenge, but at least theoretically possible now that things are all set up.

More later.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:08 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 22, 2003

Off to the studio

Today is going to be a bit hectic and crazy and chaos may reign, so I'm not sure how much you'll be hearing from me. Just moving all our stuff into the studio is going to be a big, complicated job. I'm bringing along my dilapidated laptop, and if I can get it to work, I may be able to post, or I may not. We'll see what happens.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:19 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

And the winner of the award for outstanding achievement in journalistic excellence for the facilitation of totalitarian mass murder is...

Over at Dean's World, Don Pesci argues the case for revoking Walter Duranty's embarrassing Pulitzer Prize. I agree with the impulse, and I wouldn't be sorry if the prize were to be rescinded. However, part of me believes the lesson would be more pointed if the prize were to remain and to stand as a monument to the seductive power of the totalitarian apologist, the gullibility of a public and a journalistic profession eager to be seduced, and to the dangers consonant with a lack of journalistic scruples and judgment. Rewriting history (even if it's only the history of the vain prizes professionals award each other) isn't always the best way to learn from it, and is in some respects a funny sort of way to express criticism of history-falsifiers. Perhaps it would be better, and more appropriate, if we continued to refer to him accurately as Pulitzer Prize-winning Stalin Apologist Walter Duranty. Otherwise, aren't we leaving out the most outrageous, the most instructive, part? On balance, though, if I had a vote, I suppose I'd vote to rescind. Not totally sure, though.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:06 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Categories, names of...

Is Bush a conservative? Of course not, in many ways. Andrew Sullivan spells them out in this article with the sub-hed "the liberal within". Beginning thus:

it may sound like a stupid question but the dizzying mix of policies that this president has pursued - domestically and in foreign affairs -is surprisingly immune to coherent ideological analysis. Where it does seem to make sense, it certainly doesn't look like the classical conservatism of the Reagan-Thatcher years, or the revolutionary conservatism of the Gingrich period. And in some critical ways, it's far less traditionally conservative than the administration of Bill Clinton...
Read the rest if you're at all interested in the political/ideological category game, and cite it if you want a row (as this observation tends to rub partisans of both "sides" the wrong way.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:19 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 21, 2003

What am I?

Yeah, so in view of all this talk about titles, I decided to ditch the "blogs of war" pun. Boring.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 08:22 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack


Kamm again, on silencing critics.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 02:51 PM | TrackBack

Caution: Genius Crossing

The Philosophical Cowboy links to this article on that cockamamie "brights" nonsense. If you don't know about it, you're probably better off, but Moira Breen, Natalie Solent, and countless others have written on it, if you're interested.

In brief, "bright" is meant to be a euphemism for "atheist." Instead of saying "I'm an atheist," the theory goes, you say "I'm a Bright! I'm a Bright! Hey everybody! Gather round! I'm a Bright!" And everyone gets this warm, fuzzy feeling about you and gives you a cookie.

I very much doubt "bright" in this sense will take, though I don't really care that much. It's not like it will cause much confusion either way: you run into very few occasions where it's appropriate to use it to refer to a person in its other sense, except sarcastically. And this is just one of many such sarcasm-inviting situations, so there's arguably a kind of symmetry here.

Anyway, the piece by Ben McIntyre is "behind subscription" at the Times, but the Cowboy includes this amusing quote:

"There is undoubtedly something cringingly self-satisfied and self-conscious about the term. The website urging Brights to stand up and be counted even offers handy tips on revealing your inner brightness.

For example, it advises: "if someone inquires about your own religion, you can pop up with, 'Well, actually, I am a Bright'. The other person's curiosity will probably take hold: 'A Bright? What is that?'"

In fact, of course, the conversation would probably go: "What's your religion?" "Well, actually, I'm a Bright." The other person will immediately suspect they are in the presence of a prat. "A Bright, eh? Well, good for you ... must get on."

That sounds about right. Keep up the fine, important work, Einstein.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 01:17 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack


Let the cheap jokes begin.

I know this is a serious matter ("Bomb ingredients seized at house of MILF rebel") but man, is that ever an unfortunate acronym for an Islamic terror organization.

(via Inoperable Terran.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 12:16 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

July 20, 2003

In the eye of the beholder...

Earlier today, I heard a KPFA dj say this Mark Morford column was "beautifully written."

Posted by Dr. Frank at 11:52 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

I've Never Been So Insulted in My Life!

Dean Esmay was feeling a bit testy on his birthday (many happy returns, sir, by the way.) Testy, perhaps, but still sharp:

The other day, I quoted a phrase I'd seen floating around a bunch of places online. It turned out to have been originated by John Derbyshire. I should have done my homework and checked that for an original source. I was lazy, but that was wrong of me.

Still, several self-described liberals found themselves shocked and disappointed in me for posting it. Now why is that do you suppose? The phrase was this:

Wherever there is a jackboot stepping on a human face, there will be a well-heeled Western liberal there to assure us that the face enjoys free health care and a high degree of literacy.

I started trying to explain, to reconcile, to apologize a little, even.

Then I realized this morning: The phrase could be "liberal" or "leftist," and I can understand someone's confusion over that. That's no big deal. But the fundamental truth of the statement? Let's not kid ourselves, shall we? The phrasing is not partisan, is not "one note" or "bashing," and while it may be "disappointing," what's disappointing is not that I said it. What's offensive is that it's the truth.

Indeed, let me be very clear about this: That statement is self-evident, and it is, furthermore, undeniably true exactly as written. Why the hell would I apologize, or even try to defend it? If you find it offensive, you damn well should, because it is indeed offensive. It's offensive that it's the truth.

I find it pretty hard to imagine what it might feel like to be the sort of "identity liberal" who would take the fact that Esmay quoted Derbyshire's bon mot personally and feel it necessary to draw myself up in outrage to defend the honor of the tribe.

"How dare you, sir! I'll have you know that the Judean People's Front are every bit as idiotic as we are. More so even!"

At minimum, they should be pretty used to it by now-- and Derb's quote is a pretty mild version of People's Front of Judea-bashing, all things considered. Anyway, that's what you get for belonging to a tribe in the first place. I against I. I think Derbyshire was talking about Castro's celebri-wingnut cheerleaders, and so was Dean. And I don't care what badge you caress breathlessly each night before bedtime or how proud it makes you or how evil the other team might be: they both happen to be right about this one.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:16 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Naming the Baby

Figuring out the right title for an album is tough. I often like to pull out lyrics, as they can make great titles. The problem: sometimes the song from which you pull the lyrics doesn't end up on the album for one reason or another. "Love is Dead" was only half-written when the album Love is Dead was recorded. It ended up on Revenge is Sweet and So are You, which was a line from a song that didn't get put out till years later. Maybe we should have cut "She's My Alcatraz" from Alcatraz, just to continue the tradition and ensure even more confusion.

This is only a problem if you worry about things like that. I think it's kind of cool, myself. At any rate, if we don't put "She Runs Out when the Money Does" on this album, we may end up with another such situation, because a line from that song is one of the top contenders for the album title: Yesterday Rules.

I've learned from google that, as it happens, this is the title of an unreleased Bob Seger song that was supposed to have been on the soundtrack to one of the Back to the Future movies. I'm not sure how that affects the decision. It doesn't rule out using it. The question is, what, if any, psychological/aesthetic effect would we get from obliquely connecting this album with Bob Seger in some way? Cool, in some respects; distracting, perhaps, in others.

This is often the case these days with titles, references, allusions, and the recycling of themes that is such a big part of rock and roll and of pop culture as a whole. It's inevitable that anything you come up with will, intentionally or not, allude to something else; most likely, it will allude to a whole list of other things, some of which you know about, some of which you don't. It seems a little weird, but to some degree the awareness of the parallel "worlds" to which your lyric or title or sound may allude is itself part of the creative process. That is, you have to consider them, and perhaps even sometimes shape or direct your material, or make choices about what to do with it, so that the oblique references are the kind you want. I'm confident that, all things considered, sharing a title with an unreleased Bob Seger song would in no way undermine anything about this album. But it will, strangely and in a funny way, have connected my songs, our recording, the label, and the Berkeley punk rock world to the Silver Bullet Band, Detroit, Michael J. Fox, and the story of whatever shadowy, failed negotiations between mega-corporations ended up causing this song to be created, but not used, in one of the biggest movies of its time.

Here are some other contenders, all culled from snips of lyrics or themes from the songs to be on the album:

Don't Cry: a Guns n Roses song (who knew?) and 2/3 of the title of a 1974 Linda Ronstadt album

Peace Forever: a lyric from my song called "Elizabeth or Fight!" "Forever" is track four of the Eurythmics Peace album, i.e. Peace/"Forever". Or there's this.

Shiny Stuff: hmmm... Or there's this song about the California Gold Rush, to be sung to the tune of "Yellow Submarine."

Love is Loud: that's a line from another of the songs to be recorded. It's probably not advisable because it's too similar to our own Love is Dead. On the other hand, it also alludes to this "nonstop journey to the heart of God."

Almost Just Like Being Alone: that's another line from another song that we might not end up doing. I can't find an exact analogue but if you construe "like" as a verb, it's an idea that appears to be very much in the air.

Or maybe we should wait till we know if it's going to be a boy or a girl? Don't you worry little Andrew or Jenny, the search continues...

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:14 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

OK, it may have been a liquid lunch

I've been meaning to mention: Rick Heller was in town this week on vacation and we got together for lunch the other day. He is just as smart as his blog and is as well-spoken as it is well-written. We talked of art, writing, blogging, sports, politics, Berkeley, Boston, the Weathermen, the SLA, punk rock, the contrarian ethos, you name it. Isn't it strange when you finally meet someone whom you "know" pretty well through their writing? He's only the fifth person in my personal blog pantheon that I've met personally, as a matter of fact. It was nice. Maybe one of these days I'll get to meet Moira Breen...

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:29 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Recording Status Report

Here's a kind little review of "eight little songs".

We're going in to the studio on Tuesday, and as always, I can't quite tell the excitement from the dread. Most of the first day will probably be devoted to setting things up, "loading" things, testing things, figuring out if anything essential is broken, etc. If things go well, we may even be able to work on "getting sounds" (as it is always referred to): the drummer hits various drums for hours and hours while we move the mics around and try different configurations of this, that and the other. That's the part that can make a grown man cry, especially if he's hung over. I don't plan to be, but I'm just saying.

