This is the type of shit they write Bibles about. Wildfire, pandemic, murder hornets, lynchings, protests, riots, and who knows what is next. The scale and drama of these events are so large that it is easy to imagine some ancient scribe breaking out the quill or chisel and writing about the year that God decided to smite the people. And this pious writer wouldn’t have to look very far for reasons that God would see fit to smite us. There’s greed, environmental destruction, racism, the propping up of a hateful king, and surely countless other no-no’s.
Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that this is all God’s work. I’m just pointing out how easily a religious mind could turn to thinking that this is the next installment in the good book—The Newer Testament: Return of the Old Testament.
By the way, who would be the savior-figure in the newer testament? My guess is that it would be an athlete. These are the only people we speak so hyperbolically about that future generations misinterpreting the text would think that they committed actual miracles. Just think about how many times people have written or spoken about Michael Jordan ‘flying,’ or ‘walking on air,’ or ‘being suspended in air.’ There’s even a very on-the-nose quote ready for biblical publication in which Larry Bird, commenting on a great game that Michael had, says “That wasn’t Michael Jordan out there, that was God disguised as Michael Jordan.”
Anyway, I digress. The point is that I wouldn’t fault anyone for feeling like this is a biblical moment we’re living through. However the danger of that line of thinking is that it could lead to a sense of resignation. This is certainly not true for all religious people, but thinking that it is in God’s hands could lead you to think that it is out of your hands. And that is most certainly not true.
The truth is, you can change things. This truth is both a comfort and a pain. It’s a pain because it implies responsibility (yuck). It is harder to live with the knowledge that you can change things, because it means that if you see an injustice in the world that stirs your heart, you should do something about it.
And hey, I’ll be the first to admit that doing something is harder than not doing something. Frankly, I’m a huge fan of just sitting on the couch. I love the couch!
However, while it may be easier to not do anything, it most certainly is not better. Any momentary comfort you derive from resting your buns on your comfy couch, will give way to internal strife if you aren’t actually helping a cause you claim to care about.
And now let me point out the uncomfortable truth that I’m using the pronoun “you,” when I should be using “I.” When I’m talking about people caring about causes, and not doing anything about it, I’m talking often about my own behavior. Because there’s a good chance that you who are reading this have done a whole lot more than me in these past few weeks to help fight racism (internally and externally) and end the tragically frequent occurrence of police killing black people.
This is of course the cause that anyone with a heart, brain, and access to the internet currently cares about more than anything else. There’s very clearly a moment happening now, born out of righteous backlash against too many disgusting atrocities, that has the power to change our society for the better. But it will only actually change if we continuously choose to take action to change it. So how do we change it?
Well, that question is pretty much something I typed into Google. And as I’ve heard from a blunt and truthful commentator, this is basically a moment for “white people to shut the fuck up and listen.”
So in the spirit of shutting the fuck up and listening, here are some resources/people/causes I’ve found useful and enlightening:
I called Bill De Blasio’s office today to urge him to enact the 8 that can’t wait in the link above and was both delighted and dismayed to find his voice-mailbox full (I sent an email instead). But well after the protests die down, and the hashtags stop trending, and Billy De-B’s answering machine clears up, there will certainly still be work to do. To me, this moment is an opportunity and an inspiration to build my civic muscles. I’ve long known that I can call or write my elected officials, but I’ve rarely done it. Again, it’s easier not to.
From this today until the end of the year (and hopefully beyond) I promise to contact an elected official at least once every week and urge them to support or oppose something I care about. We put these people in office, and if you believe in democracy, you have to believe that they will listen to our voices. Don’t give in to apathy or cynicism friends. Go do something.
Every now and then certain pieces of writing crop up which so deeply capture the zeitgeist that it seems mandatory to read them. They get passed around, referenced, and debated so much that you know you would be missing out on something essential were you to not read them. In recent memory these would include the short story Cat Person, the article The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence, and any of the many modern “Girl” thrillers (Gone Girl, The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl on the Train, etc…).
This is not one of those.
In fact, I feel proud to say that I may have accomplished the complete opposite of those works.I’ve written something so useless, so out of touch with the current age, that even if one million people were to read it, I’d wager that not a single one would come away with any relevant tidbit to bring up at a dinner party.
I feel proud of this feat because it is in perfect alignment with the Oscar Wilde school of thought (a school I’m certainly enrolled in)—art is useless. And thus, without further ado, I give you: The Top Ten Greatest Foreigner Songs Ranked.
First, the criteria.
