Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mutiny Because of the Bounty: The Cobra Effect

Today as I was driving I began listening to some of my favorite podcasts. I came across one of the Freakonomics Radio podcasts that I found very interesting. It was the episode concerning "The Cobra Effect". I want to relay the general version of the story below but I also don't want to be completely ripping off the Freakonomics guys because they are great (so you can go here: http://www.freakonomics.com/2012/10/11/the-cobra-effect-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/ for the original podcast that I found so entertaining).

As I have stated before in the blog, I am entertained by the failing of myself and others (for example, here's a post about one of my embarrassing moments: http://ericerdmanmusic.blogspot.com/2012/09/on-other-handthere-humiliation.html )

I guess I find them entertaining not because I believe they should be attempted or anything of the sort. I don't think they have great value in and of themselves. I figure in most of these irreversible embarrassing situations the damage has been done by the time the perpetrator even realizes there is a situation. So I guess at that point I feel like we should study the details of the situation, laugh at the comedically embarrassing elements, then take a life lesson from the aftermath (as to hopefully never repeat the same actions).

The good thing about these embarrassing situations is that they are universal. No one has to feel embarrassed alone, because we have all made glaring embarrassing mistakes at one time or another. Of course each instance has its own ingredients (which also adds to the entertainment value) but they all result in embarrassment for the perpetrator.

Well, now for the bad news. Apparently these embarrassing moments aren't simply limited to individuals. Organizations also make excruciatingly embarrassing decisions. And to take it one step further the organizations and governmental bodies that are specifically designed to fix situations sometimes make the absolute worse mistakes of this kind. I find this type thing riveting, obviously not because I love the outcome, but because I get amazed by how wrong these people and organizations predict a situation. It is like watching a train wreck. Of course it is gnarly and ugly but I can't pry my eyes away.

And that brings us to "The Cobra Effect".

There are tons of examples of "The Cobra Effect". I'll try to briefly describe 2-3, but I believe we should start with the situation that gave "The Cobra Effect" its name.

The term "The Cobra Effect" stems from the time of British rule of colonial India. The British government was concerned about the number of venomous cobra snakes. The government therefore offered a reward for every dead snake. It was told to the citizens that if they killed a snake and brought its skin to the designated area (near town hall) they would receive reward money. Initially this was a successful strategy as large numbers of snakes were killed for the reward. Eventually, however, Indians wised up and began "playing the system". The people around the outskirts of Delhi began to breed cobras. They would then kill the cobras and take the skins to the designated area and collect their reward. 
When this was realized the reward was cancelled. With the rewards no longer available, the cobra breeders immediately had no reason to continue breeding cobras. Once they had no reason to keep breeding the cobras the cobra breeders set the snakes free and the wild cobras consequently multiplied. The apparent solution for the problem made the situation much much worse.

The second example of "The Cobra Effect" causing a bad situation to become extremely worse is in Hanoi during the early 1900's.
During this time Hanoi was under French colonial rule. Well, the French have always been very proud of their lifestyle and they insist on a certain level of elegance. Unfortunately, the model French city they were trying to construct at Hanoi had a sewer system which although high tech for the time, was a breeding ground for rats. The inundation of rats made it hard to keep the French level of elegant society so something had to be done to eradicate the rats.

However the French apparently hadn't heard about the cobra problem in Delhi because the colonial regime basically repeated the error and created a bounty program that paid a reward for each rat killed. To obtain the bounty, people would provide the severed rat tail. Colonial officials, however, began noticing rats in Hanoi with no tails. The Vietnamese rat catchers would capture rats, lop off their tails, and then release them back into the sewers so that they could procreate and produce more rats, thereby increasing the rat catchers' revenue.

In addition to the streets still running rampant with tailless rats and their "soon to be tailless" offspring, there were farms for the creatures springing up around town. Exactly like the Cobras in Delhi, the rats of Hanoi became a way to make money, so the people figured out how to make more rats. This was obviously the exact opposite of the initial intention of the bounty.

