Slip Slide Melting

I used to harbor this sorta secret plan. I would assemble and lead a band of top-notch musicians that would play locally with a good reputation (and a perhaps little buzz). We'd play a wide variety of styles and songs that would not only make for a challenge to play live, but would also be fun to listen and dance to and not just hours and hours of guitar solos -- although there would certainly be some of that too ;)

But the most important part of the plan was this -- every Halloween we would get up on stage and play every song off the soundtrack to "The Crow" in order as they appear on the album.
And nothing else.
At the time I was hatching and promoting this plan to a select circle of friends and drunken roommates, The Crow soundtrack was an album that almost everyone I knew owned. It was also the time when "The Crow" was still considered a decent movie -- and not just the progenitor of an increasingly horrible number of sequels and outfits at Hot Topic.

The album itself was sort of an anomaly, this odd mix of heavy metal and shoegazing indie rock that for whatever reason sort of worked as a whole, despite being ridiculously top heavy on it's first side with groups like Pantera, Rage Against the Machine, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, Henry Rollins, and the Cure only to match that with a B side made up mostly of ballads and indie rock songs. What's more, most of the songs on the album were covers of songs by other bands.
Meaning that the show would be a band doing a tribute show to an album of bands paying tribute
to other bands -- a move so simultaneously clever and pretentious that it simply had to be brilliant.
I was all sorts of gung-ho about the "Halloween Crow Show" idea when I first thought of it -- but it didn't keep me from realizing the fact that there were numerous obstacles in the way of its success. First and foremost -- to pull it off effectively, the band would need a singer who could shift quickly and effectively from the soulful caterwauling of Robert Smith to the growling rage of Phil Anselmo, which is to say nothing of the fact that several of the songs on the disc are sung by women.

Beyond this somewhat enormous technical problem, I was always wary that the second half of the concert would be filled with slightly wussier content than the first part -- a problem I used to dismiss by reminding myself that the songs at the end of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" were infinitely less fun than anything the first half hour had to offer.

Plus, my imaginary superband would only be making this possible thematic mistake once a year, so if anyone gave us crap about it we'd tell them that they were simply too lame to get the artistic statement we were making -- at which point I'd smash my guitar over their head Paul Simonon-style or Gristina would pee on them.

The point of all this reminiscing is twofold. First of all -- The Crow soundtrack was one of the last few albums I can recall that had a certain flow that made it work cover to cover, a trick that was rare even in the heyday of cassettes and CD's, and has been rendered almost utterly inconsequential in the modern era by the popularity of iPods and mp3 players that favor random songs from your library mixed or shuffled together over going from the beginning of a given album all the way to the end.

Point of fact is that over the years I've come to realize that I really don't like a lot of the songs on The Crow Soundtrack. But I always loved the way they all worked together to create a whole. It's something you notice with soundtrack albums more easily, because they're more likely to be a mix of different artists where the flow from song to song becomes more important. But back in the day of cassettes and CD's I secretly hoped every new disc I bought would be one of those ones I could just cycle cover to cover -- unintentional concept albums onto themselves, so to speak.
I kinda miss that.
But more importantly, in pseudo-preparation for this epic concert event that never actually happened -- I embarked on a process of first learning the guitar parts for every song on the album, and then "rehearsing the show" by playing along with all 14 songs on the CD back to back to back. No stopping, no apologizing for mistakes, no fear.
I wasn't in a band, but I practiced as if I were.
It's one of the funny things about guitar playing -- you need to practice. You need to keep your fingers and musical senses limber, especially if you're planning on playing in an improvisational setting like a jam session or a jazz gig. But there's "practice" and then there's practice.

Once upon a time I used to run scales every day. Trying to build up speed, trying to get the ideas into my fingers so I'd never be stuck for one in the middle of a song. To me it wasn't boring because there was a goal in sight. It's sorta like when you see a guy at the basketball court every day that can almost dunk, and just stakes out a net for his own and just runs up at it again and again and again until he finally clears that rim. And even then he keeps doing it – because it's about getting the motion natural, then it's about doing it with your left hand, and so on.

But then a funny thing happened. I started going to jam sessions with other people only to find that I didn't really know that many songs. Sure I could come up with a solo easier than the other guys in the room, but it wasn't really much help to me when other people were calling the tunes and I had to spend half the jam trying to get the chords down.
You can't learn to swim by reading a book.
It's funny, because the reason I used to hate piano lessons was that (with my teacher at least) it was always drills and techniques. Rulers sitting on the tops of my hands to ensure that my wrists didn't jump. It wasn't music -- it was some sort of bizarre hand calisthenics course that my parents subjected me to once a week. I was too young to understand that building that vocabulary and those skills would make me a better musician in the end, but I was old enough to know that it wasn't satisfying on any sort of creative level at all.

I used to get like that about jobs too. I'd end up working in these customer service call center or corporate report specialist gigs that were just soul-sucking hours of nothing. Days without end where I would push paper that was pushed to me for hours and wonder what it was all for.

I still get that way sometimes, but I've reached an age and a debt level where the skills I've built in the arena I work in now -- while rarely fulfilling to me personally -- end up in their own way serving a larger purpose that I do see value in.
Or to put it another way – My responsibilities largely dictate my direction now.
The kids call it "Adulthood." It sounds lame, but you’re allowed to have booze – so it all kinda evens out in the end.

The problem is that it would probably work out a lot better if I could find a way to mentally commit to it. This is gonna probably come off sounding really cloying and Boomer-ish -- but I used to think that there was a switch that would go off at a certain point in my life where the things that seemed utterly uncool when I was younger would feel like the right thing to do. Getting married, being a dad, accepting the way that the things you wanted to do when you were young didn’t work out exactly the way you hoped they would..
Being a father is the most important adventure in my life. There’s no doubt about that at all.
But it’s like the equation doesn’t always balance when I see the guitar in the corner. I know there are plenty of musicians with families – that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is that the original goal was about the instrument. The picture didn’t include a wife or a child.
That was going to come later (if at all) -- possibly as a result of the guitar, or the places it took me.
That probably reads like I’m blaming my ex and by extension my son with the lack of success in this particular enterprise. But that’s not it at all. I made the decisions that put me in those places. I had my reasons for feeling those were the right things to do at the time.

What I’m saying is -– when you examine it under the microscope of hindsight, a different hypothesis starts to develop:
Maybe I’m not as devoted to my music as I’ve always believed I was.
There’s this show on TV right now called "The Tool Academy." The premise is that a bunch of douchebag guys have been tricked by their fed-up girlfriends into this sort of "relationship boot camp" where their philandering, juvenile, a-hole ways are called to the mat and if they don’t choose to abandon their Tool-osity, their girlfriends will leave them. The guy who reforms himself best will not only save his endangered relationship -- but walk away with a huge cash prize, yada yada yada.

On the surface, it’s a brilliant TV idea. Jerk boyfriends get called out and busted, trained and manicured -- then come out on the other side of the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory as well-mannered, faithful gentlemen you can take home to mother.
Essentially it's porn for co-dependent women.
But doesn't the premise that your jerkwad boyfriend with the tribal tattoos and the Gucci sunglasses is in reality nothing more than some Tootsie Pop that you can simply melt away to reveal the Hugh Grant underneath sort of blissfully ignore the fact that some people are just assholes?

Regardless, the show powers on with all these popped-collar muscleheads who spend half the episodes talking about how they can get any woman they want at any time and their girl can’t do anything about it, followed by scenes where they tell those same women that they desperately want to change, and that they’re sorry.
Bwow chikka wow wow.
It works on a certain trashy level as throwaway entertainment, but as an actual show it’s impossible to believe -– because if these guys were actually the tools they claim to be, wouldn’t it make more sense that the moment the trap was sprung and it became clear their girlfriends were on to their cheating player ways that the Tools in question would simply bail, go back to Jersey, and move on to the next chick who will believe their rap?
Clearly these guys aren’t really tools at all.
More likely they're actors simply wearing the appearance of douchebaggery in order to make the inevitable transitions at the end seem more believable.

Not that every man can’t be a tool in his own way (I’ve certainly done time in that pen), but that if these particular dudes were really committed to being the kind of guy who uses women like Kleenex -- then getting busted and moving on to the next one should just sort of be part of the drill, right?
The fact that none of them plays drums also seems highly suspicious.
I’m not saying once a tool, always a tool –- but what I am saying is that if you’re at the apex of your potential tool-itude (guitar-itude, being able to dunk a basketball-itude), at a time in your life when it serves you the best -- then what’s your motivation to not be that way? Wouldn’t the stable one-woman stay at home and watch Grey’s Anatomy type relationship for the confirmed party boy be the equivalent of the corporate desk job for the rocker?

In a larger sense it seems like that's the idea that the show is banking on. This suggestion that we all wear costumes and masks of a sort in our youth that should eventually be discarded in the name of maturity or whatever -- implying that those of us who for whatever reason wish to hold on to them well past their expiration dates are somehow flawed for not letting go.

To my way of thinking, the ideal state involves some sort of balance. That the album of your life flows as a whole -- good songs and bad, instead of just featuring a few favorite hits and a bunch of throwaways. That I could be a dad who has a job but I play in a band that gigs around town a few nights a week and maybe travels on weekends. Every now and then I get some writing published that lets me take time off to work on that novel I keep saying I’m gonna write, but I’m always there to see him play little league.
Not a lot of free time in there, to be sure -- but plenty of possibilities for personal fulfillment.
But when that balance doesn’t exist –- when you feel like you’re put in a place where you have to favor one thing over the other it can become really frustrating. I remember being in college just staring out the windows of some classes wondering when I could actually get out and live life for real, a feeling that sometimes still hits me while I’m at work.
You never want to feel like you’re chasing your tail.
The weird thing is that if you’re sitting on the outside looking in at the kid in his bedroom running scales on his guitar for hours on end or the guy at the park trying to dunk over and over -– it can sorta look like that. It’s the same thing over and over and over. What’s the difference between filing inventory reports 5 days a week and playing B minor pentatonic 100 times in a row all over the fretboard?
I know for a fact that it is different. It’s just that I can’t really explain why.
The result is that sometimes I find myself in a place where despite the fact that filing the inventory reports results in a bi-weekly monetary reward that keeps a roof over my head and maintains a steady supply of Capri Suns for my little boy to sip on while he’s playing Star Wars Lego II, I don’t feel the pride in it the way I would if say – I were a working writer or musician.
I like the job -- but in a lot of ways, it’s just a job, you know?
Think about that pilot that successfully ditched that jet in the Hudson River, saving all the passengers with his quick thinking and skill. A former fighter pilot who’s been flying planes for like 40 years. You think that guy’s at 35,000 feet on his way to Charlotte right now thinking, "Man I wish I was a rock star?"
Of course not. He already is.

[Listening To:  Robert Palmer"Looking for Clues" ]


Anonymous said…
You've inspired me, but the Crow soundtrack is overrated.
Werdna said…
You too are a rock star.

And I just peed on Vegas. Super Diamond for the win.
JerseySjov said…
i empathize a lot with you when you talk about music. dance to me is like that- i spent so much time a kid training, i spend time on it now, and i don't see myself quitting anytime soon. but thinking about how things could have been if... gets depressing since you can't go back and change the past, and i realistically know with my body and level of training there's no way for me to do half the things i'd like to do.
"the mask" is what we have to put on in order to hide our "silly" fantasies about rock-n-rolling or ballet dancing. office buildings must be full of coulda-been actors and football players.

p.s. "bail, go back to Jersey, and move on to the next chick" *ahem*
Hex said…
WIGSF -- It is *now*, but in 1994 it seemed like the greatest idea for an album ever.

Werdna -- Did you double down on 11? Because you ALWAYS double down on 11.

Jersey -- It's easy to get frustrated with the idea, but the key is to see it for what it is and try to use that energy. Sometimes I think it just gets out of balance, and thats when it's the hardest.

As for your ps -- I was speaking more of this kind of Jersey rather than yours:

Don't feel bad, I'm from Florida -- America's punchline.
The Kaiser said…
Hey man, at least you learned how to do something.
I'm the sort of guy who runs a little mental projection whenever he considers getting involved in something. If I feel like my chances of succeeding (in a significantly large way) are too low, I don't do it. Looking back on it, I feel like there are a lot of things I ought to have put some time into and actually learning how to play a musical instrument is definitely one of them. My (IMHO HIGHLY ACCURATE) conclusion that I would be very unlikely to become a rock star or even a modestly successful professional musician led me to not even bother, and now I'm working at a crappy pointless job for my biweekly biscuit anyway.