Thursday, December 31, 2015

Band Review: Guy Lombardo And His Royal Canadians

One of the books I wrote this year, Family Ghosts, has a dance that ends with "Auld Lang Syne". It's not New Year's Eve - instead occurring on the day after Thanksgiving, but it felt like the right ending, and it got me looking into the song more.

It turns out that it was a very common close to dances, especially in Scotland, home of the author of the original poem, Robert Burns. It is about remembering the past, not specifically the change from one year to another, but we associate the song with that largely because of an Italian-Canadian bandleader.

Guy Lombardo formed a band with his brothers and other local musicians in 1924. I don't know that they could have expected to become as big as they did, but for almost fifty years, first on radio and then on television, this was whom people listened to on New Year's Eve, and he always ended on "Auld Lang Syne".

I was born five years before Guy Lombardo died in 1977. (The group tried to continue but for another two years, but it was really his band.) For my generation, New Year's Eve belongs to Dick Clark, and I guess that is changing over to Ryan Seacrest now, but that broadcast always included "Auld Lang Syne" as the first song of the new year.

It was interesting looking and finding how that tradition went back. You roll back into London, Ontario, and further back into Scotland, but the history is strong. and I thought I should spend some time listening to their stuff.

There is a lot of holiday music, but he wasn't just an end of the year guy. There are a of classic old songs and standards, and it was good listening. I had heard many of the songs before, but there was one, "Blue Skirt Waltz" that was completely new to me and that I really liked.

So, that's not so much of a review really. It's more of an appreciation, and also a reminder to sometimes look back. That's also what the song is about, so it all works out.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 in review

This is my last regular post of 2015.

(There is a band review tomorrow, and you will never guess whom. Well, maybe if you check my Spotify.)

There are a lot of series of posts that I could start, but this feels like a time for endings and looking back. Plus, I have a lot of things I need to do today, so this is just a recap of some of the things that happened this year.

I wrote and published three books. They join the other two from the year before.

They're not big sellers, but they are good. They have sold well enough that I should get a form 1099 this year, which is a step up from last year.

I went to Pennsylvania and Minnesota, and saw stuff. I was grateful for that. Even with the travel, I kept up my daily blogging. My camera also died on the trip, which is sad, but I am hoping to get one for my birthday.

I submitted more scripts to Amazon Studios. They were all rejected, but they are letting me know instead of letting the submission periods expire. I think that's progress. They could just be getting more organized. You know how I had that month of writing daily 6-page screenplays, and that month of reading a screenplay daily? The next month will be about reading through a project on Studios daily. I feel like my weakest skill is marketing myself, so I am going to spend some time observing how other people do it.

I didn't do as much reading, because the writing left less time, and because the emotional exhaustion has been pretty draining. Still, some of the books I did read have been really good, and there was recently a breakthrough with some of the family conflict that I think has improved things.

I am still poor. I think that will be the case until February. Honestly, if it doesn't go past February that will be pretty good.

I am getting more flack for having an opinion on the internet. It's still not a lot, but I've noticed. The primary lesson from this is learning when to let go. I guess it goes with setting boundaries. I will engage with you to this point, and then I will stop because my time is limited and I have to make good choices with it. This is important, because I am going to be sending out some strong opinions in 2016.

I can't swear that I've learned to value myself right yet, but I got a devastating glimpse of what not valuing myself does, and I am building up from that.

We picked up an additional cat when she showed up in our back yard, starving and scared. This  brings the total to three cats and one dog. It's not that long ago that it was the opposite, but we do still get both kinds of love.

I feel like curating the songs of the day has been more meaningful this year, and that my music knowledge is growing. I think playing the bass is going to become something really important to me.

Looking at the new year, I don't know what will happen. I can tell you that short term goals include writing and submitting two more screenplays. The next one will be a comedy, and I am excited about it. I have been wanting to pitch the Emo comic somewhere, and I am going to try Dark Horse because the have the easiest process for a writer without an artist. I don't think they will want this specific property, but I believe going through the process will still be good.

There should be two more books in the singles wards series (that needs a name), probably both out in 2016. There will be at least three more books in the Family Blood series, and I am not sure about the timeline. I had really meant to wait an entire year between completing Family Reunion and starting the next one, but I don't know if I will be able to stay away that long. I guess it depends on how busy the other projects keep me.

I will totally watch more movies from my Halloween list in October. At least one.

