My 3 Things - July 2017

(The My 3 Things FAQ.)

1. LISTENING: Pescade Robioso's song Credulidad
I just heard this song for the first time and now it's on repeat. How did I not know about the music of Luis Alberto Spinetta? If you're a fan of Jeff Buckley, turn it up.

2. PLAYING & TALKING: an interview and a few of my new songs on WERU.org
Here's something sweet: last week at the community radio station WERU.org in Blue Hill, Maine, I got to talking with and playing new songs for the great DJ Mike Joyce on his show Barefoot Blues.
 

                                    Dj Mike & I at WERU.org

(Sidenote: Mike's been in radio for 30 years, and, in addition to the Barefoot Blues hour, he hosts a show called Boat Talk for all you boat fanatics out there).   

Mike's a great interviewer and we cover a lot of ground. My Dad joined me on his chromatic harmonica for the opening tune and then Mike and I get into it -- new songs, the stories behind them, the meaning of life, etc.

Community radio like the kind WERU creates is hard to come by these days (their motto is “a voice of many voices"). They've been playing my music since the beginning and for that I am very grateful. 

This interview is only up on the WERU online archives for another week, so if you want to listen, now is the time!
 

3. MARVELING OVER: Resist! -- a free magazine of political comics / graphics about women and everything else that matters

Speaking of a voice of many voices ...

Of course McNally Jackson -- the great Manhattan bookstore -- had a stack of RESIST! at the checkout counter. Luckily, my friend picked one up and showed it to me.

Holy smokes! Awesomeness and bad-assery on every page. 

Resist! sprung up after the November 2016 election (shocker ... not!). Edited and by produced by Françoise Mouly, art editor of The New Yorker, and her daughter, writer Nadja Spiegelman, Resist! is a "free print publication of political comics and graphics where our slogan, 'Women's voices will be heard,' can come true."

The pages overflow with images hilarious, sharp, tender, angry, and absurd on a huge variety of issues: the environment, power, immigration, sexism, racism, and the economy.

The editors weren't out for unity. What they wanted was a cacophony of voices and realities, something big and loud and messy. Something like democracy itself.

There are artists known and unknown here: Roz Chast, Lynda Barry, and Art Spiegelman to name only a few. Many of the images and thoughts come from abroad, the waves of anxiety and worry reaching other coasts than ours (Canada, Germany, Australia).

Resist! is entirely funded by individuals, comic shops, and bookstores; all the contributing artists forgo monetary compensation. You can click here to find a free copy near you, or better yet order a few and spread the wealth yourself.

++ OUTRO ++
I am always so happy to hear from you! Please send up a smoke signal and say Hi by leaving a comment below. Let me know what your 3 Things are! What lights you up right now? I want to know!

X to the O,
K

My 3 Things - June 2017

(The My 3 Things FAQ.)

1. LISTENING: Toni Childs "Don't Walk Away" from the album Union

This was the hit song from Child's 1988, Grammy-nominated album Union, one of my desert island discs. 

Not going to lie, I haven't listened to this record in five years or so. Suddenly, it resurfaced in my life; I've been on a scavenger hunt for music that captures my hopes and dreams for the Death Album.

Is it too much to hear new music from Toni? A set of songs that would do her incredible, indelible voice justice? I hope not. 

PS: 80s video awesomeness alert!
 

2. SEEING: Generation Wealth by Lauren Greenfield at the Annenberg Space for Photog. in LA
In so many ways, this show is not for the faint of heart.

It unsettled and disturbed me. Upon leaving, my soul felt coated in an unsavory residue that lingered for days. And yet, I am so glad I saw those pictures, read those words, glimpsed those worlds.

Greenfield's show overwhelms and overstuffs the cold, corporate corner in Century City that is the Annenberg Space for Photography. Parking and finding your way there is your first challenge. As you emerge from the concrete rabbit warren of the enormous glass and steel office complex into the faux-park courtyard, you're likely to see caterers rolling tables on their edges setting up for a corporate event and a clutch of famous bloggers-slash-social media personalities sharing meatballs and fries (the offices of CAA loom over you after all) at the luxury bistro-slash-coffee shop that caters to this microcosm. It's all very surreal. And you've not even seen the show yet.

Finally, you enter the Annenburg and that's when the cultural vertigo really sets in.

The photos are large, colorful, utterly absorbing. This is a master documentarian at work -- there is humor here. There is also restraint (on the part of the photographer, not -- let's be clear -- on the part of the subjects). The first-person interviews that accompany almost every image are gripping, pared-down but packing a huge punch; the short films and projections are mesmerizing.

