I’m having some blockage. No, not the bodily kind. It’s the dreaded creative block. One song I’ve been working on the past week is almost done, but I just can’t quite figure out an ending. The section I’ve set aside as the bridge could act as the finale, but then I feel the song would end up being too short. And what I’ve added after the bridge as an initial stab at an ending kinda, sorta makes the song too long. I don’t know. Maybe I should just let the song write itself and not worry about the length. A lot of The Beatles’ songs run under three minutes, so if it was good enough for them…
Thank you, Bob. I never met you in this world, but perhaps I will in the next. You are very much missed by many, but your legacy is alive and well. Happy birthday! 🎹
I suspect every writer, be it of words or music, asks him or herself the following questions:
So what’s the point of having a blog if no one is reading the posts?
What’s the point of releasing music if no one is listening to the songs?
Why put forth the energy if no one is going to read or listen to what I write?
Seriously, what’s the point?
The point is this: be it writing words or music, create those things first for yourself. Do what you love and be passionate about it. Now if someone else happens to like what you’ve done enough to want to read or listen, then that’s simply a bonus. And if they don’t like it or are indifferent to it, well then, that’s okay, too.
Don’t create with a motive to simply be liked. Doing that only empowers others, not you. But on the flip side, don’t create with a motive to simply offend. Yes, art will offend when it points out the truth, because truth can be offensive to many people. But offending just for the sake of being offensive? That’s just lazy.
At the end of the day, if your work is important to you and you’ve left a little bit of your heart in it, if you’ve put a bit of your soul into it, then it will stand a better chance of resonating with someone else because they will sense the authenticity in the work. Because without authenticity, then the words you write, the music you perform, are just the result of empty acts of creativity. And seriously, what’s the point of doing that?
I don’t often recommend music to others as it’s a rather personal thing for me. And if it’s that way for me, I assume it’s that way for others. But with the release of Steven Wilson’s latest album, I’m breaking my rule. If you haven’t yet bought “Hand. Cannot. Erase.”, run to your computer, grab your phone or tablet, walk or drive to your local music store or wherever you happen to purchase your music nowadays (and you ought to be paying for it, but that’s a post for another day) and buy this album. It’s that good and, after several listens, here’s my unprofessional opinion as to why:
If you’re looking for a work of art in a world increasingly flooded with music produced only for the sake of money and marketing, then I highly recommend picking up “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” It’s a modern concept album loosely based on the real-life story of Joyce Carol Vincent whose corpse lay in her apartment undiscovered for two years. It explores how a person, in a world so inter-connected as ours via technology and social media, can end up isolated to the point that no one notices that they’re missing or even dead.
The first track, “First Regret” starts out softly with piano and softly pulsing drum beat. It moves into “3 Years Older”, an upbeat track with a very cool rhythmic element to it. If you make it this far, you’ll notice that vocals aren’t introduced until almost 5 minutes into the album, but the wait is worth it to hear some nice lush layering in the chorus. From there, you’ll be taken on a musical roller coaster for another 5 plus minutes as the pace quickens and slows repeatedly throughout. There’s a very nice piano solo midway through with a Hammond organ solo towards the end that is blistering! I’m becoming more and more of a fan of Adam Holzman’s work with Steven Wilson. His is a very tasteful playing with very little, if any, showing off. But when he does turn it loose, he can rip the keys.
Next up is “Hand Cannot Erase”, a straight-ahead pop-rock track that is a nice welcome after such an intense song. It’s followed by my current fave track, “Perfect Life”. There’s a nice dichotomy between the spoken verse of the first half and melodic chorus of the second. It’s a simple four-chord progression, but it’s such a beautiful song musically. That’s one of the brilliant things about Steven Wilson’s song-writing: he’s a progressive rock musician that can write beautifully simple music that stills sounds progressive.
“Routine” is another longish piece that starts out with vocal and piano in a softly melancholic tone, then moves to a quicker and heavier pace about midway through. And the vocal melody from around the six minute mark is one of my favorite themes on the album. The last minute or so is quite beautiful with Steven Wilson singing along to an acoustic guitar and soft choral backup.
“Home Invasion” revs things back up beginning with some Porcupine Tree-esque syncopated riffage segueing into a nice tight groove with a distorted Fender Rhodes leading the way. Finally, half-way through Steven Wilson brings in a bit of funk putting together one of the best grooves I’ve heard from him. Interspersed are a couple of soft breaks with some very nice lush vocal work.
This leads directly into “Regret #9” which begins with, of all things on a modern rock album, a synth lead. Adam Holzman really shines on this album and doesn’t repeat himself with his solo work here. He keeps it moving along, keeps it interesting and crescendos nicely into Guthrie Govan’s stunning guitar solo. If you know anything about Guthrie, you know he is a beast of a guitar player and is highly underrated in my humble opinion. It’s nice to hear Adam’s Hammond organ sitting underneath this section supporting Govan’s playing.
“Transience” takes over at this point with a foreboding synth bass note. But then a light-hearted vocal/acoustic guitar section takes over and helps elevate the mood, if only momentarily.