I hope to spend more time with friends. That's been the part that gets neglected the most, because I am trying to do so many other things that feel important, but spending time with your people is important.

My overall trajectory is trying to know myself better, trying to understand the world around me better, and trying to do good with that. That will not end.

And remember, once I get the new camera that will include daily selfies.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

History repeating

I guess if I am talking about how different things read relate to each other, I should mention that my family has been reading the Old Testament together. Seeing how ancient rulers would carry off a conquered people, and send other people to take their place, shows me that destroying national identity, morale, and ties to home has been around for a while.

Chester Nez mentions two great Navajo tragedies in Code Talker. The first was The Long Walk, a 350-mile forced march from Fort Defiance to Fort Sumner. Going to Fort Defiance in the first place was preceded by the slaughter of livestock, crop destruction, and uprooting of trees. Along the way hundreds died, not just because the journey was hard but because if there were any issues (like childbirth) the soldiers shot them.

There's still a lot I don't know, but I have yet to find a tribal history without a similar incident. Sometimes you hear about the "Trail of Tears", but it was more than one trail.

It may also be worth mentioning here that from both A Century of Dishonor and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, what you see over and over again is that tribes built schools and grew crops and raised herds, and then would lose it all in forced relocation. Sometimes they would have rebuilt two or three times and be sent on again. You could argue that it was simply due to their land being wanted, and not a conscious attempt to destroy the people, but there were enough conscious attempts at destruction, and enough assumption that the Indians were going to die out, that it makes you wonder.

Nonetheless, the people kept going. 8000 survived The Long Walk and started over. A treaty a few years later granted each family two sheep, one male and one female. They did well enough that seventy years later that there were concerns about the area being overgrazed. That led to the second tragedy, the Navajo Livestock Reduction.

The government came and dug trenches. Any family with more than 100 sheep or goats was subject to reduction. They herded they amount they deemed necessary into the trenches, then sprayed those extra animals with flammable material and set them on fire.

My first reaction is to be sick because I love animals, and that was the first reaction of the owners. They loved the animals, and the animals knew them. Nez remembers hearing the stifled sobs of his grandparents at night after that. Some families received some money at far below market value, but many received nothing. Some meat was preserved, but only a small amount.

I still feel the pain for the animals, and their owners, but I see another side, because again there is that destruction of efforts and labor, the attempts to destroy the people.

Other reading come in again, because I thought there was something familiar about it, and realized it had come from The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan.

The government did kill cattle owned by white farmers in the Dust Bowl, but this was different. The animals were being choked to death and blinded by dust, there wasn't good grazing for them, and the government paid the farmers between $1 and $16 per head and salvaging what meat they could for hungry people, which was not much. Mainly, the farmers had a choice.

There is another section in Code Talker where Chester talks about his first hunting trip, and things that they did to show respect to the deer, and that its death was not wasted.

These were healthy sheep and goats belonging to people who believed in living in balance and it was the Depression. Even if you accept that the reduction was necessary, it should have been possible to give those animals humane deaths where their meat and wool and skin became a great benefit to people suffering from hunger and cold, but that would have involved treating the Navajo with respect. It could have involved caring about animals; just that could be enough to make things go better. Even an aversion to waste might have helped. None of those factors mattered.

Now I want to quote Chester Nez:

"The effect on the Navajo sense of community was devastating. In the time before the massacre, friends and neighbors helped one another. When someone fell sick, neighbors pitched in to care for their animals. Medicine men and women were summoned to cure both people and animals. Neighbors and family assisted by gathering together at night and praying for the sick to recover.

The livestock reduction challenged this sense of community by pitting Navajo against Navajo. Those who kept livestock resented the Navajo exterminators who worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Neighbors put up fences to enclose their pastures, saving them for the sheep they had left. The year-round migration from one community grazing area to another that had always been the norm as I grew up became impossible. As a result, ties between neighbors weakened.

The toll in self-respect was also huge. Families, unable to protect their own livestock, felt powerless. And nothing could have done more to erode the local work ethic. What was the point of working hard to build up wealth, a sizable herd, when the government just stepped in and destroyed it?

The massacre killed more than livestock. It changed the dynamic between neighbors. It changed the meaning of hard work; it changed everything."

(Code Talker, pp. 79-80)

Currently I am reading about tribes that were forcibly removed from land for the building of a dam, even though it was completely illegal according to their treaties. That happened in 1951

I don't know that I have a lot to add to that, but I think maybe for anyone who is upset about tribal "handouts", maybe if we could go without uprooting and destroying for long enough that there is no one alive who personally remembers it, maybe then it could be a good time to reexamine the issue.

