How I Allegedly Bit a Man in Gloucestershire
Compulsive oversharing through song.
Here's an mp3 of the cover song I recorded for the first dance at my wedding. (Cue "awwww" sounds.) It's a cover of an incredibly cheesy old pop song from the 70s. I decided this song was only so cheesy because of the out dated production and arrangement, but that if delivered more understated, without the syrupy guitar lead part, it could be quite moving. I also changed around the lyrics a little bit, just a little. Song is originally by Johnny Rivers. I think I used to hear it on AM radio growing up. Key line for me is "no one else in the whole wide world." That's what makes this song work! Song lyrics are so compact, you have to convey something in just a few words. It's a perfect line for conveying getting lost in the moment. Anyway, weddings are romantic affairs and we were already self aware enough to use a Magnetic Fields song during our ceremony, so I went for earnest for the first dance. Enjoy!
In 2010 my friend Arun published a card game called Healing Blade, a game of infectious diseases battling against antibiotics, with all the characters depicted in a fantasy style. The dreaded Methicillin-Resistant-Staphylococcus-Aureus, or MRSA, is an evil dragon. Antibiotics like Penicillin or Ceftriaxone are humanoid warriors, forces of good, wielding weapons and armor. I got involved with playtesting the game and discussing possible changes for the ruleset and got totally hooked - and learned a lot about antibiotics and bacteria along the way.
I'm excited to announce that Wulven Studios, the makers of Shadow Era, have completed a version for iPad. It's only $3.99, check it out, it's a cool concept! And If you buy it, please write a review! Educational games like this can develop and improve through subsequent versions, but we need a community to gather and start dreaming up improvements and show us that there is interest in what we've made and also what it could become.
New Video by Mike Cantor for the song Freckle, not available on any albums. Recently debuted at Scary Cow in San Francisco, it won a Members Award, the Judges Award, as well as Best Visual Effects and Best Art Direction.
Music is only one of my passions. I'm also obsessed with gaming, and particularly obsessed with gaming as a way to make learning about science fun and fascinating. So I am quite excited to report that I've joined a project to design games and study aids about science and medicine. We call ourselves Nerdcore Learning. More on that to come when I beg you all to help with beta testing.
But you all are owed a free mp3! How about a a song about girl parts? That sounds lovely.
This is not safe for work.
Listen to Munching the Cooch
This song goes way back, more than ten years ago. A friend of mine thought this was a hilarious unsexy term for a sex act, and she wanted to turn it into a full song. We tossed off this song mostly as a joke, although we added a bridge that had a feminist rant about the dominance of blow-job memes in popular culture. We wanted to create a story where a guy had to work his way up the corporate ladder by going down on powerful ladies... you know, to switch up the meme. Because we're all riot grrl and shit. Okay, maybe I don't get riot grrl membership just because I helped write a dumb song about cunning linguists.
Credit goes to Dan Cantor at Notable studio for taking this song seriously and bringing in some stellar musicians to make it into a big band number. Most of those guys were amused to work on the song, but our pianist expressed some conflicts about having his real name listed... he was worried what his Mom might think! (I doubt his Mom is reading this blog, but stranger things have happened.)
When I was on tour I came up with the idea of making laminated signs so that I could prompt the crowd to shout out lines in the song. I was performing in Albany, NY and I asked for a crowd volunteer to hold up the signs. The first person's hand who shot up was someone who had just performed previously with her teenage daughter. Ummm.. awkward. Well, we're in the arts, we're not squeamish. And soon there she was, keeping her part of the bargain, instructing her own teenage daughter with laminated signs to shout out things like "flipping the girl switch!!!!" Maybe that violates part of the incest taboo, I don't know. Next time I'll try to be more careful.
The best compliment I ever received for this song was from some Frontalot fans in Texas. The wife of a couple came up to me before a show and told me, ecstatically, "before he started listening to your song he never used to go down on me. Now he does it all the time!" Lookout Dan Savage! There's a new sex therapist in the house.
With tales of economic hardship in the news everyday, we can all use a little escape. So I'm taking you all with me, on a private charter! We'll tour the world, see all the sights, and get naked and rowdy at 30,000 feet, whaddya say?
listen to Private Jet
I wrote this song as an impromptu present for my friend Stephanie, who co-wrote Ashes and Stains with me. It was almost Easter, thus I added a nonsequitur about Christ. I like the idea that maybe Christ came back because he felt he just didn't get the perks he felt he deserved in his first life. He was like, "That's it? No private jet? No expense account? Fuck that noise, I'm reincarnating as a CEO." (Ever the visionary, he was just too many centuries ahead of his times. Now the Pope gets all that and more.) On rewrites I switched it to being about Christmas because the concept wasn't landing right, maybe because the first thing that pops into people's heads when you talk about Easter is eggs and bunnies. Really, that whole last part just does not follow the narrative of the first part of the song, it's just lazy-puss songwriting, it basically hijacks the last verse and steers it in a different direction. But get it? The song about an airplane gets hijacked. So layered. So deep. Anyway, this is my "If I Had a Million Dollars."
