Eleutheria (Song for the Next Fifty Years)

November 4th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

My dad is dying tonight.  

I’m in Ann Arbor, Michigan and he’s in Green Bay, Wisconsin and he’s dying and there’s nothing I can do about it.  I saw him a few weeks ago and made a real good connection.

I love him.  Him.  Joseph Thomas Bilich.  Born in 1933.  Grew up in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania.  Great Musician.  Husband.  Father of my two brothers and two sisters and myself.  A good man.

And I don’t want to write your obituary while you’re still with us but pretty soon, this week, next week, you’re going to be dead and it’s going to hit me like an iron fist and it’s going to take me years before I collect myself enough to do you justice in music.

Now, this is odd.  Really odd.  I started writing this piece about my dad because my actual project for tonight was to post a pod to theWheel about a song called The Immigrant, which is about my grandfather – my dad’s dad’s life story.  And it felt odd to be celebrating my grandfather, who I never met, while my dad lies in what is very possibly his death bed in Wisconsin right now.

And then I remembered.  I wrote a piece of music for my dad’s 50th birthday back in 1983.  I guess I turned 26 that year, and I remember I wanted to do something special for my dad’s 50th and I wrote – well, wrote is not really the word, I was not much of a notator – but anyhow, I composed a piece of music that was actually somewhat beyond my capacity to grok in fullness.  It was a piece inspired by the music my father brought into my life, which was in large part the music of the Balkan peninsula.  I had heard this music all my life, but found it more necessary to come to terms with the American music of my immediate experience.

So I didn’t have a great grasp on what I was trying to accomplish.  Just my ears and my heart and an immature composer’s technique.  I just barely hung on.

But it’s beautiful.  And there’s a whole ‘nuther story about this piece of music – two stories actually, but tonight I remember I called it “Eleutheria” – ancient Greek for liberty or freedom – and subtitled it (Song for the Next Fifty Years).  I think I meant, “may you live another fifty years, as majestic as this music.”  And you know, he made it for thirty-four plus more years, which is a pretty damn good ride for a human of our century.

I love you Dad.  Joe.  My father. My friend.

Here it is.

Time Vanished (Before I Knew It)

November 2nd, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve been writing songs to David A. Mason’s lyrics since 2006.  Dave and I were both founding members of the Lunar Glee Club back in 1983, but the Lunar Glee Club didn’t sing so we didn’t write songs back then.

Now we do.

 

 

In fact, we have a whole bunch of really good ones to share, and it’s a bit hard to pick just one to share with you today.  But it’s not that hard, because “Time Vanished (Before I Knew It)” is such a good example of everything that works in this collaboration.

Dave and I get together most Monday nights.  Sometimes we work on various unfinished stuff. Sometimes we get a good start on a song and then have to really grind it out to the finish line.  Sometimes it takes months or years.  Yes, I do contribute to the words sometimes, and of course Dave is a wise and inspired musician who does not hesitate to help me with musical matters.  But, for the most part in this collaboration Dave brings me lyrics and I set them to music.

That’s what happened with Time Vanished (Before I Knew It).  Dave brought it in pretty much exactly as you will hear it, and this one just wrote itself.  Sometimes they write themselves.  I have an intuition about whether I should pick up a guitar or sit at the piano or whatever, and then they just spill out.

This one just spilled out.

 

Here’s the lyric:

 

TIME VANISHED (BEFORE I KNEW IT)

 

I BOUGHT MYSELF A BLUE GLASS BOWL

I FILLED IT UP WITH OCEANS

SPUN IT – LIKE A ROULETTE WHEEL

JUST ROLLIN’ THROUGH THE MOTIONS

 

I BOUGHT MYSELF A BIG GLASS HOUSE

I FILLED IT UP WITH STONES

PEOPLE CAME FROM MILES AWAY

JUST TO SMASH IT DOWN WITH BONES

 

