Dog on a string

Sit back and enjoy the groove of Paul Greenstein’s original track. Composition, arrangement, engineering and all instruments by Paul. This is the great tune I jammed to here, back in April, 2006.

Paul explains the title, in a way:

The only thing I might suggest would be an explanation of the title ‘Dog on a string’.

During the 70’s and early 80’s in the UK, there was a certain type of festival (for example Stonehenge and early Glastonbury), that attracted a certain type of festival-goer; a rebel, non-conformist, ‘free spirit’, counter-culture type of person. Dreads, grubby denim, beads etc. Sometimes referred to as a ‘Crusty’, due to a propensity to get covered in mud (think classic British Festival Weather), the mud would then dry, leaving a crust, gettit? Driving and often living in an old school bus, ex-post-office van, or similar (called a ‘bender’), this person would often have a canine companion, usually a skinny bitsa (bitsa this, bitsa that). Eschewing anything as conservative as a  ‘proper’ dog lead, a piece of string would be used. Of course, this has absolutely nothing to do with the track itself, and probably even less to do with the vocal, for which I still don’t have a translation.

Actual history – in 1985, Margaret Thatcher sent in the police to disperse a band of ‘new age travelers’ heading towards Stonehenge festival. The resulting brutality is known as the Battle of the Beanfield.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Beanfield

For a bit more of more recent Paul, clickez-vous Plague Mice. a 10,000 mile collaboration from May 2020.

Another collaboration, from around 2009: Now Before I Gliss (Paul with some evocative playing on fretless glissentar).

One from the vault (Sensitive Dog)

One from the Random Acts of Senseless Creativity files. After I thought about this track an hour ago I went looking for it, a journey through a labyrinth of old emails and various digital booby-traps. After a few small wrestling matches with the technology, I was able to place it here, where it can be found easily next time. I was happy to locate it and I’m glad to pass it on.

The underlying track for this is called Dog on a String, composed and performed by Paul Greenstein sometime after the turn of the twenty-first century, if memory serves. This was an improvisation I recorded, back on April 14, 2006, apparently. All parts were played for the love of making the track and for that reason alone.

For me this over-the-top jam captures the thrill of interactive invention — the joy of improvising over a groove you’re really digging.

Our ability to find joy and improvise has been sorely tested in the isolation of this COVID crisis. Mutual, playful improvisation, a vital part of human interaction, a free delight of life, fades during dark times, the habit of playing happily — another casualty of the pandemic. Playing together gives us joy, undeniable but easy to forget, sometimes. This track reminds me of how much fun play is.

Paul’s track was a delight, I greatly love that mysterious, soulful Indian singer, all of Paul’s parts are superb (if several lovely ones were drowned out by the overloud distorted guitar, sorry about that). It is also beautifully engineered, everything is exactly where you want it to be in the mix and the EQ. I’ll ask Paul for the original track, so I can post that beauty for you to hear.

Listening to this track I hear my excitement, the enthusiastic variations inspired by the sheer fun of following a wildly idiosyncratic groove.

Sensitive Dog starts with a dog lover’s question for Cesar Milan, who then considers the best way to interact with a dog who is very sensitive. Odd to say, I couldn’t tell you what key it’s in, I had no idea when I was playing it, most unusual for me, I followed the singer as best I could.

There are suboptimal notes, which I can’t begrudge someone inventing parts over a track he is greatly loving as he plays. If you don’t let yourself be distracted by the mistakes and take in the entire 1:56 as a piece, I think you’ll get what I’m talking about.

My only regret is the mix. If someone had been sitting at the controls (there were no controls, the overdub was recorded off the small amp that was also playing Dog on A String) and adjusting the volume on the distorted guitar, to allow Dog on A String’s many subtle nuances to be appreciated, the track would be infinitely better.

To me, the track is still cool, instant time-travel to a moment of great fun. A reminder of a vital thing, sadly easy to forget during dark days — the joy of carefree play with someone you enjoy. I hope you find it so too.

Musical Interlude

This early pandemic recording (May 2020) seems a good Christmas offering, something about Tony Bennett, the singer who made this lush pop tune popular back in the Eisenhower days, even before my time. [1]

To me this tune is a great example of a great arrangement, you really can’t do the proper accompaniment without playing the two main parts. The chords are basic and provide a pleasing harmony to the melody. But it’s the line the piano is playing against the chords (a clever arpeggio of the chord), it turns out, that gives the song its swing, its groove. The melody, applied over the top, even loosely, cannot help but be at its most beautiful, set off this way by the other two parts. My Christmas elf’s hat is off to the arranger of this great tune.