I'm sure you are saying , there are thousands of stories of how governments have made mistakes hundreds of years ago. At least we learned from those silly mistakes. Well, one would think.

But in 2007 at Fort Benning in Georgia, the same exact thing happened. This time is was with pigs. 

Fort Benning was simply getting overrun with pigs. The pigs were destroying the lands and needed to be stopped. The attempted solution: bounty on pigs. If anyone killed a pig and brought the tail to the designated area, they got $40. As you would imagine, it didn't take long before there was a racket going on where some of the wiser guys on post would go to surrounding areas, pay local meat processors and butchers a small amount ($3-8 each) for some pig tails, then go trade them in for $40 each. Meanwhile not helping the actual pig infestation at all.

Here's where the Fort Benning pig problem actually qualifies as a "Cobra Effect" problem where the "solution" makes the problem worse: in addition to paying for a lot of tails from pigs that never stepped hoof on Fort Benning, they also allowed the soldiers to take scraps out of the back of the mess hall to bait the hogs. This led to fatter, healthier pigs that produced offspring at a higher rate. So instead of fixing the pig problem at Fort Benning they had actually made it worse. 

The fact that the Fort Benning case was so recent really shocked me. I thought by now we would have learned from our mistakes. 

Although I get a little chuckle thinking about the unstoppable onslaught of too many pigs, I do see where "The Cobra Effect" has had and can have severe detrimental effects on an area or our whole civilization.

For the final example let's leave the animals alone. This example also happened in recent years. And this time it was exacted by the United Nations. I'll directly quote Freakonomics here: 
"United Nations came up with a plan a few years ago to cut down on greenhouse gases. It rewarded companies with carbon credits for disposing of polluting gases, and those credits could be converted into cold, hard cash. Now, the prices were set according to how bad these things were for the environment. And one of the highest prices — one of the highest bounties, really — was for destroying a nasty gas called HFC-23, which is a byproduct of a common coolant. So what happened? Yep — companies began to produce more and more of this coolant in order of destroy more and more of the byproduct waste gas, and collect millions of dollars in the process. The other problem was that the coolant itself was also really bad for the environment."

You can obviously extrapolate from these examples and see how the same ideas/mistakes if repeated could wreak havoc.

They gave a final example of how the Endangered Species list actually qualifies as being a perpetrator of "The Cobra Effect". Basically the Endangered Species List can't just immediately put a creature on the list, there is about a 2 year waiting period (for more research , etc.). The problem here is that, if a land owner, possible developer hears that a certain species Cockatoo that is indigenous to his area may become endangered in 2 years (making his land therefore unable to be developed), he's going to immediate get to deforesting and building in order to beat the Endangered Species List to the punch. But of course surely causing said creature to become even more endangered (or possibly extinct) in the process.

So that's "The Cobra Effect". At first I was getting a good chuckle at the expense of ancient governmental mistakes but then I started realizing that it's still a mistake that is currently being made.

There is no real moral to the story I guess, it just blows my mind that we are still screwing up something that has such a horrible track record. I mean it's like falling for the "Hey, you have something on your shirt" gag for 100 years. Only instead of getting our noses bonked we are destroying significant parts of the planet or tinkering with the ecosystem in highly negative ways.

We all know that if there is a way to "beat the system" there will be folks out there smart enough to figure out how. But it is inexcusable to keep repeating the same error over and over and over. 

So let's collectively agree to not look down when the next bounty/incentive plan comes along and says "Hey, you've got something on your shirt".


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Artist Spotlight: Ben Tanner (of the Alabama Shakes)

Aritst Spotlight: Ben Tanner (of Alabama Shakes)

     During my time in Muscle Shoals I made many great friendship. I know many of them will last for a lifetime. Of all those folks, Ben Tanner has to be among the top of the list. During the time we spent writing and recording at FAME studios, I probably spent the most time with Ben. During the Nostoi sessions and virtually every other thing we recorded while in the Shoals, Ben was some how involved as either an engineer, producer, or just an extra set of qualified ears.

