How Long Blues (Circle 4/12)

Working my way around the circle of fifths… Very. Slowly. I’ve spent the last couple weeks in Eb, and the result is my first recording with piano AND vocals. Booya! Couple shaky spots, but I’m quite happy with it. Props to Tim Richards for the arrangement, and to Leroy Carr for writing How Long How Long Blues back in 1928.


A Long Circle of Fifths (3/12)

Things take a bit of a left turn here. Something about Bb didn’t lend itself to hammering out sloppy blues on it for me. The result is more lyrical and haunting than what happened in C or F. I’m seeing my technical limitations quite a bit in this process, not to mention the degree to which my 113-year-old Heintzman upright is in need of a tune. But I’m finding lots of new stuff. It feels good.

A Long Circle of Fifths (2/12)

It’s been a couple of weeks – work on a couple of writing projects and a Fallout 3 addiction kept me from hitting the keys too hard – but I’m back with another brief blue improv. This one’s somewhat inspired by the stylings of Vancouver’s own The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer, who I saw recently at the Biltmore. Great stuff. Lovers of the blues best be advised to get tickets to see their upcoming gig opening for the great Betty Lavette at the Vogue.

Anyway, here’s my humble contribution. Tune in next week (or two) and we’ll see how Bb is treating me.

A Long Circle Of Fifths

Hi all. Off the topic of writing, I’ve recently begun to admit that I play a little piano. As I work on fingering and learning different keys and scales, I’ve decided to nigh-exclusively focus on one key per week, moving through the circle of fifths (or fourths, depending on your perspective). Once a week or so I’ll post a little something in the key I’ve been working on.

Soooo… here’s a sloppy but somewhat loveable blues improvisation in the key of C.

Does Bill Nye Really Want To Whip Your Creationist Ass?

For the last 24 hours, my facebook feed has been abuzz with news of the incendiary verbal smackdown laid by Bill Nye The Science Guy on U.S. Congressman Todd Akin. According to this widely circulated story, Akin had suggested that Nye’s attack on Creationism prompted God to punish America with Hurricane Isaac, and Nye came back on Akin with a profanity-laced retort on the Smithsonian Channel.

However, almost none of this actually happened.

The Daily Currant is a parody site.

The only part of the story that’s actually true is that eight days ago Nye posted a heartfelt defence of evolution and a plea that parents not teach their children creationism.

Now, Nye’s delicate understated pitch is nowhere to be heard quoted: its tasteful whisper is drowned by the shouts of faux-Nye and his threatened ass-whipping. Our collective ability to appraise the relative arguments of the two actual guys folds under a wave of partisan thinking. My facebook friends list includes more than one card-carrying atheist science geek; I’ve seen more than one post saying, in effect “I love Bill Nye, who is loveable and sensible, and I hate these creationist assclowns.” I’m sure there’s a counter-argument that runs “I love Todd Akin, whose statements reflect my own deeply held beliefs, and I hate these anti-Christian douchebags.” Both of these arguments, which short-circuit any path to reasoned argreement, are strengthened by the muddying of public record that occurs when readers have to work extra hard to find out who actually said what.

So, here’s an open message to the staff of the Daily Currant. It looks to me like you’re hitting the target that you’re aiming at, dead centre. Your stories are well crafted and they skilfully mix real stories with fictitious detail, linking to both outside stories and to parody stories within your site. But pitching your fictitious stories so close to the tone and content of the news is wandering across the line that separates parody from forgery. And while you can’t be responsible per se for how readers interpret your work, you can certainly recalibrate your editorial tone to create different impressions on your readership.

When the stories ring so true that they’re repeated as fact, what you have achieved is not “to satirize issues of social relevance in order to influence the global discourse.”

What you have achieved is a prank.

If that’s all you wanted to do, great. No one’s stopping you. Certainly not this guy. But if I were in your shoes, I’d reach for your “parody/forgery” dial and turn it three good solid clicks in the parody direction. Blurring the line so casually isn’t helping public debate, and it’s hindering those who work within parody as a legitimate form of commentary.

