December 24, 2013

On Christmas Spirit

Christmas feels a little schizophrenic this year. Even as the elves stay busy filling up Santa's sleigh, a well-paid League of Scrooges has left Washington without reauthorizing unemployment benefits for some one million Americans in need of help. In Windsor, Connecticut tonight, a six million Christmas light display will shine almost as bright as the Star of Bethlehem. John Chakalos, the man behind the festive display, has been found inside his home, dead from a gunshot wound. The news offers up a constant parade of naughty and nice, charitable acts and Grinch-ly facts. Is it any wonder many people feel they are traveling on the Bi-Polar Express?

My wife Heather and I have been counting our blessings. 2013 has been a long and challenging year, but we have kept our heads above water, and our spirits high. Indomitable is the word, I think. We even have managed to conjure up some genuine Christmas Spirit. Love lives in our home. We are lucky.

Christmas Spirit, you may know, is one of the last remaining vestiges of magic left in the world. It's the warm glow that Black Friday bargains or doctored eggnog cannot quite provide. It's one of the few things children have a monopoly on. Adults feel it too, but they may have difficulty sustaining it.

You might feel it when you toss your change into a shivering bell ringer's kettle. It might strike when you hear Mel Torme's gentle tenor tones, like the voice of an old friend, seeping out of your car radio speakers. It might even come from exchanging a smile with a pedestrian walking in front of your car in an overcrowded parking lot. You will surely experience it if you tuck a jittery child into bed on Christmas Eve.

If Christmas Spirit pounces on you this year, I implore you to seal the exits in your soul. At first, the feelings of pure joy and humility may be overwhelming, like a wild tiger furiously pacing back and forth inside a cage. Wrestle with it, tame it, and keep it as a pet. Take it for long walks in your neighborhood and let your neighbors stoop down to pat it's head for good luck. Feed it and breed it, and give a total stranger the pick of the litter.

If you don't have Christmas Spirit this year, do not despair. Nothing is hopeless, not all change is bad, and not all years are the same. If having Christmas Spirit was easy, everyone would have some, every day, all around the world.

You might have read or been told that, considering the infinite nature of the cosmos, you are as small and insignificant as a grain of sand on the beach. I submit to you that every grain of sand matters. If just one tiny grain of sand, on any of the world's great beaches, were to suddenly blink out of existence, that could very well create an anomaly that might undo all of Creation. You are a part of everything. Your very existence has meaning.

To every person in the world, young and old, fat and skinny, homely and beautiful, virtuous and even despicable, I wish you joy, good fortune,  laughter and all the Christmas Spirit you can handle.

Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.

December 17, 2013

Beatles Nonsense: Fab Albert

I know this cover of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" by Bill Cosby has been widely circulated on the intertubes, but here it is again, in all it's, ahem, glory. This tune pairs up well with a fluted glass full of Jello brand butterscotch pudding, "dont'cha know mmm oh yeah it's so creamy and delicious and my lovely children were singing and I said 'pull your pants up off the ground!' and my lovely wife Camille something something, riiiiiight!"

eBay Wonders: $un Maid Rai$in$ Box

This vintage Sun Maid raisin box can now be yours for $700,000 or, you know, your best offer.

Seriously! No joke!

Muse Of The Week: Arthur Lyman, Encore!

You are on The Big Island, in the Kona district. Feeling a bit thirsty, you step inside The Makai and take a seat. On a small stage at the front of the room is a slightly elevated area that might technically be called a stage. Sunlight sweeps in and covers the lone instrument on this stage, a vibraphone, sturdy, even elegant, but decidedly lifeless. You take another sip of your frozen cocktail, meticulously avoiding a case of brain freeze, and suddenly he is there. Gracefully wielding four mallets with the precision of a surgeon, the distinguished older gentleman takes his place between the sun and his instrument, and, without ceremony, begins to play. Now, for the first time, you are really in Hawaii.

