Friday, December 20, 2013

Prompt 2: In The Key of Freud Major: Thoughts On Sigmund Freud's Thoughts on Music

“...with music, I am almost incapable of obtaining any pleasure. Some rationalistic, or perhaps analytic, turn of mind in me rebels against being moved by a thing without knowing why I am thus affected and what it is that affects me.”-Sigmund Freud “The Interpretation of Dreams” 1900
 It is impossible to examine any sort of philosophical cannon without reading the name Sigmund Freud short of a thousand times. Millions of people will quote his theories, treatises, and hypothesis. A vast percentage of the modernly educated will think about his dissertation of the ego vs the ID. Many scholars will explore what it is exactly Freud meant by the phrase “oceanic.” Academics will stay up late concerning themselves with his idea of penis envy (and maybe actual penis envy). Thousands upon thousands of papers are written on his musings every year, this one being no exception. Sigmund Freud essentially set the standard for our conception of what a modern day philosopher or thinker talks about, writes about, and looks like. He is a benchmark figure; the picture that pops up in the dictionary.  

         It is of no coincidence that Freud is such a popular thinker nowadays. Although he has been dead for some 70 plus years, Freud created a spark in rational thought that both angers and supports the opinions, discussions, beliefs, and even faiths of many. Many of his theories, including some mentioned earlier but certainly not limited to them, have become popular enough to become sort of pop-culture facts. Freud’s philosophical work is some of the most complex and seemingly truthful of any somewhat modern day thinker. You can’t think philosophy without thinking Freud whilst picturing him with a cigar. He seemed cold and calculated; unafraid of anything that he might encounter.
         Why then, does Freud have such a well-documented aversion to music? 
          Music is something so touching; a force so powerful that we could write and talk about it all day. We often do, in fact. Many philosophers of great credit spent a large majority of their lives discussing and writing about music. Many of them were in fact musicians themselves. If philosophy is the study of the fundamental problems, such as why and what is the purpose of anything, surely then it would seek to understand the importance of music? Something that can unite millions of people around the world despite language, experience, financial, religious, and even physical barriers has to be worth the examination of all minds, not only the supposed great ones. One could never argue that music isn’t important to humanity; it is simply a huge force that, while unnatural when commanded by individuals, does exist within nature. In fact, it seems that music has been around as long as anything, even our own concept of humanity and society in general.
          Nevertheless, music is such an opaque concept that even the best minds often fall short of explaining it well in any sort of technical language. There are thousands of musical geniuses out there who lecture and write. They may have beautiful things to say, engaging points, and excellent rhetoric. However, no single “theory of why music makes us feel the way it does” has ever truly been accepted as cold hard fact. 

          While we can examine the nuts and bolts of a piece of music, we cannot explain how these nuts and bolts make a piece a great and, likewise, how these nuts and bolts might make something not so great. There is a technical language of music; a rich vernacular that can be studied forever and yet truly never understood. The great composer/conductor/educator Leonard Bernstein perhaps put it best when he stated that “the only way one can really say anything about music is to write music.” 

We can’t sum up music in this sentence or the next. Even this page, or the next several thousand pages, would completely fail to define the reason for the might of music. But it is impossible to ignore it as a force in society. It is impossible to ignore the role of music in shaping our past, and this past is directly responsible for the future. It is also impossible to see the role of music in the future, but we can be assured by our connection to it that it shall be powerful. 

And yet, despite our obvious infatuation or even obsession with music, Freud doesn’t like to talk about it. There are a great many subjects that are considered taboo and he touched upon all them. He is infamous for popularizing the Oedipus Complex, a theory that postulates men are jealous of their fathers and sexually enamored with their mothers. This is obviously a pretty radical theory, yet he shies away from discussing music. It is interesting to note, as well, that Freud lived during one of music’s most romanticized periods; one would think or even expect Freud to champion music as of the great arts, especially due to his love of many other artistic mediums. Why leave music out, then? Perhaps because he admits to not truly understanding it and therefore doesn’t seek to make any theories or comments. You cannot blame a man for that which he doesn’t know, so long as he remains quiet with an unbiased opinion on the subject.  

But Freud clearly has an opinion on music. Freud states that being a “rationalistic” or “analytic” makes him “rebel against being moved by a thing without knowing why I am thus affected what it is that affects me.” This is a dense thought, worth examining with a fine comb or even an analytical microscope. Firstly, Freud claims to use a rational and logical approach to push him towards a contrarian viewpoint on music. This idea of being a contrarian is not uncommon for Freud, as a lot of his viewpoints were unpopular at the time and even now. What is most interesting to me regarding these terms, is that we would be able to deduce and infer that Freud believes music to be something that cannot be explained rationally and with analytics. This sounds a lot more like Leonard Bernstein than we may have originally considered, given Bernstein’s love of music and Freud’s apparent distrust.

A lot of people, both academics and the laymen, like to compare music and mathematics. While that is a discussion for another paper in another lifetime, it is interesting to note that Freud feels appreciating music comes before rational and analytical thinking and/or criticism. Although it is unwise to ignore the connections between the field of math and the field of music, it is interesting to note that Freud almost deems music as being unworldly and unexplainable. Although it seems Freud took this to be a negative cloud that follows pieces of music around, I would argue that many people might agree with Freud on his concept by not his application. Most people have an experienced where, for any amount of reasons, they are moved to tears by a piece of music. Many people have also experienced a time when they were jubilant and joyous upon hearing specific chords played with a certain dynamic. There are myriad reasons for experiencing emotions, but sometimes we lack the technical language or even the wherewithal to understand appreciate why. Freud realized this concerning music; and while it seemed to have scared him, this exact same thought process seems to have excited millions. 

Now let’s examine the second part of his quote, that which states Freud needs to react harshly towards music because it moves him in a way that he cannot explain or even internally understand. This idea of fearing the unknown is a pretty common phobia for most people. Think back to a time when you saw a child afraid of the dark; or perhaps think back to a time when as an adult you feared for future circumstances that you did not even know existed. This anxiety of the unknown exists within all of us. For Freud, an examiner of the mind, this must have been atrocious and horrendous. For someone so used to understanding why we feel some of our more basic impulses, Freud could never quite put his finger (or cigar, for that matter) on what it is about music that makes us feel certain things. He knew and appreciated the power of music and its forces, but he couldn’t explain it. This, much like a child’s fear of the dark when he or she goes to bed, is just simply fear of the unknown. 

Here exists the central lesson of this prompt. There are a myriad of reasons why music moves us. We could write thousands upon thousands of essays concerning the “whys” of music’s emotional process without repeating a single thought or idea. Nevertheless, I cannot help but feel the weight of this idea that Freud may have accidently discovered. Perhaps we are so brilliantly moved by music because we do not understand it. In a world where knowledge is seemingly everywhere for the taking, even more numerous than trees in a forest, the idea that we cannot fully understand something might be as magical to some as it is scary. Although we certainly fear that which we do not know, it can also be exciting. We love horror movies and roller coasters, despite the fear and apprehensive atmosphere they can cause. Of course we like music because it moves us to a point where we don’t understand it. When you don’t understand something, you take it at once, for what it is; the sum of its parts. If we understood every little thing about why music makes us feel the way it does, it would probably cease to make us feel anything. It would simply become a mastered system, when in fact, we know it to be the exact opposite; an almost life force than can move mountains. We often use the terms of music to understand life and its processes. If this is true, we can learn a lot from realizing that we can love the unknown. It’s important to appreciate and feel that which may cause some stress. Sometimes, its important to feel powerless.

