Upon occasion, I create what I call a Three Hour Song. How it works: I invite my friends on Facebook to comment with words, phrases, keys, tempos, anything (I rarely try and implement a theme) and from that I write, record, mix and upload a song from scratch in, you guessed it, three hours. None of these exercises come with any warning; generally, it’s when I have nothing to do in an evening – of have things to do I’d rather avoid – and I have a decent stock of alcohol at hand.
In June 2014 came “Boats and Hos.” With the exception of another experimental song called “Alan Rickman”, “Boats and Hos” has received the most consistent plays over time, amounting to an impressive – or paltry, depending on your perspective – 250 plays. For whatever reason, my friends kept on suggesting nautical-sounding phrases, including, of course, the title. While I kept my screen on the comments, I played piano until a suitable sounding melody emerged. A few strings, bass, percussion, drums and harmony vocals later, a song appeared.
I should admit that I am never, ever in a good mood when I do these songs. I am directionless (or rudderless, if you will) or cannot cultivate any imagination or inspiration. Bypassing my intellect altogether, these songs come from a wholly other place. It is not muse-driven. It just needs to be done, which, for some reason, works quite well.
I’ve been on a past life journey lately, roaming through recordings I made through the late 1980s and 1990s, thanks to a newly acquired TASCAM Porta One four-track recorder I picked up on ebay (after acquiring, a month earlier, a TASCAM Porta Two, which played everything at an unreconcilable fast speed). These cassette recordings, all of which feature me playing – or rather attempting to play – various instruments are like a photo album of sound. For every recording, I can remember days, temperatures, apartments, studios, electric guitars, locations of the “recording studio” (often a corner or a disused small room), relationships, lack of relationships, highs, lows, and cats.
One of my favorite tunes is a song called “The Girl Who Wears Your Face”, which I recorded in 1992 using various drum patterns and a very 1980s-style synthesizer, complete with so much echo that it attempts to cover the many mistakes played throughout, and a fairly clever, if basic, bass pattern. This song was really liked by my friend Keith, ever the music expert, who dubbed it his second favorite song of 1992. Keith and I both created documents with our top 10 or top 20 songs of the moment or month or year, and it’s one thing that bonds us to this day.
In 1992, I had just come out of film school, and was doing all of the things that people come out of film school doing, which are: (a) not getting a job in film; (b) being exceptionally critical of filmmaking (it was years before I could just watch a film and not judge each pan, close-up or post-production vocal overdubs) and (c) dying my hair various colors. Of course, I continued filming as well, using a huge monster of a VHS camcorder.
This video is a composite of those films and the music I was making at the time. Although it is certain not to do me many favors in terms of my creative career, it remains one of my favorite tunes.
Watching the famous TED TALKS series on youtube and related media, I have come to learn a great deal about the world around me. From topics as diverse as mental illness to nerdcore comedy, I have gained a profound understanding of the world around me in twenty-minute increments.
Nothing is so impactful, of course, as experiencing a TED TALK in person, which is why I am glad there is a fellow named TED in my neighborhood who, often without a clear audience, gives lectures on a regular basis.
My adopted niece Katherine, who lives a couple of states away from me, recorded and uploaded to Facebook a charming uke version of ‘Dream a Little Dream.’ I listened to it a few times and thought, ‘hey, by gum, I should figure out how to download this song and add some instruments, to give her a backup band.’ So I did.
It’s not perfect, by any means – this is no Jeff Lynne-produced “Free As A Bird.” But it carries a certain relaxed charm which I enjoy, and can rarely pull off when recording by myself.
Jayne (Adrienne Gunn) confronts marriage counselor Dr. Featherstone (Vincent Truman).
“Featherstone” runs Friday-Saturday-Sunday from November 7 through November 23, 2014, exclusively at The Charnel House Theater, 3421 West Fullerton Avenue in Chicago. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased in advance at http://www.vincenttruman.net and at the door (cash only at the door). The play stars Adrienne Gunn, Vincent Truman, Steve Ruppel and Phil DeVone. Sundays are Understudy Feature Performances and star Carolyn Reynolds, Catherine Dvorak, Brendan Blaine and Kevin Patterson.
