Monday, June 29, 2009

The good room

Ron the Drummer and I gathered our equipment as quickly as we could and moved it indoors. Tonight's Creative Chaos gig, benefitting the homeless, was supposed to take place in the patio area of downtown Tucson's Z Mansion. However, the wind had kicked up something fierce and it looked as though it would rain any second. Volunteers brought in chairs from the outside and lined them up in rows.

I was bummed. Audiences can be, for lack of a better word, fragile. Give them any excuse to leave and they often will. Wind and possible showers aside, the weather had been perfect for an outdoor concert. I imagined that people would end up hanging out on the patio or just going home.

But they didn't. Coming off of a great performance from Black Man Clay, many of them gravitated indoors, where the rest of the music would be.

Next up was Thomas and Davis. Cathy Thomas sang. Doug (I think it was Doug) Davis played keyboard. Ron, who had set up his kit to the side of the makeshift stage, spontaneously accompanied them on drums, sounding as though he'd been rehearsing with their band from the beginning. They did high-energy, heartfelt covers of songs in a bunch of different genres.

The crowd ate it up. I ate it up. I also attempted not to let the duo intimidate me. We've performed after extremely talented musicians plenty of times, but most of them play guitar and don't invite direct comparison. Fortunately, it was pretty easy to lose myself in their music. At one point, some of the audience were literally dancing in the aisles. I know "literally" is a much-abused word these days, but literally literally. They were out of their seats and bopping around the room.

Then it was our turn. My fears about not measuring up began to dissipate with the first song. The crowd was into it. They were looking at us, some intently, smiling, swaying. They liked everything we did.


After so many atmosphere gigs, feeding off that energy, pouring it back into the music, and giving it back was such a treat.

Afterwards, we didn't just get compliments. People HUGGED us. I had forgotten to bring our big stash of CDs, but we sold out the two I carried around in my purse for just such emergencies.

As an added bonus, the musicians who had played before us said they enjoyed us a lot. When people whose music you groove on like you, it's something special.

The event was running late because of the move indoors. But when Amber Gaia's band began, people didn't trickle out. They stayed, listened, sang along. We hung out and did the same.

I got to chat a little with the event's organizers. They were pleased with the way the whole thing had come off. I kept saying how great the energy was. One of them replied, "Yeah. It's a good room."

Exactly right. It was a good room. Every gig should be like this.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

RIP, Michael Jackson

"Oh my god," a coworker yelled from down the hall. "Michael Jackson died."

Really? Michael Jackson? I thought. Huh ... Weird. Huh.

Since hearing the news I've been keeping tabs on people's responses. I expected jokes and I've seen a couple, but mostly people have been respectful and sad. A couple of DJs at KRQ, the local top-40 station, referred to him without irony as the pop musician of the century.

Me, I wasn't as overwhelmed by sentiment. What I felt, mainly, was discomfitted. And not quite able to articulate why.

But listening to Michael Jackson songs in the car, it struck me how intertwined music is with our own lives. I heard Vincent Price's cackle, and I didn't just think, Oh, that's "Thriller." I thought, I'm 13 years old, watching MTV at my grandparents' house. I heard the opening strains of "Man in the Mirror" and they transported me back to the cafeteria at Indiana University, where I carried my tray to the dinner table as his voice came through the PA.

I wasn't his biggest fan. Some of his songs I liked a lot. Others I didn't. If I were to compile a list of musicians I felt a real connection with, he wouldn't be on it.

Still, the whole thing feels weird. He was here, and now he isn't, and something is missing.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

When I called my dad today, he launched into a story he'd been saving for me.

He'd called AT&T because he needed to change something or other in his account. The friendly customer service rep took his information, then got to the obligatory identity-confirmation question.

"Oh, this should be easy for you," she said.

Instead of the usual query about his mother's maiden name, his favorite pet's name, or the street where he grew up, she asked: "Who is your favorite singer?"

My dad thought about it. Who would he have put down? Ray Charles, maybe? Norah Jones?

"Um, try someone a little closer to home," the CSR said.

"Oh! Susan Wenger!"

Heh. Happy Father's Day, Dad. If I'm not your favorite singer, I hope I'm still one of your two favorite daughters.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


The other day a Disc Makers newsletter found its way to my inbox. We used Disc Makers to get our album into CD form when it was ready for release, and now the company sends helpful tips on how to sell those CDs, presumably in the hopes that we'll be wildly successful and pay them to print more.

Anyway, this issue of the newsletter contained advice I'd heard many times before: list your "like bands":
Listing your “like” bands (the bands that you sound most [like]) will further help to define your musical category and sound. This will enable you to attract new fans via print media and the Internet, prepare you to respond to requests from "music users," and open you up to a variety of marketing strategies based on the successes of other artists and bands
In other words, "Our band sounds like They Might Be Giants and Elvis Costello." Or, more creatively, "If Britney Spears ate Metallica, she'd sound like us."*

It's solid advice. The problem is that we're too close to our own sound to figure out who we're like, or who's like us. When asked, we fall back on comparisons other people have made throughout the years. According to spontaneous feedback from the fans, we are reminiscent of:

Carole King
Tori Amos
Janis Joplin
Early Billy Joel

None of these people sound anything like each other, but whatevs.

Does Cinder Bridge remind YOU of anyone else? Leave us your comments.

* I have no idea how Britney Spears would sound if she ate Metallica. If you're a musician and you think this describes your sound, feel free to steal it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

I want a new drug

According to new research, people respond to emotionally powerful music in the same way they do to addictive drugs.
Using a PET scan, the researchers showed that music that caused chills led to a release of dopamine in the reward centers of the brain (mesolimbic striatum) ... Music, a mere sequence of notes arranged in time, can activate the same reward centers in the brain as drugs such as cocaine.
How alarming. Conventional wisdom teaches us that listening to music is a wholesome activity as long as the music is innocent and upbeat and contains no adult language. But here we have the sinister truth. Any music, provided the listener finds it moving in some way, can trigger an addictive response.

Parents take heed: Hannah Montana is the gateway artist.