Considered the "preeminent chronicler of consumerism and youth culture," Greenfield stares unflinchingly into the gaping, insatiable maw of our materialist, status-chasing, money-driven, "mine is bigger than yours" culture. She leaves no corner of the collective psyche unexamined: here's Tupac losing $10k in ten minutes in Las Vegas; there's a woman spread-eagled on a plastic surgeon's operating table getting everything that can be lifted and tucked lifted and tucked all at the same time; here's a stripper crawling on the floor of an Atlanta club, scooping up armloads of dollar bills thrown by a patron who admits he can't afford to make it rain the way he just did. From Russian oligarchs to Chinese billionaires to kids in LA who just can't stop spending on sneakers and jeans, Greenfield swan dives into "the influence of affluence over the last 25 years."  

This is important work. She's observing and examining the inescapably powerful forces bending all of our realities every single day -- consumerism, comparison, advertisement, social media, and the manufactured need for more, bigger, shinier, faster, newer, younger, now. She captures outrageous ambition with the same evenness of tone as she does moments of quiet and reflection and contrition. There's heart-wrenching humor here as well.

So what about that residue I felt on my soul?

Caused by the complexity of the subject matter no doubt, and by the ways in which Greenfield does her work so well that there's room for me to see myself in all of this, to see the ways in which I'm complicit. 

I'll leave the last words to one of my favorite people on the planet, the English musician, composer, record producer, singer, writer, visual artist, and shit-stirrer Brian Eno: "Lauren Greenfield's photographs range from hilarious to terrifying, sometimes in the same image. The images are unjudgemental -- dystopian shock and awe somewhere at the end of Empire -- and yet moving: she makes it personal. It could have been me."

The show is on until August 13, 2017.

 

3. WATCHING: Whitman, Alabama -- the documentary film
Having just come from the Black Belt of Alabama, the voices melodious and measured still ringing in my ears, watching a few episodes of this project helped cure me of a fraction of my homesickness.

Filmmaker Jennifer Crandall was born in Ethiopia and raised in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Haiti. She's part Chinese and part White. No wonder she's interested in identity.

She created the project Whitman, Alabama as "an experiment using documentary (film) and poetry to reveal the threads that tie us together—as people, as states, and as a nation."

For the last two years, she's been driving all over Alabama meeting people and inviting them to face the camera and share themselves through the words of Walt Whitman's “Song of Myself” -- a vital piece of American art and an artifact of our American project. 

This project is genius. Everything is here: the rural, the urban, the lost, the found, the high, the low, the old, the young, the free, the caged, the restrained, the superfluous. 

This particular episode will crack you open.

I see so much humanity and goodness in these faces, in these words, in this whole idea. I swoon and find myself falling in love with America again.

My 3 Things - May 2017

(The My 3 Things FAQ.)

0. Update: THANK YOU for helping me fund the theater workshop in Alabama
You did it!! 

In last month's My 3 Things, I told you about the work I am doing at BAMA Kids, an after-school program in Wilcox County, Alabama.  I'd already raised $2750 and needed an additional $1250 to send seven New York actors from the theater outreach non-profit Zara Aina to work their story-telling, confidence-building magic for a week. 

You generously gave $1775! 

Wow! Hell yes! 

You are making a direct impact on the lives of these kids. Because of you, they will create and perform an original piece of theater and through that creation develop crucial life skills like determination, self-confidence, and cooperation.

I met with the actors last week! A cheeky, cheery crew ... right?!

The actors will arrive at BAMA Kids in less than one week! I can't wait to share more pictures and lots of stories with you!!

 

1. LISTENING: The Stanley Turrentine Sextet on "Sugar"
My first guitar teacher -- the late, great John Dougherty of Wilmington, Delaware -- loved this song and it was one of the very first he taught me when I began lessons with him at age 11. These laid-back, bluesy, triplet-y burners were right in his wheelhouse and he had me playing them before I played anything else.

For the past week, I've been transcribing saxophonist Turrentine's solo on this track. So much tasty goodness in every bar! And not just from the saxophone. The other musicians on the track (Freddie Hubbard - Trumpet, George Benson - Guitar, Lonnie Smith - Electric Piano, Ron Carter - Bass, Billy Kaye - Drums) are killing it too. Enjoy! 