Freud may not have loved music for this reason; a man who spent his whole life trying to understand the “why” could never be fully satisfied until he knew the answer to everything. But let us, for a minute, appreciate the significance that one of the world’s greatest thinkers may have been stumped by music. Music; something that we all feel and experience deep within our souls. Music; something that we all almost feel connects us to the universe. Music; something that we cannot possibly explain with any degree of certainty. We can use all sorts of technical language and run all sorts of brain monitoring tests; in the future perhaps, we can find a way to fully grasp the why.

Music is something we should always seek to understand, but ultimately always understand that we’ll never fully get it. 

PS: I adopted my ultimate Freud look for this prompt. What do ya think? 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

PO-EMs?! He has PO-EMs!

Hey y'all!

I've had an amazing end to 2013. I'll probably do a top ten best of year end blog by the 31st, so look forward to that.

There are a lot of exciting things happening to me as a musician but I must admit; the greatest thing happening is that I get to wake up every day and practice. Every single moment is an opportunity for me to push myself towards growth, and I feel wonderful at how hard I've worked this year.

I can still work harder, and I shall. 2014 is going to be awesome. A lot of the acts that I'm playing for are playing shows, making money, making music, connecting with people, etc. I feel both lucky to be a part of it and also grateful that I can contribute to each of these projects something unique that they might not have gotten otherwise.

But this blog is just more poetry. It is a pipe dream of mine to become a poetry professor at some point in my life. I don't know that much about poetry, but I read a lot of it and write it fairly frequently. I have some opinions about it, and I love teaching, so gearing up towards that goal isn't so ridiculous.

Also, no one my age reads poetry. Does anyone? By the time I am 50, no one alive will know any poetry. At that point, colleges might come crawling to me.

Some of the following poems are about me and people I know or have known. Some of them might be about me eventually and some might be about people that I will meet. As usual, I have been reading a lot of poetry and, as usual, I have been jacking the swagger of the greats (E.E Cummings and Emily D, this time around)

leaping seraphically over satellites   
i read your words and it builds a world
none of this has ever happened before
in so many ways
in so many words

in so few places, ive been insofar inspired
typically, usually, most-of-the-time
there is nothing ive desired

as to read your words
and build our world
leaping elysian over satellites 
towards paradise 

Escape To
I will escape from you 
from that which is deemed truth
from the nuances of jargon
towards the spontaneity of youth 

I will from escape from it
from that which you commit
from the current collapsing dogma 
I simply scoff and quit

I will escape from me
from that which you’ve caused to believe
from having no say in who I am
towards becoming much more of that whom I can

I will escape to wherever I decide to go

Apartment Numbers
all of these places are exactly the same
hit the phone button, dial someone’s number
driving lanes are far too narrow on the inside
cars far too nice for such a cheap pad
i guess its what is on the inside that counts? 

all these numbers blur together after the years 
135, 1818, 1954, 1245, 903, 252
all these years blur together after the beers
1989, 2010, 1776, 1845, 252
all these numbers blur together after my fears 
of which there is only one
reading number after number after number after number
until there are no numbers left

all of these places are exactly the same
but you know what? 
even if more often than not, I don’t care to see it
different people live inside

Does Anyone Still Wait
Does anyone still wait 
for anything?

I can distinctly remember waiting for phone calls
life stopped for whatever I wanted it to
I just simply had to be simple
and that simply had to wait 

I remember waiting for inspiration to come
and then she did 
and then I remember waiting for her to return
for years and years and years 

Eventually I stopped waiting
and I was sure that she would never visit again

Wherever You Are
Wherever you are my dear
 I will be there

Wherever you are is dear to me 
Your symphony of touch is a mechanism towards belief 
the generosities of your smile eradicate grief 

Wherever you are
I won’t be far 
no matter how bizarre our future or past 
I’ll be around to help pull us through
like a most startling reflection in the deepest pool
you would hardly recognize
and then immediately come to see

what we can achieve will make us complete

If It Snows Again in Georgia

If it snows again in Georgia
I'll be the first one towards your door

I won't mind the 7.4 mile walk
up peachtree street
no fruit in any place is close to as sweet
and nobody
is juicier

Ice falls
as lovers do
it isolates travelers; eschews them to confront truths
the last 100 snow angels I made hardly resembled you at all
but I didn't expect it to snow twice this year, either

so if it snows again in Georgia
worse or better or the same as before
I'll brave the barbarians for champagne from the store
I can correct the mistakes that I used to ignore
there's just something when our lips mix that keeps us coming for more
and more

if it snows again in Georgia
I'll be the first one towards your door

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Short Prompt Response #1: Do musicians have a moral obligation to create "meaningful" music?

           It can’t be denied that music is a driving force in our society. It can be of great influence on the minds, thoughts, and actions of all peoples and can move them to do things both great and not-so great. Music   is such an important force in the world, then surely those who create the music that we consume have a great and dire responsibility. Wouldn’t this be consistent with the responsibility that comes with the complex act of creation? 
           A lot of people might argue that the responsibility lies with each and every listener; one could just as easily side with an argument steeped in rhetoric regarding discretion, free-will, and the like. While I do think everyone is personally accountable for their actions, the responsibility and sometimes blame has to be shared by both the creators and the consumers, much like any product created for public consumption. Those that understand music the best are often times the ones making it, therefore their responsibility to the people using music daily is of greater importance. Much like the chef who cooks in a school’s cafeteria every day, he or she knows the ingredients best, and should do his or her best not to poison the student body. It seems obvious in that context. It’s only when we try to put a limit on how people can express themselves does this get very sticky. Although I would argue a chef can express himself with his ingredients; he still does it within the confines of what is healthy and nutritious (hopefully). 

          The line is really blurry and fine here between being a society of censorship versus a society of thoughtful citizens. Obviously a government should never govern a people’s ability to express themselves thru music. That is out of the question. Limiting the artistic spirit in such a way would be insanely detrimental to the development and progress of even meaningful music. We wouldn’t move forward but rather backward 100 steps. It’s important to understand that the creation process can be an individual pursuit, behind closed doors, in any way possible. However it is only when you put your music out for consumption by others where you take on this role of responsible benefactor.  But do the individuals themselves have a responsibility to make music that is moving, thought-provoking, full of good value and harmony, in all senses of the word?