Monday, December 28, 2015


I'm not done with my 2015 Native American Heritage Month reading yet, but I'm getting closer, and there are some things I noticed about the last book, in terms of how previous reading and watching builds together.

The book I just finished was Code Talker by Chester Nez, with Judith Schiess Avila, and it was excellent. It was also enriched by other things.

For example, for the 2014 month (which ended up being all videos), I watched "Code of Honor" on the Comanche Code Talkers. Nez was a Navajo Code Talker. I had not previously realized that there were multiple programs, but it turns out that Choctaw, Cherokee, Lakota, Meskwaki, and even Basque (not a Native American language) were used at different times and places.

One thing I saw in the video was that it said they completed their basic training in less time than usual because of their time in boarding schools, where many of the practices were kind of military in nature.

In the book, they didn't finish early, but they did really well with their basic training. Nez attributed that to their home life herding ship, which involved a lot of running, climbing, throwing, and camping. One being true doesn't make the other untrue.

I recently read a book on PTSD, The Evil Hours. Therefore, when Nez was released from service and spent a few months in the veteran's hospital before release, and no one calls it PTSD (not until the Vietnam era), but he is having trouble sleeping and is haunted, it was not surprising. It also makes sense that the way it manifested sounded more similar to the Civil War era cases than the Vietnam era cases, because this was not someone who would have watched a lot of television previously. He was more haunted by apparitions of the dead than by flashbacks. And, despite my frustrations with Dave Grossman and On Killing, that it was a community ritual that helped him recover made perfect sense.

There were two other incidents covered in the book that were specific to the Navajo, and some things a little different about that where they will get their own post.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Music Review: Christmas with The Killers

I had stumbled across The Killers' "Please Don't Shoot Me Santa" a few years ago, and I would periodically play it because it was kind of fun. I only learned this year that they do a Christmas song every year, releasing it around December 1st for World AIDS Day and donating the proceeds to the Product Red campaign that strives to eliminate AIDS.

This good cause has developed into a great tradition, now going on ten years. They have brought in other people - some musicians and some not. Each song stands on its own musically, without any sense of repetition. They may go back to certain themes, but they do each one differently. I appreciate that a lot, especially in light of some of the more recent reviews.

Also, while some songs are serious, in general it looks like there is a lot of fun. I can't even say that it looks like they are having fun, because their facial expressions are usually pretty serious, but there are these glimpses that suggest to me that they are having fun, as well as it being a reasonably logical conclusion that of course this would be fun; it looks like a blast!

Here is a quick rundown of each song:

2006 - "A Great Big Sled"

The very first, and probably the most traditional. The song touches on childhood nostalgia, and the video is fairly straightforward with the studio process and some celebrating. However, I am pretty sure that is Ryan Pardey in the Santa suit, and he does at one point carve a turkey. I can't help but wonder if that image of him wielding the knife led to the next year's offering.

2007 - "Don't Shoot Me Santa"

Santa is dirty and scary here, and getting ready to execute lead singer Brandon Flowers who has been a bad boy. Even though Brandon says that he's been killing just for fun, I can't want him dead, so it is a relief when is crew comes and rescues him.

(Also, if you're reading the Family books, you know that's how bands work when I'm writing.)

2008 - "Joseph, Better You Than Me"

This has mainly footage from old movies, but the subject matter is really touching and often neglected. Probably their most serious offering.

2009 "Happy Birthday Guadalupe"

There is a bit of Western theme here, but even more imagery from the Dia de los Muertos. That seems like the wrong holiday, but you know Dickens wrote a ghost story every Christmas, even if only one is famous, and it's a time of year when the dead seem close. I say it works. Luke Perry heads into a church, so they may be near Los Angeles.

2010 "Boots"

A homeless man missing his family is worn down in Los Angeles, but a microphone brings some hope and a chance to sing out his heart. You don't know if he is singing well or badly, and maybe it doesn't matter. It brings enough funds to encourage him to celebrate with his family. Starting with a clip from It's a Wonderful Life, it correlates well.

ETA: This is set in Las Vegas. I thought he was on the Walk of Fame, but it's the strip.

2011 "The Cowboys' Christmas Ball

Shot in an almost lurid color palette that harkens back to the 50s/60s, this not only references cowboy movies but also space invasion movies, and it's a lot of fun even before you get to a robot dancing the robot.

