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.