Archive for July, 2003

Column 7 – Part 2

What I think of when I mention Chris

To describe Chris in one word, he is dedicated. On all of his breaks at work he is playing guitar, writing lyrics, or doing some promotional research for his band. He loves it, and it shows. He wants to know where to improve. That desire to take criticism and grow is indispensable in any artistic venture.

It doesn’t seem to me that his other band mates care nearly as much about anything but playing. They must feel like getting out there to make it is just something that falls into your lap. Or maybe they know he’ll do the legwork, and don’t do any themselves. So UC’s success is determined greatly in part of his efforts.

The next day at work

Sure enough, he came up to me the next morning, excitedly thanking me for coming and asking, “So what did you think of the show last night?”

“We had all had a good time” I said courtly, and kind of left it at that. Which we did. It was good to get out and see everyone, and I liked supporting Chris and what he was doing. I really respect him for his dedication, I don’t find that often in people.

He seemed satisfied with that answer and went back out to the shop. But it was only momentarily, because about fifteen minutes later he came back in and dropped the bomb on me.

“I know you might not want to think about it, but if you have the time, I would really like to hear what you specifically thought about the show. To hear an artists point of view, I think might be really helpful, whether UC uses the advice or not.”

“I don’t really think I’m in the position to critique you, you know? I don’t really know anything about music and that sort of thing.” And I didn’t, I can’t advise him, I know nothing about how to write or play music. The closest I come to making music is after a half a case of Smirnoff ice and a carton of Kraft Shells and cheese.

“Well, just a regular person’s opinion, you know.”

“Yeah, ok” I agreed, convinced momentarily that my opinion was worthwhile.

What a loaded question

He left the weight with me, and went out to the shop. He didn’t know how it consumed me for the whole next two hours, and I could barely concentrate on my digging for sales information on the web.

I prayed that God wouldn’t let my overly negative side come out and tried to think of how to explain to him what I thought, in positive and constructive terms.

I took him out to my car at break and we listened to the new Linkin Park cd, Meteora. “I can’t stop listening to this album.” I started. “ It is the most solid album from track one to track thirteen that I have ever heard. People think that they are on the tail end of this rap fusion movement thing, but they’re wrong. They have these rich beats and have a different sound that is complemented by Chester Benningham’s rough, raspy, painfully powerful vocals with the monotone vocals by their emcee, Mike Shinoda.” Chris didn’t know who I was talking about so I added, “You know, the Asian guy.” He kind of nodded as he followed where I was going, acknowledging that I was sort of talking his language. “They’re pushing the bill and they cannot be classified in a genre.”

(Many of you might think I don’t actually talk like that, but I do, so nyah.)

“But the track I love the most is track twelve. You know why?” as I deftly maneuvered the track stereo buttons, “It has NO lyrics.”

I made eye contact with him and gestured an axing motion with my hand, “They have no singing in the song. It is like this evolution of beats weaved with a techno sound that builds to a total climax. You know what I mean? The beats move into each other” as I gave an ocean wave kind of motion with my hand. I don’t think he understood my emotion for the song, but he got the jist.

“It evolves their sound just a little from what worked on their first album, but at the same time it stands out, and I love that.”

I reiterated the positive

“I really liked your energy as a band,” I told him, the same thought I had last night, “And I respect that because for such a small crowd, that is hard. But in the same vein, I didn’t find you all that accessible musically. You gotta think about that first time listener and how they will react. I noticed some guys screwing around down front that probably know all your music, but you have to think from a new listener’s perspective and not just play for the old ones.”

I continued, uninterrupted, “I also just feel like you need something. I can’t tell you just what, but for an artist, you need that ‘thing’. For example, when you guys did your solos. The bass guitarist in particular, didn’t stick with one beat. I mean, we know you guys can frickin’ play, we aren’t stupid. It was like you were just practicing on stage. Do something different. Take the solos and do like a melodic song, different guys leading into each other, kind of like that Linkin Park song. It didn’t need lyrics to stand on its own. Blend the bassist into the drummer after he starts. The bass guitar is kind of like the drums of the guitars, if that makes any sense.”

Not to hit you over the head, but the point I was trying to make was, that they needed to stand out from every other local band.

Tools of the Artist

To make your mark and stand out as an artist, you need to possess three characteristics.

You need talent. Chris and UC have that.

You need drive, and they have that as well.

You also need a little luck. Meaning, you need to just be good naturally. It has to be in you. No matter how much you practice, you just have it. You have something that no one else could have, even if they did the exact same amount of work as you.