2012 "I Feel It in My Bones"

A sequel to "Don't Shoot Me Santa", this picks up with Santa angry about the band's rescue of Brandon, and stalking all of them, which causes them to sleep badly. In this Santa reminds me of the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse from Raising Arizona, but ingeniously Christmas-themed. The director was Roboshobo, who also did "Na Na Na" for My Chemical Romance.

2013 "Christmas in L.A."

Lonely and discouraged Owen Wilson has a really depressing Christmas that includes getting snubbed by Harry Dean Stanton. It's even worse than for the guy in "Boots", though they do both wander into churches. Some is live-action, but there is some gorgeous animation as well.

2014 "Joel the Lump of Coal"

I love this so much. It is adorable and sweet and correct about carbon and the environment. Also, while it is not murderous Santa, Santa is kind of jerk which is kind of a staple of Christmas specials. The aspect of a Santa giving coal to naughty kids isn't played up that much, but we do have a Santa canceling Christmas because he has a cold, and rejecting Rudolph, so it's something to think about. And often the bad ones are sad inside, but there is beauty there too.

This one is really perfectly done, including the sweaters and the tear that rolls down Ronnie's cheek and turns into a beautiful snowflake.

2015 "Dirt Sledding"

The third installment of Ryan Pardey's murderous Santa has him left burnt out and depressed by his quest. Passing out alone, he is woken and cheered by a Halloween pumpkin, Thanksgiving turkey, Easter bunny, and a tooth fairy, only it is really the band in disguise, and when the disguises come off there is grace and reconciliation for all, plus a new red car!

"Dirt Sledding" almost feels like a culmination. Not only does it round out the Deadly Santa trilogy, but it also connects back to the first song. They have gone from missing their youth sledding in snow to finding a solution for their environment, sledding in dirt.

I guess this means they could quit, but I hope this goes on. There's a lot of fun here, and the music is of high quality with lots of variety. I was pretty fond of The Killers anyway, but I have to love that.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Music Review: A Very Special Christmas

Once more we are at the point where profiling bands working to establish themselves on holidays when people are thinking of other things just seems unfair.

I have been thinking of Christmas music, and my love - possibly undeserved - for "Do They Know It's Christmas". That nearly led to a comparison of the various fundraiser songs from that era, but I ended up going in another direction. Maybe next year.

A Very Special Christmas started in 1987. Music producer Jimmy Iovine wanted to memorialize his father with a Christmas album. Vicki Iovine was a volunteer for Special Olympics, and she suggested them as the beneficiary. After that, all that was needed was a lot of musicians; they got enough participation for 15 tracks with no repeats.

I do remember it getting a fair amount of buzz. I thought the only songs that I really remembered clearly were "Christmas in Hollis" by Run-DMC, because that one got a release and video, and then "Gabriel's Message" by Sting, which he seems to have recorded in 1985.

In fact, I did remember the Stevie Nicks rendition of "Silent Night". I thought it was a trick of my imagination, conjuring up the most ridiculous and overdone version possible of a fairly simple song, but it was actually quite real.

Most of the album is not that bad. I rather like the Eurythmics version of "Winter Wonderland", and the Whitney Houston version of "Do You Hear What I Hear" is probably good, though my main reaction to hearing it was a sense of loss. I know she's been gone for a while, but it hit then.

Then they just kept doing it.

That's probably not surprising. nor is it surprising that it got worse. The second seems bloated, with 19 tracks, and more team-ups, but less of anything that stands out. You would think a duet between Frank Sinatra and Cyndi Lauper would really get your attention, but I did not find that to be the case. My favorite track was "Christmas All Over Again" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, but that was also the first track, so it was all downhill from there. By A Very Special Christmas 7 it was mainly Disney Channel stars, and my first thought was that it wasn't very special at all.

There is probably a greater correlation between the decline of popular music and MTV with the decline of the albums, but I don't want to read too much into it. Christmas songs are hard. They carry a lot of memories and traditions. Simply doing a regular take may not feel like enough, but trying to create an original take of someone else's song, while not impossible, seems to carry better odds of failure than success.

I'm reminded of a quote I read by Natalie Cole once. She talked about people doing these bizarre versions of "The Christmas Song" (strongly associated with her father, though not written by him). I can't find the exact quote, but it was something along the lines of "Just sing it pretty."

