The song or album that represents the time that is…

Image courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art

Image courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art

Posts at the moment seem to have either a common theme, or somewhat refer back to an earlier post. Recently, I was having some discussion with a friend about music lists. I have my 10 favourite on an early post somewhere, and a post on an idea called “the music map of me”. But in discussing we also referred to that old BBC radio favourite desert Island discs, and a feature in Mojo magazine called “All back to my place”, (where numerous questions are asked around your soundtrack for different circumstances, e.g. sunday mornings). So we came up with a new list. The idea is that you choose a song or album that represents you, or has a lot of relevance to you in a certain circumstance. I guess really they are about memories. So here is some of the list that we came up with. Some categories were easier to answer than others:

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Music Albums of the year 2012

Regular readers know I like a music post from time to time. This one is my end of year look at this years best albums. For me, this year had plenty of good albums, but not one I think that stood out as something really special, or ground breaking. Mojo magazine went with Jack White’s album, as their number one which shows what I mean. Good, but a bit retro. I like this album, but I haven’t played it in a few months. So for my number one, I went with something different.

Fiona Apple - The idler wheel. Best of the year?

Fiona Apple – The idler wheel. Best of the year?

Album of the year

Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

For the second year running, I’m selecting an album by a female artist (last year it was PJ Harvey’s “Let England Shake”). This one a more unusual choice for me in the respect that I had never bought anything from Fiona Apple before, prior to this year. This means to me she was pretty much a new artist, albeit one with a back catalogue to explore. However with running this blog this year, I took more of an interest in poetry, short story, song lyrics and that whole area. Fiona’s album has a clever mix of intelligent lyrics. and phrasing, and the way she delivers or sings them, with subtle adjustments in her voice, mean there is lots to continually find. It made a good balance for me against the aforementioned interests. Musically it is also pretty subtle, a little low key, a lot of percussion, but it lends a touch of freedom which shows through in the album as a “whole” (speech marks intended). Try “Werewolf” or “Regret” as examples.

Runners up, were Bat for Lashes (another female artist), which I like a lot but as a fairly recent release, I’ve not lived with it long enough. Tame Impala with its neat way of live band dance music, and rolling drum beats, is also pretty cool, and a good soundtrack to various things going on in my life.

Further close calls include Bob Mould’s “Silver Age” (regular readers will know I’m a big fan and only recently saw him live for the first time). Bruce Springsteen also had a good, accessible record in “Wrecking Ball” which seemed to fit in with this election year (in the US). See also honorary mentions which I think are all good albums work checking out.

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Haiku – looking for easy money

Before todays regular post I want to point out that my comments to other blogs now appear to be going to the spam folder. I know I’m not the only person experiencing this recently. I’m not sure how or why. It gives the appearance when posting, of your typed in comment disappearing, after you submitted it. I’ve checked with a few people and it is comments being posted, but ones that are going to the spam folder. I have contacted Akismet to see if they can remove me from the spam list. Anyhoo…

N.B. Update – I contacted Akismet using http://akismet.com/contact/ and they responded pretty quickly (within 24 hours). If I comment I am no longer going into people’s spam folders, so it appears to have been solved for now.

This is a another three Haiku poems designed to be read as a larger poem. Like this previous posted Haiku it is inspired by a line from a song, which must then feature in the Haiku. The Haiku is not to be a copy of the song this is taken from but something new. This one takes a line from Bruce Springsteen’s “easy money” (from his current album wrecking ball, which seems quite inspired from his Seeger sessions work). The line is “looking for easy money”. A live version of the track is below:

Sitting at our home
enough money for bills
but little all else

What job should I get?
looking for easy money
want a lazy life?

Need work to enjoy
more cash would be nice as well
better decide soon.

See nothing too serious. Or is it? Well for many yes, and I’m not trying to make light of anyone’s situation. This is just a situation for one person and the lackadaisical approach taken by this protagonist.

Lexicon word of the day: Lackadaisical.

Does technology actually stifle real creativity?

