Muse's Musings

Eulogies For The Living 

I lost a good friend recently. The musicians, whom he had carefully assembled for his band, were waiting onstage prior to a performance when we got the news that he had suffered a heart attack while preparing to leave for the gig. R.I.P. Johnny T.
He had an elaborate and well attended funeral at a large church in San Francisco. From the podium, people from various walks of life eulogized him and it was comforting to realize that, as I had loved him, so too had many others.

Moving from the specific to the general, as this has nothing to do with JT, I got to thinking about eulogies and how they seem to focus on all that is good and outstanding about an individual while at the same time downplaying all of the undesirable attributes. And I questioned why i should wait for someone to die to give them the benefit of the doubt. Why not try to see that person in their best light while they are still breathing?  Of course it's easier said then done and let's face it, many of us, myself included, harbor some really deep-seated resentments. But it could be so powerful and even life transforming. The next time I'm feeling hatred towards someone maybe i'll pretend I'm eulogizing them. I'd close my eyes and walk up to that podium. What positive things would I have to say? And maybe…. just leave it at that.

D.C.- a visitor's perspective 

I just got back from dropping off my youngest child in our nation’s capitol where she is starting college. (We might look at the empty nesting syndrome in a future blog. Student loans too.)
Just the mention of “Washington D.C.” is enough to cause some people’s stomachs to curdle but despite all of it’s power-lusting shenanigans, I must confess that I love the place.  I lived here for a few months many years ago while working at a show in Ford’s Theater and I have been back a few times since.
It is an indisputably unique city and everywhere you turn it overflows with history. No matter how many times you see them, the Mall and its monuments and museums are still overwhelming and I pity anyone who doesn’t feel stirred in some way after visiting them.
On this visit, I made my first trip to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and found it powerful and awe-inspiring. The man was a prophet and the wisdom he channeled is encapsulated in a collection of his quotes. They are just brilliant- and the rhythm of his language adds gravity to every phrase.
Dr. King has crossed my mind recently as I’ve considered the threatened strike by the fast food workers. Besides being the first person that comes to mind when considering race relations in the 20th century, MLK was also a staunch advocate for economic justice and he found the two to be inextricably entwined. It’s fairly obvious that he would have wholeheartedly supported these workers in their quest for a livable wage.
D.C. is not a cheap place to visit. It might have something to do with the fact that, besides being the most educated US city, it has the highest median household income. I believe there are more Whole Foods than Starbucks, (well….maybe not) and in one of my Foggy Bottom Whole Foods visits I noticed that there were a dozen cashiers and none of them were Caucasian. These are sought after, relatively well paid jobs, the kind that would not have been available to “minorities” when Dr. King marched 50 years ago. And I saw many diverse racial groups employed throughout the city in good public and private sector jobs.
I was really taken aback by how friendly and helpful everyone seemed to be. I didn’t get that big city “attitude” which I have experienced in other travel situations. It doesn’t seem to be a stretch to draw the conclusion that when people are given good jobs and compensated fairly that they will be happier on the job as well as on their off time.
Although far from “paid in full”, I think Washington DC has made great strides in honoring that “promissory note” that Dr. King referenced in his famous speech on the Mall, 50 years ago today.
And I’d be willing to bet that, come tomorrow, in some way shape or form, Dr. King will be marching in that line with the McDonald’s workers.

Pretending To Make A Living 

Read this. READ THIS.

“Singers and Musicians are some of the most driven, courageous people on the face of the earth. They deal with more day-to-day rejection in one year than most people do in a lifetime. Every day, they face the financial challenge of living a freelance lifestyle, the disrespect of people who think they should get real jobs, and their own fear that they'll never work again. Every day, they have to ignore the possibility that the vision they have dedicated their lives to is a pipe dream. With every note, they stretch themselves, emotionally and physically, risking criticism and judgment. With every passing year, many of them watch as the other people their age achieve the predictable milestones of normal life - the car, the family, the house, the nest egg. Why? Because musicians and singers are willing to give their entire lives to a moment - to that melody, that lyric, that chord, or that interpretation that will stir the audience's soul. Singers and Musicians are beings who have tasted life's nectar in that crystal moment when they poured out their creative spirit and touched another's heart. In that instant, they were as close to magic, God, and perfection as anyone could ever be. And in their own hearts, they know that to dedicate oneself to that moment is worth a thousand lifetimes.”
- David Ackert, LA Times

