We are unsuited for the battle this world presents.
When it comes down to it, it’s us, each of us, the individuals, versus the world.
Mostly unwittingly, we pit our own knowledge, logic, and wisdom, against the collective knowledge, logic, and wisdom of the entire rest of the world. When any one of us does anything or makes a statement, we open ourselves to be potentially judged by the entire world.
When we post a tweet or Facebook status update that contains something ignorant, foolish, unvetted, or decidedly individualistic and singular, we cast our vote to the roughly seven billion other people living on the planet (and those yet to come). Then they get to decide what to do with us.
The odds are astronomical.
The chances of any one of us having it all put together into a package that’s approvable by all the other humans is next to impossible. It’s more probable that I’ll win the lottery than be a person who has all of my thoughts inline with the zeitgeist of this age (or any age, really).
The truth is this: none of us has it together.
Most of us are fortunate enough not to have the eye of public scrutiny upon us because we are essentially not “persons of interest.” Some of us are wealthy enough to hide the parts of us that we know won’t pass The Test™. But even those among us that are fortunate enough to be able to hire PR reps, editors, or life coaches can rarely pass either.
The unfortunate ones among us are those that get our laundry aired for all to see. You know the ones – they’re in the court cases we read about, in the tabloid pictures we see, and news broadcasts we watch at 6pm and 11pm every night. They’re made infamous in YouTube videos and lynched on Twitter.
We relish these Darwin Award moments, because “Haha, who would be that stupid?!”
Answer: regular folks like you and me.
We all have laundry. And it’s dirty.
It’s sad how much dirt I personally have on the people around me. God knows, many people have dirt on me.
We could divulge so much about the people we know. Luckily, most of them are not famous enough, nor “valuable” enough for society-at-large to have reason to tear us all down. If you’re reading this, it’s likely (both statistically and by association with me) that you are not worth destroying either. You’re probably not a powerful politician, CEO, nor Kardashian with an empire to lose.
And lucky me.
Because you’re not “valuable,” you’re entire life will be spared the microscopic, fine-tooth comb of large-scale public examination.
But just because you’re not a congressperson, fat cat, or reality TV star doesn’t mean you aren’t guilty. You probably think you aren’t, act like you aren’t, and judge others like you aren’t, but guess what… you’re guilty of something and you wouldn’t survive the gauntlet.
If your life and history were scoured by journalists, if your friends and family were interviewed to get the dirt on you, if everything you posted on the internet made its way onto the evening news, the verdict would come swift and sure: “You have failed.”
Perhaps even: “You are a failure.”
I don’t care how sure you think you are in your own belief and reasoning, if you ever come to find yourself in the spotlight and the World (that beastly, collective entity of humanity) gets to do it’s thing, you can be sure that “they” will find the fault in you. They will spare no judgement, penalty, nor harsh word to put you in your place.
It doesn’t matter what good deeds you’ve done. We only need one false step, one moment of humanity, a split second of personal expression to tie the boat anchor to your neck and sink you.
We’ll love watching you drown. We feed on the gossip, believing we’re innocent. We’re humans. This is our sickness.
After thinking about the scandalous NSA manhunt for Edward Snowden, I realized there are a lot of similarities between the news right now and the Bourne trilogy movies. I tweeted this a couple of days ago.
The next day I thought it might be fun to photoshop Snowden’s face onto a Bourne movie poster. The Bourne Ultimatum promotional image seemed like the best for trying to match up with the photos I could find of our dear whistleblower. (Shout out to the original artists of The Bourne Ultimatum image! See update below.)
The gun in Matt Damon’s hand didn’t really fit the Snowden plot line, so I replaced it with my own hand holding a USB drive (actually an iLok 2). It was a fun little project that only took a few
I wish Forbes wouldn’t have cropped the image, because I think the USB stick really makes the image. But oh well. It’s entertaining to see something I made get spread around a little. And hopefully the image gets people thinking about why nearly everyone considers the fictional Bourne identity a hero, but so many view the very real Snowden otherwise.
Let me know if you see the image out there in the wild. 😉
Update 2013-06-26 11:44am: As you can see in the comments section below, a guy named Jasin Boland, who appears to be the photographer of the original image, has contacted me. I’ve emailed him with some questions. Whether he is the sole owner of the copyright or not is still unclear. Perhaps it belongs to Universal Pictures or other digital artists have claims on it as well? Regardless of original ownership, my manipulations of the image for the sake of satire are considered “fair use” under copyright law. Furthermore, I claim no ownership or copyright of my manipulated image and have received no compensation for its usage anywhere.
Update 2013-06-26 12:35pm: I contacted Andy Greenberg at Forbes about the situation. This is his reply:
…I checked with our editorial lawyer, who says that it’s “quintessential parody use. There is no actionable claim for infringement.”
She says she’s even planning to use it as an example in a law school class she’s teaching next semester.
I write songs, then document them on my computer in plain text files. As I’m working on a song I may revise it at a later date or create alternate versions. The dates I start and edit my songs are valuable to me for both posterity sake (i.e. copyright), as well as sorting purposes.
The easiest way to manage the dates would be not to worry about the date. I could simply depend solely on the file meta data. Most modern operating systems automatically attach “created on” and “last modified” dates to files, so I could just do nothing and hope that everything is kept in order.
Storing valuable info in the meta data is a good way to make sure you never have accurate data.
But that system only works as long as the meta data doesn’t get stripped from the file. Unfortunately, for reasons I don’t fully understand, I’ve found that sometimes it does get lost.
Another easy way to keep track of this stuff would be to write the date at the top of the file like so:
My Next Amazing Song
by Scott Troyer
Written: March 24, 2012
Love is like a dove…
But, if I save that file as “My Next Amazing Song.txt” and throw it in my “Unfinished Songs” file with my other works-in-progress, there’s no way to quickly sort the songs based on that date.
Boo. Just, boo.
