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We’re playing this SUNDAY (3/2/08) at Red Line Tap in Rogers Park.
We’re joined by Bill Liggett and Jungle of Cities
They’re both great musicians so come on out and enjoy an evening of music. And we know it’s Sunday night, so we’ll try to wrap it up earlier so you can be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for work!
See you at the show!
Show starts at 9:00 PM.
Red Line Tap
I had lunch with a friend the other day whom I had not seen since June. This may not seem like a long time, but in the early 1990s Renate and I sat next to each other Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm. We also ate lunch together every day, and on some Friday nights we would also have dinner. For two years eighteen years ago I saw Renate more than I see my own husband now.
We had about an hour before she had to go to work. In these situations, trying to catch up on months of living in one hour, I often fall back into a default position in which I don’t say much at all about life for me. It would be too much to describe even if we had seven hours together and not just one. In the end, it seemed equally short for Renate, who said, as she was walking to her car later, “I didn’t even tell you half of what I wanted.”
Neither did I.
Time is an illusion. Meaning, a life can change completely in one second or it could not change at all in 80 years. So, what could I tell Renate about my life in the last 7 months? I could say I live lifetimes in a day. And perhaps I could describe the quality of each lifetime. Or, I could just sit and listen and have her tell me about the lifetimes she is living in one day.
I recently attended my first day-long buddhist retreat at the temple. From 3:00 PM to 10:00 PM I sat in meditation with others in the Retreat Center of the temple. We sat in silence in various positions in shifts of 30 minutes each with fifteen minute breaks. These cycles were interspersed with chanting and walking meditation. It is impossible to say what happens in a day like this, just as it seemed impossible to say to Renate what happens in seven months of my life when each day is a lifetime. Even in the days since the retreat, it is hard to say what happened and how it worked (or did not) for me. Nothing happened. And yet, everything is different.
In order to feel less isolated in this experience, I began reading Japanese Zen poets in a book which Brian gave me for Valentine’s Day. My favorite poet is Ikkyu Sojun (1394-1481) and it was one of his poems that came to me most during the retreat.
Six years of piercing cold and hunger!
Shakyamuni’s way demands austerity.
Anyone who thinks buddhahood is easy
is just a rice bag in a monk’s robe.
I like Sojun because he’s cranky and honest. Buddhahood can be be bitch.
I have always liked haiku for its simplicity, but now I understand better why nature and its small elements are so engaging to haiku poets. When one sits still for hours at a time, the world dissolves and condenses until one notices only the frog or the fly or the drop of dew:
Settling, white dew
does not discriminate
each drop its home.
As I sat across from Renate with a plate of eggs and toast and listened as she asked me questions about myself and Brian, this other haiku appeared in my head in place of words.
If pressed to compare
this brief life, I might declare:
It’s like the boat
that crossed this morning’s harbor,
leaving no mark on the world.
(The Priest Mansei, ca. 730)
Haiku has been pacing back and forth across my brain like monks who wander silently back and forth through the temple. In this odd too-real dream state, I have often lost the words to describe what I see or feel now. My own thoughts have been gathering themselves in groups of short lines as if to show me how simple it really could be if I would stop over thinking it.
For the first time in years, I wrote a haiku. Three lines that came to me as I left the temple — less ecological and more decidedly modern than the ancient monks I read, but it seemed at the time (and now) everything I wanted to say about my day at the temple (and after).
Climbing the temple stairs
the sound of velcro
in my knees.
In the recent issue of Roctober, Brian found this short notice about our first CD.
Short Punks in Love. Moody indie with a nice balance of resonant guitar and spare percussion. Far less cutesy than the band name, but just as romantic (actually, more so).
“Spare percussion”!! Ha. I love that. It was our first CD, my first recording, and “spare” was all I could play. I only knew the basic rock beat so that’s what I played. We get compliments every now and then on the “percussive style” and I’m often embarrassed to admit to the complimenter (although, I do) that my “style” came from not really knowing how to play. Brian was so supportive, and actually prefers minimal drumming, that it actually worked with the songs he wrote. Now, we’re having another discussion. Since I have learned more I want to complicate the drumming patterns and he wants to keep them minimal. We’re working on that now.
Meanwhile, that debut CD, now 2 years-old, is still our favorite. And, if you haven’t heard it and want a copy, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll send you a copy for FREE!
