Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Recorded at the River's Edge

Maybe you couldn't make it to our Breakfast Club gig at the River's Edge a couple weeks ago ...

And maybe you missed the live webcast of said gig ...

Good news! The webcast has been archived, and you can watch/listen to the entire thing at your convenience (with a few ads thrown in).

[UPDATE: Turns out these videos don't work in Internet Explorer. If all you see are black squares where the video is supposed to be, try viewing from another browser. Firefox and Chrome work.]

Here's our first set. If you do ME/CFS advocacy, check out 27:20, where we announce "Everybody Knows About Me."

An 11-minute interview with Carolyn "Trouble" Cary.

Our second set. Due to technical difficulties, the video stalls a lot during the first song and the beginning of the second, but everything works after that.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rock stars and surf dogs

Ron and Susan at the Concert to Aid Victims
of the Southern Arizona Fires. Photo by Don Martin

Thursday's benefit for victims of the Southern Arizona fires went swimmingly. People came, made cash contributions, bought raffle tickets, donated tons of stuff, listened to live music, and generally had a good time.

As a member of one of the bands that provided entertainment, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. How could I not? I got to get up on stage with Ron the Drummer, sing a bunch of songs, and play rock star for an hour and change. For this we earned a mountain of gratitude—as if doing what we loved were some kind of sacrifice.

Later that night I talked with Amy Mason, one of the main organizers, about how impressed I was that she could pull off an event of this magnitude within a week. She has a knack for this sort of thing, though, and she loves to help people. As she put it, everybody has something to contribute.

The whole thing reminded me of this:

If you can't spare the five minutes to watch, here's a summary. After training extensively to become a service dog, Ricochet had to be dropped from the program because she wouldn't quit chasing birds. Her trainer was disappointed ... until she realized that Ricochet had a talent for, of all things, surfing. Now Ricochet surfs to raise money for charity, and she is much more joyful and focused.

The takeaway message: Critters of all species do better for themselves and for others when we let them be who they are.

Unfortunately, if you're a critter of the two-legged variety, life doesn't always work out this way. Last night I got to do what I love for a good cause. Today ... let's just say I spent a lot of time chasing birds. There is no benevolent master to tell me I'm exempt from all the stuff I'm not good at. No way to meet all my obligations by doing the one thing I happen to like doing.

So I'm grateful for the moments when I can be who I am. Especially grateful when everyone around me is cool with who that is.

Susan of Cinder Bridge, looking far too pleased with herself.
Photo by Don Martin.

Monday, June 20, 2011


So, we've got these fires raging in Arizona, and they're a pretty big deal. Over ten thousand people have had to evacuate their homes in Southern Arizona alone.

Last week, music scenesters Amy Mason, Carolyn Cary (who interviewed us on Saturday), and Dave Owens decided they would do something to help. They'd put together a couple of benefit concerts, complete with bands, raffles, a bake sale, and a place to drop off donation items.

The first benefit will be at the C-Note this Thursday. The Dave Owens band is headlining. Cinder Bridge is one of the other four "special guest" bands. There's no door charge, but donations are very, very much appreciated.

Color me blown away. You don't realize it when you go to one of these things, but putting a benefit together is hard. Really hard. It involves planning and hiring and making sure everything conforms to fire codes and just generally a lot of work. These guys put the Concert to Aid Victims of the Southern Arizona Fires together within days.

Ron and I have it easy. All we have to do is show up on time, play, get our stuff off the stage as quickly as possible, and hang back and listen to the other bands.

Anyway. If you live in Tucson, please come out and reward these fine people's efforts. Great cause, great party.
Date: Thursday, June 23

Time: 4-11:30 p.m.
The Bryan Dean Trio: 4–5
Cinder Bridge: 5:30–6:30
Savage Zoo: 7–8
Arizona Bay Outriders: 8:30–9:30
The Dave Owens Band: 10–11
Place: The C-Note, 1302 W. Roger Rd., Tucson AZ

Cover: Please donate!
More info at BSceneLive.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Amazing feats of memory

Any time we play at a new venue, in front of new people, our goal is to exceed expectations. Whoever hires us is taking a gamble. We want them to win big.

