Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Absolute Dilettante

I recently described myself as a professional dilettante (or something similar) to a friend during a passionate discussion about creativity, over popsicles. I was informed that this was impossible...and I suppose that I agree, but at the same time I truly believe that the word dilettante, and it's meaning in Western culture, has been the unfortunate victim of some form of "smear campaign" of sorts. I'm not implying that this is part of some kind of cabalistic conspiracy (though ironically that word itself has been demonized to the point that it's mere utterance renders the one using it virtually incredible), but I do feel that specialization is so encouraged in our society that the concept of being well-rounded is like the preverbial baby thrown out with the bathwater. (I'll save my rant on the beauty-of and proper use-of cliche's/truisims/axioms later!)

Robert Heinlein is one of a handful of Sci-Fi Authors that have much more to offer us in the field of literature and social criticism than most will allow credit to a genre that has largely been ghettoized and ridiculed. This quote sums up my own philosophy on the subject quite well:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

-Robert Heinlein (from Time Enough for Love)

My opinion is that absolutes don't exist outside of theory and faith. I'm also of the opinion that it is preferrable to be known as a dilettante (common/derogatory meaning being dabbler) rather than a one-trick pony regardless of the perceived importance of any one particular skill. I feel we should by all means have one or two specialties but not at the exclusion of being well-rounded and open minded. This concept was highly valued in the past. The common phrase used to describe this type of person would be "Renaissance Man" but I prefer the term Polymath.

One more from Heinlein before I go. It's as if I've been reading his past-mind:

"Expertise in one field does not carry over into other fields, But experts often think so. The narrower their field of knowledge the more likely they are to think so."

Been running into that problem a lot in recent years....More Polymaths and Less arrogant Piss Ants, please!

(Above image: Pythagoras of Crotana - J. Augustus Knapp)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cause and Effect

Howdy Folks! 'Member me?....Odd to look back at the history of my blog (if you could even call it that at this point) and compare the frequency of new posts with what was happening in my life. It's been a bit of a roller-coaster for quite a while and I look forward to a long period of relative calm.

I'm a firm believer in attempting to strike that balance between the zen-like attitude of 'everything happens for a reason at it's own rate, etc.', and the more proactive approach that might be summed up as carpe diem. I think I've always been like that to some degree, but when I was younger I wrongly believed that I was just lazy, and irresponsible for relying too much on the former approach. With a bit of experience I've come to realize the importance of picking ones battles carefully...learning to whittle issues down to their essential elements and then choosing which ones are most important to me personally.

At this point in our country's history it's encouraging that so many among us seem to want to return to what might be called the 'simple life'. I've dreamed of this myself for many years now, but for a variety of reasons including societal expectations, perceived expectations from friends, relatives and significant others (or insignificant for that matter) and mostly my own fear of making a living with my own talents that dream has been postponed seemingly indefinitely. Recently, my employer (who I will refer to as THE STATE OF TEXAS) has thrown a monkeywrench into my life in the form of a layoff...

The timing seems to be the work of fate, though I suspect it also has a lot to do with the sad state of politics/business in this state, the country and much of the civilized world. Greed and FEAR seem to be behind many of the important decisions that affect our very way of life, and the division between the haves and have-nots grows daily. The very concept of a middle class is literally being destroyed and I often wonder if this is not all by design, but that is a topic for another day.

Life/The Universe/My higher self/My subconcious (or really consistent random chance) has been slapping me upside the head with the fact that I need to not only assert myself much more but I also need to make much better use of the creative talents that I have. All signs indicate that the more community-based, creatively satisfying and in some ways 'simpler' life I've always wanted has a strong possibility of exisiting if I can only put into practice what I've always believed: Everything we'll ever need is already inside each of us. Embrace the fact that you will fail on occasion. Work hard doing something that you love and you will achieve success on your own terms....And eat Mexican food at least once a week.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Goode Tymes at Thee Sons of Hermann Hall

Our second "Garage Rock" Super Show at the Sons of Hermann Hall was a great success by all accounts. If we could ever get the groups from the various waves of this non-movement on the same page we could have a festival kinda thing on our hands (but I'm not sure how that would go over here in Dallas anyway).

Narrowly avoided having it high-jacked as a benefit at the last minute for the local community radio station (who shall remain nameless but they've been here for well over 10 years)....but at least we got some free radio spots out of it. But what's important is PEOPLE CAME OUT, AND STAYED ALL NIGHT....And the bands could not have been better. I think our band (the Bipolar Express) had a pretty good show but the Ugly Beats, the Mullens, and the Sons of Hercules were life-affirming rock and roll at it's best.

Sons of Hermann Hall and the folks that run the place are a true natural resource in Dallas, Texas and I'm proud as hell to play shows there...Not to be unappreciated!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

"Garage Rock" and other delights!