We had what is most likely to have been our last rehearsal before the recording last night. This line-up (me, Jym, Bobby J. on bass and Ted Angel on guitar) is by far the most "together" group I've played with (perhaps that may not be saying much, but really these guys are very good.) Half the battle is understanding the music and the songs, and that kind of understanding can be hard to come by when you're an oddball like me, but being able to play is nice, too. I'm really getting a kick out of some of the "chiming" stereo effects of the dual guitars-- Ted's really good at aping my guitar lines, but also at inverting/subverting them so they sound interesting when laid on top. I've been told my rhythmic sense is a little unconventional and hard to play to. A lot of that may be down to my own unavoidable retardedness, but a bit of it is intentional, as I like to have certain parts play against each other (e.g., straight-time drums/rhythm cum shuffly stereo guitars which try to fill in each other's "spaces," that kind of thing-- the demo arrangement of "Big, Strange, Beautiful Hammer" is sort of a low-key, low-fi version of that particular oddity.) We've been able work out in advance that kind of rhythmic/texture stuff way more than usual this time around, and it will mean a greater flexibility in the studio and a halfway decent chance of having some of it come out as intended this time around.

Anyway, the twelve "band songs" are sounding pretty good "live," though only a few of them will end up being recorded that way. The thirteenth, "She Runs Out when the Money Does" is still up in the air-- it's too new to be comfortable and I'm not sure we're playing it well enough yet. (Sometimes, springing a song on the band at the last minute can result in a cool energy-- and/or an appealing awkwardness-- all its own. That was the case with "She's My Alcatraz," which we ended up playing almost live after not much more than a brief explanation. I don't know about other folks, but I've often had the impression that there's something special about the first time you play any song that you can't always recapture. However, "She Runs Out..." is one of those tunes that just has to sound natural, as it's so sparse.) It's on the back-burner at this point, to be pulled out only if things are going so well that we feel we have the time to fool around with it. (Fat chance of that, but never mind.) Since I've put up the lyrics, and as there's been discussion of it, I still might cyberbusk an mp3 of the demo over the next couple of days, just to complete the experiment (see how it compares to how people thought it might sound, see if anything interesting falls out when people shake it, etc.)

If "She Runs Out..." ends up getting jettisoned (or rather, saved for later-- that's a better way of putting it) that means we still have to cut at least one more "band song." We could end up putting off the decision and recording the extra song, deciding what to cut when we hear how they come out. (That's the usual way of it, but we're trying to minimize recording stuff we're not going to use this time, since the budget is so tight.) Or we may end up with more leeway than we think and just go ahead and put 15 songs on the album. Or cut one of the acoustic-y ones. There's one rather difficult one that I think we'll save for last, and if things get tight we might end up "saving that for later," too. This particular song will probably be the most time-consuming and challenging to record, edit, and mix and eliminating it would free up quite a bit of time and money to devote to the others; yet it would leave a gap (another regret) in the album that would burn like a morgul blade. Forever. Of course, not doing it properly would burn like two morgul blades. I realize we're going to have some morgul blade effect in operation whatever happens, but I'm trying to keep it to a minimum. I suppose what I'm saying is: I want to put on the ring, but maybe I shouldn't.

I'm still planning to blog from the studio when I can, maybe post some pictures, and (who knows?) maybe even some sounds if it seems appropriate.


don't go back. We'll be right away.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:12 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Just What I Needed

I hadn't seen this in a while.

Thanks for the memories, Michele.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 02:56 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 19, 2003

Liberals against Liberalism

Here's another nice essay by Oliver Kamm, continuing the eccentric "leftists for Bush" theme. He cites three statements by leftish Bush-Blair antagonists and opponents of intervention (Noam Chomsky, Gerhard Schroeder, and a humble UK blogger) noting how each fits "neatly into the tradition of isolationist rationalisation for ignoring human suffering" that was once, perhaps, regarded chiefly as the province of "the right." (It's an often observed irony, if that's in fact what it is, but it's an irony that keeps giving: British lefties borrowing the rhetoric of a previous generation of "Little Englanders", and forming tactical alliances with exterminationist anti-Semitic groups; American lefties flirting with and copping the rhetoric of Buchanan-esque isolationism, anti-Semitism...) Kamm:

There are many things that can be said about views such as these, but it's straightforward to say what they are not. They have nothing in common with the ideals of liberal democratic, progressive internationalism as conventionally understood. No one who holds to them has any connection with that tradition.

The principal heir to the tradition among among modern statesmen is a man who does believe that political liberty is universal and who recognises the strategic as well as moral imperative of spreading it. George W. Bush is truly the president, and soon once more the candidate, of the finest ideals of the liberal Left...

That first bit is hard to dispute. As for the second, I daresay it will sound crazy to most of this blog's readers, but if you ignore the domestic agenda and regressive tax policy, and set aside any skepticism about the sincerity of Bush's fitful pro-democracy rhetoric, there is a case to made and Kamm argues it well. It's food for thought, at any rate. The real point, perhaps, though, is not about Bush, but rather about today's left-liberals: I don't have any comprehensive data, but my impression from those I know and read is that most of them are not all that into liberal democracy these days. Am I wrong?

As for true enthusiasts for the ideals of liberal democracy and progressive internationalism, Lord knows they might hope for a more sympathique, a better-spoken, a less culturally dissonant, a more consistent, and perhaps a more convincing standard bearer. (It would also help if he had a different party affiliation, of course.) Tony Blair fits the bill, I'd say. But they (left-liberals, I mean) tend not to like him either.

UPDATE: Michael Totten comments.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:49 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

July 18, 2003

Gold Medal

Moira Breen gets all the best comments:

Ecto-genesis shall manumit masculine males and sexuality from womanacles (i.e. accusatrices + dominatrices + genetrices + votaries of Artemis or the Erinyes or Hecate or Hera or Themis or the X-tian God-dess et.al. = philosophastering, emasculatory, misandry/-ists or ph.e.m./s) and engender the Arete, daughters of Pallas-Athene or Deux-ex-machina.
Beat that, fellows.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 10:58 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

And all this time I thought he was just one guy...

Great thinkers of our time-- Noam Chomsky. (Link requires subscription or pay-per-view, if you really want to...)

That's presumably not a joke, but rather a featured story in the New Statesman by a celebrated Slobodan Milosevic apologist. He sent me a couple of emails last year, one of which included the phrase "learn from the mistakes of your great inspiration, the Furher Adolf Hitler." Whatever, dude...

Posted by Dr. Frank at 10:43 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A Few More Shows

The MTX is doing a brief run down south and a little east, four shows with Stay at Home Bomb. (That's Alice Bag's new band-- "vocals, rhythm guitar, feather duster." Heh.)

Thursday, August 7 Spaceland LA
Friday, August 8 Chain Reaction ANAHEIM
Saturday, August 9 Bash on Ash PHOENIX
Sunday, August 10 Hotel Congress TUCSON

That's in addition to the Lookout 15th Anniversary stuff:
My solo show at the Parkside party in San Francisco on Friday July 25. Open to the public at 8pm. I'll probably play around 9.

And the MTX/Queers/Smugglers/Enemies show at the Great American Music Hall on July 26th.

There's also going to be one in Campbell on Aug. 22. Details soon.

By the way, I'm going to be in London for a few days following that Campbell show. It's a long shot, but I'm trying to figure out a way to arrange some sort of solo show during one of the few days I'll be there. If any readers in London have any suggestions or contacts or can help in any way, I'd be grateful. My time frame is pretty limited, so it's a long shot, but if it happens it could be fun.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:05 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Our Tony

Tony Blair's popularity in Britain may have taken a bit of a hit because of the war, but my mother-in-law over there still always refers to him as "our Tony." Over here, my wife and I call him that as well, sometimes jokingly, sometimes even rather sincerely. Sometimes the affectionate name takes on a deliberate or inadvertent ironic tinge, especially in my case. (An American saying "Our Tony" might as well be demonstrating one of the main criticisms against him in certain circles.) I guess it's a family tradition.

Many of my British friends are pretty critical of him and New Labour for domestic reasons, quite apart from anything to do with the war. I can't (and even usually don't pretend to) speak to these with any authority.

He can sure give one hell of a speech, though, can't he?

Two bits stood out for me. First, a simple, perspective-restoring, succinct argument of almost Classical clarity and resonance:

The risk is that terrorism and states developing weapons of mass destruction come together, and when people say that risk is fanciful, I say we know the Taliban supported al Qaeda. We know Iraq, under Saddam, gave haven to and supported terrorists. We know there are states in the Middle East now actively funding and helping people who regard it as God's will in the act of suicide to take as many innocent lives with them on their way to God's judgement. Some of these states are desperately trying to acquire nuclear weapons. We know that companies and individuals with expertise sell it to the highest bidder. And we know that at least one state, North Korea, lets its people starve while spending billions of dollars on developing nuclear weapons and exporting the technology abroad. This isn't fantasy. It is 21st century reality and it confronts us now.

Can we be sure that terrorism and weapons of mass destruction will join together? Let us say one thing: If we are wrong, we will have destroyed a threat that, at its least, is responsible for inhuman carnage and suffering. That is something I am confident history will forgive. But if our critics are wrong, if we are right, as I believe with every fiber of instinct and conviction I have that we are, and we do not act, then we will have hesitated in the face of this menace when we should have given leadership.

That is something history will not forgive.

And this one, no less persuasive, maybe, but whose appeal is more or less emotional:
As Britain knows, all predominant power seems for a time invincible, but in fact, it is transient. The question is, what do you leave behind? And what you can bequeath to this anxious world is the light of liberty. That is what this struggle against terrorist groups or states is about. We're not fighting for domination. We're not fighting for an American world, though we want a world in which America is at ease. We're not fighting for Christianity, but against religious fanaticism of all kinds. And this is not a war of civilizations, because each civilization has a unique capacity to enrich the stock of human heritage. We are fighting for the inalienable right of humankind -- black or white; Christian or not; left, right or merely indifferent -- to be free -- free to raise a family in love and hope; free to earn a living and be rewarded by your own efforts; free not to bend your knee to any man in fear; free to be you, so long as being you does not impair the freedom of others.

That's what we're fighting for, and it's a battle worth fighting. And I know it's hard on America. And in some small corner of this vast country, out in Nevada or Idaho or these places I've never been to but always wanted to go -- (laughter) -- I know out there, there's a guy getting on with his life, perfectly happily, minding his own business, saying to you, the political leaders of this country, "Why me, and why us, and why America?" And the only answer is because destiny put you in this place in history in this moment in time, and the task is yours to do. (Sustained applause.)

