Saturday, August 29, 2009

Does it have to be old to be a classic?

The first classic rock station I ever heard was WCKG in Chicago.

As a teenager living through the vast wasteland that was '80s music, I loved CKG. I loved the whole concept of "classic rock" as a genre. It was as if someone had perused the soundscape of the '60s and '70s and picked exactly the kinds of songs I would have listened to if I'd been of age at the time. Chicago, Clapton, Pink Floyd ... having all these artists in one place was a real treat when I lacked the funds to buy all the records I wanted.

If there was one fly in the WCKG programming ointment, it was this: they occasionally played new tunes.

I wasn't opposed to new tunes on general principle. After all, I hadn't been aware of most of the old stuff when it came out. "Stairway to Heaven" debuted when I was two years old; obviously I wasn't in it for the nostalgia. Hell, I liked the idea that somebody was still making this kind of music. But WCKG conditioned me. Just as Pavlov's dogs salivated whenever a bell rang, I groaned every time the DJ announced that "It doesn't have to be old to be a classic." Because the songs they played after that always sucked.

Other listeners must have agreed with me. Somewhere along the way, the station quietly dropped its policy of ever playing new songs.

Fast-forward a couple decades. I live in Tucson, which has two classic rock stations, 96.1 KLPX and 107.5 KHIT. Of the two, KHIT is more populist. Between tunes they cheerfully announce that "You know every song we play." Hard, soft, art rock, 3-minute pop ... As their call letters suggest, it doesn't matter as long as the song was a huge hit back in its day.

In recent years KHIT has been adding more and more '80s music to its playlist. Some of the choices seem a little odd. Others make more sense. "Jump" by Van Halen? It has a synth-pop feel that pre-Casio '70s musicians never dreamed of, but Van Halen is still all about the guitar. "I Won't Back Down" by Tom Petty? Absolutely. In terms of singing, Tom Petty is basically Bob Dylan with a few voice lessons.

KLPX has a more coherent aesthetic -- a sense of itself and what it's about. The songs they play seem to belong together. The station leans toward harder material, so when they throw Def Leppard or Guns 'n' Roses into the mix, it doesn't seem out of place. The newer songs aren't exactly classic classic rock, but they feel like a natural progression of the genre.

Here's what gets me. These bands didn't stop making music in the '80s. If Petty's "I Won't Back Down" (1989) is classic rock, why not "Room at the Top" (1999) or "The Last DJ" (2002)?

The obvious answer: they will be in 20 years, if they stand the test of time (get radio play on other stations) and can therefore be considered safe.

KHIT trades on nostalgia, so I understand why they make the programming choices they do even if I find them annoying. Their entire selling point is that they don't threaten listeners' sensibilities with anything they (gasp) might not have heard before.

KLPX? No idea.

The whole state of affairs is a little depressing. Don't get me wrong, nostalgia has its place in music -- an important place. But one of the distinguishing features of so-called classic rock (to me, anyway) is that it never sounds dated. Rock and roll from the '50s sounds dated. A whole lot of pop from the '80s sounds dated. Classic rock, whether I like or hate the particular song, manages to sound fresh and relevant right now, wherever right now happens to be. That's its power.

For a radio station not to give new rock music a voice because people might not take to all of it right away goes against the spirit of rock music. Rock is not safe.

And then, before I can shake my fist in the air, I think of WCKG. What were they playing when they said it doesn't have to be old to be a classic? I cannot for the life of me remember. Maybe that's because whoever picked the music had awful taste and played only forgettable garbage. That seems unlikely, though.

Maybe they were playing Van Halen. Or Tom Petty.

I don't think most of us are nostalgia fiends who can't stand to try anything new, though those people exist. I think the problem is that most new music -- of any era -- is either crap or just OK. It takes patience to wade through all the mediocrity to get to the shiny gems you'll want to hear decades later.

What's your experience? If you're especially attached to some genre of a bygone era, do you also seek out today's gems? Do you still look forward to what's coming next?


Scanning the radio on my way home, I skipped past a classic rock station, then stopped and went back. I listened. Was I hearing right?

Yep. They were playing "867-5309/Jenny."

Since when does Tommy Tutone count as classic rock?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Mood music

When it comes to songwriting, it's not my policy to wait around until inspiration strikes. Inspiration tends not to show up until I hunker down and work.

