Archive for the ‘Songwriters & Musicians’ Category

Feel Good Friday: Wendy Jans doing “Say Say Say”

Friday, July 31st, 2009

For anyone who doesn’t know Wendy Jans, she’s an incredibly talented singer and songwriter here in Nashville, and she’s one of the first people Karsten and I met in town six and a half years ago. She’s done vocals on one of our demos, and has been a fun person to watch grow and gain momentum. Here she’s recorded a home acoustic performance of “Say Say Say” and I think you’ll like it as much as I do.

Before Ghetto Smile, Frippertronics

Sunday, February 8th, 2009
Cover of "Sacred Songs"
Cover of Sacred Songs

Never seen h monthly before, but they came up on a Google News alert for Daryl Hall (yes, I do care that much, shut up) and had a well-written quick review of Hall’s Sacred Songs album:

So, in perhaps one of the most befuddling pairings of all time, Hall teamed up with King Crimson’s prog-rock progenitor, Robert Fripp, for his debut solo album, Sacred Songs.

[...]

The results of this unlikely pairing are strangely brilliant. Hall’s soaring vocal delivery is complimented by Fripp’s maniacal guitar work and layered production, and Fripp’s experimental touches offer some intriguing soundscapes that leave you to ponder what Hall and Oates would have sounded like if Fripp was in the group.

[...]

Oh, and we can’t forget the glam-punk songs [...] that could have endeared Hall to the 70’s punk scene if the album had been released in 1977 (when it was recorded), instead of 1980 (RCA apparently didn’t know what to do with it and shelved it for three years).

It’s such a cool alternate reality to imagine.

Yes, I’ve now seen Hall and Oates on the Daily Show. Thanks!

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

Everyone who knows I’m a Hall and Oates super-fan keeps asking if I saw them on the Daily Show the other night. Never fear, I just did.

I loved it! (OK, I loved it in spite of it seeming like they could have maybe used another rehearsal of the song.) They’ve made guest appearances on other shows in the past, but they usually don’t get to interact much before they launch into whatever song they’re there to perform. It was fun to see them have a little comic setup before they played.

And “the only non-douchebag on that show”? Gold.

Pimpin’ our talented friends

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Levi on the floor surrounded by his instruments

Levi Weaver (image from leviweaver.com)

Excerpt from a cool review of our friend Levi Weaver’s 10/21 show at Alphabet Lounge over at the CMJ Staff Blog:

Weaver is one of those artists you need to see live to appreciate

Very true. But you should still buy his recorded music.

RIP Danny Dill, co-writer of “Long Black Veil”

Friday, October 24th, 2008

Danny Dill has passed away.

Mr. Dill wrote “Long Black Veil” with Marijohn Wilkin, a that song has been recorded by Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Cash, Jerry Garcia and a slew of others. His “Detroit City,” written with Mel Tillis, became a standard when recorded by Bobby Bare. Largely on the strength of those songs, Mr. Dill was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1975.

He was one of the first established songwriters Karsten and I had a chance to meet and hear perform in an intimate setting when we first moved to town five and a half years ago. It was a pretty powerful Nashville experience to hear him play “Long Black Veil” while we were sitting not 20 feet away in a living room with maybe two dozen other songwriters.

Our condolences to his family and friends.

Songwriting and politics

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

I briefly skipped across something in a feed a few days back referring to this, but I didn’t realize what song the campaign was using, which means I didn’t realize the songwriter in question is none other than my neighbor, Gretchen Peters.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Once again, nice flag-waving title, and the chorus generally sounds pretty upbeat:

Let freedom ring
Let the white dove sing
Let the whole world know that today is the day of a reckoning
Let the weak be strong
Let the right be wrong
Roll the stone away
Let the guilty pay
It’s Independence Day

That penultimate line is the giveaway. The song, written by Nashville veteran Gretchen Peters, tells the story of the mother of an 8-year-old daughter who escapes an abusive husband by torching their house, with him still inside.

“The fact that the McCain/Palin campaign is using a song about an abused woman as a rallying cry for their vice presidential candidate, a woman who would ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest, is beyond irony,” Peters said. “They are co-opting the song, completely overlooking the context and message, and using it to promote a candidate who would set women’s rights back decades.”

[...]

Now Peters says she’ll be donating her songwriting royalties from the song to Planned Parenthood — in Palin’s name. “I hope with the additional income provided by the McCain/Palin campaign, Planned Parenthood will be able to help many more women in need,” Peters said.

It’s certainly not the first time politicians have used a song for a campaign without paying attention to its underlying message, but it’s arguably one of the more bewildering usages.

What makes a song demo work in Nashville?

