Pause   Play

off beat article

how odd that I would agree to do a story and yet, the editors decide to
be:
contentious ?  Ironic ? hostile?  funny (as in ha ha funny)?

who knows ?  If I didn’t care, why would I have done the article?
Am I that damn cool ?
I agree with Ray Davies … everybody’s in show biz, from me to the Chee Wees to Drew Brees to Albert Ayler’s ghost.
Off beat is People mag for a small sub set of humanity. God bless em for carrying on, in the face of dwindling advertising and their own self destructively stubborn ways .

John Swenson knows our world, a he’s a real writer, thus I say yes to a story. I trust him.

Anyhow, they’re right, it’s no big deal to be on a mag cover.
Now if I had been on Mad magazine in the 60’s, I’d be proud.
But, the cover of Off Beat is not really a big deal.
Perhaps my inclusion is an indication of an expanding view of NO music.
I thought so until I read the piece and realized that although John Swenson spoke to me at length about music and the music I was releasing, the piece is basically the “White Boy Button Pusher” story, the weird guy, the outsider, the school of hard knocks and somehow assumes that Piety Street is a success.

Success ?  Let’s take all the success cliches and put them in a pot and reduce them to a coq au vin style sauce and pour it all over our lives.
Ooo-eee. fact is, I live hand to mouth, month to month. This is not a complaint, this is life. I work hard to keep my kids in school, in food,
in vehicles and insurance and there’s very little left .
The good news is that this will not go on too much longer. Either I will drop dead or my kids will get done with school and venture out.
Plus, it costs plenty to keep a joint like Piety going. There is an extended family. So, I work. I like to work. Music as work is fine.

Anyhow, a few things:  It was Howard Cosell who judged a band battle (along with Elektra art director William S. Harvey and DJ Cousin Bruce Morrow).
Not sure where john got Ed Macmahon from.

The periwinkle pasta was so awful I threw it out.

What else. I do live in the studio, not in the house across the street.
Used to, dont anymore.

Anyhow, I wouldn’t mind if someone checked out the music I’m releasing.
making more all the time. I falsely assumed that by giving John Swenson all that music, it might be listened to, checked out and so forth.
John hurt his leg and had to go to NY for medical services (NO is not exactly the Mayo Clinic these days, the mayonnaise clinic, maybe) so we had to cut it short and do phone interviews.

So, the musician angle was not to be. can’t expect too much respect all at once.
I’m fine with being a producer, who cares what people say about you anyhow?

The music will be available on this web site asap, as well as on I-tunes,
seedy baby and assorted digital vendors. There’s a bunch of stuff that’s free. Use it for soundtracks, do what you want with it.. just let me know if you use it and give me credit.

Off to see Phil Degruy…

MB 10:24 p.m.  8/28/09  new orleans

Peter Stampfel’s Notes for Dook Of The Beatniks

Big Slop Buckets/ Peter Stampfel

 

In the 60s I read a William Burroughs book in which he ranted about dumb American desires, including “love love love in big slop buckets.” Now there, I thought, is a song. Antonia and I tried writing it in the 60s, but it ended up a throwaway.   Took me about three decades to get it right. The sounds at the end come from a hog calling contest. Mark Bingham, who produced, arranged, and recorded this album, remembered he had it on tape,  and thought it would fit perfectly. As usual, he was right.

 

Ooma Looma Messy Dessy/ Peter and Zoe Stampfel

 

Our family was in Antigua, staying with relatives of Genney, our nanny. Some of the cousins showed our daughters, Zoe and Lily, a hand-clapping rhyme called “Ooma Looma Messy Dessy.” Now there, I thought, is a song. The rhyme itself, with  some variations at the end, made a perfect chorus. Zoe helped me with one of the verses. Later on I found out that this rhyme/game was also common in many parts of the eastern US.

 

Our Lady of Oklahoma/ Peter Stampfel

 

My Catholic upbringing shows up here. It keeps on keeping on, like the

Energizer Easter Bunny. The phrase “our lady of Oklahoma”

popped into my head one day as I was looking at a shop window on

Bedford Street in the Village. Popping up immediately after was,

Oklahoma? But Oklahoma felt OK. Just taken as a word, it’s a fine

word, as most state names are. And Oklahoma has a good beat as

well. A lot of states have good names, but not so many have a good

beat. Generally speaking, a word has to have at least four syllables

to get a beat going, although four or more syllables does not

guarantee a good beat. No disparagement intended. I have

a lot of friends from Oklahoma. Maybe my subconscious was

reacting to the fact that Oklahoma has had more than its share of

hard luck over the years.

“Bites the bag” was a short-lived late 60s expression meaning it’s

really bad. The song is a combination rant and prayer.  Rants are fun

to write every once in a while. Feels better to write prayers, though. I wrote a really cool tune to Hail Mary, which except for Now I Lay Me was the only prayer from my childhood that tugged at my heart. I also liked that it was shorter than the other prayers.

 

Wisconsin Honeymoon/ Peter Stampfel

 

Some songs have a chord change  where the bridge starts three half steps above the major. In this song, which is in G, the bridge goes to Bb.

