Wednesday, June 21, 2017

You Are What You Is:


 "I have a propensity towards self-absorption..."

"So even you--Lodo Grdzak, got caught up in this scam?"
 


Losing boxers always talk about the various adjustments they're going to make for their next fight. "I'm going to be more elusive, more selective with my punches. I'm gonna pace myself better. I'm gonna sit-down on my punches more." Um hmm. That usually lasts until the first real exchange or sign of trouble, then its right back to the old habits. 'Cause like Frank Zappa famously sang You Are What You Is. Or as Mike Tyson phrased it, "Everyone's got a plan til they get punched in the face." 

For better or worse, I have a propensity towards aloofness and self-absorption. Always have. Which isn't to say all I do is sit around and post selfies or jerk-off to internet porn. That's just half my day. The rest of my day is handling investigations and working on my skills.  My guitar playing or writing. I used to workout, but I don't do that anymore; and I used to read books, but those days seem to be over. For me and everyone else. But I'm sure society wont suffer anything for that--I mean, our leaders and leadership's as strong as ever! 

Guitar in general and Open Mic in particular were supposed to be a bit of a cure for my solipsism. Supposed to help me expand my horizons and break out of the isolation I found myself in after working on my book and starting my business. In the past I'd hoped my blogs might do that for me; and in fact there were people that reached out to me over the course of the years I was blogging. I was (and still am) appreciative of the comments they left and their attempts to reach out; but I could never formulate the trust needed or the confidence in the internet itself to actually respond in kind. You always hear stories about "catfishing" or identity scams--even of people you'd think were immune; and I never could shake the voice of Stacy Keach from my mind when I'd imagine the ramifications of my clumsy attempts to make an internet connection.

"So even you--Lodo Grdzak, got caught up in this scam."

"I guess that's true.

"Even though you're a professional investigator, trained to be skeptical.

"Yeah, they got me too."

"You--a veteran with years of experience in a field which requires you to analyz..."

"Listen man!--they got me okay!

So yeah, blogging didn't exactly lead to a wider world of social contacts like I may have liked. 

But truth is, I'm just not a social guy. Never have been. I've got plenty of TV channels; 3 guitars; a library down the street with 6 decades worth of movies; over 500 compact music discs; 50 restaurants within 3 blocks of my house; a dozen of the world's best jazz clubs just across the river; a steady weed supply; 100's of books (now going un-read); plus my own book to write. I don't need you; and you don't need me either. We can play pretend all we want; but that's all it is. Truth is, we need each other less and less, despite breeding more and more. Maybe that feeling of isolated loneliness is what makes us breed more. A vicious cycle as you might say. 

But that's a topic for another time.

So yeah,what's funny is that when I first started at open mic I really made an effort to either reach out or play with anyone who asked. And initially it went great. The first guy who joined me on stage was this Latin drummer who played The Doors' Break on Thru. It was him, Murphy, and me; and he added a jazzy, Latin flavor and...just plain balls that really worked for us. Course being a drummer he was right up my alley anyway. Then another guy--a hand-drummer came on stage. He's a regular; knows how to play; and that went great too. 

But just like Monterey Pop will always degenerate into an Altamont Speedway as more people get involved; my attempts at reaching out began to lead to fewer and fewer positive returns. Part of the problem was that I've been trying to figure out exactly what/who Open Mic Lodo Grdzak really is. I'm still in the process of discovery on that issue; and the collaborations oftentimes felt like a big digression from that pursuit. Suddenly I was playing tunes I had no interest in playing--that weren't taking me anywhere. Just to get along and find common ground. There was nothing for me to really add--nothing original or authentic anyway, and a lot of times I'd just lock-up. 

Another problem I had was that the more instruments/voices that were on stage, the harder it was for me to hear and discern what was going on. That's still a problem for me. Ideally, a trio is my favorite configuration. It gives me all the space I need to change direction at a moment's notice; but still gives me a chance to collaborate a bit. Its uncluttered, and because I don't have a lot of recent experience playing with other chord-type instruments, I feel really constrained when I have to try and fit-into what someone else is doing. But oh man! When I began to discriminate a little bit. Began to say no to certain people who wanted to play with me, I really violated the spirit of open mic. 