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

The Nashville Feed has a great entry today about the “science” of cutting a killer demo, but the write-up goes on to demonstrate that it’s really anything but science. Several anecdotes from hit songwriters and producers nail the dilemma: music professionals often claim to prefer a work tape, because they say they want to hear their own interpretations, but a good many of the so-called “golden ears” on Music Row don’t seem to be as objective as they might claim. From what we’ve observed (and I’m not just talking about our own pitching, but what we’ve been witness to in various pitch sessions), a slightly less commercial song wrapped up in a well-polished demo has a better chance of being noticed than a slightly more commercial song recorded at home with just a guitar and some less-than-stellar vocals.

Perhaps the best of both worlds might be to make a home recording, but use a great singer. That’s an approach we’ve thought about taking, but in the end, we always feel our songs are better represented by studio demos anyway.

Anyway, the entry goes on to include a bulleted list of “how to make your demos real contenders,” and based on Karsten’s and my experience, there’s some good wisdom there. For example:

Trust Your Musicians: “In Nashville the session musicians are the best in the world at getting demos done,” said Hambridge. “Songwriters are not usually producers, but good musicians spend so much time in the studio playing on all kinds of songs that they often know exactly what you’re going for. Listen to their ideas.”

That’s one thing I haven’t written about often enough here: how impressive the talent is in Nashville. The first time we took a demo into the studio, we were completely knocked out by how quickly the musicians picked up the melody and laid it down for the recording. The guys were milling around, chatting with each other while the scratch demo was playing on the studio speakers, apparently not paying any attention. Yet when they all sat down to play it through, they had it sounding nearly radio-ready on the first take.

Part of that, of course, is song structure. We intentionally write pop songs, and pop songs by definition have straightforward chord progressions, so it’s not like we typically give studio musicians much of a challenge. But the quality of musicianship is so high that they even replicate the turnarounds and licks without appearing to try.

There are more tips, and some good anecdotes at the Nashville Feed. Click on over there to read the rest.

And as a bonus, here’s some video from the “By Surprise” demo session we did back in ‘05:

The ’stache is dead; long live the ’stache

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

From Macleans, a poem in memory of John Oates’ mustache.

My favorite stanza?

Hall was tall, he was blond
He could sing in falsetto
But John Oates’ soup strainer
Helped fill up his bed-o

The death of a child is always “tragic,” I guess

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

I started to use the term “tragic” in the subject of this post, but then realized it seemed redundant to describe a child’s death that way.

Found on Shaun Groves’ blog, but he’s quoting the Tennessean:

One of contemporary Christian music star Steven Curtis Chapman’s six children was killed this afternoon when she was struck by a car said to be driven by her teenage brother in the driveway of the family’s Williamson County home.

This is just an awful story. I truly feel for the Chapman family.

My family was having dinner one night when I was a kid when we heard some loud and strange noises outside. Yelling, maybe? And then sirens nearby. We all left the table to go out and see what might be happening. Two doors down, the neighbor dad had been working on a car in the driveway and it was up on a jack. The youngest girl, maybe 4 years old, was playing near the car, and the youngest boy, maybe 6 or 7 — close to my age at the time — had climbed in through the open driver’s door and shifted the car into gear, nearly injuring his father, and crushing his sister to death. My mom held me back from viewing the scene once she took in what was going on, so I was spared having to see her body being taken away, but it all remains vivid and gruesome in my memory.

I recall also that the family moved away shortly thereafter. I’m sure there were myriad reasons, but it has always struck me that it would be impossible to imagine what changes in a family when a young child dies.

All of that to say: while I don’t pray, I will definitely be thinking of the Chapman family, and I will be hoping they come through this intact.

Wondering what to do for Valentine’s Day? (In the Nashville area, that is)

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

I bet there are a lot of posts out there that offer suggestions for how to spend your chilly February 14th, and ordinarily mine would be “stay snuggled up in bed” but since my mom is going to be in town, I needed something a little better suited to mixed company. So here’s my suggestion:

Valentine Celebration
AN EVENING OF GREAT LOVE SONGS

featuring
Matraca Berg - Suzy Bogguss - Raul Malo - Gretchen Peters
with Orchestra Nashville - Paul Gambill, conductor

Grace Chapel
in Leiper’s Fork

We’re actually going to the Friday night show, and I’m sure it’ll be amazing. Gretchen, as I’ve mentioned once or twice before, lives in our neighborhood and is a fantastic songwriter. Matraca Berg is, well, only one of my songwriting heros, and Suzy Bogguss and Raul Malo are wonderful singers and songwriters whom I respect and admire very much.

And what’s even more wonderful is this: the publicist for the show has offered a 15% discount for folks using the promo code ‘honeybowtie’. Seems he saw my link posted a few weeks ago and wanted to reassure me that it would indeed be “something good to do.”

