Played it ’til my fingers bled

Now that I temporarily find myself with all the time in the world until further notice, I’m bound and determined to make the most of it. As much as I’d love to futz around with my mp3 collection and watch cat videos all day long, I know I’ve been given this time to do what needs doing.

In other words: remember all those times I’ve said “I’d love to do (x) if I only had time?” Well, NOW is that time. Let’s get crackin’.

One thing that’s been on my mind as of late is the fact that I have been woefully stuck at “amateur who knows some neat chords and solos but still plays the same damn songs over and over” level of guitar playing. I’ve been stuck at that level for years. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that if I want to stay at that level, but I want to be better. I want to get to the point where, if I felt like dropping some tunes on Bandcamp for sale, I could do so and be proud of the results. Sort of like how I’ve worked on my novels over the years.

I’ve heard all the stories about guitarists like George Harrison who would practice on their guitar until their fingers literally bled. Bryan Adams sings about it in the first verse of “Summer of ’69”. I’ve read so many music bios and memoirs about building up those fingertip calluses and strengthening those fingers and working on dexterity.

I think, now that I have the time, I really should start doing exactly that. I no longer want to just noodle around for ten minutes playing the same chords. I want to explore this avenue. I want to see and hear where it goes. I want to find my own true style and not just imitate my influences. I have the equipment for it, so there’s nothing to stop me right now.

Mobile Music Alternatives

I’m still a bit annoyed that I can’t seem to get my mp3 players (or my phone for that matter) to play any music through the car. Apparently our car stereo is so low tech that it doesn’t even have a line-in audio selection on the interface. It does have a few USB ports, but no UI that will let me access whatever I connect to it. [It of course has Bluetooth and iThingie interfaces, neither of which I need.] All I want is to listen to something aside from the same stations playing the same dang things over and over! Why is that so hard? Eesh.

Anyway, this reminds me of those days long ago when I used to bring my boombox along when I went on a roadtrip with my friends, or when I had that unwieldy and not-always-working connector to my cd walkman (which would eat up AA battery power at the rate of maybe two cd plays and skip at the slightest jolt). I don’t think it’s currently possible to upgrade our car stereo, so there’s not a lot I can do except figure out an alternative or see if I can find a lifehack online somewhere. Right now I’m contemplating keeping a small Bluetooth-ready speaker in the car, which I’d originally bought for my PC, and plug in my mp3 player that way. At least I can charge that thing rather than go through all those batteries.

I find this quite amusing, actually, as it almost feels like I’ve gone full circle: if I really want to listen to my own music, I’m going to have to carry it on me and have something to play it on, or in this case, through.

Getting in Tune

self-tuning guitar

I could totally use one of these, tbh.

The downside to owning guitars, especially in places where the weather has notable temperature and humidity changes, is that they can go quite out of tune very quickly. Every six months or so I need to retune them.  And I’ve been playing them for long enough that I can tell when they’re just a bit off.  It’s not fun when you’re strumming a few chords and that one string is painfully flat.

One of the other downsides is having to restring them now and again.  I’ll be honest, I don’t restring nearly as often as I should.  I haven’t restrung my acoustic bass probably since I bought the thing, so the strings had lost their sheen as well as their resonance quite some time ago.  I spent Sunday putting new ones on it, and let me tell you, it’s one hell of an awkward process.  I’m used to restringing my electrics, which are easy to do.  Acoustics are a bit tougher, because you’re not only working around a bigger body while you’re winding the string around the tuning peg mechanism, but you’re feeding the other end through a hole in the bridge and holding it there with a plastic peg that you hope won’t come flying out into your eye.

Anyway…once the new strings are on and secured, there’s the few weeks where the guitar sounds all too trebley and twangy.  Or worse, when you’re in the middle of playing and the string slips just a little bit from its tuning peg or its bridge, and you jump back in case that G ends up flying loose and lacerating you.

But once everything settles and you get used to it all, everything is just fine.

Drunken Owl

IMG_20170709_141703

It’s not the fanciest gear, but it does its job.

First, here’s a video of The Smithereens playing “Blood and Roses”, one of their first hits and one of my favorite bass lines of the 80s:

Whenever I’m in a guitar store and checking out basses, I usually use that riff to test it out. It’s a relatively easy lick (even if technically it’s dropped down a half-step to E-flat) and if I can pull it off without my fingers cramping, then it’s a bass I can use.   I’m posting it here because it’s also a riff that I like to use when I’m practicing.

So what’s the deal here? Drunken Owl? What?

That’s the name of my current music project, named from the 18th century British slang term “drunk as an owl” (thanks to A.’s wide-spanning reading material for the source). It’s one of those phrases that doesn’t quite sound right logically, but makes for a good band name.

I’ve been meaning to return to playing and recording music demos for quite some time, though, like with most of my other grand creative plans, it was put aside so I could finish the Great Trilogy Revision Project.  So!  Now that that behemoth is out of the way, I can finally move forward with it.  I don’t plan on any grand masterpieces or anything…all I really want to do is lay down my songs.  I’ve amassed a decent amount of them over the years, and I’m itching to write and record some new ones as well.

And like my books, I want to see how far I can DIY it.  I’ve recorded a few demos on my phone, for starters.  [The sound is mono, but the quality is actually pretty good, considering!]  I plan on using the instruments I have already: the basses, the guitars, the keyboard, the funky lo-fi drum pad (it’s hiding behind my camera bag on the floor under the keyboard in that picture up top), and maybe some slightly better (but still relatively cheap) editing-mixing software.

Any plans on releasing them on Bandcamp or whatever?  Eh, probably not, but we’ll see.  I may just upload them to Soundcloud and share them here or elsewhere.  The main reason for this ongoing project is mainly to make good on my lifelong loves of writing, music, and art.  [Yeah, I’m trying to get my art up and running again as well.]  The main goal here is to have fun with it!

[Edit: Just learned this morning that Soundcloud is going kerflooey.  Guess I’ll have to find a different embedder!]