I first figured out this change from a couple of Jerome Kern songs (“Long Ago and Far Away” and “All Through the Day”). It also comes up in my

fave Elton John song, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” This song was

originally an instrumental I made up just to

work this structure trick, which I eventually employed

in “Big Slop Buckets” as well as the last song on this album, “Holy Terror.”

 

After I got the chords down I thought, now it needs words.

I wanted to write about something really great, to fit the really great

melody and chords. The first thing that came to mind was the

honeymoon Betsy and I had in Wisconsin in the summer of 1982.

They really were the most delicious mashed potatoes in the world—the further north you go, the longer the sun shines in the summer, which I believe enhances’ the crops’ sugar level. We drove on two lane blacktops for almost all of the 1,500 miles we put on the rental car. In northern Wisconsin, we didn’t see any foreign cars at all, just like 1950. Every day was perfect (except when Betsy got a speeding ticket). The circus

museum in Baraboo had some amazing instruments, like these different-sized bells at the end of bent steel bars maybe five feet long. You’d pull

the bar and let it go. The harder you pulled, the longer it would ring.

It had a range of an octave and a half.

 

 

 

 

New Adam in the Garden/ Antonia and Peter Stampfel

 

Here is another traditional song we force to

submit to our twisted ways. Antonia did most of the words, and had

the new chord ideas.

 

 

 

 

Black Leather Swamp Nazi/ Antonia and Peter Stampfel

 

Antonia and I came up with this title in the mid 60s, and the song

followed about a year later. Black leather had a scarier image back

then.

 

 

 

 

Beware the Chupacabra/ Peter Stampfel

 

A chupacabra is a mythical Latin American beast that sucks goats’ blood. In the 90s I was approached by a guy who was doing a sleazy movie

about chupacabras that shape-shifted into bimbos. He wanted a

movie song. The movie never happened, I don’t think. Anyway, he never

paid me anything, and dropped out of touch. Delighted he forced me to write this swell song, though.

 

 

 

 

Dook of the Beatniks/ Peter Stampfel

 

For years I had this rant, which basically went, “There are no beatniks! Never were!” The whole idea, I had been told by someone in San Francisco in April of 1958, started when a bunch of what were then called bohemians were

sitting around and decided to invent a fake movement for the purpose of putting on straight people. But the bohemians had allies, most of whom were unaware of each other. There was the jazz-oriented hipsters, the folk/lefty crowd, the Harry Smith-influenced bunch, who thought the music was more important than the politics, and, hell, gays and motorcycle gangs. Then there were the young members of a growing cohort of kids like myself, who were profoundly influenced by Harvey Kurtzman’s Mad comics.

 

 

By 1957, a spirit of rebellion, often referred to as non-conformism, was rising throughout the US. Jean Shepherd was a radio personality who railed against what he called creeping meatballism, as decent a phrase as any to

describe the prevailing attitude of the 1950s. Shepherd was one of many who had a powerful compulsion to put on the straights, or as he put it, strike a blow against creeping meatballism. His method of attack was to ask his listeners to go to their local bookstore– an odd place to launch such an attack, when you think about it–and ask for a non-existent book, I, Libertine, by Frederick R. Ewing. Thousands of his listeners did, so many that the book was listed in The New York Times Book Review as soon to be released. An editor at Ballantine Books, recognizing an opportunity, contracted my favorite science fiction writer of the 50s, Theodore Sturgeon, to ghost a book with that title. A doctored photo of Jean Shepherd as Frederick R. Ewing, wearing ahead-of-their-time granny glasses, was featured on the back cover. Written as an 18th-century picaresque novel, the book was issued only as a paperback, and featured on its cover a period gentleman ogling a woman with a modestly plunging neckline (this was the 50s) and a choice line from the book: “Gadzooks,” quoth I, “but there’s a saucy bawd!” It was actually a very enjoyable book. As a writer, Sturgeon, who back in the 50s owned a customized pickup truck as well as a 12-string guitar, could do no wrong.

 

My point is that “beatnik” became a catch-all label for something that was too complex and nuanced to be described so simply. As an example, when I moved to New York City in late 1959, I got a job packing foreign car parts in the shipping department off Hoffman Motors, and one day my girl friend came to meet me after work. The other guys there had decided I was a beatnik, and my girlfriend Marlene, who had long, straight hair, used no makeup, and wore a Navy surplus peacoat, was obviously a “beat chick.” The next day I was approached, singly, by several of the guys at work, who asked to sleep with my girl friend, because, they explained, I was a beatnik, and she was a beat chick, and beatniks let their friends sleep with their beat chicks, and weren’t they my friends?

Ay yi yi.

 

 

 

Pass That Peace Pipe/  Roger Edens, Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane

 

This wonderful song was a hit in 1947 for Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, and I never forgot it, although everyone else did. Note Mark’s cool I-

don’t-need-to-know-the-stinking-chords guitar part.

 

 

Big River/ Johnny Cash

 

This was the B side of Johnny’s 1957 hit, and maybe my least favorite Cash song, Ballad of a Teenage Queen. Big River was as good a song as he ever wrote. Big River is as good a song as anyone ever wrote.

