My wife and two of my kids have blue eyes. My baby girl has eyes the same color as mine. She looked me in the eye and said, “Hey, we match… except mine are white on the edges and yours are red.” I have a new one minute song out today. It’s about eyes.
A friend gave me a couple of green bell peppers last week. My garden doesn’t contain any pepper plants. I love peppers but they give me awful heartburn. It seems more prudent to avoid the temptation. I’m grateful for the kindness of friends. My twins are convinced that they love red peppers but hate green peppers. They have seen and been aware of the green peppers sitting on the counter in the kitchen countless times in the past week. Overnight, the magic happened. When green peppers get ripe, they turn red. It’s nature and it’s beautiful. This morning in place of the green peppers, red peppers were sitting on the counter and their little minds were blown. They were so excited about the red peppers and they kept asking where we got them. Of course, I told them that it was the work of fairies.
I was playing at a music festival. Like all good festivals, it was a field in the middle of nowhere with a stage in the middle. There were tents everywhere full of sleepy music lovers. This particular field in the middle of nowhere had a neighbor with chickens. When those sleepy music lovers finally crawled into their tents at the crack of dawn, the old rooster began to crow. I had the privilege of being the first act on the second day. I grabbed my busted banjo and me and that rooster made a joyful noise. Hey, all of you sleepy music lovers, wake up.
The bone pile is a gruesome place. It’s where a good song idea goes to die when it is too painful to actually write. It’s where a particularly poetic line wanders aimlessly without form. It’s where a great hook is doomed to repeat on loop, over and over and over. It’s where a lonely bridge jumps into oblivion. It’s where a traumatic urge, a humorous itch, a perfect turn-of-phrase, and half of a perfect melody all wait for divine inspiration. It’s song purgatory. It’s the island of misfit songs. It’s a stack of messy notebooks. It’s hope and potential waiting for an opportunity. It’s the bone pile. I always have a notebook nearby to scribble ideas. It could be one line, a title, most of a song, a chord structure, or a melody. It could be a complete song that is not very good but seemed important at the time. I try to be consistent with the notebook but inspiration is rarely premeditated. There are many scraps of paper, odds-and-ends, and even a piece of toilet paper tucked into the bone pile. When a notebook gets filled, it goes on the shelf and a new notebook is started. Don’t ask about a specific type of notebook or writing utensil. It doesn’t matter. Currently, I am using a small notebook because it’s easier to tuck into a pocket or a bag to ensure that it’s always on hand. The important thing is that it is paper. I have tried typing onto a screen at various points but the results have never been good. Ink is fine but a pencil provides more freedom, permission, and forgiveness. As long as there are fresh ideas, I follow them. Whenever I sit down to work and find myself without a new idea, I turn to the bone pile. It’s amazing what a clean perspective can do for an idea. I’ve had a number of my favorite songs claw their way out of the bone pile. You never know what you will find in the bone pile but it’s guaranteed that the cupboard will never be bare. You can always find some tiny morsel on which to gnaw. The following is a list of my songs that have spent time on the bone pile (updated as necessary): Broken and Beautiful Cosmoline Ghosts Whistle At the Sky Lost Cause Kissing Tree Old Hymns Lion Tamer Thanksgiving Day The Locket Where I Go
I was working on a batch of cover song videos. There were three songs on my to-do list. I had never played two of the songs and it had been a long time since I had played the third. It became immediately obvious that attempting unfamiliar songs was inefficient (stupid). I swapped this list for three different songs that I already knew very well. I avoided a lot of stress and saved hours. In our culture, you can be ostracized if you don’t try new things. Humans have a natural inclination to choose familiar and comfortable instead of taking the plunge into a novel experience. I understand the sentiment. I don’t want to miss something that may be amazing just because it is unfamiliar. However, this attitude can be dangerous. I often feel guilty if I am not constantly doing new work. It’s easy to get stuck on a treadmill, chasing new things and catching nothing. I don’t want to sacrifice the songs that I love for something different simply because it’s a new thing. Do you ever find yourself constantly chasing the new?
I have been working on a series of one-minute songs. The goal is that this video series will align with “current trends in media consumption.” You can read more about this series here and here. I think the majority of creators in my field start with an idea, make a video, and then post it. That would never work for me. I am a creature of routine. I start with a calendar, define a rigid (and unattainable) schedule, and work to fill the slot. This might be because I watched far too much television when I was growing up. You could always count on your favorite show being there for you at the same time every week. For a while, I was making a series called New Song Nooners. I got some great feedback from people that liked this series and enjoyed hearing me ramble on and on about a new song. However, it was impossible to sustain a weekly series focused on new songs. That would require a lot of new songs. One Minute Songs filled the void left by New Song Nooners and by default it got slotted into Wednesdays at noon. It never occurred to me that there could be a different or even better time. According to the metrics provided by the robots, this is not the best option for my “content to receive engagement.” I don’t know what that means or if it matters. But it seems like a good enough reason to adjust my pre-ordained schedule. One Minute Songs will now happen on Tuesday mornings. You probably won’t notice. This whole thing made me wonder about how many aspects of my routine are completely arbitrary. Maybe tomorrow I will drink my coffee at 7:40 instead of 7:50. I hope you are enjoying One Minute Songs. If you have any suggestions that you think would make a great one-minute song, reply to this message and let me know.
I’ve been enjoying this verse lately. It’s 20 years old and I’m still proud of it. I find it amusing in a completely different way than when it was new. You say that you love to get lost in my eyes I say that’s a scary place without a map You say that in my eyes you can see your own reflection I say if you see yourself, you’re not lost with me
I have kids. This means that when I watch a movie, it is a kid’s movie. This is fine because my favorite genre of film is “dumb kid’s movie.” This might not be an official category that is recognized by the academy when they are handing out awards but it will always be my favorite. Today was my turn to choose. We watched the Apple Dumpling Gang. It is a classic. You can keep all of the new films with their emotions and their feelings and their well-thought-out plots. This movie has none of that. It’s a western with horses, gun fights, gambling, bumbling and loveable crooks, whiskey, cute kids, and a barely coherent storyline. I truly believe the world would be a better place if every human being was required to watch this movie once a year.
My wife wanted to make amazing chocolate cupcakes for a special occasion. For some reason, maybe barometric pressure, the cupcakes got weird and crumbly. She was able to patch together enough beautiful cupcakes for the special occasion but was stuck with a tray of cupcake pieces. Thanks to google, peanut butter icing, and some melted chocolate we have some magic cakeballs. They turned out far better than the thing they were intended to be when they were created. Then I realized this was a perfect metaphor. What crumbly disaster have you turned into cakeballs?
I was planning on having a “No Plan Friday.” That is what I call it when I do a Livestream on Friday afternoons. It looked like the “No Plan Friday” might turn into a “Fiddlin’ Friday.” That is what we call it when my kid plays fiddle with me on a Livestream on a Friday afternoon. But then she had a change of plans and was spending time with some friends. No problem, we can go to the fallback plan which was a “No Plan Friday.” But then I made lunch for the live studio audience. They decided to list all of their plans for the rest of the day. I completely lost track of time. I remember sitting there and thinking that there was something I was meant to be doing. I missed the show but I did have a lovely pretend tea party with some really nice dolls. I guess Friday had other plans.
It was a rather overcast day. It was alternating between spitting rain and oppressive humidity. Unexpectedly, the clouds parted and the sunshine beamed down. It was glorious and it reminded me of you. I am the luckiest man alive. I make songs and people like you listen to them. Thank you so much for being interested in my songs. You are my sunshine on a cloudy day.
If you want to write a good song, there is one thing that you must do first. You must get very comfortable writing bad songs. Be proud of your mediocre songs and keep writing. I have never hummed one of my very forgettable tunes while driving down the road. I’ve never sung one of my boring melodies while in the shower. I’ve written thousands of bad songs and I will keep writing. Get comfortable writing bad songs and eventually one of them may become a good song.
Broken and Beautiful – Part 5
Today we will examine iterations of the third verse from my song called Broken and Beautiful. If you want to read more about this song, click here. 1. I thought this was a finished verse. What I mean is that it wasn’t just the first thing that I threw at the wall. These words had some amount of spit and polish to them. But it didn’t feel right. I think it’s too many words. It tries to say too much and ends up not saying anything. I know you’re tired And you’re thinking about giving up You’ve been kicked around and lied to You’ve been chewed up and spit out You’re a fish out of water And you’re drowning in your drink You’ve been spun around and blindfolded And you’re falling through thin ice It’s like your hair is on fire And you know that it’s so hard just to be nice You feel mean And there’s nothing you can do Your smile has packed up and left town It hasn’t been seen in a long time It’s probably for their own good It’s for your own good It could be so good 2. This version was trying to say something specific but the voice was wrong. It gets closer to the right sentiment but it doesn’t match the tone of the other verses. They said you were special They said always look on the sunny side They said fit in, don’t stand out Slip on through, everything will be fine They said, smile, it cant be that bad Turn that frown upside down You feel like your hair is on fire And you know that it’s so hard just to be nice You feel mean And there’s nothing you can do Your smile has packed up and left town It hasn’t been seen in a long time It’s probably for their own good It’s for your own good It could be so good 3. Finally, I think this is the one. The entire song leads us to the last line of this verse. I don't think I’m being overly dramatic when I say that it’s the most important line I’ve ever written. You are enough. They told you that you were special But you’re feeling so empty now They said if you’re ever feeling bad Just turn that frown upside down You feel like your hair is on fire It’s so hard just to be nice You’re feeling mean and there’s nothing you can do Your smile has packed up and left town It hasn’t been seen in a long time It’s probably for their own good It’s for your own good But I want you to know that you are enough
When writing a song, you can start with a melody or some words. That’s it. Those are the only two options. Most songwriters have a preference. If you are a melody person, you groove on your melody until you find some words. If you are more of a words person, you write the words and work to find some music that fits. It would take a bolt of lightning from a divine muse to get both words and a melody at the exact-same moment. I tend to be more of the words persuasion. My song called Cosmoline crept in through the back door. The word Cosmoline was on my list of words that I like. I don’t remember how it ended up on my list but there it was. The chorus was easy. The word Cosmoline repeats over a standard folk progression. It was almost like cheating. For a while, I was stuck with only a chorus. I had no idea where a song about a petroleum-based lubricant was going to end up. Then one day, I sat down and wrote the melody for the verses. Having a melody did not make the direction of the song more clear. I don’t think I had ever written a song when the process began with a complete melody and zero words. I’d like to claim a bolt of lightning but the truth is that I played that melody over and over and over until I entered a total trance-like state. Then I fell asleep. When I woke up, I played it over and over many more times and eventually found some words to match the melody. It was fun to sneak in through the back door but I don’t want to make it a habit. P.S. When I wrote the melody, I had been listening to Emmy Lou Harris’s record called Angel Band.
I’ve written songs about pancakes, chickens, dying on the toilet, and seagulls farting. I think my strangest song topic is a petroleum-based lubricant. Cosmoline is a brand-name lubricant that is often used by the military. Initially, it is greasy like all other kinds of oil. After some time it becomes waxy and impossible to remove without scraping and much cursing. It’s great for keeping a military-issue jeep free of corrosion. It’s also a great metaphor for the way our memories deteriorate over time. A mental image is clear and slick at first and over time it becomes gummy, waxy, and a little bit crusty.
Sometimes on Friday afternoons, I do a livestream with my friends on Facebook. When I can convince (beg and bribe) my oldest offspring to bust out her violin, the show is a Fiddlin’ Friday. There is no greater thrill than playing music with family. If you listen closely to our latest show, you will hear some tiny, out-of-tune ukuleles banging along. Someday my three children will have their own band and I may be lucky enough to carry their gear.
Several days ago, I had some harsh words regarding the new Obi-Wan Kenobi series. I love all things Star Wars but felt the first two episodes of this series were very slow. Now that I have watched the entire thing, I feel it’s only fair that I give an update. Obi-Wan is one of my favorite characters in the Star Wars universe and I was very happy to see this part of his story. It had lightsaber battles, plenty of one-liners, great secondary characters, and some interesting character development. The problem is that we already know how the story ends for all of the main characters. This show is a little sliver of the Obi-Wan story and we have already seen his beginning and end. It’s hard to manufacture suspense when there is a very clear threshold for potential peril. If only real life worked the same way.
Did you hear that? It is a billion tiny whispers all happening at the same time. In his book called This Is Marketing, Seth Godin refers to the internet as a billion tiny whispers. I like this idea. I can choose to listen to whichever whisper seems the most urgent. I can ignore all of the whispers that are not interesting (even if they may be incredibly important). Some people whisper and think they are yelling. It may look like a yell but a single voice can never be more than a whisper. When you scream into the raging wind, anybody standing directly next to you may hear you but your scream won’t travel very far before it diminishes and becomes the same as all the other whispers. You could discover a whisper that may change your life forever. There are a lot of positive, life-affirming whispers out there. But there is also a constant churn of negative noise that can be an overwhelming racket. This system has power as well as limitations. We can choose what we want to hear. We must choose wisely. The beauty of our system is that your whisper holds the same potential as all of the other whispers. The only way to magnify your whisper is to find another person who is willing to whisper with you. Be content to whisper hope into the world and encourage others to whisper that same hope. With enough people whispering together, you will soon have a roaring message that everyone can hear. We need your whisper.
Broken and Beautiful – Part 4
I am working on a new song called Broken and Beautiful. It’s actually an old idea that was resurrected from the bone pile. If you want the back story, you can check out part 1 and part 2. I thought I finally had all of the words figured out. Upon further inspection, the second verse was wrong. I didn’t have to change much. A handful of new words pushed it in a completely different direction. I believe we now have a perfect second verse. I guess I better have a go at the third verse before we hit the studio. (verse 2) To get out of bed in the morning You had to sell your soul No, it wasn’t a deal with the devil You had to snuggle up with your own demons Just to live with yourself You got to be somebody else Just to give it a go one more time You gotta be better than this (new verse 2) To get out of bed in the morning Takes everything that you’ve got You feel like you’re never enough If only you could feel strong For you to live with yourself You got to be somebody else Just to give it a go one more time You gotta be someone better than this
Monday is fine. It can be difficult to get moving on a Monday after a long weekend. A Monday can be miserable but you know what you are getting with Monday. Monday is low expectations and very few surprises. Wednesday is half way to the next weekend. It is full of hope and promise. Everything feels possible on Wednesday. Tuesday is brutal. It is so far away from both the expectations of Monday and the hope of Wednesday. You don’t get much done on Monday because it is a Monday. On Wednesday you are already thinking about Friday. Most of the work must be accomplished on Tuesday. There are rarely great holidays on a Tuesday. There is never any good mail and dinner is always boring on Tuesday. Tuesday was the worst day… until we started our Happy Hour!!! Every Tuesday at 4:00 EST, we livestream on Facebook for an hour. If it wasn’t for this hour spent with the Weird Folk, I would continue to hate Tuesday. In all honesty, I don’t know what I would do without our friends that show up every Tuesday to spend some time. Thank you for making Tuesday better than Monday and Wednesday.
I was scheduled to kick off the final day of the RTE 22 Rock and Blues Festival. This was the first time they planned music for the third day of their event. The lineup was comprised of acoustic acts to keep things simple for the new, bonus day. The sound guy didn’t get the memo regarding the extra day. He started tearing down the stage early this morning. When he was informed that there would be more music happening, he made some attempts to put things into working order but was never able to find sound. Two hours after my scheduled start time we finally got underway. One of the other performers lives nearby and was able to save the day by going home to get his sound system. In the meantime, I did what I do best. Fortunately, I am very loud. There was something beautiful about playing an unplugged version of Chicken Skin Shake while standing in front of a giant stack of silent speakers. Keep the customer satisfied. The masses must be entertained.
I am a huge Star Wars fan. From the beginning of the franchise, it’s been a part of my life. When I was a kid, a sick day from school included a Star Wars movie marathon. It was only three movies back then. I am also a tolerant Star Wars fan. I love all of the new stuff. I have watched and enjoyed all of the random cartoons. I even liked Solo. We finally took the plunge and started watching the new Obi-Wan series. We just finished the second episode. There are a lot of great throwbacks to the original world. There is an adorable little girl that grows up to be Princess Leia. The problem is that the old-school fans are my age. We are no longer young. The new Obi-Wan series is good but it is slow. I struggle to stay awake. Unwavering Laws of the Universe #2: Entertainers must know their audience. Putting them to sleep is not entertaining.
Today’s Dispatch is a small bit of fiction. I don’t think it is going anywhere. Who knows, maybe there is a Weird Folk novel in the future. I had a bottle of whiskey that I bought with the tip money I’d been saving from playing songs out in front of the post office. I was saving it for a special occasion. It’s Friday night, I figured that was special enough. I looked in the cupboard and it was gone. Then I remembered that Thursdays are special too.
