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Under the Influence

Music has always been a very influential part of my life. It is hard for me to remember a day without the presence of some song or other. I’ve talked before about how music (and books) are sacred to me. Musicians are storytellers, and as a storyteller I feel a connection with them that goes beyond just enjoying their talents. Certain music has the ability to reconnect me with my past, transport me places, allow me the opportunity to experience old emotions, people. I’ve been moved to tears by music more times than I can count, and each time I’ve been grateful for the experience.

Music also fuels my writing.

There was a time when I needed silence to work, and any outside distraction was a detriment. I don’t know what changed, but now I cannot compose anything without some music playing. It influences the direction of my writing, the tone, the development. I know certain scenes in my first novel were created in direct response to what was on the stereo at the time I was writing them.

And I have so much  of it.

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Hundreds of vinyl records. Thousands of compact discs. A few lonely cassette tapes.

I’m always acquiring more as well. The more new stuff that I add to the collection, the more some albums get forgotten. Some albums have not been played in years, maybe decades.

In order to try and remember the lost ones, I determined to listen to each of my CD’s (in reverse alphabetical, reverse chronological order) over a two year period. I call it “The Great CD Listening Adventure. I started in the fall of 2016 and just moved through L and into the letter K this morning (L7 to Kylesa, in case you were wondering).

Because some albums have not aged well, I give myself some outs- I play everything, but if after three songs, I’m not feeling it, the disc gets yanked (set on the pile to take to my local record store where I can get store credit). I can skip live albums and greatest hits collections. Singles are also optional. Otherwise, it’s every album by every artist. It’s been so much fun. I’ve rediscovered some forgotten gems, and realized that I’ve lost interest in some bands completely.

My tastes have always been all over the place, ranging from bubblegum pop to Black Metal and most everything in between. I firmly believe that there is a gem in every genre, and that some of the best music ever made is being created right now. If you’re wondering, disagreeing, curious, I can give you a nice list of artists to consider.

What about you? What sort of role does music play in your life, your writing? When authors use music, does it have any affect on the way you perceive a scene?

Who are some of your favorite artists? Who are you listening to right now? Tell me all about your love of music, please.

 

On A Good Day

I have driven through Flagstaff, Arizona close to 15 times on my way to Phoenix, and in all honesty, I dislike the place. It doesn’t help that I usually travel through in the winter, and being up in the mountains, Flagstaff is a snowy, frozen, uninviting place.

I am willing to accept that most of the problem lies with me. I have my mind set, but the dislike is irrational. I’ve never had a negative encounter with anyone living in the town. I’ve not been involved in any snow related accidents, though I have seen several messy ones. Yet, my disdain remains. It has become a running family joke, the awfulness of any sojourn through the frozen waste. If there were a faster route, I would surely take it.

I thought nothing in the world could change my opinion of Flagstaff.

A band I love was doing a small, six city tour, which didn’t include mine. The best place to catch them was in Flagstaff. Ugh. I was not thrilled at the prospect, but as I was determined to see the band, I booked a cheap hotel, found a friend to go with me, and secured tickets.

It is just over 7 hours from my front door to the  Flagstaff city limits. I think I complained at least seven times each hour, and the drive into town on an overcrowded and stoplight ridden Route 66 didn’t alter my perception.

The hotel was just as I’d expected, room doors facing out on a oil stained parking lot, two beds, no fan in the bathroom. Strange enough, I was surprised at how comfortable it was, and how after a quick walk around the area, I was not displeased with the location.

My friend and I drank a few beers, laughed at really stupid jokes, then walked the mile distance from our room towards the historic downtown area.

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It was easy to ignore the beauty of Flagstaff when I was traveling through cold and snow, but walking towards the town center, I could not help but be struck by the landscape. The hills surrounding town were just turning green with spring growth and the breeze, though still chilly, was welcoming.

We walked to a local ramen place (never eat at chain restaurants, especially on vacation), and had some of the most delicious food I’ve eaten in quite a while. The place was tiny inside, but the atmosphere was friendly and inviting as were the staff.

I ordered a bowl called the Mic Drop. The flavors (udon noodles, various cuts of pork, house made red kimchi, amazing broth), were succulent. Each bite was as good as the first.

Vegans should avert their eyes.

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The three or four streets making up the historic downtown were lively, filled with people out walking and shopping. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, and all the people we encountered at stores and shops were nothing but nice.