    In addition to being a studio whiz, Ben is a well educated guy whose just a chill guy to hang with. Many nights we would hang at Ricatoni's or Rivertown Coffee and just discuss music, or life, or ....the most absurd things we could ponder. But it was always fun.

   Well being a cool guy and a great engineer/producer isn't the end of young Tanner's list of great attributes. He is also an incredible keyboardist.

    We had Ben play on many of our recordings throughout our time in the Shoals.

   Any time we were in town and saw that Ben would be playing with this group or that group we would go check it out. He never disappointed.

   We all knew Ben was a musical genius and headed toward musical greatness, but we weren't sure which vehicle would take him there. He had played with dozens of cool bands around the Shoals area but for this reason or that reason they would never last for too long. We'd come back from the road and Ben would be playing with a great band. We'd go out of town and come back and Ben would be with a different group. We'd head to Mobile for a week, come back and Ben would be in yet another band. They were always interesting and Ben always added the perfect signature element to the style of the band (regardless of which band). They just had short shelf lives.

    It is for all these reasons that Ben joining the Alabama Shakes and their subsequent rise to world prominance made me ecstatic. This is probably the time when I can most confidently say, "The Good Guy Won. (and continues to win)"

    I have to laugh now when I think about the following story: About 6 months before they began to explode onto the charts, they headed down to Callaghan's in Mobile. Ben called me to see if we were going to be around. Of course as it worked out we were not in town because we were out somewhere playing ourselves. But I told Ben that I was close friends with the owner of the club they were going to play and I would put in a call to him. I made the call to the owner (JT) and asked him to take care of "my people" and be sure to talk to Ben because he was a close friend. Of course JT takes care of all musicians that play his place, but I thought I would warn JT anyway. Besides that's the least I could do to help out my old friend Ben and his latest bad ass band that was struggling to make it.

    Well I laugh now because that may have been the last they ever struggled. It was very very shortly after their Callaghan's performance (which was apparently great. Both JT and Ben called me to tell me they had a phenomenal time) that they were all over every media outlet in the world.

    So last year at the Hangout festival in Gulf Shores I watched Ben (along with the rest of the Alabama Shakes) absolutely rock 40,000 plus people. It was very apparent that they drew as big a crowd as any act at the entire festival (which included Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dave Matthews Band). They were remarkable. It made me proud to watch ANY Alabama based band bring the pain like that, but for it to be a kind, deserving long time friend......well I'm not gonna lie I teared up a little. It was a beautiful moment. (I mean it was 10x more emotional than watching "Rudy").

   Anyway, I hung out with Ben at the Hangout. I got to tell him how proud we all are of him. But I also got to ask him some questions.

    He is amongst my busiest of friends but because he is the most bad ass Ben Tanner, he took time out of his schedule to answer a few questions so I could put them here for your enjoyment.

    If you have been living under a rock and are unaware of the Alabama Shakes, go check them out. And if you see their keyboard player wandering the streets go buy him a drink ( I'll pay ya back).

Here's the interview:
1.- Let me start by saying I'm not sure I've ever been more proud of a friend than I am of you. And being as "the industry" has made horrible decision after horrible decision , seeing you (a highly competent artist and a genuine good soul) be recognized and successful gives me hope for music. Have you crossed paths with other artists that make you feel the same? (meaning: artists who were successful and worthy. Artists whose recent success give you hope for the future of "the industry")   
Thanks so much, Eric.  It gives me hope, too.  I first saw the Shakes (when they were simply "The Shakes") in front of 40 or 50 people, and it was one of the greatest musical moments I've experienced.  But I never thought, "They're gonna be huge", I just thought it was another great band that would probably never be heard as widely as they should be.  So to see them (us) succeed gives me hope, too.

As far as other artists, Bonnie Raitt comes to mind immediately.  We met her briefly on the David Letterman set.  On Thursdays, Letterman tapes a double show; they shoot Thursday's and Friday's shows in one day so they can take Friday off.  We were taping for Thursday, and Bonnie was there for Friday's.  After we played, I went back upstairs to our dressing room, and there was Bonnie Raitt talking to Brittany.  She was just the warmest, coolest, nicest person.  And then she was telling Brittany about this obscure female singer from Louisiana, and she starts singing a line of this song, and it clicked for me: "Oh, that's just your voice.  That's what you actually sound like."  We ran into her again in Nashville at the Americana Music Awards, and she was, again, unbelievably nice and gave a killer performance.  So hers was more a lesson of how to act.  It's like your grandmother always taught you, "Be sweet", no matter how great you (think you) are.

We've also crossed paths with a lot of the folks from that Daptone R&B scene in Brooklyn, and they're really inspiring, too.  Great musicians really committed to writing great songs and coming up with great arrangements.  We did a show with Antibolas in California, and they've got something like 12 guys on stage, but it never feels cluttered, they're all playing off each other and listening to each other.  And that whole scene came from them just making the kind of records they wanted to hear, and it eventually paid off for them, so that's a pretty hopeful story, too.

I could go on and on.  I've been fortunate to meet a lot of really talented and amazing people.

2. The Muscle Shoals area has been churning out great music and musicians for what seems like forever, but I can't help but feel there has been a renaissance there over the last few years. It seems to me like the area is bursting at the seams with talented musicians and writers in a way it hasn't in years (or possibly ever). Do you feel that's an accurate statement? 

It definitely feels like something special to me, and a lot of the older players like David Hood and Spooner Oldham say it's the most talent they've ever seen around here, so I'll take their word for it.  I also think it's only the beginning.  It feels like everyone has a lot of momentum right now.  We're all learning with every record we make, and I think the Shoals is putting out a pretty solid catalog of work right now, and I think we'll continue to challenge ourselves to make better and better records.

3. A lot of musical icons passed away this year. Are there any of our recently departed brethren that hit home with you more than others?
Definitely Levon Helm.  The Band is right up there with The Beatles and The Stones for me, and I had the pleasure of meeting Levon a few years ago.  I was at Bonnaroo with the now defunct Sons of Roswell, and Dylan Leblanc, Jay Burgess and myself were hanging backstage before Levon's set, and Levon was just standing over by himself, so I thought, I have to at least shake the man's hand.  He chatted with us for a minute, and when it came out that we were from Muscle Shoals, he just lit up.  He asked about all the session players from there, and he talked to us like we were his own grandchildren.  He was a really sweet, genuine person.  And then he put on an unbelievable show.  I just read his autobiography, "This Wheel's On Fire".  That's a really great read.

4. You have been touring a bunch. We were recently in Europe at the same time. I was in Belgium and I missed being able to see y'all in Germany and in France by a day each time. If you are anything like me, you discover new favorite spots in Europe everytime you go. Tell me some of your favorite European spots (it could be a venue , a restaurant, a park, whatever). Which European spots make Ben Tanner wish he could stay longer?

I lived in Paris for a little while after college, so I always love going back there.  This summer, we had a couple of days off in Utrecht in the Netherlands, which was a great little city.  Like a smaller, chiller version of Amsterdam.  I had a really nice time in Madrid just wandering around the city, and everything starts later there, which is more like my natural schedule.  We played the Montreux Jazz Festival this year, and we got hang out at the festival founder's chalet up in the Swiss alps.  That was pretty surreal and amazing.  Those are some highlights, but we have a pretty great time everywhere in Europe; Europe has treated us very well.

5. Now for more of the gear geek questions. Do you find that you are more of the "I have to have the new model of the best piece of gear every time it comes out" type guy or are you more of a "tried and true. I've had this keyboard since middle school" type of guy? 

