Looking Up At 2014

Happy New Year! As 2014 begins, here’s what I’m working on.

Rise And Shine
It’s weird doing this without Arturo.

Arty was always tweaking the story, for better or worse, adding characters and rethinking the message… now the musical is just sort of sitting there and recording the demo is like dressing up a doll. But I’m gonna dress the shit out of that doll!

I’ve been tracking the music (all 40 songs’ worth) with the Rebellion – doing keys and Alex’s guitars in my home studio. Joe Abba is scheduled to come up and finish the drums in February. Then Mike will add the bass, and we’ll see about getting some horns and strings on there. Unfortunately, that’s the easy part; Once the music is done, I’ve got to finish the vocals.

I’ve still got several roles to cast. And some to recast. There will be issues of scheduling, travel, preparation… I’m worried about it. I want this to be awesome and a proper tribute to Arty. He didn’t leave much unfinished in his life – completing this piece of business is my burden to bear, and I’m proud to shoulder that. But it’s frustrating that so much of the project depends on other people.

Which is why I’m also doing THIS:

Like A Radio Loves A Song
My next solo record. All new songs. I’m playing everything myself.

Dr. Des Moines
The new Skyscape album. Let’s call it “well underway”. It’s really good… the band is Dom, Sheridan, Justin Marc Lloyd and myself, with special guest stars Quoma, Jerry and Reeves. This record hearkens back to the band’s primordial days, when we were sort of a mëtal Doors – shreddy guitars, carnival organ, keyboard bass. One song has a quintuplet feel and another is in 15/16. I’d like it done by the end of the year, mostly because I want to crank it in my car.

By the way, there is a Skyscape Facebook page and I would love for you to love it, but I’ll settle for liking you to Like it. It’s here.

Possibilities:
More Sevendys.
A properly mastered physical version of my Live at CB’s Gallery album.
Blowing Shit Up, Small Sacrifices, Zetacarnosa on vinyl.

And… 2015:
The 20th anniversary of both The Hanslick Rebellion and Jed Has Too Much Free Time. You may not care, but I do!

 

What About Collider?

The catalog may not show it, but 2013 has been a very productive year. One day I’ll tell you about the nine-month runaway roller coaster that was my quest for Jobriath master tapes and you’ll simultaneously laugh, cry, scream, fart, vomit, pee, poop, and get a migraine. Something to look forward to, right? All that matters now, though, is this:

(And the full-length album of unreleased Jobriath to follow.)

I also made reasonable progress on new Skyscape and Hanslick Rebellion projects, and completed fresh Sevendys tracks for the flipside of that Jobriath split 10″. So not a lot released, but plenty of forward motion.

That said, I don’t think those Skyscape and Rebellion records are going to happen in 2014. Maybe Dr. Des Moines, but Rise And Shine is one huge and expensive MËTALITH! (That’s a mëtal monolith.) It’s a happy coincidence that 2015 is the Rebellion’s 20th anniversary.

I think next year will be a good time to start closing certain accounts. While I plug away at the unfinished material, I can fill the empty release schedule with ultimate versions of finished material – remastered and vinylized for posterity.

Three possible albums come to mind: Small Sacrifices Must Be Made! (this was supposed to come out on vinyl last year anyway, but I had some early production issues that put the pressing in limbo); Zetacarnosa (absolutely begging for a 12″ release with that amazing Mike Allred cover art!); and Live At CB’s Gallery (which was never mastered in the first place, and boy does it need to be).

And then there’s another… Blowing Shit Up.

This album vexes me. First of all, my musical partnership with Sean is a sour memory, which makes it hard for me to appreciate much about Collider’s output. Second, I hate the way Blowing Shit Up sounds – so canned and plasticky. If I could rerecord the whole thing with physical instruments, I would. I always jump at the chance to revisit BSU tracks, a la the Rebellion’s 2009 versions of “Magnetic North” and “Ground The Paper Planes” and a Jeebus take on “Only A Woman” that you’ll hear eventually. BSU‘s aggressively electro arrangements were the result of circumstance as much as intent. Yes, we wanted to explore electronic music, but Sean and I had also just left a traumatic band situation and we weren’t ready to work with other musicians yet. The only way to articulate ideas was through sequencing and sampling, even when the parts would have sounded better played on a real drum kit or bass guitar.

I still remember how confused audiences were in 1997, when we started playing out as Collider. Industrial bands used backing tracks, but there was no precedent for a duo performing fully-arranged electronica in rock venues. Maybe a light show or something would have helped; the visual disconnect was too much for many club crowds. We were controlling the set and shaping the arrangements live – and performing the keyboard and guitar parts – but people just assumed that, since there were sounds coming out of the PA that we clearly weren’t producing with our fingers, we must not actually be playing our instruments at all. There was a show at the QE2 at which the audience got so hostile, a bunch of people began spitting at us. (Then again: Albany.)

The reaction softened over time; by 1998 we were regulars at Coney Island High, sometimes gigging there two or three times in a month. We could even comfortably play CBGB. And by 2000, when we decided to go organic with a drummer and bass player, there were so many acts doing our sequenced techno-rock thing that somebody coined a name for it: electroclash.

In the 15 years since Blowing Shit Up was released, Collider has become known as the progenitor of electroclash, and BSU the first electroclash album. That historicity is the reason I don’t feel comfortable ripping up the original and redoing the whole thing. I’ve had to accept that Blowing Shit Up is what it is.

