Thursday, March 04, 2021

Not Fizzling Out

I've listened to a wide array of music styles and genres for a very long time. Clearly. Clearly. Clearly. Makes me happy and rarely bored with music.

If I had to pick one subcategory of rock and roll that's occupied my listening choices for the best part of my last 25 years, though, the somewhat abandoned moniker of "alt-country" (or for the geekiest among you) probably wins the day.  From Uncle Tupleo (of course) through decades of Wilco and less of SonVolt, to our beloved revolutionary sweethearts the Old 97's to the Jayhawks and Ryan Adams, and hell, the Avetts and Drive-By Truckers are pretty much alt-country, and hell, Sturgill and Isbell and Jenny Lewis and even the Cowboy Junkies, and even Neko Case sometimes, and . . .you get it. A lot of stuff I like.

A band I only sorta tuned into along the way was the Bottle Rockets, one o' them outfits that's equal parts Missouri and Misery. I knew and loved the songs "1000 Dollar Car" and "Indianapolis" and a handful of tunes off their first three albums. Our fratre Ethan/Herb got me into Bloodshot Records and artists on that label for a brief spell. Plus, I am partial to bottle rockets. You know, since I was suspended in 1985 for igniting one inside the school hall.

Oh, and the Bottle Rockets did an album called Songs of Sahm as a tribute to Doug Sahm and the Sir Douglas Quintet, whom Z gave some adulation.

They are quite     good.  Or . . . they were.

On social media as of yesterday:

It’s with a sad heart that we announce this uneasy news: Brian has decided to retire from the Bottle Rockets. Although he’s in good health, he’s been feeling the passage of time and has lost interest in anything that distracts from or takes him away from home. Unfortunately, this means the Bottle Rockets can’t continue as we know it. This is a difficult and emotional outcome for the band, and we share the sense of loss over this ending, but it can also be framed as an opportunity for new directions.

We appreciate our fans, many who have become dear friends over the years, and we thank you for the wonderful 28-year adventure. It was a thrill and we couldn’t have asked for better people to share it with! We sincerely couldn't have done it without your loyal support -- the music lives on through you.

Forever Grateful,

The Bottle Rockets

Message from Bottle Rockets singer Brian Henneman...
Well friends, it’s time. Time to say “so long”. I’m givin’ it up. Packin’ it in. Retiring. I’m done. Been thinkin’ about it this entire time off. I’m more certain of it than anything I’ve ever been certain of before. I’m turning 60 this year. Including my time with Uncle Tupelo, I have been doing this recording/touring thing for 30 years. I don’t consider myself too old to do it anymore, but I do consider myself too old to want to.

Every musician has their own shelf life for doing what they do. Some go on into their 80’s, some quit in their 20’s and never look back. Ol’ Number 60, that’s me. 60 o’clock, that’s quittin’ time for this guy. Kickin’ off my travelin’ shoes and slippin’ on my house shoes. Home is where my passion lies these days. That excites me now the way the band used to.

I have no problem at all with the band. That’s not why I’m leaving. It’s all about where I’m at on the walk of life. I no longer want to travel, don’t really have any burning desire to write songs anymore either. I just want to be a good husband. A good neighbor. A responsible homeowner. A little dog’s daddy. A guitar repairman. A guitar player in my kitchen, and in some local country cover band whenever that scene comes back around. That’s how I want to spend the rest of my days. I want to be home for supper and home for bedtime. Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. I want to experience a “normal life” just as badly now as I did NOT want to in my youth. While I’m still healthy enough to enjoy it. Before I get ancient and impaired. Things change. That’s life. I’m ready and eager for change. Being home for a solid year made me certain of it. I don’t want to miss ANYTHING here anymore.

Mark, John, and Keith all understand where I’m at. That’s such a relief. But they’re damn good guys. The best. Those guys have been the greatest partners a man could ever have. Dedication. Devotion. Turnin’ all the night time into the day. No tellin’ what’s next for them, but knowin’ them like I do, I’d say the sky’s the limit. They all have the musical skills to do anything. A truly “hot shit” band. And, unlike me, they still have the desire to get out there and do it. And they are ULTRA professionals. Keep an eye out for ‘em. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised to see them show up in phenomenal places. I am rooting for them. Them’s my boys. My team. My life partners. Please support them. I know I will. They are the longest running members the band ever had for a reason. They’re the best on so many levels. I love them forever.