To the musically hip, check out a fatal flaw in the underlying loop, every time the top comes around (and dig the riff from Santana’s first album in the bluesy final chorus, and a guest vocal from Sekhnet at the very end).

[1]

“I Left My Heart in San Francisco” is a popular song, written in the fall of 1953 in Brooklyn, New York, with music by George Cory and lyrics by Douglass Cross and best known as the signature song of Tony Bennett. Wikipedia

Take Care of Yourself, friend

There are things you love to do. You should do them. When things are at their worst, at their scariest, when life on our planet is teetering on the brink of extinction, it is imperative to remember to cherish the things we love and to do them often.

The people we love too, of course, of course, we have to try extra hard to take good care of them. It is more important now than at other times to show them as much mercy and kindness as you have in your heart, and that goes for mercy and kindness toward yourself too in this terrifying, aggravating time. But what I am talking about now is doing the things that make us happiest, that restore us to ourselves. It is super important now to remember them, and do them often.

I love to play music. I am a good guitar player and a limited, though functional piano player. Few things I know compare to the pure joyful relaxation that takes over once the guitar is staying in tune (cold weather, and sudden changes in temperature, can really mess with the strings), the instrument is warm in your hands and the musical sounds emerge as beautifully as you can make them. Take a beat, if you like, swing another beat against it. It’s probably as close as I’ll ever come to taking off and soaring on thermals, or gliding a mile under a perfect ocean.

The words you are reading now, something else that gives me great pleasure to put together. Obviously, I spend time every day doing this. I am compelled, but, also, I love to do it.

Cooking a tasty, healthy meal, something I’ve always liked to do, has taken on more meaning to me during this lockdown as Sekhnet feels up against the daily horrors and it is a comfort to us both to share a fresh meal that is actually good for us. I am starting to love the whole process of making a pot or pan of something good.

Walking is something I’ve always liked to do. Now that I have arthritis in both knees, it has become a necessity for me to walk throughout the day, to avoid pain. An hour or two in nature, breathing in the trees, is always a beautiful thing. I love certain moments of my long daily walk. There is a time, after walking long enough, when the stiffness and soreness in my knees melts away. The pleasure of sitting on a bench after thirty minutes of purposefully striding along — I love it.

Odd to say, though I’ve always loved to draw, and make all kinds of marks on paper, have always carried a drawing book with me, and several of my favorite pens and pencils, I’ve done virtually no drawing or calligraphy during this pandemic nightmare.

I showed a friend’s super-talented granddaughter how to do simple stop frame animation the other day. Under the mounted camera I drew a simple face and quickly showed her the principle of making animation out of two or more carefully registered drawings (or in this case, two stages of the same drawing).

I explained to her that you can later make the drawing as colorful or detailed as you like, photograph it and add the changes to the animation. (We were working outside in a park, so our art supplies were quite limited). At home afterwards I decided to refine the drawing above to demonstrate this idea to her. You will understand at once, I think, why I decided not to send her the drawing.

Who wants to look into those bizarre, hopeless, death-haunted eyes? Certainly not a sensitive seven year-old who is living through one of the worst periods in recent human history.

Shoot, maybe that’s why I’m not drawing these days. More than in anything else I do, my subconscious emerges most freely in drawings. I can play a stiff version of a beautiful tune on the piano, it’s not great music, but it doesn’t have even a hint of the terror in the face above. Perhaps I’ll try a bit of calligraphy later.

For now, do yourself a kindness. Think of something you love to do, maybe have forgotten about in your overwhelmed concern about the simultaneous and intrusive plagues that are upon us now, and do it. You will thank yourself afterwards, I’m pretty sure. Even if you don’t thank yourself (ingrate!) time is never wasted doing something you love to do.

groove for Plague Mice, collaboration with PG, 5-16-20 (with thanks to Jimi for the bassline)

Corrupt Pardon corruptly given, just the start, boys and girls

We all know Mr. Trump will preemptively pardon virtually everybody left in his administration, his own children and son-in-law, along with Rudy Giuliani, former volunteer campaign manager Paul Manafort and anyone else who testified in the Mueller probe and may yet be vulnerable to prosecution or, more importantly, giving evidence against Donald J. Trump.