Which brings us to today's River's Edge debut. The audience liked us a lot. The people who put everything together thought we were great. But the exceeding of expectations came from an unexpected place.

In between sets, the band did an interview with Carolyn "Trouble" Cary. One of her first questions was where we'd be playing next. She handed me the mic, and I responded:

"The Concert to Aid Victims of the Southern Arizona Fires. It's Thursday from 4 to 11:30 at the C-Note, and we'll be playing from 5:30 to 6:30."

Carolyn, familiar with the benefit, was so impressed that I could recite its entire name.

I had spent some time the previous night memorizing "Concert to Aid Victims of the Southern Arizona Fires." It's a mouthful. I didn't want to get it wrong.

I honestly didn't expect anybody to notice when I got it right.

* * *

Thanks to Carolyn and Gregg for setting everything up, and to the River's Edge for letting us play in their playground. We had a lot of fun.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Live from the River's Edge

Gig Saturday! Specifically, a Breakfast Club Show at the River's Edge Lounge.

This will be our first time playing at River's Edge, so I'm psyched. Curious, too. Not too many bars open in the morning and serve steak and eggs along with Bloody Marys.

The folks behind the event are also webcasting it. If you're a little farther flung than Tucson, or if circumstances don't permit you to venture out that day, you'll be able to see us remotely.

The live performance:

Date: Saturday, June 18
Time: 11 a.m.–1 p.m. MST
Place: The River’s Edge Lounge, 4635 N. Flowing Wells Rd., Tucson, AZ
Directions: Over here
Cover: None

The webcast:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sticking points

I've finally gotten an air-conditioning unit installed in the tiny room that doubles as my office and practice space. Good news, as Tucson temperatures have climbed into triple digits. This means I can work all day without risking heatstroke. Even better, now that conditions don't violate OSHA regulations, I can finally get my piano tuner in there.

This needs to happen as soon as possible, as my piano has spent the past week or so committing acts of mutiny. First the B below middle C started sticking. Then D above middle C did the same thing. Then G below middle C wanted a piece of the action, deciding that sometimes it would play F# when pressed.

I'm doing the best I can to ignore all of this when I play, but ... You know how you sound when your dentist asks you a question, and you answer the best you can with both of her hands in your mouth?

Yeah. Like that.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fun for all ages

Do you ever see some new toy out on the market and wish you could be a kid again so you could play with it?

This happens to me now and again. I don't have much use for Wii games as an adult, but eight-year-old me would have been all over them. I hate texting, but the ability to surreptitiously pass notes to friends in different classes—or at different schools—would have been the height of entertainment in elementary school.

Last night's gig evoked a little of that feeling. A guy who works where Ron the Drummer gives drum lessons set up an open mic, inviting both students and teachers at the music school to perform. Cinder Bridge started things off with a half hour set, and then Ron and I sat back to watch the other performers. The youngest participant, karaokeing her way through "Hard Knock Life," looked to be around seven.

Man, why didn't anyone set up kid-friendly open mics when I was a kid? My piano teacher held a recital every year, but that was a serious, formal dress-up affair, and most of the students were kids. How fun would it have been to perform just because you felt like it that weekend? To share the stage with confident adults, and aspire to be as good as them someday?

The hitch, of course, would be the parents. They might enjoy driving their offspring to an open mic as a one-off. They might not want to hear showtunes performed by little kids every week.

Come to think of it, my parents probably wouldn't have bought us a Wii if they'd existed when I was in first grade. And no way would they have let me bring a cell phone to school.

A hard knock life indeed.

Seriously, though, it would be nice if kids could make their own entertainment this way. Actively participate in creative culture rather than just parking themselves in front of the TV and becoming passive consumers.