I kept trying to tell myself I hated it here, but as we walked to the bar where the show was being held, I had to stop lying. I was having a great time—in Flagstaff. I didn’t think that was possible.

On a good day, it seems anything can change.  I can’t believe I’m writing this, but given the chance, I’d go back, stay the night again, maybe two.

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The show was excellent. Boris blew me away. I did encounter some odd ducks at the venue who seemed to be trapped in an 1986 time warp. They were head banging like Megadeath were on the stage. I wanted to get video, but it was too dark and smokey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Collections

At the end of my 3rd grade year, I decided it would be fun to be 4th grade class president (my elementary school was an odd one) the following school year. I felt like I knew most of the kids in my grade and had a decent shot of winning. To promote my candidacy, my mother helped me make posters to hang in the hallway at school. I decided to borrow a phrase from Sesame Street as my campaign slogan.

C is for Carty. That’s good enough for me.

Cookie Monster didn’t help my cause in the end. I failed to make it through the primary election.

But enough about my brief political career-

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Music and books have been a huge part of my life since I was a small boy. Because of the influence of my parents, who had what seemed like massive amounts of books and records, when I was old enough (sometime around the age of 7) I wanted my own collections. They started out small and silly- a copy of Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go: A 7 inch copy of Cold as Ice by Foreigner- but those small beginnings (my B word again) connected me to words and music in ways that changed my life forever.

I can’t imagine my house without the presence of books. I love the smell of book paper, old or new. There is very little as wonderful for me as walking into a book store and having that smell overtake me. When I was getting paid to be a Librarian, I was surrounded by that scent every day (and some others we won’t discuss).

I love fiction. Made up stories often feel more honest to me than non-fiction. Reading fiction also taught me better ways to write it. I find writing and reading to be intimately connected.

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Music is rarely background noise for me. It is almost always front and center. I pay attention to it. I am aware of it. I listen when I write, when I drive, when I settle in for the evening.

Vinyl was always my first love- the feel of the wax as I remove it from the cover, that slight hiss and pop when the needle hits the record: Huge cover art to gaze at while the music fills the room. That first love was left behind for a while when compact discs became popular. I admit, I abandoned my first love for a shiny new one, but she has been good to me as well, letting me hang on to the one thing that matters most to me when it comes to music, something tangible. It is why I refuse to abandon the physical and buy digital music. Lucky for me, vinyl has made a comeback, and while it is more expensive now than ever before, I have reconnected with that first love and found her as wonderful as I remember. record

I’ve decided that I can live without almost all of my possessions. They are after all in the end, just things. But I would feel lost and alone without my collections of music and books.

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They say more about me than the clothes I wear, the car I drive or where I live. They are my history and my memory. They are tangible evidence of my passion, and I am alright with that.

Spinning and Static

A month or so ago, I received an email (private Facebook message more likely) from the husband of my Aunts sister (yeah, a strange connection for sure). In it, he mentioned my love of vinyl, and that he had decided to part with his collection of records from the 70’s and early 80’s.

In my dreams, I saw stacks of records, maybe hundreds of albums from an era of music that always reminds me of being a boy, sitting in front of my fathers expansive and quirky collection, headphones on, expanding my musical knowledge. I assumed everyone who actually still owned records would own many. Any casual collector would have dumped their albums at a thrift store years ago.

I wasn’t naive enough to believe that every record would be a treasure. Musical taste is perhaps the most subjective part of a human personality, and while I knew this man some, his musical preferences were a mystery.

I arrived at his place and followed him down into the basement. He was moving, downsizing, and the records were not something he wanted to bring along to the new place.

In the only unfinished room in the basement, was a solitary box of records, maybe 70, tucked away in the dark and the dust. A bit saddened, I began to thumb through them. Most of the collection was smooth jazz, beat down Beatles records, obscure Christmas collections. Kids albums with silly songs instead of albums from Bowie or Springsteen stared back at me. I admit, I was disappointed.

Once I got home and really sorted them, I found a few amazing pieces, a copy of Dark Side of the Moon, Simon and Garfunkel, some interesting classical albums, as well as other records I had forgotten existed. I gave them all a good bath (they were wicked dusty), then sorted them into piles I would be keeping and those that I would be selling or giving away. In the end I kept close to 20.

I just finished listening to Bridge over Troubled Water again. Next, I’ll listen to some Cream, or maybe something by Count Basie.

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I am grateful for the gift this man offered me. My initial disappointment has been replaced with gratitude at the chance to get to know another person through their musical taste, and by a connection to some of the music of my childhood; a connection only possible through the all too familiar hiss and pop of old records.

