Imitation

Every person who decides to be an artist starts off as an imitator. Usually the event that pushes you to want to be an artist goes something like this. Wow! That was really cool! I wanna do something like that too. And then you proceed to try to do that. What saves us? Lack of ability. You are attempting to copy something developed from a well-developed set of skills. You on other hand are just learning how to do it.

There is imitation which is an attempt to copy the source material as much as possible. There is also influence where there are ideas that you obviously built your ideas from. Some people are great imitators. To me though imitation is a lower form of expression. Why? Because a good deal of the work is already is done. Let’s use fan fiction as an example. In fan fiction, the world, the characters and everything else has already been established for you. All you have to do is work with what is already there. Coming up with a new world and new characters requires much more work.

I think showing that you have been influenced by something is better. Why? It shows greater reverence for the source material. I am showing that I appreciate the source material. I also am showing that I am not the source artist. I don’t think I am as good as the source artist. Also, the source material artist made a decision to create their own art. I am showing my appreciation for that by showing, that I too, am going to attempt to create my own art.

Let’s throw in another caveat. Tradition. Some ideas are so well established and universal that anyone can make an attempt at it. For instance, the blues. The form of the blues has been well-established. If I want to use that form to create my own blues song, no one is going to accuse of me ripping anyone off. Why? Because the idea is so prevalent. No one is going to accuse someone who does an impressionistic painting as ripping off Van Gogh. However, if your painting is Starry Night with reds instead of blues or something. Then maybe. And if your painting is an attempt to recreate Starry Night exactly then for sure.

In some ways, the danger of imitation becomes greater as your skills develop. Suddenly, where the idea of imitation wasn’t even possible. Now it is. Also, sometimes you can unconsciously imitate something. One time, I wrote an instrumental piece of music. I wanted the piece of music to have a Santana-type feel. However, I basically copped the bass line of”Jingo-Lo-Ba”. And since that bass line is lynch pin of the whole composition, my instrumental crossed the line from influence to imitation.

Some people are so influenced by people that all they do is imitate them. I have known guitarists that have to have the exact same gear as there idol. They meticulously learn everything their hero plays and can copy it exactly. Some people have tribute bands where they not only play all the songs of a band. They even dress like them and act like them on stage. In the end, there is nothing wrong with this kind of behavior. As long as the proper reverence goes to the source.

One thing that great artists seem to share in common though is that they have a style that is distinct. That style is totally unique to that artist and cannot really be imitated. If anything, I as an artist have not been able to establish a distinct enough style. Maybe someday. I will tell you this though. I feel that I have a far greater appreciation of art because I have created my own art.

Art And Morality

I am going to try to stay on a high-level with this. This is a subject where it is easy to get pulled off in various different directions. Does art need to be morally controversial? Of course not. But can it be morally controversial? Definitely.

Morality is a favorite attacking point for people against art. The concept of what is and what is not moral is always changing and covers a wide variety of stands. Art usually is an idea. Something like a book or a song or a painting. These are things that usually do not directly effect people. What other way to explore morality is safer?

Can art be immoral? Of course it can. Is art being immoral necessarily wrong? No. Sometimes the immorality is the point of the art. Having characters live through an immoral situation and seeing what happens to them is important. It reinforces why the moral exists in the first place. And hey, morals do change, and seeing things like slavery from different eyes, not only leads to change, but it also gives us a way of remembering the mistakes of the past so we do not repeat them.

Art can be used as a tool to advocate positions that aren’t correct and will never be correct. But you as the audience have the ability to choose to pay attention to the art or not. You can even go so far as to create your own art advocating your own position. Some people want to ban or condemn anyone that advocates a moral position that that person feels is wrong. Extreme precautions need to be taken. A constant dialog is an important thing when it comes to morality. Because once again, morality is always changing. Don’t believe me? Look at how radically positions on things such as race, gender and sexual orientation have changed even in the last 50 years.

