Reviving Drunken Owl

I’ll be honest, I haven’t been playing much guitar or bass these last couple of months partly because I’ve been busy taking care of two extremely precocious young cats and focusing on other creative avenues. But…and I really hate to admit this…I just haven’t been inspired to play lately, which is bothersome.

I’d say over the last year or so, when I do pick up one of my guitars, I end up playing the same four or five songs or riffs over and over again, and that’s boring. I’m out of practice with writing new songs.

So I’ve decided that one of the projects I’d like to start this year is to go through the… *counts the mp3s* …roughly sixty demo riffs I’ve recorded on my phone over the last five years and make something out of them. They range anywhere from thirty seconds to a few minutes in length. I’ve mentioned before that I’d like to find a cheap multi-track software (and one that doesn’t take up much memory as I don’t have all that much space on my PC, unless I put it on my laptop instead) and lay these down just to see what I can do with them. I’ll start small, just going with instrumentals for now until I feel the need to add lyrics. I’ve even assigned myself Saturdays as Music Day on my whiteboard schedule.

The aim here isn’t actually to release or even make any money off them (though if they’re good enough quality I might put them up on Bandcamp for funsies), but to see if I can revive that inspiration. Otherwise these instruments of mine are just gathering dust. And I’d rather not keep doing that, thank you.

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.

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.

Beware of…Being Out of Practice


One of the things I’m looking forward to on the Blogging the Beatles 2 series is listening to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album, because it’s one of his best.  It’s at least four or five years’ worth of tracks that were nixed for Beatle work.  Indeed, after awhile he just decided not to offer and kept them for himself.

One of my favorite tracks from the album is “Beware of Darkness” which is a perfect example of George’s best songwriting.  It’s got a hauntingly beautiful melody, but it also showcases his penchant for using slightly off-kilter chord progressions.  They made sense and blended quite nicely, but they weren’t the chords you were expecting.  It often felt like he was trying to bypass the tried-and-true pop motifs of the day, and yet write a song that still contained a musical flow that was pleasant to the ears.  [I often think of Blur’s “Coffee & TV” as a similar example of unexpected-yet-logical chord progressions.  There were a lot of alternative songs in the 90s that took this strange route, much to my delight.]

And as before, I plan on trying to play along on my guitar while I’m relistening an relearning these songs.  Suffice it to say, I still feel like I’m extremely out of practice.  It’s not a good sign that a few of my guitars sometimes have a fine layer of dust on them.  And if George is going to tempt me with his B-A-G7-G#m-C#m (there’s a lot of wacky barre chords in there, folks), then there’s a hell of a lot more I need to learn.  Especially if I want to try it with my acoustics.

This is going to be an interesting exercise, to say the least.

On a final note, here’s an excellent cover of the same track by Concrete Blonde, from their debut self-titled album.  It’s a bluesier, heavier version, but it retains the dark hints of tension found in the original, and it’s one of my favorite covers.


All Aboard the Express Kundalini

I was thinking the other day, why is it that I get all wistful and nostalgic come September? Well, the obvious answer is that it’s the start of the new school year.  The excitement of all the college radio stations coming back on the air with new and returning deejays and great tunage.  The remembrance of another year hanging out with friends on a daily basis.  The Best Laid Plan of trying to do better this semester.  And of course, the start of the fourth quarter when all the really good albums by the best bands start coming out.

That’s not to say it’s all about my days in the late 80s.  Growing up in central Massachusetts (in “Radio Free Athol”, where stations came in depending on where in town you were and how strong your antenna was), the fourth quarter is when the Day Job started getting busier.  At the record store, that meant a larger volume of stock I had to process.  At Yankee, that meant earlier hours and a busier day.  Some things never change.  But regardless, that was when the days got a little shorter and a little cooler.  The slow pace of summer replaced by the fast pace of autumn.

Love and Rockets often pops into mind at this time of year as well.  For one reason, their first four albums were all released around this time (Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, 11 Oct 1985 in the UK and reissued in the US Nov 1988; Express, 15 September 1986; Earth Sun Moon, 9 September 1987; Love and Rockets, 4 September 1989), and I bought them all soon after release.  For another, I really grokked onto the acoustic/psychedelic sounds of those first albums at the time.  I’d taught myself the basics of guitar playing (both on bass and my sister’s acoustic), and Daniel Ash’s dreamy 12-string work was exactly what I was trying for.  It would take some time for me to get to that level, but those songs definitely left an impression on me.

I mean, take “Saudade”.  It’s often considered one of their best songs.  It’s nearly thirty years old, but it still stands out as an absolute classic.  An aptly titled song at that.  A hint of melancholy and nostalgia in the melody, but also a consistently driving energy that keeps building until it can no longer contain itself.  It’s a lovely, gorgeous song, and also one of the reasons I finally bought myself a twelve-string a few years back.

It’s that time of year again, so of course I’ll be getting all wistful and nostalgic once more, listening to older tracks, playing a few tunes on the guitar, and perhaps even tuning into the local college stations again.  It’s been years since I’ve set foot in a classroom; I can bump into my buddies online whenever I want.

But there’s still something about September that still sticks with me.  For the past few years I’ve been hearing a lot of young, new bands playing the same kind of music I grokked to back in the 80s.  A resurgence of shoegaze and reverb-drenched mood music.  Young bands reinterpreting the sounds their parents and older siblings listened to, and making it their own.

The end of something old and the start of something new, I suppose.