 

 

 

An Empty Space

I was born in November of 1970 to parents who were deeply into the music of their generation. My musical education began before I was born. I don’t remember it all, of course, but I have little doubt that my fetal self was impacted by the songs that were played in my parents apartment. Music was always there, always present. It still is.

I recall my first memories of certain artists. Bob Dylan was the guy with the scratchy voice that my dad could mimic almost exactly. The Beatles were the songs my uncles and father performed lip-sync concerts of in my grandparent’s basement. Neil Young was for Saturdays, or so I remember. Van Morrison appeared one day while we were driving on the freeway, radio on (or maybe an 8 track tape playing), window down, Brown Eyed Girl filtering into the back seat where I sat, face forward with the wind whipping through my hair, the sun on my face.

But Bowie was always there. No one moment puts him in my sphere. He always just was.

He was sometimes no more than a tone in the background, but never white noise, and when he wanted to be, he was instantly in front of me. He had that power in my musical development. He was present.

When I ponder the musical direction of my life, the artists I admire, the people who have impacted me most deeply, David Bowie is among the most important. He didn’t always make perfect music, and he certainly wasn’t a saint. He never topped my list of “favorite” bands, but through every stage, every musical whim or deeply held passion, I adored Bowie.

He was coolness personified. He did everything first it seemed, and if he wasn’t first, he often did it better.

Musically, he was fearless. Even his failed projects had elements of greatness. He wasn’t the most dynamic actor, but he was passionate, and gave memorable performances. He had his finger on the pulse of fashion and art. He was a trend setter, and while he could fall in and out of favor with the mainstream, he endured, and was culturally relevant for 5 decades.

His music videos were art, equally horrific and beautiful. He attacked every project with professionalism and zeal. He was more than a musician, more than just an artist. Ask any of the millions of people mourning his loss today and they will tell you of his influence, his impact.

His passing leaves a giant void in culture, music, and art. I am unsure there is anyone out there able to fill it, but that is as it should be.

If we could ask a young Bowie if he thought he’d ever live to be almost 70, he most likely would laugh at the prospect. He passed with dignity, and with grace, quietly and discretely.

Some will not understand how so many of us can mourn someone we did not personally know. The answer is obvious. We did know him. His music let us into his life, affected us deeply. He helped us understand ourselves better. We owe David Bowie a great deal. The world is a more empty place without him.

My entire life, the aura of Bowie has been present. He was always there. In many ways, he always will be.

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What is Sacred?

Over the last 20 years (maybe longer), I have had a strained relationship with organized religion. For me, it does not fill a need, a void.

This does not mean I have abandoned the concepts of spirituality, though I do struggle understanding what most mean when they call themselves “a spiritual person”.

I understand the concept of sacred, even if what I call sacred others might find trite. Like many of the most important parts of our lives, the things we care about most are completely subjectively understood. We love strange and disturbed people, find fulfillment in places and things that some find odd. It is too easy to invalidate, belittle and dismiss what we don’t agree with, what doesn’t stimulate us.

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This is my church, and these are my holy relics. I spend most of my day sitting in this room, listening to music of all sorts. I find a pathway to the divine through the notes, tones, the voices. I feel a connection with the musicians, the artists who lay bare a portion of their secrets for me. What a frightening and vulnerable position, sharing blindly with so many, the things that matter most, the often very intimate.

I write here, surrounded by other artists. They inspire me, frighten me, intimidate and welcome me. They have influenced me in ways I find hard to describe. They are loyal, always ready, always giving. book

Combined with these written relics, the words of so many novelists, poets, I cannot help but be buoyed up. Novels expand my universe, take me to locations I have only ever barely imagined. I am consumed by language, Immersed in words and sentences.

These places, these things are sacred to me. They are my companions, and I am grateful for them.

What is sacred to and for you?

Check That One Off the List

IMG_4327Two things happened this past weekend. First, I visited Seattle for the first time. Second, I traveled to a city not my own for the purpose of seeing a rock show.  I did drive all the way to Wisconsin once, and while I was there, attended a show, but my purpose for going to Wisconsin was to see friends. The show was an added bonus.

I am a sucker for big cities and the ocean, which makes it all the more strange that I have never been to Seattle before. I loved the quirky streets, the people all dressed in almost the same color tones, same styles, the crazy traffic, and hot beverages that almost seemed to be a required accessory.

