Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Someone Else Remembered What I Did Etc., Part Three or Something

I had plans for December. Things I was gonna record, including a new, very dumb song about the holidays, but man, have I been sick. Just colds and throbbing sinus, but I've basically been sick for the entire month of December. Bah. Humbug even.

Anyway, here's another of the alleged songs I recorded at my brother Joe's old place in Philadelphia way back when. This one didn't get played to a paying audience, saving them and the box-office staff much trauma.

I don't remember exactly when I wrote it, but I clearly remember that the germ of it was my first exposure to Bobcat Goldthwait, doing a standup routine on (most likely) whatever show David Letterman had at the time. He had a funny line parodying the idiotic "coffee achiever" ad campaign being run by some coffee marketing board or other.

Another inspiration was reading that Woody Guthrie wrote This Land is Your Land as a response to God Bless America. This sounded like a good idea, so I wrote this as a response to Bill Withers' Stand by Me.

Humanity Zoo (3.69 MB mp3) Download from MediaFire

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hey Joe, Where Are You Going With That Detective Novel In Your Hand?

As I've mentioned earlier, my brother Joe is a composer.  He was recently commissioned by the California Chamber Orchestra to create something related to Perry Mason, the fictional defense attorney created by Erle Stanley Gardner in a series of books, and later made into a popular TV series starring Raymond Burr.

The premiere was November 7, 2009, and Joe's wife Amy caught each of the three movements on her iphone.  Don't laugh - the video is so-so but the audio is remarkable for a cellphone capture.  In addition to the Chamber Orchestra, the performance featured the other three members of Joe's ensemble SWARMIUS (see the link to the right).

And yes, the violinist in SWARMIUS is freakishly tall.

Suite Noir: The Passion of Perry Mason by Joseph Waters

Movement 1: Whispering Sands

Movement 2: The Court of Last Resort

Movement 3 Cerulean and other colors of the sky

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

This Just Dropped Through A Freak Wormhole From A Month Or So In The Future

NOTE: As this is a song about Christmas, a few edits have been made so as to not detract from the holiday spirit.

And now I'm gonna shift gears a little, and move away from demonstrating my total mastery of creating "rock music" in favor of demonstrating my total mastery of creating "country rock".  Or maybe I should say my total mastery of creating holiday-themed novelty songs, because this is what it is - a happy song about the joys of shopping for Christmas presents.

I wrote this in the early 1990s.  And it started life as a wonderfully enhanced version of the Peter Gunn theme, a favorite riff of punky new-wavers back in the day.  Once I became awesomely proficient at playing the first guitar part, I picked up my beautiful hollowbody guitar, a stunning example of the luthier's art, and started messing around with arpeggios.  And once I had a 2nd guitar part I liked, the original 1st guitar part no longer sounded right.

One thing led to another, and I know you're right there with me when I say that once you reach a certain point with a song, there's really nothing to do but make it a novelty song about Christmas shopping.

And yes, the title is a total steal from Mad magazine.

The Ghost Of Christmas Presents (3.09 MB mp3) Download from MediaFire

Friday, November 06, 2009

I Believe The Technical Term Is "Idiot"

Duh!  Totally had a mangled URL in the link for Whipping Cream!

Here's the correct URL: Whipping Cream

Next time tell me or something.  Jeez.

And Now For Something Really Stupid

And by that I mean the song titled Something Really Stupid, of course. Duh. I mentioned it a while back. I know I did.

One day I heard that weird recording by Frank Sinatra and his daughter Nancy called Something Stupid, and I thought, "Well, it may have been stupid, but it wasn't really stupid, just sorta stupid."  And the next thing I knew I was filling the niche.

This song is an innocent victim of the turnover in my drum machines over the years. The drums were originally sequenced for a Kawai drum machine that was definitely not set up anything like a GM drums arrangement. I really liked that drum machine.

Needless to say, it was stolen. 

