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!