 

 

Laura the Horse/ Antonia and Peter Stampfel

 

Antonia wrote the words in 1967, but we couldn’t think up appropriate music for them. Over the years, a couple people tried, but no one nailed it. In the early 90s, They Might Be Giants had a label that released ten five-song CDs by different musicians, and they asked me to do one. I thought I had probably learned enough at that point to write proper music. It took me about five minutes. Hell of a good song.

 

 

 

Bamma Lamma/ Peter Stampfel

 

I had a dream. In the dream it was 1961, and Little Richard had not quit rock and roll. In fact, he was openly living with Tennessee Williams, and they were collaborating on songs. It was a good dream. So in this dream, I’m listening to their latest album. Two or three of the songs knock me

out. The other songs are all good, but not at that level.  But when I woke up, the only one I could remember was a B-title, which I confused with an actual Little Richard song, “Shout Bamalama.“ I soon realized it was a new song, and quickly wrote down the words. When I catch a dream song, I seldom remember more than a single line or phrase, but I always know what the song is about, and they hardly ever take more than ten minutes to write. My–probably most peoples’–creative mind(s) tends to be pretty wide open when waking up after an intense dream, and the words always pour out. If I don’t have the next line, I just go back to the beginning, read it over, and by the time I get to as far as I’ve got, the next line shows up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take a Message to Omie/  Sam Shepard

 

Sam wrote this around 1969, when he’d only been playing guitar a short time. He’s not too crazy about it, but I think it’s brilliant and perfect.

 

 

 

Once Upon a Long Long Time Ago/  Peter Stampfel

 

I got the basic idea for this song—that the Good Old Days were terrible—in the 70s, but it took almost 20 years and a number of false starts to pull it off.

 

 

Bad Karma/ Peter Stampfel and Antonia

 

In 1968, the Rounders had a gig at the Family Dog opening for Pink Floyd. We had just opened for Ike and Tina Turner in LA. What a roll we were on. Driving up, we picked up a couple of hitchhikers who were twelve or thirteen. They proceeded to go on about local prices, quality, and availability of pot, as a way of presenting their hippie credentials. I had just heard that middle-school kids were shooting up in study halls in Detroit,  and was beginning to realize drugs were not the panacea I had

assumed them to be. Like many others, I had been making the

distinction between “good” drugs (pot and hallucinogens) and “bad drugs (heroin, speed, downers, alcohol, tobacco). But I instinctively knew that drugs for twelve and thirteen year old kids was a bad idea. Years later, I learned that the brain at that age is still developing, and is particularly susceptible to drugs. It is more easily addicted, which is why many young smokers find it hard to quit after just a few cigarettes. After we dropped the kids off, we talked about this, and decided that something must be done about the situation.  Somehow, we decided the appropriate action was getting some Jack Daniel’s for the gig. The locals were outraged at our imbibing the evil alcohol, and stomped around the club tirading that the Rounders had bad karma! Bad karma! So Antonia and I wrote the words when we got back to LA. The music, however, was cliché boogie format. In the 90s I re-did the music. The words held up fine, though.

 

 

 

 

New Keep a Knockin   / old words Little Richard, new words Peter. New music

bridge, Peter. Little Richard, revised by Peter Stampfel

 

I went on the prowl for good two-chord songs in the early oughties, and I noticed that Little Richard’s “Keep a Knockin’” qualified. I recently heard the gospel song that Little Richard based it on WAMU’s Sunday Dick

Spottswood show, which I listen to on the internet every week. I made up the new words while watching New Year’s fireworks in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. I turned one of the original verses into the chorus.

 

 

 

Holy Terror/ Peter Stampfel

 

Another dream song. In this one Nick (Hickory) Hill was showing me this a gospel song called “Holy Terror,” which was simultaneously the wackest and the most amazing gospel song I had ever heard.  When I woke up, the only line I could remember was “Holy terror gonna blow you up for Jesus.” I tried writing more words in this vein, but they didn’t work the way they did in the dream. Dream song words are often untenable.

 

The only way I could make it work was to write the rest of the words as straight as I could.  Beyond the Bb in the key of G trick, I made this a three-part song. Most standard 20th century songs have an A part and a B part, with the usual format being AABA. But I like songs with a C part.

 

My wife Betsy and I saw the musical Rent when it came to Broadway. Something I really hated about it was a subplot involving a singer-songwriter with AIDS, who was trying to write a last great song before his death, which was expected in about six months. Wow, I thought, that’s powerful. So during his lastdying six months, he works and works on this song. Finally it’s ready. I was dying to hear it, as it were. Unfortunately, it turned out to be this bland piece of hackwork. I

was outraged. But the idea—write each song as if it were your last chance—stuck with me. Soon, I started writing a lot of three-part songs, because I love three-part songs. But I quickly realized that making each song three parts was boring, and an occasional lapse into the simple, dumb,  and cheesy makes for a greater totality of Art in the long run. And that’s what we’re all here for.

 

 

Thanks to Bob Christgau for help in the final editing on these liner notes.

 

New York, November 2008

 

PC story 2007

the moon was amazing, near full over the gulf.
How can something we see so often remain so compelling ?
the beach water is 88 degrees.
got in about 6:45 after a meandering drive from NO.
D had a bushel of oysters. He shucks faster than you can get them prepared and down the hatch. There was so much liquid in these oysters, gets all over you when you eat them. yum.

ate many saltines and more horseradish than at a seder.
D’s neighbor S brought a bottle of Crown Royal- with the cute little bag.
no, I didn’t drink any.
D drank some, says he’s slipped a bit in the last week, after a month or so clean..clean if you consider gobs of klonapin clean but after his post k coke binge ended, he had worse panic attacks than the next guy in line at Dachau, so clean is relative, as always.