A question for you today. These days, over the last decade, most people have access to a computer, and increased usage, has improved computer skills on them. The quality of the software and networking via the internet, has constantly improved. Myself I have a Macbook Pro. Apple have been promoting their computers with the “creative” software that comes pre-installed. There is iTunes, but also iPhoto (manage and do some basic editing of your photos, create photo books, slideshows), iMovie (edit your video, create movies and trailers), Garageband (create, record and produce your own music e.g. “Grimes” recently release an album created with this), idvd (burn movies, slideshows to a dvd), iWeb (create websites). This all comes preinstalled, is pretty fantastic actually, and as they would have it, is the doorway to creativity. But recently I have been thinking, is all this technology having the opposite affect? Is too much actually stifling good creativity?

Bear with me here, the argument is one of two many options, not against using the technology itself. In the current issue of Rolling Stone (1154) there is an interview with Jimmy Iovine legendary music engineer, producer, label chairman (Interscope), and co-headphone maker (Beats with Dre). He worked with John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Patti Smith, U2 and many others. He refers to how many of the artists were after a particular sound, their sound, and once they had found it, it was then more about good songs, and some good singles. Springsteen in particular (on Born to Run) was a torture in finding the right sound, but once he found it, then it was all about the songs. Like him or loather him, you can still tell his sound immediately, and that is an important point, because in doing that, he had found his voice.

This was arguably more the old model of record companies. To be signed you had to be pretty good at singing, songwriting, or maybe playing an instrument. To be successful you had (mostly) to be skilled in one of those areas. Often to define their voice, artists would work hard to find their own sound or write their own songs. It might well have taken a lot of practice, a lot of playing live, a lot of hard slog. But there was often no other way. It was either take this opportunity, or do nothing. The means to do something creative were a little harder to come by than now. Iovine says of Springsteen (on page 61):

“All you hear everyday is how not cool the record industry is. That’s going to have an effect on who gets into music. All you need is a new Bruce Springsteen deciding he is going to work for Apple – or create his own. Look at the intensity and force that went into making Darkness. If Bruce ever had a f*****g excuse not to do it, maybe he would have chosen not to”

Is this actually the case? Does all the different creative technologies give you that excuse? If you want to do something creative today, edit some photos, go edit some video. Well that is being creative. So I guess the point is the quality. Going back to music, you can easy record using a computer, it might be easier to make, because you do it yourself. And I’ve definitely nothing against this. But what is does not give you back is quality control. That is something you have to receive or you have to learn. I’m a fan of music, and I can think of many recent albums that are good, a few that are great. Usually the better ones have worked with a producer (someone not only with a separate view on the sound, but an independent on the quality of the material). More often than not, the really successful ones stand out for both the artist’s sound (for someone like Adele this is her voice, which is always upfront in the mix), but also for some really good quality songs (singles). Even under the current changing model of the music business, we are still moved by something that feels good, honest and grips us in some way. But note, all the best received artists, whether mainstream or indie, have their own voice and sound. We can tell their music in a second or two. Either they earned it, fought to find it, or were just lucky enough to have the talent anyway.

The same also applies in writing although it is a bit harder to tell because you have to spend more time reading a book, than you do listen to a 3 minute single or 45 minute album. The best writers have their own style or voice. I was reading the other day in the latest Writers Digest (March / April 12, pg 57) about mastering voice. Larry Brooks states:

“Less is more. The more personality and humour and edge you are looking for, the truer this is. Attempting to imbue your writing with noticeable narrative style is always risky, because you are hoping and assuming that whoever is reading your work will be attracted to that particular style. The safest bet – one placed by a bevy of bestselling writers …who are too often and unfairly accused of not being all that good because their writing bears little or no stylistic scent – is to write cleanly and crisply”.

I can understand his point. He is referring to selling your novel. You will have an easier job of it if it is easily understandable. Your voice ought to be natural, it ought to take little effort to read. Perhaps your story and characters better be good though (for example, Elmore Leonard), otherwise you might also be a bit bland. Not that I’m suggesting there is anything wrong with taking this approach, there isn’t. I’m all for writing in a style that is appropriate. I just couldn’t help feel with this advice that there was a slight whiff of not standing out in a crowd. Surely you would want to be good enough that some element stands out as your voice? To do that, unless naturally talented, you have to earn it.

