Category Archives: essay

This Scene Is Dead

This scene is dead. No, not A Year of Songs… this scene is probably more like a fair beauty cast under a wicked spell waiting for her prince to plant a big fat smacker on her pale lips… or maybe more like an irascible old bear at the ragged end of hibernation, hearing the chirping of spring birds and putting his big old furry paws over his ears and trying to go back to sleep.

The scene to which the song refers is the virtualized songwriting workshop I participate in on a popular musician’s website which has became the victim of its own success when its once high search engine ratings increasingly made it a target of robotic spam assaults, assaults that ended up dragging down the servers and bringing the massive site to its virtual knees.
Dire portrait painted, however, let me rush to assure the reader that the reference is ironic. The first line of the song was taken from the title of a thread in the new forum, a result of a massive effort to move hundreds of millions of bulletin board posts, user reviews, and blog articles to new servers run by a shiny, big-player customer service outfit that runs customer support and social media bulletin board/forum software for a number of Fortune 500 joints.

The regulars in the Songwriting Workshop are sensitive artist types, for sure, but they’re also self-reliant. When the old forum software ground to a near halt, forum regulars set out on their own to create a temporary forum using free forum software.

Now we’re all more or less back at the old/new site… dazzled and occasionally bewildered by gleaming but unfamiliar virtual surroundings. But, you know, we’re resilient, too. We’ll make it.

But that Sad that it’s so dead in here thread title kept bouncing up in the listings as folks would comment, commiserate, or crack wise and — with the first days of the RPM Challenge weighing on me, desperation begat the slightest hint of inspiration. (And, yes, much perspiration was subsequently required.)

Oh, wait, I hear you gentle readers murmur. WTF is this RPM Challenge?

That would be this: Every February the RPM Challenge goes out to songwriters to try to create an album of music in 28 days, hopefully doing everything from writing to recording and mixing in time to pop a CD in the mail by noon on March 1st. (And, yes, you can jump in at any time in February. If you approach this stuff the way I approached term papers in my long lost academic life, you will probably be hitting the big red button about 9 am on the 28th of Feb.)
Anyhow, backstory laid out, excuses made, rationales aired, let’s move on to the song at hand…

Longtime readers of this blog may recall my nostalgic rhapsodizing on those magical years at the beginning of the punk rock era we like to call The Late Seventies. 

I first chopped off my hair — which had been nearly waist-length — back in ’73. I had been at a concert for one of my favorite bands, the arty, intelligent, jazzy Traffic. As I waited to get in, I looked around me. The others had long hair, freak clothes…  they didn’t look much different than me, really.

There had been a time in the late 60s when just having long hair seemed like a badge of being interesting, iconoclastic, outsider.

But by ’73, at least half of the people I saw with long hair I was running into appeared very much to be leaden brained dolts who couldn’t bother to try to find two neurons to rub together. Two days later, three feet of hair became two inches. Suddenly, cops had longer hair.  I felt a bit like I’d just arrived on the planet.

When Patty Smith’s Horses album came out, with the title song’s harrowingly visceral, yet poetically surreal account of a brutal high school attack, I knew it was finally on, the change was coming any day. The new era had arrived.

While the signs of new music were around in ’75 when I started prowling the new, small, sometimes underground clubs where music biz outsiders played, the LA punk scene didn’t really blow up until late ’77.

Blow up, perhaps, being a relativistic term.

By my count, there were maybe 50, full-on, hard-core, can’t walk down the street without folks staring and pointing punk rockers in LA — and maybe another 200 folks who were more like me, short haired, non-hippy, non-disco, somewhat disaffected types. A lot of that cohort probably looked a lot like rock writers of the era… glasses, dark sport coats, skinny jeans, dark t-shirts or white shirts buttoned to the collar and/or worn with the soon-to-be-totally annoying skinny ties that looked so cool for such a short time.

The scene was magical.

Really.

Okay, sure, some of the clubs stank. Literally. Toilets regularly overflowed at the divey venues and overburdened, blackmarket warehouses-turned-nightclubs.  Bouncers were often jocks or thugs who often appeared to think the clientele were sissies from Mars. And, for sure, it was an arty, boho, largely anti-macho crowd in those early days.

That would change as wannabe bands like The Cars, The Police, as well as bands that had once been part of the punk scene like Devo and the Dickies began to draw in new elements, specifically suburban dudes, jocks, and frat boys who turned the once-relatively friendly/benign ‘pogo pit’ into the ‘slam pit.’  Moshing, as it was originally known in the UK, took a particularly ugly turn in the 80s as that cohort met and didn’t always mix well with old school hardcore punks. And a half.

By late ’78, it seemed to me and my pals down in Long Beach that maybe the LA punk scene that had seemed so vibrant just a year before might be dying. I remember telling a bunch of pals from a couple of bands who were having a strategizing/commiserating jawbone session, “Let me be the first to say, punk rock is dead.”