D smoked a bunch of cigarettes, too. He had said he quit.
S the neighbor got shit faced on crown and sprite.
His wife and daughter came over. they were nice. Wife was stunning, especially for the Redneck Riviera- 41 and still wearing Barbie aerobic dress  with matching teen daughter. It worked for her. Her sister was visiting and they went off to play Scrabble.

Then M came over (the Coast Guard guy I gave the 69ing frogs to for a wedding gift – the marriage lasted 2 months-he still has the frogs)
and they wanted to eat, so we went to a sports/karaoke bar .
D sang “right place, wrong time”.
7 year old girls sang Amazing Grace, reading the words off the screen- at least     they could read but why were they in a bar at 9:30?
while their parents applauded ? PC is a Christian town all the way.
the bar was loud and I felt panic coming on. went outside and watched baseball on the patio. People smoked on the patio. I reached for the ativan.
a few more friends of D arrived and they ate wings and fries. Wings confuse me.

I had a salad and a near sushi grilled tuna sandwich.
better slow down on the tuna, as my mercury levels might be getting bad.
I begged to leave, so we did but they all wanted a real liquor drink… the sports bar was beer only and I had a freaking 32 oz coke, which is probably why I’m still awake …
so we went to a strip mall bar/liquor store- on the way home, at least -and they drank  at an outside table, looking up at highrises in progress.
Inside were many odd creatures , yakking away, drinking Jaeger-bombs. The place was a bright as an interrogation room. I checked out their wine selection and they had maybe 2 drinkable bottles !  Lots of boones farm.

D’s scene is like high school only they are all in their 30’s.
It appears that it’s something of a big deal to his friends for me to be here and they have things planned, but I told them I just needed to rest.
Still, I might go out in a boat and snorkel in 30′ water and spear fish. Not if they are drinking !

PC seems like atlantic city, transient, drunk, lots of meth kids,  ex-soviet and Czech girls on bikes, endless tacky souvenir stands and
miles of high rise condos and hotels in progress.
While outside the liquor place, a hooker in short shorts and see through mesh stockings with a halter top, was on her cel phone, having trouble connecting with her john. We had watched the guy drive up 3 times looking for the rendezvous.
She had a new Suburban with a baby seat in the back .
D’s friends were actually calling out to her, considered her attractive.  she was grotty. More make up than a network anchor and she’d already bleached her hair so much she’ll have that crazy balding part you see in 50 something gals who have gone ballistic with the hair alterations in their youth.
Not a great look…
I got that awful olfactory remembrance of spandex and vaginal deodorant- 30 years away from working at The Spa and I can still well up the smell of a working girl, though I wasn’t close enough to her for an actual whiff. Thank the universe for small favors.

we got home around 11, late for me . S wouldn’t leave, kept drinking and was belligerent. He kept being very physical with us, hugs followed by pushes and attempted head locks. I hid in my room for a while. D slipped  a klonapin in S’s beer. S passed out fast. We watched a bit of Iron Chef America while S groaned on the floor.
Eventually we woke him up to try to get him home- it wasn’t easy – he’s a huge guy.  S chased me with menace then attacked D in true fighting style , so D got a shoulder under him and flipped him over a couch.  Steve cracked his head on the floor and passed out again. Sumo drunks. He stayed out for a while.
At 12:30 , D got him up and out the door and walked him home in stagger step. Seemed like 3am. How’d I get those bruises ?

Saw S’s wife at the beach in the AM. she said “you guys had a late night.”
S didn’t remember anything past eating oysters and drinking crown and he wondered why he was so sore.
He did not recall his violent acts and we didn’t tell him that D kicked his ass.
That afternoon I did make it out in the boat and 2 dolphins came up as we idled a mile off shore.. never been on the ocean in a boat, never seen a dolphin.
I guess that makes my mini vacation a rousing success.

shrimp and tasso pasta

As I was making this I had to run out to get something. On the way back I saw a crack ho on St. Claude, walking in that determined but going nowhere step that involves twitches, head turning, quick stops followed by quick starts and frequent looking back. She could have used a good meal but food was not on her menu.

so, this recipe is a prayer in honor of the lost souls  of New Orleans, the many thousands of homeless neighbors, the squatters, and the millions of ghosts who live in the humidity and hiss at us as we ride bikes in the night.

