Sunday, January 25, 2015

Your Sunday Squirrel

OK, this is the best squirrel photo I've taken in a very long time.  I believe this was on New Year's Day.  I went for a walk and met this guy and a few of his co-rodents.  He held still just long enough for me to take two pictures.  This is the better of the two and it's definitely going on the 2016 calendar.  Thank you, Mr. Squirrel, for being so cooperative.

15. Capitol Hill

Wow, it really has been a while since I posted anything.  And here I thought I'd be done with this by Christmas.  Only two tracks left after this.  This is my first try at dance music.  It's not exactly EDM, although it is certainly dance music as well as electronic.  Being a longtime Belltown resident, I'm always amazed at the elevated social environment of Capitol Hill.  I mean, Belltown folk are basically loners who are constantly dodging bums and crazy while steering their way around puddles of puke and tons of dog crap on the sidewalk.  People on Capitol Hill talk to each other and do things together.  At least in my view.  It's not necessarily a gay or straight thing either.  Sure, they have their bums, crazy people, puke and dog crap, but not at Belltown's volume.  It just seems sometimes that CH is one big club.  And hence this song's chorus: welcome to the club.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Your Sunday Squirrel

Sorry for the lack of posts.  I'm set to record another album in February.  With the two albums from last year, I kind of got into a groove with the preparation.  But those albums had 13 and 14 tracks.  This next one is going to have 45 or 46, so I have a lot of tunes to learns and many, many to send out to musicians playing the sessions.  Why so many?  Well, a few years ago, I was listening to Sandinista by the Clash and it made me think that it had a tremendous amount of filler - dub remixes of previous tunes and the like.  I checked to see how many tracks were on it (37) and made it a goal to write more tracks.  Not only that, but more concise tracks.  I know that it seems ridiculous comparing myself to the Clash.  I'm just a nobody, right?  I mean, I have to keep a day job in order to make albums.  I realize that it's a question of quality and not quantity, but I wanted to use Sandinista as a benchmark.  Nobody does double albums anymore.  And why should they?  Well, for me the question is why not?

In any case, here is a squirrel who was hanging out in Denny Park on New Year's Eve Day.  He was pretty friendly.

14. Federal Way

This isn't my favorite tune from the album, but it was pretty fun to sing.  I ask you this: if the Russian mafia is going to take over any town in the Greater Seattle area, what's it going to be? That's right, Federal Way.  Why?  Just because.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Your Sunday Squirrel

 This is a squirrel just hanging out and being nice and holding still.

 Here is that same squirrel moving at precisely the wrong moment.

 And he's doing it again.

But this squirrel is very special; he has a transparent head.  That's quite rare!

13. Edmonds

I grew up in Edmonds.  When I visit these days, it seems so very quaint, but back when I was growing up, it was tremendously dull.  Everything was far away from where I lived and my parents pretty much always refused to take me anywhere.  There was no public transportation at the time, so I had to walk.  By the time I was driving age, I made up for all that lost time.  But for some reason, Edmonds was completely overrun with very aggressive cops.  They used to pull teenagers over as a matter of course.  I used to get pulled over all the time for really stupid stuff.  Once, they said that I'd flashed my lights and that was illegal.  A friend of mine got pulled over for stopping on the stripe before the crosswalk - not the crosswalk itself, but the line before it.  The cops were the bane of our existences.  And they were all really fat.  If it was a matter of outrunning them, it would have been no problem, but we all drove.  They pulled us over and we were supposed to appear grateful.  This song is about that frustration.

The Hurricane Is Dead

Once upon a time, it was the Dog House.  And so it stayed for decades.  Dick Dickerson played the organ on Fridays and Saturdays and all the barflies sang along.  It was one of the weirdest places around.  Then it was sold and turned into the Hurricane, neither as cheap or as charming.  As far as greasy spoons go, I've always been a bigger fan of the 5-Point.  Their food is tons better, because it arrives at the table generally hot and hearty.  The same could never be said for the Hurricane.  Well, it seems that the entire block has been sold to Amazon.  I heard that they paid a cool $50 million for it.  So progress has upset our urban utopia yet again.  As regular readers know, I have nothing against progress.  I'm all for it, as long as I don't fall victim to it.  I guess the thing that's most disturbing to me is that I'm not more upset about this turn of events.  Someday there's going to be a very large building there that will belong to Amazon.  And someday after that, a company will come along that undoes Amazon.  It may be decades away.  But that building will have to come down one day in the distant future.  And nobody will know that it was the site of the Dog House, one of the last odd places in Seattle.  

