Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Although I didn't realize it until after he was gone.
He moved into Yeshiva. People living in New York or Chicago don't really understand what it's like to live someplace like Milwaukee. We have only one Orthodox (or Jewish, for that matter) High School, and it's a Chofetz Chaim dorming school. If your kid doesn't get in, or if you don't feel comfortable with the school, you have a choice of sending him to Public School or out of town. We were fortunate enough to have him accepted here. But he still has to dorm, and he's allowed out (?Furlough) once every 3 weeks.
I moved him in last week. As we walked through the dorm, I got flashbacks of my own first dormitory. I was 3 years older, and in college, but it's not that different. Things are abit more run down where he is, but it's still a beautiful school. I walked into his dorm room (about the size of a closet) and saw several Tom Clancy books on the bed, and a Risk game.
"I didn't know they'd let you read your Tom Clancy books here," I said.
"They didn't. Those are my roommate's books," he replied.
I was shocked. Somehow they had managed to find a roommate from Canada who had the same exact interests as my son.
"They must have had a pretty detailed questionnaire if they were able to match you up so well," I said.
"They did, but all I wrote on my request was 'someone from out of town.'"
It wasn't until I was getting ready to leave that it dawned upon me that he was actually gone, out of the house. The truth is, once you leave for your first dorm, you never really move back home. You go home to visit, for the summer or vacations, but you go on to college, then maybe a job and a place of your own. This, I realized, was the proverbial it, and I hadn't been prepared at all.
As I reached over to give him a hug and kiss goodbye, I felt my Mother's Curse kick in ("One day your children will be just like you") and he kinda squirmed away and said, " 'Bye."
And that was it.
Thursday, August 26, 2004
Reading about this makes me think back to when Kesher was on the Joe Franklin Show. The show was becoming popular again thanks to Billy Crystal spoofing it on Saturday Night Live.
Lenny Solomon got invited onto the show to plug Kesher II. As the second string bass player, I didn't rate. Here's Lenny's recollection of the show:
The show was filmed at the end of Jan in 1986 and it aired I believe on Thursday night Jan 30. I remember going into Joe's office and it was so cluttered you could not see the desk. He obviously hoarded everything. Every possible souvenier that anyone had given him over the 40 years that he did the show. I remember him picking up Kesher 2 on Vinyl and showing it to the TV Audience like he did with all the products and I remember the music of Kesher 2 being played as we went to
commercial break. We were on after Morris Katz who would make pictures using toilet paper (it's true--PT). Anyway, we got around 3-5 minutes of TV time at the end of the show. This was my first television appearance and it was embarrasing. I dont really remember the questions that he asked but I kept sticking my tounge out in a nervous way and did not smile.
We wore out traditional Argyle sweaters that kesher wore for decades. It was funny now but back then UGH. I do remember getting a call from a friend of mine who happened to be flipping channels and saw us.
Lenny's being too modest. He also said "Basically" alot.
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
But it was actually...not bad.
Just not bad.
And I decided that this was a victory for Ms. McVie. Because I truly expected it to suck.
I'm a big Fleetwood Mac fan, and I've always liked her work. But it seems like everytime a big recording artist from the 70's comes out of retirement to release a new album...it SUCKS. Either it sounds exactly like what they did before, but lacks any innovation or energy, or it's totally different, and disappoints because you expect it to sound the same. Usually it's overproduced.
I think this is a result of high expectations meeting chronically low performance, ending up with lower standards.
Either that or I'm just getting old.
Here's another sign of getting old:
Whenever I hear a new band that I like, I soon realize that it's because it sounds like an old band that I like.
(spellchecker wants to replace Fleetwood with Flathead)
Both had Modern Orthodox educations. Neither was particularly religious.
One is now touring with Fountains of Wayne.
The other has become a Breslover Chossid.
I'm excited about one, slightly confused and disappointed about the other.
And equally disappointed at myself, because I think my feelings should be reversed.
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
10 year old: "She's pretty good. Is Romania in Italy?"
15 year old: "No, I'm pretty sure it's got its own country. But does anyone live there anymore?"