Although “Ancestral”, the lengthiest track at 13+ minutes, begins with vocals, it’s primarily an instrumental piece that continues the melancholy feeling beginning with a laid back electronic kick and distorted vocal overlaid with flute and strings. Eventually, it breaks into a dramatic instrumental section with a fairly emotional solo from Govan. After which, the song moves briefly into a nice mellow odd-meter section but then cranks up the heavy meter for a bit. And for the finale, it unabashedly goes prog-metal, retreats a bit with a little psychedelic flute and Fender Rhodes interplay, then climaxes with some welcomed guitar chunk.
“Happy Returns” starts out repeating the musical theme heard at the beginning in “First Regret”. It’s a laid-back piece that is one of the album’s more pop-oriented tracks that is likely to be accessible to most listeners.
To finish out the album is “Ascendant Here On…” It’s ethereal, relaxed and leaves one in a hopeful, positive mood.
This album is meant to be listened to actively. Although picking out one or two tracks to listen to that stand on their own is possible (i.e. “Hand Cannot Erase” and “Happy Returns”), one really needs to take it in as a complete work to fully appreciate what Steven Wilson has put together. I won’t sugar coat, it’s an intense experience and it may take several listens for it to sink in. For me, this album is a “grower”. It’s not one that immediately connects as there is so much going on within the music. But once it’s been listened to a couple of times, it begins to put some roots down and one begins to really enjoy the fruits of Wilson’s labor.
I recently came across a welcome address given in 2004 by Karl Paulnack to freshman students at The Boston Conservatory. In his address, he explains why music matters in life, in the midst of tremendous pain, suffering and even death. And the account of his most important concert is truly amazing and worth the time to read through the entire speech.
A couple of lines that resonate with me are:
"Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can't with our minds."
"Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can't talk about it."
There are plenty of other lines and paragraphs that I could highlight, but I would probably end up just quoting the entire speech. So instead of doing that, I encourage you to read the Full Text of Karl Paulnack’s Welcome Address. It’s worth a few minutes of your time to gain a better understanding of how music is life, death and everything in between.
Lately, I’ve been feeling rather nostalgic for my childhood. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, maybe it’s because the current state of the world is such a mess, or maybe it’s just something inexplicable. Whatever the cause, the past month or so, I’ve been getting back into comic books. It’s been at least 20 years since I’ve purchased any, so unsure of what changes have occurred during that time, it’s been with a tad bit of uncertainty that I’ve delved back into the world of super-heros and their nemeses.
One of the biggest changes is the current retail price of comic books. Typically, they are $3.99 per issue. When I last collected them, they were around $1.50 to $2.00 each. Nice to know inflation remains a life constant.
Another change I’ve noticed is in the artwork. I grew up on comic artists such as Jack Kirby and John Byrne who tended towards naturalism in their work. These days, although some realism is portrayed, the drawing is typically more stylized than not.
One last change I’ve noticed is that most of the major titles have been rebooted and their issue numbering has been restarted in recent years. For instance, The Amazing Spider-Man had gotten up to issue #700 and Detective Comics reached #900! The nice thing about the reboots is that there isn’t yet a large catalog of the second volumes of these titles to catch up on so it isn’t prohibitively expensive to pick up back issues.
There are hundreds of titles to choose from, and I’ve settled into four that I’ve always liked: The Amazing Spider-Man, Batman, Detective Comics (another Batman title) and Fantastic Four. I enjoyed these series growing up, and after several weeks of catching up with several past issues, I think I’ll enjoy the current versions, too.
Why do I collect comic books? It’s simple. They’re fun. Some people collect them as an investment, but I’m not one of them. Yes, I bag and board each of my comic books to preserve them, but I don’t have any grand purpose that in 25 years I’ll be able to sell them for hundreds or thousands of dollars. That’s just not what it’s about. It’s about briefly losing oneself in a world of grand imagination, where good overcomes evil, where heroes give their all to protect mere mortals and where one can hardly wait for next month’s issue of their favorite series.
Being a creative-type, inspiration plays a large factor in my work. Sometimes it’s just not there and there’s not a thing I can do about it. But when it is, it just flows and it’s difficult to keep up with.
We all get stuck in a rut from time to time and recently I was in mine. The inspiration was just not there. The well was dry and seemingly there was nothing I could do about it. Thankfully, while searching the internet for some tips and solutions to jump-start some creativity, I came across a post at brainpickings.org recommending Hugh MacLeod’s book Ignore Everybody And 39 Other Keys To Creativity. It’s a quick and easy yet valuable read for anyone needing a “kick in the pants” to get moving again creatively.
Some of my favorite passages from the book are:
• "It was so liberating to be doing something that didn't have to impress anybody, for a change. It was so liberating to be free of ambition, for a change."
• "If you have something to say, then say it. If not, enjoy the silence while it lasts. The noise will return soon enough."
• "The best way to get approval is not to need it."
• "Work hard. Keep at it. Live simply and quietly. Remain humble. Stay positive. Create your own luck. Be nice. Be polite."
What I came away with after reading this book is that I have to be motivated and inspired to do what I do creatively whether or not anyone else ever knows about it or approves of it. Personal sovereignty over one’s art is much more important than being commercially successful.
Since having finished the book, the creative juices are starting to flow again. Those little bursts of inspiration have started to fire up again. And I believe this book had a part in helping to bring this about. I’m planning on reading it through again soon and I’m looking forward to seeing some things I may have missed the first time.
Lately, I’ve noticed that the older I become, the quicker time seems to pass. Granted, this is to be expected. When we’re kids, having only a few years under our belt, it seems to take forever for each Christmas, birthday and summer vacation to come around. But as the years add up, our relative perspective on time continually changes. And what seemed like an almost eternal wait for the holidays now becomes, “What, it’s Christmas again already?!”.
I love learning new things and, like many people, I’m curious about the universe and how things work. I don’t want to just know about something, I want to know the ins and outs of it. I want to know why it works, how it works and where it fits in relation to other things.
But these days there doesn’t seem to be enough time to fit it all in. When I was an adolescent and a teenager, it seemed as though there was an abundance of time to delve into books and learn, practice and explore an interest and devote large chunks of time to an activity. Of course, then I didn’t have the time constraints of adult responsibilities that I have now: marriage, pets, job, home, etc. And they’re not time-consuming in a negative way. It’s just that those things require a commitment of a portion of time as anything does.
The difficulty now is deciding how to approach this challenge. Do I commit to a broad range of interests only to delve a little into each of them or do I focus on a handful of topics and dig deeply into what they have to offer? I’m going with the latter these days, I believe. To me, it’s what fits best as I prefer to know as much about something as possible. So if time and my mortality are limiting me to only explore so much, then picking a few topics, perhaps just one or two, and becoming adept at them is the way to go.
So, what are those topics, interests and activities I’ve narrowed myself down to? Well, that will make a good future post won’t it?
Well, 2012 will soon come to an end and a new year will arrive with all sorts of interesting things. But for now, here are some of my favorite finds that I was pleasantly surprised by this year.
1. Mutemath – Thanks to Keyboard‘s magazine cover story for turning me on to this fun and talented band that is highly underrated by the mainstream. And their live show rivals any other band’s in energy and entertainment.
2. Drive – I’m not a huge Ryan Gosling fan, but this movie is very good. One of those under-the-radar flicks that are so much fun to come across unexpectedly.
3. Edvard Munch: Symbolism in Print – As mentioned in a previous post, I really enjoyed this exhibit at the NC Museum of Art. I’d always thought of him soley as a painter, but found that he also produced a myriad of interesting prints.
4. Berryville, Virginia – I first heard about Berryville in a Wendy’s commercial. If you ever get a chance to visit this quaint little town located at the rural edges of northern Virginia, be sure to go. And if you plan to spend a night or two there, you can’t go wrong with the Rosemont.
5. Candy Cane Oreos – Peppermint flavored, seriously delicious and sold out pretty much everywhere.
Be sure to catch two interesting art exhibits at the North Carolina Museum of Art. One is Still Life Masterpieces running through January 13, 2013. The other is Edvard Munch: Symbolism in Print which runs through February 10, 2013. The exhibits present an intriguing juxtaposition between the subtle awareness of the temporalness of life portrayed in the still life paintings and the obsessive fixation with death offered by Munch’s works.
In the Still Life Masterpieces exhibit, the usual major artists are represented (i.e. Courbet, Manet, Cézanne, Renoir, O’Keefe) but my favorite still life was Sam Taylor-Woods’ from 2001, a 3+ minute time lapse video of fresh fruit decaying. It’s mildly gross, but it encapsulates what still life paintings were supposed to convey: the temporality of life. As the exhibit introduction points out, hundreds of years ago when painting fruits, food and flowers, the objects the artist was putting to canvas had long deteriorated by the time he or she was finished. And to a culture and time not as rushed as ours, this would have been evident to to the viewer, subtly reminding them of the shared demise of all creatures.
Alternatively, the Munch exhibit is an in-your-face reminder of death focusing on his prints rather than his paintings. From the centrally displayed “Madonna” to other works focused on death, jealousy, heartache, loneliness, Munch’s work borders on the macabre. The exhibit provides the viewer with a glimpse into the artist’s mind and heart leaving them feeling sad that the artist, for so much of his life, was consumed by darkness.
Aside from the depressing and tragic air present around Munch’s work, I very much admire his woodcutting and printing style. Not concerned with realism, he strives to convey what he is feeling with each bold stroke, each deep cut. Particularly interesting was his practice of cutting his printing blocks into jigsaw pieces so as to be able to ink them in sections. This is evident throughout the displayed works and seems to make graphic design done today by the selection of a preset theme and click of a button seem somewhat sterile and uninspired.
Frankly, if you wish to leave on a lighter note, be sure to visit the Munch exhibit first and then the Still Life Masterpieces. The missus and I did the opposite and upon leaving the museum, I almost wanted to shoot myself after viewing Munch’s work.
Your best bang for the buck is to purchase a membership and then you’ll not only get to see these exhibits for free, but you’ll also be able to view for free or at a discount any other special exhibits during the course of your membership term. Ticket and membership info can be found here.