Lately, though, I haven't wanted to work on songs unless I'm in just the right mood. Which can mean different things at different times.

Take the last song I wrote. It's full of energy and enthusiasm and rah rah can-do spirit. It is unflaggingly optimistic. And it took forever to write. If I didn't feel all rah rah myself, I didn't believe I could carry it off.

On the other hand, the song I'm writing now is pretty dark and cynical. If I'm even a tiny bit happy, I can't access the emotions I need to work on it. Or, maybe I could if I tried, but I'm generally not that motivated to kill a good mood.

So I wait for darkness and cynicism to hit. The catch is, I usually don't want to do anything creative when I'm down.

It didn't used to be this way. I don't ever remember having to sync with a song's emotions back when I started. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because my early songs mined experiences I'd had years before, and I wasn't as close to them anymore. These days I write about stuff that's relevant to me right now. What's relevant to me right now feels a lot more raw.

I need to get over it. Tonight I was tired and irritated and not inclined to deal with much of anything. All I wanted to do was turn off my brain, hook myself up to my iPod, and listen to somebody else's music. But I didn't. I made myself think about the dark, cynical song. Specifically, I made myself think about the part I was stuck on. The part that made me fear I'd have to scrap the whole thing.

And I did it. I solved the problem.

My mood has miraculously improved.

How about you? Do you have feel a certain way before you jump into something creative? Or do you forge ahead regardless?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Went to the periodontist today for a bit of oral surgery. We were originally going to schedule the appointment for the Monday before last because I wanted the thing done and out of the way. But then it occurred to me to ask:

"Hey, I've got gigs coming Friday and Sunday of that week. Will I be OK to sing?"

The periodontist said it should be fine. His assistant said I might want to put the surgery off 'til after.

Yay assistant. The anesthetic just wore off over here. It's actually not that bad, but of all the things I'd like to do right now, bursting into song is last on the list. And the handy "Instructions Following Surgery" sheet they gave me says it's common for discomfort to increase in three to five days.

Yay also to Ron the Drummer. Someone offered us a gig for the coming Saturday. He prudently turned it down on my behalf.

That's all the news for today. If anyone needs me, I'll be right here, not singing.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Piracy: A little perspective

If you follow the news about music piracy and the RIAA's valiant attempts to eradicate it, you've probably heard about a couple well-publicized cases. Most notable is Jammie Thomas, who owes $2 million in fines for downloading 24 songs.

To put the crime and punishment in perspective, Gapers Block has compiled a list of seven crimes that will incur smaller fines than music piracy. The list includes arson and kidnapping.

Seriously, read the whole article. It's good. I'll wait.

Not everyone is sympathetic to the plight of Jammie Thomas. Theft is theft, don't do the crime if you can't do the time, etc. All I can say is, when you fine someone $2 million for downloading 24 songs, it's no longer punitive damages. It's a business model.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

People on the mountain

Music on the Mountain gig went smashingly. Lots of people came, and they seemed to enjoy our music. They happily stuck around for the Amber Norgaard Baand despite the intermittent rain, which started just after our set. The tent kept everyone dry.

The surprising thing: many of the people who came to hear us had never heard OF us until today.

Bonnie Vining, founder of LAVA and mastermind of MOTM, is a freaking genius. Has to be. It's so hard to get people to venture out to see bands they already know and like. Bonnie created a concert series that not only gets people to venture out for bands they know nothing about, but go all the way up Mt. Lemmon to do it.

If you live in Tucson, you know why that's impressive. It takes a good hour to drive up Mt. Lemmon.

Anyway, yeah. Smashingly. I hope Bonnie does this again next summer.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

How far to the top?

Someone on the Cinder Bridge mailing list pointed out that saying we'd be playing at the "top" of Mt. Lemmon was a little vague. If people literally go to the top, they'll be at the Observatory ... a thousand feet above where the music is.

So. The gig is in Summerhaven, which is around the bottom of the top of the mountain. Music will be right past the visitors center. When you see the big tentlike thing, you're there.

Now to send another e-mail to the group. Hopefully they won't get too annoyed by the multiple messages.

Cinder Bridge atop the mountain

Sunday afternoon, from noon to 1:45, Cinder Bridge will be playing Music on the Mountain.

What is Music on the Mountain, you ask? It's a concert series put together by LAVA (Live Acoustic Venue Association), and it happens at the top of a mountain. Specifically, Mt. Lemmon in Tucson, Arizona.