12 year old: "Why are they showing all these foreign countries, anyway? I thought this was supposed to be the American Olympics."
I'm glad that the 130% of my salary that goes to pay my kids' tuition is being well-spent.
Friday, August 20, 2004
I have mixed emotions about the fact that my kids have surpassed me at first person shooters. Just not sure what those emotions are...
On the other hand, my 12 year old has been teaching himself to program Doom levels. Which is essentially giving him a crash course on CAD design, so that doesn't bother me. I totally blew him away, though, when I told him to Google "Scout.wad" and he found and downloaded a level that I made 10 years ago, when he was in diapers.
Dad's credibility just shot up.
I would add one more scenario to his classification:
Bands that use session players to replace them on albums. That's common both in the JM and secular worlds. A good producer will have the session players "play down" to the level of the original band, so that you just get a "neater" version of the music, that can still be mimicked by the original band on stage. A bad producer will have the session players play above the level of the band, so that it's pretty obvious that they've been replaced.
I recall speaking to a friend many years ago who was in the secular music world about how much I loved the bass playing of (embarrassed to say) Andy Taylor of Duran Duran. He asked "Do you mean him or the guy who ghosts him on their albums?"
Thursday, August 19, 2004
Just because someone can play flawlessly doesn't mean they can make great music:
Example of good band composed of session players:
Example of bad band composed of session players:
Example of band that sounds great when they use their own band:
Example of band that sounds boring when they use session players:
First of all, the opinions that I post here are my own, and as my wife is fond of saying, that means they're probably wrong.
I think that what started out as praise for bands that do their own studio work ended up as more of a criticism of session players. I don't want to leave anyone with the impression that I blame the players for the lack of creativity in Jewish Music. As I said in my post, I think these guys are phenomenal players. They are generally much better than the typical player who's going to join an upstart band and start working on his own material. And they're just trying to make a living, doing something that very few, including myself, can do.
I blame the producers.
I would personally rather listen to someone who isn't quite perfect play something that he wrote and put his heart into, than something that sounds like the theme from a 7o's TV show, because a producer or arranger somewhere thought that that's what "authentic" Jewish Music is supposed to sound like. And from the comments I read, it sounds like the musicians playing the music aren't that pleased with it, either.
Regarding specific comments, Abe Solomon wrote:
First of all are you there when the musicians record the albums? Do you live in Israel and see that Singolda is just sitting there totally not into the music etc.
I've watched recording sessions with 2 out of the 3 musicians I named. My reaction was basically jaw-dropping-to-floor. It is truly amazing to watch. I haven't seen Singolda record, but I've listened to him quite a bit. He along with the others, was on the most recent 5 Jewish Albums that we've purchased (and listen to endlessly in the car; even the psycho toddler demands them). And these 5 albums are more or less indistinguishable from one another. Some of the voices are a little different, but pitch-tuning tends to homogenize them. Singolda tends to jam all over the songs. Not my cup of tea (I prefer a solo that is singable), but my guitar player loves him.
Jordan Hirsch, whose opinion I have always had tremendous respect for, said:
While we are at it, I also take note of Psycho's description of Moshav Band, Blue Fringe, Kabbalah etc. as the source of the new ideas in Jewish Music. He meant the ideas that Jewish Musicians are not already doing. The music of the
current Folk Rock Guitar Band Singer Songwriter fad in Jewish music is just an alternative source for derivative Jewish Music. That does not mean it isn't good. Some of it is very good. But let's not kid ourselves about originality.
I agree with his clarification of my words. These bands aren't coming up with original styles of music. (Is there anything new under the sun?) They're playing in the idiom they enjoy. If they were doing it just to be commercial or cash in on a trend, I'd have a problem with that. All original music isn't necessarily good; it's just different.
I will be the first to admit that my music is completely derivative. I've always had very specific ideas about whom I wanted to emulate, and listening back to songs I recorded 19 years ago, I can hear lines that were directly influenced by bass players of the time. But back in those days, we were being quite risque by putting rock beats into Jewish Songs. Now, it's the norm.