The Dating Solution
Instead, I include the date in the name of the file in the no-nonsense year-month-day format. (e.g. “My Next Amazing Song 2012-03-24.txt”)
Why do I date them with that format?
Dating Made Better
In the US, dates are often written MM/DD/YY, while in the UK dates are typically written DD/MM/YY. Occasionally the formats are flopped resulting in either YY/MM/DD or YY/DD/MM. Sometimes the year has 4 digits, sometimes 2. All of this causes confusion. Does 05/04/06 refer to May 4th or April 5th? And is that 1806 or 1906? Or is the year ’05? Shenanigans!
This is why some smart people created the ISO 8601 date format, which specifics that when specifying the year, month, day, it should be written YYYY-MM-DD. (At least until the year 10000 when we’ll use 5 digits for the year, but I doubt the human race can manage not to destroy ourselves before then, in which case we won’t need to worry about what the date is. I digress.)
So, clearly, YYYY-MM-DD is the best way to assign dates. In fact, as a reminder I create a little retweetable poem.
Let’s pretend the future chart topper “My Next Amazing Song” was first created on January 3rd, 2010, then revised on February 1st, 2011 and again on January 2nd, 2012, resulting in 3 versions of the file. If I name the 3 files using the 3 different methods DD-MM-YYYY, MM-DD-YYYY, and YYYY-MM-DD, this is how computers will alphabetically sort the files.
The final mix of “My Next Amazing Song 2012-03-24.txt” is so hot! Can’t wait for you to hear it…
As you can see, YYYY-MM-DD is the only format that sorts the files chronologically. If we used DD-MM-YYYY, files would be grouped by the days first, months second, and years last — a total chronological disaster. And if we used MM-DD-YYYY, all the January files, regardless of year, would come first, then all the February files, etc. — a little better, but still a mess. YYYY-MM-DD puts the files into the order they were created.
If you’re wondering whether 2 digits would be sufficient for the year instead of 4, definitely read up about Y2K. Around the turn of the century, YY vs. YYYY was kind of a thing.
This date format works with all sorts of files types, not just plain text files. I often bounce mixes of recordings with the YYYY-MM-DD date in the name so they appear sorted the right way in iTunes.
For even better chronology, try putting the date before the name of your file. (e.g. “2012-03-24 My Next Amazing Song.txt”
None of this will make you a better songwriter, but at least your songs will be organized.
Mixing audio is not easy. I’m no expert, but something just struck me…
Maybe making a great mix simply comes down to listening to a song a thousand times and removing all the little things that annoy you until there’s nothing left to dislike. Hopefully the subtraction leaves you with enough material to reveal the goodness of the song. I bet great mixing engineers can get there in fewer than a 1000 listens. Maybe there’s more to it. Just a thought.
Sound is basically waves of pressure changes. The exact definition is more complicated, but essentially we perceive sound because our ears decode the frequencies of oscillating movement of particles in gases, liquids, and solids. There are many ways to generate sound waves, such as plucking guitar strings so they vibrate, or hitting a membrane like a drum head.
A long time ago, people discovered that sound could also be made by blowing air through a pipe with a opening on the side, thus inventing the whistle. They also found that a range of tones could be produced by assembling a group of whistles with varying lengths and diameters. Then they attached a controller (called a keyboard or manual) so that one person could “play” this collection of pipes. Their invention is what we now know as the pipe organ.
At the start, pipe organs had only one timbre – a basic whistle sound, but over the next several hundred years, smart inventors and musicians made improvements in the technology. They found ways to emulate lots of other instruments, like brass, woodwinds, percussion, and even human voices. Their hope was to fully replicate those real life instruments.
As features were added, pipe organs evolved into enormous, elaborate, and expensive installations, increasingly more complicated to play and maintain. While these pipe organs were truly amazing inventions, capable of creating complex and beautiful music, they were actually quite poor emulations of the real life instruments they were intended to replace.
Still, we humans are adaptable and we fell in love with the sound of pipe organs, learning to appreciate the instrument for what it was, not what it wasn’t.
Eventually, we discovered electricity and began to harness its power to create electromechanical instruments. Creative minds developed things like vacuum tubes, tone wheels, and transistors. Companies like Hammond and Wurlitzer implemented tone wheels to generate sounds approximating a pipe organ.
However, similar to the pipe organ, this new technology was a brilliant invention that poorly emulated its predecessor. These new organs were affordable alternatives to pipe organs, so in spite of being a bad imitation they became popular with smaller houses of worship. Traveling musicians took advantage of the portability of these smaller organs too, making their sound common in popular jazz, blues, and rock music.
Once again, our ears grew accustomed to the sound of the imitation, developing an affinity for the quirks of its particular aesthetic.
As the march of progress continued, electronics became smaller and more powerful. Engineers found ways to replace the delicate mechanical parts in electric organs, which were subject to wear and tear, with completely electronic sound generators. Lightweight, all electronic keyboard synthesizers used a variety of methods in attempts to replicate the sounds of their heavier electromechanical ancestors.
But just like before, history would repeat itself. The new emulators were incredible technological achievements that fell short of their goal of replacing the old technology. Though they lacked the ability to fully replicate the previous generation, they possessed attributes that eventually found an audience of connoisseurs that valued them not just in spite of their glitches, but because of their unique properties.
Today, we synthesize the sounds of the old technologies with computers and keyboard MIDI controllers. While initially computers could only crudely imitate the old masters, DSP technology is progressing rapidly. CPU speed and available RAM are no longer the main limitation factors. As the computational power ceiling continues to rise higher and higher, software programmers are able to provide increasingly nuanced emulators that can easily fool the listener into believing that the software is actually the real thing.
At this point, if you’re still reading, then you probably can see how this history correlates to the plot of the film Inception. Each new technological breakthrough has been like a deeper dream state, where the simulation moves further and further away from reality.