The song was recorded at Dan Cantor's studio (Notable, in Watertown, MA) and just came together pretty effortlessly. Dan played the drums. When I was on tour with Frontalot last year, I kept trying to get Ken Flagg to sing harmony with me on this, but he didn't want to memorize all the words, the lazy-puss!
Game of Thrones Season 2 is premiering tonight so I thought it would be a good time to share my medieval rock ballad, The Queen and the Potter.
I recorded this song during sessions for Underhill Downs, but decided it didn't fit on that album, which had a pretty serious tone. When I decided to make a more lighthearted record, this song got it's chance.
The concept of the song is that a prisoner is singing it moments before his execution, explaining how he ended up in his predicament: he got caught fooling around with the Queen. This coquette of a Queen apparently just started flirting with him and started taking his clothes off, what's a lowly potter to do? It's all very unfair. And yes, now he will pay with his life. But you know what, it was awesome! I mean, at least let the guy brag before he gets executed.
The guillotine sound comes from a great web resource called freesoundproject. The rest of the sound effects were constructed by Mark Alan Miller at Slaughterhouse. That was a fun day, made me wish I could do sound design for movies or radiolab. The flute and recorder is played by Matt Steckler. Drums by Greg Thorne. The "classical" guitar is by Rico Marcelli. The whole song began with Rico, he wrote that guitar part and shared it with me when I lived in California. I took it and ran with it. I actually don't know how Rico feels about the final outcome, maybe he was horrified! I played the distorted guitars, and Anand Nayak played the little clean electric parts with delay.
The big chorus is a little dated I suppose. Now that I think of it, a song that probably influenced the chorus of this song is a song from the nineties I used to listen to called The Nurse Who Loved Me. I think Queen and the Potter is hilarious, but nobody else seems to like it as much as I do. Maybe to them it's just dumb. Or maybe I sang it too solemnly and I should've hammed it up more ala Tenacious D. Oh well, comedy is hard.
- April 1, 2012
Here's the song for March:
Several years ago, I was given a free plane ticket to Japan, with not much notice, when my stepmom backed out of a trip but the ticket couldn't be refunded. I accepted, and soon I was walking around Tokyo and Kyoto all by my lonesome, like a Paul Simon song: "He doesn't speak the language. He holds no currency. He is a foreign man." At the tourist sites there were groups of Japanese teenagers on class trips, and some of them thought they recognized me, or maybe they just thought it was a funny joke, I'll never know. When I got asked for my autograph, that really surprised me. See, at that time I had really long blonde hair, and I guess Legends of the Fall had been a big deal in Japan. The song pretty much tells it as it is.
This song is another song from Love Sucks! The Musical, script by Stephen O'Rourke. (We won honorable mention at the NYMF a few years back.) This is a scene showing some 70s punk rockers starting to write sappy music because they're in love, betraying their core musical aesthetic.
(Scene 10. A park bench. JOHNNY and KATE enter. JOHNNY carries an acoustic guitar.)
God, it’s beautiful today. Look at those kids playing.
Hey, look out for those needles.
Thanks. Look, there’s a bench, and no bums are sleeping on it.
Look, I, uh, I have a confession to make.
Well, um, got to promise not tell anyone. Only Sid knows this.
I won’t tell.
Well my real name’s not Johnny. It’s Reginald.
Does this change anything between us?
No! Of course not! You are a Johnny. For real, deep down. I have a confession too. I’m not from Detroit.
I’m from Darien, Connecticut. I didn’t mean to lie, it’s just…
No, it’s OK! I’m not from the Brooklyn. I’m from Greenwich.
Do you think it’s safe for us to be here?
Well, what if someone sees us? I sometimes come here with Patti. And didn’t you say Sid lives around here?
Well, what’s the big deal? We’re not doing anything. We’re just sitting around after breakfast, right?
When’s the last time you had breakfast with a girl you hadn’t slept with the night before?
Well who cares? I mean, I don’t think the rule applies in this case. You’re different. This is different.
