We had a little taste of spring this week in NYC—two straight days of sunny, sixty degree weather. Yep, after a long cold lonely winter, the ice was slowly melting. That is, little darling, until a vile, frigid, umbrella-crushing wind blew in some thick sloppy snow sludge just in time for the weekend. Still the dream of spring was planted firmly in my brain. I feel the warmth at the end of this icy tunnel. Plus, the terrible weather gave me a great excuse to just hole up in my room and record music. Life is good. Enjoy this week’s songs.

February 26 — When I was but a Babe

February 27 — Sunday on Mars

February 28 — Exiting the Void

March 1 — Ice Cream Social

March 2 — Raindrop 

March 3 — Ancestral Temple

Hey! Is anyone awake right now? Its about 1AM at the crack of Monday— not exactly the optimal posting time for blog viewership, I know. But I’ve made a personal pact with myself to post something every week, and so its better late than never. Given a full plate of tasks and my predilection for procrastination, its been a bit hard to get everything done this week, and I’m a little worn out from trying. I think my appearance is hovering somewhere around Jack Nicholson level in the Shining. Therefore, seeing as how I’m  very sleepy and just want to crawl in bed now, I’m not going to try to say anything profound or meaningful. Instead, I’m just going to cold stop talking and post my songs.

February 20 — Floating Towards Ice Island

February 21 — Small Joy

February 22 — Two Great Whites

February 23 — Maria Von Trapezoid

February 24 — Baseless Claim

 

On Saturday my roommates and I hosted a barbecue at our apartment. As I’ve expressed in blog posts past, I love my apartment and roommates so much. One couldn’t hope for a better household of randomly assembled twenty-somethings. Early in the day, when it looked like our plans were going to get cancelled due to pouring rain, I was really content to just play Nintendo 64 all day with my roommates— that’s how cool my roommates are. But the rain cleared and so the show went on. We fired up the grill, threw down some burgers and dogs, and our guests trickled in and out throughout the afternoon. A core of five of us lasted until midnight, eating, drinking and telling stories— we let our guard down and learned a lot about each other that night. In the immortal words of Ice Cube, “I gotta say, it was a good day.”

The icing on this delicious cake of a day was that I met a cool, kind videographer named Paul. My friend Morgan brought Paul (and Paul’s lovely Labradoodle Ringo) along to the party, and I got to pick his brain a bit about various films and projects he’s working on. Of course I didn’t want to pry to much— I’d guess Paul probably came more for the hot dogs and beer, and less to talk about his work life— however, in NYC it seems like every social event is also a networking opportunity.

A networking opportunity?

Did you cringe a little bit while reading those words? I did when I wrote them. As someone invested in a career path that doubles as an artistic expression, I’m not wholly comfortable wearing the business side of my musical life on my sleeve. After all, I didn’t start writing and playing music because I wanted to open up business opportunities— I think I did it because I was a sensitive child who discovered that music was a satisfying outlet for my creative urges… oh, and also because I just thought it was cool. So it feels corny and insincere to think of an interaction with someone at a barbecue as something called a “networking opportunity” that would benefit my “musical career.”

Yet the truth is, I do want to have a career in music and “networking” will undoubtedly be major part of any successes I have. It is a clear fact of life that people so often get jobs simply based on who they know. This is especially true in the music industry. If you need to find someone to score your film, or play violin at your wedding, or sing tenor in your indie rock opera, you’re first going to think of who you know, and then if you don’t know anyone, you’re going to ask someone you know if they know anyone. Sure, there are less personal ways of finding a musician like posting an ad on craigslist or contacting your local musician’s union, but the vast majority of gigs come to fruition as a direct result of human to human connection.

Thus networking is undoubtedly an essential part of any musician’s career. But personally, I just really dislike the term networking. It is such a lame business-professional buzzword, like “synergy” or “team building.” It makes me want to yak. The term also has an air of objectification. When you are “networking,” it sounds to me like you aren’t exactly treating people as people but as nodes in a cold synergistic digital network built to benefit your career goals— you are using people as a means to an end. Of course this isn’t the whole truth— it probably isn’t even the half truth— this is just the feeling I get from that bogus word.