Next I traded some guy for a different drum machine, which used its own, completely different and non-GM arrangement. And the drum part was now completely wacky and I never got it completely normalized for that machine. At any rate, I sold it some time back.

Or maybe it blew up, I don't remember.

And now I'm using a software drum instrument, which started off as GM but has been mutated to fit my own purposes. And when I tried this song, the drum parts were wackier than ever. I was able to make parts of it usable, but it was just too messed up to deal with. If you listen to the part of the song where every line starts with "I don't know..." you can hear sets of four hits that were originally supposed to be drums. They're not drums. They're wood blocks. At some point I just threw my hands in the air and embraced the wrongness.

Also in the warm embrace of wrongness is my vocal track. This song was always a struggle to sing, since it was at the very top of what I humorously refer as my "range". I don't really have a range. More of a hotplate. At any rate, now that I'm less younger than I was, when I strained to hit - OK, to approximate - the high notes, I used to sound, well, strained, which was the point of the song. But now when I try it, I sound like a wheezy old man.

Something Really Stupid (3.56MB mp3) Download from MediaFire

Friday, October 09, 2009

What's the Signal-to-Noise Ratio for a Recording of Noise?

Note: Fixed broken download link. Sorry.

Continuing my quest to recover the crappy songs I recorded back in the day, we come to a personal favorite, Whipping Cream. Not a favorite because it was any good, but because it was, how can I put this, really goofy.

Following the example of the Beatles, for a while I was filling all four tracks of my tape recorder with parts, then bouncing those down to another tape recorder, giving me more space to record on. The Beatles did two things differently than I. First, they bounced down to only one track, leaving three to work with but mushing the original tracks to mono, whereas I bounced to two tracks, only leaving me two more to work with but leaving the originals in stereo. The other thing they did differently was being the Beatles. Still not convinced that's relevant.

So I had two tapes with this song on - one with the final four tracks, and the other with the original four backing tracks. Sadly, the final tape was one of the ones that was totally destroyed by moisture. "No matter," I thought cheerfully to myself. "I can start with the backing tracks and just try to recreate the other two!" Imagine my shock and horror when I discovered that while the sound on the backing tracks was clear, the tape had become stretched out oddly over time, and now had wildly uneven speed. Impossible to work with.

Crucially however, it also had the sound effects in fairly clear condition. Sound effects, you ask? Yes, sound effects. Well, mostly voices stolen from old dictation training and children's records. I said it was goofy.

So I had to recreate the whole thing. At least I could listen to the drum, bass, one keyboard and one guitar part for reference, but the rest I had to try to remember or just make up. I remembered the lyrics off the top of my head, which is pretty good for something I wrote 26 years ago. There's another song on the same tape that I only remember the first two lines for, so you probably won't have to suffer through that one.

Whipping Cream (2.66 MB mp3) Download from MediaFire

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Somebody Else Remembered So I Don't Have To, part 2

Having had such success recording tunes at my brother Jim's studio, I decided to try my luck at my brother Joe's studio. Yes, at that point in time I had two brothers operating recording studios as part of their musical lives. I come from an artistic and musical family. I'm like that Baldwin brother who can't act. What's his name again? Zeppo?

This was still in the late 1980s sometime. Joe, at the time, was in Philadelphia. Now he's in California, teaches at a university and is involved in a whole bunch of musical directions at once. Jim, by the way, still runs a studio, but he traded the urine-soaked pavement of NYC for the stinking desert of Tucson.

Joe was part of a group in Philadelphia that promoted New Music, and my visiting to record coincided with them starting to put together a show. Just by coincidence, the theme of the show (the fusion of New Music and Pop music) dovetailed very nicely with this song. Also just by coincidence, one of the people in charge of putting the show program together was related to me. And so this silly little song got its world premiere before a paying audience at the Painted Bride in Philly.

The audience was stunned by the sheer brilliance of the work. So stunned they couldn't even remember to clap. I'm sure they were deep in introspection after hearing the lyrics, a searing indictment of people's television-watching habits.


