Saturday, January 29, 2011

Book’s Almost Done.

Depending on how hard I work this weekend, the rough draft of my first book should be done in 3-5 days. I’ve been writing between zero and 3,648 words each session while writing 1-3 posts to my songwriting blog every day. I’ve also been writing application letters, new songs, project proposals, and articles for clients.

With all of that blurring together, it seems impossible that I’ve written nineteen chapters and outlined twelve. Most of these look alien to me, and when I read them I feel pleasantly surprised that they exist at all.

I also feel thoroughly disoriented, and terrified that I’ve repeated myself or written gibberish. It takes a lot of strength each day not to back down from the project. There’ve been a few things that’ve kept me going:

  • a major-label artist sending me encouragement and offering help as a free copy editor.
  • Generous people who have sent donations to keep my songwriting site running (they don’t know it unless they’re reading this, but they saved the site from oblivion).
  • Links and traffic from one of the music industry’s most powerful A&R people.
  • Links and a nice letter from a woman who’s been #1 on the country charts.

Okay, enough about me. Let’s cut the Tozierfest short--here’s what I’ve learned from all this that can benefit you

  • If you’re a writer, write. And write. And write. The more you write, the easier it becomes to write even more. Getting paid gigs helps here—even if you don’t feel ready for them. Nothing motivates you like a deadline.
  • Blog. An informal personal blog is a good start. A thoughtful, on-topic blog about one specific thing that interests you is great. Update it daily and you’re doing yourself a huge favor: you’re learning new things constantly by researching and writing that much; you’re creating something attractive to people who share your interest, and you’re honing your writing skills. If you want any help or advice with this, drop me a line. I’ll be happy to share what I know with you.
  • Ride it ‘til the wheels fall off. Set up camp well outside of your comfort zone and stay there. In the darker corners of my heart, I still don’t believe I will ever write a book. Yet the whole book is already outlined, and it’s about 70% complete. Push yourself, and don’t let fear throw you off the trail. If you don’t believe you can do it, do it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Louis Sclavis

I love the music of French jazz composer and clarinetist Louis Sclavis.

His melodies are sometimes angular and oblique—other times, smooth and deep and sonorous. Sclavis knows just which note your ear wants to hear next, and—just when you think you’re about to get it—instead he gives you a much different note, confounds and teases you, and then finally slides gracefully into the note you expected… just in time for the next unexpected twist.

If you want to hear some beautiful and strange sounds, check out L’imparfait des Langues.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Maeve Gilchrist is Awesome.

Please do check her out and buy her music if you haven’t already. She’s a phenomenal Scottish harpist and singer. Hell of a songwriter also. Click above!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mindless Reporters Don’t Lie

Feeling frisky today. Woke up at 9:30pm (I gigged and stayed restless last night) and posted a 1,000-word article over at the songwriting website about curing writer’s block. I called it “Writer’s Block or Building Blocks?” Should you need one, it contains a loving, affectionate smack upside your head. ;)

In the editing end of that website I’ve got a calendar plug-in for Wordpress. It’s great for checking which topics I’ve posted about over a certain span of time. I like to strategize content somewhat.

Another great thing about the article calendar is that it doesn’t lie. I set out to write and post a quality article every day this past month. But I’ve only managed to post about once every two or three days. It’s good to have an objective reality-check.

One article per day.

Back to it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Morning.

0600hrs. – I wrote all night. It was productive and satisfying, but I’d like to sleep soon. The sun is rising.

This afternoon I have a phone meeting, but after that I will take time to exercise, relax, and read. Maybe Dante’s Inferno. Then I’ll play piano for a while.

These little promises I make to myself are all that keep me going some days.

Goodnight.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Book Book Book Book Book Book Book

I'm writing a book. For now I'd like to keep the topic quiet, because the idea's still developing in its egg.

When I was younger, I always tried to write novels, usually without much direction. And though the results were anywhere from unintentionally hilarious to genuinely good, most remained incomplete. The idea of a book deal used to tantalize me, but that impetus alone was never enough to see me through the entire arc of a story.

It began with one day of inattention. That one day of slacking would extend into the next, and the next, until the days accumulated like snowfall, the story grew increasingly obscured and distant in my mind, and the project was finally frozen and buried.

This time is different.

I'm publishing the book myself--the moment it's finished, I can present it to the world. This is also the first time I've ever attempted a complete work of nonfiction.

Brain Candy

The topical research is shaking open these amazing clustered webs of ideas in my mind. The project involves taking in a vast, vast amount of information, making complex distinctions and connections between all of it, and then turning all that data into simple imperatives that I or anyone else can use to create amazing art.

The process: devour information, scribble outline on how to put that info to work, swallow more info, reflect on info, combine with all previous info, scribble outline on the synergy of the ideas, repeat from the beginning. After 2-4 hours this process alters the very timbre of my consciousness, and because every work session brings new insights and connections I’ve been struggling to make for my entire life, it all leaves me feeling somewhat dizzy and elated. I'm answering, confronting, and overcoming the problems that prevented me from ever finishing a novel.

In sum: I'm creating a system. The system itself is fun to work on. When it's built and fully functional, it'll serve as a lever that multiplies my strength and efforts, making me a far, far more productive, interesting, and efficient artist... and if  I succeed, it'll do the same for all its readers.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

My Home is a Blank Notebook

Yesterday I spent the afternoon and most of the night cleaning and organizing. My home already looked okay, but now two of my three rooms look pristine.

The cleaner and neater my home gets, the more settled and ambitious I feel. I’ll look at the wide-open floor and think, “Hey, there’s enough space to run in place right here. I should run for a while today.” Or I’ll look up at the the bookshelf and a particular spine will light me up. “I should spend the afternoon reading that.” Or I pass by a spotless, totally clear desk, and think “I could sit down and work on the book for a while.”

My home now radiates that same feeling of possibility and promise that comes with any new notebook. I can work here. I can live here. I can do something great here.

And I can invite guests without reservation. Of all the pleasant side effects of an orderly home, the obvious one I didn’t foresee is that it keeps me in touch with society.

I’m unlikely to host any intense dinner parties in the near future, though. While tackling large, longer-term projects, I work best in solitude.

U.S. Marines Workout Plan

Great find in the book bin at the grocery store yesterday! It's a short, sweet distillation of the U.S. Marine physical conditioning process.

Author Martin Cohen writes clearly and succinctly. No unnecessary words. Beautiful. And he begins by describing the many benefits of the workout plan—this left me feeling excited and motivated enough to begin the program immediately

The book provides a system for figuring out how fit you are in each of four areas--so that you know whether you'll initially be doing push-offs against the wall, full-fledged pushups on the floor, or something in between. Likewise with lower-body exercise, chin-ups, and cardiorespiratory exercise.

Once you know how fit you are in each of those areas, you begin actually working out. This basically involves doing as many repetitions of each exercise as possible, until you're overloaded.

This program is a nice match for me also because I don't own any running shorts, shoes, or fancy equipment like that. The book requires only some surfaces at various heights--I ended up needing a sofa for my triceps, for example.

Now all I need to do is talk to my downstairs neighbors about a time of day when I can run in place in my living room without driving them nuts.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Minimalism and Great Solitude

My best creative environment is quiet and solitary.

It took me a long time to realize this, but I thrive on living and working spaces that are also visually quiet, without anything misplaced. I declared war on the stacks of useless accumulated consumer goods, and now everything in my home is either absolutely necessary or carefully chosen to be decorative but not distracting. I use the stereo to fill the air with ambient music or sound effects.

Lastly, and most deliciously, I write using a program called DarkRoom, which turns the entire screen black (or a color of your choice) and your words are the only thing visible on the screen. It’s beautiful.

Stacks and Stacks and Stacks

I’ve got a foot-tall stack of notebook pages on the shelf behind me. There’s another on the floor of the kitchen, and there are seven more in the next room.

All of these are just handwritten something-or-others. There’s fiction, nonfiction, poetry, essays, philosophy…

The humbling conclusion I came to last night is that I’m not going to use any of it.

All of that is behind me. It’s just experience to stand on so that I have the reach to move on to the next thing, the next idea.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Digging in

Writing a blog about songwriting has made me realize how much I love digging into a topic: researching, thinking, writing, writing some more, responding, debating, and building content.

