My tweets of the last week:
Archives for October 2011
Last night as I put the finishing touches on my electric guitar’s pedal board I realized that I have become that musician, with his own persnickety alchemy for how his guitar sounds.
I really don’t understand how I became that musician or how anyone else becomes one, but I definitely am one now, and I am fully prepared to find myself insufferable.
How does it happen?
I’m not talking about playing. I get how to learn to play (and how to be insufferable about it). Western music is a system executed on a device. Notes on a guitar are the same as math on an abacus or Super Mario Bros on a Nintendo. I took six guitar lessons to learn how to play Ziggy Stardust and then struck out on my own, and I seem to be doing fine, even if I still don’t hold a pick correctly.
The thing that puzzles me is the layer on top of the music. The technology layer. Gauges of string, hardness of picks, choosing wood for a fretboard, different pickups for guitars, types of pedals to get a sound.
Did you know that electric guitars don’t even come with an instruction book? This is an electronic device more complicated than your typical kitchen appliance. I mean, the blender has little explanations under each button. A guitar? How am I supposed to know what the pickup selectors do, or what string gauges work best, or anything else?
My electric came with a warranty card and a little brochure advertising yet MORE electric guitars for me not to understand.
(As for tone, once I picked a few favorite songs and read up on their guitar tones. The first one was “Go Your Own Way,” and I learned that Lindsey Buckingham ran his guitar through a broken tape deck to get the right tone. Very helpful.)
I suppose the answer is community and experience – two things I’m not very good at doing. I want science. I want a fact sheet.
For many, many years my musical community was Gina. That’s it. When I won my first electric guitar in a contest I’m pretty sure I had to borrow an amp from her so I could play it.
As for experience, I didn’t have any! I never had money to try untested solutions and I wasn’t out playing anywhere or with anyone (except for Gina). Hell, it took me over a year to even get good at TUNING.
Neither deficit really impacted my acoustic guitar playing, but breaking into the electric world was a different story entirely.
There is this cult of electricity, where you sacrifice your money and time to crafting that perfect tone only to have the electrons snatch it away from you with little notice. They’re fickle little beasts, and after a few early mishaps we didn’t want to have anything to do with them.
I think that’s why both Gina and I shied away from electric guitars for so long. We didn’t even like playing amplified for a while after a disastrous first gig in Drexel’s quad. Even after we got okay with amplification, we were still happy to keep things acoustic.
Weirdly, it took bass guitar to put a crack in the electric dam for me. When I bought a bass to fill in for Filmstar, I immediately understood something was missing from its tone. It didn’t sound like THAT bass sound, which is something a lot more discernable and tangible than guitar tone.
I realized I didn’t have the money (or muscles) for a high-end tube amp, so I bought a SansAmp pedal to beef up my tone, but that gave me a bit too much 125hz, so I added a Bass EQ pedal, but I also wanted to add some fuzz to a few passages, so I started playing with distortion pedals.
Suddenly, I not only had a bass tone, but a burgeoning pedal board to plug my electric guitar into. It only took a few Arcati Crisis rehearsals to realized I wanted different things for my electric than I did for my bass.
A year later the result is last night, holed up in the attic working out the signal chain order of my new overdrive and tap tremolo pedals.
Learning the technology layer of music is an iterative process. It’s trial and error. You have to hear a tone on the radio or in your head before you have somewhere to go, and then you need the disposable income to get there.
I still don’t understand it. I guess some musicians have bandmates to learn from, friends to chat with, or a favorite guitarist to emulate.
Gina and I have always only had each other, but as we’ve become more confident as a band I realize we’ve also formed a community around ourselves – Jake in Arcati Crisis, our friend Chaz, Glenn from Filmstar, Josh Popejoy, Cris Valkyria and her bassist Lou Paglione, & Maria from Bedroom Problems.
And you know what this group of people hs in common. None of them learned this shit from science – even the ones with formal training. They groped around until they figured out what they liked.
Maybe that’s why I’ve always found that musician to be so insufferably annoying – not because she bothers me, but because I’ve never been sure how to become her.
Well, now that I’m her … err, him, in my case, but probably still “her,” since all my idols are women … anyhow, now that I’m me, I don’t want anyone else to feel that way about it.
I might be a member of the cult of electric, but I vow to always share my trade secrets, and never make it sound like a bunch of technical gobbledygook.
Are you another member of the electric cult? What are your favorite electric guitar gadgets? Which major pedal in your setup do I need to know about, stat?
As I grow older I am starting to realize that all of the annoying things that adults told me when I was younger were not the baldfaced lies and emotional blackmail that I assumed them to be at the time, but simply the rules of the world viewed through the lens of someone whose body incrementally decays with every passing moment, drawing them nearer and nearer to death.
While my recent birthday might put me firmly on the side of the slowly dying, I’m hoping using my blog as a reference point can keep my attitude eternally young so I don’t turn into a curmudgeonly old person. For example, now eating too much ice cream or candy makes my stomach upset, but that was never true for the first 27 or 28 years of my life. It was a lie old people told me. I know not to try to impress this fact of my old-person life onto a ten year old enjoying the chocolate carnage of Halloween or the unbidden joy of an all-you-can-eat sundae bar.
I bring this up not because of the impending holiday of chocolate sacrifice, but because of sleep. I never used to need very much of it. Three hours served me just as well as twelve. Presently, I require seven hours and fifteen minutes a night or I will be the grumpmaster the next day. Note that this excludes eight hours, or even nine hours. We’re talking about an exact science. Oversleeping is just as bad as a restless night.
In an attempt to abet my adult habit of fruitful sleep, I have recently campaigned for us to buy a new mattress. The one we’ve been sleeping on just passed its ninth birthday, and over the course of our five homes in those nine years its coils have given up the will the live. When I sit on it, the area around me dips to half its height. Sleeping on it – or, rather, in it – requires several pillows inserted around my body as wedges and cantilevers, and is generally a miserable experience.
Thus, times when I absolutely require quality sleep, I wil abscond from the bedroom to our trusty Ikea futon, which has all the give of a cinderblock and imbues me with the energy of my much younger self when I arise the next morning.
This is what lead us to the Great Mattress Shopping Adventure Slash Possibly Catastrophic Money-Pit of 2011 two weekends ago.
I was convinced I wanted a firm mattress, but refused to simply buy an Ikea futon pad as our permanent mattress. That would be declassé. I am through with Ikea. I want expensive, non-modular, fugly, adult furniture that is three times as much money and comes blessedly pre-assembled.
Deep in the bowels of a King of Prussia department store (which, FYI, in my life is utterly synonymous as a scene setting to “fourth or fifth circle of hell”) we discovered their mattress area.
This was mistake number one – why were we in a department store instead of… gee, I don’t know… A MATTRESS STORE?
Then, I committed a second error, uttering the following sentence: “I’d love the firmest possible mattress. Given the choice, I sleep on the floor.”
I quickly discovered that, as with any boutique industry, the more specialized your kink, the more it costs to get you off. I wanted floor, and he would give me glorious floor – glorious, expensive, mattress-shaped floor that had all the features and benefits of sleeping on the floor except for the possibility of getting your clothes snagged on a stray carpet staple.
Why mattress companies are making high end beds that emulate the floor I could never tell you. Anyone who can afford these mattresses can afford and probably possesses a mattress-shaped area of floor that they could sleep on, unless they are so fancy that their mattress is suspended in mid-air, possibly by some sort of anti-gravity ray.
That would be a very valid reason to buy a floor-like mattress. Sometimes you yearn for simpler things.
E and I do not have that problem. We have lots of gravity, and lots of floors that our gravity makes it very easy to appreciate. Yet, we bought the second very firm bed we sat on. To my credit, after we selected it I insisted that we walk around the mall (or, “fiery inferno”) and sit and/or lay on several other surfaces before coming back to the department store to initiate a transaction. I did not want to be the one to later complain about our major purchase which MAJOR PERSONAL DISCLOSURE I always am, unless I had the chance to research it for several months on the internet and it has never received a seemingly valid 1-star review on Amazon.
Nay, not this time.
Said mattress arrived at our house on Saturday, ahead of schedule. When first I sat on it and its firmness bruised my supple cheeks, I proclaimed it good.
Then I tried to sleep on it that night.