And our job -- my nation, that watched you grow, that you fought alongside and now fights alongside you, that takes enormous pride in our alliance and great affection in our common bond -- our job is to be there with you. You're not going to be alone. We will be with you in this fight for liberty. (Sustained applause.)

We will be with you in this fight for liberty. And if our spirit is right and our courage firm, the world will be with us.

My wife frowned a bit and said "a bit purple, there, Tony." She's right about that. Of course, she is. But I'm a sucker for that type of thing. Like any good politician, and in better form and more splendidly than any I can think of, he's telling his audience what they want to hear, in exactly the way they want to hear it. But surely even the most cynical among us cannot fail to be moved by such unabashed talk of Liberty, delivered with such eloquence, passion, and manifest conviction. That's our Tony. Bless him.

UPDATE: A great post over at Harry's place on how Blair's speech reflects a solid understanding of global problems and represents the best of what leftish or Liberal internationalism can aspire to. "I'm glad we have a radical and progressive leader on the international scene," he says. He's right. But I daresay a large number of those who count themselves leftists (and a fair number of self-identifying "liberals") will fail to notice much common ground there. More's the pity.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:34 PM | TrackBack

July 17, 2003

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

I'm pretty much with Bill Quick on this:

If we weren't at war, and I weren't certain that GWB will do a far better job of waging it than any Democrat, I'd vote against him for the rest of my life. He's making the Reagan Mistake: cutting taxes, but making no effort at all to hold down spending, in fact, proposing huge new spending programs of his own.

That's a recipe for a string of gigantic deficits, and it looks like that is exactly what we will get...

Yeah, yeah, I know. The Donks would do worse. Except, under Clinton, they didn't. The Pack has become the party of huge spending. Man, I wish we weren't fighting a war right now.

We always wondered what it would be like to have the Republicans in control of both Congress and the White House.

Now we know.

The qualification "pretty much" is there because I think that Joe Lieberman could be trusted with the war, and would make a much, much better President. Of course, few believe he has much of a shot at the nomination. In the Democratic primaries, credibility on defense is almost a kind of deal-breaking liability, or so it seems. And to the degree that that is true, it is a great pity.

Another pity: though the campaign rhetoric will eventually begin to recycle platitudes claiming otherwise, fiscal conservatism will not even be on the menu. But it's certainly possible that Lieberman would do better there as well. Certainly no worse.

As Bill says elsewhere, it looks like the Democrats are cruising for a pretty severe, self-inflicted bruising in 2004, despite the fact that Bush has a great number of vulnerabilities. I don't think "suicide" is the right metaphor, though, unless there's such a thing as a temporary suicide. If they really do put forward a series of neo-McGovernite sheep in sheeps' clothing, they won't have a prayer, no matter who the opponent may be. Eventually, though, like any other party, they'll get tired of losing. And we'll have something like the mirror image of "compassionate conservatism" ("bleeding heart hawks"? "war sissies"? "touchy-feely bang bang Democrats"? I'm sure a suitable equivalently vacuous epithet will emerge, probably not as colorful as any of these, "New Democrat" no longer being available.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:18 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

On the One Hand: Monbiot. On the Other--

Somehow I managed to miss Harry Hatchet's nice little piece on the blogging experience in the Guardian. Till now, I mean. Cool.

I think most people who have given this whole blogging deal a shot would agree with this:

When you have several hundred people visiting your site you start to feel obliged to provide them with something each day. It is not always possible of course and I soon realised that I had to draw a line if blogging wasn't to take an excessive importance in my life.

But nor is blogging a pastime without personal reward. The task of trawling the web in search of ideas and information is very useful indeed, especially if you take politics seriously. Since I began blogging my knowledge of US politics and a host of international issues has improved, I feel much closer to the political debates of the day. Plus, of course, I have a platform for my views.

(via that swell gal Jackie, whom the Guardian has also quoted in its weblog section. Nice quote, too.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 16, 2003

Why Ken Layne is Great, cont.

Ken Layne reports on "Hollywood's Hottest", allegedly a video compilation of the naked scenes (and only the naked scenes) from various movies. Kind of like a video/film version of Celebrity Skin.

Anyway, the comment:

Maybe the heat is getting to my brain, but while outside having a cigarette and watching the forest fires burn beautifully in the Sierras, I felt this was some sort of blogger/short-attention-span triumph. No longer would a bored teevee viewer sit through 15 dull minutes of some crap movie on HBO just because he vaguely remembered reading that Halle Berry would get nekkid, eventually. Just as nobody bothers to read the actual articles on the Web -- it's so much easier just to read the blog post and that one sweet blockquoted bit -- the regular jackass no longer has to watch 110 minutes of shoddy movie-making just to see 17 seconds of Cameron Diaz' secret no-no.
That's the sweet blockquoted bit, by the way.

(But he also has a thing about that hairy lady in the Salma Hayek movie. It's blockquotable, too. The main thing is the epithet: The Sad Monkey Painter. Another great title idea.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 02:39 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 15, 2003

The Another Yesterday Club

Dave Bug has a really terrific idea that I've never seen proposed before:

I'd like a database of all Billboard Top 40 songs since 1950 or so. I'd like the records in that database to list the rhyme scheme pattern, number of syllables per line, and number of lines per stanza of the verse and chorus of each of those songs.

Then I'd like a front end where I could enter in a number of syllables and a rhyme pattern, or even paste in lyrics from a song, and have the program return a list of songs that matched that pattern.

In theory, this would match up songs that could be played to the tune of any of the other songs. If we were still optimistic about dot-com chances, I'd buy "toTheTuneOf.com" and retire off the profit.

I can think of all sorts of ways that that might useful as well as fun. I'd sure like to have an easily accessible list of songs that have been structured on a particular pattern. I'd imagine you could get some pretty good ideas and insight into the "poetics" of your own songs. Plus, I'm kind of curious whether there would turn out to be any correlation at all, even a slight one, between the literal content (themes, scenarios, narratives, etc.) and the "poetics." Maybe I'm crazy, but I almost think that there might be.

Ken Layne mentioned in a comment to the post about the lyrics to "She Runs Out..." (which I posted sans tune) that he had come up with his own Buck Owens-y music to it. This is the sort of thing that really fascinates me. To what degree would these two "versions" of the song (mine vs. his) differ and to what degree might the content "channel" the variants of the song in similar directions? With Layne and me you'd have to take into account certain factors that might encourage thinking along similar lines (same basic generation, background in punk rock, love of country music, a certain, I don't know, goofball quality, etc.)

This is only tangentially related, but here's another game you can play: call it "BMI diving." BMI has a public database of all the songs credited to any of their affiliated writers and publishers. If you search for a title of one of your own songs, you usually get a pretty long list of songs written by other people with the same title, and it can be interesting to seek out some of these and hear what others have done with the idea.

The really cool thing, though, is then to search the catalog of the writers who have written songs with the same titles as yours and look through their other titles. There are eight songs entitled "Another Yesterday" in the BMI Repertoire DB, including mine. One of them is by Man Buffalo and Woman Good Eagle (or is it Buffalo Man and Good Eagle Woman-- there's a good title for ya right there.) They have a small catalog which also includes, in addition to "Another Yesterday," "Little Baby" and "Evolution Revolution." I don't know if I could come up with a good one for "Evolution Revolution," but the experiment might be interesting.

Another one of the "Another Yesterday"s is by one Jen Kellie. Her (I assume it's a she) catalog is much larger, and has some titles I really could imagine working with. "Tears and Margaritas." Yep. Or there's John "Another Yesterday" Sands ("She Wouldn't Touch me with a 1[0 Foot Pole]"-- I'm guessing at the bracketed part, as long titles are truncated. That'd work. So would "She Wouldn't Touch me with a 1" come to think of it.)

I wish I felt confident enough in my skills to attempt to write a convincing song called "Bones on the Road," like Geoff "Another Yesterday" Gibbons did. "Whisper of Your Tears" would provide a great opportunity to exploit the mixed metaphor for all it's worth, maybe to imagine other liquids (blood, Scotch, propane, spit, amniotic fluid, etc.) having audible, human sounds associated with them.

And of course there are some titles by authors in the Another Yesterday Club that just say it all, one of which is also by Geoff Gibbons: "You Scare Me."

Or "Vital Vibrant Vancouver" by Another Yesterday Club member Violet Dorothy Cameron.

I've rarely encountered any who have more than a couple of titles in common with mine, but I bet you could analyze the types of songs that the writers who do share titles tend to write and come up with some interesting inter-genre conclusions about songwriting approaches. (A lot of country song writers are in my Title-o-sphere, mostly because country music is a title-oriented racket as a rule, I suppose.) Plus, of course, you can get ideas for new songs of your own (which is the perennial fear of most writers: running out of ideas.) I daresay it wouldn't work so well or be so interesting for writers who aren't as "title-oriented" as I am. Give it a try, though. It doesn't cost anything.

UPDATE: More title-o-sphere fun: I just looked up "You're the Only One" and turned up the small yet seemingly thematically coherent oeuvre of John P. Lemonis, Jr.

His "You're the Only One" seems, like mine, to be a song of devotion, but of a rather different sort. At least I get the impression he's singing about the Lord rather than his baby. Kind of an anthem of monotheism, I think. "Blood of Christ." "Call to Praise." "In Your House." "Lord We Praise You." "You're the Only One." Hey, wait a minute-- what's up with "Let's Run Away"? I'm sure there's a perfectly logical explanation, but I prefer to imagine, ignorantly, that Mr. Lemonis is breaking new theological ground as well as new "relationship ground." In ways I can't always quite put my finger on, life is pretty great sometimes.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 10:29 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

July 14, 2003

Sorry-- More on Songs

There have been some great observations about marketing, gimmickry, artwork, "value-added" material, recording budgets, the value of songs, etc., etc. from Layne and Ben along with many of the usual crew of commenters in the comments to the post below.

The question I asked in my own comment was why there seems to be a feeling "out there" that songs qua songs are overvalued. That is, not only that technology and market circumstances have made songs (and recordings of them) less valuable, but also that this is a good thing, that songs ought to be less important, less of a focal point in the general flow of music-related data and product.

As a songwriter, I feel this is quite wrong-headed, but then I would, wouldn't I? Maybe I'm wrong, but I detect a certain amount of relish and glee on the part of some participants in these discussions at the prospect that artists, finding it less "do-able" to make songs and recordings a viable focus of their work, will have to concentrate instead on pushing other merchandise like hats. Bands shouldn't be so hung up on the songs, and focus on the T-Shirts instead, the thinking runs. You really do hear this quite a lot.