The tapes were transferred into Pro Tools a few years ago – some of the trackage got lost in an ADAT mishap, but I could restore it from the old sequences. I looked into doing that very thing last weekend, but then thought better of it. A few of the songs may yet be revisited elsewhere, but as an album, BSU is unique in my catalog: beyond my meddling and under the protection of history.

 

Adios Amigo

I understand: shit ain’t fair. But come on.

Arturo Vega is gone. I don’t know anybody who did more for so many. If you own a Ramones shirt, his art is in your home. If you are part of a musical act supporting itself on merch sales, he is your patron saint.

I spent a decade working with Arturo; five years of that as his roommate. Arty used to say that the person with whom you do your creative work is the most important person in your life. I probably didn’t agree with him at the time. But I am so sad right now, I realize he must have been right.

I feel like I’ve lost a big brother, a mentor, a drill sergeant, a soulmate, a guru, an idol, a fairy godmother and a wicked stepmom.

——-

Arturo’s friends were his family. He loved his friends and showed it every day, because he never stopped working and he honored them in that work. I mean, the bulk of it namechecks three of his best pals directly – just look in your t-shirt drawer.

The stage musical we wrote together took over a decade to finish because Arty kept adding friends as characters. He would run into someone from his past, be reminded how fond he was of them, and then stick them in the play.

——-

Here are some things Arturo did when three close friends passed away:

When Joey Ramone died, Arty went to the CBGB memorial gathering early and hung a giant photo of Joey above the stage. In the picture, Joey stood in front of the Ramones backdrop Arty had hand-painted for their live shows, positioned just so the eagle wings in Arty’s logo looked like angel wings on Joey’s back.

The print was massive – almost six feet tall – and in a heavy frame. Working mostly alone, Arty jury-rigged a system to put it up and then made sure it was lit just right.

Arty also painstakingly prepared photo collage displays for Joey’s funeral service.

When Dee Dee Ramone died, Arty raced out to California in such a hurry that he left the loft’s front windows open, and his dog, Disel, jumped to the street. I came home from a recording session to find no Disel; a frantic weekend search led Dr. Dot, Joe DiRosa, Mistress Debra, Lucy and me to a veterinary clinic in the East 80s, where a boxer with Disel’s two distinguishing characteristics – a blue collar and gigantic balls – had turned up. We were able to get Disel back to the loft before Arty returned.

After hearing of Disel’s adventure, Arturo refused to accept that the dog would jump out a second-story window. He insisted that Disel must have been kidnapped by a burglar and, heroically, had managed to escape his captor. When I asked Arty why some dude would break into the loft and steal nothing but the dog, he sighed and answered so matter-of-factly, even I believed it must be: BECAUSE HE WANTED A PET! How could I miss something so obvious?

(Two weeks later, Disel jumped again – this time during business hours, and the folks downstairs at John Derian’s store brought him home after a couple of window-shoppers almost had their heads taken off by the giant scrotum of a flying boxer.)

When Johnny Ramone died, Arty organized two cancer benefit concerts – one on each coast. In New York, he got Blondie, The Strokes, Sonic Youth, Joan Jett and Josh Homme to perform. Then he went to LA and spent most of a week preparing Hollywood Forever cemetery for Johnny’s funeral, with a specially-made backdrop he designed.

Everything had to be just so.

I will admit that as my shock in hearing of Arty’s passing began to subside, my first thought was: Who will make sure his funeral gets done right?

——-

Since nobody can throw a shindig like Arturo could, I think the best way to honor him is to stay in motion. To make stuff, to do stuff. To use the whole fuckin apartment at once. Arty had a computer in the bedroom, another in the living room, a project always on the work table, pasta on the stove, music playing in the back of the loft and the TV on in the front, and anywhere you turned, there he was.

I suppose that if you’re cynical enough, if generosity and passion are alien to your heart, you could look at the piles of Ramones branding all over the loft and dismiss all of Arturo’s work as wasted in the service of someone else’s dream. But the fact is, there’s more Ramones merch in circulation than Ramones music. Arty went all-in and everybody won.

Arturo’s motto – WORK IS GOOD – has been my motto since the moment I heard him say it. It seemed as obvious as a dude breaking into the loft to steal a dog because he wanted a pet. Arty, I will put on my Ramones tee and get to work, enfolded in your wings.

 

Skyscape in 2013

Dom and I started writing music together in Mrs. Swenson’s 12th grade journalism class. Our first collaboration was something called “Yeah, That’s Stupid”. This eventually morphed into “Clouds”:

We began using the name Skyscape in the fall of 1991. Which makes the band the same age as our current drummer.

Skyscape recorded its first demo in 1992, and released its first album, Band Of The Week, in ’93. Dom left the band in late ’94. I kept it going for another year and change, but after an aborted attempt at recording a second album (the unsurprisingly aptly-titled Jinx) we called it a day. The run ended with one last gig in the summer of ’96.

Between “Yeah, That’s Stupid” and Jinx, Skyscape went through approximately 24790327426732408 band members. Here, I’ll name some for you: Rob Hill. Mike Keaney. Sean Gould. Steve Theater. Sean Hunte. Sputnik. Loren Weisman. Dave Stoup. Alex Dubovoy. Mike Neglia. Joe Aversano. Mike Kearns. Kevin Faber. Craig Weitzman. Eric Rudin. I could go on. At one point, we made Rob Babecki a member of the band and then kicked him out just so he wouldn’t be the only person we knew who had never been in Skyscape.