Clarity — Every great Foreigner song is absolutely unambiguous. This manifests in two ways. The first is musical clarity. You will know within 10 seconds of a Foreigner song what you’re in for, and more often than not the thing that you’re in for is rocking. The second is lyrical clarity to the point of redundancy. I’ll give you a quick example of this from the song Juke Box Hero:
Was a one way ticket,
only one way to go.
Just in case you didn’t know how one way tickets work.
Escalation — Another hallmark of any great Foreigner song is a certain ratio. During the verse, you should be at 80 percent rocking, and during the chorus you need to rocket the rocking on up to 120 percent. You may be saying, Lucas, this is just how songs work. No! Great Foreigner songs blow past the normal limits of rocking on the chorus. Like Vin Diesel’s car, Foreigner has a NOS switch attached to their songs that they flip on every time a chorus rolls around.
Tightness — You might be attempted to just equate Foreigner with all other Dad Rock. And while all Foreigner Rock is Dad Rock, not all Dad Rock is Foreigner Rock. What sets Foreigner apart is the tightness of the groove. Take for instance, flagship Dad Rock song “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.” This song is every bit as Foreigner-esque in its clarity and escalation. But it doesn’t quite have the same tightness of groove does it? The guitar chords are a little rushed, and the groove is just a little bit looser. You can’t get away with that looseness in a great foreigner song. We need the groove to be as tight as a python’s goodnight hug.
And with that three-tiered criteria in mind, let’s get into the ranking.
10. Cold as Ice — Some of you might be surprised to find your favorite Foreigner song so low on this list. While it scores very high on tightness and clarity, it gets docked for escalation. You know everything you need to know about this song within the 1 second of this song. That single piano riff says everything that needs to be said about the song, and frankly if the song ended at 12 seconds, right after he says “you’re as cold as ice,” it might have ended up higher on this list. Unfortunately, while the chorus of this song groovy, it actually is a very rare case of de-escalation in a foreigner song. Instead of hitting the NOS, it’s like Vin Diesel decided to have a nice picnic at a rest stop during his drive.
9. Double Vision — This song comes out real hot with some tight, clear, rocking and maintains it throughout the song. It escalates enough during the chorus so you feel impulsively compelled to bob your head. And while the message of this song is very clear, they would have scored off the charts if this song were simply and elegantly titled “Let’s Do Some Cocaine.”
8. Urgent — This song almost lost some points for lack of clarity, because the opening riff sounds like a 1990s alternative rock song. But by 10 seconds in we’re very clearly placed within the tight, early 80s groove of the rest of the song. This song also also boasts some of the most crystal clear, redundant lyrics of all time. Take for instance the first three lines:
You’re not shy, you get around
You wanna fly, don’t want your feet on the ground
You stay up, you won’t come down
The second phrase in every one of these lines serves as clarification of the first, because Foreigner doesn’t want you wasting needless brain energy on interpreting the lyrics. They’re hear to facilitate rocking, not get an A in poetry class, nerds!
7. Head Games — The intro to this song blows the doors down in a way that none of the previous do, the groove is extra tight, and lead singer Lou Gramm goes from shouting the lyrics in the verse to triple shouting them in the chorus. This has all the hallmarks of a great foreigner song.
6. Take Me Home Tonight — Now at this point you’re probably thinking one of two things. 1. I didn’t know that Foreigner wrote Take Me Home Tonight, or 2. I know that Foreigner definitely did not write Take Me Home Tonight. And yes, group number two, you are right. Take Me Home tonight was definitely performed by Eddie Money. But here’s the thing, nowhere in my criteria does it say that a great Foreigner song has to be by Foreigner. A Foreigner song is a set of ideals, and this song embodies those ideals as good as any. Listen and tell me I’m wrong.
5. Rock You Like A Hurricane — See above entry for Take Me Home Tonight.
4. Dirty White Boy — While this was not as big of a hit as other Foreigner songs, it captures the clarity, escalation, and tightness more than most. This song above any other definitely scores the clarity prize. Watch any moment from the video to this song. Look at the band. Try to come up with three words that would apply to all of the members of the band. Dirty. White. Boy.
3. Feels Like the First Time — It’s no coincidence that Hollywood has latched on to this song (see Magic Mike, I, Tonya, Ancorman 2, and Pitch Perfect). Its tightness, its clarity, and its escalation make it a perfect storytelling device whether you’re using it literally or ironically. But here’s the thing Hollywood, so does every other Foreigner song! Use them.
2. The Boys Are Back In Town — “Guess who just got back today!” is the boisterous first line to this near perfect Foreigner song. I’m gonna guess… the boys?
