Tuneful Tuesday: The Mellow Zone

mushroomI had the opportunity to eat lunch at the Mellow Mushroom in Nashville on Father’s Day. I would highly recommend it. They have some really awesome pizzas there, and the service was great, too. Lots of music stuff inside, which is right up my alley, of course. Just an overall pleasant experience.

It’s been a while since I’ve actually focused much on the music playing inside a restaurant I was eating at. There are usually so many other distractions around, particularly now that every restaurant seems to have at least five different televisions all playing five different things at the same time.

(Pet peeve: Why do restaurants put a television on a sitcom or newscast or something, turn the volume all the way down, and not turn on the closed captions? You’ve reduced the viewing experience to basically watching mimes.)

For some reason, though, on this particular day, I was listening to the songs being played with some degree of attention. As a string of ’90s alternative tunes reeled off, I had a realization: Even though some of those songs came out during really difficult periods of my life, when my depression was at some of its lowest points, I smiled after the first few notes of each of them played. It was like I was running into a bunch of old friends again.

With iPods and digital music, I think we’ve sort of lost the value of hearing a song from long ago played over a distantblur speaker. We can put our whole libraries on something the size of a notepad (or smaller). There are still those moments, though, when the past comes creeping in and taps you on the shoulder, just as it did for me Sunday. Counting Crows’ album Recovering the Satellites was like a depression soundtrack for me, but I sang nearly all the words to “Angels of the Silences” when I heard them. I don’t know what I was doing when Cherry Poppin’ Daddies “Zoot Suit Riot” came out, but I know I was diggin’ it Sunday. And even though I only know two words of Blur’s “Song 2” (“woo” and “hoo”), the energy of it made me sit up and take notice.

There may have been songs that took us to the depths of despair, but, man, aren’t we glad later on they were there? They came through when the happy, poppy stuff didn’t, then they came back years later to share war stories. Sad songs don’t always have to make you cry; sometimes they can make you smile because you’re not in the place you first heard them anymore.

That, my friends, is a pretty mellow trip, indeed.

Advertisements

The Invisible Alien

I believe I may be an alien being from another planet who possesses the power of invisibility.

“Crazy talk,” you say? “Not so,” I reply!

Consider this…

Nearly every computer or technological question I pose to humans is met either with a look of quizzical fascination or with the words, “Hmm, I’ve never heard of that before.” Perhaps there is some otherworldly electrical current which courses through my fingertips, rendering laptops and personal computers helpless before me. And maybe my knowledge of an alien alphabet keeps me from being able to enter passwords correctly, therefore keeping me out of websites and accounts it is crucial that I gain access to. Mankind appears incapable of solving these dilemmas for me.

I also possess the gift of being able to utter words into the air which are beyond the auditory perception of human alienears. Sometimes, it is as if what I’m saying isn’t heard by anyone at all. At other times, it is obvious that I was heard, but a response to my words is found lacking. This could be because I speak in some of dialect which I perceive as English, but is actually a type of speech birthed in the outer realms of space and transported by me to this rock known as Earth. I may also possess a different type of hearing which renders my measurement of volume inaccurate. What seems loud to me may be a whisper to someone else.

Whatever the causes, I seem to be able to move largely unnoticed through this world. I possess relative anonymity in a town I have lived in all my life. I have skills which appear to be fairly easy to ignore. My face is so unmemorable that a person I had actually met twice before told me that I reminded them of a picture they had seen on the news that day of an escaped convict. At my 20-year high school reunion, I ran into a former classmate who still lives in our hometown who asked me how work was going at the newspaper – somewhere I hadn’t worked in nearly a decade at the point.

Of course, I’m playing all this for laughs, but there are definitely times in my life when I feel as if I truly do not belong on this planet. I was reminded of this yesterday as I attempted to complete my college registration. Questions about usernames and passwords were met with largely blank stares. Did I stutter? Am I dense, and that is why I can’t figure this stuff out? Or am I over-thinking problems to the point where people don’t even understand my questions? No one is ever completely and constantly misunderstood, but certain days have a way of making me feel as if really am speaking a different language than everyone else.

This is presuming, of course, I actually manage to get someone’s attention. I cannot count the number of times recently I have been point-blank staring at someone and said something they appeared to have not heard whatsoever. Yesterday, when I got home, my two sons were running around the side of our house. I called to them; they didn’t even break stride. Am I that uninteresting? Have I said so many useless and trivial things in life that everyone just ignores whatever I say, whether it is important or not?

When did I become someone people could stare straight through? Or was I this person all along and am just now realizing it?

I am getting better at accepting who I am and realizing my personality traits are what they are. I’m also trying to figure out how all these parts of me make up a useful and functioning person. The real fear, though, is that I’ve waited too late to get started. Maybe I spent too many years in space. Maybe this is as good it gets for an invisible alien.

The thing is, though, there’s no way to backtrack from here. The alien wouldn’t come to Earth if he didn’t think there was something worth coming here for, and there’s nothing much in the outer limits worth staying there for. Adapting, improving, evolving, learning… These are the ways we aliens learn to survive in what can be a hostile environment sometimes. It’s not just a matter of survival, though; it’s a matter of learning to love and to live and to find a voice that asks questions worth hearing.

We Lost The Story

bass heroesI have a book beneath my bathroom sink titled Bass Heroes. It is compiled of interviews from the 1970s and 1980s with famous bass players pulled from the pages of Guitar Player magazine. The roster of interviewees is a veritable Who’s Who of elite bass players, including Billy Sheehan, Geddy Lee, Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, John Entwistle, Bill Wyman, and Paul McCartney. I bought the book in Nashville several years ago in a music store. It was long enough ago I couldn’t even tell you the name of the store.