 

 

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I even enjoyed the winter gloom, the constant misting haze (maybe because we had a Monday like the photo, where the sun came out and let me have this view), and the always about to get wet feeling that permeated each walk.

We did some touristy things. Visited the Public Market, bought too many bakery goods, too much really good cheese, and spent a good hour or two perusing used books.

IMG_4316 Because it was Super Bowl weekend, and the Seahawks were playing, hardly anyone was out and about on Sunday. Many of the shops closed early. Some didn’t open at all. With so few people, we were able to sample foods that some of the locals out and about told us usually had lines down the street.

Sheryl was able to try some delicious sea food, and I  sampled some local beer as well as get a pretty decent hamburger.

We walked most places the first two days, having found a hotel within walking distance of not only the downtown area, but the venue for the concert as well. It was good for me, as while I am a capable driver, I don’t enjoy driving in large cities all that much. I worry I’ll be the fool going the wrong way on a one way street, and in Seattle, that was very, very possible.
IMG_4280The Show was held at Neumos, a very eclectic and fun club. Doors were set to open at 8, and not knowing if the crowd would be huge or non existent (the headliner, Hemls Alee, is a local band), We left our hotel at 7:40. This offered enough time to walk the 1/4 mile and be there before the doors opened.

We approached the venue, and I started to feel my usual pre-concert nervousness. I was plowing forward, Sheryl just behind me and to my left. On my right, I vaguely noticed a bouncer looking fellow (6’5, 240 pounds, wearing all black, arms folded) and a woman standing next to him, smoking.  It was dark, I was in a strange town, I really wasn’t paying attention.

IMG_4284I heard the woman say, “hey” and I turned. It was Emma Ruth Rundle. If she had not said something, I would have blown right by, completely missing the chance to talk to one of the musicians I had traveled to see.

I stopped, said hello. We chatted for a minute, talked Seattle, where I was from (as she knew I had flown in for the show) and how the band appreciated the support. Funny enough, that meant the world. I love Marriages, and Emma’s solo record was my favorite album last year. I want everyone to enjoy the music, and I share it every chance I get. I don’t do it for recognition or out of any other motive beyond turning others on to some fantastic musicians, powerful music. Still, when the effort is appreciated, and when it is recognized, you can’t help but feel pretty damn good.

 
IMG_4277Sheryl and I continued on, realizing that no one, and I mean no one was waiting to get inside. We went to get some coffee (you always have to have coffee) and wait. I use a pour-over device at home for making my morning coffee, but these people…wow. Scales and measures, a precision I had never considered. It was some good coffee, though I’d have to compare the same blend done a different way to see the real differences.

We made our way across the street and back to the club just before 9. Maybe 100 people were already in the venue (by the time Marriages took the stage, it was very full), and almost right on time, the show started. The first band, Grenades, were pretty loud, and while I love the metal, the screaming and guttural vocals were a bit unexpected. They put on a good show, played the right amount of songs, and got out of the way.

 

IMG_4293Marriages were next. Really, really, really clean set. The sound was amazingly clear and the musicianship spot on. I could watch them perform every day and not get bored. After their set, Helms Alee took the stage. What an absolutely ferocious band. They played with so much energy. If you want to see a drummer put her entire heart and soul into her instrument, watch Hozoji play! The woman can’t weigh more than 70 pounds, and she plays amazing with power and precision. I couldn’t look away. Sadly, she was so far back on the stage that any photo or video I took failed.

 

I was also able to speak to the Drummer for marriages, Andrew Clinco. He was walking by during the Helms alee set and noticed me. He stopped, thanked me for the support and for flying up to see the band play. I was so blown away that my small efforts to support the band were noticed, that I was left pretty much speechless. I did manage to get out a thank you.

It is one thing to approach a band member and have them thank you, especially when you feel like you are the one grateful for the music, but to be noticed in a crowd of people in a darkly lit venue, or on the street when you pass by is too flattering for words.

And because I think you all need to listen to and adore Marriages, here is link- http://marriagesband.com/music

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On Monday, we met up with some friends who live near Seattle. Heather and Tobin showed us about town, taking us to record stores, book stores, delicious restaurants and to places about town where I got photos like the one on the left.

I am grateful for these friends, who took time out to show Sheryl and me around. They were infinitely patient as I thumbed through stacks of albums and most likely thousands of books.

 

We had such a fantastic time, it only made me want to go back again and IMG_4256again.