For any of the rest of you out there who are working with parody and would like to avoid the confusion and the muddying of public discourse that follow from a too-successful mimicry job, here are some suggestions.

1. Be More Outrageous.
The easiest way to show denote parody is through outrageousness – making the content so absurd that it couldn’t possibly be true. The Onion excels at this approach, keeping their tone deadpan level while cranking up the ridiculousness.

2. Adopt a Consistent Form.
Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” and Jon Stewart’s opening monologues use the same clear, clean structure for their gags. They introduce a bona fide news item as a setup, then do a parody twist for the payoff. It’s an easy form to understand, and the viewer is never, ever in doubt of the moment where the switch trips from fact to joke – or, more subtly, from news to commentary.

3. Tip Your Hand.
Parody artist Weird Al Yankovic is an extremely skilled and versatile singer… and he has been successfully hiding the fact for years. His nasal delivery is so distinctive that it’s almost impossible to listen to any line in his discography and mistake it for the original, despite his near-total replication of vocal rhythm and musical arrangement.


Book review: The War of Art

Hi all! Found this review of Steven Pressfield’s excellent 2003 book The War of Art in my files and I thought I’d share it. Enjoy!
Writers take note. Steven Pressfield has named your enemy.In magical traditions, sorcerers claim power with names – names of entities, names of enemies – and conceal their own true names from those who might harm them. Pantheistic religions have hundreds of gods, gods for everything under the sun. Diana, Goddess of the Hunt. Ganesh, Lord of Obstacles. Various patron saints of you-name-it. Even if you don’t believe in prayer as such, it’s hard to argue with the psychological effect of having an anthropomorphic image to represent a principle. It lets you sum up a universe of outside influences with just a single word.It helps, too, to have a focus for your aggression. I once heard of a camp cook who worked the tree-planting circuit in BC. He was an alcoholic. He used to keep a bottle of liquor, sealed, on the shelf at eye level in front of him, and he’d curse at it from the first moment he rose til the last before he slept. “You’ll not get me, you dirty filthy whore,” he’d say, and remain stone cold sober for the duration of his contract before going gloriously blotto once the work was complete.

So if you’re a writer, it might help to know – or to decide – that the trickster god that fights to keep you from your work is named Resistance.

Pressfield’s book, The War of Art, is about Resistance: what it is, what it does, and how to fight it. In a series of short little chapters, he lays out not a recipe or a strategy but a very simple policy: don’t let Resistance be your master. The individual chapters are quite wonderful. Different readers will respond to different chapters; there’s sure to be something here that will ring true for you. Pressfield’s crowning achievement, though, isn’t any of his chapters, or the way the book is organized into sections, or his catchy title. It’s the simple fact that he has given a name and a personality to the force that keeps us from writing. Surfing the net instead of writing? Resistance. Putting off the project you really want to write? Resistance. Keeping your office too messy for you to work? Resistance. The demon Resistance is there for you to fight… and he wasn’t there before a gifted, driven writer charted his dimensions. It doesn’t matter if you agree with Pressfield or not. Pretend you do, and you’ll have an enemy for life. And then you’ll be able to fight him.

On Adding Drama: Point/Counterpoint

Two links came my way today.

In this ad for TNT’s Belgium launch, an “add drama” button triggers a tightly choreographed action scene:

In this all-caps memo to the writing staff of “The Unit”, David Mamet lays down the law about making scenes dramatic:

What’s interesting here is the way “drama” is defined so differently. The TNT ad never defines it explicitly; the implicit message is “hanging around this beautiful town would be a stone-cold bore if you didn’t have an action movie to watch, so here’s a bunch of action for you”. Drama is defined as spectacle.

Mamet, being no slouch when it comes to dramaturgical tradecraft, defines drama as “the quest of the hero to overcome those things which prevent him from achieving a specific, acute goal”. He goes on to list a series of tests and tools to see whether a scene is dramatic or is “a crock of shit”. The toolkit he lays out is a little all over the map – it’s obviously a Dramaturgy 101 memo written in a hurry – but we’re far better off with Mamet’s toolkit than with allowing ourselves to accept the TNT definition of drama as an artful display of screeching tires and blank-firing pistols.