Saturday, January 10, 2015

12. Georgetown

When you're writing songs about a city, you have to explore.  There were a lot of possibilities: Beacon Hill, Shoreline, Kenmore, Blue Ridge, Lake City and the like.  But what can you say about any of them?  I had enough trouble writing about a place like Burien.  Seriously, it was difficult.  But Georgetown has this storied saloon/speakeasy tradition that I tried to highlight.  Also, it's pretty ugly.  In fact, it's almost blighted.  Plus, there's a freeway that runs over it.  And there are all these planes landing at nearby Boeing Field.

My friend Jim took me there and I quickly figured out how to approach the tune.  It needed to be gritty and noisy.  I play all three sax parts and Johnny my engineer handles the guitar solo.  I told him to play some crazy shit with minimal attention to the changes.  The result is a perfect wall of noise.  I listened to this tune recently after a long hiatus.  I was pretty surprised at what I was hearing.  It's got drive, but it's also kind of crazy.  I don't write like this anymore.  I think that for the sake of variety on this album, I was pushing my writing chops in various directions.  This is the result of that effort and I like it quite a bit.  

Thursday, January 8, 2015

11. Downtown

If you'll recall, a few years back, like, say, three and a half years when I recorded this disc, the Seattle Police Department was having a little problem with shooting people.  It all culminated with the death of a Native American woodcarver named John Williams for the crime of carrying his carving tools down the stuff.  Apparently, the officer who shot him didn't like the way he was looking at people.  That was the most prominent in a series of shootings, most of them involving bummier and crazier elements of society.  They seemed to go down every week or so for a long time.  And almost all of them happened downtown.  So I wrote this song.  My feeling has always been as expressed in the tune: first you shoot the least among us and then everybody else is next.  And I thought that a bouncy protest-calypso was the best vehicle.  

OK, so time passes.  Diaz is no longer chief of police.  These days the chief is actually a woman.  She just started, so it's too early to tell.  Although this song is obsolete, it represents a snapshot of what was going on in the city at the time.  Nowadays police killings around the country are getting a lot of attention, as well they should.  This tune was just my effort to convey my feelings about what was happening here.    

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

10. Burien

What can you say about Burien?  It's a strange place that looks like it's several decades behind the rest of the planet.  Of course, it has a lot of rehab clinics for some reason.  It also has many nail salons.  In fact, too many.  Back a while ago, I went to a Russian banya (that was run by a Georgian guy) with some work friends in Burien.  It was something.  They even gave you birch branches to complete the experience.  You're supposed to use them to exorcise evil spirits or some such.  The main thing is that you're supposed to hit your fellow banya enthusiast with them.  I was tasked with hitting my friend Michelle.  She seemed to like it a bit too much.  Of course, the super-best part was getting all overheated and then jumping into the fairly normally-heated pool.  In Russia - or especially in Finland - you're supposed to jump into a hole chopped into a frozen lake or river.  This is supposed to be good for the system - unless it happens to kill you.  The Burien experience was much more agreeable than that.  I did get to see several coworkers at the time in much less clothing than usual.  It was not unpleasant.  Plus, I felt refreshed.  

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Your Sunday Squirrel

I went to Denny Park on New Year's Day and I met this fellow there.  He was way far over on the lawn.  I called him to me (squirrels can be called) but then he suddenly stopped halfway and assumed this pensive pose.  Who knows why.  He stood there and waited patiently for me to come over and give him a peanut.  Once that was over, he was up a tree and off the cold, cold lawn.  As you can see, there's frost on the grass.  I'm pretty sure that chills squirrel feet quite a bit.  

9. Harbor Island

What does Harbor Island sound like?  Have a listen.  I'm pretty sure nobody lives there, it's a place of extreme industry.  I'm almost positive its entire surface area is paved over.  I've driven over the West Seattle Bridge many times at night and the place is all lit up.  It's not pretty; it's just ominous.  That's kind of what I'm trying to express.  

Cinerama - Take Two

Yesterday was my second foray to the Cinerama.  The first was for the last Hunger Games installment, which not only wasn't that great, but it was in 2D.  This time, it was my chance to see the theater's 3D capabilities.  My expectations were high.  After all, it's the first theater in the world to have this technology, so why not?  OK, so I saw the last Hobbit movie.  I have to say that it was pretty spectacular.  I was really impressed.  The images are very crisp and vivid and the 3D is the most non-headache-inducing I've ever experienced.  They will still charge you $15 for every show and they still have that dumb reserved seating, but it's so worth catching a show there.  Sure, the film itself wasn't totally great.  It was basically a two and a half hour-long adaptation of one chapter in a very short book.  There are all kinds of made up characters and scenes and such, and it takes forever to end.  But I have to say, it's great to look at, not just for the gratuitous shots of New Zealand or the top-notch CGI, but because the laser 3D does actually make it look like it's happening live in front of you.  At a few slower moments, I suddenly thought I was watching a play.

Anyhow, for the first show of the day, it was really quite crowded, so it seems that word is getting around that it's a unique movie-going experience.  Funny thing, I ended up sitting next to my aunt yesterday.  I had no idea that she was going; she and her friend Bill just bought their tickets and plunked down next to me.  It was quite the coincidence.  