I told my mom, and she’s excited. Karsten and I can’t wait.

And I hope to see you there, too!

Twitter Updates for 2007-11-24

Saturday, November 24th, 2007
  • standing in line at Baja Burrito behind Craig Wiseman #

Thanks, Josh Ritter, for getting me ready for Monday

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

Monday is the anniversary of my dad’s death, again. It was a reflective time for me last year and it’s looking like it will be the same this year.

I can tell because last night we went to see Josh Ritter (whom Jae has been talking about for years but I’m just catching up). There was a song he played with lyrics that said “tell me I got here at the right time” and it was bittersweet and melancholy and painted a picture of loving someone through illness, and it got me thinking about the process of caring for my dad while he was sick and the acceptance I had to come to about the possibility that in one of my trips back to Nashville, I would not be there when he died. And that’s basically how it worked out in the end — Karsten and I had just made it back to Chicago that evening and decided not to go by my parents’ house until the next morning since it was already pretty late. And my dad died that night.

Sometimes the loss hurts more because I know I could have seen him alive one more time, but more often I know I was there at the right times all the previous times.

Anyway, it’s funny how once you’re reminded of something difficult, you can see connections in the loosest ways. So all through the rest of Josh Ritter’s set, I was primed to reflect on all kinds of loss, but especially my dad. And then he played “Kathleen,” which is one of the few songs of his I knew before last night, and I like it but it’s a tough one for me, because it so heavily references the Irish standard “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen” and that’s one of the songs my dad used to sing when he was a nightclub performer and is the source of my name. Of course, Ritter’s song goes off in a different direction, but I think if you carry the connection over and think about his song in the context of its heritage, it makes his song even more intriguing. The Irish song is a plea to that song’s Kathleen to hold out hope in the narrator, to recognize that he sees she is unhappy and that he can once again bring her the happiness that she has lost. The Ritter song is a plea to its Kathleen to place some hope in the narrator, to recognize that he appreciates her and can see her clearly and can make her happy even if it’s just for one night. Each song is a kind of begging, but from nearly opposite ends of the lifecycle of a relationship — and, you could even say, nearly opposite ends of life itself.

Anyway, I thought about that while he was playing the song, but I was also just washed away in grief every time I heard the line “I’ll be the one to drive you home, Kathleen.”

And yet I walked away from the show feeling hopeful, and creatively inspired. I think there’s another post about that I need to write, because there are other factors at work there, but I definitely took away ideas from listening to Ritter’s brutal and beautiful honesty, and I intend to use them.

Joe plays while Rhonda & her dad dance

Saturday, October 6th, 2007


Joe plays while Rhonda & her dad dance

Originally uploaded by Kate O’

A Nashville songwriter twist on the father-daughter dance when the groom plays and sings the music. Truly a beautiful experience.

Not that I’d want to be a staff writer, but still…

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

After a lovely dinner at Rosario’s (I mean it! it was good, despite what that mean old Chris Chamberlain would have you believe), we decided to drop in to Edgehill Studios Cafe across the street to see who was playing. It was two guys who sounded pretty good so we stuck around, but we couldn’t determine what their names were — there didn’t seem to be a schedule posted anywhere. (We also spotted Karen Keely from 95.5 The Wolf hangin’ out with a “Cutie Wolf” t-shirt on.)

Anyway, one of the writers announced a song called “Makes Me Wanna Pray” by saying it was on hold with Martina McBride (and I couldn’t help but think of Lindsay). The song wasn’t bad, but I was more interested in how much he sounds like Collin Raye.

Both writers were enjoyable, but Collin Raye Guy got me curious so I looked him up. His name is Jared Johnson and it turns out he’s with Big Loud Shirt. Staff songwriter at Craig Wiseman’s company? Now that’s a gig to have. I’m betting that “Pray” song gets cut, and I’m even betting it’s a single, and heck, why not, I’ll even bet that it charts. People seem to love sad songs that make them feel all holy.

Good, Bad, Ugly: weekend recap edition

Monday, August 13th, 2007

The ugly: we spent the entire weekend obsessing over fleas. In 8.67 years of living with multiple cats, they have never had fleas. Admittedly, our cats have been outside (on leashes) more lately than ever but I also think the flea population must be larger this year, probably due to the heat.