It’s so satisfying to mastermind an enormous resource, one page at a time. Whenever I learn something, my readers have the potential to also. And whenever my more vocal readers spot something I’ve missed, I learn. And we are all better off for having gathered together.

A blog can be just a byproduct of a learning process. A blog is like a venue. What takes place within that venue is up to you: it can be like a café, a library, a bustling marketplace, or like two armchairs in front of a fire.

If you don’t have one, get one.

Tom Waits. Bill Gates.

No reason to go into detail about it, but today was mostly rotten. Tomorrow, that won’t matter.

I have amazing family. Amazing students. You all restore my faith. Daily.

I still can’t settle down. Time to go read about Bill Gates until whatever it is that drives me finally relaxes (or comes apart).

“A man must test his mettle

In the crooked old world” – Tom Waits

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I'm in Love with the Matchmaker

The steady stream of new visitors to my songwriting website continues. People are finally finding me through Google by searching the terms that I care most about--which means that Google is doing a great job of playing Cupid. 


Today I had a visitor who spent half an hour on my site and read fifteen articles after searching Google for songwriting resources. That's the kind of validation I needed! To give you an idea, I don't normally expect readers to stay longer than 90 seconds, or read much more than 2 or 3 articles.


Been writing some short news posts on the blog and gotten a good response, but I want to make sure it's balanced well. I still want the site to be an educational resource, not a source of news. I want most of my articles to continue being useful for years to come.


Thinking I'll change my front page to an excerpt view, with a thumbnail photo and blurb for each article, with a variety of categories available from the /words front page. More options, more variety, more content to choose from.


Geo just called in a writing assignment. Hoping to shave before I get out the door; I've got 5 o' clock shadow that would make George Michael jealous.


More soon.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sometimes it Pays to be Stubborn.

Hey, cool! Yesterday, my songwriting website must've been promoted through Google's ranks somehow, because I'm seeing more than 10x the usual amount of search traffic. Encouraging! It feels luxurious to wake up to more traffic than I used to get in an entire day.

Gotta celebrate these little victories, use them to build momentum.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Recording Horseflesh & Scrap Iron

I’ve been invited to an apple sauce-making party tonight with some really great people. So if I want to make it there tonight, I’ll have to record this damn song. Getting my head together about it. I need to:

  • Write the lyric on one legible page.
  • Retune my guitars.
  • Write out a chart so I don’t get disoriented while recording gtrs.
  • Gather together some improvised percussion instruments.
  • Wire my recording rig together.
  • Roll tape!

Song’s called “Horseflesh and Scrap Iron”.

This pale witch at night, she turns my flesh to horseflesh and RIDES
Me on cracked hooves through my own nightmares.

Ready, fire, aim. Here goes.

I Just Got a Promotion.

This morning I sat in the middle of a semicircular pile of books, hunting for songwriting topics. In an hour, I had two weeks’ worth of posts.

I’m focusing hard on two of my other blogs—each is very different in topic—and posting at least once every day, then going out to raise the profile of each website by reaching out and being helpful on forums and other blogs for a set amount of time daily.

To sustain that kind of momentum, I need a content strategy to help me stay focused and oriented—and just to help me remember what I’ve already covered and what can be built upon and all that good stuff.

I’m not just a writer for my own websites anymore—I’m editor-in-chief.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hello, Strangers.

P1010049

The last dispatch I posted to this website is over a year old. I don’t remember what I was feeling, what I was wearing, or where I was when that long-haired stranger wrote that entry.

What’s new since then?

  • I’ve written a book’s worth of songwriting advice on my own domain, built an international readership, befriended amazing major-label songwriters, received links from prominent mainstream music industry figures and my peer bloggers.
  • I’m happily self-employed. Everything I do now revolves around the arts. Every penny represents a word written, a note recorded, a songwriter coached, a musical artist managed or promoted.
  • I have four one-hour appointments per week. All else is flexible, at my discretion.
  • I teach classes and mentor students one-on-one.
  • I compose for dancers.
  • My long-delayed collection of original songs is available for purchase in November. It remains independent; I am my own record label. The album is called A Game with Shifting Mirrors.
  • I own only necessary things. My home is clean, uncluttered, and free of evanescent distractions.
  • My little sister owns a business and attends college.
  • My father released an EP.
  • My mother’s enrolled in my songwriting class.
  • I’m two uncles now—my older sister has a new baby boy.

Time to go work on A Game with Shifting Mirrors. More soon.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I am Moving Far, Far Away...

Yes, that's right. I'm moving.

To


for now! www.nicholastozier.com will eventually go live; until then I have the new blog listed above.

Thanks for reading; see you on the other side!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


The busy season is here! I'm composing some dangerous, James Bond-styled musical interludes for R & B Dance Company, managing the cafe, taking twenty-mile bike rides, playing sporadic gigs, and working on this Fall/Winter's two planned album releases (funds permitting, samples available on request). One is very composed and abstract; the other is very accessible, just a resonator guitar and my lungs and one microphone.

More, in detail, soon.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Monday, July 28, 2009, 0100hrs.

It’s past midnight and I’m overstimulated. I spent the morning at www.tedgreene.com; it motivated me to get out my battered copy of Chord Chemistry and start developing a plan of attack on this mysterious beauty we call music. For a while now I’ve been doing much more listening than playing; records have stolen all of my money and most of my time. All day today I studied and practiced; now I’m feeling worn out and restless. But I scribbled down a long list of short– and long–term goals for myself, and I’ll be back at it tomorrow. I’ve never been a person to organize my life with lists, but lately I’m finding them useful. They help me focus.

I’ve been loving The Best of the Blue Note Years, a basic collection of Thelonious Monk’s oblique compositions and improvisations. I’ve also been grooving on Bitches Brew and Big Fun, both by Miles Davis. Then we’ve got Song of Songs from classical vocalists Stile Antico… songs of God that could lay an army down. Also Pieces of Africa from Kronos Quartet. It sounds like African choruses arranged for strings and percussion, but I haven't done my homework on that yet.

My favorite recording lately has been “Transblucency” from Duke Ellington. It’s an impressionistic piece with an eerie theremin-like nonverbal vocal melody. The tune's supposed to evoke “a blue fog you can almost see through.” The clarinet plays counterpoint and Ellington adds percussive piano splashes here and there, grounding the otherwise ethereal textures.

I’d like to gush about many more albums and recordings here, but I’ll spare you for now. Suffice to say that when I listen to music, that’s all I do. I sit and listen. And there is no shortage of richness or nuance in the musical wild.

Last week I went down hard on the granite doorstep of a dress shop downtown while serving a former Miss Maine her coffee. I landed totally prone: half on the step, half in a puddle, wearing it all with sugar and cream. Got some big complex bruises out of that one (still wearing it on my thigh, right below my ass) and fucked up my elbow temporarily. Ms. Maine tried hard not to laugh, but you know how it is when somebody pulls an impromptu Buster Keaton act at your front door.

I’ve managed somehow to satisfy my own work ethic tonight. I sit here at a loss: I’ve practiced, I’ve written, I’ve read, I’ve listened to some great recordings, I’ve eaten more fruit salsa than the body is meant to take in one sitting. I suppose it’s time to turn in. Goodnight and thanks for reading this.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sunday, July 05, 2009, 1917hrs.

Today is the first sunny day I’ve seen for five weeks here, so I’m going to get back into it momentarily. I just ran, so I’m soaked and feeling great. A cell phone alarm was supposed to alert me when I’d run my usual allotment, but apparently I had been squeezing the “Snooze” button between my leg and body because I didn’t notice it ringing until the third time it buzzed. That means I ran fifteen minutes longer than originally planned. Not a bad mistake.

As much as my body loves to run, I have a hard time focusing my mind out there. I don’t have any portable music devices or anything, so there’s really nothing to do while I circle the park. When boredom tempts me to go home early, I distract myself with romantic thoughts instead. That probably sounds funny if you know me personally, but that’s how I refocus. I think: “If you get involved with somebody, Tozier, your body is half hers. Wouldn’t you both want your body to be healthy and mean?” This is also how I talk myself out of skipping workouts. You would laugh if you saw me in my apartment, red-faced and growling obscenities toward the end of each set of reps, with my little playlist of love ballads piping through the stereo in the background.