Trump has been America’s most fast and loose president, a man whose open abuse of power and obstruction of every investigation, including contesting and trying to obstruct the legal certification of an election, was supported by a group of powerful enablers. Senators, including the head juror at the impeachment trial, vowed to work closely with the president’s defense team to quickly acquit their leader. They argued that impeachment for mere abuse of power and obstruction of Congress was a naked political vendetta after a failed “witch hunt” led by Democrats irrationally furious that Trump beat “Crooked Hillary”. Apparently 74,000,000 of our fellow Americans agreed with those 51 or 52 senators who quickly acquitted old Honest Don, the self-proclaimed greatest friend of America’s coloreds since “Honest” Abe.

Here’s a quick run through the “Flynn thing” Trump asked James Comey to let go of during a private charm offensive he launched before firing the disloyal FBI director early in his term. You’ll recall that it was his firing of Comey, which he admitted on TV he did to stop the Russia probe, that forced the DOJ to appoint Special Prosecutor Mueller in the first place. So with this pardon of Flynn, ending the “Flynn thing,” we end where it all began.

Flynn, who led the “Lock her up!” chants at Trump rallies, became Trump’s first National Security Advisor. He didn’t disclose on his security clearance forms that he was on the payroll of Turkey at the time, or that he’d recently taken money from Russia. Which Trump understood, since if Flynn had done that he couldn’t have received security clearance or served as DNI.

Flynn then lied to Mike Pence about his contacts with the Russian Ambassador during the transition. It had only been a few phone calls, to assure the Russians that Trump was going to lift the sanctions against them, sanctions imposed by the Obama administration in response to what was later proven to have been massive Russian interference to throw the 2016 election to Donald Trump.

This so-called evidence of “sweeping and systematic” Russian interference on behalf of Trump was found during a several round witch hunt that even included a Republican-led Senate Committee. All a huge lie, according to the Republican party who echoed the president’s strong feelings on the matter.

Flynn, who was quickly, reluctantly, fired by Trump after three weeks on the job, lied to the FBI. He was then charged with making false statements to the FBI. He signed a plea deal and became, for a while, a cooperating witness with the Mueller probe. He told the federal judge who accepted his guilty plea that he prayed and that God had urged him to come clean, to admit his past wrong actions and move on with his life.

Then, on the eve of sentencing, he hired a lawyer too crazy even for wild Rudy Giuliani and the current Trump dead-ender legal team, a raving and aggressive attorney named Sidney Powell. Recently she’s gotten a lot of bad press for appearing to be completely insane on television.

Powell convinced Flynn that he was the victim of a traitorous conspiracy and that, since he was actually innocent, that he must withdraw his guilty plea. She worked closely with Bill Barr, obtaining the entire FBI file from the DOJ. She and Barr agreed, after reviewing everything very carefully, that the crime Flynn had pleaded guilty to was not a crime, his lies had been “immaterial”, and besides, he had been trapped by unscrupulous, partisan FBI agents who hated Trump.

In other words, the things Flynn admitted lying about were not of any real legal consequence, certainly not crimes. They were the kind of lies anyone trapped by clever, vicious partisans from the FBI might have told, under the circumstances. Barr moved to withdraw the case, forget the guilty plea, make the whole thing just disappear.

The federal judge, Emmet Sullivan, a man of great integrity and long experience, would not oblige, and under the law, the case could only be dismissed after the judge reviewed it and signed off on the dismissal. Barr and Powell argued that the judge had no right to review the case and they made motions to the appellate court to overrule Sullivan’s insistence on holding a hearing before dismissing the case. They were joined in this plea by many top Republican Senators and Congressmen, acting as “friends of the court”.

Powell, with Barr’s support, convinced a three judge appellate panel to order Judge Sullivan to immediately dismiss the case by granting a very rare form of relief called a writ of mandamus.

Two of the three judges on the panel, both appointed by Mr. Trump, ruled that Mr. Trump’s discretionary power to prosecute was absolute as was his power to change his mind, with or without explanation to any judge, and that Sullivan was illegally attempting to usurp the Executive power granted by Article II of the Constitution.

The appellate judge who dissented pointed out that there was a clear legal test before mandamus could be ordered; namely that the person asking had no other legal relief available. Flynn had the ordinary appeal of anything Sullivan may have done at the hearing that he felt violated his rights and so was not eligible for a writ of mandamus.