It would be nice if I could go back in time and do that.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Reverse engineering

A few years ago I wrote about a song lyric whose meaning eludes many listeners: "the cross is in the ballpark." For the uninformed, this is an oft-repeated line in "The Obvious Child" by Paul Simon. It first appears here:
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
My mother had told me she'd heard in an interview that Paul Simon just liked the sound of that line. It didn't mean anything. I googled around to see if this was true, found nothing to either confirm or deny, and figured she had her facts straight. Then over the weekend, nearly three years later, an anonymous commenter contributed this quote, with a link to the original Time interview:
"It got me thinking when that first popped out," Paul Simon says " ... 'The cross is in the ball park.' "The first thing I thought of was Billy Graham, or the Pope, or evangelical gatherings. But I came to feel what that's really about is the cross that we bear. The burdens that we carry are doable, they're in the ball park."
So it does have a meaning Yay! But my mom wasn't entirely wrong. Simon didn't come up with those words to express an idea. The words came first, followed by thoughts about what the words might mean. In fact, he rejected his own first interpretation in favor of one he liked better.

Kind of like a line in "Hey Jude." Before Paul McCartney brought John Lennon in on that song, he'd written "The movement you need is on your shoulders." It didn't mean anything to McCartney—it was just a placeholder to be discarded as soon as he or Lennon thought of something better. But Lennon was having none of that. "Leave it in," he said. "I know what it means."

I wonder how often this happens to songwriters. I wonder if it happens more to certain kinds of songwriters than others.

For me, not much. My typical process involves stumbling upon an evocative way to express some idea I've been playing with. The idea comes first. But once or twice, I've been struck by phrases that stuck in my head because they sounded cool, even if I didn't know what they meant.

Back when Ron the Drummer and I were trying to figure out what to call the band, one possibility that leapt to mind was "Half Moon Halo." I don't remember how or why I thought of that. Most likely I was free associating alliterative words. Anyway, I loved the name, but couldn't bring myself to seriously consider it because it didn't mean anything. I couldn't even make up something plausible sounding, as I eventually did for "Cinder Bridge."

Four years later, I started writing a song that reflected my growing discomfort with the kind of person I was. I didn't think I was evil, but I didn't feel like I was very good either, and I wasn't sure where that left me:
There's a hell for all the sinners
There's a heaven for the saints
But there ain't no place for the people in between
A good start, but what next? Somehow "half moon halo" snuck back into my consciousness, and I found a home for it at last.
I am walking down an unpaved road
In the middle of a lonely night
Half moon halo shines down on the scene
Not quite an exact metaphor for anything, but the imagery pleased me.

Have you ever invented a phrase, then reverse-engineered the meaning? If so, what was the phrase, and how did the meaning evolve?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Poisoning the atmosphere

About half an hour into our meal, the music changed.

Chris and I were eating at Applebee's, chosen for its close proximity to our ultimate destination, the movie theater. The restaurant's background music was fairly eclectic, jumping from UB40 to George Thorogood. Every now and again we'd comment on the playlist; largely we ignored it.

All was well until something came on that neither of us quite recognized. Some artist we had never heard before. Someone who ... wasn't very good, actually.

Realization dawned. It was karaoke night.

We did our best to resume the conversation, but we were thwarted at every turn. What the singers lacked in skill, they made up for in volume. Even the ones who weren't half bad managed to be annoying somehow.

We left without ordering dessert.

* * *

The uncomfortable part? As we griped about how we could hardly hear each other, I remembered all the people who have asked Cinder Bridge to turn down over the years. The coffeehouse goers who came to talk to each other and didn't care for live music enhancing the atmosphere.

In our defense, we don't go to these places intending to get in the patrons' faces. If somebody hires us to play, we assume they have a pretty good handle on what their customers like—they don't want people leaving before dessert or those last few cups of coffee. And in our defense, a lot of people at our atmosphere gigs have given positive feedback, left tips, bought CDs, or signed up for our mailing list.

That said, consider this an open apology to all those we've annoyed.