Saturday, December 27, 2008

Cinder Bridge, Incorporated: Nevermind

Ron the Drummer called me this morning about the company that supposedly took our name. Being much less lazy than I am, Ron took the extra step of signing up for the business directory that listed Cinder Bridge. That gave him access to the contact info for the companies listed there.

And? The phone number for Cinder Bridge is my cell number. The URL is, the band's website. Either their bot made a mistake, or they're trying to pad their directory to make it seem like it contains more businesses than it does.

Besides the mailing address for Cinder Bridge the company, the only piece of information they give that doesn't link back to us is the contact name: Alex Spivey. We have no idea who this is. I wonder if he or she would like to be our booking agent.

The hell?

Catching up on my e-mail, I found a Google alert for Cinder Bridge. Yay! Except that it wasn't about us. It was about some company called Cinder Bridge.

Y'know, back when Ron the Drummer and I began casting about for a band name, we wanted to make sure that whatever we chose not only hadn't been taken, but wouldn't be taken. Ever. When we finally settled on "Cinder Bridge," we figured we were pretty safe.

So what are the odds that some random business would think of it too?

And what are the odds that the location of said business would be a few miles from my freaking house?


Obama: The gift that keeps on giving

New gig! On Saturday, January 10, Cinder Bridge will be playing at its fourth Obama event.

We don't know exactly what the event is for yet, and we're not that bothered about it. At this point we're so psyched about the changing of the guard that we'd donate our performance to the Help Barack Find a Puppy Foundation.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

When the day job isn't

I got some practicing in today. Just a little.

Normally that wouldn't be worth mentioning. It is now because this was the first chance I've had to practice in over two weeks. Things have gotten rather busy at the day job.

I often refer to it as the "day job." I do this because it makes me feel more musicianly. You know, like I'm really a singer/songwriter/keyboardist, and my current employment is just something I do to pay the bills. But the truth is that my day job -- book designer at a small self-publishing company -- isn't the kind where you get in at 8, leave at 5, and don't give it a second thought until you arrive again the next morning. I actually enjoy it. And every now and again it demands that I devote more time to it than eight hours a day. A lot more.

It's earned my loyalty many times over. The hours are flexible. If I have a gig scheduled for 3 p.m. on a Wednesday, I simply e-mail the office saying I'm cutting out early because I have a gig. Back when Ron and I flew to Philadelphia to record our album, I had been at my job less than a year and hadn't accrued any vacation time; my boss let me work Saturdays to make up the five days off beforehand. Also, I regularly meander into the office around 10 or 10:30 a.m. OK, that has nothing to do with working around musical activities -- I just like to sleep late -- but I don't appreciate it any less for that.

So I'm working a lot now. And in the interim I've hardly touched my keyboard. And I haven't done anything at all to promote the band. Maybe I should consider these sacrifices as an investment. Eventually things will calm down and I'll once again be able to take advantage of the freedom this job gives me when it comes to gigs and such.

But I still feel like I'm shirking.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Dowel addendum

So now that I've told this long story about Ron forgetting his sticks, I will point out why I find the whole thing ironic:

Ron never makes this kind of mistake.

I always make this kind of mistake.

Ever since Cinder Bridge started playing out, I've been afraid that I would forget some key piece of equipment. It's a danger every time something happens to cause a break in the routine. (Which is actually what happened with Ron. He put the bag 'o' sticks somewhere else to keep his cats from getting into it, then didn't take it because it wasn't in the usual place.) This hasn't happened to me yet, partially because my fear has made me vigilant, but mostly because there's a severe lack of storage space at my house, making it necessary for Ron to stow and haul most of our stuff. He has a lot more to keep track of than I do.

So, I kind of feel like Ron took a bullet that was meant for me. Thanks, Ron. That's one more I owe you.

Saved by the dowel

While Ron the Drummer and I are setting up for this afternoon's gig, my cell phone rings. It's Tim, a friend and former coworker I haven't seen in a couple of years.

"Hey, Susan, we're coming to your gig, but you got the address wrong," says Tim, referring to the mailing I sent out. "The one you gave is for the Tucson Airport."

"Um, no, it's correct. We're playing at the airport."

"Oh. Okay."

* * *

1:40 p.m. and we're just about ready. In the 20 minutes before we start, there's plenty of time for Ron to take levels and make sure that our sweet new mixing board is working as it should. It pays to get to a gig early for setup -- as we always do -- just in case of emergencies, even though there are almost never emergencies.

"Oh, shit," says Ron.

I stare at him blankly. Sometimes Ron kids around, trying to get a startle response out of me before telling me it's nothing. Best to keep my cool.

"I left my sticks at home."

I continue to stare blankly. He could still be kidding. Right? Totally kidding.

"I'm not kidding."

Ron goes off to call his wife. His wife isn't home. He calls a neighbor to see if she's puttering around outside. No dice. There's no one else who can grab his stick bag and run to the airport with it, and there's absolutely no way for him to drive home, get them, and come back before 2. I sit on my little keyboard bench and try to think of creative solutions. Do I have anything that could serve as substitute drumsticks? No, I do not.

1:50 p.m. Vicki, the PR woman who's hired us to do this gig, comes over to say hi. Ron confesses his error to Vicki, who remains cheerful and unperturbed. She points out that I could do the gig solo, which is true, but only as a last resort. These songs don't sound nearly as good without Ron. It would be better if he could just play the drums with his hands, our current plan B.

"What if Ron went and got them, and we started an hour later?" I ask.

Vicki tells me it wouldn't work. The crowd will thin out and disappear after 3. I realize it was a stupid idea anyway. Tim and his family are coming to see us. We can't keep them waiting that long.

"If you have dowels," says Ron, "then I could use those as drumsticks."

S'pose it never hurts to ask, I think, but seriously. What are the chances ...

"Oh, sure! What size do you need? I'll go check for them. Give me your tickets, and I'll validate them while I'm up there."

... of someone just happening to have dowels on hand?


Ten minutes later and she's back with, God help me, a fistful of dowels. She hands two small ones to Ron. They actually look like drumsticks if you don't notice the lack of little knobby things at the end. He tries them out. They sound a whole lot crisper and louder than the hot rods he usually uses, but they work.

* * *

Aside from starting 10 minutes late, the gig itself goes swimmingly. I see reactions I'm beginning to recognize as typical for these airport performances. A very little kid and a bigger kid hold hands and dance along to the music. A few people smile at us as they walk by; I don't know if they're specifically into our sound, but they seem grateful to us for making their trip a little more interesting. One woman talks to us between songs, asking if we'd be interested in playing for her nursing home residents.

Oh, and the new mixing board sounds great.

Dowel's well that ends well.

*ahem* ... Sorry.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Once an album, always an album

Commenting on my last post about whether our music is happy or sad, Leigh said of two of her favorite Cinder Bridge songs:
And yet both are not on the cd (which I initially typed as "album", showing my age :) ). *grumble*
OK, first, Leigh should be unashamed of her verbiage. Highways and Hiking Shoes IS an album. An album is simply a collection of musical tracks, released together in a certain order. The White Album by the Beatles is still The White Album. It is not, as one DJ rather appallingly called it, The White CD.

Second, Leigh is showing her age (mine too), but not for the reasons she thinks.

A friend of mine once told me that half of people under 16 have never bought a CD. A lot of those people will probably never buy a CD. They get all their music online.

So if you insist on associating the word "album" with vinyl, then you may have to call recent releases "MP3s." Except that MP3s are individual songs. You can download them separately, or you can buy a bunch of them together as the collection known as ... wait for it ... the album.

ALBUM ALBUM ALBUM! S'there. Also, get off my lawn!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The ear of the beholder

While hanging out with longtime awesome friend DeppityBob over an extended Thanksgiving holiday, we got on the topic of my band. We were talking about what Cinder Bridge was up to, and he asked me:

"So when are you going to write a HAPPY song?"

* * *

At rehearsal tonight, Ron the Drummer said he'd heard from a friend of his and found out she was leaving her husband. Apparently she's been listening a lot to our album, Highways and Hiking Shoes. According to Ron, she finds it "hopeful and uplifting."

* * *

It amazes me that people can have such opposing reactions to our music. I mean, I get differences in taste. I get that some people are going to love us and other people (fools that they are) will hate us. But it's weird to me that, of those who basically like what we do, some think most of our stuff is depressing (Dep's not alone), and others think it's optimistic (Ron's friend isn't alone).

Maybe it has to do with what you consider happy. DeppityBob has a preference for up-tempo material, and our music tends toward mid-tempo. It's possible that certain listeners conflate "slow" with "despondent."

Or, maybe our music sounds more cheerful if you happen to be going through extreme trauma.

Cinder Bridge: the auditory Rorschach test.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Do you hear what I hear?

Home for Thanksgiving this week. To celebrate our joyous reunion, my sister and I ventured out to the mall for some shopping patriotic stimulation of the economy. Upon exiting one store, I turned to my sister and asked:

"Would it be too nanny-state of me if I wanted to make a law prohibiting all Christmas music until after Thanksgiving?"