Case in point: for a long time my thing was that I'd play with a drummer. Just me and a drummer. Again, this was because I was still finding my personality. And getting used to the stage and space. But at open mic people will just jump up and start playing, which...that's just open mic. You can kick them off; but it usually doesn't come down to that. Usually people are smart or polite enough to ask; particularly if they're a singer or  doing something that's really upfront. 9.5 out of 10x a drummer or hand-drummer jumping on stage is gonna be a total positive. Really add to the mix and energy. But someone jumping up spontaneously to start lead singing or ripping a guitar solo is, well,...hello?!

So I was playing with this drummer--a regular at open mic. He's great and has his own band. I was really grateful to be playing with him 'cause I could feel myself improve. But after the 2nd or 3rd week that we played, the singer from his band suddenly jumps up and starts singing with us. On my time. Two songs or 10 minutes, that's all I get. But okay, whatever--she's talented and definitely all-around better than me. Got a good voice, a lot of personality, plays nice bass, writes, shakes her ass a little bit. The code of the schoolyard says the better the talent, the more time they deserve. I feel that. Agree with it even. But she's singing, and singing,...and singing. She took over my entire time and--more importantly, made no attempt to assimilate what she was doing with what had been established. That's what really bothered me. Then the next week, she did the same freaking thing. 

So now, the next open mic, were all outside smoking when she approaches me and basically starts to tell me what were going to play. On my time. Two songs or ten minutes--that's all I get. That was when I made a correction to her behavior. I don't need to get into what was said. Its not important. No one was made to feel small; no one yelled; no outside or unrelated issues were introduced to the discussion. I simply addressed what had to be addressed and we moved on. Or thought we had.  

The following week I saw her, and in an effort at appeasement and reconciliation I said to her, "Hey, if you want, you can play with me on my time. You know I don't use singers 'cause my thing is that I'm instrumental; but you can play bass, which might be cool cause it'd give you a chance to showcase that part of your playing." 

Well this chick just looked at me with her jaw dropped open, rolled her eyes, and stomped off with no reply. I assumed there was some kind of miscommunication or something got lost in translation; so an hour or so later I saw her outside and asked her again." 

"Hey, I dont know if you caught what I was saying, but I..."

"Oh I heard exactly what you were saying and let me tell you I'm getting real tired of you trying to place limits on me or what I do! Everybody is.

"What does that mean?

"It means I'm not the only one who feels this way. I don't think you know this, but you're developing a really bad reputation here among the other musicians. Ask around. Everything's about you. You just play with a drummer. We get it--you're the star. But ask" (here she threw out a name of someone I recognized. Someone I'd played with in the past and respected; but in fact I had treated rather shabbily), "he'll never play with you after what you said. A LOT of the musicians feel that way. I don't need to play bass with you. I don't nee..."

She went on, but I'd stopped listening. Not because I was dismissing her; but in fact, she'd kind of hurt my feelings. It was all coming back again. The self-absorption. The lack of appreciation of others. The constant assessing. The stand-offishness that's marked all my relationships. You can try and re-train a boxer. They always say they're gonna make the adjustments, but in the end...you are what you is. 

But I suppose that doesn't mean you stop fighting.


          

       

        

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Random Thoughts On the NBA, Open Mic, and Keeping it Real:




"...and if players are stuck playing for some repeatedly exploitative jerk of an owner..."

"...as opposed to the brain damaged NFL assholes who golf with Trump and shill C-list pizza that we wouldn't feed our bums here in New York."

"She's the real MVP!"

My mom was just in town, and I've been following NBA Finals on TV, so I haven't done any writing. But now I've got all the time in the world. 