We wrote a ton and recorded constantly. I have old tapes that feature just about everybody on the list above. Which is why when Dom and I started writing songs again in 1999, it seemed natural to just sort of incorporate as many of them as possible into a reunion record. That was Zetacarnosa.

The reactivated early-2000s Skyscape was really just Hanslick Rebellion (all ex-Skyscapers) with Dom singing and a dozen ghost members from the past appearing via a combination of old tapes and new technology. It was at this point that we closed the membership, limited to humans who had been in the band between 1991 and 1996, and declared Skyscape a band that existed in no particular time. Freshly-tracked drums and bass might be layered with a guitar track from a 1992 boombox recording and a vocal off a ’93 demo. As a result, Zetacarnosa sounds like no other album.

In 2008, I began preparing for Skyscape’s 20th anniversary by reworking the Band Of The Week tracks. At the same time, Dom and I began writing new material, and we even played a couple of live gigs. The idea for both the BOTW reissue and the new album was to carry on with the Skyscape formula: include as many past members as possible, and only past members.

But then came our 20th anniversary show. This happened last February in Albany: Dom and I planned a stripped-down piano/vocal set at Hudson River Coffee House – a modest and warm listening room-type venue. A few months before that night, we invited a number of former members from as far away as Long Island (which is not particularly far) and as nearby as Clifton Park (the next town over). Skyscapers could bring instruments if they felt like it, or just hang out and catch up. Everyone we spoke with seemed down.

A surprising number of old-school Skyscape fans came out for the show.

But none of the players showed up. Dom and I were the only representatives of the band in attendance.

I was hurt and disgusted, and I lost my taste for the Band Of The Week redux. I’m sure I’ll pick it back up eventually, but not for this anniversary. Instead, Dom and I have been working on a new album, under a new rule: NO ONE from a previous iteration of Skyscape may appear!

Sheridan Riley has joined the band on drums; Reeves Gabrels tracked a bit of guitar and Jerry Marotta added some Taos drums and percussion. In a nod to our original frontman-keys-guitar-drums Doors-style lineup, I’ll mainly be using a Vox Continental and playing the basslines on a Rhodes Piano Bass (though if an exception to the no-ex-Skyscape rule is to be made, it’ll be for Mike Keaney on electric bass). We go back to the studio in a few days with Wharton Tiers manning the board. Gird thy loins for Dr. Des Moines!

 

After the End

I wrote something like this about “American music” back when we were putting Sevendys together. Once something’s over and safely in the past, you can start looking at the whole of it, and the context.

Music has meant so many things to me, but its main benefit has been therapeutic. I had a problem, I turned it into a song. Then it was no longer a problem – it was a song.

I had a lot of problems, so I have a lot of songs.

But on a moment-to-moment basis, I no longer have those kinds of problems. I’m generally pretty okay with the way my life is these days. Except when I re-enter the arena where art is publicly made – then I’m like the Millennium Falcon popping out of hyperspace into the sector where Alderaan is supposed to be and finding only debris and a mess in the Force.

Making music is still one of the best things in my life, but sharing it has become a total drag. The Facebook/Twitter/Blogosphere sweepstakes just gives me agita. There’s the stock line about overcoming the “signal-to-noise ratio”, but that’s not really the deal. Nobody’s even trying to find the good stuff because everyone’s hustling his or her own crap. There is no audience. Even the people who don’t produce creative work are ceaselessly broadcasting the minutiae of their lives.

I don’t wanna pretend to like a bunch of half-assed bullshit just so the people who made it will fake excitement when I put something out. I have no idea whether anybody actually enjoys anything!

Then again, if this is the worst problem in my life then things probably aren’t that bad. It really only makes me cranky when I think about it… which I don’t necessarily have to do. Given my process, though, this leaves precious little in the way of song fodder. Surprisingly, I’m pretty okay with that, too.

It’s a lot easier to finish your work when you’re not being handed more work.

I’m sure there are more songs in me, but maybe not too many more. I feel comfortable looking back at the catalog as a whole – every emotion I felt for twenty years, encapsulated in little song pills I can take to relive just about any moment, or share with others in hopes of a genuine empathic connection. That music is me, for better or worse. My drive now is to complete it all to the best of my ability, organize it… and move on.

But how best to do that?

 

The Other Day

This happened the other day: I was in a public bathroom. I peed. I washed my hands. I walked over to the paper towel dispenser, which already had a sheet hanging from it. I tore off the sheet and began to dry my hands.

The machine dispensed, unbidden, another six-inch serving of paper towel. I am normally a two-towel guy, so, cool – I tossed out the damp first sheet and grabbed this second.

As soon as I took it, the dispenser rolled out another. My hands were pretty well dry now, but instinctively they dropped the second sheet into the garbage and ripped down the third. At which point the machine offered a fourth, and now comfortable and in a groove, I reached for it, and I realized that I could be perfectly happy standing there in the toilet accepting shitty slices of recycled paper from a hole in the wall all day long.

But I had other stuff to do, so I left.

 

Small Sacrifices Must Be Made!

Small Sacrifices Must Be Made! is my new record. You can download it now, or order a physical copy on CD. (Vinyl is coming with the official street date, October 9. I’m making the album available through this site today because it’s my birthday and I’m nice.)