Anyway, we’d “treated” the cats with some over-the-counter Hartz crap a few weeks ago, but it obviously didn’t do a thing. Meanwhile, the problem was getting worse. I’ve been busy with work so I couldn’t do much about it myself and had been trying to be patient since I knew Karsten was already dealing with the rat problem in our back yard and I didn’t want to overwhelm him. Besides, he seemed confident that the Hartz stuff would work and that the fleas were minimal anyway. On the contrary, it seemed to me that if you spot one, you can assume there are dozens/hundreds/howeverthehellmany you can’t see. I regularly noticed fleas on the cats, so I printed out web pages with tips on killing fleas and left them on his keyboard. I suggested he just call an exterminator and get it over with but when he did, he only asked about the rats. He just didn’t seem to feel as much urgency as I did about having to coexist with the fleas. It was all starting to freak me out a little. Last week, when I stood in the cat room and could see the fleas jumping around, I had a major meltdown. Karsten felt bad for not realizing how upset I’d been getting about it, but I assured him that everything would be fine it we could just rid the house of fleas. So he picked up the Advantage flea treatment from the vet on Friday and we started treating the cats first thing Saturday morning.

Each cat had to be isolated so they wouldn’t lick the stuff off of each other, which meant that we could only treat three cats at a time: two of them were stuck in cages while a third got to be loose, but stuck inside a closed-off room. Meanwhile, we vacuumed the house, sprinkled boric acid powder on all the carpets and fabric surfaces and used a broom to push it down into the fibers, and washed the curtains and bedclothes in the hottest water and dried them in the hottest drier they could withstand.

By mid-day Saturday, there were dead and dying fleas all over the house. So I went around and vacuumed everything again yesterday, but they’re still dropping off. It’s gross, but it means the treatment is working, so I’ll take it.

The bad: it was miserably hot outside. I mean it. Hot. It was 104 yesterday. It makes me feel like I’m melting. And since we wanted to escape the house once we got through each day’s flea treatment, we were limited in our options.

Though actually, that didn’t go too badly: we ended up going to see a movie (”Becoming Jane”; it was OK), eating out for every meal (all the food was great), thrift shopping (I found some cute stuff), and hanging out with some Sam and Alyssa Cornett, two songwriting friends who were visiting from Chicago (which was fun).

So I guess the bad was really just that every time we stepped outside, we felt like we were about to melt into flesh puddles.

The good: even in my jangled state of mind, I wrote a few songs. Hanging around songwriters last night got me all fired up. When we got home, I dashed off two songs in fifteen minutes along with a few other ideas I’ll come back to eventually. One of the reasons I was so inspired was that, although the songs our friends were playing last night were written well and were enjoyable, they were so consistently about relationships ending badly that I felt double-dog-dared to write a heartfelt song that wasn’t about that. So I did.

Creative reuse

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

Good to see that Hall & Oates have a healthy attitude about allowing their music to be repurposed, even if that repurposing is done with more than a hint of irony.

Speaking from his home outside of Aspen, Oates credits Yacht Rock for rekindling interest in his band — and lowering the overall age of Hall & Oates’ fan demographic.
[...]
And musically, it means that the time is ripe for a Hall & Oates mashup album — the first of which is in the works from Gym Class Heroes.
[...]
Oates calls the final product “the most unique steps I’ve heard coming out of hip hop in quite a while,” and says he’ll give permission to anyone to use his music, so long as the intentions are good. “Once you make a record, it’s out to the world. Who cares?” Oates says.

I’m a bigger fan of Daryl Hall creatively than I am of John Oates, but from what I know of the two, Oates deserves most of the credit for this laissez-faire attitude toward reuse. Color me impressed, oh mustached one.

Picked a fine time to leave me

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

I keep forgetting to mention that the guy who’s painting the tippy-top of the front porch (which I’m thrilled Karsten isn’t going to do himself) is the son of the guy who wrote (co-wrote?) “Lucille.”

Now, come on. How Nashvegas is that?

Purity vs. technique in songwriting

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

Mark at This Guy Falls Down has some musings on songwriting and his “songwriting hacks” series (which can be found by riffling through the Creative Process category on his blog archives).

I just don’t think participating in the creative process is an area where you can find a clever workaround. The creative process is not one to be manipulated. I guess it works, if all you want to do is be a “hack”.

Now, I have a lot of respect for Mark, but hey, I’m willing to go toe-to-toe with a Grammy winner. Because I do think there are ways to manipulate the creative process, and I don’t think it necessarily makes the creator a “hack.”

Besides, most of what Mark wrote about in the “hacks” series weren’t manipulations to the songwriting process, but guidelines to make the process easier. Saying that you should read good material to be able to write well is hardly a controversial idea, as writing advice goes. Saying that you should work on one song at a time is a matter of preference and experience (I don’t write as well unless I can flit back and forth between multiple songs in progress). Of course, Mark did say at the beginning of the series that he was taking liberties with the word “hack” anyway:

I’m hoping to share some advice I’ve picked up along the way as a musician, particularly as it pertains to songwriting. I call this advice “hacks”, even though that’s probably not the proper use of the term, simply because we’re on the Internet here and it seems appropriate.