Gotta salute Robert Kearns, Tom Parr, and Tom Ray too. All were members of the band I’m bidding farewell to. Everybody did a great job in their own time, in their own way. Everybody.

I gotta be honest, I’m not sad that this is really finally happening. It was bound to happen someday. What does make me kinda sad is that it’s already that day. WTF??? Where did that time go??? See? That’s my point. That’s what made me go through with this. Knowing how the time goes SO fast. I wanna get goin’ on this next phase, before it passes me by as fast as everything else did. I’ve finally reached an age where things get urgent. Available decades are gettin’ slim. Gotta find what you REALLY want and go for it. So I did.

I want to sincerely thank you all from the bottom of my heart. You all supported us for so long. I will never forget that, or take it lightly. I am forever humbled and grateful. It’s been fun, but now it’s done. Surprise ending, yes. But the band had a surprise beginning too, so it seems that’s just how we roll. Maybe the band’s not done at all. Who knows? I just know I won’t be in it. ‘Cause I’m done.

With a year off, and nothing on the books, this was the perfect intersection of time and timing. There would never be a time when leaving would disrupt less. That’s why I did it now. Didn’t wanna make a big deal outta my big deal. Wanted it to be as painless as possible.

So this is where the cowboy rides away. Goodnight now ladies and gentlemen. It’s the end of the show, now it’s time to go.

Maybe I’ll see ya at Home Depot or somethin’…

Wel'p... that about says it all. I gotta tip my cap to the guy. "On his terms" could not be a more fitting way to say it. Here's hoping that when you eventually hang 'em up, you are as at peace as he is.


Wednesday, March 03, 2021

A Pivot to the Kids

Martellus Bennett played 10 seasons at tight end in the NFL for six teams, winning a Super Bowl with New England in 2016 and making the Pro Bowl in 2014 with Chicago. If he has his way, his football career will be a footnote. 

Bennett is an imaginative soul who retired in 2018, at the age of 31 with tread remaining on his tires, to focus on creative pursuits. A writer and illustrator, he dreams up fantastical characters and adventures aimed at young black people. Bennett told Howard Bryant in a story published in The Atlantic, “A lot of my work is me subconsciously trying to validate my childhood, because the childhood I had as a black boy does not exist in the media today. I was more like ‘The Goonies’ than ‘Boyz n the Hood.’” 
Indeed, Bennett and older brother Michael Bennett, who also was an NFL player, grew up in Houston. Their father was an IT tech, their mother a middle-school teacher. He was an elite prospect in both football and basketball, as well as an honor student and school band member who built computers with his father as a hobby. 

Bennett decries what he sees as structural racism in the NFL and society in general. As a player, he spoke out about the need for police accountability, along with brother Michael and, famously, Colin Kaepernick. Following the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling at the hands of police officers, Martellus wrote a book called “Dear Black Boy,” aimed at young blacks who won’t have professional sports futures.

Using simple and encouraging language he implored them to cast a broader net and to aim higher. “The value we place on the athlete is greater than the value we place on the scholar,” Bennett said in The Atlantic piece. “Two kids walk into the barbershop, and one is a pretty good basketball player. People will be like, ‘You gotta watch him. He’s got a jumper. He’s got a shot at the NBA.’ And if a kid comes in and has won two science fairs in a row and got a grant? No one says, ‘That’s the next Mark Zuckerberg.’ Or ‘He’s going to be Bill Gates.’ They don’t celebrate him.” 

Among Bennett’s current efforts are children’s fantasy tales, the “Hey A.J.” series, with his young daughter as the basis for the central character. For example, in “Hey A.J., It’s Bedtime,” when her parents turn out the lights, her room comes alive with various toys and creatures who want to party. A.J. must choose between sleep and partying with her friends. Bennett signed a deal last June with Disney to develop an animated series based on the books. 

Children’s books have the added benefit of creating bonds between parents and kids, Bennett said in another interview. Kids aren’t simply given a book and left to read for themselves, he said. Parents, or other adults, sit and read to them and with them. “Black people are treated as second-class citizens in reality and fantasy,” Bennett said in The Atlantic. “I want to build worlds where kids and families of color can come and know that they own it, they belong there, and it’s a magical place.”

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Dave is the Master?

A few weeks ago, Whitney posted a timeline of how his friend recorded a song and video-- a song with lyrics written by Whit-- in five days. 