I reminded them that the Haight-Ashbury hippies had held a “Funeral for the Hippie” in 1968 and that, though hippie attire and trappings grew in popularity with the mainstream, the real core of the hippie movement was pretty well dead by the 70s, even as the look became a costume for much of middle America.

Of course, punk rock didn’t die in ’78.

But something did.

Punk rock, the commercial genre, though, barreled on, going from the wildly divergent outsider music of the late 70s  to the highly formulaic, tightly conformist, cliche-driven  cookie cutter crap of the 80s and the pop punk pre-gurgitations of the 90s — in near perfect parallel to the emergence of mall rat chain stores filled with racks of identical “punk outfits” — just add glory spikes and purple hair dye.

That out of the way, here is my first recorded lyrical effort from my one-man assault on the RPM Challenge…

Sad that it’s so dead in here
sad to see the flocks have fled
sad to say its inevitable
but some things must be said

This scene is dead
the scene is dead
the reasons are many
excuses are few
this scene is dead
the scene is dead
God knows the scene is dead

We were so cool
so beautiful
so free so hip
the people to be
What we had is gone, what we did is done
the songs we sang as good as never sung

This scene is dead
the scene is dead
God knows the scene is dead

Came back to see what had become
of the place where so much was said and done
footprints in the dust
shadows in a mirror
was it yesterday
or a thousand years

This scene is dead
the scene is dead
the reasons are many
excuses are few
This scene is dead
the scene is dead
God knows the scene is dead

this scene is dead
the scene is dead
ooohoooh oohoooh
oohooh oohooh
this scene is dead
the scene is dead
God knows the scene is dead

 

 

 

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Best of AYoS: the view from the hayloft door

The view from the hayloft door

First published: TUESDAY, AUGUST 15, 2006

I just started to cry...

There’s a doomed beauty in knowing you’re about to make what you’ll probably look back on as the mistake of your life. Everything seems more real, more vivid, more 3D.

You look around as though it’s the last time you’re ever going to see familiar surroundings… and in a way, you’re right. Nothing will ever be the same, again.

And you know you have to do it, anyway.

I wrote this song as a kind of bluegrass thing but I turned it on its head, here, into a kind of swamp folk rock indulgence that I think exposes some other facets of the song, highlighting the youthful passion and lust for life and love. Which is not, actually, what I was thinking when I came up with the music for this version.

Instead, I’d been so annoyed with an attempt to do this song the previous night in a sensitive, finger-picked style that I decided, really, to just invert the style and approach. (The George Castanza Strategy. If everything you do turns out wrong, do the opposite.)

Internet Archive page for this recording
previous AYoS version

I Just Started to Cry

We ran through the summer night
it was hot and it was black
we ran until we were all alone
and didn’t even know the way back

We were young
we were in love
that summer we were one
when I look back I start to cry
to think of what is gone

A storm came up from the south real fast
and lightning lit the rain
I looked in her eyes for a moment
and then it was dark again

Our hands entwined and then our tongues
we were soaking wet
we made our way to the old Hansen barn
and there our souls met

I woke up the next morning
and she slept by my side
the sunlight poured through the hayloft door
and I just started to cry

I cried cause she looked so pretty lying there
I cried because I loved her so
I cried cause I knew she was the only one
and I cried cause I knew I was gonna go

(C) 1991 TK MAJOR

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Slant Six Valiant

Slant Six Valiant
My first car was a VW Karmann Ghia, which was basically a VW engine and running gear with a surprisingly exotic, one-piece body from the Ghia bodyworks (famous for work on exotic European sports cars) atop it.

Slant Six Valiant

It was a fun car — but it was no fun to try to keep running. VWs, of course, are justly famous for decades of electrical problems but this car had the other VW bugaboo: it leaked like the proverbial sieve. (And this drives me crazy, because I’ve been to Germany a couple of times and it certainly rained on me a fair amount. I can understand that it took the Japanese a long time to figure out that the toy locks they historically put on their cars were no match for US social realities — but how on earth VW has produced so many cars you couldn’t leave out in the rain and stayed in business is a question that will likely haunt me to my grave.)

Given a few days in a row of rain and the floor in back of the front seats would fill up with an inch or two of water. I’d bail it out but the next rainstorm, there it was again, a little pond. (I had a GF with an old VW whose previous owner had actually just drilled drain holes in the floorboards. I wish I’d thought of it, frankly… although I would have definitely added drain plugs.)

My next car was a low miles SAAB Model 96, one of those teardrop shaped cars with separate front fenders that looked a bit like a cross between a streamlined ’40 Ford sedan and a Citroen D. Everything was exotic on that car — even the Ford truck engine that SAAB had built the drive train around — the block was a V6 — but it had two of the cylinders plugged and non-functional as an economy feature. I got a sweet deal on it from a friend’s family’s used car lot — but it cost me about triple what I paid for it to try to keep it running for a couple of years (and then the tranny failed with only about 70 thousand miles on it). I sold it for a couple hundred bucks, even though it was less than four years old. (You can bet I didn’t weep recently when it was announced that SAAB automotive, foolishly bought by clueless giant — now our clueless giant — GM only a few years back, would be neutralized for wont of a sucker — I mean buyer.)