I’ve still got a full day and a half off from the cafe, so I’ll probably finish writing a few songs during that time. I plan to release this first album as a handmade CD with handmade packaging. Lots of labor involved.

I need to get out in the sun before it goes down. My body’s still humming happily from what I just put it through. After dusk I’ll pound some coffee down, get wired, and get back to work. I’ve spent a combined total of ten hours at the typewriter and the guitar since last night, and tonight is young. I have the new Meat Puppets album, but I'm feeling a little lost because I finished my last taped Borges lecture last night. Maybe I'll just start the whole series over again.

Very soon my daily entries will shift toward describing the still-unnamed CD and its construction. If you're a regular reader, I promise that you will grow rapidly sick of hearing about it.

Gotta get outside now--sun is setting. Take care of yourself! Thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Just Another Work Day.

July 4th, 2009. 1733hrs. --- Got up early this morning to prepare a catering order, then worked a crazy lunch shift all by my lonesome at the cafe. I was the entire operation; clerk, server, cook, everything. It was wild. Five hours of sleep wasn't enough, but the caffeine supply is looking good.

My first CD of original songs and compositions is almost done. Some of you will receive copies by mail or by hand very soon. I'm looking forward to getting feedback. It'll also feel good to prove that I haven't been slacking on all those nights that I've turned down social outings: "Here ya go, everyone. I wasn't exactly partying without you." My beard is entirely a product of pulling double shifts and trying to wrap this CD up. After that I've just got four more recording projects to finish. Jesus Christ.

A novelist I admire very much, Cheryl Drake-Harris, has offered to mentor me on the craft. She has recently landed back in the states after a lengthy stay in Mexico, during which I missed her very much. You can check out her book Lily's Ghost, published by Random House, by picking it up in a major bookstore or visiting Amazon.

The "novel" I was working on is in need of serious work and will most likely be distilled into short-story length. The good news is that I'm free to write whatever I want after that.

Recently wrote to Henry Rollins, received a thoughtful and prompt response. Surprised, impressed, and even a little starstruck by that; I'm a big fan of his "spoken word" CDs.

Satisfyingly sore after yesterday's workout. I love that feeling.

Got quite an eclectic mix going: some Marvin Gaye, David Bowie, Judith Owen, Black Flag, The Birthday Party, Dinosaur Jr., some Paraguayan harp music, even a little Pete Seeger. I'm about to lock myself in my apartment for the next three days with that stack of records, Kafka's complete short works, espresso aplenty, a freezer full of vegetables and salmon... and of course many cans of beans. I must go now. My desk awaits. Thanks for reading this.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Price is Right

May 25, 2009 11:56hrs. --- I'm at my folks's place in Jefferson, so I have momentary access to a television. “The Price is Right” came on at eleven o' clock in the morning, making this the first time in years that I've seen the show. In my fuzzy, croaking, just-out-of-bed brain state I found the show completely undignified and repulsive. The Price is Right is a depressing microcosm of a too-large portion of most Americans' lives. All that tacky glitter, the flashing light bulbs, the stylized games... it's like an ugly retail labyrinth in which everyone is hopelessly, hopelessly ecstatic to be wasting their time.

Would I try to guess the prices of six grocery items for a chance to win sixteen grand? Sure. But why does everybody soil themselves jumping up and down when selected as a contender? Are we really that excited about being on-camera and having a chance to win a billiards table? Come now.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

May 24, 2009. 2315 hrs. --- Today was a frenetic day at the corner cafe; if you were there this afternoon you already know that. I enjoyed the frantic pace.

Less than an hour after getting out, I played at The Mad Dog for two hours. If anyone present there is reading this now, thanks for hanging out and making it such a great time. Look for me on the streets and at the Gardiner Farmers' Market next week!

After The Mad Dog I finally managed to reach Nicole via telephone. It's always great to hear that voice. We talked for almost an hour; at one point she cheered me on for my recent vegetarianism, cardio, and lifting routines. After we said goodbye I sallied forth to hit up the grocery store for heaps of vegetables and smoked salmon, and as soon as I'm done writing this I will eat with barbaric gusto, knowing that my friend the beguiling nurse approves. I'm beginning to feel some power in my body, and I'm enjoying it very much. Can't wait to lift again.

Spinning Dinosaur Jr.'s "Without a Sound" at the moment. I've got to add some of these songs to my songbook.

Been studying Jason Martineau's The Elements of Music and taking intense notes. It's a beautifully succinct, intense little book with surprising reach; it even serves as a springboard into linguistics as they relate to songwriting and composition.

Currently reading Chambers's weird classic The King in Yellow. It is free on Project Gutenberg, so you can easily check it out if your eyeballs can handle reading on a computer screen. The stories are of mixed quality, but I found the better ones quite satisfying. You will especially enjoy them, I think, if you have read and enjoyed the 1920's American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. Chambers was one of Lovecraft's inspirations and several themes common to Lovecraft are present in The King in Yellow: forbidden books that wear away the sanity of their readership, for example.

There is more to say, but I am too hungry to say it. Thanks for reading this. See you on the streets, in my e-mail, on the commons, or in my mailbox.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

May 17th, 2009. 1210hrs --- Had an interesting gig last night; I sang “Sexual Healing” to the chef of the A1 Diner, who came out with some friends. It was good to have company; last Saturday I went out with Nicole and I've been missing her very much ever since. Hurry home, Nicole.

If there's a word for seafood-eating vegetarianism, that word now describes one more skinny white boy's diet. I've also been running and working out for a month. I've already developed some endurance, already developed some muscle. The discipline does me good. I'm being strategic about my life as a whole: cleaning the apartment, budgeting my money, budgeting my time. I want to get a hold on all that loose sand, all those loose minutes that aren't spent constructively. I know from rolling my spare change that small quantities of money add up over time; seconds and minutes add up the same way. I am a healthy, mentally sharp young person with access to many books and musical instruments---I'm streamlining everything in my life so that no moment, no resource is wasted if it could be spent well. When you've got a curious mind and something to exercise it on, life is good.

You might've noticed that I made a photographic appearance in the Kennebec Journal on Wednesday, in the Gardiner insert. It was great to see all these hardworking business owners getting attention throughout that section of the paper; I am a patron and a fan of all those establishments, I crack jokes and trade stories with their owners on a daily basis. My only gripe with the insert is that there are a lot of people missing from it, but many of the town's unique gems were covered, so I suppose I should shut up and be grateful.

A few weeks ago I went to a wine show with my boss to figure out what wines we want to bring into the cafe to sell. While there, we found a bottle called “Red Right Hand,” after the famous song by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. The cafe is looking good, by the way; we've got over 250 labels of wine and probably more than 100 microbrewery beers at this point. I still think we need more dry Rieslings. I don't drink wine often, but when I do I love dry Riesling.

Got some music in the mail this week: Dinosaur Jr.'s albums “Without a Sound” and “You're Living All Over Me,” Sam Cooke's “Ain't That Good News,” John Zorn's “Mysterium,” and Phantom Orchard's “Orra.” Also received Jorge Luis Borges's box of lectures that Harvard found in their archives recently. What an amazing man. Later today “Pillow Wand” by Thurston Moore and Nels Cline should arrive. Meanwhile I listen to even more Marvin Gaye. I can't get enough Marvin Gaye.

I hope you're happy, healthy, and productive. Thanks for reading this.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Cancellation


 

Gig was cut short this evening because of a bad scene involving bad drunks. All this week's hard work, for nothing!

Sorry to everyone cool who was just trying to enjoy themselves. We'll rally again next week.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

From an Unfamiliar Kitchen Table

Apr 19 1032hrs --- I'm here at Liz's house in Whitefield among good friends old and new. Two of them are sleeping in the loft, but the rest seem to have taken off somewhere for the morning, maybe out for breakfast. Last night I got a bit sauced and took a long loud bath, singing at the top of my lungs for an hour or so until finally my voice broke. I didn't care. It was a full-sized jacuzzi tub, six feet of tub for six feet of Tozier, with skylights above, windows all around. It was three in the morning.

Woke up this morning to a cat snuggling up and making peculiar throat noises. That would've been fine if the cat had been weaned at the appropriate time. She licked and bit and scratched my head until half an hour later, when the enormous European wolf-killer dog took over, flopping down and dozing, half on top of me.