Final thought: As music permeates our lives so thoroughly, it is sometimes very easy to forget the power it has to influence our emotions. Perhaps tellingly, people often choose to listen to music that only echoes the anxiety and desperation of the unbalanced times in which we are living. Music can also be a balm for what ails, and Arthur Lyman's music is good medicine indeed. If you are intrigued enough to seek out more of Mr. Lyman's output, you might be tempted to listen to it at night, as the sand begins falling from the ceiling above your bed. However, I suggest putting on an Arthur Lyman record as the morning sun is in full display over the horizon. I can practically guarantee it's efficacy to be many times greater than that of a multivitamin.

Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen: Ray Price (1926-2013)

Ray Price's rendition of Willie Nelson's song "Night Life" is a persuasive meeting of four genres: country, blues, jazz, and gospel. Although, he began his career emulating the sound of his friend and mentor Hank Williams, he developed quickly into an artist that bucked categorization. When he started using a string section on some of his records, many fans turned their backs on him, but Ray did things his own way, and made no apologies for doing so. Rest in peace.

December 13, 2013

Christmas Comics: "Big-Feet's Holiday"

From The Three Mouseketeers #6 (Jan-Feb 1957); illustrated by Rube Grossman

Muse Of The Week: Arthur Lyman, On The Town!

Via the magic time machine called YouTube, here is The Arthur Lyman Group performing on a local Seattle show called On The Town in 1964. Incidentally, the host is comedian and former Tonight Show regular Pete Barbutti. Enjoy!

December 10, 2013

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor...

Beatles Nonsense: "Thank Heaven For Yellow Subs!"

Here is a Beatles cover you don't hear every day: a French version of "Yellow Submarine" as rendered by ze one, ze only...Maurice Chevalier.

Muse Of The Week: Arthur Lyman

This week Easily Mused pays tribute to the Hawaiian native Arthur Lyman (1932-2002), the vibraphonist and marimba player extraordinaire who was at the forefront of the short-lived and sometimes revived Exotica movement. Let's kick things off with a recording he made well after the height of his career, unusual in that it features a vocal performance by Lyman, who usually stuck to instrumentals. The female vocalist is Arthur's own daughter Kapiolani. From the 1975 Crescendo release Puka Shells here is "Guava Tree," a leisurely tune of gratitude to warm the cockles of your heart. How cockles got in your heart, that's your business.

Sing it Gene!

Having just completed a rigorous series of time management courses, I am happy to announce my intention to resume full time blogging immediately. While Easily Mused has been relatively quiet for the past few years, it still has a modest amount of traffic from readers all over the world, for which I am grateful. I know that blogs are a dime a dozen, but I will do my utmost to provide content that will be interesting, original, and entertaining.

20th Century Pop Culture, that's my beat. I love creative people and their creations. I always have a warm spot for creators who I think are underrated and often overlooked. It is the artist's path I have followed throughout my life. They have taught me much about what is truly important in life. They have been my muses, and I hope that by sharing my sense of wonder concerning these outstanding human beings, you too may be inspired and delighted.

I will be rolling out a host of regular features, starting today with the "Muse Of The Week." Every week, Easily Mused will spotlight a creative individual and his or her works. There will also be a feature called "Strange Bedfellows," spotlighting instances where two famous people (folks who are not generally thought of together) met or collaborated. Think Nixon meets Elvis. "Frontier Cabin" posts will document my adventures as a songwriter and follow this process from creation to production and distribution.

Also expect to see rarely seen comics, rarely heard music, original humor and fiction pieces, wondrous Ebay finds that you can purchase for your own collections, a dash of philosophy, and a smattering of good news, delivered daily, completely free of charge, although donations will be accepted.

The bloglinks on the right will be updated and expanded on a regular basis. It will be a portal to a very fine lineup of blogs covering art and pop culture in it's myriad forms.

I hope you will make Easily Mused a small part of your daily routine in 2014. More importantly, I hope that this New Year brings you and yours much happiness and prosperity.

Cheers and Aloha!

November 22, 2013

Hi Ho! The Muppets Return!

I dislike when imaginary characters from my youth are revamped in an effort to make them more palatable to modern audiences. It's a wrongheaded idea that rarely, if ever, works. That's why I'm ecstatic after watching the brand new trailer for the latest Muppet movie, Muppets Most Wanted, due this Spring. The spirit of Jim Henson lives!