What IS "Garage Rock"? Or "Garage Punk" for that matter? Some say that neither have ever really existed at all, and some seem to filter everything else through them. The first group might say that it's a non-genre that was only really "created" when certain types of rock and roll were seen in a different context with the hindsight that only years of over-analyzation can provide. (American teens with often somewhat limited technical mastery of their instruments aping their heros the Rolling Stones, Kinks, Animals, Pretty Things, Yardbirds, Them and others of the hard-edged side of the British Invasion primarily.) The second group tends to favor simple, raw, loud, three-chord blues-guitar based music played by small combos with a never-ending supply of teen angst and frustration sometimes dabbling in old country, blues, jazz and what some might call psychedelic and/or noise rock to oversimplify things. They sound pretty similar, huh?

Garage music has gone through multiple waves of popularity/resurgence to the point where the first camp is mostly made up of borderline nostalgia acts (with some amazing exceptions) much-like the "rockabilly" scene but with different clothing, and the second camp is mostly made up of ex-hardcore punk rockers who've expanded their interests with age. The music of the first camp has practically become it's own sub-genre of classic rock and is often pointed-to as one of the precursors to punk rock, and the music of the others is less strict in style but still relys on the traditions of abrasive rock and roll with a punk influence often burying their sound in overblown distortion, reverb and noise. The "Garage-Punks" have even begun to introduce elements of post-punk and other innovations of the underground of the 80s and 90s into the mix to great effect.

This has all been written about countless times in more detail by better writers but it all leads up to this...

Our band, The Bipolar Express has deep roots in the Dallas/Austin Garage Rock Scene (one of the world's best in my opinion) but please don't try to stick us in the Garage!

It's a bit of a cop-out to call us "Garage Rock" or even "Garage Punk"....not that I wouldn't be proud to be labeled as such, esp. as a shorthand means of description. It's just that we all listen to quite a large variety of music and we work hard to incorporate elements of it into our sound. Rather than your standard 3-chord Troggs riff over a farfisa (which I LOVE!) you might just hear a little bit of soul, r&b, psychedelia, spaced-out noise, blues (both jump and otherwise), 70s and 80s Punk, Tex-Mex, art-rock (if Captain Beefheart is art-rock that is!) and whatever the heck the Butthole Surfers were up to when they were still great.

Of course you might just call this delicious stew "noisy rock AND roll" like I do but come out to the show on June 26th and find out for yourself!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Mo Developminks...

Life. Sure we've all heard a lot about it...but how many of us how really experienced it? I'm beginning to believe that number is smaller than you'd imagine.
I've gone through long periods where I was but a spectator amongst a sea of participants but in recent years I've been trying to make up for lost time. It hasn't always been easy but the rewards (mostly milestones and personal development as opposed to "success" or "wealth") far outweigh any hardships or difficulty I might have experienced.
I've recently run into some major problems with life-long friends that have made me question the very nature of friendship among other things. If nothing else it's reinforced my growing belief that the opinions of others are only worth listening to up-to-a-point, and they are always tainted by the agendas of that individual...hidden or not as well as the ever growing misinformation present in the so-called information age. I consider myself much wiser because of cherry-picking relevant (and often brilliant) concepts from any source that resonates with me, but I think we'd all be better off listening to our inner wisdom or intuition more often. I can't count the number of times I've assumed someone else to be the authority on a subject only to regret not going with my gut instead.
Our band (The Bipolar Express) is playing it's first show outside the DFW area soon and I couldn't be more excited....well maybe a little bit more stoked by the fact that we're getting regular airplay on one of the only good radio stations in town as well. Weird...
KXT (91.7) is the new all-music station from KERA and though I can't say I love everything they play I can say that they are a very welcome presence in the bleak landscape of local radio. Check 'em out! (And sometimes they are amazing...and I thought that before they played us!)
The above image is a nearly-complete relief print (a woodcut in this case) that I was working on with a friend but was shelved due to unforeseen difficulties. I really like the way it's turning out, even if I look like a deranged beaver-boy or something.

Monday, March 22, 2010

~SXSW 2010~

I hadn't been to South-By-Southwest in a few years (and I was a little apprehensive about dealing with the crowds down in beautiful Austin, Texas this year) but I went down for the weekend and I'm really glad I did. Matt Powers, his better-half (Mckenzie) and I strapped our bikes to the car and headed down after work on Friday. We'd been parked for about 5 minutes and were stopped in our tracks by the sound we heard coming over the fence at the Mess With Texas Showcase....Man or Astroman?!?...Yes, please! We got to see the last song-anna-half and their traditional feedback/Tesla Coil finale in all it's glory (from just over the fence). Off to a good start? I'll say...