I get why they do it, these stores. It's pure classical conditioning. They provide the stimulus (happy Christmas music), and we're supposed to produce the response (buy buy buy). Retail's only means of survival is to make money, so you can hardly blame them if this tactic works. But ... why does it work? I've met maybe two people in my life who like Christmas music. Everyone else finds it annoying. And I suspect that even those who enjoy it eventually burn out on it after having it shoved down their throats earlier and earlier each year.

Do you like hearing Christmas music? Do you like it before Thanksgiving? Does it inspire you to shop more?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gulf War Syndrome is real

A congressionally mandated report has concluded that Gulf War syndrome is a legitimate physiological illness, and NOT just a symptom of psychological distress.

According to a Reuters article, the panel found two possible causes: pills given to troops as a vaccination against nerve gas, and pesticides used heavily during the war.

This is great news for veterans who have been struggling to get treatment since 1991. Only took 17 years.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Music: good for what ails you

Interesting gig this afternoon. Javalinas Coffee and Friends hosted an event called Music and Your Health, which they described as "a unique lecture and musical therapy experience." The lineup consisted of three doctors, two of whom made up a duo; a nutrition consultant; an author of two books on nutrition; and us. The doctors dispensed health-related information between songs, including connections between music and brain waves. The nutrition experts briefly talked about their experience in the field.

We were invited because of "Everybody Knows About Me," our song about living with undiagnosed myalgic encephalomyelitis, and I gave a slightly longer introduction than usual to that song before we played it. Other than that, the only thing we had to say regarding music and health came from a couple of studies I happened to read about. (See here and here.)
Me: "According to recent research, music you like can actually lower your blood pressure. They also found that music you don't like can raise your blood pressure, so ..."

Ron: "Wow, I really hope you like us."

Me: "Yeah, I hope we don't suck."
Going by the audience's response, I'm happy to report that Cinder Bridge had a positive effect on blood vessel function today.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

More musical grocery store revelations

While pushing my cart through Sunflower Market this afternoon, a familiar song made its way through the intercom. The singer, female, had a polished coffeehouse style:
Every time I look in the mirror
All these lines on my face getting clearer
The past is gone
I knew right away that this was a cover of a song I'd heard many times before, but it took a few more lines before I identified it as "Dream On," originally by Aerosmith.

Funny thing was, the lyrics seemed so much more profound in this dialed-down, folksy version. I found myself nodding along with those first lines, thinking, yes, "All these lines on my face getting clearer" is a poetic way of describing the observation of one's own aging. I'd never really noticed any of the words in Aerosmith's version, aside from the refrain.

Why? Part of it was just that the chick singer enunciated the lyrics much more clearly than Steven Tyler did. Another part of it was pure classical conditioning: if it's slow and folksy, the words will be thoughtful and meaningful; if it's hard-driving, kick-ass rock 'n' roll, the lyrics probably don't matter that much.

It's all in the presentation.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Grocery store serenader

I have a habit of singing along to the background music when I go grocery shopping. If I'm especially in the mood, I'll do this even if I don't like whatever it is they're piping through the sound system.

For some reason, the Albertson's I shopped at today didn't have any music on. Without thinking about it, I compensated by singing snatches of an old Status Quo song that happened to be going through my head at the moment.

"Piiiictures of matchstick men and you ... Images of matchstick men and you ..."

I was just loud enough to wake up my normally lethargic internal censor.

"Hey," said my internal censor. "This isn't one of your gigs. No one wants to hear you sing. You're annoying people. Quit it."

I quit it.

Maybe half a minute later, some guy walked past, singing. Not loud enough to have interrupted conversations around him if there had been any, but definitely audible. He was smiling. Totally unselfconscious.

And it occurred to me: He wasn't annoying. Not at all.

"Images of matchstick men and you ... All I ever see is them and you ..."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A pessimist's optimism

I know.

I know he's not the messiah. He won't be able to do all of the things he's promised. He'll have to prioritize, compromise.

He's a politician.

He'll disappoint us. Piss us off.

He'll take actions that make us shake our heads and feel foolish about how, when he gave his acceptance speech, we believed every word.

I know.

And I don't care. Because if he means half of what he says, can live up to even a tiny percentage of his hype, then things are about to change for the better.

Anything has to be better than the past eight years.

So as cynical as I've become, as cautious as my optimism is, I'm really happy tonight.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some confetti to throw.

Oh, and also ...


Twitter demographics

I noticed something interesting a few weeks after I got a Twitter account.

(For the uninitiated, Twitter works like this: You pick a handle [I'm cinderkeys], create a brief, searchable profile, then write posts describing what you're doing in 140 characters or less. It's possible to view the posts of everyone on Twitter, but to make it more manageable and fun, you can choose specific users whose updates you want to follow.)

Based on my own interests, I've been following Tucson music fans, music reviewers, and people with invisible illnesses like ME/CFS, fibromyalgia, and lupus. Though I have definite political leanings, however, it's never occurred to me to follow people because of their political affiliations.

And? Of all the political tweets I've seen from the 70+ people I'm following, all have been pro-Obama. There's not a McCain supporter in the bunch.

Without meaning to, I've hit a demographic. I guess it makes sense in the case of the invisible illness crowd. If no one wants to insure you, and you're possibly too sick to work and get insurance through an employer, then you're going to root for the guy who has any interest at all in health care.

That doesn't explain the music fans, though.

So ... Why are you voting for who you're voting for?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Fanfare for the common cold

I'm nostalgic for the days when getting sick wasn't such a big deal, when I didn't feel the need to avoid contagious people. My philosophy was, if everybody's getting it, then staying away from one or two culprits isn't going to help me. I'll get it or I won't. And if I do, I'll survive.

Those days are gone, for two reasons. First, I spend a lot of time with The Guy Who Inspired "Everybody Knows About Me." (I promise we'll think of a good alias for him soon. It's getting awkward to keep referring to him as The Guy Who Inspired "Everybody Knows About Me.") He has myalgic encephalomyelitis and, as a result, a highly compromised immune system. If he catches my cold, it will be severe, and it will last for months.

Second, I sing, sometimes in front of people. When my throat is gunked up and possibly inflamed, I can't do this very well.

So my attitude has done a complete 180. Now I ask coworkers if they're coming down with something every time they sneeze. I wash my hands constantly when I suspect someone contagious might be touching things I'm touching. I freak out when I start to get the sniffles. In short, I've become annoying.

And the worst part? None of my precautions matter. Our gig today, another airport performance, was cancelled due to illness -- mine. I caught the cold that's been going around, and everyone involved decided it would be best to reschedule. I'm still capable of singing, mind you, but the results aren't anything you'd want to hear, much less pay for.

How do professional rock-'n'-rollers deal with this? If you're KT Tunstall or Elton John, you have to cancel if you have, say, laryngitis, but you can't bow out every time you get a little bug.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Imaginary treatments: addendum and erratum

The addendum: an interesting (and heartbreaking) response to my post on placebos on Life as we know it.
Another concern for patients is those, like me, who suffer permanent physical damage from not getting the correct medication. I've been told I will never be well enough to return to full-time employment because I didn't get the proper treatment in the critical early phase of this relapse.
The erratum: I wrote that maybe the person who inspired "Everybody Knows About Me" (and pointed me to the original placebo article) was lucky, because at least his doctors were willing to say they didn't believe him. After reading my post, he said that actually, very few of his doctors had the balls to tell him what they really thought. Most just prescribed Motrin or something and encouraged him to come back.

Why. Why does anyone think this is OK?

Favorite act of the night

Ooooh. Karen Funk Blocher gives a brief rundown of the Obama gig in Outpost Mâvarin today. I enjoyed her thoughts on whether events like Sunday's gig truly help our candidate, as they mirror my own.

But here's the passage I'm really digging:
Then came Cinder Bridge, a keyboard and drums duo that was probably my favorite act of the night.
We suspected the audience liked us, but it's always nice to get confirmation. Yeehah!

"Don't stop!"

A nice moment from our third and final Obama gig ...

We had finished the fourth song in our set, and everything was going extremely well. The audience was attentive and enthusiastic and really seemed to like us. We would have loved to play for another two or three hours. Unfortunately, we needed to vacate the stage soon so the next band could set up and play. We asked the sound guy how we were doing on time.

"You're right at 19 minutes," he said.

Damn. One minute left.

"Do we need to stop now?" I asked.

A woman in the front row -- someone I had noticed before because she'd been enjoying the music a lot -- yelled out, "Don't stop!"

That made my whole week. We live for moments like that.

To top it off, sound guy let us do one more song. The audience loved it.