 

2. SEEING: Kinyatta A.C. Hinkle's show "The Evanesced" at the California African American Museum
Akimbo. A-swirl. Asleep. Aslant. A-sway. A hundred notebook-sized drawings of a hundred missing African American women doing everything from sitting, to stooping, to flying, to falling, to flapping, to being bent way beyond backwards, to cowering, to careening. These aren't portraits, they are gestures of emotions and expressions. There is pain here, but there is also joy. 

1 of 100 of Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle's ink drawings of 100 missing African American women

Hinkle's deliberate choice of simple materials -- uniformly sized recycled paper, India ink, and a brush she created from bits of Spanish moss -- give these "un-portraits" incredible power. They represent every woman and no woman. “I wanted to make this kind of being that is flesh and not flesh,” Hinkle told the Huffington Post. “Becoming and unbecoming, defined and not defined. There is this push and pull between both worlds.”

In creating these drawings, Hinkle wanted to highlight a terrible erasure: "missing black women in America and the African diaspora, historically and to the present day." Her mark-making imagines the every day narratives of thousands of black women who have disappeared due to homicides, human trafficking, colonialism, poverty, and other forms of going unseen. 

Hinkle is one to watch. The show is on through June 25, 2017.  If you are in or near LA, it is a must-see. We often talk of an artist's body of work. Here, Hinkle's body of work is quite literally a collection of work made of women's bodies. It feels familiar and intimate, often devastatingly so.

 

3. GEEKING OUT: Tabata Songwriting aka using a Tabata Timer for focused periods of songwriting
If you know anything about me, you know that I am an athlete, through and through. Even now, when I don't have to, I work out at an elite level.

Wanting to shake up my songwriting practice, I decided to try an experiment: I took something from my workout routine and tried using it in my songwriting routine.

I used the Tabata Timer on my phone to increase my focus and output when writing a new song.

Huh? 

In the fitness world, a Tabata is a form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) that last 4 minutes. Work out as hard as you can for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, complete eight rounds and you have done one Tabata. (Read more about Tabata workouts here. There are lots of Tabata timers in the app store. I happen to like this one because it's fully customizable.)

So how did I adapt this to songwriting? Did I work as hard as I could for 20 seconds on lyrics, then rest for 10 seconds, then repeat eight more times, and in four minutes I had the perfect pop song?

Not quite.

I set my Tabata Timer to do four rounds of 12 minutes on, two minutes off.

For 12 minutes, I worked on accomplishing a very specific songwriting goal, for example: "write a rough draft of a first verse, lyrics only." During the two minutes off, I documented the result of that work, noting if I achieved the goal or not and if not, why not. I also -- in that two minutes -- set up the specific outcome for the next 12 minute burst of activity.

Screenshot of my Tabata Songwriting notes 

Why this works
In short, my Tabata Songwriting method works because it forces me to focus and to commit to accomplishing a clear goal in a very short period of time.

With the timer counting down, I immediately drop into state of deep focus; I don't have the luxury of letting my attention waiver. I had to iterate song ideas faster, even really bad ideas. This helped me to create and work with a "good enough" idea sooner than I would if I had unlimited time.

Did I write the greatest song ever using this method? No. 

Did I write a finished song? Yes.

In a shorter amount of time than usual? Hell yes.

I finished a song in two hours and twenty minutes. That's pretty damn quick for me.

(Because I am dead serious about songwriting, I keep track of these things. Most songs take me between four to eight hours to write. Some songs have taken me as long as two months, some as long as two years.)

Will I always use a Tabata timer when writing songs? Hell no. There are currently a couple of songs on my "to write" pile that I know would not benefit from this approach. I want to take more time with them; I want to luxuriate in the infinite possibilities of lyrics and chords. 

The point is I don't want to be precious about writing songs. I used to be that way and it sucks. Over the last few years, I've spent considerable time, energy, and thought creating new ways of being around songwriting. Now, I am free and getting freer. 

Inventing this new and (let's face it) ridiculous way of songwriting is evidence of that freedom. And I am thrilled about it. It's just one more arrow in my songwriting quiver. Watch out!

 

//\\//\\

OUTRO: I'd love to hear from you

What do you think of these 3 things? 

Leave a comment below and let me know what you're listening to, what art shows you're seeing, and what tools you're using to get your art work done. I read every comment!

My 3 Things - April 2017

(What is this thing called My 3 Things? Find out in the FAQ.)

1. LISTENING: Jimmy Scott singing “Nothing Compares 2 U”
One of my favorite singers singing a song by one of my favorite songwriters. Scott’s voice is a dangerous drug. “Careful,” I say to myself. “This could wreck you.” It almost always does.