I am not convinced they had that. They came out and played, and never once did I think anything but, “They’re not bad for a local band.” They wore typical clothing, and sang songs that didn’t stand out in my mind, mostly because I couldn’t even understand Chris when he sang.

I generally don’t go for shock value, but at the very least they could standout by wearing the t-shirts Chris produced. Get some buzz among your listeners. What is it about your show that they have to absolutely tell all of their friends about. Also, it would convey group cohesiveness, and they would solidify their name or “brand” to those first timer listeners, if they didn’t pick it out through garbled speak. Either way, they needed something.

Or go the other way and do the catchy thing. People love catchy songs. Bands on the radio don’t necessarily have talent, but they market something catchy that the masses can sing along to. And hopefully, if your band is smart, you will use that as a springboard to write good songs now that you have people’s attention.

An example; Nineteen Wheels. They redid this song, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet” and it got some serious air play. They are a local band, but they play locally all across Michigan, and I have been to see two of their concerts in Ann Arbor. Anyone can sing along to that fun song. I don’t really even like live music and the sweaty expensive atmosphere, but I have been to them twice! My friends and I just love that remake.

I don’t think it came off right

But I know if I made my point clear, and even though I prayed about him and his feelings, I am sure I did more bad than good, and I feel bad. It is easier to concentrate on the bad, as I have mentioned before.

But disregard all that I said

In the end, no one can really tell you what you need. That is the last component of an artist. You need to know when you are right, and follow your heart.

I am just one unimportant opinion of many. Lots of people care about lyrics, and experimental music, and scoff at any catchy mainstream radio or shock value gimmick. You just need to listen to your heart. You need show people what is good, make them know it is good.

And, if you win the respect of other people for what you are doing with your artistic ventures, you’ll always have those people to back you up.

Respect is not something that fades as quickly as a band with a great freshman album and a piss poor sophomore effort. Chris’ band might not be as big as Linkin Park for me, but I don’t know Linkin Park. I do know Chris, and he is working hard at making it big. He balances a wonderful family, three kids and one more on the way, a fulltime job with regular hours and his band, which he lives all the time in between. I know I can’t say that I am ALWAYS doing something to further my art.

This is a recycled thought, and might sound cheesy, but it is true. Anyone who sees him and his passion knows like I do, that he is following his heart and not listening to everyone else. UC deserves to make it, and all of us who went to their concerts are going to be there, waiting to say, “… I knew him when.”


Column 7 – Part 1

Don’t sincerely ask me, if you aren’t prepared for my sincere reply.

“You need to get out more” Sara, my co worker, judicially brings to my attention last week. “All you ever do is sit at home in front of your computer”

“That’s not true. I …” but I stopped, realizing that the observation was partially true.

Most of you know my wife, Sarah and that we do stay in a lot. That is mainly in part to how I feel about paying off our college loans, and everything you do, kind of costs money. (PS, I just paid off my mine, thank you, thank you. I am very proud.)

I’m an artist, she’s a teacher. What’s more, she teaches in a parochial school. It’s like we looked at the bag full of high paying careers and said, “No sir, not for me. I’ll take a lifetime of struggle over wine and cheese for breakfast any day.” Besides, we don’t really have many friends left in the area. I have two in Grand Haven, and we have one couple we occasionally hang with here in Grand Rapids.

Wanna see us play? Doya Doya?

My coworker Chris approached me last Monday, “Hey,.. so my band will be playing at the Blue Note in Muskegon on Wednesday. I know it not exactly close, but, you should go”.

This sparked my usual penny pinching internal debate. I could spend money on gas, money to get in to the Blue Note (BN) and have at least one drink, and who only wants to stop at one? Or, I could sit at home and play the, “Watch-my-butt-chunk-multiply” game and not spend anything.

I was trying to find other reasons why we should make the trip, other then the main one that we wouldn’t be around after August to see him play again. The bottomless pit of never-ending headaches that is my transportation needed some more of my attention. A body repair I had done in January while still living in Grand Haven, specifically the molding, was pulling away from the passenger side door. If it wasn’t bad enough that you can’t count on people to do something right the first time, I had to zip over at blinding speeds right after work because the repair shop was only open till five, and not on Saturdays, no exceptions. Not even for botched repair jobs.

So, we went…

The hammer was dropped, the decision made, off to the dust speck of a town that is Grand Haven. We took care of my car and we hocked some food at my parent’s house since we saw hers for the fourth.

After dinner, I gave the two friends I had left in Grand Haven a call to see if they wanted to go with us to Muskegon and see Chris’ band play, have a drink, and catch up.

“I don’t know about bands, they seem like the sinful work of the devil” one friend said. “But you can drink copious amounts of cheap beer” I countered and this seemed to appease their conscience, or drown it out in ale. In the end, both wanted to come and the party was started.

