Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lifting the needle for a moment

Howdy. Let me interrupt the music for a minute to "get real" with y'all. I've got a few topics running through my head, and I figure I could air them out now. Why not, right? We're all friends here. Pull up a seat.

This is my first post of March. It's already a full week in and I haven't gotten around to finishing up some of the blog entries I've started (I usually try to have one or two in progress at all times). So here I go, in one big writing flurry ...

I know the key to a successful blog is regular updates ... well, more than regular. Constant updates are needed to build and sustain readership. (Well, that and good content ... if you write about something no one else cares about, that won't help things). So, as a blog custodian, I've been pretty lame for about a week now (you could argue I've been lame since the beginning ... and that'd make you witty, and I'd high-five you on it).

I've gotten some nice words on my blog of late from people in real life (outside the blogosphere? YES!), and that's just been fantastic. :) Truly, it's nice to hear. If anything, it adds to my enjoyment of writing about things I enjoy (Double the pleasure? Is this a Doublemint gum ad? ... Don't get it? ... God, I'm old.).

I've noticed, though, that some commenters (with such interesting names like Pinocchio and Uncle Fester's Colon) have come to my blog looking for more than what they found. They've left comments, and then I never heard from them again. Certainly, I could use some tips. I'm happy to challenge myself further and grow as a writer. Your thoughts and suggestions are always welcome. Please feel free to leave comments! Positive, constructive criticism is something I appreciate. And praise? Yeah, I'll take praise. The ego loves a good stroke.

My audience has been pretty steady at about 100 page views a day. That's frankly pretty awesome, all things considered. There are many who enjoy 200, 300, 1,000, 10,000 page views a day. That's great, maybe I'll hit those numbers someday. When I started this blog, it was more so I could have an outlet for my thoughts on music stuff. I've enjoyed it, and it's helped me in some cases rediscover music by listening to it in different ways (more critically, perhaps, than I would normally listen). So having an audience of repeat readers (analytics support this) and a lot of unique visitors really surpasses any kind of expectation I had. Thank you all! A round of applause for my faithful readers!

I don't provide a ton of stuff on my blog. I give you some thoughts, some essays, some reviews ... I provide pictures and videos. But I don't provide downloads. And so many people want downloads ... I could probably boost my readership by hundreds of hits a day if I posted download links to the music I write about. (Sorry. I won't be doing that.)

Rather than provide just a lot of treats, I like to think that I provide meandering thoughts on material that I like, and which might boost your appreciation of music ... or might give you grounds to think about something you haven't thought about. And if that leads to a disagreement about an artist, an album, a song, a genre ... that's cool, too. Discourse = awesome. Your opinion is your opinion, and it is valued as such. If you agree or disagree with me, hey, I'm open to all of it. Let 'er rip!

But I do find that sometimes my writing gets very praise-heavy, laden with adjectives that praise the music and/or the artist(s) involved. You know what? That's just how it is. So many critics, well, criticize. A lot of fans gush. Some people can objectively balance the two. I TRY to balance things ... but if I care enough to write about something, it's either because the material is great or because the material is awful. Since I'm not a paid writer or critic, I get to pick and choose what I write about ... So thems the breaks, I suppose.

It's really as simple as this ... I like music, but I don't like all music. There are artists that I absolutely adore, but they've all done some lame material in their careers. More often than not, I want to concentrate on the good stuff because that's the stuff I want to listen to the most. So there won't be a whole lot of "this sucks" or "I expected better" or "so-and-so needs to get back to doing what they used to do" ... at least not compared with my preferred "this is some really good stuff, and here's why."

When it comes to technical analysis, I just can't do it. I can't talk musical notes, chords, I don't know hardly anything about techniques, I don't know how hard it is to do sweep arpeggios with guitars or singing head voice or whatever.

If you want to know about differences in mixes between a stereo and a mono Beach Boys release, yeah, I can do that. Want me to give you a lot of background on the Beatles' recordings? Sure, I can lay that your way. Want to hear about my emotional connection to Neil Diamond's "Song Sung Blue?" No problem, I'm happy to share.

I love reading about music, getting the history on things, learning about the motivations and confrontations and creative events that caused artists to get that music out of their heads and hearts and into my ears. I can't get into the serious study of composition ... but I am happy to discuss why Roger Waters got into "The Wall" concept to begin with.

Some of my entries are pretty insubstantial, and amount to "oh my god, you guys have got to listen to this" stuff. I can -- and should -- give more background on stuff. Key contributions from big contributors. Discussions about what some of the songs mean, or insight into the times from which the music was issued.

And my generous and talented wife (a real writer) tells me that my blog could only improve by investing more of my personality into it. More humor, more passion, more definitive opinions on things. And she's right ... I'm not always boring, and I'm not always a gushing fanboy. :) So there we go. I'm gonna try to get more humor and more assertiveness into the blog. Heaven help you all.

Now, to switch gears a bit (but I'm still keeping things real, we're not back to the important stuff -- music -- quite yet).

