Broken Wagon

This one requires a little set up. It was 1987 and I was teaching programming classes at a company called PSDI in Cambridge, Mass, in the Boston area.

On the weekend I took a photo pilgramage trip to Lowell, Mass, birthplace of Jack Kerouac. I saw his inspiration for Dr. Sax, and just what it would have been like growing up there. But while crossing a bridge over the Merrimac, near an old mill, I saw a Radio Flyer Wagon, frozen in solid ice on the river.

For me, that was the image that has always stuck with me regarding Lowell.

Kerouac (and my father born in the same year a month apart) would have turned 100. I’m glad to see there were quite a few mentions of this anniversary.

Last night
Last flight
Radio Flyer
Solid Ice

Merrimac
Lowell Mass
Mill Town
Ti Jean

12 Stations
Oblations
Dr. Sax
Notations

Dharma Bums
On The Road
Vue Girard
Very Odd

1914 Ghost Bridge

While I can’t make any sense of this Russian Invasion (or any other war), I can at least think about my parents and grandparents who were part of the two World Wars. My grandfather fought for the Germans in WWI – but was a pacifist and refused to shoot and kill anyone. My father landed on the beach in Normandy in WWII fighting for the Americans, and was in ordinance fixing tanks and jeeps and whatnot. By the time Vietnam rolled around I just missed the draft by a couple of years. My father said he’d move us to Canada if he had to to avoid another senseless war.

You laid in your foxhole
You couldn't hurt a fly
Grandpa Dearest
You're a hero of mine

No country too big
To take another's life
You lived and let live
The Teachings of Christ

Ghosts of that war
Have come back to haunt
The bridge in the valley
What the enemy wants

Chorus

1914 Ghost Bridge
Just over the hill
The enemy advances
Against our will

Le ROI Est Mort

The King is Dead 
He won't be missed
Let's dance on his grave

Born unto privilege
Died deep in debt
He couldn't be saved

Only a mortal
Choked during dinner
On his silver spoon

Rushed to the doctor
It was too late
For fat old King Buffoon

Chorus
Justice ain't just
But Karma sure is
Our Wannabe King
Has bitten the dust

in a nutshell

  • All kings die, eventually
  • Dictators and kings never last long
  • Its amazing how much damage, pain and suffering one human can inflict

discussion

It’s an age old song, sung through the years. Few countries seem to have avoided the king syndrome where one (it’s almost always a white male – certainly male anyway) rises up, then falls.

theme

The rise and fall of kings, tyrants and dictators.

conclusion

And this too shall pass

Weaklings

There may be many anti war protest songs, but one thing that is clear is that the aggressor is usually afraid of something. The US in Vietnam was afraid of Communism, Bush was afraid of what 9/11 looked like – so he went after a bad guy – but a guy who had nothing to do with 9/11.

Putin must be afraid of his weak economy – smaller than Italy’s, and also in large part he’s to blame. Besides Vodka, AK-47’s, Oil and Gas what goods or services does Russia export? Not much at all.

Russians are smart – their repressive Government is not. They hold their people and economy down. War won’t fix anything. The Common People in Russia (like the US have been lied to and cheated for centuries). The US at least allows discourse, pushback and protest, (although the GOP under Trump would much rather follow their “Dear Leaders” authoritarian leader examples). Yes, it CAN happen in the US!

Only weaklings start wars
Inhuman monsters they are
Broken dreams, stolen lives
Only weaklings start wars

Only weaklings start wars
Pure evil we can't understand
There's a place in hell for them
Only weaklings start wars

Ode to Emperor Norton I

I need to re-record the Cello and use it as a bass – no bowing and use a high pass filter to get rid of the low frequency boom.

Born in Kent
Of London town
San Francisco's
Royal Clown

Colorful 9er
Wealthy man
Speculator
Lost all he had

Made decrees
Rattled a sabre
Gentle sort
Beloved neighbor

Some say mad
Some say smart
Entertainer
Played his part

Had a vision
Tunnel and bridge
Other things
Seemed unhinged

Eccentric yes
Crazy no
Endearing man
Fantastic show

Chorus
Emperor Norton
49er
League of Nations
Brilliant designer

in a nutshell

  • Emperor Norton I is a beloved San Francisco legend
  • He earned and lost a fortune gambling on the price of rice
  • He was eccentric, not sure if was crazy
  • He had several ideas way ahead of his time like The League of Nations and the Bay Bridge

discussion

Everyone has probably heard the story of Emperor Norton I. I’m curious as to why he didn’t get back into business. He did enjoy life in SF as a celebrity. Maybe he had a breakdown or just enjoyed his “act”?

I didn’t sing the chorus – it didn’t fit as well as I had expected. I’ll keep trying to sing – maybe even take lessons. I’m finding that even just “roughing it out” with my vocals I get a better idea of how to arrange and orchestrate the song. In my dreams, someone would take my songs and play them live.

theme

San Francisco Legends

conclusion

The more I research eccentrics, the more I love them. They are the most human of humans in my book. Let your freak flag fly!

Radio Poseur

I am loving writing songs that are stories about American Oddballs . . . .

Lee de Forest
Radio huckster
Circuit breaker
Legal mucker

Copycat maker
Legal loser
Copyright faker
Self promoter

Made the triode
Accidental hacker
Tweaked a diode
Radio Quacker

Opportunist
Co-operator
Minor player
Grand parader

Some folk do
While Others talk
Some skip steps
But doers walk

Let us raise
Our glasses high
For the doers
On Radio KRY

Chorus
Radio Quacker
Self promoter
Legal mucker
Radio poseur

in a nutshell

  • Lee deForest accidentally invented the Triode – adding a grid to Fessenden’s invention
  • If he wasn’t so boastful and litigious he would not have lost so much money and reputation
  • He tried to Shanghai others patents – and spent too much time in legal battles
  • He totally screwed over Major Edwin Armstrong – a true inventor hero like Tesla
  • “Empire of the Air” painted him in a terrible light – darker than most history books do
  • Even Radio KRY gets in on the fun!

discussion

One of my favorite tech books and documentaries is “Empire of the Air”, which is about the invention of radio. Two characters emerged that I did not care for – Lee deForest (Larry Bud Melmans great uncle) and David Sarnoff – president of NBC. These guys were not portrayed in a flattering way in that documentary – you should watch it or read the book – its fascinating.

In many ways, deForest is / was very similar to Donald Trump – a narcissistic opportunist big mouth – who would have done much better keeping their big traps shut and staying away from so many lawsuits. These guys were their own worst enemies – they drew attention to themselves that achieved exactly the opposite of what they set out to achieve – and like deForest, Trump will be seen as just another crazy American character that was more myth than legend. Flying under the radar for these guys would have kept their myth alive as a legend. It would have been great for their ego . . .

theme

American inventor who crossed a bridge too far – like Mary Trumps book “Too Much and Never Enough”. A classic age old tale.

conclusion

I would have believed that he was a great inventor and father of radio – but when you read about Armstrong, Marconi, Chandra Bose, Fessenden, Maxwell and many others – deForest comes across in a very negative light. HOWEVER – I loved his great nephew, Calvert deForest, aka “Larry Bud Melman” on the David Letterman Show. Calvert was a comedy hero for sure!

Art Song: Schubert’s Erlkonig

I’ve been writing lyrics that have been closer to poetry than what is usual for a 3 minute pop song.

I had been wondering about the sequence of writing lyrics first or music first. Many times if I write them independent of each other, I will fit the lyrics to the music and that always means chopping what was a poem into smaller phrases so they fit.

I accidentally stumbled on a book called Art Song by Carrol Kimble and I now have a reference. I then stumbled on Shubert’s music set to Goethe’s poem about a father who is transporting his son by horse and where the child is delusional and thinks an elf king is following him and sucking the life out of him. The boy is dead by the time they reach the farm house. I feel that the child had delusions due to a dangerously high fever.

Now that is totally German – a la Grimm and others. Back then, the child mortality rate was high, and since most people were farmers, they had big families. I have done genealogy going back to 1500 on both sides of the family so I know this was the case in my own family.

I have to say I can really see where I get my “gothic” tendencies from, since my father was from Stuttgart. However, it’s tempered by my mother’s British side, so in my mind, gothic stories become a lot more like Monty Python’s Holy Grail. But I digress.

Now, the Art Song is a form that I love and is kind of like a mini opera, and I really like it. It feels like the forerunner to the 3 minute pop song, but is far more musical and far more literate.

Some of my favorite lyrics are from R.E.M and 10,000 Maniacs, but better yet, The Decemberists. In fact, now I totally see where Colin Melloy got his ideas from – especially his magnum opus “The Hazards of Love”. I like “The Crane Wife” more, but I very much appreciate the attempt. My favorite Decemberists album is “The King is Dead” followed by their first three albums, but I digress.