November 21, 2013

Strange Bedfellows: Jackie Gleason & Julie Andrews

Here's an interesting little curio: a 1974 television special pairing Julie Andrews with The Great One, Jackie Gleason. An interesting rundown of this strange gem can be found on Film Threat. The YouTube poster notes that Jackie Gleason flew to London for this production, making his first flight in twenty years. This may be the last time Jackie reprised signature characters such as "The Poor Soul," "Reggie Van Gleason III" and "Joe The Bartender."

One odd highlight: a Honeymooners sketch with Julie attempting to play the Ed Norton role. Sheeeesh!

Jimmy Stewart's First Class Nightmare

The 1960s was a highly creative and history-making era. Therefore, a slew of 50th anniversary celebrations are looming on the horizon. Of late, the Golden spotlight is focusing on the Kennedy Assassination, Doctor Who, and The Beatles.

Of course, some things are bound to slip under the radar. For example, one month ago marked the 50th anniversary of one of the most iconic episodes of The Twilight Zone, the gripping yarn "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," which starred a young William Shatner as an airplane passenger bedeviled by a wing hopping gremlin. The episode first aired on October 11, 1963.

Although this episode, written by recently deceased I Am Legend scribe Richard Matheson, deserves it's reputation for originality and suspense, it was not entirely without precedent. Twelve years prior, Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich co-starred in a British film with similar themes called No Highway in the Sky. 

In the film, Stewart plays one of those befuddled genius types who sometimes forgets things like where he lives or where he keeps the sherry. He works at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, and his current research involves testing his theory that the new "Reindeer" airliner has a flaw: after about 1440 hours of service, the tail will fall off due to metal fatigue. In a strange twist of fate, he finds himself on such an aircraft, one that has clocked in just over 1400 hours.

In a parallel to the later Twilight Zone episode, he tries to convince the pilot, a stewardess, and a passenger that they are all in terrible danger, but to no avail. For the rest of the film, his sanity comes into question. It's a good film and Marlene Dietrich is fine as Monica Teasdale, the elegant movie star passenger. Glynis Johns is absolutely charming as the caring flight attendant.

No Highway in the Sky is currently streaming on Amazon Instant, and is free for Prime subscribers.

The Beatles Are Coming! The Beatles Are Coming!

Ask any Beatles fan to name the quartet's first appearance on American television and you are likely to be told that it was on the February 9, 1964 edition of The Ed Sullivan Show. However, archivists at the Library of Congress have unearthed an audio-only recording of the November 18, 1963 episode of NBC's Huntley-Brinkley Report which aired a feature on Beatlemania, as reported by Edwin Newman. Go listen!

November 20, 2013


Rod Serling's Western. The Loner, starring Lloyd Bridges as a former Union cavalry officer in search of a new life, was Serling's attempt to portray The Wild West in more realistic adult terms. It debuted on September 18, 1965 and lasted one season. It's like The Twilight Zone, but less spooky, and with more gunfights. Serling wrote several episodes, which are probably on YouTube (hint hint).

Harry Belafonte: Sing Your Song. This HBO documentary does a good job of balancing Belafonte's twin histories as a musical pioneer and crusader for equality and justice. Currently streaming on Netflix.

"Now I'm Interested." Meet Lieutenant Joe Kenda. He's seen it all in his career as a Colorado Springs police detective, and now he's going to tell you all about it, in the Investigation Discovery original Homicide Hunter. Kenda's cool delivery and keen eye for detail set this show apart from others of it's ilk. Addictive.

Alo Alo. World Market is where I discovered a seriously refreshing aloe vera beverage produced by a company named ALO.  There are several varieties, the ALLURE with mangosteen and mango being my favorite. The little aloe bits are fun to chew. A daily ritual. ALO website

Streaming Johnny. Johnny Carson fans have been disappointed with the edited versions of TheTonight Show that have been released to date. The releasers of these botch jobs are finally starting to understand that they are selling an experience, not just a show. To wit, a new dvd "Vault Series" and several full episodes streaming gratis on YouTube. Some of the orchestra music has been cut, so these are not perfect, but they're close. Good times!