Each one of the songs that I recorded means something to me. I wrote the melody. I worked with the band on the arrangements. And I toiled in the studio to get it to sound good. And I can appreciate it when someone has done the same.
Bottom line is, when you buy an album that was performed by a band, you're hearing their sound. When you buy an album performed by studio musicians, you're hearing what the arranger or producer thinks the music should sound like (and the smaller the pool of producers/arrangers/musicians, the less variety). You have to decide what you prefer.
Monday, August 16, 2004
We split up into two groups, girls and boys, and got into two cars. (I had the boys...duh). I was ok until we started going up. And I realized we'd be stuck way up in the air...for a while. The two older boys were ok. They were rocking the car, looking through the exposed doorway and saying things like, "if you fell out from here it'd take a minute for you to hit the water." The 10 year old and I just stared at each other the whole time as panic began to grip us and we were too afraid to look out.
When we finally got out, I looked at my wife as she emerged from the second basket, and she was as white as I was. I was really nervous about how the psycho toddler would do. I thought she'd be screaming as soon as the door closed. But she apparently just buried her head in a bag of potato chips the whole time and was fine.
Anyway, I'm not really afraid of heights. I'm just afraid of splattering all over the ground.
Sunday, August 15, 2004
When I got there, however, the place wasn't too crowded, and it was mostly family and friends of the owner. One guy, Mark Bellini, was playing guitar. I went up to him and asked if he wanted me to play bass, and he said yes, so we played his set together. I've played enough pick up jobs to be able to just comp along, and he was doing pretty standard stuff anyway.
After his set, I did a few of my own tunes, including an aborted version of the Beatles "I'm so tired" which I stopped halfway through after screwing up the words. It was nice to have the professional guy come up to me after I played my Adon Olam and ask "Who wrote that last one? It's pretty good."
The really cool part was that I got to meet Brian Ritchie, bass player for the Violent Femmes, and he told me he liked my playing. I should have brought my acoustic bass instead. That would have been megacool.
All in all, a nice evening. I have to figure out how to get the band to play there.
Friday, August 13, 2004
Thursday, August 12, 2004
I got a new guitar yesterday.
After searching multiple stores for just the right guitar...not too expensive...feels good...less filling...etc...
I bought a Yamaha acoustic electric at Guitar Center. With a trade in of an old amp, and what I got for the Ovation on Ebay, it came out a wash.
This thing feels great, nice action, and most importantly, sounds like an acoustic guitar when plugged in. I need this because I'm doing more solo acoustic jobs, and the ovation just sounded too tinny to me. And I didn't want to keep borrowing my daughter's guitar.
I do feel a little bad for buying it at Guitar Center, though.
I really wanted to support the little independent places like Brass Bell, Topshelf or Warpdrive. I hate these Walmart-style chain outfits that come to town and try to drive out the Ma and Pa places. (Speaking as a guy whose Ma and Pa Video Store got run out by Blockbuster).
But none of the little guys had:
a) a guitar in this price range at all (most were an extra $100-200)
b) a desire to take my used equipment in trade for a decent value, or
c) even a more expensive guitar that felt as good as this one.
And they were all off-brands too.
Yamaha is no Martin, but it's a respected brand.
This one that I bought was a little dusty, probably a discontinued model, so that helped with the price. But it felt right when I played it. If I had fallen in love with something at Brass Bell, I would have bought it, but it just didn't work out, and in the end, I saved a lot of money, which in turn saves me problems with the little lady, so that's a plus.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
It's on it's way to North Carolina.
All I can feel is a little emptyness in the pit of my stomach.
I feel like I just sold a kid.
Actually I don't think I'd feel quite this bad if I'd actually sold a kid.
Also upset because I don't think my wife will let me buy a new one. Guitar, that is.
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
I've done a fair amount of studio work and I've seen this in action. It's a sight to behold. A bunch of pretty normal looking guys walk into the studio carrying their instruments. They sit down in front of a music stand where a professional arranger has set out their parts. When the engineer says "go," they play the album. Pretty much the way it sounds when you hear it on your stereo. They stare at the sheet music for the entire session, barely moving. Then they fold up the music, pack up their instruments, and go home.
