Sammy Hagar

So now I’m letting my mind focus on writing music, and that inevitably leads me to think about what other people have already written that I want to aspire to and emulate…and what I don’t. And that obviously starts with Sammy Hagar.

I keep an MP3 CD of all the VH studio albums in the car and generally listen to it in order. In the great Dave/Sammy debate, I don’t really choose sides. I prefer Dave but that doesn’t mean I don’t like Sammy; I’ve seen VH live with both of them now and I enjoyed both. I think Sammy has a more dynamic range, he’s a good performer, “I Can’t Drive 55” is just plain awesome, he’s a straight-shooter in interviews, and he makes the best tequila I’ve ever tasted. Seriously — since my 30th birthday, I have had a bottle of Cabo Wabo blanco in the house at all times. But what the man cannot do is write lyrics.

Sometimes they’re just cliche. Sometimes they’re just…stunning. Let’s start with “Why Can’t This Be Love” from 5150, one of VH’s best albums:

I tell myself, hey only fools rush in
Only time will tell if we stand the test of time.

That’s so dumb it’s smart — practically a Zen koan.

Then there was OU812, which was actually the album that introduced me to the band, featuring such songs as “Black and Blue”:

Slip ‘n slide, push it in
Bitch sure got the rhythm
I’m holding back, oh yeah, I got control
Hooked into her system
Don’t draw the line
Honey I ain’t through with you
The harder the better
Let’s do it ’til we’re black and blue.

Now, thinking about the stuff I want to do, some of it is going to be vulgar. I’m planning on it. I think vulgarity is funny. But that? That’s a single-entendre.

And then, later in the album, I caught “Sucker in a 3 Piece”:

She’s so fine, about a nine on a ten scale
With long legs, straight on up to her lunch pail
Sweet little wishbone, oh yeah, don’t wanna break her in half
Lick up one side and down the other, always make her laugh

Let’s forget for a moment that he’s referencing his own 1976 album title and focus on….um, did he just call a woman’s crotch a “lunch pail”? The rest of the song is mostly less-than-clever plays on the word “sucker.”

I’m not even going to list lyrics from For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, but I will note that it features songs called “Pleasure Dome,” “In ‘N Out,” “Spanked,” and of course, the lead single, “Poundcake,” which is just one of Sammy’s weird analogies for “tasty woman.”

This doesn’t even address his schmaltzy love songs, which are too numerous — and in every sense of the word, too obvious — to mention. His songs just seem to take the easy, vague route. The last track on Sammy’s last VH album is “Feelin'”:

Feelin’, no, I don’t like what I’ve been told I’m feelin’
I’m bleedin’, like no one else will ever know I’m bleedin’
Dealin’, I’m dealin’ with these things I’m feelin’
I’m dreamin’, I’m dreamin’, I’m dreamin’ things that show me what
I’m seein’
Seein’… I’m seein’ things that I don’t know I’m feelin’
I’ve been feelin’, I’m feelin’, I’m feelin’ things that I don’t know
I don’t know, I don’t know what I’m seein’
Hey, I don’t understand

No shit.

And then there’s the he-said/he-said thing about Sammy’s lyrics to “Humans Being” — were they or were they not about tornadoes? — which is rather well chronicled by Guitar World and reprinted here.

Again, I like Sammy. He’s a hell of a performer and I am really looking forward to Chickenfoot. But as a lyricist, I think he’s one of the worst examples out there.

If any of my stuff sounds like Sammy, it will be intentional, and it will be as a joke. I hope,

Finding my other voice

When I was a kid, I grew up listening to the Beatles. My sister Denise, older and wiser, exposed me to a lot of classic rock, but the Beatles were, by far, the toppermost of the poppermost. I found I loved the middle period the most — A Hard Day’s Night and Help! through Sgt. Pepper. When I taught myself to play guitar, it was with a Beatles songbook that I’d found at a neighborhood yard sale. Seven chords unlocked a full third of the Beatles’ entire recorded output — what a thrill! Pete Townshend and Billy Joel offered even more polished songwriting examples; I particularly liked 1982’s The Nylon Curtain, which wears its Beatles influence on its record sleeve. Side dishes of novelty acts like Spike Jones, “Weird Al” Yankovic, and Tom Lehrer (in that order, from grade school through high school) gave my musical outlook a funny spin.