November 7, 2013

Fumbling Toward Nirvana

Lately, I have sought and found personal enlightenment. I am at a point in my journey that is marked with peace and happiness. I observe so much unhappiness and discontent sometimes when I'm out and about, and I am compelled to try to help, even if my efforts fail or I am perceived to be self-righteous, delusional, or just plain crazy.

Did you ever have a dream that felt more real than other dreams? About three weeks ago, I had a dream so real that I would rather describe it as a visitation than a dream. I remember very little of this event except a warm presence and the comforting message he brought, which was an iron-clad assurance that to be human is to endure suffering, but that one day all that suffering would be replaced by joy.

Now, as a fairly curious person, I have studied different religions, and I know that the message I was given ties in with Buddhist teachings. The First Noble Truth in Buddhism is recognizing suffering. It isn't hard to recognize suffering in man's world. Stories of senseless inhumanity and disasters abound and are only a few clicks away at any given moment. In the interest of full disclosure, I was raised Baptist but more closely identify with Universalism, because it is accepting of all people.

What I know is that since my dream/visitation I have been feeling blissful, healthier, and more centered. Also, perhaps coincidentally, I have been noticing more signs of awesomeness in the world. Here are a few examples:

 Pope Francis recently embraced a severely disfigured man in St. Peter's Square, a very moving spectacle, which quickly became viral.

Matthew Jacko, an amazing young man who has a brain tumor, is helping kids at a local Pennsylvania children's hospital smile, by encouraging people to donate money to buy the children stuffed monkeys. "Laughter is the best thing in the whole wide world," he reports. Agreed.

Then there's this story of a the New York Q Train passenger who made no fuss about the exhausted stranger who was napping on his shoulder. A small act of kindness, not worthy of media attention? Maybe, but pennies add up to dollars.

Just as inspiring as these stories is the fact that they are being widely circulated. It leads me to believe that people still need to know there is good in the world. Compassion, humility, courage. These phenomena do exist and always will, to help us deal with the burdens of life we all carry.

There's more I could say, but I'll leave off for now with an old Irish blessing.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

October 18, 2013

The Kid Stays Out Of The Picture or Pilgrim's Progress Report

Usually when I ignore the blog for a while, I feel compelled to explain my absence. However, being the seasoned blogvet that I am, I know that I must grab your attention in the next few seconds or you'll be gone, baby, gone.


There's actually more panels to this strip (from Wham! Annual 1967), but I think it has more impact this way.

This year, I have been working toward the goal of recording and making available an entire album of original songs. The indie scene, I find, is full of friendly, interesting and creative people who mostly will never make a hundred dollars profit off of their music and the massive efforts they make to create and distribute it. The knowledge I have gained by observing the current status quo compels me to step back and approach my project from a different angle. More later.

Speaking of music, my listening tastes continue to evolve, leading me to exotic places where time stands still and individuality reigns supreme. Here are five nifty tunes that have filtered into my conscious over the last few months: 

1. Harry Belafonte - "Jamaica Farewell"

2. Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks - "Waiting For The 103"

3. Cab Calloway - "Everybody Eats When  They Come To My House"

4. Astrud Gilberto - "The Sea Is My Soul ( I Remember When) "

5. Roy Smeck - "Sweet Georgia Brown"

It's too early to tell how these new influences might affect my sound, but I can see that I am consciously trying to separate myself from modern mainstream pop music, which I find to be at best, innocuous, and at worst, artistically bankrupt. Hmmm, a thought just occurred to me...maybe I should call my album Backlash.


August 5, 2013

The Circus of Dr. Lao

Ah, dear friends! What a surprise to see you here at the door of my humble abode. Please, do come in and make yourself comfortable. The refrigerator is not well stocked at the moment, but I can offer you water, sweet tea or coffee creamer. I must say, you are looking happy and healthy, robust even. I haven't lost a pound this year, but I haven't gained a pound either. I feel great though! Steamed kale. Good stuff.

