March 9th, 2004.

Just a quick note about staying with Damian, my old office-mate from Glovia.  Here is one of those people who frequently mentions “Sometimes I wish I could be doing what YOU’RE doing” – he is a contradiction, in a way – one of my most “grown-up” peers.  Perhaps a sign of where I’m SUPPOSED to be.  I always feel nervous around him for the moments of our meeting, because he’s just gone so much further in Life than I have, and without the drastic measures.

Heehee - art in the front lawn of some Takoma Parklings.
Heehee – art in the front lawn of some Takoma Parklings.

He Lives comfortable in a nice house with a beautiful wife – he hangs his photography on the walls, a journal of travels made easier by a steady job that he takes satisfaction in – something that he’s very good at.  He has a natural ease and confidence and charisma that would make HIM an ideal on-stage musician if he ever put his mind to it (Plus or minus that whole tone-deaf predilection towards didjeridoo and 80’s pop)

A beautiful home in Takoma Park. Audrey has found a very Audrey-esque neighbourhood in which to plant herself.
A beautiful home in Takoma Park. Audrey has found a very Audrey-esque neighbourhood in which to plant herself.

He has that almost everyday Life of careful adventure and suburban joy that I sometimes find very, very attractive.  I miss the ease of my Life back when I had a steady paycheck, and I admire how he just – deals with the world.

Whether or not touring and wandering and writing is an attack on the world – a full-frontal foray into meeting and greeting the U.S. face by face – or a tail-turned scampering run, escaping the realities of rent and utilities and a daily schedule…. I change my mind every day, but in truth, I guess it’s a combination of the two.  It’s the only way I could make Living in this kind of world attractive.  It is, perhaps, very much an act of desparation.

Today, we’re spending the day back with Chelsea and Beau, back in Richmond, getting ourselves ready for another show with the spectacular and intimidating Ember Swift – Beau has been sick, with a pretty nasty fever – sick enough that he remembered nothing of our arrival, just that we came in while a really hideous band was playing on Conan O’Brian.

And he’s right… they were horrible.  We stood dumbstruck with how bad they were.

We’ve GOT to be able to get on that show.

Hrm.

Anywho, we were looking forward to playing outside today, but it’s just too damned cold.  Last night we played an open mic and explored Charlottesville – and were somewhat confused by the prevalance of Lewis Carroll imagery – a mushroom themed pizza parlour, Jabberwocky Pizza, Brillig Books… just strange.  Met a couple of other musicians, including a scrawny long-haired white boy who played the blues with a voice that was being channeled from a 300 lbs black man somewhere buried deep in the mud of the Lousiana delta (I told him to please excuse the homoerotic imagery, but that he had just slathered my body in thick warm chocolate and to please do it again), and Curt, who introduced me to yet ANOTHER method of looping one’s own music and being more band than any one man has any right to be.

Oh, and don’t let me forget Julie and April, the two unworldly blondes with angellic voices who “have never done this before” but who’s beauty (both vocal and facial) kept Heather and I in the back of the Baja Bean, chatting with them, long after we should’ve gone home.

A good night.  I soo have to update my open mic list, but it’s so weird and unwieldy now… sigh.

September 13th, 2004.

The Traditional Music Songcircle at the Takoma Park Folk Festival. From left to right - Rachel Cross, Brooke Parkhurst (of Tinsmith) and Zoe Mulford.
The Traditional Music Songcircle at the Takoma Park Folk Festival. From left to right – Rachel Cross, Brooke Parkhurst (of Tinsmith) and Zoe Mulford.

Today has been a torture of allergens. My eyes are reddened and tired, and my head is full of the cushioning, gurgling feeling of mucus, and my voice is nasal and pathetic. Benadryl, my Lovely saviour, replaces the off-balance feeling I get from having my ears stuffed up with drug-induced drowsiness. It’s a bad day to be my nose. I have a penis joke I was sort of thinking of putting here, but my internal censor is working for the moment.

The striding Tinsmith strut.
The striding Tinsmith strut.

We’ve done so much over the past weekend, starting with going to see Sense of Wonder. Saturday we got up early and headed over to the Takoma Park Folk Festival.

Takoma Park is such a strange place – fantastic houses with surprising sprays of ivy and heavily leaded glass, and a very Green Party kind of population. A place where I can take an evil glee by turning on Rush Limbaugh, turning up the radio, and driving through with my windows down, just to see the whole place erupt in riotous chaos. However, I would not dare slow for stoplights. The place is open-minded to a fault… about open-mindedness, the ideal place for a folk festival – and at 28 years, one of the longest-running ones there is.

William Mulroney and his band performing on the Folk Fest Showcase at the Takoma Park Folk Festival.
William Mulroney and his band performing on the Folk Fest Showcase at the Takoma Park Folk Festival.