Prog rock and the rock opera tries to be the modern pop version of Art Song, but I think it doesn’t do the art form very well. When you listen to just piano and a singer do an art song, it’s quite the amazing experience. It’s just long enough to tell an interesting story without the long drawn out miasme that is opera.

I’ve never liked opera much, although I respect it – but this Art Song genre is my idea of the best of what opera could be. Maybe it’s “opera for the short attention span commoners?”. If so, I’m in.

Ode to Arthur Fellig

Here is the song on the Volt 276 with EQ and effects:

And here it is on the Volt 276 without EQ or effects (but with its onboard “vintage” mode):

They called him Weegee
The name of his game
Was Street Photography
You really should see it

High society
Gala affairs
Scandal sheets
Devil may care

Lowbrow Bowery
Gypsies, Tramps and thieves
Real life captured
Beyond belief

Fact or fiction
Is it really real
Scenes on film
History sealed

Another era
Another time
The fleeting moment
So sublime

Life is just
Imitation of art
We are characters
In a play with a part

Chorus
New York City
Late Night scenes
Real life
Humanity

in a nutshell

  • Weegee was one of the most iconic American photographers
  • He had an eye for reportage with a very humanistic approach
  • His reportage also was quite an artistic expression

discussion

New York City has always been intense and the stories told there are legendary. People from all over the world have moved there. It is a global melting pot and always has been. Weegee was one of many extraordinary characters. His photography and cinematic work inspired many others. His photographs grace all of the photo art books.

theme

Art and life can many times and many ways be one in the same. Humanistic photography is many times not too pretty looking, but it is real. At first it can even be shocking, but then the humanity oozes out. Weegee was a master at this.

conclusion

I’m finding that writing lyrics and music about quirky American historical characters is great fun. All seem a bit wacky at first glance, then you see the humanity in their souls and they become unlikely folk heroes.

Ode to Carrie A. Nation

This was done on the SSL2 interface – with EQ and effects:

Here is the song using the SSL2 interface with no EQ or Effects:

She stood about 6 feet tall
She had an axe to grind
Smashing bottles in public houses
Tried to save mankind

She had rocks and called them smashers
She threw them at pubs and bars
Yelling "Repent ye soul destroyers!"
Marched on to Kiowa

Womans Christian Temperance Union
Home Defenders Army
Led the life of Anti Hero
Never the life of the party

Chorus
Hatchet Granny
Was her name
Smashing bottles
Was her game

in a nutshell

  • Its Mardi Gras
  • Its Woman’s History Month
  • The origin of Battle Axe is from Carrie A. Nations “passion”
  • I was looking up battle axe because that’s what we called my third grade teacher

discussion

By sheer coincidence I stumbled on the story of Mrs. Carrie A. Nation while looking up the origin of the term “Battle Axe”. The fact that today is the first day of Woman’s History Month makes this even funnier. Last weekend I thought about Mrs. Ford – my third grade teacher whom we called an old battle axe.

At first I thought “what a kook”, then I had some empathy for her. She lost her first husband, A young handsome doctor to alcoholism, and it’s obvious that set her off for life. She did have a history of mental illness in her family, so there’s that possibility, but she is one interesting lady.

theme

The origin of the word battle axe and this fascinating woman’s life.

conclusion

I love weirdos and eccentrics

Its Time to KRY

The sound of pathos
On Radio KRY
Where empathy sheds
A tear stained eye

The sound of care
For those in need
Radio KRY
A dying breed

In old days
When people cared
No need to KRY
No need for fear

It used to be
We got along
On Radio KRY
We play your songs

Hate is in
Love dismissed
On Radio KRY
We Persist

We're holding out
For better times
We still have hope
On Radio KRY

Chorus
Yes we care
We're hear for you
On Radio KRY
Love still rules

in a nutshell

  • Another KRY song. Why not?
  • First real mix I’ve ever done – where I thought about the mix even during the recording session, and even checked the mics

discussion

This song is more about the mix, but with a humorous ongoing drone of Radio KRY.

This is the first song written knowing the new mixing procedure – and using the Avantone Mixcube from the start – instead of going back and fixing stuff. I also did try two different mic sets on guitar and cello – and it seems that all mic combos are fine – its more about the mono mix that ensures the mix will be great.

Shure SM-57 and SE7 in X-Y position
NT1A and SE7 at the cone – paper junction

theme

Radio KRY cares about You the valued listener!

conclusion

The mono mix process using the Avantone Mixcube and then checking the stereo mix using the Yamaha HS-5’s is killer and a serious breakthrough for me