→ Pipe organs
→ → Electric organs
→ → → Keyboards
→ → → → Software
However, just like in the film, while each level becomes more strange and abstract, the deepest level — Limbo — actually approaches something most like the real thing or maybe even better. Today’s emulators delve into such detail and are able to control even the most minute aspects of the sound, that it won’t be long before they easily eclipse the believability of the old technology. In fact, we may already be there.
A few years ago (when the emulators weren’t half as good as they are now), a friend of mine (who has very good ears) dropped by the studio to hear a song I was working on. When the B3 organ kicked in during the chorus, he declared, “That organ sounds great. There’s nothing like the real thing!” Muwhahaha! The smoke and mirrors of software emulation had worked.
Inspiration for This Article
This idea of how keyboard technology relates to Inception came about through a discussion with my friend Hoss. Over the weekend we were working on the keyboard parts for our band Rudisill’s next album Take To Flight. In between takes of an organ part we marveled at the realization that the software he was using was an emulation of an emulation of an emulation — a truly strange scenario.
Follow Rudisill to hear about the new album when it is released later.
Me playing slide guitar in front of a bonfire. Photography by Ben Gilliom.
Indiana is hot today – really hot – maybe a record setter. News outlets are saying that in Colorado wild fires are crawling across mountains and consuming neighborhoods. The heat and fires have me thinking about something I often think about: how big and hot the Sun has to be for it to be this hot and bright here on Earth.
Being a country boy, I’ve attended a fair number of bonfires. Some of them have featured quite enormous, roaring fires. Yet, no matter how big the fires have been, the heat and light quickly drop off just yards away and the night remains dark, cold, and unaffected.
I haven’t measured this myself, but I’m told that on average the Earth orbits somewhere around 92,960,000 miles from the Sun. That’s a long way away (approximately 1 astronomical unit). The Sun is so far away that it takes about 8 minutes for the Sun’s light (which coincidentally travels at the speed of light 299,792,458 miles/second) to reach us here on Earth. So compared to the bonfires I’ve seen, I think about how big that burning ball of fire we call the Sun must be for it to be this hot and light out here. Amazing.
Even more amazing: compared to other stars in the Universe, the Sun isn’t even a very big star.
There doesn’t seem to be definitive consensus on the matter of the proper way to use the terms height (H), width (W), depth (D), and length (L) when describing the dimensions of things. Usually we are left to sort out which dimension each term is describing on a per object basis. This is stupid.
A Real World Problem
I need cases for my studio monitors. Touring is not very friendly to delicate reference speakers, so proper cases are kind of important. Since the manufacturer of these particular monitors does not make cases, I had to look to other manufacturers for appropriately sized cases. In the specifications for the monitors the manufacturer lists their product in H x W X D dimensions. That’s fine, but one case manufacturer lists their product in H x L x W. Another manufacturer lists their cases in H x L x D. That makes immediate identification of a properly sized case a bit difficult. The fact that some manufacturers list their products in imperial measures while others use the metric system complicates things too, but I’ll save that for another day.
Isn’t it funny that we don’t have standardized language for something as common as measuring the size of things? To be clear, this isn’t necessarily a science problem, but a linguistic problem. Science has created a variety of coordinate systems to make sure we send rockets in the right direction, but for every day use we don’t have a standard system of common words. I love the English language, but it is rife with deficiencies. Don’t get me started on the lack of a “grammatically correct” gender-neutral third person singular pronoun. Grammarians, if you’re reading this, stop complaining about the misuse of “they” and SOLVE THE PROBLEM.
Back to dimensions.
A Plan of Action
In most cases, an object’s dimensions can be described using Cartesian, cylindrical, or spherical coordinate systems with words we already know and love. If an object is roughly box–shaped, orient the object so you’re looking directly at it’s forward-facing orientation and describe it as if you’re looking at it from the “front.” This means you’ll have to determine which side is the front. Most things have one. If your object doesn’t, then it’s probably not useful and should be recycled. (Kidding.) For example, studio monitors are useful because their front side houses speakers which emit sound.
H x W x D
Using Height, Width, and Depth (in that order), make your measurements. Roughly 3 out of 4 objects in this world can be described this way.
Width = X-axis (left to right) derived from wide
Height* = Y-axis (bottom to top) derived from high
Depth = Z-axis (front to back) derived from deep
H x W x L
If an object is really long in one dimension but still boxy (e.g. lumber, french fries), use Length (L) instead of Depth. The word “length” comes from the word “long.”
Length = the long side of an object
D/R/C x L
If an object is long but round instead of boxy (e.g. guitar cable, baseball bat, spaghetti), use Diameter (D), Radius (R), or Circumference (C) (usually in that order of preference) and Length. If it’s something like a drinking glass or flag pole, use H x D/R/C.
Diameter = the width of the widest distance across a circle
Radius = distance from the center to the edge of a circle
Circumference = the length of the edge of a circle if it was stretched out into a straight line
The Ball Method
If an object doesn’t have any boxy sides and is mostly round like a ball, use the Ball Method. Describe your object by choosing a ball that’s roughly the same size. Hail and cancer are the most common things to be measured this way, but it’s used for all sorts of things. They are good because they are self-explanatory. Here are some of the most common sizes. Pick one.
The tip of a ballpoint pen
A pencil eraser
No bigger than the tip of your pinky finger
A golf ball
A medicine ball
One of those cages they do motorcycle stunts in
The shiny silver thing in Chicago that looks like the ship from Flight of the Navigator
That space ball ride at Epcot
Now for the sake of progress, can we all agree on this and get back to doing whatever it was we were doing before we had to sort this out? Good. Glad we worked through it.
* The Word Nazis tell us that the word ‘height’ doesn’t have a -th on the end of it, but it should, if we follow logical convention. Can we at least downgrade it from grammatical sin? From now on, if you say, “heighth,” I say, “How high?”
Try to name an example of when common sense would have been the best course to follow. Certainly, you can. Every one of us has a good story about someone not using common sense. (If you’re short on examples, try The Darwin Awards or People of WalMart.) In general, following the advice of common sense is usually best practice, but not always.
