Lately I’ve been staying up until 4 am feeling sad and afraid to fall asleep. Then I wake up late-ish dreaming about words.
Yesterday when I woke up I was mumbling to myself that consciousness is a structure made out of rebar and you have to pour your brain into it like concrete.
The tail end of my dream this morning was about getting caught inside a guitar effects pedal and falling into a pool that was underneath the floor. Then I climbed out and had to explain to B how I had gotten in there and what the structure of the pool and effects pedal was like and how the pedal was attached to the amp.
And the other day I woke up after dreaming that I had been in a delivery room trying to make myself go into labor even though I wasn’t pregnant.
Today I was reading some of the historical archive stuff about riot grrl bands on Grrl Sounds and listened to some of the bands I missed out on because I was five years too young and lived in the land of boy bands and death metal. I was especially inspired by Emily’s Sassy Lime playing a four string guitar and borrowing amps and the low fi cut up aesthetic. I’ve been thinking so much about perfectionism, fear of judgment, and paralysis. The first planning meeting for the Women’s Music Collective is tonight and all I can think is “who am I to make this happen?” It’s kind of the way I feel when I write a song or a poem and it doesn’t seem real to me because it’s mine, like the only real things in the world are those that already existed without me. Thinking about high school girls playing a four string guitar and borrowed drums turning out raw, beautiful noise is an antidote to that kind of thinking.
I am proposing a thought exercise: decontextualizing music from time and the idea of scarcity. It’s tragic how music is thought of as locked to time and even though the music itself can travel as an artifact the rest of everything surrounding that gives it resonance is lost. Planned obsolescence is a capitalist idea more suited to refrigerators than culture. Music is infinite. There is no scarcity of songs, images, musicians. There is no scarcity of musical possibilities
I just read this article in the believer (the whole article isn’t online) on VC Andrews. It really gets it right. For better or worse those creepy, prurient books heavily informed my sexuality as a teenager.
And then I found this site and had lots of nostalgic fun reading about all the books I’ve half forgotten.
I’m writing a song about the Heaven books because they were the ones that really got to me.
I’m taking this flier to Art Murmur tonight. Let’s see what happens.
East Bay Women’s DIY Music Collective
Calling all home tapers, shower singers, songwriters, players of all instruments and skill levels and genres
Community, skillsharing, and workshops
for women and trans musicians
Wednesday September 9, 7 pm
Mama Buzz Cafe
Questions? Call 510-xxx-xxxx
Yesterday I traded my steel string acoustic for an ’80s nylon stringed Yamaha classical guitar.
I hardly played the acoustic anyway because even after having the action adjusted a couple of months ago it was like playing one of those as-seen-on-TV wire egg slicers. It sounded muddy and totally unforgiving. It had a weird separation between the lacquer of the neck and the body that made me nervous about its body integrity but didn’t really affect the sound.
It was a present from my mom on my 16th birthday. It was the guitar I spent twelve hours a day playing during high school summers. Then in my twenties it was the heavy, delicate thing I resented dragging around from house to house when I moved because it represented a part of my life that I was still mourning a little.
I feel liberated that I was able to let go. Fourteen years is long enough to own a guitar that I didn’t really like that much. I like it when I can be practical and not buy into the idea that guitars are a sacred extension of the body. Or a woman’s body, the other metaphor I see floating around that grosses me out. There are so many silly cliches about mystical connections with musical instruments. I think the mystique contributes to the idea that there is a right type of person (male) to play the guitar and one right type of feeling about it (all-consuming, reverential.) I like thinking about guitars as tools for making noise. Everyone has the ability to use a tool. This thinking is new to me because I used to buy into the mystique wholeheartedly. It was a big part of thinking I couldn’t play music any more much less own the term “musician.”
I have never liked classical guitar music at all and am still a little surprised that I own one. I’m taking a community college class to learn sight reading and fingerstyle playing and thought that the nylon strings would make it easier to practice playing fingerstyle without tearing the fingertips off my right hand, which were blistered and bleeding after one class on the steel string acoustic. The nylon strings make it easy to play for as long as I want to, kind of like an electric guitar. I practiced sight reading this morning and I can feel the new connections prickling in my brain. I love that feeling. I also like the way the guitar looks small and unthreatening and a little blank; I can’t tell just by looking what kind of sound will come out of it. It’s full of possibilities.
The guitar shop dudeliness was more muted than last time around. It sucked a little but not badly enough to get upset about.
Next week I’m going down to Santa Cruz to play with my friend who is an amazing keyboard player with a ridiculously cool homemade electric/acoustic church organ set up in his house. I’m going to send him one of the songs I’ve written to play together. I feel a little nervous, like I always do when I open up to someone. I’m going to bring my electric guitar and play loud because he lives in the middle of nowhere with no neighbors to annoy.
I relate to teenage poetry. I get the chainsaw subtlety of the metaphor and the darkness of the darkness. It’s been about fifteen years since the last time I felt the urge to write something that sounded like Nine Inch Nails lyrics but I feel that way quite a bit of the time. I’m a grown ass woman with, for good or bad, enough shame to keep most of those feelings to myself but I still feel like a hysterical, morbid, teenager almost any time I have something to be upset about like getting kicked out a band.
I don’t think I even knew that not everyone feels all their feelings (and some of other peoples’ feelings too) as if they were roaring, 200 foot waves rolling over and surrounding them until I got sober. Then two things happened: one, I started feeling things even more acutely and with more awareness because I couldn’t just drink eight beers and cry about how much my mom hates me or how I was going to die before I was 25 or any of the other things I used to trip out on when I was drunk. Two, I started going to meetings and hearing about how sensitive everyone is. I feel like less of a freak knowing that other people share my emotional makeup. Most of the time I don’t mind being an emotional outlier. Lots of the people I love most are hyperfeelers. I appreciate their sensitivity and awareness and the compassion it gives them for others’ struggles. But today my own hyperfeeling made it really hard to get out of bed.
If I had gotten kicked out a band three years ago I would be drunk and crying right now. Instead I’m feeling every one of my lurid, oversized emotions. At the moment they kind of remind me of those ads you see on skeezy websites with the flashing lights that leave traces on your retina even after you close your eyes, the ones that you try to click to close and they take you to the site that’s made up of more hyperactive blinking trying to sell you viagra or pirated software. My feelings of shame and regret and fear are like those stealth porn spammer links that open themselves and take over the whole browser, flashing things I don’t want to think about AGAIN across my eyeballs when I’m happily thinking about something else.
Because I am a big sensitive obsessive baby who takes everything personally, because shame and fear and inadequacy and panic are eating me up, today I had to write a fuck you song to jazz. It’s 4/4 time with no swing whatsoever, key of C, lots of thirds and fifths and other vanilla intervals, no accidentals, NO SWING, dead easy chord progression. I kind of like it. It’s surprisingly pretty for a song born out of resentment.
I played a little guitar. I read a little of my book about home recording.
I remembered just now, while writing this, having a very intense and serious (and hilarious in retrospect because we were so serious about WHAT IS ART and WHAT IS TRUTH) conversation with my friend Tom in tenth grade about whether Trent Reznor could be considered an authentic artist. The problem, as we saw it, was that he wrote songs about being depressed and disenfranchised while living what sounded to us like a pretty fucking awesome life of making music and money. From the perspective of two depressed teenagers having crazy bad times at home, being an adult with limitless social mobility and income meant you could never feel anything again except ecstasy and gratitude. Therefore NIN was inauthentic therefore NOT ART. We solved the philosophical question of art and authenticity once and for all.
I had no idea when I was a teenager how small you can make your own world using nothing but your own head. It’s one of the anti-miracles of human consciousness how badly you can fuck yourself up.
So after less than a week in a band I’m not in a band any more.
Jazz got me again, just like in the 11th grade when my music friends, guys who I had known since elementary school, turned into jazz snobs and didn’t want to play fun stuff together any more. Today (and Wednesday, when I was crying in the bathroom) I knew I was in trouble when the other guitarist wanted to play jazz standards and hear me improvise over a 12 chord blues that he was playing with the jazziest of jazzy altered chords. I hate blues. I haven’t soloed over a 12 chord blues since I was 16 or 17 because as far as I’m concerned there’s no reason to unless someone is making you do it. I didn’t think that this band, which I have seen play live, was a straight up jazz band since out of the eight or nine songs I’ve heard them do only two sounded restless, dissonant, and hypercomplex. The rest of the songs are pop/rock I can play easily. It turns out they really are a jazz band, if not completely in music than in ideology. That means that my competent rhythm guitar and bass and pretty good lyric writing skills aren’t enough.
I don’t swing. I groove feebly. I failed the virtuoso test I didn’t know I was taking. I played a straight minor chord when I should have played a Ebm7+9. I am innately not a jazzist.
It hurts like a breakup. I feel humiliated even though the “this isn’t working” conversation happened in the calmest, most respectful way possible. I took myself out for vegan Japanese food to cure my broken heart with miso soup. I cried a little more in the restaurant bathroom. The lucky cat watched me from the back of the toilet. I hope it’s the last bathroom I cry in for a while.
But like a breakup this also means I’m free to do whatever I want. Like not try to scramble songs I’ve already written to make them fit the band I’m not playing with any more or scramble my brain learning dissonant, 100% 16th note bass runs. Like start my own band (East Bay music-making ladies, where are you?) Also to crawl around Craigslist at 2 am fantasizing about finding women to make music with but finding dude after dude who RAWKS.
It’s sore. Bass playing takes so much more tension and pressure than guitar. I love it. I love bass clef and the backwards C and two dots that look like snakebite or shoelace holes or cartoon typography eyes. I love the way it feels in my hands. It feels powerful and simple at the same time. It makes me want to learn how to play more lead guitar too. I’ve tried playing some bass lines up an octave on my guitar and they sound sweet and basic and surprisingly good in a stripped down kind of way. My ego has mostly recovered from yesterday.
I’m off to the Y for a swim but have to figure out how to not hurt my newly enlarged left finger calluses. Rubber gloves? Superglue?