In the studio, I love trying lots of different stuff, and I try to avoid too many formulas or presets. In the keyboard realm, specifically, sometimes a cheap crappy keyboard might have one cool sound on it that works perfectly for something.  But for playing live, I tend to go towards the more stable, versatile stuff.  I've been playing the same Nord Electro 2 for around 6 years now, and it's treated me really well.  For some bands I play with, I'll add a Nord Lead to that setup if I need some more synth-y or noisy sounds.

6. What is you gear setup specifically?

With the Shakes, I have a pretty sweet right now.  They recently bought a road-worthy B3 that has folding legs and fits into a road case.  So I usually have that and a Rhodes and the Nord Electro.  The Electro i normally use for just piano sounds unless the Rhodes is having issues, which happens from time to time.  So with the Shakes, it's a pretty awesome, classic setup, and it's really spoiling me.

7. I know you as a great musician but I also know you as a producer and engineer from the time I spent working with you on Ugli Stick stuff. Are you doing any engineering or producing currently? If not, do you miss it and see yourself getting back into more studio work once you are off the road a little more?

Yeah, I'm still trying to record as much as possible.  Touring so much makes it challenging, but this year, I've stayed really busy with sessions during our breaks from the road.  I've been juggling a lot of records all year, and every time it looks like it's going to slow down, something else comes along.  I had to invest  in a new laptop with Pro Tools installed so I could do at least some work on the road.  Before I got the laptop, it was like, "I'm home for a week and I have 4 different projects to work on, plus I have to do laundry before I leave again."  So the laptop has helped a lot.  Plus, there's so much downtime on the road, it's nice to have something productive to do, I can at least pull up a session and mess around with it.

8.  Give me a brief rundown on what is on slate for you for the remainder of 2012 and the beginning of 2013.

We leave for another European tour on November 1, and we're over there for a few weeks, then we have a couple of weeks off, and then we have a handful of shows in the US at the beginning of December, and then I think we're gonna be off until the end of the year.  In January we're hitting Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, which is insane.  I still haven't wrapped my mind around that.

On the recording front, I just sent off mixes to be mastered for Belle Adair's first LP, and I'm pretty excited about that.  The Bear just finished tracking their new album, and we'll probably start mixing in November and try to put it out sometime in early 2013.  Doc Dailey's new album comes out in a couple of weeks.  I'm mixing a really cool EP for a soul/R&B band from Birmingham called Saint Paul and the Broken Bones right now.  John Paul White has a little guest house behind his house that we're trying to develop into a smaller studio/mix room/writing room.  We just started moving gear in there this week, but we're pretty excited about it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

John Hiatt is Cool

As you get older it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary. Ernest Hemingway

Without heroes, we are all plain people and don't know how far we can go. Bernard Malamud


I've had an exciting week and it just keeps getting better. I have been in Nashville filming a video for my song "I'm Through". My long time friend, Ray Iddings (and his cameraman, Joey), are really working far above and beyond to be sure this turns out great. I have seen some of the raw unedited footage and it's amazing. I can't wait to release it. 
We are hoping to do a couple quicker, less labor intensive videos for "If Alabama Is Not Good Enough For You", and "Bird on A Powerline" today.
Because of this fact this blog post probably won't be too terribly long.
But I wanted to make sure to keep you guys and girls abreast of what's going on. 
During my time in Nashville I have also been able to visit some of my great musician friends. 
Last night I did some recording in Les Hall's studio and then we did a live concert from his studio (via the technological magic that it StageIt.com). After that we went and listened to a little live music courtesy of Les' friend, Larry. Les and I sat in and played a couple each. It was a good time. 
But now I must turn my sights to today and tomorrow.
As I said above, today will be spent filming. I've done a bunch of filming over the years but I can say that this is something altogether different than any of that. This is a professional video shoot with professional film crew and producer. And the difference is apparent.
So in addition to owing Ray big time for helping me make a quality video, I also feel even more endebted to him because he is allowing me to become comfortable in a professional video shoot environnment.  He is giving me a gift (a quality video which will help me in many ways), but he is also helping me attain a new skill. 
For that I can't thank Ray enough.