Here are a few features bundled with MOTM events:
  1. Significantly cooler air
  2. The smell of fresh pine needles
  3. Good food & libations (try a La Indita popover -- you will thank me)
To get there, drive up Catalina Highway and keep going 'til you reach the top.

The awesome Amber Norgaard takes the stage after we do and plays until 5 p.m. If you haven’t heard her yet, now’s the perfect opportunity.

Oh, and according to the weather forecasts, there's a chance of rain. Whatever. The musicians play under a big freakin' tentlike structure, and the audience listens to us under same. Rain or shine, we'll all stay dry.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Chatting on the air

Thanks to everyone who tuned in to the Cinder Bridge interview on KXCI this Wednesday.

The whole thing went off much more smoothly than I expected. In general, I am not particularly good at coming up with witty responses in high-pressure situations. If I can get through one of these things without mispronouncing my own name, I consider it a success.

But Wednesday's Live at 5 wasn't a high-pressure situation at all. Instead of firing a succession of questions in our general direction, DJ Cathy Rivers just ... talked with us. It felt like we were simply continuing the conversation we'd started before the show, only now there were other people listening.

We also found out, before we went live, that Cathy Rivers' mother has ME/CFS. So she was more than happy to give some discussion time to "Everybody Knows About Me," our song about living with the disease.

The only thing I'd do differently, if I had it to do over again, would be to emphasize the most serious physical symptoms of ME/CFS -- for instance, the fact that people who have it tend to die earlier. Cathy Rivers said something about how sufferers have low cortisol, which makes it impossible for them to cope with stress. I riffed on that for a while. Now I'm hoping that listeners didn't take what I said the wrong way, thinking stress causes ME/CFS instead of the other way around.

For the record, listeners, stress doesn't cause ME/CFS. The disease is in no way, shape, or form psychological.

Other than that, everything went swimmingly. I can't wait for us to do it again. And I hope you enjoyed hearing us babble as much as we enjoyed babbling.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Before the broadcast

The more Ron the Drummer and I promote a Cinder Bridge event, the more nervous I get. What if it turns out we can't play at the last minute? What if the gig gets cancelled and there's no time to tell everyone?

We promoted the holy hell out of yesterday's Live at 5 radio interview. Through it all, I kept my fingers crossed. I hoped they wouldn't need to change the date on us again. I hoped I wouldn't come down with laryngitis. I hoped that if everything else went OK, I wouldn't forget all the words to our songs as we played live on the air.

Most of all, I hoped we wouldn't run out of time before we got to play "Everybody Knows About Me," about living with ME/CFS. I'd tried my hardest to get word out to the ME/CFS community that we'd be on the air with this song.

My worst fear almost came to pass.

Just before Ron and I were about to load up our equipment, he got a call from the station. Turns out KXCI's board was fried. They could still interview us and play songs from our album, Highways and Hiking Shoes, but we wouldn't be able to perform.

Talk about close calls. The station had a copy of our album, but not "Everybody Knows About Me." If they hadn't caught us before we hit the road, we would have left without it.

Compared to all the work and worrying, the actual interview was a breeze.

* * *

Next time: The actual interview.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

(Almost) Live at 5

Well, we weren't able to play our songs in the studio due to technical difficulties. However, DJ Cathy Rivers played four of our recorded songs on the air and interviewed us live. Good times. I'll give more details later.

For now, let me just say: DJ Cathy Rivers is da bomb.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A couple more broadcast notes

Two things I should mention before Wednesday's Live at 5 broadcast:

First, I've already said that this will take place between 5 and 6 p.m. What I failed to say is that this is 5–6 p.m. MST. So if you're in California, start listening at 5. If you're on Mountain Daylight Time, tune in at 6. If you're on Central Time, tune in at 7. If you're on the East Coast, tune in at 8 p.m.

Sorry, I realize that this is a ridiculous level of detail. It's just, listening to some radio show at the wrong time because I forgot about the whole time zone concept? That's exactly the kind of thing I would do.

Second, we plan to play "Everybody Knows About Me" -- our song about living with undiagnosed ME/CFS -- during this broadcast. Barring unforeseen scheduling weirdness, it will probably be the second of three songs we perform live. Time permitting, we hope to be able to talk a little about the song during the interview too.

