Our experiment has flagged. We’ve fanned on the shot, so to speak. That is not to say we’ve not been busy creative fellows pursuing our dreams in the dark—making myths in obscurity, as my old pal Mike Wisti might say. But we’ve been dragging our feet on this here songwriting-slash-letter-exchange blog, and I hope to reverse that trend by sharing this video with you. Maybe breathe a little life into this here Duluth Experiment.
I am also excited to share with our readers here (who must be content to get content every six to nine months or so) that you have completed writing two (count ’em: TWO!) novels, and I’ve had the pleasure of reading the first one and doing some artwork for it. And it’s gonna be a best-seller once a publisher with the gonads to print the thing steps forward… So it’s not like we’re doing nothing! We are. You’ve got the novels as proof, and I’ve got this video; although this video is a little old already— it was made in April.
Henry actually initiated this recording one morning when his mom was out of town. The clock on the wall says it was about 10:05 a.m. when we filmed on a Saturday or Sunday morning. I was sitting on the couch playing “U R a Machine” (see or listen to my previous post), working out more lyrics etc., and Hank said “Dad, you should make a video of this song and put it on YouTube.” I said “Go grab your Chromebook son, and we’ll make some history.” Vivian immediately demanded that she would be the bassist. Chaos ensued. Watch the video (made by Henry with his Chromebook propped up on the La-Z Boy), and let me know what you think of the song as it has progressed from the version I shared with you in January, which was more or less an extemporaneous demo to capture the idea when it came to me (also in the morning with Henry and Vivian threatening to derail the proceedings at any moment).
I started a recording of this song in May, which sounds pretty great, methinks, but I can’t tell if I’m done with it. So for now, dig this version. It’s pretty hilarious.
Click play below to listen to “U R a Machine” demo:
Dear John Francis,
Hello again my dear friend. And Happy New Year is in order, I reckon. I am finding it hard to believe that it has been since May 2018 already that I wrote you a letter with a song attached. This is outrageous, inexcusable, and just downright sad.
Honestly though, since this is a letter exchange, and I had written you three letters that went unanswered in March, April and May, I was a little concerned that I had done something to offend you, despite your offline reassurances to the contrary. Our many followers certainly could be excused for having felt the same way, when they looked at the blog and saw my last three letters and no letter from you? Especially since they don’t witness the behind-the-scenes texts, etc. Like, if you were a girl and I was a boy, and I had written you three letters and you didn’t write back, I would pluck the last petal and expect it to land on “She loves me not.” I was becoming a little worried about the state of our friendship; and when I was not able to reach you by telephone on your birthday, which I have done every year since I don’t know when, I was twittering like a leaf.
So when you called over Christmas and came to the hotel in Minneapolis while we watched the kids swim, I was greatly relieved. (“O.K., so maybe he’s not mad at me.” I thought to myself, “Maybe that was all in my head.”) And when you told me that you had re-upped the wordpress subscription for this blog of ours for another year as well as the pro Bandcamp account, I was elated. (“Oh, he DOES want to do this still!” I was inwardly high-fiving myself.) And when you explained the reasons for not having the time to respond to my letters with your own song-bearing letters (because I do actually think of these as letters, performative as they may be, tee hee tee hee), it all became clear. You weren’t mad at me, you had heavy stuff going on in your life that was preventing the muse from asserting herself.
So I owe you an apology, because I let my own paranoia lead me to believe that you had lost faith in our enterprise here, and perhaps even our friendship a bit, which I hold as inviolable. And so I say: Sorry, friend.
It kind of reminded me of the time in 2nd grade when I went over to your neighborhood for the first time, to see if you wanted to hang out, and you and all the kids in your neighborhood were playing ecstatically in your back yard on Kent Road, and I lurked in the lilacs behind Karin Henricksen’s garage watching you all frolic, and lost the courage to approach and join in the fun, because I was afraid of not being accepted or some such thing. Alright, I’m clearly rambling at this point.
Thus, can we agree that moving forward with this experiment, each letter must not be accompanied by a fully fleshed-out song which is worthy of posting on Bandcamp, lest the pressures of everyday life prevent the muse from getting down to business in the proper way and make responding in-kind with a song-bearing letter impossible? And for the sake of any unusually fragile egos (you know artists are), at least a comment should be issued to acknowledge somehow, in a public fashion, that the previous letter had been read, and if there is a song included, that the song had been listened to. Is this a reasonable request?*
I hope so, because this letter is accompanied simply by an unfinished demo that I have embedded into the blog as a media file, rather than posting it to our Bandcamp page. This is a voice memo that I recorded immediately when the idea came to me, while the kids were trying to segue out of morning cartoons on January 2nd 2019. I like the energy of this version, especially because both kids are talking throughout the recording and trying to derail the process somewhat. Sometimes it’s good to be forced to go to the bridge quickly.I haven’t decided on a title, but I think “You are a Machine,” or I suppose I could Prince it up a little and say “U R a Machine.”
And now here’s where I go off on a wild pseudo-scientific rant… I sometimes wonder how we all got here, you know? Like, what happened? I usually wonder about this when I wake from a crazy dream at 4:30 in the morning, which happens with alarming frequency these days. One theory that I’m particularly fond of is that God created us because he likes hair, the way humans like steak or wine, but more on an aesthetic level, dig?
I don’t know if you’re familiar with this place, but there is a temple in India where women go and give their hair as an offering to the gods (or God, I can’t remember). This temple was featured in Chris Rock’s documentary called “Good Hair.” But it’s a big thing where thousands of women go to this place as a sort of pilgrimage and shave their heads, leaving their hair for the gods (although it winds up being sold as wigs in the USA, if I remember the story correctly).
I just think it would be funny, if out of all of the religious temples and orders and places of worship that have existed throughout the ages, God was up there, sitting on his cloud, thinking: this place where they give me hair is the only one that’s got it right; the only one where they realize that I’ve created them exclusively for this purpose. Catholics and rest? Way off!