I believe that they do. Those of us that choose music as a profession owe it to the listeners ear, and more importantly to their mind, to treat it right. We have the influence to determine the future path where music goes. Music often reveals that which we do not know or that which we do not know will come to be, so wherever the music takes us is where we could very well end up as people. If you are going to put your music out there on display, then it should have some sort of redeeming value for the listener. Otherwise, how could it be anything other than detrimental? 

          Whose responsibility or position to say what is “meaningful” music versus “meaningless” is a whole different story. Perhaps this story is even one without any satisfactory answer. Maybe we can’t determine what means something to someone because music is so subjective, and any emotion is measured by the self against the self. Music may bring us together in a collective and passionate way, but music can be experienced in vastly different ways by even grossly similar individuals. Music speaks to the individuality of the human experience. Even though we all “hear” the same sounds, we all feel them differently. This is much like the way that even though we are all alive, our lives are different. 
          Nevertheless, I believe the creator of music should try his or her best to create something that can improve the lives of those who experience it. It should always be the first aim of the musician to create vibrations that take our world closer towards compassion, empathy, spontaneity, intellectualism, and diligence. It is with great trepidation that musicians should harness their power. Hopefully they can understand what it is they possess and act accordingly. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Escape to Ft Lauderdale

I rode spirit airlines down to Ft. Lauderdale for my last Indigo Girls gig of the year. Not my favorite airline, but everyone deserves a 3rd chance, so I'll reserve judgements. 

On the ride down, however, I was absorbed heavily in the Erich Fromm classic "Escape from Freedom." Fromm is a phycology favorite of mine, and while I never studied him in college, and I am deep within a unit regarding his work in Beniversity. 

"Escape from Freedom" mainly deals with how we can both succumb to the powers of authoritarian regime and succumb to our own, commercial manifested authority. It is about how human beings become automations. Escape from something doesn't necessarily mean an escape towards anything other than another captor. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who wishes to improve his or her critical thinking skills. 

What I found most intriguing was how it pertains to me as a musician. Fromm introduces a concept he calls a "pseudo-feeling" in which a person believes that he has synthesized an original thought when, in fact, it has been put into him from an external source. This is particularly dangerous because it enables the person to believe himself to be original when, in fact, he is simply an automation of his environment. 

This pseudo-feeling manifests itself in music to great degree in A LOT of the people that I have worked with and see around the industry. It's ok to be a poser; in fact sometimes than can develop into something fresh. It is not ok, however, to believe that you are making groundbreaking music when you cannot even approximate the true nuances of your creation. We must be genuine as musicians. This may be our curse, at times, but once you realize your limitations you can seek to grow. Either way you grow, this sincerity is all that matters. Another essay I read, entitled "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" by Walter Benjamin, stresses this need for sincerity more than ever for artists. In this current age where machines can reproduce all the music we've ever loved, now more than ever we as artists need to separate ourselves by bringing that which machines cannot into the equation of art; mainly ourselves and the love and spontaneity that being genuine creates.  

This was a lot to think about as we arrived in Ft Oh My Lauderdale way too late (thanks Spirit!) and had too much to drink. Too much water, of course; I can't post about it on the blog but I'll let your mind connect the dots and do the dirty work. Exactly as dirty as your mind allows it. I won't make a comment as to whether or not this is an accurate portrayal, but at least this isn't a pseudo-feeling as it stirred from your thoughts and not from mine. Let's just say I was excited to arrive from Atlanta (where I was wearing two jackets. 2 HOODZ), to sunny and hot Ft. Lauderdale where the people were just ready to get the Led out. 

I arrived early at the festival the next morning to see a beautiful flock of parrots flying overhead. What a cool place Florida is! I was thinking about what it would be like to be a parrot when I saw a festival roadie (usually I prefer the term crew member, but this guy doesn't deserve it) throwing water bottles at the parrots overhead. I was sickened to see this so early in the morning; I shouldn't let myself be surprised by the lack of empathy in others, but that does not make seeing it hurt any less. Yeah, maybe these parrots are annoying, but show some compassion. Also, a violent act is worse for the person who commits it. I won't stand for rude people anymore, so my lowly bass player self confronted this guy and told him he should try to align his heart with the birds. They aren't in the same position, but surely he could think of a time when someone reached out towards him with compassion when he was in a helpless state. I then asked him if he had had parents. His response was one I expected; that of forced humor.

I'm the biggest Adam Sandler fan there is, which makes it all the more disappointing to see the power of humor re-appropriated as a shield against self-discovery or improvement. Often times we laugh when we are afraid to grow, thinking this will protect us from the perilous journey that often occupies true growth. In actuality, all this forced humor does is degrade the name of growth, the name of your self, and the name of humor. 

The festival was super cool; I believe this was the first year of Lauderdale Live and, while the attendance definitely could improve, the festival itself was run smoothly. Besides for my embarrassed parrot man-child, I had a wonderful time chatting with the employees. I even flirted it up with this super fly girl from Nashville. By flirted it up I mean she made fun of me for being so excited about fruit in our dressing room; but she seemed twisted enough to where she was enjoying it in that realm. I didn't get any of her information, but thats ok. No note lasts forever.

The other acts on the bill were fantastic but, since I was preoccupied with chasing around dragon flies, I didn't get to see everyone. Reviews of what I did see are as follows: 

Holly Williams: I have seen Holly like 5 times this year and she always puts on a good show. Great songs and an awesome guitarist and bassist backing her up.

The Wild Feathers: New group out of Nashville that was just smoking it out! They really rocked. Can't wait to keep up with these guys.

Shovels N Rope: I'm a big fan of what this duo does, and they brought a ferocious set to the festival. I loved the creativity they brought to the table. Unfortunately they do not have a bassist, and in my opinion (for what its worth…and I am certain thats not much), the sound really missed that low frequency and low creativity. It made all the guitar parts sound very shrill and without a full range of resonance. Still, I am a bassist, so I guess that's expected. 

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: I've been listening to their record nonstop and the performance lived up the hype. What a clear voice. Jason is a true enunciator, which is something that is missing from virtually the whole music world nowadays.  The band was super tight and I was, as always, fixated on the drummer. Dude rocks! 

Our gig went amazing. It was fantastic to see Amy, Emily, and Lyris. I don't know that I've ever had so much fun playing music. We sounded tight; we had fun; we expressed ourselves individually and we expressed ourselves together. I even started using my sense of smell as a messenger to feel the empathy of the audience and the music that was being performed on stage. Each song was a blast but Faye Tucker, in particular, brought the house down. I remember looking around the stage to see all 5 of us as one, and that one was all Pete Townsend. We are a pretty in your face live act, and the audience eventually came around. We closed the set with a rendition of Devil Went Down to GA in a style that only southerners could do; with an honest charm and a "fuck-it-all" attitude. 

Not bad for my last Indigo Girls gig of 2013. I had an amazing year playing with Amy, Emily, Lyris, and Jaron. It was wonderful working with the team as well (Turtle, Sulli, Mike, Dave, Bill, Tom, Brian, and Bozack!) It was fun sharing the stage at various points throughout the year with the Honor the Earth, Kai, Brandi, Adam, Scott, Matt "Yeah Yeah" Lipkins, Carlos and Cole, Hannah, Cooper, and all the other guests that I can't remember right now. I've learned something beautiful and soul-shattering from everyone that I met this year and, while some of those lessons were akin to having my teeth pulled by my worst enemies, they are lessons all the same and I am thankful.

