Feb 062013
 

So let's say that somehow I got a chance to go see Bon Jovi, despite the fact that I don't have tickets, nor any intention of buying any, I would turn it down (but if I could I would probably pass it on to Caryn who would love to go).

But why then  ? When I still sometimes listen to many of their songs – I mean I love songs like Bad Medicine. The common answer I usually give is: "after crossroad, they sold out", but what does that really mean ? I mean I do listen to a lot of bands that are commercially successful (indeed Bon Jovi themselves were highly successful long before crossroad where I cut them off). So it's not about making money.

The common definition of a band that sold out is one that started putting profit-motive above their artistic integrity. It's not bad if your songs sell, but it's bad if you write songs to sell rather than writing songs to say what you really feel. This is a fairly solid definition across the board but I think the Bon Jovi case is special.

What makes it special is the particular nature of what Bon Jovi was all about from the start. Bon Jovi was hair-metal, but unlike all the other hair-metal bands they were not glam. This was not a band about being glamorous, and their songs were not about the lives of luxury and hedonism they enjoyed. Bon Jovi's unique edge was being the blue collar hair-metal band. 

The music of Bon Jovi was written from their working-class background, and connected with working class people. When they did sing about the rock-and-roll-life they sang about it's dark side, the loneliness on the road and the losses you experience, that's what Bed of Roses is all about, but the song that defined Bon Jovi above all was Living on a Prayer. 

The great working-class blue-collar love anthem. The song about people suffering in poverty and hard-ship, when even the forces meant to protect them have turned against them ("Unions been on strike, he's down on his luck, it's tough") and yet they remain hopeful. 

We got each other, and that's a lot for love ! 

That is what Bon Jovi was all about. So that's what makes Bon Jovi selling out so much worse than any other band who did. Bon Jovi selling out wasn't just betraying their music and their fans – they betrayed every hard-working blue collar guy out there. The reason that every Bon Jovi album after crossroad sucked so much is actually very simple: because they completely lost touch with the people they are talking to, talking about. They cannot represent the blue collar average Joe anymore because they have completely forgotten what that even means. 

The trouble is, they didn't evolve their music when their focus shifted and their own lives became comfortable and far removed from that original base. They still to this day try to sing to the blue collar fans of the past, but they have nothing but distant memories to base it on. So every song ends up sounding the same, and what's worse, because the view they are trying to remember from now is one of such luxury and wealth – it rings hollow.

The compassion and humanity (but never pity) with which they once celebrated being an average salary-earning Joe, with which they were once the voices of the underdog now sounds as disconnected from the reality of those people as Mitt Romney's campaign speeches. The promise of hope in their songs, now rings as hollow as a republican speech at a factory. 

Bon Jovi didn't get unseated as representatives of the average Joe, they forgot who the average Joe was, and now they just sound like wannabes. 

I will not go and see Bon Jovi live when they play in South Africa soon, because I prefer to remember them as they once was. I would not want to be reminded that they betrayed everything and everyone they once stood for. I would rather just crank up "Living on a prayer" and imagine what should have been.

Mar 062011
 

Today I practiced a lot of drumming on "If I die tonight" – and got quite a bit toward a final version. It's still very raw, and there are areas particularly in the fills and change-overs which could be smoother, but all in all I think it shows a lot of potential. Then I used audacity's wonderful ability to do multi-mode recording and recorded myself playing along to yesterday's practice recording of Megan and Caitlin's parts – and mixed it into a single track.

 

So for all who want to hear me drumming an Incurable song, even if it's early and raw and the drum sequences are not completely finalized, here you go.

Incurable – If I die tonight (with drumming)

Mar 052011
 

I've been hinting on this blog about something big related to drumming for months now, and finally the time has come to reveal the big surprise. I am in a band. Right now outside of the band members only about 10 people know about it – because they are trusted friends whose advice was sought on various aspects. 

