Monday, August 29, 2011

In The Business

For Love

Making a living playing music over the long haul is difficult. You have to please a bunch of monkeys who are easily bored and always looking for something new. Meanwhile you are getting older and the music business is all about youth and fresh sounds. And young people generally want music that separates them from their parents, not music played by their parents.
I don't make a living from music. I never have and almost certainly never will. But if I did, I would be nervous as middle aged performer. If you can manage to connect in a big way to your generation while you are all still young, this can help you as time goes by, because some of them will still remember you and show up to shows when you are past your prime. But if you never hit it big and make your living off of relatively small shows or by playing in several bands or by playing covers or dance music, I would think that would be more nerve-wracking as time went on.

When I opened for America at Britt in June, their guitar tech told me that they generally draw about 1,200 people per show. And this was AMERICA, who's sold over 100,000,000 records. After the show, when they were signing CD's and talking with people (bonding with those all important fans) this one guy brought up a poster with the three of them playing for a packed Anaheim Stadium crowd of probably 65,000+. They love playing music and continue to do so, but I doubt there are many new fans at their shows these days. If you never hit it with your generation in a big way when you were young, it's even harder to make that money as you get older.

I'm glad I don't have to depend on music to pay my bills. I play music because I love playing music. It does supplement my main income as a T'ai-Chi teacher but I don't expect to be able to do it forever. It's rare enough for find people willing to listen to an older guy in his mid-50's playing my kind of music now, I can't imagine it getting any easier down the road. But I'll continue to play music as long as it feels right. When people lose interest totally in what I do, I'll miss being able to do it more than I'll miss the money. I'm in this for love.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Jokes That Matter...

And Some Musings On Humor

There are some jokes that go beyond humor and into the world of poetry and deeper meaning...

For instance: Two gamblers meet on the street. One says to the other, "Man I sure hope I break even today. I can really use the money."

I'll leave you to ponder that one.

Here's another: How many women does it take to sing "Fever". Apparently, all of them.

Now here's what I find interesting about this joke and I hope you will bear with me. What I like about this joke is that it pokes obvious fun at the fact that a lot of women, from big stars to Open Mike first timers, have sung this song. I've probably heard it sung about 5 times more frequently than any other song sung by a woman. It's sort of like saying, How many guys does it take to play "Stairway To Heaven"? Apparently, all of them. Unfair in either case, but not so unfair that it isn't at least a little funny.

But, I like the next level of meaning which I think is poking more subtle fun at the fact that "Fever" is this sultry sexy song that is, more often than not, sung by sultry sexy wannabe's rather than the genuine article. This level of meaning pokes fun at what might be called "female narcissism" or, as they used to call it, "vanity". Certainly, there is some recognition, while laughing at this joke, of the image of a woman singer who's way too into herself and her sexiness, someone who's overdoing it in a red dress while singing the song...and this image is not taken as genuine. If it was taken as genuine, this part of the joke would not strike anyone as funny. What's funny is that this way of singing "Fever" has become predictably associated with a certain type of singer, again someone more wannabe than real deal. The real deal is not funny. It's the real deal. A really sexy woman, who's really into her sexiness, truly and genuinely, is not funny.

So to re-cap...First level of humor, at least that I see, is just making fun of the fact that a lot of women sing "Fever" in one musical arena or another.

The second level of humor is that this has become tiresome because so many women who sing "Fever" are more wannabe's than real deals in the "sultry sexy" department. This second level points to the all too human desire to be more than one actually is. Think of how many guys at any given moment want to be rock stars (and can play "Stairway To Heaven") and how many of them actually get to be rock stars over the next 5-10 years.

And now, here's a third level of meaning that's interesting to me and, I'm assuming, it's an entirely unintentional one. I don't think "Fever" can succeed as a sultry sexy woman, or man song, no matter who sings it. This is because "Fever" isn't about the singer. It's about the person the singer is singing to. Forget the added lyrics. Just listen to Little Willie John sing the original version. In my opinion, at least, that guy is singing about a woman, and not himself. It's about how she makes him feel and what she makes him want. He's not the sexy one. He's not the strong one. He's practically begging, and begging in the most charming soulful way he can to get what he wants. He's not faking it, he's doing it. At least to these ears.

