Mar 27, 2013

As You Like It, A Tame Snake

If I could, then it was so
but still you only tell me no
I tried and lost it seems
I can't keep changing with your evil schemes

I've had a weird relationship with the works of William Shakespeare. I haven't always been into his plays, though that has been changing. I know civilization falls to him, but it's not always easy for an average student to see why, though it could just be me. Like most of the people I went to school with, I was introduced to Shakespeare in middle school and the first play being Romeo and Juliet, - I was aware of him before that, and knew all the general quotes but had yet to officially study his works - I even acted out a scene from Act V, Scene faith, I will... after Romeo slays Paris, and finds Juliet lying dead, not an easy scene for an eighth grader. For extra credit I went to a Shakespeare Festival. Beyond that semester I tried to avoid the stuff until it was forced back at me in University.

There's nothing to contest
I fulfill every request
and still you fight it
ain't it as you like it?
First Hello, but soon Goodbye
you laugh until you cry
how well you hide it,
ain't it as you like it?

Again I felt Shakespeare's language is too foreign to modern American English. Footnotes! Nothing is more trying for a young reader then all the footnotes: explaining old jokes, antiquated language, historical context impossible to know. So much lost in translation. It is hard to see the power of the words, the meaning, the feeling, the understanding. Now that I am older, my eyes have gotten wider. It was a few years ago, when I was getting ready for our second LP I revisited As You Like It

I found this beautiful artwork on Google from an Artist Allyson Haller
check out her blog to I was really taken by this image.

The story and characters are interesting enough, but the themes were what spoke loudest to me. Love, wit, inspiration, music, all come back over and over. Like the whole thing is a meditation Shakespeare leads us down. I also loved the constant double-talk. Verbal acrobatic of yes and no, love and loss- almost every line is filled with contradiction and a strange looping reasoning that is very rock and roll to me. The more I read from it the easier it was to be inspired. So I made a character, much like the one's in As You Like It, brutalized by love. Played by false strings. A tame snake.

I remember I was coming back from a doctors appointment and driving in the car when the story hit me. By the end of the 45min drive I had pretty much all the verses and most of the chorus written out in my head. When I got home I rushed to my notepad and put them all down with minor alterations. Sometimes it works out that way.
From that As You Like It, the song, took shape. I went into my familiar T.Rex/Elvis/Everly territory, the perfect way to write rocknroll in my humble opinion, and hammered out rather quickly the melody to go with it.

The song, upon reflection, is in the wrong key, and if I were to play it again live I would probably lower it down a bit. The mix of the song needed to have the background vox a little higher too. Life is not perfect though. And these are very minor complaints, nuisances really. Sometimes it is impossible to listen uncritically to myself. I think it is a beautiful artifact of that recording session. Maybe sums up the album completely? Anyways great job all around.

here is a live version I found on YouTube, complete with my fretless bass!
Actually sounding really good. I loved that machine.

A traitor to your own word
You keep my pride unnerved
I'll still abide it,
Ain't it as you like it?

Once I had the words I took As You Like It to my acoustic, which most of my songs are written on, and later transferred again to the band with the help of the other dudes. The story of a person whipped up by love is so central to rock and roll that the idea just unfolds itself. My favorite part being the Beatles style backgrounds on the chorus, dancing around the lead, wrapping around the melody so nicely. When in doubt always go back to The Beatles for music or Shakespeare for words.

I know my buddy Ben would have a few thoughts about this...I think we actually had a conversation on the very subject in San Diego... I feel Shakespeare's works are something best to grow into. If they're forced, the plays can be very taxing, but if someone wants to go there, pursues them out of their own volition, they will find a beautifully rich and rewarding trip. A travel I recommend making, and one I frequent more and more often.

I can appreciate them more now, being older, possibly smarter, and more willing to work than when I was a teenager. As glad as I am now that I was introduced to him, it has helped me so much as a writer, I really wish my education focused on reading works that would have inspired me to want to read more. Current books, of which there are many, many great selections, instead of classics from another time, another country, another people.

The lines that really jumped at me. The words that grabbed my heart and forced me to read into my own life.  They were all far more understandable. It felt like they were written to me, for me. I didn't need a map to navigate the meanings, laugh at the jokes, and feel connected. If I hadn't fallen in love with the American Short Story which I did outside of my recommended readings and sometimes at the cost of my grades, I would never have gotten into poetry, novels, plays, writing, all sorts of literature the way I had.

So why not focus on modern American fiction? Speak American Poetry? See American plays? Or in the case of Texas- Mexican: that culture should be a lot more relevant to me than Shakespeare's, no? -or insert your own culture and interests here. I am speaking only as a young Texan, not that I think everyone needs to read like me- Again just a lot of questions, but think how inspiring it would be for a child to hear words that speak of current ideas, current politics, things that are affecting their lives, their families lives? Maybe it would be more potent, more dangerous... maybe they would be inspired to write their own plays, stories, poems, songs? But then again I keep pulling from the classics all the time... I stood by her body, lips painted and shut. eyes closed. hair a brittle grey like dried grass. I knew nobody was different. we all walked off the past. stood on stacks of old bones. and just keep passing on the torch until someone figures out what to do with it...