It all began in October last year. It was a Friday afternoon when I got a call from my best friend Caitlin asking if I felt like hanging out for a while. She had a DnD game on later that evening, but was free for the early part, so we decided to buy a bottle of wine and set off to one of Cape Town's best kept little secrets, the picnic tables along the Liesbeek River. As we sat there we talked about various things, our love lives and artistic passions. Our favorite bands and songs and somehow the topic got onto my poetry – so I showed her a few on my cellphone. The next thing I know… Caitlin starts to sing them – just making up melodies as she goes along and declaring that these would make great metal songs. 

I agreed, and confessed that I always hoped a band would perform some. From that point on, our minds went haywire, as we talked about how it could sound and then Caitlin just said: "Dude, we totally just started a band !"

I'll never forget those words. So we started tossing around for a name, trying to capture the spirit of the music we wanted to create. The spirit of ourselves. At some point we started narrowing that down. We were outcasts but we were proud. We were rejects from society, but instead of feeling scorned, we felt exalted. The world had tried to change us, to make us normal – and had failed, will always fail… and from that we both said at once: Incurable.

Thus the band was born. It was then that I said: "Well if you're going to be performing my songs, I want to be in the band !" and she said "of course, so what will play ?". There was only one thing I could say: "I've wanted to be a drummer all my life, I think it's time I made that happen".

The next week I started drum lessons. Two weeks later I bought my Mapex Venus kit and I've been drumming ever since. I love every moment of it. Along the way we recruited some people, and got rid of most of them again… a core three people however became the heart and soul of Incurable: Caitlin on Lead guitar and vocals, Megan on Bass, and me on drums.

We may yet expand the line-up, or not, Caitlin isn't entirely sure if she can handle vocals and guitar – but I think she's great at it myself and a rock-trio with two girls ? Can't you just see that ? 

Four months of preparation later (including me putting in enormous effort in my drum studies to the point where my teacher praises my progress every week) we had our first proper practice today – to be weekly from now on. And it worked beautifully. We did a bit of work on a cover of Paint it Black but the vast majority of the time were actually playing our own original songs.

My lyrics, with Caitlins melodies. And when we put our pieces together it sounded wonderful. We chose to start with the slow songs, mostly due to my still relative inexperience with drumming but it went wonderfully. After a while we decided to record some tracks, thus far I had been basically drumming experimentally to the melodies, holding time but not  changing up the beats to try various approaches for each song without much fill or variation. 

So we chose to record two songs without drums so I can work on the final patterns, choose the best beats for them, and start expanding on those. 

With the permission of the band, I include those recordings here. You may feel free to download them and listen to them. These are just guitars and vocals and were done using audacity with a single  mic. More-over the mic was set rather low in the first one so it's a bit soft on the recording. Basically don't expect a studio quality recording, but you can expect good songs despite that, the recordings in fact sound surprisingly good despite those shortcomings.

At least, I love them. Of course I'm biassed… I did WRITE these songs :P

So here – for the first time ever. You get to hear Incurable. The next time I post some songs, they will include drumming as well. I hope you enjoy them. 

Incurable – Shaved

Incurable – If I die tonight

Feb 142011
 

In an interview Marilyn Manson was asked "Does this music cause you to do the things you do ?". Manson with his usual eloquence responded: "No, I think we cause the music to do what it does". This quote struck me as interesting because it reminded me of something said by another legendary musician – a man who though never a shockrocker himself had signed the first record deal for the first true shock rocker (Alice Cooper). 

I'm talking of course about Frank Zappa. In 1984 when the Parents Music Resource Center began the first major push to have music censored and labelled three musicians came to testify at the congressional hearing on the matter. Twisted Sister front-man Dee Schneider, country's golden-boy John Denver and Frank Zappa. 

I am quite familiar with the events there as I'm a big Twisted Sister fan and have read up extensively on Dee's life – including his testimony, ultimately looking up the full transcript – which is how I came to read Zappa's testimony. Frank Zappa said a very interesting thing during his testimony. He denied the basic premise of the PMRC that music was a major influence in youth thinking and behavior and suggested the exact opposite. According to Zappa – the rise of teen suicides were not promoted by songs about suicidal feelings at all.  As Zappa put it, the music our children listen to is indicative of what is on their minds. It is an expression of the feelings they feel and what they are thinking about. Songs about suicide do not cause teenagers to become suicidal. Teenagers thinking about suicide cause songs to be written about suicide. 