By definition, common sense is not best or wisest, but merely common, meaning it occurs more often. Common sense is the collective set of norms, mores, and good advice to which statistically most people adhere. If we asked 10,000 people if lighting fireworks indoors was wise or not, probably some idiot would say yes, but most people would have the sense to say no. So common sense (e.g. the consensus of the majority) usually serves us well, keeping us out of dangerous and/or embarrassing situations.
However, the mob is not always right and occasionally an uncommon sense is superior. Common sense is what separates the majority from the idiots and geniuses.
When I was in high school, my dad sent me to pick up a large load of wood mulch at a nearby landscaping supply yard. He let me borrow his truck and trailer, which I had driven only a few times. As I was returning home on a four lane highway with the huge load of mulch in tow, the trailer began swaying back and forth, causing the truck to fishtail. As an inexperienced driver, I resorted to my common sense and hit the brakes. To my surprise, this actually made the situation worse. The truck and trailer swayed back and forth even harder. Pushing the brakes did nothing. I was completely out of control, being pushed sideways down the road at 45 MPH. The truck and trailer eventually whipped around completely and came to a stop in the ditch, narrowly missing a mailbox and light pole. The rear bumper was bent up and I was shaken up, but very little damage was done.
Obviously, my common sense had failed me, so later I asked my dad, who has driven with a trailer many times, what I should have done in that situation. He replied:
Slam on the gas.
His answer seemed crazy. Hitting the gas in an out of control vehicle was contrary to everything I had been taught about driving, but he explained the reason this would work. When I hit the brakes, the weight of the loaded trailer had pushed against the hitch, lifting the back tires of the truck up slightly. Since the tires were not well connected to the pavement, my brakes no longer worked very well. It was like pulling the hand brakes on the front wheel of a mountain bike while going full speed. To stop the trailer from swaying back and forth, I needed to get it moving in the right direction. The trailer needed to be yanked forward into a straight line again. Stepping on the gas would stop the swaying action.
That bit of uncommon sense held the essence of true wisdom. I felt like I was the Karate Kid and my dad was Mr. Miyagi unlocking the secrets of “paint the fence” and “wax on, wax off.”
“Show Me” Scene from The Karate Kid
When venturing beyond the confines of the common sense domain, knowing which end of the bell curve you are entering into can make all the difference. Hitting the brakes is almost always the right answer, but sometimes the best thing to do is to slam on the gas. Having wisdom is knowing when to ignore common sense, proceeding though it may seem crazy. The wisest people often look like fools.
Because of a recurring communication problem I encounter, I want to draw attention to the difference between denotation and connotation. Definitions de·no·ta·tion noun \dē-nō-ˈtā-shən\ The most specific or direct meaning of a word, in contrast to its figurative or associated meanings. con·no·ta·tion noun \kä-nə-ˈtā-shən\ The set of associations implied by a word in addition to […]
Because of a recurring communication problem I encounter, I want to draw attention to the difference between denotation and connotation.
The most specific or direct meaning of a word, in contrast to its figurative or associated meanings.
The set of associations implied by a word in addition to its literal meaning.
When attempting to articulate an idea, carry on a conversation, or express a nuanced thought, I often find others mistaking the meanings of the words that I use. Sometimes the listener becomes upset, indignant or angry for what they believe they have just heard me say. In response, I often become frustrated because the words I used to express myself were carefully chosen based on their definitions or denotations, yet the listener has heard me say something else (sometimes something completely antithetical to my intent) because of unknown associations or connotations they have attached to those words.
Let’s say I’m speaking with nice fellow who loves his connotations and I use the words ‘completely ignorant’ to describe myself in regards to something like… carburetor intake valves. This might elicit a sour face from the listener and a comment like, “You’re not dumb! Don’t be so hard on yourself.” I then have to spend the next ten minutes, trying to use only words with no more than five letters in them, explaining how, though I may not be an idiot, indeed, I am completely ignorant about carburetors and wouldn’t know one if I saw one. Unfortunately, the listener has made two errors.
He thought that I was beating myself up because he misunderstood my use of the word ‘ignorant,’ meaning ‘unknowledgeable or uneducated.’
He then responded by misusing the word ‘dumb,’ meaning ‘lacking the ability to speak’ when what he really meant was something like ‘stupid’ or ‘foolish.’
Use Your Words
This form of miscommunication is very common. It happens with all sorts of words, for all sorts of reasons. I have witnessed breakdowns of this nature so many times, that I am beginning to believe it is one of our fundamental human struggles. Misuse and misunderstanding of the denotation of words is often the primary cause of our frustrations with others and ourselves. At the heart of understanding each other is the necessity for all of us to use proper words that mean what we intend to express ourselves and similarly for all of us to understand the words that others use to express themselves. In short, we should say what we mean, mean what we say, and hope for others to do the same. Though we shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t.
When you get a chance, pick up a dictionary and peruse through the thousands of words it contains. You might be thinking, “Who does that?” Right. Well, I do and have done so ever since I can I remember. I also obsessively read the encyclopedia (an addiction now fed by Wikipedia) and can recite all sorts of facts that probably aren’t useful on a practical level. So, I may sound like a geek (I’ll own that), but we have a rich linguistic history full of words developed by our ancestors that they have passed on to us. We now have the chance to use these powerful tools to communicate with each other and future generations.
Isn’t that exciting?! Go ahead and roll your eyes, then let me know if you agree or disagree in the comments. Do you have a good anecdote involving miscommunication and word meanings? Please share so we all can enjoy an lol together. Remember: No grunting! Use your words.
How about Led Zeppelin performing “Communication Breakdown” live in 1970 for your viewing and listening pleasure?
I wrote about my disgust with artist statements a long time ago in this blog entry. Today, my friend Eric Wieringa alerted me to the Instant Artist Statement: Arty Bollocks Generator, a satirical web app entered into the 10K Apart contest put on by An Event Apart. I’m well pleased. If you are an artist, […]
My name is ______________ and I’m from _______________. I like to make stuff. Sometimes I make things that mean something, other times I just try to make something pretty. Displayed here are several of the pieces that I haven’t sold yet. If you like a particular item, please ask me about purchasing it. I will try to answer your questions as directly as I can. Thank you for viewing my art work. I hope you enjoy looking at it. A kind word from you will probably make my day.