Emmet Sullivan appealed the decision that had wrongly granted the writ of mandamus and the full Court of Appeals dismissed the Trump appointee’s legally feeble order. They ruled that Flynn had the ordinary appeal of anything Judge Sullivan might do at the hearing that he could argue violated his rights and so was not eligible for a writ of mandamus. The case was returned to Judge Sullivan who ordered a hearing.

Trump lost the election by a shade under 7,000,000 votes. He continues to deny that he lost the election, insisting, without any evidence, that his presidency was stolen by a vast conspiracy of vicious, dangerous, traitorous criminals — some of them in his own party. Bill Barr eventually admitted that the election was over, that there had been no proof of fraud that could have changed the result. Barr will probably be the next to be fired. Trump pardoned Flynn. The same day, Barr made a motion to Judge Sullivan insisting that he now immediately dismiss the case. Sullivan is weighing his option to tell Barr again to go fuck himself.

Pardon in hand, Mike Flynn immediately called for an armed overthrow of the elected government, a full-on military coup. The man Sullivan denounced in court as a traitor to his oath to serve this country was advocating open treason. Many of his military colleagues reacted quickly to denounce his exhortation to violent military overthrow of the legally elected government. You can’t teach sick fucking dogs new tricks, by the looks of it.

In an unrelated case, at least one person is currently on trial for an attempt to buy a presidential pardon through a large campaign contribution. This was revealed the other day by the judge hearing the case. The DOJ had kept this prosecution very quiet, the indictment came down in August.

Knowing it would look bad for Trump’s reelection that people had been indicted for attempting to buy pardons from him, Barr concealed the bribe-for-pardon (quid pro quo) case while highlighting an aggressive, international investigation that would supposedly — in October (surprise!) — prove Mueller’s team was a bunch of lying swine who illegally spied on Mr. Trump and trapped innocent men like General Mike Flynn. Barr also repeatedly carped on TV about massive vote-by-mail fraud as Trump’s new mega-donor Postmaster General was removing and dismantling hundreds of high speed mail sorting machinjoes in Democratic areas and yanking mailboxes off the streets in those same areas.

Justice, justice shall ye seek, yo.

And, totally unrelated to any of that sickening batshit — an instrumental I recorded as a rhythm track for some friends to improvise over. From 2009, Now Before I Go…

Plague Mice

Had a cheerful greeting from this guy at Costco today, who, when I asked him to smile for the camera, went:



Here is a meditative little track for you: Plague Mice. A recent long-distance (over 10,000 mile) collaboration with guitarist Paul Greenstein [1].

We figured, since we were doing it during a worldwide plague, that those beautifully singing mice who solo along with Paul’s guitar could only be Plague Mice. We offer the tune as a hope for better times, and soon.





[1] Technical details: My parts were done on a Ditto looper, recorded on my phone, sent to Paul, Paul improvised that cool melody over the top, with the soulful chorus of digital mice singing over his guitar. Paul called dialing in that electronic, ethereal mouse chorus effect “putting eyebrows on it” , as Frank Zappa used to say.

I say nice eyebrows, man.

Music Lessons

My teacher of basic music theory and guitar harmony in high school was a talented, nasty, brutally superior classmate named Speed. (A member of his family was Abraham Lincoln’s close friend, Joshua Fry Speed, for you history bugs).  Speed, who started on harmonica (which he played incessantly in gym class, to the horror of the drill sergeant) and quickly taught himself guitar, was a prolific composer, one of the greatest musicians I’ve known, and a demanding prick.

When he played his complicated tunes, he’d grunt with genuine disgust every time he hit a wrong note or chord.  He was angry at himself for not being able to flawlessly play things nobody else at the time could play either.  After all, he’d already been playing for a few weeks!  A complicated and tormented fellow, and great musician and writer — also very funny, but also– quite brutal.

Unsurprisingly, the talented Mr. Speed was a merciless teacher. He showed me all the fancy chords he used, the 7-9 chord, the 7 raised nine, the flat nine, the eleventh, the thirteenth, the sus2 — or added nine, the seven flat fives, major and minor, the augmented chords (and I left out the beautiful sixth chords). He taught me why each one was named the way it was, demonstrated the many harmonic uses for each of these “jazz chords” (these chords are extensions of the essential major, minor, dominant seven and diminished chords that all guitarists learn).

It was a great bootcamp for someone with natural curiosity about music, though I was more drawn to Crosby, Stills and Nash tunes, much simpler, which were fun to play on guitar. Speed held me to a much higher standard, a standard I always disappointed him by failing to attain. I did learn a lot of chords, and how to play them smoothly in various positions, something that came in very handy, but eventually the brutality of the “lessons” just got to me and I finally had to tell Speed to fuck off.