I'm at a place now where I feel a lot of love and spontaneity harnessing the energies of music. It can be a powerful tool for good and for bad. I will use it for good and I will show others how to, as well.  

Thank you again for coming to shows, reading the blog, buying records, listening to records, caring about music, and practicing guitar. We have a wonderful opportunity on this earth to help each other make our music, and I want to reach out from deep within my soul to thank you for allowing me the opportunity to make mine. 

and that ain't no pseudo-feeling,
Benjamin Ryan Williams :) 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What It Means to Listen

     I can clearly recall a precise moment whereupon the act of making music was reshaped in mind forever and forbetter.

     I was at a rehearsal with my band at the time, Future Self. I probably learned more about being a musician from being in this band than any other; the calibre of players and personalities in the group were pretty astounding to me, especially considering that I was lucky enough to be the bassist. I gained so much knowledge about composition, chords, tones, presentation, practice habits, etc. Playing bass in Future Self did more for my musical training than virtually any other group I've performed with, and while it helped me grow in many ways as a musician and a person, there is one specific incident that stands head, shoulders, and herbal essences above the rest.

     It was a rehearsal at our old trusty space, with its strange high school hallway smell (huh? How does that stench seem to get everywhere?). We had all plugged in, tuned up, and were simply shooting the shit when our tireless leader, whom I shall refer to as the arbiter, dropped a musically bomb on me like no other. Although he was nonchalant in his delivery (the arbiter's constitution always appears to be so), his words stung like a mutant mosquito filled with an extremely musical form of west-nile virus.

     "Playing music is really a listening exercise."

     And all this time I thought it was about making sound. Harumph.

     But it is! And so much more. Music is simply just sound; or organized notes or whatever you want to define it as. I've never been one to try and define music with words; that seems contradictory to the very  reason why music fills the emotionally spectrum with so many feelings we cannot put into words.

     However, when performed at the highest level, music, much like all things, are a combination of many virtuous aspects. We cannot achieve any sort of zenith without the sum of many parts working together harmoniously (which sounds suspiciously more like music than a metaphor).

     How do we get this parts to work together? We listen.

     This is something in my musical studies that I have been working on with great effort in the past couple of weeks. For it is not simply enough to understand that listening is important; in order to progress, I have to look into what it means to listen.

     When researching a topic, I try and take a systematic and fully-pronged approach. Basically I don't just think about what it means to listen; I read about it, ruminate on the thought's of others, and then try to see it in my own life.

     The first thing I noticed is that ALL of the musicians I play with that I have respect for listen to each other, regardless of their skill level. I am definitely quick to slash people with vehemence due to what I feel are arrogant practice habits, but the fact remains that even these people sometimes use their ears to listen in the collaborative sense. Perhaps they do not know what they are hearing, and surely this is not ideal, but simply the fact that they are listening to others is enough to get us going in a more musical direction.

     As one might expect, there are a few people I play with that don't listen to each other. Hopefully they   will listen to the words of this blog and try to work on that within themselves. To not listen to others is to never truly communicate; and, in a dramatic sense, to never truly express yourself collectively with us in a musical sense. It is sad state of affairs and to these people I wish only improvement and salvation. If you feel that you are one of these people (and we all are sometimes, at least), it is important that, although it will seem difficult, all you must do is open your ears to the sounds of the souls of others. No matter how goofy they might be...

     Next, I started reading books about ear training, which delved into books about Buddhism, which then gave way to books about empathy. This is where I found the most useful set of advice as it pertains to musicians, specifically from Eric Fromm's 1974 classic "The Art of Listening."

     I'll admit, I thought this book would be more about listening than it was about psychoanalysis. Nevertheless, it was fascinating and well-written; it had a number of extremely interesting things for me to think about, especially as a musician. Although being a touring musician might handicap me in myriad ways, it does give me the advantage of exercising my ears and brain in that way all the time; far more frequently than almost anyone else. As a result, I feel that I get to know people in a way where language doesn't dare enter. Fromm's "The Art of Listening" helped me reinforce that this isn't, in fact, crazy talk, but rather a technique of listening to what is there, though perhaps unspoken.

     I realize that I have written a lot, so its time to reorganize the KEY IDEAS that I took from Fromm's book, other readings, my own experience, and the stories of others. These are all helpful things to think about when entering any musical situation, but its better to focus on one at a time.

IDEA ONE: Complete Concentration 
-We cannot lie to ourselves in this regard. In order to truly listen, we must have complete and full concentration. This means that we can't be thinking about anything other than the task at hand. We must be fully free from anxiety and we must be fully free from greed.

IDEA TWO: Have an Imagination 
-Part of listening is recreating the universe of an individual within the schematics of your own mind. This is no easy task, but having a free imagination is certainly the easiest way to go about it. We must not believe in the "absolutes" of our reality for they are seldom the "absolutes" of the reality for others. We must be able to realistically pretend that things are different.

IDEA THREE: Ask Questions 
-This one while perhaps obvious bears repeating. We must always be asking questions with a genuine interest. It is hard to learn about someone else or even one's self simply by talking. We have to ask questions and view every answer as a pathway towards a new world of realization. Image a physical gateway if you must; when someone shares an answer with us, it is as if they are sharing their own world with you to take and learn from. Be appreciative and listen.

IDEA FOUR: Recognize Your Narcissism 
-To recognize your narcissism as a musician is incredibly difficult. In fact, when one ponders such a conundrum, we see an intense and glaring contradiction. If I am a performer, aren't I always at a crossroads of creating of art vs promoting narcissism? The answer is maybe so, but I must always make a distinction in my mind between promoting the values and virtues of music versus promoting myself. It is natural that we wish to accomplish both of these tasks, but it is important to always seek to rid yourself of narcissism for the sake of musical understanding. Whenever you feel yourself dipping too deep into your narcissistic pod, just simply open your ears and listen to the music; it does not yell "me" but rather encapsulates that which is love-tinged audio through successful collaboration.

IDEA FIVE: It Will Never End but You Always Get Better
-This is maybe more general advice than advice about listening, but it is important to remember that practicing how to listen to others is a never ending journey. However, always keep moving forward and put one foot in front of the other. You will never be as bad at listening to other people as you are right now. Enjoy this ignorant phase, because once you start listening to others, you have no excuse not to make time in your life and space in your heart for action.

"it doesn't matter so much how far anybody goes-what matters is in what direction he is going."-Eric Fromm

Close your mouth and close your prejudices; open your ears and open your heart.

best 24 till the next 24,
Benjamin Ryan Williams

Friday, November 1, 2013

Step One: Tuning

When I began taking bass lessons as a fresh-faced-fatty, I didn't realize that I was embarking on a lifelong, and maybe in some opinions after-lifelong, journey. Being a student, to being a teacher, to realizing that we are always one and or the other and both. It can get confusing if you try to label it, but the best way to sum up this lifelong journey is that it is a journey of character in the quest for intelligence.