1. Hot Blooded — 10/10 on clarity. 10/10 on escalation. 10/10 on tightness. This is without a doubt the greatest Foreigner song.
Some brief notes on why your favorite song by Foreigner is not on this list:
Juke Box Hero — There’s too much of a journey in this song. I don’t know what the hell this song is about until the chorus.
I Wanna Know What Love Is — This is may be the greatest song by Foreigner, but it is not on the list of greatest Foreigner songs because it represents the only time in the Foreigner universe when the singer is unsure of himself. He’s vulnerable. He admits to not knowing. He wants to know. It isn’t clear. This is a recipe for a great song, but not a recipe for a great Foreigner song.
Starrider — Is this really your favorite song by foreigner?
And finally, apropos of nothing, here are two tracks I wrote that sound nothing like foreigner. One track I spent about two weeks on, and another other I spent about four hours on. I like the one I spent four hours on more. Both include bird sounds.
Like nearly everyone else on the internet, I distracted myself from the still-growing pandemic this week by watching the incredibly entertaining and surreal documentary-series Tiger King. Like the charismatic star of the show, Joe Exotic, the story is a train wreck of ego, obscenity, and shamelessness that leaves you laughing and disgusted at the same time.
If you somehow haven’t heard of this show, I’m not going to summarize it for you. Instead I will give you almost everything you need in an introduction by showing you some pictures of Joe Exotic, every single one of which is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life:
Now I’m normally not one to advocate judging a book by its cover, but in this case it is entirely appropriate because the people presented in this documentary are anything but subtle. They constantly say the quiet part loud, film themselves committing crimes, and tattoo their identities on their loins.
In fact, these are people who are hell-bent on using outrageous external means to locate and project their inner selves. Here’s a quick-fire list of some more of those methods:
Collecting and breeding hundreds of tigers.
Talking in detail about your penis piercing when no one asked.
Running a tiger-themed sex cult.
Purchasing gratuitous amounts of firearms.
Renting a mansion so people will think you’re rich.
Calling yourself Bhagavan when your real name is Kevin.
Decorating your entire home from floor to ceiling with tiger print (we get it, you like tigers).
Recording lip-synched country music videos about petting tigers (we get it, you like tigers).
Having both a soul-patch and ponytail (we get it, you like tigers).
Running for president.
These are just some of the many colorful ways the main characters in the series attempt to fill the deep void in their hearts. The documentary does in fact explore some tragic and formative moments in the lives of both Joe Exotic and his bitter enemy Carole Baskin. I would wager that the other main characters in the documentary also have some personal trauma in their past. These people who are constantly bickering, suing, and attempting to kill each other, have more in common than they’d like to admit. They’re all trying to cover up their pain and insecurity with tigers (… or jet skis).
But why tigers?
Because tigers are naturals at being everything that they feel that they are not—naturally powerful, beautiful, graceful, and dangerous. By owning them or associating with them, this ridiculous cast of criminal misfits think that they can harness some of that power. But here’s a tip for anyone thinking of buying a tiger: you won’t be gaining any power, you’ll only be robbing a tiger of it, and your inner void will remain.
Now, it is easy to sit back watch this documentary from the comfort of your couch and think, “wow, these people are absolutely insane.” That is in fact essentially what I am doing right now.Yet I want to point out that we all have a little Joe, or Bhagavan, or Carole inside of us.
Because who among us has not fantasized about owning exotic animals, joining a sex cult, or embarking on a country music career? Who among us!?
But the next time you start chasing one of those dreams, why not first stop and ask why? What’s that special void you’re trying to fill?
Perhaps it would be better to just watch a documentary, talk to a therapist, or write a song.
Not to brag or anything, but here is the music I wrote this week instead of buying animals on the deep web or joining any cults. Special thank you to my friend Brad Birge for laying down the tasty bass you hear on this track.
“All sorts of kids playing basketball yesterday. I play basketball. There’s no concept of social distancing while playing basketball. It doesn’t exist. You can’t stay six feet away from a person playing basketball… you can, but then you’re a lousy basketball player and you’re gonna lose.”
These words were spoken early today by my state’s forthright and fearless leader Andrew Cuomo.
He was appropriately chastising me and my fellow city dwellers for doing a pretty terrible job of avoiding dense crowds and activities that spread the virus. And he did it in a way that really hit home for me. Because if you know me, you probably know that basketball is one of the few things that I truly, selflessly love in this world. I wish I loved music as much as I love basketball, because I’d probably be a better musician if I did.