The following paragraphs are from an entry in my journal on June 14, 2008, which I am posting it here as a public reminder to myself. The great problems of the world are not the result of the actions of an easily-fingered cast of evil-doers, but by the failing of average everyday folks like me […]
The following paragraphs are from an entry in my journal on June 14, 2008, which I am posting it here as a public reminder to myself.
The great problems of the world are not the result of the actions of an easily-fingered cast of evil-doers, but by the failing of average everyday folks like me to imagine anything different than the current set of circumstances. We grossly mistake the root of our troubles by demonizing a select few, whose ignoble traits are glaringly obvious, and which conveniently distract attention from our less conspicuous, yet equally ugly inclinations.
If we only dared to believe that life could be different and then acted on that very realistic hope. Though life’s grinding would not cease, its sting could be lessened or alleviated. Whether it be for the fear of change, love of the status quo, a lack of imagination, care, or hope, the problem lies within us, not outside.
If we wish to get better, this is how we must diagnose and treat the disease which afflicts us all: by believing that it must be fought and then continually conquered in our own hearts, minds, and spirits first.
Maybe this is the entire war? Perhaps the conflict is always within and only truly winnable there – never on the foreign soil of other people’s minds. Aren’t our own selves all (or really more) than we can control anyway?
Are we completely giving over ourselves to the notion of creating a better world? Or have we designated some portions of the battle as someone else’s job? Do we see any problem as someone else’s issue or do we recognize them all, no matter how grand or insignificant, as our own?
With each dollar we spend, smile we give, and trust we offer, we ultimate cast our votes in small, but critical measures for the type of world in which we wish to live. We are creating this world by the manner in which we think and do.
Is our world full of fear, distrust, greed, and anger? Or are we, by conscious belief and action, redefining a new order of life? Are we giving birth to something beautiful or giving in to what we think is inevitable? Are we proffering hope or hopelessly accepting that nothing will change, knowing that as such, we will always get what we have always got? Are we willing to accept the outcome of our decisions?
…at least not in a permanently defined state. It is always changing depending on context. There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for guitar tone and the guy who is showing you exactly how to get “perfect” tone is either demonstrating his idea of a good sound for a very particular context or selling you something. Let the buyer beware!
I’ve seen a zildjillion YouTube videos and magazine articles in which an “expert” outlines in very fine detail the “preferred” gear or “professional” way to play/mic/mix. They have shown me how to dial in that Clapton tone, place ribbon mics like Eno, mix a hit song like the Lord-Alge brothers, mod my guitar and amp like SRV, and even dress like a rockstar. In each circumstance I think, “Yes, that might just work. I could sound like that, if I do everything else exactly the same way as Mr. Famous Rockstarpants.”
They have it right. It truly is the small stuff that matters. In fact, all these tiny details matter so much and there is such a vast quantity of them, that replicating such performances is nearly inconceivable. Every part of the signal chain plays a role – from player to instrument to amp to room to microphone to preamp and all the cables, power supplies, recording/storage media, surfaces, and recording/mixing/mastering engineers in between. Even weather, location, and moods can make a difference.
Needless to say, it’s nearly impossible to replicate that one sound by that one artist on that one record. So many factors are involved in the making of a sound, that in many cases the original artist that recorded it might not be able to make that precise sound again, even when given identical circumstances. (I’d like to point out that perhaps the very reason we enjoy certain sounds is because a beautiful moment was captured – something unique that will never happen again – and trying to recreate it verbatim would somehow make it less amazing. Frankenstein’s monster wasn’t very pretty, was he? I digress.)
“We all have idols. Play like anyone you care about, but try to be yourself while you’re doing so.” – quote attributed to B. B. King
And The Good News
Proper tone (the right tone at the right time) can be bought. You can pay for it with practice and critical listening. Good equipment is nice, but not necessary, as Jack White demonstrates so well in It Might Get Loud.
It’s time for Christmas music! Some love it, some hate it. I mostly like it. But no matter what our preferences, every year starting around Thanksgiving (and now even as early as Halloween – oh, the humanity!) we are bound to hear Christmas and holiday music playing non-stop at least until New Year’s Day (and […]
Some love it, some hate it. I mostly like it. But no matter what our preferences, every year starting around Thanksgiving (and now even as early as Halloween – oh, the humanity!) we are bound to hear Christmas and holiday music playing non-stop at least until New Year’s Day (and sometimes longer). So no matter where we go, for approximately a month and a half every year, we’re bound to experience Christmas music in one form or another.
On the good side of Christmas music, we might hear Bing Crosby on an AM radio promising “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” a claymationized Burl Ives wishing us a “Holly Jolly Christmas,” Ray Charles telling us that “The Spirit of Christmas” should last all year while Clark Griswold rediscovers old family films, Sarah McLachlan tenderly crooning a gorgeous “Silent Night,” or The Peanuts gang singing the melancholy perennial favorite “Christmas Time Is Here” by Vince Gauraldi.
And I have to admit I’m a sucker for Mariah Carey explaining (in no less than 12 octaves) that “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” I almost believe her. I bet you do too.
But on the nefarious side of Christmas music, we have to suffer through double-time punk rock versions of “Jingle Bells,” terribly over-jazzed renditions of “Santa Baby,” the latest winner of a pop/idol/reality show butchering “O Holy Night,” college choirs covering the panic-inducing “Carol Of The Bells,” and Kevin McCallister lip-syncing The Drifters’ version of “White Christmas” into a hairbrush.