And this is where the pseudo-scientific shenanigans ensue. So, a purpose? Like in the previous example, God created us for a purpose: because he wants/likes our hair. But is there a purpose? To which, at 4:30 in morning, this thought occurred to me:
There was this massive, massive star that absorbed everything within a zillion light years, because its mass was so huge and its gravitational/electro-magnetic field was so powerful. And then one day, it “decided” it was tired of being the biggest, baddest star in the firmament. And it started to shrink. And because it had so much mass, even as it started to shrink, it’s gravitational pull became even more extreme, and it pulled in more gasses and elements from aeons around. As its gravitational pull became even more intense, even the light that the star produced had difficulty escaping, try though it did.
And then at a crucial moment, it stopped. Zero and infinity clashed, microcosm and microcosm scratched their heads and eyed each other with a bit of skepticism. At that last crucial moment, a few last bits of light and gas were hurled from the smallish but extremely dense ball of electro-magnetic gaseous equilibrium that the massive star had become. And then “some” time passed, let’s say. And the little ball would eventually grow, bit by bit, as its hot, exponentially compressed center would emit volcanic streams of minerals and whatnot to the surface, which had firmed up some. Pools developed on or near the surface, weird amalgams of minerals, gas and liquid— what you might call primordial goo. And as these many, many volcanoes continued to populate the surface with more “stuff,” the resultant volcanic-lightning became so constant and suddenly coordinated, almost as music, to infuse some of these “pools” (which were red of color, sticky, and not unlike what we know as blood or oil) with an animated force, which became vessels for carrying the blood, which is what we are today. Because god likes blood, as opposed to say, hair.
I don’t think I explained that very well. It made so much sense in the dream from which I awoke at 4:30 a.m. Anywho, that is kind of where “U R a Machine” comes from. Like, we are just vessels for blood or genes, and we have to keep reproducing to keep the blood going forward, and we don’t totally control that drive; that is how we are machines.
As part of my bed-time story ritual with Vivian, I have created these characters, “Witcherlywoo” and “Krähe the Crow,” who live on a mountain and eat lots of frog legs. I tell long stories about their adventures to try to get her to fall asleep. There is an ancient witch who lives in a glacier on the very top of their mountain, her name is “Mechthild von der Montana.” When I want to play hardball and make Viv fall asleep, I have Mechthild (who has a German accent) tell a loose and hyper-extended version of the above story featuring a massive star. Perhaps in future I will just read this letter to Vivian to put her to sleep. Ahem.
On a somewhat related note, I just read a review of a new book about blood, called “Nine Pints,” by Rose George. From an SEO standpoint, I found it interesting that after reading the article on paper in the New Yorker, I tried to look more into it on the web, and Googled it. When
I typed in “Nine Pin,” no auto fill showed up, but by adding a “t,” making it read “Nine Pint,” the auto fill option of “Nine Pints Rose George” showed up. Does that mean a lot of people are Googling the book, or that her promotion team is on-point from an SEO of view. Hmmm?
I was able to read a Google preview of the book (which is the first 8 pages or something along those lines), and found it quite interesting. So much so that I am now going back and forth about whether I can really afford to spend 20 bucks on the real book right now. But the line from the book that really made me think that it relates to this is: “The iron in our blood comes from the death of supernovas, like all iron on our planet.” Food for thought.
Eventually, this little voice memo of a demo with the kids talking over it will make it into a fully fleshed out thing, but for now, John Francis, please enjoy the beginning of the idea for “U R a Machine.” Friend.
P.s. I do have a gig in Madison, Wisc on Wednesday January 30, 2019 at Bos Meadery on East Washington. (They make a fermented honey beverage called mead there.) I actually got together with Brien Lilja (who played drums on some Faux Jean recordings) last night to rehearse for the show, and we did a version of “U R a Machine;” maybe we will have the nerve to play it live, though it is not fully formed. It was a complete gas to rehearse in his old basement (built in the 1800s), playing songs together that we hadn’t since 2005-6. It made me very happy. Wish you could make it down for the gig.
P.p.s This is an excerpt of the book I am reading presently, which might show one how to guide their dreams in the direction mine have taken:
“So has it been from the beginning, so will it be to the end. Generation after generation takes to itself the Form of a Body; and forth issuing from Cimmerian Night, on Heaven’s mission APPEARS. What Force and Fire is in each he expends: one grinding in the mill of Industry; one hunter-like climbing the giddy Alpine heights of Science; one madly dashed in pieces on the rocks of Strife, in war with his fellow:—and then the Heaven-sent is recalled; his earthly Vesture falls away, and soon even to Sense becomes a vanished Shadow. Thus, like some wild-flaming, wild-thundering train of Heaven’s Artillery, does this mysterious MANKIND thunder and flame, in long-drawn, quick-succeeding grandeur, through the unknown Deep. Thus, like a God-created, fire-breathing Spirit-host, we emerge from the Inane; haste stormfully across the astonished Earth; then plunge again into the Inane. Earth’s mountains are levelled, and her seas filled up, in our passage: can the Earth, which is but dead and a vision, resist Spirits which have reality and are alive? On the hardest adamant some footprint of us is stamped in; the last Rear of the host will “read traces of the earliest Van. But whence?—O Heaven whither? Sense knows not; Faith knows not; only that it is through Mystery to Mystery, from God and to God.
‘We are such stuff As Dreams are made of, and our little Life
Is rounded with a sleep!’”
Sartor Resartus: The Life and Opinions of Herr Teufelsdröckh
If you are new to our Blögchen, and none of this makes sense to you, read on: John Klun and I started this blog in 2018 as an exercise in songwriting, letter writing, blog writing, and to a certain extent, honing our skills regarding analytics in the web space, as well as following things that are trending and SEO and all that jazz. John and I started our first musical endeavor in the 2nd grade, circa 1977, with a little group we called the Neptunes. And in 1987, when we left our home in Duluth, Minnesota to go to different colleges (He to St. John’s in Collegeville, Minn., and me to the University of Wisconsin-Madison) we started writing letters to each other. And this letter writing persisted when we went off to Europe (separately); and then he moved to Brooklyn, and then he moved off to Mongolia. There was no internet to connect us at the time, so we wrote nice, long juicy letters to each other. We shared our love-woes, (which there were in peculiar abundance) we also shared poetry, prose and song ideas. We stopped writing letters to each other when we once again lived in the same city, Minneapolis. But then I moved away from Minneapolis in 2014, so that my wife could pursue her PhD in Madison, Wisconsin.
