January 20, 2013

30 Songs #30 - The Bronze Age: Back to the Beginning at the End of the Line

Theseus and Ariadne, from an old edition of Mary Renault's novel "The King Must Die." More about these crazy kids later.

What does a creative dead-end sound like? What about writer's block? What's the musical equivalent of scraping the bottom of your own mental barrel? Not to get melodramatic, but that's basically what this final, belated "30 Songs" post is all about. Yep, nearly a year after the previous entry, I'm finally gonna wrap this series up on the creative equivalent of a prolonged shoulder-shrug called "The Bronze Age." It might not be my best or most original or even complete lyric, but it took nine verses and about 14 months to finish, so I'm gonna drag this bastard through some literal and figurative mud—purely for my own gratification. Why so harsh? Well, consider the demo I uploaded to Radblaster's Band Camp page last night:

Yeah, it's a bit of a mess—an edited-down twelve-bar jam with no chorus, plus my shouty/tuneless vocals—but for better or worse, I actually put some thought into it, so just humor me here. This nine-verse monster does have a lot going on, in the best pretentious-wanker traditions of Dylan, Sting, and yours truly. Here's the lyric:

The Bronze Age

Way back when I met Olivia, I was in my prime
I felt the apocalypse everywhere, but all she knew was time
Stretching out to the infinite, the epic, and the sublime

We almost tore the world in half, immortals on the loose
In empires of inertia, convenience and excuse
Customized to fall in love, programmed to seduce

And shatter the surrounding splendor every day,
Absorbing fallout every night, too worn and torn and frayed
To understand the madness that carried us away

She spun like Ariadne turning corners into curves
meanwhile I was trying not to lose my nerve
she got what she wanted, I got what I deserved

Until exhaustion rearranged my neurochemistry
I could not keep up with her, she wouldn't wait for me
And what seemed like a perfect match wasn't meant to be

Cause we hijacked the last train leaving the abyss,
she got off without me, I went round the twist,
And told myself I knew that it would end like this

When I washed up in Athens, everybody knew my name
weren't Caesar, but I came I saw I conquered just the same
I took what I wanted and never took the blame

I overwhelmed the Bronze Age with silver and gold,
I crucified myself on stage and all my albums sold
a million copies and that don't ever get old

But seventeen years later, my life is standing still
I'm fending off implosion like a fool on the hill
I know I should forget her, but I don't think I will

At first, this lyric shared a similar vibe to my other songs that grew out of the Weapon of Young Gods practice-novel project ("Tempting Fate," "Historical Friction," and "Stranded")—it was ostensibly a dialogue between Roy and Olivia, two characters from the book—but unlike the others, its backward-looking, stuck-in-the-past feel didn't work as well. That's mostly down to it being made up of lines that didn't fit into those other three songs, so it was definitely the weakest of the four, and I knew I had to do something extra with it to make it worth finishing. That turned out to be simply letting loose and expanding it; the twelve-bar format made it easy to keep adding on material, so I just went with that and tried to make one of those wild-and-crazy mid-60s Dylan rave-ups like "Tombstone Blues":

It would have been a great idea if it worked, but I ended up making something more like the rambling, endless, latter-day-Dylan story-songs like "Highlands" or "Honest With Me," where the music acts as a backdrop or lyric-delivery-vehicle:

I even briefly entertained injecting some real epic stuff in there, because I thought "hell, why not write my own 'Tangled Up in Blue?'" but it didn't take long to realize that wouldn't work either. However, the whole Dylan angle was an easy jump to an obvious metaphor: his legendary, star-crossed romance with Joan Baez—which undoubtedly has been overblown and analyzed to death among relentless Dylanophiles and nostalgic Boomers, but whatever. The tenuous Dylan/Baez metaphor is only interesting here because it's reversed; as surely everyone knows, Bob Dylan was the one who went totally, gloriously gonzo, leaving Baez to warble gorgeously about social-justice in the aesthetic dust.

