Archive for July, 2011

As my regular readers/friends/family members/acquaintances/co-workers/fellow Masons known, I am not much of a self-promoter. Oklahomans, a group I sheepishly sometimes admit I once belonged to, don’t like boasting and are sometimes almost pathologically polite and self-deprecating. A sometimes nice quality that keeps us from being Texans–that and a lack of ambition. Anyway, that’s why I create so much material and generally suck at telling people about it. I have this self-defeating idea sometimes that people don’t want to have art shoved down their throat, they want to discover it themselves, which in a way makes it partly theirs. I ought to know that’s stupid, since people regularly take the stuff forced on them by radio as if it’s good when some of it is worthless. And yet shoving people against the wall and saying “Hey, look at my stuff!” always feels to me like I’m being obnoxious, coercive, self-centered and narcissistic. It’s worse when I run into a person who has no problem bragging about his novel in progress, which is going to send him to heights of Olympian glory any day now, and I’m too sheepish to admit that I’ve written a few of them

That’s one of the reasons I let Stephanie do most of the promotion on “The Retributioners,” our hysterically funny if currently moribund Web show. But unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury in my novel-writing career, where I am forced all by my lonesome to look for agents and publishers in squeaky, mousy-voiced little query letters that rarely if ever show the sum of my talents.  I’ve started this process again recently after parting ways with my literary agent and I’m getting used to the rejections all over again. Do you remember the scene at the beginning of “Paradise Lost” where dogs are eating out the bowels of one of the fallen angels? That’s what it feels like trying to sell a novel, just in case you’ve never tried it. Every time I run into a little failure with my ventures, though, I do an honorable thing–I simply start a new project. A new song, a new book or a new screenplay–before the sting of the rejection can hit. Believe me, this shit is starting to pile up, and I’m starting to think that I’m going to drop dead with mountains of work that nobody will ever read or hear or see. That leads to a more self-defeating attitude: Well, maybe everybody will get it when I’m dead and in the meantime I’ll stay happily anonymous.

Stupid, I know.

So, in the interest of promoting myself again, I’m going to focus a bit on my music in this post. As far as I know from my odometer readings (?) on this here WordPress site, I get approximately ZERO hits on my music. Really! I count maybe five click-throughs in the past year total. Maybe the stats page doesn’t count right. Could that possibly be it?

My first reaction to this silence was that my music must suck so bad nobody is polite enough to tell me. I took it like I took all the rejection of the book world: I’ve failed to make an impression, time to move on. I know I can’t sing well and my production is off, and my time-keeping is also a little messy. I finally sent out one tune to some friends to get their reactions. I’d say I got four positive reactions and two lukewarm reactions.

Then earlier this year I played all my stuff for an actual musician who said that, barring my bad time-keeping on the drum machine (a pet peeve of his) my stuff was certainly worthy of hearing, if not nominating for a Grammy. Then another musician seconded that, and then a third. So I tried an experiment–listening to it from other people’s computers. Turns out, a lot of the time I couldn’t open the files, which required users to download QuickTime. Could it be that nobody even had a chance to reject my stuff?

So now I ponder: Do I dare ask you, my dear readers, who came here seeking comedy and or Republican-bashing, to listen to my music one more time?  If you are willing to, then I’m making the journey easier for you: I’ve finally opened up an account with Sound Cloud. This player is meant not just to share music but to be interactive–it allows users to make comments on parts of the tracks they don’t like. But the best thing for me is, it doesn’t require you to download files to your computer. You can just press the big, candy-like button here:

Leaving Babylon

In the interest of space and a clean layout, I’ve moved all these Sound Cloud files to a new tab on my home page, which you can see at the top of the menu or which you can click on here. (You can also check out my Sound Cloud profile page, but I don’t like it as much because I can’t control the format or song order.) Not all my music is on Sound Cloud, just 13 of what I consider the best songs. If I start getting some decent hits, then I’ll upload more of the music, and if I get a lot of hits, I’m going to start going into promotion mode–sending out free MP3 files with my complete album “Time Traveling Humanist Mangled By Space Turbine” to anybody who requests it. Here’s a sample of the art work, created by my friend Corey Sanders:

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It’s very rare that my wife turns me on to music. She only likes a handful of acts, and tends to listen to them repeatedly. But she did me a great favor when she slipped me some Amy Winehouse a few years ago. Normally, I’m suspicious of Brits trying to pull off American jazz and soul, the same way I’m suspicious of Koreans making Texas BBQ and the French making rap music. Even if they love the idiom and aren’t just exploiting it, that sometimes leads them to make fawning imitations rather than something wholly original.

Not so, Ms. Winehouse, a chanteuse of such sensitivity that it often seemed to border of emotional contortion, a woman who innovated around notes the way great painters played with lines, bending notes as if they belonged inside the trombones and trumpets she was playing off. I dismiss much of the visual style that goes along with popular music, though I must also admit that Winehouse etched a great image for herself–a Goth/punk Mary Poppins with a Cockney voice to match. But it was that voice that rightly catapulted her into the Pantheon. There are a lot of people who put Billie Holiday’s vocal inflections into modern arrangements–think of Macy Gray or Madeleine Peyroux (who masterfully sings Bob Dylan as if he’d been writing for Holiday the whole time). But I think it’s trickier to do against girl group horns and hip-hop beats. If I had to compare instruments, I’d say Holiday’s was more like a clarinet, Winehouse’s more like a bassoon–reedy, rougher, but in her masterful approach, just as vulnerable with a great emotional range that could couch very salty punk rock language amid strings and girl group bombast and come up with something completely different.