But I guess I’m arguing that you could talk about songwriting “hacks” in a way that’s closer to the “clever or elegant solution to a difficult problem” meaning of the word. I’ve even talked about some of those kinds of things here over the years. There are scads of books written about songwriting technique, and some of them get awfully clever with the difficult problems they tackle.

Creativity is a fickle mistress. Taking a purist approach to songwriting and letting raw emotion drip from your pen is usually the best way to get to the heart of a feeling or an experience. That’s the art of it. But once you have the raw material, there are definitely tricks and techniques that comprise the craft of songwriting, and knowing a little of Mark’s music, I know that he’s very capable with those tools and techniques. And I’m pretty firm about advocating that craft in creativity is nothing to be ashamed of.

I also think it’s very natural to go through phases where we vacillate from a more purist approach to a more crafted approach to creating. As long as we keep creating, the balance seems to restore itself eventually.

Best songwriters, via Paste and NPR

Thursday, July 6th, 2006

Paste magazine published its list of 100 best living songwriters, and Robin Hilton on NPR’s Mixed Signals followed with a rewritten version of the 10 best living songwriters. It seems to me that the Paste list skews a bit older and hippier, whereas the NPR list skews a bit younger and edgier.

Compare Paste’s top 10:

1. Bob Dylan
2. Neil Young (Buffalo Sprinfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
3. Bruce Springsteen
4. Tom Waits & Kathleen Brennan
5. Paul McCartney (The Beatles, Wings)
6. Leonard Cohen
7. Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys)
8. Elvis Costello
9. Joni Mitchell
10. Prince

with NPR’s:
1. Bob Dylan
2. Tom Waits & Kathleen Brennan
3. Paul McCartney (The Beatles, Wings)
4. Bruce Springsteen
5. Vic Chestnutt
6. Stephin Merritt
7. Sufjan Stevens
8. Aimee Mann
9. PJ Harvey
10. David Dondero

Personally, there are points on both lists I agree and disagree with: “Joni Mitchell feels like a token pick“? Huh? But the inclusion of Aimee Mann in the top 10 feels right to me, so maybe we’re even on that one.

And it’s unclear what some of the criteria for inclusion on either list are. In the NPR list, the notes on PJ Harvey include “Anyway, I really think if she were a man she’d get a lot more credit than she does. She plays guitar and rocks better than most. And her sound is so distinctive. Listen to the crunch of the opening guitar in ‘One Time Too Many’.” Are we still talking about songwriting? There’s surely a blurry line between songwriting and instrumental performance for singer-songwriters who use their primary instrument to convey melody and message, but a good chunk of that spills over into musicianship, arrangement, and production rather than songwriting, per se.

Anyway, I’m very happy to see some of my absolute favorite songwriters represented in the Paste list, like Bob Dylan (#1), Elvis Costello (#8), Joni Mitchell (#9), Paul Simon (#13), Holland-Dozier-Holland (#17), Lou Reed (#21), Elton John & Bernie Taupin (#23), Tom Petty (#29), Kris Kristofferson (#38), Ryan Adams (#43), David Byrne (#46), James Taylor (#53), Aimee Mann (#54), Morrissey (#57), Conor Oberst (#67), and Lyle Lovett (#87).

Though honestly, I’ve been influenced at some level by almost every single name on that list.

And to that list, I would add at least the following, if not a few more (though I’d have a tough time deciding who would get cut to make room):

Daryl Hall (& John Oates sometimes & Sara Allen sometimes) on the incredible merit of songs like “Dreamtime” and “She’s Gone” alone, if not the entire balance of the H&O catalog.

Tori Amos for the sweet melancholy and plaintive lyrics of “Sleeps With Butterflies,” “Tear In Your Hand,” “1000 Oceans,” and so many others. She’s every bit the songwriter anyone else on this list is.

Don Schlitz for sincere, down-to-earth songs like “The Gambler” and “When You Say Nothing At All.”

What about you? Who would you add? Who are you especially glad to see represented?

2005 Year-End-y thingy

Thursday, December 15th, 2005

1. What did you do in 2005 that you’d never done before?

Started taking anti-depressants. Got my first single-song contract. Somehow that combination seems very rock’n'roll, so I’ll leave it at that.

2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

My 2005 priorities were to improve my nutrition, improve my fitness, improve my finances, and improve and advance my songwriting. I stuck with those, for the most part. I think I let the nutrition and fitness slip a bit now and then when I was too depressed to pay attention, but I did pretty well on the finances and the songwriting.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

No one close to me, no.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Lordy, yes. My mother-in-law in March, and my father in November.