More gigs like that, please.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Imaginary treatments for real diseases

Sometimes I count it as a victory when I manage
Just to drag my aching body out of bed
The doctors, mystified, could not produce an answer
So they told me it was all in my head

-- Everybody Knows About Me

The person who inspired the song "Everybody Knows About Me" pointed me to a New York Times article last night. According to this piece, half of doctors regularly prescribe placebos.
The most common placebos the American doctors reported using were headache pills and vitamins, but a significant number also reported prescribing antibiotics and sedatives. Although these drugs, contrary to the usual definition of placebos, are not inert, doctors reported using them for their effect on patients’ psyches, not their bodies.
The bioethicists are having a field day with this one. On the one hand, it's wrong for medical practitioners to lie. Patients trust doctors to know more than they do (though many with obscure diseases like ME/CFS often find themselves having to educate their own physicians), and to provide valid information and treatment. Prescribing medication that has no clinical effect on the illness is a clear betrayal of that trust. On the other hand, if the placebo effect actually works, then the doctor has in a sense provided real treatment ... right?

Well, not so fast. Scroll a few paragraphs down, and we find this telling quote:
Dr. William Schreiber, an internist in Louisville, Ky., at first said in an interview that he did not believe the survey’s results, because, he said, few doctors he knows routinely prescribe placebos.

But when asked how he treated fibromyalgia or other conditions that many doctors suspect are largely psychosomatic, Dr. Schreiber changed his mind. “The problem is that most of those people are very difficult patients, and it’s a whole lot easier to give them something like a big dose of Aleve,” he said. [Emphasis mine.]
Readers with fibromyalgia or ME/CFS or similar are at this point already throwing things at the screen, and don't need me to explain what's wrong with the good doctor's argument. But for those of you who are unfamiliar with fibro, here's a breakdown:
  1. Fibromyalgia is a real disease. It is formally classified as such in the International Classification of Diseases under Soft Tissue Disorders.

  2. Instead of bothering to do any actual research, Dr. Schreiber simply assumes his fibro patients are being "difficult."

  3. He prescribes medication that not only doesn't help, but might cause harmful side effects. Fibromites have enough pain in their lives without also having to deal with gastrointestinal problems.

  4. The doctor gets paid for dispensing treatment he knows to be clinically ineffective.
"Everybody Knows About Me" contains a passage describing how some medical professionals write off real pain and suffering as "all in your head" instead of admitting they have no idea what's wrong. That really happened to the guy I wrote the song about. Maybe he was lucky, though. At least the doctors who say you're crazy let you know where they stand. They don't trick you into going back to them instead of continuing the search for someone who will believe you ... and who will at least try to help.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hemlines and ballads

Ever hear of the hemline index? An economist named George Taylor came up with this in the 1920s, noting that hemlines were shorter during good times. As the economy slowed, skirts got longer.

Since then, economists have found all sorts of funky correlations like this. According to a recent New York Times article, you're likelier to see more mature-looking Playboy playmates, higher sales of laxatives, and decreased deodorant use during a bad economy.

My favorite indicator had to do -- of course -- with music.
Looking at Billboard No. 1 songs from 1955 to 2003 for a study to be published in the journal Psychology of Music, [psychology professor Terry F. Pettijohn II] found that in uncertain times, people tend to prefer songs that are longer, slower, with more meaningful themes.

“It’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water,’ and ‘That’s What Friends Are For,’ ” he said. “In better times, it’s more likely to be faster, upbeat songs like ‘At the Hop’ or ‘My Sharona.’”
If there's anything to this, Cinder Bridge could totally cash in on the current messed-up economy. We've got TONS of slow tunes with meaningful themes. I feel a tagline coming on ...

Cinder Bridge: Downbeat songs for the coming recession.

Oh yeah. We'll have to beat the club owners off with a stick.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Playing hooky

Ron and I skipped rehearsal yesterday to catch the last Obama/McCain debate.

Our next gig is another Obama fundraiser. I'm not sure if that makes our playing hooky more excusable, or less.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bonus tracks

Not long ago I discovered that my copy of Traffic's self-titled album had disappeared, so I ordered a replacement from a nearby CD store. Unlike my original, the new copy had three bonus tracks at the end.

I don't get bonus tracks. I just don't. It would be one thing if artists wanted to make a director's cut of sorts -- if they added songs they felt should have made it in, or reverted back to a vision that existed before studio interference, or inserted effects that they couldn't have managed with the technology of the day. Greedo-shoots-first possibilities aside, that could be fun. Slapping a few extra tunes onto an album that was complete unto itself? Meh.

Listening to "Traffic" mostly confirmed my view. The first two extras are mono single mixes of track one, "You Can All Join In," and track five, "Feelin' Alright." The "mono" part aside, they're exactly the same songs. What's the point? The third bonus track, "Withering Tree," comes from a later album, "No Exit." I appreciated this one more because I'd never heard it before and liked it. Still, I haven't decided whether I think it fits well with the other songs, and I don't believe it belongs at the end. I'm not sure if I'd feel that way if I hadn't listened to the album a bazillion thirty-three times, setting in stone the notion that "Means to an End" should go last, but there it is.

On the other hand, at least the concept of a bonus track makes sense for albums originally released in vinyl. I always have to scratch my head when I see new albums with bonus tracks. Why "bonus"? Why aren't they all just ... tracks?

I am the only person I know who ever gets annoyed about this. Can someone explain to me what I'm missing?

Friday, October 10, 2008

On a happier note

A couple of years ago I wrote a song that I was pretty happy with, except for the little instrumental interlude in the middle. There wasn't anything terrible about that break. It was just kinda there. And though I experimented with different ideas occasionally while at the keyboard, nothing I liked better materialized.

Tonight the song was going through my head, and they finally came to me, the right notes, the right harmonies. I guess for whatever reason, for this particular song, I just needed to get away from the keyboard and stop thinking with my hands.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

ASCAP: Legalized Mafia?

I went to the Black Rose Caffe tonight to pay owners Mariah and Demetrius a visit, and to find out exactly what had gone down with ASCAP. The few details I'd heard about their decision to nix live music came to me secondhand. Maybe my earlier post on the subject was unfair, too hasty, too inflammatory. Maybe there was another side to this story.

Turns out my last post wasn't inflammatory enough. Mariah and Demetrius were happy to regale me with tales of the organization's misbehavior:
  • ASCAP lawyers have been hammering Black Rose with phone calls and e-mails, pressuring them to pay the $800-or-so yearly licensing fee, plus back pay for the three years they've been in business. (BMI calls them too, but they're not as relentless.) Sadly, this is the most honorable tactic on the list.

  • Sometimes Mariah and Demetrius get calls from people that go something like, "Hey, my buddy and I have a bet going. What band played at your place last week? There wasn't a band? Sure there was. You know, the band that played covers?"

  • On one occasion, a homeless guy came in asking what the event was going to be for the night. When told that there was no event, he insisted there had to be one and looked around the room searching for it. (It's possible that this man was simply a little unbalanced, but in light of everything else, that's not my first guess.)
In my last post, I tried to give these guys some benefit of the doubt, saying I understood that they don't have the resources to send spies out to every little coffeehouse in the country. But if the above is any indication, they do have the resources ... and it doesn't matter. Truth be damned, their goal is to keep the pressure up until Black Rose caves and pays them.

"It's like the legalized Mafia," Mariah said.

Thwarted by ASCAP

This coming Friday, Cinder Bridge was supposed to play at the Black Rose Caffe, a goth-styled coffeehouse in town. Today they cancelled our gig. Actually, they decided they weren't going to have live music again. Ever.

Apparently they've been getting harassed by ASCAP. For the uninitiated, this organization collects fees from venues featuring bands that cover original artists. Said fees go to their members, the original artists who sign up with them.

Black Rose Caffe, a small locally owned business, didn't want to deal with the fees. They also had no desire to run afoul of the law. Their solution: hire live bands, but insist that all of the songs be originals. Whenever we played there, we made sure to take our small handful of covers off the set list.

Not good enough, I guess. The harassment continued. The BRC proprietors decided live music wasn't worth the hassle.

Look, we're original artists. We'd love to hit it big enough for other bands to cover us. It's nice to know that organizations like this vigilantly fight for intellectual property rights. The bullying tactics don't sit right with me, though. If anyone from ASCAP listened to our Black Rose Caffe sets, they'd know that we and BRC played by the rules.

I get that they don't have the resources to send spies out to every little coffeehouse in the country. But does that make it OK for them to lean on business owners when they have no evidence of cheating?

* * *

Update: Ron the Drummer tells me it was ASCAP doing the hassling, and that BMI wasn't involved. I've changed the title for this post and removed references to BMI accordingly.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Random thoughts on Obama gig #2

  • Gig took place at a gorgeous house in Oro Valley with a gorgeous view of gorgeous mountains. While setting up, I decided that the band needs to start making tons of money as soon as possible so I can afford a place like that. Part of me has embraced my current financial situation because it lends me a little more street cred as a musician. Street cred is overrated. I want the nice view.

  • If the band started making tons of money, you know what else we could afford? Roadies. That would be cool.

  • The actual performing: total atmosphere gig. However, a few people told us afterwards that we sounded great, which meant that some listening happened. Yea!