Allow me to share with you a most enlightening discovery. I recently watched a film called The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, starring Tony Randall. This movie, the last directed by the great George Pal, is certainly odd, but is not without it's charms. Right off the bat, I will warn you that Mr. Randall's depiction of Dr. Lao is considered quite politically incorrect today. I have much to say on the topic of political correctness, so it's best to not get me going on that topic right now. I quite admire the character of Dr. Lao, and the magic he possesses. I especially admire his humanity. There is a young boy in the movie, a fatherless child, who also comes to admire Dr. Lao. In one scene, he visits Dr. Lao in the hope that he might join the traveling circus that Dr. Lao operates. Here, have a look at what transpires next:

This scene really touched me. Choked me up a little. I guess I'm the sentimental sort. I found Dr. Lao's speech to be very profound and I hope to remember it always. It exactly crystallizes the feeling I have had for a long time that humans too often ignore their many blessings and think only of what they do not have. Friends, our priorities as a society are way off base. Nothing illustrates this point better than a documentary I recently watched on Netflix. It is called I AM and it comes to us, strangely enough, from the director of modern farces Ace Ventura, Pet Detective and the Eddie Murphy revival of The Nutty Professor, a guy named Tom Shadyac. Those films made him a very rich man, but then a traumatizing event made him question his life and face the truth that his material comforts had not , in fact, made him any happier. Here is the trailer:

Y'know, I only have one rule when it comes to appreciating pop culture. I like what I like, for whatever reason I choose to like it, without any regard for other people's opinions. I don't care for most of the ultra-violent cgi-obsessive product that is coming out of Follywood nowadays. Pretty deplorable stuff, if you ask me. Not merely innocuous, but actually offensive in it's lack of creativity and lack of decency. More depressing is the fact that a great swath of Americans will routinely plunk down fifteen bucks to watch this depressing desensitizing tripe. No, my friends, you know me. I love the fruits of true imagination, realized by honest-to-goodness craftsmen, and imbued with the love, fun, and respect these creators have for their chosen fields. Has an assemblage of artists ever produced anything as fantastic in it's conception and execution than a Looney Tune or a Hitchcock film?  I'll take any creative product made from 1930-1980 over practically anything put out by the media conglomerations today (except for Adventure Time and other notable exceptions).

This week, I have been enjoying a dvd containing every episode of a 1966 cartoon called The Super Six. Depatie-Freleng, makers of The Pink Panther cartoons, produced this for NBC's Saturday morning lineup. There were a lot of talented people involved in this production. Directors like Norm McCabe and Robert McKimson, and animators/layout artists like Corny Cole, Norm Gottfredson, and Manny Gould. The show features the amazing voice talents of Daws Butler and June Foray and catchy music by Bill Lava. The humor is corny to be sure, and more than a little dated, but it's so well-made and pleasing to look at and listen to that it's deficiencies are forgivable. Do you know where I found this? In the bottom of a five dollar kid's dvd bin at Wal-Mart. It's a fun set and I recommend it as part of your anti-brainwashing regimen, because it will help restore your appreciation of whimsy, an emotion only practiced by civilized humans.

Now, please don't get me wrong. There are an awful lot of very talented artists, musicians, and writers living and working in America and around the world today. They're just mostly underground and most people don't have the time or simply won't make the effort to seek out these artist's works. Since I've been writing and sharing my music, I have stumbled across many talented and creative songwriters and bands I never would have heard of otherwise. Do a little digging and you too will discover that rock'n'roll, funk, jazz, blues, and any other genre you may have thought was dead is merely sleeping. I'm talking real music made by real people! The good stuff! Have you ever heard of The Pillbugs? The Duckworth-Lewis Method? Beachy Head Music Club? Vinnie Zummo? Soundserif? Blake Jones and The Trike Shop? Sylbay Ksb? Check out Reverbnation, CDbaby, and indie stations like Scrub Radio and Wolfman Radio in the UK and a whole new world of music will open before your very ears! You are all also invited to join me on the ground floor of my songwriting career, over at Frontier Cabin. Imagine, one day you can tell your grandkids you were there at the very start of something big!

