Monday, July 31, 2006

They all sound the same

I often get frustrated with myself because I have trouble writing songs of great consequence. I don't usually sit down and try to write songs of social or political importance. I don't say, "Hey, I should write one about freeing Tibet or about spousal abuse." Usually a good string of lyrics will pull me in and I'll just let the song happen. When I do approach a song with a particular agenda, it ends up sounding forced. So I've learned to just let my process flow freely.

That's where the problem is. Apparently my subconscious mind only has thoughts of love--that's the agenda. So even when a song starts out with a different message, love somehow ends up seeping through and coloring the final product.

"Fall Back Samantha" is a song about an abusive relationship. But it's also a love song that reveals the abused woman's perspective.

"American Splendor" is about Harvey Pekar's battle against cancer. But it's also a love song, sung to him from his wife Joyce's perspective.

"Got You By the Memory" is about landmark locations from my life being destroyed or taken away by corporate America. But it's also a love letter to the memory of some places that I've lost.

There are others that aren't love songs in a classic sense that are also somehow flavored with love. And of course, I always joke about 70% of my original tunes being written on the subject of unrequited love.

I know it shouldn't bug me. If you can write love songs, you should write love songs. But sometimes I wish I were more versatile. Right now I'm in the best relationship of my life so it seems every time I pick up a pen something saccharine pours out onto the page. And then I try not to vomit on top of it, telling myself that maybe it's salvageable. Maybe I can pull something bigger out of some of those amorous little nuggets.

For now, here is another love song. At least it's something:

Beneath the bruises
that you left
on my neck
I feel my pulse and know just what it's there for,
what it's there for.

In my room at night
I rifle through
my records
and throw out all the songs that you don't care for
you don't care for.

For you
for you

When you're not here
you're here.
I hear your footsteps
on the stairs and at my door,
at my door.

And when you are
I smile
and realize that I've got
one more cup to pour,
one more cup to pour.

For you
for you

When you leave
you take the color
I paint by numbers
on a calendar where days all lead to you.

In my dictionary
all the synonyms
for need and want are all defined
by one word and that one word is you.

It's you
it's you

You're the coffee grounds
that I swallow down
get me through the day.
You're the traffic signs that tell me where I'm going to.

You're my tylenol.
You're my Wailing Wall and
when I've gotta fall
you're my favorite kind of parachute.

That's you
that's you

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Latent Functions of Pie-Making

I wrote a new song tonight. It just happened. It's the product of about five minutes. This is a good thing because for the past two months I've been slaving away at about three songs that are still unfinished and my usual method of songwriting is to just crank out about five songs in three days. So the fact that I wrote this one so quickly might mean that I'll have a good songwriting spurt. Whee!

Here are the lyrics. It's probably one of the simplest songs I've ever written, especially the chorus. I like it alright though.

There are a hundred miles between us
Try explaining distance to a pair of idle hands
Try to cool the fire of a late-night conversation
Next time I see you I'm gonna have a list of demands.

I tried so hard
I tried so hard

In my dreams you nibble at my neck
Like you're some sedated shark
Thrashing covers as we turn and glide
We're so steady in the dark.

But I wake up cold without your head to hold
And my bed looks way too wide
I guess I just can't make another night without you
There's nothing but a pillow on the other side.

I tried so hard
I tried so hard (2x)

It's good to have a muse. Anyway, I'm just glad I got to use a shark in a song. One time as a joke I improvised something called "The Ballad of Mr. Quint" where I used the chorus of "Show Me the Way to Go Home" between the verses. So I obviously sang about Jaws in that one.

I think the next song I write should have flapjacks in it or something equally absurd. We'll see...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Play "Misty" For Me

I come to work early every day. It always feels good to sit in my car for a few minutes before somebody comes with a key to open up the building. I have time to collect and examine runover thoughts from the previous night, do a bit of reading, actually chew my breakfast, and generally take some time to enjoy the early moments of a new day.

Yesterday morning, because of a doctor's appointment that ended at 8:30, I was incredibly early for work. I got there at 9:00 and technically we don't open until 10:00 so I knew it was going to be a while. I reclined the driver's seat in my mom's Toyota Corolla, which I've been driving during the few days my Echo has been in the shop. I manually rolled down the windows, and laid back with my current book club read--Connie Schultz's "Life Happens."