And so last year (2018), John suggested that we start writing letters to each other again, as they had provided such solace and entertainment in earlier times, and specifically added that we should use these letters almost as a cattle-prod to get us back on our songwriting game. (Muse prod?) And he added that we should try to follow what was trending on Google, say, and try to write to suit, as a writerly exercise, and also to see if that could help increase awareness of the songs we shared, which we would post on Bandcamp and then study the analytics. (That is why this blog claims to be “divined by the times.”)
Well, if you are on the mailing list to receive what’s trending on Google, as I am, you’d realize that one can only write so many songs about soccer games and NFL draft hopefuls. (Although, double checking this as I write on Jan 16, 2019, Miley Cyrus’ pregnancy rumors and the poor fellow who died after sustaining injuries in a rodeo, plus an amber alert and Sade turns 60, could all yield workable songs.) So we have tended (or I have tended) to write whatever I am (we are?) writing at the time and then try to bend it to the rubric set out by the esteemed John Francis; for instance, taking an older song and giving it a timely name, as in the case of “Dumb Donald’s Booty Jam.” But I digress.
In case you missed it up top: click play below to listen to “U R a Machine”
If I were a bird, I’d want to live in a place like this.
Now, it’s not every day you get the chance to say to your wife: “I wrote a new song about you, Babe.” You know this, Johnny. At the end of the day (a construct I am not a fan of, though it seems a little less cliche when speaking about an actual, lived marriage), it’s gotta be a net positive for the relationship, right? I mean, if she actually likes and/or approves of the song, it’s solidly positive. Am I right?
Well, I done it.
I’m not shouting it from the rooftops, but I am writing about it for our blog, which, as you know, is still in its soft release, tee hee, tee hee.
This does not happen all of the time— that my wife endorses a song upon a first listen. She can be lacerating when she does not approve of a lyric or melody. I recently sang a new verse to her acappella that went thus:
I’m not like other guys—
honest babe, I ain’t.
But still I am a guy,
and so there is a taint.
She got upset, as she thought I was tending toward doggerel, with a more physical meaning to the word “taint,” and I did what I could to protest that that was not the intended meaning, but, it seemed, fruitlessly. It does a lot more for the verse if you use the Webster’s meaning of “taint” than the Urban Dictionary’s definition, I think. (And just ‘cause I’m a guy doesn’t mean I’m always mansplaining, he whispered into the void.)
The song that I’m sharing with you today, however, she seemed to think was decent. (Insert flexed bicep emoji here.) I recorded it in the apartment here in lovely Madison, Wisc. between April 4 and 28, 2018. I wrote this song as an ad-lib improvisation on Christmas Eve 2015, after she’d been through a lot of her cancer stuff— lots of hospital time, surgeries, chemo-badness. The lyric:
“I think about
just getting dressed up
and going out and
all about fun.”
kind of hits it on the head where we were, or were not, depending on your chosen perspective. And still are, as it turns out, since she is back in chemo following more surgery. Enough to fray a fellow’s nerves, I say. She convinced me to start going to therapy and get on some happy pills to make the vertigo less palpable. I think it’s helping. And as I say to my therapist, I didn’t get married to be super happy, I got married to start a family. And that’s where we are. Still seems a lot like Eden, though. No bridge, no chorus, no problem.
I think we can agree that writing and recording music that seems fit for sharing with the public is easier said than done! And making it seem divined by the times is even more difficult. I have a song called “Down to the Well” about how young folks used to carry water from the well to their tired old parents, and humans survived because young people would linger overlong at the well and eventually, inadvertently reproduce. And I thought about that as a Michael Cohen tie-in, as he carried Donald Trump’s water, but then that week passed and the fellow wasn’t trending anymore. What can you do? Perhaps we will hear from him again. (I am a fan of that construct: “carrying water” in the political sense, btw.)
But with music, the newness of the thing is what makes it timely, or part of the time, and in some cases, defining of the times. So I chose to share this recording of “I Think About You All of the Time,” which is very new, for its timeliness, rather than the older “Down to the Well,” to see if we could learn anything as we crunch data and ponder analytics for this collaborative effort in moving forward with our autodidactic vibe and craft.
I busted out the Univox bass, the 12-string Martin, and my Danelectro Convertible reissue for this essay. (I dream of getting a nice vintage Danny Convertible in future.) I found a snippet of old drums, blocked out the arrangement with keys before starting to record, which I think was helpful, and added some strings, slide guitar, and shaker, and voila: tune-age, bra! I am going to try to use this song as the sonic palette of my new record. It might be a little crunchy yet, but it’s in the ballpark.
I did a preliminary mix of this song and played it for Henry (aged 7) and Vivian (aged 4) in the car on the way to Legacy Academy last weekend, and pointed out to Henry and Viv that I wanted their help in telling me where things were too loud or quiet or distracting. I was also listening to this mix for the first time over the car speakers, which is a crucial way of testing a mix for me. I explained to Henry that I would also test the mix with ear buds, Sony headphones, and maybe one other speaker unit. So we can list Henry as a co-producer, as he made some recommendations that I heeded, such as reducing the volume on the slide guitar on the outro, as well as some B.V.s, which is cool-guy speak for backing vocals. His first comment was about the slowed down vocal on the intro, he said: “Dad, you said your voice was going to sound like Kylo Ren on the intro, but it reminded me more of Snape.” Vivi just clapped when it was over. (Insert flexed bicep emoji here.) Eden I say!