Finally I got up, stacked cans and bottles, broke down cardboard boxes, swept the floor, poured cereal, and sat here at the kitchen table with my laptop...

...looks like nobody left this morning after all, they had just crawled off into the far corners of the house to sleep last night. It's nine-thirty and the house is stirring. There's Jake and Leah, Ryan and Molly, Brandon, and Liz. We've got onions, bacon, and eggs happening, everyone's smiling and laughing, mostly---a few are visibly hung over...

...just took a walk outdoors with my cereal. It's only ten but the weather is already warm. Dog followed me everywhere, looking pleased with what little of the cosmos she can see.

1747hrs---At my folks's home, struggling to stay awake. Didn't get a whole lot of sleep last night. This afternoon my father and I worked out another twenty-five songs for our acoustic duo. We're having a good time with this little pet project.

Alright, I oughta run, maybe take a nap on the couch, maybe watch a movie with my folks. Sounds like "American Graffiti" is likely; I've never seen it.

Today was spent in good company. Favors given, favors taken, good times freely had. This week I start a new cafe schedule and hopefully a new sleep schedule to match. Thanks for reading; enjoy the warm weather this week!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

New Territory

1110hrs. Added some new songs to my repertoire this week, like “Why?” by Andrew Bird and “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel.

“Why?” is a jazz number with great lyrics and a swingin' melody. I had never played it all the way through, and I don't know its recordings very well, but at The Mad Dog last night I played it as true jazz: improvising the vocal lines and extending my guitar chords to add little solo parts. It was challenging and much more rewarding than singing the same old by-the-book Johnny Cash tunes every week. I love Cash, but I don't want to play any song into the ground unless there's space to play with it and keep myself interested.

Speaking of new things, I've got a laptop now to treat like a tape machine. My desktop is seven years old and still kicking with its 128MB of RAM, but it is neither quick nor reliable... and even less portable. The poor thing can barely keep both a jukebox and a web browser open at the same time. Monitors must have improved, because text looks pretty sharp on this machine. It should be great for getting this first album recorded and promoted. Progress is good. Hopefully I'll be on time and have it all done by early June.

Had an adventure this weekend; at around 2330hrs on Friday I locked myself out of my apartment with nothing but my guitar. No toothbrush. No food. “No problem,” I said, “I'll crash at my neighbor Amanda's place and pick up the spare key from The Village Jeweler in the morning.” Wrong. The chap who carried the apartment keys had left the business not two days previous. I called my landlady, but didn't receive a response until long after my shift at the cafe had already begun. Two shifts wearing the same clothes, no shower, eight hours of sleep? I was not at my best. But last night I got back in early enough to take a shower before the gig, and that gave me a boost.

Marianne and Auta at The Mad Dog gave me a key to their apartment building two doors down so I can do laundry. I love bartering.

I think that's all.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Promotion and My First Album of Original Tunes!

Hey there. I hope you enjoyed your weekend.

There's too much to say and my brain is even less of a single-file line than usual. All of the backlog's crowding toward my fingertips at once. Let's see what's in the bottleneck.

I now manage the A1 to Go whenever the owner's not around; that was a major step up. This job is great: I meet everybody in town; I network. I'm learning food, wine, and beer; I'm making more money now than I ever did as a banker. I'm given creative license and my boss treats me as an equal. As for being bumped into a boss position, if somebody needs to be told what to do, I don't mind telling them. And if I must yell, no problem. When somebody's earned it, I don't mind dressing them down.

I've made respectable money by busking on Water Street on warm days. One gal put a five in my hat, sidled up on my right, and kissed me on the cheek while I was singing. What a sweetheart.

One of my tax returns has already arrived, but I'm lost on how to celebrate. This would be an easier task if I got a charge out of getting drunk or hiring strippers or something.... my birthday's coming, too, and I'm unsure whether I want to plan a trip out of town or host a gathering or just stay home and work. Suggestions are welcome.

Meanwhile I'm downloading some music I've wanted to check out for a long time, like the band Low. The song "Tonight" from the album Trust had low female vocals—serious turn-on—and a nice guitar wash with minimal bass keeping things pinned down, marking the chord changes and turnarounds. I am a sucker for boy-girl harmonies in which the girl sings lower.

Sitting in this chair reminds me that I should hire the lovely Sarah Miller to rub out the damage I've done to my back, wrists, legs, and neck. The cafe has been hectic and my work-at-home habits don't relent either. This week won't be different: I'm doing a lot of music theory exploration on paper and strictly practicing guitar technique. I love playing jazz chord forms but I'm not in love with the sound of seventh chords; to me they sound like bad middle ground between more colorful chords (13ths and such) and the simpler triads with stronger tonics. Sevens sound too much like commas; I like my music to be full of ellipses and full stops.

For the next five days I'll be working double shifts on these songs for my first album, trying to make sure they get done by summertime. I don't want to spend the hot months cooped up in my writing room. The process of hammering this thing together out of scraps of wood and rusty nails is teaching me both efficiency and patience. My first novel has been moved to the background more than I'd like, but I had to make a cut somewhere.

Been sleeping eight or nine hours each night. Sleeping alone, but sleeping. I'll take it.

Thanks for reading; I'll be in touch soon.

-Nicholas

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Zeroing In.

Washington D.C., 1923. Testing bullet-resistant vests.
I can't decide which man's task is more frightening. Can you?

I've hidden underground for some time now, and still don't plan on surfacing until I've finished one of two exhausting enterprises.

When I do reappear, I will have something to sell you. Ten dollars.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

You Are Invited

Picture by either Auta or Marianne, I think.

This Saturday I'll be singing for a few hours at The Mad Dog, a new pub on Water Street in Gardiner. They have drinks, desserts, and meals; everything is delicious and affordable. And you are invited. With gusto. Bring friends! Bring family! Meet the easygoing, charming staff!

I play from 7:30pm until about 9:00 or 9:30pm.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Copper Guitars, German Hounds, and Apple Tree Ladders

(c) Mary Becker-Weiss 2009
See the blob-like magnets on the resonator?
They're holding it together. No joke.


Here's a snippet from Mary's blog at Corniche Online:
Local performer Nick Tozier and his friend Nicole visited for the afternoon. Nick performed an impromptu concert and Nicole spoiled Scout, who is now good for nothing. Since I have only known Nick through our association at A1 to Go, I was very pleasantly surprised by his emotion, originality and talent as a guitarist and singer. Got some good pictures of Nick, which we'll use to promote his performance during our next Gardiner ArtWalk scheduled for May.
Flattery will get you far, Mary. As for the ArtWalk, I'll post further details as soon as they're fixed. Meanwhile, take a look at this lil' hussy we found in the shop!


(knavishly snatched from Mary's website)

Her name's Scout; there's a hot spot behind each ear of course. Scratchscratchscratch. Her eyes rolled up and blinked slowly in appreciation, 'til finally she leaned against my leg and sighed—like the pleasure weighed a hundred pounds. Adorable. When I stooped to look at her expression, the rascal craned her neck to take a quick nibble at my lower lip.

Scout! You flirt!

...we're dating now.

* * *

Tomorrow I ride to the coast to lend a hand with some apple tree ladders that Robert ordered for an upcoming art piece. Robert and I agreed to alternate deejay duty on his car stereo, hopefully turning each other on to some new jazz pieces. I think I'll bring along Electric Masada, Bennie Maupin, and The Nels Cline Singers.

Hopefully Robert will have some insight into the short story I've been stalling on. Oh, I just realized! In that initial photograph above, that panel behind my shoulder is one of Robert's. There may be clearer pictures of it on the Corniche website, linked above.

Until next time!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Mad Dog, Saturday Night

Picture (c) Sarah Miller 2009
Played for an appreciative roomful of faces at The Mad Dog this evening! Made some new friends, caught up with some old ones, sang many a song. It was a welcome break from the three-week trend of lukewarm strangers.

New additions to the songbook that I played this week:
  • "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash
  • "Hate it Here" by Wilco
  • "Gravedigger" by Dave Matthews
  • "I Gotta Get Drunk" by Willie Nelson
  • "Shock the Monkey" by Peter Gabriel
There were some young women in the place who actually recognized the music I was playing and made requests for songs that I actually knew. I believe in miracles.

I made $2.00 for my efforts.