Countless bad Christmas songs have been hastily fluffed like whipped cream to make albums that are then pumped into the public airspace in hopes of swiping up a bit of Joe Consumer’s annual Christmas music budget. Without taking an official census, I’d say there are probably 20+ bad Christmas songs for every good one. In short, there are a lot of bad Christmas songs. The Christmas music naysayers really have some solid exhibits and evidence in their favor.
The Worst Song
In my mind only one Christmas song can claim to be the worst Christmas song ever. I award that prize to “The Christmas Shoes.” You’ve heard it, I’m sure. It’s the sappy tear-jerker about the poor little boy that wants to buy some shoes for his dying mother on Christmas Eve and it’s the epitome of awful. Sadly, it’s been made into a novel (what?!) and a movie that I’m sure Rob Lowe considers a low point in his career. Here are the lyrics and a video just in case you need a refresher.
The Christmas Shoes
It was almost Christmas time, there I stood in another line,
Tryin’ to buy that last gift or two, not really in the Christmas mood.
Standing right in front of me was a little boy waiting anxiously,
Pacing ’round like little boys do
And in his hands he held a pair of shoes.
His clothes were worn and old,
He was dirty from head to toe,
And when it came his time to pay,
I couldn’t believe what I heard him say,
“Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please.
It’s Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size.
Could you hurry, sir? Daddy says there’s not much time.
You see she’s been sick for quite a while,
And I know these shoes would make her smile,
And I want her to look beautiful
if Mama meets Jesus tonight.”
He counted pennies for what seemed like years,
Then the cashier said, “Son, there’s not enough here.”
He searched his pockets frantically,
Then he turned and he looked at me.
He said, “Mama made Christmas good at our house,
Though most years she just did without.
Tell me, sir, what am I going to do?
Somehow I’ve got to buy her these Christmas shoes.”
So I laid the money down,
I just had to help him out
I’ll never forget the look on his face when he said,
“Mama’s gonna look so great.”
“Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please.
It’s Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size.
Could you hurry, sir? Daddy says there’s not much time.
You see she’s been sick for quite a while,
And I know these shoes would make her smile,
And I want her to look beautiful
if Mama meets Jesus tonight.”
I knew I’d caught a glimpse of heaven’s love
As he thanked me and ran out.
I knew that God had sent that little boy
To remind me just what Christmas is all about.
I know a lot of Christmas songs could qualify for the worst ever, but I think this one wins for several reasons. I could rant about this song for awhile (as some of my friends and family know quite well), so I’ll try to make this short and sweet.
Note: My intent is not to criticize the songwriters or anyone that genuinely likes this song. I simply want to point out the problems I detect in this song. I am doing so because the song is insanely popular despite what I believe to be very obvious logical and theological flaws. I know lots of other Christmas songs fail in many of the same respects, but this one stands out above the others because it often goes under the radar as “a good song to sing in church.” Passing off heresy and consumerism under the guise of a heart-warming ballad is quite wrong on so many levels.
Why “The Christmas Shoes” is the worst Christmas song ever
The Real Meaning of Christmas is Consumerism
Ah, the Christmas consumerism machine at it’s finest! Finally someone has found a way to not only condone our consumption that makes it seem like the “Christian” thing to do, but has also capitalized on the concept by writing a song about it that’ll “just get ’em every time.” This is the primary reason I hate this song, and honestly, it’s reason enough, but I have to continue.
NOTE TO SELF: If you are ever hard up for cash, remember this simple song equation: Poor Young Child + Dying Parent + Sacred Holiday = Money Train
Why is a little boy shopping alone on Christmas Eve? Why didn’t anyone else in the song see a problem with this? Wouldn’t someone contact authorities?
Don’t miss the last moment!
If “there’s not much time” left for the woman, then why is the boy out buying shoes instead of spending time with his mother in her final moments? Priorities, son. Priorities.
Almost dead people have no need for shoes.
I know it seems harsh, but if his mother is close to dying from a terminal disease she simply does not need shoes. Maybe it’s the kind gesture or the thought that counts, but if she’s really that close to death, she probably would not be conscious enough to recognize a heart-warming deed from her son. Seriously.
Dead people have no need for shoes.
Caskets only open on the end where the head is, so no one besides the undertaker is going to see mama in her beautiful new shoes. That’s gonna be a real let down. And if she’s cremated, well… you might as well just burn your money.
You don’t take it with you.
Umm… I thought we were all clear on that. For this being a “Christian” song, it sure seems like some pyramid-era theology is slipping in there. I don’t know what heaven will be like, but if I had to speculate about footwear, I’m pretty sure that whatever we wear in heaven (if we even need any shoes) will be far superior to whatever mass-produced-by-slave-labor kicks the boy could’ve purchased with some change at the local big box store.
Does Jesus care about shoes?
The boy’s concern is that his mama look beautiful when she meets Jesus. I’m not sure where the boy is getting his information about who Jesus is and what he wants from us. Jesus is not Tim Gunn and heaven is not Project Runway. Mama will not be voted out of heaven based on her footwear. If so, those atrocious Crocs you just bought mama will not be winning her any style points.
‘This worries me. Make it work.’ – a quote by Jesus or Tim Gunn, I can’t remember who said it.
Adults Messing Up
Congratulations, to the adults in this story (the father, the cashier, and the narrator of the song). Instead of being wise and using this difficult time as a teaching moment, you helped an already poor kid waste his last few coins on useless shoes and let him convince you that his well-meaning, but half-baked plan is in fact the true meaning of Christmas. But the shame doesn’t rest solely upon the fake characters of this trite story, we the consumers actually bought this song and are continuing to buy it every year! Please, for the sake of future generations, stop supporting this song.
These are just a few of the reasons why I believe this song is the worst Christmas song ever, but don’t let me convince you. Judge for yourself.
Buy Shoes for Christmas
If you actually are in the market to buy shoes for someone for Christmas and you want to do more than just buy shoes, check out ShopToStopSlavery.com. My friend Robin researches products that are fair trade and slavery free. You can visit her site to find quality resources and good places to shop. That’s a gift that keeps on giving, Clark.