Because the NBA's composed of mainly good people who love their mothers (as opposed to the brain damaged NFL assholes who golf with Trump and shill C-list pizza that we wouldn't feed our bums here in New York ); I can get behind NBA. Support it. In NBA the players and owners split revenue 50-50; and if players are stuck playing for some syphilis-infected, repeatedly exploitative jerk of an owner, they can get him kicked out the league. Try getting that deal in the NFL

NBA and NFL are both professional sports leagues, but they're two different animals. Just like open mic's very different than blues jam. It's a distinction I'd have never made a year ago; but at least in my town, there's open mic and there's blues jam. And they're different. 

For example, last night at open mic I played Party by Beyonce and You Dont Have to Call by Usher. Those were my two tunes. Two tunes at open mic. Now, if I went to blues jam and tried playing Party by Beyonce, the guy that runs it would stop me in pretty short order and ask me, "what the hell are you doing?" And if I said "I'm playing Party by Beyonce," he'd most likely have a freaking aneurysm right there in front of me and drop dead. 

You dont play Party by Beyonce at blues jam. You play Mustang Sally, or Born Under A Bad Sign; or The Thrill is Gone; or Stormy Monday. All the shit you've already heard ten billion times. Not that a lot of those tunes aren't great when they're done right. There's a thing called having a culture and America's got one. Those tunes are bona-fide legit, and a lot of the players--particularly the guitar players, that go to blues jam are very serious. Way better than the players at open mic. And me.

That said, there's a certain Conservative/GOP rigidity that bothers me about blues jam. Its a lot more about playing than it is artistry. The draw of even the good players seems to be that they're doing an exact style you already know in your American soul. Specific licks or skills always come up. Repeating themselves. Its a lot like how a gymnast or kickboxer is required to demonstrate certain skills in competition. Even the most musically non-educated listeners know when the turnarounds are coming. Can anticipate the overall direction and flavor of the phrases. Like the avid Classic Rock listener who gets the impression that they know a little about music cause they can sing the solo's note for note. Or do the drum fills. I'm not saying there isn't some acquired skill or knowledge there. But its just rote repetition a lot of the time.

Conversely, open mic's more about songwriting.  The playing itself is way more up and down. With a lot of down. There's a lot of acoustic guitars that I'm not that crazy about. The whole vibe is more...folkie. Less blue collar. But at least its genuinely open. They get country guys--and gals; an occasional rapper; Dylan-types; cornball pop-rock; the self-empowerment chick-shit. And of course lots of classic rock and comedians. 

While blues jam often seems to appeal to a player's desire to achieve a sort of pre-established role for themselves; there's more space for individuality at open mic. Least if you approach it that way. In previous posts I mentioned how--at first, I'd gotten a rush simply in being able to play a complete song from beginning to end. In front of people. But that quickly morphed into me wanting to do more of my own thing. I want to inject a little more of my own sensibility into the mix. And that's kind of where I've been at these last 7-8 months or so. I'm not a songwriter--in fact, I don't sing at all. So I'm still figuring out what "my sensibility," means in a musical sense. 

Whether you're a Conservative/NFL blues-jammer or Progressive/NBA open mic'er, it seems people on both sides of the proverbial aisle are more energized. Getting off the internet and engaging publicly a little more. Or maybe that's just my perception 'cause I've been doing open mic this past year. Whatever the reality, I bring it up 'cause 2 out of the last 3x I went to open mic I couldn't get on. 'Cause it was too crowded. In fact, it would have been 3 of the last 4x except that I did something last night that I've never done, which was play without a drummer. 

Playing with a drummer is the whole reason I go to open mic. Or at least, that's what it's always been. But now--due to noise complaints, drums aren't allowed after 11:00.  That's what's been happening to me lately. My name hasn't been called 'til after 11:00, so I've just been leaving. 

But last night would have been the 3rd time in 4 weeks that I would've left without playing. It kind of forced the question on me as I stood at the bar:

"Well Lodo, are you still gonna be an open mic'er or is this it?

"No,...I think I still wanna be an open mic'er.

"Well then get up there and start open mic'ing!