Also, I have resolved to get off my ass and try to do a new kind of release. This new “album” of songs will be the capstone of a 5 album multi-media boxed set, that will include a video game I made, an illustrated audio book about my youth in the woods of Northern Wisconsin, and original artwork. I’ll explain more later, but for now, sink your teeth into this new cut. And please, John Francis, consider buying this song and jamming it out in your car while running errands with the boys in the back— I’d like to know what they think of this mix.
I remain your humble servant &c, and look forward to hearing your next composition,
aka Faux Jean
P.s. The photo of my wife that I have used for the artwork on this song is her old facebook profile pic from the days when you had to have and .edu email address to join. I found it on an old laptop and have not asked her if she’s cool with me using it. Got me fingers crossed, I do.
Also, this is what happens when you leave a bass laying around the apartment.
Hey friend, did you see I changed the sidebar so that instead of seeing a “song of the day,” you see “Faux Jean interviews fellow Duluthian Robert Zimmerman?” It’s basically a silly sound collage that I did as an assignment for my audio class at Madtown Tech. I also changed the video in the sidebar to a silly piece I did for a 3D Animation course I took there. The premise is that Unsustainable Honey is the only cure for a new affliction striking people who consume excessive amounts of chia seeds— the disease is called “Chia Butt.” These are temporary things. Please know that I am aware that I am hogging the sidebar and am willing to cede the video to you at any moment that you create a lyric video for one of your songs—preferably done in your own, legendary handwriting.
Anywho, this tune that I am sharing with you today has the dubious honor of being 19 years old…maybe twenty. It is one of the first things I tried recording when I first got my hands on a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder. I made a handful of mixtapes of my first experiments with four-tracking and gave them to a couple people. My guy PAV from Steel Shank listened to the tape and said: “If you care about your musical career, never let anyone hear these.” I think he must have been referring to this song specifically, as it suggests a person who is not well. The chintzy Radio Shack mic that I employed was the least of our worries at this point.
This particular digitized version of the song came to me from Melissa D—, who had the tape I’d given her burned to CD by a friend, at a time when that technology was wildly impressive to me. I had given her this mixtape of my quirked out shirked out songs— I think because I wanted her to like me. Further proof that I might not have been well at that point. Do you remember sitting with me and her outside a coffee shop when I threw a cup of coffee at a truck driver who blew her a kiss and wound up just spilling coffee all over myself and looking like a jackass? Man, those were the days. Kinda like that time on Park Point when there was a turtle in the road and we were trying to save it and a car full of girls we knew was driving toward us as we frantically tried to get them to veer away from the turtle but they interpreted our wild gestures as waving hello in a weird way and splat, they killed the turtle that we had perhaps ultimately distracted them from seeing? It is so hard to do the right thing sometimes!
Oh yeah, back to the song. So the title includes both a Bob Dylan and a U2 reference. And in reality, I think I was trying to do a kind of dirty Prince slash Subterranean Homesick mash up on this cut— and show off the fact that I had purchased a Farfisa organ. Bob Dylan and Prince, of course, loom large for you and me, John Francis. Dylan grew up just a few blocks from where we grew up in Duluth, and Prnc (the lack of vowels are mine), grew up just down Highway 61 (now I35) in the emerald city of Minneapolis. I can’t necessarily gauge the aesthetic impression that these things made on me, but the fact that you dubbed “Bringing It All Back Home” and “The Freeweheelin’ Bob Dylan” for me around 1984, and then lent me “Dirty Mind” by Prince, which I dubbed myself (unfortunately on a crappy boombox)— I can’t tell you how many times I listened to these things. They are imprinted on my brain— they made me who I am. And they’re pretty brilliant for local music. (For the record, Parade is my favorite Prince record.)
I should add that you, John Francis, deserve critical/aesthetic kudos, as you were loudly proclaiming to anyone who would listen—long before Purple Rain was released— that this Prince guy from Minneapolis was a genius— that he was going to be the next big thing. I also remember you saying you were super into Joe Biden (who was challenging Walter Mondale et al in one of the primaries of that era, saying that he was going to be the next Jack Kennedy.) And I also remember the day Reagan was shot— not because I was freaked out about Reagan— but rather, because of the fact that you had to go home sick from school that day, the reason being that you had chewed so much tobacco during recess (6th grade) that you turned green. Am I right on this memory? Red Man was the brand of choice, no? And I also remember when you were airlifted out of Mongolia after your face seized up and you were flown to Hawaii to get better, you wrote me a letter about taking up chewing tobacco again to help alleviate the boredom and being hospital-bed bound. Does any of this ring a bell? I’m going to find those letters one of these days!
Man, I keep getting distracted from talking about this song. I’m actually going to hold off on transcribing the lyrics for a bit, as they are just kinda silly. Just go listen to the song, I guess. Tell me if you think it makes me seem “not well.” (cue smiley face and drone shot NOW!)
I remain your humble servant &c.
p.s. I know when you proposed that we write letters to each other as a blog about our songwriting, you were probably thinking of a more forward looking vibe (i.e. new songs), and I swear, I’ve got a bunch of new stuff, but I’ve got a hard drive full of ideas that are driving me insane, and until I can carve out more time when nobody is in the apartment so I can record, I might lean on old new stock. I hope this does not try your patience, my dear friend.
I am sitting in the waiting room at the hospital while my wife does Occupational Therapy, typing away on my new keyboard that hooks up to my iPad and acts as a protective case as well. In short, my tech game is on point. Also, I finally went down to the tech store and got the keyboard replaced for my iMac—the delete key and the apostrophe key had died in September or so. I’d come up with some excruciating workarounds, and brother, that was annoying. Now I am unused to the luxury of a delete & apostrophe key. Also, I replaced my iPhone 6 with a 7, as the two year trade in was up and the home key had been dead for about a month. I had workarounds to get into my phone. But yeah, my tech game was hurting there for a sec. Good news is Emily finished her first 8 weeks of chemo and now has a 12 week run of a new kind of chemo and then should be done. And then we can have some fun. Speaking of fun.