I informed my twins (age 6) that we are halfway through their summer break. I asked if there is anything that they desperately want to do before they go back to school. I thought they might mention a baseball game, museum, amusement park, more camping, or anything equally epic. It turns out that the absolute, most important priority is a picnic. Today they are smearing some peanut butter and jelly. We will be dining with the ants. Keep it simple my friends.
Common sense dictates that a song should never begin with the phrase, “that smell gets me every time.” If you are the type of person that abandons a song during the first line, this song is not for you. It is a long-haul type of song. To enjoy this song, you must possess enough patience to reach the second line. “It’s a coffee and a hot griddle.” That smell gets me every time It’s a coffee and a hot griddle You loved to make me some pancakes Your kitchen was a special place Pancakes
On vacation last week, we saw a quote regarding Thomas Edison’s work habits and Mrs. Brother Jack said that he and I have similar creative output. I was honored to be compared to such a prolific idea machine. Edison intended that he and all of the inventors that worked for him would produce “a minor invention every ten days and a big thing every six months or so.” My loose creative guidelines involve a song idea every week, a finished song every six weeks or so, and a polished studio project every six months. Do you have any output goals in your life (work, hobby, or leisure)?
I can speak from experience that a camping tent marketed as a “six-person tent” comfortably holds a family of three. I have been reminded why we have done very little tent camping since becoming a family of five.
A set list is a standard tool used by performers all over the world since the beginning of time. To make a set list, you write down the songs that you intend to play in an order that you think will be pleasing. Sometimes a lot of careful planning is done to ensure the setlist will take the listener on an intentional journey. Most often a setlist is frantically scribbled down on a bar napkin ten minutes before the show. I have been known to compose setlists across this full spectrum of preparation. In the past, I had a setlist for every live event. Even for an open mic, I would burn plenty of time and brain power trying to plan the perfect song. In May 2020, I started playing a regular, live stream show on Friday afternoons that we affectionately called “No Plan Friday.” I wanted to play without a net. I did not want a preconceived plan. I think as a performer, my job is to take the audience on a journey. A well-defined setlist can be great for taking that emotional journey if the listener is beginning at the same point as you. I think the mark of a truly great performer is the ability to gauge where a listener already is on the journey and begin from that point. It should not be my ego taking you somewhere. It needs to be all of us going there together. No Plan Fridays have allowed me to work on this skill. I rarely make a setlist at all. If I have a set list, I am comfortable departing from that list. To quote Captain Jack Sparrow, “the setlist (pirate code) is more of a guideline.” It’s good to have a map of the territory but more important to be able to look around and see where you are.
There are days when it continues to be hard to locate a port in the storm. On rare days, there is no storm at all. Most of the time, I drop anchor and weather the winds. Even though we are tossed about Just trying to hang on We got no ritual, no routine No port in that storm I look up at the sky And the stars still shine And I am confident we’ll find I am sure that we We’re gonna find We will find our way We’ll find our way Again My song called Bleeding Time is two years old today.
We spent some time yesterday at a local historical site. It was a great way to celebrate the Fourth of July. Fort Roberdeau is a reconstructed fort from the Revolutionary War era. It was originally built to protect a lead mine. They have a wonderful celebration every year on Independence Day. There are a lot of costumes and stories about frontier living. Their garden looks far better than my own. I play with a band called Ride the Song. We have had a standing gig at the Fort on the Fourth for the past several years. We sweep the bat poop off the stage and set up in the old barn. It’s always a lot of fun. On the other side of the barn is a display of an authentic Conestoga wagon. I can’t imagine packing up my whole family and living in those close quarters. I would guess that in those days if you needed some peace and quiet, you would wander off and hide behind a tree. That must be a timeless technique practiced by Dads all over the world. I’m very grateful for indoor plumbing and bathroom doors. I hope everyone enjoyed some grilled meat, a sweaty hug, and some colorful explosions. That is what the Fourth of July is all about.
I just had a great jam with a new friend. I guess we should refer to him as Uncle Jay to provide him with some anonymity. It’s always exciting to jam with someone new. It’s a little bit like dating. You don’t know if you will have any chemistry. He might be a phenomenal bass player but that doesn’t mean you will play well together. Maybe he is the nicest human ever but that doesn’t guarantee you will enjoy each other’s company. Our Venn diagrams had plenty of overlapping areas. There is a lot of potential for amazing music. Uncle Jay is much younger than me and just getting started with finding his life’s direction. Geographical demands will probably limit this relationship to occasional jams. It will be great whenever it happens. It was the funkiest version of Hen House ever.
We were on a short vacation that involved some historical touring. We traveled to the state of Michigan and visited the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. From our house, it should have been just under a six-hour drive. It took over eight hours. We had to stop and find so many bathrooms. The museum was nice. They had a great collection of trains and cars and farm equipment. Greenfield village included a huge assortment of historically significant houses and buildings. I walked through the cottage where Robert Frost lived and worked. There was a lot of cool stuff to see and it was very interesting. Although at some point it became obvious that it was all a rich guy’s obsessive collection. This man had enough money and power that he could simply pick up and move the home of his favorite childhood teacher to be part of his collection of buildings. It’s beautiful and fascinating but also creepy and uncomfortable. I loved the artisan section of Greenfeld Village. I’m a sucker for historically relevant craftsmen. I could sit and watch people performing these hard skills forever. The sawmill is near and dear to my heart since I previously worked in that profession. I think my favorite was the grist mill. With a stone like that, you could grind enough flour to make a lot of pancakes.
One of our sisters and an important part of the Weird Folk community has experienced a terrible family tragedy. She is deep in the mud. She’s going to be in the mud for a long time. There is nothing that we can do to fix it. Sometimes the best thing we can do is crawl down into the mud with somebody. Give them a muddy hug and spend some time together. We are in the mud with you sister. We love you. It won’t get better anytime soon but you don’t have to hurt alone.
We are home from vacation. It’s time to get back to work… tomorrow. P.S. When you get home after being away, what is the most important thing you must do before you can feel “back to normal?” For me it is laundry.
We are on a vacation. This isn’t something we have done very often. We aren’t intrinsically good at vacationing. I come from a long line of workaholics.
Connecting to Wi-Fi would require some extra effort. So I have been channeling my inner Luddite and I established personal boundaries regarding technology. I have used some mental bandwidth thinking about current projects. Without internet access, I can’t do the physical work related to those projects. Self-imposed rules can be both necessary and effective.
Also, I read a book. I could get better at the whole vacation lifestyle but I wouldn’t want to do it long-term. I love my work too much.
Today, this is the best that I can do. My Daily Dispatch requires a healthy dose of the internet. I have very limited access right now and can’t change it. Our communication/work/purpose is inherently tied to our ability to utilize the available resources. Do your best but don’t give up or blame yourself when you are unable to do more than the system will allow.
1. Pancakes fix a lot of problems. 2. Some days a song and a smile is the best you can do and that is enough. 3. If you are stuck in the mud, stomp your feet, clap your hands, and wait for the sun to dry up all that mud (try to find a friend to help the time pass more quickly). 4. Time is weird. 5. Weird folk is what I love - the music and the people. 6. We are all broken and beautiful. 7. We love you just the way you are.
Today, I played a show with Ride the Song at a venue called Musselman’s Grove. It was incredibly hot but completely worth it. This venue had been host to a comprehensive list of country music legends. They claim that Hank Williams and the Carter Family played on their stage. I saw photos of Grandpa Jones and Minnie Pearl. Musselman’s Grove was a huge hot spot for several decades. For one of their last shows, which happened to be a Hee Haw reunion show, they had over 5000 people crammed into this small yard. This was a family-owned venue. As with any family, they had some disagreements and conflicts. For the last 50+ years, it’s been growing moss. A very committed family member was able to sort it all out and rebuild this beautiful venue. I’m so glad it’s been reopened. I can’t believe I played on the same stage as so many of my heroes.
I almost didn’t get today’s Dispatch out. It’s been a busy week. Hannah has had school stuff all week and a music camp in the evenings. It’s called the Joyful Noise camp and it’s sponsored by a local church. She has been attending since she was an itty-bitty violin player. This was their first in-person event since before…well, you remember. It’s an amazing musical experience. It brings together a broad range of instruments with an even broader range of experience. It’s a rare opportunity for a 10-year-old kid to sit next to a 60-year-old mentor. It really is a perfect representation of what a healthy community should look like. We need so much more of that. Last night was the concert. It always makes me happy to see her playing her violin, even if all I can see is the top of her head. It was fantastic getting to hear their joyful noise.
I am facing a self-imposed existential crisis. As a songwriter, the goal is to find people that will listen to my songs. It would also be nice if every person who heard my songs loved them without limits. I know there are already many fantastic people that appreciate my work. I don’t want it to seem as though I am taking them for granted. I couldn’t do what I do without them. The Weird Folk mean so much to me. It would be nice to add new listeners to our community as well. It’s hard to cut through all of the noise in the world. I sing my songs and send them out via all the possible conduits with a wish and hope. One of the most efficient ways to find “new ears” is by posting videos that are called reels to the Instagram platform. A reel is a one-minute video. I’ve been consistently making videos of my songs for this purpose. It has been a fun challenge to try and fit a song into the one-minute time limit. To take it one step further, the absolute best way to find ears is by posting cover songs. I had scheduled some time to work on cover song videos. When I sat down to do the work, I became overwhelmed with doubt. I don’t want to become a viral sensation on the back of cover song videos. I don’t want to be the old guy doing Neil Diamond requests every Saturday night. If I become a household name, I want it to be due to my creations. I don’t want to be a sell-out. I did not make the new cover song videos. Maybe next week. In hindsight the existential dread was overblown. My cart is way ahead of my horse. Cover song videos seem like a worthy experiment. It can’t hurt to throw a couple of covers out into the noise. Who knows, if someone loves my version of “Me and Julio,” they may also appreciate “Boom Boom Ticka.”
This may sound crazy but I was getting sick of strawberries. It hasn’t been a great strawberry year but I still ate enough berries to give myself a healthy pink glow. My hands are permanently berry-stained. My breath has a constant strawberry aroma but not in the pleasing way you might imagine. It’s more like red wine vinegar. The good news is that the strawberries are done producing for the year. We all know that when one door closes a new door opens. It’s raspberries. Raspberries are the new door. I love raspberries. I guess the pink juice stains on my chin will last a little longer.
Your baby blues are bloodshot now You’ve been at it way too long I know it hurts It’s gonna hurt for a while You traded trust for heartache That wasn’t a very good deal You wanted someone to love you But we’re all so unreliable Broken and beautiful That’s how I see you Broken and beautiful I love you just the way you are To get out of bed in the morning Takes everything that you’ve got You feel like you’re never enough If only you could feel strong To be able to live with yourself You got to be somebody else Just to give it a go one more time You gotta be someone better than this Broken and beautiful That’s how I see you Broken and beautiful I love you just the way you are They told you that you were special But you’re feeling so empty now They said if you’re ever feeling bad Just turn that frown upside down You feel like your hair is on fire It’s so hard just to be nice You’re feeling mean and there’s nothing you can do Your smile has packed up and left town It hasn’t been seen in a long time It’s probably for their own good It’s for your own good But I want you to know that you are enough Broken and beautiful That’s how I see you Broken and beautiful I love you just the way you are
Way back in 2004, the television show called Lost premiered. It was instantly my favorite show of all time. I recently decided that it was time to indoctrinate my oldest kid. So far, no one is disappointed. We just celebrated Father’s Day at my house. I detest greeting card holidays but I’m a sucker for the cards and pictures the kids make for me. This year Hannah gave me a drawing that featured every character from the first season of Lost. It was a series of the character’s haircuts. It was the best handmade Father’s Day gift of all time. Hannah’s sketch destroys every clay ashtray ever made.
I wrote a song during the ”Great Shutdown of 2020” called the Chicken Skin Shake. I had some doubts that it would stand the test of time. The song felt like it was topically from a specific moment in history and might not be relatable beyond that point. I don’t know. It might still work. If the song is no longer relevant, the ridiculous pineapple shirt will serve as a distraction. Check out this one minute version of the song.
Becoming a father is the greatest thing to ever happen to me. Father’s Day should not be about celebrating fathers. Father’s Day is an opportunity for a father to celebrate the amazing gift of fatherhood. My kids are the best.
It’s the summer festival season. The preparation for this kind of show includes questions, interviews, and general self-aggrandizement. I was raised in a family where being humble was a foundational virtue. Modesty was valued over all other personality traits. Braggarts could find themselves in the bottom circle of hell. Writing press releases about myself is by far the most difficult part of my job. Describe your music. What projects are you currently working on? How did you get started? What are your biggest influences? Time for some serious self-reflection. If you need me, I’ll be in hell.
The great American institution of “putting in the garden” happens every spring as soon as the threat of frost has passed. Gardens miraculously spring forth from empty soil over the course of a weekend at the end of May. I love to garden but I’m not good at it. It’s mid-June and I finally planted my garden. Maybe the weather in the fall will stay warm enough for these little seeds to produce a crop. The truth is they may never get the chance to find out. It is so hot and dry that the seeds will never germinate on their own. If I remember to water them, they may emerge but they will probably burst into flame as soon as they pop out of the ground. I’ll try to be optimistic. It’s a scary world but there are many generations represented inside these seeds. I believe in you. Best of luck my little friends.
We were gathered around the television, bingeing episodes of our current favorite show. It’s Bluey. If you don’t know Bluey, you should change that. Someday, I will probably write a very long post extolling the many virtues of this fantastic show. My boy was dominating the remote control. “Hey Pops, I can still use the remote when it’s upside down. You just have to go the opposite direction.” Always creative, my baby girl says, “what would happen if you pressed all of the buttons at once?” She solves all problems exactly like her mother.
I’ve forgotten how to kiss and mean it Eyes wide open, I’m staring at the sun With every slip of the tongue I become a little more dumb I love these words but I have no idea where to go with it. Any ideas?
I was recently complaining about the state of our strawberry patch. We had some unusually hot and dry weather that seemed to stunt the set of berries. I was fairly confident we would have our worst strawberry yield in ten years. I should not have tempted fate, Mother Nature, or the berry fairies. We received several days straight with perfect weather and just the right amount of rainfall. I have now eaten more strawberry shortcake than I could even quantify. We are resorting to leaving bowls of berries at neighbor’s doors. I guess the lesson to be learned is that I can’t predict the weather and it’s time to make some jam.
The twins were invited to a classmate’s birthday party. It was at a bowling alley. A bunch of little kids throwing heavy balls equal to a third of their body weight at a wooden floor is something that must be witnessed to be understood. It’s a rare and specific kind of chaos that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Thanks to the brave parents for including us. And a special award should go to the heroic employees who risked it all over and over again to retrieve my little girls bowling ball when it would stop rolling partway down the lane.
Broken and Beautiful – Part 3
I wrote a new song. It might be written from the perspective of a benevolent deity. More likely, it is a heartbroken father trying to comfort a child after life has done the damage that life always does. We are all broken and beautiful. Check out this one minute version of the song.
She wasn’t happy with her brother. She thought he should be doing what she wanted him to be doing. She got bossy and demanding in an attempt to bend his will. I explained that if he didn’t want to play with her and her fluffy unicorns, he didn’t have to play with her and it was wrong to try to force him. It seemed that the message was received and the problem solved. I retreated for another round of coffee. When I returned to the front lines, she was missing. I asked her brother if he knew where she was. He thought she had gone upstairs. “Where are you?” “I’m in my bedroom.” “What are you doing?” “Just being sad.” If that doesn’t melt your heart, nothing will. Although I think the correct emotion was probably mad. We enticed her out of hiding and tried to talk about her feelings. This is not my strong suit. “My brother made me sad.” Once again, it looked more like mad. While showing empathy for the very first time in his life, her brother asked “What’s your favorite song so that I can whistle it and cheer you up?” Still grumpy, “I don’t know, I don’t have a favorite song.” He said, “that’s ok, I don’t know how to whistle.”
I just brought this old lady home from the doctor with a clean bill of health. Maggie Mae turned 17 in May. We’ve had a couple of bumps on the road in the last year but the veterinarian says that everything looks good. She doesn’t hear as well as she used to and she’s got a minor tooth issue. Me too, Maggie.
Yesterday, I helped my Dad unload his worldly possessions into a new house. He is a preacher and as part of the occupational compensation, a home came along with the church. He was at his first church for ten years and the second for 15. This was not standard at the time. Preachers in his denomination rarely stayed in one place for more than six years. He has had three more churches and three more moves since then, each time accumulating additional junk (sorry, I mean treasures). Now, he is retiring and is buying his first house at age 70. It is much smaller and required some serious downsizing. Despite the limitations, I can testify that he still has a lot of stuff. I got sentimental thinking about his move yesterday. I came home and dug out this old photograph that was taken on the day he helped me move into my first apartment. I am not sure what was going on with my hat situation.