Ben says that, for many of these people, "a song is not much different from a can of Pepsi." I have no doubt that he's right. As a song-focused kind of music fan, I, like Ben, have been amazed at how little attention is paid to songs qua songs as a rule in the circles in which I move, physically or cyber-ly. People really don't seem to see songs themselves as a very important part of music. Which I find weird. What, then, do they like about music?

Speaking of which, things got a little sidetracked with my pre-releasing lyrics experiment. Only Bill commented on "She Runs Out when the Money Does." (At the bottom of this post.) Did anyone else have any thoughts, e.g. "it sucks" or "it rules" or even something a bit more detailed?

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:50 PM | Comments (39) | TrackBack

July 12, 2003

Re-Opening the Copyright Can of Worms

It's pretty clear to me that people who make this sort of anti-copyright argument have never been within sneering distance of an actual recording budget. At least, that's what I always think when I hear people toss out phrases like "the low costs of production" when it comes to rock records.

Stepping off from a couple of Volokh Conspiracy posts (here and here) on the ethics of unauthorized copying, Steve from Begging to Differ dismisses the ethical question entirely and focuses only on the utilitarian argument, which he still finds wanting. Record companies are middlemen, not creators, he writes; and the notion that undercutting the profitability of intellectual property creates a disincentive for artists to continue to produce is a "fallacy." The RIAA is entirely and uniquely to blame for propagating this idea, and they are lying. "The law," he concludes (referring to copyright law itself) "is an ass."

Certainly, record companies are not creators. But they are providers of capital to fund the creation of means to communicate the work of creators. They may misbehave, but the reason it matters when they misbehave is that they play a non-trivial role in the process of creating and releasing recorded music. Or am I an ass?

But let's assume Steve is right: we abolish copyrights, and not a single writer, musician or creator is deterred or prevented from continuing to write material. We have the exact same number of songs we would have had otherwise. Songwriters bequeath their work to the world, out of philanthropy or sheer egomania, and figure out other ways to make use of it other than selling it or licensing it to others to sell in exchange for royalties. All we have done is pulled the rug out from under the corrupt, archaic industry that manufactures the little pieces of plastic, which aren't needed anyway. The consumer is free from the rapacious antics of the archaic Industry; the artist is free from the r. a. o. t. a. I.; music is Free (from the r. a. o. t. a. I.)

Sounds great. What I still can't figure out, though, as I've said time and again, is: if nobody has to buy anything, where do you get the money to make the recordings? It's hell of expensive. As it stands, you get it from a record company, which advances you the money in the expectation that it can be recouped by exploiting the resulting product; or you do it small-scale by yourself and or with friends, not calling it a company perhaps, but still stuck with the reality that every dollar you spend has to come from somewhere. But we're declaring this method, this entire model, illegitimate, a fallacy, an "ass".

What are we supposed to do, have a PBS-style pledge drive or something? Let me know if you really have figured out a way to record an album for free, because it would really help me out right now.

UPDATE: Steve has responded. "None of the hating or complaining or wistful wishing will deter the Grim Reaper as he comes knock-knock-knocking on the record industry's door." Oh well, it was worth a shot!

Sadly, Steve doesn't have (or is disinclined to share) the secret of how to record an album without a budget. Apparently though, Ani de Franco and some other folks I've never heard of do it all the time. Kind of a desktop publishing type of deal where you use your parents' iMac and some pro tools, and end up sounding like Jeff Beck. Or something like that. I've got to get with it.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:48 PM | Comments (95) | TrackBack

July 10, 2003

Yet More Song Talk

This blog began life as an unapologetic warblog, but, like so many things, it has had a will of its own and has refused to remain focused. (I've tried to improve that faulty attention span of mine, to no avail.) You may have noticed that it has lately become something of a songblog. That's because, with the new album and all, I've been thinking a lot about songs. Sorry if it's boring. (That's a standing apology, by the way: use as required.)

A couple of days ago, I mentioned the figurative obstacle course that stands between the album of the mind and its eventual approximation as an actual album that can be listened to, played at slumber parties, bought, stolen, autographed, trashed, vilified, sold back to the record store, etc.

The first big, big trap, the bank of razor-sharp rotating knives at the mouth of the tunnel, is the list of songs itself. We currently have 15 "band songs." (By that I mean, songs that we're practicing playing as a band in some form, as opposed to acoustic/drumless or synthetically-generated tunes. Band members contribute to such productions, of course, but the arrangements are not conceived to be recorded by a traditional rock and roll ensemble.) One of the "band songs" is "Big Strange, Beautiful Hammer," on which the jury is out: it may end up as a "band song" or it may not. There are currently two other songs from "eight little songs" on the "band song" list: "The Boyfriend Box" and "London."

I want to have a few non-"band songs" on the record. "Jill" is pretty much definite at this point. I would like to have at least a couple of others. We can only afford to record 14 songs. (Plus, I don't particularly like long albums, though we've made some-- that's one reason I don't like them probably.)

That means that we'll have to cut at least four "band songs" from the list. But I love them all. I hate eating my own children, I really do. Two of them have pretty much proven themselves to be runts, and I don't feel too bad about piercing their little feet with a sharp iron rod and leaving them in the wilderness to be devoured by wild animals (or alternately, to return one day to deliver unto me a well-deserved, tragic vengeance.) In the interest of ensuring the survival of the others, they must be sacrificed. I realize that. But how am I supposed to decide which others to destroy in the prime of life?

Another consideration: the songs without full-on drums will be way, way less expensive to record. So the more "non-band" songs there are, the more resources can be devoted to the "band songs." Maybe we should adjust the ratio, replace another "band song" with an acoustic tune, and have just a little more money available to make "London" sound really special. (How many songs would we have to cut in order to be able to afford Channon's bagpipe 'n' string section idea? It's a frightening question that conjures the theoretical notion of an album containing a negative number of songs and makes my brain hurt.) So another perfectly good, blameless song will be sentenced to have its quirky, adorable head summarily severed from its elegant little neck? What I'm saying is, it's tricky.

Dave Bug of Geek Life had the interesting suggestion (in this post's comments) that Cyber-Busking this stuff be augmented by posting lyrics alone for a change instead of recorded demos. "It would be fun," he said, "to see how audience members who knew the words but not the tune would attempt to sing along." That would be indeed be fun. And as I mentioned in response:

Making up your own tune to someone else's lyrics is a great, fun exercise, and can even be illuminating. (It works better when the lyrics are good-- and in this context "good" means that they scan and lend themselves to melding with a melody.)

I used to do this myself as a stretching experiment, before I learned to read/guess at music notation well enough to spoil it: get a sheet music book of songs you've never heard, play the chords and imagine a tune and rhythmic phrasing that would "fit." A few songs that ended up on MTX albums started life that way, in fact.

I think I read an interview with Stephen Merritt where he claimed that many of his songs were written using a variation of this method: lyrics written to music being played in pubs or clubs, then set to his own music when he gets home. Something like that.

Anyway I threw out a few titles in a perhaps pathetic attempt to spark some kind of "voting" situation, but only Dave Bug (bless him) took me up on it. The will of the voter must be heeded, of course and accordingly, I'm posting the lyrics to "She Runs Out when the Money Does."

This is one of the 15 songs. It's not one of the "runts," but it's new enough that it remains an open question whether it's worth pursuing at this late stage and with so many other options.

Herewith, the lyrics:

She Runs Out when the Money Does

You must have loved her really bad
at least you gave it all you had
which wasn't much, but now let me guess:
now you've got even less

and coincidentally
when your money ran out, so did she
we go way back, and believe me
I can't say I'm surprised

'cause she runs out when the money does
there's nothing there where the money was
she won't be coming back because
she runs out when the money does

It only took real true love
for you to be made a fool of
and isn't that what love is all about?
being hopelessly maxed out

so you curse and you pray
to try to bring back yesterday
you know, I feel the same way--
yesterday rules

but yesterday is already spent
and she's wherever the money went
I hate to break it to you, kid
but she ran out when the money did.

Hey. Hey. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
She runs out when the money does.

She runs out when the money does
and she figured out where the money was
now everything is gone because
she runs out when the money does

money, yeah.

© Dr. Frank, 2003, Itching Powder Music (BMI)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 09:33 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

More Song Talk

Pieter K., an electronic music writer/producer, has some interesting comments on the songwriter/audience issue I brought up in the post about Bob Mould and Kevin Army. (Coincidentally, he inhabited the same mid-eighties MRR pre-Gilman milieu from which Kevin and I emerged, though I never knew the guy till Matt Welch's post brought us together.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:22 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 09, 2003

We Sing of Man and Monkey

Ken Layne's taking pre-orders for his home-made CD. I've been listening to mp3s of much of this stuff for the last couple of months. The material has become embedded in my brain. Now it's your turn.

The best songwriters aren't always necessarily the best prose-writers, and vice-versa. Even when someone happens to be good at both, it's often for completely different reasons. Occasionally, though, there's a consistent character or strain that runs through it all. (Among "punks" I'd put Aaron Cometbus in that category: his songwriting and regular old writing seem almost completely of a piece, brilliant for exactly the same reasons.) If you appreciate Layne's weblog and his other journalistic writing, you'll recognize his "voice" in the songs-- off-beat, silly, unpretentious, self-aware, fun, and occasionally, unexpectedly, passionate or poignant. Most of it falls vaguely in the alt-country category, some of it traditional, some of it ironic, and some of it just plain weird.

He has some downloadable mp3s from it on the order page, if you want to sample before ordering. I ordered one, so it worked on me.

Anyway, you will curse the day "The Monkey Cup" wormed its way into your consciousness, if you're anything like me. Life's too short to proceed with caution, however.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:50 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Neo-con Carne

Oliver Kamm writes of the trend among British journalists to use the term "neoconservative" as a "pretentious synonym" for conservative. He's right, as so often, and the article he cites as an illustration of this is indeed an illustration of it. (It's from Elsbeth Lindner of the Evening Standard, and features a photo of Ann Coulter captioned "leading neo-con author".)

I suppose the British journalists who write this way intend, by adding "neo," to denote the "latest" right-ward tack in the political culture, and merely to refer to the current crop of conservatives. (When they don't mean simply "Jews" which is a can of worms I'll refrain from re-opening at the moment.)

Many of them seem genuinely unaware that "neoconservatism" refers to something more or less specific (though argued about), and that using it as a blanket term for Today's Right Wing Bastards is inapt and confusing, and reflects an ignorance that would surely be quite embarrassing to them if their politically mono-chromatic daily lives ever brought them in contact with any person or writer who knew enough, cared enough, or found it irritating enough, to point it out. Kamm hints that this ignorance may be willful, and I think that may well be the case.