Mar 20, 2013

Don't You Ever, Love Properly Digested

Darlin don't be like this
you know we're not on our own
I'll be a hold to your fits
this fighting's all that we know
If your not in the mood
you never have to pretend
with nothing to lose
more time to give you, more me to lend
Darlin don't be so dark
only missing things that they do
I've got a hunger and spark
tending them only for you
Let them burn in the air
watch it all trail away
make it easy to share
with nothing to prove, nothing to say...

I think Love is the most under appreciated topic in western music. I know that doesn't sound right... It is probably the most written about subject... it is even popular to have songs about how people are sick of love songs. But somehow, in it's overabundance we neglect interpretation. Often dismissing songs as merely love songs with no further need to investigate - There are a lot of songs where it is necessary not to over think, and I would do the same.

Sometimes I hear a song that resonates into a deeper meaning. Maybe it is a lack or fault in our modern language, that we do not have more specific and detailed words for Love's many aspects that are as conveniently lyrical (fondness, affection, lust), and so they all get grouped together. Probably the blame falls on both listener and writer, who have trapped each other into selling what the other wants, and wanting what the other's selling, but that is another post.

one of my all-time favorite songs ever,
and says more about love than other songs without any words

The kind of Love I was after in Don't You Ever, is a total-love. A compassionate altruistic love, closest to a non-religious Agape, and you can see why it is not a word with much lyrical-pop value. It has a clunky sound, with the "A" tumbling into the caught-in-the-throat "Ga" and the "Pe" tagged on just leaving the singer standing out in his look how smart I am to use this word with all it's foreignness.

I am all for unusual and unique diction in songs, but at some point -a lesson I am still struggling with- it does more harm than good. I don't think anyone wants a rock album with a glossary attached. But it is a technically better word than Love for this song. How else could I express the feeling of giving myself up to somebody? So I was left with using an odd word, or an incomplete word. I chose to leave out the both words all together and let the story imply the meaning... I think that was best.  


sorrow and peace, never release
in joy or in pain, always the same
I hope and pray that in time
lightning will fall, color us all
don't you ever?

Don't You Ever is a Love song, but it is not the main/only subject. The subject is a prayer. A hope for understanding things as they are and not as we see them. Waiting for Satori, waiting for truth to fall down on the couple and the world, even if with violent momentary flash- like lightning. I believe a second of understanding can feed anyone for a lifetime, if it is properly digested.

...I'd like to add, that this song was probably my favorite to record off Shakedown. I think Dan nailed the vibe, and FYI, that is him on rhythm doing a perfect CCR/Stax vibe. Maybe some of that Gospel groove fell into it, helped feed the feeling of the lyrics....

Love can be the strongest springboard for ideas- Which is probably why it is overused. The word, in it's impreciseness, has grown to mean so much. It can launch us anywhere from the depths of desperate longing to the highest moments of bliss and every sort of weird/funny/perverse deviation in-between. Even if the subject is overused, there is still a lot of rich territory for any artist to cultivate idea after idea. 

Love is a subject so prevalent I forget it's there even when the words are in front of me. It is not until after I write a song and look back at it, that I notice I have written another song about love. Hopefully it will not be another one to overlook.

your quiet morning eyes
your eyes of sorrow
your indecisive searching eyes
I looked in and you showed me: wanting, loving
and gave up myself
throwing clothes, security
and naked, gave a wide natural-gut grin
beauty like a lover can see.
I want eye’s heavy with night and screaming joy,
eyes trenched in sorrow, I want them too.
too many eyes for I, and never enough
      only cause I looked


* photo from:

Mar 13, 2013

Hound Dog, Sometimes a Lover

I think more about it now than I ever did when we met,
but I still won't call it regret
She named him Hound Dog, from the way he mopes,
his jaws on the floor, sniffin at the door, 
waiting for a feeling that's comin on the breeze as it blows

At the time the song was written, I had been dating my now-wife for four or five years. She owned/s a Basset Hound named Lucy who would howl every time I pulled into the driveway.  Lucy lived in her backyard and the only thing that kept her away from my car was an old wooden fence, I don't know how it lasted this long, that just about snapped in half every time she jumped against it. I never seen anyone so emotionally dependent and torn up by love than Lucy. She howled with sadness when we left on our dates, and howled with joy when I would bring her home. She lives every second like it would be her last, and isn't afraid to express how she feels about it. She is a dear soul, with a capacity for loyalty that we can all learn from. Her actions moved me. Her love made the story.