Friends, I know these are confusing times we are living in today. The bees are dying off, the glaciers are melting, and the assholes seem to be in charge of everything. Just remember, you can focus on the bad and lay around eating Flamin' Hot Cheetos all day, or you can cast your eyes to the wonders that still and will hopefully always exist. Never be afraid to leave the herd and follow your own path. Never feel gullible when aiding a fellow human. Follow your hearts, for only hearts can know the future. Take your brains along, too, especially the parts that make you curious and open to new ideas. All is not lost, that is just a meme spread by would be tyrants who will eventually fall, as all tyrants do. There is a Renaissance coming. Prepare yourselves well. Stay strong and keep the faith. The best is yet to come...

Oh, and don't forget to eat your steamed kale. It's good for you. :)

June 5, 2013

"I See Music In Colors": A Self-Interview By Songwriter John Glenn Taylor

Because I am somewhat reclusive, I often feel that I am misunderstood by even the people I consider to be my friends. I've prepared this self-interview to hopefully correct any misconceptions people may have about me or my music.

Q: Your full name, which you use on Facebook and on your music releases, is John Glenn Taylor. Were you named after the astronaut John Glenn?
A. No. My mother's name was Glenda. I use my middle name to honor her memory and so as not to be confused with John Taylor, one of the members of the 80's pop group Duran Duran.

Q: You have just recently started sharing your songs with the public. Why is that?
A: I've been writing songs for about twenty-five years. About 75% of the songs I've written no one will ever hear. I liked them when I wrote them, but when I revisited them later, they seemed very amateurish to me. It's taken me a long time to find my voice, I'm still trying to find it. I have so many influences, it's hard to distill into a singular voice. Also, real life responsibilities have often made it necessary for me to put my songwriting aspirations on the back burner.

Q: What was your childhood like? A. It was the perfect childhood to create an artist! I was raised in poverty. My father was an alcoholic and this caused great strife in our home. My parents argued constantly. In order to survive, I had to develop a keen imagination. My first outlet was drawing. I drew constantly.

Q: What was your experience in school?
A: I enjoyed the learning aspect, but socially, it was a nightmare. I have Asperger's Syndrome, which means that I have trouble communicating socially. Eye contact is a problem, for example. It didn't help that I was the fat kid with glasses, and later, zits. Needless to say, I was kind of an outsider. Again, my imagination was a lifesaver, a way to escape a reality I couldn't process.

Q: People with Asperger's tend to excel in certain areas. Is that the case with you?
A: Definitely, AS has helped me to become more proficient as a musician. I "see" music in colors, based on the kind of psychic energy the song is emitting. I tend to gravitate towards positive energy songs, which are mostly yellow or orange. I tend to stay away from the negative energy of black music, no racial implications intended. It disturbs me how many people only listen to dark negative music. I don't think many people realize the true power that music has to influence their moods and behavior. The thing about Asperger's, it's not a disease. Everyone falls on the Autism Spectrum somewhere. I just fall a little higher. It doesn't bother me in the least. It sometimes bothers me to be considered aloof, pompous, or dumb by people who don't understand me.

Q: What were your earliest musical influences?
A: I was 4 the summer Elvis Presley died and it had a profound impact on me. The coverage of his death was wall-to-wall. Radio stations aired Elvis marathons. TV stations were showing all of his movies. I became a rabid fan of all things Elvis. Especially the music. After that phase subsided, I really wasn't into music at all until I became a teenager. All of my creative efforts were put into drawing. I dreamed of becoming a comic book artist or a cartoonist.

Q: When did you start playing piano?
A: I really became interested in playing piano when I was around 15. I have to back up and say that my father was and still is a musician, from the Chuck Berry school. He bought me a miniature guitar and showed me some chords when I was around 5. I played for a little while but lost interest. When I was 14, my family moved to a house in the country, in the middle of nowhere, no neighbors, nothing to do. We happened to have an old piano in the house. I started playing out of sheer boredom.

Q: What was the first thing you played
A: I picked out the melody of "Inspector Gadget." Then I taught myself the major chords and learned how to play a simple 12 Bar Blues with a very rudimentary bass line. Two weeks later, I was making up songs. For the next few years, I would often practice three to six hours a day, but it was fun.