Denver would, in his testimony go on to say almost the exact same thing – in even clearer terms. This came as quite a shock to the PMRC who had expected Denver with his clean cut image to be testifying in favor of their labeling schemes – and instead he too attacked the very idea and argued convincingly against it. 

And all this because Tipper Gore's American conservative mind couldn't cope with her little girl hearing Prince sing about female masturbation.

But why are parents and pop psychologists so eager to believe that music, movies and more recently video games are primary influences on how people (especially young people) think and behave ? We know all the reasons they give for it are false, lots of scientific studies have repeatedly shown it to be utterly false. So why does it remain so popular ? Why do we want to believe it ?  I always held to the explanation that it was due to an unwillingness, even a fear, of personal responsibility. We don't want to be responsible for our own actions, so in order to be allowed to blame "influences" we readily accept it to be an excuse for others, the moreso those we don't want to believe could do bad things just from being bad. 

There is probably some truth to this, but lately – I've swung to believe that a much more crucial aspect is involved in this desperate desire to believe this, a desire so strong that people who preach the virtues of free speech will actively lobby for censorship when the material in question is the kind of music their children enjoy. It's because of what parenting means. Parents in general do not believe their job is to raise children to think for themselves – but rather to raise children that think in the way their parents and society want them to. In short, they want to absolutely control the minds of their children.

They believe that the way to do so is to control all the information the child has access to, by controlling the incoming data they hope to control the resulting thoughts. This leads inexorably to the belief that thought in young people is controlled or at least heavily influenced by the informational stimulation they receive. This may be partially true of very young children whose minds are only partially formed, but by puberty there is simply no evidence whatsoever to back this up. The tendency to dress up like people on television does not come from a desire to emulate television – but from a desire to be a leader among their peers. They know their peers will emulate the same sources, and by trying to be ahead of the curve – they can gain social status. It's peer dynamics, not media influence – but it looks exactly like media influence.

The truth is that the more attempts parents make to control the minds of teenagers and young adults – the more likely they are to suffer depression, the rate escalates even higher with increasing IQ. Smarter kids get sadder a lot easier – especially if you restrict their ability to find the intellectual stimulation they desire, restrict the nature of that stimulation to anything that they didn't vet themselves or restrict their ability to partially express emotions through art that speaks to those emotions.

This is where the crux of it all lies however. Art never dictates emotions, despite even many artist's delusions of grandeur that it does. Art speaks only to the emotions we already feel (or at least felt recently enough to vividly recall). Art does not change our feelings, it does not create emotions or any other effects. What it does is speak to our thoughts and feelings, it expresses what the artist felt and if we can identify with his feelings we then have an effect of empathy and can express our own feelings through the artists expression of hers.

This is all a very fancy way of saying: nobody listens to music they can't find something they already identify with. Most music that is decried as violent really isn't – much of it is in fact overtly anti-violence and is expressing the effects of violence through depiction. Just like a bload-soaked battle-field painting in a museum is more likely a lament on the horror of war than a celebration of war. A great many metal bands in particular have deal with similar themes. Iron Maiden's historical songs like Aces High, Paschendale and Run to the Hills spring to mind. 

Other times it's a metaphor. Folk Rock often sings about war, glory and honor – but it never actually believes in promoting any of it. It talks about mythology and a time that the listeners well know never truly existed. Nobody seriously thinks that listening to Manowar will turn somebody into a Thor-worshiper or cause them to raid towns. Instead the underlying message is about standing up for yourself. About challenging the things that are wrong in the world and trying to change them for the better. It's about not accepting the misery and suffering around us  -but battling against the system that creates is. 