I BOUGHT MYSELF A CLEAR GLASS CLOCK

JUST TO WATCH THE TIME PASS THROUGH IT

THE HANDS WERE QUICKER THAN MY EYE

SEEMED LIKE THERE WAS NOTHIN’ TO IT

AND THEN TIME VANISHED – BEFORE I KNEW IT

 

BEFORE I KNEW IT

 

TIME VANISHED

 

I TRIED TO GO BACK TO THE PAST

BUT THE FUTURE BROUGHT ME HERE

I THINK THAT I’M IN NOW AGAIN

SO DISTANT THAT IT’S NEAR­

 

HOW DID I THINK THIS WHEEL WOULD ROLL

THIS SWAPPING TIME AROUND

HOLD THE LINE WITH ONE HAND CLAPPING

BLINDED BY THE SOUND

 

I BOUGHT MYSELF A CLEAR GLASS CLOCK

JUST TO WATCH THE TIME PASS THROUGH IT

BUT THE HANDS WERE QUICKER THAN MY EYE

LIKE THERE WAS NOTHIN’ TO IT

AND THEN TIME VANISHED – BEFORE I KNEW IT

 

BEFORE I KNEW IT

TIME VANISHED

BEFORE I KNEW IT

TIME VANISHED

BEFORE I KNEW IT

 

 

Slomped

April 2nd, 2013 § Comments Off on Slomped § permalink

DB

Driving the bus.  4 minutes down on my third trip of the day.  The 4th trip at 8:30 can be crazy on a Tuesday.  All the kids go to their Tuesday classes, I guess.  I say to myself, “I better pick up these 4 minutes or I’m going to get slomped.”

“Slomped.”  Where did that come from?  I thought about it for a few seconds and figured it must have been some kind of a synthesizing double elision between “slammed” and “stomped”.  I thought about John Lennon’s advice to George Harrison about finding the right word for a lyric – “you just keep saying the line over and over and saying whatever comes to mind in the empty place.”

Something in the way she moves

Attracts me like a rutabega

 

I thought of Pete Maravich’s game when no one, least of all Pistol Pete, knew what physical genius was about to instantiate.

Stevie Wonder’s melisma.  Charlie Parker’s phrasing.

And then I thought, “hey, I bet my elision was actually between ‘slammed’ and ‘swamped’.”  I hadn’t even had immediate access to my own thought processes in retrospect.

Take a flyer.

Trust the universes to provide for the completion of the gesture.

Embark upon the worthy gesture at a moments notice.

Here lies Genius.

 

 

Ain’t Misbehavin’

December 9th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Nothing much to say here, but check it out…

So Get Rid of the Saxophone

October 19th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

theOwl

In the course of reading various books on theatrical directing, I found my way to Harold Clurman’s On Directing.  Now, I am interested in the theater, but I always find myself, perhaps inevitably, considering any thoughts I have concerning the theater as potentially applicable to my various musical endeavors.  So it is with Clurman’s book.  At the beginning of Chapter 7 – The Director’s Work Script – the author has this to say:

Having read the script six or more times and decided what the play’s main action or spine is, the director would then do well to study the play in still another way.  He should read all the parts separately as if he himself were going to act each of them. This will help him find the spines of the chief motivating action for each character. The character’s spine must be conceived as emerging from the play’s main action.  Where such a relation is not evident or non-existent, the character performs no function in the play.  There is no basis for a true characterization unless the character’s prime motivation or spine is found.

Hmmm…this seems to be a particularly fertile metaphor for choices one makes in arranging and orchestrating music.

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Piece of My Heart

September 28th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

theOwl

Janis Joplin sings Piece of My Heart

And again, with slightly cleaner sound, in Germany:

What a song. (By the way, read this Wikipedia article about songwriter Bert Berns.) What a singer. What a singer for this song. Piece of My Heart was always my favorite of Janis Joplin’s recordings. She just takes this thing – of course I’m talking about the chorus – through the roof.  And what is it about this chorus, anyway? Well, there’s a build up the the chorus that eventually grows on a dominant chord for a full three bars before breaking into “Come on – take another little piece of my heart”. (Oh yeah – about Bert Berns – he also wrote Twist and Shout, another pop song that sits on the V chord for a week before breaking into a I IV V chorus with great backing vocals…)  The horn stabs on the back beats. The ascending backing vocals that lead up to Janis’ “Take another little piece…” Eventually it stops on the IV chord – “You know you’ve got it…” and then actually quiets down for the verses.