  • I should consider wearing a barrette or scrunchie or something to our next outdoor gig. No matter how un-windy it is outside, one strand of hair always ends up in my mouth while I'm singing.

  • Sometime after 7 p.m., one of the hosts requested that we tone it down for our last few songs, as she was afraid her neighbors might complain about the noise. No problem. We had more songs in the set list than time to play them, and it was easy enough to pick out the mellowest ones. Kind of amusing, though. Cinder Bridge isn't exactly death metal. Being asked to turn down always makes me feel like a real rocker. Oooooh.

  • A guest speaker said that when Kerry was running, a lot of people who supported him did so mainly because they didn't like Bush. Now, he said, more people are voting for Obama because they like Obama. And it occurred to me for the first time that Cinder Bridge never donated time and music to the Kerry campaign. Mostly this was because no one asked us, but we didn't think about seeking the opportunities, or even that there might be any. It's a different vibe this time, that's for sure.

  • Between the donations and the silent auction, Celebrate Our Candidate raised over $2,500. Sweet. Also, yow.

's'all I can think of. Next gig happens Friday, October 10, at Black Rose Caffe. Next Obama gig happens sometime later in October, at Old Town Artisans. I don't remember the date, and it's too late at night to bug Ron the Drummer for the details. Updates to follow after Ron the Drummer wakes up and I can bug him for details.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What key is this mood in?

We're throwing two new songs into our set list, which means it's time to tweak the song order a bit. There are a couple of rules to creating a good set list:
  1. Variation. It's good to change things up a little. You don't want a whole lot of fast loud songs in a row, or a bunch of slow thoughtful songs all together. Two adjacent songs shouldn't be in the same key if you can help it.

  2. Key compatibility. This one is a little harder to explain to nonmusicians without an audio demonstration, but certain keys work together better than others. If you've just played a song in G major, and your next song is in C major or F# minor, it will flow well. From C major to F# minor, on the other hand, is a little jarring.
The trick, when putting two or three hours' worth of music in order, is to follow the first rule without breaking the second -- easier said than done.

I've been aware of this on some level before, but as I construct our latest set list, it srikes me that I tend to write certain kinds of songs in certain kinds of keys. If it conveys, I don't know ... a softer emotion like contentment or wistfulness or melancholy, it's more likely to be in a key with sharps, like G, D, or A. If it's kick-ass angry or angsty, it's more likely in a key with flats, like B flat or A flat. (And if you've ever learned to read music, you know that flats and sharps are relative -- F sharp is the same as G flat -- so none of this makes any real sense.)

Do other musicians have different keys for different moods, or is it just me? And does the key a song is in make any difference whatsoever for listeners?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Does music generate votes?

Last week I was interviewed for an Arizona Daily Star article about musicians who "[use] their talents and celebrity to encourage others to vote." The article came out today. It did not, alas, include any of my quotes or mention Cinder Bridge. Gotta spend less time rehearsing, more time perfecting those soundbites.

Anyhow, when we spoke, interviewer Gerald Gay asked me a very perceptive question: did I feel that political events featuring live music actually produced results?

The article touched on this issue briefly.
David Slutes, entertainment director for Hotel Congress ... has always seen music as an effective way to draw people in, especially younger people, to look at the issues. But the jury is still out on whether the tactic actually generates votes, he said.

"What I found last time is that many of these people just didn't vote," he added ...

"They came to the events, did a lot of 'rah rah' and just didn't vote. It was interesting and great to motivate and get the message out. But to actually have them make it into the voting booths this time — the proof will be in the pudding."
That sounds about right to me. What I told Gerald was, bands like ours help draw people to the events, give them something cool to listen to for their donation dollars. The point is not to convince them to vote for a particular candidate. Everyone at Barack 'n' Roll was already rooting for Obama, right? Why else would they be there?

Ron the Drummer didn't entirely agree with my assessment. He pointed out that a few people went to Barack 'n' Roll not to support Obama, but to support us. I see his point. Still, I just can't imagine someone thinking, "Gosh, I was kinda leaning toward McCain, but Cinder Bridge played so well. Maybe Barack Obama IS right about health care and the war in Iraq."

Cynicism aside, we'll be doing an Obama party/silent auction next Wednesday and a half-hour set for another Obama event at Old Town Artisans in late October. Should be fun ... even if our totally apolitical songs don't persuade anyone to change their vote.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Invisible, but not inaudible

"It's not so much what you don't know that can hurt you, it's what you think you know that ain't so."
-- Will Rogers

September 8–14 is National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week. Its aim is to help healthy people understand what it's like to live with serious "invisible" diseases such as myalgic encephalomyelitis, fibromyalgia, multiple chemical sensitivities, lyme disease, Gulf War syndrome, and many, many others.

What makes an illness or disability invisible? Two things. First, the people suffering with it often drop out of sight. Your friends don't hear from you for a while, figure you've lost touch for the usual reasons friends do, and have no idea that your chronic pain or crushing fatigue prevents you from leaving the house most days. Second, if they do happen to see you again, you probably appear perfectly normal. Your disease hasn't caused you to break out in scary hives or turn blue. The very fact that you're out in public probably means you're feeling/functioning better than usual.

Chances are you've tried to explain what's really going on with you. But not everyone believes it: You could go back to work if you were willing to tough it out. You don't LOOK sick, so it must be all in your head ... or worse, you must be making it all up to get attention and a free disability check. So now you're not only stuck with constant pain, but you don't receive the support you'd get if you had diabetes, or multiple sclerosis, or some other "legitimate" disorder.

Want to combat this kind of prejudice? Here's something to try. Go to and download our song "Everybody Knows About Me." It's inspired by somebody who lived for many years with undiagnosed myalgic encephalomyelitis (also known as CFIDS, also known as "chronic fatigue syndrome"), but it could just as easily apply to many other invisible illnesses.

If you like the song, send the link to someone suffering from an invisible illness to let them know they aren't alone. Send it to someone who believes people with invisible illnesses are whining hypochondriacs. Send it to someone who doesn't quite get how it feels ... but would like to.

Finding cures for these devastating diseases will cost billions. In the meantime, compassion is free.

Friday, September 5, 2008

When you're out of touch, everything is underground

A year or so ago, I left a couple of Highways and Hiking Shoes CDs at CD City, a mom-and-pop record store in Highland Park, Illinois, my hometown. Owner Steve Kessler said he'd play our album in the store, see what happened.

Today I stopped in to see if anything had happened with those CDs. Not surprisingly, the answer was no -- brick-and-mortar stores aren't the likeliest places for unknown artists to sell their stuff. Steve wasn't sure where his copies of H&HS had gotten to, so he offered to write me a check for them. I took home a couple of free CDs instead: Tender Moments by McCoy Tyner, and We Were Here by Joshua Radin.

I'd never heard of Radin. Steve played him for me after I asked for recommendations, and what I heard was good enough to take a chance on. I thought maybe he was some obscure underground artist. But no, I looked him up on Wikipedia and found out he's been on a bunch of TV and movie soundtracks.

This is what I get for not watching TV.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Another Obama gig

Our 20-minute performance at Club Congress's Obama extravaganza has scored us another Obama gig.

Celebrate Our Candidate

Wednesday, October 1, 5:30–7:30 p.m.

Marty and Doug Elliott's
986 W. Dancing Rain Ct.
Oro Valley, AZ 85755

Contact phone: 520-395-0628

There will be a happy hour, silent auction, and live music by Cinder Bridge (that's us). Suggested minimum donation is $25 per person, $40 per couple.

It won't be the first time we've played a party, and with "Barack 'N' Roll" under our belt, it won't be the first time we've done a political event either. It will be a first for this combination of things, though, so it will be interesting to see how it goes.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Breathing room

Friday, the day before I was to leave for Chicago, was utter madness. At work there were a million tiny things to tie up before my week-long vacation began, and I had to stay late just to just to get to the most important ones. That left less time for the all of the tasks I needed to attend to at home. Suffice it to say that not everything got done.

At the airport the following day, I picked out a seat facing the window and marveled at how different everything felt. There was nothing more for me to do except sit there and wait for the plane that would carry me back to my hometown. As I stared out the window, more relaxed than I'd been in a long time, I realized there was a song going through my head: "Face in the Rain," whose lyrics I'd been writing on and off for over a year.

The thing is, I was so close to finishing. Just four little lines stood between me and completion. I'd made halfhearted attempts to write them in the last few weeks, but couldn't get into it. Now, I thought, would be a good time to try again. It wasn't like I had anything else competing for my time.

Maybe 20 minutes later, the song was done.

It's funny how something I'd struggled with before suddenly seemed so much easier. I think part of the breakthrough came because I was better able to connect with the subject matter. "Face in the Rain" is about having to be on the road, and desperately wanting to remain with the person left behind. The last lines are about anticipating the joyful reunion. Remembering my boyfriend's smile as he said goodbye to me that morning, and thinking of how it would be when I saw him again, the right words found their way to me.