Alright, it's time to go curl up with The Defense, a Nabokov novel I grabbed yesterday night while Dan and I poked through the bookstore. Tomorrow I think I'm headed over to visit my family, play music, and maybe do a little recording.

I'm exhausted.

Goodnight, all!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Miscellaneous.



I went out this evening with Ray and his generous ladyfriend, who bought me beers until I was reeling (it doesn't take long when you're 120lbs. and have almost no tolerance).

Finished Lady Chatterley's Lover. It was remarkable.

Finished Hell House, a haunted house story by Richard Matheson. It was so-so.

I'm going to sleep early in hopes of waking up early. Goodnight!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Right Book, the Right Time.

At the Mad Dog on Valentine's Day. Picture by Auta.


Lady Chatterley's Lover
is a beautiful read. I am eating out of the palm of its hand, absolutely powerless to stop mid-chapter. Yet at the end of a day's reading I feel momentarily full, satisfied, enriched. D.H. Lawrence seems to inhabit all his characters at once; we see each of them through the eyes of all the others one by one.

The protagonist Connie and the gamekeeper of the Chatterley grounds are particularly sympathetic characters. I feel nervous when they are tense, thrilled (mostly) when they make love, blithe when they enjoy one another's company simply. Oy, it's been too long since a book took me the way this one does.
Some passages are so great that I make noises out loud that the neighbors probably smirk at. Still I can't stifle the sounds.

I hope you out there are well, too, Reader. Are you?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My Famous Feet

This is my own snapshot, not Mary's. Hers are fantastic.

Photographs of my feet by Mary-Becker Weiss are available on greeting cards at Corniche in downtown Gardiner! When I went in it looked like my feet had momentarily sold out.

Also available at Corniche are some works by my good pal Robert Saunders, whose friendship, generosity, hospitality, art, and jazz collection have enriched my life over the past year. Robert will be a recurring character in blogs to come.

Swing into Corniche to see Robert and my feet!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

How You Touch Her, Part II


Listening to a guitar is of course a purely auditory experience; watching a guitarist stimulates both your eyes and your ears. Playing the guitar adds pleasing tactile sensations, the satisfaction of musical progress, and the intrigue of communicating in a new tongue that is nonverbal like body language... and equally expressive.

Touch is a central pleasure of the guitar. Before you even pluck a string, you're taking something pretty onto your knee and putting your arms around her. That's a pretty good start, wouldn't you say?

The back of her neck is long, sleek, and smooth. If you run a hand up the fretboard lightly, you'll feel each of those metal inlays like rough bumps on a smooth road-like surface. Finally, as you begin to play, you're pinning taut wires to a hard surface with your fingers, vibrating them with the other hand until they ring pleasingly.

Even back when it used to hurt, back when I was a beginner, I loved how the wires resisted me, how they bit grooves into my skin. Slowly my fingertips hardened until I could play for hours without pain, and that was like losing some physical form of virginity. I had been initiated, I was entering another world!

Guitar continues to be a process of discovering limitations and working to push them farther out. Every time I sit down I confront myself, I struggle, and if I'm lucky that day, I overcome. Then I'm one tiny step closer to being able to express any musical idea that pops into my head; my hands are one notch closer to being "obedient."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

It All Depends on How You Touch Her.


My amplifier now does nothing but hum when plugged in, and I can't afford to replace such an expensive piece of gear. So I'm an acoustic player by necessity for the time being: two hands and a heart and a pure love of sound! I've got everything I need.

The guitarists I look up to stand in agreement: the most important thing affecting the quality of sound from a guitarist is not his gear, but his touch. This is a comforting thought to those of us who can't afford professional-grade setups. Technique and artistic vision should form the core of any musician, and those two things can be exercised through any reliable instrument. I've got a certain degree of both qualities, or so I like to think, and they seem to feed one another. When I apply myself, I'm able to make one significant leap every day.


Tonight I sat and paid close attention to the fingertips of my left hand. I noticed that they were slightly out of sync with my right hand's plucking and strumming motions, which caused harshness of tone, and even some accidentally muted notes, during solos and melodic lines. I smoothed that out by painstakingly practicing a scale form until I had completely rebuilt my left hand's way of doing business. Then, as a new man, I used the scale to improvise. Breakthrough! I devised my first-ever melody that sounds upbeat and positive! It even sounds vaguely African in flavor ("African" is a major generalization; forgive me). Then, during a recorded improvisation, I developed more ideas based on those initial "hooks." I'm a happy fellow.

Do I still want good gear? You bet. Ideally, I'd acquire enough electronic devices to make listeners say "What is he doing, pleasuring a rhinoceros with a modified dentist's drill whilst turning cartwheels?!" I'd love to be creative that way. For now I can't afford to, but perhaps that's fortunate, maybe I'll grow as an artist first and then begin to incorporate my chosen noisemakers, fuzzblasters and crunchsplatters.

Again, though, the important question is how you choose to touch this lovely curvy thing that you wrap your arms around.

All else is secondary.

It all depends on how you touch her.


As I will consider publicly tomorrow, right here. Tune in by dialing http://tavernofsouls.blogspot.com

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Week in Review

My workplace has changed hands! The new owner's full of ideas and energy, so the place should grow.

This week I exchanged a few letters with penpals in Connecticut and Germany, learned five songs and sketched out the structure of a new song of my own. Its title is a phrase I've heard drivers scream repeatedly at the anonymous occupants of other cars. Surprisingly, the song is PG.

Finally, I started composing an ominous piece for bass clarinet, timpani, and bass voices. Closed out the week on Saturday night by playing for a crowd of friends and peers at the pub downtown. Dan stayed out both Friday and Saturday. Had a great time!

Tomorrow night I meet with a local guitarist, Tuesday with a banjo player. More writing and composing all week.

Today I began reading The Man Who Tasted Shapes by Richard E. Cytowic. It has wooed me, and a few fun little essays are forthcoming, so my next entry will be much less like buckshot. I promise.

Okay. Off to organize my next move; it's already past ten and there's much to do before bed!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Valentine's Day & Other Nightmares

I am not looking forward to a Valentine's day performance.

Two or three hours of love songs?! I'm unsure whether this is going to be fun or depressing.


Well, I finally started wearing headbands around the house. For practical reasons only! You will probably never see me wearing them, but Al, I finally took your advice. Thanks! I can at least work now without hair in my eyes.

Got some hard decisions ahead, some hard traveling. Life is a hard puzzle, a hard puzzle indeed. I think I'll go now and rehearse for tonight's gig. In fact, I'll put together a rough setlist while I'm here.

  • "A Boy Named Sue" - J. Cash
  • "Big Rock Candy Mountain" -American Hobo Song
  • "Cape Cod Girls" -Sea Chantey
  • "Come Away with Me" -Norah Jones 
  • "First Song" -Poem by Galway Kinnel, set to music by Andrew Bird 
  • "The Way" - Performed by Fastball, dunno who wrote it. 
  • "Drunken Sailor" -Sea Chantey
  • "Folsom Prison Blues" - J. Cash
  • "Frog Went a-Courtin' " - American Folk
  • "Gun Street Girl" - Tom Waits
  • "Hallelujah" -Leonard Cohen
  • "Hallelujah, I'm a Bum" - American Hobo Song
  • "I've Been Everywhere" - Can't remember who wrote this 'un. Merle Haggard?
  • "James Alley Blues" - Richard "Rabbit" Brown
  • "Long Way Home" - Not sure whose this song is. Country standard, for sure
  • :"Me Father's a Lawyer in England" - English drinking song that I rewrote for my own purposes.
  • "The Times They are a-Changin' " - Bob Dylan
  • "Cocaine Blues" - J. Cash
  • "Oh, Darling" - The Beatles 
  • "Nightingale" -Norah Jones 
Alright. Ridin' off into the sunset now. Got a mini-party happening tonight. Cheers!

Friday, January 23, 2009

An Arabian Storyteller Gives Me Blueballs

I've been flirting with Scheherazade's stories for a long while. Reading them seems a struggle, though a glad one.

My first contact with The Arabian Nights was an uncensored version of the story "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" when I was maybe fourteen years old. That's the famous tale from which the phrase "Open sesame!" originates. It contains a description of a man being carved into quarters and hung on a wall as a warning to that same man's brother. I loved it.