If you’re like me, and become nauseous at the sound of the word networking, but still want to “make it” in some kind of creative field, I have good news. You don’t have to become some kind of overly enthusiastic, business card pushing, insincere yuppie blowhard to expand your work opportunities. That is, you don’t have to do that unless you are an overly enthusiastic, business card pushing, insincere yuppie blowhard. If that’s case, you do you brother! Because when we’re talking about networking (and I really hope that is the last time I have to use that word in this blog post), we’re really just talking about meeting people, remembering people, and hopefully having them remember you. And you surely want people to rememberer you as you actually are, not as some put on personality that you think will be pleasing and engaging. Granted, it’s probably a good idea to try to be polite and attentive when you’re meeting someone new that you might want to work with, but you don’t have to be spectacularly “on,” and you certainly don’t want to be anything other than yourself. This really isn’t all that different than meeting someone you might want to be friends with or someone you might want to date. Whether it is a potential friend, partner, or collaborator, what you are generally seeking is someone that you enjoy being around, someone that you can communicate well with, and someone with whom there is a degree of mutual understanding. And you can only really find that if you are being true to yourself.

In a very meta moment, Paul and I spent a portion of our conversation talking about the importance of meeting other people in your creative field and just generally being cool, personable, and easy to work with. We were two people in a similar creative field (he is also a musician, and I am also trying to begin doing film scoring work), being generally cool, personable, and easy going. Perhaps we will collaborate down the road or recommend each other for various projects, and perhaps not. I know that based on my first interaction with him, I would certainly have no objection to working with him. Furthermore, because he struck me as cool and professional (and because he is the only videographer I know in town) I would recommend him were someone to ask me if I knew any good videographers. Yet whether our connection yields professional gains or not, ultimately it was just nice (and always is nice) to have a pleasant conversation with another good human.

Because we are such a forward thinking, progressive, and compassionate organization, we here at Lucas-Murray-Music are giving our talented, hard-working, and handsome staff a much needed day off in order to rest and recharge during an emotional holiday season. In lieu of a blog-post, please pour yourself a glass of Merlot and enjoy this video of the top 100 Vince Carter Dunks. Or if you prefer just skip to here and watch the two whitest men in NBA history halfheartedly try to thwart the greatest dunker of all time. OR, if you insist on this still being a music blog, just scroll past Vince (don’t really scroll past Vince though), and watch the greatest band of all time performing on top of somebody’s roof.

Seriously, when I’m old and telling my grandchildren stories of the glorious past, at least three of those stories will be about Vince Carter dunks.

And now this:

 

World's Smallest Studio
World’s Smallest Studio

Before arriving in New York City I was excited about the prospect of turning over a new leaf in such a lively place. I was convinced that I was going to work harder than I ever had before— I would write, record, play gigs, excel in school and promote myself ceaselessly. For I knew that if I did these things that I would grow musically, enhance my career, meet some incredible people, and learn countless lessons that I would carry with me for the rest of my life. Yet as anyone who has ever set a new year’s resolution knows, it feels great to dream up a grand new life, and it feels bad when you inevitably fall short of your goals. Thus, I was feeling blue last week because (in addition to America electing it’s first cartoon super-villain president) I felt like I was falling short of my musical and personal goals for my time in NYC. Sure, I’ve been going to school, doing my work, and paying my bills— there’s no reason for anyone else to be upset with my behavior here, and yet I am disappointed in myself because I know in my heart that if I truly want to succeed in music here or anywhere else, there is much more that I could be doing. So I did what I always do when I’m feeling down on myself: I made a list of things that I could do to make myself feel better.

1. Seek out gigs. Why? Because performing has been such a large and positive part of my life for the past nine years and I’m sad to say that I haven’t played a single gig since I’ve been here. I yearn to perform, and I absolutely have to if I want to become a part of the New York City musical community.

2. Talk to David Schroeder, the director of the NYU jazz studies department. Why? Because I’ve had something on my chest since I enrolled in school here—namely that I do not think that I am a “jazz musician.” I absolutely love learning from the many jazz masters who teach at NYU, but I needed to bring it to light that I am interested in playing a great many other genres and that it is likely that I am not going to make my millions (or thousands, or dozens) strictly playing jazz.

3. Play music with someone. Why? Because I’ve been spending far too much time cooped up in a small room practicing music, and not enough time actually making music with other people. As I’ve written before, playing music alone and never doing it with others is merely masturbation.

4. Call the producer of a short film that I am scoring. Why? Because I wanted to clarify some of our goals and deadlines, and it is better for me to be proactive than to passively wait on her guidance.

5. Go play pickup basketball. Why? Because I love pickup basketball. It’s fun, therapeutic, social, and there’s no better sound than a crisp swish.