You know the downsides of sleeping on the floor? Like, if you turn on your side your hip grinds to dust against the ground as an entire half of your body falls asleep? This mattress has all of those features, too. Like I said, everything but the carpet staples.
Basically, the mattress is for two kinds people at opposite ends of the sleep spectrum: those who fall asleep intent and motionless, flat on their backs, and those who collapse limp and facedown, like a drunk college student. I’ve never been a back sleeper, yet while I may no longer be in college or especially drunk at any given time, I still sleep the sleep of the dead drunk at least half of the time. In that half of the time our new floor-board style of mattress is highly satisfactory.
The rest of the time, not so much. Also, it never occurred to me that the department store version of the mattress had been prodded by people and jumped on by children for months. It did not represent a Day 0 version of the mattress. I would have to work it like a mound of clay or a block of unyielding marble in order to get it to the state of older, carpeted floor boards that have a little give and some weak spots. Fresh out of the plastic bag its consistency was more like “kitchen tile,” or perhaps “cement floor of a prison cell.”
If this was disconcerting to me at least half of the time, E’s percentage was much higher. She’s not of the collapsing drunkenly to sleep persuasion unless she is, you know, actually collapsing drunkenly to sleep. Otherwise, she has a very specific evening ritual to wind her body down towards the gentle embrace of slumber.
Nowhere in the product catalog for this mattress do the words “gentle embrace” appear.
Two nights later, let’s say I am not married to the happiest woman on Earth.
Yet, I remain dedicated. I am certain I can wear the mattress down to an acceptably firm sleeping surface. We have sixty days to break it in before the manufacturer will accept that we don’t like it and take it back, but I refuse to admit defeat.
Why not? Because I am stubborn? Sure. Because I do yearn for a floor-like sleeping surface? That too.
Yet, one of those reasons is surely that when I was a kid I loved falling asleep on the floor, and adults would needle me: “Don’t you want to go to bed? It’s much more comfortable.” And, even if my slowly dying body now needs much more sleep every night, I refuse to admit that I am so old and decrepit that I require a pillow-top mattress for quality rest. My bones are not yet quite so brittle.
I will take a pass on that Halloween candy, though.
My tweets of the last week:
My tweets of the last week:
I readily admit that I completely take for granted living within a gossamer soap bubble of acceptance floating in the midst of a hugely liberal city. In any given week I never once interact with a person who is any less than totally accepting of people of all races, beliefs, and sexual identities.
Unfortunately, the internet is a little less accepting, despite my attempts to maintain my bubble of open-mindedness.
For example: I regularly visit a number of X-Men and Marvel forums to answers questions and promote my Guide to Collecting X-Men. Last night, someone asked if a particular upcoming omnibus of X-Statix comics would be appropriate for his children.
Totally fair question, right?
Except, that’s not exactly the question he actually asked. What he asked was this:
I was trying to get some info on what it’s about and read there are some overtly homosexual characters and themes, is this true? I just want to make sure if the themes are adult in nature that my young children don’t pick up the book off my shelves expecting simple heroics and see two same sex individuals kissing.
My intention is not to offend anyone but to educate myself.
There are so many things wrong with that message board post that for about five minutes I simply could not compute. My brain locked up like a computer aimed at a website full of animated gifs of from Maury Povich.
First, and most obvious – why does it matter? To play off a recent image doing the rounds on social networks, how is gay kissing any different than straight kissing? Or, since we’re talking about a comic book, the potentially confusing shapeshifter kissing or alien kissing, and the occasional robot kissing?
Answer: It’s not. It’s just kissing. Either kissing is appropriate for your kids, or it isn’t. Either it’s appropriate in public or it isn’t. Either it’s appropriate on a plane or it’s not. “Gay” shouldn’t enter into the equation.
Second, there is the careful defusal at the end of the question. You see, it’s not offensive because they are using very polite terms about their bigotry. They simply want to educate themselves on how to promote bigotry.
That’s totally inoffensive, right? And bullying doesn’t hurt anyone unless they choose to feel hurt, right?
What if he had said “two Mexicans kissing” or “two people of different races kissing”? Or “a woman in a leadership position over men”? Or “a person with a disability doing simple heroics next to a able-bodied superhero”?
It’s all bigotry, no matter how nicely you phrase it.