Anywho, a perfect day for it – not too hot, sunny (allergy Hell) and the world came to Takoma Park to see music. We were scheduled as part of a Showcase compatition: Out of all the entrants, we and nine other acts were chosen to compete for a highlighted hour-long spot next in next year’s festival. We were in a line-up including really fantastic acts, including Bill Mulroney and his new “Second Wind Band”, Mark Sylvester (Sense of Wonder’s bass player), Richard Broadbent (a wonderful storytelling songwriter that we keep running across) and Gregory Lygon (he was the ideal artist to follow us – percussive, but relaxed, clean – a strong player, I was pretty transfixed by his first tune). It was some pretty strong competition, and I must admit, I wasn’t expecting much of a response, as I tend to have pretty strong opinions on what a panel of judges will want at a folk festival… I was pretty surprised to win! So surprised that I wasn’t even paying attention when they announced the awards. Heather had to yell for me through the PA… sigh.

Believe it or not, the two ladies in the middle count as two of my oldest fans - Wanda and Samara have followed my bands in various incarnations since Strength in Hare's first show at Phantasmagoria. I always have to remind myself that Wanda is NOT Tyler. Long story.
Believe it or not, the two ladies in the middle count as two of my oldest fans – Wanda and Samara have followed my bands in various incarnations since Strength in Hare’s first show at Phantasmagoria. I always have to remind myself that Wanda is NOT Tyler. Long story.
DCF 1.0
Greta and Rowan above... Tinsmith below - full incarnation with Henry and the beautiful Avril.
Greta and Rowan above… Tinsmith below – full incarnation with Henry and absurdly talented Avril.

I didn’t get to see as many of the other performers as I would’ve liked – after our slot I made sure to catch Tinsmith, but other than that, pretty much lost track of time. I realized that the food in the hospitality room seemed to change pretty regularly, and where once there was pizza and salad and cookies, there was then pasta and bread and brownies, and later still, wraps and baklava and blondies. It was hot outside, and I sort of lost track of time just seeing what they’d bring out next. Plus there was a pick up Irish jam, and that weird Washington Post dog… so there was entertainment enough inside.

The most incredible players of the day - Lisa Moscatiello and Dave Chappell - I don't know about the songs themselves, but Lisa had a masterful ease on stage, and Dave's guitar playing was smooth and beautiful.
The most incredible players of the day – Lisa Moscatiello and Dave Chappell – I don’t know about the songs themselves, but Lisa had a masterful ease on stage, and Dave’s guitar playing was smooth and beautiful.

Tinsmith was on form, full of tuning and bad jokes – and incredible music, of course. I really like the addition of Avril, and despite the unending sound difficulties, I still got enough out of it to assure myself that she’s still one of the best players on the planet.

Later still, I got a chance to see the unspellable Lisa Moscatiello. I’ve heard her name often enough, and I think I’ve met her a couple of times, but I’ve never seen her play – I would’ve remembered. Dave Chappell, her guitarist, was everything that I Love in an electric guitarist – subtle, with incredible tone, very Mark Knopfler… (flashback of nifflers). I sat transfixed.

So, exhausted from a sunny day of audio and visual input, we made our way out to Arlington, where Firedean had asked us to join him for a couple of songs. I don’t know that I would’ve said yes (knowing that we’d be coming from a festival) except that Austin Stahl’s “Private Eleanor” was going to be opening.

I’ve long admired Austin’s music, and would still argue that the hand-crafted “Deciduous” is one of the finest creations of the audio world – but I’ve long feared the full band, as I know Austin has a sort of pop aesthetic that I don’t get along with. And sure enough, the first couple of songs seemed to confirm my fears…

But then he fell into it – and it was amazing. So much passion, so much etheric energy… I was really impressed by the whole thing. A perfect mix – just a little bit punk… but as always – his vocals were too quiet. Sigh.

And what does this mean? And should I have chased this car?
And what does this mean? And should I have chased this car?

October 3rd, 2004.

My Father is selling his Austin Healey, and it's a little strange to really come to grips with that. He's owned the car for some 33+ years, and I grew up with it's engine sounds. There are a lot of good memories in that car - I had hoped to learn to drive it before the end of high school, and perhaps go to prom in it. At the time I hadn't learned the beauty of big boots, and was literally too short to drive it. I went and took a spin in it the other day - had a great time, though it was like learning to drive all over again. Driving an antique British sports car just isn't much like driving a Saturn. So strange to feel the car respond to MY touch, and make the noises that I associated with Sunday drives with my Dad. Very strange to think that this is car is leaving my Life. The new owner's going to paint it. I don't approve - I don't approve at all.
My Father is selling his Austin Healey, and it’s a little strange to really come to grips with that. He’s owned the car for some 33+ years, and I grew up with it’s engine sounds. There are a lot of good memories in that car – I had hoped to learn to drive it before the end of high school, and perhaps go to prom in it. At the time I hadn’t learned the beauty of big boots, and was literally too short to drive it. I went and took a spin in it the other day – had a great time, though it was like learning to drive all over again. Driving an antique British sports car just isn’t much like driving a Saturn. So strange to feel the car respond to MY touch, and make the noises that I associated with Sunday drives with my Dad. Very strange to think that this is car is leaving my Life. The new owner’s going to paint it. I don’t approve – I don’t approve at all.

