Sunday, January 1, 2012

12 Musical Resolutions For 2012

Eleanor Friedberger--"I Won't Fall Apart On You Tonight" (mp3)

Much as Billy and I like to wade into issues that we don't know enough about, Bottom Of The Glass always begins and ends with music. 2012 will be our 5th year; sometime during this year we will also "publish" our 1000th blogpost. So while I may have some other resolutions that I may keep to myself, I'm going public with my musical resolutions:

1. Play more live. The goal is pretty simple. Three performances of some kind in some kind of public place, meaning not me playing for my dog. If you play an instrument, then you know that you sound one way when you play to yourself (damn good) and an entirely different way when you have to swallow your nerves and perform (kind of tentative). New Year's Eve didn't happen, and that's a good thing, as I found out when I ran through some of the songs with one of the guys. The songs need way more practice. Neil Young Night looms on the horizon. What else?

2. See more live. I say it every year; I continue to believe it: it is always worth it to make the effort to go see music performed live. But the bones get old and the next day looms large when a mid-week concert beckons and the ears aren't what they used to be either. Still....always worth it. Except the Avett Brothers.

3. Actively seek new music. I was embarassed as a pseudo-music blogger to see the "Best Of" lists this year and to discover how many bands that I'd never even heard of topping people's lists. Whatever avenues for passive exposure to new music once existed, they don't exist no more and they ain't comin' back. Sampling the "charts" of eMusic ain't gonna do it either. I'm going to have to get out there. I'm not even sure what that means yet, but my thanks to superstar music bloggers Said The Gramophone and entrepreneurs This Is American Music for their respective commitments to good, new stuff.

4. Practice, for God's sake, and preferably with other people. It's one thing to say that I want to play more live music, but the real issue is the work I need to put in on my own and with other people behind the scenes. Otherwise, it's like trying to run a race with no training. Right now, there are calluses on my fingertips, I have three guitars in working order, one at a repair shop, one to be repaired, and one loaned to a college student with an ambiguous future, so I'd have to say I'm feeling decent about this one. I've played the guitar for at least 15-30 minutes every day this week. The key is to get those wood boxes out in the open where I can't help but see them and can't help but pick them up. The practicing with other people, well, that's a tougher proposition, not unlike seeing live music. It involves leaving the house to follow up on a commitment. I'm working on it, I promise.

5. Put in more time with the BOTG mailbox. It's tough work, as Billy or I have mentioned more than once. Before even sorting through the musical submissions, trying to come up with some kind of system for what is even worth clicking on (personally, I don't do remixes) requires a good deal of perusal and deletion. But, I also know that it's true that both of us continue to listen to music that we found in that mailbox, so I know that there is a payoff for that work. The question is, when can I work on it? Usually, there are three or four times a year when I can find the time to look, and that's it.

6. Try to figure out how someone got past me. I kind of think it might be Frank Zappa, but it may be someone else. What I'm talking about is revisiting one of the "greats" who I never got into and never figured out why. Take Zappa, for example: I always appreciated the guitar playing, but never got into the songs--they struck me as stupid or unnecessarily virtuostic or both. And Captain Beefheart? I was never going there. But there are many people that I missed, and I know it.

7. Write off. Billy alluded, in his favorites of 2010, to the concept of moving beyond favorite artists who seem to be played out. In his case, the potentials included giants like Paul Simon and a few bands who maybe were never that good in the first place. We always need to remind ourselves that rock music is like one of those unmanned NASA spacecraft that continues to send information back to us--it simply wasn't supposed to go on this long. It's no crime for us as listeners to acknowledge that there are musicians in their 60's or 70's whose music no longer seems to matter, whose lyrics seem to have little to say to us. It had to happen. It's going to happen more and more.

8. Write a song. I mean, c'mon. I'm not talking about a hit song. But I play around with chords all the time and I have at least an average ability to put those chords into patterns and rhythms that sound fresh enough and recognizable enough to catch somebody's ear. And I can write the words. But it's the words with the music and the melody over the chords. That's a lot harder than it seems, and maybe it doesn't seem easy. But I wrote a few songs about 25 years ago to capture the experience of a friend's suicide, so I know there's something still there.

9. Don't lose track.
It's the easiest thing to do. Even NPR, that supposed clearinghouse for wonderful music finds itself leaning towards what is new, at the expense of what is old and good. For whatever reason, I took a break from Christmas music last week and listened to Dylan's Blood On The Tracks over and over. I'm pretty convinced, for the moment, that it's the greatest collection of songs of all time, that I wasn't able as a 17-year-old when it was first released to appreciate the power of the songs, that the best of anyone else's work can't touch it. Doesn't matter if you agree. What matters is that I revisit the classics and, hopefully, hear them with fresh ears, as I did with Dylan.

10. Figure out my CD situation (figure out my Ipod situation). How many crossroads can one person be standing at? My music is a mess. I've got songs on my phone that aren't on my Ipod, songs on a portable hard drive that aren't on any computer, a computer that is no longer set up that has different songs than the ones I use, albums that have never been converted to MP3, multiple Ipods with different songs on them, and a ton of CDs. I can't even get my head around how I could resolve this without putting in hours and hours. So I need to figure out how much time is worth and what is the best way to consolidate.

11. All we are saying is give hip-hop a chance. Since the beginnings of rock, one of the continuing themes of popular music has been songs about the double-edged sword of success and fame and the toll it takes. Yes, there are obvious benefits to being a star, but not without a toll. Right now, no one except for hip-hop artists (Drake and Frank Ocean come to mind) is exploring the modern day implications of this situation--medicating into oblivion, lovers who can't be trusted, the tenuousness of being on top. The songs are powerful and eloquent (if you don't mind a "fuck" or two) and contain a weariness that I can't help but empathize with, regardless of the sources of my own weariness. Permutations "So You Want To Be A Rock 'N Roll Star" and "Albequerque" five decades later.

12. Quit being such a snob. Yeah, like that's going to happen. But I really do have to get past some of my "rules," since I always hear something that breaks them that I like. Yes, the 80's sucked, U2 is bombastic and tiresome, the Stones peaked in '72, too much reverb ruins most songs, contemporary Christian music is awful, and any number of Bob-truths, but, hey, those are not terminal conditions. There's always an exception.


Billy said...

Do we dare turn winter/spring "church" into starter lessons for an eventual regular jam session? There would be lots of educating involved where I'm concerned, but I started playing again over the break, and it's definitely one of my "in my 40s" resolutions...

troutking said...

Love this post and look forward to joining you on at least #s 1, 2, 4, 6 and 9. Love your idea too, Billy. 2012 will be the rockingest year ever, culminating in a performance of Barack the Casbah on Election Night to celebrate term number 2.

rodle said...

Yes to playing live. I'll tune up my harmonica.

Daisy said...

If y'all aren't too old to start a band that means I'm not too old to be a groupie!