2. CREATING: A theater workshop for kids in Alabama -- May 20-27, 2017
In early 2010, I volunteered at a small, bootstrapped, after-school program for kids in rural Wilcox County, Alabama called BAMA Kids. I’d show up at 3:15p just before the kids came tumbling out of the school bus and spend the rest of the afternoon and early evening with them helping and fixing — helping with homework, fixing a broken basketball hoop, helping tie a shoe, fixing a snack. I became reacquainted with 4th and 5th grade math. I instigated drawing challenges and coloring contests. I did a lot of just being there and showing up, day after day. As Zadie Smith wrote, "Time is how you spend your love."

A little context about this corner of the world: At the time of the 2010 census, the median income for a household in Wilcox County was $16,646. About 48% of people under the age of 18 live below the poverty line. Both the Wilcox County middle and high schools were designated “failing schools” by the 2017 Alabama Department of Education.

BAMA Kids is the only program of its kind in this community. Started in 1993 by a group of volunteers and concerned parents, its goal is to give kids a safe and fun place to go at the end of the school day. Here, they learn, grow, and feel the love and support of positive role models and mentors. BAMA Kids get the encouragement they need to make good decisions and live healthy, successful lives.

In March 2012, I invited the theater group Zara Aina (ZA) to come down to Alabama and work with the BAMA Kids for a week. Zara Aina is a Malagasy (Madagascar) phrase that means "share life." Started by two Broadway actors and based in NYC, its mission is to use theater, storytelling, and performance to help at-risk children to recognize their potential. It was a no-brainer to unite these two awesome organizations. I saw the opportunity and made it happen. 

In one week, the ZA actors and I collaborated with the BAMA Kids to create an amazing piece of theater — a shadow puppet musical of sorts. The kids wrote the lyrics to our songs. I wrote the music. The ZA crew coached the kids to create everything else -- the story, the acting, the costumes, the set, the shadow puppets, etc. It was busy and fun with a lot of goofing around and improv-ing. 

Here are just a few scenes from that week ...

After a long week of creating and rehearsing, on a spring Sunday afternoon, the kids put on a spirited public performance of their show at the middle school. Parents came and cheered. The local radio station broadcast from under a big oak tree outside. Someone set up a barbecue and after the show there were ribs and chicken for all. It was an unqualified success/love fest.

I’ve decided it’s time to do it again.

This May (about seven weeks from now), come hell or high water, I am sending seven actors from Zara Aina back down to Alabama to work with the BAMA kids.

I’ve already raised $2750 of the $4000 I need to do this.

Please help me raise the other $1250. (Four thousand is the cost of getting the NYC actors there and back, groceries for a week, props, teaching tools, etc.)

You can make a fully tax-deductible donation by clicking here before May 17. 

If you’ve already donated — a big huge thank you hug to you! Your support and belief in this act of creation means so much to me, to the kids, and to the actors. 

I can't wait to share with you what the kids create this May!

 

3. PLANNING FOR: Tall Ship Parade in Québec City in July 2017 for Canada's B-day!
I like big boats and I cannot lie.

Sail boats, that is.

As you know, I spent last June sailing around the island of Svalbard on the Dutch Barquentine 'Antigua.' On her decks and down below in my little cabin, I worked and re-worked many of the songs you'll hear on my next album. This June, I'll help my Dad sail his boat from the Chesapeake Bay to Mt. Desert Island, Maine. My guitar will accompany me on this adventure as well.

A panoramic I took onboard Antigua. Sailing off the coast of Svalbard.

This July, I am seriously considering making a trip to Québec City to take in the Tall Ship Parade in honor of Canada's 150th Birthday. 

Called "a beauty pageant from the age of sail," this spectacle is something you don't see every day. Usually these kinds of tall ship get-togethers only happen in cases like this -- when a country throws itself a birthday party.

The ships and their crew will be converging on stone-walled, cobbled street-ed Old Québec, a city thick with European seafaring history. Though the parade will visit a handful of other ports in Canada, this is the only place the entire fleet of more than 40 tall ships will rendezvous.

This is all part of a great trans-Atlantic race of 7000 nautical miles, happening over the course of five months in six countries. Once they fête Canada, the ships will race to the finish line at Le Havre, France. (The race starts now -- April 13-16 -- in the London borough of Royal Greenwich, Britain.)

If I miss this gathering, can I really wait the nine more years until the US turns 250 and maybe there will be a gathering like this in New York or Boston harbor? I don't know. Nine years is a long time and I'm dying everyday. 

They aren't called the "cathedrals of the sea" for nothing.