1 pound of shaped pasta of choice.. I use Tinkyada rice pasta or Penne

or whatever you like

4 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup tasso ham, cut into matchsticks

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped  mixed hot and sweet  peppers of choice

1/4 cup chopped green onions

1/4 cup chopped celery

1/2 tsp dried thyme or fresh

1/4 tsp oregano

1/4 tsp  black, white and cayenne pepper

1/8 tsp onion powder

1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning blend (such as Tony Chachere’s®)

1/4 teaspoon hot sauce (such as Tabasco®)

1 cup (yogurt, sour cream or heavy cream)

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 pound fresh shrimp peeled and depoopified

1 cup of cooked chicken breast cubed

chopped dried shrimp 1/4 cup

1/4 cup  cilantro

1 chopped tomatillo

1 cup stock of choice

saute onion, 1/2 the tasso, peppers, celery,green onions until translucent

add cilantro, tomatillo, seasonings and hot sauce

cook a few minutes

add cup of stock

bring to a slight bubble boil

add shrimp

cook 2 minutes

add chicken

mix the cheese and sour cream (you can certainly use heavy cream,  but I hate it, makes me wanna sleep, cant tune my gt, it seems like a textural presentation thing as the flavors take over the sour cream as they would the heavy cream… enough fat is enough)

add the cheese mix to the rest and stir. put in the oven to keep warm while you cook the pasta.

mix it up and there you are.

good substituting crawfish tails or scallops, or skip the chicken.

guide for hip hop hopefuls (circa 1995)

Do you have a track?
Stereo or multi-track ?
If you do, how long is it ?
Are there any drops in the track?
Do you want to add any sounds to the track?
If you don’t, how do you want to get a track done?
Do you know your raps?
Do you have them memorized?
Do you know how long they are?
Have you practiced the rap with a track?
Can you do a double ?
Do you have your ad libs written?
Do you have an order of rappers?
Do you know how long the hooks are?
Do you have friends who come to sessions and talk all the time and interfere with the flow?
Do you get too high to think straight?
Do you realize making recordings is work and you must be focused on your job?
Do you know that it takes time to make something great?
Do you know that even the best artists don’t get it right the first time?
Do you think your favorite CD’s were done in an hour?
Do you realize that it takes time to set up equipment and that things just don’t happen as fast as you want them to and that happens in EVERY studio.
The studio is a laid back place, where you must be patient then be ready to strike when it’s your turn at the mic.
Studios cost money.
People who help you cost money.Do you have a track?
Stereo or multi-track ?
If you do, how long is it ?
Are there any drops in the track?
Do you want to add any sounds to the track?
If you don’t, how do you want to get a track done?
Do you know your raps?
Do you have them memorized?
Do you know how long they are?
Have you practiced the rap with a track?
Can you do a double ?
Do you have your ad libs written?
Do you have an order of rappers?
Do you know how long the hooks are?
Do you have friends who come to sessions and talk all the time and interfere with the flow?
Do you get too high to think straight?
Do you realize making recordings is work and you must be focused on your job?
Do you know that it takes time to make something great?
Do you know that even the best artists don’t get it right the first time?
Do you think your favorite CD’s were done in an hour?
Do you realize that it takes time to set up equipment and that things just don’t happen as fast as you want them to and that happens in EVERY studio.
The studio is a laid back place, where you must be patient then be ready to strike when it’s your turn at the mic.
Studios cost money.
People who help you cost money.

Recipe 61009

we are mixing so I didnt have time to do an all out dinner.
brown rice, salad and some non sleep inducing stew seems good.

1/2 cup EVO
2 restaurant pats of butter
12 baby eggplants – peeled
4 LA white squash
4 yellow squash
2 zucchini
1 jalepeno
1 red sweet pepper
1 bunch of green onions
bunch of parsely
fresh basil
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp cayenne
cup of lemon juice (2 lemons)
cup of Dorignac’s olive salad
package of button mushrooms (or fancy or wild, whatever you have)
mild Italian chicken sausage from whole paycheck
whole paycheck low sodium organic chicken stock
Pomi crushed tomatoes
pinch of oregano
tspn black pepper
kosher salt to taste
1 tbspn corn starch or arrowroot in cup of cold chicken stock

heat oil and butter at 300 in a crock pot
saute the eggplant til both sides are browned- pinch of salt
(if you use big eggplant you’ll have to peel them and cube it)
add squash and jalapeno and red pepper
cook til squash softens
add onion, parsely, garlic and sausage
cook a few minutes
add olive salad and lemon juice
add chicken stock
add sliced mushrooms
add Pomi
bring to a boil then simmer on low for 30 min
add stock and starch
stir

serve over pasta or rice

cucumber salad

3 cucumbers (fresher the better-mushy store cukes dont make it)
lemon juice to taste – between a splash and 1/4 cup
rice wine vinegar to taste
salt and black pepper to taste

slice the cukes thin
combine ingredients
cover and chill or eat immediately

My dinner with george july 2004

My Dinner With George (the Dream Is Over) 8/4/04   Neebish Island Mi

In the last year I have become irrevocably middle aged. I know that numbers mean little yet this was a bigger year for change than 40 or 50 had been. This becoming was not the sort of change of life I was looking for. Somewhere in the midst of all that is life, my energy dropped and my confidence waned.

I realized, weakly, that way more of my life was behind me than in front of me, a gruesome Hallmark moment. Why write another song, when I’ve already written so many that no one will ever hear?  The ghosts of millions float in the humid air of New Orleans, laughing at me, extending to me an early welcome to their club. Depression had been my normal state; this was new and different.