Another favorite position of advocates of censorship is the protection of children argument. Parents argue that art should be limited so that children do not get exposed to anything that the parents do not want them exposed to. I will go this far. Innocence does have some value. Because, once it is gone, it can never come back. All of us deserve to live, for awhile anyway, in a purer world. However, one way or the other, your child is going to be exposed to things that you don’t want them to be exposed to. Wouldn’t you rather have them be exposed in such a way that they are at least vaguely informed about what they are seeing? Isn’t it your responsibility as a parent to maintain a moral dialog with your child and to monitor it is what they are exposed to? Once again, the moral dialog is very important, and art is one of the safest ways to explore morality.

Like it or not the ugly side of humanity will show its face to you. It is important not to completely repress the darkness. Can you really understand beauty if you don’t understand ugliness? I am not sure. I won’t bullshit you. I have seen things I wish I would have never seen. I have heard about things that I would have rather never known about. In the end, the exposure to ideas that art has given me that add positively to my existence overwhelmingly outweigh the negative. I would argue that art contributes far more powerfully as a positive and unifying force than it does as a negative force. So please, let’s try to keep art as free as possible.

 

 

 

Art Vs. Entertainment

One of the beautiful and beguiling things about art is that it works on different levels. Sometimes a well-crafted piece of art can work on multiple levels at the same time. Art should be engaging. Art should be presenting you with things to think about, ideas to toy with. Entertainment is different. Entertainment is a way to disengage, to relax, to turn the mind off for awhile.

I get it. You had a long day at work. You are tired. You just want to sit back on the couch. You aren’t ready for something challenging. You had your challenge for the day. You want to relax. You want to get away. Hello entertainment.

Entertainment needs to be a little bit engaging otherwise it is just annoying. How many people that don’t have kids sit around and watch Barney And Friends. And if they did, wouldn’t you be very afraid to know what aspect of it that they found engaging?

Personally, I feel like entertainment tends to pander to a very low level of sophistication. It underestimates the audience. In a lot of cases the audience is accepting of the less than stellar options it is presented. Why? Because they go with the entertainment that is readily available. You can’t really desire something better, if you  haven’t seen it. There are some thresholds that once you cross them, you can never really go back. So be forewarned, while art can be a great thing, it may well make it harder for you to like some of things you used to enjoy.

Art can go into the other extreme. It can be so confounding that no one gets it. The artist does not need to be perfectly clear. Sometimes vagueness is a wonderful thing. It allows you, as the audience, to interject your own ideas into the mix. However, if people can’t have at least some idea of what you are trying to do, then you are not doing a good job as an artist. And while yes, you can make a point by being monotonous or boring or whatever, you should realistically expect the audience to only endure so much.

So the best way to think of art and entertainment is as of a spectrum. With entertainment being the side of the spectrum that requires less thinking and art side of the spectrum requiring more thinking. It all comes down to you. The audience. You get to choose.

 

 

The Importance Of The Audience

There isn’t an artist alive that doesn’t get frustrated with the audience at times. You are doing your thing, taking a risk, putting yourself out there. And you are either being ignored or downplayed or even reviled at times. But the truth is we as artists need the audience. We need the audience desperately.

I will start off with the obvious one. The artist needs an audience if he actually wants to get paid. You have to have a product to sell and someone who is willing to buy it. This becomes increasingly important in today’s world where it is extremely easy to get product without having to pay for it. I get it. I do it. But remember this. If you like it. Then buy it. Eventually anyway. I know that the forces of marketing do a screw job on the consumer. But, don’t take away what the artist gets out of it. The truth is the percentage of what the artist gets is a pittance compared to what is actually made. If I can’t make a living out of being an artist, then I am going to have to make my living doing something else. And even if I still want to make art, my ability to do so is going to be compromised.

Secondly, the artist needs feedback from the audience. The act of making something makes it hard to assess it fairly. The work that it took to create the art invariably effects the way that the artist looks at it. What I like out of what I do and what the world like out of what I do is invariably a little different. Hell I welcome constructive criticism, even if it takes a brave person to give it. Everyone always says how good you were, even if you weren’t. Why? Because it’s the polite thing to do. I have never in my life, had someone approach me and tell me that I played like shit. I have had plenty of people tell me how good I was though. And hey, while I am good at music, some days I am definitely better than others. The right person telling me that something was a little flat or that this idea had potential but could use a little bit of tweaking is very helpful.

