Thursday, April 23, 2015

Life Gets in the Way

Bless me father/mother/brother/sister for I have sinned...

I have been really negligent of my blog recently... my last post was January 29th and the one before that was December 17th...  It isn't that I have had nothing to say.  There has been a lot going on in my life and a lot upon which to reflect.  Theologically, I've been thinking about a lot.  My work at the church is very positive these days and I'm feeling good about things there.  I've been working more at my fretless bass playing and I'm feeling really good about it.  Watching my two grandchildren grow and change really is the joy of my life and is simply transcendent.

Life is good... and full... but at the same time I find myself wasting more time these days and I'm not sure what that is about.  I'd like to be spending more time practicing bass (and find more opportunities to perform on it).  I should be writing more here and I even have an idea for a book that has been floating around for a couple of years without me doing anything on it.  I'd like to spend more time playing with Corwin and Khloe or at least be more intentional about it.  I worry terribly about both of my children and their families but really have no solutions to offer either and sometimes that immobilizes me a bit. So I have been spending too much time in completely non-productive activity (which isn't to say that all non-productive activity is bad, we do need some).

So, this post comes both as confession and as commitment to get my butt back in gear.  Check back in a week or so to see whether it has worked.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Music, Copyrights, and Money

Sam Smith has a great song getting a lot of play on the radio these days called Stay with Me and which is nominated for a Grammy.  There are two phrases (six notes) that match a song by Tom Petty which you can hear in the mash up below.

Evidently someone discovered the similarities and Tom Petty & Jeff Lynne were added as co-writers of the Sam Smith song and will receive a percentage of the song's income.  Nobody says that Sam Smith copied the line or stole anything but the other two are still receiving royalties because they own that six note phrase.

Here's the problem... as long as one stays with a single key, there are only a limited number of notes that can be placed in a limited number of orders.  Add the way that western music works and the way that pop music works and things become even more constrained. 

Here's another video mashup that shows this issue in a funny way.

and yet another one

Search for Pachabel's Canon rant on youtube for yet another....

Now, I'm a song writer and I believe that artists should own their work.  I also have a BA in music.  I remember a composition class where the prof made a statement that struck me as odd... and I expect an understatement.  She said "every melody that could possibly be written was written by the 14th century."  That is, every melody you ever heard was a copy of something written long, long ago.   I am sure that if we looked a bit we could find another instance of those 6 notes in the Sam Smith/Tom Petty song.  It is a great little line and it was not original to Tom Petty.  If you're a songwriter, everything you have ever written has already been written by someone else.  Here's the point though.  That doesn't make you less of an artist.  You still have taken those same six notes and given them new life, new meaning, and new emotional content.

So here's my rant... to own those six notes (which is what is being acknowledged here) is just ridiculous.  I would say the same thing about DNA and any number of other examples of intellectual property.  The laws need to be updated to reflect the reality of the situation. 

For a bit of fun, Jon Stossel recently wrote a column on intellectual property.  I think it is the first (and like the last) time I've agreed with him. 

FWIW, I prefer what Sam Smith does with the 6 notes over what Tom Petty did.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

NBD (new bass day)

Boy it's been a long time since I've posted anything... and it isn't because nothing has been happening.  Life has been rich, full, and busy.  So this post is going up because it is an easy one...  I'll try to get some other new ones up soon.  There is a lot to write about.

I've always loved the sound of a good fretless bass.  They allow an incredible amount of control over the envelope of the sound from the shape of the attack to the sustain that you just don't get on a fretted bass.  It begins with the singing tone referred to as "mwah" by bass players but goes well beyond that.   All of that control requires... control on the part of the player and there is the issue of intonation.  With no frets, moving your finger a fraction of an inch takes you into or out of tune.

I've owned two in the past.  One simply was a lousy instrument and nobody could have made it sound like what I hear in my head.  The other was a decent bass.  Of course the real piece was that I wasn't really a bass player when I owned either one.  Over the past few years, as I've been playing bass in the church band, I'm becoming a real bass player rather than just a guitar player, playing at bass.  I'm hoping to have some more opportunities playing bass as a backup player for local singer/songwriters.

A second piece has come into play.  Bass guitar builders are much more adventurous than guitar builders and bass players likewise.  This allows the builders to push the envelope a lot further than guitar builders from interesting designs to multi-string extended basses (some of which have as many as 21 strings - here's a link to a video of a Bee Bass 9 string from NAMM if you're interested).

Bee Bass GrooveBee
One company called Bee Bass builds some instruments that really catch my eye aesthetically and sound really, really good.  While I would have loved to own one, even though they are priced reasonably for the quality, they still are priced beyond my budget at this point so they really didn't even inspire any GAS (guitar acquisition syndrome) in me... until I saw that the builder - Fred Bolton - had a demo instrument up on e-bay for a silly good price.  Nobody bid and the auction ended.  Fred posted the bass again at a lower price.  I remembered a similar situation with my first Lowden where it had presented itself when I wasn't looking for a new guitar and that Lowden changed the direction of my playing forever.   I couldn't help thinking that this Bee might do the same thing for my bass playing.  I bid.  I won it and became the owner of a fretless Bee Bass GrooveBee.  It sounds killer and I think it is a beautiful piece of art even before it is played.