A case in point is that I spent about half an hour today thinking about why Michael Jordan stuck his tongue out whenever he was about to do something spectacular on the court. Seriously, why did he do that? The best basketball player in the history of the game would just inexplicably stick his whole tongue out in the middle of an especially intense moment. It was as if he had some basic biological connection to basketball—like dunking on Patrick Ewing was the mother’s milk he needed to survive and he was sticking out his tongue to suckle at that life giving tit.
Yes I just said that! Yes that paragraph escalated quickly! No you won’t be able to watch Michael Jordan highlights the same way anymore!
Anyway, I devoted a good deal of brain energy today to thinking about Michael Jordan’s tongue, and I haven’t played guitar at all today, so you can see where my priorities lie. That’s all to say that I appreciate Andrew Cuomo for using basketball as an example in his Covid-19 press conference today. Yet it is truly an insult to injury that in this scary, sad, uncertain moment, I (and countless others) cannot turn to one of my favorite methods of distraction and self-soothing.
Because there’s an old proverb that goes a little something like this: Ball is life. Unfortunately that truism is temporarily false.
So what do we do? What do we do when we can’t do anything fun except stay inside, eat snacks, and watch movies?
Well, we stay inside, eat snacks, and watch movies.
First things first, if you haven’t seen Jaws, go watch Jaws. Secondly, watch it again. Thirdly, call me and let’s talk about Jaws. I mean this.
Fourthly… I’d like to highly recommend the movie Heat. Normally I wouldn’t recommend watching a near 3 hour movie, but these are certainly unusual times, and I have at least 10 quick-fire reasons to watch this movie. Here they are in no particular order:
This is the archetypal cops and robbers movie—you’ll see shades of Heat in nearly every bank/heist movie made after this movie.
The only true Val Kilmer is a Val Kilmer with a ponytail.
Although it isn’t overtly shown in the movie, Al Pacino was allegedly acting as if his character (the brilliant detective Vincent Hannah) was high on cocaine the whole time. And it is fun to watch Al Pacino pretend to be high on cocaine.
Whoa! Natalie Portman at like age 14 or something.
Have fun applying or arguing with the core philosophy of successful bank robber Neil McCauley (Robert Deniro): “you want to be making moves on the street, have no attachments, allow nothing to be in your life you cannot walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner.”
You can try building your own cosmic yin-yang metaphor around Neil and Vincent’s relationship. Or maybe I just built it for you.
Excellent cameos galore: Tone Loc, Henry Rollins, Hank Azaria…
You get to listen to Bill Simmons and Chris Ryan’s very fun Rewatchables podcast about it afterwards!
Enjoy harkening back to the days of the payphone.
Visit gritty Los Angeles from the comfort of your own couch.
Oh hey, I also recorded a song this week. I figured out I could run a cable from my room to my back patio, so this one was mostly recorded in the open air (as you’ll hear). Also Tiny is the name of our house cat. That sentence will make sense if you make it to the end of the song.
As we all navigate this extraordinary new normal of life amidst a pandemic, it is natural to ask ourselves and others “what the hell do we do?” I think there are two important ways of answering this question. The first involves the logistics of what we need to do in order to help quell the spread of this virus. And the second answer involves what we need to do in order to keep our spirits high and nourish our souls while some of our favorite pastimes momentarily disappear (sports, concerts, raucous nights at the bar, etc…).
To begin to address the second answer to the question of “what the hell do we do?” I’ll simply say this: reach out and continue to connect to the people you love (even if you can’t do that physically). And continue to do the things you love at whatever capacity you can.
I for instance, currently do not have access to the amazing studio at Man Made Music where I work, because we are taking the very responsible route of working from home during this time. However, that is not going to stop me from completing the ridiculous resolution that I made at the beginning of this year. I’m going to keep recording and producing music every week from my tiny bedroom! See! Check out these tracks! Boo ya!
Ivan – March 8, 2020
Night Shift – March 15, 2020
And to answer the far more difficult and urgent question of what the hell do we do to stop the spread of this virus, I want to kick it to my very talented, educated, and intelligent cousin Sarah. She is currently completing her Master’s in epidemiology at Columbia and has been sharing an incredibly useful, straight-forward, informative letter with her friends and family about the current situation with this coronavirus. I asked her if I could publish it here and she said of course. Here are her words:
As we navigate these unfamiliar waters together, I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to share my insight with friends and family, or really anyone that is willing to listen. Hopefully this information can aid in your decision making in the upcoming weeks, or at least equip you with the knowledge to filter through the abundance of misinformation that is circulating. I can substantiate the following advice with two years of infectious disease epidemiology training, and if that does not reassure you I have confirmed my own uncertainties with my professor, a leading virologist in the field. The world has not experienced a pandemic of this magnitude since the Spanish Influenza, 100 years ago, and it will require a learning curve. This is a fluid situation, and much is subject to change as we learn new information, but here is what I know right now…
The virus has been officially named SARS-CoV-2. You will start to hear this more often. It is NOT the same virus that caused the SARS outbreak in 2002, but they are related. They are both severe acute respiratory viruses in the family Coronaviridae.