In 2007, back when I was a foolish young lad who didn't care to research different translations before embarking on one, I bought and read the Barnes & Noble bargain paperback edition. "Boy," I thought more than once, "I remember these stories being more gruesome." I kept reading. I had a great time... but it could've been much better; I learned after reading about a thousand pages that the version of the Nights I'd just finished was a neutered version of a declawed version of the original tales, and that many of the more explicit stories had just been omitted, censored entirely. Serious bummer; a thousand pages took a long time to read. I learned from the experience.

In 2008 I bought a CRW Publishing LTD incarnation of The Arabian Nights that uses a translation by Sir Richard Burton. It faithfully presents all the racism, violence, and eroticism for view. What I've read of it is already miles better than the B&N version that'd had its testicles removed. The problem is that this edition is enormous, not easily portable... and it still doesn't have all of the stories. Perhaps there are just too many to collect in one volume. Until I can afford a six-volume set, I guess I'm jolly well fucked.

Well, I'll leave you with a cute passage from a particular scene where a "lucky" porter has fallen in with some beautiful gals who're toying with him:

All this time the Porter was carrying on with them, kissing, toying, biting, handling, groping, fingering; whilst one thrust a dainty morsel in his mouth, and another slapped him; and this cuffed his cheeks and that threw sweet flowers at him; and he was in the very paradise of pleasure, as though he were sitting in the seventh sphere among the Houris of Heaven.
That's it for tonight. Goodnight!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Feels Good to be Understood.

A local photographer and acquaintance wrote today, responding to the comments I made on her college thesis:

"So, this is my e-mail thanking you for your inspired, insightful, devilish, indulgent, candid, smart-ass comments."


What a gal.

In exchange, she's taking my picture so I'll have visual material for music marketing & promotion.

It's supposed to be -10 degrees Fahrenheit tonight! Jesus.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Restless.

Literally and philosophically speaking. I'm restless.

Like grapes are hanging from the vine just above my best leaping grab. Like my fingertips just brush their skin. Like the grapes are swollen and sweet and just ripe enough.

And I can't for the life of me knock a cluster down.

Maybe a midnight walk will clear my head.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

May I Groom You?

Jeff, a great conversationalist and entertainer that frequents the bar I played at tonight, said to the cook:

"Do you mind if I groom you while you eat?"

Snapped one of the gay men from down the bar:

"Do you mind if I eat you while you groom?"

Shot beer out my nose.

2008 Inventory

Every year I like to take stock of how I've grown, what I've accomplished, and where I'm going. What's my next move? It's inventory time.

2008, especially since late Summer, has been explosive.

Since October I've learned about fifty new songs, finished writing & composing five of my own, and expanded my repertoire by about three and a half continuous hours of guitar and voice. Learned Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, sea chanteys, American Hobo Songs like "The Big Rock Candy Mountain," blues tunes like "James Alley Blues," Johnny Cash covers, Tom Waits covers, and all kinds of other traditional music or new music in the old tradition. Reactions have been fantastic... I've got a regular weekly gig and I'm rapidly making contacts for more.

God, a few gigs were crazy. Frontal nudity, addresses scribbled on napkins and stuffed in the tip hat, hard-partying older ladies shouting along to "What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor?" What a great time.

Earlier in the year I wrote more fiction, but the past few months I've been steadily exploring what I want to do in music... by feeling my ideas out in essay form. I've been studying music theory, learning chord voicings, reading and writing sheet music more comfortably, even working on some musical scales from non-western cultures.

In October I wrote a twisted little book of Halloween limericks that'll soon be set to music.

Recorded about three hours of audio in 2008.

Read the massive first book of Don Quixote. I can't recommend that one enough. It's hilarious and profound.

Got three new students, aged 9, 11, and thirtysomething. They are simultaneous, a package deal: a mother and two daughters. It's been lovely.

Immediately on the horizon: a long-incubating short story, an album of improvised dronal music that blends traditional Indian and Jewish music with bass drones from my throat and from a heavily distorted (thus long-sustained) electric guitar. I'm also working on more conventional, lyrical songs. It's possible that I'll have two CDs out by Summertime, though I'll probably have to push them under different "band" names. One under my real name, probably, and the other under a pseudonym.

God, I love getting out of bed in the morning. Every morning.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Garden of Love

Just yesterday I wrapped up a draft recording of a William Blake poem I've set to music, called "The Garden of Love."

Went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never have seen.
A chapel stood there in the midst
Where I used to play on the green...

The poem, dated 1794, is about the natural beauty of sex and love. Blake presents the church as a blight on these enjoyments, as noted in the last two lines:

...Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds
And binding with briars my joys and desires.

Please note that the above lines and stanza may not be absolutely true to the original poem! I'm recording them from memory here.

Anyway, much work remains to be done. The effect of my derivative song isn't quite as chilling as I'd like it to be. Maybe if I transposed it down a few steps...? 

Friday, November 21, 2008

This Land is Your Land

At the local discount store I found a lovely little collection of Woody Guthrie songs for $2.99! I've already learned a few, with "This Land is Your Land" being one. I love the timbres of antiquated microphones and recorders and players; if I had the money and the time I'm sure I'd be busy collecting old 78rpm records.

While we're on the subject of music: I'm enthusiastically strumming a new copper-body resonator guitar. If you've never heard of such a thing, just try to envision something halfway between a guitar and a banjo: not too much twang, but more percussive than your standard acoustic guitar. I chose the copper body because it seems to contribute to a uniquely haunting sound.

I didn't earn the guitar; it was given to me by my wonderfully supportive parents. Thanks, mom and dad. I've been making great use of it already. Wrote a song on it, and it's not even a week old!

More soon. Goodnight.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Daylight Shavings

"Daylight Savings Time" confuses me. The following seems obvious, but let me remind myself and everybody else who's listening: shifting a man-made system of measurement does not actually produce any more sunlight in a day.

What it actually attempts to do is shift everybody's daily schedule backward by one hour. Here in Maine, this means that twilight descends somewhere around 3:30 in the afternoon, but the sunrise corresponds more closely to when most diurnal people are waking up.

Daylight savings time was first explained to me when I was a child; my mother said simply: "We get an extra hour of sleep." She meant that night we would get an extra hour of sleep, but I didn't know that. I thought that meant we got an extra hour of sleep every night from then on.

Daylight savings time actually shaves an hour of daylight out of my schedule. I can't sleep most nights, including this one, until very very late. By the time I wake up, sunrise is at least four hours in the rearview mirror already. So the hour that's tacked on to the beginning of the day? I never see it.

I hereby declare temporal war on the diurnal people of my time zone! Nocturnal people, unite to reclaim one of our few hours of sunlight!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Current Projects

Here's what I've been working on for the past week or so:

  • The Halloween Parade, which is a small book of about two dozen or so limericks centering around fictional females dressed up in costumes performing acts that would make their fictional mothers blush.
  • "A Man Does What he Can to Get On," a song about a musician busking during hard times. Nobody has any money for him... but characters keep giving him whatever they can, whatever's available. Comedy.
  • "A Taste of Nature's Weapons," a song about the dangers of getting involved with a beautiful woman who doesn't think you're as great as you think she is.
  • "There are Thieves About," a song about a moral-obsessed family locking their daughter away so that she can't be tempted into even the healthiest, safest sexual exploration.
  • "Put Down Your Telescope," a song about a girl who loves only unattainable men... it's also about the very attainable man whom she ignores.
  • "Homebody Alone," about the feeling of having stayed home all day by choice, then realized you feel left behind while everyone else is out having fun.
  • "Redeye," a song about a beautiful insomniac.
  • "Better-Rested, Healthier, Miserable," about a man who has the time now to start all kinds of good exercise and dietary habits as a result of losing his job.
  • "Eddie Catch a Pretty Thing," a character sketch of a guitar player and raconteur.
  • "Devil he Can't Shake," about nagging existential concerns.
  • "My Little Blackbird," an attempt to express female sexuality by writing from the perspective of one during an amorous encounter.
  • "Suspense," about sitting up awake late each night because the speaker lacks a sense of closure in his or her days.
  • "Steady Time," about how there's a clock shop keeping time out there somewhere, even when things seem completely erratic and senseless... a clock is keeping neat, regular time.
So, that's thirteen or fourteen songs and a collection of limericks. I've listed only the projects with sufficient progress already made... many, many more are in the pipeline.