Listening to a lot of Christmas music this year, I find that the songs I have liked best are new ones. Instead of trying to make a song sound new, they actually make something new, and it's better.

Maybe that's some of my fondness for "Do They Know It's Christmas". It sounded new and it sounded good. Maybe that's why 2014 "Do They Know It's Christmas" can't sound as good. It's not horrible, it's just kind of a letdown.

Well, clearly these things happen. Tomorrow we will talk about something really creative.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

When good sense becomes a challenge

Back to that being religious thing from yesterday, I know a lot of people through church. Many of them are more in the age group of my sisters, so we are not Facebook friends, but they are friends with my sisters. I hear about them sometimes, and I don't have anything against them, but saying "friends" might be overstating it. This post will refer to people in that category.

Anyway, my sisters told me about one of these acquaintances whose approach to Christmas gifts for her children was one want, one need, something to wear, and something to read. This was several years ago, but I thought it sounded great, and very balanced.

I have no idea whether my source was the originator, or if she got it from somewhere else, but I have been hearing of more people doing it and this year it is the 4 Gift Challenge! We dare you to stick to it!

Here's some other things I know about through my sisters. One of our mutual acquaintance bought their child a chandelier one year, because that was what the child wanted. We also know a family where one child has a miniature horse.

Those gifts might seem over the top, but I love that the child has a chance to be an individual. A child who gets a lot of toys and a chandelier is overkill, but the child who decides that what they really want is something beautiful to look at, or the child who wants a pony more than any other thing, and will sacrifice other things to get that, I see a lot of good there.

The 4 Gift idea is solid. I know that a mountain of gifts doesn't increase happiness - in fact, the happiness boost starts diving after four or five. Also, the line items make sense. As an adult I am more inclined to check out from the library, but the importance of children owning books is well-documented. Growing kids change sizes, so new clothing will always make sense. Knowing that needs are essential but acknowledging that wants matter too, and that meeting some of those wants is a priority for the parent of the child - that is all good stuff.

There is still a difference between something being a good guide versus a vital rule, and then when it becomes a challenge, we've gone back into that weird competition about who can have the purest Christmas.

When I was a child, I saw that it was a thrill opening presents. I remember once wrapping some random items and stowing them away to unwrap later. I don't remember how long it was until I got back to them, but even though I wrapped them, and they were all things that I already had in my room (including two AA batteries that might have been dead), it was exciting. It can be okay to play into that. Maybe a single gift will consist of multiple components that are wrapped separately, or they can unwrap clues for a scavenger hunt. That will not automatically make an emotionally hollow Christmas.

I also remember that after the Christmas unwrapping was done there was a letdown, but if there are other family traditions that are still coming - like everyone playing a new game or doing a new puzzle together, or writing thank you notes, or cooking something for the Christmas meal together or serving dinner at a soup kitchen - then if there is a letdown it won't last long. There are so many options!

It can just as surely become a burden. Maybe the real difference between rules and guidelines is the pressure exerted. This will not make your Christmas any more merry.

I suspect that a lot of people don't really trust that they can get it right coming out of their own heads, but in addition to the unnecessary lack of confidence, don't assume there is a right Christmas. There are many potential good Christmases.

May you end up with a Christmas that is good for you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Keeping the "mas" in Christmas

The two things are not automatically synonymous, but I am both a religious and a spiritual person. In addition, I believe that God sent his son to save the world by conquering sin and death. I do not believe it happened in December, but there is a lot of tradition that leads to us celebrating it at this time of year and other reasons why doing so totally works for me.

I feel like I need to state those things in advance to provide the proper context for the next thing I am going to say.

I am getting really sick of people talking about "the reason for the season" and "keeping the Christ in Christmas". So sick. So tired.

I know this sounds horrible. Just typing it almost feels like I yelled the F-word in church, but I wold never do that, and I really mean this. People are overdoing it.

I think it might be an outgrowth of the lack of a war on Christmas. The truth is, it's a fairly small amount of the population that can actually feel like Starbucks only changing to a red cup, without it also having a special design, is legitimate Christian victimization.

No, there are just too many obvious signs of the resilience of Christmas, but I think people have gotten to where they feel like they should be beleaguered. I don't know that they actually enjoy it, but it just doesn't feel right without enemies and an oppressive force anymore. I mean, if no one's coming after you, what excuse do you have to not examine your own privilege and aid the downtrodden? Especially at this time of year, when everyone is so busy! Therefore, the new enemy is the secularization of Christmas.