The virus has an incubation period of 5 days, on average, but it has been observed up to 14 days in some. This is the period from exposure to onset of symptoms.
The infectious period is believed to begin before the appearance of symptoms. This is an unfortunate property, as it inherently adds an element of complication to control. For this reason, quarantine and social distancing is an integral part of limiting spread. Our movement is no longer just our business- whether we are concerned for our own health or not, we have to be cognizant of how we can serve as a vector to vulnerable individuals if we have been unknowingly exposed.
What should I do if I’m experiencing symptoms? Unless you need to seek medical attention, you should stay home and self-quarantine. If you have roommates, it would be wise for them to stay home as well, because they have most likely been exposed.
Should I get tested if I have symptoms? Yes, if tests are available in your area. However, we have yet to see a mass dissemination of testing kits, a critical fault of our early response. DO call your health care provider and ask about testing in your area, DO NOT frantically turn up at urgent care facilities asking for a test, they will almost certainly not have them. The administration just announced that google will launch a website where you can list your symptoms, and if consistent with clinical signs, you will be pointed towards the nearest testing facility. Drive through testing facilities are setting up as we speak. Be on the lookout for this site.
Should I limit my contact with older or immunosuppressed family members? I cannot answer that for you, but I will tell you what I would do. If I was flying, or coming from an area with any confirmed cases, I would distance myself from vulnerable individuals. Five to six days of distance if you are aiming for the average time it takes to develop symptoms, 14 days if you want to be on the absolute safe side. This one is TOUGH. It negates our primal instinct to seek the proximity of loved ones in times of crisis, but the nature of the situation demands this. You can take comfort in knowing it is only temporary.
Who is vulnerable? The elderly (65+ years of age by definition) or anyone with comorbid conditions that could result in immunosuppression. However, ‘elderly’, is a very relative term, not a one size fits all kind of situation. Chronological age does not always reflect biological age- I know many people in their sixties that are very healthy (shout out mom and dad) and likely at minimal risk. The virus does not abide by our social constructs of age, who you designate as vulnerable is up to your discretion.
What’s up with that 2.5% case fatality rate? This an average, observed value, it is not an intrinsic property of the virus. It is highly variable and more than anything reflective of the population demographics and health care capacity in any one area. In China, the average fatality rate was 0.2% or less for those age 40 or younger. The average is still relatively low for those below 70+ years of age. I personally believe these values are gross overestimates, given the inevitability of underreporting. These values are NOT cause for mass panic, but they are higher than many of the infections we regularly encounter, and we have an obligation to protect our vulnerable.
How long can it remain on surfaces? This virus can remain infectious outside of the body for days at a time, especially on hard surfaces. All the hype behind maximum handwashing and minimal face-touching is absolutely true. Soap and water is actually better at breaking down this virus than ethanol-based sanitizers, but hand sanitizer is better than nothing.
Should I wear a mask? No, if you are a healthy individual from a low risk group. There is a severe shortage of masks for healthcare workers worldwide, leave them for the people that truly need them.
Can we expect to see seasonality? This virus does not have a confirmed seasonality, but SARS-1 demonstrated seasonal preference similar to that of influenza, so it is reasonable to suspect the same of this virus. Seasonality is not entirely understood, but it is suggested that in cold, dry, climates virus particles can travel farther through the air and become more efficiently aerosolized. In warm, humid climates, our respiratory particles become weighed down and cannot remain suspended in the air as long.
Why are kids at a lesser risk? Kids are still getting infected, but they are displaying milder cases on average. To put it simply, viruses elicit an immune response which stimulates a pro inflammatory response. This occurs in the lungs during acute respiratory infections, and it can cause severe damage when the response is prolonged or exacerbated. Children have underdeveloped immune systems, so the idea is that their lessened immune response may actually be protective against this virus.
If I get infected, can I get infected again? I spoke extensively with my professor about this, because I personally have encountered many rumors of people getting re-infected. If you get infected, you should NOT get infected again. This is why vaccines work. Speaking of which…
Will there be a vaccine? It is very likely we will see a vaccine for this virus, but probably not during this outbreak. However, when one emerges it can hopefully aid in suppressing future outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2.