The other thing that happened was that I finally had a little breathing room. I could think about the song and nothing else without feeling as though I was neglecting fifty other responsibilities.

So. The next time it seems like my creativity has dried up, I need to remember that it's temporary. As long as I keep digging, as long as I find a way to make the time I need to do it, I can still write. I am still a songwriter.

I knew this already. But somehow I have to keep learning it again and again.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Miscellany before departure

Tomorrow I depart for a week-long vacation. I'll have Internet access, but likely not much to write about, so I'll leave you with a couple of things before I go:

E-mail is fixed. Yay! Now I can resume my contacting of ME advocacy sites ... um, after I get back from vacation.

Speaking of advocacy, I have sign-up information for the newsletter that gave a mention to RESCIND and "Everybody Knows About Me." If you'd like to subscribe, just pass a note to Be sure to put "ME/CFS Advocacy" in the subject line so your message doesn't accidentally get deleted.

If I don't check in before I return home, have a great week.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Inventures?

Tonight I wanted to tell you all about how to sign up for the ME newsletter that mentioned "Everybody Knows About Me." Unfortunately, I can't access that information due to my e-mail issues, and due to the fact that I didn't copy-paste said info somewhere else when I had the chance. And so, I will instead present you with our weirdest Cinder Bridge sighting to date:

This site seems to have cribbed all of the text about our album from our page on CD Baby. They appear to have done so for the other bands in their directory as well. There's a link to download ringtones on each band's page, so I'm guessing that's the point. I'm not sure why anyone would take the time to make Cinder Bridge ringtones in this, the nobody-has-heard-of-us stage of Cinder Bridge's career, but whatever. The truly bizarre part comes when you navigate through the rest of the site, which is all about a group called the Inventures. A wee excerpt:
The Inventures’s philosophy is best expressed by the flamboyant Tyler: “Kick ass and leave a footprint.” The group has left indelible footprints on the rock and roll landscape with such milestone albums as Toys in the Attic, Rocks and Pump and classic songs like “Dream On,” “Walk This Way,” and “Janie’s Got a Gun,” to name only a few.
Um, OK, so somebody decided to make a site about Aerosmith, but change the band's name to the Inventures. Because ... why? Does this help them sell ringtones in some way I'm unaware of?

My e-mail has to start working as soon as possible so I can take a break from pondering this and other mysteries of the universe.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

E-mail is down

My e-mail account has been experiencing technical difficulties since Friday morning. It's been completely inaccessible for most of that time. Just now I got in long enough to read one message and compose a reply ... but I'm not sure I was able to send the reply successfully.

This is so frustrating. Normally I wouldn't care if I had to go a weekend without checking e-mail -- normally I don't get much beyond Google alerts, forwarded jokes, and mailing list postings. But now I'm corresponding with a couple of real live human beings about "Everybody Knows About Me," and I've attempted to contact someone else about using the song to raise funds for ME research. These are not people I want to blow off.

Anyway, if you wrote to me and haven't heard back, that's why. My apologies.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Viral advocacy

Googling our band name last week, I stumbled across a post on Behind the Surface, an ME blog, that mentioned "Everybody Knows About Me":
At the moment [RESCIND has] got a "Friend-raiser" going on that includes a song about ME by Susan Wenger, of the band Cinder Bridge (yeah, I hadn't heard of them before now either) that you can download. The song does feel very ME-ish. Very slow and heavy. Indeed as I was listening to the opening verse, I thought, hell, has this woman been spying on me but got the apartment floor wrong?
It was exceptionally cool to hear someone with ME affirm that the lyrics (at least in the first verse) are accurate. But you know what felt even more amazing? The fact that she found "Everybody Knows About Me" through no direct efforts of the band.

Then, this morning, I got e-mail from a woman who lives in North Carolina. She'd read about "Everybody Knows About Me" in an ME newsletter and wanted to know where she could buy the song.

And I thought, newsletter? Yeah, I've been planning to contact some ME newsletters, but I haven't done it yet ...

It appears that our little advocacy song is s-l-o-w-l-y going viral. This shouldn't surprise me. It's been our goal from the beginning. Still, it blows my mind just a little bit to connect with people who weren't even looking for us ... who had never heard of us before now.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Random thoughts on the Obama gig

Barack 'N' Roll has come and gone. On the whole I think it went rather well. I don't have any big stories to tell about this gig, so here are some random musings:
  • I savored every one of our 20 minutes on stage. We're used to playing in venues without ... well ... stages. It's neat to sit up there and be able to actually see everyone in the audience.

  • Constructing a 20-minute set list is an exercise in frustration when you have over 50 songs. I always think, what if someone from a big label comes, and she would absolutely love some of our material, but she doesn't like anything from the current list? I hope no one from a big label was listening to us on Sunday, because if she was, we chose wrong.

  • I managed to get through my little advocacy speech about ME without stumbling over the words. (Yes, I did practice in front of a mirror beforehand.) Whether anyone paid attention to what I said, I don't know. Its hard to promote a cause in three sentences or less without sounding like a public service announcement.

  • Before we played, some Club Congress guy handed me one of those little wrist thingies that enable you to get in and out of the club without paying the cover again. It was only later that I remembered this was a free event. So what was the wrist thingie for? Did I miss out on a free drink or something?

  • Best T-shirt slogan sported by an Obama supporter: "Don't worry, only men, women, and children can get AIDS."

  • A hip hop artist named Ciphurphace came on shortly after us. Though I'm not really into the genre, it was obvious that he was good at his craft -- tons of energy, good flow to the raps. I found myself wondering how on earth anyone memorizes all those words.

  • It was strange to see so many avid Obama supporters in one place. I know a bunch of people who like Obama and will vote for him in November, but I don't know anyone who hangs out at these sorts of political events for fun.

  • Kudos to the organizers for keeping the political speeches short. Fewer speeches and more music make for a better world.
Since the concert, we've scored another Obama fund-raising gig. Here's hoping the Club Congress folks invite us back too.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The name game

From the second we landed Sunday's upcoming Obama gig, I knew that we had to include "Everybody Knows About Me," our song about living with undiagnosed ME, in the set list. What better opportunity to raise awareness about a little-known but devastating illness than in front of a politically motivated crowd poised to vote for someone who's pushing for universal health care?

The problem: What do I call the illness when I introduce the song? There are actually three major possibilities, and all of them are problematic:

Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). The name given to the illness in 1934, after the first documented outbreak. Very few people have heard of this.

Chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS). Stresses abnormalities in patients' immune responses. Even fewer people have heard of this, as the term isn't used outside the United States.

Chronic fatigue syndrome. This name was invented in 1988, and it's the one most people are familiar with. Unfortunately, it also trivializes the illness by implying that sufferers experience nothing worse than greater-than-average tiredness.

Recently I talked to someone I know with ME -- the guy who originally inspired "Everybody Knows About Me" -- about my dilemma. His opinion was that I should say "myalgic encephalomyelitis," the name that's been around the longest, and leave it at that. He abhors "chronic fatigue syndrome." Though I understand where he's coming from, I think it's a mistake not to mention the term everyone knows. What good is it if our listeners come to sympathize with ME sufferers, but think that people with CFS are malingering whiners?

After kicking the issue around with Ron the Drummer during rehearsal today, I think I've finally come up with a decent introduction: "I wrote this song about someone living with undiagnosed myalgic encephalomyelitis. if you've never heard of that, it's probably because it's commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome, which is a silly name for a very serious illness."

Man, people who advocate for breast cancer research never have to deal with this kind of thing. But I guess that's exactly why ME needs more advocates.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

We have a slot!

Today we finally found out what time we'll be performing for Sunday's big Barack 'N' Roll event. Cinder Bridge goes on at 4:30 p.m. and exits the stage sometime between 4:50 and 5 p.m.

The concert runs from 3 to 10. I doubt that most people will be sticking around for the entire seven hours, so I hope a few of them show up when we're playing.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Gigging for Obama

Oooh. Cinder Bridge, along with a bunch of other bands, will be playing "Barack 'n' Roll," a grassroots concert to support Barack Obama's campaign. To be allowed in, we had to meet three conditions:
  1. Declare our support for Barack Obama
  2. Submit our CD to Club Congress, the venue hosting the event, so they could determine that we do not suck
  3. Promise not to make fun of the name "Barack 'n' Roll"
Though we've done benefits before, they've always been for some charity or another, nothing election-related. As a band we're pretty apolitical. Still, Ron the Drummer and I do like Obama, and it's cool to be able to support him in this way. The concert will be the first time I've participated in an election by any other means than voting.

It's also a nice opportunity for Cinder Bridge. When I asked Seth of Nobody, et al. how they scored their Frog and Firkin gig, he said that they played a benefit there with other bands, and the establishment liked them enough to invite them back. Maybe that will happen with us at Club Congress. Fingers crossed.

The concert is on Sunday, August 17, beginning at 3 p.m. I'll post our slot as soon as we know what it is.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


After a longish period of inactivity, Cinder Bridge has lined up a gig for Saturday, August 23. The venue: Kelly's Coffee and Fudge.