Broken and Beautiful – part 2
I wrote a song in 2013 that wasn’t very good. You can read more about that in Part 1. Despite being damaged beyond repair, I was able to scavenge a few lines. I put these borrowed lines together to make a first verse and chorus. Your baby blues are bloodshot now You’ve been at it for way too long You carry the weight of the world Upon you shoulders Your shoulders are too slender For all that weight You only wanted someone to love you We are all so unreliable Broken and beautiful That’s how I see you Broken and beautiful I love you just the way you are Update: In the most recent iteration, I have replaced the four middle lines of the first verse. If you are keeping score, that means I only salvaged four lines, the chorus, and a chord progression.
I’ve been feeling rather isolated and disconnected the last couple of days. It felt like the abyss was about to open up and swallow me whole. As overwhelming as it felt, it turns out the solution was quite simple. I spent all day “working in the garden.” That’s code for eating strawberries as fast as I could pick them and lounging in the hammock. Sunshine solves most problems.
Lately, I’ve been making a lot of videos that are one minute long. One-minute-long videos are the current big thing. The internet gods have decreed that our attention spans can only stay focused for a maximum of one minute. I doubt this is truly due to our attention spans but one minute is what they want. I have to wonder if this isn’t a chicken or the egg kind of situation. Does social media demand brevity because we can’t pay attention longer? Or do we struggle to pay attention longer because they demand brevity? It’s hard to fit a song into a minute. I can’t stand it when I’m watching something that is good and it cuts off awkwardly. It’s like the creator made a great video but was too lazy to look at a clock and we end up with a portion of a great performance. I need closure. Don’t leave us hanging. The social media platforms help get my music to more people, so I must play by their rules. As much as I am complaining, I do enjoy the challenge of telling a cohesive story and singing a satisfying song in under a minute. Creativity flourishes with limitations.
You can watch some of my one minute long videos, here.
Broken and Beautiful – part 1
I wrote a song on Valentine’s Day in 2013. I vividly remember writing the song. It was a very emotional process and it felt really important at the time. It was about neglect, child abuse, and kids exchanging Valentine cards at school. I called it My Forgotten Valentine. You have never heard this song because in the light of day I discovered that it was not good. It wasn’t the worst song that I’ve written but it was awkward and a little creepy. There have been numerous times when I got out this song and tried to fix it but it always seemed beyond repair. Despite being a long song, it never seemed to be going anywhere. Overall it was weird but not in a good way. I’ve written many songs that come from the bone pile. The bone pile is where I keep lines, phrases, and notions that someday could be a song. I don’t know if My Forgotten Valentine was in the bone pile because technically it was already a finished song. I recently came back to this song one last time. Instead of trying to rework the pre-existing song, I carved it up. The chorus was catchy and there were three or four lines that were quite good. I pulled out a rib bone and created something completely new. This new song is appropriately called Broken and Beautiful. Stay tuned.
It’s Saturday and I know that you don’t want to get out of bed. Pull up the covers with some weird folk. I made a one-minute-long version of the Paul Simon classic called Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard. You can watch it on YouTube, follow this link. Typically, when I post cover songs to YouTube, they go unnoticed by the robots. My versions are so far removed from the originals that nobody cares to claim responsibility. However, this performance got flagged because I sounded too much like the original recording. I was identified by the robots as sounding like my favorite songwriter of all time. I am not ashamed. Due to this glorious coincidence, they may force you to watch an advertisement before you can see my video. My apologies.
I played a show with Ride the Song last night and it went well. There was some doubt during the week about it happening due to various medical situations. Don’t judge us. I am the youngest guy in the band and I’m no spring chicken. Being an aging wanna-be-rockstar is physically demanding. The American Legion that hosted us is working hard to be a musical hotspot. Developing a music scene where one does not already exist is not an easy task but they are fighting the good fight. It was a new venue for us so the crowd wasn’t huge but everybody had a great time. We played from 8-11. It has been a long time since I’ve been involved with a show happening this late. It was tough being out and playing music well passed the time when I am usually drooling on my pillow. Don’t judge me, I am not a night owl.
We tasted the first strawberries of the season today. It’s a sacred day in my family. Eleven years ago we planted our tiny little berry patch in our average city yard. Some years it has produced so many berries that I don’t mind sharing with the bunnies and the birds. It’s been a great return on investment. Picking the berries requires a lot of bending over but otherwise, there is very little work involved. We always have enough berries. We eat until we are sick, make some jam, and share the rest with neighbors. It’s not rare for the weather to turn hot and dry by the end of strawberry season. By that point, we are tired of picking berries and don’t mind when the vines wither and the berries shrivel. Today, I discovered that half the patch is already dried up. I am hoping that some rain will perk things up. In ten years of growing strawberries, we have never experienced weather this hot and dry so early in the season. I am sure it’s an omen from the berry fairies to warn us of terrible things to come. I was able to pick enough berries to make a heaping strawberry shortcake. I’ll deal with the berry crisis when it happens. Until then, let them eat cake.
I wake up in the night and it’s so quiet I’m listening for that snore What I wouldn’t give to hear you breathing Nothing sounds like the silence Hello darkness, hello my old friend I’m talking to myself again Reciting all my prayers, I need some noise Nothing sounds like the silence I miss every sound that you would make I never knew you were so loud This emptiness is screaming, I need some peace Nothing sounds like the silence
It’s a holiday weekend in the United States. Monday is Memorial Day which is when we honor the men and women that have died in military conflict. I am grateful for their sacrifices. When I was a kid we went to visit my Grandpap every Memorial Day. He felt very strongly that it was important for a family to get together, eat a hamburger, and remember. It was a significant holiday for him. I think it probably meant so much because he survived WW2 and could remember a lot of friends that didn’t survive. One year when we were visiting for Memorial Day, he declared that hamburgers would have to wait because he had to walk in a parade. He lived in a very small town and they were trying to include all of their local veterans for their first Memorial Day celebration. He spent some time rummaging through the back of a deep closet and emerged with his old army uniform. He tried real hard to squeeze into it despite the addition of 50 years and 60 lbs. We lined up along the single block of a street in the town and cheered wildly. He proudly marched and waved with the hat from his uniform perched way up on top of his head. This Memorial Day I will remember the shed blood that has made us who we are. I will remember my Grandpap walking in that parade with his tiny hat. I will remember to eat a hamburger. If you are alone on Memorial Day, I will be firing up the grill on Monday at 5:00.
At the end of every school day, I drive to the school and pick up the twins. The school has a well-organized system for the exchange of children. We line up in two long rows in an overflow parking lot and when the kids are dismissed, they are herded out to us in the order that we are lined up. I would estimate that about half of the cars involved are grandparents. It’s nice that so many grandparents are willing and able to help out. Older people don’t like to be late so they begin to line up at least a half-hour before dismissal. I also like to get there early. My kids are so little and I hate for them to need to wait too long. Also, it is a great opportunity to read. It’s a chunk of time when I can sit and read anything that I want without feeling guilty about “more important” things that I should be doing. On Friday, I was sitting in line, reading, and minding my own business. I was near the front which doesn’t usually happen on a Friday. There were a lot of kids playing in the field adjacent to the parking lot because we were experiencing a brief and beautiful moment of sunshine. I heard a girl shouting, “Hey, Santa! It’s Santa Clause. Over here Santa.” Another girl said, “ stop shouting, that’s somebody’s parent… or grandparent.” I looked up and realized they were addressing me. And that is why I hate to wear red shirts.
As the school year comes to a close and we are transitioning to warm weather attire, it was time to tidy the wardrobe. When kids are little, it’s so easy to sort through and pull out large chunks of clothing by size. It feels safe to assume that they won’t be wearing the same size in the fall when they need to get out their favorite old sweaters. During the last couple of days, I’ve systematically gone through and done the purge whenever I had a free minute. My little girl has an alarming number of tiny little leggings. Tonight, we all sat down and sorted through it all. Mrs. Brother Jack likes to make sure that everything that isn’t worn out goes to a good home. It’s a great feeling to tidy up and start with a clean slate. I tell you all of this because it dawned on me that the singular reason I struggle with so much clutter in my life is that I am no longer growing. It’s hard to part with a 25-year-old T-shirt that is far too threadbare to wear in public when it still fits so perfectly.
I am reading a collection by Arthur Conan Doyle called The Complete Brigadier Gerard Stories. I am a big Sherlock Holmes fan but it had never occurred to me that he had written anything other than Sherlock. When I found this, I was excited to give it a go. These short stories were done as a serial after he had ended the Sherlock series. It’s about a French Soldier who bumbles his way to battlefield glory. It feels similar to Don Quixote except the main character is French and it’s set during the Napoleonic Wars. I should also mention that Napoleon is a recurring character in the stories. I’ve read the first handful of stories. So far it’s decent but Gerard is no Sherlock.
I don’t eat a lot of sweets but I can’t turn down a slice of pie. My favorite is rhubarb. Don’t ask for the recipe, I tend to make it up as I go. My wife says I would never survive as a baker. Rhubarb is my favorite because it is so special. Where I live, you can’t find rhubarb at the grocery store. It’s necessary to find it at a farmer’s market or grow your own. We have our own rhubarb patch. It’s easy to grow and doesn’t require much maintenance. Once it gets hot, the rhubarb peters out until next year. These seasonal limitations are what make it iso special. This is why I always eat rhubarb pie for my birthday. Last week was my birthday and it was the first one in a long time that did not involve my favorite pie. We were all too sick and disgusting. I didn’t want to spoil the experience with sneezing and coughing. Today, I harvested the rhubarb. It was a good pie. Now I feel like I am officially a year older.
Two days ago I announced that I was not going to continue with my Sad Song Series. The muses have decided that I am not done yet. Before abandoning the project, I had been thinking about the sounds of loneliness. I really enjoy the sound of peace and quiet. But there is a fine line between solitude and loneliness. My step-mom had taken care of her brother for years. Petey was Down Syndrome and required a lot of extra care. Petey died last week and he left behind a void. I was thinking of the grief that exists in the silence he left behind. I wake up in the night and it’s so quiet Listening for that snore What I wouldn’t give to hear you breathing Nothing sounds like the silence Hello darkness, hello my old friend I’m talking to myself again Reciting all my prayers, I need some noise Nothing sounds like the silence These words are better with the music. If it is to become a real song, it will need at least one more verse. Any ideas?
Everybody knows the song called Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash. Even if you hate country music, you have heard this song. Every line in this song is fantastic but at the end of the second verse is one of the most iconic lines of all time. But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die I heard a great cover of this song by Keb’ Mo’. Check it out, here. He is a blues legend and a genius with a guitar. Everything he does is fantastic. He has some tracks that could definitely qualify as weird folk. He tells a story at the beginning of this performance about being asked to cover this song. He says he was uncomfortable with the violence of this iconic line and received permission to change it. Said I shot a man in Reno, it was just a lie He essentially changed one single word and it magically became a completely different song. I had goose bumps. One word and it’s a different guy sitting in that jail. One word changes everything. I need to be more careful with my words.
I started a project focused on sad cover songs. I planned to learn a new sad song every month. I intended to release the cover at the beginning of each month and then spend the rest of the month breaking down the song and exploring new, related song ideas. I haven’t even made it through one complete song cycle and I am going to abandon the mission. The first cover was well received but it didn’t spark much conversation or connection. Maybe the sad song journey requires a collective sadness that I wouldn’t wish on anybody else. Maybe it is a journey that must be traveled alone. Sometimes a sad song can make you feel better in ways that nothing else can. But maybe the Weird Folk don’t need more sad songs right now. For the sake of future research: What is your favorite sad song? What is the saddest song of all time? What is the sad song that never fails to make you feel better?
We were at a funeral yesterday. Petey was my Dad’s brother-in-law. He had been sick for a while, so it wasn’t a surprise. That doesn’t make it easier. Everybody that knew him, loved him. I don’t mean that in the “say nice things because it’s a funeral” kind of way. He was a special human being. Funerals always remind us of the brevity of life. It’s short. Anything could happen at any moment. You never know which conversation, song, or post will be the last. In case I don’t get another chance, I want you to know something. You are very important to me.
I played a gig last night at the local minor league baseball stadium. I was the warm-up act on the party deck for the hour before game time. It was a fun night of baseball. The best part was that my family showed up to enjoy the festivities. Most of my gigs are in bars and pubs that are not conducive for the whole family. Last night was perfect. My kids were dancing under the sunshine while I payed some of my favorite songs .
I recently finished reading a great book on the art of memorizing called Moonwalking With Einstein. It was a deep dive into the training that is necessary to be a national memory champion. Yes, that is an actual contest. The book, unfortunately, had no actionable information to help me get better at memorizing songs. I have trouble remembering words to songs. Even songs that I’ve written, I continue to struggle with until I’ve played them 63,284 times. I feel that it’s unprofessional to use a cheat sheet but I get nervous without a crutch. I’ve been working on memorizing songs and I have become more confident with the number of songs that I know very well. I am playing a show that will require more upbeat covers than my normal set. It’s a one-hour set. It shouldn’t be a big deal. I think I have it down. I’m not overly confident but I should be able to get through an hour. It just occurred to me, that someone might request a song that is not on my list. If there is a song they want to hear, I should play it. I don’t want to disappoint anyone. I might be back to using a crutch. There are so many great songs out there and I can’t memorize them all.
I love to celebrate anniversaries of my songs and projects. Today is an occasion that is less joyous than most. A good friend lost her battle with cancer on this day eleven years ago. My song called Grief was inspired by losing her. As an emotion, grief is a festering wound that never heals completely. Every year on this date, I spend a couple of minutes remembering her. This year, I find myself thinking a lot about the people she left behind. I hope they can find some amount of peace today and are not haunted by the empty space she left behind. They say it’s time to move on I still got a little bit left
I just heard an audio story on the show Radiolab about tree crickets. Everybody knows that a male peacock uses its tail feathers to attract a mate. The biggest and brightest plumage gets the best hens. Tree crickets have a similar system but they are all about the loudest and longest song. It’s all about that chirp. Every evening, the crickets come out and sing for the ladies. The best singers get the best mates and their genetic material is passed on. It seems safe to assume that the lousy singers don’t get to reproduce and their line ends. However, some sneaky little crickets figured out how to cheat the system. There are quiet singers that learned how to use a leaf to build a sound baffle. They get down inside the leaf and it becomes a megaphone that broadcasts their song far and wide for all the fine, young crickets to hear. Scientists have found that the quiet crickets that sing into the megaphones can reproduce as effectively as the absolute best singers. This made me think about a guy that I know. He reached a certain point in life and realized that he didn’t have a lot going for him. He did not do well in school because goofing off was more important than academics. He had no real-life skills. To say he wasn’t athletic would be a compliment. He was so uncoordinated that he was picked last when choosing teams for a game of charades. This guy had nothing going for him. So he found an old guitar and learned how to play Summer of ‘69. He found he was able to carry a tune better than a sieve carries water. When he could remember enough of the words to get through the song, he headed down to the local dive bar. He played that song and it wasn’t half bad. Sure enough, there was a cricket in the audience that fell for the trick. They are still together. He no longer plays the guitar but he likes to sing along real loud with the radio in his truck.
I try to share new videos with the Daily Dispatch subscribers before they go out to the hoi polloi. For a while, the Monday Dispatch has been reserved for the current week’s One Minute Song. Life has been oppressive and I am far behind schedule. I can not share with you the new video for this week because it doesn’t exist. I regularly post to Instagram on Wednesdays. I might get a video finished by then but I hate to rush the magic. I can’t believe that a One Minute Song is something that I spend time trying to make. Attention spans are so short. I love epic songs that are at least 12 minutes long. Surprisingly, I have enjoyed the challenge of trying to deliver a cohesive song in under a minute. Why am I creating songs that are under a minute you ask? The robots demand it. The Instagram platform requires their reels to be under a minute. This is allegedly the most efficient way to find new listeners for my music at this point. My “marketing strategy” has always been to simply be the best version of myself, hang out with the weird folk as often as possible, and follow the song wherever it leads. I don’t mind experimenting with these “new strategies” as long as they are convienient. I guess this week, it wasn’t.
I’m doing a sad song series where we take a classic sad song and figure out what makes it sad. I want to learn how to make the most epic sad song of all time. Our sad song for May is the song called I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry by the legendary Hank Williams. If you missed my cover, you can check it out here. I think the first verse sets the scene for the whole song. It’s a lonely soundtrack with whippoorwills that are too sad to fly and a train in the distance. Some sounds evoke an emotional response and a distant train will always sound lonely. The second verse is all about a long, lonely night. It culminates with the miserable moon hiding behind a cloud to cry. The moon is another universal representation of loneliness. Everybody has experienced a sensation of loneliness while looking at the moon wondering if that special someone was also looking at the same moon. The third verse is about a bird that is crying because it’s time to migrate. It is time to move on and the bird has lost the will to live. That’s the gut punch. It’s loneliness without hope. This isn’t the kind of loneliness that thinks it might see you soon. This is complete despair. The last verse serves to wrap up the whole notion. The silence of a falling star As I wonder where you are I’m so lonesome I could cry Lost and lonely with no hope of being anything other than lonely. That is a sad song. Grab some tissues and give it a listen. If I wanted to write a sad song, it would need a generous portion of loneliness. This song sets its emotional tone with some lonely sounds. I need some lonely sounds. What is the loneliest sound you have ever experienced? And don’t tell me anything about one hand clapping. Really, I need your help. What is the loneliest sound?
Yesterday was my birthday. It was a nice day. We had some fantastic Chinese takeout. Then I forced my family to sit down and watch a movie with me. I subjected them to the original Herbie movie from 1968. The Love Bug is about a tiny, magic VW that loves to race. I am aware that the representation of women and Asians is culturally obsolete. Despite these flaws, I am a sucker for the classics. All of the old Herbie movies were a really important part of my childhood. I remember laughing and cheering with my family on a friday night. I was able to witness an amazing evolution that happened in my twins (age 6). Initially they were skeptical that they would enjoy the movie. They thought that Herbie’s antics were a trick or simply bad driving. There is a point right before all of the main characters hit rock bottom where the magic happens. They began to see the car as an animate character. They became emotionally invested in the feelings of the car. How can a car have feelings? In the final race, everybody was cheering for the little car. “I love you, Herbie!!!!” It was a great birthday.
Today is the first annual Weird Folk Day. I have huge aspirations for what this holiday could become. I was intending to start slow this year and just lay the foundation. I was planning a live stream and some pancakes. There was going to be a new t-shirt design that I was going to print myself. There was going to be all kinds of weird folk songs and all of our weird folk friends getting together. Life has been so nutty that I wasn’t able to get it all planned. You might wonder why I didn’t just change the date, push it back, and do it right. In addition to being the annual Weird Folk Day, May 13 is also my birthday. The first annual Weird Folk Day will pass as a hiccup. I’m hoping to drink a perfect cup of coffee, have some pancakes, and take a nap in my hammock out in the garden. I hope your first annual Weird Folk Day is also that perfect. Next year we will do something big. Cheers to many more Weird Folk Day celebrations.
I have arrived at the stage in life when I can’t get up from the floor (or tie my shoes) without making a particular noise. I can remember Grandpap making the same noise. It’s a loud exhale mixed with a grunt. It’s similar to the sound made by Olympic weight lifters. The difference is that they are lifting thousands of kilos and I am doing my best to stand up without looking like a beached whale. Last night I was on the floor playing with my six-year-old daughter before bedtime. I stood up and made the customary standing-up noise. She asked if I was alright. I said, “I’m fine just getting old. Try not to ever become old, kiddo.” “I try really hard Pops but I can’t stop it.” I hope medical technology finds a way to eliminate old man noises by the time my kids are old enough to make them.
Songwriting Secrets #1
A song idea can be gleaned from some really weird sources. One of my favorite places to look for the spark of an idea is called Unusual Wikipedia. It is exactly what it sounds like, a list of unusual topics found on Wikipedia. Late one evening I was perusing this source and found a list of historical people who died on the toilet. I don’t know why I thought that list should be turned into a song but I added it to my list of potential options. If I sit down for a songwriting session and have no ideas, I refer to my list of potential songs. After almost two years of skipping over this ridiculous concept, I decided to give it a chance. That list of people became my song called Where I Go. It’s a fun song but also terrifying. FYI: My greatest nightmare involves an urgent need to use the toilet and the only available option is in a dimly lit bathroom full of scary clowns.
The tulips around the house are starting to look rather ragged. We had some heavy rain and they couldn’t stand up to the abuse. I was admiring them with the kids at the end of last week before they lost their battle with Mother Nature. Little E said, “Do you remember last year when the tulips were so pretty and you put an old stinky toilet out here?” I really wanted to keep that old toilet in the garden and plant flowers inside it but Mrs. Brother Jack said it had to go. Our video with the tulips and toilet is one year old today. If you don’t remember it, here it is.
Some people spend all year waiting for the next summer hit song. Some people love their childhood classics. Some people insist that a song should have a purpose and change minds. Keep your seasonal hits, big hair, and songs with a purpose. I love songs about breakfast. Watch the one minute version of Hen House.
Of all the stupid greeting card holidays, Mother’s Day is the most acceptable. Mothers and motherly types make this existence bearable. If you fit into this category, thank you. I wouldn’t be who I am today without my mother and all of the aunts, friends, and grandmothers that have meant so much to me. I would thank them all by name for making me the man that I am today but they might prefer some level of deniability. Thank you.
I took two-thirds of my children to the doctor’s office yesterday. Our health saga continues. Don’t worry, everything turned out alright. We saw a young, female doctor who was new for us. After she left the exam room, my boy expressed his admiration for her. I asked why he liked this doctor so much. He said, “every time you talk, she interrupts and cuts you off.” So what you are really saying is that I talk too much…
Three of my five most recent dispatches have focused on video content. When I signed up to be a songwriter many years ago, I did not anticipate the need for video-making skills. The majority of what I now do involves a video component. It’s not enough to make pleasant melodies and thought-provoking lyrics. You can write new songs all day long but nobody will hear them unless they are nestled inside a video. I’m ok with this necessity. I am learning new skills. My song is like a car that I intend to drive to your house. Unfortunately, the roads are gone and there are only rivers surrounding everyone like a moat. I will learn how to build a boat so that I can load up my songs and float my way to your ears.
I have always had trouble pronouncing the word successful. It might be some deeply entrenched, Freudian pathology. I think it is more likely a lingering lisp combined with too many c’s and s’s. My children are incapable of saying the word as well. Maybe it is hereditary. If the video doesn’t play in your browser, click here to play on YouTube.
Cosmoline, Cosmoline Cosmoline, so pure and clean When fire reigns down from the sky Everything I knew is turned to ash I bury my face into the mud To cool my burning flesh When fire reigns down from the sky Empty and burned up without you Cosmoline, Cosmoline Cosmoline, so pure and clean When I go out into the world To face temptation’s snares I carry you always with me, my dear Your image seared into my mind When I go out into the world Everywhere I go, I’m without you Cosmoline, Cosmoline Cosmoline, so pure and clean When I lay down to sleep at night Fragments of you flood my mind I lay there and try to remember you Your eyes and the way you’d smile When I lay down to sleep at night There I am without you
I feel that I’ve been complaining a lot lately about my kids being sick. We have had pink eye, strep throat, and many different upper respiratory viruses. Right now we have a two for the price of one happening. We have one with a virus and strep throat and the other has a separate, brand new virus. There has been one week out of the last eight when we didn’t have at least one ailing child. During that week, I was very sick. This post is not meant to be about our ailments. This seems to be on par for a family with twins in kindergarten. I know there are people whose health is far worse. We will get through this. I wanted to talk about sick day movies. When I was a kid, The Great Muppet Caper was my go-to, automatic choice for a sick day. When given a choice, the twins tend to binge episodes of weird cartoons that I don’t understand. This works to my advantage as I have been trying to accomplish some work while juggling sick kids. Today I gave up. I poured an extra cup of coffee and snuggled down on the couch between snot bubble and throat fungus. We watched my favorite sick day movie. It was great. Although I am sure that I will be incredibly sick before the week is over. What is your favorite sick day movie?
This verse was inspired by a photo that hangs on our wall. This image includes a friend that died shortly after the photo was taken. Everytime that I look at those faces, I am reminded that at the moment it was taken, she had no idea what would happen next. I wanted this verse to be a grocery list of those moments. It is a vague assortment of emotional snapshots. You have seen that person with the empty stare that is just trying to stumble through the day. Maybe that person is you. Then there is the aging relative that has kept a trinket for years upon years and the sentiment is heartbreaking. The last item on the list is a look into someone’s eyes. They are lonely eyes, hungry for connection. You make contact and know there is nothing you can do to make it better. You feel the tears well up. Check out the second verse of Little Bird.
We were playing a gig at a retirement community. I play a lot of traditional folk music which tends to be appreciated by this particular demographic. I’ve always gotten along well with old ladies. Often these shows are dinner shows with all of the residents present. This particular event was a Tuesday social group. I don’t remember their particular common hobby. It may have been a bible study group, jigsaw club, or a quilting klatch. It was a dozen widows and they all had the same haircut. We were going through our regular set that included several classic Hank Williams songs. We had already sung every grandma’s favorite lines: Hey good lookin’ What you got cookin’ It was time for the song called I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. I know by genre standards it classifies as a sad country song but I had never really given much thought to the words. They seemed poetic in a lonely hobo kind of way. We finished the last lines: As I wonder where you are I’m so lonesome I could cry I looked around the room and they were all crying. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean for my bad singing to bring you all to tears.” I tried to lighten the mood. “Why are you all crying?” One wavering voice spoke for all the tears, “We’ve all lost our husbands, we are the lonesome ones.” Watch me sing this Sad Cover Song.
Recently, I developed a standing appointment with my two youngest children. Every Saturday morning we spend some time watching cartoons. Not the recent stuff, we only watch the classics. Thing2 loves Tom and Jerry. Thing1 likes Pink Panther (because he is pink, of course). I love Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. We all enjoy the chase scenes of the Coyote and Road Runner. Both twins were expressing some sympathy for the Coyote. “He tries so hard, why does he always have to lose?” I explained that, if the coyote won and caught the Road Runner, we would be watching a very short cartoon where the Road Runner gets eaten for dinner. Is that a cartoon anyone would want to watch? Unwavering Laws of the Universe #1: The Road Runner must always beat the Coyote or else it’s a really short, potentially gruesome experience. Beep! Beep!
I like to have a plan. My family often teased me for requiring a preconceived plan when playing imaginary games as a little kid. My friends like to point out that I have been known to schedule an evening to be spontaneous and then plan out the details. I even have a daily plan that structures how I intend to make additional plans. As a complete departure from my normal modus operandi, some of my creative endeavors are more like vague generalities. I have been planning a Sad Cover Song series for almost two months. The first installment of the series is scheduled for next week. I had selected the first song and worked on an arrangement but I had no plan on how to accomplish my goals. To be honest, I had no goals, only a notion. How and where would I release this first episode? How would the videos look? Would I do anything to promote the series? What happens after I record the first song? The whole point of this series is to study and analyze sad songs. Playing a cover and putting the video on social media does not qualify as a deep dive into the emotional content of the song. I had no plan for this project. I sat down last night and did what I do best. I now have some vague generalities and a plan.
I made Banjo Love back in 2011. At the time I was lost and floundering. I had been trying to be a musician and it wasn’t working. I wasn’t playing anywhere. I had no new songs. My computer had crashed and I was trying to figure out a new studio setup. I also had this junk store banjo that I didn’t know how to play. I locked myself in for the weekend with that banjo and did the work. I figured out who I was. At least it was who I was at that moment. Streaming everywhere.
Twin 1 is sick again. Our twins are six and in kindergarten. They have been rotating illnesses every other week since the first of the year. It’s been a constant stream of coughing and snot. It would be so much easier if they could get on the same schedule and give me a week off between each new virus. Little kids are so gross. Why do they lick everything? I was thinking about the little things they do that work to self-sabotage life. They can’t help it, it’s part of their basic, disgusting nature. Then I started pondering all of the ways that I sabotage myself. I came up with a list of nine, almost daily habits that do nothing but make the quality of my life worse. I will not be sharing this list with you. It is embarrassing. Don’t judge me, you do it too.
I love sad songs. I am a happy, optimistic kind of guy. But there is just something about a truly sad song that can hit you way deep down. I want to write a really sad song. It feels like the songwriting equivalent to a superpower. Hannah pointed out that I’ve written a couple of sad songs (Blood of the Lamb, Grief, Little Bird). I am not trying to discredit those songs but they are not hardcore tear jerkers. I want to write a song that causes anybody that hears it to sob uncontrollably. I think the easiest way to learn how to write a sad song will be to study songs that make me cry. I intend to create a series where I cover the saddest songs I can find. I plan to make one episode per month until I learn all of the secrets that sad songs have to offer. I figured I better limit myself to one episode per month or I might get too depressed. I started working on the first installment today. I only cried a little bit and it was mostly because the harmonica plucked out a mustache hair. Stay tuned for my new series called Sad Cover Songs.
We played out last night. We were at Olde Bedford Brewing in Bedford, Pennsylvania. We are starting to regain some of our pre-covid chemistry. I love playing with Tim. Whenever I forget the words, he is always there with a mandolin lick to cover my butt. I hope you enjoy this tiny clip from last night.
I’ve been dealing with several nagging injuries. I am working hard, trying to get back to a functional level of health. While slogging along on a slow jog, I had an incredible insight. Training through a back injury is equal to being an entertainer with a family. I considered listing the similarities or making a Venn diagram but it might be better if I don't elaborate.
I like to run for fun. When I was younger, I would do my best jogging early in the morning. It seemed to suit my natural rhythms. Another nice thing about running early is that there are not many people around. Running can be easier with less traffic and fewer people in the park. I realized today, that at this stage in life, I prefer to run in the afternoon. I like having an audience. It’s not that I want people to watch me run. I am not proud of my running form. I do seem to run a little faster and try a little harder if someone might be watching. I don’t want to be the old, slow guy. I think this is the same for music performances. I often struggle with the tavern shows when people are busy eating and chatting and the work I am doing is strictly background music. It is easier when someone is willing to engage with me. I am a better performer with connection, even if it is one person. I play better and try harder. I am so much better when someone is watching.
I am back to work after almost five full days away. Between sick kids and a holiday, it was easier to call it a vacation. There comes a point when productivity is so poor that it makes more sense to stop trying. In case my family is reading this, I enjoyed our time together. However, I was really happy to get back to the grindstone. I love what I do and I am so grateful this is my job.
My kids had an extra day away from school for their spring break. We spent some time in our local public library. We used to spend a lot of time in this library. It was closed for a while during the pandemic and as a result, we forgot our library routines. When something happens that causes your (good) habits to change abruptly, it is difficult to get back on track. Even good intentions might not be enough to overcome our pandemic-induced laziness. Dear Library, We truly missed you and I’m sorry it took us so long to remember that we love you.
It snowed yesterday. I assumed winter was over. The songbirds assumed winter was over. The daffodils also assumed winter was over. The delicate yellow flowers were straining against the weight of the wet spring snow. It was poetic. It feels like a beautiful metaphor for something. I don’t care, I am sick of snow.
Sometimes the ghosts show up. Typically it is when I am working on a song. It’s always when I am deep in introspection and chiseling away at a rough edge. All I want is for the ghost to smile reassuringly. I can see the ghost so clearly and his expression usually resembles something like disappointment. It’s odd how much the ghost looks just like me. Check out the second verse of Ghosts.
Hannah was involved with a string quartet that had the opportunity to accompany a church choir as they presented their Easter cantata. It was beautiful. It was her first official “job” as a violinist. I’m a proud papa. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures or video. Happy Easter.
This post almost didn’t happen. I am too preoccupied with birthdays, holidays, and dental pain. I also screwed up my back again. I don’t feel like I have anything to contribute to the universal experience today. I have nothing to say. The thing about my Daily Dispatch is that it’s supposed to be daily. I could skip today but I have committed to writing something every day. It isn’t always convenient but I promised that I would be here. I have nothing to say but I still showed up.
I just finished what is supposed to be the last appointment necessary to fix a damaged tooth. It started with a sinus infection back at the beginning of December. The sinus infection was caused by a bad tooth. I had cracked the tooth and don’t know how long it had been that way. It may have been related to a harmonica playing incident. Being a musician is dangerous. First, we tried patching it but the infection got worse. This required lots of antibiotics and a root canal. Five months later and maybe it’s all clear. I tell you this story, not for sympathy but to make a point. I had plans, goals, and intentions for this winter that did not include spending so much time in a dentist’s chair. My best-laid plans had to change. Our bodies will fail. When a breakdown happens, the universe will not bother to check your calendar and ensure it’s a convenient time. I love to make plans, schedule life’s tiny details, and compile intricate to-do lists. Sometimes these lumps of clay in which we reside refuse to comply. I’m glad it is finally all patched up. I look forward to eating without discomfort and making plans that have no realistic chance of succeeding.
For a while, I’ve been blocking out time on Tuesdays for songwriting. A lot of songwriters stress the importance of writing every day. That has never been a routine that works for me. I have a regular collection of lines and notions for songs. Once a week I sit down to see if any of these ideas have meat on the bone. My boy has been home from school this week. He has pink eye and can not be at school. At first, he was very excited to be at home and not at school. Today was spent imagining our way through his regular school day. He insists that he does not want to be at school but we spent the day pretending we were there. I thought I was very clever. I told him it was time for music class. I thought that I could take a run through my weekly songwriting snippets and still fulfill his plan for the day. I was essentially giving a 90-second approach to each idea and then bumping it down the queue for next week. After the first three ideas, he loudly exclaimed, “not another one!” I guess it was time for a snack.