And most of the time: it's a joke. Like a B-grade 1950's horror movie, nobody is really scared by the gruesomeness as much as laughing at the sillyness. It's cartoon violence. Designed to shock and scare anybody who isn't in on the joke and cause a sense of cameraderie among those who are. All of shockrock is exactly this (taken to extremes) but so is much of the rest of it.

Hardly any metal bands are actually in favor of violence and in fact metal bands have a long and proud history of anti-war activism, bands like Disturbed and System of a Down are particularly active with that at the moment but it's a tradition that goes back at least to the days of Led Zeppelin and even the Rolling Stones.

It's any or all of these things (depending on the example)  - but it's never, ever an attempt to cause anybody to act in a certain way. In fact the very idea of trying to control youth behavior at all is antithetical to the very idea of rock'nroll. I'm not so sure about pop music, pop music forms part of pop-culture which I do believe has a control-element in it but that's exactly because it's not art – it's marketing. It's all one gigantic sales-pitch. Right down to what brand of sneakers Justin Bieber is wearing. It's a giant corporate advertisement.

Rockn'roll is never that, rockbands hate the idea of "Selling out" and complain when bands act that way. They hat e authority and control and the only thing most rock musicians would fear more than being controlled would be to actually control anybody else. Everything that it has always stood for is about challenging authority, about thinking critically for yourself. It's intensely individualistic, groupthink has no place there (though from outside this can be hard to spot – as there is a subtle mockery of it prevalent throughout the surrounding culture and you have to be in the culture to recognize it for the deliberate sham it is).

Coming back to the opening point then. The teenager who hung himself with Adam's Song on an endless loop was not driven to suicide by Blink 182. He was already suicidal. The song expressed and spoke to the feelings he already felt. It helped him deal with it better. It's my sincere that without the song, his suicide would have been sooner than it actually was. The song didn't save his life perhaps it came too late, perhaps the expression just wasn't enough, he probably needed treatment for clinical depression (most suicide cases do – emotional expression only takes you so far), but I daresay it made his passage a little more peaceful (for himself at least) than it would have been without it. 

Ultimately – the real question is how many kids didn't do drugs because of a song ? Didn't kill themselves because a piece of music let them cope with the feeling that was driving them toward it ? These are questions you can never answer – it's impossible to prove a negative. You could ask – but you'll never a get a true response, human recollection (especially of emotions) is not a scientifically reliable measurement. 

So where does that leave us ? I believe it brings us to this: trying to control what our youth thinks is impossible. They will think and feel what their own minds lead them to, the music and movies and books they choose will express what they are already thinking and feeling, not influence it. Give up on the idea of controlling them through controlling their choice of music, and the drive to do so goes away. Instead, I come to the same conclusion as John Denver, Frank Zappa and even Marilyn Manson did (two of them were, at the time they said it, parents of teenagers): listen to the music your children listen to, to all of it. Even if you don't enjoy it much, listen and try to understand.

Not to judge it, but because it will tell you what your children are thinking, and feeling. It will let you look into their souls. And then you can do something all too few parents ever truly try: you can genuinely communicate with them. Instead of trying to herd their thoughts and feelings you can discuss them. Help them cope with dark things and sadness – much better than you could before because you can have actual empathy for it – and help them grow on their emerging strengths, in the same way.

There can be no true communication without empathy. The music your children listen to, the movies they watch – that expresses what is on their minds. What school and life and the news are making them think and feel. Study it, understand it as best you can, and you'll know your children better. You'll know their fears and their joys, their sadness and their pleasures – and you can communicate and offer guidance and advice with true empathy. You can lead them, rather than herd them – and that will create kids who grow up to be the kind of citizens we really need in the twenty-first century.

Nov 162010
 

I considered writing this inside the 30daystruth post but I had been meaning to write it on it's own before I even saw today's topic and there were more important things to say. I have tweeted about this a bit in the past few weeks, but I haven't really said it publicly and in fact I have only mentioned it to a few friends.