Tired of four-wheeled headaches, I bought a used Honda 400F, a great little four banger motorcycle that, with a four-into-one header and a relatively light rider (like me, then) was surprisingly quick. I’ve written here a few times about the careless driver that ended my motorcycling days (for the most part), so I’ll spare y’all that ordealacious story. But just before that life-changing wreck, a family member gave me an old ’73 Ford LTD, an aircraft carrier of a car with a 429 cubic inch engine and four barrel carburetor. That was during the initial gas crises of the late 70s and, back then, when the minimum wage was generous at $3, it cost $5 just to get from my flat to the nearby gas station. Or so it seemed.

So… after I got out of the hospital, a couple bucks finally in my pocket again, I went looking for something to replace the LTD. I’d already decided what I wanted, based on dozens of conversations with friends, shade tree mechanics, and even strangers in parking lots: a Dodge Dart or Plymouth Valiant with the legendary Chrysler Slant Six engine, a ~178 cubic inch 6-in-a-line block turned at a jaunty angle, not for looks, but to get the tractor/truck-worthy engine under the low profile of a mid-70s econo box sedan.

I looked at a number of cars and finally found a low mileage Valiant — a total grandpa car — through the Pennysaver ad throwaway: brown, slightly metal-flaked paint, a lighter brown vinyl roof covered roof, four doors (important to me, since I was still using crutches and had only recently returned my rented wheel chair after my motorcycle accident) and bench seats. (Finally, I could have my GF on the front seat cuddling next to me like the guys in the fifties movies.)

It was being sold by a nice suburban family in the nearby suburbs of Los Alamitos, and it had, indeed, been Grandpa’s car before he became too aged to drive. They wanted top dollar and didn’t seem at all willing to haggle; I noticed the Christian fish decal in the family’s late model wagon and thought to myself, Well, that could go either way… but they seemed like genuinely nice folks so I went for it.

It was a decision I never regretted.

The Valiant proved to be a real trooper, a great auto. The only weak spot was an electronic ignition that had to be replaced a couple times — but that was over the course of maybe 150,000 miles — and it was relatively cheap.

When I traded it in on a new Toyota Corolla in the late 80s, they only gave me the Blue Book on it, 300 bucks, but I definitely had got my money’s worth long before. I left it, a little forlorn, at the curb in front of the dealer. I parked my new Corolla in back of it on the way out, got out, patted the fender one last time. But I didn’t doubt for an instant that it would soon be back in the hands of someone who needed solid, reliable transportation.

A great car.

lyrics
Slant Six Valiant

It was brown and it was dusty
had a funky vinyl roof
It was humble it was trusty
and I think that  it was true
even old and rusty it proved
they dont make ’em  like they used to do

Slant Six Valiant
hard top bench seat radio and four  doors
Slant Six Valiant
best little car from Detroit in  ’74
Slant Six Valiant
quarter million miles and ready for some more
Slant Six Valiant
best little car from Detroit in  ’74
(C)2009, TK Major

[The image above is not my old Valiant, but, rather, a very similar 1975 model.]

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A Thousand Lies (Bridge to Nowhere)

A Thousand Lies (Bridge to Nowhere)
NEW SONG ALERT!

The best liars don’t really need a reason.

They’re glib. They’re creative. They enjoy lying.

They’re not sociopaths… clinically speaking. They have feelings, stirrings of empathy; they indulge in sentimentalism and symbolic emotionalism… in fact, it’s the language they speak… all too fluently, at times.

A Thousand Lies (Bridge to Nowhere)

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Special YouTube Version— A tribute to Warhol’s epic, “Empire”

The delight they take in their lies helps sustain them. It invigorates them. In a very real way, their lies give meaning to their lives.

Because they lie from the inside, out.

In a way, the skein of interlocking lies that lace their lives, is their lives.

They lie to themseslves even though they are perfectly aware they’re lying. Their lies are simultaneously excuses and self-entertainments, creative endeavors that provide endless hours of diversion and delight.

And… sometimes… they become politicians.

lyrics
A Thousand Lies (Bridge to Nowhere)

I’ve got a thousand lies
I can’t wait to tell you
I’ve got a bridge to nowhere
I know I could sell you
I’ve got a real nice dream
as phony as hell
you know it’s all a
part of the game

I know the rules
I’m making them up
anything that works
just to stay on top
I don’t care who
else takes the drop
’cause it’s all a
part of the game

tell a lie often enough
people forget
where the truth leaves off
but sometimes that truth
can be pretty rough
and usually the truth
is just not enough

besides it’s all a part of the game

I’ve got a reason
for all that I do
life’s got a meaning
I’ll explain it to you
it’s all about me
it’s not about you and
it’s all a part of the game

2008-09-19
(C)2008, TK Major

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