Well before I headed up to Nashville late Saturday night, I got a phone call about a possible opening gig this Thursday. 
I knew I had video shoot obligations but we were supposed to be done that day anyway. I asked, "Who is the opening gig, opening up FOR?"
I hear, "John Hiatt"
I almost tripped over my tongue trying spit out "Absolutely, Of course, What Do I need to Do?, Hell Yeah, Yes" all at once. 
John Hiatt is an icon.
As most of you know, I not only AM a songwriter, but I am a huge lover of songwriting. If I didn't write songs I feel like I would still study them and admire them for a hobby. Song craft is the art that speaks to me most vividly. I therefore adore it.
And John Hiatt is one of the absolute masters of song craft.
I can't remember when I first heard John Hiatt. It kind of just seems like his songs have always been around. 
As I have grown older and more addicted to song writing, I notice that I admire John more and more. There are many reasons for this.
First and foremost, I love John Hiatt's songs. He is one of the all time best. If you don't have a John Hiatt song you love I believe it is because you haven't heard enough of them. They are remarkably great (and with the quality of songs on his new album he shows no sign of stopping)
I love his songs.
I also love the fact that John is cool. That may be a vague statement, but it carries weight with me. 
I was speaking with Ray yesterday about folks that have this "coolness". People like Billy Gibbons, Mark Knopfler, Sting, ....and John Hiatt.
Of course not all songs created by these artists are great. I know weak songs by each one. HOWEVER I try to listen to everything these artists put out because they just understand...cool.
Another of John's attributes is his ability to remain partially in the shadows (which contributes to his coolness also). I have been a fan of John's for years and yet I still find songs I thought were written by other writers but were actually written by John. 
It was a few years after "Angel Eyes" was a huge hit that I realized it was penned by Hiatt. But my biggest Hiatt surprise was finding out that he wrote "Feels Like Rain". I love Buddy Guy. I have seen him a few times and that was the song that always caught my ear. After hearing it over and over I look it up. Written by John Hiatt.
Another reason I love John Hiatt, is the fact that he is very competent at singing and playing guitar. This allows him to perform with all the celebrities that record and play his songs live. 
And because John has one of the most unique and distinctive voices on Earth, it is always very evident when John Hiatt is on a track.
So to sum it up: John writes amazing tunes (so many that I'm still finding some songs that I have loved for years were unbeknownst to me , written by John), Even on his less than stellar tunes there is a prevalent coolness that makes you dig those too. He has more than enough skill to be the super star front man but tends to be the support for the superstars, when he does take center stage he has such a signature sound that it seems to have come from outer space.

That's a pretty strong resume.
I hadn't put it into these words until now but I can say, "John Hiatt is one of my heroes".
As the Hemingway quote notes, as we get older it gets harder to have heroes. But I can safely say Hiatt is a hero to me.
Everything I have ever hoped to do as a song writer, John has done. 
So it is with this in mind that I anxiously look forward to tomorrow's show. 
Tomorrow night I will not only be honored to share the stage with one of my heroes, but I will be inspired and motivated to push myself even further as a songwriter. 


ALL the show details can be found here:

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

You are Gonna Pull Something If You Don't Stretch

I've been asked a bunch about songwriting. It is a craft I dearly love. I plan on writing a book about it at some point but for now I'm too busy writing songs to write a book.

But as I get started today I am reminded of one element of song writing that many songwriters mistakenly skip. 

And that's the warm up. 

Maybe, I'll just warm up and show ya what I mean.


I have a stack of songs I need to finish. 