So, if you blog about ME/CFS or other diseases in the same invisible illness boat, please, let people know about this. You and your devoted followers can tune in from wherever you are in the world by going here.

Cinder Bridge on air on WEDNESDAY

Due to some scheduling changes at KXCI, Cinder Bridge is now doing Live at 5 on Wednesday, August 19. That's tomorrow at this writing.

We will play three songs, and there will also be an interview. They'll broadcast us sometime between 5 and 6 p.m. If you turn on at 5 and don't hear us right away, hang in there.

To listen on the radio (from Tucson), tune in to 91.3 FM.

To listen online, do this:
  1. Go to KXCI's "listen now" page at

  2. Click one of the two "play" options.
If you can't tell by looking which play option to choose, just try one; if it doesn't work, try the other.

And if you haven't done this sort of thing before, try following the instructions before Wednesday 5 p.m. Everything should work smoothly, but a little preparation never hurts.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cinder Bridge on KXCI: Where and when

Next FridayWednesday, KXCI is going to broadcast Cinder Bridge playing music and answering interview questions as wittily as possible. Here's all the info you'll need to tune in.


KXCI is a Tucson community radio station. To hear us via radio, go to 91.3 on the dial.

If you're out of KXCI's broadcast range (or if they happen to sound fuzzy in your corner of Tucson), don't despair. You can listen on the Web:
  1. Go to KXCI's "listen now" page at

  2. To launch the streaming music, click one of the two "play" options. (If you can't tell by looking which option to choose, just try one; if it doesn't work, try the other.)

  3. When the show is over and you don't want to listen to KXCI anymore, close the application the site launched to play it. (Closing the browser window itself won't help.)


Day: Friday, August 21Wednesday, August 19
Time: between 5 and 6.

That last bit is important. The show is called Live at 5, but exactly when we start is up for grabs. Also, the show doesn't always happen all at once. Sometimes they play other people's songs in between.


Tuning in to Cinder Bridge ... and out again

As I mentioned earlier, Cinder Bridge is going to be on the radio next Friday. Yay!

Naturally, we want as many people to hear us as possible. To that end, I sent a message out to our mailing list explaining that even if they didn't live in Tucson, they could still catch the show. All they had to do was go to KXCI's website and hear us streaming. I provided instructions on how to do this.

Not long after the e-mail blast, I received the following panicked e-mail from my mother:
OK, I just checked the link to the station you'll be on, to be sure we could hear it. I got it in just fine, BUT NOW I CAN'T TURN IT OFF. Do you know how I do this? I clicked off it, like you would do for an email, but it's still playing. Forever??????
I wrote back, asking what she meant when she said she clicked off "it." What was "it"? Maybe she had closed the browser window instead of whatever app was supposed to play the music.

Yep. Her next e-mail said that my dad fixed the problem by quitting iTunes.

Parents are so cute when they try to use technology!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Opening acts rock

Ron and I haven't gone out of our way to find opening acts. Maybe it doesn't occur to us because our sets tend not to exceed two hours. Opening acts come in handy when the main act would otherwise have to play for a long time. For instance, in the Music on the Mountain concert series, performing artists are given five hours in which to do their thing. Those who don't want to collapse onstage opt to let other people play before them, which is how we scored a two-hour slot in next week's MOTM.

I thought of it as sort of a utilitarian thing. But now I'm reassessing.

Ron the Drummer happened to know a guitarist, Lucas Barber, from a vitamin store he frequents. Lucas was interested in playing with us. We liked what we heard on his Myspace page, and we said yes. He and buddy Brad Sconzert, another guitarist, played a half hour set at our Cottage Bakery gig last night.

Sharing the stage with another band made everything more fun. The cross-pollination was nice too. The people who came for Lucas and Brad had never heard of us, but they liked us.

So yeah, we've got to do this more often.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Les Paul

Les Paul died today of complications of pneumonia. He was 94.

You probably know that he built one of the first solid-body electric guitars. I had not known until today, however, that he also invented the first eight-track recorder.

A nice obit, one of many, is here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lalago will never die

At our last gig, Ron the Drummer and I did a CD exchange with percussionist Will Clipman, swapping a copy of Highways and Hiking Shoes for Pathfinder. I don't often listen to world music, but I liked Pathfinder. His music moved.

Tonight I played the album for my boyfriend. As he listened, he asked, "What is world music, anyway?"