I can’t remember what night of the week it was on, but I can only assume you were always watching “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” at the same time I was with my siblings. (After Hee-Haw and Lawrence Welk on Sundays, perhaps?) I still remember a specific episode where Marlon Perkins explained in a jubilant tone that that day’s episode was “all about fun!” And rather than going to the Serengeti and learning about poachers, he went to a circus and watched fez-clad chimpanzees drive go karts around, among other amusements.
It is in a similar spirit that I write this letter to you today, John Francis, as the song I have chosen to share with you is “all about fun.” Indeed, it is an instrumental vamp. This one is built on a beat I made on a Yamaha drum machine that Jean D’ax let me use through our partnership. It was a 12-bit RX-7. Prince is said to have used one of these early on. I created this beat and let it record for about a minute and fifty at 157 BPMs and then started adding guitars on the 4-track cassette recorder. I just had the riff idea and not much else, as you will glean from a single listen. I think I DI’ed the guitars and bass straight into the tape deck, so there is some good solid-state crunch. That old cassette tape I then input to my old pc tower using some sort of HP CD Burner with a quarter-inch input. This ur-track I then punched up in GarageBand to add some synth flavor. And that is the song. It’s pretty loud. And I tagged some stripped down beats at the end if you want to work on your break dancing skills.
I was living on Lake Calhoun with John Kinder at the time I tracked this and he was often popping in to my bedroom slash 4-track studio and giving his two cents about whatever song I was working on at the time. (Or if I was really excited, I’d beg him to come in and listen to my new idea.) He was indispensable as a first set of outside ears— he could let you know with a pained grimace or a big smile and a bouncing head if an idea was garbage or worth pursuing to the next level. I think with this song, he was a little concerned about the arrangement (understandably, as that has never been my strong suit) but liked the overall energy. He can also be heard speaking at the intro about the need to eat some salsa. I still miss John.
As you may recall, John was a semi-pro thrift shopper, and he was always picking things up that he found amusing, in addition to vintage Levi’s and Air Jordans etc., which he was able to sell to Japanese collectors through a friend. For instance, he had a large collection of Scripto lighters, because he loved the kitschy scenes that you could see through the butane.
One day he came home with a few cassettes that he’d picked up at the DAV on University and Dale, and one of the tapes was titled: “Latin Booty Jams.” Boy, we thought that was a hilarious name for a compilation. (This was pre-internet) At the time, I was working up this vamp and had been playing around with German lyrics that read:
“Bumsen schlafen und gar nichts Schafen / auf dem Tanzboden geschlechtsverkehr als waffen.”
So this song somehow got the working title of “Teutonic Booty Jam,” thanks to Kinder.
This one has haunted me. I actually wound up using the lyrics on a collaboration I did with DJ ESP (Woody McBride) which he called “Deutsch Ass.” But every time I open this file and think, o.k., let’s put the words on this, I always end up vamping and forget about getting around to recording vocals. So then, to change the title of this vamp to “Dumb Donald’s Booty Jam” seemed like a natural progression. I have always envied jazz cats who get to name their instrumental songs whatever they darn-well please, as there is no vocal hook that begs to be in the title. (Speaking of that, I am still wondering if you have a better title for my previous song, “Undecided (In a World with Love.)”)
Now, when 45 came along, I thought Dumb Donald was going to be trending big-time—huuuge-time, if you will. But, since Cosby is the creator of the Dumb Donald character, technically, maybe folks were reluctant to embrace this easy shoo-in of a nick name for the guy who came up with Crooked Hillary and Lyin’ Ted, as Cos’ has become tantamount to toxicity. And now with all this Stormy Daniels stuff going on, “Dumb Donald’s Booty Jam” just seems to make sense. I’m going for it. Maybe we can get Dumb Donald trending after all.
Let the record show that I believe the man is not well. That said, I voted for Bernie in the primary, so I can only hold so strong a grudge against people—people who perhaps don’t follow politics so much as celebrity— who voted against Hillary in the big game. Rage against our fellow man is not the answer, we must cultivate these lost sheep who hold or don’t recognize the hate in their hearts. We need them to line up on the dance floor, almost as if spooning, and start shaking to “Dumb Donald’s Booty Jam.” Perhaps this is the way forward: Love. I would appreciate your feedback on this.
aka Faux Jean
p.s. I was in a coffee shop for the last couple paragraphs, while Emily went to Henry’s class to volunteer. Like I said, my tech game is on point.
When we agreed to engage in this project together, I made a personal challenge to myself to try to focus on upbeat songs. You see, I have a record of creating slow, thoughtful songs that people probably don’t much enjoy hearing. I planned to create a new library of punchy, energetic songs that were less dependent on meaning.
Your latest post and explanation of Undecided (In a World with Love) challenged me to reconsider my objective and revert back to my maudlin ways. Here I go, with apologies.
In order to keep you reading, I make this promise: If you continue, I will close the piece with a statement from my Texas-born hipster neighbor. It is one of the funniest and best sentences I’ve ever heard, and I’m happy to memorialize it in the context of our project.
First, a little “bookwork,” as my father used to say. I need to clear up some important details mentioned in your latest post. Your estimation of our age at the time of or exposure to Star Wars is close, but not precise. I mean to impress you with my vivid memory of my first Star Wars experience, mostly because it’s a little weird.
I think we were a little older than you surmised when the first Star Wars movie was in the theaters. I’m pretty sure we were in sixth grade. I was not a science fiction fan, so it was very much not on my list of things to do. Out of the blue, this kid named Alan asked me if I would like to go to Star Wars with him. I didn’t really know how to say I wasn’t into science fiction, so I agreed to go.
As it turned out, this kid named Alan had already seen the movie about a dozen times, and he could pretty much recite the entire dialogue half asleep. Regardless, I think he was just as excited to be there watching it for the 13th time with a neophyte like me, awaiting my every reaction to the developing storyline.
This kid, Alan. He was kind of different. I still remember that he wore button-down shirts with collars, even in sixth grade. Even if I wasn’t brave enough to declare it at the time, I knew he was different in an awesome sort of way.