I was really enjoying myself, reveling in the glory of being scarcely a pinky finger away from the end of the book. I had stopped popping my head up to look for the boss's car in the parking lot. I was determined to finish the book this morning. And I knew I would.

Then out of nowhere, I was jilted from my seat by an offensive knocking at the half-open window on the passenger side. I jerked forward, startled, and saw a young man, maybe thirty years old, leaning towards the car smiling at me. He was a man of medium build with bright green eyes, a purple button-down shirt, a braided belt, and he had smooth sandy brown hair that he wore long like a student. If it weren't for the scar that crept down along the right side of his smile, he wouldn't have seemed creepy at all.

I suppose this is why I wasn't opposed to saying hello and conversing with him. "You look comfortable there," he said, and I could almost hear him wink although I was reluctant to look him in the eye. "Are you reading?" I nodded and told him that I was in a book club. "You came to work early just so you could read, didn't you?" I laughed and told him that I did because I wanted to finish before my friends and I met to discuss it.

Then it happened. He leaned back from the window just slightly. At this point I was looking right at him when he spoke.

"So where's the Echo today?"

I closed my book. My eyes narrowed and my knuckles tightened. I felt like I was in that moment in a bad horror movie--the one where you finally know who the killer is. This is the moment where the orchestra strikes suddenly and you jump out of your skin in spite of yourself. That one sharp fiddle squeals and everything feels eerie and dissonant. This is how I felt. A strange man knows what car I drive. I've never seen him before, and he knows I normally drive a Toyota Echo. And he's pointing it out to me. Be cool.

"It's in the shop. Oil leakage." And then I added in a tone of voice that's meant to sound coy but probably sounded nervous and frightened, "How do you know I drive an Echo?"

"I work upstairs at the juvenile center. I see you coming to work a lot. I've never had the chance to say hello." The business I work at is housed beneath a juvenile detention and rehabilitation center. So he works with the criminally-minded youth. I hope and pray that they haven't given him any ideas.

Boldly, I offered my hand to him, and my name. He returned the gesture.

"Anyway, I thought I'd just come by and say hello. I saw you with your little book there and figured I'd make a smart-ass comment. I'll talk to you later."

He'll talk to me later? What is that? And how condescending of this man I don't know to say "your little book." What is he reading right now? War and Peace? The complete works of Shakespeare? The dictionary? Where does he get off calling my book "little?" And color me old-fashioned but a person who calls himself a "smart-ass" just after an introductory handshake is no gentleman.

Needless to say, I went from being creeped out and scared witless to being offended and annoyed. He walked away. I continued reading until I finished my book and then I locked my car and headed towards the door, shooting paranoid glances at the cracks in the blinds of the windows above me.

Monday, July 10, 2006

On my list

I'm a big fan of making lists. I've done it my whole life. It keeps me organized on a day-to-day basis, and making lists helps me define myself and my interests in a really anal-retentive fashion that started to become charming after Nick Hornby (and especially after John Cusack) made it that way in "High Fidelity." Now I can make lists all the time, almost immediately when prompted by others or when challenged by my own mind (which usually happens because not too many people really care enough to ask me to list my top five of anything.) For instance, if you asked me what my top five flavors of Rosati's Frozen Custard are, I'd say:

1) Key Lime Pie
2) Birthday Cake
3) Higbees Chocolate Malted (So Classic)
4) Apple Pie Ala Mode (Which is a redundant name because, duh, it's "ala mode"--it's ice cream.)
5) Peanut Butter and Banana (Always listed as "An Elvis Favorite" on the calendar. And as far as I'm concerned, if Elvis does it, I'm doing it.)

Or if you were wondering about the top five songs I don't want played at my wedding:

1) Abba "Dancing Queen" (Also number one on my top five most hated songs list.)
2) The Village People "YMCA"
3) Kool & The Gang "Celebration" (Madonna's "Holiday" is a much more tolerable alternative.)
4) Diana Ross/Lionel Richie "Endless Love"
5) Marcia Griffiths "The Electric Slide"

Or if you asked me the top five records I'd like to get frisky with if it were physically possible and socially acceptable:

1) The Police "Outlandos d'Amour"
2) The White Stripes "Get Behind Me Satan"
3) The Black Keys "Rubber Factory" (Great wordplay here...)
4) Elvis Costello "Elvis Is King"
5) Wilco "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot"

So now it's time to add a new list to my repertoire.