This presents a special challenge for a singer with a sweet tooth. Sugar and dairy tend to make you phlegmy -- not a big problem in everyday life, but highly inadvisable if you're about to (*hack, cough*) sing. So, for the sake of our adoring fans (or, more likely, the random passersby who hear us), I shall abstain.

Until we're done performing. After that, look out.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

A room full of keyboards

In the middle of a shopping run, I made a brief side trip to a Guitar Center to see if someone I knew was working there. She wasn't, but while looking for her, I happened upon the room with all the keyboards. I can never resist a room full of keyboards. I had a blast trying a bunch of them out, improvising little snatches of music to get a sense of the sound and feel.

I focus a lot on what about my playing needs improvement. Sometimes it's nice to remember how lucky I am, what a kick it is, to be able to sit down at a keyboard and just start playing. Thanks for all those lessons, Mom and Dad. :)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The price of a song, the value of a cause

Back when I first talked to the RESCIND guys about letting them use "Everybody Knows About Me" to raise money for ME awareness/research, the assumption was that they'd put a buy button up for $5 or so. Jerry, the webmaster, is the one who came up with the idea of letting people donate anything -- or nothing. He didn't believe people would stiff a charity. I thought this a little naive, but it didn't matter. The people who donated larger amounts would hopefully compensate for the freeloaders.

Yesterday, Jerry e-mailed me with the news that "Someone thought the song was worth $20!"

So cool. Of course, what he really meant was, someone thought the cause was worth $20. I'm pretty sure nobody would pay that much for a song, regardless of how good it is.

For fund-raising purposes, I hope RESCIND gets as many of those big donations as possible. But for awareness-raising purposes, I'm interested in the people who don't know or care enough about ME to part with more than the obligatory dollar or two. Maybe now I'm the one who's being naive, but I hope they listen to "Everybody Knows About Me" and come away with a better understanding of what it's like to suffer with the illness, and why it's not okay to dismiss it as "yuppie flu."

P.S. Thanks to all the readers here who donated. You rock!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Everybody Knows About Me: Released!

*drum roll*

"Everybody Knows About Me" -- the fully arranged, polished version -- is now available:

Ron and I are letting RESCIND, a CFIDS/ME awareness site, use our song to help raise money for the cause. The deal is, you can download "Everybody Knows About Me" for free, and if you think the song and/or the cause is worth it, there's a donate button at the bottom of the page. You choose how much you want to donate.

(If you're wondering what on earth CFIDS/ME is, you can find a brief summary here.)

Eventually "Everybody Knows About Me" will also be available on places like iTunes, and hopefully other CFIDS/ME sites will feature it as well. But if you donate here, all proceeds go to RESCIND's "friend raiser."

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Retroactive justification for a rare night out

I wasn't supposed to go out Friday night. Too many things to do. So when I drove myself to Frog and Firkin to see a Nobody, et al., a band I'd found on Myspace a few weeks ago, it was with a sense of getting away with something -- playing hooky from real life for a while.

By the time I arrived, F&F's patio was packed to the gills. I parked myself on the steps to the indoor entrance and listened to the band, waiting for a seat. One by one, people at a large circular table began to vacate. I bided my time, rushed the table as the last person left, and reached it just as a party of six women came to claim it. An awkward moment lingered until one of them took pity on me and invited me to join them.

So, in addition to good music, I had fun talking with my tablemates during the break. Susan, the woman who had extended the invitation, thought she recognized me, and we came to the conclusion that she must have seen me at a Cinder Bridge gig. I ended up passing a copy of our CD around, and signed two people in the group up for our mailing list.

I also got to talk to a couple of Nobody, et al. members who, as it turns out, remembered Cinder Bridge from Acoustic Battle of the Bands. I signed one of them up for our list too.

So, yeah. I wasn't blowing off my responsibilities. I was networking and promoting our band. Yeah, that's it!

P.S. The boys in Nobody, et al. sound just as good live as they do recorded. If you live in Tucson, I highly recommend that you check them out.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What cross? What ballpark?

In response to my recent musings on lyrics that might or might not mean something, a regular reader of this blog (okay, my mother) e-mailed me to say I'd reminded her of an interview with Paul Simon. Someone had asked him about a line from "The Obvious Child" that goes, "The cross is in the ballpark." In context:
And in remembering a road sign
I am remembering a girl when I was young
And we said These songs are true
These days are ours
These tears are free
And hey
The cross is in the ballpark
The cross is in the ballpark
He said it didn't mean anything. He just liked the sound of it.

How disappointing.

There are songs for which the sounds-cool/actually-means-something distinction doesn't matter so much. Take "I Am the Walrus." Sure, the lyrics seem to be dripping with symbolism, and maybe I would have analyzed them to death if I'd been around when they were new, but now they're just big goofy fun. "The Obvious Child," on the other hand, skims the seas of purpose and intention just enough to make me wonder if I'm missing something.

How about you? Can you think of a song whose meaning has eluded you for ages? Does it bug you to think there might be nothing there?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

But it sounds cool

When I was a senior in high school, a friend of mine dashed off some lyrics to a piano riff I'd been playing with. The resulting song -- all about the evils of materialism -- was quite good. All it needed were a couple of lines at the end, something that would rhyme with "... never is enough." I volunteered the following:
You bribed yourself with trinkets
And now the world has called your bluff
Larry liked my little contribution, so it stayed. I was pretty pleased with it myself. Just one thing bugged me. The lines sounded cool, you know, like they meant something profound. But when I really thought about it, the "bribed" part didn't make any sense. Bribed yourself to do what? What I was really getting at was something like "distracted," but that word didn't scan.

No one else seemed to notice when Larry and I played the song for them, though. Because it sounded cool.

I thought of this earlier today while listening to Porcupine Tree's In Absentia. During previous plays I'd never paid much attention to their lyrics, which sort of got lost in the gestalt of the band's engrossing and echo-y prog rock sound. This time around I had headphones on, and I decided to see if the words would be easier to make out.

They were. I found myself grooving to the chorus of "Blackest Eyes":
I got wiring loose inside my head
I got books that I never, ever read
I got secrets in my garden shed
I got a scar where all my urges bled
I got people underneath my bed
I got a place where all my dreams are dead
Swim with me into your blackest eyes
I love that last line! I also am not entirely sure what it means. In the context of the song I can come up with a couple of vague ideas, but I don't know if either of them are correct.

Had I never attempted writing lyrics, I would hope that I'd someday become clever and sophisticated enough to decipher the meaning of these deep words. Now I wonder if Steven Wilson, the songwriter, even knows. Maybe he just thought it sounded cool.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Cover art for "Everybody Knows About Me"

When we first started making plans to get awareness-raising song "Everybody Knows About Me" out there, I never gave any thought to artwork. We weren't going to release a whole album; we were only going to make the one song available as an MP3 through sites like iTunes and No physical product to slap a cover on, no cover art.

My logic made perfect sense until I remembered that iTunes et al always displayed covers next to their wares. I didn't know if they absolutely required a visual, but the buy page might look strange without it.

At around the same time, I discovered RachelCreative, a blog by an artist who has CFIDS/ME. While paging through her old posts, I discovered a self-portrait that she doodled "after an irrational flush of frustration." I contacted her, one thing led to another, and ...

I love the rawness and the energy of this piece. I also love how it thumbnails -- that is, how it will look when displayed in search results:

It will take around four to six months for "Everybody Knows About Me" to start showing up on the usual download sites. We'll let y'all know the hot second it's available. In the meantime, I'm just going to stare at the "cover" art and grin a lot.

Monday, June 30, 2008

What we sound like

"So, what kind of music do you guys play?"

"Um, pop rock."

"Oh ..."

End of conversation. Because if that's all we can offer as a description of our own sound, it must be pretty boring, right?

"What kind of music" should be an easy question to answer. We've spent the past five years rehearsing and performing and recording it. We're passionate about it. We're immersed in it. Maybe that's the problem. Maybe we're too close to it to easily devise an elevator pitch.

The issue has plagued us since we started playing out, and it rose to the surface again when I decided to design business cards for the band. We wanted to put a little tagline on the cards instead of our names, something that would make people intrigued enough to listen ... but what would the tagline say?

For fun, and for lack of any other ideas, I tried a description my boyfriend ad-libbed a few years ago:

As I guessed he would, Ron the Drummer vetoed "hard-driving soft rock" immediately. He thought it amusing, yes, but wanted to avoid any association of Cinder Bridge with soft rock, even as a joke. I couldn't really argue with his reasoning. Soft rock is what they play in grocery stores. Soft rock is safe. Our music might be largely acoustic, with a conspicuous absence of shredding guitars, but "safe" is not what we're going for.

I went to for inspiration. Derek Sivers is the founder of CD Baby, and his site is full of great advice for musicians who are trying to make it on their own. He writes:
Get yourself a magic key phrase that describes what you sound like. Try out a few different ones, until you see which one always gets the best reaction from strangers. Use it. Have it ready at a moment’s notice.