Many of us have a grand scheme in mind – some great plan for life with an ideal outcome that involves our friends and family. Many times I have heard someone say something like this: I want to be successful so I can take care of the people around me. If I make a lot of […]
Many of us have a grand scheme in mind – some great plan for life with an ideal outcome that involves our friends and family. Many times I have heard someone say something like this:
I want to be successful so I can take care of the people around me. If I make a lot of money, someday I’d love to build a big house where everyone can come and be safe, someplace where they all can feel at home.
Indeed, this is an admirable sentiment if truly motivated by pure and altruistic intentions. Working to provide for the ones you love is noble, good, and worthy of pursuit. How sweet life would be if we all made this our goal! But please allow me to point out a nagging problem I’ve noticed.
Let’s pretend for a moment that this is your plan. You work hard (or win the lottery). You build a big house. You put a nice grill and a pool in the backyard. You invite all your friends and family over for a party. You welcome everyone to your house and say, “Please! Make yourself at home!” Everyone feels quite welcomed and kicks back a little more than usual. They feel comfortable in your own version of Neverland Ranch. Everyone has a great time. They are happy, but you are even happier. You’ve succeeded in creating your own paradise where all your friends and family are enjoying life in your house. The problem? You are the only one at home.
♫ Little Pink Houses For You And Me ♫
No matter how wonderfully warm you are, how inviting you make your home, how many soft throws and pillows fill the sofas, or how serene or exciting the party may be, everyone knows that this is your house and eventually they must go back to theirs.
In a related way, have you ever tried connecting a new friend with an old friend only to discover that though you love both of these people dearly, you realize they have almost no connection with each other? Think about your network of friends and family – the people you know from elementary through high school, college, and beyond. In your mind, put them altogether in one room. Imagine that all the people you are connected with on Facebook at your house at the most wonderful party you could ever host – everyone you care about in one place. Wonderful right?
Could your friends be friends with each other?
The trouble here is that you are the common thread between these two people. They both have a relationship with you, but there is nothing tying these two people to each other. In time, these strangers may become friends (if you pick your friends with careful homogeneity and/or compatibility), but often they will continue to have little in common with each other except for you.
I think that at the root of this great urge to have an amazing house that we can share with others is really a desire to create a space for ourselves that we call home. As much as we would like for our house to also be a home for our friends and family, what we really create is a universe that revolves around ourselves. We go to great lengths to make our loved ones feel like welcome planets and moons in our solar system, but they are trying to do the same thing. This battle for centrality of family and social events can get ugly with home owners attempting to increase their gravity (read: control) by building larger or more attractive environments. Though in doing so, we unwittingly might be creating larger prisons for ourselves.
As I write this article, I understand that some may interpret it as piece of anti-materialist agenda. Far from it. I have no problem with people building nice houses and spaces in which to live, work, rest, and share with others. Nesting is a deeply entrenched biological tendency not only for humans, but throughout much of the rest of the animal kingdom. Great comfort, peace, love, and joy can be gained and given in the act of building and maintaining a home. In the crosshairs of my thoughts is the greater concept of home, what we believe it is, and how we eventually express it through our lives. To read more about what I think home is you can read this article I wrote. I’d would love to hear you thoughts on this.
On the morning of August 29th, I (along with the help of fellow musician Katie Nelson) played music for the good people of Lakewood Baptist Church in Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. We set up outdoors on their east lawn as part of their final al fresco service of the summer. The weather was […]
On the morning of August 29th, I (along with the help of fellow musician Katie Nelson) played music for the good people of Lakewood Baptist Church in Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. We set up outdoors on their east lawn as part of their final al fresco service of the summer. The weather was perfect (I was able to remain the shade the entire time) and we sang and played well, which from my perspective made the entire experience enjoyable.
During the portions of the service in which Katie and I were not playing, we sat off to the side of the makeshift stage area with our backs against the stone wall of the church. As we listened to various readings and other musicians playing, we noticed a young man walking by on the sidewalk, mere feet from the congregants in attendance that morning. As he passed, I noticed (amongst other things) a paperback conspicuously poking out of the back pocket of his jeans – a tell tale sign of belonging to a particular faction of the now burgeoning hipster scene. I leaned over to ask Katie if she had noticed this small detail. She replied with the even more insightful observation she had made; that as this young man had passed, he had swiftly, and without losing step, swiped a pen from a table sitting next to the sidewalk. Though he did this in full view of the entire congregation, no one seemed to notice.
“The audacity!” I exclaimed in my head. “How dare he? Stealing! …and from a church! …and in front of so many people! What gall!” Inside I could feel my well-developed sense of justice rising up. I contemplated hurrying after him to correct this problem, but decided the scene would cause too much distraction since I was sitting in front of everyone. Instead, I quietly sat there and worked through a logical progression of thoughts.
Calm down. It’s just a pen. No big deal.
But it’s the principle of it all! Stealing is wrong.
Maybe he has nothing. I hope he stole because he needed it, not just because he wanted it.
How ironic though that he would steal from a group that would have given it to him had he simply asked. If he really needed a pen, anyone of us would have handed him a large supply of pens without reservation.
Why would he steal from a church? There must be more to the story. Maybe this was a small statement of his perspective. Maybe he thinks that the church steals from people (a common and sometimes justified belief) and that he was simply playing his part as Robin Hood in this sad story.
The plot thickened in my imagination. “Oh well. Let it go,” I thought as I attempted to refocus my mind on the morning’s service and it’s over-arching themes of orphanhood, abandonment and adoption. (Apropos topics in hind sight.) Still, as I tried to engage myself completely, my mind wandered back to the possibilities of the young man’s motives.
A quote came to mind that I had read just a few days prior. The late comedian George Carlin once said:
I would never want to be a member of a group whose symbol was a guy nailed to two pieces of wood.