I know. I feel the same way. The whole point was to keep away from the assholes that didn’t understand who we are or what we’re about. But these last two weeks have been amazing.
It’s true. You know, I uh, wrote a song for you. I want the band to do it.
You did? Wow. I wrote one about you. I told Patti I was going to bring it to rehearsal today.
Wanna hear it?
Rachel Clift (from the film Mutual Appreciation) sings the part of Kate on this recording. It was only ever supposed to be a demo while working on the play, but I think it turned out great.
Feb 6 2012
Instead of posting a song for January, I thought I'd continue elaborating on some of the lyrics from "Would You Take a Bullet For Me." The lyric "if you got brain damaged in an accident" is about a girl I dated freshman year in high school. After going on several dates, I started falling in love and I guess I started to come on too strong because she broke up with me. I was devastated, as any dumped fourteen year old would be. Then she got in a terrible car accident that left her in a coma. The coma lasted many, many months and I gave up on her chances of returning to consciousness. At first, her closest friends and I would visit the hospital to look at her, but eventually I stopped visiting.
After several months of her coma, I considered her dead and gone. I grieved her death with friends. These were emotions unlike I had ever experienced before. I felt needy. There were lots of hugs. Sometimes her best friend and I would just lie on a couch in each other's arms. That tenderness eventually left me in love with her best friend, who cared for me but also felt pretty mixed up about the situation. I got dumped again. I wrote lots of bad poetry. My parents worried. But eventually I regained my good cheer and moved on. Months passed. In high school so much happens in a month it feels like a novel's worth of intrigue. There were parties, crushes, music jams, outrageous events, hilarious hijinks. Life went on.
Then one day, to everyone's surprise, she woke up from her coma. She had brain damage that affected her motor skills, her ability to talk, her ability to learn, and her memory. She was soon able to communicate using a touch board that resembled a speak and spell. And she would ask about me, ask to see me. It soon became clear that she didn't remember dumping me. She had no memory of the four or five days before the accident.
Visiting her in the hospital was awkward. It should have been a joyous thing, that she was alive and conscious, but the person she had become bared little resemblance to the girl I had dated. Before, she had been very shy. Now, her emotions were childlike and exaggerated. Her face was fallen on one side and her mouth was usually open, drooling. She was disabled now, with only one arm that worked well, and she couldn't control her tongue accurately, so when she talked it was jibberish to me, although the nurse seemed to understand some of what she said. And she was crazy in love with me! She acted like a little girl might act expressing love for Justin Bieber. I would visit her in small groups, usually with other high school friends and some adults and a nurse, and she would type "I love Brandon" into her spelling board and then squeal and giggle while I tried to connect to this person who, in honesty, I hadn't even dated long enough to know very well, and who was now completely different.
I was fourteen and I couldn't handle it. I stopped visiting. Eventually, everyone stopped visiting, except for her best friend, who really stood by her.
I've tried to make excuses for why it is understandable that I wasn't generous enough to continue to be there for her during her recuperation, why I wasn't interested in staying friends with a mentally disabled version of a girl I had once romantically desired, especially cast, as I was, as the fictional boyfriend. But truth is, I still feel guilty about it. I wish that I had possessed enough empathy to play that role and support her as she tried to recover. Instead, life returned to normal for me, and the rest of high school was pretty damn fun. It never returned to normal for her.
PART ONE: (more to come...)
Once, back in high school, I almost watched my best friend get his brains bashed in.
I was walking with a bunch of friends, I think it was maybe four guys and two girls. We were wandering through a neighborhood none of us lived in, heading to the Mississippi River. I was really into Dungeons and Dragons type fantasy stuff all through childhood, and at some point I found a big 8 foot stick (a bo-staff!) and was twirling it over my head like I was a fighter/wizard. We were all sort of geeky, but some of the other guys were on this Anarchy! Punk Rock! kick, so they were dressed in combat boots and ratty clothes. Gabe was dressed up like Robert Smith from the Cure, I think it took him a half hour to leave the house, he was in a black trench coat with combat boots, and a wide, flat-rimmed black hat (kind of a Goth thing at the time) and he had lipstick on. Imagine Napolean Dynamite, John Cusack from Say Anything, Robert Smith and Jello Biafra hanging out and pretending to have swords.
Now picture us, a gang of misfits, cresting this hill, with our funny walks, and me swinging this enormous bo-staff ungracefully around my head. And at the bottom of the hill is a neighborhood baseball diamond with a game in play, high school age kids.
The game actually came to an abrupt stop when the athletes saw us, because they couldn't help themselves. We were irresistable targets for ridicule. And the insults began to fly. Some of them actually started to hurl rocks.