I never go to SXSW with the intention of trying too hard to see a million bands all over town...especially the really big shows because I don't like looong lines or fighting people for a show (or a beer...and I've never had a wristband/laminate/whatever) We proceeded to Beerland which would serve as home base for most of the weekend, and they were kind enough to book tons of great bands and provide free Frito Pie. Friday night we saw Wounded Lions, Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds, and The Spits (In the Red Records showcase). WL was like Beat Happening if they all switched instruments and were better musicians and dancers, Kid Congo (of legends Nick Cave/Gun Club/Cramps) put on one hell of a diverse performance, and the Spits just had to close the show with their mutant/new-wavish/skate-punk take on the Ramones because....who could go on after that....they always deliver. (Spits below)
We ended up at some place called the Omlettry (good food/not sure about the name) for breakfast Saturday morning which was pretty great despite the expected long line. Wandered around on the bikes a bit after that; Mckenzie and Adrienne met up for some shopping on S. Congress while Matt and I checked out the Yard Dog Party which had cheap imported beer. Saw London-based bluegrass from the Coal Porters which made me feel pretty good about being in Saddle Tramp and eventually ended up back at Beerland for Rounds II and III.

(Goner Records showcase) Cococomas have apparently morphed into a 4-piece which filled-out their songs quite a bit compared to the former 2-piece version...Great live/need to hear more recordings. The Baths were an interesting time with their early-psych sound but even with the guys Sonny Bono-like appearance (complete with cape) I found my attention wandering a bit. (Better on record? We'll see.) Up next were up-and-coming Memphis youngsters The Magic Kids who offered up refreshing sunshine-pop referencing 50s-60s, and 80s teen hearthrob sounds and stage presence as well as some British stuff I haven't wrapped my head around yet (maybe New Romantic). Potential mass-market appeal there for sure. Another Bluff City resident rounded out the day show, Harlan T. Bobo, who's last album got quite a few plays from this fella in the last few years. It was a bit anti-climactic seeing him do his show solo (no band) after all the others but he sounded really good and the performance and his ultra-dry sense of humor made up for the lack of accompaniment. How do you describe his music? Uh....kinda like a Southern take on Lou Reed/Leonard Cohen mixed with something else much less pretensious...(Sorry to Harlan for saying "I liked your Bobo set!", but I think he was cool with it!) (Magic Kids above)
We wandered over to see Th' Legendary Shack Shakers at the Camel Headquarters (I think) and though I'm not their biggest fan they always put on a high energy roots-punk show and between the fact that Duane Dennison (Jesus Lizard) plays guitar and their frontman the Colonel is bat-sh*t crazy how can you go wrong? The biggest mis-step of the whole trip came when we decided to watch Austin band Lions play on some backyard stage in an alley we were riding down. Left after the first song....like the worst parts of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden 20 years too late. Yuck!!! (We also saw 2 seconds of the Gwar show as well as Andrew W.K. over the fence while riding by....Can't believe either one of them is still at it.)

Ate lots of great street vendor food (esp. the Brats!) and ended up back at Beerland for the Cheap Time who I'd been hearing about for so long that they fell slightly-below the hype. Solid Power-poppish 70s punk 3 piece action though! Thomas Function was up next and surpassed the hype with their 3-piece fragmented pop (or something). I'm buying their records asap! Destruction Unit was up next and they appear to be some some of post-apocalyptic super group of sorts with Ryan Wong (Tokyo Electron and many others) on vocals. A bit chaotic for my tastes at this point in history but in the right setting they could change your life. Thee Oh Sees were the obvious choice to close out the show (and my SXSW as well as theirs) as they are pretty hard to beat as far as live acts (hell even records) are concerned currently. It was also a nice change of pace that they set-up on the floor for maximum close-range viewing/audience partcipation. THEY ROCKED!!! 2nd time and hopefully not my last to see them...(That's them down there)
In goofy celeb-sighting news we spotted Thrasher Magazine editor Jake Phelps (he was kinda dissappointing) in line at Beerland and Fat Mike (NoFx) and Andrew W.K. inside (the who cares twins), and ran into the Sons of Hercules at Casino El Camino. I could have met Bill Murray at my friend Mandon's show (Lil Cap'n Travis) but as usual there was too much too see and do for one weekend and I think everyone else already hung out with him there anyway. See him telling Mandon a secret below...

(Mediocre and late review I know but who's gonna read this crap anyway? All photos by Matt Powers except for the Bill Murray pic...probably by someone in Lil Cap'n Travis)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Last Bipolar Express show for a bit this Saturday...

This Saturday (2/27) the BPE will make it's Oak Cliff debut at the ultra-cozy Tradewinds Social Club and we're pretty excited about it. This will be our last show for a little while as we're taking some time off to focus on recording some songs which will make up a 7-inch single (at least!). And then later we'll be invading the State Capital to aid in their efforts to "Keep Austin Weird" (sorry!)when we play the Scoot Inn on April 17th with Scrabble Robot, and Black Panda....This will be one for the history books, folks!!!