If one or more of the above ideas stand out and pique your interest, please let me know by commenting here!

Farewell for now.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Dirty Songs

Many traditional songs contain adult-themed subject matter. From "The Red Light Saloon" to "Roll Your Leg Over," bawdy songs kept folks entertained in the days before radio.

The most gruesome so far is a sea shantey built entirely of limericks, called "The Good Ship Venus." or "Frigging in the Rigging." It's ghastly. Parts of it of course are laugh-out-loud funny, but most of it is astonishing and terrifying. She's perfect.

By the way, I believe a recording of "The Good Ship Venus" is available on Rogue's Gallery, a double-disc set of sea shanteys that includes a singing performance by Johnny Depp under the assumed name of Jack Shit. There are also two performances by Baby Gramps. I wrote about him earlier this week.

Happy Belated Halloween! Mwa ha ha.

Friday, November 7, 2008

An Early Awakening & Farewell

As I finally packed myself into bed at 2:00am last night, I feared that I wouldn't be able to rise by 9:30am.

I woke up promptly at 7:30, though, thanks to a fortissimo performance of "Composition for Garbage Truck and Soprano Dog." Finally it's 9:00. The truck has roamed on. The dog is silent. And I'm grateful to be awake, because I've struggled vainly for months to sleep earlier at night and wake earlier in the morning. Despite all efforts, I don't often see daylight until ten or later.

As Winter approaches, some friends are taking off across-country; others will soon return home for the holidays. It has become an annual rhythm, like snowfall or turning leaves; some perch while others fly.

Some of you, like forces of nature, embody the summertime. That season is shrinking in the rearview mirror, but I can't wait to see you all again.

Safe journeys!
-Nicholas

P.S. For a lovely farewell song, sing yourself a rousing chorus of "Bound for South Australia."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I'll Give You Sugar for Sugar, Salt for Salt.

I've been digging through books, old records, and archives. The goal is to unearth roots music that I can learn, enjoy, expand upon, and perform. The search has been fruitful: I've found sea chanteys about falling in love with anonymous prostitutes, traditional blues songs about existential angst, broadside ballads full of the filthiest limericks I've ever set eyes upon, and British drinking songs about lecherous clergymen.

My favorite lyrics so far, though, may belong to "James Alley Blues," which was originally recorded in 1927 in New Orleans by the man who wrote it. His name was Richard "Rabbit" Brown. The second and third verses set the theme:

I've seen better days, but I'm puttin' up with these...
I'd have a much better time, but these girls are so hard to please.


'cause I was born in the country, she thinks I'm easy to rule...
She tryin' to hitch me to her wagon and drive me just like a mule.


Kinky. Now have a peek at the last three verses!

I'll give you sugar for sugar, let you get salt for salt...
And if you can't get along with me, it's your own fault.

You want me to love you, then you treat me mean...
You're my daily thought, you're my nightly dream.

Sometimes I think that you're too sweet to die... too sweet to die...
Another time, I think you oughta be buried alive.

Now those're some strong blues.

Monday, November 3, 2008

"Life is a Hard Puzzle, I Know..."

My good pal Dan saw an amazing performer named Baby Gramps on the David Letterman show performing a traditional sea shantey, "Cape Cod Girls." View it here:



The didgeridoo is an Australian Aborigine instrument, of course. There also happens to be one surgically implanted somewhere inside of Baby Gramps.

If you liked that one, have a gander at his rendition here of "Satisfied 'n Tickled Too."



"Life is a hard puzzle, I know. A hard puzzle..."

Certain art, certain acts, certain people help us forget about the world's teeth and claws for a while. Baby Gramps strikes me as an old-time bluesman or medicine show entertainer juxtaposed into the present day. I have never seen another human being entertain a crowd like he does.

There's literature in Gramps's repertoire; I've heard him quote Shakespeare and Friedrich Nietzsche during live performances.

Check him out by visiting his steam-powered website, www.babygramps.com!

Monday, August 25, 2008

To Whomever Left Ice Cream in my Freezer

I'll assume that it wasn't William Carlos Williams, and that I must now explain myself.

Your ice cream was lost to the French Renaissance writer Francois de Rabelais, who believed that it was best to please the physical appetites with whatever's at hand, and not feel guilty or hung up about it. The spirit of Rabelais possessed me from beyond the grave and, despite my valiant efforts to fend him off, he used my mouth to devour your frozen confection, which I will replace at first opportunity.

So sorry. I must now go back to licking the carton.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Lost Art?

A great conversationalist can make anyone they talk to feel like the most important, interesting person in the world. But how many people can connect that profoundly while watching silly videos, listening to music, and carrying on two other discussions simultaneously?

“Instant” messaging is a prodigious time-sink, thanks in part to the distractions available on every Internet-connected computer. Who wants to be minimized? Who wants to wait seven minutes or more for a two-word reply? My friends are not just one "task" out of many, so I'm uneasy with the entire format.

Many people I love become barbarians online. Shouldn't instant messages observe basic social niceties such as saying "goodbye" instead of just vanishing? I've failed to observe etiquette a few times too, of course, but I've always apologized and tried to atone for the slip.

One-on-one online conversation seems so consistently rough around the edges that nobody is to blame for my exasperation. I am not pointing fingers at people, but at communication problems.

I just started reading The Letters of E.B. White, and I have an idea.

Do like your great-grandma did and write me a letter! You don't have to stamp an envelope or anything, just type it into an e-mail. I check my inbox daily.

If you don't like writing, come visit me instead. I'll feed you and sing you a song, maybe even for free. Overnights are alright, too, so bring your friends. My place sleeps up to a dozen. Comfortably.

And be sure I have your e-mail address. I sometimes handwrite letters, then scan them for e-mailing. There aren't many physical addresses in my, um, address book.

Check your mailbox! I'll see you soon.

Yours, as always,
Nicholas

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Please Pass the Breasts

On the twenty-first I'll be attending a nude dinner for four (the nudity was my choice; more on that shortly). The hosting married couple have a long, bonded history with a mutual friend, and having heard a lot of stories involving me, they want to make acquaintance. I've agreed, in part because I've rarely cohabited with naked human beings outside of sexual contexts, and I'm interested.

A single skinny dipping excursion in the dark immediately before high school graduation was my only exposure. That night I connected as a friend to people I've rarely seen before or since, and I maintain a strong fond feeling when I remember their faces.

Our hosting couple laments that past dinners have ended awkwardly, with their guests revealing themselves to be not only nudists, but swingers. It's apparently rare to find naked, platonic companions. Let me repeat myself here: this is not about sex. I had heard through the grapevine that they're nudists, and I told our mutual friend to forward the message that if they prefer to be naked in their own home, I wasn't averse.

Platonic nudity, I have heard, improves the social climate. People are less guarded, more outgoing. It's hard to be pretentious in your birthday suit.

Wearing a costume does affect the way you perceive yourself. This black cotton t-shirt, these bracelets I'm wearing, and these broken-in jeans comprise tonight's disguise. When I stop to notice, I feel discomfort from all that cloth. I've never stopped to ask myself whether I actually enjoy wearing clothes. Yet to wear nothing is new to me, and my own bare body itself seems like a surreal costume, because I am so rarely unclad in front of others. This is neurotic territory at best, and that saddens me.

Only a handful of women have seen me naked as an adult. Some were so self-conscious that they demanded the lights should be out before they'd agree to strip too. I resisted this request every time, because I wanted to see the body, the nakedness, the humanness. It was always a thrill to make them feel beautiful, rather than merely sexy, because the nudity was not just about sex. It was about peeling off the mundane, stiff, professional daily world and leaving it on the floor layer by layer to create a safe empty space together, one all our own. It was about penetrating beyond the surface of this person's life, being trusted, helping that person feel good about herself, and then making her feel good physically. In the process, I'd like to think that common ground was formed, though at least once I was indeed used and cast aside.

Sex has always been associated with my experiences of mutual nudity, and I feel cheated. Why should I view my body as a strictly sexual object, uncovered only for bathing and gratification? Our bodies are miraculous in every activity. Why not appreciate that, in hopes of gaining a healthier appreciation for unguarded, exposed humanity? I can't empathize with a shirt. I can't empathize with denim. I can't empathize with a sundress. Body is the only thing I can really, humanly understand. Body, body, body.