I am very proud to say that in addition to fulfilling my usual school duties, I achieved all five of these goals this week. I booked a couple of gigs for mid-December, I had a wonderful heart to heart with David Schroeder, I played music with a couple of classmates, I got in touch with the producer, and I played pickup basketball. Each achievement momentarily infused me with joy and confidence and yet, on Friday after I had accomplished all of them, overall I still felt low. The good news is that I’ve lived long enough to learn that sometimes my sadness is not a result of outer circumstances, but just part of the natural ebb and flow of my spirit. You cannot have happiness without experiencing sadness, and I’m likely experiencing a natural low after the incredibly exciting high of being a New York City newcomer. I’m oddly at peace with my sadness, for I know it will pass and give way to joy again. Such is life.

So Friday night I was feeling sleepy and sad as I was taking the Subway home—I got off of the A train in order to transfer to the C, when I was suddenly face to face with a vivacious young subway performer wearing a red tie prancing around singing Holly Jolly Christmas along to a backing track. Now I’m generally uninspired by the song Holly Jolly Christmas (especially before Thanksgiving), but there was just something so enjoyable about watching this little dude sing it. He followed up Holly Jolly with his final number of the evening: a highly dramatic dance routine to a high-energy club song. It is comical for me to write this, but I sincerely mean it— that little guy’s sparkling dance routine brought me back to life. I felt intense joy at watching him so freely and spontaneously express himself. Coincidentally, if you go to his instagram page (@masterblasterg) you can actually see video of this exact moment. Scroll down to the video titled “Dance because you can” and you’ll see me in the background, first languidly looking at whatever distraction I have pulled up on my phone, and then by the end, flashing a huge grin.

As he was packing up his gear I went over to slip him a tip and talk to him. His name is Gabriel Angelo and he is 17 years, and he had the same effervescent personality in conversation that he does while performing. I asked him what his musical goals are, and he told me (with a dramatic wave of his hands) that he wants to do more shows than anyone ever has in the world, and to heal people with his music. You’ll have to suspend your cynicism to read this (as I have to suspend mine to write it) but he did heal me that night. I cannot describe it any other way than to say that in watching him sing and dance, he transmitted his pure joy directly to my heart and soul. As if that gift was not enough, he reminded me that I did not fall in love with music for any practical purposes. I fell in love with music because of it’s mystic ability to transmit feelings beyond words. Certainly it is good to set goals for myself and achieve them, but I should remember that practical goals may have very little to do with love, happiness, and music.


img_0053

I said to myself, “I am thoroughly happy and content, now. If my most pitiless enemy could appear before me at this moment, I would freely right any wrong I may have done him.”

Straightaway the door opened, and a shriveled, shabby dwarf entered. He was not more than two feet high. He seemed to be about forty years old. Every feature and inch of him was a trifle out of shape; and so, while one could not put his finger upon any particular part and say, “This is a conspicuous deformity,” the spectator perceived that this little person was a deformity as a whole. A vague, general, evenly-blended, nicely-adjusted deformity. There was a fox-like cunning in the face and the sharp little eyes, and also alertness and malice. One thing about him struck me forcibly, and most unpleasantly: he was covered all over with a fuzzy, greenish mold, such as one sometimes sees upon mildewed bread. The sight of it was nauseating.

The above is an abridged passage from Mark Twain’s 1876 short story “The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut,” and the sense of disgust that the protagonist feels at this fuzzy little troll-person very accurately sums up my feelings right now about president-elect Donald Trump. I borrowed Twain’s description because I, in fact, cannot accurately convey with my own words the deep visceral disappointment that I am feeling about the election results. The closest I can come to expressing it with my own faculties is by making pained guttural noises (not unlike what I imagine an aardvark dying would sound like).

I, and nearly all of my friends, family, and Facebook feed are feeling shocked, outraged, and afraid at the prospect of Donald Trump being our next president. It is tempting (and quite enjoyable in fact) to sit back and fire insults at Trump and his supporters. Like this: Trump and his supporters are the human embodiment of a Nickleback song— tasteless, gross, loud, and limp. Yep, that felt good. I could do that all day. Yes it is tempting (and fun), and yet counterproductive. For here is the twist in Twain’s tale: the narrator reveals that the “vile bit of human rubbish seemed to bear a sort of remote and ill-defined resemblance to me!”

