Sunday, December 23, 2012

I'd tell you, but ...

Our band website has needed updating for longer than I'd like to admit. A while ago I'd tinkered with a new design in Photoshop, but it didn't look quite right. Finally this week, I started tinkering again until I had something good enough to show Ron the Drummer.

Before sending him the file today, I realized that the bit of text I'd put in the "News" section on the home page was out of date. I didn't feel like spending a lot of time coming up with something different, so I went with: "We've got all kinds of cool plans in the works, but if we told you, we’d have to kill you."

Later, at rehearsal, Ron said he thought the new design was fine, but could I take out the "kill" part? Given everything that's happened?

I didn't argue. For me, it was placeholder text, to be used only if I couldn't think of anything better. But damn, that's sad.

Can we please go long enough without another evil, pointless mass shooting that we can make stupid "then I'd have to kill you" jokes without anybody thinking twice about the deeper meaning?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Wedding jam

I've been to a bunch of weddings in my time. None of them were quite like this.

On Wednesday, Kathy Thomas and Doug Davis threw a big wedding/jam session at a Tucson bar called the Boondocks. Like most of their guests, I received my invitation on Facebook. Unsure if I could make it, I asked them how far in advance they needed the RSVP. Kathy said they didn't need a solid head count, so no pressure.

Luckily, I was able to go. After a brief, fairly traditional ceremony, Doug's band Flipside played, with somebody filling in for Doug on drums, and Doug doing the occasional vocal. Flipside was followed by Kathy's new band, tentatively named KT and the Plan B. Doug and Kathy are amazingly talented, as I've mentioned before, so they couldn't have done any better in terms of wedding music.

Next came the jam. They'd provided equipment, so I got to play a few songs with a few other talented folks, and I didn't even have to drag my keyboard along.

Wedding receptions often come with little party favors. They don't usually come with their own backline.

Well done, happy couple. And congratulations!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Interview redux

Don Martin, the dude who interviewed me for BSceneLive last year, has reposted our interview on his blog. If you missed it the first time, enjoy!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Memory fail

One of my songs was running through my head the other day. But I hadn't practiced it in forever, and big chunks of the lyrics were missing. Even when I made an effort to recall them, they continued to hide.

No biggie. This happens to me from time to time. I made a mental note to look the song up later.

The surprise came when I got around to doing it. As I read my forgotten lyrics, there was no sense of recognition. No "Oh, of course, that's how it goes." It was like seeing them for the first time. As if somebody else wrote them.

Maybe this kind of thing is inevitable after you've produced a certain number of songs. Trying to console me about my failing memory, a friend of mine said that she used to work for a magazine where not every story got a byline. She and her colleagues frequently couldn't remember which of them had written a particular article.

Still, it feels weird. I'm not one of those songwriters who can create an entire first draft in my car on the way to the bank. I struggle for almost every line. If I have to fight so hard to bring the words into existence, they ought to stick around without any further effort on my part.

Oh well. One good thing came out of my little memory fail: I realized that I hadn't backed up my lyrics since many new songs ago. Now if my hard drive fails, I won't lose any of the words forever.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

'Tis the season, I guess

Summer lingers for a long time in Tucson. After many weeks in the 90s, the weather finally got cold enough today that I wore a winter jacket. Not a very heavy one, but still a winter jacket.

Coincidentally, this was also the first day Mix FM started in on All Christmas Music All the Time.

On November 11.

Has to be some kind of record.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The songwriter workshop conundrum

The time had come for another songwriter workshop and I was psyched. Ron and I had managed to make scratch recordings of our four most recent songs just days before. The ink was barely dry on the last one. The conundrum: would I choose to shop the tune I was most proud of, or one I knew still had some problems?

I really wanted people to hear the song I was most proud of. It would have the best chance of impressing them. Maybe I'd get the coveted (mythical) comment, "You don't need to change a thing." But, of course, the problematic song was the one I needed help with.

In the end I went with the problematic song. I'm happy I did. The feedback I received helped me tear down the corner I'd painted myself into. I wrote a few alternative endings, and while I eventually narrowed them down to one, all of them were better than what I had.

The problematic song was the right choice.

I still want my fellow songwriters to hear the most-proud-of song, though. Maybe next time ...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Politically invisible

Today is the last day of Invisible Illness Week. About two weeks ago I realized it was coming and thought, Already? Damn, I have nothing new to say.

Then I read a blog post arguing that the whole "invisible illness" concept was harmful and we shouldn't be using it to raise awareness anyway.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. For those of you who are just tuning in and have no idea what an invisible illness is, I'll quote from an older post:
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.
So advocacy for invisible illnesses like ME, fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, and Gulf War disease should be pretty straightforward, right? Point out how those diseases exist even though they're hidden from view, and you dispel the prejudices of the previously uninformed.

According to Samuel Wales of The Kafka Pandemic, however, there are a number of problems with this approach. The one that stood out to me was this: healthy folks aren't prejudiced against all so-called invisible illnesses. We accept that diabetes is real, even though diabetics managing their disease don't look any different than anybody else. Patients with HIV/AIDS seem healthy much of the time, and no one accuses them of faking it. Appearing healthy, or being housebound and hidden from view, doesn't automatically mean people won't believe you.

The problem is that certain diseases are denigrated. Politically invisible.