This is the post where I tell you everything about the album I can think of. Lots of words follow!

- – - – - – -

I started working on Small Sacrifices when I was 16. That’s when I wrote the oldest song on here: “Babysitter”. I hated little kids then and I hate them even more now!

But the process of realizing the record began in 2008.

At that point, I was waist-deep in another album you haven’t heard yet, Failing Upwards. I had assembled this crazy recording band and everything was done except guitar. Three tracks in, the guitarist went out on tour*. I decided to wait for the dude.

I waited, and waited, and got really bored. I had upgraded my home studio, so I started digitizing and archiving old stuff to pass the time – mainly four-track recordings and synth sequences from the early ’90s. Turned out to be a lot of promising material in there: riffs and patterns, chord progressions, the occasional fully-arranged but forgotten instrumental. And one or two songs that were complete, lyrics and all, but had just slipped through the cracks in the intervening decade-and-a-half.

I was like: huh.

Most of my ’90s solo work was programmed on a Korg workstation keyboard called the O1-W. The O1-W had a sequencer feature which enabled me to do full-band arrangements of up to 16 tracks using instrument samples in the keyboard – drums, piano, organ, bass, strings, and so on. I was only making demos for reference, but then whenever the time came to record the shit for real, I had no band to perform it. So I plugged in the O1-W, crossed my fingers and hoped that a decent engineer could magically make my electronic drums sound like real ones, my canned bass sound like a real bass, and so on. That was impossible, of course – physical laws and such.

So when I hear stuff I did in the ’90s, my first impulse is to wonder what it would sound like if, as originally intended, real human musicians played it.

With that in mind, I gathered seven pieces of archived ephemera, patched any lyrical/musical/conceptual holes, and brought them to Anton Fig for drums. Some of this material was so old that I didn’t yet know how to program drums when I sequenced it – sometimes I’d have a snare, tom and cymbal hit all at once. Again, physical laws. But Anton made sense of the junk and pulled off some awesome, heroic drumming.

As I began to tweak the lyrics, I noticed a prevailing theme: the passage of time. I know, that’s broad. But there were specific concepts being reflected from song to song: the effect of time on perception and understanding; contrast and conflict between people of different ages and generations; the inevitability of change over time and also the patterns that create the illusion of change over time.

I got pretty into this… I mean, at this point, the project was basically a collaboration through time between two versions of myself: the teenager who started the songs and the thirtysomething who was finishing them.

I pulled four additional unreleased songs of similar theme to fill out the record, and then eventually wrote two more that happened to fit. As Anton finished the drums, I moved them on to Graham Maby for bass and Reeves Gabrels for guitar. The result is something I’ve never had on any of my solo records: a consistent band from start to finish, smoothing out some of the stylistic jerkiness that’s affected my previous full-length efforts. (There is one exception, noted below.)

It’s probably worth mentioning that this entire album was recorded and mixed in people’s homes. I did piano, electric piano and organ tracks in a studio, but that’s only because I don’t own a real piano, electric piano or organ. Anton tracked all the drums at home. I recorded the vocals, synths, and guitars in my apartment. Graham did the bass in a friend’s home studio. Horns, strings, pedal steel… all recorded at home by the players. The album was mixed by Pete deBoer in his home studio. This kept costs way down, and I still got what I think is the best-sounding album I’ve ever made. The moral: great musicians sound great, and a great mixer does great mixes. Pay for talent.

One of the old tracks, a nine-minute mëtal epic called “You, Succubus”, was ultimately cut. The music was all recorded but I couldn’t make the lyric resonate, no matter how much I rewrote the ’93 original. When you collaborate with a much younger version of yourself, you are technically working with somebody who no longer exists. I empathized with much of what teenage JD was trying to say, but not everything… and it’s not like I could just call the dude for clarification. Early ’90s Jed is a very different person from me; on “You, Succubus” we had a disconnect. I’ll keep at it, and maybe the song can end up on some other thing.

Which brings me to the part where I tell you shit about each track individually.

- – - – - – -

AGAIN
In 2001, Blondie made a record that would eventually be titled The Curse of Blondie. There was a hangup with the album’s release and it appeared that the band would have to go back to the drawing board and cut all new material. Chris Stein asked Arturo Vega if that kid who was writing the musical would be interested in contributing a few songs for the project. Blondie is one of my favorite bands ever, so of course I said fuck yeah!

I submitted three demos: “Bowery Electric” (which at that point was still just a Collider tune), “Aftermath” (which I had written the previous year) and “Again”. This last song was grown from snippets of melody and lyric I’d been kicking around since 1999; I brought it together and arranged it with Blondie in mind.

I was told that two songs had made the cut (“Bowery Electric” was out because they’d already written a tribute song for Joey Ramone called “Hello Joe”). I got so psyched.

But one of the tracks from The Curse of Blondie snuck out in Europe and became a top-40 hit. Their U.S. label scrambled to capitalize by rushing out the album as it was. That didn’t work out so well, and Blondie didn’t put out another record until last year. By then my two submissions were long forgotten.

I like that if you put Small Sacrifices on repeat, this song signals the album starting over. Again!

BABYSITTER
This is the oldest composition on the record. As I said at the top, I wrote it when I was 16, and it was originally a punk tune so simple I was actually able to play guitar myself on the four-track demo.