Like Twain’s character, we as a nation are now face to face with a clear embodiment of our own twisted nature. I don’t believe that most of Trump’s supporters are overtly racist, misogynistic, or stupid, yet I do know that Trump’s victory has seemingly given license for some of his supporters to partake in some very racist, misogynistic, and stupid behavior. The KKK in North Carolina has announced plans for a Trump victory parade. On Thursday at my own NYU the door to the Muslim Student Association’s prayer room was vandalized with the word “Trump.” On Friday a teacher reported that a ten year old girl had to be picked up from her school because a boy had grabbed the girl’s vagina—when asked why he did it, the boy said “if a president can do it, I can too.” Since the nation’s founding, America, while boasting some truly great cultural, social, economic, and technical achievements, has always harbored an appalling underbelly of racism, sexism, and domination. Because we have elected an appalling, racist, sexist egomaniac to be our president, this underbelly is simply being more blatantly exposed than usual.

If there is any silver-lining to the fact that some people now feel emboldened to play out some of their darkest drives, it is that we as a country can no longer ignore it. Whether in a single person, a family group, or an entire nation, things do not change unless it is first recognized that there is a problem. In my eyes, it is clear that we have huge racial, economic, social, and educational divides in this country, and that those divides breed fear, hatred, and disregard. We cannot simply write this off as the fault of those “ignorant” Trump supporters. If we want America to be great—not “great again,” but for the first time— we all have to accept responsibility for the fear and prejudice in our country and in our own hearts and combat it with love whenever we see it.

I am encouraged by the massive and active backlash against the election of Donald Trump. Right now there is a days long protest roaring at Trump Tower, just a subway ride away from me. Liberals and democrats have been suddenly inspired to action in a way that they would not have been if Hillary had been elected. This is a wake up call. There is a huge amount of energy behind the anti-Trump movement and if everyone who is disappointed in the election results decides to use this energy not towards Trump-hate, but towards acts community building, volunteerism, social justice, and general kindness, then I believe that we can transform Trump’s presidency into a step forward, rather than two steps backwards.

In addition to being inspired towards social action, I also also feel an urgent desire to double down on my musical life after this election. For playing music has been a bridge in my life to communities of people that I would have otherwise not been exposed. I’ve performed with and for people of all different races, cultures, sexual orientations, and political leanings (yes I’ve even been in a band with a Trump supporter or two). It did not matter what our superficial differences were, we were all there to just enjoy the incredible human endeavor of making music.

For it is not politics, but our shared passions (whether music, sports, cooking, dancing, art, science, writing, sewing, etc…) that have always brought people together. In 1999, it didn’t matter if Eminem was white, he was accepted into the historically black Hip-Hop community because he could rap really well. In 1947, it didn’t matter that Jackie Robinson was black, he was accepted into the historically white Brooklyn Dodgers clubhouse because he could play baseball really well. In 1898 it didn’t matter that Marie Curie was a woman, she was accepted into the historically male scientific community because she discovered Radium (and made many other great scientific breakthroughs I don’t claim to understand). Now I admit that Robinson and Curie were “accepted” into those communities with a lot of struggle and backlash, and I need to point out that you shouldn’t have to be superlatively great at something to be accepted into a community. Yet the point that I am trying to make is that it is in fact rarely politicians that affect true social change and progress— the most powerful positive force in the world is normal people coming together to do the things we already love to do.

bptm-morocco

Last week I opened up my blog by boasting about a Tinder date that I went on. I truly meant this only to be an attention grabber before I launched into an exploration of the decline of melody in music. Yet it appears that people were much more intrigued by my date than my musical musings. The overwhelming response to my blog post about the disappearance of melody in music was this: “how was the Tinder date though?” Well much like Fauzio, I aim to please, and so I’m going to indulge your thirst for a vicarious experience of NYC Tinder life and tell you about my date.

I had an incredibly pleasant time with a beautiful young Irish woman who was charming, upbeat, humorous, and delightfully outspoken. Our plan was to meet up at The MoMA, view some art, chat over coffee, and then part ways. Yet after the MoMA we had dinner together, and after dinner we went to a bar, and after the bar we went for a walk, and after the walk we met up with a friend of mine and chatted at a cafe, and after the cafe, we took the subway to my house and watched some Game of Thrones. And no, this was not a “Netflix and chill” kind of situation— get your mind out of the gutter people. It was just wonderful evening filled with really good conversation, laughter, and flirtation.