We reached the side of the diamond and began walking past. My response was to stop twirling and just become small and not say anything and hope I survived. Gabe, however, was into this whole punk rock confrontative thing, and suddenly yells out, in a British accent a la Sid Vicious, "Fuck Yeeooooooouuuuu" and gives them the finger.
Now it only seemed fair that we should be able to hurl obscenities back, but for some reason this broke the rules of engagement or something, and in my recollection, time suddenly slowed down as I noticed that both baseball teams were suddenly sprinting towards us with faces full of rage. Surprised, we just sort of stood there, and soon we were surrounded. The ringleader of the aggression had a metal bat in his hand, and started pushing Gabe around. He knocked off Gabe's hat with one hand, and then pushed his head down, knocking him to the ground and chipping his tooth. The circle of athletes jeered and laughed but the ringleader was seriously enraged, his face was red, and he was scary as hell holding a bat in one hand.
He raised the bat. Gabe stood up, not saying anything. The ringleader prepared to swing. A cool icy fear tingled through me as I realized I was completely powerless to help and we were terribly outnumbered.
Fortunately nothing terrible happened. Some of the ringleader's friends, grasping the seriousness of the situation, grabbed the bat right as he was about to swing, and intervened, with a chorus of whoa, take it easies, and the circle of onlookers closed around the enraged guy, and allowed us to slip away unharmed, hearts racing.
And that's when I learned that, if I ever found myself in a brawl, faced with the choice to defend my friends, take some hits, stick up for my tribe and whatnot, or do nothing, I would stand right there along side my friends... and, um... do nothing.
Downloadable version (right click)
I wrote this song for my friend Kate's 28th birthday. At the time, she was finishing law school, with an interest in making the world a better place, a disposition for which she was ridiculed by many of the other law students, who called her a "do-gooder" and laughed about how it was better to just use the law to get rich, especially in light of the debt they were all accumulating. I didn't have a present for her, so I whipped this song up at the last minute on the train. Later, I brought the song to Dan Cantor and he got some of his friends to come in and play some jazz licks over the track. I was always fond of the Inevitable Squirrel Nut Zippers, the Asylum Street Spankers, Brian Setzer, and the Wiyos, and all those other retro self-aware bands that staged a swing revival about a decade ago. Feel free to sing this song to any Kates or Nates you know who are turning 8, or 28, or 38, or maybe a Bree (Whoopee!) who's turning 23 or 33, or a Christine who's turning 13-19 (Have you seen Christine? I hear she's turning 17). You'll have to probably rewrite the law school part.
Listen to Kate, That's Great
Nov. 1 2011
The Southeast U.S. Frontalot tour kicks off in Austin TX on October 21st. Dates: here.
In honor of my favorite bald rapper, I bring you my version of Indier Than Thou.
Showed this at the Paramount Theater in Seattle after the MC Frontalot show. Definitely not safe for work: Here's the MP3 if you'd like just the audio.
The new album is here! And ready for your consumption. I'll be posting one song from the album every month until I run out and need to write new songs again. But, gentle reader, thou art no cheapskate! I am certain you will take personal pride in voluntarily purchasing your very own hard copy or digital download in the store.
For this month I bring you the last song on the album, the song that shares the album's title:
The song tells the true story of how I got into life threatening mischief one drunken evening in the UK. At least, I believe it's a true story. The details are all from eyewitness reports. I don't remember a thing.
Some of you know that I played bass for Futureboy in the UK, so let me clear up any confusion. The events in this song happened long before that, on a different trip. It was all because of Joe Bennett, one half of the brother duo that created the Truck Music Festival. I chronicled our fateful meeting in an earlier entry about his violin playing. That entry includes more true stories about devastating floods, and naked bathtub a capella. It was a special trip.
In this song I also mention a different song by Danny Wilson that gets me all wound up and drives me to drink. That song can be found here. Great tune.
How I Allegedly Bit a Man in Gloucestershire was performed live at Genghis Cohen in Los Angeles as part of Jukebox Stories. The sound guy gave me a mixdown to a stereo file. Later, when I started to record the album, I couldn't capture the vibe of it without a real audience. I didn't know what to do. This recording is the odd solution I came up with. The stereo file of the live performance was... okayyy, but I kept wandering off the microphone when I was singing, and the guitar was really thin sounding because it was recorded through the bridge pickup rather than miked. Also, the levels were inconsistent, and there was drum machine all over everything, mixed too loud. My solution? I doubled the entire vocal, trying to learn the exact phrasing of the original. I also did this with the guitar part. The resulting mix has doubled vocal and doubled guitar. It's a strange effect, but trust me, the other version was unuseable. I like to pretend that it's some weird ambience in the room. A couple friends asked me to turn down the chorus fx on the guitar when they heard the mix, but surprise! That's no fx plugin. It's just my attempt to make a bad live recording listenable. Still, if you can get used to it, the song comes across, and there really was some magic that night with the audience. The kind of magic you can't recreate.