My real life isn't the most awesome right now. My current place of employment is in serious flux (and has been for a few years now ... so it's been a constant source of stress). There's always more to do, corporate mandates that make little sense at the local level, no supervisory support, layoffs, furloughs (unpaid time), position freezes, selective pay raises, suspended and/or revised benefits, tremendous overtime (might sound like a financial upside, all things considered ... but it really only takes the edge off, and it just means more work), etc. And when you consider we're outsourcing a lot of what our business does ... it doesn't add up to job security.

My aforementioned wife works very hard, puts in a lot of hours (more than me), and she's getting burned out too. We're both at the same place, which has its pros and cons ... we see each other, we understand what we're each going through ... but we can't really help each other out. It's hard to get out from under the cloud of work even when we're home. We're just swamped with all the stuff we have to deal with. We need serious vacations, the real deal.

Add in some of our additional headaches (her not being able to drive for a few months, my department having a really heavy workload because of some season activities going on, some friends moving on to [hopefully] greener pastures, the occasional family concerns, family/friends/financial obligations), and it's just a grueling time.

My wife and I have discussed buying a house ... but without any kind of faith that one or both of us may still be employed six months from now, we're not comfortable taking on a debt that we wouldn't necessarily be able to carry. And discussions about starting a family (you know ... having kids) is kind of in the same limbo, for the same reasons.

Hunting for jobs hasn't really been fruitful, either. As everyone can attest, the national/global economy hasn't exactly been stellar. Lots of businesses have had to consolidate or close their doors. A college degree doesn't necessarily count for much ... and experience doesn't really do anything, either. It seems like the modern workplace is evolving and a lot of us are stuck in the depressing growing pains of that transition.

Sometimes the future just looks bleak. It gets harder to feel like you can really plan ahead, or work toward a better future ... so little in life feels safely under control.

Usually I can turn to music to help blast the blues away. It's a time-honored practice ... many wise folks discovered this remedy long before I was a sparkle in my dad's eye, and many have found it long since I was born. I'm not breaking new ground taking solace in music.

Lately, well, music hasn't really been cutting it. Oh, I still love it with the intensity of a thousand suns. I obsess over music in unhealthy, unsettling ways. But it hasn't really been doing the best job of deflecting negative thoughts and feelings.

There have been good releases. And good news. And sad news. And mediocre releases.

The Beach Boys are getting together for their 50th reunion. The surviving members of the group already appeared at the 2012 Grammy Awards and performed "Good Vibrations" together, with a cast of supporting musicians.

The Beach Boys are working on a new album and some cool releases are on the way (including a new box set). Oh, and they are on tour. It's pretty historic, and very cool. You can't go wrong with any of that.

Well, kinda. I'm not one of those guys who thinks the worst of reunions. I don't look it as a cynical effort to cash in on the love of fans by shelling weak product. I don't think it's just a facade, with a bunch of creaky old guys who can't sing anymore standing on the stage and collecting ticket receipts from brainwashed fans. I don't think of it as a desperate measure to repackage the same old songs and sell them all over again. I really don't.

I see the opportunities and the history in it. A group of guys, some of whom have sued each other, fought privately and in public, getting together to honor their shared history ... and probably for the last time, since they're all in their late sixties or early seventies. Vaults might be opened, rarities and never-before-heard tracks may get issued ... This could be really tremendous.

But the tour, well, it's kind of falling short for me. This is gonna sound like sour grapes (and maybe it IS sour grapes), but right now it's highly unlikely I'll be able to go. The closest show to me is 6 or 7 hours away. I've traveled long distances for shows in the past, and that kind of drive by itself isn't that horrendous of a situation. But let's say that it's a 13-hour drive, round trip. And let us just assume that the show will be 3 hours long (seems reasonable). Still, not a problem. Really.

But the ticket packages are kind of pricey (Brian Wilson and Al Jardine apparently only committed to doing 50 shows for the reunion ... so there's huge demand), and when you factor in a hotel and food and souvenirs (because I know that I'd have to get a couple souvenirs) on top of gas prices in the spring or summer, that's major money. Serious money. Real money.

So, the reality is that I'd love to see this historic tour and watch these legendary men stand on stage together for what is likely to be the last tour where all of them will be alive to join in ... but it isn't financially feasible, or even that practical when you figure out all that will go into it. If they added a Minnesota show, sure, that could change a lot of things. Is it likely? Probably not. So I'll just console myself with the new releases that get issued this year. I don't begrudge anyone who can go (good for you!), and I wouldn't expect The Beach Boys to make things easier for me (I'm not that egotistical). I'll live.

That's life, it is what it is. The Beach Boys back together is grounds to celebrate, no matter what.

And then there's another musical love of mine: The Monkees. Davy Jones died. I've already written a brief blog entry on that score.

The Monkees just saw a deluxe rerelease of their "Instant Replay" album, which is a heck of a collection of music. And it really elevated Davy in my eyes, as some of his songs and performances are among the best in the set. It was odd ... just as my appreciation for Jones was increasing, he dies suddenly from a heart attack.