In a blog entry posted by a woman in my boyfriend's comedy troupe several months ago, she wrote of our courtship:

"A friend of mine is in the beginning stages of a relationship, the part where everything is magical and great and you still notice little things (like how they bite their lip or check the mirrors when they drive, not the little things like how freaking loudly they chew.) The woman my friend is interested in actually poetically noted the "angle of his jaw" or something sweet like that in a post bursting with the iambic energy of a blogger in love."

Looking back, she couldn't have been more right. I'm past that overly cautious, selflessly obliging, respectful period in our relationship. It's time to put everything out on the table. This post is for James. We've been together for six months now and all-in-all everything's peachy. But a relationship is only as good as the sum of all its parts, right? All of its completely annoying, frustrating, and at times, mildly infuriating parts.

So, per our conversation tonight, lover:

The top five most obnoxious things that James does:

1) He tries to force food upon me in tasteless ways in public places. This happens a lot with baked beans, which is strange because how many times are you really in a situation where you get baked beans with your meal? I can't even enjoy my food in peace without him trying to make a pass at me with a heaping spoonful of the stuff. It's like the old parenting trick where you tell the kid to open the hatch so the plane can fly in. Only it's not cute. Sometimes the beans come in a quaint little crock that I have to comment on and draw his attention to. And that's when he perks up and goes in for the kill. The jerk. Stop feeding me.

2) He reads from a book called "Magnificent Monologues For Teens." Okay, so he only did this once, but he kept it up for a long time and still references it when we chat. We were just lying in bed one day and he reached over and pulled it off the shelf and proceeded to read aloud, in character, some of the most juvenile acting monologues I've ever heard in my life. Nothing that I did could distract him from this book. Nothing. I had to lie there and listen to a kid named Jared try to blackmail his teacher into giving him an "A." And then a troubled girl called Susan or something who didn't know you could get raped by your boyfriend. I'm not going to get this hour of my life back.

3) He works out. And he likes to talk about it. Not in great detail. He just likes me to know that he works out. Here is a simulated conversation that is likely to take place on any given weekday:

M: So how did work treat you today, Mister?
J: It was really dead today. Really slow.
M: Did you do anything else?
J: You know. I woke up, got coffee, went to work, went to the gym and worked out.
M: That's cool.
J: Yea I worked out so hard.
M: That's cool.
J: Seriously I was wailing on my guns. I worked out so hard. So hard.
M: Rock on.
J: I've told you I work out, right?
M: I don't think you've mentioned that a hundred other times, no.
J: Well I do. I work out. Hard.

I'm tired of this black hole in our daily conversation. It sucks us in every time. I'm going to have to stop asking him about his day on days I think he might have time to go to the gym.

4) He is really bad with directions. Granted, I'm not the best at giving directions either, and I tend to forget how to go to places I've been to a million times. I'm sure there are countless little proverbs and fables that tell me not to throw rocks from my glass house or whatever. But say there's actually a glass house, okay? And James knows where it is. And he drives there all the time. You'd think he' d be able to tell me how to get there in fairly simple terms. With street signs and road names and landmarks and stuff, right? Not so much. The one time I was actually frustrated with him almost to a point of anger was the time I was stuck at his apartment and didn't know how to get to the coffee shop he was going to for his radio show. I got the weirdest directions ever. And one time I needed the address of his workplace so I could mapquest it (after I learned that the James version of the map was better used as a placemat or coaster) and he couldn't provide that. Boo hiss.

5) He doesn't like my idea for a magnetic compass. This was the one invention I thought of that I think might actually be plausible and helpful to people of the world. Math teachers, anyway. I won't post the idea on this blog since it's pretty much public domain and I don't want some leech stealing my genius idea, but trust me when I say that even though it has limited appeal and seems a bit simple and maybe even unnecessary, it would make the world a better place. And it's damn crafty. But when I pitched this idea to him in bed one morning, he shot me right down. I was pretty supportive of his hot air balloon movie concept--I even helped him cast it (all hypothetically of course--I still think Adrien Brody would be killer as the brooding hot air balloon pilot.) So when do I get the boost I deserve?

That's my list. Actually, I really had to stretch to think of a fifth item. And of course there's a follow-up list. There has to be. A sappy rebuttal. You saw it coming:

1) It's kind of cute that he tries to feed me. Call it an Oedipus thing, but sometimes I appreciate the almost paternal gesture. And sometimes when we're together we forget to eat so when he's trying to feed me, it means that I'm getting fed at that moment, which is a good thing.