Q: And you had started listening to music again?
A: Yes, a few years earlier, I had begun to notice music again. I really loved Billy Joel's song "Movin' Out" and Huey Lewis & The News' Picture This and Sports albums. At first, I listened to a lot of Top 40 stuff. INXS, LL Cool J. Howard Jones. Then a very transformative thing happened.

Q: What was that?
A: To set the scene, I must say that at this time in my life, I was very depressed, borderline suicidal. I didn't think I would ever fit in with others or find happiness. One of the radio stations I listened to was WRDU 106.1, "The Home of Rock & Roll." Well, they staged a Beatles A to Z weekend and it completely changed everything for me. Like most teenagers, I had a very pinheaded view of The Beatles. Moptops, matching suits, head bobbing, yeah yeah yeah. But then I heard "Across The Universe." Then I heard "Back In The USSR." I stuck some blank tapes in my boombox and started recording. It was a real epiphany. Music as art. Music as instrument of creative self-expression. For the first time I felt I was not alone in the universe. It literally saved my life.

Q: What other music influenced you at that critical time?
A: I became a musical explorer, delving deep the history of popular music. I loved Motown and Stax. All the British Invasion stuff. I bought a new stereo with a cd player. The first CD I bought was Randy Newman's Sail Away. The second CD I bought was The Band's anthology To Kingdom Come. I went through a David Bowie phase, a Frank Zappa phase, an Elvis Costello phase. The band XTC had a huge influence on me. Elton John. ELO. I found that I preferred songs with killer hooks and interesting melodies. Arrangements were also important. I was a sponge, open to anything. Except overt negativity, which completely turns me off. As Pete Puma might say, "Gives me a headache!"

Q: Do you remember some of your first original songs?
A: Absolutely. Since I had little in the way of life experience, the lyrics were pretty silly and contrived. I wrote a song called "Tropical Man," about a dude who gets tired of the rat race and relocates to the jungle. I wrote a song about a Russian who escapes over the border, but must leave his true love behind. It was called "Thinking Of Greta." Pretty absurd B-movie type stuff. "Let's Dance In The Nude." "Rick O'Shay." Pretty embarrassing.

Q: Did you make an effort to record and share these early songs?
A. Yes, I made demos. I went to a few studios. I also borrowed a friend's dad's 4-track recorder for home recording. I sent some songs to some publishers and record companies, and received their politely worded rejection slips. The important thing writing songs did for me at that point was to give me an outlet for my feelings and to help me become a better piano player.

Q: Are you completely self-taught?
A: No, I studied music at community college for about two years. I learned a lot about intervals and dynamics. Augmented chords, diminished chords, inversions. Lots of handy tools for my toolbox. Ultimately, I ran out of funds and had to get a full-time job.

Q: How has your songwriting evolved over the last twenty-five years?
A: I've gone through different periods. I tried to write things that sounded commercial, but I quickly became bored with that. For a few years, while I was living in Alabama, I mostly wrote country songs. Some of those are pretty good and may see the light of day eventually. I basically just draw upon my influences and mix them together to make a new concoction. One song might have traces of Steely Dan, Johnny Cash, and The Clash. I like genre-blending. I don't do it consciously, but I notice it after the song is finished. I also have a number of life experiences under my belt, so lyrics come easier to me.

Q: Which comes first, the melody or the words?
A: 99% of the time it's music first, then lyrics. The melody suggests a feeling for what the subject matter might be, and then I just plug in the words that fit that subject.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with the upcoming release of your first album Demo Derby this Fall?
A: Right now the name of the game is just having my music noticed, getting my music to the ears of people who might enjoy it. I ultimately hope that one of my songs will be covered by another artist or band or used in a movie or tv show. I have no desire to be in the spotlight. I'm enjoying having these songs exist in a fixed form, instead of just in my head. Monetarily, I think it would be great to have some extra funds to put aside for my daughters' college fund. Look, there are 7 billion people on this planet. You can't convince me that I can't snag a few thousand of those for a fan base!

