“What I Did For Love” (2014Nov19)


Wednesday, November 19, 2014                   11:52 AM

Here we are, Wednesday near noon. After my big day; writing, recording, producing and posting my new song’s video yesterday; I had trouble sleeping and have just woken up this morning—unusually late, even for me. The video shows Four ‘views’ so far, (still less than 24 hours since posting)—as my posts go, that’s practically ‘viral’. And, as usual, the success, such as it is, is in the doing of the thing. The verses had started popping into my head the day before. After I’d thought up a few lines I really liked, I started to worry that it was a good song idea that would just wander through my brain for a day or two and wander right back out again. It wouldn’t have been the first, or the hundredth.

So I gave myself a pep-talk, internally: this is current, this is amusing, this is about something that matters to you (I says to myself, I says). How will you feel if you let it slide and see someone else’s similar idea pop up online a few days from now? Again, it wouldn’t have been the first time, or the hundredth. I was having trouble sleeping the night before, as well—so I went to the PC in the wee hours, to type up the verses I’d thought of so far. Spencer, a night owl, too, was already there, playing his video game. I didn’t feel it was worth ruining his good time, so I went back to bed.

But the song still bothered me, so I will-power-‘crow-barred’ myself into making some quick videos, just a few seconds each, singing the verses as they occurred to me—and those video fragments were my reference when I began the job in earnest yesterday morning. I typed them all up and re-arranged them into the best sequence of verses I could figure. But then the printer wouldn’t print it. We have a shared printer in our house, but it boots from Claire’s PC, which for some reason had set that printer to “Local”—I’ve never sat at Claire’s PC before, but an hour or two later I had it fixed, and the lyrics printed.

While I’d waited for the strange PC to do its updates and re-starts, etc. I had also been working on the piano part. This was new territory—I’d never written lyrics to suit an old folk song before, having always used original music for my original songs—and that presented a problem. I can’t play from memory—even a song as simple as “Froggy Went A-Courtin”. And there was no way I was going to be able to sight-read the music and read off the lyrics-sheets at the same time—so I had to learn “Froggy Went A-Courtin” by heart. In the process, I realized that I’d mis-remembered exactly how the song went—I had added an additional phrase, or line, of my own. Now I had to learn to play the song without looking, and to follow my rhythmic pattern instead of the original’s. If you listen to the video, you can hear how unsure of the piano part I was, even ten verses in—memory has always been my kryptonite.

But the video-shoot went surprisingly well—I only sang the song twice through and the second version came out as good as my skill-set was ever going to make it (without prolonged rehearsal and arrangement—which, with my tendency to forget what I’m doing, posed a risk, again, of leaving the song in limbo instead of finding its way onto YouTube). So I edited the final video from that second go-round, slapped a Title-image on the front and a Credit-image on the end, and posted it. Then I ‘shared’ it to Facebook, WordPress, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest (I don’t know what I’m doing, online, but I do it as hard as I can).

The thing is, this song wasn’t my only recent, original-content post to the internet—I’ve recently posted a few drawings, some fine videos, some passable essays, and the first part of a new book I’m writing. I’d also been experiencing the frustration of posting those things and having them all be roundly ignored, for the most part, by everyone who is kind enough to ‘like’ or ‘comment’ on my posts (and that’s a pretty tiny list of people to begin with). This song, representing as it did the farthest reaches of my creative abilities, and following so many previously unremarked-on efforts, was the equivalent of my shouting, “Hey! Over here! Look at me!”—and it needed some ‘views’ to keep me from going totally bonkers. So—four views by the next morning—success!

My stuff can hardly be categorized as ‘masterpieces’—my poems, essays, and piano improvs are always more intended as ‘intermezzos’, little diversions with some thought and some wit, and a pinch of talent. Being little treats, as it were, I don’t expect them to garner me rave reviews or a towering reputation—I just hope for them to be noticed in passing, a chuckle along the way or a moment’s reflection. Thus, even slight notice is success. But the real success is in the doing and having gotten it done.

Political Arrangements! (2014Nov18)


What a day! I wrote a song, “Obama Went A-Courtin”; I played through two challenging piano arrangements, George Shearing’s take on “If I Give My Heart To You” and Bob Zurke’s version of “I’m Thru With Love”; and I threw in a couple of short improvs, just for fun…

 

“If I Give My Heart To You”
by Jimmie Crane, Al Jacobs, Jimmy Brewster
(c) 1953 Miller Music Corp.
Piano Interpretation by George Shearing:

 

“I’m Thru With Love”
words by Gus Kahn
Music by Matt Malneck, Fud Livingston
(c) 1931 MGM Inc.
Piano Solo Arranged by Bob Zurke:

 

The Hook (2014Nov15)


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Saturday, November 15, 2014                       1:02 PM

 

Everything today is about the hook. I saw an online ad for Star-Trek spaceships (“Enterprises”, that is) for a low, low price—plus plenty of free extras—the only catch was that it was a subscription, and they would be sending me different spaceships, once a month, forever—and billing me for them, of course. I saw a newly released movie on my VOD menu. It was about a boy and girl who were far distant from each other but could see what each other thought and hear what each other said—it was a romance. I’ve seen the same premise, but only seeing through the other person’s eyes—it was a horror movie about a serial killer. Communication is so important.