While feedback from the audience is necessary, it is also very helpful for the audience to be receptive to what the artist is presenting. You as an audience have a perception of what you think the performance is going to be. Usually, the expectation is that the performance is going to be similar to something you have experienced before. So if I cover a song by another band… the typical expectation is that I perform the song exactly like they did. Recreation is boring. New is fun. Keep an open mind let the artist take chances. Sometimes when an artist takes a chance it doesn’t work. Sometimes it will take awhile for you to get used to it. But man, there is nothing better when you discover something new that is truly good. And you can’t discover anything new if you never do anything new. Artists need the audiences to be receptive. Just give it a chance.

Like I said before. Every person who creates art does so for an audience. Even if they chose never to present the art to an audience. An audience provides important feedback and also encouragement to the artist. Hey if people do like my stuff. I am going to be motivated to do more. That is a fact. And hey if you like my art, you want me to do more don’t you. The more good art the better.

In this world there are more ways than ever to try to find an audience.  As a fan it can be overwhelming. There are way too many things to try and not enough time to try them. Keep an open mind and be supportive of artists that you do enjoy. Keep the cycle going. Do some research. If you like someone… look into who they like. Every artist was influence by somebody. It is almost always a good thing to look back at the people that your artist found inspiration from. You will in all likelihood find someone you like too.

What is an artist?

Despite what some people say,  all people are not artists. Don’t get me wrong. All people can create art. All people can appreciate art. Everyone does not have that drive where they have to create art. Everyone who does have the drive to create art does not have the ability to create art.

I define art in very broad terms. I would even consider being a talented athlete as being an artist. Usually the ability to create art has three requirements: 1. A willingness to work, 2. Natural talent. 3. A belief that you have something to say.

A willingness to push yourself and get better is very important in developing any kind of artistic talent. If you spend time working on anything, you will get better at it. This is a fact. To be the best of the best at anything, you have to be totally dedicated to what you are pursuing. That means a lot of sacrifice. Not everyone is willing to do that. Even the most ardent follower of any artistic discipline will only go so far. And sometimes even if you do push yourself, you can only go so far.

This is where we get into natural talent. Natural Talent is the X factor. It is something you either have or you don’t. For example, I can only draw so well. I have read books about drawing. I have practiced drawing. Truth is though, as much as I would like to draw better, I just can’t draw at the level anywhere close to where I would like to. But, I have a good sense of rhythm and a good sense of pitch so I had a natural head start when it comes to music.

One other factor when it comes to art is the belief that you have something to contribute. You have to have a willingness to participate in the activity and you have to have the belief that your participation will add something. I have to contribute. I have no choice. I know that somebody, somewhere, has done a better job of expressing whatever thing that I am trying to get at, than I have. It doesn’t matter. I still hold onto a belief that I have something worthwhile to share. You have to be willing to contribute. You have to be willing to have others experience your work. Even if you never show or share anything you create to anyone else, you are always creating for an audience.

I have farted around with various forms of art throughout my life. I have spent a lot of time studying and working on the art of music. So I will share my thoughts about the matter for awhile and we will see where this goes. Goodbye for now.

 

 

I Say It’s My Birthday

So it is April 30th, 2017. It also happens to be my 44th birthday. Honestly, most of my birthday celebration happened yesterday. Went out for dinner with my family. Got a modest collection of birthday swag. Today is kind of the anti-climax of the birthday experience.

The weather could be better. It is cold and rainy here. My birthday tends to fall into to two different weather categories. Either the weather is a truly great spring day. Or it is rainy and miserable like it is today.

Another weird coincidence is that not only do I have to work on my birthday, but it also is one the one day where I have the long 10 hour shift. Plus, it is my first night shift where I will be completely on my own. Not the ideal timing for all of that, but it is what it is.

A lot of times birthdays aren’t necessarily that great for me. It tends to be a time for me to put my life under a microscope. Honestly, I usually come up from that experience with a fairly critical eye of what I have accomplished. This year though, I am feeling pretty good about myself.

The new job helps. It is good having a job that pays decently. A renewal of spirit in general helps as well. In a way, the whole episode of me losing my toe, probably has been a good thing. It has forced me to work harder on my life. Forced me to take better care of myself.