Gigs look a lot more glamorous than they really are, and, more importantly, they last for about as third as long as an average rehearsal. For Friday’s show we rehearsed four and a half hours. The actual set lasted thirty minutes, but the whole time we were out amounted to seven hours from the moment we stepped out of our house to the moment we loaded the gear back in. Time is everything and yet, nothing. One of the greatest obstacles I hear from people who are older (I’ll say, over 30) who want to learn to play an instrument is that they have ‘no time.’ I often agree. It takes time. And yet, once a gig is over, I don’t often regret the time I spent preparing for the show or the show itself. It’s worth the time I spend on it. In general, learning the drums has taught me to spend the time doing things I love or want to learn. I used to spend a lot of time doing things I ‘had’ to do, but as I grew older, I learned to say ‘no’ to those things (you now, parties for co-workers or clients, obligatory visits to people I did not know well, shopping trips that I did not want to take, etc). Gigs have even offered”reasons” for not attending these social gatherings. “I have a gig” has saved me from more endlessly dull evenings than I can remember. But more importantly, the time I have spent on learning to play the drums, the hours in with the practice pad, repays me well in thirty minutes, a fraction of the time I spent getting to that stage.
Rehearsal at Superior Street
Friday’s show was not a bad show — it was a great one. The opening acts, Bill Liggett and Sam Saunders, did great sets that primed the audience for us. They were so good, that at one moment, when Bill was seeing a song he wrote for his son called “Number One,” I forgot I was playing later. Now, that’s a real gift in a night — to be able to enjoy the other musicians enough that I forget my own concerns about playing.
The other feature of the show was that we drew an audience. People who have heard the CD and know us came out to hear us play live. If you’re not a musician grasping the import of this may be difficult. This is what it means for us: for the first time in a lot of months, we played to people who liked us. We were not playing to people who had never heard of us before and didn’t care we weren’t playing. The ‘reality’ of gigging for your average musician is that most gigs are in small bars and clubs with little or no audiences. We’ve played just for a bartender more than once, so the gratification that comes with an audience is not missed by us. This doesn’t mean that we don’t think the empty room still isn’t in our future. It probably is, but at least, for one night, the first night in a long time, there was enthusiasm in the audience. We are grateful to everyone who came out. It gives us a hope. So, thanks.
We have a gig on Friday, a rehearsal on Thursday, and this means one thing: I better practice. When we took our short hiatus, Brian kept playing, “woodshedding” in the music room, trying new chords, writing new songs. Meanwhile, I pushed the practice pad into the corner and started leaving mail on it. And without even noticing, a month, even two months went by and I hadn’t picked up a drum stick. Hadn’t even really listened to drummers on CD. I just went and did other things.
I am not one of those musicians — one of those bio-pic musicians who “save” their lives with music. I am not one of those musicians who, as Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin (and yes, I saw that movie, and liked it) does, says that “one day I’ll be a star” (or something like that). I am not John Coltrane who practiced every moment he was awake. At night he would practice with his saxophone when others were asleep, his fingers working his horn while he had the reed out. I am not Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton or Nick Drake or even Brian Cremins. I am a regular person with an average amount of discipline who would rather write this blog, clean the bathroom, do a load of laundry, or shop on-line than practice. I’m THAT kind of musician. I’m the kind who daydreams of being magically a great musician without actually practicing. I’m the kind of musician who practices my tv screen pitter patter with Craig Ferguson while I brush my teeth.
“I’m so glad you liked the CD, Craig. Well, you know, we recorded it in the south of France, and that made such a difference to get away from L.A.”
And he would wink in that cute, Scottish, way and say “Oh yes! El Ay!!”
I am the kind of musician who still has to count my way through a song because I lose my time if I don’t.
I am the kind of musician who forgets whole songs that I have already recorded. I am the kind of musician who occasionally forgets how to assemble her own instrument. Does the drum head go this way or that way? I am the kind of musician who hasn’t taken a lesson in over year. I am the kind of musician who wonders how far I can get as a musician being this kind of musician.
We have a gig on Friday. I have to remember how to assemble my own drum kit. I have to practice and work the muscles in my hands and arms so that I can play a whole set without getting fatigued. I have to listen to our own CDs to remember the songs. I have to remember to breathe when I play or I get dizzy. I have to remember that if I want to be the kind of musician who saves his or her life with music, I have to forget that I’m the other kind of musician who would rather be at home with a box a donuts than on-stage with ten people staring at me blankly while I’m trying to remember all the things I’m trying to forget.
We have a gig on Friday. Did I mention that? We have a gig on Friday.