Of course, it would be quite easy for any of these star journalists to educate themselves by taking a few minutes to type "neoconservatism" into a google box. Let us imagine the world of possibilities, yet refrain from wild, utopian speculation: these are journalists, after all. (Lindner went so far as to read an issue of Vanity Fair in researching her article, which is a start. However, breezing through Tanenhaus's cursory crash course in Neoconservatism for Dummies failed to deter the references to Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh as "leading" neo-con intellectuals.)

That's all by the way, really. My main reason for bringing this up is to call attention to yet another classic Kamm-ism. Kamm mentions Robert Kagan's justly celebrated Paradise and Power and adds:

This sober and thoughtful analysis has proved influential under its British as well as American publishing imprint. Or as Elsbeth Lindner prefers to put it:

Neo-con publishing may already have peaked. None of its key works has appeared in Britain or in translation.

Well, the Standard will just have to keep on wishing.

Heh, heh...

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:51 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

July 08, 2003

We Are Not Amused

We suspect that James Taranto are just being disingenuous when they claim to be surprised that it's so hard to find anyone who is willing to defend Michael Savage.

They are, of course, absolutely right that those who likened the Dixie Chicks controversy to censorship or crushing of dissent were quite mistaken. That was ridiculous. But do Taranto really mean to say that Natalie Maines's disrespectful, inappropriate, banal comments about the President are in any way comparable to Savage's having told a gay caller, on the air: "you should only get AIDS and die, pig!"? It seems to us that that is indeed what Taranto are implying.

Where's the outrage? (Yeah, they actually asked "where's the outrage?" Check it yourselves.) We know the double-standard posts seem to write themselves sometimes, but come on. You're starting to give asking where the outrage is a bad name.

UPDATE: Here's our favorite comment on Savage so far.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 10:30 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Why the Blogosphere is Great, # 1323a

Ben Weasel gives Norman Mailer ("some old guy from New York who has written a lot of really long books") a good, well-deserved, entirely fair dressing down for poor writing. To illustrate, Ben pulls out two undeniably awkward, amateurish, pretentious, sub-literate, out of control, barely comprehensible sentences. Why don't you write properly, indeed, Norman?

Posted by Dr. Frank at 09:41 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

The Delightful Horrible Magic of Sound Recording

The first day of recording is fast approaching. I'm glad but it makes me nervous, like an exam-- I've been studying for it for the last three years, reviewing for the past few months, cramming for the past few weeks, and I'm sure we'll end up "pulling" a few all-nighters along the way. I feel pretty well prepared, but you truly never know what will happen with these things. No one "aces" the recording test.

There's this perfect, beautiful, powerful, charming, challenging, irresistible album in my head; and a series of obstacles, hurdles, trick questions, sand traps, land mines, and possible WMDs that will have to be surmounted in the process of trying to render an approximation of the ideal, one that is close enough that something of its character can be grasped by listeners who know nothing of it, who have no stake in it, who may, indeed, approach it with extreme skepticism as a matter of principle.

You can never take the thing in your head and cause it to materialize exactly as imagined. Even if you try really hard and do it really well, and have unlimited talent, time and resources (we don't) the process of turning an idea into an artifact itself changes things about the idea. Sometimes the best you can do doesn't quite make it. And sometimes, you just screw up. Some of the errors, deficiencies and failures will turn out to be inadvertent improvements that you (and only you) will "get a kick" out of every time you hear them; others will be the cause of a quiet remorse that will trouble you for the rest of your life. Oh yeah, and it helps quite a bit if you "have fun" while you're doing it. On that, everyone agrees. I'm going to do my best, but I'm not going to lie to you: my heart will be in my mouth the entire time. It always is.

The first day had to be moved from July 19 to July 22 for studio reasons, which will put us in the awkward position of having two shows (my solo show at the Parkside on July 25th and the MTX at the Lookout Records anniversary show at the Great American Music Hall on July 26th) smack dab in the middle of basic tracks. If you see me drinking too much, give me a friendly reminder, if you would, that being hung over isn't the best state in which to listen to eight hours of someone hitting something as hard as he can over and over again. Ow.

I was planning to do another round of Cyber-Busking before the recording begins, though I don't know if I'll get it together in time, as I'll be pretty busy. I could just throw up another of the "eight little songs", but I think a ninth little song would be more interesting - I imagine most people who read the blog and are at all interested have already acquired the CD anyway. I'm considering "She Runs Out When the Money Does," my newest song which I like quite a lot (but I like them all a lot when they're new, and even probably too much even when they're old); I'm still trying to decide whether it should go on the album or not, assuming we even have the time to learn it well enough. The other option is a grossly irrelevant techno instrumental called "Tentacles, a Love Story." That almost definitely won't be on the album, but I think it's kind of fun anyway. Let me know what you think, if anything.

Also, if I can get it together, I'm planning to try to blog from the studio. I have no idea how well I'll do with it, or even if it will be technically feasible. I'll have a lot of other things on my mind, obviously. There's a lot of down time for individuals in the studio, but as I remarked of touring awhile back it's sometimes difficult to do anything other than stare off into space during those empty moments. I think it's a cool idea though, and I'm going, at least, to give it a shot.

Finally, thanks to all who have left comments on songs here. I'm planning to spend a bit of time today responding to them, so check it out if you want.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:26 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

July 07, 2003

Sink with California

Jonah Goldberg has as low an opinion of Gray Davis as I do, and as practically every other Californian does, but he has the right idea on this recall business:

it's my sincere belief that American democracy and republicanism will be severely damaged if Californians are allowed to recall Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.

When former New York City Mayor Ed Koch was asked to run again during his successor's disastrous term in office, Koch replied, "No! The people threw me out, and now the people must be punished." Whether Koch knew it or not, he grasped one of the most fundamental principles of democracy and republicanism: Everyone should pay the price of mistakes made at the ballot box.

Californians stupidly elected Davis in 2002, but now they refuse to suffer the consequences...

How much courage do you expect to get from our politicians when the polls in effect have binding consequences? What happens when low poll numbers serve as chum in the water for every opportunistic politician and activist group who wants to take down an elected politician who makes unpopular but necessary decisions? The answer is simple: he won't make unpopular decisions in the first place. He will lick his finger, hold it up to the wind and spend his term being led by the often fickle, inattentive and selfish voters rather than trying to lead them.

Punishing voters for their poor decisions is vital because that's the only thing that imbues voting with any significance... If voters think they'll get a "do-over" if it turns out they made a mistake, voting really won't matter that much.

Any teacher will tell you that students don't show their best effort if they know the test or the term paper won't be graded. Any teacher will tell you that students -of any age -won't hand in their reports if there isn't a serious deadline and serious consequences for those who miss the deadline.

The same thing holds true for elections. The date itself is insignificant, but it's vital that a firm date is set. And, if you vote wrong or miss the vote entirely, you can't have a do-over or the whole thing becomes meaningless.

Goldberg thinks Californians should be "punished" for this foolishness though I don't quite see how. If a foolish electoral result is its own punishment, I guess that would go for a foolish recall as well. Of course, the problem with that is the buck would never stop anywhere, though that's sort of the basic idea of the whole recall concept anyway. A number of sore losers in the California GOP simply can't admit that they nominated the wrong guy, and address the situation by resolving to nominate a real, electable candidate next time. Even if, as they claim, they're not sore losers but rather concerned citizens trying to right a grievous wrong for pure and noble reasons, they sure look like sore losers. They do. Even to a lot of people who want Gray Davis out badly enough to sign the petition anyway, and who will shed no tears when his worthless political carcass is paraded through the streets. This impression is especially acute given that the defeat was so obviously a self-inflicted, own-goals type of thing. They're not doing themselves any favors here: it's a political error fully in keeping with the folly of nominating Bill Simon in the first place. But why learn from your mistakes when you have access to the funds to purchase a do-over?

The recall is not only a terrible idea in theory. It's also a joke in practice, and neither "side" comes off well. The streets are lined with pro-recall and anti-recall signature mongers, nestled amongst all the other petition people. And let's just say these spokesmodels don't often reflect well on whatever side of "the cause" they happen to be pushing. It's more fun talking to the "gimme a twenty white boy" guy at the ATM. People sign just to get rid of them, and because talking to them is preferable to talking to the Green Peace people as they don't ask you for money. (I'm not sure, but I have the distinct impression that some of these petition pushers offer both options-- at least I'm pretty sure I was asked to sign a pro-recall petition by the same guy who had asked me to sign an anti-recall petition a couple of days earlier. I could be wrong about that, though.) Once I overheard a petition dude tell his captive audience that the petition was to keep "right wing Republican fundamental Christian" (!) Arnold Schwarzenegger out of the White House (!) It is likely that whoever wins the recall will do so having received a tiny fraction of the number of votes that even the loser was able to get the first time around, which I guess is kind of the point as well. Democracy in action, eh? I'll say one thing: we are indeed our own punishment, joke and punchline rolled into one.

(via Daily Rant.)

UPDATE: Of course, as Matt Welch points out, it would be a tragedy to allow this sorry state of affairs to pass us by without attempting at least a little mischief, even if only the barest slap, in return. If protest voting is your thing (and in this recall there really isn't any other kind) you could do a lot worse than voting for Hank. He may be a single-issue candidate, but it's an issue about which many care passionately. And really, to continue the theme of quoting early '80s So. Cal. hardcore bands, how could Hell get any worse?

Posted by Dr. Frank at 09:24 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack


I just stumbled upon the story of John Bonnell, an English composition professor whose off-color vocabulary and unorthodox teaching methods have continually landed him in hot water with his college. I'm not going to attempt to summarize the case, but Erin O'Connor has covered it extensively in her blog, and it makes for fascinating reading.

It's impossible to know whether or which of the allegations of bizarre classroom behavior are accurate, or excusable as strange but justified pedagogical technique, or even as mere eccentricity. As O'Connor says, it boils down to "he said, she said." And the college does not appear to have conducted anything like a serious inquiry into the Swearing Professor's competence or effectiveness as a teacher of English composition, which seems to be the main legitimate issue here. The other legitimate issue is that it is reasonable for an employer to expect appropriate behavior from employees; but that angle is only cursorily touched on in the stuff I've read about the case. Rather, the real complaint centers on the alleged harm suffered by students subjected to hearing vulgarity in the classroom.