Anyway, on to my real story of the week. As I mentioned, you’ve forced my hand through your recent post and caused me to record a song about and discuss the following themes:
The meaning of life (yawn)
Science fiction/fantasy (what the heck, John?)
So here goes. Remember: You eat the meat, you get the Texas hipster pudding.
About 10 year ago, my brother-in-law ran Grandma’s Marathon. As you probably know from our conversations, Yuo’s family is a bit hyper-involved, so a bunch of us had to head up there for the event. We all descended on the Zenith City and set ourselves up in a comfortable Hermantown motel for the weekend.
If you’ve ever attended a marathon, you’d know that the organizers wisely arrange a number of auxiliary events around the main race to keep all the supporters busy. Grandma’s is no exception, and one of the events planned was the Whipper Snapper race for young children. It was something like 50 yards, and every kid was Number 1. The assumption, for some sexist reason, is that the fathers do the run with the kids. I think Quentin was about four. I was about a hundred.
Here’s the challenge I faced at this time. It’s a challenge I think many parents encounter at some point in their parenting careers. Quentin was a bit of a timid, sensitive guy. This is great in some ways, problematic in others. By this time, I’d already had to carry him crying out of a few different public-facing activities. I want to nurture his sense of self, but I also want to push him out of his comfort zone. I want him to face his fears sometimes, because that helps later in life. It helps. At least that’s what I think.
Anyway, this kid race is pretty silly. Hundreds of kids gather in this area like cattle, and somebody blows a whistle or whatever, and they all bolt for some finish line. I think there was ice cream or something on the other end.
The signal blows. Everybody begins running. I look back at Quentin, and he’s looking at me with plaintiff eyes, trying to say something. It’s really loud in the throng of kids and their parents, so I can’t hear him. I figure he’s just trying to back out of it, and this is one of those pivotal parenting moments where I need to push him harder. I need to make him do what he doesn’t want to do, even if it makes me the bad guy for the moment. He’ll benefit from it in the long run. I keep running ahead of him, making him catch up with me all the way to the finish line. He’s crying the whole way, but I get him to that finish line.
When we get there, though, he tells me what he was trying to say at the beginning. He didn’t want to back out of the run, but he wanted to hold my hand as we ran. He saw some other kids holding their parents’ hands, and he thought that would make it better.
I didn’t let him hold my hand.
I will never forget that moment. I think we all have parenting failure moments that we will never forget. Like a glutton for punishment, I wrote and recorded Running.
This song now resides on my Bandcamp page, along with several other pieces you and I have recorded and now make available individually and through our Bandcamp label, The Duluth Experiment. Sorry, but I don’t have my handwritten notes for this song. I wrote it more than 10 years ago, and it’s just in my head. I did accept your advice to write the lyrics out on the Bandcamp page, though.
And here’s the Texas hipster neighbor angle that makes this messy story worth reading. I have these neighbors, the best neighbors one could ever have. I love them for two reasons:
They make their own wine and offer me some when I visit them in their backyard.
They’re almost always in their backyard.
They let me play my songs for them, and I think they actually like them.
Not only do they listen to my songs, but they actually let me set my songs up with the stories behind them. I think they appreciate the context. That’s actually one of my inspirations behind this project of ours. I’ve tried some open mic nights, and I never really feel like I get to explain my songs under those circumstances. Call it a weakness in the songwriting if you want, but I don’t care. Perhaps some artwork can stand on its own without context, but mine doesn’t. I’ve got stories behind my songs, and I’m fine with that.
At any rate, I told my neighbors the story behind this song before playing it with a glass of wine next to me several years ago, and one of them made the following statement:
“Oh, man. If you told that story on stage at the Basilica Block Party, or something like that, you’d have all the Ashleighs eating out of the palm of your hand.”
I hadn’t heard this term, “Ashleighs” before, but I was pretty sure I knew what he meant. I looked it up and confirmed my suspicion. It’s poetic and pretty funny. No offense intended toward people actually named Ashleigh, or toward sensitive folk.
This song features dragons, photon rays, and flaming blades. It’s a natural response to your Star Wars/meaning of life discussion. It’s also a way to demonstrate my own fears and concerns. I try not to let those fears and concerns guide my parenting, but I’m quite certain that I don’t do a perfect job of hiding them.
Quentin’s fine, and he’s not as timid as he used to be. He’s actually a bit of a ham. Matty, you’re a few steps behind me in the parenting game, but I’d bet you’ve had similar parenting experiences.
About ten years ago, a nice man named Jason contacted me on this thing called MySpace and asked if I didn’t have any new songs I’d like to record, since he had a couple really nice microphones and guitars and several Terabytes of hard drive space and a sort of chalet slash studio overlooking the open prairie in the Kinnickinnic area of western Wisconsin in which to record etc. etc. Naturally, I jumped right on this benevolent offer. The song that I am writing to you about today (which you can listen to in the player window above) came from that recording session.
But before I blather on about my song and the recording process, I want to address your previous contribution to this little canon we are endeavoring to create under the auspices of the Duluth Experiment. Of course, I am talking about your song, “Atticus.” It is a dandy of a song. Now, I pressed you via text for an explanation of why you got frostbite in the opening lyrics, and you indicated that the lyric was something about “stashing your tam,” and you helpfully explained that a “tam” is a word used by Canadians to mean hat. I thought about texting back something snarky about the fact that I knew what a “tam” was, and the real problem was your handwriting and your diction in the recording process, but I decided to let it go (I had listened to the opening lines while looking at your lyric sheet several times and still couldn’t put it together). I moved on to ask about other references such as Quai Chang Caine from the show Kung Fu (Was that the David Carradine character?), and Jimmy Swaggart. Great song with crazy references. I would still go back and add harmonies to the chorus. Give me a C, a bouncy C!
Now, I feel like I should explain a little better what we are doing here, because I told my parents to check out this website and they said that they didn’t really get it. So, to explain: this is a blog, technically. But we are doing what we have always done since 1987 or so: we are writing letters to each other about our great accomplishments and failures within the context of the times we are living, but now, we are doing this in an essentially public forum— not that the eyeballs have flocked to our site here, or that of the record label that we have created to help us market our intellectual property in the new ways of the world on that old Bandcamp. Yes sir, it is a brave new world.