I used to make these holiday recordings to give my friends as gifts – each one involved a bunch of cover tunes arranged to sound like some unlikely third party was performing the track. Like a Silver Jews song recorded by Mr. Big, or Fugazi doing an LL Cool J track.

When I approached “Babysitter” for this project, I used that method and tried to imagine the act least likely to record the song. That would be the Jackson 5.

The lead that sounds like an organ in the instrumental break is Reeves playing his guitar through a VG-8 synth. The lead that sounds like a sax at the end of the song is a sax – that’s the amazing Ralph Carney!

EMILIES
I once attended a Gary Panter lecture in which he said: “Artists can’t compete with nature, children, or crazy people.”

As time passes and my work becomes more obscure, I think about the condition of being an “outsider artist”. That is, not really an artist, but a crazy person who makes things that are condescendingly referred to as art by third parties who don’t understand the difference between a crazy person and an artist.

Art is a form of communication. Intent to communicate something, even just a feeling, has to be there – without that, it’s simply craft… or crazy. Perfect example: Emily Dickinson.

Here’s this loony chick who didn’t leave her room for decades. There she wrote a bunch of stuff – technically poetry – meant to be shared with almost no one. She wanted it all burned upon her death; her family didn’t comply. A woman named Mabel Todd stumbled upon Dickinson’s work posthumously, declared it art, edited and published it.

Can we derive enjoyment from the work of Emily Dickinson? Sure, though that was not her intention. This is outsider art, which reaches the world at large by ignorant attrition, framed by people who don’t understand that the context in which a work of art is created is as important as the work itself.

And that’s one of the reasons I cherish my small audience more and more as time goes by. As long as you’re here, someone is picking up what I’m laying down, and I’m not just some nutjob singing to myself!

TWO-THIRDS
My pal Joe Student came to visit Albany in the fall of 1995. He was all bummed out with some midlife crisis bullshit, which I didn’t really understand as I was barely 20. But after hearing Joe’s lament, I felt like there was a song in there so I jotted down some lyrics. The lyrics came with a musical concept, which I sequenced up.

I don’t remember whether Joe just happened to have a synthesizer with him, or if he came back with one later, but he played me this really cool pattern that made for the perfect intro and coda to the intense middle section I’d written. We recorded the tune in the WCDB production studio, which had a four-track reel-to-reel tape recorder at the time. The Small Sacrifices version of “Two-Thirds” is built right on top of that recording – Joe’s synth is the original take he tracked back in ’95.

I’m now just about the age Joe was when we wrote that song.

RIDE THE PARTY BUS
This is the most recently written track on the album. It’s also the only one that doesn’t have Reeves or Graham on it – it was a last-second addition to replace the aborted “You, Succubus”, and by the time I decided to include it Reeves had joined The Cure and left the country.

I ended up keeping the guitars from my demo, which were played by John Delehanty. I think John’s guitars are absolutely perfect, and to be candid, if Reeves had played on this one I probably would have just begged him to do something similar.

And here’s to Bryan Thomas: eternal props for his just-under-the-wire superhero bass assist! Graham wasn’t available for this one, and neither was my original choice of backup, the great Rudy Sarzo. I was in danger of having to leave “Party Bus” off the album, but Bryan (whose first ever rock concert was an Ozzy show that featured Rudy on bass) stepped in and threw down!

QUESTION
This song is for my pal Rosie. We went on a date on my birthday in 2010, and I had no idea that’s what it was supposed to be; it never occurred to me that Rosie could have any romantic interest in me.

Actually, that’s not true. I had just enough suspicion that it might be a date that I was a nervous wreck. Because Rosie is awesome. I don’t think I uttered a single coherent sentence all night, I had so much agita.

I had already moved upstate by then, and was staying at the Hotel Chelsea. In my room at 2am I had plenty of time and silence to ponder whether we’d just gone on a date, and how badly I might’ve choked if it had in fact been one.

I started writing Rosie a Facebook message (“Question” was the subject line – FB still used those back then), but then it occurred to me that the message had a certain cadence which might lend itself to a melody, and next thing I knew I was in the bathroom (better acoustics, plus all the interesting Chelsea Hotel shit happens in the bathroom) singing it into my iPhone. I had a four-track app so I recorded the message in four-part harmony.

I sent Rosie an MP3 the next morning; she enjoyed the song (enough to give me permission to include it here), and let me know that she had considered it to be a date! However, I was also informed that for any dates she may go on in the future, my services would not be required.

AFTERMATH
You may be aware that I’ve been working on a musical theater piece since 2000 – Rise And Shine. But even if Rise And Shine someday makes it to a stage, it won’t be the first time something I wrote was performed on Broadway.

“Aftermath” is about a girl named Lauren who I used to pass in the hall at high school every day… after math. I wrote the song in 1999 or 2000 and it’s remained virtually unchanged from my very first arrangement. Collider recorded the song twice. We cut it at Scarlet East in Albany with Chris deRosa and Tom Kaz in 2001; that version was mixed by Tommy Ramone and included on a Collider demo CD (I also gave it to Blondie that year). We revisited “Aftermath” with Tommy as producer in 2002 for our WCYF EP.

About two years later, chunks of “Aftermath” showed up on Green Day’s American Idiot in the form of a song called “Whatsername”.

I know, the claim is baseless. Except it’s not; I lived in the Ramones Loft back then. Billie Joe Armstrong has been in my apartment.