Okay, so that's two sloppy metaphors (my own novel characters and the two '60s folk icons), but that couldn't possibly carry nine verses, so I decided to go way, way back—both historically and in my own mental/creative/analytical development. See, before I vanished down the Hunter Thompson rabbit-hole at 16, I was big into historical fiction, and my favorite author was Mary Renault. I'm sure everyone has a novel that blew their minds as a kid, and when I was 14 mine was a radical slant on the mythological Greek hero Theseus, as written by a lesbian British expat in the late '50s. Renault is probably more famous for her semi-scholarly, heavily romanticized work on Alexander the Great, but her version of the Theseus myth in The King Must Die and its sequel The Bull from the Sea was my introduction to her books. They were full of sex and death and all kinds of crazy decadent shit, and I loved how Renault's Theseus wasn't a musclebound hero, but a scheming Napoleon-figure with a short fuse and compulsive libido who fought bulls and tore through Minoan Crete circa 1600 B.C., running off with the goddess-priestess-princess Ariadne only to abandon her on an island during the sail home to Athens.

There was much more to it, of course, but that third connection was enough to not only support the lyric but give it a title and overarching theme: the demented things we did as young people back when our brains weren't fully formed and we couldn't think beyond the next 24 hours. Not a golden (or silver) age at all, but a primitive and dangerous time to be alive—and for some of us, it probably feels miraculous that we survived it. I know I was fairly certifiable for several years in the mid-1990s, which I guess would be my own socio-emotional Bronze Age. The lyric does go a bit off the rails near the end—I threw in the jaded rock star and anachronistic Caesar lines because hey, it's a metaphor, they were fun ideas and I couldn't resist—but for something so loose, it does hang together fairly well on paper, despite its nature as (mostly) a compilation of leftover phrases and ideas that I hadn't been able to shoe-horn into my previous stuff.

Hopefully that chaos is tempered a bit by the simplistic delivery mechanism: the hopelessly clichéd and yet irresistibly fun-to-play twelve-bar-blues jam. Musically, it's pretty simple—I messed with a Radblaster rehearsal jam from 10/22/11 at Wall of Sound in Anaheim, editing it down from a semi-cover of Eric Clapton's "Driftin'," which is Adam's go-to for singing over instrumental twelve-bars. This was the original jam, complete with my out-of-tune D string:

mp3: Driftin' (Radblaster jam, 10/22/11)

At this point it should come as no surprise that Adam can do blooze-belting better than I can. Speaking of Adam, my first stab at finishing this lyric was built off a riff he recorded in 2010. That version, called "Crippling Nostalgia Blues," only had four verses, and ended up being my introduction to recording with Logic:

mp3: Crippling Nostalgia Blues (Demo, Feb. '11)

If those background vocals sound familiar, it's because they're a watered-down, much weaker ripoff of Grinderman's glorious twelve-bar slab of potential energy called "Worm Tamer," which I couldn't stop playing in 2011:

The music hibernated while I lashed the lyrics together, and I'm still not sure it's good—and since I can't sing that many verses in a single three minute sitting, it's not likely to receive any Radblaster rehearsal time, which is probably best—but it is what it is, and I've made do with that before.

That's about it for this one—way more than it should have been, but for a messy rant about three pairs of star-crossed lovers, "The Bronze Age" was definitely a long time coming. Not sure the wait was worth it, but now I can finally put the past to bed and move on. Maybe write some stuff that doesn't rhyme, or isn't so serious/self-conscious. And yes, it did take me about 15 years to finish 30 song lyrics worth shouting about, so at this rate I'll equal that when I turn 65.

Oh, and this is probably also the last "Dubious Ventures" post on Blogger/Google, since I've moved everything to keirdubois.com, so I guess I'll see y'all over there. Thanks for enduring.

Song stats:
Music by Radblaster, October 2011
Lyrics by Keir DuBois, December 2012.
Appears on the following albums: None yet

December 17, 2012

"Christmas 1994"

First and last attempt to write a Christmas song lyric. Definitely a limited audience for this little toss-off. I also remember getting my hand crushed by Alexis Bonnell's boyfriend, but maybe that was a different night:

October 28, 2012

Part III of "...I Was in a Band Once Called..."