So when a singer tries to take the role of "the sexy one" away from who the lyrics have clearly given that role to, it just doesn't work. And it never will. People can tart this song up and find a following but they can't keep this joke from working. And it only works if people keep failing to sing this song in alignment with its lyrics.

But who knows? Maybe all it will take is one singer, as I've suggested elsewhere, like Adele; someone who can restrain every impulse that doesn't get in a song's way; maybe one singer like that could steal "Fever" away from everyone who tried to take the sexy role away from that mysterious "other person" out there.

In any case, this joke, this little 13 word diversion, made me laugh and then think about why. True, a lot of these "Fever" related opinions have been forming in me for some time, but this joke brought them all to a head and suddenly I'm as clear as I've ever been about it.

I think this is because humor has a way of getting to the heart of the matter that other ways of communicating don't. It has a poetry-like way of connecting assumptions and shared experiences, through a cycle of tension, release and recognition, and attempting to do it with the minimum number of words.The less unnecessary words in a poem or comedy routine the better. When it works there is the spontaneous release of energy that we call laughter, and it's not easy to fake. Not as easy as a lot of people apparently think it is. Just look around and listen during a typical day and notice how much fake laughter you can hear. Genuine laughter, a true spontaneous release of energy, is not easy to fake. It can be done, I assume, but I think it takes some real skill.

I think one of the ways people build trust is by sharing humor. Maybe humor started as trust building behavior. I think this is because humor involves shared experiences and values and, most importantly, it is not easy to fake. I can tell you, "I'm tired of hearing women singing "Fever" too." and you might believe me or not. But if we laughed together over this joke, we would know right away that we were pretty likely to share a least some similar experiences and values. Enough perhaps to see what else we had in common. In any case, a small amount of understanding would have occurred.

If I share a laugh with you, what we both laugh at tells us each something about the other. And it's all condensed by the poetry of humor into a very small number of words. One way to look at shared laughter is to see it as a small amount of trust that can be created in a small amount of time. Like feelers, our jokes, whether crude or refined, help us look for company, people who are like us, people who share our outlook. They can, of course be used to attack the outlook of other people, but the target of those jokes is not the person being attacked. That's not who will laugh at that joke. The people who laugh at that joke will be people who agree with the joke teller's point of view. Humor might be the fastest way and most accurate way to find out how much another person shares your point of view.

But I digress...

One more joke: Mom says to her son, "And what do you want to be when you grow up?" And the little boy says, "I wanna be a rock star Mommy!" and she says, "You can't do both Sweetie..."

I think this joke is great because it reminds me of the conflict between whatever society defines as "growing up" at any given moment, and the kind of child-like state of mind that a creative life, particularly a rock musician's life requires. Wanna grow up? Don't be a rock star. Wanna be a rock star? Well then you can't grow up. I don't know if this is true literally, but it's true enough to be funny.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Favorite Posts ~ Part Three

Here are more of my favorite facebook posts culled from my status updates and my comments on other people’s posts:

‎"Today, a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration – that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There's no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we're the imagination of ourselves. Here's Tom with the weather."

Bill Hicks 
(May he rest in peace or at least take a less fitful nap...)

Timothy Leery once said that senility was the best drug he'd ever had!

Old guy walks up to old woman at the nursing home, and half yells half says, Bet you can't guess how old I am! The old woman looks him over, reaches into his pants, feels around in there and then says, 87! He says, Holy Cow! How'd you know that? She says, Ya told me yesterday!

And now back to your regularly scheduled programing.

As far as I'm concerned, the later fire season starts the better. Working outside, I'm getting pretty used to this weather. And it's been a great bird year so far. The sun will come when it does.

Attention Ashlanders. It is now official. I will be learning "Muskrat Love" today in order to perform it tomorrow night at my "Songs About Animals" Themed Open Mike at The Wild Goose. If that's not incentive to come out for it, I don't know what is...

Best youtube comment today: “I remember this song. I heard it as I was coming out of my dad’s testicles.”

 Posted on Barry White's "Can't Get Enough Of Your Love Baby".