It doesn’t have to narrow what you do at all ... if you have a magic phrase that describes your music in curious but vague terms, you can make total strangers start wondering about you.
With that in mind ...

I tried "coffeehouse stadium rock" out on a couple of people who asked the dreaded question and got a laugh both times. Ron thought it was funny too. He did not, however, want to use it on our business cards. We've been trying to play bigger venues, he argued, trying not to limit ourselves to places where we're competing with the cappuccino machine. Why should we typecast ourselves?

So ... I'll throw the question out to you. Listen to a song or two if you haven't heard us before and tell us what you think. If you were Cinder Bridge, what would you tell people you sounded like?

If you come up with something Ron and I BOTH like enough to put on the card, we'll send you a free copy of our album, Highways and Hiking Shoes. If you've got the CD already, we'll send you the T-shirt. :)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

What we look like

Cinderfan Grant Hawman recently e-mailed me pictures he took of us at a coffeehouse gig in January. Looking through them, it occurred to me that those of you who know us only through this blog may have heard what we sound like, but have no idea what we look like.

So, without further ado (because we hate ado):

Here we are at Caffe Luce. On the off chance the "cinderkeys" handle didn't tip you off, that's me on the keyboard. Glancing my way, as if wondering what the heck I'm doing up there, is Ron the Drummer on drums.

Another shot. Notice how Caffe Luce's flame-effect lighting totally makes us look like rock stars.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Instant social life: just add music

Ron the Drummer and I decided to play hooky from rehearsal tonight so that we could go to a double-bill gig at the Casbah, a vegetarian restaurant/coffeehouse on the hippie-ish side of town. Scheduled to perform were a couple of people who had come to Old Town Artisans to see us. Ron didn't feel well by the time evening rolled around, so I ended up going by myself.

A few feet away from the entrance, I heard someone call my name. It was my friend Kevin. I used to run into him once every week or two at gigs or open mics. But he got busy, and I got busy, and the last time I'd seen him was before his now-eight-month-old son was born.

It felt like old times, and reminded me of what I liked about them. It wasn't simply being free enough to see live music when I felt like it. It was the fact that socializing at the spur of the moment could be so easy. That I could just go where the music was, and other people I knew and liked would be there for the same reason.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Chatting up

Most of what we play is atmosphere gigs. That is, we set up someplace where music isn't the reason people come (most often a coffeehouse), and we play while they hang out, talk to each other, do homework, whatever. We're there in the background to make the experience seem a little cooler.

When we're doing atmosphere, we don't interact much with the audience beyond saying who we are and occasionally announcing a song name. The people sipping coffee and talking to each other aren't there for us; it seems rude to interrupt their conversation.

All well and good. But when we finally find ourselves playing in front of people who are -- gasp -- actually listening, as in Friday's gig, it occurs to me that I need more practice chatting them up. Even if I'm a lot more comfortable with this than when Cinder Bridge first got started, I'm kind of introverted, and I have a tendency to trip over my words.

My first vocal coach told me that I should rehearse not only what I'm going to sing for a given set, but also whatever I want to say. I've never taken her advice. It's one thing to practice vocal technique, make sure I've got the lyrics down, work on challenging keyboard passages, etc. It's another thing to banter with a pretend audience and not feel absolutely ridiculous.

So, what's a nerdy singer/songwriter to do for chatting-up experience?

Dunno. Maybe I should try a little harder to connect with those coffeehouse patrons.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Gig went well

The Old Town Artisans gig went well. Really well. Around ten people came out to see us. A few random folks hanging out in the Spanish-style courtyard where we played seemed interested in the music, bopping along as they sipped their adult beverages. We were quite happy with our performance, and our audience seemed to be too.

After the set, a guy came up to Ron the Drummer to inquire if we play parties. He asked if $300 or $400 sounded about right. Cinder Bridge approves of any conversation in which we are asked if $300 or $400 is about right.

Man. After so many atmosphere gigs, it is exceptionally nice to play for people who are actually listening.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Wizard Rawk

DeppityBob sent this nugget along about bands who perform music inspired by the Harry Potter series:

I'd heard of wizard rock before. I happened to catch two different NPR shows that reported on the phenomenon and played the same clip from a song by Draco and the Malfoys, featuring these memorable lyrics:
My dad is rich
And your dad is dead
My dad is rich and your dad is dead
Okay, so, I love Harry Potter. And I love music. But I have to admit ... I just don't get it.

Oh well. I s'pose it's more wholesome than Harry/Draco slash.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Introducing Steven, the contralto

While ordering Chinese takeout over the phone tonight ...
Friendly waitress: "Okay, we have egg rolls, egg drop soup, broccoli chicken, and crab crowns! Could I get your name please?"

Me: "It's Susan."

Her: "Steven?"

Me: "Susan."

Her: "Steven?"

Me: "Susan."

Her [sounding a little embarrassed]: "Susan! I'm sorry! It must be my phone."

Me: "No, I get that all the time."
Y'know, maybe I should stop feeling chagrined for considering anything higher than F over middle C to be a "high note."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The practice of practice

All the vocal practicing I do falls into one of two broad categories. The first of these is technique. Here, I attend to things like pitch control, articulation, projection, range, and generally not sucking. I focus intently on specific parts of songs that need work, repeating them over and over again until (hopefully) I start to hear improvement.

The second category is maintenance. Maintenance involves running songs from beginning to end, seeing if I can get through them without any big mistakes.

I tend to spend more time on maintenance. It's easier and more fun. There's also more of a need for it if a gig is coming up. Unfortunately, this tendency hinders improvement. The thing that separates masters from amateurs in any area, be it chess, tennis, music, or vintage Donkey Kong, is that masters attend mindfully to every facet of their performance as they practice, striving to make each one better.

So for the past couple weeks, I've resolved to spend more time on technique. In particular, I've been working on extending my upper range. (For all y'all who have never heard Cinder Bridge, I have an unusually low voice for a woman, and it's hard for me to reach "high notes" that most tenors can hit without difficulty.) We had a gig coming up on the 13th, but I figured I could get a lot of the maintenance-style work done during band rehearsal.

Well, stuff happened. Rehearsal was called due to illness -- drummer had to take care of an ailing kitty. Then other responsibilities (and horrible time management) got in the way of my doing the maintenance I needed to do. I feared that all my great attention to technique would result in me singing "na na na" really well as I struggled to remember the lyrics to my own songs.

As it turns out, last night's gig was cancelled. One of the proprietors of the coffeehouse in which we were to perform got sick, and they decided they'd probably close early.

I was not nearly as disappointed as I should have been.

Next Friday we have a gig at Old Town Artisans. Between then and now, I will find a way to balance these categories of practice.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The elusive safety net

Most of the people I know with CFIDS/ME, fibromyalgia, environmental injuries, or other invisible illnesses have some kind of support system. They might be suffering terribly, but they at least have enough of a safety net that they won't soon be homeless on top of everything else.

Well, today I found out that someone I've been corresponding with via e-mail is going to be out on the street soon. His family doesn't take his illness seriously, and they're not going to help him. The people who might be inclined to help him are as broke and sick as he is.

I don't know this guy well. Maybe his family is just particularly dysfunctional. But I suspect they wouldn't be treating him as badly if he had cancer, or AIDS, or multiple sclerosis. It's stories like these that made me want to write "Everybody Knows About Me." If the song can change one person's mind, it will have done a lot of good.

Still, my efforts feel horribly inadequate today. No song is going to ensure that somebody gets food and shelter.

Does anybody know of emergency resources for someone in a situation like this? I don't think a person with CFIDS/ME would do very well in a homeless shelter.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More thoughts on Alanis from the anal-retentive songwriter

At some point I'll have to check out some clips from Flavors of Entanglement to see if it's worth buying. The whole 12-songs-in-12-days thing intrigues me almost enough to buy it sight unseen (sound unheard?). But then I remember one of the reasons I haven't been picking up Alanis Morissette albums since the first one.

Following Jagged Little Pill, AM honed a songwriting style in which rhyming and scanning were optional. For the uninitiated, scanning means lining up your lyrics with your music so that the right syllables are emphasized. For instance, from "You Oughta Know":
And EV'ry time you SPEAK her name
Does she KNOW how you TOLD me you'd HOLD me
UnTIL you died, till YOU died
But YOU'RE still aLIVE
See how the emphasized syllables fall on the emphasized beats?

Now, here's an excerpt from "Thank U":
Thank you INdia
Thank you TERror
(So far so good.)
Thank you disILluSIONment
(Still kinda works.)
Thank you FRAILty
Thank you CONsequence
Thank YOU thank YOU siLENCE
(Yeah, "siLENCE" is where she loses me.)

Occasionally AM uses unscanning to good effect. I thought it worked well for "Hands Clean." And as far as that goes, a whole lot of people like her just fine and couldn't care less about this issue. I'm probably being too anal-retentive for my own good. But since I bummed out some slower-moving creative types with my last post, I feel I should point out that songwriting probably goes a lot quicker when you don't have to worry about making the words and music fit together in some meaningful way.

