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 hav 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.
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.