The king of the hooks would have to be ‘The Heart Of Joy”, AKA the Hallmark Channel. Every year about this time (just before Thanksgiving) their schedule becomes one long expanse of Christmas-themed movies, most of them produced by Hallmark itself. I am shamelessly addicted—it’s worse than Law & Order re-runs. I just saw one where the young lady protagonist, who just happens to be named Krissy Kringle and just happens to live on Candy Cane Lane, receives a lot of mistakenly-delivered letters to Santa. One little girl sends a book, explaining that Santa had accidentally left his “Naughty or Nice List” when he visited her in the hospital.

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Hijinks ensue, of course, and of a very Christmassy flavor. In the end, people are healed, lessons are learned, and Santa gets his book back. It’s like heroin—I can marathon this stuff for days at a time. But it got me thinking. Hallmark is like the Manhattan Project of sentiment—all things treacly are massaged to a fair-thee-well and dutifully squished out like Play-Doh from a Play-Doh factory. Is it evil? It’s difficult to say with the rubber hose between my teeth, probing for a vein—but I have my suspicions. I mean, it makes perfect sense—here are these actors—and actors are paid to pretend—so they pretend that they, and basically all people, are earnest, conscience-stricken, and well-fed.

It’s the season, so it’s no fair calling them out on the ugly truths of domestic poverty, bad parenting, etc., etc.—thus the problems are manageable in these movies, unlike the real problems we face in the real world. But then they have to add in ‘the real Mrs. Claus’ masquerading as a nanny for a troubled single-parent family or an Elf who wants to see what’s outside of Santa’s Workshop (and in a masterpiece of fiction, doesn’t go sprinting back home in screaming hysterics) or an old homeless man who turns out to be someone’s long-lost father, just waiting for love to make him whole again.

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If, like me, you’ve seen news stories about some of the nightmares that pose as nannies for unsuspecting families—or rape statistics for elfin-shaped young ladies just moved to the big city—or the mental health obstacles that are so much of the problem when trying to undo homelessness, then you may find yourself strongly attracted to the Heroin, I mean Hallmark Channel. But is it healthy? I guess what I’m really wondering is—is it merely escapism, or is it as delusion-inducing as the Southboro Baptist Church? If we whip ourselves into a frenzy of Christmas-time love and faith, we may find ourselves hating The Un-Christmassy enough to kill somebody. It wouldn’t be the first time someone got upset about someone else killing the mood.

And what of the crash? When I switch off the TV and walk into the kitchen, I may find it difficult to handle the newspapers, visitors, and telephone calls I find there. Those other people may not have watched the same movie as me. They might not be quite brimming with the same surplus love of their fellow man—and punch me right in the nose, figuratively or literally. Watching the Hallmark Channel Christmas Movie Marathon may make it impossible for me to survive, away from my hi-def flat-screen.

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However, there are commercials. The TV commercials, even Hallmark’s own, have a different texture from the movies—the treacle is still there, but the main motif is altered to ‘you need this thing to be happy’ followed by ‘buy this thing’. And even a Hallmark movie can’t completely obliterate such unadulterated huckstering. So, to be fully dosed with Christmas syrup, I always make sure I have a book to read. Yes, a book! You wouldn’t believe how long the commercial breaks in these movies are. One can easily read three or four pages before the movie comes back on—and, of course, I’m a virtuoso of the mute button—so I go from movie to book and back to movie quite seamlessly. The tone of the book can be problematical—the otherwise phenomenal Stephen King, for instance, is not recommended for this particular purpose. But I find that science-fiction novels can be a wonderful counter to Hallmark, as they both believe in wild optimism—even wishful thinking—but in two very different settings. My current commercial-break reading material is “The Peripheral” by William Gibson. It’s excellent, so far (as Gibson always is) if you’re looking.

But let’s return to the movies. By the end of New Year’s, I’m actually relieved to turn to that channel and find “Little House” re-runs, or something equally repulsive. I turn to the more reality-based programming of the other channels and Christmas is over for me. So what is this extended trance that takes me hostage each year? Perhaps, for me, it supercharges the ambient ‘Christmas cheer’ that naturally occurs in our lives. Or perhaps it makes more visible the falseness of the Season, a specific time in which we are obligated to be better people, to think kinder thoughts. Is it the human condition that caring must have a start and end point, like a race? Maybe we have the Holiday Season because humanity cannot bear very much reality—and the reality of kindness and caring is just too much of an effort to be part of our ongoing, normal lives.

It could be that the season of giving, rather than being a false pretense of our ‘better selves’, is really just the best we can do—one month a year, we try to be good. We don’t necessarily succeed—but we try—and that’s more than we can be bothered to do the other eleven months of the year.

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Thanks For Your Service (2014Nov11)


I’ll be watching the Concert for Valor later, but I wanted to play a little Veterans Day Concert of my own…