I've loved rock music since I was young. In my late primary school years I declared that I wanted to learn music – I had in mind electric guitar, or rock drums… instead I was sent to piano lessons… classical piano lessons. I suppose my parents (like all parents) genuinely believed they were acting in my best interest  - sadly it rather backfired. After 4 years of being forced to play an instrument I didn't like, and using it to play music I felt no connection to (classical piano lessons don't actually even teach you any of the good classical stuff – just simple tunes for the first many, many years) … well I grew up to despise classical music, when I learned history and realized that classical music was a tool of the aristocracy used to justify their suppression of the suffering poor, I instead felt myself connecting with the bardic music of the same ages. The minstrel's and their ballads – which has been a massive influence on folk metal in particular. 

While of course a lot of classical composers were rebellious and often died poor as a result, and their music tends to appeal to me (Beethoven ROCKS dude), my soul has always been filled with metal I guess, long before I ever really knew what metal was.

I knew by about the age of 15 what instrument I loved the most. Rock drums. I made some efforts to try and learn it – asking to join the school marching band for example (and learning that apparently these days school marching bands don't teach music-  they just use the kids who already learned). Even though marching drums are a completely different thing (each drummer only plays one instrument, one note – rock drummers play several, about the only thing they have in common is time-keeping) so that failed. I tried to buy a drumkit when I started university and couldn't afford it, so much for teaching myself. Years went by and my old dream remained just that, a daydream. Airdrums while listening to my favorite bands.

Until now.  Over the past few weeks I have committed myself to doing what I have been wanting to do for these past fifteen years. To learn to be a drummer. I signed up for lessons and I had my first one last Saturday and I'm religiously practicing every day. Some go well, some go less well. In one lessons I understood more about how it actually worked than I ever guessed – and things made sense. 

What about those old piano lessons ? Well one good thing came out of them – I can read notation, as it happens almost none of the notation I learned in piano class really applies though. Piano notes hardly ever go shorter than quarters- while drum notes are hardly ever longer than quarters. A drummer playing 4/4 time is probably playing at least 1/8th notes more likely 1/16th. For many songs 1/32th is not uncommon. 

No nobody plays 1/64/th notes because that would be just about physically impossible, not even Lars Ulrich can move that fast.

15 years I waited, always keeping this dream alive, it's bloody time I do something about it. Right now I'm practicing on pillows and ashtrays – I'll be buying a real drumkit soon though, I'm already feeling the shortcomings of such things. Sure they can let you practice time-keeping and limb-independence but you can't really hear the results – which is especially noticeable in the complete absence of a bass-drum (rock drummers hit the bass with their right foot).

Every note I hit, every time I get a rhythm right (even if just three times in a row)… I glow, I can feel the small step toward a lifelong dream being realized. So what if I'm about 10 years older than most people when their playing drums professionally. So what ? It makes me feel good. That's all that matters.

Jul 282009
 

I have given some thought about who the gothbusters might be and what they may look like. First I pictured a couple of fundamentalist preachers from the American Midwest, but it lacked a certain something. Perhaps a couple of bearded Virginian founding-father types ?
Finally it hit me. Gothbusters would make the perfect theme for the next season of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.


GOTHBUSTERS

If there’s scary teens
in your neighborhood
Who ya gonna call?
GOTHBUSTERS

If they dress all weird
and it don’t look good
Who ya gonna call?
GOTHBUSTERS

I ain’t afraid of no goths
I ain’t afraid of no goths

If they wear black make-up
on a shiny white base
Who can ya call?
GOTHBUSTERS

Prosthetic vampire teeth
sticking outa his face ?
Who ya gonna call?
GOTHBUSTERS

I ain’t afraid of no goths
I ain’t afraid of no goths

Who ya gonna call?
GOTHBUSTERS

When the girl next door
hits puberty
Then it’s time to call
GOTHBUSTERS

I ain’t afraid of no goths
Boys do it to get girls
I ain’t afraid of no goth
Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah

Who ya gonna call?
GOTHBUSTERS

If she wears black lace
like a freaky lady
Ya better call
GOTHBUSTERS

Lemme tell ya something
Bustin’ makes me feel good!