I’m not gonna accuse the dude of willfully lifting parts of “Aftermath”. It could have been a subconscious thing.

Then again, this is the music business.

Anyway, there are two reasons why “Aftermath” is on this record, and neither is a knock on the excellent WCYF version, which featured great playing by Mike Keaney and Joe Abba (in fact, I used Joe’s shaker and finger cymbals from that recording). First, it fit the theme of passing time… and second, Anton requested we record it after doing the song live. When Anton Fig asks you to let him play drums on something, you put that shit on your album!

SYMBIOSIS
I wrote this song in early 1994. Skyscape was still active back then, but in flux – Dom left the band, then Steve Theater, then we spent a year figuring out our direction. By the time Skyscape was ready to play “Symbiosis”, The Hanslick Rebellion had claimed the song and was doing it live. But I felt guilty and pulled it back for Skyscape, which promptly broke up. And “Symbiosis” sat around for almost two decades, existing only in demo form.

I think it’s one of the best songs I have, and it makes me so happy to finally hear “Symbiosis” brought to life. Rebecca Coleman, formerly of Avi Buffalo and now of Pageants, sings the shimmery backing vocal. Sometimes I feel like Rebecca might be Earth’s most talented human.

THE KNOWING ONES
There’s no record of my family history pre-Holocaust; when I was growing up, we had only stories from a generation that, frankly, couldn’t remember a heck of a lot. For example, according to my paternal grandmother, we either had family in England, or someone in my family had once taken a trip to England. Not particularly helpful.

The message of “The Knowing Ones”: if nobody’s around to tell you who your ancestors were, there’s also no one around to tell you who they weren’t. Dream, baby, dream!

SECRET PRESTRICTIONS FROM THE PAST
I love the Dead Milkmen song “Stuart”… the way the spoken-word vocal fits so perfectly over the music as it builds and releases. I wanted to give that kind of thing a try.

The story is something my friend Sputnik told me freshman year of college. I tried to recount his tale word for word, in as close as I could get to his voice, complete with all the “dude”s. Sputnik used to begin and end every sentence with “dude”.

“Dude” was not as played out back then as it is today, but I felt like I should stay true to the spirit of the original telling.

The piece of music was salvaged from a stream-of-consciousnessy 1993 sequence and performed by the band almost note-for-note. Graham in particular did an amazing job with the ’90s slap bassline. It’s really awesome playing by the whole group – Anton had to do a million little things to make the drums work, and Reeves is pure Reeves on this track. And let’s not forget Sheridan Riley’s conga playing to tie it all together. Very tricky piece of music, deftly handled.

I HEAR AN ECHO
I once had this boss named Bob. Our gig was magazine production, where the deadlines can be long and killer. I was 22 at the time, with no attachments that weren’t music related (something that hasn’t much changed, come to think of it), but Bob was in his late 30s and married. He and his wife had moved from Chicago to New York City so he could take a promotion.

During my year working for Bob, I watched the dude’s marriage and life implode. It was a horrible thing to see, and I vowed never to let a day job interfere with… well, anything I give a fuck about.

I lost touch with Bob when I left that company; I can only hope he’s doing okay these days. Bob, this one’s for you.

LOSE ME FOREVER
This was a very early Collider song from 1997. It’s a bummer. I wrote it after getting dumped by Elena in the first dumping of what would become an ongoing series.

Collider played “Lose Me Forever” at one or two early shows and even included it on our first demo tape, but it didn’t fit with what was becoming the Collider thing – loud, fast, electronic and snotty. So we put the song aside and I forgot all about it until I came across it on a Zip cartridge formatted for the Roland VS-880 recorder. Remember those? Either of those?

I know this is a depressing way to go out; my advice would be to keep the record on repeat so “Again” comes back on!

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The album’s title (and cover imagery) comes from the story of Otto Lilienthal, the 19th Century “Glider King”. Lilienthal was an inventor who built some of the earliest gliding apparatus, which he tested himself. On a flight in August of 1896, his glider stalled and he fell more than 50 feet, breaking his back. Lilienthal died the next day; his final words were small sacrifices must be made!

Otto Lilienthal’s work directly inspired the next generation of aviation inventors, particularly the Wright brothers.

Just like the work of teenage Jed, and all the shit that poor motherfucker had to go through to create it, has inspired and benefited the version of me that carries on for him today.

The folks at Germany’s Otto Lilienthal Museum were very cool about providing me with hi-res imagery for the album packaging; I am so grateful!

Okay, that’s a long post. I hope you’re still going to listen to the record after all this.

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*The guitarist is still on tour five years later. I’ve moved on and unless something crazy happens, you’ll get that other album exactly one year from today!

 

Next

I got the finished master of my new record two days ago. I drove around listening to it for a few hours, then listened a few more at home. I uploaded it to my music site for you to hear on July 7, and then did a bunch of prep stuff for its retail release on October 9.

Then I emailed Anton about getting started on the next album. Not next YEAR’S album – we’re already just about finished with that – but one for 2014, ’cause ya know, it takes a while to wrap these things. The record we’re about to start is called Schoolbus Coming At Me, and it’s a collection of all the songs I’ve written with Chris Hug. There are lots!

I almost suggested we begin recording the album I’ve written over the past year and a half, but it’s all about family and family-type relationships ending and I’m just not ready to live with the material as intensely as one needs to when making an album of it. I’d like to try being happy for a while before I revisit that shit.