2) He seemed really happy and entertained when he read from that book. And it was funny at times. I guess I don't have much of a rebuttal for this one. It was pretty annoying.

3) I appreciate his physique--he's very fit and strong. And I guess I'd rather hear about him working out hard than hearing about him drinking heavily and eating giant bags of potato chips while playing Halo 2 on his couch or something.

4) I mostly just get frustrated about directions because usually if I'm lost it means that I'll be spending less time with him and that's a bummer.

5) My idea for a magnetic compass is brilliant. And I stand by that.

Of course, this is all in jest. Simple tom-foolery. The only reason I did it at all was because it would be pretty hard to narrow down the top five best things about him.

When did I ever become this sappy? I'm losing my edge, man. I'm getting soft in my old age. Anyway, at least I don't have a Cosby Sweater yet, right?

Saturday, July 8, 2006

Pictures of Me

This is a picture post. I love blogspot for allowing me to share these photos with you, free of charge. Thank you, blogspot. Huzzah to you!

Firstly, here is a detail of part of the design I drew in Sharpie on my t-shirt the other night.

And here is another section of it. That's Thora Birch as Enid in "Ghost World." I wanted to draw a cartoon of the live action movie instead of a cartoon of the actual graphic novel. I think it turned out pretty well...

And there is the full product. Sorry about the weird layout here. Anyway, you get the idea. It took me about an hour and a half to complete it. Not bad. I was watching "American Splendor" while I made it. Nerd alert!

Here is a shot of my new guitar. I'm pretty sure she's a girl but she doesn't have a name yet. Suggestions are appreciated but I reserve the right to tell you that they are stupid or to completely ignore you.

There is her head. Gorgeous, yes?

And this is the sexy body. I haven't been able to keep my hands off of her. Keep the snide remarks regarding my sexuality to yourself. This is a different kind of love entirely.

Speaking of sexy bodies, here is the prize of this entry. It's me in a pink dress. This doesn't happen...well, ever. So enjoy it. That's a vintage cotton dress from the 60s--it used to be my mom's I believe. It's got a few white birds stitched onto it which you can almost see in this picture. I'm in love with it. I wore it to see "Wicked" at the State Theater last week. I have to find more occasions to wear it. I simply must be seen in it again. I look strange in a pink dress, no?

Anyway, that is all for now. I have a few more pictures of debauchery and frivolity that I must share but it's completely late and I'm fixin' to go to the zoo tomorrow with my buddy and pet the sharks.


Monday, July 3, 2006

I'll sell it all...

I want this guitar:

The love of my life

Last year we had the acoustic version of it in the store and I fell in love with it. I would try to play it at least once a week when there was downtime or when I finished my work early. Sometimes I would punch out and just sit there and play it for a few minutes, maybe a half an hour. It was perfect. The way it felt in my hands, the softness of the neck, the easy action, the full sound, the gorgeous inlays, the ruby red pickguard that was shaped like a cloud of smoke. Everything about it was right with me. The reason I talked myself out of buying it time and again was that it wasn't electric/acoustic. I couldn't play it at shows. This was a cop out, of course, because I could always rig a pick-up to it if I really wanted to spend the money on it. But I already had three guitars at the time. It was impractical, no matter how wonderful this one was.

I actually sold the guitar last fall. I played it for a customer and he loved the sound. He took a few runs with it and I eyed him up and down, watching the curve of his hand around the guitar's neck, the way his forefinger and thumb plucked the soft strings. I watched him the way a mother eyes a new babysitter with her child as she reluctantly passes out the front door, worrying all the way down the driveway, expecting the worst, wanting too much for someone else's happiness and safety.

The guy returned the guitar a week later. He claimed that the pickguard was loose. And it was, a little bit. But how could he think that this guitar wasn't good enough? This situation only made me feel like the guitar actually belonged to me. Maybe we fit together. The more I think about it, the more I realize it might have been a sign.

Here's an even bigger sign: We got the electric/acoustic version of this guitar in our store this weekend. My heart is breaking right now. I want to sell my three guitars for this one guitar. I want to sell my first guitar. My FIRST guitar. I feel like such a child for wanting this so badly. I was just saying last night that I'm going to need to buy a new car soon and here I am foolishly craving the Washburn J28SCEDL. I played it this morning and my heart pounded. My face got hot. My eyes burned. I want this.