Why is this book beneath my bathroom sink, you may ask? Mainly for ease of accessibility. If I could compile a Bible of bass playing, this book would be it for me. It has been an invaluable resource, and even though it was published over 20 years ago and some of the players featured in it are now deceased, I still pull it out and read it from time to time. Its edges have become frayed, and I’m actually quite shocked it’s held together this long, but I imagine I will hold onto it until it crumbles into dust one day.

There are definitely tons of tips and discussions on bass playing techniques and instruments and amplification and even a touch of music theory here and there, but that is not what keeps me coming back to this book over and over again. What compels me to keep reading it is the stories it contains. Clarke struck out from Philadelphia for New York in the early 1970s with basically nothing to his name but his electric bass and some clothes. Wyman once tried to reach out to high-five a fan and fell off the stage, colliding with the concrete floor seven feet below. Noted blues bassist Jerry Jemmott, who played several sessions with the late B. B. King, nearly lost his ability to play at all after an automobile accident in 1972 left him severely injured.

To me, a person’s story is just as (if not more) important than what they have accomplished or how they managed to accomplish it. The story makes up the fiber of their being. How did they get from Point A to Point B? How did that journey influence them? What was their point of decision, the path that changed their trajectory? What was it that elevated them from a normal to an extraordinary life? These are the factors which drive ingenuity and encourage individual thought, and they are also the sparks that leap from art to encourage others to strike out on their own journeys.

Unfortunately, this type of book would be difficult to compile today. The majority of guitar and bass publications I pick up now are made up of at least 75 percent product reviews, which really sucks for a guy like me on a limited budget. More than that, though, the stories have been pushed to the side. Even if an artist is chosen for a feature interview, the majority of it focuses on either that artist’s latest project or the instruments and equipment they used to record it. My heart sinks nearly every time I pick up one of these publications these days. I can actually find better interviews free on the internet.

The point I’m getting at is this: Our stories are vitally important, not just to us, but to others who may get to hear them later on. When we lose our stories, we lose our emotional connections with each other. When we become more about gear and machinery and impersonal objects, we lose our ability to inspire. The newest effects pedal on the market never inspired me to get better at my instrument, but hearing Sheehan talk about learning all of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar parts on the bass makes my wheels start turning. Could I do that? And, if I couldn’t, what would my story be?

The human experience is what makes us what we are, not the tools of the trade. It would be like asking what kind of evel2hammer John Henry used or what brand of gasoline Evel Knievel filled up his motorcycles with. Toys are cool, but stories stand the test of time.

What’s yours?

The Sad Internet

Call it my pessimistic nature, but I’ve grown a little wary of distributing advice here after the last couple of blog posts. Maybe that’s because I don’t want to seem like I think I’m an expert on recovering from depression, because I am far from it. Maybe that’s because I feel as if the first day of the new year today actually took me even further away from where I want to eventually be mentally. Or maybe that’s because I’ve just run out of good ideas to write about this week.

Whatever the cause, this post will not attempt to address my own personal journey with depression, but will instead focus on something which is universal to everyone – failure. More specifically, I want to examine epic failures, how they are often played for laughs, how they must affect the person or persons who are failing, and how some people can bounce back from them while others never will.

sadinternetThe inspiration for all this comes from an article I read this morning on Yahoo! Tech titled “The Sad Internet: 2014 in Review,” written by Rob Walker. In the article, Walker describes “The Sad Internet” as “a place full of unwatched videos, unliked photographs, unheard music, tweets that no one cared about, and crowdfunding projects that nobody backed.” He goes on to describe several websites which define the spirit of this somewhat morose side of the internet today.

For example, the website Forgotify randomly presents songs featured on Spotify that have never received any listens whatsoever. Petit Tube is a French website which features YouTube videos that have never been viewed by you or anyone else, for that matter. Perhaps the saddest of all the sites mentioned in the article is Kickended, a site which features Kickstarter projects that failed to attract even a single backer.

Walker’s article sort of plays all this for laughs, and it is difficult to deny there is something funny about the idea of forgotifysomething being terrible enough it is unable to attract any attention whatsoever. Then again, maybe it’s not so difficult to deny the supposed humor of the situation. I checked out Forgotify this afternoon, and while 99 percent of the song selections that popped up featured cover art so dismal I was afraid to listen to the actual songs themselves, I felt a tinge of sympathy for these musicians and singers. As atrocious as their offerings may have been, I’m sure none of them believed while they were making their projects that they would be ignored by everyone.

This is a sad internet, indeed. Hopeful entrepreneurs who can’t get a dime to fund their projects; merry jokesters who can’t even garner a single viewing of their best video offerings; and people who are cruel enough to set up entire websites dedicated to pointing out the failures of others. The Sad Internet, though, is really just a reflection of the sometimes sad state of life. People who give it their best shots fail every day, and every day there are other people waiting to rub their noses in their failures. It may as well be called “The Real Life Internet.”

This principle of real life, however, is what makes me not quite as sad for these victims of The Sad Internet as I might have been. Because a large majority of those people who fail in life every day somehow manage to dust themselves off and get right back on the horse again. And even though some of them never produce anything much better than their last failure, I have a certain admiration for their fighting spirit. I tend to let my failures cling to me, causing me to be afraid to try again. At least these “sad” people took their shots.

Of course, the psychology of The Sad Internet could be endlessly explored. For instance, while the internet has been touted as a place to connect people and bring the world closer together, it very often causes feelings of isolation, inadequacy, and bitterness. All of that is a discussion best left for another time, however. I’m going to look for some hidden gems on Forgotify. You never know what prize someone else might have passed over.