5. What countries did you visit?

I travelled frequently between the southern and the midwestern United States. Seems to me you should need a passport or something to cross the Illinois-Kentucky line.

6. What would you like to have in 2006 that you lacked in 2005?

A pay raise.

7. What date from 2005 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

November 5th, 2005. Something tells me the loss of my father will remain a pretty significant event for me for a long time.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Getting the single-song contract, I guess.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Being unable to keep working while spending time in the Chicago area. It has cost me professionally, I fear.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

If depression counts, yes.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

It’s a tossup between my Treo 650 and my 17″ Powerbook. They’re both rockin’.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Karsten’s. He was a total trooper.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Some of my relatives.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Into the new old house! Lots and lots and lots of money went into fixing up the house.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

The house! The single-song contract!

16. What song will always remind you of 2005?

Live Like You Were Dying” written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman, and recorded by Tim McGraw. It really is a great country-pop song, but its significance this year has partly to do with how ubiquitous it was (#1 on the charts, for, like, EVER and winner of who-knows-how-many “song of the year” awards), but also, of course, in my life, how timely it was. I just wish my dad had had an opportunity to do the kinds of things the song suggests — living an uninhibited life knowing that your death is imminent — because he was too weak to do that in any kind of physical way. But he “loved deeper” and he “spoke sweeter” (sometimes), for example, so at least some of it was true for him.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

Heh. My answers to these questions prove that the world is so not a binary place.

i. happier or sadder? More of each.

ii. thinner or fatter? Thinner but, in some ways, less fit.

iii. richer or poorer? Lower income, greater net worth.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

I don’t know. Maybe cooking.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Crying.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?

My mom is coming here the week prior to Christmas and leaving Christmas morning, so I’ll be seeing her off and then Karsten and I will probably spend the day lounging around the house with the kitties.

21. How will you be spending New Year’s Eve?

Apparently the neighborhood has a big party, so we’re going to check that out.

22. Did you fall in love in 2005?

It may be corny but I found myself falling in love with Karsten again and again.

23. How many one-night stands?

None.

24. What was your favorite TV program?

Arrested Development. (”Come on!”)

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I’m too tired to hate. I have some pretty annoyed dislike for some people, but it’s a pretty passive dislike. Hate seems so much more active and energetic than I have the capacity for.

26. What was the best book you read?

To be honest, I did very little reading, and what I did read tended to be pretty fluffy, like “The Lucky Guide to Shopping” or “What Not To Wear.” They were both pretty good, though. ;-)

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Was “Garden State” this year? I can’t remember. If so, like many people, I discovered The Shins because of that movie, and I love them. Also, I think Anna Nalick debuted with “Breathe (2 AM)” in the beginning of the year, and that has become one of my favorite songs ever (although most of the rest of Wreck Of The Day doesn’t impress me much). I think Keane got most of their visibility this year, too, and I just love them.

28. What did you want and get?

A single-song contract. :-)

29.What did you want and not get?

A promotion at work. Not just for the position of manager of our group, but for the next level of seniority within my own position (from Senior Business Analyst to Consulting Business Analyst). I think the perception is that I’m just not ready since I wasn’t around much of this year to prove my value, or whatever. It annoys me because I already deserved it for the work I’d done before this year so it’s like I’m being passed over for the second time.

30. What was your favorite film of this year?

Tossup between “Garden State” and “Sideways.”

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

Haven’t gotten there yet, but I’ll be 32 and I’m having a pizza party with, like, two attendees. (Everyone else is going to be out of town.)

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Oh, how could I narrow it down? I don’t know. It’s really kind of depressing to try to pinpoint.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2005?

I was shooting for urban professional sophistication with a twist of unexpected hip, but I probably missed entirely. ;-)

34. What kept you sane?

Now THIS I can get specific about. Karsten, for a start. Every day in some way, Karsten kept me sane. Then there were the long walks; the gardening; the cats; putting the kitchen together; Absolut Raspberri vodka & tonics; pedicures; girly-scented body washes; dying my hair burgundy.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I don’t think there was one, really.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?

I guess it was the lack of response immediately following hurricane Katrina.

37. Who did you miss?

Too easy. I missed my dad as he was before the strokes made him less communicative.

38. Who was the best new person you met?

I think that honor goes to nothinganything. Congratulations! I don’t think you win any prizes, but, really, isn’t my fawning admiration enough?

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2005:

We don’t live in years; we live in moments.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

I think, more than anything, it’s this from “This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush:

I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.