I mulled over that quote, weighing its humorous pithiness, poignancy, and pride against its subtext of angst, antagonism, and atheism. Knowing that all comedy is rooted in tragedy, I wondered of the origins of this one-liner. How had it been given birth via the life of its author? What were the “causes” of this “effect?” What did Carlin experience to arrive at a belief like this? Was this young thief on the streets of Cleveland living out a similar experience?
Again, I thought, “Oh well” and pushed the subject from my mind. The service finished with three songs performed by Katie and me, followed by a pizza lunch on the lawn. With the almost-noon sun moving over head, the shade was disappearing quickly, so as most everyone ate pizza and chatted with each other, I hurried to wrap cables and box up equipment. While I worked, a friend was kind enough to reserve an entire pizza for me. After packing away all the gear, I sat down again in the shade of the stone church to eat a few slices, when suddenly I noticed the young thief coming down the sidewalk again. This time with his shirt off and skateboard under his arm.
I was surprised to see him return, but remembered that oft repeated maxim: “A criminal always returns to the scene of the crime.” For whatever reason, the young man had returned and immediately I thought I should offer him some pizza, but Katie jumped first. “Nice shoes!” she yelled to him. He stopped and looked to see who had complimented his bright blues and yellow kicks, then he approached us. “Thanks. They’re pretty fresh aren’t they? My mom gave them to me.” We talked about shoes for a little bit, then I offered him a slice of pizza. He declined when he found out it had pepperoni on it. “He might be a vegetarian,” I deduced. I wished that I had something that fit his diet, but all I had was a pizza that generously had been given to me. Katie offered him some gluten-free cheese ravioli she had brought along. He accepted with a manner of indirect thank you accompanied by earnest looks and head nods saying, “Yeah, it’s all about generosity.”
Unfortunately, after a few sentences I was pulled into another conversation with some other folks, but I kept my ear perked on the conversation that continued between Katie and the young thief. He expressed his belief that “everyone should share together,” but that “the world and everybody just wants money.” His take on the local farmer’s market (an incredible market, which has some of the most affordable produce I’ve ever seen) was that the marketers are “just trying to take people’s money” and that “people should share food or offer food at a modest prices.” He talked about music, books, people, and church all with the same skeptical-about-everything-but-we-got-to-share-and-one-love-is-it-man sort of view. The irony of his thievery just moments earlier was not lost on me. I could tell that he had some deeply rooted anger, a very suspect anti-capitalist worldview, and plenty of sophomoric pride in his reading list.
As he turned to leave, he jabbed at Katie, “Nose rings aren’t very churchy.” Katie responded with honest sentiments about her experience with churches, describing religious people, the Jesus she knew, and the difference between the two. When Katie said, “I really love Jesus,” the young man agreed that he really liked Jesus too and added, “He is in my top ten people of all time.” Katie asked who else made it onto his top ten people list. He reiterated Jesus and mentioned a few authors before tagging on George Carlin to finished the list. I nearly laughed out loud. I wanted to point out, “That’s like saying your favorite books are Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Mein Campf.” I could’ve drawn a Venn diagram to show him the concept of mutual exclusivity, but recognized that rationality was not the impetus at work. He was a wounded boy striking back at a world that had brought him pain.
A Mutually Exclusive Venn Diagram
I dug deeper, “Where are you from?” He launched into a story about being born in Virginia, moving to Ohio at a young age, being drug to Detroit by his ex-minister mother chasing after “love for her boyfriend or whatever that whole thing is.” He returned to Cleveland when his girlfriend parted ways with him. Now he’s sleeping on a couch at the boarding house where his mother is staying. Katie saw that he was carrying a portable CD player and asked him if he wanted some CDs. “Sure! I love music,” he said. “I’ll probably just burn the tracks and then sell the CDs ’cause I need the money, you know. I gotta survive.” Katie gave him two of her albums as well as two of mine. He expressed his gratitude to us again with another obscure type of thank you and then left.
We spent much of that afternoon walking around town with some good friends. As we popped in and out of little shops, cafes, and novelty stores, the odd events of that morning came up in our discussion. We verbally processed the theft and subsequent conversation that took place, touching on the possible roots of such problems before moving on to lighter topics like “Which shop should we go to next?,” “Do we need to feed the meter?,” and “What do you want for dinner?” Towards the end of the day we found ourselves walking along the path of a local park just in time to catch the reddish-orange sun slowly sinking into Lake Erie. We paused for a moment to enjoy the scene before deciding it’s best to head “home” before dark in an unfamiliar town.
The path out of the park took us directly past a skate park. I scanned the crowd of young guys skating there wondering if the young man we had met earlier was among the dozens enjoying this extremely nice skate park, one of the many perks paid for by the hard work of the local “capitalist pigs.” I didn’t spot him, so we continued on. Just as we reached the street, I was surprised to see our friend the thief making a last second dash through the busy intersection to beat traffic. Since he had not seen us yet and knowing that he probably gets hassled a lot for skating, I jokingly yelled to him, “No running!” He turned to see who was reprimanding him this time and smiled when he recognized us.
“Hey! I listened to your CDs and that’s some really good stuff,” he immediately offered. “I liked them a lot. I burned them and took them down to the exchange already ’cause I need the money. Gotta survive. They only gave me two bucks though for all four of them ’cause they said that you weren’t popular.” Though severely lacking tact, I had to admire his honesty. Most musicians might run away crying after such a frank assessment, but we grinned and said, “That’s fine man. We’re not really famous, so it’s not a surprise.”
He then offered his assessment of the music: “It just goes to show that God helps those who help themselves.” I’m sure I gave him a funny look when he said that, because I’m not really sure how he arrived at that conclusion. How could anyone boil down four albums of songs to such a singular and contrary thought? (But then again, how could Carlin boil down the entire discussion of Christianity to logo choice?) I concluded that either our young friend did not actually listen, or though he did listen, he was so wounded that he could not hear. Then again, maybe what happened was a phenomenon similar to what the Beastie Boys experienced with their song “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!).” A tongue-in-cheek satire of frat boy meatheadiness became the anthem of meatheaded frat boys everywhere.