In a learning situation, all parties involved should learn. It doesn't matter if they are the teacher, the student, or the parent cutting the check. If everyone is learning, then the knowledge is being approached the right way.

Teaching and being a student are really one and the same, and this is something I am really passionate about. I love performing, but with it comes a set of expectations (a sense of accomplishment, meeting girls, money, 50% off black bean burgers if the venue doesn't feel like paying). That isn't to say that I don't believe in the power of music with regards to its place in a performance setting. I've written about that at length. I love performance, but to have any expectations certainly adds an emotional component of potential disappointment.

Learning, however, passes no judgement if we open our minds to the lessons constantly around us. This is my true passion as a musician; the process of working on music. The process of the disciple of music. These are the things that get me out of bed in the morning.

I've been lucky enough over the years to learn from many great teachers and many great students. I can't begin to quantify what I've picked up from others, but I will say that it has been the most beautiful experience of mine as a musician. To learn something that inspires myself and then to teach this to inspire another feels like the deep and profound chasm of humanity that seems so intangible and untouchable to most. I get to exist within this valley almost every day.

Teaching background aside, I dropped in to right this blog to talk about Step One of anything music related. This is also Step One of anything anything related.

We must tune our instruments.

Although this is a fairly basic concept, the men are separate from the boys (so to speak) in their ability to do fairly basic things better than everyone else doing them. Tuning is no different. You would be surprised how many bands/songwriters I see who obviously do not spend anytime tuning their instruments. This applies to before the show, during, and especially at practice. If you can manage to play in tune, you are at least 50% ahead of most people who perform. If you can manage to play in tune and in time, congratulations. Go get yourself a gig playing for Bon Jovi.

On a deeper level, we can view tuning as a way of approaching our setup harmoniously. We examine the situation and we tune ourselves towards that situation in a way that we feel might benefit ourselves and others.

When I pick up my bass, I always pick it up with the immediate intention of tuning. But what am I tuning, exactly?

1. The bass: we must play in tune. I tune to standard, typically, (E, A, D, G).

2. My spirit: I must tune my spirit into the situation to make music. While I'm tuning the bass to E, A, D, G, I am also tuning my spirit towards the coordinates that I feel makes bass playing expressive and beneficial.

3. My relationship to my bandmates: this one can easily be the hardest, but it is important when tuning to notice the relationship between yourself and the other musicians on-stage. It's no secret that I put up with playing in band with dudes whom took advantage of me, so naturally I hated them. Every time I had to share a stage with them afterwards I had to spend time tuning my relationship to them onstage to a way that would help us make it thru the show. This step of tuning is not easy, but the best bassists can play with anyone anytime. And I am trying to be the best.

4. My environment: this one is the easiest because it can be very specific. We must tune into our environment to see what the situation calls for. Because I am lucky enough to travel, my environment is constantly changing, so its easy to see the differences. But if I don't tune myself into the proper situation, I might bring the wrong type of thunder down under.

Remember; everyone wants to feel the funk, but they go about it in a million different ways in a million different circumstances.

When we pick up the bass, we must be of correct mind to play. We should take our time arriving at the correct tuning. I cannot understate the importance. Tuning is listening to what another person is saying before you start speaking. It's orienting yourself towards your immediate environment with a sense of bountiful purpose.

We must tune ourselves to our world. E, A, D, G.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

10 Organizational/Communication Techniques for Musicians (You Lazy, A$$holes)

          I believe music to be a powerful force; the likes of which can hardly be reckoned by humanity. It can persuade the innermost consciousness of ourselves towards action or inaction. It says all that words cannot, and have not said, from the beginning of time until now. Music will live on long after we die, and within its wonderful depths one can uncover etchings of brilliant guidance towards the breadth of community and individuality. In my heart of hearts and my soul of souls, I truly love being a musician and I am so thankful to anyone who has helped give me this opportunity to create myself in this way.

          So why am I so embarrassed to tell people that I'm a musician?

           Whenever I meet girls (or all people, really), they almost immediately ask me what I do for a living. I do think this is a rude question, however it is a convention, so I know nothing rude is meant by it. Still, I clammer up when this question is raised; I can really feel my heartbeat, and not in the excited way; the ashamed way, the one you feel when you've been caught doing something bad that you know is wrong. It's stammering and uncomfortable; I usually try to change the topic by getting them to throw a drink in my face with an off color remark, then its on to the next conversation.

          But why am I ashamed?

          I am embarrassed to tell people that I am a musician because of the image it connotes. You know the type; fancy expensive yet strangely-purposely crappy looking jacket that certainly took more effort to find than the effort placed in practicing. Rosary beads/chains strung around the neck. Bumper stickers that say "if I didn't know that you didn't know that I was a musician, I would cease to exist." The never-ending flow of bragging about the nothing he has accomplished. The posing of faux humility, which literally sickens the dirt of the earth. A constant self-promoter at the expense of real friendships. Never truly helping anyone when there isn't anything in it for him, despite the preachiness towards the contrary. A hypocritical man-child. The WORST person to be friends with on Facebook.

          And, finally, in the words of Joseph Conrad; "The Kickstarters. Oh the Kickstarters."

          So I avoid the question when it gets brought up. I tell people that I play the bass for fun (which is true) and then immediately try to sway the conversation towards "Breaking Bad" or something else we can all agree on. The reason I'm embarrassed and ashamed is because, and I'm not sure if you noticed this, nowhere in that image of a musician does it mention hard work, self-evaluation, and organization.

          A couple years ago I watched a Marcus Miller concert video and, I remember it like it was yesterday, was distraught. I could never hope to play the bass like Marcus (in fact, I'd be surprised if ANYONE did again). I could practice all I wanted, till my fingers bled, and I still wouldn't be the best bassist alive.

          That's ok. Deep breaths. Deeeeeep breaaaaaaaths.

          While I can't be the world's best bassist, I sure as HELL can be the most organized. I may never slap and pop like Les, but I can respond to emails better than he can! I might not have the mystical edge of Victor, but I can return phone calls as well as him (or anyone). I may never be as intensely fun as Flea, but our iCalendars can be equally as organized. In fact, with just a small amount of effort, I bet mine can even be better.

          See what I'm driving at?

          The facts are that most musicians out there suck at these elements ever-important yet oft-neglected elements of doing ANYTHING, especially music. Music is commonly referred to a conversation in the vibration language, yet we often forget about all the influences of this conversation in question. Musicians have a truly hard time realizing that their musical life and their regular life not only influence each other greatly, but that they are in fact the SAME life.
          A lot of musicians I know can belt a vocal that soars majestically with the eagles (not the Don Henley type), yet they cannot hit reply to an email. They can hit the shed with a metronome and practice an intense scale run for hours, yet they won't return a phone call for 3 days. And I know that they aren't just ignoring me.