Threequel to the original dumb band names post and its sequel from a few months ago. Not sure how old some of these are, so I think we'll call this the "Special (Mostly) Election 2012 Edition." Duck and cover:

"I was in a band once called Eeyores Of The Left. Our big hit song was called 'Oh Pooh.' We wore black and shoegazed all day." (to Amanda Marcotte)

"I was in a band once called Gorbachev Sunburn. Our big hit was 'Wormwood Fallout Blues.' (to...I can't remember)

"I was in a band once called Novelty Couch Meme. Our big hit song was 'Charlie Don't Surf.' We toured the living rooms of America." (to KK Holland, who responded "the hit single was 'Sofa King Big!'")

"I was in a band once called Coco Lederhosen. Our big hit song was 'Cuckoo for Krautrock.'" (to Matt Welch)

"I was in a band once called Neck Uvula. Our hit song was 'Super Big Gulp Blues.'" (to John Scalzi, the king of band names)

"I was in a band once called The Replacement Refs. Our big hit song was 'Peeling Scabs.'" (to Michelle Via Jones)

"I was in a band once called Well Rehearsed Zingers. Our big hit song was 'That's Gonna Leave a Mark.'" (to, uh, I can't remember this either.)

"I was in a band once called The Paul Ryan Experience. Our big hit was 'The Bronson from Wisconsin.'" (to Josh Marshall)

"I was in a band once called Binders Full of Women. Our big hit song was 'Trap Her, Keep Her.'" (to Emma Nesper Holm)

"I was in a band once called Sucky Checkout Flow. Our big hit song was 'Someone's Gonna Pay For This.'" (to Whitney Hess)

A few good ones in there, but mostly otherwise. Ah, who cares. New York is about to get hit with a hurricane, the Giants just won the world series, I'm turning a year older next week, and then soon after that we'll be rid of this eternal presidential election campaign.

October 20, 2012

Offensively Huge Election Yard Sign Sweepstakes: East Ventura Edition!

My neighborhood tends to be 1) dominated by huge ugly yard signs for jerky conservative candidates, and 2) flooded with junk mail by squishy liberal candidates, so as a squishy liberal myself, I usually assume that the bigger the yard sign, the jerkier the conservative. In 2012, that comes down to three guys: Tony Strickland (U.S. Congress), Mike Stoker (State Senate), and Bob Roper (County Supervisor). Let's find out who wins the all-East-Ventura insecure-projection smackdown, shall we?

Round 1 (above): Corner of Harbor & Olivas Park
Okay, so clearly all three candidates are lording it over their opponents (Dems Julia Brownley and Hannah-Beth Jackson; supe Steve Bennet doesn't even bother here). While Stoker and Strickland have the bigger signs, for some reason, Roper felt compelled to stake not one, but two claims to this intersection. His buddies in the local Big Ag companies clearly demand satisfaction. Advantage: Roper.

Round 2: Corner of Harbor & Seaward
Tony Strickland is basically conceding this big empty lot in at the entrance to Pierpont. Stoker, who is pretending to be independent in that silly superficial way that many California Republicans do, is apparently making a grab for the Pierpont beach-bum constituency. The farm fields are close enough for Roper to make inroads, however. Advantage: Roper, for acting like empty dirt is a fallow field.

Round 3: Corner of Main & Telegraph
Poor Tony Strickland is clearly falling behind. What a wanker. This ugly empty lot can always be counted on for ugly Republicanism—in 2008 it had a garish, gargantuan "McCain/Palin" sign—so I use it as a good indicator of who NOT to vote for. Stoker is clearly keeping pace with Roper here, but the latter nevertheless still has the sack to invade the hospital district. Advantage: neither. The contest holds steady. Oh the suspense.

Round 4: Market & Valentine
Holy insecure projection, Batman. Nothing says confidence like this hideous thing. Monster truck tires, seven coats of paint, and flags. "I'VE GOT FLAGS, MOFOS!" Bennet better get his own all-terrain-campaign-vehicle or he'll risk losing his supe seat. As for the other two dingbats in our contest, they didn't even bother. Strickland and Stoker obviously realize who the big dick in East Ventura is. Advantage, and win, to Bob Roper.