I'm in love with it even as it challenges me to be way more careful of my technique and aware of my intonation which was never even an issue with fretted instruments.  I'm working at both.   The bass inspires me to work at both so that makes it easier.   Here's a video of my bass made by the builder... you can hear the mwah.  What you don't hear is how aggressive the low end can be.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Would you hire a...

If you were in charge of hiring an executive for a company that manufactures automobiles, would you choose an Amish person who believes that cars are an offense outside of the will of God for the world?  Of course not.  The assumption would be that at the very best, that Amish person would do a lousy job.  At worst, he would actively try to sabotage the efficient running of the company.  It would be stupid to hire him regardless of how good a businessperson he had been, his personal character, his other skills, his integrity... you would be hiring him to do something that at his very core he believed is a worthless or even evil endeavor.

Why then would any vote for the current drop of Republicans?  Their philosophy of government goes back to that famous Grover Norquist quote - "I'm not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."  That was underscored by the economic ideas of Milton Friedman who taught that government intrusion in anything is problematic and that free markets always work and are the only thing that works.  The Republicans simply do not believe the government has any role other than the military and even that, they have gutted and privatized to a significant degree, handing off many traditional government functions to private contractors whose primary allegiance is not to the public good but instead is to maximizing profits.  The response to Hurricane Katrina was not ineptitude of the government, it was a logical expression of the idea that private for profit enterprise should do everything and there is no government role. 

Yes, our government is dysfunctional right now... but it large degree that is the plan of Republicans currently in office.  Put in more and things will become even less functional because they do not believe in government.  They want to shred all public safety nets - social security, WIC, welfare, etc. etc. because they do not believe that is the role of government.  They want to destroy public schools and replace them with private ones because they do not believe it is a government responsibility to educate our children.  They want to remove agencies that check our foods and drugs for safety because they believe the free market will take care of that.  They want to gut any support of government sponsored scientific research, allowing companies to research only what is immediately profitable for them.  They want to add more Supreme Court Justices who support a corporatist state where billionaires and multi-national corporations are unfettered.  The list goes on. 

There are Republicans who are good people but as a party, I say this with fear and trembling, they are working to shred everything that makes for a civil society.  I would not hire someone who does not believe in cars to run an automotive company.  Why in the world would anyone vote to put someone in office to run the government when their sole intent is to destroy the government or at least shrink it until it can be drowned in the bathtub?

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Life... Rich... Full...

It has been a while since I've posted anything here.  Life has been full and a bit crazy.  My son, John, got married.  Cheryl and I celebrated our 41st anniversary.  My grandson, Corwin, hit his first birthday.  And life goes on in the midst of all of it.  I am so, so very blessed and so full of joy.

I have to say again that this grand-parenting thing really is wonderful and Corwin brings me more joy than I can say.  I'm looking forward to his cousin Khloe arriving sometime within the next few weeks and watching my heart expand even more.

In the meantime, here's a fun video of Corwin.  A few weeks ago I had a great gig with a wonderful singer named Stefana who pushed me out of my wheelhouse a good bit as she does a lot of Middle Eastern flavored music.  Corwin loved her music.  Part of my process of getting ready was just to listen to the tunes while reading through the charts.  Whenever I would do that, Corwin would sing along.  Here's a little clip of him doing just that.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Gaza, etc.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima.   Saturday is the anniversary of Nagasaki.  Every year I grieve on these days.  I know the argument is that these bombs ended the war... and frankly that doesn't matter.  The bombs were still immoral.  I hear the argument that Israel is protecting itself and if large numbers of civilians die, that is just the cost of war. 

I'm reminded of the words of a wise Jewish teacher -  What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  There are times when survival is not the moral option.  I dare not impose my religious understandings on folk who do not share them, but I can raise the questions... at what point does the cost of survival cause us to cease to be who we claim we are?  At what point does the oppressed become the oppressor?  When does taking on the characteristics of our attacker destroy our soul?

More than once in the history of the United States we have given up our collective soul for profit, for security, to win.  In those instances we have ceased to be the people we claim to be and have lost our best selves.  We have given away our souls.  Dropping atomic bombs on civilians in Japan twice was one of those times.  I believe the continued occupation and settlements in Palestine may be doing the same to Israel.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

bass player or guitar player?

I've been playing bass in the church band since late 2010 or early 2011.  It was a struggle at first.  Guitar players often think they can play bass because they know where all of the notes are but the reality is that it is a very, very different instrument.  Back in March I posted the 10 commandments for bass players which really underscores the role of the bass player in keeping the groove.  Earlier, I posted a piece about the different language that bass players speak vs. guitar players.   I mentioned in one of those posts that I'm actually spending more time playing bass than guitar these days and that it is detrimental to my guitar playing.  That continues to be the case.  At the same time, I do really enjoy playing the bass.  There are these wonderful moments when I find myself connected to the drummer and it is almost as if we are one person/instrument and the groove really does take over.

So here's the thing... I find myself thinking sometimes that I should switch and define myself primarily as a bass player rather than a guitar player.  I am a good, if a little idiosyncratic, guitar player but I'm not getting a lot of opportunities to play.  I'm a reasonably good bass player too... and I think there would be more opportunities for that if I really worked at it and put myself out there.  To do that though, would, by necessity, push my guitar playing even further back on the shelf.  I do miss playing out though and the possibility of getting out more is really attractive.

I'd like to be intentional about the whole question rather than just sliding into it... we'll see.