Indeed, when you proposed the idea of writing to each other in this way, I thought it would make sense to find our old letters as well and show them to the world here, if only to show how themes of the times can repeat, regardless of whether there is an overlord telling all what is trending on a day to day basis. Further, because I have not exhausted every last bit of the entrepreneurial spirit which once beat so fervently in my heart, I recommended that we market this blog as an epistolary novel in the making, and a bromance one at that. (For some of the younger folks out there, that means a novel which is written in the form of letters (epistles) between two characters. I trust you all know what is meant by bromance.) Well, I haven’t found any of the letters you wrote to me when you lived in France or Mongolia, so for now, let us consider these letters that we are writing to each other from 2018 onward as the first draft of this novel, and we will worry about plot and changing names and stuff like that later. (Still confused about epistolary novels? Here is a list of 100 different epistolary novels you can read, thanks to Bookriot.)
And now I intend to blather on about the recording I posted on our label page. The previous four paragraphs were meant to throw the more fair-weather Duluth Experiment readers off our trail, for as we well know, becoming too appealing to too many people too fast can result in a backlash, and neither our blog in general nor our Bandcamp label page needs that kind energy swirling around it now, do they? Let us play the willfully obscure card for a little bit longer before we roll out the bacon and syrup, shall we, John Francis?
So this Jason Keillor fellow invited me to lay down some ideas, and he intended to let me do this for free, in this beautiful recording studio in rural Wisconsin. Wowzers, what a great deal. (I should thank him again for his generosity here: Thanks Jason!) I think this was 2007, maybe 2008. And then the night before I was slated to drive to his bucolic studio, I realized I hadn’t chosen any songs to record or rehearsed anything specifically, and I also ended up having to work late at the restaurant that night. So I got home around midnight, sent a Champagne cork over the balcony’s edge and dug into rehearsing and choosing songs. Around 5:00 a.m., I was out of bubbles, Cava actually, and realized I needed to be awake in a couple hours to make the drive to Sconnie. One more smoke as the sun came up and then lights out.
I woke at 9 a.m. and realized that the bubbles of the previous evening’s revelry had taken up residency in the many micro-cracks of my brain, and they felt less like bubbles and more like concrete with little bits of broken glass dispersed evenly throughout. This was no way to feel for a recording session with nice Neumann microphones and Martin and Gibson acoustics made available for your playing. Herr Schindler, Du Schwachkopf! For this reason, when and if I do release these songs that I committed to disk that day, this record will be called “Of a Hungover Sconnie Morn.”
I still remember the weather as I drove into the valley of the Kinnickinnic; it was pouring and the clouds had come low. The river was violent with the heavy rain and everything was green green green and dark dark dark. And I was hungover something fierce.
Jason showed me around the studio and we got to work. I kept my distance, lest he catch a whiff of my post-prandial prodigiousness. At one point we broke and I remember grilling and noshing hotdogs alfresco with his family. Hotdogs can be good for hangovers, as can a can of pop and ketchup. Slowly, I felt better, thinking about Sinatra and his wisdom— the phrasing!
Bang. This song, it is a little dark dark and green. I am undecided on the title, so I have posted it as “Undecided (In a World with Love.”) I would be grateful, my dear Gooners, if you would peruse the lyrics, listen to the song a time or two, (and perhaps even consider purchasing this song, as you did the “Mediocre Gatsby” (lol)) and tell me if you think there is a better title for this song.
I should add that the previous 10 paragraphs were a ruse to throw Bryan Hanna off the path of having his ego gratified, as I must add that he gets the credit for taking the digital files that Mr. Keillor had given to me, and went about mixing them to really show the majesty of the microphones and the guitars and the room, if not the plug-in. (That is producer humor.) I had asked him to make it sound big, and he did that for me. I sometimes wonder what this one might sound like given a more intimate mix. (Bryan, if you have made it this far, could you do that for me?) (John Francis, I should note that Bryan Hanna produced Kiss Life on the Lips, which Faux Jean, under the auspices of the New Fidelity Records, essentially self-released into the void of 2001.) The working title for this song was “What’s Not to Love?”
And now, the lyrics for
Undecided (In a World With Love)
by your old friend, Matty Schindler
Life is free but the rules are kind of funny
Don’t have to work but you’ve got to have money
Some say we came from apes, others say we’re made from clay
mudslinging monkeys hating to the grave
History has a taint
a note to self to suffer
Fiction has love to sell,
to sell itself
Science has her fiction
which has fate
which sells itself
So what’s not to love
In a world with love?
But what if such a one can’t find love
Go to the grave no soul to save
Nothing to savor save for your own soullessness
Go to the grave, sad and alone, a mess
The future has a taint
a note for self-destruction
Fiction has love to sell itself
Science has her fiction
which has war
and death and s-e-x
which sells itself
You call it porn, we be amazed <<(click here for vocal reference)
So what’s not to love
in a world with love
in a world with hate
in a world with death
you’re standing at the gates.
I know what you’re thinking, John Francis— What does this have to do with the times, as this is supposed to be an epistolary bromance novel divined by the times? Well, I guess it is just a commentary on how two strains are coming to the fore with a very vocal fringe on either side shouting shrilly at each other, with everyone else kind of acknowledging that Jim Morrison was right, you might as well get your kicks and be fruitful and maybe divide before the outhouse goes up in flames. I mean the stories that people believe!
One last thing and then I am out. And this speaks to the science fiction lyric with fate and infinity and war yada yada yada. You and I are not digital natives, but we are Star Wars natives— that is, we were 7 or 8 when the first Star Wars came out in 1977, and we seriously internalized that stuff. (The only thing that I ever shoplifted in my life was an eraser in the shape of the Millennium Falcon, which I nabbed from the gift shop at the Tweed Museum in Duluth circa 1978, and I still feel guilty about it.) But it was a pretty big deal when it came out, right? At the same time, it was still just a movie.