My response to this malaise was to seek help, not from a youth elixir or a psychiatrist, but from a young doctor who had just moved to town. After much gabbing about politics, she determined that my blood pressure was way up, in the range that a stroke was an immediate possibility. A regimen of exercise, vitamins, amino acids and flax oil started me back on the road to recovery. Seems like I’ve been on some sort of recovery binge since the 70’s, learning much but always needing more time to recover from something new that I discovered was wrong with me. This time was simple; get healthy and change your habits or die. Four months later I am better but still not close to my goal for weight, blood pressure and general health.

I am currently on vacation in Neebish Island, MI, in a cabin on the St. Mary’s River. The island adventure started with a memorial service for Bud Hall, also known as Shawn Hall’s dad. Bud was a piano playing be-bopper whom once re-bopped and she- bopped em all over Northern Michigan. He passed in December 2003, was cremated and this memorial was to gather friends and family for one last oo-bop-she-bam. It was an odd crowd to celebrate the life of a be- bopper, but then Bud was both a Republican and a pothead musician type. Most of the folks at the memorial were outspoken Republicans, as we learned by eavesdropping on conversations at the reception after the service.

According to the service program, the organist was supposed to start with Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father”, at Bud’s request and finish with Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage.” For whatever reason, perhaps because Bud was not there to enforce his will, these songs were not played. I could have played them! The 76 people in attendance did sing the hymns in strong voices and the Pastor rocked the house with both scripture and a funny golf/ cremation story. Short remembrances from Bud’s sons were moving and Bud’s friends remembered him in happy times.

After the service, we drove to the nearby Neebish Island Community Center for a lunch buffet country church style prepared by the ladies of the Community Center. Many yummy casseroles were served, along with ham, turkey and Jell-O based salad molds along side a Food Network style salad featuring baby spinach, fresh Neebish Island raspberries and a raspberry vinaigrette. The fudge brownies seemed destined to leave at least one attendee in a diabetic coma, although a few folks seemed to be there already. Yes, at 55, I was one of the kids in the crowd.

 

Two days earlier, I left New Orleans too tired to care where I was going, as long as it was away from the studio and the humidity. One of my main lifelong problems has been doing too many things all the time and not sleeping enough until I become incapacitated and unable to do much of anything except music. Any lifer musician will tell you that every other aspect of life can be in utter ruin and you are still able to do good work in music. I was tired to the point of not being sure even if anything musical I’d been doing was up to snuff.

 

Our studio intern BJ gave us a lift to the airport. The ride seemed apocalyptic to me, unused to the AM rush hour and I squirmed all the way while Shawn and BJ chatted. The check-in and the flights were routine. Detroit has a passenger friendly airport with reasonable food. I ate too many Fig Newtons and washed them down with some Odwalla that gave me an awful bellyache. The Saginaw flight is up then down, took longer to get our luggage than it did to fly from Detroit.  The rental car was fun to drive, a Mazda than seemed to have a lawnmower engine. The sights of the Michigan countryside made me happier. We had decided to stay in West Branch, in a hotel with a logging theme. The hotel offered many ways to purchase the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beer holder”, on a T-shirt, on a board on a plaque or on a coffee mug. It seems that most of Michigan was logged in the 19th century and boards sent east to build places like Philadelphia. After an afternoon of shopping in an outlet mall, where I purchased a dozen books for the trip, we settled in to a night of reading and rest.

While Shawn slept, I read, hearing the long reverberations from the indoor swimming pool outside our room.  I meditated, too, but all I

kept coming back to was why I have become a lousy companion, a crummy parent, a confused businessperson and a paralyzed artist. If I’m an artist at all anymore, or if I ever was, I really don’t know anymore. I can sure whine like an artist, we know that much. Despite my steady resolve with my exercise and such, I was slipping. It had been a terrible July.

 

On July 5th, I had experienced one of those moments well documented in therapy and saint circles, the instant life changing realization. In a nanosecond, I was no longer sure what I was living for or why. That in itself does not sound like much more than a plot device on your average networks TV drama or the subject of hundreds of novels and poems. True, but real pain has a way of reducing complex emotional issues into lizard brain survival moments. In the time it took to ponder the homemade ice cream that had appeared before me, I was over, done, I wanted out. Escape!  But to where?

No, I was not suicidal, this was just weariness coupled with a realization, valid or not, that nothing I’ve ever done mattered in the least (all Jimmy Stewart films aside). I might as well have stayed put in Howard County Indiana 50 years ago and taken over Star Roller Mills in Burlington and been a farmer in grain and livestock.

In short, I cracked up, just like that, like Humpty Dumpty. Lots of pieces and a month later I’m still looking for them. I know Humpty Dumpty was pushed by that makes no difference.