Thank you David Ackert. I can’t imagine what I could add to this. (But I’ll try). The paragraph succinctly speaks so much truth and is so insightful that it’s hard to believe that David is not a starving artist himself. As someone who has dedicated his adult life to music and song, I feel a sense of vindication when reading this. And I also experience a longing and a sense of sadness for myself and so many other talented and hard-working musicians I know who drive around in ratty cars, live without vacations, health insurance, retirements plans etc. We’ll never get to retire anyway. Not sure we’d want to if we could… which represents the flip side of this cursed coin.
For those musos who have managed to scale the ranks to riches and stardom- more power to you. Throw a line down and help a brother/sister out.
Meanwhile the rest of us will go on pretending to make a living.

Gun ownership- The line between individual and collective rights 

Where do we draw the lines between individual liberties and the collective rights of the people? I’m writing in response to the recent tragic shooting in Newtown Connecticut, the latest in an ongoing series of mass murders in the United States. Despite these horrific events, our nation cannot seem to come together and limit the availability of the weapons used in these killings.

I understand that there are many upstanding individuals who own and enjoy using guns in ways that are responsible. In an ideal world maybe they should continue to have unfettered access to these weapons. Can we all at least agree that when the same laws that protect their ownership also allow these same weapons to be used to wreak devastation that some restrictions need to be enacted? And although they themselves may be responsible owners, how can they guarantee that the guns that they purchase may not end up in the hands of someone with wicked intentions.

I think that by nature, laws exist to facilitate many people living in and sharing the same world. Out of necessity there is a give and take when trying to accommodate the diverse needs and desires of 300 million people living under the same flag. Nobody questions why people aren’t allowed to drive 95 miles per hour even though an individual might feel perfectly confident in their ability to navigate a vehicle at that speed. We accept that certain restrictions make the roads safer for all drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. It is in this spirit that I would like to see gun owners support stricter gun ownership laws.

At the very least can we all agree to seriously restrict ownership of assault style weapons? I have yet to hear a single compelling argument for why these need to continue to be so readily available. If anyone can explain to me why these weapons are necessary please respond because protecting ownership of these is beyond my comprehension.

As the world grows increasingly large and increasingly complex I think we in this country need a paradigm shift. We have always been so fixated on our individual liberties but I would say that individual liberties need to be seen within the context of our collective rights- like those of being able to feel secure in sending our children to school or taking a date to a movie theater or attending a political rally etc. etc. etc. etc.

I’ve written a song in response to the Newtown shooting and I would like to offer it as a gesture to the Newtown community- “Where There Is Love (For Newtown)”.

Unfortunately I can’t seem to find the channel to make this happen so if any readers have a clue please let me know.



You Can't Drink Money 

Here we are in the first week of December 2012 just a few short weeks shy of the much ballyhooed potential “fiscal cliff”. The pundits, and the markets, seem to think that we are witnessing a lot of posturing and that more likely than not, an agreement will be hammered out. I’m a little less sanguine.

Although there is a wide chasm between the different proposals for dealing with our debt, it is inarguably unsustainable and undeniably irresponsible to continue ignoring it. Recent figures claim that if the debt were divided among American families, each would owe well over $100,000 and that figure is climbing by the minute. To leave this situation unaddressed and pass it onto future generations is unthinkable.

This being said, what really keeps me up at night is the thought of the “environmental” cliff we seem to be racing towards with equally reckless abandon. It’s not my intention here to discuss some of the dire predictions that accompany the melting polar icecaps but suffice it to say that once this threshold is crossed, it will be nearly impossible to retrace our steps and the price that future generations will pay is incalculable and will dwarf any economic and fiscal problems.

What is especially disturbing is how these two concerns are sometimes pitted against each other. So often the voices that condemn fiscal irresponsibility and its effect on future generations are the same ones that decry any and all attempts to protect our environment. Or else they give the environment lip service and claim that now, while the economy is suffering, is not the right time for any “job killing” environmental regulations. Form my understanding, “now” is our very last chance. It is not the eleventh hour but rather 11:55 PM.