          A large goal of this year for me is to lead by example. I cannot change anyone else in the world's musical community, but I can easily inspire them to see the light of hard work and organization. Think about it; if you value your time, wouldn't you value other peoples' time too? Don't answer that. You know the right answer. And being honest with yourself is what this life is all about.

          Below I have compiled 10 organizational techniques for musicians that I have learned and employed to great use over the years. These are mainly with regards to administrative tactics that should help musicians become better communicators and organizers of their own time and the time of others.       

          As musicians we are ambassadors of music; this means a large part of what we should be about is inspiring virtue throughout the universe from man to man, man to beast, and man to himself. This dense sentence is short enough that it should always be on your mind with regards to the influence of your musical actions. The things you do and the behavior you have is important; so treat it as such.

          But remember regarding good advice; you can take it as far as you'd like; you can feel good after you read it and you can be good natured about it. But if you don't work hard to change yourself, one day at a time, then you are just making me embarrassed to tell girls what my job is. So I hate you. Please quit playing music. Please quit. Please quit. Please quit. Please quit. Please quit. We don't need you or want you. NO ONE DOES. PLEASE QUIT!

          But let's be positive. Here are some tips. A lot of these aren't even very good tips, but just simple reminders to the importance of being organized and communicating well. If you value those qualities in your music or in others, then you should strive to have them stronger within yourself. It is that simple. Changing yourself is more about manageable steps, than anything, so take your time on these. But please, even if its an uphill battle and you must trudge along slowly, just keep moving forward.

          I'd love for y'all to share any tips you might have as well. I'm always looking for ways to improve.

1. Establish Office Hours
           This was a huge realization for me when I used to be bad at communicating/organizing. I told the people I was working with that the best time to contact me would be between the hours of 4-7 MWF. Kind of a silly idea, and I definitely stole it from all my lazy professors in college, but you know what? It worked! Just having to be on top of my communication mediums for a few hours a week didn't seem too daunting of a task, and it wasn't. Predictably I was better at communicating during all hours just by focusing on being REALLY good at it during those few.

          I had to include this all caps entry because a huge part of breaking bad habits is about willpower. It's about demolishing that which you do not like about your instincts establishing good ones in their place. Nevertheless, this is impossible unless you MAN (or WOMAN) UP. We know when we are being bad communicators, I have to believe, so change it when you see it. Be as accountable in this vein of your life as you would be when it comes to learning chords for a gig.

3. One Medium At A Time
          An excuse I use to tell myself and others was "I'm not attached to my phone; there are so many means of communicating it is overwhelming these days." There is veiled truth within this statement; there are so many means of communicating and it can be overwhelming, but that isn't an excuse; its an opportunity to rise about the pack!
          A technigue that really helped me was to isolate the mediums of communication and tackle one at a time, per week, for a whole month. The goal is to start with one and be truly diligent, then add the next medium the following week ad nasuem. For example, for the first week of the month I will be diligent about returning phone calls within a 2 hour time frame. The following week I will be diligent about returning phone calls within a 2 hour time frame and in addition I will be diligent about responding to text messages within a 2 hour time frame. Then add email. Wash, rinse, repeat.
          I'd like to challenge all my musician friends reading this blog to take one medium at a time, per week, in the upcoming month of November. I will do the same. Also that quip about not being attached to your phone? It's a total lie to yourself isn't it? You are probably reading this on your phone right now when you should be responding to an email! Which brings me to my next point...

4. Evaluate Your Progress; Be Honest With Yourself 
          As musicians we are constantly in view of other people's judgement. Though the judgement of most should not effect your behavior, you should be judging yourself constantly. There doesn't have to be any sort of bias towards the negative or the positive; just try and look at yourself as objectively as you can and react with a focus on betterment. With this technique, the facts of the situation become your judgement, which is as liberating for some as it is imprisoning for others.
          I have pledged to turn Sundays into my Administrative Evaluation day. Once a week I will spend around 20 minutes looking at how I communicated in the past week; how I organized my time, etc. I will evaluate my efficiency and I will make improvements. I would urge you reader to do the same.
          There are undeniable benefits to this self evaluation method in all aspects of your life, but I would be remiss if I didn't point out the emotional benefits to this exercise. You know that stereotypical image of a musician we discussed earlier? He is a poser. He cannot live an original life despite the fact that he thinks and believes that no one else is living an original life.
          How can we ask ourselves to live ANY sort of life, original or borrowed, without truly examining the steps that we are taking every day? If a person spends time outside of himself thinking about himself (and not just feeling bad about himself. or feeling good), then he or she will become a more virtuous person in all aspects.
          And that will totally influence some badass bass playing.

5. Whiteboards 
          Nothing too fancy here, but using Whiteboards can be a super effective organizational tool. Place the board in a place where you often are. Even better, place the Whiteboard in a place where you love to avoid work or be a piece of crap. Write whatever you want on it, but make sure it inspires productivity. Although nonmusical, I'm trying to stop drinking beer for a whole month (if you can't tell, I'd really like to have a girlfriend!), so here is what my whiteboard says.
          But we can write anything on our whiteboards; whatever you NEED to work on should take priority. For example; if you have a hard time remembering to practice (Ummmm. What? I know this is a real thing, but still very shocked), write down what you are going to practice and what time of day on your Whiteboard. I guarantee you will be guilted like that whiteboard is a Jewish Mother asking you about your flu shot. Another example; if you have a hard time with communicating, write 3 priority emails or phone calls per day on the whiteboard. You'll do them.
          Sure, guilt isn't the purest motivation for practicing, but I have to say, some of us are very beyond pure motivations at this point. I am highly motivated by revenge, for example.

6. Utilize Spare Minutes
          Most "musicians" I know are bums. I am including myself in this category, somewhat.
          A lot of times we don't have jobs; we don't have kids. We don't have that many responsibilities. As such, we have large chunks of free time.
          But I empathize with the musician who does work a full time job and does have kids and does have responsibilities. You don't have large chunks of free time. Fortunately for you this technique isn't about large chunks of free time.
          We all have a ridiculous amount of spare minutes and seconds throughout the day. Even in doing research for this blog post I found the time to respond to THREE(3) emails about playing the bass.
          We most notice all the aimless waiting that goes on in our lives. They say being in the entertainment industry is all hurry up then wait. And they are right.

          But while they are all waiting around, we can be working. We can use those spare minutes to catch up on emails; we can use those spare moments to listen to a song that I need to chart out eventually. We can listen to records we need to learn whilst sitting in traffic. We can use an ear training app while we wait for the bus. By chipping away at small tasks while we are in activity purgatory, we can make more time for the big tasks. Or, and this is the best part, we can make more time for ourselves and our friends. Yippie!
          For a group of people who's livelihood depends on their ability to understand how to influence time, we sure seem to not understand time at all outside of a musical context. Or do we know how and we are just lazy? Again, don't answer.