If it sounds lifeless and soul-less, that's because it pretty much is. There's really no feeling going into this. Many of these musicians have worked together on multiple projects. They've done this thousands of times. In the Jewish music industry in general, the same arrangers are working with the same musicians on almost all the major projects. If you're wondering why all Jewish popular music sounds the same, this is why.
Now, these guys are incredibly talented. They can play circles around me or just about any musician I know. And they do it without any fuss, egotism, or need for bottled water. They are more cost effective than trying to get a bunch of inexperienced band members to get the song down in one or two takes. And there are no fights or creative disputes or girlfriends to lead to cost overruns.
As a music fan, it's important to be aware of this. Because while you may enjoy listening to one or two Cutler/Gershovsky/Singolda combo albums, do you really want this to be your only choice? I love listening to Jimmy Page play guitar. But I'd lose interest if he was playing on EVERY song I listened to.
Which brings me back to Blue Fringe. The guitar playing is not the best I've heard. The arrangements are pretty simple. But these guys sound like they enjoy what they do, and they do it competently enough for me. Not every guitar solo has to sound like Eddie Van Halen. It just has to sound like it belongs in the song.
Other bands that I would put on my list are The Diaspora Yeshiva Band (although it looks like maybe Rosenblum put a few hired guns on his latest effort), Yom Hadash, Brian Gelfand, The Sparklifters, Even Shesiyah, The Moshav Band, and of course, my old band, Kabbalah, which was a progenitor for the current crop of Chassidic-Rock bands (whether they know it or not). I may have forgotten a few. You can add them to the list.
These are the guys who revitalize the Jewish Music scene. They are coming up with the original ideas. The ideas that will probably one day find their way onto a sheet of music placed before a session player.
Monday, August 09, 2004
Wednesday, August 04, 2004
I've tried all the acoustic guitars, and I think that's one reason they recently decided to wall-off the guitar room. My guitar playing has noticeably improved. It's still not much, but it's fun to have a 9 year old come up to you and say, "Mister, you're gooood..."
Recently I've moved over to the bass guitars, much to the annoyance of the staff there, since a bass has to be plugged in and can get pretty loud. I've been asking for a fretless bass for the past year, but they've been slow to comply, I suspect, because they know I have no intention of actually buying one.
But recently, they got a contract with Fender and MusicMan, and last week a 5-string fretless MusicMan arrived. They watched in trepidation as I spotted the beast hanging on the wall, and got up on my tip-toes to try to get it down. Finally they pushed me out of the way and got it for me.
This instrument is quite different from what I've been playing. Since 1985 I've played a Quest Manhattan, which I bought for $350 at Manny's on 48th street, just before my first studio recording session. Quest has since gone out of business, and as far as I can tell, has left no trace of its existence. The bass has a great sound and feel, and is great in the studio too, as long as I face north by northwest. Otherwise it buzzes. But studio engineers have literally yanked Fender Precisions out of my hand and told me to go back to playing "that other one" because it sounds so good. It's been dubbed "the big white guitar" by girls at NCSY conventions, as in "tell that guy with the big white guitar that he's too loud." So I've been pretty happy with the thing, even though it's not too prestigious (just like I've been happy driving my Geo).
But this Fretless thing is something else. First of all, it's got 5 strings, so I'm disoriented right off the bat. I'm used to the top string being a low E, and now it's a B. Since I'm a visual player, I have to translate the positions. Then, the strings are closer together, so I flub more notes (but I've been going back and forth from bass to guitar anyway, so no big deal). Last, but certainly not least, is the lack of frets.
Guitars have frets so that when you press in the general vicinity of a note, the string still shortens to a precise length, and you get an in-tune note. Without the frets, you have to put you're finger in the exact location to get the right note, and that location is actually different than where it would be on a fretted instrument. So again there's that learning curve. You also rely more on your ears to tell you if you're in tune, which is tough with a bass. Of course you have to play a fretless with you're fingers, not a pick, because playing a fretless bass with a pick would be just plain wrong. Which leaves me at yet another disadvantage, since I'm a much better picker than plucker. Don't even talk to me about popping.