Today I am in the right state of mind to make headway. State of mind makes head way. Head way for my mind. What's a head weigh? 8 lbs if it is more fuller than mine. If it's a mine, I've apparently been mind shafted. Can ya dig it? 

But the point is, I feel like writing/righting. And when I'm in this zone , 

I can't just run into running , you see? 
"..one doesn't fly into flying" said Neitzche. 

I like to start with a little linguistic yoga. I like to unscrew the top of my noggin and let the words fall out like cooked noodles. Al dente. 

It's the stretch before the marathon. You know? The marathon of carefully placed thoughts that stretch for 26 smiles and a little more. So this is the stretch before the stretch, that eventually leads to the home stretch. (I know that's stretching it, but I don't wanna pull anything)

So today before any attempt I have at serious artistic thought, I have to get my brain out of gear. So I will kill 2 birds with one stone (NOTE: no animals were harmed in the writing/righting of this blog) and stretch here on my blog. 

You will be my sounding board

Sounding board.

Sounding Bored? 

No. Not all. Writing without rules excites me. I'm only getting started.

Seems like I am getting to the point. 

I can't get to the point when there isn't one. (question: doesn't every sentence that reaches a period get to the point? Well obviously that one didn't, but this one did. After a pause for the comma.)

In this happy place where nothing is wrong, it's simple to begin.

No topic is taboo.

If you want,

Use Bipartisan Political Puppetry, ala Sesame Street residents to make the country's candidates for Presidense 

seem to mock us with an intent that is too bent to make sense ....of.

Oh no I need to wear gloves

So my 9th grade English Tsar/CSI TV star will not see my fingerprints all over the last dense sentence which ended with a preposition. Those are horrible thing to end sentences with. 

I did it again. This time on purpose. Don't tell. 

See? We are pissing off teachers, that means we are using our reachers.

Stretch. this is the stretch remember?

The goal here isn't to reach a destination. Actually it isn't even to move toward it. 

We are simply warming up. This is free form motion of the faculties.

Facul-tease. Stop that. 

Ok. I'm feeling good about the flowetry and prose that arose from me. It was fun but have we begun? I guess, supposedly.


(After I have loosened up by just writing free form silliness and word play like I have above for a while I turn to a slightly more structured writing. This writing should be timed. I'd say somewhere between 5-10 minutes. The purpose of this writing is to be descriptive as possible about a specific singular object. The idea is to tell an engrossing story about the selected object. This story should be succinct and not terribly long,  being as you are only allowing yourself 5-10 minutes to create it. And a great idea is to focus on the senses. Really think about sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. This is objective, creative writing. The act of doing it will greatly benefit the creative process once we reach that phase.)

Let's try it.

Here we go.

Object: Old Muffler in my neighbor's yard

7 min of Writing:

       The pale blue moon light reflects from the fog and almost lights the path to it. Although vegetation has done its best to disguise with years of growth, this is a path I'll never forget. I'm closing in. The last 10 feet. I feel slowly forward. My bare feet grip the damp ground that feels like cotton candy but smells metallic. I inch closer until the moon paints the dim silhouette of the muffler. I can still hear echoes of spark plugs from the car's prime pulsing. I imagine the engine when it was new, throbbing and growling on a night like this. Now the last of the echoes are still trying to reach the cool night air and be heard after all these years. My hands slide along the jagged wreck. This long forgotten coarse piece of chrysler guiding my course. X marks the spot. I get on all fours and begin to dig my hands into the soil beneath the twisted shrapnel. I move forward and feel the roughness scrape my neck to remind me not to raise up. I push my fingers deeper into the ground, pulling out scoop by scoop until I finally reach it. It was still there after.....

The timer went off. My 7 minutes are up. 

The story about the muffler sucks. It's isn't great. I obviously wrote too slowly and thought about it too much because I didn't get to the end. But that isn't the point. The point of this is to exercise writing freely.
And that.......I have done.