Alright, so I went up on stage with no drummer. That was definitely different. Not only did I have to change the tunes I planned to play; but it was a flat-out different experience. Like running on flat-ground as opposed to going downhill. With a drummer, I'd have got all kinds of momentum behind me. Underneath. I'd have been supported. Without a drummer I had to provide all the conception, momentum and forward propulsion myself. Like Lebron without Kyrie. Or Woody Allen or Spike Lee; I had to be producer, star, director,...

It was fun. Not as much fun as playing with a drummer; but I feel like I grew a little bit. Artistically. When I was done with my tunes one of my friends said to me, "When you play with a drummer all you do is interact with them--you never look at anyone else. You were different tonight. I could see you." Another person told me, "When you play with the drummers you're always trying to match they're energy. Tonight I actually liked you 'cause you weren't doing that." 

Course that last comment implies that the guy normally doesn't like me. (Hell, there's nothing implied there, I don't know what I'm trying to cover up!). But whatever. Message received. 

At the end of the night I was outside smoking with one of the drummers I like to play with. He's definitely the best musician at open mic. At least amongst the regulars. His opinion matters to me. At one point he squinted his eyes. Looked at me, 

"You like playing with the drummers." 


"I think you know that." 


"Um hmm. They make you look good."  

"Well,...yeah."

"...You can hide behind them." 


"Uh, maybe. Is that what you think I do?" 


"I don't know. I know I make you look good. But you played well tonight." 


With that he gave me what I interpreted to be a sincere smile as he walked inside. The conversation didn't strike me as particularly dramatic at the moment. There were others with us at the time, so I just passed the one-hitter and bounced into the next topic. With the next person.

But I've been thinking about it since then.



       

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What Would it Take?:


"Has Santana ever changed his guitar sound in 40+ years?"

"...like a boxing referee as he stepped into the mix to show me some mercy.."


Open mic is right where I belong. Some of these people I meet at open mic--wow! If you're a 20-something year old kid (or even 30) who thinks open mic's gonna be the start of something big--hey, don't let me hold you back. Nothing worse than a dream-killer. Everybody's gotta start somewhere. But when I meet guys my age; who just play covers like I do, talking seriously 'bout one day playing Giants Stadium or something along those lines,...

"Really man?" 

"Oh  yeah, this is just the start. I'm going all the way."

"...What would that even mean?"

Open mic's supposed to be fun. Least that's how I interpret it, though I suppose at 50 years old its easy for me to say that. I've got a respectable trade that chicks like. I've got my writing. Plus I've got an accumulation of defining experiences. I don't need guitar or open mic to be personal identifiers. I can't pretend they aren't an increasing part of this overall pie known as "Lodo Grdzak;" but they're still just pieces. Slices.

It's been brought to my attention that I often take a self-deprecating tone when I discuss my guitar playing. I'm told I use a lot of self-deprecating language, which of course I do. Every honest guitar player does. There are so many approaches to the guitar and ways to play it no one can master them all. Pat Martino and Buddy Guy are both legendary electric guitarists; but I don't really see a lot of similarities in what they do. Or want to do. The great classical/flamenco player Paco De Luca could never keep a crowd of 16,000 people on their feet for 3+ hours like Prince; but how much flamenco technique did Prince have? Barry Sanders wasn't exactly a 4th and goal running back, and Tom Brady wouldn't be my first choice if I needed a scrambling QB; yet people make the case for these guys being the greatest of all time. All the time. The same holds true with guitar players. Every great brings something to the table; but you can't become something without giving up something. That's just life.

On the hierarchy of guitar competency/excellence, I'd say the rungs progress in the following manner: 1) Absolute beginner; 2) Campfire adequate; 3) Open mic'er; 4) Blues-jam competent; 5) Busking ability; 6) Player in cover band; 7) Paid player in cover band or someone else's original band; 8) Paid player in your own original, working band.  

Obviously this is an over-simplification--you'd have to throw educator in there somewhere; but it works for my purposes. I know I'm campfire adequate 'cause I've been certified by my buddy Catfish out in Colorado; and obviously I've got my open mic accreditation or we wouldn't be here.  Beyond that...I don't see me going too far. I tried my hand at the local blues jam out here, but the guy who runs it cut me in the middle of my 2nd tune. 

"No. No! NO!" he said waving his arms and hands like a boxing referee as he stepped into the mix to show me some mercy, "that's it. You've gotta go home and listen to some more blues records." 

"I'm not gonna do that." 

"Well, you're not playing here. That's it." 

Alright--so I'm not blues jam competent. I can deal with it. I know I'm a good open mic'er, even if I can't really play. 

To consider myself someone that could really play. Someone who might entertain the idea of quitting their day job like I seriously considered doing with my writing, I'd have to be able to do at least one of three things, if not all of them:

ONE: I'd have to be able to read music. Sight-read music. You could put the sheet music in front of me and I'd just be able to play it. On the spot. In various time signatures and all the keys. That'd be if I could really play. Absent that, I suppose I'd  need a great freaking ear that would allow me to pick-up a song or a melody in a snap. That'd work. But really, if you're gonna call yourself a professional musician, you might want to be able to read music. 

TWO: Whether I could read music or not, I might-could make a living if I were able to play an authentic blues. A genuine, soulful blues that could elicit emotion from the listener. If I could do that, I wouldn't need to be a great artist. Or even a particularly good one for that matter. Most of these blues guys are just doing the same thing that Hendrix, Clapton, and Buddy Guy did 45+ years ago. That's exactly why they're considered great, 'cause they sound like those guys. Like Carlos Santana's guitar sound--maybe he's refined it a bit, but has he ever really changed it in 40+ years? Who'd want him to? 

If you can play a real blues, there's always a biker bar or outdoor BBQ in the USA where you can earn a few bucks. Real blues resonates in the human psyche on a universal level. The same way that 120 beats per minute is dance music; or the opening scene of a porn movie pops you a boner. Or wets-up a pussy. Its rudimental nature.

As it so happens, I can't play a legit blues; so when I speak in a self-disparaging manner about my overall playing, its not false modesty. Some of my fellow open mic'ers think I can play blues 'cause I can fake it for a few minutes; but after a short period of time I end up sounding like...me. A (relatively) rich, white, college grad, who's almost always had jobs, good health 'til he was 40, a stable home-life, and no experiences worse than general, first-world problems. Boy does that sound like a recipe for soulful blues! 

Three:  The biggest thing that would scare me off of a career in music--assuming I could play a soulful blues and/or read music; would be the difficulty of controlling my own destiny. Seems like the only way to even possibly do that is to be able to write good, compelling songs. All the time. Under any life or physical conditions. You're in the back of a packed car on a 12 hour road trip? How many songs did you get done? A two week vacation from work? You should easily have 3-4 songs. You're grandma died and you're all busted-up over it? Yeah, well, lets hear the tune. Always Be Writing! If you're being honest with yourself, 9 out of 10 songs are likely gonna be throwaway. Not make the final cut. So you gotta write, write, write, and write. 

Or just keep your day job. 



         

       

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

So,...What're We Doing Here?--Conclusion* (*Scroll down for previous installments):



"There seems to be a mythology about the generation that precedes us..."


"When was the last time an instrumental record made hit radio?"

       

"The drummers get everybody hyped-up..." 

They say the good writers don't tell you what they mean, they show you. They paint the picture, then let the reader ascertain what they will. I suppose that's true, but I'm a blogger--not a writer; and three weeks between posts just ain't blogging. So in the interest of moving things along I'll simply tell you that open mic forced me to forge a musical identity in a way that would never have happened without it. Or attempt to forge an identity. That process is still on-going. 

Prior to open mic, I'd just play at home with my stereo. Randomly, to my music collection. Prince, Stevie, Jimi, Beatles, Aretha, Jeff Beck. And of course every other Friday I'd jam with my buddy Murphy, which meant we'd play The Doors and Creedence and stuff like that. If you just met Murphy and I for the first time you might expect my middle-aged Caucasian-looking ass to be the the Classic Rock fan and Murphy to be the R & B guy; but in fact our roles/tastes are somewhat flipped in that regard. Like a lot of the open mic'ers, Murphy's real big on that golden era of rock 'n' roll. If you've ever seen Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, I suppose it makes a lot of sense. There seems to be a mythology we carry about the generation that immediately precedes us. I don't know if there's an actual term for it, but human nature seems to be that we place that previous generation--and members of it, on a pedestal. Whether they deserve to be or not.  

That said, I'm over two decades older than Murphy; so I've been hearing and listening to that classic rock for 35+ years. I caught the tail-end of that generation in concert--while they still had some vitality; and while I'd definitely assert the level of musicianship and showmanship used to be higher than it is now (way higher); I just can't listen to much of it anymore. And I certainly have no interest in playing it. No one's going to out-Santana Santana on guitar; or make any major strides in Southern rock beyond Duane Allman. Bands and music like that have stood the 45+ year test of time for the very reason that you can't improve upon it. Sure I could cover Black Magic Woman or Blue Sky--but why? All anybody wants to hear is the original. Or a variation that doesn't stray too far. There's plenty of room for playing that stuff, but not much creative freedom in regards to interpretation. 

Or maybe I just don't have enough vision.

I mentioned last installment that the first few times I played open mic I got a real rush. Just from being up there. On stage. Getting-thru a song without breathing hard or being distracted by other musicians or events were minor victories and genuine improvements to my overall game. I still get that performance high when the place is crowded or I feel that I played well; but sometime after those first months I wanted to do more than just play well. I don't write music, but I still wanted to add something of my own to what I was playing. Find a bit of a voice or a sensibility like I've done with my blogs. 

To that end, I had to a do a little soul-searching. Had to ask myself, "So why even go to open mic Lodo? What're you trying to do?

The answer that immediately came to mind was, "I wanna play with a drummer.

There you go reader--question asked and answered. Just like when I'm working a case. Had there been any hesitation in my response I'd have second-guessed it. But the response was immediate. No lying to myself, "I wanna play with a drummer."

Alright, so that's what I like to do. The drummers get me inspired and get everybody hyped-up. There's life to 'em. Vitality. And its so rare out here on the East Coast to be able to play with a drummer. Back in Detroit we lived in a house. Everyone did--even the hardcore ghetto Detroiter's had houses. The roof's may have been falling-in and you'd be skipping 'round the mice, but they had a house. And in Colorado--forget it. The amount of sheer space out there would make the average New Yorker shit their drawers. Its overwhelming if you're not used to it. But here in NYC its apartment living. My neighbors will grudgingly put up with my guit 'til 11:00 PM; but a drum-kit? Even if I were freaking John Bonham that ain't gonna happen. So if you wanna play with a drummer it's either rent a studio or go to open mic. 

Something else open mic taught me by way of self-discovery was not just what I wanted to do up there; but what I can do. There's a big difference between the two. I mentioned in an earlier post that as much as I want to be Jeff Beck by way of technique and phrasing, I'm a lot more Jimmy Page when it comes down to actual execution. I'm...pretty sloppy. I don't use a pick, my fingers are stiff from arthritis, my hands are weak, I dont see that great anymore. I'm not trying to feed you a sob story; nor is this a false-modesty thing in an effort to fish for compliments. Obviously I think I do certain things well enough to get up there every week. I'm not some glutton for punishment.  My point is that--much like Amir Khan had (or maybe still has) to learn that he's no KO puncher, I had to learn that I'm no Jeff Beck. It had to be demonstrated to me. But one thing that happens very quickly once you get on a stage is that you learn what you can't do. And that's important knowledge. As Kanye West might say, "Everything I'm not, is everything I am." 

On a related note, the whole question of how much actual music theory I wanted or want to know has become a subject of internal debate. In my first go-round on the guitar 25+ years ago I'd had real lessons from a professional guitarist. He taught me the Circle of 5ths; Major/Minor/Pentatonic scales; maybe even got into modes a little bit. I can't exactly remember, I was so high back then (ha!--what's changed?) that it was all in one ear, out the other. If I practiced for two hours a night I thought I was amazing. Course some of that theory stuck just via osmosis and whatnot. The little I retained has proven important knowledge in terms of being able to understand and communicate with other musicians. They say knowledge in any field stems from understanding the field's language and music's no exception there. 

Still, after being away from it for over 25 years, I'm never gonna be a master guitarist. More importantly, we've already witnessed master guitar playing and what it sounds like. Like I mentioned earlier, no one's going to out-John Mclaughlin John Mclaughlin, or out-Jimi Hendrix Jimi Hendrix. We already know what great guitar playing sounds like. And we know what bad guitar playing sounds like (readers can insert whatever names they feel appropriate here). But what does good bad guitar playing sound like? Readers may wonder "Who the hell's asking that question Lodo?

I am, every Tuesday. 

Fact is, the era of the electric guitar is basically over.  It had its heyday in the late 60's/early 70's just like the novel had its era in the 1800's and cinema had the 1970's. Now hip-hop and spoken word have pretty-much taken over young music culture. And when they do use instruments--much to my surprise, its the acoustic guitar that seems to be making a comeback; along with turntables and the vocoder. 

I'm not saying I necessarily like these changes; but hey, I can't stand the human race as a whole anymore. What the vocoder does for singing or rap does for the excitement and hoped-for spontaneity of a two-hour long live performance; or music in general is open to debate. I can't comment with any validity--I'm too old to go to techno shows or rap concerts. Maybe they're great; but in regards to music in general I can recall a time when there'd be instrumental records--purely instrumental records by greats like Jeff Beck's Blow by Blow, or Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, or Herbie Hancock's Headhunters that were actually popular records. This was music that could take you out. Outside the 9 to 5; or the day-to-day. None of the cold mechanics of techno thumping relentlessly into your skull. None of the endless pop-culture references of hip-hop that constantly suck you back into reality. I'm talking about music. Purely music. The only positive thing the human race does besides take care of our animals. Yet when was the last time an instrumental record or song made hit-radio? 

When was the last time you shut-off your smartphone?

When I play open mic, I don't use singers 'cause I don't want to hear freaking people anymore. I just play the melody on guitar. Like Jeff Beck. Well, not like Jeff Beck--half the time no one can actually tell what I'm trying to play; but my point is, I believe in instrumental music. What it can do for you--as a player and a listener. It's what first go me excited about music decades ago. Smoke some weed, turn off the lights, put on the headphones, lay back, and...dreammmm.

It was my friend Murphy who first got me into open mic, and one thing that's stuck with me since our initial jams was how liberating not knowing things like key signatures and scales were to his spontaneity. Yes, you have to know notes and key signatures to be able to communicate quickly with other musicians, or to play already established songs well; but when it comes to improvising or on-the-spot creativity all that theory can be stifling. Put you in a bit of a straight-jacket if you're susceptible to the rut of routine and repetition. What first excited me about our jams wasn't the quality of our music or playing per se. It was the energy exchange. To feel our meanderings start to congeal and actually turn into a coherent jam in which we were both on the same page was the true excitement. And to go through that process in front of an audience, to the point where they witness and actually play a role in it themselves, that's real open mic. 

All the big themes are encapsulated at open mic. At first you may not know what you are, but if you're honest with yourself and take stock of your attributes it begins to become clear. You learn to integrate what you do with others; become comfortable in the space and the environment; try to be aspirational even as you recognize your shortcomings; assert yourself when appropriate--you have the right!; acknowledge the talent of others; and of course--at the end of the day, you hope to be liked. That's life. All in two songs or ten minutes.

Whichever comes first. 

* NOTE: Photos of Lodo Grdzak taken by Capacity Images.

** ADDITIONAL NOTE: If you stuck around for all (3) installments--you're the best! Big thanks. See you next post!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

So,...What're We Doing Here?--Installment # 2* (*Scroll down for Part 1):



"The one's who can stay up for three days like Keith Richards will likely use open mic as a stepping stone..."

"I used to get all high, but now its just a buzz."

Exactly what the goal is for any particular open mic'er is subject to debate. I doubt that many of the kids I see up there could answer that question even for themselves. Course I can only make assumptions based on my observations of the performers. And from our brief conversations I've had outside smoking weed with them; but if I had to break it down into an obvious over-simplification, I'd say that most of the open mic'ers are either: 1) searching for something they're not getting in their real, day-job/no-job/married-with-kids lives; or 2) are in need of a healthy outlet for an overabundance of creative energy or just plain...manic life force.

The comics I mentioned in the previous installment of this post seem to be good examples of the first open mic "type."  Course there's all different types of comedians and comics; but the one's that tend to dominate my neighborhood's open mic are of the "rant" variety. There's an underlying anger and...volume not just in their material, but in the way they interact with and engage the audience. Most of them seem to live with their parents or be borderline homeless, though I suppose that may just be because of my neighborhood's super-young demographic. Or maybe it's just part of the overall act (its hard to bond or empathize with someone richer and better looking than you, and the comics seem keenly aware of this). Still, if you consider the mindset of the rant comic, there's a sort-of "I'm smarter than you," or "I see things you don't" condescension to the whole thing. If you're not an obviously monster intellect along the lines of a George Carlin or Dennis Miller, there's a real good chance you're gonna come across as a petulant Millennial who thinks they're under-employed or under-utilized, but in fact are exactly where you deserve to be. Least to my sagging 50 year old ass.

But enough with that. 

In regards to the 2nd type of open-mic'er mentioned above, that's pretty self-explanatory. Most of these people seem to have solid day-jobs; but also likely grew-up in a musical or some kind of creative household. The one's who are young and genuinely talented. The one's truly manic and driven--who can stay up for three days like a Keith Richards or Jimi Hendrix or Prince, will likely use open mic as a stepping stone towards genuine paid gigs or bigger things. But for most of us (I lump myself in this 2nd group--but maybe I'm deluding myself and belong in the first?), open mic's as good as its gonna get. 2 songs or 10 minutes, whichever comes first. 

The first few times I played open mic I got a real rush. High. And not just from my weed. Like I mentioned in earlier installments, it wasn't just the crowd reaction; but I was learning all kinds of things. Things I didn't realize I had to learn. How to interact with other musicians; how to blend energy and volume; how to be conscious of tone; how to not only play--but present what I was playing. Frame it. Its all playing, even when you're not playing. Its part of playing. I had and have a lot to learn.

Still, after those first 4-5 times, a bit of a...crisis of consciousnesses settled in. By then Murphy (who was the one who got me going on this whole thing!) had stopped going. He'd already crossed "open-mic" off his to-do list and was in the studio recording his record (the next item on his life agenda!). When he heard I was still doing open mic he was like, "So...what?--now you've got a hard-on for performing?" I don't know why that comment made me so defensive--its not such a damning critique, but it did. 

"No man, I'm learning things. Getting better." 

I was getting better. But still, that initial high was turning into just a buzz. Tuesday came around and suddenly the inner monologue went something along the lines of:

So what're you gonna play tonight Lodo? 

I don't know, I suppose I'll do my Hendrix stuff.

You did that last week. 

So?

So, lets not do the same thing twice. That's freaking lame. 


Well then what're we gonna do? 


That's what I'm asking. 


...I guess maybe we don't need to go tonight.


Alright. ...But it seems like you wanna go.

I do! 


Why? 


I don't know. 


Well think about it. It's not like you have tunes of your own to play.

I know. 

So what're we doing? 

(heavy sigh). 

 "I tried to keep up with him for three days..." 
         

 * NOTE: I'm aware it was a long wait for...not much; but I've had issues. I'll wrap this thing up next week. If you've stuck with me--thanks!