Maybe the guy is so off his rocker or is such a nasty man that he can't teach properly; maybe not. Maybe his behavior and vocabulary is bad enough to damage the academic reputation of the college. I don't hold with this "hostile environment" malarkey, though. There may be the odd student whose whole world comes crashing down every time she hears the professor utter a naughty word, but they have to be pretty rare, and the professor is hardly to blame for them. The Swearing Professor's malign rhetoric, it is claimed, has such power as to cause "adverse reactions" like recurring nightmares for some of his more delicate victims. His potty mouth reportedly threw one student into such a state that "she bit her hand hard enough to draw blood." Sounds like the student may have had a few other problems than logophobia. (In another strange twist, the teacher isn't actually accused of causing the hand injury, or even of sparking such self-mutilation-inducing trauma, but rather of telling this story as an anecdote to one of his classes-- which he doesn't deny. No one seems to think it relevant to raise the issue of whether it really happened. Read all about it: it's pretty weird stuff.)

My suggestion, as a start: read this letter to the accused from Provost Rose B. Bellanca; then read Bonnell's response. Then ask yourself who seems the better equipped to decide what constitutes appropriate and effective means of instructing students in English composition.

As a rule, I try to keep my own language "clean" in most of my writing and everyday life, for aesthetic reasons; but that doesn't mean I want to destroy everyone with a different aesthetic. Even if possible, it would be way too time-consuming. Plus, a lot of these Swearing People can be pretty interesting and fun. I've known a fair few of them in my day (a Swearing Plumber, a Swearing Gym Teacher, a Swearing Lawyer, a Swearing Hillbilly, a Swearing Guitar Tech, several Swearing Girlfriends, a Swearing Landscape Architect, a Swearing Librarian, a Swearing Hot Dog Stand Guy, even a Swearing Priest.) In fact, despite being "verbally raped" practically every day of my life, I've managed to avoid the recurring nightmares and the urge to injure myself. Maybe I'm just unusually resilient. Oh, I'm tough, all right. Like seasoned leather and hardened steel.

Everyone has a "swearing professor" type in their past, an eccentric, off-beat or politically incorrect teacher, who, they will assure you, was the best teacher they ever had. (Of course, your Swearing Professor probably also had a Humorless Administrator yapping at his heels, a Dean Higgins type - that's a special part of the Swearing Professor's legend.)

Mine was Alan Renoir, who taught Old and Middle English literature at UC Berkeley. Swearing wasn't his schtick, but much class time was devoted to enthralling, not quite "germane", stories about his life, his war experiences, his denunciations of modernity, his politically incorrect jokes, his interest in classic cars, his crazy theories about this and that, all a bit tongue-in-cheek you thought, but sometimes you wondered. Somehow, by the end, you had read and understood (and enjoyed) Beowulf in the Anglo-Saxon. It's weird. I don't know how it happened. (One example I'll never forget was when he broke off in the middle of reciting a stressed alliterative line in his booming, French/Germanic/American/English-accented Reciting Voice, and introduced an anecdote about his experiences in the Pacific in WWII by saying "you know, I once killed a guy who..." Kind of woke you up. Another: "Dante, as everybody knows, was a rather boring wop..." Another favorite: the little speeches about how he would "dearly, dearly, oh gods, dearly love to be a sex object! Isn't that right?" Plus a lot of other witty, bizarre, charming, unforgettable and often extremely politically incorrect digressions. Nobody ever skipped or slept through his classes. And this is Beowulf, remember.) I don't know how he got away with all the political incorrectness in such a thought-police environment, but he did, probably because he was so loved, and such a splendid teacher and human. And yes: he was the best teacher I ever had. Of course he was.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:57 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

July 05, 2003

I Summer Where I Winter At

I saw Bob Mould at the Great American Music Hall the other night. I don't get out much, and even though I dearly love BM's music and have found delight and inspiration every time I've seen him play, I don't think I would have made the effort to go if it hadn't been for the fact that Kevin Army, a close friend and the guy who produces all my records, was on the bill as the opener.

This is a bit sad, but I have to admit: I rarely see shows anymore unless I or one of my friends happen to be playing. Even sadder, the latter is pretty rare, too. Most of my experience of clubs is hanging around in them waiting to go on. The process of going to the ticket window, giving my name and ID to the ticket girl, saying "I, um, think I should be on the list," getting the little tickets, handing them to the door guy and walking in was far less familiar than it ought to have been, and I didn't handle it quite smoothly. When the box office girl handed me the tickets-- which look like those little tear-off movie tickets-- my first thought was "why are they giving me drink tickets?" This was followed by "hmm, maybe Kevin, knowing I like to drink a bit, left them at the door for me? Oh, right, these are the tickets to get in! Duh!" At the door, I gave the guy the tickets and stood there like GHWB in front of a supermarket checkout, a clubbing naif, totally confused. I finally had to ask "so, uh, what do I do now?" He gestured and said something like "up to you, buddy." So in I went, feeling like a total idiot. Which I was. I should do more of this kind of thing. I'll get the hang of it eventually, I'm sure.

Anyway, it was a great, great show. Bob Mould has lost a great deal of weight, and I didn't even recognize him when he walked on stage. I thought he was a sound guy or something. Then there was this surreal moment when he picked up his guitar and strummed a characteristic chord-with-jangly-open-strings, and with that sound the unfamiliar figure on the stage suddenly snapped into focus visually, sort of "morphed" into the real Bob. His distinctive voice, the mere sound of which for me always conjures an instant cascade of memories, little snatches of what life felt like during various stages over 20+ years of listening to it, completed the "picture." (I understand that mistaking sounds for visions is a characteristic of schizophrenia, but in this case - I'm pretty sure - it was a function of a mildly consciousness-altering collision of emotion, memory, experience, and art.)

During the first half of the set, he played a 12-string acoustic guitar. The second half was electrified (no amp, though-- just one of those guitar sound emulator boxes that I'd describe better if I understood how they work.) Much of this second part was also accompanied by techno backing tracks, songs from and along the lines of the experimental stuff on the Modulate album. He had told Kevin backstage that the techno stuff was "all he was really interested in these days." There was, perhaps, a bit less interest on the part of some audience members, and I'd say the reaction was mixed. Some people really got into it though, and it was kind of fun to watch little pockets of thirty-something alterna-types getting into the spirit of things by busting out the dance moves, many of them adorably awkward. I didn't try to do any dancing, as that would have been wrong, but I did think the techno-y portion of the show was great, all the more so for being unexpected. And really, I would enjoy listening to Bob Mould sing in pretty much any context.

The best part for me, though, was as so often before the beautiful, moving, unadorned rendition of "Celebrated Summer" that closed the second encore. It's hard to explain exactly why, since it doesn't have that much to do with the literal content, but I always get a little choked up when I hear this song, particularly when caught up in the immediacy of the solo singer-songwriter presentation of it. I'm getting a little choked up just remembering it now. I guess that's how the emotion/memory/experience/art collision gradually builds its power over time. Or maybe I don't understand it all that well, at that. Whatever: I'm content to enjoy the mystery.

Kevin Army's set was great, too, in a (for me) slightly different way that I think is worth mentioning.

I've met Bob Mould a couple of times, but I really only know him through his music. One of the strangest and most powerful things about the singer-songwriter/audience relationship is this disconnected but oddly genuine-seeming intimacy you can feel towards someone you don't actually know. I know from the experience of being on the other end of it that this intimate "knowledge" of another tends to be inaccurate, sometimes wildly so. Knowing a person in person just happens naturally, while knowing someone through their songs takes some work and diligence, and there's no real way of knowing whether any inferences you make or impressions you get about the real guy are true. It doesn't matter whether or not they are, really. I can hear Bob Mould's often cryptic or buried lyrics, feel genuinely moved by them and try to explore why; in the process I may learn something about him, or I may not. His songs have meant something to me, so I feel this sort of affection not just for the songs but for him personally, which is the most natural thing in the world, but which is in a way kind of turning the concept of "affection" on its head. What I'm getting at is, it's not the same as a real relationship with a real person. But it can sure feel a lot like one.

Kevin Army, on the other hand, I have known well for close on twenty years. (I first met him somewhere between Zen Arcade and New Day Rising, so the time frame is roughly equivalent.) While I might, perhaps, learn things about him from his songs, a great deal of my experience in listening to them is colored by my knowing him personally. It's not exactly the opposite of the Bob Mould situation, but it's something like the inverse of the kind of relationship I was talking about. Just as I can't imagine what it would be like to hear a BM song knowing him primarily as a person,I can't quite put myself in the position of knowing Kevin only through what I can gather from the experience of listening to his songs. (If Bob Mould was my best friend, would some of the lyrics that seem cryptic to me now be less so? They might. The song would still be great, but to what degree might it be "differently great"?) I had never thought of it in quite that way before, but seeing the two songwriters in juxtaposition, I was really struck by it.

Despite having an "inside track," however, I think I'm right in saying that Kevin's songs are not in any way cryptic, and nothing is buried. They are rather remarkably, nakedly personal and direct, and they often leave the narrator/singer/character "entity" exposed in way that can be unsettling, uncomfortable, painful even. It's all simply out there. Many, if not most, of his latest crop of songs focus on the experience of being gay, and the process of self-exploration that results from coming to terms with the realization relatively late in life, as he has done. Some are affably-presented, relatively light-hearted treatments of this or that phenomenon or topic associated with gay culture, such as "Rainbow Cross". Others, like "Poster Boy for the Holocaust" or "Did Anyone Die Today?" are unnervingly direct and only sparsely encumbered with distancing devices. As my wife remarked during the set, it's like reading someone's diary. Even when they present you with it and say it's okay, you feel a little uncomfortable peeking inside.

Some of the songs are rather complex compositionally, with the occasional songwriterly bell or whistle that makes someone like me smile inwardly and say "good one." Many have quite beautiful melodies, and they are presented on stage with a good-natured, casual, even slightly goofy manner which relieves the tension. But the material is powerful and really doesn't pull any punches. I don't mean to make it sound too "heavy," because it doesn't quite come off that way. Much of it is fun, but it can be a complicated kind of fun.

Not all the songs are gay-centric, though as with all metaphoric language, the hints and nuances can cut several ways. "Take Me Away in a Helicopter," about the death of his father, is eminently relatable and even, I think, approaches actual poetry. "Flying Low," an old favorite of mine, borders on what I think rock critic types may occasionally mean when they pluck the word "anthemic" from their hoard of imprecise, intelligent-sounding terms. (Sounds good to me, and hey, it's better than "seminal.") It "feels" like a classic song that somehow has always been there, and evokes sentiments that would resonate with anyone who has ever felt that merely getting off the ground at all would be a signal achievement -- which is to say, I'd guess, practically everybody.