——-

In honor of one project coming to fruition, I present a list of all the stuff I’m working on that hasn’t, in the order in which I expect to finish it (though I’m not gonna estimate completion dates – I learned that lesson a long time ago). This may be the last time you hear about some of this stuff for a while, especially since this space is about to be taken over by my July 7/October 9 release, Small Sacrifices Must Be Made! But I promise if you stick around, you will eventually get it all:

- A new Hanslick Rebellion single, “Dear Friends And Gentle Hearts”. This is recorded and only needs to be mixed. It’s part of a whole new Rebellion EP of six songs that’s about two-thirds of the way there.

- The 20th anniversary reimagining of Skyscape‘s Band Of The Week, containing the entire album remixed (with new bass from Mike Keaney and additional guitars and drums from Alex Dubovoy and Sheridan Riley) plus signature tracks which for one reason or another did not end up on the original (“It’s Always Christmas In Siberia”; “Mukhopadhyay”; “Hey Jude”).

- A whole new Skyscape album, Dr. Des Moines, which is already completely demoed and partially recorded and features a Skyscape lineup of Dom, Mike, Alex, Sheridan and yours truly, with special guests Reeves Gabrels and Jerry Marotta.

- Four more Sevendys singles, already recorded and just waiting to be mixed. Chuck expects to be back in playing shape later this summer (!) which means we’ll be doing more recordings thereafter.

- My solo album for 2013, Failing Upwards, which I’ve been working on since 2007 with Anton Fig, Reeves Gabrels, Tony Levin, Ralph Carney, Dweezil Zappa, Earl Slick and Avi Buffalo. It’s 95% recorded and in the process of being mixed by Tchad Blake. This album will also feature Tchad’s amazing mix of “The Bowery Electric” (the Ramones version), marking the first time that song has been formally released in the US.

- The Rebellion’s recording of the 40-song musical Rise And Shine. I recently cleared this with Arturo and we’re going full-steam ahead. Joe just tracked drums on a bunch of tunes a couple of weeks ago, and I’m working to reassemble the voice cast. It’s gonna take a while but it’s happening!

- My solo album for 2014, the aforementioned Schoolbus Coming At Me, collecting the dozen or so compositions I’ve written to Chris Hug’s wonderful lyrics over the years, plus a couple of instrumental pieces I wrote for Chris’s short films. I hope to continue with the same basic band from Small Sacrifices and Failing Upwards – we’ve done some pretty nice work so far. I know Anton is in for drums.

- Those 11 songs the Rebellion cut with Reeves under the band name Jeebus. It’s mostly done but when and how to put the thing out?!

This list doesn’t include stuff I’m producing for other folks.

“WORK IS GOOD” – Arturo Vega

 

The Value of Music

Many of my Facebook friends are semipro singer-songwriters. We tend to attract each other. As such, I see lots of bitter status updates about the Internet’s “devaluing” of music. I never comment; I don’t want to be a dick in somebody else’s space. Lucky for me, I have my own space and can be a dick here all day long!

The Internet hasn’t devalued anything. It’s revealed the true value of many things.

I say this after watching the two worlds in which I spend most of my productive time – music and print publishing – collapse over the past dozen years. I was cranky for a while. I got over it. I say bring it the rest of the way down.

Has the Internet destroyed our economy? Yes, absolutely; it destroyed the economy such as it had been built. So many of the things people used to blow money on have been exposed as having no monetary value. Gatekeepers and middlemen were once able to monopolize the distribution of information and assign it an arbitrary price. They can’t do that anymore.

Journalism as we’ve known it is worthless. I’m sorry. When I want to find out about news that is breaking right now, I use Twitter. I learn about things as they happen from the people who are standing right in front of them. Blogs, maintained by passionate enthusiasts, organize and refine that information at little or no cost to the user.

Most mass-market entertainment is also worthless. Something made for free and posted on YouTube or Soundcloud by a random dude in my neighborhood can be just as funny, just as resonant, just as entertaining as a big-budget blockbuster film or album. It’s not about piracy; it’s about quantity of entertainment. Free stuff entertains me as much as expensive stuff does, and it’s free.

If I go to a restaurant and there’s a wait, I usually move on. All the sit-down places are packed for breakfast or dinner rush? I can go to McDonald’s and have something that tastes good and will leave me full, and I won’t have to wait for it. No, it’s not going to be a gourmet fuckin experience, but it will fulfill my base meal requirements and probably even make me happy. In this way, all restaurants are essentially always competing with McDonald’s for my patronage. They’re also competing with my kitchen at home.

Art is assigned value by middlemen. Its intrinsic value is zero. You can hear music right now for free: hum to yourself. Whistle. You can make something right now that entertains you or speaks for you. You don’t need me to do it; you don’t need painters, or sculptors, or filmmakers, or novelists, or songwriters. Little kids know this… they can entertain themselves all day using nothing but their imaginations and whatever’s around.

Nobody asked me to write or record music. I felt a need to do it, so I did it. That wasn’t for the world at large; it was for me. My benefit has already been derived. If I needed to make money from it too, that would be a sad commentary on how much my music actually means to me.

Here are some things that have value the Internet cannot “take away”:

Expertise. Craftsmanship. Nostalgia. Arousal. Empathy. Quality. Novelty. Scarcity. Collectability.