Come to think of it, there was one jerky conservative candidate that failed to assert his manhood via Big Ugly Yard Signs. Yep, this guy:

No wonder Romney looks so pissed. Bahahahaha. Ventura County went Obama in 2008, at (if I recall correctly) the same percentage split as the national vote. My guess is Romney won't win it this year either.

September 23, 2012

Baseball Stadiums I Have Known, 2004-2012

The 2012 baseball season is almost over—the playoffs will start in a few weeks—so I thought I'd mark that with the stadiums that Em and I have been to since we decided to visit them all. So far, it's only been 9 of 30…but progress is progress, as any Padre fan knows. Anyway:

#1. Photo on the left is from the Dodger-Cardinal playoff game in Oct. 2004. Right side is a game against Miami in June 2012. About the three billionth time I'd been to Chavez Ravine.

#2. Angels played a late-season meaningless game against Detroit. About the five billionth time I'd been to the Big A.

#3. Petco Park is a great ball yard. We went to all 3 games in this series vs. Atlanta & stayed in the Gaslamp. We'd done it the previous year as well. Super fun.

#4. Giants vs. Arizona. Fantastic place to see a game. Another highlight of this day was going to see the Frida Kahlo exhibit at MOMA.

#5. A's played Texas. We were all wearing hats from other teams: Braves (Nick), BoSox (Lis), Padres (Em and I).

#6. We caught two games in a series against the White Sox. Em wore her old-school trident M's hat. Also saw the Avett Bros. & Inception.

#7. Saw the DBacks win the west against SF with Em, Stacie and Jules. The next day we saw Oregon stomp Arizona in football down in Tucson.

#8. The Nats are actually good this year. Steven Strasburg destroyed Miami. I was in town for the AEA web design conference.

#9. Orioles lost to KC in a game nearly rained out. Em and I also had a debilitating adventure on the Maryland public transit system.

We've also been to Fenway, in 2005, but it was October and the Red Sox didn't make the playoffs that year. So naturally, we gotta go back...

July 17, 2012

I've Always Wanted to Say This

I've always wanted to say this, and now I finally can: "Buy my book!"

"The Weapon of Young Gods" on Amazon

Yes, just another cheap, self-aggrandizing pile of vomit in the sea of vanity pressed-pulp, but this is MY pile of vomit, children, and that makes it so much better, right?

But yeah, after five years, vanity has finally trumped sloth, and I get to pretend to be a writer. Like all deluded, self-important people, I'm not letting silly things like reality get in my way.

Well, sort of. I mean, the vanity-press novel description says:

Set in mid-1990s Southern California, this demented, surreal, and dubiously executed slice of gonzo sunshine noir is narrated by two struggling students, their friends, enemies, and families. Roy (an underachieving freshman trying to stay sober and sane) and Derek (a failed athlete who's starting over and can't catch a break) get sucked into parallel paths of casual mayhem and spastic melodrama. The Weapon of Young Gods is a garbled, spoiled, questionably hilarious tale of arrested adolescence and amateur hedonism hitching a ride on the dying American Century.
...but it should probably say this:
This book is the kind of thing a 20-year-old white American man-child would write—except I was 30 when I started it, so…oops. Sometimes it reads well, and sometimes it reads like a compilation of amateur mistakes and hopeless clichés, like something pretending to be much more profound than it is...but that's how I've always behaved anyway, so hell with it. Might as well leave the thing how it is and move on to writing something better that might supersede it. For a novelist, I sure am a great graphic designer.
It's probably neither of those things, but now it's on Amazon so we'll all just have to live with it. Or at least I will.

And yes, you might need a map. Yes, the Spanish is kind of sketchy. Yes, it's supposed to be that way. And yes, this story is a work of fiction, but some people may find it familiar.

And now I can move on, I guess. This ends the current naked self-promotional spasm of vanity. You may now return to your regularly scheduled happy lives.