My boy had to stay home from school today. He had a weird crusty eye. I think it is related to something that was going around the classroom last week. I was upset and worried because he was sick. We watched a lot of cartoons. I was stressed and annoyed that I was on the couch instead of doing work. We spent the afternoon playing board games. I was sad and disappointed because I was missing a lot of great stuff that was happening. I spent too much time today focused on the negative. I love cartoons.
If you are of the Christian persuasion, you know the story of Easter. You probably know the story of Judas. He is the guy that sold out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. I have always felt bad for that guy. They were friends. I don't think he intended for it all to go down the way that it did. He was making a deal with the bureaucrats to fund the revolution. I believe that he thought his boy had superpowers and would roll out unscathed. I’ve always felt bad for Judas. Watch the 1 Minute Song for Old Man Judas.
I tend to prattle on and on, expounding effortlessly for long durations of time. I would like to learn the fine art of brevity but I end up with so many leftover words.
If I were to create a new holiday, it would be called Weird Folk Day. It would be a celebration of all weird folk (both the music and the people). There would be songs, smiles, stories, and coffee. And of course, Weird Folk Day would not be complete without pancakes. If I were to create a new holiday, Weird Folk Day would be on May 13, 2022. I am still fuzzy about many of the important details. What are the essential components necessary for a Weird Folk Day celebration?
Hannah is playing in a string quartet for the upcoming Easter holiday. We were on our way home from her practice. We were almost home and a cute little calico ran across the street as we crested the top of the hill. It was followed by a very black cat. It was dark. Hannah: watch out for that cat!!! Me: Wow, I can’t believe we didn’t hit it. Oh no, another cat Th-thump Hannah: it never happened Me: I think I just hit that— Hannah: no, it didn’t happen Me: Ewwww, that was so gross, we just— Hannah: it didn’t happen I learned a valuable lesson today. If I ever go on a crime spree, I know who I want to be riding shotgun.
Here is another installment of “Brother Jack talks real good.” It’s not easy being this articulate. Mrs. Brother Jack is a math teacher. Don’t tell her that I thought five was the same as eight. If the video doesn’t play in your browser, click here to play on YouTube.
I love the classic bit with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck where they argue with Elmer Fudd. “Duck season!” “Wabbit season!” “Duck season!” “Wabbit season!” I’ve been feeling the seasonal tug between songwriting season and gig season. I tend to do my creative work in batches and it often follows some yearly cycles. I wrote six new songs in three months. There are an additional handful of ideas that I could explore but I’m not feeling it (these scraps are destined for the bonepile). I started a song three weeks ago and got stuck. I know where it’s going but I can’t convince myself to spend time doing the work. My excuse is that this song will sound so much better with a band. I guess I am saving it for the right occasion. I know this is a bad excuse but it is a clear signal. Songwriting season has ended. This does not mean that there will be no songwriting. We are going from a fire hose to the annoying drip in the bathroom sink. Drips add up. Time for practice and to make some of these new songs presentable for human consumption. Everything in its season.
Me (visibly angry after stepping on random toys): You kids have too many toys!!! I can’t even walk through the room!!! We need to get rid of some of this junk!!! My Son (feeling that he has solved the problem): We should park the van next to the road like normal people and fill the garage with shelves and put all of our toys in there…we could call it a toy-age.
I wrote a new song called Cosmoline. The word Cosmoline is the brand name of a petroleum based lubricant. I like this word. It got stuck in my head and I wrote a chorus. I had no idea where a song about a petroleum based lubricant was going to take me. Here is my first attempt at a song called Cosmoline.
If I squint my eyes When I squint my eyes It’s the time of day when the light begins to play I look across the room and see her standing there There is a girl that I never knew She’s got a blue flowered dress Her hair hangs over her shoulder in a single plait She’s looking at me looking at me with judgement in her eyes She’s looking at me with judgement in her eyes I’ve been seeing ghosts Lurking in all my doorways They all came out They came out to play I’ve been seeing ghosts Hey, hey, hey, hey I look through the haze I’m cutting through the haze In the shadows of the room in the shadows I see a man He is someone, I’ve known him forever He’s got his hat perched on the top of his head He is standing so close, he is standing too close I feel his disappointment I know he’s disappointed but he wants me to go on I’m dancing while I play I’m dancing while I play I’ve been seeing ghosts Lurking in all my doorways They all came out They came out to play I’ve been seeing ghosts Hey, hey, hey, hey
I have always considered myself to have a bad memory. I struggle to memorize songs. I’ve had several head injuries and I assume there is a correlation. Even with songs that I have played 100 times, I have trouble remembering the words. The difference between a good folk musician and a mediocre one is the ability to recall and perform many songs. Musical ability is not the most valuable currency. Being great requires knowing an astounding number of songs. I have always considered myself mediocre. I recently started reading a book called Moonwalking With Einstein. It’s about memory champions. I know it sounds crazy but you can be a champion at the art of remembering. I am hoping to uncover the secrets associated with having an extraordinary memory. Am I doomed to forget everything? I’m almost halfway through the book and I have not yet developed any memory superpowers. The book insists that champions are not born with freakish memories. They begin with normal abilities and through much training, they can do extraordinary memory feats. The idea that the ability to remember is something that can be trained has given me incredible hope. I’m going to keep reading. I don’t expect to find any quick hacks. I guess I need to devote some time and energy to memorizing songs. Maybe with some training, I can overcome the notion that I have a bad memory.
I have made an important life decision. I am trading in my kazoo for some melt-your-face level distortion. I think weird folk will convert nicely into some thrashing death metal. April Fool’s It’s another stupid holiday. I hope you have a fantastic day free of surprise firecrackers, ridiculous untruths, and odd substances smeared on the toilet seat.
I keep an ongoing list of words that I like. There is no clear criteria for how a word might make this list. If I come across a word and it feels good, it goes on the list. The following are five words from my list: Malarkey Tommyrot Apocryphal Cosmoline Raconteur What are your favorite words?
I am not big on celebrating birthdays. I don’t like cake and I don’t think we should require a 365 day waiting period to have a party for people we love. I am also bad at anniversaries. I can never remember if my wedding anniversary is on the 28th or 29th of November. I just checked and it is the 27th. I am reading a book called “Moonwalking with Einstein.” It’s about memory training. There is a concept in this book about measuring our perceived passage of time. When life is mundane and every day follows a similar routine, time seems to pass very quickly. This contributes to that feeling that you have missed out on something. Time appears to pass more slowly and you will feel that you have lived a long full life when you have lots of memories to string together. Having many new and unique experiences creates new chronological memories that provide a satisfying existence. I love celebrating the anniversaries of projects that I have created. (I am not suggesting that I remember the dates of these anniversaries. I rely on a calendar.) I enjoy reminiscing about the period in time that led to the making of a particular record. It’s an annual reminder of a song’s backstory. My chronological memories seem to be segmented, not by holidays or trips around the sun, but by my artistic endeavors. The creative phases of my life are the memories that I use to measure my existence. Cheers to a long, slow, creative life.
On Sunday we traveled to Pittsburgh to visit the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The kids love the dinosaurs. I love the dinosaurs. My twins (age 6) have trouble saying “Museum of Natural History.” They call it the “Museum of Nostril Pickery.” I am not sure that this is an entirely honest mistake.
We just finished watching Encanto for the 9,000th time. Some scenes continue to elicit an emotional response even after this many viewings. It’s a great movie. If you haven’t watched the movie, be advised that the next part contains spoilers. I love the way this movie addresses generational trauma. Generational trauma is devastating and can trickle down through many lives. In the movie, it is the trauma experienced by Abuela that is the catalyst for the pressure she puts on her children and grandchildren. It is this pressure that causes all of the destruction and turmoil. Consistent with the Disney formula, the children are the heroes of this movie and the older adults are flawed bad guys. It was clear that Abuela’s fear caused her to wreck many lives and disrupt the entire town. The thing that I like most about the movie is that every character was given a chance for redemption and also acceptance. It seems like our society prefers to cancel someone for causing this level of generational trauma than to provide a path to forgiveness. Abuela’s obsessive and fearful choices caused so much destruction but the family continued to love her and appreciate the sacrifices she had made. Good intentions don’t make bad actions acceptable. Bad actions do not negate good intentions. We need our history, our family, and all of the baggage. Trauma happens and can carry through generations. We find ourselves sitting amongst the debris caused by ruinous choices. Only forgiveness can rebuild a magical house.
I recently started doing crossword puzzles. My theory was that it would be a good exercise for my brain. I could learn some new vocabulary words and keep my mental reflexes sharp. The truth is that it has become another flashing object in a long line of daily distractions. The solution to 17down stands between me and all normal sense of accomplishment. What is your favorite distraction?
Our new/old record is out today. It’s been on its way for a long time but it all happened very quickly. You know what I mean. You can listen to the tracks for free on our website, here. The CD version is on our store and on sale for the rest of the month!!! The most important thing is that I want you to hear it. If you have some time, give it a spin. Let me know what you think. I hope you like it.
It’s time for a throwback Thursday. This is me and my baby sister. These photos were taken during the writing phase of our Painted Smiles project. It’s been 18 years, six kids, and a full head of hair.
This song is called Gwen and my sister wrote it for a record that we made together back in 2004. All of the songs on the record are about female archetypes. This is the first time that I’ve covered one of the songs from that project. It feels weird but hopefully it works. The studio recording included piano, French horn, and vocals and it was all done by my sister for the record. We are re-releasing Painted Smiles on March 25, 2022. Check out the studio version on Friday, it’s way better.
In case you haven’t heard, I am reissuing a record that we made back in 2004. It’s called Painted Smiles. I made this music with my sister and I am very proud to be putting it out now. Mrs. Brother Jack made the artwork for the project. The CD insert lists her with her maiden name. I can only vaguely remember the evening she did this painting. I remember struggling to find an idea for the album art. She had this concept from the beginning and knew exactly how it should look. She grabbed her paints and made it happen. We were called Clive Staples at that time. The CD artwork lists Clive Staples on the front. If you purchase a CD, don’t be confused. I delicately cropped the original to get the artwork for the digital version. There are all kinds of rules about the artwork matching the artist name. Weird internet rules can make things tricky sometimes. I love this artwork. It perfectly embodies the sounds of the record. It means a lot having made this project with so many important people involved. I wrote the songs with my sister. She sang them all. We made the music with some great friends. My wife created the artwork. It feels like a perfect slice from the life I was living in 2004.
I got home from work early Put the dinner on the stove Longing for the “I love you’s” You’d whisper when we were alone I yearn for the yesterdays When I was your prize You’d walk me around With your big dreams in your eyes With a big house and a family A family with three kids You’d always take care of me Promised all the love you could give These bruises get easier to hide They barely even enter my mind But the way you look at me And the sound of your voice Rips me apart Leaves me feeling cold and alone Even when you’re by my side I caught myself thinking today About the first time I really cried You made me feel like nothing at all When you laughed at what I said It’s always the same old fight I guess you got tired of pointing out my flaws You said you’d had enough of this To find my own way home I remember that long walk home Convinced myself it wouldn’t happen again Hoping each set of headlights were yours You haven’t come for me yet These bruises get easier to hide They barely even enter my mind But the way you look at me And the sound of your voice Rips me apart Leaves me feeling cold and alone Even when you’re by my side I woke up tonight in the dark You’re lying there next to me I’ll get up and do it all again I won’t feel anything anymore These bruises get easier to hide They barely even enter my mind But the way you look at me And the sound of your voice Rips me apart Leaves me feeling cold and alone Even when you’re by my side
Last night I played some music with my friends in the band called Ride the Song. This was our first long set together since before the madness. It was good to shake off the rust. We had some minor hiccups but it was a great time. It’s always satisfying to play music with other people, especially if you have a history of playing music together. Yesterday was our first truly beautiful day. It was warm and it smelled like springtime. The yards are starting to turn green and I may have smelled some hamburgers burning on a grill. The first perfect spring day is magical. The one problem that comes along with the first perfect spring day is that nobody wants to sit inside a winery and listen to a band shake off the rust. Even perfect weather can ruin your plans.
I’ve got some new music coming out. Well… it was new back in 2004. But you have never heard it so it still counts as new music. I wrote these songs with my sister and we got together with some friends to make Painted Smiles. We put it out into the world with big dreams. Then we promptly moved in opposite geographical directions. The project kind of fizzled as life continued to happen. It’s a really good record and it belongs out in the world. I’ve been waiting for the perfect moment to re-release Painted Smiles and that’s dumb. The longer I wait, the less opportunities you have to hear it. I’m sorry that I’ve waited so long. It will be available on March 25, 2022. You can listen on my bandcamp site or grab a CD from my store.
I hate greeting card holidays. Valentine’s Day is a scam to sell chocolate. Mother’s Day, although well meaning, is perpetuated by the floral industry. Father’s Day is propped up by the grill industry. They are all fake special days designed to pick our pockets. St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday I can support. It’s all about the songs. In every respectable pub, revelers will be pounding the bar with their green beer. The exact same songs will be sung by voices in old folks homes, schools, bars, and my house. A holiday with such a strong emphasis on musical tradition is one worth celebrating. Regardless of your heritage, take some time to share a dirty limerick today.
If I squint my eyes When I squint my eyes This time of day when the light begins to play I look across the room and see her standing there There is a girl that I never knew She’s got a blue flowered dress Her hair hangs over her shoulder in a single plait She’s looking at me she’s looking at me with judgement in her eyes She’s looking at me with judgement in her eyes I’ve been seeing ghosts Lurking in all my doorways They all came out They came out to play I’ve been seeing ghosts
Our twins just turned six. We have one boy and one girl. They are definitely not identical twins (see above gender reference). When discussions regarding their birthday cake began, one child was set on a dinosaur theme and the other was desperate for unicorns. In her infinite wisdom, their mother introduced the concept of a hybrid cake featuring both options. Our world is desperate for more compromise. There are lessons to be learned from this cake. Although it did solve our initial feud, this magnificent cake sparked a more urgent debate. Should it be uni-saurus or dino-corn?
I wrote a song about life with my children and my perpetual struggle to drink a cup of coffee while it is still hot. The song was officially released to the world two years ago. It also features my old pump organ. Today is also the twin's birthday. They are six. I can’t believe they aren't babies anymore. Time is so weird.
I had an idea for a song way back in December of 2020. It was a groove on the ukulele and a notion about ghosts. I regularly played the groove but I couldn’t get myself around to the actual writing. Playing this hook never fails to make my kids dance around the room. Off and on over the last year, I would try some gibberish over the chords. I felt like I didn’t know the song’s purpose. Maybe I knew where the song was headed but wanted to avoid it. Someday I will lay down on the couch and tell you why I was avoiding it. I tried a couple of different alternative directions. I tried making it about a band of ghosts playing music in the cemetery. I tried making a song about being haunted by the past. I tried making it about honoring your ancestors. I tried writing about overcoming trauma or an obstacle. None of these options were satisfying. Deep down inside, I knew where it wanted to go. I have made peace with the ghosts in this song. I got out of the way and allowed them to roam freely. A breakthrough happened out of nowhere and I was able to capture the idea of two specters that had haunted me. It is not yet finished but I know where the ghosts are going.
Today is my Dad’s 70th birthday. He is a fantastic human being. Things have not always been perfect but I can give him full credit for most of my best qualities. He has had a positive impact on many lives. His 70 years have been a great example of the best way to go about life. I remember when he was the age that I am now. At that point, I was the age that my kids are now. My mind is blown. It seems like yesterday but now he is 70. Time is weird.
I remember the first time that I heard my music on the radio. I’m not gonna lie, it was rather incredible. I just heard myself on the radio again. I’m not gonna lie, it is always rather incredible. There is a show on our local radio called Homegrown Rocker that features regional music. It’s hosted by “The Professor” Jim Price. He is the leading expert on our local scene. He recently did a review of Busted Banjo. Brother Professor is good at his job and I am grateful for everything that he does to make our scene better. He was spot on with his review. It made me feel a little bit giddy to hear him describe the record in exactly the way that I hoped it would be described. Creative endeavors are a fickle beast. It’s satisfying to know that I found the bullseye for which I was aiming. If you want to hear his review, check it out here. Scroll down to the player and select the episode marked “Homegrown Rocker 030622 Part 3.” If you are incredibly impatient, you can skip to the 20 minute mark.