I can't wait to share the rest of the songs on this album with you. They are not live recordings (except for Ketchup and Mayo, already posted previously). They sound frikkin awesome, like sharks with frikkin laser beams.
ALSO! I am going on tour, look out world. Aug 12 - Nov. 12, doing an opening set for MC Frontalot. Dates, times: here. (I'm not on the UK shows. Playing bass for Jonathan Coulton then.)
Aug. 7th, 2011
After visiting Prince in L.A. and then watching Pork Chop's latest video go viral, I had to add my own contribution. So I watched every episode of "Weighing Pork Chop" on YouTube and put together a little tribute to the world's most adorable (and tolerant)
19 pound cat. I also stumbled on hundreds of other cat videos of course. Man, there are a lot of cat videos. I can only hope that, someday, this song gets ranked just under "Cat People" by Shaffer the Dark Lord in some top ten list for songs about cats.
And here's the link for just the song audio:
Walking For Kisses mp3
July 25, 2011
Prince Gomolvilas, the storytelling half of Jukebox Stories, lives with a cat that is blowing up on the internet. This video of "Pork Chop" doing a little ritual called "Walking For Kisses" has been carried by the Huffington Post and AOL's front page. But the true genius of this piece was the camera man (ahem - that was me.) Over 150,000 views as of mid July! You go, Pork Chop. Get your 15 minutes.
July 14, 2011
Many years ago, when I lived in California, my girlfriend at the time got a job offer in New York City to work for a TV show. But accepting the offer meant she had to move to New York City almost immediately. For me, it was as if she had been living with me and then suddenly disappeared.
Listen to: My Girlfriend Was Kidnapped by Aliens.
Living in New York City is a bit of an adjustment when you are used to wide open spaces, laid back, friendly people, and nude hot tubbing. Parking your car, for instance, can be a real trial. I could've written a whole 'nother song called My Automobile Got Abducted By Aliens.
6 Tips to Protect Your Automobile From Abduction:
1. Never park in the last space before a fire hydrant, there's no way to know if a parking cop will decide you are too close to the hydrant zone.
2. Never park anywhere where there is a pole with no sign on it. Parking cops will fine you based on what the missing sign said.
3. Give special attention to the signs. If there is any possibility that the sign has been bent or vandalized, assume that it is pointing in the wrong direction and can't be trusted.
4. If your fancy automatic side mirrors get stolen, replace them with a cheaper, crappier model or they will just get stolen again.
5. If you find a rare street in an industrial area that has no street cleaning, don't leave your car there for several weeks unless you want it to get stolen.
6. Do you REALLY need a car in New York City? Probably not.
As you can tell, some of the thinly veiled fictions in this song are based on truth.
June 3, 2011
(art installation by Yayoi Kusama)
A rumination on dots.
How things that are far away become dots, like stars, or people's heads viewed from an airplane. The relativity of observation.
Things we need microscopes to see, or things we can't even really "see" but we know are there. How there are dots where you least expect them.
We connect the dots. When is there ever just one dot? There are many dots. They interact. They merge, they multiply.
Stars collide. Cells divide.
I thought I would write a song about dots, partly inspired by Mike Cantor's Hot Velcro Action videos. But in the end, all this imagery in my head of movement and merging just led me back to love. I was planning to propose to my girlfriend when I wrote this. I started thinking about the two of us as little dots in space trying to find each other. Or the millions of molecules inside us yearning to merge. The dots that are her eyes. (And the dots in her eyes!) And other dots that only I get to see.
Listen to Freckle
(if clicking here doesn't work, right-click to download and listen with your own software)
I recorded it at Notable Studio with Dan Cantor in April and by that time I was fixated on "dive-bomb sounds." (On the demo, I simulated them with my mouth. I sounded like a little kid playing with a toy plane.) I think MIke's falling velcro-dots reminded me a little of the video game Caterpillar, with all those falling bugs leaving behind dots. Dan and I played around with synthesizers and protools plug-ins, but we also had a lucky one-take moment with me playing slide on a bass guitar with distortion, and Dan holding up this adjustable tuner to the bass pickups and rotating a pitch wheel.