So with all that going on, you'd figure I'd hate the thing. But here's the rub. I loved it. Playing one note on a fretless sounds better than a whole riff on my Quest. I found myself playing little solos up on the neck, sliding in and out of notes, something I generally don't get into. It sounds like there's a bunch of processing on the instrument, but actually that's the natural sound. I was able to teach myself the new positioning within a few minutes, and I was playing along with the very loud guitar player next to me very quickly. Even the store employees didn't seem that annoyed with me. They could appreciate that the instrument seems to play itself.
Time flew by until my kids came up to me to drag me out of the store. Reluctantly, I unplugged it and set it down on a nearby music stand. Before leaving, I turned over the price tag hanging from the head stock.
Now, where did I park my Geo?
Tuesday, August 03, 2004
First, I'm a huge Elvis Costello fan, but have been somewhat disappointed in his recent releases, where he's gotten away from punk/soul and embraced more dissonent styles, using odd instruments like tubas on his albums. Interesting but doesn't sound too good. Second, I heard one of Costello's classical pieces and thought "eh." I think Squeeze did a much better job with this on East Side Story (listen to Vanity Fair, it's gorgeous). And that was 23 years ago. The Beatles did this sort of thing in the sixties. It's not much of a novelty anymore. Third, as a composer, I appreciate the need to "stretch" and prove that you're capable of more than just spitting out the same formulaic stuff over and over. But I think what composers need to understand is that it's that formulaic stuff which endeared the artists to their fans in the first place. I think if we want to hear classical music, we'll go to a Mozart recital. When I go to see Elvis Costello, I want Punk Rock.
With regards to "Classical" Jewish Music, I think back to an album that I recorded for a Chassidic Rebbe. We did that one with just an acoustic guitar accompanying the Rebbe, and it sounded wonderful. Later, a more established arranger redid those songs in a classical style, but I was disappointed to hear that the new arrangements sounded more like a "Looney Tunes" version, with stereotypical flourishes that didn't always fit the mood of the piece.
Those of you who are familiar with my music might be surprised to read that I would go in for this sort of thing, since I'm usually associated with more...shall we say...hard rock. But I think that's because I tend to work with loud lead guitar players. I actually got into music as a folk player.
As a teenager, I loved going to NCSY events and sitting on the floor with a crowd of kids singing Jewish Folk songs. As an adult, I played NCSY Shabbatons with my bands.
As a musician, you feel most fulfilled when you're connecting with the audience. There is no more basic way to do this than with an acoustic guitar, surrounded by a room full of people, who are all singing and swaying, with their eyes closed, feeling the music. When this happens, you're not just playing guitar, you're playing the audience as well, rising and falling with the cadence of the music, softer, then louder, until the whole room is singing, with harmonies, and people forget where they are and ascend to a higher plane.
Sunday, August 01, 2004
Today, my 15 year old daughter had her first paying gig on guitar. She played an anniversary party for an old Russian couple.
What amusement park is worth that much? I mean, for that, I expect a midget with a French accent to throw a lay around my neck. And even after you get in, you still have to deal with crowds and 45 minute waiting times for roller coasters. Which I can't even go on because I'm with the psycho toddler.
We searched desperately online for some type of old time amusement park, where you could just pay for the rides you go on. You know, a merry-go-round, maybe one of those little boat rides where you just go in circles for a few minutes. And the nearest place was Green Bay. Home of the Packers.
That's a long drive. But it was worth it. No admission. No parking fee. Tickets are 25 cents apiece, most rides are one or two tickets. No lines. And the toddler got to go on the little boaty ride and the plane that goes up and down and that race car ride. While my wife took the big 'uns on the vomit rides.
We spent about twenty bucks on tickets (and scalped the ones we didn't use) and a tank of gas. Hurray for Cheap!