While I'm not sure I'm convinced the term "invisible illness" is actively harmful, I like Samuel's alternative approach. When faced with a person who's skeptical about a disease that doesn't always make people look sick, respond with this: "Would you say that about AIDS?"

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

RIP Joe South

Aw, man.

After Jon Lord of Deep Purple died, I found out that Joe South had written my favorite Deep Purple song, "Hush." I'd known him mostly for "Games People Play."

Curious, I looked up him on Wikipedia and skimmed his biography. I don't remember much of it. I just remember being happy to find out he was still alive. Not that I had any reason to believe that he wasn't, just that famous musicians tend to check out early in various cliched ways.

He managed to avoid cliches, but 72 is still too young as far as I'm concerned.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A thank-you note to Awolnation

Back in July there were a whole bunch of articles about how, for the first time, sales of older albums had exceeded sales of new albums. Industry execs spun the trend as a result of price: catalog records sell for much less. Observers speculated that new music sucks.

I found the whole thing depressing. I've been complaining about how "new music" sucks since I was 13 years old. I've been searching for bands that prove me wrong for about the same length of time, with only occasional success.

Ron the Drummer and I have tried to do our part. Sadly, commercial radio isn't playing Cinder Bridge, and I don't want to limit my consumption of newer music to songs I wrote myself.

Anyway. Around the time all of those articles hit, I started noticing a tiny handful of tunes that were actually pretty good. Mostly they played on KFMA, Tucson's alternative radio station. I acquired a couple of the CDs featuring said tunes and finally got around to listening to one of them last week: Megalithic Symphony by Awolnation.

First listen: This is surprisingly not bad. "Kill Your Heroes" isn't the only good song. I hear strong influences from the past, but it still sounds new.

Second listen: I could've sworn they reminded me of the Bee Gees in a couple of those songs. Which ones were they?

Third listen: Although I've just listened to this twice, I'm in the mood to hear it again.

Fourth listen: In fact, I don't think I want to listen to anything else.

Holy hell. It's rare enough that I find a new artist with a song or two that I like. I almost never replay an entire album. Four times in the space of a week is unheard of. Offhand I can only think of a small handful of albums I've encountered in the last 15 years that stood on their own. Sheryl Crow (1996). Whatever and Ever, Amen by Ben Folds Five (1997). White Ladder by David Gray (1998). Our Endless Numbered Days by Iron and Wine (2004). Eye to the Telescope by KT Tunstall (2004).

Thank you, Awolnation, for proving that it can still be done.

Queen and the Bee Gees get into a dance fight. Everybody wins.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Carole and me

A woman approached me after yesterday's gig to say how much she enjoyed the music. "You sound just like Carole King!" she exclaimed.

Not surprising. Of all the people we've been compared to, I think her name comes up the most. I assumed it was because we were both singer/songwriters who play the piano. A friend insisted that it was my voice.

It took a long time, but a few years ago, while listening to Tapestry, I finally heard it. Though we don't approach singing in the same way, there's something similar in the vocal quality every now and again.


One of these days I would love for Cinder Bridge to open for Carole King. She does still perform sometimes. How cool would it be to meet up with her after the show and say, "So do you think I sound like you?"

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


I knew it had been a while since I'd set foot in a brick-and-mortar music store, but wow. Here's what I ended up taking home from Zia Records tonight:
  • Awolnation, Megalithic Symphony: new, $9.99
  • The Lumineers: new, $12.99
  • Beatles, Rubber Soul: used, $3.99
  • Beatles, The White Album: used, $16.99
  • Shawn Colvin, Fat City: used, $2.99
  • Shawn Colvin, A Few Small Repairs: used, $2.99

At the checkout counter I asked, "Is it me, or have prices gone way down?

The guy ringing me up confirmed that they had. Especially for used CDs.

"The digital download crisis has been going on for so long," I said, "that I figured it would never happen. That the music industry would be in denial forever."

The guy said, "There's a rumor going around that by the end of this year, nobody will even make CDs anymore. Of course, it's only a rumor."

Googling around later, I found an article from Side-Line Music Magazine claiming that except for special limited editions, the CD format will be abandoned by major labels by the end of 2012. They say they can't get official confirmation, but they seem pretty sure it's going to happen.

I dunno. While the demise of the CD is bound to happen eventually, it seems like someone would have announced it if "eventually" were less than a year away.

On the other hand, the timing seems right. CDs at reasonable prices? Can't have that.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Grammatical Gotye?

A lot of elements go into writing good lyrics. Finding the right words to express what you mean. Matching the syllables to the beats. Avoiding cliches. And, of course, impeccable grammar.

Wait. Grammar?

Yes, according to Joe Hadsall. He wrote a whole article about how the title of "Somebody That I Used to Know" by Gotye is grammatically incorrect. He cites the Associated Press Stylebook, which states that "who" should be used when it stands in for a human being. For instance:

I bought a drum machine that didn't cost a lot of money.

But ...

I listened to a drummer who plays with a local band.

Therefore, says Hadsall, the song title should be "Somebody Who I Used to Know."

Gawd. Where to begin?

So much of lyrics depends on how the words sound. Does "I can't get no satisfaction" work better if you eliminate the double negative? How about Beyonce's line "Don't be mad once you see that he want it" Is "Single Ladies" better if she fixes the subject-verb disagreement?

"Fixing" the Stones example would be more obviously wrong. The rhythm gets thrown off if you change the line to "I can't get any satisfaction," whereas it would still scan correctly if Beyonce were to sing "Don't be mad once you see that he wants it." But "want it" (actually pronounced "wannit" in the song) is easier to sing and more pleasing to hear.

It's possible that Hadsall would concede those points. He does make allowances for creative expression. He just isn't willing to make them for Gotye.

... songwriters take creative, musical license with grammar when coming up with unique turns of phrase, and I'm OK with that. But "Somebody That I Used to Know" is so boring and bland that it should really be grammatically correct -- because grammar is boring and bland.

Nope. I'm lukewarm on this tune myself, and I still have to disagree. When faced with the prospect of breaking a rule, songwriters do not and should not base their decision on how good they think the song is. They base their decision on whether breaking the rule makes the song better. By that standard, Gotye made the right choice. "Somebody who I used to know" doesn't flow as well.

Listen, I care about grammar too. I care more than the average person. Writers pay me to correct their grammar. But this guy is just wrong.

[Late update 11/4/2013: Hadsall actually argued that the title should be "Somebody WHOM I Used to Know." I should've caught that. I probably didn't because, while "whom" is grammatically correct here, it sounds just awful.]

* * *

Hat tip to Jeremiah Tucker, whose article Songwriting should always trump grammar alerted me to the original post.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Bridging the break

Writing breaks—those instrumental interludes in the middle of songs—used to intimidate me. I'd always lose my way a few measures in, play something boring. And then what? Where to go from there?

But at some point, I realized that there's a process I always return to. If I trust the process, the notes will find their way to me eventually.

The process goes like this:
  • Write a decent beginning. (This is the easy part.)
  • Play the decent beginning and improvise what comes after.
  • Repeat the previous step many times
  • When I stumble upon something promising just after the decent beginning, follow up and develop it.
  • When I stumble upon something promising at the end, follow up and develop it.
  • Steer what comes before the ending toward the ending.
  • Keep going until the beginning and end meet in the middle.

Tonight I finished a break for one of my new songs. Recorded it so I won't forget. I am pleased.

And for the first time I wondered: Is this process universal? Or do other songwriters do breaks differently?

Monday, June 25, 2012


We were nearing the end of our set at an indoor art festival when I felt it. Something in my throat. If I sang the next notes as I always did, the resulting sound would be a hacky train wreck. Even the people who weren't listening would notice.

I routed around whatever was in my throat. The hack-inducing thing went away. The mother of all clams was averted.

Everything before and after that moment went well too. We got a lot more positive attention than I would have expected, given that we were only there to enhance the ambience. Still, the thing I'm most proud of is the thing that didn't happen. Funny how that works.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Stringing along

In preparation for the tuner's visit yesterday, I cleared off the junk that had accumulated on top of my piano over the course of a year. Then I played a little bit and noticed something weird.

For weeks, many of the keys had been hitting more than one string. But now most of them were working as they should. Some quick chromatic scales revealed that only three keys were showing signs of trouble, and not as markedly as before.

At first I thought I'd caused the improvement by removing all that junk. But that didn't make sense. Pianos are sturdy things. Putting stuff on top of them doesn't hurt them any.

Maybe it just wanted attention.

The piano tuner was as baffled by this turn of events as I was, but no matter. In spite of his dire predictions that I might need to buy a whole new piano, he was able to fix it for just $15 above the cost of the regular tune. And it doesn't just sound better now. It feels better to play. Practicing last night was a joy.

So, except for the weird suspicion that an inanimate object has been messing with my mind, everything is good now.

* * *

A little plug for the guy who made my piano (and me) very happy: Neal Flint has been tuning pianos in Tucson for over 30 years. He does good work and he's a heckuva nice guy. Of interest to some of my readers, he told me that he has a couple of clients with MCS. If you live in Tucson, have chemical sensitivities, and need a piano tuner, call Neal. He'll go fragrance-free if you need him to and he won't act like it's a big deal.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mutiny of the keys

My piano has needed repair for a few weeks now. First an oft-used key started hitting a couple of strings at once. Then other keys followed suit. It's painful to listen to.

And now I'm worried. Based on my description, a couple of piano tuners I talked to said my piano might not be fixable. Nobody makes Rippens anymore. There may not be any existing replacement parts.

This is bad. I can't afford another piano. Plus, the one I have is perfect for practicing, with heavy action that gives my fingers a good workout.

There's still hope. I dealt with a similar issue a year ago (though only one key was playing the wrong note; the others were just sticking), and the tuner fixed it right up.

Tuning/repair is scheduled for next week. My fingers are crossed. Which makes it kind of hard to play, but given how the piano sounds right now, that's probably a blessing.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

On the down-low

Not long ago, we were hired to play at a private conference. Our directive from the event coordinator was clear: We'd be there for atmosphere only. The songs we chose should be low-key. In fact, half the time we'd need to do pieces with no vocals at all.

No problem. Instrumentals aren't part of our usual repertoire, but we could certainly make a few up as we went along. We set up in the reception area, turned way down, and did our thing while guests talked and nibbled on hors d'oeuvres.

After an hour, the guests moved into the main banquet room and we packed up, proclaiming the event a success. We did what we were supposed to, which was lend the reception a touch of class while not making it impossible for people to hear each other. A few people even said they enjoyed the music.

Today I thanked the coordinator who hired us, and she sent a note back saying that we were "a huge hit":
Thank you so much for performing ... Since then I've heard MANY MANY MANY nice things from those attending the event.
Wow. Even at a pure atmosphere gig, you never know who's listening.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Paws of the Past pics

In my last post about Saturday's gig, I talked more about my tragic inability to function in society than the actual gig. To balance things out a bit, a few details about the day's event:
  • The benefit, for HOPE Animal Shelter, was called Paws of the Past. Its purpose was to raise needed funds and honor past adoptees. Attendees were encouraged to bring their dogs or pictures of their adopted cats. A friend of a friend brought her two huge Airedales. They seemed happy to be there.
  • Before we started playing, Ron the Drummer introduced me to Al, who would be doing the auctions and announcing raffle winners. I found out the next day that Al was Allen "Big Al" Kath of KGUN 9. (If you live in Tucson, you've heard of him.) In the presence of celebrity, and I didn't even realize it.
  • Performance itself was pretty relaxed. We'd do a few songs, then hang back while someone else made announcements. During one of our breaks onstage, a woman gave me her business card and asked if we ever played at restaurants.
  • From the stage we had an amazing view of the Catalinas (or Santa Catalina Mountains for those of you not in the area). I wish I'd remembered to take a picture of them, but a picture wouldn't do them justice anyway.

Here are some photos. Except where noted, these are courtesy of Don Martin.

Ron! Are you having as much fun as I am?
Look at all these keys! When I press them down, they make noises.
Whee! Hey, Ron, why aren't you in any of these?
That's better.
More Ron the Drummer.
Check out how nice this stage looks. The shade was greatly appreciated. (Photo by Neill Mills.)
Whee, I say, whee!
Ron, with his brand spankin' new ride cymbal (left). Cymbal made its debut at this gig.
Thanks to everyone who came out. We had a great time.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Doggies, kitties, and memory glitches

Saturday morning, 11:40, Brandi Fenton Park. I realized I'd left my water bottle at home, and trotted off to a booth that sold water so I wouldn't dehydrate for the afternoon's gig, a benefit for HOPE Animal Shelter. At the booth, I realized I had nothing in my pocket except my cell phone and a Cinder Bridge business card.

Huh. Must've left credit cards, driver's license, and money at home. Which was weird, because I remembered seeing them on the end table before stuffing the business card in my pocket.

The nice person at the booth said I should go up to one of the organizers, tell him I was with the band, and ask for water. I did, and we were up and running.

When I got home later that day, the first thing I did was check for my cards and cash. They weren't where I left them. I tore that area of my bedroom apart. No dice. Retraced my steps in the house, the driveway, the car, back to Brandi Fenton Park ... Nope.

Defeated, I called the credit card companies. The good news: no activity on any of the cards that day. So they probably weren't stolen. I had a hunch they were still somewhere in the house, and they'd turn up eventually. But I couldn't exactly wait the six months I thought it would take for that to happen. I cancelled my cards and figured that would be the end of it for a while.

The next day I did laundry. Cards and cash fell out of Friday's pair of jeans.


Usually that's the first place I check. I hadn't because I'd been so sure I'd seen them on the end table. Instead, I must have seen them not on the table, assumed I'd already pocketed them, and confabulated a memory of seeing them there.

Anyway. The gig itself went off without a hitch. Great cause. Beautiful day. Once again, I wish I could be spending all of my time doing music. I can do music. I'm not all that good at activities of daily living.

Thanks to Don Martin for the photo. I noticed him there with the camera while we were playing and struck this pose for his benefit. In retrospect, it was an accurate representation of my mental state.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

ME Awareness Day: Ain't no force on earth can make you crawl back underground

It's that time of year again. May 12 is ME Awareness Day, when advocates for people with myalgic encephalomyelitis, aka CFIDS, aka "chronic fatigue syndrome," tell the masses what this disease is, and why it's more serious than they think.

For those of you who are new to ME, here are the basics.

The past year has been discouraging for patients and advocates, to say the least. Promising research on a retrovirus called XMRV has been called into question. Some believe they've found proof that there is absolutely no link between XMRV and ME. Others believe the jury is still out ... but it may not be the slam dunk we had hoped for.

On top of that, internal politics within an previously trusted organization reached levels that were as brutal as they were absurd.

And yet, while it seems as though we've taken huge steps backward, there is a glimmer of light. XMRV research has elevated the conversation. Virologists who expressed skepticism about XMRV have said the cause looks to be some kind of virus. Dr. Ian Lipkin, who is agnostic about XMRV and doing a study on it, has said that it smells viral.

I'll take the "XMRV vs. another virus" debate over the "real disease vs. it's all in their heads" debate any day.

Standing in the Light
Lyrics by Susan Wenger
Music by Cinder Bridge

Got no ransom high enough to pay
For just a little peace
Drift along
Day flows into night flows into day
No purpose, no release

All the cheerful multitudes proclaim
Tomorrow will be brighter, wait and see

But the morning brings no solace
People let you down
Time and again you're proven wrong
But there ain't no use in giving up
And turning 'round
You're headed for the light where you belong
Where you belong

While you sleep
They move their pieces, play their little games
With all that you hold dear
Makes you weep
To learn what they've been doing in your name
Where do we go from here?

You thought you knew better than to wait
For someone else to come and set you free

And the morning brings no solace
People let you down
Time and again you're proven wrong
But there ain't no use in giving up
And turning 'round
You're headed for the light where you belong
Where you belong

Right on cue
The masters of the universe declare
There's nothing more to know
What a coup
They turn their backs, they leave you lying there
Noplace else to go

Hear the voices rising with your own
You're crazy if you think we'll let this be

Oh the morning brings no solace
People let you down
Time and again you're proven wrong
But there ain't no use in giving up
And turning 'round
You're headed for the light where you belong

Yeah the morning brings no solace
Even heroes let you down
And you get so tired of being strong
But there ain't no force on earth
Can make you crawl back underground
You're standing in the light where you belong
You're standing in the light where you belong
You're standing in the light
Where you belong

Copyright 2012 Cinder Bridge. All rights reserved.

Thanks to the Tucson Kitchen Musicians Association and Tucson Folk Festival volunteers who recorded our performance on May 5, 2012.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The danger of efficient roadies

One of the biggest challenges of playing at the Tucson Folk Festival is the timing. Performer slots are only half an hour, and you have to spend part of that time hauling your equipment on and off the stage. There's supposed to be about 25 minutes of actual playing.

Even though we'd done this before, I couldn't remember how we got everything—Ron's entire drum kit and my keyboard, keyboard stand, and bench up there so quickly, leaving time to spare for plugging in and doing sound checks. But I knew we'd done it, so we meticulously plotted out our set list with that in mind.

At 2 p.m. on Saturday, we took the stage like greased lightning. Only then did I remember the key element that made this possible: the volunteer stage crew. I brought a couple of Ron's items up to his spot, and when I turned around, I saw two nice men carrying my keyboard and keyboard stand. Somebody else brought the bench. Nothing else for me to do except the very important tasks of plugging my keyboard in and putting the mic exactly where I wanted it. Sound checks followed promptly.

Then the MC announced that we were ready to start. And I realized that my bottled water—which I'd been planning to carry up with the bench that the nice men had carried for me—was still in back of the stage. There was absolutely no graceful way to run offstage and grab it.

Oh well. It was only in the 90s, right?

I'm happy to report that our set went well. The crowd was a really good, happy, responsive crowd, and I managed to keep singing. But next time around, someone needs to remind me how awesome the Folk Festival volunteers are so I don't do that again.

* * *

Thanks to Don Martin for supplying the photo!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Whatever doesn't kill you has a good beat

A few weeks ago I was scanning through radio stations in the car, as I often do, and came across a song I hadn't heard before.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn't mean I'm lonely when I'm alone
What doesn't kill you makes a fighter
Footsteps even lighter
Doesn't mean I'm over cause you're gone
I got a grin out of that. Such a poppy, breezy little song to feature a Nietzsche quote. And in an odd way, it made me feel better about one of our newer songs. An excerpt:
It's been a crowded day
There hasn't been much room to move
The constant interruptions
No way to get into a groove

The world is unrelenting
Everybody wants a piece of me
So I rock along
Clear out some of this debris

Got a good beat
Got a good beat
Got a good beat
And you can dance to it
I'd felt a little guilty about using a phrase I hadn't created myself for the refrain. Obviously, "It's got a good beat and you can dance to it" isn't original to me. But what the hell. If someone can steal from Nietzsche, why should I worry about lifting a line memed from American Bandstand?

* * *

A few days ago I stumbled on a teenager's blog. The blog's tagline began, "In the words of Kelly Clarkson "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

Heh heh heh ...

OK, I wouldn't have gotten the reference at age 15 either. Still, it hadn't occurred to me that anyone would think Clarkson said it first. It really should have.

To be honest, I hadn't known the origins of "It's got a good beat ..." until after I wrote "Dance to It." I'd heard it before, of course, somewhere, but Ron the Drummer had to tell me about the "Rate a Record" connection—"I liked it, Dick. It's got a good beat, and you can dance to it."

I hope I invent or inspire a saying that gets quoted so often, nobody remembers where it came from.

RIP, Dick Clark.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Analog Man

I ... don't know how to feel about this.

Driving home from rehearsal tonight, I heard the KLPX DJ announce a new song. New? KLPX does classic rock. The most recent songs they ever play are from the '90s.

The track was "Analog Man" by Joe Walsh, and yes, it was new. Lots of references to high-speed internet, spam, etc.

I really wanted to like this song.

And I kind of do. Musically speaking, it's fun. It sounds like a natural evolution of '70s rock and roll, one of my preferred genres. But the lyrics? Here's an excerpt:
What's wrong with vinyl, I think it sounds great
LPs, 45s, 78s
But that's just the way I am
I'm an analog man
Another ...
The whole world's glued to the cable TV
It looks so real on the big LCD
Murder and violence are rated PG, too bad for the children
They are what they see
I can't help but think that the guy who wrote "My Maserati does 185 / I lost my license, now I don't drive" could come up with something a little more subtle.

Beyond that, though, there's a certain disconnect. I associate this style of rock with youth and rebellion and forward motion. But the song's message is essentially, "Things are different now than they used to be, and that's terrible."


Do me a favor. Remind me that I reacted this way when technology and cultural trends get ahead of me, and I yearn for a simpler time when I understood what was going on.

Or, hell, remind me whenever I go on about how much better classic rock was.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Gone on tour

I generally hate euphemisms for death. Today I made an exception.

Cinder Bridge kicked off a memorial benefit this afternoon for Bill "Patch" Wooldridge. While I didn't know him personally, he was by all accounts a great guy. I got to hear him play with Widow's Hill a few months ago. Lots of joyous energy in the music. I'm sorry I missed my chance to meet him.

Anyway. The event was called the "Gone on Tour Benefit Concert."

Gone on tour. That doesn't sound so bad. It would be neat if the people I left behind said that about me.

Or, even better: She went where the music comes from.

That's a real place, right?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Up to scratch

Our producer came into town on his way to El Paso, and we had lunch with him this afternoon. The conversation eventually drifted to our second album, which we're going to make happen as soon as we get certain logistics worked out. Drew instructed us to record every song he hasn't heard yet. Then, as he did for our first album, he would provide feedback on which ones we should consider using.

Just get everything down as quickly as we can, he said, without worrying about quality.

I told him that I wanted to take a little more care than that. Every now and again we post our live-from-Ron's-living room recordings on the blog, and even though we don't need them to be perfect, they should at least be free of egregious errors.

Said Drew: "That's a terrible idea."

Cinder Bridge is a brand, he explained. The only songs we should ever make available to the public are the ones that are good enough to go on one of our CDs. If we post a scratch recording—what musicians call a low-quality live track that gives listeners a basic idea of the lyrics and melody—we're allowing people to associate mediocrity with our brand.

I see his point. And I hate to debate him on this or anything else related to the music industry. He's been in the biz a very long time. He's one of the best.

And yet, a blog isn't supposed to spend all its time trumpeting the perfection of a brand. Nobody likes the blogs that read like press releases. A little vulnerability helps you connect with your audience better than a thinly veiled advertisement, and it's a lot more interesting.

Further, I don't generally just put up a scratch recording and say, "Here's a song, please listen." The song comes with a story, or it ties in thematically with whatever topic I'm writing on. At the very least, it's a follow-up to some post where I talked about writing the song. "Hey, remember how I struggled to find a rhyme for that one line? Here's how it all turned out."

What do you think? Should bands post their scratch recordings, or make their audience wait for the stuff that's ready for prime time?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Serendipitous musicians

It was almost 10 p.m. and the sushi restaurant was closing. Most of my friends had already decided to call it a night, but the small handful of us remaining decided to go somewhere else. This being Tucson, our late-night options were limited. One friend suggested Village Inn. I was tired and didn't want to drive that far. We settled on an upscale place called Kingfisher.

Maybe 15 minutes after we were seated, the band returned from a break. I didn't know who they were, but they were good. Really good. They started with a song called (I think) "Haunted," which grabbed everyone at the table. We paid much closer attention to them than people usually do for restaurant music. We weren't the only ones.

"Who's the band?" I asked the guy who came to fill our waters. He didn't know, but our waiter did: Amy Langley and Kevin Pakulis.

Wow. Really? Kevin Pakulis is a big deal in the Tucson folk scene. I'd seen him before. I hadn't heard Amy, but clearly I should have. Her voice blended so well with his.

As luck would have it, they were taking another break when we were ready to leave, and we introduced ourselves. Turns out Kevin and Amy had heard me before. They were at a songwriter open mic at Cafe Tremolo, and they really liked my sound.

Small world, Tucson is.

I'm happy we went elsewhere for dessert. I'm happy we didn't settle on Village Inn. It's amazing who and what you'll encounter when you alter your routine just a little.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Putting the mass in mass hysteria

If you've been following medical news over the past few months, you may have heard about some goings on in a little town called Le Roy. Over 20 high school girls from Le Roy High School have developed Tourette-like tics. The symptoms are severe enough that afflicted students have dropped out of school.

After the New York State Health Department failed to identify any known toxins or infections, a neurologist from the area gave his verdict. From the New York Times: was conversion disorder, he said, which meant the girls were subconsciously converting stress into physical symptoms. And because so many students were afflicted with similar symptoms, it was also considered to be mass psychogenic illness, which is another way of saying mass hysteria.
More recently, neurologist Rosario Trifiletti saw some of the patients and put forth a different theory:
... the girls were suffering from an illness similar to Pandas (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcus), a disease in which the immune system alters the neurochemistry of young people suffering from strep infection ... [A] week later, after examining the girls, Trifiletti revealed on “Dr. Drew” that all nine of the girls he tested showed evidence of either strep exposure or exposure to the organism associated with pneumonia.
Dr. Trifiletti's patients have shown dramatic signs of improvement on antibiotics. That proves their illness is physical instead of psychological, right? Not according to skeptics of the PANDAS diagnosis; they say the antibiotics are only working as a placebo.

So who's right?

A few TV clips provide clues. Back in January, before Dr. Trifiletti arrived on the scene, the Today Show ran a couple of segments about Le Roy, interviewing some of the afflicted girls and their parents. There was a lot of footage showing the tics themselves, giving viewers a better idea of what it would be like to live with them.

Segments are here. The first tics begin at 0:22.

* * *

Did you watch?

So did a whole lot of other people. If what's happened to these girls is purely psychological, having nothing to do with area-specific toxins or infections, why hasn't the "mass hysteria" spread across the whole country?

Are there no stressed-out, impressionable teenage girls outside of Le Roy?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Cinder Bridge at the Beau Brummel Club

Dr. Meatpie has broken up.

I'm unsure of the details. They were due to break up in May because the bassist was leaving town, but something accelerated the process.

At any rate, they won't be playing the Beau Brummel Club this coming Sunday as scheduled. Cinder Bridge will be taking their place.

If you can't make it to the club because of some lame excuse like living in another state, no worries. We'll be webcast.

Date & time: Sunday, March 11, 5 p.m.
Place (physical): The Beau Brummel Club, 1148 N. Main St., Tucson, AZ
Place (virtual):
Cover: Free!

We play for about an hour, and then get interviewed by Duke Standberry and Cat Vigil. Duke and Cat are most excellent hosts. We know this because we were on The Duke and Cat Show this past Friday. Video from that gig will be up very soon.

Come see us. It'll be cool.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

RIP Davy Jones

Dammit. You singers have got to stop dying. D'you hear me?

Here's an article about Davy Jones ... the first one I happened to see a link for when I heard the news. What strikes me is the photos. They're all Monkees-era. Though he released an album as recently as three years ago, they don't show any current pictures.

I have nothing profound to say here. It's not like I spent a lot of time thinking about Davy Jones. But I watched The Monkees in syndication, I enjoyed his character, and another little piece of my childhood is gone.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Themes, songs, and theme songs

"I finished the Breakfast Club theme song," I wrote to my friend Don on Facebook. "No word from Carolyn yet on whether she still needs it."

"Can you send me the lyrics?" said Don.

I did. Ten or fifteen minutes later, he wrote me back.

"Not bad, but it has some problems."


"The main issue is you don't mention the TV show," he said. "You do in one line, but it is very obscure. For on opening song you need to say something about the TV show. I really like the theme of hidden treasures. Connect that to music somehow. Make it more explicit. That will work."


If you've spent too much time watching TV, as I have, you've noticed that theme songs can be placed on a continuum of themeliness. On one end you have the classic kind, written for and about the show. Note the incessant repetition of the name here:

Then you have songs that are more self-contained. Note how the word "Cheers" never appears in "Where Everybody Knows Your Name." The lyrics don't even mention a bar.

And then you have songs that weren't written for the show at all.

All other things equal, I prefer the stand-alones, the songs that are picked up as themes because they capture a show's spirit. But during that conversation with Don, I couldn't explain why.

A few days later I saw this, shared by a friend on Facebook ...

Posted by FibroTV

... and I made the connection. Theme songs featuring a show's title are promotional copy set to music. Theme songs that are at least not ostensibly about a show, but that highlight similar, um ... themes ... are validating. They say "me too."

This is what I was going for when I wrote "Your Backyard." I wanted it to validate everything the Breakfast Club does for the local music scene.

Even better, I wanted it to validate the people who seek out good local music.

Maybe the folks who run the Breakfast Club will like our approach. If so, great! Maybe they won't. That's OK too, because there's one more big advantage to writing a stand-alone theme song ...

Even if nobody else ever uses "Your Backyard," we can still play it at our own gigs!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Breakfast Club theme song

Carolyn "Trouble" Cary hosts a weekly show called the Breakfast Club. Recorded from the River's Edge Lounge in Tucson and streamed live on the Internet, its purpose is to give exposure to local artists. We got to play there last June.

Two and a half weeks ago, Carolyn sent out a general request to Tucson musicians: The Breakfast Club needed a theme song!

How could we resist? Here you go, Miz Trouble:

Your Backyard (Theme to the Breakfast Club)
Lyrics by Susan Wenger
Music by Cinder Bridge

You search the world over
To find a four-leaf clover
A little gem beyond your grasp
It's so intoxicating
To think it's out there waiting
Make you shiver make you gasp

The search goes on and on
Keeps you up 'til dawn
Out of your mind, out of your way
You survey your collection
You sense an imperfection
But what it lacks you cannot say

Oh, you want something better
And you make it hard
'cause the best hidden treasure's
Right in your backyard

You felt your body burning
An ever-present yearning
The itch you never got to scratch
Now you think all the fun
Is living on the run
Another aeroplane to catch

Oh, you want something better
And you make it hard
'cause the best hidden treasure's
Right in your backyard
Yeah you want something better
And you make it hard
'cause the best hidden treasure's
Right in your backyard

You say there's nothing for you
In this desert wasteland
I say that you've never noticed
The desert in bloom

So give it half a chance
Just a tiny glance
It's got some power, got some legs
An unexpected view
Adventure in your brew
A little trouble with your steak and eggs

Oh you want something better
And it ain't that hard
'cause the best hidden treasure's
Right in your backyard
Yeah you want something better
And it ain't that hard
'cause the best hidden treasure's
Right in your backyard

Copyright 2012 Cinder Bridge. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Plagiarizing Google

Verses 1 and 2 of my dance song were done. Only the last verse stood between me and completion. A piece of imagery came to me: a cocoon made of sound. "Cocoon of sound" wasn't going to scan correctly, though. "Cocoon" needed to go at the end of the line.

I thought of this:
I feel a strong vibration
Here in my sonical cocoon
Was "sonical" even a word? Probably didn't matter. It had the right number of syllables, and everyone would understand what I meant if I added an extra "al" to "sonic." Still, now I was curious. Real word or not? I googled it.

Hey, wait. What's that second one?
I feel a strong vibration
Here in my sonic wall cocoon
Does that count as plagiarism? Or can I call it found art?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tempo Magazine and a Cinder Bridge review

Cool: A new music publication, Tempo Magazine officially debuted today. I'm impressed with the design. The site incorporates multimedia elements in addition to the usual articles and pics.

Even cooler: They published a review of our album, Highways and Hiking Shoes. We're famous!

* * *

Update: On the review page is a place where you can rate the review from one to five stars. This lets the Tempo editors and publisher know which topics readers are interested in. I haven't voted because that feels like cheating, but I'm not above asking loyal readers to give the review five stars. Go here to read and rate!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

RIP, Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston died this afternoon. Sad.

I wasn't a fan. I don't think "because I can" is always a good reason to go for the highest of high notes. Still, she had an undeniable talent. She was probably a decent human being. And 48 is way too young to die.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Paws in the Plaza 2012

Date & time: Saturday, February 11, noon to 3 p.m.
Place: Casas Adobes Plaza (southwest corner of Oracle & Ina)
Directions: Go here
Cover: Free, but the Humane Society will happily take donations

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

If you're gonna blow off rehearsal ...

... attending a free lecture given by Noam Chomsky isn't a bad excuse.

Just sayin'.


Sometimes it's scary trying new things. Like that first attempt at a bubblegum pop song I mentioned before.

Deal is, a song needs two components to be considered bubblegum:
  1. Inane lyrics

  2. Musical arrangement so catchy that you either don't notice the lyrics are stupid or you don't care
So I had to write something silly. But the music had to be good enough to both carry the silliness and make it seem on-purpose. Otherwise, listeners would just think, "Wow, that's dumb."

One line in particular nagged at me. I needed to rhyme the refrain "Dance to it." The best I could come up with was "Shake off your pants to it."

No, really. That's the line. It's not like I didn't try other rhymes. Other rhymes existed. They just weren't in keeping with the spirit of the song.

I decided to bounce it off people when I had a whole song to play for them. The way I figured it, either I'd failed miserably at this genre, or I'd succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.

* * *

I finished "Dance to It" late this afternoon. As it happened, there was going to be a Singer-Songwriters meetup just a few hours later. What better place for a trial run?

They loved it. They thought "Shake off your pants to it" was hysterical. "You can't get rid of that," one person said when I mentioned my reservations. "It's like the punchline."

So I'm keeping it for now. We'll see if Ron the Drummer laughs with it or at it at our next rehearsal.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Arrangement is everything

Every now and again, someone will tell me my songs are all depressing. While this isn't precisely true, it occurs to me that in over a decade of songsmithing, I've never written bubblegum pop.

Seems like something I should try at least once, right? So I've started. Here are the first two lines:
News on the radio
Tells stories of upheaval and despair
Yeah, this is gonna be great! Further updates as events warrant.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


The band was hot. Well into their last set of the evening, they had a whole lot of people—including me—up and dancing.

Then lead singer Kristin Chandler addressed the audience. She was nervous about doing this next song, she said, because it was slow. That took her out of her comfort zone. She invited us to follow her out of her comfort zone.

The band played sweet, slow, and reflective. But after it was over, they launched into another danceable tune.

A week or so later, I finally had the chance to listen to the CD I'd obtained from the gig. Unlike their live set, most of Deja was singer-songwritery. That is, slow or mid-tempo, more contemplative, inviting listeners to pay close attention to the meaning of the lyrics.

I was a little surprised, but I shouldn't have been. I knew exactly why Kristin would feel good about recording songs she wouldn't play live.

About two-thirds of the songs I write are on the singer-songwritery side. When Ron the Drummer and I put a set list together for a Cinder Bridge show, however, we skew more toward songs that are up-tempo, or heavier, or have a prominent groove. We do it because live audiences prefer music that moves. When I'm in the audience, at least for unfamiliar music, I'm the same way. I'll happily bop along to a bar band whose stuff I'd never listen to at home.

So I get it. But it's annoying. It means a lot of my favorite songs aren't rotated in as often as I'd like.

We have GOT to put a new album out.

Monday, January 16, 2012


A lot of my songs are about change. Specifically, about how change is scary, and what people will do to avoid it or put it off ...

... Which, when you think about it, speaks to what a sheltered life I've led.

Only people born to a life of relative privilege have the luxury of fearing change. Those treated less kindly by the status quo hope for it—or fight for it.

Have a good Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Music therapy

One year ago in Tucson, a gunman killed six people and wounded thirteen at the Safeway plaza on Oracle and Ina. Among the wounded was congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Mistakenly declared dead in initial news reports after she took a bullet to the head, she has made amazing progress in her recovery. A contributing factor: music therapy.
Giffords still struggles to speak in sentences, but she has much less trouble singing. An important part of her therapy now involves singing songs she knew before the shooting.

The ability to speak is mainly controlled by two areas on the left side of the brain. But when we sing or listen to music, wide swaths of both sides of the brain become active. Doctors have learned putting words to melody stimulates memory and helps a damaged brain recover the ability to process language.

"And the idea is that can maybe be used as a proxy or as an alternative," said Dr. Michael Lemole, who was Giffords' neurosurgeon. "Just take away the music part and all of a sudden now you're stringing words together in a sentence.
Music, for me, has always been a powerful, magical force in itself. I don't love it because of its potential medicinal effects. I love it because it's music.

Still, the idea that singing can help people remember how to speak makes sense to me. Very simple phrases have a lot more emotional impact when they're set to music in just the right way. Singing marries thought and emotion. Songs help us feel what we're thinking and understand what we're feeling.

Everybody needs music therapy once in a while.