I don’t care WHAT Heather says – I’m exhausted. Tonight we played the Thai Gour Cafe for the first time in months, and played the past we’ve played in a long, long time. Just, such good energy on stage – I have so much fun with my band!!!

Whee! Anywho – we’re playing Takoma Park tomorrow morning, which means we’ve got to be out of the house by 9am…. which means waking up five hours earlier than we did today. And the gig was long and fierce – and I’m going to take a shower before bed… and collapse. In the words of C-3PO – “Oooh this oil bath is going to feel SOO good.” Except… not oil. And not a bath, really. Hrm.


Oh my God – it’s 8am. Heather’s not happy. Rowan’s not happy. I’m not happy. This is the day we really need someone driving the tourbus or something, so I can sleep in the car. My stomach is reeling from the hour, feeling a little like I’m in a rapidly decending elevator – getting worse as my body realizes I’m not ABOUT to abandon it back to unconsciousness. Oh, it’s ALL bad news.


The Takoma Park Street Festival was a lot of fun – I’m beginning to grow a little more confident in big crowd situations, where I see that people are coming from the periphery to see what the commotion is about. The double djembe thing that Rowan and Heather do is far more effective at getting attention than maybe even Heather going topless.

Anywho – great gig, gonna be on tv. Gonna get the DVD. Gonna be a big star… off to the next gig.

It’s such a beautiful day – it’s a shame about the greyness of yesterday, the New Deal Cafe Autumn Harvest Festival got greyed out – rather stupidly I felt. I don’t think Richard (McMullin) even did it voluntarily: apparently a lot the day’s artists had called him worried about the weather and cancelled on him. Pansies.


Such amazing light – the intensity of oranges and reds bright enough for even ME to see. The birds have been criss-crossing the sky with crazed migrations, and we’ve seen butterflies flitting and my parents caught a skink. I’m exhausted, ready for the drive and finally the couch collapse. A little rob oozing into the couch crevices. Yes – complete and flaccid relaxation. If I was saying this on stage, it would be about now that Heather would be telling me to stop talking. Sigh.

The other day I went awandering in the rain. and the interior of one of my favourite Ellicott City shops, the Forget Me Not Factory. Lovely place - and full of Christmas decorations. I'm eager for the lights and the snow and yes, the songs.
The other day I went awandering in the rain. and the interior of one of my favourite Ellicott City shops, the Forget Me Not Factory. Lovely place – and full of Christmas decorations. I’m eager for the lights and the snow and yes, the songs.
Above, a cat near Amy’s house…

The Takoma Park show was excellent – it made us feel like a big band, dragging heads around, and amazing the soundman, as well as the local television crews. Unfortunately, exhaustion was somewhat setting in by the time we got to the crab feast. My finger tips feel like hamburger, and my voice is coarse and tired. We’ve never played this much in one weekend. Especially the Thai Gour show – three hour gigs can be killers. — Damn – Heather’s so hot. I don’t want to go on about this – but she’s singing along with the radio – and when she vamps it up … oh God. Laptop… hurts…

What I was SAYING, however – was that I’m really tired. And now in need of a cold shower. Sheesh. Any other train of thought – completely gone.

September 11th, 2005.

Bill showing me his big guns.
Bill showing me his big guns.
Peaches responds by showing off Betty Page and James Dean. I'm still cursing myself over the fuzziness of this photograph, but I'd already asked twice, and I felt weird saying "Look, it's still fuzzy... would you mind lifting your shirt for me AGAIN?" So, Peaches is fuzzy. Pretend it's just a visual pun. Yes... she's studying to be a mortician.
Peaches responds by showing off Betty Page and James Dean. I’m still cursing myself over the fuzziness of this photograph, but I’d already asked twice, and I felt weird saying “Look, it’s still fuzzy… would you mind lifting your shirt for me AGAIN?” So, Peaches is fuzzy. Pretend it’s just a visual pun. Yes… she’s studying to be a mortician.
Surrounding our performance at the Underground Cafe was an open mic. This is Encore doing one last guitar solo in his amazing pants.
Surrounding our performance at the Underground Cafe was an open mic. This is Encore doing one last guitar solo in his amazing pants.
After the show we had a good number of people just hanging out and being delightful. I really have decided that some of my absolute favourite people are in California, PA. There's Bill again. He was aiming to be the most photographed guy in the Journal... and at three times right in a row... well, he's deserving of the attention.
After the show we had a good number of people just hanging out and being delightful. I really have decided that some of my absolute favourite people are in California, PA. There’s Bill again. He was aiming to be the most photographed guy in the Journal… and at three times right in a row… well, he’s deserving of the attention.
Derrick, Lindsey and Brandon hanging out after AFTER the show. Derrick did amazing things for my back and generally showered us with Love AND abuse, which is a pretty great combination in my opinion.
Derrick, Lindsey and Brandon hanging out after AFTER the show. Derrick did amazing things for my back and generally showered us with Love AND abuse, which is a pretty great combination in my opinion.