If a song is worth anything, it will stick in your craw without any help or reinforcement. A good song shouldn’t need to be written down. As I am aging, I trust my memory less and less. I require some basic notes to preserve the idea. Most of my songs grow from a tiny initial idea. This seed might be a guitar hook, a melody, or a single line of text. If I have an idea that isn’t yet a song but has the potential, I get as much down as soon as possible. Most often, I use the voice memo app on my phone. I love a good title. It is very common for my best songs to grow from a great title. The title can tell me everything I need to know about where the song is going and its overall concept. This new song started in the voice memo app. It began life as the chord progression that would become the chorus. There was no overall concept. It did not have a title. In the app, it was listed as “Idea 9” meaning that it was my ninth untitled entry. I worked through the progression and it eventually became a full song. When all was said and done, Idea 9 felt like a fitting title. Sometimes a good title can remind you of the hard work that was required. This song was born as Idea 9 and it will always be Idea 9.
If you would like to hear the original voice memo recording, let me know. I would be happy to share it, if you want to hear it.
My youngest kids are twins, one of each, and they are five.
It was the butt crack of dawn and we were awake. My little girl crawled into my lap and informed me that when she grows up she wants to be either a teacher or a doctor. My boy appears out of nowhere and declares, “when I grow up, I wanna be a leprechaun.”
Never again, I feel the wind brush my cheek Never again, I see the flowers reach for the sky Never again, I see the moon reflecting down Looking down on me Looking down on me Here we are now, at the end of the line With nothing more to do All I got here is a blanket and a bottle And noting left to lose Never again, I feel your lips brush my face Never again, Your arms are reaching out Never again, I see your eyes looking at me Your eyes looking at me Your eyes looking through me Here we are now, at the end of the line With nothing more to do All I got here is a blanket and a bottle And your damn cold feet
We had a weekend at my in-law’s big, old- fashioned house. Mrs. Brother Jack’s father turned 70. It was great to celebrate his life. He has had a tremendous impact on who I am. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves and it was nice to have a party for him. All five members of my immediate family spent the night in the room that had been my wife’s childhood bedroom. We were crammed foot to jowl, listening to Grandpa snore in the next room. Mrs. Brother Jack woke up at 3:00 AM to get an extra blanket because she was cold. An hour later my baby girl woke me up to ask if it was morning yet. At 5:00 the boy got up to pee. By 6:00 I found myself in incredible discomfort. I should have gone to the toilet any of the many other times that we were awake. I was laying in bed and afraid to move. Sleep had been so scarce. I could not allow myself to be responsible for disturbing the peace. If I got up to pee, everybody would be awake and grumpy and it would be my fault. So I laid as still as possible trying to not think about the pain radiating from my bladder. If I had only gotten up any of the other times… I wouldn’t have written a poem. I composed a three verse poem framed around the Lord’s Prayer while I was striving to be as still as the dead. I don’t write much poetry. It was equally surprising that I was able to remember the entire poem after we all woke up. When the official morning finally arrived, I scrambled for a pencil. After I used the toilet of course. (In case you were curious, I was successful. I did not wake everyone up. It was my baby girl at 7:03.)
I don’t often write poetry. This is a rare poem that I wrote while mostly asleep. Sometimes I get lonely Maybe I’m out for a bite to eat The waitress walks over with a menu She smiles just right Her name tag says Jazzmine Spelled with a double “Z” She has the reminder of an accent I can’t tell where she is from I say that she must get lonely being so far from home She says that she has been here for almost 20 years She says it’s nice of me to notice And she smiles again In my mind I stand up I brush the hair from her forehead In my mind I lean in close I whisper that I am lonely too In my mind she smiles again I order a Greek omelette Lead us not into temptation Sometimes I get so tired The kids are demanding a stream of necessities It’s constant squabbling A never ending flow of why’s and how-come’s I say shut up I say that I’m tired of your mouth I don’t want to hear you anymore I feel bad and go outside In my mind I walk away I leave my offspring to fend for themselves I am sure a benevolent pack of wolves will come along And raise them as their own In my mind I walk slowly down the hill I’m so tired I just keep walking until I completely disappear In my mind I fade away Never to be heard from again In my mind they will be fine without me Forgive us our trespasses Sometimes I get mean I’m out for a cup of coffee And there is a guy spouting some rhetoric There is always that guy He feels obligated to tell everyone how wrong we are He condemns everything he hates He corrupts everything he is afraid of In my mind I want to shut his mouth I am sick of people that can’t shut up In my mind I throw my scalding coffee at his eyes In my mind he shrieks and comes at me In my mind I grab him by the scruff of the neck In my mind I smash his face off the cash register Over and over Until the blood flows His rhetoric speckled on the tip jar His fears splattered across the “leave a penny - take a penny” dish In my mind everybody applauds Everybody is grateful that I was mean Deliver us from evil
I wrote this song about whistling. I don’t know why I did that. Whistling is even in the title. I don’t know what I was thinking. I have never been a good whistler.
This snow shovel has been leaning against the chimney for the last three months. I have made the diplomatic decision that it’s time to return the shovel to the garage. The shovel tasted snow several times this winter but it hasn’t been bad. To be honest this shovel is a magical talisman. As a warning to everyone living in my geographic area, we will now receive a massive snow storm. I am putting the shovel away.
I am working on a rough mix of my song called Bugs. The parts were recorded almost two years ago. It didn’t fit with any other projects at the time and was relegated to the back of the queue. As I am currently between projects (completely directionless), this mix has now found its way to the top of the pile. Six weeks ago I thought I had finished the mix. It didn’t feel right. It sounded fine but not great. I tried to convince myself that it was good enough. This was supposed to be some quick studio work. It was just something to keep me busy until I started the next big project. I tweaked, adjusted, pushed it a little harder, and made it worse. It was bad. I was forcing it to be something that it could never be. This might be the same thing as writer’s block. I was floundering to make the big decisions regarding what should happen next and I kept pushing harder. The rough tracks are good but the song was louder and more distorted and not good. I need to learn to be true to where the song is leading. I took a deep breath, listened to Bugs, and started from scratch. I am working on a rough mix of my song called Bugs. This track might never get released into the wild. It’s ok if it doesn’t. I learned an important lesson. Follow the song.
Yesterday I played some music with my friends in Ride the Song. We’ve been playing music together in some form or capacity for 10 years. We always have fun jamming some classics. We were playing at a wild game potluck. To get in you had to bring some food. There was crawdad stew, venison pot pie, all kinds of homemade bologna, and even some smoked trout. It was an amazing day. I am glad I got to be part of it. In case you wondered, I did not eat the miniature lobsters. I don’t eat anything that still has a face.
The Lost Cause played at Olde Bedford Brewing. It was a good show. There were a lot of crazy requests from the audience. No, we don’t know any Slayer… It was our first public performance with a new microphone setup. Josephine did a great job. Even Mrs. Brother Jack agreed that it was a good investment. It was so great to be back out playing music in public. There was a palpable feeling that more and more people desperately missed sitting in a bar and listening to live music. We missed you too.
I bought a new microphone. It’s called Josephine. She came to me with that name. I didn’t name her. Ear Trumpet Labs has a line of hand-built, vintage looking, large diagram condenser microphones. Each model has a different feminine sounding name. I just bought a Josephine. This new microphone will be my primary setup for live performances. Josephine should also be very helpful when I am making videos. She may even provide a tremendous improvement to the sound quality of my live streams (if I can figure out how to hook it all up). Most importantly, she will be the foundation for the making of my next two records. I broke the piggy bank to pay for Josephine. If you have ever thrown a dollar into my tip jar, thank you!!! Josephine and I are grateful for your support. Wait until you hear what she does next.
I have written six new songs in three months. I don’t know how it compares to other songwriters but for me it is a respectable rate. I’m talking about six complete songs. This does not include the bad songs, social media snippets, and song fragments headed to the bone pile. I feel as though I have been bubbling over with new ideas. I have heard many creatives talk about writing daily. It’s a noble practice. I have tried a daily discipline and it doesn’t work for me. I typically write in batches. I prefer to work with a more Ecclesiastical approach. A time to plant. A time to harvest. A time to write a big bunch of new songs.
I had developed some healthy routines by the end of last year. I was getting some daily exercise which included a return to recreational running. It took some practice but I got to the point where my jogging was no longer embarrassing. I had surpassed the Frankenstein crawl. The holidays happened and all of my good habits stopped. The beginning of the new year is when most people start new, healthy habits. Not me, I quite all of my healthy habits in January. Right after the New Year, I injured my back. Don’t worry, it’s not major and it was definitely my own fault. Fortunately, I have been able to rehab it back to a functional level without any invasive actions. When I was a kid, my Dad had a number of back issues that required a range of surgeries. Whenever my back gets tight, I worry that I am headed in that direction. Thanks to lots of ice and constant stretching, I am finally back to dragging my feet along on some slow walks. Respectable jogging is still way off in the future. Fresh starts are good. I wish it wasn’t a self induced set back but I am trying to focus on the possibilities. There is a lot of improvement that can happen when you are starting from zero. I am also making a commitment to myself that I will write daily. Daily blogging is another habit that I somehow lost during the winter holidays. Follow my Daily Dispatch for daily updates.
November 16, 2021 I like to run…for fun. I wrote a song about it. This is the first of what may be a new and regular series. This is the first “one minute song.” It’s got zombies, volcanoes, and giant chickens. If you hate running for pleasure, you will still love this song. Come on, let’s go for a run.
November 14, 2021 I got rather creative when I was working in the studio for the Busted Banjo project. I knew the sounds that I wanted to hear even when I didn’t have the instruments that would make that sound. The bass needed to sound like “vrump, vrump, vrump.” So that is what I did. My track called Joyous Noise on a Busted Banjo included a vrump track. The always engaging vrump made a return for my song called Oddballs, Old Friends, and Weird Folk. This track didn’t make it onto the record but maybe someday it will get released. In the meantime, here is a video clip featuring some studio magic that made the vrump possible. All about the vrump, about the vrump…
November 13, 2021 I recently started running again. I know it’s weird but I really enjoy running. When I made a social media post about my re-entry into the world of running, it was suggested (by my cousin) that I should write a song about running. So I did and I think you are going to like it. It’s all about finding the proper motivation. I wanted to make a video for the song. It seemed like a great opportunity to break out my green screen and pretend that I was running in some beautiful and unique locations. In case you aren’t familiar with the technique, when you shoot video in front of a solid green background it allows you to swap any image with the green color. This bit of studio magic allows me to go anywhere in the world without leaving the house. Due to a minor lighting issue, my grey pants appeared too similar in color to the green screen and I lost my legs through most of the video. I recorded a second attempt and so far it looks much better. I am hoping to have it finished for you to see by Wednesday.
November 10, 2021 I am compiling a list of advice that you might hear from a “life expert.” It does not necessarily have to all be bad advice but it does need to be an overused diatribe. I don’t want to include the low hanging fruit such as, quit your job and follow your passion, lose weight, or standard secrets to getting rich. I am looking for the teeth grinding, annoying words of wisdom that makes your skin crawl. “You’d be real pretty, if you smiled more often.” If you climbed to the top of the mountain and met the Guru of your dreams, what disappointing advice did he give you? What is the misplaced advice that fills you with rage every time you hear it? “You should simply make the choice to be more happy.”
November 8, 2021 I have never believed that writers block is a real thing. I think that if you want to write and you can’t, it is because you are afraid that your results will be bad. The key to overcoming writers block is to just keep writing. It’s ok if it is bad, just keep writing. I am having a different kind of problem. I have too many ideas and I can’t seem to chose the right one. I guess that is a slightly different version of the same thing. I’m afraid of making the wrong choice and steering the song in the wrong direction. I have two songs that I have been working on for at least six months. I have not actively spent much time working on either of these songs. That is my justification for why they are not finished. I have written a lot of bad songs and I have no problem scrapping my bad songs. I think these two songs ideas will be amazing as a finished product, if I ever get there. These are two potentially good songs and I have enough ideas to create 37 mediocre songs. Eventually I will make some decisions. Eventually I will finish these two songs. They might be ok. Eventually they will be finished.
November 7, 2021 A couple years ago, I got mad about life and quit music altogether. I felt like I was in the middle of a desert sucking the metaphorical sands of failure. When I picked up a guitar, nothing came out. I didn’t have it anymore. I had lost all interest. Fear can be so consuming. One random day, I had percolated long enough. I picked up the guitar and wrote this song about a snake that had been taunting me. This all came out in one burst. In about fifteen minutes a song existed where it hadn’t before. I was back and fully committed to chasing wherever the songs would lead. The last track from my Busted Banjo project is available everywhere today. It’s a song about a snake, overwhelming fear, and being trapped in a dessert. I’m glad I got out of that desert and I can’t wait for the next song.
November 2, 2021
This is a seriously sketchy snake. I put together a video clip that coincides with the first verse of my song called the Snake Ate My Radio. I plunged deep into my new found interest of sketching in order to make this video. I feel like this song is ripe with opportunity for animation, images, sketches, or anything visual. If you want to take a stab at it, I would love to see it.
October 31, 2021
I have limitations. I am a mediocre musician. I am not a slick producer. I do not have access to a lot of great instruments. I think one thing that I am good at is hearing in my head the way that a song should sound. I knew how this track wanted to sound and I made it happen. I used what I had available, performed some minor auditory surgery, and the result is magic. I was spitting some noise on this track called Bugs. I have learned a lot about creativity and expression while making this record. The most important thing that I have learned is that, if you are throwing down a groove, you better include the hand motions.
October 30, 2021
If you have not yet watched The Great Pumpkin, there is still time. This Charlie Brown special is my favorite Halloween tradition. We have already watched it twice this year and will probably sneak in a third viewing at some point tomorrow while the kids sort their candy. I was thinking about all of our most sacred holiday traditions. Our most important holiday moments revolve around shows and movies that we watch every year. I think this means that our religion is television. Be sincere and watch the Great Pumpkin.
October 28, 2021
Tonight was the annual trick or treat for our neighborhood. A good time was had by all. The twins ate so much candy that they were actually vibrating. I know the past year and a half was hard on a lot of people. However, it’s had to understand why an old bird decided to stretch her candy stash by handing out pencils from her junk drawer. It might have been acceptable if the pencils weren’t chewed on. Definitely the weirdest Halloween treat I’ve ever seen.
October 25, 2021
Bugs (Busted Banjo Version) We’ve got another track from the Busted Banjo series out today. This is the penultimate song from this project. It’s been a fun record to make and this might be my favorite track. This song is all about needing a good cry. Sometimes a good cry will fix it all.
October 21, 2021
I’ve been reading a book about how to best make things for the people who care about the things that I make. The content of the book isn’t important. The important part is that I have chosen to spend time reading a book that will make me better at the work that I do. This morning I found myself trying to decide how much I needed to read before I could cross this off my list for the day. I was not interested in learning or getting better. I wanted to cross the task off my list. Am I spending my time doing the things that I want to be doing? Am I spending my time crossing tasks off a list?
October 19, 2021
I sometimes enjoy listening to my really early recordings. The quality of my voice is so weird. I sound so young. It’s really adorable to think about the pathetic baby that was commanding that tiny little voice. “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger.” Regardless of my level of wisdom, my voice on those recordings will always sound young. There is a lot less miles/songs/abuse on those vocal chords. I was working on a vocal track in the studio today and it was haunting in a different way. It struck me that I was listening to my future voice. For some reason the track was old man vocals. I don’t know what made it sound the way that it did. It was surreal, like I was listening to an older version of myself. I cried a little bit. (I know that Halloween is happening soon. Please don’t be angry by the Christmas jams.)
October 17, 2021
I was working on an arrangement of Boom Boom Ticka Ticka for my Busted Banjo project. I needed some low end but I didn’t want to use the bass. I needed something less conventional. I tried this lick on the old pump organ. If you don’t know about my pump organ, that is a story for another time. This song needed some creepy organ and I didn’t even know it. It completely changed the feel of the song. It sounds like a vintage scary movie track. I love how the recording turned out.
October 14, 2021
I just got back from a songwriting seminar with some scouts and it was splendid. A friend of mine is the pack leader and he invited me to help them earn their maestro badge. After a brief performance, I helped them write a pack theme song. The song was mostly campfires, and roasting marshmallows. They made some great songs. At the end I was approached by two older siblings. I had helped them earn their maestro badges two year ago. They still remembered the pack song that we wrote together. This made my day.
October 13, 2021
Today, I was running. There was a time in my life when I ran a lot and often. I have been trying to get back into a regular routine but it is difficult. Typically my desire to sit down overpowers my desire to go for a run. I turned a major corner today. For the first time in over three years, I went for a run on two consecutive days. I am very excited. Now I want to start making ridiculous distance goals for myself. Slow down. I need to simply enjoy that I had the opportunity to get out and stretch my legs two days in a row.
October 3, 2021
When I was 10 years old, a teacher handed me a trombone. I played trombone in grade school, high school marching band, and college. As a college music major, trombone was my main instrument. I was never a great trombonist but it was always an important part of my identity. After college I had no reason to play the trombone. So it was relegated to a corner where it collected dust.