I was really jealous. Or envious? I didn't want to storm into an apartment and strangle an adulterous ex-lover in post-coital bliss, and I loved the song. Maybe that's envious?

Anyway, the fact that they got this done in five days boggles my mind. I dabble in audio recording and I NEVER finish anything.  I use Logic on my iMac and it's a black hole of effects and AI drummers and digital instruments and extremely powerful tools. It's way over my head.

I'm often staring at screens like this, sliding things and clicking things. These various moves make a BIG difference in the way things sound. And while I've watched a view instructional videos-- usually while riding the exercise bike-- I don't really know what I'm doing. People get paid for this kind of thing.

Once you've recorded all your tracks and you're happy with how things sound-- you've compressed and EQed and all that-- then you've got to mix stuff. Pan things left and right-- get all the levels to the correct volume, and listen to the track on both speakers, computer speakers, and headphones (and maybe even in the car).

THEN-- apparently-- there's another step that I never really figured out, called "mastering." This is when you take that final mix of the track and prepare it to be distributed and played on various media. You can do this in Logic, but you need to know how to use the following tools-- and really use them, not just screw around with them.

Multiband Compression
Stereo Wideners

I have a passing familiarity with these tools so I tried to do my own mastering in Logic a few weeks ago with a "song" I made based on one of Zman's comments on Sentence of Dave. Apparently, if you write a comment that's funny enough, I'll write a song about it. The result was okay, but I definitely didn't know what I was doing. 

First, you squeeze with compression, then you maximize! Don't forget the exciter! Get rid of the low end on the bus reverb BEFORE you use Multiband Compression! 

Here's the final product.

This video was actually kind of useful and less overwhelming. "Use the limiter last so your beat don't sound like trash." Thanks Courtney!

Anyway, this was difficult and exhausting, to say the least. It's a race against time because your ears get tired and can no longer differentiate or remember between what you've done. Usually, artists hand their stuff off to a professional for mastering. 

There is another option: mastering software. My friend Neal recommended iZotope Ozone 9, a plugin that has a lot of AI mastering options. He calls it "the turd polisher" because it takes a musical turd and cleans it up (as much as possible). It's kind of expensive, but I qualified for an educational discount so I got it for half price . . . $132. It was money well spent. I still don't understand half of it-- or maybe 90% of it-- but there are enough presets and automated elements to help me play around. And then you've got to trust your ears (and use reference tracks). 

Here's one screen (there are lots of these).

Now that I've "mastered' a couple of songs, I can't listen to any of my old songs. They sound muddy and not loud enough. So I've got to go back and "master" those. Yeesh.

This is still not going to help me finish songs all that much faster. I'm always tackling things that are a little beyond me. My newest song is inspired by all the Vietnam movies that I've rewatched with my kids. It's good to revisit that clusterfuck. It reminds you that being in lockdown isn't nearly as bad as being a POW in 'nam. There was no Netflix in the shit.

I wanted to incorporate some samples from Paul Hardcastle's song "19" in my song. "19" was released way back in 1985, when I was fifteen-- and it's stuck with me. Not only did I want some samples from the "19," and a reflection on what it's like to be 19 years old and across the world, mired in a morass of a war with no clear mission, no clear communication, and a major gap between what was happening on the ground and what was being discussed by the brass, but I also wanted the center of the song to feel like a trip to a foreign place.

If you want to read something to understand this, I recommend Mark Bowden's Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam. He recounts the Tet Offensive, the capture of the ancient provincial capital city of Hue by the North Vietnamese, and the ensuing epic 24-day battle waged by the Marines and the ARVN to recapture the city . . . the book is a monumental day-by-day account of the heroism, atrocities, propaganda, misinformation, strategy, blunders, civilian casualties, destruction of ancient wonders, Communist purges, political failures, and-- amidst great effort and honor-- the futility of top-down command in warfare. I've read a bunch of Vietnam books and this is my favorite. I've also heard Apocalypse Now is a decent movie.

Here is my Vietnam song. It took WAY longer than five days to make (and I'll probably hear something weird in it and pull it down a week from now!) I wish I could just record something and move on to the next thing, but there are so many buttons and dials and switches and things. I just get lost. Lost in the jungle.

           19 (Revisited)

I can't breathe, I'm on the run--
It's all green, but I've got my gun.