Your Glass Eye (4.86MB mp3) Download from MediaFire

You can still hear me trying way too hard with that drum machine. Jeez.

Anyway, this is one of those tunes for which I remember the exact origin. In 1985 we moved to New Jersey, and our new next-door neighbors were gutting the building next door to turn it from a run-down old tea shop into a proper house. Since there was no TV, their kid started coming over in the afternoons to watch He-Man, She-Ra, and Thundercats. I was struck by how blatantly they were ripping off Phillip Glass.

So one day I was walking down the street, as one does, and a semi-Glassian tune kept playing in my head, and just when it was about to drive me insane, a voice (also in my head) sang, "with your glass eye" ...and I went straight home and wrote the first draft of the lyrics.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Say Hello To My Little Friend

You know that saying, "Idle hands are the Devil's workshop"? Well, that doesn't apply to me. Unless the Devil specializes in taking bits of junked, crappy guitars and putting them together to make even junkier, crappier guitars that is.

Is the Devil's real name Hondo? Wait - don't tell me. I don't want to know.

Speaking of bits of junked, crappy guitars, a few weeks ago my daughter's boyfriend brought over the body of an Epiphone acoustic guitar that had been found while cleaning out his mom's house. Just the body. Unlike every normal (i.e. good) acoustic guitar, it was designed to take a bolt-on neck, kind of like a Fender electric but not compatible. I looked online for information of repairing Epiphone acoustics with bolt-on necks, and the first thing I found was someone asking about the same model. The reply was that those guitars were so very, very bad that the best way to fix one was to throw it out. So that was encouraging.

Looking at the second picture, you can see the bizarre damage on the neck side of the soundhole. Under the original overhanging fretboard, the top got smooshed not only towards the bridge but also in toward the interior of the guitar, and on either side the top bulges out dramatically. All of this is possible only with an El Cheapo guitar made from layers of paper-thin wood and tons of plasticky glue and urethane. Try that with a quality guitar and you'll have a broken guitar.

I should mention that there's another guitar behind it in the first photo, which creates a bit of visual confusion there, sorry.

Anyway, I had the aforementioned idle hands a while later, and I started trying to put various other guitar bits together with that junky body. For obvious reasons I wanted to keep this project as cheap as possible. The neck I ended up using I picked up years ago - it's a three-piece short-scale bass neck and the glue had failed, leaving the three pieces of wood to curl apart in an amusing fashion. Way back when, I glued it back together, tore out the frets, and tung oiled the wood. And then forgot about it for a decade or so. Almost everything else was either taken from a junked guitar or something I'd had lying around for ages.

I did have to run to Home Depot to buy some screws, nuts, etc., and two brass air-hose fittings that were necessary to adapt the bridge to work with a separate tailpiece. The local Hobby Store supplied a thin sheet of white plastic which I cut into strips and glued in as fret markers. And after I put it together I had to buy a string tree for the headstock.

That string tree pushed to total cost of this here thing over $20! So much for keeping it cheap. Oh well, it may have cost money but the final result is definitely cheap. Actually it plays pretty well and sounds nice, sort of a cross between an electric bass and a string bass. The bridge is literally screwed on into 1/8" thick plywood though, so no using this one as a club.

Now all I have to do is learn to play fretless, and how hard can it be? There aren't even any of those pesky frets getting in the way!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Somebody Else Remembered So I Don't Have To

And now for something marginally different, or perhaps just marginal.

Theme From An Unimaginative Western (5.22MB mp3) Download from MediaFire

This is from the late 1980s, but I'm not sure of the date. What I do remember is that my brother Jim, who at the time was operating a small recording studio in NYC, invited me up to spend a few days of studio downtime recording some of my tunes. And so I brought a few guitars, synths, a drum machine and my so-not-a-laptop computer into the city with the two songs I had ready to record - or so I thought at the time.

The other song I had was called Something Really Stupid. Once I was back home and had a listen, I realized it had a serious problem, mainly in the choruses but also the way I sang it, so it got scrapped. Some day I'll record a proper version of it.