So now I am ready to actually take on the righting/writing of a song. 

There are no guarantees that I will create something stellar today, but having done exercises like the one above for years I can tell you that they help. 

It is much easier to write something creative and of quality when your mind has been allowed to warm up.

This may have been a random post and I may have to elaborate on it later, but it has helped me get my mind ready to write. So thank you for being my sounding board. You have helped me get ready to create. 

And hopefully...... maybe .....by seeing the silly, loosening up exercises I use, your creative writing may benefit as well.

Try it. 

Even if you don't want to write a song or poem, it's kind of fun to free form write just as a stress reliever.

So for your own sanity......write. 

Worst case scenario you will feel better. Best case scenario you will feel better AND you will create something you are proud of. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Could You Speak French? I Can't Understand Your English.

I have had the privilege of hanging out in Orange Beach all week with Beverly Jo Scott, Sirius Plan and the Belgian film crew that has been filming a documentary about BJ.

I've known BJ for years. I have hung out with Sirius Plan for most of their visit, And I did interviews with the film crew (well i knew Francoise and Virginie. the guys were new to me. But very nice) during my visit to Belgium earlier this year. So I was basically hanging out all week with my good friends and colleagues. It was great.

In addition to being super nice people, all the folks I talked about above speak French (not surprising since it is their native tongue).

For those of you that don't know I love the French language and enjoy any opportunity to practice. This week provided ample opportunity for that.

I must say Thank you to all my new French teachers for their patience. Im sure it was annoying but they were all so nice and helped me.

But as I hacked my way through French all week, I was reminded of a funny trip from my past.

In 2005 Dale Drinkard Jr , Jay Hines and myself went to France and Italy. During our trip there we had a couple of long train rides.

This train ride was from Florence to Rome. We find our compartment. It is a small room with 3 seats on one wall facing 3 seats on the other wall.

These other 3 seats were filled by the time we arrived.

Upon getting situated we struck up a conversation. After a little engagement we realize that the 3 men are Italian. One speaks English very well, the other two speak Italian only. So its obvious that the bilingual guy will be our Rosetta Stone.

After a little conversation we realize he also speaks French.
As I said above I take any opportunity to try (wretchedly) to speak French. So I began speaking horrible French with the "translator". His face lights up.

He says I can understand when he speaks (pointing at Dale)

He says I can understand when he speaks (pointing at Jay)

But I can't understand unless you speak French.

This made me feel great and bad simultaneously.

On the one hand my French must be ok enough for him to understand because he is insisting I speak only in French for the remainder of the trip. This is a big pat on the back. My French must be better than I thought (NOTE: my French is highly rusty at this point but during the 2005 trip I had practiced a lot and brushed up on a lot of vocabulary and grammar. So it was much better then than it is now. Hopefully my hanging with my Belgian friends in America and in Europe will help me get better at speaking French)

But on the other hand , the Italian man was letting me know that I mumble and under enunciate English so badly that he couldn't understand me. Hahaha wow.

He had unknowingly insulted and complimented me. But since the purpose of language is really just communicating , he was actually trying to facilitate the transferring of information. Which is the goal.

It just made me laugh.

I had been focusing so hard on using the correct words with the correct pronunciation in another language that I lost focus on my own language.

We had an enjoyable trip with the Italians. I wish I had recorded the trip though. It would have been strange to listen to I believe.

Italian from the Italian only speakers to the "Rosetta Stone" guy
English to us.
English from Jay and Dale back to Rosetta Stone guy
French from me back to him.

Repeat for about 2-3 hours.

That trip always pops in my mind when other languages are flying around me (as they were this week). I Unfortunately have let my French slip but I plan to fix that situation and be more proficient by the time I return to Europe.

Luckily my next trip overseas is to Australia. I'm pretty sure I'll be able to understand them. Of course the Italian train scene reminds me that I may want to work on my English before I leave so they can understand me. Hahaha