A common creative output for many writers is the blog. It is likely that you reading now may have your own blog, or be a signed up wordpress member. This is a great output as it means you can put something out for people to read and judge, in fact I did the former and you are doing the latter right now. A problem I have is that maybe I spend too much time working the blog and not enough time on my other writing projects. In the grand scheme of things, I would like to think that they will be the recognised pieces of my work. At the moment, there is more blog than other. Part of the reason for this is simply that the blog is there as an output. Otherwise I might be doing some writing practice in a notebook (which I could still do) or more importantly, well you get the idea. Yet I enjoy the blog, and I enjoy putting some things out there for people to read if they wish.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” he refers to 10,000 hours being the amount of time you need to spend on something to be a master of it. Clearly this is a balance of experience and learning. He provides various examples of where this would be the case e.g. The Beatles, or Bill Gates. I could therefore argue that the blog contributes some of the time towards this magic number. It is a good forum for me to practise, experiment and publish. Will this add up to me being better on my other projects or should I simply be spending more time on them?

Perhaps the answer is there is less pressure. I use the blog to try to give a certain level of quality, that I might not expect in a notebook, but I would not expect this to be as high a quality as my other projects. But if they don’t work out, I could always just keep with the blog. Or I could go edit some videos or photos. They are both good fun and creative too. These days it is not a one shot deal. But then I don’t want to be “Jack of all trades”. If I want to be good at one, I need to concentrate on one. Get the magic hours in and the learning, and the experience. So you see, technology gives us the opportunity to be creative, but it might also stifle real creativity, by which I mean something that is that much better, is our own voice.

Is that the case? What do you think?

N.B. This posting was maybe a bit longer than I was expecting but I still think I didn’t have space to put in several points. I may expand it to a larger essay at some point in the future.

Lexicon word of the day: Perfidious.

Putting yourself in your writing – a small note

If you are interested in blogs on writing, you will have no doubt come across posts concerning putting yourself into your writing. Not literally of course, well unless you really want to, but in the “write what you know” sense. How much of your experience(s) should you use? Should it be a context of something you know really well? Or should you write something completely different?

For my two pennies worth, sorry two cents, I’m in the US now, I would give the flakey, sitting on the fence answer of “well it depends what you are writing“. Which it does, and also depends how good you are at constructing something new, and giving the reader enough to understand it, and the rules of the world you have created. Still, even in that context you can write in some of your experiences perhaps changing the characters or context.

Before I go on too much of a tangent, the reason I was writing this is to add some words from Bruce Springsteen in his recent interview with Rolling Stone (issue 1153 – an excerpt is here). NO come back you non Springsteen fans, this is a good writers tip. The question he was asked was regarding him having all the creature comforts, how can he still understand “the working man”. His reply was:

“We talk, we write, we think, and even as late in the day as I am, we experience so much through the veil of our formative years of life. That never goes away… I have a metaphor. I say Look, you’re in a car, your new selves can get in, but your old selves can’t get out. You can bring new vision and guidance into your life, but you can’t lose or forget who you’ve been or what you’ve seen. New people can get in, but nobody gets out… they are with you until the end of the ride, and you’re going to pass a certain amount of them on… the key is of course, who’s driving”.

Isn’t this a great tip for all writers, not just for writing songs? You have all your experiences with you. You can either choose to use them or try to invent new ones who will join you on your ride. You just have to decide who is driving.

Lexicon word of the day: erratum.

Mondays, what I learned this weekend, and Haiku part 4

As you maybe aware if reading this on the day of publish, it is Monday again. Difficult to get going? – I was thinking I may make Haiku a weekly thing, possibly every Monday. I also seem to have been doing “what I learned this weekend” for the past few Mondays, so I may continue with that as well. Both, as you can see from scrolling down, are below.

I was also thinking about some other short term plans for the blog:

  • Is the art of computer / console games underrated?
  • Some Poetry larger than Haiku (maybe).
  • Some word association lists.
  • Some word story prompt lists.
  • Some short story, improvised and based on the prompts.
  • Whatever else I come up with
Well it is Monday, I’m a little tired. Anyhoo, onto some Haiku. What will todays prompts be? Well it is Monday so we shall have Monday, The Weekend, and “the Dread” (you know, it is Monday). Usual top of the head rules apply:
Cold day comes calling
open the door on Monday
close the gate on fun
A miserable take on Monday? Ok try this one:
Weekend my lover
Cozy, cordial, heartfelt, friend
Soon to leave again
The Weekend along similar lines? You would think I didn’t want this weekend to end. So to finish with “the dread”:
Hibernate laughter
Shadow fall on mortal soul
Clawing in, the dread
Ok for a sleepy monday? Today (like most) it is what it is. It gets my mind going anyway.