Flavors of buh

Alanis Morissette is releasing her first new album in four years. Apparently Flavors of Entanglement is inspired by the breakup of her four-year relationship with Ryan Reynolds. Sez Morissette:
In the middle of my breakup, I went to London for 12 days, wrote 12 songs. It was all very immediate and visceral. Then I came back to LA and wrote 12 more songs with a gentleman named Guy Sigsworth, whom I adore. So the writing itself was very immediate.
Holy shmoly. 12 songs in 12 DAYS?

Mining the fields of misery can yield great creative results. I've done it many a time myself. But for me the mining generally occurs after the dust has at least started to settle. If I attempted to write a breakup song while in the middle of said breakup, the song would only have one word. That word would be: Buh?

(Thanks to Grey Wolf for passing this on.)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

New-arrangement dissonance

It's hard to describe how it feels when you listen to someone else's arrangement of your song for the first time. If the arrangement is good, it somehow makes the song sound more like itself, as if it has come into its own. At the same time, the unfamiliarity of it is insanely jarring. No matter how spot on everything is, your brain keeps screaming that the new stuff is not supposed to be there.

Here's a summary of what went through my head when, after much suspense, I finally heard "Everybody Knows About Me" with Producer Drew's new tracks:

Hmm, piano intro is still by itself. Drew said he'd laid down a Hammond B-3 organ and bass track ... guess they don't come in 'til later. Whoa, there's the organ! And bass! Freaky. The bass is doing something completely different than what was in my head. But it's giving the song so much power. Ooooh, the chorus has started, and it finally has the depth and intensity I'd hoped for. This is so weird. I think I like this. Do I like this? The bridge has enormous impact with the new instrumentation. I can't get over the fact that there is an organ in this song. There is no organ in this song, and yet I am hearing an organ. Wow, that's cool! But it's so weird! But it's cool!

(Head explodes)

There is only one remedy for new-arrangement dissonance, and that is to listen to the song over and over and over again until you get used to it. Only then can you sort out how you really feel about the way it sounds.

In this case, it sounds great. Go Drew!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Work-life balance

Usually when people talk about work-life balance, the assumption is that work is getting more than its fair share of the pie. Every now and again, though, the tables are turned.

Like today, for instance. I got to the office, checked my e-mail, and found a message from Producer Drew in my inbox. For some reason, Drew had sent the newly arranged version of "Everybody Knows About Me" to my work address instead of the Cinder Bridge account.

I tried to be good. I really did. I read every piece of work-related e-mail I'd received before I even opened the one from Drew. I spent a good amount of time dealing with client requests. Made sure nobody would be left hanging.

Then I shut the door and listened.

Productivity didn't cease after that, but ... let's just say it slowed down a bit.

Oh, in case you were wondering, the song sounds REALLY good. More on that later.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Dream analysis

In my last post I mentioned that the guy who produced our album a few years back is now doing work on "Everybody Knows About Me." For those of you who tuned in after May 12, it's about someone living with undiagnosed CFIDS/ME, and I wrote it with the vague intention of using it to raise awareness about this illness. We recorded the demo here in Tucson, then sent it to Producer Drew in Philadelphia to let him know what we were up to. Down with the cause, Drew promptly offered to mix the song down and get more instrumentation together for it -- all for free.

On Monday we got word that we would have a first draft of the new arrangement Real Soon Now. I was psyched. And scared. There's something nerve-racking about people throwing down tracks for your song without you even being there. Still, this has worked for us before. It's the way we got our album produced, and that turned out pretty freakin' well. So I've done the best I can to keep my inner control freak under control, mostly by trying not to think about it.

Tuesday morning, I dreamed that the new recording arrived. The piano intro was different. It wasn't bad -- had an interesting Bruce Hornsby vibe to it -- but didn't sound remotely like what I'd written. Then the vocals began, and they weren't mine either. Some guy was singing. I surmised that this was all done for the good of the song. Before I decided whether I liked the results, I woke up.

Believe it or not, I really have been good about not dwelling on my little anxieties as the wait continues. If I can just avoid sleeping until the real recording arrives, I'll be fine.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The acoustic guitar of happiness

A couple of years ago, toward the end of a coffeehouse gig, I asked the friends who'd come out to see us if they'd like to hear a sad song or a happy song next. One of them piped up, "You have happy songs?"

I've acquired a rep for musical angst. Though there are several reasons for this, my theory is that listeners' impressions would be different if I played guitar rather than keyboard. It's entirely possible to write cheerful songs on piano and depressing ones on guitar, of course. But all things equal, there's something so much more optimistic about the acoustic guitar sound.

Ron the Drummer has never been convinced. As far as he's concerned, you create the sound you want with whatever you have at your disposal -- period. And I have to admit, we've been able to pull off a lot of "guitar songs" without a guitar.

* * *

A year and a half ago we recorded a demo of "Everybody Knows About Me" to raise awareness about CFIDS/ME. The song is pretty damn depressing. Drew Raison, who produced our album a few years back, mixed it down for free, and he's been putting down other instruments to flesh it out, make it sound more professional, less demo-ish.

Last I heard, Drew had found a guitarist willing to help us out. The session had gone well. The guitar track was beautiful. Drew decided not to use it. Beautiful or not, the sound was just wrong. It was ... too happy.

For some reason this amuses me.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Things I think about when I don't monitor my thoughts

Something else occurred to me after reading about the study where they observed the neural activities of jazz musicians. For those of you who didn't bother to read the whole article, the way they observed said neural activities was to stick the musicians in an MRI scanner, then have them either improvise or perform something they knew. Which means the researchers had to fashion a device that allowed their subjects to play whilst inside.

If I ever need an MRI done, I want them to use THAT scanner. Being able to noodle around on a keyboard would provide a welcome distraction from whatever medical procedure they had to do. It also might yield some provocative creations.

"I love that new piece you composed. It's so full of passion and intensity."

"Thank you! I call it 'AGGGHHHHHH LET ME OUT LET ME OUT!!!'"

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Lyrics vs. the prefrontal cortex

DeppityBob recently sent along an article about how jazz musicians' prefrontal cortexes wind down when they improvise:
Scientists funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) have found that, when jazz musicians are engaged in the highly creative and spontaneous activity known as improvisation, a large region of the brain involved in monitoring one’s performance is shut down, while a small region involved in organizing self-initiated thoughts and behaviors is highly activated.
Go here for the rest.

This sheds some light on why creating music feels like tapping into some mystical well of infinite possibility, whereas writing lyrics feels like rolling up my sleeves and getting to work. It's not that language can't exist in that same mystical, infinite well. It's that my brain plays guardian at the gate, refusing to let the words through because they might not be exactly right.

Friday, May 30, 2008

And then there were (still) two

Ever since Cinder Bridge's inception, Ron the Drummer and I have been its only members. We're open to the idea of hooking up with a good bassist or rhythm guitarist ... it just hasn't been in the stars.

For a brief period, there was a possibility that a bassist might join our little outfit. Unfortunately, we never made it to the jam-and-see-what-the-chemistry's-like stage. First he was too busy to get together, and now he's decided to leave the state.

Too bad. He's an excellent bassist with tons of experience, and he's fun to be around. He also would've been the only one among us who looks like a genuine rocker: earrings in both ears, spiky hair, and a face just slightly reminiscent of Bob Geldof's in his younger days. Unlike Ron and me, there's no way he could pass for someone who works in middle management.

That last part isn't nearly as important, but still. :)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Music and lyrics

Occasionally people ask me which comes first when I write a song: the music or the lyrics. The answer is that it depends on the song, and I've gotten equally good results both ways. However, I've noticed that most of my songs begin with an idea for lyrics.

There's a good reason for this. I always know that if I create lyrics, the music will follow. Most of the time this will be quick; occasionally it will take some time. Either way, it will happen. It's as though music exists in the ether, and I can tap into it almost any time I want.

Lyrics are another story. They require hard work and concentration and more hard work and looking stuff up in rhyming dictionaries, and did I mention hard work? When I create an interesting melody or piano riff, lord only knows when I'll discover words for it. It's hard enough to figure out how to say what I want to say. If I have no idea what I even want to say, well ...

* * *

So last night, I started to hum a melody that came to me out of the clear blue sky. I jotted it down in my little composition notebook so I wouldn't forget it, then sat down at the keyboard. Frustrated by my tendency to let music-first creations lie fallow for-freaking-ever, I decided to fish for some lyrics. In short order, I had three lines. They weren't particularly profound or original, but they seemed like they could lead somewhere.

Less than 24 hours later, I had a whole song.

Granted, there are still things I need to tweak musically, and then Ron the Drummer and I will need to arrange it. Still, I'm pleased, and kind of shocked. This is the fastest I've written ANY song. It usually takes a few weeks at the very least. To break my record for speed with a music-first song feels pretty amazing.