Q: If they can hear your music.
A: Sharing and networking is crucial. I'm signing up for independent radio stations, entering songwriting contests, trying to increase my web presence in different ways. I understand that people are busy with their own lives, but it takes so little effort to hit the share button on Facebook. One keystroke and I might get two more fans. And they might share, and suddenly I have fifty fans. Then 200. It really is that easy.

Q: What new music inspires you nowadays?
A: I make a conscious effort to not listen to what's new  because I don't want to be influenced too much. I like The Black Keys and some of the Vampire Weekend stuff. I loved Cee-Lo Green's "F**k You," which is basically just a fresh take on the classic Motown sound. I'm getting more and more into jazz, and it is definitely influencing my sound. Other bands I'm digging right now: Of Montreal, The Pillbugs, anything with a catchy melody.

UPDATE 7/31/2013

Since this interview was published, I have created a new entity, Frontier Cabin, for my Demo Derby project. The following links will be useful to anyone interested in keeping up with my present and future indie music exploits:

Frontier Cabin website
Frontier Cabin on Facebook
Frontier Cabin on Soundclick with free downloads!
Frontier Cabin on Scrub Radio

Each site will contain unique content, so bookmark them all!

March 21, 2013

Nobody Here But Us Updates!

Greetings and Salutations! Y'know, a popular expression among comics is "always steal from the best." that's why I would like to announce my intention to remain 39 forever, a la Jack Benny. It's not that I mind turning 40. I just think it will be somewhat amusing to tell people I'm 39, probably more amusing with each passing year.

This seems to be my first post for 2013. To those select few of you who depend on my posts to bring sunshine to your otherwise bland and purposeless lives, I apologize for being such a poor steward of this site.  I always considered this blog to be a creative exercise, and lately my creative energies have been funneled into the creation of music. I've all but abandoned hope of ever being able to make a living as a full-time songwriter, but in a way, that is very liberating. Without commercial constraints, I can just let the creative juices flow and see what comes out. My latest song, "Stormy Girl," came out in 6/8 time and I had mucho fun writing and recording it. There are dozens of other tunes in my head, waiting to be put down for posterity.

Let's see, what else have I been up to? Being the entertainment director at Raleigh's finest dueling piano bar, Rum Runners, keeps me plenty busy. I started there in 1998. A great entertainer named Tom Basler took me under his wing when I knew how to play three songs and he showed me the ropes ( and almost hung me with a few of them). I left in 2003 but came back about 5 years ago. That means I have spent ten years on the Rum Runners stage, entertaining people an average of four nights a week. And you know what? I've loved almost every minute of it.

In my free time, lacking the funds to take many trips, my wife Heather and I have been sticking close to home mostly. I really like people, but neither one of us requires a great deal of social interaction. We play our pinball and video games, watch John Wayne movies, and frequently chow down on sushi. I'm not going to lie to you. Winter can be somewhat rough, psychologically speaking. Neither one of us cares much for the cold gray days of December. Now spring has arrived, and we have survived the worst flu ever. Life is good.

I recently revamped the look of the blog and I plan to update the bloglinks section soon. Look for some cool new additions to the roster. I may not post every day, but I hope to at least get two or three posts in a week. If you come here for the comics, yes I will be posting some comics. If you are a classic television connoisseur, I've got access to some rare treats I think you may enjoy. If you are a music geek (like me), I'll be sharing the newest discoveries I've made on the latest leg of my journey, including a recent foray into Exotica. Of course, I'll be sharing my original tunes also. Future classics with titles like "Up The Apples," "Grenadine," and "The Next Golden Age." That last one's tentative.

By the way, the "Why Chicks Cry" book project is still a definite possibility. I've put it on the shelf for the time being, but I'll let you know if and when anything develops. It sure would be neat to see my name on the front of a book, eh! If you're unfamiliar with "Why Chicks Cry," it is the single post for which this blog may be remembered. Check it out!

That's all for the moment. Stay golden and I'll see you on the flipside!

Plug O' the Day: The absurdist comics of Michael Kupperman never fail to tickle my funny bone. His newest collection Tales Designed To Thrizzle Vol. 2 is available NOW! Buy me a copy too, willya?

Comments! I lurve comments!