Had I known, when we started this, just where we'd land, how far we'd miss
well I still might be where I am, poor Hound Dog,
It's just the way it rolls...
He knew she was coming, he heard the engine running, and saw me bring her back
but it only hurts him more when she goes

One of my best sources on inspiration is a game where I try to imagine different scenarios happening to real people I know, and figuring out how I would feel about it. Like dreams, false stories of true people. Which make them real enough to me that I could believe it. If I lost a love...If I never found love...If I died... I get a lot of inspiration by playing this what if game. This one was about a love triangle. What if someone had the uncontrolled love of Lucy, but it was unrequited? What would they go through, how much it would hurt? That is the story of Hound Dog.
I want to say a little something about the music. Abe did a beautiful job on the chord arrangements. This is one of my favorite songs of ours. Has a total Burt Bacharach vibe, that I am mad about. The solo at the end, come on he nailed that. The bass line is also a blast to play. The whole thing is just a melody I can sing to. There have been a few moments where I listen back and say, did we just make that?...and Hound Dog is definitely one of them.

what the world needs now, more songwriters like Burt

The best stories have a hint of truth, or so I believe, because the true parts are what make it relatable. What I love about this song is how well it applies to other parts of my life. The girl character, the object of desire, doesn't need to be a person, it can be anything I want. Anything I am loving. Sometimes I am the other lover, sometimes I'm the Dog.

Lately I haven't been wanting for much. Just the usual: health, security, greater success for the band, immortality etc... all the things that seem to wax and wane their favors with me. Some days they seem so close I feel I am right there with them, some days leave me feeling like I am behind the gate. Wishing. Hoping they will come to me. It all seems so foolish from a distance. But when you really desire something you can't have, it is overwhelming, it is blinding, it is instinctual.

I think I've gotten better. I know desire=suffering, but it is almost impossible to not feel it. To not want. I can't eradicate the feeling. The best I can do, the best I can hope for... I'll always be human I'll always have my instincts to possess... is having awareness of my desires, and hopefully that can pull me off of the fence. Wake me up. Move me back to being happy with my moments.   

I thought about calling you
had my fingers against the numbers.
They knew where to go,
I didn't have to look.
Yesterday was filled by countless words
I needed to give. Countless thoughts
about where we could go, and so many adjectives,
but I gave it a day and a night.
As the call belled in my receiver,
I found it had all escaped me.


*house is not a home

Mar 6, 2013

Don't Turn Out The Light, A Vague Prophet

I'm in a story I can't end
I'm only trying to begin,
don't turn out the light
The pulsing bass, the double-stopped ringing of lead guitar-its all about that open-E- the angular spastic rhythm, the whirling organ, all build Don't Turn Out The Lights to a state of innate eeriness. Something that reminded me of a horror movie. The music pulses in the anxiety. This song was another written in the studio. I wrote the chorus with Jaime literally minutes before we made the final take, and it was the sound, the atmosphere, that fed the lyrics, usually I work with lyrics first but it's fun to change things up.

*unofficial video

When I work that fast, there is a certain level of worry because the song doesn't have a chance to marinate, to grow into itself, the way Shake Ya had for instance, but the anxiety, the pressure can also be fuel. I try to remind myself that there never is a right or wrong action, only actions taken and actions lost.

It took me a long time to figure out I am not the world's protagonist, and a little longer to learn to be OK with that. It is more fun to be a supporting cast anyway, a character of uncertainty than the flat-stock hero. It's possible that I can have moments where I feel like I'm the lead, but that can all change in the turn of the page. More often I feel like I am one of the faceless mob, a person perhaps lost in the first moments of a narrative, or a seemingly unnecessary hanger-on. But even they are able to drastically change the course of the story at the last second, if I move at the right moment.

Every character's resolution is often determined by the simplest of choices. That is what I was thinking of when I wrote the words to the chorus. Imagine all the times in a horror film when we yell at the screen not to do something that seems so insignificant, Don't Go In There! Turn Around! Look Out! In that simple choice, comes the finality or extension of their existence. I'm sure you've either been the person yelling or heard someone do this. I find myself yelling from inside, Don't do it! every time I'm about to be reckless, but the voice isn't always right and my audience-mind doesn't always have the best answer. 


Guessing is the great fun of the game. Maybe walking into the dark alley is certain death, or maybe it is the safest place to be. Only the next scene will tell, but people love to pretend to know. So now looking back at the song, and where my life was when I wrote it. I think I was telling myself something. Sending a message from the audience, giving myself an answer. Sorry to be vague, but only vague prophecies are worth a damn. And the message?

what am I telling you...

What I was telling you... the questions, knowing the details, descriptions, scrutinizing all the adjectives, can make us feel secure but they don't actually help the situation, and only help to heighten the stress. We progress in verbs. Doing/not doing. Choices. I am always a fan of the compassionate choice, ones that puts life ahead of everything else, but Don't Turn Out The Light isn't about which particular choice to make, only about the need to make a choice. Not wanting to feel stuck in the details of a story, in the dead space. Repeating passages of my life over and over, and never finding a way to move along the arc, never committing to a choice: Don't Turn Out The Light.

So what decision to make? I guess I'm a hippie, in that I like to feel my way through life. It is only when I look away, when I leave life unattended, that it seems to really get going. When I'm vigilant, trying to force things to happen, I only get myself further stuck. Like a quicksand pit, life fights back, trapping me, reminding me no matter how strong I think I am, control is not for those who try to win it by strength and reason alone.

at the end
a brass nob
dulled by decades of turning
waiting to be touched
wanting to be still


*image from: