Thursday, May 20, 2010

Truth In Art

I recently read a blog (and I apologize that I forgot which one out of the million, or so, I've looked at lately) on which the author recounted a story involving his little girl.  Said little girl asked Daddy if all songs had to be true, to which he replied, "Yes."

I've been thinking about this a bit, especially in relation to a running disagreement that my ex-wife and I had for close to 20 years.  She believed that all songs were not only true, but literal.  And this applied not just to the writer, but to anyone singing the song.  It never made sense to me, and still doesn't.  But, the first time I ever sang Folsom Prison Blues in front of her, I sort of expected her to call the authorities and report me for that murder in Reno.

Growing up in a rabid Southern Baptist household, the ex was taught that the Bible was literally true;  no symbolism, no analogy...just 100%, factual truth.  Apparently, this was drilled into her well enough that she assumed every form of written or oral communication followed suit. If I wrote a song along the lines of "guy sees girl, guy wants girl, girl turns guy down", she assumed I had propositioned some poor female on my lunch break and got shot down.

Even songs I wrote for and about her never withstood her scrutiny.  In the song "Missing You", which I wrote and recorded over Christmas break, the first year we were dating, I wrote:

     Got a Corvette in my garage
     Got a Harley on the street
     Got a good guitar
     Now, ain't that neat?

     Got all of these things
     Now, what can I do?
     Still I'm not happy
     'Cause I'm missing you!

At the time, the Corvette and Harley were the epitome of vehicles, to my mind, and she knew that.  So, even though I didn't actually own them, I used them to illustrate the fact that her presence would mean more to me than any material posession ever could.  For some reason, since I wrote that I had these things when I, in fact, did not, she took it to mean that if I ever got a Harley and a Vette I would have no more need of her.  She actually threw this idea into an argument we had about a week before we split up, 16 years later!

Fact of the matter is that "Missing You" was probably the most profoundly true song, figuratively and literally, that I had ever written, up to that point.  Other than the motor vehicles, virtually the whole song came from experience:  She was at her grandmother's house in Dallas, I wasn't, and I missed her greatly.

Why all the talk about a woman from whom I've been divorced for 12 years?  Well, my 25th wedding anniversary went by, this month, for one thing.  For another, this is one of the songs I plan to revisit as part of my recording project, and the concept of its continued truthfulness occurred to me as I was listening to the old recording of it.  In that (admittedly bad) vocal, I can hear the pain and loneliness I was feeling at the time.

So, will I be able to sing it, truthfully, at this late date?  I think so;  mainly because I do still miss that girl who was visiting her Grandma, 28 years ago, even though I don't miss the woman who divorced me 12 years ago.

Hell, there's a very true country song in there, somewhere.  Maybe I should write it out.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Ta-ta-ta-daa! (Blowing my own horn.)

One of my favorite websites is Skull-A-Day.  Brad turned me on to it a couple of years ago, since I was producing a lot of skull scuptures at the time.

I submitted my drawing, "100 Skulls" to the site a while back, and it appeared on the blog on May 12. 

It even got a couple of nice comments.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Guitars From Yesteryear

In my college years, I fell completely in love with playing guitar, and playing with guitars.  I bought this Yamaha FG75 at a pawn shop, for $35.00 and played it for many years.  I ended up selling it at a yard sale, after I had been married a couple of years.  As I recall, I got $40.00 for it.  Buy low, sell high! Dig the Farmer's Tan!

I picked this one up at a flea market.  It was made of plywood, had a bolt-on neck and no name.  I drew pictures on it, played it, and generally just knocked around with it.  I only sold it about 10 years ago.

This original Danelectro had been rattle-canned before I got it.  I removed the paint as carefully as I could, but the gold finish beneath the spray paint was still pretty damaged.  It's leaning on my silver-faced Deluxe Reverb.  Behind that is one of my favorite amps, ever:  A Silvertone tube bass amp with a single 12" speaker, which someone had mounted into a home-made Crate Amp-style cabinet.  I took that amp to Saudi Arabia with me, and moved it around for 20 years.  It gave up the ghost in 1999.