There's even one newish tune which deals with yet another angle of the bizarre complex of music-related redefinitions of what personal intimacy means. (I suppose that's the vague theme of this post.) I reckon you've never heard anything quite like "The Ghost of Jesse Michaels," which concerns the strange situation of the recording engineer/producer's intimate involvement in the work, but not the life, of an artist. I heard it for the first time that night, and it sounded like a "hit" to me.

Kevin has spent most of his career producing recordings of other peoples' songs rather than his own. You can't buy a record of these songs, and he doesn't play out very often. I hope someone puts them out someday, though. There truly is nothing quite like them, which is something you can't often say about music these days.

I didn't begin this post intending to write such a lengthy "review," or even intending it be a review at all. One thing I learned from the experience of watching Kevin and Bob is that there are still new things to learn, new angles on music and songs, and sometimes you may have to leave the house to stumble on them. Maybe I'll do it again one day.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 08:55 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

July 04, 2003

The Chemistry has Racial Implications

Noting that we share an enjoyment of goofy campus censorship stories, esteemed comrade Aaron forwards this example. It's a pretty good one.

The facts are these: one Steve Hinkle, a Cal Poly student and member of the College Republicans, attempted to post a flier advertising a university-sponsored event, a speaking engagement featuring black conservative Mason Weaver, author of "It's OK to Leave the Plantation." The flier consisted of nothing more than the title of the book, the author's photo, and the time and place. Students at the Multicultural Center where he attempted to post the flier objected and called the police (alert: "suspicious white male passing out literature of an offensive racial nature.") Hinkle was charged with "disruption of a campus event", found guilty, ordered to issue letters of apology to the offended students, and to undergo some kind of sensitivity counseling, according to this. On pain of expulsion.

Weaver's schtick is mildly provocative in itself, appropriating charged terms and images to push racially sensitive buttons as part of a challenge to what he characterizes as an entrenched orthodoxy, and obviously deliberately so. He uses "The Plantation" as a metaphor for the "culture of dependency" often bemoaned by conservatives, and his website calls for a "New Underground Railroad" to free "the slaves still trapped in a mind-set of dependency upon Uncle Sam's Plantation of self-doubt." I've heard him on the radio, and he's a pretty effective motivational speaker with not a lot of kind things to say about "black leaders."

There is an inherent provocation in the title itself, and it's not hard to see why such a flier, featuring this title and the image of its African American author, might have provoked a reaction from students who hang out at the Multicultural Center. And why am I just a teensy-weensy bit suspicious that that wasn't entirely unintentional on Mr. Hinkle's part?

That hardly matters, though. It's clearly a violation of free speech rights and plain common sense for a university to punish and threaten a student for attempting to publicize, by means of a strictly factual flier, a university-sponsored event, mischievous attitude or not. That's so obvious it hardly needs stating. Except that it does, as the lengthy letter excerpted in the article linked above indicates.

And of course, what tale of absurd campus censorship would be complete without an inane quote from a university administrator? This one does not disappoint. The prize goes to the Vice President for Student Affairs Cornel Morton, who told Hinkle at his hearing:

You are a young white male member of CPCR [Cal Poly Campus Republicans]. To students of color, this may be a collision of experience.... The chemistry has racial implications, and you are naive not to acknowledge those.

I can't quite make sense of this, though it has a vaguely unpleasant, neo-segregationist flavor. But if he's saying it was naive for a white male university student to imagine he could get away with exercising his right to free speech in a multi-racial environment without being persecuted for it, it's difficult to disagree with him. At any rate, Lord save us from educators who seek to punish students for naivety.

UPDATE: This story is starting to look like it has "legs," as they say. Glenn Reynolds has several posts including multiple links and the "contact information" for the Cal Poly president and the above-quoted Cornel Morton. (Uh oh.)

Here, via Erin O'Connor, is the flier that started the whole thing. And here's a UPI story (via the FIRE site) which suggests that, rather amazingly, during the hearing Vice President Morton also mentioned Hinkle's hair and eye color as relevant factors in assessing his guilt and appropriate punishment. Of course, the university has yet to tell its side of the story, so we'll have to see what develops. It's not at all relevant to the free speech issue (on which, if the reports are accurate, Cal Poly seems pretty clearly to be in the wrong); but if, in addition, we're going to play a round of Spot the Racist in this story, it certainly appears as though it's possible that they may have had the wrong man in the dock.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 01:43 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

July 03, 2003

Nome sane, so?

Seamus Heaney has been down so long that it looks like up to him. Or to put it another way, he has some mad love for Eminem. You know, the guy who "created a sense of what is possible." That fly Yank mother-fecker.

(Thanks for the link, Tris and Charles.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:05 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

It's Over

For anyone who has been following the Dissident Frogman's Missing Flags Saga, here's the Frogman's final word. Explanations, and apologies galore. His trouble has dissipated.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:25 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Best Friends

Here's a run down and summary of the recent controversy between Israel and the BBC, and of the case of Amit Duvshani, the Israeli graduate student whose application to an Oxford Ph.D. program was rejected by Professor Andrew Wilkie on quite plainly racist/anti-Semitic grounds.

One of the over 3,000 emails Wilkie received after the story hit the internet was from novelist Jack Engelhard (presumably it's the J.E. who wrote Indecent Proposal):

"High-minded German professors, as you know, were the first to backstab their Jewish students and fellow Jewish scholars," he wrote. "Thank God Einstein got out in time - though we'll never know how many other Einsteins (perhaps with the cure for cancer) never made it out of the death camps because they were doomed by their own university elite."
Despite the severity of such comparisons, Wilkie is trying to control the damage and put a good face on things, providing Jewsweek with some bizarrely jaunty-sounding quotes, including this one concerning the beast that exposed and may, in the end, have slain him: "the power of the internet is awesome!"

(Has it slain him? Difficult to say. Mona Baker, reaper of a similar whirlwind, seems to have managed to ride it out.)

In addition to his official letter of apology that was released publicly by the university, Wilkie sent Duvshani an "additional, more personal apology... in which the professor proclaimed that some of his 'best friends are Jewish.'"

I've always thought that this particular phrase tends to be oversold as an incomparably damning and outrageous mark of bigotry. There are worse things you can say or do, and it's not like people don't say them or do them. And I have no doubt that it is literally quite true. Still, it is difficult to imagine anyone not realizing that including this phrase in a letter of apology when one has been accused of racism is just a bad move. Particularly when aware, as Wilkie surely must be, that such a letter was destined to be made public and scrutinized the world over.

A year ago, when the Mona Baker imbroglio was still at a brisk boil, I wrote of her and her husband:

The astonishing thing is that the reaction and controversy really does seem to have taken these people completely by surprise. Europeans who are critical of Israel often don't realize just how bad their rhetoric can sound... Baker's ideology appears to have blinded her to reality, and it's certainly not the first time that such a thing has occurred. But can it really be that there was not a single soul in her professional circle with enough sense to have pointed out the folly, if not the reprehensible nature, of her "token gesture"?
I had the same thought here, a reaction less of outrage than of pure astonishment that neither Wilkie himself, nor apparently any of his friends, family, or associates (to whom I'd imagine he'd turn for editorial advice, considering the hot water in which his last off-the-cuff mail had landed him) were capable of noting the phrase and saying "you know, Andrew, that 'some of my best friends' paragraph has got to go..."

(via Jeff Jarvis.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:40 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack


I never had a comments routine on my blog before I switched over to Movable Type a couple of weeks ago. Even though I thought they were kind of cool, and part of me envied those who had them, I always resisted because I didn't want to become a comments moderator on top of the blog, which took up enough time just as it was. Plus, I'd seen the ugly, snarled mess that the comments sections of some of the bigger blogs could become sometimes and I wasn't sure I had the stomach for it.

Maybe this is just asking for it, or speaking too soon, but I've got to mention how impressed I am with how polite and good-natured these comments discussions have been so far. Thanks, folks. You inspire a certain, seldom-occasioned, re-evaluation of one's faith in humanity.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:20 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

July 02, 2003

kick me out

Rick Heller, who runs one of my favorite blogs, Smart Genes, noted my post on ideological de-linking. He often manages to distill into one or two sentences things that I'll fumble with for page after rambling page, and here he captures pretty much exactly what I mean when I say I think of myself as a "centrist," providing this succinct definition of "centrism":

not a narrowly focused position that happens to fall halfway between liberals and conservatives, but a recognition that nobody knows everything, and the truth is probably some synthesis of conflicting positions.
He may be right, though, that there's also sort of Groucho Marxism involved. It's not so much that I wouldn't want to associate with others of my ilk (though, in truth, I don't find that prospect all that appealing, come to think of it) but that I just like getting kicked out of clubs. Those people I most admire and find most interesting tend to be those who are continually trying to crack open their own ideological rigidity, often through giving an innate contrarianism free rein while remaining thoughtful and articulate about it. (Among bloggers, Matt Welch is probably the paradigm; Rick is another example.)

Rick also adds:

Like the Bay Area, Boston is skewed to the left, which makes liberals more insular, and conservatives thankful to anyone who will speak to them. I generally find myself to be the most conservative person in any room I'm in around here, even though I voted for Gore and may vote Democrat in 2004. It drives me crazy.
Same here. Though being the most conservative person in a room in Berkeley really, really doesn't take much. I don't know how it compares to Boston.

UPDATE: Just to pull something out of the comments, Rick Heller posted this, which once again is a sharper formulation than anything I ever could have managed:

in the American we live in today, I have enough respect for both liberals and conservatives to listen to what they have to say. There are smart people on both sides of the divide, so it's definitely not a case of one side being stupid. As for one side being "evil," that's a theological judgement, but in my experience, the left-right spectrum doesn't correlate strongly with the nice/jerk scale.

People have different life experiences and they make some good people conservative and some liberal. The "truth" is in the summation of all these different experiences.

This is well-said, and I think absolutely right. I wish I could write this well and clearly...

Posted by Dr. Frank at 02:03 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

July 01, 2003

The Bayeux Travesty

The Dissident Frogman discovers French anti-Americanism at its most inappropriate, at the Musée Mémorial de la Bataille de Normandie. According to his eyewitness account, all American flags appear to have been purged from the premises.