I'll be there, friends. Eight o' clock. And I'll bring dessert. We'll all have a good laugh, because I'll have no idea which fork to use.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pictures of Me Getting Licked


Above: Old Nick.

That's me, moments after yanking my head free of a giant nostril. Two Japanese tourists, apparently mother and daughter, stared on with blank expressions, talking quietly to one another. I don't know what they were saying, but I like to think they were impressed that I didn't get my head stuck this time.

Below: pedaling a giant heart. It lights up, alternating red for arteries and blue for veins, hot-cold hot-cold, but it doesn't go anywhere.




Saturday, June 21, 2008

Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!



"Fuck!"

Oh, that word! I love to say it, I love to sing it, I love to mouth it. "Fuck!" It can be sexual, violent, enthusiastic, awed. Its sound is hard, explosive, melodious. It is versatile. It fits. It feels good. It's easy.

And I'm trying, really trying, not to say it so much.

This is not because I've gone soft. Plenty of room remains in my heart for such sentences as "I'm going to knock your fucking teeth out if you shit in my house ever again, Larry." Phrases like that please even the Lord.

Here's my real problem: vague, ambiguous language promotes verbal and mental laziness when overused. "Fuck" and "suck" are frequent stand-in words. They emphasize opinion over observation.

"That new Tore-Up Anus CD really sucked!" You might say, just for example's sake.

You have used the word "suck" to express your position succinctly. But it's much more productive to say "The new Tore-Up Anus CD's sound quality was awful, the guitar was about five cents off key, and the melodies all sounded suspiciously similar to Black Sabbath hits." That's not so hard, and it's a little more sensitive to your Tore-Up Anus-loving friend because it says that you at least listened and took a moment to build an informed opinion.

I admit it's impractical to be that long-winded all the time. Nothing's wrong with saying "That sucked!" to save breath. I just aim to make sure that my opinions are well-built and substantive. Who wants to stumble their way through a judgmental, poorly thought-out, poorly expressed inner life? Human beings are partially defined by their opinions and ideas. I prefer to learn what I can even from art, music, and people I dislike.

You have limited time left in your life to taste as much of the world as you can. Why dismiss any experience as unworthy?

Autumn in Hell


Few people know this, but for years I've obsessed over the classic computer game "Doom."

In case you don't remember, "Doom" is a run-and-gun game in which the player must escape the denizens of Hell, battling to survive while exploring strange surroundings and looking for a way out of the nightmare.

Over the years I've learned how the game works from a designer's standpoint, and found excellent tools for creating new maps, monsters, and so on. The above screen capture is from a project I've been picking at this week, a map meant to look Halloweenish and evil, as though it were Autumn in hell. Trick or treat! Senseless carnage, reflexive hand-eye coordination. I love it.

* * *

Later that night...

* * *


It is fiendishly late and I still can't sleep. I miss my friends already, though they just left a few hours ago. I used to be such a hermit, bent over my desk night after night, no visitors.

What happened? I guess the right kind of company makes these things easy. For the first time in my life I'm feeling receptive, and I have an urge to tell my closest pals: "Hey, the door is open! Come stay for a few days, work on your art, your reading, whatever. Escape." Sometimes I feel it would be only natural to form a pack of sorts, sharing food and lodgings, sleeping in a massive pile like lazy lions. I am a better person in the company of my good friends. I like to have 'em around.

Like most people, though, to be truly happy I do need a room to myself and a door to shut behind me. Every day.

But even so, most of my conscious life's been cloistered: reading and writing and studying and learning the guitar and learning to sing and learning to compose. These things eat hours like candy. Finally I'm learning to balance it out, to mingle. It feels good. But I fear the Autumn, fear the words "Farewell Summer," because when the leaves are falling my mates may all be gone out-of-state where I cannot see them. But I'll write them letters, at the very least.

Letter writing is miserably underrated. It's much like keeping a journal, but more interpersonally productive, more communal.

Alright. I have a nine-hour shift ahead. It begins in four hours.

Goodnight.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Invisible Ink

Hanging on my wall is an unfinished piece of music that looks like a line graph.

It was intended to be a loose, freely-interpreted piece with a line and dots representing melody. Performers choose whatever pitches and rhythms they want, deciding what they think the line should represent. The lower the line dips, the lower the pitch. And so on, all along its squiggly shape. It's a vague guideline.

This process of "decoding" the line to create music is similar to reading a book: a set of agreed-upon symbols is interpreted to reveal an idea. This process is so commonplace that we rarely pause to think about how amazing it all is, these systems of sharing information.

Sometimes I look at languages I can't read. I admire beautiful symbols that I can't understand—it fills me with a sense of immense possibility. Sometimes blank books have this effect on me as well, that sense of "this could be anything."

It's also fun to sometimes look at things that were not intended as language, interpreting them as though they contained messages: if I chose, I could read the tackholes in my wall as musical notes and sing them. I could arbitrarily decide that the phases of the moon dictate my attire: no pants allowed on a full moon! Why not? Who's going to stop me? I've gone mad with freedom!

Ahem.

Occasionally a certain object or set of objects will speak to me almost as though they are language itself. A few weeks ago, it was a package of poker chips: I felt I needed to buy them. I don't play poker, but the little discs seemed importantly symbolic. So I'm sitting here, pushing the chips around, stacking and sorting them by color, laying them out to form color patterns, trying to get them to reveal their significance to me.

It's strange to look at an ordinary object and sense that your subconscious associates that object with...something you can't quite express. It's a little like knowing that something in your mind is reading over your shoulder, and that creature deeply appreciates the object as a symbol. And you feel it, you feel it, but you can't quite consciously know it.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Pee Zone

My cousin Chris wore multicolored hair, checkered tennis shoes, pink wristbands. I had a black knit cap snugged down to my eyebrows, five days of stubble, a black pea coat. We wandered a cavernous department store to kill time and (maybe) buy something.


“Now why do I get the feeling that if one of my fellow associates came around, they'd tell me to watch you guys?”


My cousin Chris and I looked up from our movie browsing to see the Electronics Department manager standing over us.


“It's an appearance thing,” the manager went on, “people look a certain way, everybody assumes they're trouble. I don't agree with it.”


“I have to do the same thing at my work,” Chris said. “Don't worry about it.” We were left with the feeling that we'd been subtly warned despite the benevolent tone—fine with us; we can deal with being watched. We love attention.


I spent a great deal of time in the chair aisle, unfolding chairs and stools into the middle of the aisle one at a time, using exaggerated facial expressions to indicate approval or displeasure. If anyone was watching us via camera, they know my taste in foldable chairs.


Finally we decided to grab a late-night meal—but when Chris and I attempted to move on to the grocery area, we found yellow rope blocking the way. Store associates walked the perimeter, which must have encompassed at least a dozen aisles. What was going on?


We soon realized that we weren't roped out, but in.


Chris noticed it first: in a central corridor between rows of aisles, no more than six inches from my right boot, there stretched an unbroken twenty-foot line of yellowish-brown pee.


Great. We were the only remaining customers in the Pee Zone. I hope we were being watched while we browsed, because that's the only way our good names could be preserved beyond doubt.


I guess that's what I get for dressing like the kind of guy who'd pee in a department store.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Delicious Apart, Terrible Together

Come February I’ll be tasting wines with some regional distributors in order to learn more about the mysterious drink and its many varieties.


Since wine is mostly aftertaste, it can be paired very effectively with food. Dinnertime wine choice is a complicated art; there are no “rules” but most people generally find that certain combinations work better than others.


For example, a dry white wine is delicious with carrot dill soup; the sourness of the wine contrasts and complements the ginger in the soup beautifully.


The same wine with a barbecued burger, though, would taste like nasty hooker ass—even though the wine and the burger would each taste great if consumed separately.


I first realized this principle of “Delicious apart, terrible together” at the age of five when, after an early-morning episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy, I added orange juice to my leftover Coco Puff milk. I gulped it down and immediately felt as though I could puke hard enough that the other end of my digestive tract would exert terrible suction and lodge the kitchen chair halfway up my asshole.


The experience forever destroyed my desire to combine liquids of any kind, which is why I grew up to be a blogger and barista instead of a high-grossing chemist.