Hey is that your mom in this porn video? Click on this bogus link to have your computer all fucked up!

I alway thought it would be cool to be fishmonger, but without the fish, you know? I wanted to mong something, just something less smelly, so I became a balancemonger and a songmonger. Good monging there.

I don't hit many home runs, but I hit a shit-load of doubles.

I realize that not every one in town is going to be at the Maceo Parker show tonight at the Armory. Will the four people who aren't please come to our Open Mike at Tabu? 7:30 sign-up. 8pm show. 6 songs each. ;~)

I really hope this one works out. I just don't think I could stand a tabloid headline reading: Sir Paul Dis-Shevelled. (On Paul McCartney’s engagement to Nancy Shevell.)

I think "Freddie Got Fingered" is a masterpiece. And Pauly Shore was great in "Encino Man". In other news: I also have no shame.

I think that to get people's attention these days, their silent rapt attention, a performer has to be extraordinary. Every note, every word has to be amazing, one grand slam after another, and even then it's not a lock. Me, I'm a doubles hitter. The Edgar Martinez of Folk Music...I love doubles and I hit shit-loads of them, but not many home runs, and no grand slams yet. So I'm happy if anyone listens at all.

I'd rather live in my world than live without me in yours.

I'm looking forward to people complaining about the heat instead of the rain. It will be refreshing!

I'm not building or climbing anything, and my goals are more along the lines of "meeting whatever comes next", so for me there are no "important" gigs anymore, just pleasurable or less pleasurable ones. My pleasure is based first of all on whether I liked my playing, secondly on whether anyone else did.

I'm not climbing anything, strategizing, or headed anywhere special. I practice, I make my sound, I keep showing up, and I see what happens. I've been doing it for many years and I'll keep on doing it as long as I can, regardless of whether the shows are large or small, bars or stages, packed or empty. It's not my career, it's my life. As they say in Hollywood action movies: It's what I do.

I'm much longer will it take before spellcheck stops red underlining "facebook" and it just becomes an actual word? Come on Spell Check, get with it. There are over half a billion users here...

I've noticed that most women have a mental list called "Things I want to fix or change about my partner". It might not be obvious at first, and they might deny it, but they've got that list...

Men have a list too...It's called "Shit I'd like to get done this weekend".

Idealism, without the sadness or melancholy that acknowledges the reality that actually is, the reality that the ideals oppose or seek to transcend, is not interesting to me. In fact I usually find it boring, naive, insulting or all of the above.

In general, I don't care so much how often people hit their targets as much as which targets they are aiming for. In my teaching and music and writing, one of the things I do is to encourage people to aim for targets like balance, art, beauty, grace, and more accurate use of language.

In the long run it doesn't matter what we do with our machines or our hearts for that matter. Everything has its time and then is gone. Individual people, species, planets, suns, galaxies, all here for a while and then gone. In the short run however, which is all there is..

It’s Love by Gene Burnett (©2010)

Everything that comes to life gives up its life someday

To fold into another form and try another way

Galaxies—Wedding rings—Particles and waves

Everything that comes to life gives up its life someday

The Universe—This old guitar and everything it plays

Were always never what they were or will be anyway

What we are—Where we are—The mysteries outweigh

The Universe—This old guitar and everything it plays


But it’s love—That pounds out all the dents

It’s love—That wears down every fence

It’s love—It just don’t make no sense

But it’s love—That makes it all make sense

I sell myself a bill of goods that I am here to stay

I tell myself the goods are good—The bads are far away

But I know there will come a time when I will have to pay

So I sell myself a bill of goods that I am here to stay

It’s like a dream where what I see is always changing shape

Anything I try to hold just evaporates

Full or empty—Every glass is heading for a break

It’s like a dream where what I see is always changing shape

Repeat Chorus

Everything that comes to life gives up its life someday

So take my hand and walk with me—Before we slip away

Galaxies—Wedding rings—Particles and waves

Everything that comes to life gives up its life someday

Repeat Chorus

In the movies, this is how they show that a parent is neglectful and uninvolved in their kid’s lives. 

Parent: Shouldn't you be in school? 

Child: It's Sunday (or Christmas, Easter, Summer, Midnight, etc..). 

