Sunday, March 29, 2009

It is very frustrating to try to play music.

UPDATE (4/4/09): I figured out how to make noise with it. I was holding it against my teeth wrong.

Damn... I've got a Jew's harp here and can't make any sounds that can be heard outside of my head. And it doesn't sound like it's supposed to, just some humming. It's one thing to not be able to play an instrument well, it's another to not be able to even make a sound with it. Argh!

A while ago at my parents' house I complained about something that I've felt frustrated by pretty much my whole life. What that is is that I have music in my head but find it extremely difficult to be able to play that music on any kind of musical instrument. I have tried many different instruments.

I grew up in a musical family and have tried to learn how to play the guitar on many different occasions, yet have never gone beyond the most rudimentary level of skill. Like, I can strum a little and play a few chords, but changing between chords takes a lot of effort, the tone sounds wrong half the time because my fingers aren't holding the strings down hard enough, or they're damping the other strings, or I play the wrong strings, etc., and I'm pretty much useless at anything more intricate than just strumming.

My parents said that my problem in trying to learn to play instruments is that I never practiced anything for long enough to really get good at it. They're right. But my mom also said something insightful beyond that, that the reason why I never stuck with anything long enough was that my physical ability to play was always outstripped by my understanding of how, logically, playing the instrument should work. This is also true. I know how to play the guitar, I just can't do it. (I said the same thing about bicycles when I was a kid before my body learned how to ride one.)

It points to what I like the call The Lie of Rock 'n' Roll. That lie is that anybody can play rock 'n' roll; all it takes is a guitar and three chords. But that's not true. Even playing something simple like the Ramones takes some skill and practice. If you're like me and you have a song in your head and some chord diagrams in a book, you can pick up a guitar and play, but it won't sound like the song in your head; it will sound like crap.

I think The Lie of Rock 'n' Roll is something of a corollary to The Lie of Creativity in Art. That lie is that what really matters are ideas and creativity. In actuality, you need those to become good, but before you do that you need talent and skill. I've got ideas up the wazoo, but I can't draw. I can doodle, but I can't put a pencil to paper and make something that looks like what's in my head. Don't ask me to draw your portrait unless you want to look very ugly.*

You may be puzzled by the fact that I am a member of a band and have written a number of songs, a few of which are actually good. To explain, let me say three things.
  1. Our standards of musicianship in Stale Urine are very low. We have a saying, "practice makes pathetic."
  2. I do not play any instruments that play notes, just percussion. Percussion is simple. You hit something and it makes a noise. I can experiment with different objects, and they will make different noises, and that's pretty satisfying. But even there, I never use foot pedals, because I can't coordinate my body that way.
  3. I am the least musically inclined member of the band and would be nowhere without my bandmates. When I get credit for "writing" a song, what they generally means is that I write the lyrics, sometimes with help from the other guys, and then I sing them in some sort of tune that makes sense to me. Then the other guys, who can actually play instruments, change what I sing into something resembling an actual tune. Jon Lange and I work particularly well together this way, but Jon lives in Seattle, so I don't see him much. Take this for what you will, but I have heard that this is how Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones used to work together.
With this Jew's harp, I'm not even sure I know how to work it. Oh sure, there are online tutorials that make it sound real easy. I dunno, maybe every sentence in the tutorial needs the caveat, "and you have to do it just right," or maybe there's just one thing I'm doing wrong, or maybe I've got a bum jew's harp, or what. Anyway, if any of you out there in Southern California know what you're doing with one of these and can show me, I'd appreciate it.

*I think I am actually pretty decent at photography. I've never studied it in depth, but I think I do a pretty good job of composing pictures and finding good things to take photos of.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Mid-Century Tract Home Brochures

This is a pretty interesting Flickr photoset... somebody's got a collection of a whole bunch of Southern California tract home brochures from the 1950s-1970s and scanned them in. The graphic design is fantastic. The architecture... ehh. Really well-preserved examples of these houses are marvelous, but the fact of the matter is that prewar construction tends to hold up a lot better. My wife and I have been looking at houses around the Valley, and if the owners haven't taken good care of these things, they look like what they are --- cheaply made and now 50 years old.

Against Soccer

It's hyperbolic, sure, but Stephen H. Webb writes one of the more amusing anti-soccer screeds I've read in quite a while.
Did Jesus wash his disciples’ hands at the Last Supper? No, hands are divine (they are one of the body parts most frequently attributed to God), while feet are in need of redemption.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Question for dog owners

Just wondering, as I've never owned a dog: If you're taking a dog for a walk, and you come upon some wild mushrooms, does the dog know not to eat them, or do you have to try to restrain the dog from gobbling them up?Photo from Cute Overload

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sir Eugene Kingsale

Wow... not only did the Dutch improbably beat the Dominican Republic on Saturday, but tonight they did it again, eliminating the superstar-packed Dominicans from the competition!

Eugene Kingsale, after committing an error to allow the D.R.'s only run in the top of the 11th, was instrumental in the Netherlands' comeback walkoff win in the bottom half of the inning. He singled in the first run, advanced to third on a botched pickoff attempt, and then came home to plate the winning run on Yurendell de Caster's hard-hit grounder off of Willy Aybar's glove. What a game!
So you might think there'd be something big in it for Kingsale. But here's the thing... he's already been knighted by Queen Beatrix! Maybe there's an eligible bachelorette in the royal family they can marry off.

Oh, and take note of one of the stranger bits revealed in the Tom Verducci article above... Fidel Castro himself is blogging the tournament.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Beisbol Fever

The 2009 World Baseball Classic is underway! Last time there were all sorts of off-the-field controversies, but this time it appears to be all about good competition. Last night I watched a remarkably improved Chinese team eliminate Taiwan behind American-born Pirates farmhand Raymond Chang, and the U.S.A. just beat Canada in a 6-5 nailbiter in front of a packed house at Rogers Centre (née Skydome) in Toronto. The biggest surprise so far is the surprising 3-2 upset of the Dominican Republic by the Netherlands. Don't fall asleep against the weaker teams!There are some welcome changes to the format this year. The teams are the same, but instead of a round-robin, the pool play is double-elimination, which eliminates the bizarre tie-breaker rules from last time. What hasn't been remarked upon much is that the venues are more international this year. In 2006, two of the four pools played in spring-training facilities in Arizona and Florida, whereas this time the opening round games are in Canada, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Japan before moving to the U.S. proper in the second round. What's not welcome is the international extra-inning rule putting runners on base automatically in the hopes of scoring runs, but thankfully this doesn't kick in until the 13th inning, so it probably won't be an issue.

And of course, the participation of 16 teams from 6 continents is a stinging rebuke to the International Olympic Committee's elimination of baseball and softball from the Olympics, as well as any other idiots who think baseball is somehow only an American sport. The semifinals and final game are at Dodger Stadium March 21-23, and I plan to be there, regardless of which teams are playing. Who wants to come with me?

UPDATE: Wow, Pudge Rodriguez is having a 4-hit, 4-RBI, 3-run, 2-homers-a-double-and-a-stolen-base day. And he's still unsigned this year!