What I learned from this weekend:

  • A reminder that the little unexpected things you learn, are often the best ones.
  • Bruce Springsteen is not my favourite artist, but I sure want to hear what he comes up with.
  • NHL 12 on the PS3 is a really good game. I can say this now I’m beginning to win some games. Beginning to master it, opens up many of the subtleties included in the game. Very well done.
  • Liverpool FC can still dominate a game have the most chances and yet lose. Story of the league season, lots of chances, little conversion, = many dropped points.
  • Anaheim Ducks are similar to LFC, conceding silly goals and not enough chance conversion = many dropped points.

Lexicon word of the day: perturbation.

Springsteen and me

Tomorrow in the UK, and most of Europe, Tuesday for USA, sees the release of Bruce Springsteen’s latest album “Wrecking Ball”. It has been doing decent reviews so far, so perhaps Bruce fans will be in for a treat. By most accounts, it is quite political, very direct, and maybe a little bit more musically diverse, although likely sledgehammered home by the E-Street band. Myself I have only more recently become a bit of a Bruce fan. He’s not necessarily in my very best artists, I am after all, first and foremost an Indie kid, but I have an ever growing respect for what he does, and has done. Let me explain some more.

I was born in the mid seventies so I did a lot of my growing up, physically if not mentally, through the eighties. These were the times when Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson were mega stars. Bruce Springsteen and Dire Straits were not far behind, -big mainstream acts. My Dad is pretty much a mainstreamer in his musical choices so we had a lot of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, and of course Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen’s massive album at the time was “Born in the USA“, his seventh, which had seven top ten singles, and was the USA’s biggest selling album for 1985 (and his biggest all time seller). Whilst I sort of liked some of the singles, the track “Born in the USA” soon became kind of uncool and endemic of “flag waving Americans”, which whilst nothing against it now (it is a big part of the culture), kind of grates a bit if living in Europe. Little did I know at the time, but this annoyed Bruce too. It was not about waving the flag at all and is somewhat critical of America, and how it treated it’s army veterans, against a backdrop of waving the flag. I wasn’t to find this out until well into the nineties. One odd memory I recall of this time was my Dad copying the vinyl album onto a cassette. At some point the tape got spliced towards the end, which was then cut out where damaged and stuck together with some tape. Oddly this gave a perfect edit, but a shorter version of the last track. It took some time to hear this track again without my brain expecting an early fade out. – I was also a little familiar with the albums “Tunnel of love” and “Nebraska”, without seemingly taking a lot of notice of them.

Around 1992 when I was kind of getting into music myself, I was an Indie kid. My tastes were less towards mainstream acts, although there were some, and more toward Indie acts, or smaller, more critically acclaimed acts. Bruce seemed like the opposite of the tastes I was acquiring, Back then he was mainly seen as a big mainstream act, not the elder statesman kind of role he has now, and also possibly an large act a little losing his way. I also tend to get with the music before the lyrics, so I sometimes find the E-Street band to be a bit too much, a little too direct. Instead I had many years of bands such as Sugar, Nirvana, The Smiths, Blur, Pulp, The Boo Radleys, Suede, David Bowie, Radiohead, Super Furry Animals, to give you an small idea of my tastes, but really, much, much more. I was, and to some limited extent now, an Indie snob. But hey, I have a great music collection!

As it turns out, Bruce himself was in need of a change. The nineties were almost like a lost decade for him (although there was still “The ghost of Tom Joad” in there). From the end of the nineties and into the two thousands, Bruce started to make a comeback. This coincided with a lot of notable music critics, journalists and other writers popping up to give positive critical nod, an indication that there was something more. Myself, my musical tastes were expanding and with a large library now, more accommodating. Reading some of articles about Bruce, his life, and life’s work, I was getting a better feel for the guy. I then remembered the albums I had heard when younger and wondered if they were worth investigation again. I got hold of a few copies but didn’t really give them a fair listen. They seemed all right, but something I could come back to.