It's like a songwriter rhyming "fire" with "desire". Come on screenwriters. I'm sure you can do better than this. Just think about it for 5 minutes.

Jeeez, what self-respecting spammer would....oh...nevermind.

Just a reminder that on this day, July 23rd, 2011, the vast majority of human beings on Earth did not overdose on any drugs or addictive habits, and in fact handled their shit pretty well; did not commit a violent crime, get into a fistfight or steal anything; did not blow up any buildings, torture anyone, or betray any friends, and, in fact got along pretty well.

Just made this up: We all know that when you start a new relationship immediately after a break up, you're on the "re-bound". But when you start a new relationship before the break up, you're on the "pre-bound". I've got to work that into a song somehow...

Man, there is no word I hate more in the facebook world than "new". I mean coming from facebook, not my friends...Almost every "new" thing so far has been a huge pain in the butt. I still can't stand that "shift-enter" thing for commenting and it's been months...

Note to spammers and scammers. If you send me a friend request with a turkey buzzard head instead of a porn skank for a profile picture, I will accept it automatically. It would be refreshing actually. Starting the relationship with an acceptance of death and then seeing what life was there, rather than starting with the expectation of life and ending up seeing what death was there...

Mr. McCartney seems unable to reveal anything about himself in his music more nuanced or personal than this: He thinks having love is good and losing love is sad. Would I trade 10 or 20 IQ points for his gift for melody? Hmmmmmm...probably not, but I would think about it. His melodies are awesome.

Oh Christ. I mention Michael Bolton, negatively, and facebook instantly wants me to "like" him. Fat Chance. Actually, Fat Balding Horribly Awful Sounding Chance. Actually...I don't know if he's just worked better that way... ;~0

OK, I can understand lower case posts with bad spelling if you're texting it in while driving and lighting a joint but...did you know that when there's a dotted red line under a word you just typed in, it means that it's probably misspelled? Some misspellings escape spell check of course. If you don't know the difference between there, their and they're, you're out of luck.

One thing's for sure, I'm definitely not "new-fashioned".

Personally, I like the tension between opposing perspectives. I'm one of those "questions are better than answers" guys. Taoism, yin/yang, my opinions are a work in progress, we can't ever really know "The Truth"…that sort of thing.

Having an "I'm right. You're evil." point of view, seems like a recipe for only temporary security. Pretty soon any disagreement "out there" seems to re-enforce one's own doubts and so "they" must be stopped or converted to quell those doubts, and that battle never ends. The most politically committed people I know, the people who are very sure that they are right and other side is more or less "evil", are some of the most agitated, ill-at-ease, perpetually outraged, restless and unhappy people I know. I'd rather accept the un-going ambiguous nature of "truth", the relative helplessness of one person to change large currents of energy, and the ultimate insecurity of any fixed point of view, than just close the door on "them".

The upside for me of not having much money is that I don't have to learn about, care about, or get involved with "investing". I'm much more interested in and drawn to creating value and trading it for money (or other value) from my community. I like working and don't plan on stopping.

There are some things that only failure can teach.

When Chuck Norris tweaks his dick the entire internet crashes.

When it comes to flying and moving objects with the mind, it seems that the farther the person who can do this is from me, the higher they can fly and the heavier the objects they can move!

When it comes to results, positive or negative, I find it's not so much what I do that counts, it's what I keep doing.

“You are free to do as we tell you. You are free to do as we tell you. You are free to do as we tell you. You are free to do as we tell you. You are free to do as we tell you. You are free to do as we tell you. You are free to do as we tell you. You are free to do as we tell you...”

Bill Hicks (RIP)

You can't shut Nature out. It's in you, on you, is you. ;~)

You care if you care, you don't if you don't. If you care, you know it, if you don't care, you know it. Forced caring isn't caring. What about, "Why should I go on living?" I like that question better.

You may not be looking at the world through rose colored glasses, but you are looking at the world through "you" colored glasses, at least I think you are. I don't trust or believe anyone who thinks their glasses are "clear", or their guru's glasses are "clear". We have our guesses, but I don't think anyone knows the "ultimate nature" of anything.