I can't see, I'm in the mud--
the flies buzz around my blood

O Lord he is gone
across the world in Vietnam,
Lord I know my son is gone,
MIA in Vietnam

I'm nineteen, I've had my fun--
nineteen, it's been a damn good run . . .

O Lord he is gone
across the world in Vietnam,
Lord I know my son is gone,
MIA in Vietnam

Monday, March 01, 2021

Josh Daniel is a Righteous Dude

A story found its way to me via the world wide web a couple days ago. I dug it. So I'm sharing it. Not as profound as learning Van Halen's frontman is (sorta) bilingual, but pretty cool in its own right, and also related to music. 

Josh Daniel is a career musician in Charlotte. He became unable to earn his normal living on March 17. That's that date NC Governor Roy Cooper announced COVID-related restrictions on restaurants, bars, music venues and other places. But Mr. Daniel still wanted to play. So he decided he would play and livestream it. And then he decided he would play every day until the lockdowns ended. And he is still going to this day. 

Monday March 1st will be his 350th consecutive show. He has done them in his house, outside his front door and at the beach, among other locations. While things are improving with vaccinations, it appears likely he will keep his streak going for over a year. 

I'm not posting about him because he's the best singer/songwriter in the world. He may not even match up with some of the finest musicians north of him in Magic City. But his effort and his diligence are noble and worth saluting. And his work supports good causes as well. He has raised $50K for charity, including Children's Craniofacial Association. Josh's son has a serious genetic disorder called Apert Syndrome. 

His website is here: You can get to his shows from there. The music is very chill and relaxing, the kind you'd enjoy hearing while getting an afternoon cocktail on an outside patio somewhere in warmer weather. Here's hoping the seasons and the vaccinations move ahead as planned, and we can all grab an outside cocktail sometime soon. 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Good zNews

Thanks to my genetic and professional predisposition for high blood pressure, I got my second covid vaccination on Friday night.  There were a ton of people at my county's vaccination center but the National Guard moved us along like clockwork, it took maybe 15-20 minutes from check-in through dosage and then a 15 minute observation period to make sure I didn't have an allergic reaction.  I woke up on Saturday with a sore arm but no other ill effect.  This surprised me because based on what I've read and seen, I expected the next day to go like this:

For clarity, I would be Arnold Schwarzenegger in this scenario and zwoman would be Sandahl Bergman.  TR would be the wizard.

But now I'm like this:

I'm still wearing masks, distancing, washing my hands, etc. but it feels good to be vaccinated.

I might feel good because I've also started taking better care of myself.  I haven't had a drink since Christmas and I've exercised all but two days since January 1.  As a result I've lost at least five pounds, I get decent sleep, and I have fewer aches and pains.  Thanks to my employer's wellness benefit plan I have a bicycle for the first time in about 30 years and I look forward to riding around with zson as the weather get better.

zmom is slated for her first dose on Thursday and zstepfather on Monday.  So there's good znews all around.  Saying this in pixels practically guarantees a meteor strike or some other calamity, but I'll enjoy the positivity for now.

***DAY 2 UPDATE***

I'm still like this:

Friday, February 26, 2021

Happy Friday! Feliz Viernes!

Sometimes in life, something just drops in your lap, in a matter of sorts, and you are better off for it. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you David Lee Roth singing Yankee Rose. In Spanish. It is mesmerizing. His enunciation, his "I studied Spanish for two years" grasp of the language, the way he changes his inflection at certain points, the literal translation of the lyrics. 

Que magnifico es esto. You're welcome, fockers.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Three People Who Have Never Been in My Kitchen

Speaking of streaming media, as we have been in this space over the past few days, I usually fill downtimes in my day with the live feed from KCMP - The Current - from Minnesota Public Radio. This morning, a song stopped me cold because it featured a voice I hadn't heard in some time.

My friends, did you know that Barry Gibb (yes, that Barry Gibb) recently released a new record? And that the record in question, Greenfields, is a country and western joint? That features Brandi Carlile and Jason Isbell, among others?

I did not, until Gibb's duet with Carlile, entitled Run to Me, came across my airwaves. It's a cover of a 1972 Bee Gees tune, and it's pretty great.

Gibb and Isbell team up on Words of a Fool, which Gibb wrote and recorded in 1986 for a solo album that was never released. If you didn't know Gibb was new to country music, you'd be hard-pressed to guess it.

Barry Gibb, closet country star. Who knew?