What I’ve learned since, so elemental, took me many years to realize. What I love about music is the dialogue between the different parts, the way each voice adds an essential element, and the active listening and nuanced response required for good ensemble playing. Music is really a beautiful conversation, when it’s grooving. How did Speed miss teaching me this basic concept? Too mad, I guess.

You start from silence, then a nod, or a count, or somebody hitting something in time. Listen to any great arrangement, there’s a lot going on, but most of the parts are quite simple. One voice may be hitting one note over and over, a pedal tone this is sometimes called. But it is hitting that note in a crucial rhythmic spot, driving the music forward. That beat provides an anchor for a harmony instrument to spread some colors over, which in turn opens still more possibilities, rhythmic and melodic both. The way things interact musically, an endless mystery that does not perplex at all– it delights.

There are “infinite” harmonies to any melody, Speed once told me. Maybe so, but it is the beautiful ones that compel us to sing and nod and dance along. And, again, all music starts in silence — and the beats of silence in the music are very precious too.

The prerequisite to making good music is relaxation, grace is required to hit the notes calmly and strongly. The crucial element of generosity in your fellow musicians, and towards yourself, cannot be overstated. Relaxed, engaged listening is essential for creative, musical collaboration. It’s hard to be relaxed playing with a guy like Speed, perfectionistic, always demanding more than you can do, sometimes more than even he can do.

He had bands, with excellent, top-shelf jazz musicians, they played his stuff well, but still — there was often a joy missing, it felt to some in the audience.  It felt to me.  These great top musicians loved the challenge of his music, though sometimes it was just too damned challenging for the listener.  I remember in one club, dramatically, the dance floor emptied long before his first set was over.  The club owner suspected he had a genius on the bandstand, but he was openly perplexed about letting them come back on.

The best of Speed’s songs, there’s a darkly brilliant one called “I Can’t See You” that always comes to mind, although supremely difficult to play (on the only version I know Speed plays all the instruments) are full of soul, grace, space, cleverly interacting off-beats, and there is beautiful singing and clever wordplay among all that.   I remember this track (done on a 4 track tape recorder) before the vocals, it was gorgeous as an instrumental too, but that version had to be sacrificed due to the technology of the day, which required “bouncing” of tracks for any overdub beyond number three.   Anyway, you can hear all those things, the compelling dialogue between the different parts, in this song, as in any realized piece of arranged music.

I often think of this story, in relation to Speed, who always disparaged my guitar playing and musical naiveté.   More than a decade ago (2011, I see now, scrolling through gmail to find the track) I sent a basic track (two guitars and piano, against a drum patch) to a genius I knew in high school, Frank Burrows, the only guy alive, when we were in high school, who could play Speed’s compositions (he’d been playing guitar a year or so by then).

To my delight, Frank orchestrated the track, literally, he arranged an orchestra of instruments over my track.  He came up with many colorful, sometimes madcap, parts that made the simple ideas in my track blossom.  It was brilliant, as was his hauntingly evocative C part (at 3:40, below), which ends the tune.  It was as thrilling for me as sending a tune idea to Frank Zappa, or Jimi, or Django, and getting back a fully realized musical version, virtuosically played by an entire skilled band.    I emailed the finished track to Speed. Speed liked it, and confessed he couldn’t tell my playing on it from Frank’s.   Fucking A, I thought to meself, I finally graduated!

 


Aside from the ego gratification of playing music well, and having people admire your efforts, there is a much more fundamental benefit of playing music, it seems to me.  The beauty of the thing itself.   My playing, and Frank’s, are exactly the same in their intent and effect, whether Speed applauded them or disparaged them.   The notion of appreciation must lie in the heart of the player, as it does for anything we truly love.   

This is also a good life lesson — kindness, always, toward the self. That is the true and only root of kindness and generosity toward others.

Think of it like this — every note you faithfully play, or sing tunefully, once it fits into the larger scheme of music, becomes a living moment of grace.   There is no comparison, no consideration other than serving the music properly, making the thing you are playing sound better.   There is no greater reward for doing anything than a beautiful result.   With music, you have it at once, as you play it well.   No need for the dough to rise, the cake to bake, the critics to nod — it’s there, in the air, light and precious as the air, just as beautiful and almost as essential to life.