Jan. 23 and 24 1998
Friday Jan. 23
OK, what I didn't know about the Mint gig on the 30th is that it's a closed party, for Rivera and Music Man employees and dealers only. So sorry to anyone who was planning on coming. The Lumpy Gravy gig on Feb. 21 is going to be grand, though - a guy from Buzz Weekly magazine just called asking for a bio because they're doing a piece to promote it. Spelunking through my memory, I'm pretty sure this is unprecedented, a magazine calling ME to tell me that they were promoting a show of mine. I'll take that as an omen, thanks.
To all who've been writing saying "Please play somewhere else other than Los Angeles please!": thanks so much for your encouragement and enthusiasm. Let me tell you what my priorities are right now, starting with a little background: Bryan gave you his perspective of the Vai/BFD late '96 tour but I never did, because it exhausted me just to think about it. In a group of words: exhausting for me, but nearly unthinkable for my band, who had to use my passenger mini-van as a tour bus, chasing the Vai band's cozy, flammable bus around the country. Bryan, Toss and our crew Ed were sleeping three to a room (the Vai band slept on our bus, we rarely had hotels) until there was a near mutiny, completely understandable, and I plumped for an extra room for BFD, thereby completely erasing any hope for a profit on the tour for me, and the money we were getting for the gigs was laughable (if Steve hadn't lent me a sizable wad on the last day of the tour I'd have been colonically reamed) --- all of which is FINE because I didn't bring my band on that tour to make money, I brought us out so that a lot of new people could have a look/hear at us. And we were phenomenally well-received and the tour was a major success from that perspective. But when I hit the road again it's going to be with a four-to-six piece band, at least a four man crew plus Michael Harrison on films, real transportation, comfortable accomodations for everyone etc. In other words, really expensive, and I don't have money to burn, and I have no desire to rush into it without serious preparation and a solid business structure supporting the process. So I might as well tell you what's going on: a campaign is underway to get "Sluggo!" picked up by a larger label, a campaign in which Immune, the beautiful, supportive, long-suffering label for which I record, is a full and willing accomplice. Momentum is at a very good clip and optimistic energy is dripping from the walls and ceiling of my life at every turn.
Lately there has been a series of ongoing social gatherings/strategy meetings/manic creativity energy sharing events which take place at different locations involving different participants, but with a core membership featuring key BFD members and several of our most trusted friends and a few newcomers who have insinuated themselves into our world with shocking effectiveness, and the feeling at these get-togethers is near-indescribably intense and positive. Frighteningly, what I'm most reminded of is the legendary period in 1966-'67 during which Brian Wilson was constructing "Smile", and he was surrounded by well-wishers, collaborators and confidantes and everyone just basted themselves in the creative energy of the time. Of course, the album was never completed, relationships were torn bitterly to shreds and over time the idealism which fueled the movement became derided as the addled musings of a spoiled, dangerously insane millionaire pop-music despot being eaten whole by stacks of hippie sycophants. How is our situation different?: The album is done. I'm not a millionaire. We're also three decades removed from that particular brand of naivete and couldn't relive it if we tried; we know too much now, for better or worse. But the energy source which currently feeds me seems similar to that which I imagine was being generated back then. It is a good time. Vital ideas are being shared and new worlds imagined. The tour will happen in due time, and you will be glad we waited; every day I think of a new way to make the live presentation more indelible and powerful. But this stuff takes time and money, money, money. Patience, my beloved friends.
More proof that I'm taking over the world: excerpts from "Sluggo!" have been heard accompanying snowboarding footage on ESPN. Zowie. Another personal goal realized.
Oh, here's a thing: Chris Opperman (well-known to "Rama" readers) has up and offered to maintain an electronic mailing list for me. Wanna be on it? Email him at MrOppy@aol.com and he'll find a place for you.