When I started tracking my song called Snake Ate My Radio, the trombone was exactly what I needed for the bottom of the mix. I busted out my horn and it all came flooding back. It was like riding a bike except it made my lips swell and my face sore. It took over two weeks to get to the point where I could simply make appropriate sounds. Once I got my face back into shape, it didn’t take long to record. After I got all the sounds that the song needed, I promptly put it back in the corner to collect dust. I know that I should make it a regular part of my practice but I doubt it’s going to happen.
September 29, 2021
1. Since the release of Pancakes, a lot of people have sent me pictures of their pancakes.
2. I want to make a video to go with the new recording of Pancakes.
3. Obviously, I need to put together a video collage of all your pancakes.
Send me pictures of your pancakes so I can include it in my video. It will be a really short video unless I get a picture of your pancakes.
September 28, 2021
Today is a Tuesday which means I had a Happy Hour with my friends on Facebook. Happy Hour on Tuesdays at 4:00 EST is one of my few non-negotiables. Today, I was a little stressed. I had some other things occupying my energy. My mind was spinning in many other directions. I was not in the mood for Happy Hour. I wanted to sit down and chip away at the other junk. I can always count on the Weird Folk and pancakes to solve all of my problems. I am so glad that Happy Hour is a non-negotiable. I feel better. All of the other stuff that was stressing me out was put into perspective. Thank you.
September 27, 2021
New jam from Brother Jack out everywhere.
This song is a tragic tale about a snake that eats every radio in the world. It’s a metaphor for the way we consume media. Maybe it’s a metaphor for the way the media consumes us. Or maybe we swallowed up the media makers and spit them out with the power to consume ourselves. Maybe the metaphor is like one of those snakes that is eating its own tail. I don’t know what this song means but I am confident it is a metaphor, there is a snake, and also a radio.
September 21, 2021
I just finished the seventh track in my Busted Banjo series. The song is called Bugs. We are in the process of deciding which song should be the sixth single released in the series. We have two songs in the running. There is only one more track in the entire series that needs to be finished. I always get weird when a project is completed. I get confused and fuzzy about what to do next. This has been a really fun project and I’m very proud of it. Busted Banjo might be the best record that I have ever made.
September 19, 2021
My favorite, go-to instrument in the studio has been a large stainless steel stock pot. I don’t know its technical size measurements but it’s big enough to hold a small human. I love the way it sounds. If you smack the bottom you get a great big clunk with a ringing sound. If you hit the rim with a stick it has a lot more sustenance. If you smack it on the side beneath the handle you get a nice thwack sound. It is a steel drum, kick drum, rack tom, and cymbals all in one. When I’m done, I can make soup.
September 16, 2021
It’s been a while since I watched a movie that was not a cartoon. Don’t get me wrong, most of my favorite movies are kid movies. I had a minor emotional meltdown today and decided to indulge in a movie. I watched the Illusionist (this post will not be a movie review). It’s definitely one of my top ten favorites. I haven’t picked my own movie in a long time. Why did I pick this one? I just finished reading a collection of short stories by Steven Millhauser. It’s called the Barnum Museum and it includes the short story on which this movie was based. It was a great read. I am a sucker for short story collections.
Movies are fantastic but we are nothing without books.
September 14, 2021
I am currently putting out “official releases” every two weeks. I am old school and love listening to a whole record. However, dripping singles from a full album is a really nice approach from a workflow standpoint.
The next track in the Busted Banjo series is called Bugs. Two days ago when I was talking to Hannah, I mentioned my arrangement plan for the song. She made an unmistakable face and said, “are you sure?” The seed of doubt was planted.
I spent a lot of time in the studio trying to force a square peg into a round hole. The track was bad. None of my tricks worked to salvage the song. I spent all day working on it and in the end I decided to blow it up and start in a new direction. It might work.
The interesting question is, when did this track become a disaster? Was my original arrangement always going to be the square peg? Did it spiral when the seed of doubt was planted?
September 10, 2021
For a while I have been doing a live stream on Friday afternoons. It is affectionately called a “No Plan Friday.” It’s because I never have a plan. With everyone in my house going to school, we’ve had some schedule adjustments. My current Friday time slot does not work. I could move it earlier but that would be an inconvenient time slot for all time zones. Moving it later will be impossible on days when I have Friday evening gigs. I am thinking about bumping it to Saturday. I think that could work. We can do a “No Plan Friday” on Saturday. That won’t be confusing at all.
September 8 2021
I love songwriting. I love talking about songwriting. I love telling stories about songwriting. I have been searching for a format that allows me to talk about songwriting in an accessible way. I think I’ve found something that might work. It is called “Brother Jack’s Song Stories.”
If you want to hear a long, rambling story about how I wrote my song called Pancakes, here it is.
It has been suggested that my songs are fine but my stories about the songs put them in context and make them important. I think this is true for everything. The things that happen to us are not as important as the stories we tell.
I’ve got a lot more stores and some of them might even be true.
September 7 2021
I like to think that I am an absolute, spontaneous creative that constructs my art from scratch at every step of the process. The truth is that I employ some templates. I have some go-to moves. For vocals, I have a pre-saved standard for my EQ, I use a vocal preset on a warmer plugin, and I typically add some saturation.
I was recording some accessory parts for my new arrangement of Boom Boom Ticka Ticka. I had not listened to the vocals since I recorded them two weeks ago. I was really impressed with the way the vocals fit in the mix. For a song like this, I would normally turn the stank knob way up because these vocals need some grit. I checked the channel because it sounded so good and I wanted to see what I had done previously. There was nothing. It was a completely clean track. That’s right, no filter needed. This was all me.
September 6, 2021
I started my Pull Up the Covers series a year ago today. In the videos, I play a cover song in front of a green screen and drop it on top of a random bed photograph that I find on the internet. This was a really fun project. “Because Monday mornings can be hard, we will pull up the covers.” Get it? It’s kind of a joke. I play a cover song in an imaginary bed and you pull up your covers. It’s a double use of the word cover and it’s rather clever. Really, it is.
I recorded about a dozen videos in this series and then ran out of interesting beds to use. I was surprised but it’s very difficult to find quality photos of beds that are free to use. I can find beds that don’t look good. I can find lots of beds that include people in their underwear. I can find perfect beds that come with a price tag. I thought about asking for submissions from my community but Mrs Brother Jack pointed out that could get creepy.
I would love to resume a cover song series but I’m not sure that it will include bed photographs. I am thinking maybe I will try something with a couch. I enjoyed learning how to use the green screen. That is probably a story for another time.
Pull up the covers, brothers and sisters.
September 5 2021
I haven’t been blogging consistently. My inner monologue has been drifting into some darker places this week. When I sit down to write, the only thing I want to write about is obviously something that nobody else needs to read. My ramblings from this place do not seem like something worth sharing. Then I remembered that blogging is not about other people. This is where I work stuff out. If it happens to be interesting, entertaining, or uplifting, that is great. Ultimately it is where I solve my problems.
So here is the thing, I have been a “part-time musician” for the previous fifteen years. My twins just started kindergarten. I had grand illusions that when everyone went back to school, I would be able to be more “full-time.” That has not been true. We had hurricanes, pandemics, doctor appointments, meltdowns, and a minor bout of diarrhea. It’s difficult to know the next step when you can’t comprehend when you will be able to make that step. All right universe, I get it. It’s a stale mate. But now it is time for the next game. Set it up, let’s go.
September 1, 2021
It rained a lot today. It was remnants of a hurricane called Ida. They said that it was the most rain our geographic area has ever received in a single day. We didn’t sustain any damage personally but there is a lot of mess to clean up. School was cancelled and we were all stuck here at home. It was just like the good old days from last year. Nobody accomplished much. I feel bad for the people that lost some property and those that lost everything.
I was thinking about a song idea today. What if Noah had second thoughts? What if he didn’t want to be the guy in charge of starting from scratch? What if he didn’t want to leave all of those evil people behind? If I write it, it will be called “Second Thoughts.”
August 31, 2021
We had another meet the teacher night at the school. I know we have multiple kids which requires us to meet multiple teachers. I know that parents are an “integral part of the learning team.” I know that I can’t get anything done because I am constantly at the school for a meeting.
August 30, 2021
It’s a new music Monday. This track has gritty banjo, handbells with Hannah, and pancakes. It’s crazy that this is the exact same song but feels so completely different than the original Pancakes. This is the second single from our Busted Banjo project. You can find it everywhere that you listen to music.
August 29, 2021
It’s hard to describe how awesome this felt. My kid helped me create this art. For this arrangement of Pancakes, I knew I wanted this handbell sound on the break.
As some backstory, her grandmother gifted these handbells to her granddaughter as a Christmas present ten years ago. Don’t judge me. I know they are technically a toy. They sound perfect. A set of handbells are a tricky instrument for an only child. You can really only play two bells at a time. There is not much that you can do with two bells. Good news, now she has some siblings and we can take this bell choir on the road.
These handbells were exactly what I wanted for the sound on the break. It was incredible to sit down and work out this part together. The sound was perfect. More importantly it was something very special that we did together.
August 26, 2021
In addition to being an inspiring musician and entertaining gentleman, I have been a stay at home parent for the majority of the last 14 years. It is the best job in the world. The twins start kindergarten tomorrow. It will be really weird to sit down and eat my entire lunch without having to share it with anyone. I have not yet allowed myself to contemplate the emotions that I may experience. I have started a list of books that I intend to read and songs that I intend to write. First we must conquer the first day of school.
August 22, 2021
I have been working on a new project called Busted Banjo. You may have heard me mention it. It has been my main focus lately and I’ve written about it consistently. I have been leaking out the finished tracks before they are released. It’s very sneaky. You can listen to them here. This is the best part about being an independent musician. I don’t have to answer to any grump in a suit. I am my own boss. I can do whatever I want to do with my music. Stick it to the man and listen to Pedal Down. It is track three on Busted Banjo.
August 18, 2021
It rained a lot today. My rain gauge registered 2.5 inches (over 6 cm) in the last 24 hours. It was all thanks to a tropical storm called Fred. I wonder when and why we started naming tropical storms? All of the plans that I had for today were a total washout. I debated some alternatives but decided to embrace the change of plans and enjoy the day. I did not achieve anything today that was measurable. I was unable to cross anything off the list. I had nothing physical to show for the day. I played cards with the kids. I didn’t win. I think I’ve been operating from a place of constant tension all summer. I don’t know why. There is no good reason for it. I needed a rainy day. I was able to work out a solution to a problem that has been vexing me for months. It came to me suddenly while I was reading a book. The solution was obvious. I achieved a lot today.
August 16, 2021
I may have previously alluded to a shift in my musical approach in the studio for the new project. I’ve always strived to be creative and to think outside the box with my sonic choices. For the Busted Banjo, sounds are getting really wild. As previously documented, the arrangement for Joyous Noise demanded that I play a tiny blue drum kit. The bass requirements for the track were even more extreme. When I listened to the rough mix, I knew I needed a low end that sounded like vrump – vrump – vrump. I began ransacking my studio looking for something that would make that sound. I continued grunting, vrump – vrump – vrump, as I tried to match that sound. I needed an instrument that could sound like vrump. The solution became obvious. I was already making the sound. With a minor wave of the magical digital wand I could have exactly what I needed. All right, everybody sing with me now – vrump – vrump – vrump.
August 16, 2021
I try to write this daily dispatch about the most important work that I have achieved during that day. As part of this process, I have realized that it has been quite a few days since I legitimately had a productive day. It has not been a string of merely mediocre days. It has been a barren wasteland for almost a week. I have achieved absolutely nothing beyond the bare minimal required for survival. Maybe that is a little overly dramatic. Don’t worry, we have not experienced any devastating tragedies. It’s been a range of issues that have combined to consume all my available resources. I have been sucked dry by family drama, medical emergencies, failures to communicate, logistical oversights, and cat vomit inches from my sleeping head in the middle of the night. At some point it will all be fine. It has been almost a week since I practiced my craft. I am hoping that tomorrow’s dispatch will be a glowing report about my mountains of accomplishments. Maybe I will pour out a river of sweat and tears to produce a truly magnificent masterpiece. The truth is that when life comes to a grinding halt, getting restarted tends to happen in fits and starts. Tomorrow, I will do my best to sit down and do the work, some work, or any amount of work.
August 15, 2021
My first single for the Busted Banjo project drops tomorrow. It is an arrangement of my song called Joyous Noise. It’s all about finding joy in really annoying sounds. For example, the repetitious chirping of the early morning birds that remind you to be grateful for another waking day. I have been approaching the studio a little differently for this project. I’ve always had a thing for arrangements. I have always known how I want things to sound. I can hear it in my head. In the past I have used the instrument and players most readily available to create some reasonable facsimile of what I hear in my mind. For this project I am working hard to not limit myself. I am chasing the sounds as far as I am able. I am banging, thumping, grunting, and discovering whatever method I can find to create the sound that I want to hear. This song needed me to play a rudimentary rhythmic pattern on a tiny blue drum kit. Don’t judge me, I used a big boy chair.
August 11, 2021
When Hannah was age three, she was obsessed with drums. The entire fall, leading up to Christmas, all she wanted was a blue drum set. We helped her send a letter to Santa and the only thing she requested was a blue drum set. On Christmas morning when she woke up, there it was. She got a tiny blue drum set with a big red ribbon. Eleven years later and we still have that tiny blue drum set. She loved those drums and the blue sparkle shells. She made bright orange paper flowers and attached them to each drum. She played them often and loud. We never got to the point of learning “correct” drumming skills. She adored that tiny blue drum kit but was never really interested in learning how to play it. I understand. I feel the same way about sourdough bread. After a while, Mrs Brother Jack said the drum kit could no longer reside in the middle of our main living space. The tiny blue drum kit got moved to my studio. For a while, little Hannah would wander into my studio and smack away at the drums. Once she started taking violin lessons, the drumming stopped. Her younger siblings have often found their way to the tiny blue drum kit. They love to take turns rocking out. As long as I have a dedicated studio space, that tiny blue drum kit will have a home. Perhaps, someday, my grandkids will wander into my studio and smack on that tiny blue drum kit.
August 6, 2021
I have a song called River Jordan. It was originally on my Judgement project. For a while I have wanted to record a new arrangement of the song with a dirty slide banjo part. I recorded my dream banjo part on my busted banjo for the new project. All summer it sat waiting for some spit and polish. I dropped in some vocals last night. My phrasing on the chorus is completely different than how I always play the song. I tried over and over to make it work. I could fit all the words in but it just felt weird. I can’t change it without starting from scratch. I contemplated trying to force it but made an executive decision. We are scrapping it and moving on to something that doesn’t feel weird. I will record my dream arrangement some other time.
August 5, 2021
I play in a band called Ride the Song. We just had our first practice in almost two years. We were hanging out in Tim’s garage playing songs that we thought we had forgotten. We had significant rust. When it all clicked, it was like no time had passed at all. There is no better communion than playing a great song with other people.
July 31, 2021
It’s been a crazy two days. There are a lot of weird emotions swirling around in my house. The twins (age 5) started kindergarten camp yesterday. It’s three hours every morning all week. They are practicing all the essential skills necessary to be prepared for the start of the school year. It’s a lot of crayons, glue sticks, and snacks. They are very excited mixed with some apprehension. I have a lot of apprehension and a little bit of excitement. They start full day school in three weeks. They are absolutely exhausted at the end of the day. They are grumpy but spend all evening talking non-stop. There will be a lot of changes at my house during the next several weeks. Things will be very different without my live studio audience.
July 31, 2021
At bed time my little girl was expressing some apprehension about having to one day grow up and move out. I don’t know where she would get such an idea… She said I should check with her brother and make sure he wasn’t planning on moving out when he grew up. She stated she planned on living here forever and she loved her brother and wanted him to live here forever as well. That is so sweet. I said, “what about me? What if I decide to move?” The boy said, “Don’t worry, he is really old and will probably die soon.”
July 29, 2021
I have a gig next weekend that requires an hour of original music. Today, I spent some time working on my setlist. It wasn’t that long ago that this particular setlist would have been really difficult to make because of a lack of material. At this point the setlist is really difficult to make because I have so many songs from which to pick. I guess it is a good problem to have. It’s hard to pick favorites.
I only have an hour to connect with this audience, most of which won’t know my material at all. Should I pick my “best” songs? I never liked greatest hits albums. I could wemble on and on for 56 minutes about the difficulty of picking songs and then wrap it all up with some Chicken Skin Shake. Yes, that sounds like something I would do.
July 28, 2021
Today we went to the museum. I have been trying to prioritize one day each week to spend with my family. No work, just something cool. When Hannah was little we went to the museum all of the time. The twins are 5 and they had never been to see the dinosaurs. Things have been weird. You remember, you were there. We love the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It is a cool museum and it is the closest, geographically. It is a two hour drive. Most things that we do are a two hour drive. The drive is worth it. The twins were a little apprehensive about seeing the dinosaurs. I think we forgot to mention that they weren’t real-live dinosaurs. Sorry, only skeletons. We had a great day. At one point, we were headed to the car but had to go back in to see the dinosaurs one more time. I would say it was a win for the museum. The most important thing learned today was that urinals are for urine only. No poop in the urinal.