It's hard to say why the death of Davy Jones has hit me in such a funky way. I don't recall feeling this bothered by the death of George Harrison of The Beatles. And if Monkees bandmate Peter Tork died, I don't think it'd hit me that hard either. Maybe it's because they both had public illnesses and the death of Harrison and the eventual passing of Tork don't carry that element of surprise, the sudden passing with no troublesome medical history.

Or maybe it's just that Davy Jones was always such an upbeat, pleasant guy. He was an entertainer, a jokester, the cute little Monkee who always just seemed to try so hard. I don't mean that in any sort of demeaning way. He just always seemed to put himself out there; a song and dance man, with a big stripe of Broadway running through him. His passing takes some cheer out of the world, and means that yet another group from the Sixties is missing a key member.

When The Monkees were on tour last year, I thought about going. But the reason I didn't was because Michael Nesmith wasn't touring with the group. For those who really can't place the names with the faces, Mike was the one who wore the stocking cap (and was certainly their most prolific songwriter, by far). Mike is my favorite Monkee, and I just thought the show would be ... lackluster without all of them. Besides, I had a hope that maybe all four would get together one last time since they're not spring chickens themselves.

Now ... well, damn it. Frankly, I believe you can't have a Monkees reunion now. How can there be a Monkees without Davy? Sure, Micky Dolenz may have been "THE VOICE" of the group. And Mike was the superior songwriter. And Peter Tork was a good songwriter and everything, too. But Davy was THE FACE. There is no Monkees without Davy, it would just feel wrong. Believe me, there's a lot of regret on my end for not having seen them, and him, when I had the chance. Another important lesson reinforced: take advantage of things, see things, when you can.

So the world loses a nice guy, a great entertainer and a fun group in one blow. That's pretty rough. Again, that's life. Everything -- and everyone -- passes, eventually.

And another love of the Sixties has taken a bit of a misstep, himself. Well, OK, that's just my opinion. But Paul McCartney's latest album, "Kisses On the Bottom," is just ... uninteresting.

Tackling old war-era songs, crooner favorites, and mixing in a couple of originals in that vein may sound worthwhile to folks that age ... or to folks with an interest in that musical styling ... but it does nothing for me. And heaven knows, I've tried to get into it. I watched his free iTunes video at least three times. I've listened to the deluxe CD version at least a handful of times. Both the video and the CDs have left the same general "so what?" impression on me.

I just don't care about it. I don't. I'd like to. But I don't. It is at times sappy, at times soppy, and very rarely moving. Its best bits are when a bit of electric guitar gets thrown in the mix (on the video, Joe Walsh adds some much needed life into the show with some guitar noodling). It's just too much of a vanity project, I can't imagine anyone was craving this stuff. Paul has gone on record as saying he'd had the urge to do this kind of thing for years now ... decided it was a "now or never" kind of situation. Fair enough, I suppose he's entitled.

Paul has taken a lot of chances, he's done a lot of types of music, and he's had a lot of success and a fair share of failure in his long career. The long and short of it is, he can do anything he wants and sometimes that means good stuff and sometimes it means less-than-good stuff. For people who like the old World War II-era balladry style, this might be awesome. It just doesn't grab me, and I thought his performance of "My Valentine" on the 2012 Grammys was one of the low points. (He did redeem himself at the end of the Grammys with the all-star performance of the "Abbey Road" medley.)

That's all stuff that's pertinent to the last few months. Some good news mixed with unfortunate circumstances, some good music, some bad news and some mediocre music. With my current state of mind, well, maybe you can understand that it's just hard for me to be too effusive in this particular blog post.

It's not my intent to come across as whiny. There are a LOT of people who have it MUCH worse than me. And I don't just mean people starving in Ethiopia or dying in the Middle East or being oppressed by political and religious situations. I know a lot of people in my very town have it worse, healthwise and economically and all of that. I know it's ... well, pathetic to complain about my situation when others wish they had it half as good.

But as this is my blog, and you are my friends, I'm sure you'll be kind enough to allow me to vent. We all need to be able to blow off that steam, right? Thank you for letting me do just that.

My next blog entries will be more music stuff, or at least more music-related! You all have a great night / day / rest of the week. We'll talk again soon.

Oh, and let me put the needle back down. We'll get the music back on and clear out all this stuffiness.


  1. I just want you to know that you always have friends around you who care about you more than you realize and are willing to help you no matter what comes up in life. This is, indeed, a trying time in the newspaper industry and you and your wife are in an extremely difficult spot. I'm not telling you anything you don't know, but just want you to know that my family and I will help you and your wife through whatever happens. I can't predict what. I wish I could. But you are both wonderful and talented people who richly deserve to be properly appreciated for all the hours and hard work you put in. I've had several ... detours in my 44 years and many have included difficult roads. I know it's hard to imagine right now, but things are going to work out for both of you. You've got too much going for you and are too good to other people for things not to.

    1. Thanks, Mick. I appreciate it, and I'm sure Kate does too. You and your family are amazing, and always have been. Even when you and your wife were dating, she always made sure I had some good grub on holidays. She's got a great heart, and the two of you are two of the best people around.


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