I have made it this far. And there are plenty of people that haven’t. Whatever combination of luck, support, intelligence and fate that got me to this point has been working well enough. I still have plenty of things that I want to do. I still have plenty of things to look forward to.

I am thankful for all of that. I will keep moving forward and trying my best to find the things that work best for me.

 

 

 

Folic Acid

So I am home and I am eating a bowl of cereal. The cereal is a generic version of Peanut Butter Crunch. I am studying the box and in the lower lower right hand corner the box it proudly proclaims “an excellent source of Folic Acid.”

So I turned to the nutritional panel. And yes Folic Acid is listed as a vitamin or mineral and my bowl of generic Peanut Butter Crunch provides me 100% of the USDA recommended amount of folic acid. The serving size listed on the side of the box is 3/4 of a cup. I had probably more like 1 1/4 cups of cereal. So not only did I get my full recommended dose of Folic Acid. I exceeded it!! That is the kind of achiever I am.

What is Folic Acid though? What does it do? Do you know? I didn’t. Did the person who wrote the blurb on the box know what it is? Or did he or she go… well the USDA says you should have it and the cereal has 100%. Does the average person even go as far as I did to look at the nutritional label on the cereal?Or maybe the writer of the blurb is trusting me to be a nutritional expert. Maybe he or she fully expected me to know exactly what Folic Acid is and what its’ health benefits are. But, I doubt it.

Also, I am putting a lot of trust in the USDA. They are the ones who are telling me both that Folic Acid is healthy for me and the right amount of Folic Acid that I should in fact eat. Even if Folic Acid does have a health benefit that is proven is having the right amount of Folic Acid in my diet really going to have that significant of an impact on my health? Somehow I doubt it.

We get exposed to information like this constantly. Information that has very little relevance to anything. Information that is used to try to make something seem better than it is. The key is though, you are not supposed to really think about it. You are supposed to just read “an excellent source of Folic Acid” and make a couple of key assumptions and then move on. This is where things get hazy.

The other thing is that we get exposed to so much information that either has very little relevance or no relevance at all, that we start to not process anything. We just accept whatever is said because in the end, who cares? But we should care because these kinds of statements are playing off of assumptions. Assumptions that you are making on their behalf. Like my assumption that more than 100% of the USDA recommended amount of Folic Acid is going to help me. I bet you a good chunk of money that if I exceeded that 100% amount by enough that Folic Acid wouldn’t be so good for me after all.

By the way, Folic Acid is an artificial form of Folate a B vitamin that according to Web MD can help with a variety of things including anemia, liver disease, kidney dialysis, Alzheimer’s and several other conditions. But, until today I did not know that.

Life Is Happening

I know I haven’t blogged in awhile. I have been busy. For those of you who are my Facebook friends, you know that I have started a new job. So far the job seems to be going pretty well. However, their is always a learning curve and their is usually a honeymoon period with a job while it is new. I am hopeful though that this job will last for awhile.

I haven’t been doing as much with recording or any creative projects. Adjusting my work/sleep/life cycle to third-shift has been my primary focus. This does not mean I have given up on being creative. It just means I am re-tooling my life a bit.

I have elected to wait awhile before I move to Waterloo, Iowa from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Mostly because I would like to build up some money again while I still live at home with my parents. The downside is that I have a 50 minute commute to work one-way everyday. I am not sure when I will pull the trigger on the move. I am guessing the move is still at least a couple of months away.

So far the transition to third-shift has been relatively painless. I was a little concerned about driving home after being up all night but so far, I really haven’t had any problems with it. At 6am traffic is still pretty quiet.

I could be one of the many people that have been expressing concern over the current political and social situation in this country. It has been a little scary out there. I am not sure what my complaints would do to help anything though. The best thing we can do is to sit back and let the powers that be break things. We can try to mitigate the damages as much as possible. I will become obvious to everyone that what we currently have is not going to work. Hopefully, the average person out there will be more inclined to take politics a little bit more seriously, otherwise we are all fucked anyway.