Saturday Jan. 24
Another little meeting last night, another sustaining shot of soul juice. Today I'm on my own here at home, practicing playing and singing a bunch of songs for the upcoming spate. Digging in, improving areas which were kind of okay before and finally nailing them down now. Making sure the opening chords of "Dolphins" are as rich as they can be and that the melody flows effortlessly. Focusing more on singing during those times when I'm singing and playing at the same time - finally realizing (I'm 36 years old, it's embarrassing that it should have taken this long) that when a person steps up to a microphone to sing, the people in the audience expect that person to SING. A few months ago I was talking to Steve Vai about his vocal coach, a world famous geezer who gets a thousand bucks a lesson from the rich and famous. Steve told me I might get a better deal from the guy if I plead poverty, but then he said something which pretty much negated the need for lessons at all - when he heard me sing during the opening sets on the BFD/Vai '96 tour, it sounded to him like I was "holding back". That planted a seed and since then I've noticed myself doing exactly that, on every single live and studio performance of myself that I hear. I'm not going to do it anymore! Even on "Sluggo!", which contains my best released vocal performances, I hear things which I could do with a great deal more passion and abandon now. But that's what growing up does, and that's what the road's for. I was just practicing playing and singing "Own", poor little misunderstood "Own." That song hasn't clicked for you yet? Wait 'til you see and hear it live. You'll figure it out.
On the subject of fade-outs, of which the one on "Egg Zooming" seems to be some sort of major betrayal to so many people: first of all, Chris Opperman was correct when he wrote that the song doesn't fade "out" at all...the last thing Mike Mangini does on the drums is indeed the last piece of music on the track, so if you're paying attention, you're not missing anything. But that's slightly beside my point, which is that a fade-out is a dynamic choice, an expressive option, not an admission of defeat. I used to love the long, long fade-outs Todd Rundgren did sometimes; the fade-out on "Egg Zooming" is an homage to the fade-out on "Sunburst Finish" from the Utopia album "Ra." I think that I should have started my fade sooner and faded out more gradually; if I had I'll bet my intentions would have been more transparent and there wouldn't have been all this controversy. The other fun thing about the "Egg Zooming" fade is that it is intended to be the "interactive" part of the album - the synth and guitar solos are panned hard left and right, and you have the choice in that part of the song, if you wish, to spin your balance knob to full left or right position, and let one or the other solo have the spotlight.
Let me hook my thumbs in my suspenders and make plain that I have no present interest in constantly revisiting formal ground which I've explored many times before, and the no-break-between-the-song-quick-edit-collage effect of "hat.", "Dust Speck" and to a lesser degree "The Mistakes" is an area which I've explored very thoroughly in my album-making history. That choice was a direct homage to "We're Only In It For The Money" and "A Wizard/A True Star", and it was completely valid for my early albums. On "The Mistakes" I began to explore the meaning of the spaces between the songs more, and on "Sluggo!" I mined that territory thoroughly. Very much thought was given to the precise amount of silence between the songs on this album - it is as much a part of the experience which I am presenting to the listener as the non-stop effect was on the earlier albums. It's unsurprising that a number of people have said to me that "Sluggo!" feels more like "a collection of songs" than an "album", but that's just because I made it easier for the listener in the past to feel an album as a unified whole, because I never gave that listener a moment to breathe. I'm starting to gain more respect for what I do, and if I set up a mood in a song like, say, "Chatfield Manor", I'm damn well going to give the listener a few moments to bask in that song's glow, assuming it provided any for them. Listening to "Dust Speck" a couple of days ago I found myself actively annoyed by my abrupt transitions out of "Blameless" and "Natty Trousers" - those songs are beautiful things, let the spell last for a second, you dwid! On the other hand I was knocked out by the transition between "Top Of Stove" and "Aglow" - that's the sort of welding which has a tangible, emotional effect beyond just "check it out! I'm gluing all this shit together!" For years my least favorite pop music critics' cliche, one used very frequently in regard to artists who do odd things, is "too clever by half." I think the cliche itself is too clever by at least one-third, but the deployment of that phrase always struck me as an indictment of the writer's intellect, not the artist's pretensions - "it's not the artist's fault if they're twice as smart as you are, loser." But I'll be damned: I heard some of those "Dust Speck" transitions and that very phrase, "too clever by half", leapt instantly to the forefront of my consciousness. Maybe those geeks were on to something after all. Anyway, blah blah blah. If, in the future, the material I'm preparing for an album seems to cry out for more of the old-style welding, then that's what I'll do. Each album presents a unique set of options and nothing is there by mistake - if it's on the album it's there for a reason.
I'm going to go and practice some more; love you.