I still have the Big Muff Pi distortion box which is sitting on top of the Fender amp.  I bought it in 1979 (!), and I don't think I'll ever let it go.  It has the best punk rock distortion, ever.

I don't know what brand this guitar was.  I bought it for $20.00 from the local used-guitar shop in Martin, Tennessee (where I went to college), and the body was in 4 pieces.  I repaired the body, filled the low spots where splinters of wood had gone missing, then painted it and applied a psychedelic poster on top of the body and headstock, and clear-coated it with about 10 coats of lacquer.  I sold it for $100.00.

One of the guitars I obsessed about, for years, was the Gibson Flying V.  I was never able to afford a Gibson, but I bought this lawsuit-worthy copy from a music store in Saudi Arabia, in 1982.  I ended up selling it at the same yard sale at which I sold the Yamaha acoustic.  I don't remember what I got for it, which probably means I lost money on it.

This is a lawsuit-era (Gibson and Fender both instituted lawsuits against companies which were producing exact copies of their designs, in the 1970s) Harmony Stratocaster copy.  You could have put a Fender decal on this guitar and 99% of people wouldn't be able to tell it from the real deal.  Here it is on my dorm-room bed in 1983.

This guitar has been sitting in a local music store in my home town for 25 years, with a too-big price tag on it.  I traded it to them for something, back then, and they've never resold it.

Here is one of my Frankenstein guitars that I wish I still had.  It is a Norma (Teisco), in the coolest bass-boat gold metalflake ever.  The original Norma neck was bowed like something Robin Hood would carry around, so I replaced it with another Teisco-built neck, branded as a Kingston.  That neck was on 3 or 4 guitars through the years, but ended up on this one.

I have no idea where it ended up.  I may have given it away...I may have sold it.  Either way, I wish i still had it.

Dorm-room wall, 1983 or '84.  Left to right:  Framus semi-hollow body with tremelo tailpiece and painted-on F-holes;  Teisco Del-Ray thinline hollow-body with the Kingston neck installed and electronics from a Harmony solid-body;  Gibson S-1 purchased for me through the Employee Purchase Plan by my uncle, when he worked at Norlin/Gibson.

Ah, Pat Benatar...

Same wall, same guitars except for the pine slab "Olympia", with a single humbucker installed in a pocket routed out with an electric drill.  It actually sounded pretty good.

And, of course, the late, lamented Harmony Rebel in Avocado Green.  I've bid on 4 of these on eBay, within the last year, but I've never been willing to bid high enough to beat out the collectors.

I miss being able to find these old guitars for $20 to $50 in second-hand shops and small-town pawn shops.  eBay has killed that.

I wish I had pictures of some of the other guitars which came and went, back then.  For instance, I sold a 1968 Gibson SG Junior, with the original hardshell case, for $125...and I made a $50 profit on it!  You won't see that kind of deal again, any time soon.

Coming soon:  Guitars of Today.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Singing the Blues About Singing the Blues

 Obsessive?  Moi?

I have many blessings in my life, but my singing voice is not one of them.  I've worked on it, a lot, over the years, but I am far from a great (or even good) singer.  Yet, I feel the need, the compulsion, to sing my songs.  When I sing, you hear more of me than I can ever let out in any other way.  You often hear the expression "singing his heart out", and that is what you get with me.

I just spent some time reworking the vocals on "Hard Rockin'", the song I posted as a demo, last week.  I kept trying to make it sound "good", and I hated every take.  Finally, I sat back and thought about what I was doing.

The song is, obviously, autobiographical.  It's all about the pain of my marriage finally coming to an end after Val and I had been together for 15 years (married for 13), and about how I finally decided to get beyond it.  It's also an angry song.  Even though I am, for the most part, past the hurt, I'm angry that my life didn't turn out the way I thought it would. 

So, I did one more take, singing like I felt and not really worrying about making it sound "good".

I think I like it.

I don't know if anyone else will.

But, it gets across what I'm trying to convey, and that's what matters to me.  Once Mark gets a decent drum part down, to replace my crude attempts, I will consider this one done and start to work on the next song.

Stay tuned.