Many economists are looking toward fracking and the cheap energy it can purportedly provide as the engine that will pull the US economy of this long, nasty recession and refortify our position as the leading global economy. And they are more than willing to overlook the mounting evidence of the environmental contamination that accompanies fracking. I would ask them to consider the famous quote from Oren Lyons, an Iroquois tribal leader: "In our way of life, in our government, with every decision we make, we always keep in mind the Seventh Generation to come. It's our job to see that the people coming ahead, the generations still unborn, have a world no worse than ours and hopefully better….”

Read more:

What if President Obama were to make clean energy a cornerstone of his second term and implement a massive program to address America’s role in the global warming crisis? Is it possible that such action might actually provide a much needed, job-creating economic stimulus? One would have to look no further than Germany to see where just such a program has worked remarkably well.

I often wonder what it would be like to have to face future generations who are suffering the effects of my generation’s greed and environmental negligence. How could I possibly rationalize my desire for cheap gas when their water is undrinkable, their air is unbreathable and the Earth’s soils no longer fertile?

Whatever excuse I might cobble together, they very well might reply, “you can’t drink money”.

Universal Lyrics 

In case the title didn’t clue you in, this blog is primarily directed at songwriters. Of course all are welcome for the ride….

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been encouraged to “put some furniture in the room” when writing lyrics. “Paint a picture” and “show don’t tell” are phrases that also come to mind. I was taught that the listener would easily become bored without these specific, vivid images. It made sense to me and I often found that my picture phrases e.g., “croissants and cappuccino” were some of the first, and often the only thing, that many listeners remembered.

So far, so good. Well not really. I won’t bore you with another blog about the shifting sands of our business but suffice it to say that the economic environment for songwriters is rather daunting these days. But there is one market that seems to hold some promise: Film and TV. But film and television provide their own images and their own pictures. The last thing they need is a song with a lyric that contradicts the story being explained visually on the screen. So for this market, lyricists are required to have little, or preferably, no furniture in the room. The emphasis shifts from the external to the internal and now we’re relegated to the role of filling in the emotional details.

I have no problem with this and it makes perfect sense. I guess my quandary is figuring out a way to serve both seemingly opposite scenarios. How do I write a lyric that would serve the Film and TV market yet still have enough detail to satisfy a listener who is not staring at a screen? I want to write songs that have enough detail to satisfy an audience at a concert and that would still be able to sit unobtrusively behind the action on the screen.

Admittedly there are songs that crossover and work in both capacities. I’m just trying to figure it out for myself.

Have you grappled with this yourself? Either way I would love to hear from you.

One last thing....Don't even think about pitching to the F & T industry before you read Robin Frederick's most interesting "Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV".

Jimmy James Page

Ch ch ch ch changes 

Hi and welcome to my first blog to be posted on my very first website. Do I seem a little nervous? I should because i keep hearing a voice asking "what do you think you're doing here"?
I do my best to ignore it but I can't see ahead and I have no idea where all this is leading. But sometimes you just have to jump in and start swimming. Besides the water rushing by one's ears is a great tonic to silence all those doubtful voices that love to swirl around and fill any otherwise empty cavity.

So by means of introduction, I'm Jimmy James Page a singer and songwriter from the San Francisco Bay Area. I intend to write about things that will have meaning to music lovers but I also have every intention of veering off course when the whim strikes me.

So, getting back to the task at hand, i ask myself "how different is writing a blog from writing a song?" In both cases:

1. You want to start with a memorable/catchy title. (how did I do with this blog?)
2. You want an intro that will draw a listener/viewer in.
3. You want a strong ending, preferably one that will tie back to some idea/theme that you started with.
4. Use of metaphors gives the listener/reader some imagery and help them find deeper meaning
5. Honesty reigns king. (at least in my book.)

Anybody care to add to this list? Songwriters and non-musos alike are welcome to chime in.

Interesting.... once I started writing, that nagging "voice" decrescendoed into nothingness. What I'd give to drown it forever.
I think I'm going to like this.

-Jimmy James Page