I heard a really wrong-headed and simplistic assessment on Facebook Saturday shortly after I heard about Winehouse’s tragic but not remotely surprising death: “Not as good as Janis.” Thus goes the luckless reasoning of the sports fan who wanders into music. A quick reminder, Amy Winehouse wasn’t competing in a Round Robin (“Who was the most fucked up female drug addict soul singer? Mary Hart’s got the results tonight.”) She wasn’t engaging in a fantasy boxing match. (“I’ll bet Janis Joplin could kick Amy Winehouse’s ass,” say the nerds.) As long as we’re going to be obnoxious, I’ll remind the critic that Janis Joplin often tripped into the hysteria range. Amy Winehouse, a more subtle singer, was mostly a fuck up in her private life.

It’s a bit hackneyed to say that great artists are people of great sensitivity, and I don’t like the suggestion that the great ones are all fuck ups or that they have to be. The idea that drugs necessarily play a part in great art is one of those hard-to-die pervasive beliefs most mythologized among those with the least amount of talent and imagination. You need only look at Zappa and Woody Allen and Wayne Coyne and several others to notice that drug free artists are not only sometimes more imaginative but also more prolific. It’s not enough to be greatly sensitive or greatly imaginative but also masterful enough to employ those qualities to your advantage. The need to self-medicate is largely innocuous to these traits if not detrimental (a few people have pointed out already that Winehouse’s drug problems increased as her output decreased over the last few years). If you believe, as David Bowie once pointed out, that the true definition of imagination is the ability to “see the affinities of things to illuminate a subject,” then you would think drugs are a good way to open up new ways of thinking, but would then also help you quickly fall into a rut if you stayed with them. If you’ve ever known an addict (and I’ve known a few) you probably know how a lot of them are prone to ritual and superstition and repetitive cycles of behavior. This could as easily lead you to artistic retread and make your art as problematic as it would be if you were merely unimaginative.

So now I’ll sound like grumpy old man: Every time I go to the store, I’m bombarded with images of the no-talents who now make up our pantheon, most of them reality TV stars. It makes me sick that someone not only genuinely talented, but also truly imaginative, innovative and bold (something that could describe almost no American Idol contestant) had to go so soon and leave us adrift in a world of pandering hacks. Winehouse’s reputation is going to grow as more people figure out how good she was. Of course, there is probably a horrible romanticism that’s going to sprout after her very unglamorous death, as there was with all the members of the 27 Club. But hopefully we can all look through it and see genius for what it is and addiction for what it is. Not necessarily must the twain meet.

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After young Florida mom Casey Anthony was acquitted for the murder of her child, Americans are asking: What have we learned?

–*Whenever you’re going to borrow a shovel, always delegate that task if there might be a dead infant in your life.

–*A young mom has important choices to make in life, starting with whether she should use chloroform or ether.

–*The idea of closure is a hoax propagated by the media, the Bible and Nancy Grace, when we ought to know that real closure is never possible in a world of irreversibility at the quantum mechanical level.

–*A lynch mob, we ought to remember, doesn’t deserve any justice. If real reasonable doubt belayed the execution of a person, we ought to see a bit of sunshine in that because it means emotions didn’t drive our justice system.

–*Emotions drive our justice system.

–*The guy in “12 Angry Men” was probably way more guilty than Casey Anthony, and yet we cheered when he was let off the hook. Maybe you should go back and watch 12 Angry Men again.

–*Perhaps if you put as much energy into the cases of innocent blacks as you do seemingly guilty whites, the world would be a better place.

–*Most people believe that Casey Anthony still has to answer to her maker someday. Make no mistake, that is a comforting thought only to the deluded person believing it.

–*We got Osama bin Laden, woo hoo!

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“The Blue Mom”

I promised this song a few weeks ago, but never really mentioned it when it was posted: I’ve put up a new piece, an instrumental called “The Blue Mom.” Don’t ask me what the title means. It is what it is, and can be nothing else. I wrote this after getting a very brief man crush on some ’60s guitar heroes and dared try what amounts to an extended solo. Dear reader, I will never be a guitar master, but sometimes I hope a nice melody will get me where I want to go when my defiant and heedless fingers will not.

Again, if you don’t like it, fear not. You’ve got some 33 other ER Salo Deguierre songs to listen to on this page, most of which do not require fleet-fingered guitar (nor suffer from lack of it).

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I just wanted to wish everybody a Happy Fourth of July. My newborn son arrived home from the ICU a week and a half ago, and I haven’t had much time to post, especially given the thoughtful, meticulous and manifestly obsessive/compulsive way I draft these epistles to you, my dear readers.

But just because I haven’t written much down on the subject of my son’s arrival doesn’t mean I have nothing to say. So I’ll just describe it in one word: It’s the aleph. It feels like life has started again. It’s magical, tiring, infuriating and frightening being a dad. Every day I worry that I’ll do something stupid and accidentally kill him, and then get my strength back when I see that he is indeed alive and breathing and happy. I’m also in love in many ways I never thought I could be. Now I know why people feel compelled to look at pictures of their children–even if the children are standing right next to them. Now I know what it’s like to feel like you love someone so much it hurts. Even when he is vomiting and peeing all over you.

There’s a beautiful line at the end of “Bright Lights, Big City” (a book that has been called overrated so often that everybody has seriously underrated it) in which the protagonist, having suffered a life of bohemian dissolution, realizes he’s going to have to learn to live all over again. I think of being a dad the same way. There are lessons and ideas and things passed on to me by my parents that I took for granted, that have become so ingrained you forgot they were important. Now I have to deconstruct myself and rebuild and share what I know, making sure not to skip the important parts. I’ll have to teach my boy how to live in a moral universe and somehow re-attack the paradoxes and dilemmas and ironies that made the journey frustrating, distressing and sometimes heart-breaking. I’ll have to tell him how to love completely, and then at the same time, someday, be able to let him go.

The journey begins.

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