The truth is I’m not actually telling you all of that because I want to grant you your wish of peaking into my romantic life— (as usual) I have a larger point to make. Believe it or not, me going on that Tinder date, has everything to do with me fighting for the presence of melody in music. That’s right fools! I’m not abandoning my discussion of the decline of melody in music. Stay with me now…

What is melody? The technical definition of melody (per dictionary.com) is “The succession of single tones in musical compositions, as distinguished from harmony and rhythm.” But more generally what is melody? It is an active statement; it is the part you can sing; it is the part you remember. If you think of a musical composition as a story, as many composers throughout history have, melody is the dialogue and action that propels the plot. Harmony and Rhythm would be more like the setting and pace of the story. And yet if it is such an important part of the musical story, why then are more and more composers in jazz, film, and popular music abandoning clear melodies?

The simplest answer is that it is easier to not write a melody than to write a melody. While the simplest answer is often the correct one, I believe that there is also something more poisonous at play: on some level most everyone wants to be cool, and at some point melody became uncool. I can express this easier with a musical example. Listen to any or all of both of these pieces of instrumental music: Serenade no. 13 in G Major by Mozart and Lizard Point by Brian Eno. One has a very distinct memorable melody throughout, and the other doesn’t really have a melody. Which do you think is cooler (not better, just cooler)? Because it is much more mysterious and abstract I am going to guess that most people think that the Eno tune is cooler. A melody is a clear statement, and a clear statement is rarely going to be perceived as cooler than something more oblique.

We could think of it like this: a melody is like looking up and saying “I love how the sun beams through the trees in Central Park.” As nice and true as that statement may be, it is simply not as cool as just staring off at the trees, silent and expressionless as you smoke a cigarette. Certainly the latter is cooler, but is it better? No way. First of all, smoking is bad for your health. Secondly, you are not communicating anything to anyone else by staring off into space. You’re just living in your own cool, insular, lonely world. And yet we are all victims under the oppressive tyranny of the cool— nobody wants to be considered uncool, and yet nobody knows exactly what it is to be cool, thus many people simply avoid making statements (verbally or musically) for fear of being uncool.

So what the hell does going on a Tinder date have to do with writing a melody or being cool? Well, on Tinder I’m a perfectly cultivated cool guy. I have pictures of me holding a guitar, laying on a raft with sunglasses on, effortlessly posing with a real live butterfly on my shoulder, and an equally cool “about me” write-up to boot. Given the extra time to think up responses I’m also far more clever and witty in Tinder text message conversation than I am in real life. Thus, I could have contented myself to stay at home and just be a cool idea of a person, but I chose (as did she) to actually go meet up with someone and expose myself as a real, flawed human. In person, you hear my goofy laugh, you witness me fumble with words sometimes, and you sense my subtle nervousness and excitement about being on a date. I’m not as cool in person, but I am much more real— I’m someone you can actually connect to. It doesn’t matter how cool someone is on paper, the only thing that matters in romance is how well you connect with someone face to face, and the only way to do that is to get out of the house, go on a date, and put yourself at risk of being uncool. Thus, the acts of writing a melody and going on a Tinder date are both mini rebellions against the tyranny of the cool.

And even the coolest people can rebel against the tyranny of the cool. My friend Epiphany Morrow (musical artist, rapper, public speaker, philanthropist, and entrepreneur) is by all measures a very cool dude. This week Epiphany released his long awaited Legacy Project. Billed as the world’s first “living album,” The Legacy Project is a smartphone app offering an interactive music and video experience which draws users into a unique world of Piph’s creation. You most certainly should download it (just search “big piph” or “the legacy project” in your app store). Despite the fact that many would undoubtedly consider Epiphany a cool dude, the best part about him is that in The Legacy Project and in so many of his other endeavors he too routinely and unapologetically puts himself at risk of being uncool. For it is not because I think that he is cool that I respect and admire Piph (in fact I know him well enough to know that he is actually a closet-nerd)— no, I respect and admire him because he is incredibly genuine, disciplined, and creates art that has true perspective and substance behind it.

You may not see it, but I do: the acts of going on a date, releasing an app, and writing a melody are all important rebellions against the tyranny of the cool. Certainly nobody wants to be uncool, and yet the only actions or statements that have any meaning or weight behind them are those that do put us at risk of being uncool. And here’s the liberating truth: there is really no such thing as cool. When Miles Davis gave birth to the cool back in 1957— he gave birth to a phantom. Cool is simply a figment of our collective imagination. Love is real, beauty is real, laughter is real, and cool is not real. The sooner we all realize that, the sooner we’ll being to really live.