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.
Needless to say, I was scandalized when, in your zeal to talk about the issue burning in Duluth, you failed to realize that I was talking business when I posited that I had already composed and chosen my song for this, the first contribution to the Duluth Experiment, and perhaps did not even register that I was talking about something other than the actual book by our fellow Minnesotan, F. Scott Fitzgerald. (*see text exchange below.) Okay, scandalized is too strong a word. I was more like “whoa bro.” But anywho, let me talk about the song a bit.
This cut presents a fictional account of some fake bands that I was in before Faux Jean—before Whippoorwill and XYZ, even. I did the first improv of this song on September 7, 2017, as a voice memo on my iPhone, and then started putzing around with it in Garageband a week later. I have been on a wild DADGAD trip for a while now. I proudly name check all of these Twin Cities artists in this song:
Fixed Gears are for Jerks and Lesbians
The Blue Up?
The Hang Ups
Chatty Cathy Cathcart and the Catheter Catharsis
The Mediocre Gatsby
These are the lyrics:
My first band, We weren’t bad We were not trying to reinvent the wheel We just wanted to make music That was fun to dance to At parties in basements, in garages That was fun to dance to And we called ourselves the Mediocre Gatsby And we had our own theme song And it went just like this:
The Mediocre Gatsby is coming to your town That’s right! The Mediocre Gatsby is living in your home town!
That’s how our theme song went!
And my next band, we were called Chatty Cathy Cathcart and the Catheter Catharsis We were pretty good We played around We played some parties And in the the Clown Lounge And people danced and they cheered In the Clown Lounge it felt weird (in a good way)
But Chatty Cathy Cathcart and the Catheter Catharsis Had to die, just like all bands must die Like Fixed Gears are for Jerks and Lesbians The ‘Mats and Hüsker Dü and Prince too And The Blue Up? And Steel Shank And Velma and Chromaphase And The Spectors (and Trip Shakespeare) And The Hang Ups (and Rex Daisy) And The Wonsers Now! It is time, to repeat the theme song, of my first band:
The Mediocre Gatsby is coming to your town That’s right! The Mediocre Gatsby is living in your home town!
So I got this far in tracking the song, and then I accidentally deleted the main file while hastily clearing out space on my hard drive to back up a freelance job that I have since completed. I’d made a few rough mixes of the tune over the next few fortnights, just to check levels, etc. And so the version that I uploaded to Bandcamp was one of these rough mixes, titled:
I exported it on November 9, testing it at a low output, to the end of putting it into Adobe Audition and screwing with the levels and EQ, but I did not get that far. This is just a direct export out of Garageband… I think. In future, I will be more careful.
The mediocrity that I am singing about has to do with ambition. It seems to me a lot of folks do not realize that ambition has negative connotations. In my case, it involved a burning desire to express my creativity on a public stage without having fully formed ideas to express. The first time I remember doing this was when I moved to Germany after college and busked on the streets there. I was fully in my Fabio Phase. One day, I went out to play guitar for an hour on the street and ended up playing “Sympathy for the Devil” for the entire hour, since nobody stopped to listen and it seemed like I could get away with it. At around the 55 minute mark, a plainclothes police officer shooed me away without a ticket— I was 25 Deutschmarks richer. (This was 1991.)
When I got home that evening to the communal Student Apartment where I lived, my Irish neighbor Dara approached and sang at me: “Matty, you cannot play “Sympathy for the Devil” for an entire hour like that! Therése and I were working in an office above where you played in the street today—with the windows opened— and we just about lost our minds listening to your “woo-hoos!” We know ya got other songs.” I had exposed them to raw mediocrity, and it pained them.
A second mediocrity came about when my first Minneapolis group, Whippoorwill, disbanded. I immediately formed a new group, Steel Shank, and somehow managed to land a gig at the Uptown Bar before we had any songs to speak of. We had riffs and jams and snippets up the wazoo, but no real songs. Luckily, we had a nervous, youthful energy which helped us pull off this gig without offending anyone with our mediocrity.