This song was luckier though - it didn't have any lyrics, which also meant that I couldn't ruin it with my singing. HOORAY! It also doesn't have any guitars. That's right, it's 100% synths, samples and drum machine.

And you know what that means.

It means everything actually plays in tune.

I had graduated to a much nicer drum machine, so to compensate I was trying to do too much with it. It's not so noticeable until you get to the second, faster half. Then it gets...well, I really cringe at my too-busy drum parts.

One thing I don't cringe at is my attempt at synth whale sounds. I was clearly still in thrall to Star Trek IV, which featured a giant alien space probe destroying everything around it because it really, really wanted to sing with whales, making it either the scariest, most psychotic tree-hugger in movie history or Woody Harrelson.

Anyway, I still like that sound.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Casual Recordings: Don's Boat Number Four

The whole inedible saga of the Don's Boat recordings can be found here.

Well, I finally ran out of excuses for not doing one of the even-numbered songs and decided that since this tune was already pretty rock-y, simply recording it with guitars would be enough of a change for this one. And I think I was right. Which is remarkable in itself.

This is another song that I wanted to do as a vocal number, mainly because when I was working on it, I was hearing lyrics in my head. Sadly, I never got past the couplet So call me a cannonball / I'm flying right into the ground, and eventually I just gave up. Just as well I expect.

Don's Boat Number Four AKA Cannonball (2.29MB mp3) download with MediaFire

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Casual Recordings: Don's Boat Number Seven

I already covered the saga of Don's Boat last year, so I won't repeat myself.

Here is Don's Boat Number Seven AKA Hi, my name's Ben (3.28 MB mp3, Download from MediaFire). If you were paying attention, and know your numbers, you may suspect some sort of pattern at work: First Numbers 1, 3 and 5, and now 7? So, what up? Heck if I know. Those are just the ones I thought were most promising. I swear there's a #4 I'm thinking of doing, but I can't figure out how to make it sound different.

Like the previous three, #7 sounded like BMBPDJ (Bad Marching Band Plays Disco Jazz), and, well, now it doesn't. I had actually done most of this right after numbers 1, 3 and 5, but as a vocal number. At the time there was an amusing phenomenon on the Intenet concerning an apparent attempt to create a viral publicity whatsis for a bodybuilder who wanted an acting career, or something. It was all very confusing as no one was taking responsibility for what they were doing and for all I know it could have been some sort of weird conceptual art piece done using a piece of found video.

At any rate, while I was working on #7 I suddenly heard words being sung to it, as happens now and then, so I started doing it as a vocal piece. And then a whole lot of Real Life happened and I didn't get back to it until now and I don't feel like doing the vocal any more. But you can sing it if you like, as I'm including the lyrics. Just sing along with the acoustic guitar (except for the first half of the second verse, as I was apparently planning to do a solo there).

It was gonna be called Hi, My Name's Ben.

Hi, my name's Ben
You may have seen me at the five and ten
Or where I used to work at the A&P
I still go in there now and then
But I'm on...my way
Don't wanna waste another day
In this life I'm living.

My name is Ben
And I've been awesome since I don't know when
Just look at my handsome smiling face
I'm like a walking 8 by 10
I'm like a sun ray
You can't look the other way
Even if you want to.

My wheels are spinning round and round in this
two-bit nowhere place
I'm gonna find my fame and fortune and
next time you see my face
You're gonna know who I am.


Hi, my name's Ben
Say hello to my little friend
You better not make me angry yeah
or you could come to a sticky end
It's like a nightmare
But it's finally coming clear
What I gotta do now.

They've been ignoring my existence in this
godforsaken place
I'm gonna be all over the nightly news
And next time they see my face
They're gonna know who I am.

Friday, August 07, 2009

I Know What I Did That Summer But I Have No Idea What I Was Thinking

More debris rescued from the moldy old tapes I recorded in a spare bedroom in the early 1980s.