It was pretty the first time. It was a pretty the first time when eight inches of snow fell in December the week before Christmas. The temperature was mild; the snow, white and fluffy. It was pretty that first time, but now, two months later after weeks of alternating sub-zero and rain, it’s not pretty any more. One weatherman and newscaster described it like this:
Weatherman: It sure has been a long winter.
Anchorman: Yeah, and I’m starting to get whiney.
I bid farewell to whiney last week. I departed from whiney, made a left at irritated and annoyed, and took the next exit straight to SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER: Population: 10 million. This is the part of winter when we start to remember summer as if it’s a deceased relative: someone long gone, you think fondly of. Remember when Summer days would end at 8:30 at night? Remember how Summer would be really warm and you could plan to spend your whole day outside? Remember how we would eat at outside at that cute little restaurant and have bruschetta and wine? Summer is a memory — a vague, distant, longed-for memory.
I tried to walk to a cafe this afternoon just to get out of the house. Big mistake. It’s rained for two days, and the snow lay atop deep trenches of icy water. I would put my foot on what I thought was solid snow only to have it drop another eight inches into cold water. It was a drag. My backpack felt heavy and cold. I was unhappy and annoyed, but I walked on until I found a cafe. A local favorite, I assumed it would be empty because of the weather. But alas, wireless is free there, and there was not an empty chair in sight. I walked more blocks to the next one and on my walk in slush and snow and ice I counted my breaths. Seemed like the sensible thing to do at the time. And we had learned it yesterday.
Walking meditation is like sitting meditation except, well, you’re walking. Each exhale is a step and each step is counted. So: exhale, place a foot, ONE. Inhale, lift foot, place foot, exhale, TWO. Needless to say, no one’s power walking like this. And the hands are held at the solar plexus, the right hand cradled by the left. I walked eight blocks like this. Sometimes counting, sometimes not. And I walked in complete isolation and anonymity. What would have been noticeable walking behavior in the summer is not noticed in the winter as other pedestrians pass by, heads down against the wind. It was like I was alone out there, just walking.
It took twice as long to get to the cafe, and when I arrived, it was empty. Unlike the other cafe, the wireless is free but sometimes difficult to log into, and I couldn’t connect. I stayed anyway. The lack of internet access probably did me more good. No time-sucking e-bay browsing for me. But I didn’t work as much as planned. Instead, I watched the determined snow fall and fall. I watched it blow horizontally against buses and cars. I listened to the frequent hi-pitched whirr of car engines trying to extricate themselves from the snow. I waited. And watched. Somewhere under all this, I thought, summer is still alive. Not deceased. I think one of the features of Midwestern personalities is a quite determination (which isn’t to say other regions aren’t determined, but I didn’t feel this quality in say, Louisiana). We have to wait things out here. Winter ends when it ends. Summer comes when it comes. Learning to adjust to the Midwest winter in all its extremes has been a challenge for me. Life improved when I began to accept winter, but here I am in the middle of this long season, feeling not so grateful, and a little, dare I say, hopeless. When summer does arrive, because of the long winter it will feel like all of Chicago had taken some sort of magic happy pill. The first fifty-degree day, no, even a mid-forty degree day, we will all jump onto our bikes or walk outside as if summer was some magic gift. Can you believe it? We will all say. Fifty degrees! I’ll see joggers in shorts. Women with babies power walking in capris. Outdoor cafes could open. It will be glorious and strange. And this day, today, waiting for the snow to end will be a dim memory. A memory as dim as the one I am having right now about summer.
We have had a few months off and now that the snow is nice and deep we think this would be a great time to drag 200 pounds of musical gear through the snow!
Short Punks in Love is back on stage!
When: Friday, February 8, 9:00 PM
Where: Hotti Biscotti,
Tel: (2 blocks west of Kimball/Fullerton)
What: Our first show in two months and our first show EVER with two other Chicago Acoustic Underground Alumni: Sam (episode 52), Bill (episode 22)…SPiL appeared on episode 32.
As always, the only acoustic instrument you will hear with SPiL are the drums, but who’s counting, anyway…?! Expect new songs, a new Telecaster, and at least a photo of our new pet rabbit Jackson, who can’t come along to the gig but will be there in spirit…
Also coming up…SPiL with Tim Wais’s new band Jungle of Cities at The Red Line on March 2nd and a new Chicago Acoustic Underground taping this spring for the new CD…! Demos of the new Short Punks CD are starting to appear on our My Space page, so take a listen to “Pioneer Days” and look for “October Blues” and “Too Tired to Die” coming up soon…