Yes, there are beautiful spiritual aspects of Christmas. Yes, we should remember them. Yes, it is easy to lose sight of them. I will not deny any of those things.

I will make two counterpoints.

One is that it is more important that the spiritual aspects of Christmas are part of our daily life than a seasonal remembrance. If you are carrying your faith and gratitude in your heart throughout the year, it will be part of your Christmas celebrations as well, but the good that it does you will extend far beyond that. The other problem with this attitude is that it throws out many things that are good or at least harmless.

Santa can be fun, but he is being left out of more church Christmas parties. That's fine; you can find Santa other places. Those tend to be expensive places with long lines, that some people might not be able to afford, where his appearance at the party could have been something really helpful, but, you know, too secular.

All of that fun stuff I think is harmless, and perhaps also helpful because fun and recreation is important. It can be a problem in becoming a burden when people put too many expectations and extras into it, but I believe it is fully possible to do that when trying to be extra spiritual too. I know people who do.

Even worse than the loss of some good fun is this need to judge how everyone else is doing it.

You might think that little burst of satisfaction when someone tells you "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" is not a problem, but let's remember some things. First of all, the root of that word is "holy days" - this is not a word that is trying to smother the religious.

"Holidays" is also a word that allows other people to feel included, which feels like a good thing to do.
(Yes, I did write about that a few years ago:

Christmas might be just revelry to some people. It might even encourage materialism. It also often encourages kindness and generosity and inclusion.

Bringing your sourpuss attitude in and giving the stink eye to others who aren't celebrating it right is remarkably unlikely to make them more spiritual. It is instead the kind of thing that might make even people to whom the reason for the season is very important start to feel a negative connotation with that phrase, hypothetically speaking.

My fellow Christians, I love you. I wish you a beautiful Christmas season that is warming and uplifting. There is just one thing, though, and I can't believe how often this needs to be said:

Quit stinking up the joint. Holier than thou is not supposed to be a goal. Loving people and helping the poor are. I know I just said to quit judging other people for doing Christmas wrong, but seriously, you are doing Christianity wrong.


Monday, December 21, 2015


I canceled Christmas. Well, only part of it.

I'm still cooking Christmas dinner, and there are decorations and carols and we are watching Christmas specials. I'm even sending a few Christmas cards. I'm not exchanging gifts.

We usually don't anyway, and I have liked that. We don't have any small children in the family. Birthdays start right after Christmas anyway, and we exchange birthday gifts. But people wanted to exchange gifts this year and I hadn't been expecting it. I initially agreed out of guilt because everyone else seemed to want to do it. I wasn't happy about it, but I was doing it. It started to really suck.

I really don't have any spare money. Could I make things? We're not really a family that enjoys homemade gifts. It's a low gift spending limit, fine, but then you are getting junk that people don't need. I had no enthusiasm for it.

I might still have gone with it, but then the questions started. Would you rather have practical or fun? Asking other people if they know what size I am. I know that some people are going to be nuisances no matter what, but that doesn't mean that they can't sometimes be worse. They can totally be worse. Nothing I was going to receive could possibly make this worthwhile. I rescinded my participation agreement and immediately felt much better.

It hasn't been too bad. I have only gotten one "You're spoiling Christmas for everyone!" and I don't think she really thinks that. It does make me the spoilsport, but I am amazed at how much I don't care.

One thing that I have been dealing with recently is that I always prioritize other people over myself. There is some deeper stuff on that that I will get into later, because I am still working on it, but it's bad. It affects my ability to accomplish my own goals and it also sends a message to other people about the priority level I deserve. I think it's largely subconscious, but the impact is still real. I am trying to push back against that.

Honestly, these attempts have been largely unsuccessful. It almost feels like I have had more of my time eaten up by other people while trying to prevent it than otherwise; but maybe I am just aware of it now. Regardless, it's important, and I'm trying. If the one blow I can strike successfully is that I'm not searching for $5 gifts for people who already have too many trinkets collecting dust I will take it.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Band Review: JR Richards

I wrote about how JR Richards ended up on my review list Monday, and it is something the predisposes me kindly toward him. The way music helps us connect to each other is important to me, and as the creator of multiple songs that have touched others and led to common ground, Richards has earned some kindness.

Although it is clear from some searching that there has been other music made over the past decade, most of my time listening has been spent on the 2015 album Honore et Amore.