July 26, 2021
I finished the artwork for my new Busted Banjo project. Drawing is a new thing for me. I am not good at it yet. I am doing it a lot and trying to get better. I wanted to share all of the iterations of this project.
The project is called Busted Banjo. I think you can see where I was going with this.
This one is slightly better than the first iteration.
This one is worse. It looks more like a hobo with a bag and a stick instead of a banjo.
I decided to switch to just sketching a broken banjo. There were many attempts to get to this point. There are several things about this that are not good, It looks a little bit like a broken leg spewing blood.
I finally figured out what I wanted to draw. It’s bright and sunny. It looks like a banjo. It sends the message that it is a broken banjo. There is an awesome letter Z in the center. I love Zorro. The banjo head is a little bit lumpy and not circular enough. I could do better.
This is the winner. I am satisfied. This is the Busted Banjo.
July 25, 2021
This is my green Ibanez electric guitar. I purchased it when I was 15 years old. When I was a kid, I mowed yards to make money. I saved up all of my grass cash to purchase this bright green guitar. There was a lot of sweat that went into acquiring this instrument. I was certain it would make me so incredibly cool that all the girls would love me. That never happened.
As a folk singer, I don’t have much use for a neon green electric guitar. I decided it would be a more useful instrument if I set it up as a baritone. I use strings designed for a seven string guitar. It’s tuned a fifth lower than a normal guitar. The neck length is not as long as an actual baritone guitar so there are issues with it staying in tune. That’s the price I pay for being so incredibly cool.
July 23, 2021
On Friday afternoons, I do a live stream show on Facebook. I call it a “No Plan Friday” because I don’t usually have a plan on Fridays. Today I announced that I was about to do a show. Little E (female twin – age 5), demanded that she pick my songs for today. Now we have a plan for our “No Plan Friday.” Like any good father, I played all of her picks. She stood next to me the entire show, singing loudly, and playing her pink ukulele. It was the best livestream show ever.
July 22, 2021
For the summer, I have been prioritizing spending time with my kids on Thursday’s. Regular working Dad’s might get to hang out on the weekend. As a musician, my weekends tend to be rather full. I am not going to lie to you and say that we do nothing but play all day. There are regular life things that have to happen. However, I have done my best to avoid doing any real work during the day on Thursdays. We have done some hiking, splashing in the paddling pool, berry picking, and told lots of fart jokes. Today was Thursday and it was a good day.
After they went to bed, I headed to the studio and attempted to accomplish something. I should have known better. I wanted to record one of my “Green Curtain Session” videos. I try to stay a week ahead for this series but for the next one I am four days away. It should have been a quick job. I recorded the song and was happy with the performance. It should have been a quick mix down. My brain was completely fried from all of the fun we had today. I couldn’t focus at all. It should have been quick and easy. The guitar and vocals felt completely disjointed. If I did not have video evidence that it was me doing both parts, I would not have believed it.
I guess it was bad work karma. I have a rule about not working on Thursday’s. I broke that rule and I have paid the price. I will start from scratch tomorrow. Tomorrow is a beautiful thing.
July 21, 2021
I am working on putting together a collection of chord charts for my songs. It blows my mind that anybody out there would like one of my songs enough to want to play it. I’ve had some requests and I’m honored to share my chicken scratch. I am proud of my work but this is a whole new level. Another human being is taking my work and making it their own.
The problem that I have encountered is that I am not very good at writing stuff down. There are songs in my back catalog that have never had pen touch paper. I guess it is good for me to sit down and figure out what I play. I can’t share my chord charts if I don’t know how to play my songs.
If you are interested, check it out here. I’ll be adding more songs as I figure them out.
July 19, 2021
Sunk Cost Fallacy
This economic principle states that we demonstrate a greater tendency to continue something once time, money, or effort has been invested.
I wrapped up production on the new mix for Pancakes. This is the Busted Banjo version of Pancakes. When I conceived this arrangement of the song almost nine months ago, I had a very specific plan. It was banjo (it’s called Busted Banjo after all), bass, vocals, a solo part and hambone for the rhythm.
I guess I should explain the fine art of hambone. You should probably google it. There is a lot of racial tension in the backstory of hambone but that is not particularly relevant to our story today. A hamboner uses his or her hands to make a rhythm by slapping his or her legs, chest, knees, and thighs. The hambonist tends to be a gregarious, expressive person that carries a song with these expressive smacks. I was determined that this arrangement needed banjo and hambone. I was not a trained hambonist (this feels like a better term than hamboner). I spent some time learning and then practicing the fine art of hamboning. I worked out a part and laid it down. It was all part of the plan. There was time and effort invested in the recording.
When I tried to mix it all down, it didn’t work. I could blame it on the microphone that I used, or my lack of skill as a mixing engineer. The truth is that it sounded crackly and weird and did absolutely nothing to make the song better. Yet I continued to insist that the hambone be part of the mix. I forced, tweaked, altered, effected, tolerated, and eventually scrapped the hambone part.
The hambone was a sunk cost fallacy. I did not need the hambone part. It did not make the recording better. In the end the easiest thing was to hit the mute button and scrap it. Pancakes turned out great.
Check out my hambone on Instagram here.
July 17, 2021
Some of my songs are written because a particular notion amuses me. (Chicken Skin Shake)
My best songs seem to spring forth from nothingness. (Raise Your Hand). A song shows up on my guitar one day and I have no idea how I’ve come to know this song. (Valley of Dry Bones)
I believe the best art already exists prior to creation. There are songs floating around in the atmosphere, waiting for the right moment. It’s like plucking a cucumber from the vine. I consider myself a gardener. I do my best to enrich the soil and I tend the plants but I will never claim to have created the cucumber. I try really hard to be a good conduit. I will gladly harvest any songs that come to me. When I am blessed with a special song, I try to be a good steward of the work. I do my best to deliver the song and get out of the way.
I heard an interview with the author Anne Lamott. She suggested that aspiring writers begin each day with a prayer. I am paraphrasing but it was something along the lines of the following:
Help me to get out of the way in order to write what wants to be written.
The author Steven Pressfield has talked extensively about beginning his writing sessions with a similar sentiment. He has a ritual of reciting an offering to the muses before beginning his work every day.
I don’t think I have been a good conduit lately. I have been getting in the way of the song. I think I am trying too hard. I believe the best art comes from somewhere higher than me but I do not have a ritual or routine that facilitates this process. I think I need to find a way to sanctify my writing process. However this may become one more way in which I am trying too hard and getting in the way of the song.
July 16, 2021
I played a live show on Facebook today. Usually Friday shows are a “No Plan Friday.” Today I had a plan. It was the pump organ. This seems like the right time to tell the story about how I acquired my pump organ.
For a long time, I worked for an auctioneer. We had an auction every Tuesday, no matter what. When people died, we would clean out their houses and sell all of their junk. It was a good job. I learned a lot.
One particular auction we had a beautiful pump organ for sale. “Who will give me a dollar, one dollar.” Silence. “One dollar for this beautiful piece of furniture.” Silence. “Anybody, anybody, anybody, a dollar.” I was on one end of the organ, holding it above the crowd. I couldn’t believe it, this organ was beautiful. “Who will give me a dollar.” I will. I will give you one dollar for this pump organ. “Sold.”
Fortunately I drive a truck. When the auction was over, the guys helped me load the beast into the back of my pickup. Of course I had no straps, rope, or even a belt to tie the thing down. The pump organ sat tall in the back of the truck, waving at everyone as we passed. We were good until we reached the last turn before my house. By that point, I had forgotten that I had a giant pump organ in the bed of my truck. I took the turn a little fast for the situation. She went up on one corner and then knocked real loud to remind me to take it easy up the hill.
When I got home, I was very excited to show Mrs. Brother Jack my new treasure. I bought a pump organ for one dollar!!!! As I pulled into the driveway, I remembered that it was actually my wife’s birthday. Of course she will be excited that I bought a pump organ for $1. Who wouldn’t be stoked about that deal? The bonus was that I could claim it was an extra birthday present for her. It doesn’t matter that she can’t play the organ. Who wouldn’t want a pump organ? Turns out she wasn’t as excited as I expected. She politely pointed out that we had no room for a pump organ and it couldn’t come into our house, even if it was a good deal. I suggested we get rid of her china cupboard and make room for my new baby. She told me where she thought I could shove that pump organ. After some delicate negotiations, I was allowed to keep it. The organ and I would both be living in the studio for the foreseeable future.
Mrs. Brother Jack has celebrated several birthdays since then and I’ve done better in the gift department than that $1 instrument. I’m allowed back in the house now and the pump organ is still hanging out in the studio. She has been worth every penny of the one dollar that she cost me.
The temperamental old gal exploded the first time she was played and we had to nurse her back into playing shape. That is a story for another time. She is fun to play but it’s a serious workout. I’m thinking about making a record with the pump organ but I still have to figure out the best way to capture her beauty with a microphone.
July 14, 2021
At breakfast today, my little girl (age 5) told me that I should quit my job. I am not sure if she could name my current vocation. She said I should quit my job and find a new job as a chef. I asked why she thought I should be a chef. She said, “you make really great toast.”
It’s true. I make the best toast.
July 13, 2021
Today is the one year anniversary of the release of Pancakes. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been singing about pancakes for more than a year. If you listened, commented, or appreciated this song in any way, thank you so much. If you sent me pictures of your pancakes, thank you. One member of the Weird Folk even sent me some syrup from his region. Thank you Brother Elliot. I think I have managed to lose the majority of my extra, lockdown induced, pancake weight. It’s been a weird but good year. Thanks for sharing the pancakes.
As part of a carefully planned marketing strategy or maybe a whim, I just shared a version of Pancakes played on a pump organ. It felt like a good way to commemorate our one year Pancakeversary. The details surrounding my pump organ that I purchased for $1 are a story for another time. I recorded this version of the song as part of my Green Curtain Sessions. Playing one of my songs on a new instrument or with a new arrangement is like leveling up in a video game. I just conquered the boss on the previous level. It’s a brand new level of intimacy with the song. It’s proof of the song’s quality when it looks good no matter what it’s wearing.
In other pancake related news, I finished a new mix today. It was completely coincidental that it happened on our Pancakeversary. I’m working on a new project called Busted Banjo. There is a banjo based arrangement of Pancakes on the project. If she still looks good wearing a banjo, you know she’s a keeper.
Here’s to another year full of pancakes.
July 12, 2021
I have new music out today. It’s a single with two songs. I know, a single implies one. You are thinking that it can’t be a single with two songs. The streaming services classify a release with two songs as a single That’s how it was in the old days with the little 45 records. There was a single and a “b-side.” I had two finished songs so here it is.
The thing about releasing new music is that it’s almost entirely irrelevant. If you are going to claim to be a musician, you have to have music out in the world. It is essential to release some music. However, making an announcement to the world about new music means nothing to everybody. I would guess that even my own mum cares very little about my new music. There are like a zillion (not the actual number but you get the point) new releases everyday on all of the streaming services. My release is a drop in a bucket of noise.
Why do I continue to release music?
It is important because it signifies that I am doing the work. I am putting in the sweat. This release indicates that I am moving forward. It is momentum. It is a step towards something.
Why should anybody else care about my new release?
There is something magical, almost mystical about music. The vibrations of your very soul in a moment of need can resonate at the exact right frequencies to match and draw in the song that will make it all better. Maybe this song can be the soundtrack for somebody’s good cry. Maybe it can sync with your mood on a bad day and then it all turns around. I don’t know why music has this power. If one of these songs can mean something to one other human being, it was worth doing.
Do the work. Put it out into the world. Allow the magical, mystical, musical vibrations to connect. Get back to work.
July 8, 2021
I would never consider myself a workaholic. I’ve got plenty of vices but work is not one of them. As a recovering control freak, I do understand the need to be constantly engaged.
When your life’s work or vocation is firmly planted in the creative sphere you are always on. It’s very different from being a workaholic. Workaholics can not stop working. Creatives often struggle to get started. Creative work happens in fits and bursts. When the muse has left the building, I can jog in place for a while but it quickly ends. I try to work at my craft in some fashion everyday. The muscles need to be trained. On some days, the work is easy. Some other days, it is painful and mostly unproductive. I love my profession. As a creative, I am able to shift when the work happens. A day is a success if the work happened. There is a good deal of flexibility pertaining to the when it happened.
The problem is that there are no days off. I don’t really think this is a problem. It’s Mrs. Brother Jack. This is her problem. She believes we should go places and do things and I’m not supposed to work at all. She expects that we can have some entire days that don’t include me working at my craft. What am I supposed to do, not work?
Hello, I’m Brother Jack and I’m a workaholic.
July 6, 2021
Today marks the one year anniversary of the release of my single for Bleeding Time. It is hard to believe that it has been a whole year. Time is so weird.
The “Great Shutdown of 2020” was strange. It was hard to keep track of the days. Time was ticking by at an alarming pace but the days seemed to last forever. I think the warping of time was magnified by the world coming to a halt. I did my best to represent that feeling in a song.
I thought the bizarre expression of time was exclusive to this period in history but I am realizing it may actually be a product of age. I thought time would go back to a linear pattern once things started to reopen. I was wrong. I am still lying on the deck, bleeding out time. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning. While simultaneously it seems like it was last week that I was in the studio recording this song that is now a year old.
Listen to Bleeding Time everywhere that you stream music.
July 5, 2021
All creative work brings an equivalent amount of annoying, non-creative work. Today was one of those days that quickly got hi-jacked by data entry. It involved a lot of file transferring, backing up, and uploading. Most of the day felt like I needed to hurry up and wait.
This seemed like a good opportunity to do some reading. You can’t be a good writer (or a songwriter), if you don’t read. I decided that in between the tedious clicks of the enter key, I would sink into the hammock with a book.
In case you are unaware, there is an unpublished law of physics regarding hammocks. It is impossible to relax alone in a hammock, if there is a child within shouting distance. I was quiet. I was borderline sneaky. They showed up every time.
I didn’t do any reading. We fought sharks. We were on a pirate ship. We played the lava game. We watched a bird and a helicopter. We won the hammock Grand Prix. I didn’t do any reading but this was better.
July 4, 2021
I have a new single dropping in two weeks. I wanted to make a video to promote the song. It didn’t need to be too elaborate. I needed a vehicle to carry the song that had a visual component and could also display the lyrics. I tossed around several different ideas.
The one problem was that I don’t really know what the song is about. The song is called Kissing Tree. I know this is absurd. I wrote the song and I don’t know what it’s about. I think it might be about death, or cemeteries, or burial, or the voodoo that is love.
I decided to make a video about cemeteries. There are sources online to find old public domain footage. It’s important that I use images that I have a legal right to replicate. I don’t need more people mad at me. I scoured the web for the perfect vintage cemetery clip. During my search, I saw a video of flowers blowing in the breeze. The playback speed was a little fast and it made an effect that was perfect.
It was a change of plans. If I recorded my own flowers, I didn’t have to worry about finding public domain footage. When in doubt, do it yourself. I recorded around 30 minutes of flowers. Fortunately there was a consistent breeze. After I chopped it up and cranked the speed, it was perfect. It was not what I had been planning but I am really happy with the results.
I’ve been trying to learn more about video editing. I leaned about adjusting video speed and the effects it produces. Sometimes, results are perfect despite my best intentions to create something completely different.
July 3, 2021
I did zero work today. We went hiking. It was a lot of walking. There was some whining and complaining but we did it. It was great to see the kids immersed in nature. We had to stop and examine every mushroom and toadstool. Due to the recent rain, there were many mushrooms to examine. Sometimes it is important to stop and smell the fungi.
July 2, 2021
I was setting up in the studio today and the mixer didn’t turn on. I proceeded to do the thing that everybody does when something doesn’t turn on right away. I jiggled the electrical chord. I have no idea if the mixer finally turned on because I was too busy peeling my hand off the wall outlet. I received a major shock and I am not talking about discovering a dirty little secret. I got a serious dose of the old 110 voltage. This is not the first time I’ve drank from the electrical fountain. I’ve got another shocking story involving my Aunt Ruth’s lamp but I guess that is a story for another time. I’ve been shocked many times and its never been a big deal. This time felt different. My arm was tingly for several hours. It felt like I was squeezing a tight fist as hard as I could squeeze even when I wasn’t. After about 4 hours the feeling began to return and my elbow and shoulder regained function. I have no idea what happened but it was a real jolt to my day. I had a livestream show scheduled on Facebook. It had to be cancelled because I didn’t think my elbow would hold up. This was disappointing and sparked a bit of general anxiety for me. I hate to cancel a show. These fireworks were all sizzle and no flash. I hope this story hasn’t been too shocking.