I can’t sing along to We’re About 9. I start to cry.

Of course, that’s been my reaction to a lot of my world recently. Just overwhelmed by emotions… it’s a recurring theme that maybe requires some explanation, especially since my USUAL mood is one of barely-diverted world-ending depression. If I had a good explanation, I’d give it… you’ll just have to put up with the mystery. Just as I will.

We played the Takoma Park Folk Festival, and despite a pretty severe sunburn that’s left me feeling feverish and nauseus and weak and headachey, I’ve reconfirmed the belief that most all of the best performers in the world are friends of ours.

We had a good show, despite multiple string breakages on my part – we even pretty much sold out of CDs. People really seemed to Love us. But the highlight of the day for me was definately We’re About 9. I finally got to see the whole trio again… it was like some sort of homecoming. Even my Mom came out to the show, Audrey and Rick – Aaron’s home too. Shame I didn’t think about that whole sun thing. With so many “ethnic” band members, there’s simply NO excuse for ME to be the one stuck outside the shade of the pavilion.

Even hours after getting in out of the sun, I’m still feeling pretty sick to my stomach. Though, I’m suspicious of the bread I had for breakfast, too… I noticed it looked kind of funny half-way through eating it and then threw it out… (Mara! check yer loaves!)


There’s an email in my inbox that I’m frightened to read. It could be really good, or it could crush me. Could be somewhere in between. Unfortunately, I told Outlook to “Organize” it into Pennsylvania, and for some reason, it’s causing the whole thing to lag horribly. It’s like someone is showing me the envelope and holding it JUST out of reach. Viscerally painful.

September 14th, 2005.

The Beatles, “Let It Be,” just came on the satellite radio here at Perk, the first chord timed with my first keystroke and determining the subject of this entry. Rob brings up some really cool things about music and performance that I think are forgotten sometimes when you become a professional musician, about how music affects you, speaks to you as a listener. And I think when it becomes your means of meager survival, sometimes you even forget what you’re really giving of yourself when you get up there on stage.

Well over a hundred people showed up to help support Dave Pahanish's move to Nashville, TN.
Well over a hundred people showed up to help support Dave Pahanish’s move to Nashville, TN.

My mother hates “Let It Be,” not because she is not a fan of the song, but because for her it is so intimately entwined with the documentary that showed the bitterness building into what would eventually be the crumble of The Beatles. I dated a boy who could not listen to Concrete Blonde’s Bloodletting album (one of his favorites) for years because it was the soundtrack to a time in his life when he was getting drunk in mourning over a relationship. He was in said state when the lyric from “Joey” (“and if you’re somewhere drunk and passed out on the floor…”) came on, and it hit a little too close to home. His overwhelming negative reaction to the album was one of the things that made me pick it up secretly in an attempt to know him better, to be let in a little more into the mystery of all that came before me in his life.

Transcendent Third competing in the Takoma Park Folk Festival's New Artist Showcase.
Transcendent Third competing in the Takoma Park Folk Festival’s New Artist Showcase.

The song you could not escape during one of my relationships was John Mayer’s “Your Body is a Wonderland,” which I kind of liked only because of that one part at the end of the song where he so earnestly just says, “Damn, baby.” I would always sing it in the car when we were together. My ex would later joke that he was so glad it had been that song out and not one he really liked, because he felt not the slightest guilt or frustration turning it off after we broke up, and sometimes he even smiled while he did it.

What’s fascinating about music is that it is such a multi-level experience. It can connect with us temporally as well as lyrically. Sometimes it’s just that our personal movie soundtrack was set to a certain tune at a certain time in our lives, and whether the contents applied or not, that song is now a part of that experience – A trigger as persuasive as the smell of fresh-cut grass or salt water or an old girlfriend’s special soap. And then again, a song written two decades before we were born can lay us low with a lyric that seems ripped specifically from our lives, or from every life that has ever been. Or without a single lyric, the mellow notes of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue can make you remember dancing in a candlelit room.

We're About 9 at the Takoma Park Folk Festival on 9.11.
We’re About 9 at the Takoma Park Folk Festival on 9.11.
My mom's kitchen has made a leetle progress since I was last here.
My mom’s kitchen has made a leetle progress since I was last here.

And the same songs can mean vastly different things to different people because of where, when and how you hear them. Those people on the late-night love song requests all sending out the same songs to different lovers for different reasons… I think that’s why you gotta give pop music credit sometimes … here is a medium that can apply uniquely and deeply to THAT many people over time. It might be the ONLY artform that can claim that complete, accessible and intimate an effect.

And then there are people who write and perform, who go on to appreciate a song for a million other reasons. We run our hands over the perfect joints of verses like appreciating a magnificent table built by another carpenter. Just because we know how to build doesn’t mean we can’t be constantly made to stand in awe of people who stopped merely building at some point and became “craftsmen” … the likes of which we aspire to be one day. I think that’s where rob and I and our divergent musical tastes definitely come together in appreciation of bands and writers like We’re About 9 and Richard Shindell. And it’s not the ornate writers … no, the real respect goes out to the rare and gifted who find magic in the most mundane … who manage to say something integral to the human experience simply and elegantly, and cut to the heart of that which you see and feel every day and could never quite explain yourself. As Brian Gundersdorf sings in is ode to the Sunday morning IHOP, “I always have the grilled cheese, but I always have the crisis.”