College brought Kat, and Kat brought Barenaked Ladies. This was the first potent mix of my influences — funny pop culture and brilliant pop songcraft. Every time I heard a song like “If I Had $1,000,000” or “Grade 9,” I said “I wish I’d written that.” I didn’t necessarily think I could; I just wished I had. Most people found BNL through “One Week” but I’d been following the band for almost 10 years by that point; that was the least of their accomplishments to me. Meanwhile, I finally got to play live with a band of friends, doing covers at backyard parties.

California brought Andy, who shared my love for the clever pop songwriting in bands like Toy Matinee (another of my sister’s recommendations) and Fountains of Wayne (which I didn’t take to right away, but Andy got immediately). And more and more, I found myself thinking, “God, I wish I could write that.” And I realized I had not only a dusty four-track, but a folder full of half-written songs, half-baked ideas, and half-clever turns of phrase. And there it sat, because I was afraid of it.

Soon it became a question — or rather, an excuse — of gear. “Oh, I can’ t write my own stuff because not only will it suck, but this four-track is nasty! I don’t have a good microphone! I need a mixer! I don’t have a good way to record my guitar!” So I made that last as long as I could, and extended it even further by focusing on Fast Times — a gigging cover band with good shows and enough additional income to feed the gear addiction. As a cover band, FT gave me everything I wanted.

I joined Fast Times to prove to myself that I could do it. I lost confidence in my voice after high school and didn’t get it back until I started screwing around with karaoke. Could I sing in a gigging band? With enough practice and the right people, the answer turned out to be yes. And it turned out to be yes a long time ago. In fact, I left the band about three years ago in a life panic, then came back 10 months later when invited to return. (It got comfortable enough that Jude and I spun off another cover project, Palette-Swap Ninja, which I still find creatively rewarding.) All told it’s been four or five years.

In that time, I’ve heard even more Fountains of Wayne, plus Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, OK Go, Jonathan Coulton…power pop, pop-punk, clever songwriters. More talented people I wanted to be, more inspiring songs I wish I had written. And that includes creative personal friends like Chris Mitra and Joe Iadanza, both of whom I made music with casually and socially, and both of whom sat down and did exactly what I have always wanted — but been too comfortable, distracted, or simply afraid — to do.

So I guess it’s time to try. I’m stepping out of Fast Times because I do not want to be buried with a folder of ideas; I want to be buried with a CD of them. I proved what I set out to prove to myself with FT and I feel like it’s just time to prove something else. As my gaming friends will understand best: I finished the campaign and I got all the Achievements I think I’m going to get. It’s a great game; I just would like to play some other ones now. I’ll let you know when my last full-time gig is, and I’ve been invited to sub with the band when they need a male vocalist, which sounds good to me.

I have a good eight or nine song concepts that are ready to go without even digging through the scraps in the folder; I have all the gear I need (and then some); and now I will have the time — and more importantly, the mental space — to make my own music.

I don’t really care right now if other people like the songs I wind up writing. I just want them to exist.

New drums

After many months of attempting to finish the drum career in Rock Band, I finally did it this weekend, reclaiming a whopping 90 Gamerscore in the process. The problem was Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills” — there was something about that rhythm that utterly baffled me. Turns out I was playing the riff too slowly and my kicks were on the wrong beat. Even when I figured it out, it took me two hours of intense practice and retries to pull it off.

Part of why I decided “that’s it, this ends now” was the arrival this lovely beast last week:

That’s the Ion Drum Rocker for which I sold my acoustic drum kit a few weeks ago. I sold my barely-used Pearl Rhythm Traveler kit with cymbals and a little extra hardware for a very fair $300 — and got what you see here for the exact same amount. (I have a third cymbal coming which was an extra $50).

So far , I love the electronic kit. It came with the Xbox 360 controller brain and it works great in both RB games (and will work in GHWT and Rock Revolution in “five zone compatibility mode” instead of those games’ native six- and seven-zone settings) but I picked up a used Alesis D4 drum brain (another $150) so I can use this as a real electronic drum kit, too. I will need to find a hi-hat pedal somewhere, since the Drum Rocker lacks one. But I will arguably use this more than my “real” drums and I would like to get back into lessons if I can figure out how to make time appear out of thin air.