(The band does have a name, Unknown Common. Don’t ask me what that means, cause I will give you that stupid look you give when you ate the last breadstick at dinner, that was actually supposed to be your sisters. I will be referring to the band as “UC” from here on out.)

After taking the back way to the BN, which involved going four miles too far north and then touring the exotic and tropical “suburban” environment of the typical living and breathing muskegonite, we still made it there fifteen minutes early. However, our overly prompt arrival worked to our advantage. The BN must have a loser policy. If you are stupid enough to come out to a bar at 9:30 on a Wednesday night, we won’t make you pay to get in. So, no cover, which means, more drinky drinky.

Beer tastes real good with music

UC got on right at ten like Chris promised, and we stayed until the end of their set.

We had a good time. Miller Lite pitchers were cuatro dollares, and the toothpicks were free, oh yeah.

Even Sarah had “At least one whole mug” which at the BN, is about half the size of a normal stein, and three quarters the size of her stomach. I knew it wouldn’t be long before her increased giggle ratio at my retarded jokes would be followed by a tummy ache. Translation, this is Sarah’s dainty girl way of saying big greasy flatulence.

Laughter was as prevalent as the beer. Megan brought along her culprit in crime, conveniently named Sara. (I know a lot of Sara’s) Picture Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, but more female and definitely more funny and you will get an idea of their interaction.

For example, I felt the thumping of redundant pop music at Rush Street, a small Muskegon dance club next door. “Hey, we should poke our heads in next door.” I suggested with a collegiate nostalgia in my eye.

“Oh, Totally.” Megan said with a giggle.

“But it’s a Wednesday and it’s dead in there. We have to come back sometime on the weekend, on a Friday night.” Sara added with an evil smile, as they kind of bumped shoulders and laughed in agreement.

“Why” Carl asked in disbelief that it wouldn’t be even worth it then.

“It’s funny. It’s all of these 18 year olds…”

“Hormones!” Sara burst out mid sentence, and their giggles turned into strong gusts of laughter.

“They’re all hooched out.” Megan continued, and as her tongue met the roof of her mouth to annunciate the end of “out” when we saw Sara angle her hips down and back, her thighs gave way as her elbows met above her head, her arms together and she did that unequilateral booty twist, “Shake what your momma gave ya” she demonstrated with a little groovy attitude.

Megan joined in, and I about cried laughing as the Flintstone girls were doing something like the Bedrock rumble, but with a lot more ass.

But not to get to get too far off track into demonstrations of the raging hormonal teenage lifestyle.

The concert starts

Chris came up to the mike and said something in garbled live band speak. I made out some comment about the name of his band, and the name of their opening song. I turned back around to the rest of the group to translate.

“What’s their name?” Megan shouted over a blaring guitar riff.

“Unknown Common” I roared, leaning into Megan so she could hear me over the blasting system.

That set the conversational standard for the rest of the night. We shouted to communicate and the drinking didn’t help our comprehension.

Sara pointed out with Pride, “I came here when Warrant played.”

“She’s my cherrrieeee pieeee!” I screeched out, playing my air guitar and wrinkling my nose.

“Yeah, and even they played some covers.” She added as we paused in reflection midway through the opening song.

“I would like to hear a local band play good covers, badly, more then I would like to hear them play their own music”, someone else added.

“They’re kind of shouty. Its like, they’re trying to sound like Metallica. Listen. Their riffs seem to be going some where, but never quite make it there.” someone else added.

We sat in silence for a little bit and then someone else added,

“You know when a band has it. I mean, I might listen to a type of music, blues, rap, whatever, and even though it might not be my musical preference, I still know whether it is good music or not. I am not feelin’ it here with these guys. You know, that special something.”

Someone else agreed and then I added, “But you know, it is really hard to play such a small crowd.”

“It is really hard for local bands, to play these little venues, just trying to get noticed.” Megan added.

That comment got me thinking. They probably didn’t own any of the equipment, the venue probably didn’t have the best speakers and mikes, and the sound in the building probably wasn’t designed for bands, but instead for drunken men to sound sexy to drunken women.

It is. It’s really tough to get noticed under such extreme circumstances. I added, “You have to give them props about their energy, and they look like they are having fun, and that’s all that matters.”

That got a murmur of agreement. I poured a mug of frothy disillusionment, finishing off the pitcher. Sara quickly hopped up to take on the next round.

One of the reasons that I hesitated going to the concert was that I know Chris, and I knew that he would want some feedback when I saw him at work the next day. At the very least, he would ask about the show and if we had fun.

Continue to Part 2…..