July 03, 2012

After Five Years, Vanity Finally Trumps Sloth

Yep, finally gonna self-publish ye olde novel. That's a crop from the CreateSpace e-store, and it's also on Kindle. In a week or two it'll be on Amazon as a paperback. If by some miracle you can't wait, a free PDF version comes with every purchase of the book's soundtrack album I released back in 2008.

June 20, 2012

Part II of "...I Was in a Band Once Called..."

Sequel to the original dumb band names post from a few months agoThe latest cringeworthy ideas:

"I was in a band once called Graduation Caribou. Our big hit was 'Horny Matriculator.'" (to Brett Cipperly)

"I was in a band once called Splenda Yoga Mom. Our big hit was 'Got MILF?'" (to Mike Monteiro)

"I was in a band once called Zebulon Sneed. Our big hit was 'Take Me to Your Reliever.'" (to Rob McMillin)

"I was in a band once called the Two Devitos. Our big hit song was 'Vincent Benedict Lives.'" (to Adam Green)

"I was in a band once called Fat Cancer Knuckle. Our big hit was 'It's Not A Tumor.'" (to Sean Blackshear)

"I was in a band once called Tempura Twinkie. Our big hit was 'Thick and Creamy and Covered in Oil." (to Sean Blackshear)

"I was in a band once called Prehensile Coalition. Our big hit was 'Flipper? I Don't Even Know Her!'" (to Georgia Logothetis)

"I was in a band once called Dr. Davis and the Mad Mac. Our big hit was 'Psychological Programming'" (to Bill MacAllister and Jefferson Davis)

"I was in a band once called Pre-Baby Jeans. Our big hit was 'Screaming at the Inseam'" (to Marisa Brenninkmeyer)

UPDATED 6/23/12 with two more, since I'm apparently on a roll:

"I was in a band once called The Uncontrollables. Our big hit was 'You're Not My Mama (You Can't Tell Me What to Do)'" (to Meghan Sheetz)

"I was in a band once called Teen Paranormal Romance. Our big hit song was called 'This Sucks.' We broke up after high school" (to David Atkins)

Yikes. Okay then, until next time...

May 31, 2012

Serious Answers to Serious Questions, Part LMCXXVIII

Answered a Very Serious Question today, posed by Martin Longman (the one and only BooMan): "What was the best summer of your life so far, and what did you do?"

Probably 1997. I was 20 and halfway through UCSB and had just spent the previous spring quarter stoned and depressed after a bad breakup (and despite living in Isla Vista with a minimal class load!). My brother and his friends had just finished high school, so when I came home to Orange County for the summer (for the last time) I got to be the cool elder sibling who allegedly knew all about parties and girls and bands. I played bass in a retro-blues-surf '60s band with my brother and his friends, too‚Äîwe were terrible but it was so much fun. My mother remarried that summer and it was great‚Äîeverything that my father's second wedding was not (two years prior).  
Another friend and I worked as a cashiers at the local community college bookstore, and I became infatuated with the Colombian girl two years my elder who was our supervisor. For rush week at the beginning of the semester in August my friends and I would work from noon until 8pm, go home to change, go back out to party by 10, stay awake until 2, and then sleep in til 10 am the next morning before doing it all over again. We drove down to Rosarito with the Colombian girl and she drank us all under the table. At the end of summer when my temp job was over she kissed me in the bookstore parking lot. 
My big albums at the time were "Being There" by Wilco, "OK Computer" by Radiohead, "All This Useless Beauty" by Elvis Costello, "Peace Beyond Passion" by Meshell Ndegeocello, and "Like Swimming" by Morphine. I was re-reading all of Hunter Thompson's books up to that point, and felt immortal. I had all my hair and was young, pretty, and stupid. It was glorious.
Photo: the Mojo Wire as a wedding band, 8/22/97.

May 20, 2012

Don't Call it a Comeback (First Novel Edition)

New cover design for ye olde WOYG, because it WILL be self-published in some form before 2013. Good lord, whatever was I thinking when I started that thing?

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