And thanks to headphones, I can play at similarly low volumes the way I did with the Rhythm Traveler. Or I can, you know, hook it up to my guitar amp. Or…my PA system, if I really hate the neighbors. Luckily, one is a drummer.

At the ren faire

Hit the ren faire today as an anniversary activity. There are a handful of folks you see every year whether they should be there or not.

Pirates. They are the new Scotsmen, now that Braveheart is over. I saw two Jack Sparrows posing for photos together. En garde! Douché!

Goths. Any excuse to wear a corset in public. Enjoy the heat. And daylight, for that matter.

Biker sluts. Any excuse to wear a too-small, ill-fitting leather corset in public — and whatever you do, don’t cover the batwing tattoos. Hint: Fishnets are not period.

Barbarians. Accent on the “bear.” Take natural body hair, augment with more fur, add a (very) few straps of leather, and show off your awesome bod. Even if it’s not awesome. At all.

Cleavage queens. I should enjoy this vulgar display but I don’t. You managed to make your boobs look huge; could you try to make them look attractive, too?

Kids who don’t want to be here. And they don’t want to be dressed up either, but hey, that’s child abuse for you.

That said, we had a wonderful time. Mead, archery, glassblowing…good times.

Lucky 13

On September 9. 1995, the PlayStation was released in the US.

On September 9, 1995, my wife and I were married in a lovely medieval ceremony in the woods of her parents’ farm.

My PlayStation still works just fine after all these years, but I’ve had more fun with the marriage.

Love ya, baby. I’m gonna go make you some pancakes.

A note from your local dictator

Pardon the public service announcement that follows, but I need to do some housekeeping.

This is my website. I will run it as I see fit. I pay the bills; I make the rules. You’re a guest in my house, and if I do not want you here, you are not going to be here. If you believe that everything on the internet is free and you are entitled to access this site or to me as an individual, you are wrong.

The fact that I have a job that puts me, in some small way, in the public eye does not matter. On this site, I am still a private citizen and what I share and how I share it is up to me. (That also means that I retain copyright on my original writings here, and do not grant the permission to have them reproduced.)

I am not a celebrity and you are not entitled to anything. So when I say get the fuck out, you take your fuck and go.

More on review scores

I’ve been thinking lately about game reviewing — again — and despite my snarky take on the review process, I do feel assigning a score to games is the biggest problem. People obsess over that score to the point where they don’t read the review. Half the people complain about the scores, but the other half cannot function without them.

I’ve seen several people suggest that we should just abandon scoring altogether; approach games like an art reviewer, where you simply describe, discuss, and interpret the work. That, as many before me have already said, is part of the difference between game review and game critique. I’d love to write that way; I prefer to write that way. I try to in my existing work.

In other words, I’m working within the system to say what I need to say as well as what I want to say — not to mention what I think needs to be said. Honestly, I think the people who like scores are not the only ones blind to the prose that support them; I think some of the loudest people who dislike scores see a number and immediately discount everything else. Yet if I took away the big number at the end of the review, I think they’d like what they would read. And you know what? I’m okay with taking away the number. If I’m doing my job as a reviewer, you should be able to tell what I thought about the game without the number there anyway, and then figure out how it factors into your own opinions and desires.

But there is a reality here: The loudest voices also sometimes have the most restrictions. In this case, I get to write for a print magazine that gets read by hundreds of thousands of people every month, but it comes with a scoring system. OXM is not going to abandon that; the very large bulk of the readers want that scoring system, even if some of them just want to make themselves angry about it. So right now, I can’t change the system; I can work within it, or I can find a new system. And there are not many legitimate press outlets who do not use a scoring system but do have mass-market penetration and are willing to pay me actual money to cover my rent.

Now, I see things like Top Gear — a show I adore — review cars without scoring them. They give you a complete look at everything each car does right and wrong and proclaim them good or bad, even if that is followed by “but I would not buy one myself” or “and I would buy one anyway because…” I find their reviews educational, informational, human, and entertaining, yet they do not feel burdened by awarding a Ferrari a 7.5 out of 10.

I’m actively seeking the gaming equivalent of that.