How long will this last? No one can say for sure, but I assure you this is not going away as soon as Trump will have you believe. To give you some perspective, let’s calculate the herd immunity. The reproductive number for this virus (R0) is believed to be between 2 and 3.5. This means that at best, the epidemic will die out once 50% of the population becomes immune (either via vaccination, infection, or genetic insusceptibility). At worst, 71% of the population will require immunity to stifle the spread. This number is not static- meaning we can reduce these values through concerted control measures, and hopefully the seasons will be on our side.
Herd Immunity =
Do we have the medical capacity to manage this outbreak? Yes, IF we implement sufficient control measures. It is estimated that roughly 10% of SARS-CoV-2 infections result in hospitalization *I cannot attest to the accuracy of this value. If we spread the cases out over a longer period of time, we have the hospital capacity to manage. If all the cases surge at the beginning, we will NOT have the staff, space, or resources to provide care for everyone. TIMING IS EVERYTHING IN EPIDEMIC INTERVENTIONS. Restrictions on travel, events, activities, etc. are unfavorable, but they will be critically important in preventing us from surpassing this threshold.
How do I prepare? Limit non-essential travel and social interaction. If you choose to partake in these activities, you must be willing to under-go quarantine if need be (and not just if you become a case but if you are exposed to a case), and maintain a heightened awareness of your presence around vulnerable people. Maintain enough resources around your house to last 2 weeks in case you need to self-quarantine. At this point, you risk being stuck anywhere you travel, take this into consideration when planning.
This is yet another symptom of an unbalanced planet. I will be the first to admit that I underestimated the progression of this outbreak, but I did so in anticipation of a response from our leaders than never materialized. Things are going to change for everyone, not forever, but they will get worse before they get better. If you have not felt the presence of the epidemic in your respective areas, you will very soon. This letter is not intended to incite panic, but to promote awareness as you go about your lives. I believe knowledge is one of the strongest armors, and we must be mindful not to let fear impede logic. This will subside in a few months, but it will require some personal sacrifice and collective effort. Don’t forget to thank your friends, family, or acquaintances that work in healthcare, because this burden may fall the heaviest upon them. Remember, you are not alone in your confusion, anxiety, and loss of normality. Be an advocate of your own health, and others.
Feel free to email me for additional guidance or answers that were not presented here. firstname.lastname@example.org
My track this week is called “Last Minute Greens.” Go ahead and listen while ya read:
I wanted to call it last minute blues, because that sounded cooler, but I couldn’t get over the fact that in terms of both tone and form, this music is not the blues. That is, unless you subscribe to the George Carlin school of musical-thought:
“All music is the blues. All of it.”
While this is an incredible line—both funny and a little mind bending—I cant quite agree with the statement. I’ve taken too many music classes/lessons that tell me that all music is not the blues. However I do like the sentiment.
Because it is nice to think that all music shares something deep and essential at its core—that it all springs from a primal need to channel our emotions (especially-even difficult emotions) into sound. However, allow me to disagree once more in this hypothetical debate that I’m having with George Carlin’s ghost.
Because George, you see, sometimes music does not spring from some deep emotional well. Sometimes you simply have to write a little music, because you’ve made a public-facing New Years Resolution about recording a song every week. And sometimes you wait until the last minute to start on your song so you just have to go with whatever happens to be the first thing that pops into your head. And sometimes that thing that pops into your head happens to be a little whistled-melody. And sometimes even though that whistle melody it is a little out of tune, it still sounds pretty cool. And sometimes you just ride that whistle melody all the way from start to finish and then name your song “Last Minute Greens.”
I’m on a flight to Minneapolis right now writing this blog post. On a very lazy level, I wish I didn’t need to do this right now. I’d be happier to kick back, order a crisp pilsner, eat the tiniest possible bag of cheez-its, and watch Hustlers. And I know that you might be thinking “Lucas, you don’t have to do this—no one is making you write blog posts. No one is even asking you to!”
Well, sassy reader (who is actually my own inner monologue), I didn’t say I HAVE to do this, I said I NEED to do this. You should really read my blog more carefully. The distinction here is that saying I “have” to do something implies a responsibility coming from somewhere outside of myself— I have to go to work, I have to file my taxes, I have to wear pants in public. But I don’t actually need to do any of those things. A need is something that emanates from inside myself, directing me to something that will nourish my body and soul. I need to eat, I need to sleep, and I need express myself. This little blog and these little songs are how I get to express myself right now.
But I actually don’t want to do this right now. And it is more than mere laziness at play. I don’t want to do this because I think I don’t have anything nice and easy to write, and I don’t have any nice and easy music to share.