Saturday, January 3, 2015

8. Fremont

I quite like Fremont.  In fact, I'm going to record my next album there in February.  I thought I would highlight some of the broader aspects of the neighborhood.  Fun fact: I didn't know that the Buckaroo Tavern had closed until after I'd finished the tune.  When I did, I had to change the lyrics.  Hey, it happens.  In fact, I change lyrics up until I record them.  But I do take pride in the fact that there is no writing in the studio.  What does that mean?  It means that all music is done.  There is no chaos, no drama and nothing that stands in the way of us hitting everything very hard.  It's OK for the lyrics to be in flux but the music has to be settled.  Musicians in my band don't care about the damn lyrics; they want to be able to play their parts without things changing all the time every single day.  I'm all the way behind that, so that's why everything's done before I record.  Also, constant changes, like serial collaboration, are an indication of a profound lack of vision.  I'm not saying that there is no changing what I've got when I walk into the studio.  Not at all.  It's just that I know what I want and I know how to ask for it.  Occasionally, I'm offered alternatives that sound better - and I take them.  I ascribe that to the fact that this city is a very good place for musicians.  Too bad that it's a lousy place for music.  Wait, I guess I should clarify: it's a lousy place if you want to make a living at music.  

Friday, January 2, 2015

7. Tacoma

Tacoma has been the butt of many jokes through the years.  Lots of weird and senseless crimes happen there.  The population acts strangely.  It always seems to be in decline.  And then there's the smell.  OK, the smell is gone.  The latest decline took care of that, but it was there for many, many years.  Yeah, the wood pulp mill responsible for the "Tacoma aroma" is closed but the stigma lives on.  That's what I tried to embody in this tune.  There was a time when Seattle and Tacoma were running neck-and-neck for dominance.  Seattle won out because the railroads threw their bulk behind it.  But Tacoma remains an interesting study in duality.  For every Seattle, there is a Tacoma, just as London has its Croydon, Freiburg-im-Breisgau has its Ebnet, Lausanne has its Renens, Los Angeles has its Commerce and New York has its Queens, Patterson and Hackensack.  There are countless examples.  Each large metropolis has an outlying sibling that failed to be a contender at some point and is now a punchline.  Tacoma serves that function for Seattle.  Sure, they gave the world Frank Russell (now worth $279 billion) and Weyerhauser (kinda-sorta; they're in the general area), but they have no skyline and no nightlife.  I played two New Year's parties there a while ago and its downtown was a desolate place on the biggest night of the year.

What I'm really trying to express here is pathos.  Tacoma was once a true rival to Seattle in economic might and influence, but now it's just a place where people live.  True, many live full and productive lives there, but it will never rise above its also-ran status.  That's what I tried to convey here.  The smell may be gone, the famous smelter (and its gigantic smokestack) may be gone, but the imprint of a sad, gritty neighbor persists.    

Thursday, January 1, 2015

6. Ballard

This is also one of my all-time favorites.  I didn't expect anything from this track, but it became apparent very quickly that it was going to be special.  I took the melody from the Norwegian folk song Per Spelmann and wrote lyrics more or less pertinent to Ballard.  Captain Obvious told me that places change over time.  Ballard has gone from a Scandinavian enclave rich in maritime tradition to a built-up suburb with pricey restaurants.  That's all very well and good, but what would someone, say, a ghost named Gunnar, think if he appeared in Ballard, say, on March 21st or so?  This is about that.

The pianist is the good-smelling Ty Bailie.  Johnny's studio doesn't have a piano, so we used a keyboard instead.  It does the job well enough, but there are exposed passages where it sounds totally fake.  We only needed two takes to get this in the can.  And it was fun.  Really fun.  Strangely enough, when I was prepping the tunes for recording, I seriously considered hiring someone else to sing every song on this album, such was my lack of confidence in my vocal stylings.  Listening to this tune, I have no idea why I would ever think that.  It's not that I sound like Pavarotti; no, it's that I can deliver a good performance, sing reasonably in tune and sound like myself.  Simple as that.  This rendition amazed me because I didn't feel capable of doing anything like this before I started.  And this version is not perfect by any means, but that's what I was trying for.  It's ragged, but it has life to it.  At one point, I almost started laughing, because we were both tripping over each other.  It's the rubato line about "delicious Rainier." But I pulled it back and we finished.  Throughout the take, things threatened to derail us, but we kept going and it all turned out OK.  I'm hoping that this song will also be a metaphor for my fortunes in the business.    

One of the Nice Things About Today

It's very quiet.  I'm sure there are places where people are shouting at the Rose Bowl, but around here, all is calm, all is bright.

Hapy Nuw Yeer!

It's always fun to watch the Space Needle blow up.