Musicians are strong

James Taylor's album cover

In 1985, James Taylor wrote a song about being a star in the music business. One part always struck me: “Perfect strangers … pay good money to hear Fire and Rain again … And again and again.”

It’s 26 years later. He has sung Fire and Rain countless times since.

I can’t imagine the pain of singing a hit song over and over. And over and over.

I guess you just numb yourself to the experience.

Two months ago, I saw one of my recent favorite bands live. A few of their songs stuck in my head since then. I played them enough times that I had to stop.

I followed their tour on Instagram. Compared to pre-Covid times, it was a short tour – about fifty performances over a few months. But they must have gotten tired of singing their songs every night. Forty years from now? I can’t imagine…


It just isn’t the same

Charly Bliss live in concert

Live music is something many of us greatly miss in the wake of Covid.

An alternative has been tossed over the fence – live streaming.

I’m sorry, but it’s just not the same. (No one said it would be.)

Often, what’s already out there on YouTube is better than a streaming show you might see. And you’ll probably see some actual crowds.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for supporting musicians! A good solid alternative is to go to their page on Bandcamp and buy some music or merchandise.

I just did. And since our cars are old enough to have CD players, some sweet new tunes will be playing in a few weeks – with better sounds than Spotify can deliver.

Aimee Giese, a Denver friend, spent a good amount of time compiling a page with links to support Denver musicians. You can buy lots of fun merch from a wide variety of artists.

If anyone out there has another similar page, please put the link in the comments. Thanks.


The main band is usually the best

Mimi Parker of the band Low

I’ve seen a lot of live music over the years.  My favorite shows are always in small venues. I love to see musicians up close. Their interaction with the crowd is often more personal. And it’s fun to think that we could shake hands during the show if we wanted to.

Small venues like to feature local musicians as the opening acts. It’s great for smaller bands to grab a little of the spotlight often reserved for national acts. Sometimes that propels them to fame.

But often the contrast is huge. Professionalism, musicianship, and overall quality of the performances are often massively better for the national acts.

Occasionally, opening bands are better. Sometimes I’ve seen shows where I went for the main band and ended up being introduced to an opening act that became a favorite band. That’s a refreshing surprise.

I always like to give each band a chance. I may not like their style or attitude, but I try to listen with an open mind and open ears.

The photo is Mimi Parker of the band Low. I saw her and the rest of the band on Friday night, March 8, 2019.


Music: short-term, disappointing and excellent

record album covers

Music falls into many categories. I’m not referring to genres but rather to human appreciation of musical works.

The broadest way to describe the value of how one appreciates music is shelf life. How long will you enjoy a piece of music?

Three categories, from worst to best:

  1. Loser: Listen once and you don’t need to hear it again.
  2. Ephemeral: When you first hear it, you like it. You listen again, over and over. Much later, you hear it and wonder what the attraction was.
  3. Timeless: These works stand up to multiple listens for your whole life. (You may need to take a break from time to time, but when you come back years later, you still enjoy the album.)

1. At one time, U2 was one of my favorite bands. The Joshua Tree is an amazing album.

Zooropa is not good. U2 failed when they released that album in 1993. Their previous work was majestic and melodic. Zooropa was experimental, and not all experiments succeed.

2. Jefferson Starship was a late 1970’s revamp of Jefferson Airplane, a seminal San Francisco band that started in 1965.

While Jefferson Airplane broke new ground, Jefferson Starship tried the formulas of their era to make catchy tunes designed to receive as much radio play as possible. Those melodies caught my ear enough that I listened over and over to Red Octopus.

Then, after a break of more than fifteen years, I listened again. I couldn’t even listen to the whole album. The songs were bathed in a syrupy pop sound that made me nearly choke.

3. Little Feat was one of my very favorite bands during my late high school years. I first heard The Last Record Album in a high fidelity stereo shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Ambient swampy sounds seemed to come from every corner of the room, even though that expensive sound system had just two (large) speakers. Melodies went all over the place and blended soulful longing with weird perspectives on life that I still don’t understand.

After I saved up a bit, I went to a record store and bought that album. I still have it.

I’ve listened to that album from its creation in 1975 until now. And I still love it.


Feeling guilty on a Saturday

No one else was home.

That meant I could stream the crazy music I enjoy, at volume, without bothering anyone.

And then I started to feel guilty.

Not about the music I was listening to…  but about the luxury of being able to listen to music in a house with no shared walls.

I remembered living in Kenya – when I felt guilty about having a microwave oven, knowing that it represented about ten times the average monthly wage of many around me.


Not everyone

rhythm-discovery-centerWe all love to make assumptions.

When we are at a busy intersection and see someone holding a sign asking for money, we assume they lack employment and a solid place to live.

When we see an older person in a car going 20 m.p.h. below the speed limit, we assume they are challenged in all that by takes to manage a 4,000-pound vehicle.

When we hear someone singing next to us and they can’t carry a tune, we assume – well, what do we assume?

I can definitely carry a tune – I’m close to having perfect pitch. However, I cannot carry a beat, for the life of me.

One of the most challenging aspects of living in Africa for five years was dancing in church. (Dancing is part of worship in Kenya, at least in many of the churches we attended.)

Since I can’t carry a beat, I can’t dance. I can’t clap and sing at the same time.

So the Rhythm Discovery Center is not the place for me. And I disagree – not everyone has rhythm.


The lost bet

100-dollarsDuring my last year of college, I made a bet with my roommate, Brian Wells. I bet him $100 that within ten years, I would be more into classical music than rock music.

After ten years, my tastes had not shifted. I still listened to way more rock music than classical.

That’s the only bet involving money that I’ve ever made.

That wager came out of my growing love for classical music. My design degree meant many long late nights working on assignments that didn’t require brain engagement. Listening to records with headphones took some of the tedium out of my all-nighters. For the sake of variety, I listened to the widest selection of music that my budget would allow.

One month, my university had a record sale at the student center. I picked up two records that I quickly fell in love with – Mozart’s 40th & 41st symphonies and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

I listened to both records enough that I memorized every musical phrase. And I spun the Four Seasons so many times that I cannot listen to it today.

Mozart’s 40th Symphony contains the highest form of musical expression I have ever heard – the slow-moving Andante movement. The string section comes in slow and builds to a peak of energy that brings tears to my eyes.

Because of my deep love for that piece, I thought that my tastes would shift to embrace more classical than rock.

Alas, the easy accessibility of rock has maintained the lion’s share of my attention – compared to the more complicated and longer classical works. (Think steak vs. candy.)

My tastes still span the gamut of all but mainstream music. But there are parts of every genre that I hate with a very deep passion. Today, the vast majority of my listening time is devoted to quirky alternative rock. There’s always something interesting and new to be found.

Brian never collected his $100. I lost touch with him after he experienced significant painful life events. If you know where Brian is, tell him to give me a shout.

I’d love to pay up.


Your hobby has become a job

AURORA is a young musician from Norway. She’s kind of a modern Enya.

NPR’s Bob Boilen recently interviewed AURORA. She had a very wise thing to say while talking about the life of an artist or musician… when your hobby becomes your job, it can be both a blessing and a curse.

That immediately reminded me of my short career as a radio DJ. Every Friday morning, I played three solid hours of my very favorite tunes. Occasionally, I had to cover the next DJ’s shift, which meant six solid hours of my favorite tunes. By the end of those sorts of shifts, I didn’t want to hear any music for the next several days.

I’ve always loved music, but too much of a good thing can be more than a boy can handle.

So I never made music my career.

Similarly, I love cars. But selling them for a living would take the joy out of it.

What’s the thing you loved and never made your career?



speaker in a ceiling

Why not make things better than what real life offers?

That’s the idea Andy Hildebrand applied to sound when he was working for Exxon. His technology has been applied to alter the sound of a tune so that the pitch is always perfect. But like many good things, it can be overdone. A tune can be altered to sound like a robot is singing.

Many popular musicians love this technology. When applied minimally, it can improve a musician’s ability to hit a note properly. When applied to the maximum, it will produce that robot effect.

And I get to hear robots every day. The building I work in has a Muzak music subscription service, and they chose the Auto-Tune channel to play all the time – in the halls and in the bathrooms.

Thankfully, Auto-Tune does not intrude into my office. Never shall it pass those doors.

(And I’ve written about this before. It’s a subject that is near and dear to my heart.)


When good songs become bad

Hearing a song over and over can ruin a perfectly good song.

As I visited Kinko’s today, I heard a song that I’d be happy to never hear again for the rest of my life.

sir-paul-mccartneyPaul McCartney is definitely one of the most talented musicians of the last 50 years. But every song he has written and sung has not been a masterpiece. (Very few musicians have that capability!)

Band on the Run is not my favorite song by Sir McCartney. Even when it became a world-wide hit on the radio, I didn’t enjoy it very much.

So when the Kinko’s playlist featured that song, I nearly ran out of the store screaming. (Well, not really.)

Can we have a world-wide moratorium on certain songs? Please?