7. The People You Work With Are People
          The people that you work with on music aren't just instruments. They aren't MIDI keyboards and they aren't a rotating Leslie speaker. They aren't plugins and they aren't a quantize tool.
          When you are collaborating with another person, you put aside who you are and they put aside who they are. Together you become an entity; maybe this entity doesn't last forever, but that is irrelevant. It can even be an entity just for one evening. Such is the nature of collaboration.
          But when we work with someone, we must always realize that they are living and breathing flesh with feelings, much like ourselves (or really exactly like ourselves). When we don't value their time and effort, we make a big mistake that resonates in our playing in a way that might be hard to pinpoint but is glaring to the world. There is no other way to put and we all know it.
          Conversely this applies to having patience with people who aren't organized or aren't good communicators. Maybe they are none of these things, but they are still children of the earth, and it is life's greatest pleasure to improve humanity. It is the only true pleasure.
          This empathy, if fostered, will spill over into your playing. And it will keep spilling wine over and over the brim of the cup onto the table. And then it will keep spilling over and over the edge of the table into the cracks on the floor, etc. It will get the whole world white-girl wasted.
          Be organized, empathetic, and virtuous in life and it shall be a part of your music without effort.

8. Know When You Are At Your Best
          We all have a time of day when we are at our most productive. Mine is absolutely in the morning, probably stretching between 9am-2PM. Determine yours, please, and harness this knowledge towards the necessary actions! Use this time, when your energy is at its peak, to accomplish the arduous tasks that may have crept up. Maybe put your office hours within this time frame.
          Likewise find your least productive time of day and use this time to accomplish some of the less mindful daily tasks, such as cleaning your practice/work space. Which of course funnels us into technique number...

9. Keep a Clean Work Space (The Myth of Controlled Chaos is Bullshit and You Know It) 
          I often hear people say of their disastrous workspaces "I get my system. It's messy but I understand it."
          How deplorable would this action seem if taken out of the context of a creative environment? I'm not sure how us creative types have perpetuated this myth, but I can't help but believe the myth of controlled chaos was created by a very organized individual who felt he had learned a key secret to success and selfishly did not want to share.
          If we wish to work with others, then we must be willing to have a clean space or admit that we are less of a good collaborator than the one team player we could be. It's that simple.
          Again, manageable steps is the key here. When it comes to cleaning, I employ what I can a 2 minute rule. If something in my workspace or email inbox etc can be cleaned in 2 minutes, then it MUST be accomplished. For larger cleaner tasks in our space, designate 20 minutes one day a week to tidy up.
          This also applies to keeping a clean email inbox as well as a clean and organized calendar. If musicians aren't using their calendars religiously, they'll get doubled booked if they are any good. And that is not good at all.

10. Remember The Goal
          Hopefully your goal as a musician is to make music. A whole other blog should be reserved for the posers who simply wish to glean fame or notoriety thru the veritable kidnapping of vibrations, and they just see music as the viable option. These people will never get it. And they are everywhere. But again, that's something that would take a lot more discussing and, for me at least, a lot of deliberating, for I hardly consider these bona fide fools as inspirational contemporaries.
          But the main goal of being a musician is to play music. Simple and beautiful. Always remember that these organizational and communicatory techniques and tips are simply to grease the wheels of musical creation and true fulfillment. If we are fully organized and prompt about communicating, then when its time to play music, it is ONLY time to play music. And how wonderful is that?

          Thanks for sticking through this. If you read this far, I hope you heed my words and find these techniques helpful. But even if all my words do is inspire personal growth in ANY way, then I will have succeeded.

         I must admit that part of the reason I wrote this was to make myself more accountable. And I'm off to do that for a month. Do it with me! I would love to have a discourse with any of you about these facts. I will do anything it takes so that I can be proud of who we are as ambassadors of music and virtue.

          My office hours are MWF 9am-2PM,
Benjamin Ryan Williams

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Poetry And Excuses And Poetry

I have to greatly apologize to nobody.

I'm sorry nobody. I know that you have been busy, living your life, and you don't mind my infrequent submissions all that much.

But I am not lazy. I can make blog submissions.

Fortunately I have been writing. I wrote a few pieces regarding American Indians, specifically regarding European conquest and the influence of American Indian boarding schools on the preservation of their native heritages. I don't believe that I did either situation justice, but it was fun to explore writing and thinking in an area that is both important to me and, as much as it pains me to write, pretty doomed.

But then again, we are all doomed. So that shouldn't stop us from bettering ourselves and the world.

I've also just started writing a book about kids who go jogging and push themselves towards another dimension. It definitely is going to borrow a heavy Alice In Wonderland vibe, but also with fitness elements. This is a pretty long term project that I am hoping to complete realistically by April. The inspiration for this is definitely coming from my latest strange fitness goal: 52 half marathons in 52 weeks. So far I have completed 4 half marathons in as many weeks. It hasn't been easy, and it seems unlikely that I can make it to 52. But I love it so far. And I believe in myself.

Bass playing has been another beautiful day after the next. I have been getting on lots of recordings that are about to come out. I've been playing shows with Hannah Thomas. She recently dropped a video (which I'm in!) that you should watch below. If you are persistent in your approach, life's greatest lessons can be gleaned from repeated viewing and sharing.

I have also been playing gigs and rehearsing with El Quattro. El Quattro is a band compromised of perennial favorites Shim Gartner (Future Self, Jonny & Shim), Jaron Pearlman (Future Self, The No One Faction, Shadowboxers, IG), and Ethan Levitt (Wesley Cook Band, Shadowboxers, Telegram). We are here to cover our favorite songs in our favorite way; with guitar, bass, drums, and tenor saxophone. It's been a rewarding experience so far because I get to play with people whom I believe to be some of the best in town. I get to play really fun interpretations of a bunch of songs I love (Hall & Oates baby!). I also have profound respect for my friendships with Shim, Ethan, and Jaron. We have all shared stages at many points in our lives and I'm glad to be under the umbrella of their inspiration. It is expanding my range as a player and a person. Check out a little reel from our first gig, for Together, we are El Quattro

On my most recent flight I took too much dramamine and was really inspired to write a lot of poetry. Poetry has been a hobby of mine for many years. I used to write a lot more frequently in high school, but never truly stopped; always pumping out at least a few poems every year. I never stopped reading poetry, and do so as frequently as I can. It is another long term goal of mine to become a poetry professor one day. I figure hardly no one my age gives a shit about poetry at all. Visa vi in so many years I will be one of the last people alive who gives any shits at all about poetry.

I'll parlay this fact with my general assembly of interest in poetry into a viable career. Viola!

But on to the poetry; enjoy it! Poetry comes from a place within; one that is not necessarily true or not true. It comes from an inexplainable place; this alone is enough to produce its profundity.

But be careful with words in any language. For we should always remember the brilliant words of the homie St. Therese of Lisieux. "Some things lose their fragrance when exposed to air, and so, too, one's inmost thoughts cannot be translated into earthly words without instantly losing their deep and heavenly meaning."