Sarah and Erikka making wild and passionate couch Love at the College Perk open mic in College Park, MD. Yeah, it's pretty much what happens there.
Sarah and Erikka making wild and passionate couch Love at the College Perk open mic in College Park, MD. Yeah, it’s pretty much what happens there.

And then sometimes I like to listen to Britney Spears and I really admire the complex harmony line of an N-Sync song (“Girlfriend”).- THAT’s what’s great about the love of music and letting it affect you in whatever way it wants to. Sometimes it makes you sad, and you love it because you want something to find that part of you. Sometimes you want the perfect song to match your cross-country drive. Sometimes you want to put on some hip hop and dance with a hairbrush in your bedroom.

I forget that people care about how I write, how rob writes. That we are, for some other people, what those other songwriters are for us. Music makes us all equal, and we are all fans of SOMEBODY, no matter what tier we reach. Dylan is in awe of someone, Brian Gundersdorf is in awe of Richard Shindell, I am still in awe of rob, so it would follow that someone out there might be in awe of me. I have very little egotism about my songwriting, and my status as an “artist.” But recently I made of “present” of a detailed song explanation to one of the e-bay sponsors who bought my song. As a second-time sponsor, I felt like I should give her something, and she’d expressed how much the limited information about the song she had fascinated her and prompted her bid.

So without egotism, in case any of you are interested, a little bit about the history of my development as a songwriter. I went through a major growth process in the last few years. As a former journalist, I originally found it impossible to “lie” in my songs. I could only write about things that I had experienced, which is honest, but limiting. I think sometimes it’s crushing when you realize all you’re getting out of a performer is their imagination and creativity, and not being let in at all to their life. I think the more I tour, though, the more I am of the belief that it’s okay for me to give people my creativity and not my life. 🙂

Essentially, what I think you get out of a songwriter is a unique vision. Ideally, you get something interpreted by them as only they could have seen it, whether it was played out in their mind’s eye or right in front of them. And then you apply it to your own life if you want, if it speaks to you. You find your own message. I was faced with the fact that most of the songs I thought were the most amazingly written were not autobiographical. Sometimes in music, when you try to write what you know … you actually find you’re too close to the subject after all.

I consider my work as existing in four phases. The pre-rob years, the post-journalism years where I was exposed to a lot of very influencial songwriting, the bridge years between fact and poetic license, and where I am now. Songs that most of you have never heard fall into the first category: “Memory,” “Falling,” “Time to Go,” “Orion.” These songs were all directly ripped from my life. Every single line had happened to me, even if I was writing in a much more traditionally poetic way. My biggest influence at the time was the Indigo Girls.

Then when I met rob and was introduced to another way acoustic music could be written and performed, I started experimenting with lyric rhythm, off-kilter rhymes, new chords. I still could not make things up, though. “Matador,” “Pine,” “Sever,” and the unreleased “Embers” all fall into this time period. I was learning how to use my voice to sing original material, and finding my own style. My major influences were certainly Rob and Ani DiFranco.

Halloween is almost here, and this Michael Knight costume comes complete with not-leather jacket.
Halloween is almost here, and this Michael Knight costume comes complete with not-leather jacket.

The third phase is where most of the transition really happened. I started listening more to (not to sound too much like a fan girl) Richard Shindell and We’re about 9 much more intently as a songwriter deconstructing great work. I also started listening to the more unique storytelling aspects of folk music, and I started going to slams and writing slam poetry. Things that were drawn from my life – but gently doctored – started to come out. Save Berlin is all true and all the imagery is real, but the events are all speculative (incidentally this song is the most personal of all of mine and the one I feel the most uncomfortable playing, at times. It was a song that just came out, like a lyrical gag reflex or something. It’s what I had to write more than something I wanted to write.).

This led to the bigger step toward complete fiction: In the Water. If I had to pick a single song that marked the defining moment in my life as a songwriter, it would be that one. I set out for the first time to write about something completely outside of myself, from a completely fictional perspective, with completely invented imagery based only loosely on a real story heard through the mouth of a psychic on a talk show. And it was about more than the lyrics. I wrote the verses in a childish, sing-song fashion to mirror the subject matter. I began taking a much more holistic approach to my songwriting. Other songs like “Letters From the Front,” “Parallels” (a permanently in progress song written from the perspective of a parallel line in love with its unattainable counterpart) and ” Illinois is Overflowing” followed.

Nowadays, I take wild license with my songs. I’ve been writing a ton, and mostly they have come from interesting lines or interesting stories that I want to tell. I’ve written a song, in the polish phases, about a car repair shop called “God is in the Gears,” which is completely fictional and based solely off the real-life imagery of how much those crosses on the back of tow trucks look like crucifixes. Did I mention I’m Jewish?

In progress, is a “project” song, which arose from my found object jewelry with the same concept: people waste great lines that they just throw out in regular conversation. I’ve overheard some doosies in coffee shops. So I’m trying to write an entire song where not a single line is mine, forming connections between these otherwise disparate snatches of conversation. It’s not actually as hard as you might think. I already have one verse, complete with three different quotes made by as many different people, and part of a chorus. Human beings want to make connections. Week seek them whether they are there or not, and you find what you look for.

Finished and in performance recently is a song called, “Simile Blue,” written from a series of influences: Will playing us old recordings of “When You Wish Upon A Star,” rob’s father’s death, “Ghost in the Shell 2,” Will taking apart a dead bird, and my admiring of Dave Pahanish and Angie Aparo’s tendencies toward very simple, single-word, single-held-note choruses.

I’m also working on a country song, done except for the chorus, that is heavily influenced by John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats, borrows one of the found lines from my other project, and has a heavy dose of my Nashville visit mixed in. It’s about trains, and a fucked-up marriage. I am not married, and I have been one on round-trip train ride in my life.

I think my goals these days are lyrical power AND simplicity (John Darnielle is my teacher at the moment, along with the Kings of Convenience), vocal inflection, enunciation and a true use of some of the abandoned notes of my soprano range, and expanding my chord vocabulary so I can write music that is better than just what I CAN do, and more fitting with what the song DEMANDS. Just like the way those simple piano chords in “Let It Be,” love it or hate it, are almost a gospel song, almost a prayer, almost a funeral dirge. Or maybe they are that way because of the association my mother has for that song, and passed on to me.

Tag, you’re it, rob. How do you think you’re writing style has changed over time? What are your goals there? What are you aspiring to?

December 9th, 2005.

I think I learned my Love-hate relationship with the mechanical world from Han Solo. His fierce pride and constant disappointment in the Millenium Falcon is pretty similar to how I’ve stood by and maltreated almost everything I own. Pretty similar to how I treat myself, expecting me and everything around me to just take whatever’s thrown at it and keep on ticking. There’s probably something really deep in my psychology to be realized in that behaviour, but it’s pretty much beyond me.

For those of you who think of me as this tough-guy manly gruff-type rob of a Han Solo-ish archetype, I’m sorry that the following paragraphs will probably disillusion you. For the rest of you, I’ll give you a moment to stop sniggering.

I curl tightly with a pillow when I wish I had company. Tightly wrapped in quilts and blankets and watching the snow come down and wishing things didn’t break.

It’s stupid to get sentimental over devices and objects, but two things have come down sick in the past two days and it just makes me want to be held tight and whispered gently to.

My Saturn didn’t start. It’s been having trouble with that since the cold struck. Nothing major, a dead battery probably… but I’ve known I need to get rid of it for a while now. When my father died, he left me the OTHER Saturn (not my mom’s Saturn, and no, my Saturn is not Heather’s Saturn which is also not Heather’s mom’s Saturn – there are a LOT of Saturns in our world…). Knowing that I had a spare car around, I’ve known that I need to sell the one that I’ve got and take the spare off my mom’s hands (she’s been learning to drive stick on it, which has me rather concerned) but it’s been one thing or another and something gets in the way and when it comes right down to it, I’m so damned sentimental that it’s going to be sad to let it go.

We’ll come back to the car – item number two is my camera! It went into my pocket just fine after capturing Uncle John (host of the Cup open mic in Bel Air, MD) climbing up the side of said open mic, and then when it came out again to shoot the swiftly mounting snows in the front yard, the LCD was ruptured. Obviously I hit up against a table, or maybe squashed it while carrying the drum somehow, or maybe buckled my seatbelt the wrong way – but it has the random malicious feeling of cancer – like I rolled the dice the wrong way.

My camera is my memory, and I Love to keep the images and the beautiful things caught in time with it. I hate the fact that the price of film had been an issue in college and in high school. My memory is frankly crap and without my Little Black Books faces and people would’ve faded long ago. Having that little camera to whip out and freeze the spinning world has become exceptionally important. Just a couple of days ago someone mentioned how they’d never known me NOT to have a camera on me, and this recent Sony has been my favourite – even including my old 1970 Nikon F Titanium.

And just as that identifying characteristic is pointed out, it’s taken away.

It makes me sad. I’m sure there will be some sort of recourse. I think I just got some salespitch about purchasing an extended service plan or something a couple of days ago – I’ll have to dig that up. It’ll cost me money, but it’ll probably get fixed, but I Love it and it’s sick.

My car’s an even simpler matter – go buy a new battery and stick it in! But I’ve got the other car, and it needs to be taken off my mom’s hands, and the Saturn’s in such shape that the Blue Book value of it RUNNING is equivelant to what it looks like I can get for it for parts… but selling it for parts wouldn’t require me to shell out $70 for a new battery and looks to be considerably more sensible and less hassle… but there’s this sense of betrayal – that feeling of betrayal that I got from my Volkswagon bus every time she let me down in some way led me to purchasing that reliable and ever trust-worthy Saturn, and it seems like this horrible thing for me to turn my back on it. Stupid sentimentality over a car. I’d had plans to get it to 200,000 miles before getting rid of it, but now it seems to be too much trouble to make it go the distance.

A last ditch "make the car go with minimal effort" effort. A goodbye kiss from Heather's Saturn, perhaps.
A last ditch “make the car go with minimal effort” effort. A goodbye kiss from Heather’s Saturn, perhaps.

This is something where I wish my Dad was here to talk to about it. He’d give me advice and I probably wouldn’t listen, but he’s the person I’m instinctively wanting to talk to about it.

And in the end, with snow muffling the world outside and lights slowly coming on at 6.10am, I really just wish I had someone to brush my hair out and say “yeah, don’t think about that right now – it’ll all be okay and we can worry about it in the morning” “it is morning” “hush, just come to bed”.

I helped my friend Amanda move a couple of days ago - unfortunately, this doesn't do her freak cat justice, but I figured he should be displayed here in all his freak cat glory.
I helped my friend Amanda move a couple of days ago – unfortunately, this doesn’t do her freak cat justice, but I figured he should be displayed here in all his freak cat glory.
Last Saturday, before Heather's solo show, we played at the Takoma Park Alternative Gift Fair. The act before us were the incredibly talented (and beautiful) Greta Ehrig and ______________ who I'll remember the name of any second now. He was in Firedean's video! You know... right on the tip of my tongue... DAMN! Mark Sylvestor! Man, at least I got it before Heather called me out on it, and NO I didn't use the internest or my computer. I used my SKULL MEATS!
Last Saturday, before Heather’s solo show, we played at the Takoma Park Alternative Gift Fair. The act before us were the incredibly talented (and beautiful) Greta Ehrig and ______________ who I’ll remember the name of any second now. He was in Firedean’s video! You know… right on the tip of my tongue… DAMN! Mark Sylvestor! Man, at least I got it before Heather called me out on it, and NO I didn’t use the internest or my computer. I used my SKULL MEATS!

February 5th, 2006.

Afterwards I went to hang out with my friend Audrey and went over to the studio where she was recording to listen to the accomplishments of her cellist’s toils.

There are things you can never trade – for good or for ill.  I have friends who will never comprehend my approach to Life.  I speak of numbers and of scales, of cliffs and gravities and perhaps they’ll just never get it.

I suppose I can survive that.

This past week I was stupid and gave into a whim.  I drove to California (yes, Pennsylvania – what can I say? I like it there and I’m not quite ready to aim for the real thing yet!)

I sat down and spent some time recording new songs the other day. This is my studio – kitchen table, 8-track, Little Black Book, and an SM-58 set up on Mara’s computer case. It works. I recorded “Allergy” and “Speaking Louder Now”.

Crossing mountains under shafts of sun – it was like armies were being led safely around one another, each lit by the gaze of a particular god.  I guess no-one was interested in a fight that day.  Crossing the mountains and in to blizzard, making the first tracks in the snow, pulling into a truck stop where men huddled over coffee and I decided against staying in the warmth, pushing ever onward….

I Love the drama of such edginess.  The contrast provided by snowfall – the white and black and white again of telephone lines, leafless trees, the lone track on asphalt.

Audrey's hedgehog memorial - I was always flattered that she used one of my gifts to mark his place. Planted a tree and placed him in the ground. Good Gus.
Audrey’s hedgehog memorial – I was always flattered that she used one of my gifts to mark his place. Planted a tree and placed him in the ground. Good Gus.
Went to the MICA Coffeehouse last Sunday to watch people perform and to make people watch US perform. Amy went with us and agreed that the lead singer of the Robotniks here looks suspiciously like Brennan. Brennan, however, would never shake his ass in front of a 9-year-old girl. Or at least, we like to think that this is true.
Went to the MICA Coffeehouse last Sunday to watch people perform and to make people watch US perform. Amy went with us and agreed that the lead singer of the Robotniks here looks suspiciously like Brennan. Brennan, however, would never shake his ass in front of a 9-year-old girl. Or at least, we like to think that this is true.

California itself was beautiful. I gave few people answers as to why I was there, and generally lied to them. I won games of foosball, and rollerskated to Megadeth.  I encouraged insanity and appreciated it as well. I headbanged to Iron Maiden and wrote to GWAR and performed really, really well.

av
While lifting a piano, my pants left unexpectedly. Luckily, my underwear matches my boots, but unluckily, this leaves me with one pair of pants!

I left at midnight after the Underground – decided it was time for the drive.  I listened to friends back home tell me I was stupid, and I listened to friends back home tell me what they planned to do to me for their stupidity.  I won’t hold my breath for their retribution, mostly because I’ll need every ounce I can get when they finally deliver the smackdown – probably aimed while I’m not looking.

La! Heading into oncoming winds and watching the sun as the world grows dark. Lovely Lovely sun leaving the Lovely Lovely land.

Always sunny when I leave California – not so much at midnight – and to complete the beauty of it all I ran my Saturn into a storm that paced me all the way home.  Cell signal abandoned me in the mountains and my battery died shortly after, leaving me alone in the dark, racing home at 75mph in the theory that must of the roads are straight and hydroplaning uses less gasoline.

I’m not very rockstar, I suppose – I went to art school.  There I learned to be moody, appreciative of narrative, hateful of – yet steeped in – drama, and worshipful of beauty.

It was an interesting week.

January 22nd, 2018.

My office for January 18th - doing some studio time at Asparagus Media in Takoma Park, MD.
My office for January 18th – doing some studio time at Asparagus Media in Takoma Park, MD. This is completely unrelated to the hate below.
Heather and I at Hershey's in Gaithersburg, MD on Janaury 19th.
Also unrelated to the hate…. Heather and I at Hershey’s in Gaithersburg, MD on January 19th.

I hate it.

I hate how my brain just rehashes, reviews, reshows things.

It’s 2.30 in the morning and my brain keeps sending tendrils of awareness through every inch of my body. I’m overly aware of the fabric on which I’m not sleeping, I’m overly conscious of the noises of the trucks on I-40, the distant police sirens, the muttering of the wind. My stomach, the weight of my skin, the soft tones of the hiss of the air… the feeling of both having a dry mouth AND a belly too full of liquid. Distant helicopter. The itch of my hair against my scalp.

I hate conflict, but I hate being taken advantage of even more, so I’m dropping out of a gig that I’m supposed to play on Wednesday night because yesterday the venue suddenly sent me two contracts of dense legalese – for a no-pay showcase “opportunity” – one that I’d totally asked for… its a Wednesday night, a showcase that plenty of friends seem to have performed at – but perhaps none of them read the contract? Oh who knows.

A rough load in - this is George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, VA and I've had the opportunity to run sound there for a couple of gigs recently. This is from Sunday the 21st of January - and the load in's not easy. It's up two switchbacks of handicapped ramp, up another ramp where you balance your cart while waiting for someone to buzz you in. Then open the spectacularly heavy bronze door and wait go down one ramp and up another ramp to the FAR elevator (to not interrupt the tour) and then wait for the elevator operator (this has got to be the last one in the nation!?!?) and go up two flights of stairs... down another ramp, through the construction, across the big echoey hall, up another ramp, down two more ramps and then... into the big ass room which
A rough load in – this is George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, VA and I’ve had the opportunity to run sound there for a couple of gigs recently. This is from Sunday the 21st of January – and the load in’s not easy. It’s up two switchbacks of handicapped ramp, up another ramp where you balance your cart while waiting for someone to buzz you in. Then open the spectacularly heavy bronze door and wait go down one ramp and up another ramp to the FAR elevator (to not interrupt the tour) and then wait for the elevator operator (this has got to be the last one in the nation!?!?) and go up two flights of stairs… down another ramp, through the construction, across the big echoey hall, up another ramp, down two more ramps and then… into the big ass room which…
Is apparently still set up for human sactifice? Meep!
Is apparently still set up for human sactifice? Meep!

Plenty of bullshit clauses that are sort of the typical “you have no-one to blame but yourself if our gear electricutes you or you fall off our stage” corporate liability clause… and then the less typical “we’re going to record you and take video of your performance and though we might give it to you if you ask and you can use that as you please* we can use it for anything and forever and for any ‘entity'” – and the venue is a hotel chain – so the hotel chain can re-edit and do whatever they please with my music? In perpetuity? And use it for any one else they see fit to hand it over to?

Running sound for House of Hamill at George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, VA. Great band, great presence… great sound if I do say so myself.
My friend Chris says “lo, it is good”.

No – I don’t think that’s an appropriate clause to include. They refer to it as “work-for-hire” in the contract, and that’s a pretty specific type of clause. “Work-for-hire” work, well, you’ve got to charge more because you get royalties, and you don’t “work-for-hire” for no pay.

So – yeah. And the gig’s been booked for several months and they send me the contract the Saturday night before the gig? As if this kind of language is completely normal?

And so my brain is whirring away on this, wondering what kind of person I’m coming across as because obviously I’m the ONLY PERSON EVER who’s had a problem with this contract, and I haven’t heard back from the woman who had put the date together even though I’ve now sent three emails – one raising questions about the contracts, the second saying the contracts were unacceptable and the third saying I was stepping out of the showcase… see points one and two.

I’m tired and I’m getting and angry and the latter is keeping me from falling prey to the former. I can feel my pores opening up. Sweating. Because I don’t like conflict but I feel like I’m gearing up for a fight.

Oh – and that *? THAT part of the contract is followed by two seemingly mutually exclusive clauses, the first saying that I can use the videos too as long as the company’s trademark doesn’t appear in the video, the second saying that the company’s trademark better not be removed from the video.

Sigh.

Everyone wants to fuck musicians. But not in the good way.