He includes photos of the blank spaces where the flags used to be, most arrestingly the bare flagpole between the tricolor and the Union Jack at the main monument. If an erasure can be a desecration (and I'd guess it can be) this particular case exhibits pretty shocking disrespect-- more than this one, because it appears not to have been the work of mischievous vandals but rather the consummation of official policy on some level.

Perhaps there's some logical explanation. But if not, I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot more about this, and "freedom fries" doesn't begin to cover it. I imagine there are already more than a few on the American street who are even now trying to come up with imaginative places to shove a certain statue...

Nice work, mes amis.

(via Michele.)

UPDATE: Well, it looks like I'm one of those who got the wrong end of the stick here, though it sure seemed like this was what the Dissident Frogman was getting at. Something was lost in the translation, obviously.

After reading the comment he left here; re-reading the original post; reading the first cryptic blurb chiding everyone for jumping to unwarranted conclusions; and finally, having read this post which further scolds everyone for "trying to put words in my mouth or thoughts in my mind that I never pronounced or cogitated" I have to admit that I'm more confused than ever.

So if the point wasn't that the US flags had been taken down at the memorial museum dedicated to the Battle of Normandy, what was the point? I give up. That there never were any American flags there to begin with, but that there ought to have been? (Unlikely, but if so, there sure ought to have been.) That the place was swimming in American flags except in the three places where the Frogman took the pictures? If so, dude, you, like, could have mentioned that part.

Like I said, reading the post and looking at the pictures, you get the definite impression that (a) there were once American flags there; (b) they had been taken down by someone; (c-- and here's where, taking this as read, speculation comes in) whoever took them down must have had some non-random reason for doing it; (d-- more speculation) it sure seems like that reason could have something to do with anti-Americanism and a desire to rewrite history. I could be way off-base here, but it still seems to me like that was what the Frogman was trying to convey in his original post.

If these data are inaccurate, or if they are so incomplete that the speculations are unwarranted (which may be the case, as "half the museum is dedicated to the American Sector"-- something about which the Dissident Frogman remained silent till the second post) then what was so troubling about the flag situation in the first place? Why even post about it? If, on the other hand, the conclusion is warranted that the missing flags represent some attempt at an anti-American statement on the part of someone connected with the museum, why flip out when someone mentions it?

Like I say, I give up.

So maybe this doesn't have "international incident" written all over it, as I supposed it might. I apologize to the Dissident Frogman, the museum, the town of Bayeux, and the French, and leave it to my readers to make up their own minds on the matter if they are at all interested in pursuing it any further.

2ND AND FINAL UPDATE: Angie Schultz, in the comments to this post, points out this entry from a LGF commenter who is in France and who called the museum to ask about the flagpole:

Their answer is that the middle pole is supposed to be empty. The only flag that will ever be raised on that pole is the Sherwood Rangers standard (once a year), and no, a U.S. flag is not allowed on that pole -- this is a Sherwood Rangers memorial site...

Why aren't there two more poles with a U.S. and a Canadian flag? They don't know. Maybe because it was a British unit. But it's always been like that...

When a well-meaning polemicist accidentally (we must assume, as we are kind people of generous spirit) oversells his case with hyperbolic rhetoric and it turns out that he has inadvertently (we hope) presented the facts in a misleading way, what the well-meaning polemicist ought to do is say: "I'm sorry, folks, I meant well, but I oversold the case with hyperbolic rhetoric and a misleading presentation of the facts." And perhaps add a sweet little note about how the whole thing is a bit embarrassing. What he ought not to do is blame the people who fell for it. That'll just make 'em mad.

Anyway, if you haven't already read the comments, there's a great one from Jody Tresidder on the blogoshpere's "liberating" propensity for self-correction cum evidence trail. It includes a very funny, spot on parody of a lede to a follow-up story as it might have appeared if this had followed the usual print media curve:

"The sun-browned wrinkled hands of 86-year-old Pierre DuPont tremble slightly as he reverentially strokes the glass cabinet containing portions of an American airman's uniform..."
Heh heh heh. Anyway, I agree completely. Self-correction rules.

By the way, the DF's site is currently turning up a 404 error message. I sincerely hope he comes back hoppin'.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 11:55 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

I'm glad they found him a good home

From Dennis Miller's spiel on Fox News:

Senator Robert Byrd's recent speeches have been so demented, I'm afraid he's suffering exhaustion from burning the cross at both ends. Let's face it, if Byrd were your grandfather and he went off on these addled tangents at Thanksgiving dinner, you'd all smile at him, and then as soon as he left the room, somebody would say, "Hey, what are we going to do about Grandpa?"

Posted by Dr. Frank at 10:23 PM | TrackBack

Profound Superficialities

P. J. O'Rourke reviews Hillary's book in the Weekly Standard, and as always, he's got more good lines than the Navy's got marines.

Here's an excerpt from the initial section on how "a mere ream of paper could not contain the padding that has gone into this tome":

Hillary--with the help of at least six ghostwriters--nails the goose of a manuscript to the barn floor and force-feeds it with lint.

We are informed, for instance, that Jackie Onassis was once, herself, a first lady and later married a Greek shipping magnate. We learn how a chief executive walks to the podium to deliver a State of the Union speech: "The president greets members of both parties who, by tradition, sit on opposite sides of the aisle." Even Hillary's grief over the death of her dad is padded: "My father would not be at the table vying with Hugh and Tony for one of the drumsticks or asking for more cranberries and water-melon pickle, two of his favorites from childhood." And then there are the fulsome tales of official junkets--unimportant, uninteresting, uneventful, and unending. "I had given a lot of thought to how Chelsea and I should dress on the trip. We wanted to be comfortable, and, under the sun's heat, I was glad for the hats and cotton clothes I had packed." And I was glad for the scopolamine transdermal patch.

Much of the humor results from simply producing quotes, letting them stand there for awhile and waiting for the laughs to bubble up. "I don't think Jiang... was being quite straight with me on Tibet." "Thus began my lifelong hair struggles."

Sometimes this method is augmented by framing the quotes with inspired, deadpan introductions:

We must recognize Hillary's principled outspoken feminism as elucidated in her U.N. Conference on Women speech: "It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small."

We must understand her ability to commune with the strong, intelligent women of past generations: "So, what would Mrs. Roosevelt have to say about my present predicament? Not much, I thought."

Read it. You will laugh.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 09:00 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Imagine there's no people

I'm sure this will get a lot of blogospheric play, and get run into the blogospheric ground in pretty short order, but it's still new enough to be funny to me.

According to the Associated Press, Dennis Kucinich has promised that, if elected (I know, I know-- stop snickering and wait for it), he will create a Federal Department of Peace to "prevent violence both domestic and internationally."

This has to be an intentional grab for publicity, a mention on Letterman, that sort of thing. No way he didn't know what he was doing.

There is a certain sort of person who will hear this and think "hey, a Dept. of Peace! What a neat idea!" And there is a certain sort of person who will laugh uncontrollably, perhaps saying a silent prayer of thanks that, no matter how sad the world gets, there's more chance of Andrew Sullivan getting married to Howell Raines than there is of Kucinich getting anywhere near spitting distance of the presidency.

These are mutually exclusive groups which include between them practically every single person of voting age, as far as I can tell, and he'll never convince any of the second group to vote for him no matter what he says. He may have a hard time persuading every single one of the first group to vote for him either, but at least he's maximizing the chances that they'll hear about him. I'd say he gets the "working with what you got" prize.

(via Inoperable Terran.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 08:17 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

As Free as the Wind Blows

Even magazines yearn to breathe the air of freedom.

(Thanks for sending the link, Lynn.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:36 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Nativist Bull, Libertarian Flag

Matt Welch's recent column on immigration was not particularly provocative, mostly factual, and like all of Matt's writing focused more on raising interesting questions than upon advancing a pre-determined ideological conclusion. There was the barest smidgeon of waving a red flag at the nativist bull, perhaps (e.g., implying an equivalence between jaywalking and immigration violation and a pugnacious and not particularly germane reference to "convicted felon Elliot Abrams".)

Apparently, a smidgeon is all it takes. Matt cites and quotes a hilarious, combative response from V-Dare's Peter Brimelow, along with some of his more, er, illustrious writings on the virtues of a Vanishing White America. Also a cordial letter from the director of the Brownwood, Texas public library.

The "homeland" needs security, and a sensible immigration policy requires a willingness to enforce the law. Of course. But, get a grip, fellows.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:24 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Boggling of the American Mind

Liberty Punk's Geoff points to this massive comment thread at over at Right Thinking. If you want to see some of the goofier music piracy apologists in action, you can find them there.

(Ben Weasel and our Matt from Vegas even joined in a bit-- which is something of a lost cause, by my lights...)

Anyway, the funniest bits are the sententious lectures (each typed with a straight face, I'm pretty sure) on the economics of music, delivered by people who clearly have no idea how clueless they are about how anything works. (Ben tried to plug in some actual data, but to little avail.)


if the band gets $1.00, and it takes $2.00 to make the CD, the industry is pocketing $10.00-12.00 per CD.
I'll happily shuck out a dollar a song for my favorite bands, but they can wash my crotch if they think I'm turning out $20 for a CD that's half filler, $18 of which goes to the studio...
Ladies and gentlemen, meet our enemy: The Industry and The Studio. Rapacious fiends!

Then there's the guy who advanced the novel theory that purchasing a CD actually deprives the artist of income:

Many artists actually *owe* money on the royalty statemnts for CD sales due to some pretty clever accounting practices. This furthers the debt the artist has to pay via other revunue like shwag and concerts before they can get an income. So it's really, "Buy a CD, starve an artist" instead of the other way around.
And there are several posts to the effect that buying and selling things runs counter to the spirit of capitalism.

There are of course lots of platitudinous, barely cogent analogies about whether lending your car to your brother counts as stealing, etc. My favorite: "this is as warped as if people who accidentally caught dolphins in fishing nets were convicted of murder." And so is our understanding of the complex balance of rights, privileges and duties deepened.

Many of these folks see failing to pay for records as some kind of grand defense of Liberty, a noble act of civil disobedience akin to the Boston Tea Party or marching from Selma to Montgomery. But some of these latter-day Martin Luther Kings and Ethan Allens seem to take things a bit too far, in my opinion:

As far as I'm concerned, targeting individual, fairly random users to strike fear in the heart of the public is tantamount to terrorism. I'm perfectly happy to terrorize right back, and if they want to act like some kind of fascist secret police, I'll stand up and cheer for the first suicide bomber.
A couple of posts later, this dude says that his suicide bomber comment wasn't "entirely" facetious and adds:
This whole issue is wrong on so many levels, it boggles the mind.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:20 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack