Boutique Liner Notes

It's a little silly to write liner notes for something like Boutique, but this is happening whether you like it or not, so whatever. Consider this my Walter Mitty moment to luxuriate a little, OK? Anyhow, we'll do it this way: Songs in order; links are to individual song pages followed parenthetically by direct MP3 links.

Technical information: Part of the vision of Boutique was to make a toy drum (or I guess a kids' drum) sound totally awesome. I don't know that I succeeded, and for better or worse, the toy drum is there. I recorded the sounds while Jen was out of town back in September 2010 and later figured out that you can use a demo version of Fruity Loops to create short drum loops using whatever sounds you want. Sort of like what that guy who was profiled in last Sunday's Times Magazine does, except not as "bombastic," "skittering," "operatic" or whatever other five-dollar adjectives Times Magazine contributing writers can shift-F7 and come up with. I used Audacity to record the stuff. The guitar/bass business is recorded through Goober's Pod. I also used Goober's microphones and mixing board to record the vocals. I basically understand mixing stuff because there's not a lot to understand but don't know much at all about equalization, so like everything else, I Googled it. This and this were both helpful, although I only understood about 20 percent of each. Yes, for better or worse we eschewed reverb; that part was intentional; there's a fine line between "vision" and general laziness.

Why "Boutique"? I don't know. I always liked how good I felt about a boutique opening in a neighborhood where I lived, even though the stores were the least useful establishments and I never ever patronized them. They just make you feel like your neighborhood is good enough for a boutique, which is something I guess, unless of course you don't have a laundromat or something, and then they're just ridiculous. The Boutique once served as a catch-all for whatever idea I had at the time; eventually it became its own thing. Etc., etc.

OK, go.

1) "Dan Smith Will Teach You Guitar" (mp3). These fliers are all over bodegas and laundromats in Manhattan. Dan Smith has this earnest look and the headline always reads "Dan Smith Will Teach You Guitar" like, dude, he's going to teach you guitar. One night I left an establishment and another one of these fliers in the window of the dry cleaner next door and was like, "But what if I don't want Dan Smith to teach me guitar?"

2) "Even For A Song" (mp3). Probably the only song that actually needs an explanation. A friend once told us that such-and-such boy from high school once wrote her a song and she found the lyrics in a stack of teenage ephemera at her parents' house, so of course we all (read: I) wanted to see the lyrics. She didn't have a recording of the song so I decided to write my own music and record it for her. This is just carrying out the experiment; lyrics are inspired by the song, just from the other person's point of view; phrasing is the same. It's a fun experiment: take a song that you don't know and write music based on the lyrics, then lyrics based on the lyrics to the music, a kind of "double blind" songwriting.

3) "We Need New Curse Words" (mp3). There are just so many things that deserve new curse words, and it's hard to fit all of them in four lousy verses. I've included a karaoke version (mp3) if you want to fill in your own new-curse-worthy agenda. New lyrics are fairly recent. Like a few weeks ago recent. $40 mayonnaise came after the original four-track version, for example, and besides which the original lyrical layout didn't work as well, so the thing evolved some. Like I said, there are just so many things to pick from, it's meant to be kind of fluid . . .

4) "Get Drunk And Do Your Taxes" (mp3). I think I'd still screw up our returns no matter how much beer I've had. Jen keeps wanting me to use an accountant. Maybe this year. "Not all that incredible a function" = First of two Paul Westerberg allusions herein.

5) "World Series Game Three" (mp3). Several things converged during Game Three of the 2009 World Series: 1) A Phillies loss; 2) A Yankees win; 3) The end of Daylight Saving Time; and 4) The most egregious abrogation of democracy in the history of the U.S. The drive back up to New York was dreary. I had just heard The Weakerthans' "One Great City" and couldn't get it out of my head. Also The Replacements' "Here Comes A Regular," which has been in my head for a gazillion years (thus the line "Some places leaves drop from trees — nothing to rake on this bare street"). The line "And when you tire of the taxes there you can buy in Broward County" used to be "And when you tire of the taxes there you can buy in Bergen County" but that didn't make any sense, because the taxes in Bergen County suck, right? The Ray Rhodes quote is one of the greatest in the history of sports. As for the critique of that certain Academy Award-winning film, did you realize that the film's true-life inspiration didn't even live in Philadelphia? Finally, Why fuck Curt Schilling? Why not Mitch Williams? True, Mitch Williams was the one who served up that down-and-in meatball into Joe Carter's wheelhouse, but an interesting thing has happened in the years since — basically, fans there still like him. It's interesting, for one, that Williams stayed in the area, which is pretty cool given that he received death threats after Game Six. He then opened a bowling alley. He started analyzing baseball on the local networks. In short, it seemed like he slowly built back the respect the fans had for him, which I don't think is something you usually see in the business of sports. Do you think Tom Glavine really gave a shit about blowing the final game of the 2007 season for the Mets? If he did, he kind of had a hard time showing it in the post-game interviews. And that's not really even a knock on him either — he was just another free agent for a franchise that lately seems best equipped to lull players into not giving a shit. I'm not even sure Mets fans care that much about 2007. But Philadelphia seems to have forgiven Mitch Williams (this WSJ piece from 2008 nails it; Google "A Baseball Goat Finds Forgiveness in Philadelphia" if you run into the Journal paywall). Which is to say, there's no reason at all to fuck Mitch Williams. If you see him interviewed about the pitch today (there was a good one recently where MLB Network paired him with Joe Carter to watch that game), he explains how it happened but doesn't make any excuses about it. I've even seen some Mitch Williams jerseys recently. You know whose jersey I don't think I've ever seen? Curt Schilling's jersey. You see way more Jim Thome jerseys than Curt Schilling jerseys — and Schilling was their ace in 1993. In retrospect, Schilling seemed like an overdramatic prima donna during that series, what with that towel over his head and such (funny — the WSJ article also mentions Schilling regretting that). So yeah, fuck that guy.

[Flip record over here, if this were one.] [If this were a record, I would also want "We have to do this song because we have to do it" etched on the Side One lead-out groove; not sure about what to put on Side Two.]

6) "Rockin' (In The Present Tense)" (mp3). One night shooting the shit with our favorite bartender Justin, he brought up the fact that most rock songs about rockin' are written in other tenses: "For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)," "Rockin' in the Free World" (as in "keep on . . ."), "We Will Rock You" — the list goes on and on. I pledged to write a present tense rockin' song for Justin. I figured I should Google it anyway and found a fucking Chuck Klosterman piece about it. Clearly the lyrics had to be adjusted accordingly. And then I wanted to be Chuck D.

7) "My Team Came Dangerously Close To Winning The Super Bowl" (mp3). It didn't hurt as bad as World Series Game Three because "Who would have thought?", etc. but all the same there's still that same feeling of utter failure, writ large on the largest stage in the world.

8 ) "Here's To My Sweet Satan" (mp3). Of a piece with "Even For A Song," it's — if the chords on the Internet are to be trusted — that famous portion of "Stairway To Heaven" backward: Am, F/G, C; Am, G, C (or some semblance thereof) — then the supposed words. If you're unfamiliar with it, check it out here. The lyrics are a house favorite: "Sweet Satan," "Sad Satan" and "Toolshed" all are in our local lexicon . . .

9) "Turning Away Song" (mp3). In which I experiment with blockquote, a cross between a song and a research paper — Research Paper Rock. Another thing that's been in my head for a gazillion years is Phil Ochs' introduction to "I Ain't Marching Anymore" on the posthumously released "There and Now" CD (Rhino Records, 1990). He sounds so ridiculously resigned — the thing is devastating. Anyway, those are his exact words (I dug out the CD and noted them verbatim). Michael Schumacher's biography is not bad, by the way.

10) "All That Hot Air" (mp3). A true anecdote: We were vacationing in Florida and in passing I said something to a storeowner about being in from New York and he said "Oh, up where there's all that hot air?" This was in November. I slunk out feeling like an asshole. As Goober would say, "Take it to heart, man."

Boutique Drum Kit

Posted: November 9th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Songwriting | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Time To Rethink Travel Insurance Is Now

There was a particularly strong (and frustratingly early) snow storm on the day we were supposed to leave for Egypt, one that made us almost regret our decision not to get travel insurance. And now, after watching more than ten days of protests in Egypt, I think we've definitely changed our minds about the usefulness of travel insurance.

This appears to be a pivotal point in Egypt's history, and while it's fascinating to see what's going on in a place that you just got back from, it's also natural to view events through the lens of your own worldview. Which is to say, while we've been anxiously watching what might unfold in the country, I also felt bad for all the tourists who never got to see the pyramids!

I first saw someone say this on the ABC Evening News several days ago when he was interviewed at the airport — an elderly (or almost elderly — don't want to offend him!) man said something along the lines of that he was in Egypt two weeks and "never got to see the pyramids." Here's another example — no clue if it's the same guy or not:

"We spent two weeks in Egypt and didn't get to see the pyramids," [a New Iberia, LA man] said. "But we saw everything else. It was scary, but it was exciting. We'll never forget this trip."

The snow storm meant that we missed one day of travel — the day we were scheduled to visit the pyramids. Michael joked that it would be crazy to have gone all the way to Egypt and not have seen the pyramids. At the time he said this — just before boarding an overnight train from Luxor that may or may not arrive several hours late in Cairo and thus disrupt our arrangements for a make-up visit to the pyramids on our free day — I didn't think it was something to joke about. But as it turned out, the train was on time, the tour operator's re-arrangements went according to plan, and we got to see one of the highlights — if not the highlight — of the entire trip.

Not to rub it in to the guy from Louisiana, but the pyramids were pretty cool. I like to say about a lot of the cool places that we've been lucky enough to visit — say, the Taj Mahal — that they were "as advertised" — which is to say, they were as awe-inspiring as everyone said they were going to be. The pyramids were "as advertised."

The first thing you notice about the pyramids is that you see them from all over the city:

Giza Pyramids From Cairo, Egypt

Giza Pyramids From Saft Al-Laban Corridor, Cairo, Egypt

When you get to the site, there they are — the pyramids!

Great Pyramid of Giza From Ticket Office Area, Giza Pyramid Complex, Cairo, Egypt

Our guide was telling us that there is a big project to build a tram or rail system of some sort through the complex that will also have the effect of preventing visitors from getting too close to the pyramids, so we were excited to get as close as we did to the Great Pyramid of Giza — as of now, you can still touch the blocks and even climb up a little bit:

Great Pyramid of Giza, Giza Pyramid Complex, Cairo, Egypt

Great Pyramid of Giza, Giza Pyramid Complex, Cairo, Egypt

Each block weighs several tons, which drives home the point of how monumental the pyramids really are:

Great Pyramid of Giza, Giza Pyramid Complex, Cairo, Egypt

When you're there, you might experience that sense of self-satisfaction that accompanies the knowledge that you just ticked another Wonder of the World off your list:

Pyramid of Khafre, Giza Pyramid Complex, Cairo, Egypt

We spent a long day traversing Greater Cairo, visiting Saqqara and eventually making it to the pyramids. While at the pyramids, our guide tried to keep us on schedule, but we dallied, so we only barely made it to the Sphinx:

Great Sphinx of Giza and Pyramid of Khafre, Giza Pyramid Complex, Cairo, Egypt

They start setting up for the nightly sound-and-light show early, which means that they close the entrance to get into the Sphinx area. Some Europeans bribed the guard to let them in but we saw a different opening around the back side where the camels rest. Damned if I wasn't going to snap a picture of the Sphinx — in good light, that is — so I ignored the camel men and scurried over to the fence. It sounds more dire than it was, but after a week in Egypt I was starting to feel a little disobedient. Mission accomplished:

Great Sphinx of Giza and Great Pyramid of Giza, Giza Pyramid Complex, Cairo, Egypt

So this is what it looked like when I turned around — which is also to say, these people taking pictures have a picture of me taking a picture of them taking a picture of the Sphinx:

Behind Great Sphinx of Giza, Giza Pyramid Complex, Cairo, Egypt

We walked away happy:

Great Sphinx of Giza and Pyramid of Khafre, Giza Pyramid Complex, Cairo, Egypt

After seeing the pyramids, it was time to revisit a debate — or perhaps just a "conversation" — that I had with, er, someone I know about Machu Picchu. The general jumping off point for the debate/conversation is that while Machu Picchu may be a lot of things — mysterious, picturesque, remarkable — it's also relatively recent in the timeline of human civilization. That's "recent" as in Michelangelo-and-the-builders-of-Machu-Picchu-were-contemporaries "recent."

So you argue to your friend something along the lines of "just look at the intricate mortarless Incan brickwork on the Temple of the Sun — or even just the depiction of similar brickwork on bottles of Cusqueña Beer — it's ahead of its time!":

Temple of the Sun, Machu Picchu, Peru

Cusqueña Regular Beer, Apu Salkantay Restaurant Pizzeria, Avenida Imperio de Los Incas, 139, Aguas Calientes/Machupicchu Pueblo, Cusco Region, Peru

And that person might respond with something along the lines of "and then there's the Sistine Chapel." Or the pyramids.

To be fair, the argument is not so much that Machu Picchu isn't that great but rather that it might not be the amazing triumph of human civilization that you think it's going to be. Mysterious, picturesque, remarkable — yes. But the pyramids were built over 4000 years ago. Machu Picchu was built just over 500 years ago.

One of the benefits of seeing the pyramids later in the trip was that we got to work our way up to them, as opposed to seeing them first thing. This gave us more than enough time to indulge the Beatles vs. Rolling Stones Wonders of the World debate — Machu Picchu vs. the Pyramids.

I'd like to think that they're both really amazing — and "amazing" in the truest sense of the word — with all the awe/admiration/wonder that befits the term. And really, in the end it's apples and oranges. No Wonder is better than another Wonder. Except when people think they are.

Jen got Robert Morkot's Egypt: Land of the Pharaohs before we left and his introduction helps explain the world's fascination with Egypt. People have been traveling there as tourists since at least the Greeks, and Ancient Egypt held a special significance in the West from the 18th century onward as the European Grand Tour evolved into the Egyptian Grand Tour. Mozart's The Magic Flute was emblematic of the Egypt craze in Europe. Archaeological expeditions followed. Museums amassed collections of antiquities. The Egypt craze coincided with the rise in Freemasonry, and is why we have that weird pyramid-eye thing on the dollar bill. Later Cecil B. DeMille made movies about Ancient Egypt. Then came Indiana Jones and Ralph Fiennes.

In short, people have always loved Egypt. For example, I don't know the last time our landlord ventured the one stop on the subway into Manhattan, but she told me before we left that she's been wanting to go to Egypt for a long time now. Which is perhaps why my heart broke just a little bit for the guy on World News Tonight who said that he was in Egypt two weeks and never got to see the pyramids.

I think this also in part informs why the news from Egypt has been so front and center lately. Yes, it's the most populous Arab country and it's incredibly important strategically, but Egypt — not even the idea of Egypt but Egypt itself — is close to us. From grade school on we've learned all about Ancient Egypt. Steve Martin. The Bangles. All of that. It still excites our imagination.

A little travel can make you think you know more about the world than you actually do. That false sense of worldliness definitely comes into relief after you travel in Egypt. The sphere that tourists travel in is as far away from the sphere that Egyptians live in as one can imagine. All that is a preface to say that while it's problematic to comment too much on the situation in Egypt today, one thing has been bothering me.

Mubarak's initial response to the protests seemed — to an extreme outsider hanging out in the viewing gallery of the court of world opinion at least — fairly reasonable. His promise to leave in September and thus allow time to undo the constitutional excesses of the last 30 years didn't seem like such a bad idea. Tarek Masoud on PBS seemed to suggest that this was wise, if only to ensure that no one else could come in to take advantage of the constitution currently in place that is heavily weighted toward the office of the president. Further, getting Mubarak out of the way now might mean that the world would lose interest in Egypt and create an environment in which its next leader(s) would not be held to account. He has an op-ed in the Times this morning that expands on this idea:

Egypt's next scheduled presidential election is only months away. If the Constitution isn't amended before it is held, the notorious Article 76, which makes it difficult for independents like Mr. ElBaradei to get on the ballot, will still be in place. More important, the new president would have the same imperial powers Mr. Mubarak has had — the very powers that the Egyptian public wants taken away.

As we now know, the protesters were not happy with Mubarak's plan. I don't think anyone could blame them — the guy has held on to power for 30 years, so why should they trust anything he says? But what has been confusing to me is this — if the violence of the last couple of days actually has been instigated by forces close to Mubarak (as all accounts indicate), then Mubarak immediately loses this moral high ground. And in fact today American leaders seem to be coalescing around a unified position that Mubarak should step down sooner rather than later (i.e., September). Where before you had world leaders hemming and hawing about how "delicate" a situation it is in Egypt, now it suddenly seems a lot clearer who and what is making matters worse. In short, Mubarak has made a complicated situation very simple. I guess beating up on Anderson Cooper will do that.

I believe the reports and the speculation that the regime's strategy is to sow chaos in order to show that Egypt can't live without a strong, calming influence like Mubarak. It's so clumsy a move that I almost think it's on purpose — a convenient way for Mubarak to make a complicated situation very simple. We'll see what happens next.

See also the Big Map: Egypt/Jordan, December 27, 2010-January 11, 2011.

Posted: February 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: National Geographical | Tags: , , , , , ,