Richards has a good voice, and is able to lend depth and emotion to his words. Fans of his previous band should enjoy Honore et Amore. While it may be the sound of someone older, and someone doing solo work instead of being in a band, it is not a jarring disruption. There is a similar softness and soul to the work. "Walls" and "The Hope for Better Days (Cold War)" are probably my two favorite tracks from the album.

The biggest flaw is that there is not a lot of differentiation between the tracks. The song that branches out the most is "Come to Tears". "Gorgeous" and "Mortals" sound the most similar, though the lyrics focus on different themes. For this reason the album does not feel very challenging. That was probably never the intent.

It is very comfortable. That's not automatically bad, though I can't help but think that some period of prolonged discomfort  - learning a new and different instrument or maybe even working on a concept album - could take Richards to new heights.

But that's focusing on what the album isn't. The album is fine, with feelings of longing and amazement and connection, all of which are valuable. I do think there is the potential for more.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Band Review: Chris Barron

Chris Barron and I started following each other pretty recently, which is probably why when I was listening to his album, Pancho and the Kid, I was  thinking it was new. It's actually from 2009. That's okay; it still feels fresh.

There are some nice, bluesy vibes (listen to the intro on "Stars") that made me wonder about the origins. I would not have been surprised at Southern roots. Instead, Barron's ties seem to be to New York and New Jersey, but he shares those ties with John Popper of Blues Traveler. Whether that is more of an indication of a good blues scene in Princeton or that music simply transcends geography, I don't know. The musical classification listed on Facebook is roots music/rock/Americana, and that seems mostly right. (The "Americana" part could imply something overly precious, which is not the case.)

While the guitar is the predominant element, Barron judiciously adds elements of violins and piano on some songs, enhancing their moods and beauty. "Can't Kick The Habit" is a good example of that.

Lyrics are well worth listening to, well-spoken and relevant. "Part Of Me" is deceptively simple, and feels very personal. We all know that feeling.

The other thing that I learned researching is that there was a time when an acute form of vocal paralysis made it quite possible that Chris Barron would never sing again. Knowing that makes Pancho and the Kid even more of a gift.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The unmet goal

I wrote a Christmas song a few years ago.

I used to write songs all the time. Well, that's kind of overstating it. I would write lyrics and I would have a tune in my head for it, but I have never been about to write down the notes. Even when I was kind of picking things out on a keyboard, I could never get them to sound right. I have heard some people have writing partners for that, and others have said that it is a fairly easy thing to learn, but I still can't do it. Fortunately, I have a good memory for melody.

Anyway, when I was in junior high and high school I did this all the time, and then I slowed down. Every now and then something would come up that would inspire me, and there would be another one.

I don't really remember what inspired "Mistletoe Won't Matter". I can tell you that at first it was "Mistletoe Don't Matter" by the grammar was bugging me. "Won't" keeps the context with the added bonus of being grammatically correct.

Last year I really wanted to share it. My mother has heard me sing it once - which I know she does not remember - and some pets have heard me sing it, but that's it. I was thinking maybe I could record it and put it on Youtube and just get it captured somewhere, but I don't really have a way of doing that that.

Also last year I wrote more. With the month of 6-day scripts that I was writing, not only did I remember the Singing Zombie Nerds songs that I wrote in high school, but also I wrote the zombie lullaby for Bass-Off. Maybe it was a little weird to have so much zombie-themed content, but there are trends in music sometimes, just like everything else.

So last year when I really wanted to share "Mistletoe" with someone, and it was becoming clear that it wasn't going to happen, I thought maybe next year. Maybe I could do a week where the song of the day every day was something from me. They didn't need to be great recordings, but something. Still nothing.

That may be for the best; bad sound quality really bugs me. Still, I want this song to heard, and it's still not happening.

Maybe next year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Play lists

As I was working on Family Reunion, one thing that really became clear was my increasing love for the All-American Rejects.

The Family series started with them, and when I am working on it I listen to their music. This time I noticed more that certain parts called for specific songs, but also I kept thinking how good the music was.

This shouldn't be surprising. I remember going back to my "I Love Albums" post, and already knowing then that they made a specific effort to look at things differently and break out of their comfort zones. That trait results in good, layered music that you can keep appreciating on different levels. I love this band.

With at least three more books to go, I can only imagine how much I will love them at the end.

For the other book series, it's a little different. It wasn't as much the case with Cara, but for Morgan many of the scenes had specific songs in mind. I would listen to the Gin Blossoms some just for the time period, but I can tell you that when they are dancing around the living room that is to "That Thing You Do" and when Brian breaks up with Morgan it is "Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough". It always has been.

