Saturday, July 20, 2013

Runaway composition

The nice thing about writing lyrics is that I can do it anywhere. As long as somebody else's music isn't playing in the background, I'm free to piece words together while I wash dishes, do laundry, or walk to the store. Because I write slowly, just a little at a time, it's easy to remember what I've done until I have access to a computer, or a pen and paper.

Writing music is different. For whatever reason, a new musical phrase is more apt to flee from my memory if I don't record it right away. Sometimes it comes back, but it does so on its own time, and quite often when, once again, I don't have the ability to get it down.

This usually isn't a problem for me. When it comes to piano accompaniments and solos, I compose more with my hands than my head. For whatever reason, I do better when I'm sitting at the piano and playing, and I always have a little recorder handy when I'm at the piano.

Every now and then, though, a solo that's been eluding me begins to gain momentum. That's when it becomes dangerous. I play what I have over and over again in my mind, fingers working an imaginary keyboard, obsessively trying to fill in the missing parts. Occasionally I have a good idea. But if I'm not where I can record or notate that idea, I have to keep the idea on repeat or risk losing it.

I did manage to get tonight's musical phrase down before it disappeared on me. Still, maybe I should remind myself to think about other things while I'm in the shower.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

She cuts me even more, she changes

While things are looking up for gay rights in this country, other current events have got me down. Browsing iPod selections this morning, I happened on this song ...

... and realized that it fit my political mood perfectly.
Beauty like a knife
She cuts me even more, she changes
Right before my eyes into something ugly and sore
"Of Thee I Sing," by Leon Russell, is over 40 years old. Should we worry when a protest song written in 1971 still rings true today?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A real honor

"Thanks for coming out to see us," I announced over the simple left-hand riff I was playing on my keyboard. Then I stopped and turned to Ron. "That doesn't sound right. They aren't really coming to see us."

Ron and I were rehearsing for a VA Hospital gig. We would be playing in the cafeteria during dinner hours, entertaining the residents while they went about their otherwise normal routine. My usual intro wasn't going to work.

Ron thought for a moment. "Say it's an honor for us to be there."

Yes, that was much better.

"It's a real honor to be here!" I announced to the vets who were sitting at their tables and lining up to get their food. "We're Cinder Bridge."

Better, but still inadequate.

* * *

I was a senior at Indiana University when the Gulf War started. During the long run-up to the war, as George H. W. Bush formed his careful alliances, I felt deeply conflicted. On the one hand, we were obviously getting involved because it was in America's self-interest. On the other hand, Kuwait had been invaded, and they genuinely wanted our help. I didn't join the students who were marching around Dunn Meadow with signs that said "No Blood for Oil" because I thought it was more complicated than that. And yet ...

If I believed this war was just, why wasn't I signing up? How could I even have an opinion when others would be doing the fighting? I didn't want to kill, and I didn't want to die, so how could I say it was okay for others to do so?

Ever since then, when I've heard about the horrors our soldiers have faced in the latest conflicts, or Gulf War syndrome (which shares a lot of symptoms in common with myalgic encephalomyelitis), or PTSD, I think, You suffered so I didn't have to.

Yeah, there's still some lingering guilt.

But I could hardly convey that to our audience. What would I say? "Thanks for listening. I don't even deserve to be sitting here in front of you, but I hope you enjoy the music."

"It's a real honor to be here" would have to do.

I hope they enjoyed the music.