We were over at the Fischbach’s for what was a great dinner with equally fine company. Before the dinner, I was so exhausted that I had little recourse but to hope that copious amounts of the small batch Pinot Noir that John often brings back from wine country would somehow revive me. Instead I descended further and ended up delivering a soliloquy on the base elements of what constituted the road to fascism (obsession with national security, protection of corporate power, suppression of labor movement, fraudulent elections, powerful nationalism, disdain for human rights, using enemies and scapegoats as unifying figures, worshiping the military with disporportionate funding, male dominated power structure, more homophobia and rigid gender roles, controlled mass media with hyena people e mailing talking points from the white house to you via Fox, etc, the reuniting of religion and state, cronyism and corruption accepted and perverse obsession with crime and punishment)  and why the Bush administration had shown itself to be walking a straight line right down the same superhighway the national socialists had walked 70 years ago in Germany. Not exactly swell dinner talk, but I was tired of Bush Bashing Lite. I wanted things to get real instantly and if this group of left leaning artists and thinkers were not grasping what was going on in the world around them, well, dammit, it was my job to tell them. I jabbed Kerry, too, reflecting that if Bush were not so heinous there would not be more than a few dozen Americans who’d vote for Kerry either. Maybe the world would have been better off if Goldwater had been elected in ‘68. For some reason I have a misguided nostalgia for the days when a leftish thinkish person could actually have a dialogue with a conservative. Long before the neo-cons and the Christian right took over, not all conservatives were as vile as today’s version. Today’s Americans seem to want pablum in huge puddles, so they can dive right in while the Kerry/Bush machines tell them everything is gonna be alright. Telling the truth about our dire straits will result in losing the election, so instead of the deficit solutions and plans for Iraq and Afghanistan, we get a policy of Security stuffed fried baloney sandwiches that could bring Elvis back to life. Kill them terrorists!

Right here on Neebish Island, we can no longer ride our small boats the few hundred yards over to Canada without being filmed by the coast guard and subjected to eventual fines. The terrorists have won when we are forced to put men in uniform on duty to watch kids in canoes. Yes, the beer in Canada is stronger; perhaps because they spend so much less on their military that they can afford the extra proof.

 

After my dinner table monologue, (there was a lot going on and lucky for me not everyone was listening,) I gravitated to the TV corner. John had put on a DVD of the Concert For George. Anyone my age who grew up with the Beatles is an instant softy for anything that rekindles the musical power of 63-68 years not the nostalgia.

Here was a show put on at Royal Albert Hall with Eric Clapton and Jeff Lynne leading a group of dozens. It was so well done. I watched in awe, seeing Ravi Shankar and Albert Lee and Jim Keltner and Dhani Harrison play the music of George Harrison. Songs I had not heard for years came to life. I played them in my head remembering chords and harmony parts. The music really stood the test of time. I was disturbed by Paul McCartney’s appearance, something smarmy and condescending in his manner, but other wise the people involved were so right that it was eerie. I was in awe of the playing, the songs, the sound and the filming. Best thing of it’s kind I had ever seen, right down to a Monty Python reunion and little known Liverpool ukulele songster Joe Brown finishing with “See You In My Dreams”.

As I watched, I became more and more enthralled until that moment came upon me. A large group, lead by Billy Preston was doing “Isn’t It A Pity”.  I remembered the album All Things Must Pass. Then came the instant change. What had I done with my life? I remembered sitting on my couch fall of 68 singing my songs with Jim Keltner sitting next to me slapping his thighs, rehearsing for a record deal recording date that was cancelled the day we went to the studio. What had I done with my life?

I watched Ringo singing “Photograph” and remembered him beating his wife in front of us a session in 1987. One chance to work with a Beatle and he assaults his wife then keeps working into the night. What had I done with my life?  I kept watching, so thrilled with the DVD but lost. Eventually the party broke up and I walked out into the humid air. I asked Brad Edelman if his knees ever got better after his years with the Saints and he was upbeat and did a half-deep knee bend and laughed. I got in the car and drove home crying.

As I crack up, I go spinning across decades around and through cultures, in and out of obscure pop culture references. In case you wondered: years ago I tried the serotonin drugs didn’t work, nor did any of the more modern versions I tried years more recently.   The only thing that rouses me from my pitiful self-absorbed state is the idea of solitude, something I actually get about twice a year. Today I walked 6 miles with Shawn. I like Shawn but this was not solitude. It was exercise. Exercise, solitude, reading and working on a new piece or making a new recording of something that matters, that’s what kept me from cracking before. Now I’m battered by kids who need much then need even more, a business that needs, a relationship that needs, an ex-wife that needs and needles and me dealing with all of it badly.

 

Finding something that really matters is a goal. My job is listening to music. Can you imagine all the music and sound that hits my ears in the course of a year? I can still hear well, auspiciously for someone who now qualifies for an AARP card, yet my ears seem tired now. I’m tired of the assault of every derivative band, every half-formed singer or young jazzer who seem to think they need to make a CD well before they have much to say. So why complain if it’s my job to make CDs?  Perhaps it’s because I don’t do this for money. I have to feel like one of the masons building a great chapel, in service. It gives one something good to do, something that makes a difference, or at least I used to think it did. There’s nothing like having people all over the world listening to music you’ve made. It impacts your nervous system in such a wondrous way and is not directly connected to fame, which is typically a bad thing. Connection  good /fame bad. Money and music go together like dog food and caviar.

To serve God, to serve the universe, now that’s reason to get up each day. Make sounds for posterity. To shine up a bunch of ego driven music that lacks direction, skill, inspiration, taste and exists only for someone’s twisted need for self glorification at the expense of all of us listeners – you tell me if you wouldn’t be complaining under those circumstances.