I am a firm believer that the very first thing you have to do is to take care of yourself. Most of the problems I have ever had in my life, stem directly from me not taking as good of myself as I should. So I am primarily focused on that. Lord knows I had to lose a toe before I started watching out for myself better. And truth is, I am still one lucky guy it could have been much worse.

Stay strong everyone. I wish you the best. Thanks for listening.

 

Reunion Albums

Recently I purchased a CD by The Jesus And Mary Chain. This CD is reunion disc. The band had not produced an album for over 20 years. This has become an increasingly common phenomenon as rock music ages and I age.  I have noticed a pattern with these reunion discs. The Jesus And Mary Chain disc falls into this pattern almost perfectly.

What do we get with a reunion album? We get new music from an act we love. We get a reminder of why we loved that act to begin with. However, we usually are not catching the act at its best. So why is this?

First thing is chemistry. Chemistry is something that these bands all have. Heck that is why these bands are loved. Whenever you get some people together there is an indefinable magic that produces good work. That being said, in order for the chemistry to reach its’ peak, the band does need to be working together actively over a long period of time. That is the key. Usually the band has not been together long enough to fully come together yet.

Secondly, there is the fact that these musicians are not the same people they were when they were an active band. It goes without saying that 20, 30 or 40 years definitely changes a person. So you have multiple people that have gone through multiple years of change. The product you get is definitely going to be slightly different because of this. Usually, this means that you get a group of musicians that are more comfortable. That aren’t as worried about having to prove anything. Because, they already have.

Finally, there is the fact that fan perceptions of music changes over time. Don’t underestimate the haze of nostalgia that develops for a band over time. You have heard a band’s songs for twenty years. They are familiar. They are burnt into you. The new songs are new. They haven’t had the benefit of being around for twenty years. Often times, the new songs get unfairly compared to the old songs. Also people often associate a band or a song with a time in there life so people aren’t just seeing the song on its’ own merits. They are seeing a song as reflection of a time that they remember fondly. Hard for a new song to compete with that.

The truth for me is this. I am always excited with the prospect of a new album from a band that I love. I would love to have every new album be great. That is not going to happen though. But, I would rather have the possibility of something great, than to have nothing at all.

Wandering Eyes

Wandering Eyes is my seventh album. Plus I also have three EP’s as well. Some of the albums have repeat songs including Wandering Eyes which has a reprise of the track Soda Machine. Two of the albums I recorded with live drums. And the rest I used drum loops. On all of my albums, I do all of the instrumentation, singing and production. So if you don’t like it blame me. There is a part of me that is still thinking about either trying to do live drumming on Wandering Eyes or to bring in a drummer. I am almost a good enough drummer to be a drummer, but not quite. The songwriting for this album came in a flurry from like September to November of 2016. I started recording this in November of 2016. However, I had a foot injury that put me out of action until January of 2017.

Since, I am currently unemployed. This album was recorded on a shoe-string budget using gear that I already had. My tracking program is a 50 dollar off-the-shelf program that you can buy at Best Buy. My sound card is like a 200 dollar purchase about 5 or 6 years ago. I ended up doing almost all of the guitar tracks with three different guitars. A Washburn acoustic guitar, a Danelectro electric guitar and a Fender Bass. Vocals were all tracked with a Shure SM-57 which is about of common as mic as you can get. So yeah, the production quality is as good as I can make it with what I have. Put me in a professional studio with top notch gear and I could probably give you something that sounds better. But, all things considered I will hold up my shoe-string records up to a lot of people that paid many many times what I did. All the songs were recorded in my parents’ basement. With my parents on occasion, having to put up with me mixing the tracks over and over. I have to give a shout out to my friend Cyprian Alexzander who has been a valuable source of information for me about the recording process.

A number of artists can be sited as influences for this album in particular: Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Wilco, The Pixies, The Who, The White Stripes. I am particularly proud of the lyrics on this album, which I feel are some of the best I ever have written. This coincides with the fact these are the least autobiographical of all the lyrics I have ever written for an album.

I hope you enjoy my attempt to give something back to music. Music has given me so much in my life. I hope you can appreciate the sheer amount of effort that goes into a project like this.

https://www.reverbnation.com/5039807/album/157629