I ain’t afraid of no goths
I ain’t afraid of no goths

Don’t get caught alone no no

GOTHBUSTERS

When the boy next door
looks like a dockside whore
I think you better call
GOTHBUSTERS

Who ya gonna call?
GOTHBUSTERS

Who ya gonna call?
GOTHBUSTERS

I think you better call
GOTHBUSTERS

Who ya gonna call?
GOTHBUSTERS

I can’t hear you
Who ya gonna call?
GOTHBUSTERS

Louder
GOTHBUSTERS

Who ya gonna call?
GOTHBUSTERS

Who can ya call?
GOTHBUSTERS

Who ya gonna call?
GOTHBUSTERS

Jul 272009
 

I can’t lie anymore. My parents were ABBA fans, I was raised on the music even though I could not understand the words for most of my childhood (and when I did learn English, there was still a lot I didn’t understand, today of course I understand it all – and also exactly why I didn’t understand it then).

This band was poppy and lacked any kind of edge, but there was some kind of depth to their lyrics, and I hate them, but as Terry Pratchett keeps telling us, hate is an attractive force… I guess I have learned that I don’t loathe them.

I first rented the movie a while ago -more out of a macabre curiosity than anything else… and found to my shock that I enjoyed it… since then I’ve watched it several times… it’s a great date-night movie… but it’s so damn tacky, I mean what’s next “The Steve Hofmeyr story” ?

I can’t decide if my sudden reliking of ABBA means anything… Is just just nostalgia for my childhood ? Coupled with a fear of growing old, a fear of slowly dying (dangit stop quoting them !) ?
Does it mean I’m gay ? Actually scratch that one, I use it to seduce women so I think it’s definitely not that…
Or should I just check into rehab right now ?

You know what ? I think it’s something of nostalgia, couple with a strange appeal to the hopeless romantic hiding behind my hardcore facade, and maybe there’s nothing wrong with a little ABBA in moderation ? Provided I otherwise fill my ear canal’s with healthy music like Manson, Metallica and Manowar ? Look Ma’ I can alliterate!

Or maybe I should just admit that I have brought shame and dishonor on myself and my ancestors, and all who proudly bear the uniform of leather and the trappings of rage while screaming defiance at the world on heavy metal stages … and commit sepuku…

Much like Steve’s sexuality, the answer remains a mystery even to myself, so I think I’ll hold back on the ritual suicide until I’ve at least made up my mind. In the meantime, if you buy me a copy of Huisgenoot I will STILL beat you to death with it… May I never sink that low.

Mar 252009
 

Sang to the melody of Metallica’s: Sanitarium

Welcome to a place where stars stand still
No one cares and no one will
Moon is full never seems to change
It drives you mentally deranged
Show the same show every night
Like a movie house that didn’t get it right
I wish I had gone to the bar
Instead I’m bored and it’s gone to far

Sleep my friend cos you will see
Stars look better in reality
My neck is cramped from looking up
Can’t they see they see it’s all screwed up ?

Planetarium, leave me be
Planetarium, just leave me at home.

Build my fear of what’s out there
Planets without any air
E.T. phone home, call airstrike
Independence-day tonight
The anal-probes are in their hands
subject of experimental plans…
Tie us up and explore us well
I feel like I’m in X-files hell…

No more will I stay in here
Bored fantasies make me fear
Droning on about Saturns rings
While I fear probes in my o-ring…

Planetarium, leave me be
Planetarium, just leave me at home.
Planetarium…

Just leave me at home !

I wanted to be an astronaut
If only space-ships could be bought
Space fantasies I’m cured of sure.
It’s a huge and empty vacuous bore.
A thousand light years for a view
I’d rather sit and look at you.
The voice is like the space they show
Neverending, sleepy hollow.

Planetarium, leave me be
Planetarium, just leave me at home.

*PS. I actually really LIKE planetariums – I just couldn’t resist such a perfect filk word :p