Truthfully, I had a pretty hard week, and I’m not feeling all that cheery. Both on a completely personal level, and on issues that I view from afar, this week sucked. A fond coworker of mine told me that, astrologically speaking, we’re currently in the “shadow” period gearing up for a coming “Mercury Retrograde.” This period of “Retroshade” (amazing band name) is apt to bring about things like breakups, dangerous exes reaching out, and even corruptions of democracy.
Actually I don’t know if that third one is on the list of things that usually happen during retroshade, but I do know that that is something that happened this week when one of our political parties decided to further enable an aspiring tyrant by acquitting him of his crimes.
But I digress. I’m certain I’m not alone in having a bad week. I don’t need astrology to assure me that some people are having a hard time. Many people are having a far worse time than I am, and I would never dream of being able to offer any kind of blanket solution to solve anyone else’s difficulties. What I would like to offer, is something that I need to remind myself from time to time: It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to feel your feelings. And it is good to find a way to express them.
Ok, I feel like I’m doing a bad Mr. Rogers impression right now and I don’t like it. I’d just like to share how I captured my uglier feelings this week: I wrote a piece of music that begins somewhat sweetly, grows a more and more strange throughout, culminates in a terrifying crescendo, and ends up being mostly ok.
Let me say at the outset of this post that I think the Chiefs are going to win. Pat Mahomes came to me in a dream last night and the man was looking real confident. I’m not saying this because I put any actual faith in my football dream predictions, but rather because in order for that prediction to carry any weight, it means I need to get this posted before the Super Bowl starts. I’m just putting a little time-pressure on myself to go ahead and get this done and then go about my day.
I will remind you readers, however, that back in November of 2018 I successfully predicted that the Raptors would win the 2019 NBA finals. So if you are looking to trust someone’s sports betting hunch, I think you can go ahead and trust mine. I’m probably a sports-psychic after all. If this whole producer/blogger/musician racket doesn’t work out, look for me to setup an outpost on Fremont Street offering my services.
And now that I’ve hooked you, America, with my insightful and necessary sport-psychic chatter, I’d like to talk to you about Instagram filters. We’ve all seen em; we all use them. Just took a picture of that cool brownstone across the street? Want to make it look like you took that picture in the 1970s? Slap a Gingham on it. Looking for a classy, timeless black and white approach? Look no further than Inkwell. Just want it to look more better? Try Hudson!You’ve got instant, professional-grade photography at your fingertips.
Now I’m sure that any actual professional photographers or graphic designers would scoff at the previous sentence, and they would be right to. There is most certainly a world of difference between the work of a true craftsperson who takes time to dial in the exact saturation, contrast, and brightness appropriate for a particular picture, and a rube like me who just picked a good filter. By the way, I don’t even know what saturation is—I just saw it on instagram. However, when I choose a particular instagram filter that makes my picture “pop” in that perfect way, even I am seduced into momentarily thinking that I’ve done something special.
The truth is that I couldn’t be less special in this moment. I’ve done something that literally millions of people are doing every hour. But the results don’t lie, most of these filtered pictures do look pretty good. The frightening prospect to me is that in art, music, and culture we may be headed towards a ubiquitous “pretty good” rather than a wildly varying array of things awful to great.
Before you write that last sentence off as esoteric aesthetic paranoia, let me try to flesh out my dystopian worries. The fact is that we are outsourcing more and more artistic decisions to technology. Whether it is instagram or photoshop for pictures, final cut pro for video, or Logic for music, any software meant for the creation or editing of audio/visual media contains presets, layout choices, and biases that lead you towards certain creative decisions.
Sure, it might be me, a human, who is operating the software, and in theory I can be as creative as I want to be with the choices I make. But truthfully I’m often more apt to go ahead and pick a preset than take the time to dial in a sound using my ears, training, and instincts. Say I just recorded a bass line for instance, and I know that I want this bass to sound nice and punchy. Oh wow, look at that, there’s a compression+EQ preset called “nice punchy bass.” The temptation is too strong; I’m going to use that preset. Oooh, that’s nice. And punchy.
But herein lies the same problem that I experienced when I posted that picture on instagram. It feels like I’ve done something special, but I’ve simply chosen the same pretty good preset that millions of other people have access to. The same phenomenon occurs with digital instruments and sample packs. From Alchemy, to Reason, to Kontakt, to Spitfire, to Splice—we music creators have more access to more good sounds than ever before. The problem is, this is potentially leading us all towards a pretty-good homogeneity, rather than an inspiring and varied originality.