Many of the screenplays are also very song specific.

Anyway, it occurred to me to try putting play lists together for them. I don't know if anyone would ever want to have the music playing while reading - it might be hard to get things to synch up right - but it's something I want to do.

Difficulties arise because sometimes the song that goes with it is something I wrote, and it's not on there. It can't be exact anyway. For a real soundtrack it wouldn't be the whole song most of the time anyway. Maybe there would be most of it, and then later a fragment of it, but transposed into a minor key, or something to echo. I know they won't be perfect, but I still want to hear how they will sound.

I am starting with the fan fiction, because that's easiest. So many of the scenes were specifically inspired by songs.

That won't be exact either. When they are running around in the desert, there are about four songs that pertain to that. Does putting them all together overload it, or do I spread them out? (The story does have a lot of flashbacks.) There is a song for "Black Dragon Fighting Society", but it's not on Spotify. However, Pencey Prep has been added, which will be good for Chapter 14. There is no recording of Ray's song; do I just put something similar?

I don't know the answers yet; I am just getting started. It's cool though. I like doing music stuff.

Don't forget to read Family Reunion:

Monday, December 14, 2015

Three Hundred

I always seem to hit the next hundred mark in band reviews right around the week before Christmas. Since I sometimes review a band that I have already written about, leaving the overall total unchanged, and sometimes I will include multiple artists on a single review, it should jump around, but it always evens out. Friday I will review my 300th artist.

There are a few things that have come up this year that I want to capture now.

One is a reminder that music is broad and diverse and that's great. Three of the more recent reviews were bands I did not like that much. There was one that I could tell he was doing a good job but we have ideological differences that hampered my enjoyment, one that I thought was okay, but a little mediocre and not really my thing, and finally one where it was a combination of not my genre anyway, but also he's a little too self-enamored to make enough effort. Still, none of them were quite where I couldn't give them the song of the day.

I have already done that with two of them, and there were likes and re-tweets and thank you messages from the bands in questions. That makes me feel a little guilty, but there were also fans of them liking the reviews and liking the thank you messages. It reminds me that maybe I don't care for this song or this group, but that's not a reason to not pay attention to it.  There are people who care about it, so go ahead and broadcast it. I did know that - that's part of why I do this at all  - but the reminders are good.

The other thing is that this week both of the reviews will be people who are doing solo work now but are from bands that I remember from before. Band 299 will be Chris Barron, formerly of The Spin Doctors, and Band 300 will be J.R. Richards from Dishwalla.

I like finding musicians still making their art years later, and sometimes I find them on my own and bring them in, but both Chris and J.R. followed me on Twitter first, just like most of these bands I review. I don't know what drew Chris to me, but I know what happened with J.R..

A friend was looking for music recommendations, and one of the bands she mentioned liking was Our Lady Peace. Well, one of the strong song pairings from my past was their "Somewhere Out There" along with Dishwalla's "Somewhere in the Middle". It was not a name thing; it was the feeling of the songs. Maybe it makes sense for that feeling and the word "somewhere" to go together. Anyway, I recommended Dishwalla, and suddenly there was J.R..

I have been surprised a few times by what gets noticed by people you wouldn't even expect to see it, but the real reason that sticks with me is that I was able to suggest something that she liked. Shortly before that someone was looking for female-fronted alternative bands, and I was able to make a suggestion there too. I am starting to have a helpful knowledge base in my head for people looking for music.

It's not as good as it could be. I had to search to remember the one band I had in mind. One goal for this next year is to improve the Reviewed tab of the spreadsheet I use, so that locating previous bands is easier.

I also want to start reviewing more bands from the Recommended tab. Previously I always felt so behind in getting to the bands who followed me (the On Deck tab), but that last round of cleanup I did really helped. Things are organized and I feel like I am moving at a good pace.

That does lead to one more story. One person followed me whom I initially thought was a musician but was actually a producer. It would be easy to just ignore the name then, but I never feel right about that. I then noticed that two of the musicians Pascal Guyon has worked with were on my Recommended list: Anthony Hamilton and Leona Lewis, both of whom I reviewed last week. That felt like a way to bring Pascal in, and this week I am going to have songs of the day taken from the albums on the Rise Production page.

It all circles back.

And I will do that guy that I don't think is very good either. Someone thinks he's good. They're wrong, but there's a beauty to that.