I should be crying, but I just can’t let it show.
I should be hoping, but I can’t stop thinking

Of all the things we should’ve said,
That were never said.
All the things we should’ve done,
That we never did.
All the things that you needed from me.
All the things that you wanted for me.
All the things that I should’ve given,
But I didn’t.

I love songwriter demos of hit songs

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

I realized this morning that I have a copy of the Marcus Hummon demo version of “Bless the Broken Road.” It’s lovely. If I could legally share it with you all, I would do so quite happily. But for now, if you don’t already know the song, you can just listen to the Rascal Flatts clip on Amazon.com, even though it cuts off right before the end of the chorus, leaving the hook and the chord progression unresolved. But it’s beautiful anyway.

Celebrity sightings: What famous people have you seen?

Tuesday, December 28th, 2004

Went out to Noshville for lunch with coworkers J & K and my Boss. Much talk of the celebrities they’ve spotted there in previous visits; my hopes were up for at least a minor sighting. But no. I must be the celebrity anti-magnet or something.

In Chicago, I saw Studs Terkel in the Treasure Island grocery store, and I used to see Dennis Rodman at various nightclubs on a near-weekly basis.

In San Jose and the Bay Area in general, I never spotted anyone famous.

In all my visits to L.A. during the time I lived in San Jose (I used to go there as often as every few weeks), I never spotted anyone famous.

In Portland, I never saw anyone famous. (Karsten did: he was out with at some trendy bar and she spotted Courtney Taylor from the Dandy Warhols at the next table.)

In my year and a half in Nashville, I’ve seen John Hiatt picking up his luggage at the airport, Johnny Knoxville at Baja Fresh, and John Rich at On The Rocks. But that’s all.

What about the rest of you? What famous people have you randomly spotted out of context, just sipping coffee somewhere or buying dog food?

The year in review

Wednesday, December 15th, 2004

Borrowed from and many others; edited for stuff I care about answering. I linked to a lot of stuff throughout; my apologies if any links lead to where you, dear reader, cannot follow.

Review of 2004

What did you do in 2004 that you’d never done before?

Ran a road race. It was the Park Forest Scenic 10, and it was quite the learning experience.

Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I did, for the most part.

I wanted to run a half-marathon (13.1 miles) but I only ran a 10-mile race. Still, it’s close.
I’m doing OK with the three goals around my nutrition.
I haven’t really made much progress on my guitar playing.
I have sort of made more time for songwriting.
The debt is effectively gone.
And I’ve done better with organizing my wardrobe, but I’m planning to address this in the new house in a major way.

What would you like to have in 2005 that you lacked in 2004?

More time with friends, more time for songwriting, more money to spend on fun things. I’m starting to get closer to attaining all of these, and I want that trend to continue.

What date from 2004 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

Work dates come to mind first: March 29th, when we launched our product to the corporate campus; November 15th, when we shut down the legacy product.

And, of course, November 2nd.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I dunno, maybe writing 15 songs in 30 days, even if that fell far short of my 30-song goal.

What was your biggest failure?

I can’t think of anything significant. I feel good about that.

Did you suffer illness or injury?

I injured my knee doing a 10-mile run on May 31st. I probably already had an injury, but the long run flared it up. That turned into iliotibial band troubles, which led to hip troubles, which led to possible bursitis and a prolonged break from running. I stopped running for the month of June, but spent July and August training for the Scenic 10, and I wasn’t fully recovered. I laid off for the rest of September, October, and ran a few miles in late November before realizing I still wasn’t recovered. I probably won’t be running again for a few more months, much to my frustration and dismay.

What was the best thing you bought?

My Clie.

Where did most of your money go?

This year was all about finishing up the debt repayment. And since I’m such a Quicken addict, I can give you percentages. Aren’t you excited?

The vast majority of it went toward paying off a single credit card. (23.94%)
Another large sum went to taxes. (13.53%)
Then rent. (9.27%)
Then another credit card. (7.99%)
Then savings for future house renovations, 401(k), and downpayment, respectively. (7.67%, 6.20%, 5.79%)
Household expenses. (4.58%)
Another two credit cards. (3.06% and 2.59%)
Groceries. (2.11%)
Car stuff. (1.66%)

Ain’t we got fun?

WAY down the list, you start to see things like:
Vacation (0.99%) - but this includes the trips to Chicago for my dad’s chemo treatments. Whee.
Songwriting (0.66%) - we’ll spend more on this in 2005 when we record some more demos.
Dining (0.65%) - we don’t eat out much.
Entertainment (0.50%) - and most of that has probably been spent in the past month.
Recreation (0.12%) - this includes my race fees and running shoes. Whoop de doo!

What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Our new kitten, Bopper.

What song will always remind you of 2004?

“Live Like You Were Dying” written by Craig Wiseman and Tim Nichols and recorded by Tim McGraw.