That stumped me. I know it when I hear it, but I'm not sure how to define it.

"I mean," he continued, "what does world music exclude?"

Yeah, good point. This is the problem I had with the "alternative" label when alternative music was becoming a thing. Alternative to what? Everything is an alternative!

Oh, I know what they meant. But eventually alternative became mainstream in its own right. And the name didn't change.

This doesn't seem to bother anyone but me.

Sadly, the worst music genre name I know is the one we belong to: adult album alternative. At least "world music" and just plain "alternative" don't sound like they were invented by a marketing committee. Not as much, anyway.

Sometimes I try to come up with more descriptive terms for the kind of music we play. This hasn't gotten me very far. No one thinks "coffeehouse stadium rock" or "angst pop" are nearly as clever as I do.

Screw it. I'm just going to start making up words.

"So what kind of music do you play."

"Primarily lalago, but we dabble occasionally in free frizz."


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Music on the Mountain

I finally got to catch some Music on the Mountain performances today. For the uninitiated, Music on the Mountain is a summer concert series held every Sunday at the top of Mt. Lemmon, just outside of Tucson. People who go can enjoy good music and the great outdoors at the same time. Because of the altitude -- and this is key -- they can do so without melting into a puddle.

It's such a good idea, I'm a little surprised nobody thought to do it before Bonnie Vining and LAVA (Live Acoustic Venue Association) started it this year. (And I'm not just saying that because Cinder Bridge is going to be playing up there in a couple of weeks.)

In addition to hearing Duncan Stitt, Brad Fritz, and Chuck Wagon and the Wheels, I finally scored Duncan's new CD, Shortcut to the Promised Land. I'm very psyched.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A night at the Glass Onion

Glass Onion gig has come and gone. All in all, things went quite well. Some highlights:

  • Before we began, the Glass Onion hosted a book-signing. The book, called Memories of Elvis, was about (unsurprisingly) people's memories of Elvis Presley. The writers stuck around for part of our set, and we took a short break while they raffled off one of their books. When they headed toward the door, I announced that Elvis was leaving the building. I'd been waiting all night to say that.

  • A two- or three-year-old toddled about the room for a while. I got nervous whenever he came close to the door (what if he opened it and ran out?) or our huge speaker (what if he pulled it down on top of himself?). I knew other people were watching him. He never got too far out of range without some adult reining him in. Still, I wondered. If it looked as though he were about to do something dangerous, at what point would I need to stop singing and yell for help?

  • A woman wandered in after most everyone else had called it a night. She'd never heard of us, but she stuck around until the end of our set and bought a CD. I love it when we're able to hook a total stranger.

  • A musician with a reputation for excellence also heard us for the first time and liked us. Feels pretty good when we make a positive impression on someone who really knows something about music.

  • Succumbing to chocolate temptation the previous night didn't affect my singing one bit. I feel vindicated.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Substance abuse

"Have you decided on dessert?" the waiter asked.

I knew I shouldn't. Cinder Bridge would be performing tomorrow night, and sugar and dairy tend to gunk up your throat. My general rule is to abstain from both for 24 hours before singing in public. But here I was, celebrating a friend's birthday, eating at a nice restaurant for the first time in a good while, and the last item on the menu was screaming my name.

"I'll have the flourless chocolate cake," I said.

The cake arrived, along with banana gelato. I consumed rich, delicious chocolate and guilt in equal measure. When I got through a little over half of it, I stopped and let our waiter box it.

Then came the remorse. Had I really needed dessert that much? Granted, it wasn't all that likely to cause big problems. The 24-hour rule is kind of arbitrary. I still had the rest of the night and a good part of the next day to let the effects pass. But I should've held out, you know, just in case.

Later, when I got home, it occurred to me that my personality is all wrong for the music scene.

How many musicians take the stage liquored up or coked up? How many need a joint or two before they feel relaxed enough to perform? In that context, why worry about half a slice of cake and a tiny bit of ice cream?

My lifestyle is squeaky clean! I deserve chocolate!

This rationalization has been brought to you by the letter Q and the number 9.

* * *

If you happen to be reading this from Tucson, come see us at the aforementioned gig. We'll be playing at the Glass Onion on Friday, Aug. 7, from 7 to 9 p.m. Directions here.

I promise not to have any more chocolate 'til then.