Well now, what we have here are three of what a neutral observer might describe as "odder" entries. Each of them, however, is odd for a reason. Mind you, I'm not saying it's a good reason, but each of them does have a reason.

Two of these songs are odd because they started out as lyric writing exercises. You see, when I started out trying to write songs, I quickly realized that I sucked at it, just as you realized when you downloaded one. So to help myself grow and learn, I made a point of not only writing something every day, but now and then giving myself a "special task" as a sort of challenge.

I'm not saying I actually got better as a songwriter, but I did produce some seriously goofy lyrics.

Baseball Players (3.13MB mp3) download from MediaFire

This started out as an experiment in cramming as many random visual references and metaphors as possible into a song. Hence the first verse:

Upset by dreams of unicorns, baseball players cry
Their tears tear tiny holes in the fabric of the sky
Which lies like electric blankets on the towns where they live now.

Somewhere in the chorus, I realized I kind of talking about baseball players but also kind of talking about life in general. So there was nothing else to do but to make the rest of the verses sound like they were kind of about life in general while actually being kind of about being a baseball player.

See? I told you there was a reason.

This song, like Toothpaste, is in 3/4 time. Why? Because the song insisted on being in 3/4 time, of course. Jeepers, such questions.

Every Time (I See Someone Eat A Hot Dog) (3.69MB mp3)
download from MediaFire

Another writing exercise, this time in writing a series of lines that work in sequence and eventually come full circle. This is an early version. One of the tapes that was ruined had a more developed take that was slower and had backwards guitars and stuff, very arty. With this though, I hadn't even had the time to work out those subtle variations in the guitar riffs that I like so much.

Two songs in a row that mention baseball. No idea why, I don't think I ever mentioned it again in a song.

Listening to it just now, I finally realized that weird little stutter in the organ solo is me trying to work in the "CHARGE!" tune. Weirdo.

Riding The Range (4.13MB mp3) download from MediaFire

Warning - song contains gratuitous Rolling Stones reference.

This one was actually labeled "1982", which makes it the earliest recording I have. Probably made soon after I bought the 4-track tape deck and my first programmable drum machine.

That drum machine changed everything. Before that I had a "rhythm box" from Radio Shack. You could choose one of maybe 8 rhythms and set the tempo with a knob, but it would just sit there mindlessly repeating the same pattern over and over and over and over, and if you tried to work on song ideas with it your songs would just become monotonous drones that never changed.

This new box though - Whoa Nelly! It made a little "bop" that stood for a bass drum, a little "speh" that represented a snare drum, two little "doo" sounds that were intended to be tom-toms, a "ch" and a "sssss" for a hi-hat, and a "pshhhhhhhhhhhhh" for a cymbal. It had 16 patterns of up to 16 beats in length, and for each beat you could have any of the sounds play, and you could also have certain beats be louder than others! And to top it all off, you could chain the patterns together to form a complete song!

The fact that it sounded like crap did nothing to take away from the fact that it was fantastic.

At any rate, with all that power I did what any tyro would do, and that's try to make it doo more than it could. Hah! I typed "doo" when I meant "do". Leaving it as is. That'll show me.

So...here's this song. A very early songwriting attempt. Once again, a later version was on one of the ruined tapes, but I adore this one because good grief, what was I thinking in that middle section? Was I trying to do...reggae? The fact that I, the person who made this, have no idea if I was trying to do reggae should tell you all you need to know about my reach VS grasp situation. It is out to lunch lyrically, melodically, harmonically, and its aura is all schmutzed.

mood: schmutz

Sunday, August 02, 2009

I Still Remember What I Did in the Past - I'm Doomed to Repeat it Again.

Three more alleged songs rescued from my dank cellar. Rich folks may have wine cellars, but plebes like us have to make do with vintage dank.

These recordings, like the previous three, date from 1983 or so. At least that's what it says on the tape box. If they had a Wikipedia entry I could be 100% certain, but for now I'll have make do with my own handwriting and memory.