Indeed these are the mad, professorial ravings of an aesthetically paranoid man. So what is the point? What is there to do?
Well, what I did to ease my troubled mind this week was to record some cups.
If everyone is using the same presets, the same digital instruments, and the same instagram filters, I needed to do something at least a little different. I recorded a simple track with real guitar, real bass, real Wurlitzer, programmed drums, and a “pretty good” digital vibraphone instrument. Despite all the realness, it still was feeling somewhat uninspired. So I poured some water in some glasses, tuned them to some notes, and replaced that “pretty good” vibraphone sound with some pretty great cup sounds if I do say so myself.
I’m not saying I did anything artistically ground-breaking. I’m certain that someone has recorded cups before. But I may have done something personally ground-breaking. I proved to myself once again that it is more satisfying to create something real and original, than to rely on the presets and paths already taken.
I took the train home last night from Flatbush to the Upper West Side. It’s a ride that takes about an hour at the hour I was doing it (midnight), so I had ample time to enjoy my favorite subway activity—listening to podcasts. Fresh off of a recommendation from my friend Max, I was listening to the podcast Song Exploder, which I would highly recommend to anyone who engages in the creation of music (as well as any non-musicians who want a peek behind the musical curtain).
It‘s a podcast in which musical artists explain everything that went in to the creation of a particular song of theirs, from the emotions/experiences behind the lyrics, to the discovery of a cool riff, to the musicians who helped record it, to the idea behind the mix, and more. Its sometimes deeply personal, sometimes highly technical, and often very insightful.
I was particularly moved by the episode featuring the singer, songwriter, and producer Héloïse Adelaïde Letissier (aka Christine and the Queens), who talked about her 2018 song Doesn’t matter. On the surface, it just sounds like a slick, well produced, kind of tough, good pop song. But when you really listen to her lyrics and tone, you see that the song is brimming with existential despair. And when you listen to the podcast, you see that every musical choice she made was either directly or obliquely related to capturing this sense of desperation.
The end result is a beautiful catharsis. In the podcast she describes catharsis not as something that feels good when you’re doing it, but as just a natural and necessary release. This song allowed her to feel and express her emotions in a direct way, free from over-analysis or shame.
This week, in the course of writing my song, I too tried to capture a more direct and emotional relationship with the sounds I was creating. I spend so much time in front of a computer screen manipulating the minutiae of the sounds, that I can sometimes forget the fact that for essentially all of the 200,000 years of human existence, music only existed in our minds, hearts, bodies, and instruments. If you wanted to make music, you had to get off your ass and make it happen live!
I realized this week that I’ve been missing the “get off your ass” portion of the music making process as of late. As a cure, I spent a lot more time in the recording booth with this song than I did with last week’s song. I’m not saying that this makes this a better song, but I will say that it was a lot more satisfying to create.
Sitting in front of the computer screen with Logic Pro X pulled up can sometimes give you the illusion that your music can and should be “perfect.” But here’s a secret—most people don’t want to hear perfect—they want to hear real. And more importantly, it is just way more fun and satisfying to record a wacky vocal line than it is to digitally iron out all the warts and wrinkles in your song.
I was improvising some spoken words to this song, and while I ultimately ended up scrapping all of them, I did discover a line that I think sums up the spirit of this song, and something I need to remind myself from time to time:
You’ve got to find a way to be an animal.
That is to say, I sometimes practice the very “human” art of overthinking things. I’d be better served by just moving my body and making some noise.
I recorded some of my music this week. While this might seem like no real surprise, considering, ya know, I’m a musician, it actually feels like a pretty large feat. While I do indeed have a musical day job that I love, the truth is that nowhere in my current job description are the words “writes and records original music.”
However those are words that I need to be part of my life in order to feel complete. These are activities that have been dear to me since I was about 15 years old, and yet the further away from 15 I get, the harder it is to find the time and courage to do them.
But luckily we’ve just crossed the threshold of a new year (a new decade even!) and I’m a man who gets motivated by ridiculously ambitious resolutions. So here goes.
Lucas Murray’s bold 2020 resolution:
I will write, record, and release a piece of music every week.
Lucas Murray’s very important addendum to his 2020 resolution:
The music can be absolutely any length or quality-level, and I’m also allowed up to 4 weeks off.
This feels exciting, daunting, and easy all at once. The ease comes from there being no true standards set on the quality of the music. The difficulty comes from the sheer number of necessary works, as well as the ability to let go of my own internal standards. The excitement comes from thinking about a year in which I created 48 pieces art for art’s sake. L’art pour l’art!