Also at this time a Spanish friend of mine who I met just after he had moved to England, was also getting into Bruce. I gave him a compilation cassette which was the starting point for him. I think he has all the albums now plus a bunch of bootlegs, so I guess we can safely say he became a big fan. I mention him because he dragged me along to one of “The Rising” tour dates at Crystal Palace athletics stadium, then later with the Seeger sessions band at Hammersmith, then the Wembley arena. It was the Seeger sessions that finally triggered Bruce with me. The irony of course is that he was performing old folk songs made popular by folk activist, Pete Seeger, not his own songs, but it was enough to raise the thought that yes, there was definitely more there, and it was now worth investigating. This was further helped by emerging bands I liked, that were clearly in a debt to his influence, such as The Hold Steady, and The Gaslight Anthem.

I was now welcoming myself to the open arms of the enemy, once was. I revisited some albums from my youth with more of a keen ear for the details. I then picked up a few others to round out the collection a bit. In 2007 I had my first trip to the USA, to California, where I met the woman I am now married to, and where I now call my home. Travelling the roads a bit on some of the road trips, I got to see some of the open land, and the places in the middle of no-where. This added a bit of perspective to some of his songs, they were a little easier to relate to (although I’m not going to try to pretend I understand the full experience, just from a road trip or two). I read a bit more about him, and paid more attention to the lyrics.

These days, where I’m much more into writing myself (again), I have a much bigger appreciation of his work. Many of his lyrics are well crafted short stories, with clever context and phrasing. He has made the small time america, open road, the dream, the collapse of the dream, almost his own, to the extent that when he revisits it now, it sounds corny. Some of the lyrics are amazing. I would urge you to check out “The River” (particularly the phrasing), or “Highway Patrolman” as just two of many examples. I have watched documentaries, “The Promise: The making of Darkness on the edge of town” is one I would recommend to get an idea of the the man (as he was then), the process, and the work that he puts in to get to the finished product. I understand more about his roots and the perspective he is coming from. Writing the working man’s song whilst being a multi millionaire is clearly a bit contradictory, but I applaud the effort. I know he does long concerts so fans get their monies worth, I know he tries to give something to his fans. My friend told me a story he had heard from another seasoned Bruce concert follower, which I think was from a concert in Barcelona, but could have been elsewhere. Some dedicated fans had queued for hours to be let into the stadium so they could be at the front by the stage. On this particular day it had rained almost non stop. Bruce having seen these fans out there by the stage in the rain, getting wet, sometime before the rest of the fans began arriving, brought out an acoustic guitar and played them a few songs, their own mini gig. This being prior to the stadium filling up and the actual support bands, and obviously, the Bruce gig itself. He clearly thought it was the least he could do.

The last album “Working on a dream” came out at a time when I was making plans to leave the UK. I would listen to this from time to time whilst walking into work. It now reminds me of that time. “Born in the USA” made a comeback, it actually reminds me of growing up a lot, and I was really familiar with all the songs. I now notice how some lyrics are sung with certain emphasis, which adds a different layer. If I had to choose, I’d say my favourite albums are “Darkness on the edge of town”, “Nebraska” and “Born in the USA”, with a soft spot for “Working on a dream”, but I like most of the others, although I don’t have everything.

So my road to Bruce was a long one, but one filled with getting a feel for the person and what he was trying to achieve. In fact I think I got that before the work itself. Now it grows on me the more I hear it. I could be getting old, but like to convince myself that it is a product of enjoying the work, and how it is created. It may be a little of the former and more of the latter. Understanding of him, plus the understanding of what goes into creating a piece of work (or art) adds the layers and respect. I still love all the old bands from before and a wide range of bands now. I’m still a bit on an indie snob. Bruce however now has a special place. I want to see what comes out next. Will it be an acoustic work like Nebraska? Well I know from the reviews this is not the case, it is a full on E-street record. But I’m now interested in what he has to say. I don’t necessarily like everything (and that actually adds something itself), but when it s good, it is really good. I shall be popping down the shops on tuesday morning to get a copy and find out why this one has to offer.

N.B. As a separate point, why is new music, dvds etc released on a tuesday? I used to like going to a CD shop on a monday to browse the new releases, well, when there were CD shops to browse. I liked the idea that new things came out at the beginning of the week, not a day into it, plus of course I now have to wait a day longer compared to friends who may buy on a monday. That said I think console games may come out on a tuesday here whilst they seem to come out on a friday in England. I’d prefer the music though.

Lexicon word of the day: Circumlocution.