I can do anything better than anyone
fears; I'll feel
and steps; I'll take 'em
the other

mountains; I shall climb
with miles of smiles
the other

we are all together much more like ants
than whatever we think humans are
for with our persistent intrepidity we can lift ten times the load

but unless we all work together
we'll never ruin God's picnic
though we are getting pretty damn close

Destiny's Stepchild
I am Destiny's stepchild and I've been to Texas
a couple times

I only say no twice (should've been three)
which leads to yeah, yeah, yeah (yeah, yeah)

I'm no survivor
but lord, I'm still alive

in order to fly 
ever notice how busted airplane wings always look in the sky?
like they don't belong? at all

well if the plane goes down, noticing that won't change a thing
its like Stevie sings
don't you worry bout a wing

pretty mama, sometimes you have to let go of what belongs
in order to fly

for the birds
birds become bird flu
i miss you

caterpillars that never quite leave their cocoons
i miss you

words in the soil; plucked for fishing hooks; keep that bob above water, patient
i miss you

the best birds in our time only sorta flew
and while I truly do miss you

I still wake up, every morning, to sing

whatever works, even when it doesn't 
we wouldn't have Charlie Parker as we know it
without that unfortunate lapse
into sticky, sweet, seductive, SMACK
and I listen to Charlie Parker With Strings
every time I need to feel in love

so what I'm trying to mean
is stop being so judgmental about which route anyone takes
we drive our own damn cars and sometimes

not everyone is born with a Garmin GPS
not everyone is born with anything
not anyone is born with everything

getting lost is, in fact, the best way for some os us to truly read a map for the very first time

so blow your horn till your cheeks burst
and count whatever subdivision you feel would work
even if you splat and last week's garbage calls you trash
the hi-hat doesn't give a shit
tat-a-tat tat

we all have a different this
to arrive stylishly at that
but most of all, always remember
to really lay into that crash!

If you actually read this far, congratulations. If anyone has any tips for me on how to be a better poet let me know.

If anyone has any tips for me on how to be less strange, those are perhaps more encouraged.

thank you nobody. I've had a wonderful time writing this,
benjamin ryan williams

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My Ten Favorite Elliott Smith Songs

I'm sadly a late bloomer to the Elliott Smith fandom but I have to think this guy will be playing in whatever device I use to listen to music for years to come. He has such a gorgeous clarity to what makes him so unique; you know when it is his music from the way its recorded, written, and performed. 

Some things I like about Elliott's music:
-It always feel like a performance, not a recording 
-It is intimate, even if I can't relate to the subject matter, I can express empathy and expand my emotional range
-It is more complex chord and structure-wise than your traditional folk or pop arrangement 
-It is genuine; it is the result of happenstance; Elliott's self-discovery as a musician is here, in all its glory
-There is nothing pandering about it, at all
-The vocal melodies are certainly not what you would expect 

Though it would be arrogant to say that I think I have a good taste, I can be pretty sure in this respect that if you are not familiar with his music, you should check it out as soon as you get a second. It can be super powerful, and the following ten (10) songs are my favorite, so that might be a good place to start!

10. Ballad of Big Nothing
"Ballad of Big Nothing" is probably one of the more popular Elliott Smith songs, and I'd guess that's because compared to most of his catalogue, it is fairly upbeat with a rousing chorus. I think the reason I really like this song is because of that chorus; "you can do whatever you want to whenever you want to." Gotta love that nihilism! The way he plays the music reflects this attitude. This is a pretty carefree song that feels a little chaotic. Just in the right ways. 

9. Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands
In my conversations with people who don't know his music, there seems to be a pretty specific image of the music that Elliott Smith creates. "Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands" blows those doors wide open. This is one of his hardest rocking tunes; AWESOME backup vocals (which are an Elliott Smith staple). A very interesting chord progression with some fantastic guitar work; something I love about Elliott's music is that it always feels like a performance. 

8. St Ides Heaven
I won't come outright and say that I know exactly what he is talking about in this song. I won't. What a gorgeous melody. The vocal performance on this track compels it towards some really deep waters and it couldn't make me happier. That transient experience of being fully committed to precisely that specific moment in your life is really captured here. 

7. Punch And Judy 
A great tune about knowing you've stuck around a little bit too long, a feeling we are all too familiar with, being humans and all. I absolutely love drumbeat in the verse; sits so hard! Citizen Cope would be proud. And should cover this! 

6. I Didn't Understand
I love this song, and I put it on the list to show off the versatility in his music. This track definitely has a Beatles thing going on, but in true and familiar Elliott Smith fashion, it is much darker and bleaker. The arrangement is unbelievable; very rarely am I going to be a fan of an all vocal performance from a rock or folk musician, but he knocks this one out of the park. 

5. 2:45 AM
The first thing I love about this song is that there is a killer riff that keeps changing ever so slightly ever time. But I really like the message of the song; its about having a terrifying moment of clarity. This is why the riff keeps changing and the song eases its way into being more and more intense. Also, I have to believe this is the song that inspired the Matchbox 20 classic 3 AM. I musta be lonellllaaaaaay. 
4. Rose Parade 
The way these acoustic guitars are recorded and performed are insane. The panning is so clutch. This was the first Elliott Smith song I heard that made me "get it." It's a pretty sad song, lyrically, but it always gets me so pumped because its so good! Yet another beautiful example of how music can be intended to be received in any way and actually received in any other way. 

3. Alphabet Town
These are probably the most opaque lyrics I've encountered from him and will be fully honest in admitting to not knowing what the hell he is talking about here. Therein lay the beauty of this track; I can still feel the emotional energy from this recording as if its being expressed by someone I know right in front of me. The song is probably about a prostitute though. Don't underestimate how sad this harmonica line will make you. It is desolate.

2. Shooting Star
In my opinion the most sonically interesting Elliott Smith song out there. The recording feels chaotic and jumbled; lots and lots of tracks going all over the different ranges of the physical acoustic space the he created. There are weird kick drums everywhere. I love his disregard for keys in this tune. This song should have become a grunge classic. And the heartbreaking refrain "your love is sad, shooting star" is too much. 

1. Needle In The Hay
I don't believe a more intimate sounding recording exists out there; certainly not in my collection. "Needle In The Hay" feels like I'm not just peering into the soul of its composer; it feels like that soul conjoined with mine. Maybe this song is literally about heroin, but the emotional content expressed is so true and genuine that the content matters little. This is a haunting melody. And not haunting in the music journalist sense of the word. Haunting in the dead civil war soldier who killed himself in a lighthouse way. Yeah, that! Also, remember that scene where Luke Wilson tries to kill himself in The Royal Tenenbaums? That was this song making you feel those weird things! 

Tragically, Elliott Smith has been gone for almost 10 years. I never got the chance to meet Elliott, but I certainly am thankful for his contribution to our musical community. I participate in a community where a lot of people are out for a quick buck; or, in a way that disgusts me even more, out for fame or recognition. Elliott Smith didn't entertain either; he created music that shows effort, skill, empathy, and courage. 

Let's all live with effort, skill, empathy, and courage. And let's all get better at guitar, yeeeeeesh please,
Benjamin Ryan Williams