Newspaper Man (3.67 MB mp3) download from MediaFire

My mom claims to love this song. But then, she also claims that I was a beautiful baby. I've seen the pictures though, and unless you have some sort of amphibian fetish, I wasn't beautiful.

At any rate, I clearly remember how this song came about. I was visiting my brother Jim, who was living in a slightly-less burned out section of the Lower East Side of NYC, and when we stepped out on a cold winter morning to get some breakfast, I nearly tripped over a sleeping homeless fella who had accumulated a bunch of old newspaper for insulation.

The whole stilted use of pronouns was done just so I could say "Me lie across the walk" and have it sound like "Me Lai". At the time, I thought it was brilliant.

At the time, I probably thought I'd been a beautiful baby.

I never have asked my mom how she feels about amphibians.

Fetch This (2.77MB mp3) download from MediaFire

Finally a protest song! Naturally, it's a protest song from the standpoint of a misanthropic dog. Hey, we've all got issues. OK?

OK, I have issues. But if I was a dog, I'd have these issues. I know this because I have these issues now.

By the way, I have a dog now. And I give it water in a dirty bowl and feed it from a bag. Which makes me a dirty hypocrite. But at least I don't make it wear a jacket.

So I've got that going for me.

Nuclear Family War (1.84MB mp3) download from MediaFire

One of those songs that comes about because a phrase strikes you as funny, in this case the combination of "nuclear war" and "nuclear family". This one is really muddy sounding for some reason - heck, I boosted the treble as far as I could on the vocal track and you still can't hear the sibilance. Possibly just a quickie demo that I didn't bother doing a better version of.

I guess I should put sarcastic air quotes around the word "better" there.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Remembering the Past, Doomed to Repeat it Anyway.

Back in the 1980s I wrote a bunch of what, for lack of a better term, I will call "songs" and recorded them using a couple of guitars, a bass, a Casio keyboard and a cheesy drum machine, all on a 4-track tape deck. Recently I dug those tapes up and was horrified, or perhaps gratified, to see that they had been badly damaged by years of high humidity and the occasional flood. So I've started trying to get them digitized and cleaned up as well as I can.

Some tapes are almost totally lost, leading to the horrifying realization that I may end up relearning some of these old songs and re-recording them. That'll teach me to not take care of my crappy old tapes.

Anyway, I plan to start posting them now and then as I get them ready. Here are the first three. As you (if you're foolish enough to download them) will soon see, when I write lyrics they tend to be a bit, well, silly. Love songs and political statements were not generally on my agenda. Nor was, how can I put this, knowing how to carry a tune.

So the songs are:

Toothpaste (2.83MB mp3) download from MediaFire
When I was about 20 I found a copy of a book aimed at young male readers, which I had read several times as a young male. It was part of a long-running, popular series. Even back then I realized it wasn't very good, but as the woman said, we didn't have cable and had to make our own fun. Re-reading it, one scene in particular struck me as being, well, stupid. So I wrote a song about it. If you are of a certain gender and age group, you will immediately recognize the book. If you're also psychic, that is.

It Doesn't Bother Me (3.3MB mp3) download from MediaFire
I was so intent on making this song sound Indian that I bought a cheap electric guitar and mutilated the bridge to make it buzz like a sitar. So much for that. Boy, with all the tabla loops and sitar samples available these days, I could probably make a new version that sucks marginally less than this does. Yeah. These are possibly the most sarcastic lyrics I've ever written.

It Was The Other Day (3.95MB mp3) download from MediaFire
This isn't even really a song. I used to carry a blank book around with me in case I felt like being creative and sometimes I'd just blurt out a bit of stream-of-consciousness. I don't do that any more. Stream consciousness I mean. Nowadays my consciousness is more of a dribble. Maybe I should see a urologist. So basically this is me vamping for 4 minutes so I could read this silly story. There are some other voices in between. Probably from a TV show, but I can't tell what it is.