It’s always interesting for me to speculate on whether a song embodies some Platonic ideal – whether a perfectly realized arrangement and performance is implicit in a song. Something about the Janis Joplin/Big Brother and the Holding Company arrangement – just the vibe of the thing – is transcendent.  The singer meets the song and magic happens.

It isn’t even about how it sounds – the above recordings leave a lot to be desired. It’s just that Janis Joplin hops on this thing and takes a ride.

God bless you, Janis.

By the way, here’s audio of the original release of Piece of My Heart, recorded by Erma Franklin in 1967. I’d like to see/hear Erma Franklin doing this one live.

(Again on Bert Berns – the Isley Brothers cut Twist and Shout first (oops, second – The Top Notes were first in 1961) – and yet it’s the Beatles version and John Lennon’s vocal that will forever be the recording.)

Beethoven in Color

September 13th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

theOwl

The Internet is great.  Basically, what we have here is a graphical (not notated) score of the Allegro from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony scrolling by while you listen to a recording of the music.  There are a bunch of these. Best to watch/listen in full screen.

I first ran across this stuff at The Daily Dish...

Deadline

July 12th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

theOwl

From The Daily Dish. This one is worth sharing, and very much cleverer than the average art school project…

Bravo.

By the way, the music, which I like even though techno pop is generally not my cup of tea, is by Royksopp.  Here’s a link to the video page at their site.

So…I went and looked and listened around.  Truly the video is more interesting than the music.  In the Deadline piece, they at least had a harmonic change thrown in at one point.  A lot of the music just repeats the same thing over and over and over…

There is a problem implicit in using too many primitive 21st century thinking machines while writing music.  The music gets locked in as code in an embryonic 21st century computer, and never has a chance to self-organize in the mature technological environment of the human bio-computer – which, after all, has been evolving for thousands, nay – millions of generations (if you count apes and early mammals and reptiles and whatever else we’ve evolved from all the way back to the most primitive self-organized nervous systems…)

Oh well.

(Updated a couple of times 7.12.09)

Brilliance

July 6th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

theOwl

I couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to write about at theWheel tonight, so I sat back down at the piano to dink around with my current top musical project.

I was working on – playing with – a setting of one of Arnold Lobel’s FABLES, The Baboon’s Umbrella, when Karen got out of bed and walked out to the piano in the living room to tell me how nice it sounded.  This does not happen every day.  She told me how she hears me playing so much that I become musical wallpaper, but she noticed this one tonight.

This compliment made my day – and it was a very good day – not so easy to put a topper on it.  This afternoon was my daughter’s birthday party with lots of family.  Then, earlier this evening, down to campus and Top of the Park to hear George Bedard and the Kingpins, a trio I used to play bass with back in the day, absolutely at the top of their game.  Great blues based roots rock and roll music.  Beautiful night – mid seventies – all of Ann Arbor out to celebrate summer.

Townies.

Of course, I did not record whatever it was that I played that Karen thought was so nice, and somehow the effortless flow has not returned to me since.  There is some kind of magic that happens sometimes, when I forget I’m playing music and just play – essentially idly goofing around in the space of some worthy musical attractor.

Is it more natural to play music brilliantly when said brilliance is not seen by the player to be that big of a deal?

Yes.

Pump It Up

April 5th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

theOwl

Music composition is many things.  I’ve looked at the process holistically here at theWheel on a couple of occasions.

Here’s a linear take.

Music composition is like a stream of  water flowing from a hose down a dry driveway.  Watch the little stream fall into a crack – flow north – oops, that’s all full – there’s a pool forming – will it break through? oh – there’s another pool at the same time…  One of these pools is eventually going to overflow in a way that enables the water to find its way to that clear channel there that will certainly reach all the way to the curb.

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