28 January, 2008

Journal 007

There have been times in my life where I've considered the value of writing a diary. Having the ability to look back in detail at the things that were happening to me on any given day in the past, and the thoughts that were running through my mind, is interesting, if not all that practical. However, I never had the discipline to force myself to write about my day regularly, as it's always seemed like a redundant effort. Still, with my dedication to this blog, it seems I now have a sufficient excuse (even if it's not daily).

Friday was another Open Stage night at the den. It was relatively uncrowded - in my opinion, likely due to the bitter cold. I still get crazy nervous reactions before performing, and I don't know if it's more about going out of the house and into a crowd of people, or if it's about the performing itself, as I've gotten fairly comfortable getting up and playing at the den (although the same cannot be said about any other venues). The symptoms are more physical than psychological, I think. I have a sensitive digestive system, and my sinuses seem to want to react as well, like as if I was allergic to people or social contact or something. Even when I sit down and write for this blog, and start talking about stuff in a context where I know other people will be reading it, I start sniffing and coughing and sipping water a lot more than when I'm doing other things. It's weird. (And it is indeed happening now, as expected).

Before the Open Stage, I was thinking about my "madness" act, and I was starting to come to the conclusion that it was getting old, in my mind, and I needed to do something to make it new and interesting. I'm thinking about maybe incorporating the bow I have, but I need to practice that a bit and see if I can make it interesting. At any rate, when my time came to perform, I tried to mix my repertoire up a bit, opening it in a different way, and trying to spend more time on the quiet, ambient portions, than on the loud, erratic portions. I think it was good. At the end of it, someone in the audience asked for an explanation, and I was like (to myself) "shit, what do I say?" So I made something up about syzygy and planets lining up and cosmic energy or something, and I think they bought it.

Afterwards the Primatives & Co. had pizza again, since the Indian eatery they wanted to eat at wasn't open late enough (at least I think that's what the problem was).

Saturday, I finally watched one of the two Crossroads Guitar Festivals I got over the holidays. Some really great stuff. Joe Walsh did an awesome extended blues intro to Funk #49, which surprised and impressed me. I like his introduction to Rocky Mountain Way - "if I knew I was gonna have to play this song for the rest of my life, I would've written something else." I liked the songs that were done which had multiple guitarists, where each guitarist was given a chance to solo - which happened a lot at the festival. Like when Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Jimmie Vaughan, and B.B. King all took their turn on Rock Me Baby, and when each of the artists in Clapton's band soloed during a fierce and extended performance of Have You Ever Loved A Woman. Even though it's not really my scene, Steve Vai's performance was at least interesting - he's undoubtedly very talented at the instrument, but I see him more as a showman than a musician. Robert Cray's Time Makes Two was incredibly moving. I love songs that are performed like that, where the pain and sadness is palpable, and you could imagine the artist breaking down in tears just as easily as pouring out another verse or solo. Pretty much the exact opposite of Vai's act. Musically, Jonny Lang's act was alright, but the sheer effort he put into singing and playing was downright impressive. I felt like he was gonna have a stroke or something... I generally steer away from J.J. Cale's influence on Eric Clapton (Cale wrote Cocaine as well as After Midnight), because it's different from the blues material that I like to hear Eric Clapton play, but Cale's playing here was very interesting. Unique, and expressive. When James Taylor came on to do a couple songs, I was totally thinking, "this guy is such a chick musician" - like, you know how there are chick flicks? Well, James Taylor is one of the 'chick flicks' of musicians, if that makes any sense to you. Always good to see Santana play - I envy him for his wicked sustain. I don't know how he does it. It was fun to see Clapton play some Santana-esque licks in homage during the song - I think it's so interesting to hear guitarists playing in the style of other guitarists - not so much when they're stealing an artist's technique, but more as a form of musical impression. John Mayer was expectedly disappointing - I don't even know why he was involved in the festival. Even during his interview, he kept saying these weird things that made absolutely no sense at all. It's like, what? What are you talking about, and who cares? ZZ Top's closing act was pretty cool.

I started reading Living Fully With Shyness And Social Anxiety. There are different sections dedicated to different aspects of the condition. I've read the part on the body - physical symptoms. It's not as important to me as I think the part on the mind will be, since at this stage in my life, I've pretty much extracted myself from most of the situations that give me physical anxiety, and I'm more concerned with battling the psychological ideas that keep me from even going out there, into the world. It was still interesting though. Particularly the part about Shy Bladder Syndrome - the condition of being unable to 'vacate' in the presence of others, for psychological, rather than physiological, reasons. I admit it's something I have trouble with at times. Using public restrooms designed for more than one person at a time is pretty stressful for me, and I try to avoid it whenever possible, sometimes to adverse effect. Especially in college, taking a leak could at times become a rather paralyzing obstacle, when the hall restroom was anything less than empty. The real trouble of it is that you go in there, and if you could get it out right away, then that would be great. But the longer you wait for it to come out, the longer you've been in there, and the more concerned you get at people wondering what you've been doing in there, and then the anxiety kicks in at full power, and you want to hide and pretend like you're not even there - there's no chance for you to either do your business *or* leave. And then you end up waiting, sometimes quite a long time, until you have the privacy necessary to settle your affair.

I find that general situation is a problem with a lot of things - the idea of waiting until the moment's ripe, but the longer you wait, the more awkward it would be to act, and since you weren't prepared to act in the first place, you can't do it now, and then time just goes on and on and it gets worse and worse until you completely avoid what needs to be done. Like answering emails. Sometimes I'll get an email, and I'll be concerned about what to say and how it will be received, so I wait and think about it. And then the longer I postpone sending the reply, the more awkward it would be to send the reply that late. Arg. It happens with all kinds of things. Like telling someone about something. Like telling my dad about Burning Man, that's probably gonna turn out the same way. I'm afraid to tell him about it because I don't know what his reaction will be, and I'm afraid it will be less than 100% positive, which scares me - and even if it's like 90% positive, I'm still too scared about that 10%. So I wait for a good time to drop the issue, and it never comes, and the closer the event gets, the more worried I get about the added stress of mentioning it when it's so close, and the possible flak I'd get for not mentioning it earlier...and it's a vicious cycle of fear and anxiety and avoidance and it just doesn't have a positive outcome. So the best solution - and I can tell myself this, but it doesn't always mean that I can accomplish it - is to take care of these things right away. Cause none of the flak or negative reaction or any of that really matters - if it's gonna happen, it's gonna happen - and the important thing is to get the deed done. The only purpose the fear serves is to prevent the deed from getting done, and once it's done, the fear is pointless. So the best way to get rid of the fear is to just do it. Don't think and don't worry; just do. But obviously that's easier said than done. If I didn't have a problem just doing it in the first place, then I wouldn't have a problem.

In the book, the author talks about what it takes for different people to overcome their struggles. For some people, all the information in the book won't be enough, and for others, just a single point of knowledge is enough to change their whole perspective. Well, after having read that, I'm surprised that I myself have been rather blown away by one minor little detail, that has changed my perspective at least a little bit. It's probably not everything, but it could at least be something. Anyhow, the detail was as follows. Having social anxiety means being overly sensitive to one's reception by other people. You get nervous over the smallest, unimportant details, thinking that the tiniest thing will cause a person to dislike you - and that's the worst possible outcome imaginable. But if you look at the coin from the other side, you see that this sensitivity to people's reactions can be considered a positive trait. You're nervous because you *want* to please people. So why is that a bad thing? Well, it's obviously a problem, but that's because you're making it out to be a problem. But it can also be an advantage, if you look at it from a positive perspective. If I'm nervous about meeting someone for the first time, I can let my anxiety at being accepted cripple me, or I can let my knowledge that I'm only nervous because I want to be accepted allow me to make a conscious effort at being accepted. And instead of using all that energy to monitor my own actions, and to worry about how other people might perceive them, I can use that energy to determine other people's moods, and then react to them to try and make other people feel more comfortable. I almost feel like it's a superpower, which can easily become a burden dragging me down, but if I learn how to use it properly, it could become an invaluable asset allowing me to help people, as well as myself. I think that's an amazing epiphany, and while I still have a long way to go in changing my life, I think it's an important step. Even just the idea, that the book encourages, that being shy is not something to be ashamed of, is empowering. I've alway been afraid to admit to people that I'm shy, despite it being obvious, because I've always looked at it as something to be ashamed of, something that people would naturally tease you about. But it's not necessarily a bad thing. It can be just as much a good thing. It's just an aspect of my personality, of who I am, and it's only as positive or negative as I allow myself to make it. Mindless positive encouragement has never impressed me, but show me facts and reasoning that support a more positive outlook, and well, it just might work...

On Sunday, the fam went out to eat in celebration of my dad's birthday. We went to a fancy Chinese restaurant nearby. The reasoning, as I understand it, is that my dad hasn't had a good plate of General Tso's Chicken in quite a while. He, and the rest of us, I think, were pleased with our meal. I hadn't had Chinese since college, I don't think. And it inevitably reminds me of college. Ordering Chinese with my friends on the hall. Ah, good times. I had my usual - Kung Pao Chicken. It's got a kick, but it's never been too spicy for me to handle (I'd say I'm a middle-weight on the scale of spice-lovers - if light-weights can't handle spice, and heavy-weights love the extremes). The only downside to Kung Pao is that it's one of the dishes with the higher veggie content. But I guess forcing myself to eat the veggies, which aren't too bad, is good for me, and it's worth it to get to the chicken. I also had some delicious wonton soup, and even more delicious pot stickers. A good Chinese meal like that has got to go up near the top of my list of best meals ever. I wish I could find a 24 hour Chinese buffet somewhere in the area. I'm a little disappointed they didn't provide chopsticks (though nobody asked), though it seemed like they might have been a bit too fancy for chopsticks (if that makes any sense). If it wasn't easier to just grab a fork out of the kitchen drawer, I'd definitely want to eat with chopsticks more often in general, no matter what kind of meals. Chopsticks are cool.

I read an article a while back about the changing music industry, and how albums are mixed differently today than they were decades ago - particularly, that they have less dynamic range and are louder overall (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war). It's something I noticed when I got Silvertide's album Show & Tell years ago - it's mixed much louder than the average CD I have (considering that my collection consists mostly of albums from the 60's and 70's - although I've heard that some newer remasters or greatest hits collections are also victims of this 'louder is better' policy). But especially now, listening to most of my collection on a shuffled playlist, the difference between the modern and classic albums is striking. Earlier, I had to turn the volume up a bit to hear Jefferson Airplane's Comin' Back To Me - a mellow, acoustic piece - and then after the song, a track from the Stones new album A Bigger Bang came on and it was freaking loud! All the other modern albums I have are loud, too - including Aerosmith's Honkin' On Bobo, Johnny Winter's I'm A Bluesman, and American Minor, in addition to the ones listed above. It wouldn't bother me so much if the volume level was consistent, but the sudden switch from quiet to loud can be rather jarring at times.

My friend linked me to The RPM Challenge (http://www.rpmchallenge.com/) the other day. I hadn't heard of it, but apparently it's a general challenge to musicians to record an album during the shortest month of the year (February). It just so happens that February starts in a few days. I think this would be a positive experience, considering how much I avoid recording. It should be a nice kick in the pants, to force me to produce *something*, in the form of a final version. The idea is for everything to be recorded in February, although whether or not you *write* the songs in February is up to you. That having been said, I think it's truer to the challenge if you write the stuff, or at least develop most of it, within the month. So I've been partly thinking about what I'd like to do for my album, and partly avoiding thinking about it before February. Heh. But I think I wanna do a post-rock type thing. One long track that goes for 35-45 minutes, or however long it turns out to be. I want it to be a little more structured than the improvisation I do every other week at the Open Stage, because that would kind of be cheating for the challenge. So - and this is still a preliminary possible idea - I'm thinking about improvising for at least 35-45 minutes every night once February starts up, then after a little while, starting to work out specific sections. Ultimately, it's not gonna be transcribed note for note or anything, but I wanna have a clear idea of which parts go where, and what they'll sound like in general. And then we'll see what kind of things I come up with to make it interesting along the way. As much as I like the *idea* of studio wizardry, and using multiple tracks for different instrument parts, I think ultimately I'm gonna default toward just recording a single guitar, and just getting whatever I can play, like a live-in-the-studio kind of deal. I may or may not decide to add some words. We'll see, I might even change my mind about the whole thing, but so far, that's my idea, and the closer February gets, the more of a hassle changing my mind will become - though ultimately, whatever I come up with throughout the month, I imagine will be fair game. So it should be interesting, I think, and encouraging for me.

And that brings up another issue I wanted to mention. The fact that, the most important step toward accomplishing something, is committing to it. Because if you're not committed to it, then every little doubt you have becomes a potential reason to quit and back out. But if you've already committed, then your first instinct is to overcome those doubts and problems and barriers, rather than abandoning the project. And an insecure person such as myself will probably (I'm hoping) be surprised and impressed with how much he is capable of. So, I think, in order to accomplish amazing things, I have to commit to them first, or else they'll never get done. Like Burning Man. There are so many if's involved, that if I wasn't committed, I'd spend all my time worrying about it and not preparing myself for it. But having bought my tickets and committed to it, I don't care how much trouble or effort it is, I'm gonna do everything in my power to make it happen. It's like, getting into the mindframe that it's already been determined that it's gonna happen, and the only thing you can do is prepare for it. Whereas, if you weren't committed, then you can still fall back on the possibility of it not happening. And that becomes a crutch. And then it never happens. I think that maybe this could be good advice for other people, too. The most important step toward accomplishing something is committing yourself to it. Just don't be stupid, and make sure it's something you want to accomplish in the first place. And if it is, then once you commit to it, you'll be surprised at your ability to make it happen.

You know, I often think I won't have enough to say about something to make a good blog entry out of it, then when I finally get around to sitting down and writing stuff out, it turns out I have more than enough...

1 comment:

  1. Having trouble going to the bathroom among fellows is a problem I have too, and frankly I think most people have it. If not most, then something around 45%, ya know? It's a strange juxtaposition for us, we've been forced to shelter our bathroom activity from the world and then all of a sudden we're supposed to do it in a crowd. In Leah's basement there's one of those bathrooms that is right out in the room (kinda like in gram's living room) and it's not fully its own room, and she tells everyone not to listen when she goes. There were also a bunch of girls who would always go to their own room to use the bathroom instead of just using ours at college, and my hypothesis was that it was for the aforementioned crowd reason.

    Regarding CD production, the switch between soft and loud can be really annoying. But despite that, and in spite of buzz posturing among hardcore music fans, I'm in 100% agreement with the modern mixing techniques. We just need all the old albums to be remixed. An album like Roadworks, for example, sounds so much more kickass than Cricklewood Green, because of the production. It's knee-jerk to assume old is better, but it's really not in this case. I mean, how kickass is Show and Tell? And Joe Bonamassa and such. The new production is boundlessly more slicing and powerful. Probably the best sounding album I ever heard was Audioslave's s/t. Production is extremely important to me. I mean, Led Zeppelin was the best in their game because their production was the best. Oh, and How The West Was Won melts so many faces because it has modern production. Modern production is the best thing ever. People claim that it takes out the dynamics... but no, I don't buy that. Listen to the piano intro for a Byzantine song and it's obvious, you can't deny the difference there compared to the rest of the song. The old albums lack the ability to get as loud as the new ones, so it's really the old albums that are missing anything.

    I think your post-rock album will be fantastic and I personally think your strategy towards it is exactly the right way to go about it.