What do you wish you’d done more of?

Take vacation time. I worked a hell of a lot of hours. All that overtime certainly helped pay off the debt, but I have serious knots in my shoulders to show for it. Our in-town vacation, while fun, wasn’t nearly enough.

What do you wish you’d done less of?

I wish there’d been no reason for all those trips to Chicago for my dad’s treatments. But I’m glad I was able to be there and help out, and I’m certainly grateful to for generously volunteering to watch our kitties during one of those trips. And when I say I want less of it in 2005, I mean that I want my dad to be healthy again.

What was the best book you read?

“About A Boy” by Nick Hornby. Much better than the film, although I love Hugh Grant (or “Huge Grunt,” as Karsten and his sister refer to him) in just about anything.

What was your greatest musical discovery?

I don’t know, really! Maybe it was the discovery that I can, in fact, write lyrics to existing melody. Not that I haven’t done it before this year, but I usually choke when faced with a melody I have a lot of respect for.

What did you want and get?

Pre-qualification for the mortgage I wanted. I’d say “a house,” but we haven’t quite signed the paperwork yet.

What was your favorite film of this year?

It may be 10 years old, but I just saw “Before Sunrise” a few months ago, and I loved it so much. “Before Sunset” was very good, too, but it felt a little contrived whereas “Sunrise” just felt spontaneous and beautiful. Wow.

What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

My birthday hasn’t come around yet in 2004. I’ll be 31 on 12/23.

What is at least one thing that would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Not having to deal with my sister’s ridiculous crap on top of everything else.

Who did you miss the most this year?

My good friend and former co-worker, Tom Johnson. He’s a nut, and I love ‘im, and I miss hanging out with him.

Who was the best new person you met?

No one but Karsten has ever made more of an impression on me in a shorter span of time than has. I was hoping to find good friends this year, and he’s a great find and a definite keeper.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2004:

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, keep a brave face, and enjoy yourself every minute you can. Life is short and precious.

(Actually, I’m sure I learned that long before 2004, but it’s a lesson I keep learning again and again.)

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes
You just might find
You get what you need

Vinny’s

Saturday, November 27th, 2004

Months ago, a songwriter named Kirsti Manna (whom country fans may know as the writer of the Blake Shelton hit “Austin” as in “…P.S. if this is Austin / I still love you”), when Karsten asked her if she could recommend good pizza in Nashville, preferably Chicago-style pizza, recommended Vinny’s Pizza in Hermitage. Karsten has been begging to go there ever since.

So finally, tonight, we went. 28 minutes there, 28 minutes back. And for what? For cracker pizza. I kid you not. Wafer-thin crust, extra-crispy at the edges and soggy in the middle, with barely any sauce or cheese on it. The veggies were nice, but I could’ve been happy with grilled veggies sans cracker crust, thanks.

After this experience and many others like it in the past year and a half, I can only conclude that Nashvillians don’t understand pizza.

Which is sad, really. I love Nashville for many reasons; I plan to be happy here for a long time. But I must now plan to rely on homemade pizza and trips to Chicago for any chance at decent pizza from a restaurant.

[Incidentally, the one perk that driving to Bumblefuck and back affords is this: during such a long trip, you might get to hear nightfly's voice on the radio, as I did. Which is cool. (I think it was that Opry Mills "shut up and drive" spot again, but I only caught the tail end of it so I'm not sure.) ]

I’m back at home now, sipping hot cocoa, feeling full but disappointed. Oh well. They can’t all be Gino’s East.

Lighten up!

Wednesday, November 24th, 2004

How very amusing. I was trying to find information on when The Mattoid will be playing anywhere in town next, and I stumbled across this review of the “Hello” CD, which starts with the heading “Definitely Not Lionel Richie” and concludes with a question: is it a joke or isn’t it?

Um… hello?

What must be said about my experiences with The Mattoid is that, like perhaps a fair few Nashvillians, I first heard The Mattoid perform when he was using the name Urban Peasant and he played the open mic at the Bluebird Cafe.

Did you catch that? He was playing the Open Mic. At the Bluebird Cafe. Get it?

The Bluebird! Billed as “the legendary Bluebird Cafe.” Where all kinds of famous country singers have played. Where the biggest songwriters in town play every night.

Karsten and I were practically on our feet for his performance, it was so hilariously absurd and out-of-context. Meanwhile, the folks at the tables near ours were unrepentantly holding their mouths agape. Literally — jaws hanging wide open.

It was great. Performance art at its finest.

We’ve gone to see The Mattoid a few times since then, and he puts on a great show. If you don’t take it too seriously, you might just laugh out loud during the performance. And — hello! — that just might be the point.