You can aspire to some of these; others are not up to you. You can practice and learn until you are an expert or a craftsperson. What someone is nostalgic for, aroused by, or can empathize with is subjective. Some people think “quality” is something you know when you see it; I’m not so sure that isn’t subjective too. And it can be argued that scarcity and collectability only add value when combined with one of the other things on that list.

Expertise and craftsmanship are why I’m happy to scrape together the money for a mix by Tchad Blake or Pete deBoer, or session work from Anton Fig or Jerry Marotta or Tony Levin or Graham Maby or Reeves Gabrels or Ralph Carney… these guys do things nobody else can. You can’t fake them in Pro Tools or Garageband. Do they make my recordings more “sellable”? I’m not sure, but in my opinion (which is the only one that counts ’cause it’s my music), they make them better. And I want my recordings to be the best they can be, even if I’m the only one who will ever give a shit.

You don’t decorate your home strictly for guests. Maybe you do, I dunno. But I would figure you’d fill your place with stuff you wanted to see every day… and then if guests happen to show up, they can appreciate the decor, or not.

The most “successful” project I’ve done in the past five years, in terms of monetary ROI, is “Yuppie Exodus From Dumbo”. The song itself is fine; a fun listen and very well performed, but as happy as I am with the finished piece I can’t say it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. And yet I’ve sold almost 50 copies of the track on cylinder, a virtually unplayable format, at a whopping $35 a pop. In this case, people are shelling out for novelty and scarcity – it’s a cylinder record, and there are only 50 signed and numbered copies. Some people collect cylinder records and feel a need to buy any new ones that are made. And there is a chance people are also paying to speculate, since Michael Doret is a name in the art world and it’s his autograph on the thing.

Almost no one is buying the product for the song itself.

And then there’s this:

The Bowery Electric Crew – Joey Ramone Dedication

Somebody forwarded me that link after it had been up for a year, collecting comments. I’ve never seen a dime from “The Bowery Electric” (unlike Jesse Malin, I suppose) – and I’m not credited or even mentioned anywhere on the page – but I couldn’t possibly feel more rewarded for my work than I did when I saw this YouTube video and the testimonials beneath it.

When I put forth a vinyl record or a CD or a digital file – just like everybody else does, and just like anybody else can – I have no expectations of return on investment, and I feel entitled to no reaction. I wanted something to exist; it exists. I wanted the catharsis of creation and I got it. I wanted it recorded; I wanted it packaged. I got what I wanted. Nobody asked me to do any of this.

If I create something that has value to a stranger, they will let me know.

 

Quickies 5.10.12

I’ll be returning to the WCDB airwaves on the morning of Sunday, May 20. My new timeslot: 10am-noon Sundays! I hope you’ll join me… I love sharing music, even when I didn’t write it.

Still no word on whether the radio station will be open for overnight broadcasting. This is such a cowardly move by the UAlbany administration, and its timing is so suspect… handing down this “punishment” right before summer break is the equivalent of announcing bad news on a Friday. If these “Student Success” clowns think people are just going to forget and get over it, they’re as stupid as they are out of touch.

To their credit, the station staff has kept up the pressure and a ruling is supposedly forthcoming. Let’s watch closely.

- – - – - – -

I want to thank the folks who bought Sevendys merch this past week to help with Chuck Rainey’s medical bills – very cool and generous of you guys. I’ve forwarded the proceeds right on to Chuck with my match, and I’ll keep the program going until further notice.

Again, if you would like to donate to Chuck directly, you can do so here.

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My next album is on track for a July release; I hope to make it available on CD and vinyl at that time. It’s twelve songs and seven are mixed. All but one are with the mix engineer, Pete deBoer, and he’s wrapping them up very efficiently.

It’s a weird record. The upbeat songs are very upbeat and the sad songs are very sad. I previewed the rough album for a friend and she cried at the end. Like real tears and everything. I thought it was maybe because she couldn’t stand to listen anymore – which was okay at that point because the record was over – but she said it was because the last two songs were that upsetting.

So I apologize in advance for whatever this album does to you.

Eschatone‘s distributor requires a few months to properly set up an album, so while I’ll make it available here in all formats July, I would assume it won’t be in stores (if there still are actual record stores) until the fall. Not that this matters to you since you’ll be getting it the day I put it up on my site, right?

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I got Eschatone Records a PO box in Albany today. We’ll be closing down the New York City address and preparing our next round of releases as a bonafide 518 operation. I’m excited to be back with the company; I withdrew from the partnership in 2009 and returned late last year.

We have a plan and some really crazy stuff lined up to release this fall and winter. We’ll be experimenting with formats. We’ll be working with artists whose music will shock you. And we’ll be working with artists whose names will shock you, because you’ll be like How the fuck did they get that guy?

One genre into which I am excited to expand Eschatone is noise. I’ve been dabbling with Avi in our Space Toilets project… it’s fun and visceral, and the recordings, as abstract as they are, really do manage to say something. I think noise can be the ultimate musical metaphor – all feeling, no context, a direct emotional transmission. We’ll be putting out some stuff from Maryland’s Pregnant Spore; I am always surprised at how listenable his work is, and how much it communicates.

Thus even as Eschatone brings you new folk from Brian Dewan, it shall also put out staticky scrapey instrumental noise.

Come to think of it… there is an artist – a guitarist – whose work has long bridged the gap between the two; we’ve got him also. To be announced.