So, last night, Henry and Vivian were asking me to tell them bed-time stories with a Star Wars theme. We were in the living room with the lights out, Viv on the couch, Henry on the floor on a yoga mat. Mom was away, convalescing at her parents in Milwaukee. (You can read Emily’s Cancer Blog here.) I started by saying that the planet that Luke Skywalker lived on was kind of like Mongolia, and Henry said Naboo? Like, he knew the name of a planet in the Star Wars world. I had no idea if that was even a thing, (further research suggests Tatooine was the planet I had meant) but it showed me how quickly and thoroughly he has absorbed some of this fiction fantasy and fate which, I think, science likes to have around to bring in grants and such like. And it made me think how quickly the stories in the Bible must have been internalized when writing— the first science — came to be. What do you think, one generation? Two?
Several friends expressed similar disappointment on social media, but I’d re-examined my own position by afternoon and expressed my renewed openness to the decision. In short, I’d considered the possibility that nostalgia for what these books meant to me personally drove my reaction as much as my concern for overzealous scrubbing of historical context from our literary tradition. They are great books, but I argued that other books were good too. It wasn’t the end of the world.
My argument didn’t go over very well. It also didn’t go over very well with my retired English teacher mom, who just sent me a bunch of clippings from the Duluth newspaper on the subject. Who sends newspaper clippings anymore? That’s almost a statement by itself.
It also didn’t go over very well with my very much not-retired English teacher brother-in-law, and we got into a discussion about what makes a classic a classic.
I’m not interested in advancing my futile argument further, but I am interested in clearing the record on my own personal attitude toward these books. So great was my concern for the fate of Mockingbird when I heard the news, in fact, that I started writing a song about it right away. The song became Atticus, which I recorded and just posted on my Bandcamp site.
This song is a bit of a nostalgic indulgence, with random and mostly meaningless recollections from the weirdness of our junior high school days. I love randomness and meaninglessness.
I believe I read Mockingbird in Mrs. Alfonsi’s class. Snapping her gum and swishing about in her black skirts and no-nonsense hair, Mrs. Alfonsi used Mockingbird to help us discuss issues of racism and gender stereotypes. We developed an understanding of cultural context, of the complexity of class, of justice and courage.
The book meant a lot to me. I read it to Yuo’s belly when she was pregnant with Quentin. If either of our kids had been born a girl, there is zero doubt that we would have named her Harper. I encouraged Quentin to read the book last year, and I think he read it just because he knew how moved I’d be. I think he liked it anyway.
I wrote this song over a couple of weeks and just recorded it. It’s a little silly. It plays on a joke I made to Yuo about that same time about a person we know who really admires Elon Musk.
“He wants to have Elon Musk’s baby,” I said.
It occurred to me that this was a ridiculous but succinct way to express a man’s unromantic admiration for another man. It also occurred to me that I wouldn’t be particularly bothered if somebody made that same joke about me and my admiration of Atticus Finch.
I have less nostalgia for Huck Finn, but I could probably spend a couple of pages on how Mr. Braafladt’s moustache suggested he wanted to have Mark Twain’s baby.
Your Mediocre Gatsby piece was perfect for the controversy seizing Duluth over the school district’s decision to eliminate two books from its curriculum. I have thoughts on the subject myself, and I’ve even written a song about it. Hold on to that thought for a later post.
In the meantime, I wanted to write about a song I just posted on Bandcamp: Pet Videos. I’m pushing forward with this one for a few reasons:
I’ve been sitting on this song for a couple months, and I really wanted to get it out there.
It’s about goofy relationships, so it’s timely and relevant to the Valentine’s Day season if I get this out tonight.
Since it’s a Valentine’s Day thing, and I can relate it to my courtship (note awkward and archaic use of the word “courtship”) of Yuo, I’ll get credit from her for posting something nostalgic and romantic about us.
It’s probably the most whimsical song I’ve ever written, so I think it’s a great opener for me.
Not sure if this was on your mind at the time, since you were busy being a rock star, but I was working for a small daily newspaper in Stillwater when Yuo and I met. I loved this job and hated it. I loved the work, the role I played in documenting the history of a community and seeing my name in print every day.
The job challenged me too. I barely made rent on my wage, the deadlines never ceased, and I sat on the bad end of many difficult conversations with angry readers who had a lot to say about my work, even before the concept of Fake News and all of the vitriol surrounding it was a thing.
The worst part about the job, though, was the drive. I lived in Uptown and had to drive nearly an hour to Stillwater and back. Due to late meetings, I ended up sleeping on the office couch a few nights a week.
This is where Yuo comes in. Anybody who’s ever spent time around me and Yuo would agree that we have an odd relationship. Our conversations are usually pretty goofy and honest, and most people wouldn’t understand them.
This unconventional element of our relationship began during those days when I worked in Stillwater and spent a lot of late hours with her on the phone with all the lights off in the building. I’m not sure why it ended up this way, but I called her on several occasions really late at night while watching Animal Planet. The animals reminded me of her for some reason, I told her. Very romantic, I know.
It worked, though. We sat on the phone for hours. I was always happy to hear her voice before I fell asleep, with images of lions and sharks glowing in the dark office and the AP server humming behind my head.
Pet Videos is an exploration of what I imagine a budding relationship like ours must be like today. There’s so much more crazy stuff to share, and so many different ways to share it with each other remotely. Even from a distance, young lovers or friends can stay really close with all of the resources we have available to us. Of course, a lot of people use these resources improperly, but social media and electronic communications can be used for good as well. And my very favorite social media content, silly pet videos, is a perfect example of how media can be used well. If we just stuck to this stuff on social media, we’d all be better off.
I wrote and sang this song on a mandolin, which I bought two months ago. I honestly haven’t learned to play it very well, because I just made this song up right away and keep playing it over and over again. Maybe I’ll move on to learning something new, now that I’ve released it.
Please note that I’m also including my lyrics, but as images. I figured you’d have fun trying to read my notoriously bad handwriting.