So maybe I’ll find something else to do. Some other way to serve God, which seems somehow, opposed to serving the current batch of humans. At least my blood pressure is below stroke level. In March I discovered the reason I’d felt so rotten all the time, the reason I felt that there was a vice grip around me that was eased only by lots of exercise or self medication. I had lost touch with myself. Maybe it was in response to all the responsibility that has landed upon my shores. My feelings of failure and guilt cycle randomly, stopping my thoughts and calling up perfect re-enactment of past shameful events and wretched behaviors that cause my body to jerk and my mouth to sound off with an involuntary wail. That’s basically how I face each new day. Even here on the island I get up and worry, get up and wonder if I’ll ever finish another CD, write another story or learn to be a good parent. That’s it for now, from the slagheap of music history.

mic Rant

August 19, 2009  New Orleans

microphones.
seems like I spend too much time mulling over mics and their day to day use.
I see so many engineers and producers come and go. work at Piety for a day or a week or a month. They all use different mics and  mic techniques.
Sooner or later one realizes that what we do is all fake.  We make replicas. Model cars and boats, sound version.
What David Chesky does with such a pompous attitude, or how Dylan goes for putting everyone in the same room and singing through a guitar amp; it’s no more real than Dana Kletter ghost singing for a punk princess or Britney Spears auto tuned to submission. We’re all replicants.

We make sonic images- but it’s  the way we choose to mess with it that makes it or breaks it.
All those “Natural Sound Field ” folks who think they are more true to some reality or more natural are missing the point.
It’s not real.
Orchestra recordings are drenched with reverb, etc etc. Whatever so-called depth of field we manage to accomplish will be obliterated as soon as
there’s Mastering involved, so….
what’s the point ?
Musical balances, not recording “quality”, makes the difference…
Now, there are musical balances and there are “keep getting big shot producer gig” balances and there are  “Bass Player Sucks so this record is bass shy” balances and there are “Please The Mastering Engineer” balances… and on and on. Balances seem to have have ulterior motives based upon market and money and pecking order and radios and other sub sets of the dying world that was the record biz.
I can understand how many people get upset over with today’s sounds. To me, there’s more great music now that ever and we are freed from the tyranny of “commercial ” sound… that is perfect -gulp- yawn- vomit- “major label” sound… meaning brighter than the Sun, louder than
a plane taking off and compressed as a Black Hole. I prefer to let whatever works rule the day. Just listened to Jeffrey Lewis and I realized how
unsatisfying the music might have been if presented in an overly upscale way…. Now, maybe Jeff Lewis is so personally lo-fi that this record was made with U-47’s into Great Rivers into mint 1176’s etc, but I doubt it…
I remember all the shit I got over the Flat Duo jets record in 1989… live to 2 track with fx on the fly -direct to sony PCM-501… utter gahbage technically..
but I did have APIs on the way in…. anyhow, people lambasted me for making a record that sounded like 1959… not ersatz Stray Catish, faux 50’s embellishment, but actual Sam Phillips seat of the pants action. We did what we did. To me it was appropriate. The response, based on Money, was clean these bitches up and get a Radio record…. alas, they got the late Mr. Dickinson to do the follow -up and , while a touch cleaner and more
respectable, it still failed to put the band over the top…
Ok, it’s getting late and we’ll pick this up later

green Gumbo

slow cook green gumbo (gumbo Z’herbes) a tag team recipe from Mark Bingham
and Tanner Menard (actual cajun)
this is a “fusion” gumbo… still a gumbo, but with many asian ingredients.
The spirit of gumbo is using locally available ingredients.
this gumbo is obviously a gumbo but Louisiana people will say “that’s
different”. I like it, but then, I like greens of all kinds.
a dozen kinds/bunches of greens:
from asian market: edible chrysanthemum, spinaches, celery, bok choy
related greens, mustard, collard, turnip, potato greens, take your pick
1 lb. andouille cut into small pieces
1/2 lb. tasso cut into matchsticks
1 onion,  2 cloves garlic, cup vietnamese celery sauteed into roux
2 leeks
cajun and viet dried shrimp- chopped to dust
3 red chiles – in big chucks to remove later
3 tomatoes – chopped
2 onions
2 cups leftover pace salsa
4 roasted jalapenos chopped
2 cups okra – fresh or frozen
2 tablespoons file
6 cloves garlic- minced
10 shakes of liquid smoke
roux-  2 cups whole wheat flour and 2 cups veg oil, garlic and onion
2 Anaheim peppers
anise (tsp)
cayenne, Adobe, bl pepper, (pinch) lemon grass powder
1/2 cup of zatarain’s crab boil
3 lbs  fresh (or frozen) shrimp
directions:

clean and chop greens and leeks
put 75% of greens into a slow cooker put the rest aside in airtight bag
add water to cover greens and cover pot on 300.
saute meat, chiles, tomatoes,celery, onions, 2 cloves garlic, liquid smoke
add to pot

make the roux

add the onion, garlic and viet celery
add to pot
add spices
add  1/2 dried shrimp
cook for a few hours at 250
add okra
add 2 tablespoons file* (most people dont mix okra and file, but we did by
accident and it’s OK)
add  1/2 the fresh shrimp
add crab boil
cook at 175 for many hours
add the rest of the greens, dried shrimp and rest of fresh shrimp
cook another 45 minutes at 300
stir
serve over rice