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These are ten of my favorite lines in “Featherstone”:
“So you two are married? My condolences.” – Dr. Featherstone
“Marriage counseling is hard enough without having to talk to you.” – Jayne to her husband, Thomas
“I’m only defensive because you said I was being defensive when I clearly wasn’t being defensive, so now I’m defensive.” – Thomas to Jayne
“Feelings are the one thing we can control in our minds, but we prefer to let them run wild like bad children in restaurants, which I admit is redundant.” – Dr. Featherstone
“I counted the seconds of our first hug. I thought it was going to be a two-second hug, but it turned out to be a fourteen-second hug.” – Thomas to Jayne
“How do we define ourselves? Sometimes it feels like we take broken pieces of other people, like shards of glass, and we stick them together and hold them up and say, ah, that’ll be my reflection.” – Dr. Featherstone
“My parents love each other very much. They’re physicians.” – Jayne
“Would I get married again? No. You don’t ask a cancer survivor if they’re up for the next round of cancer.” – Dr. Featherstone
“I don’t mind your lesbian friends. Wasn’t I cool with the hemp picture frames they were selling?” – Thomas to Jayne
“I know I’m not nice. Ask anyone.” – Dr. Featherstone
A play is a hypothesis of thought surrounding a philosophy – the good, the bad, advantages, disadvantages, gains and losses – so by the time I am finished writing one, it feels as if I’ve written several. This is certainly the case with my 2014 play, “Featherstone”, slated to make its debut on 11/07/2014.
“Featherstone” is about a rather bitter psychologist and his receptionist son and their interactions with a married couple who have become disenchanted with each other. Dr. Featherstone himself is disenchanted, but mainly with people who have allowed themselves to become disenchanted. The play is an examination of choice, both the choices we own and the ones rather foisted upon us by society, including but not limited to social media, friends, family, in-laws, colleagues and acquaintances. The key question in the piece is: do we choose who we love?
Of course, the material is very personal to me, as I went through a dreadful divorce which still has a distant but present deadening echo in my life. However, my perspective was only one in the labyrinth of perspectives possessed by the aforementioned friends, family, in-laws, colleagues and acquaintances, to say nothing of the woman I chose to marry once upon a time. Thus, “Featherstone” is a deep dive into the motives, rationales and reactions of all parties concerned. It would be too easy to do a “look at this bad thing that happened to me” piece of work, but I detest work of that type. Despite protestations or innocent shrugs, no person is merely a protagonist in their life; no person is merely an antagonist. It takes two to strangle.
So what about it: do we choose who we love? Although I personally lean towards the affirmative, there are compelling reasons for both responses. A compelling reason FOR: feelings are the one thing we can control or manage in our lives. Who hasn’t been advised that we might feel anything based on a situation, but it is up to us how we ultimately react? This, to me, suggests we are ultimately in control of these things called feelings. A compelling reason AGAINST: feelings are strongly associated with experiences, especially of a younger age. Who hasn’t been told that we learn the vast majority of emotional responses to situations by the time we are five years old? Thus, it could be arguable that what we experience at 30 is directly tied to these hidden or forgotten events, which may lead us, quite rightly, to conclude “I cannot help how I feel.”
The reason I lean towards the affirmative is not a gut feeling but an intellectual approach. By actively choosing who and what I love, I can manage the predictable variations in those gut feelings. In my own marriage, even when I was fully aware there was trouble, I harnessed my faculties to choose, daily, the person I was with. That person I was married to actively went with her gut, which, near the end of our marriage, led to the brilliant line, “If I leave, I betray you; if I stay, I betray me.” As poetic as that comment was, it was simply hurtful. At the end of the day, even if I am slightly detached on the emotional front, I prefer it to the damage that might be wrought at the hands of emotions with its largely unseen and unexamined roots.
“Featherstone” and its four primary characters run the gamut of our engagement with love, from choice to gut, to desperation to disgust, to fear to expectation and allows breathing room for all.
It is my hope that my latest hypothesis for the stage will inspire some good food for thought, perhaps even more than my previous works “Venus Envy” and “The Observatory,” which were almost as well known for their talkback sessions as they were for themselves.