Friday, September 23, 2011

Songs About People I Love: "(You're Stuck With Me) Forever"


This weekend, my great friend Al is getting married to our new great friend Meghan. Here's a song I wrote and recorded for them because I love them:


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Friday, July 29, 2011

The New Yorker: A Conversation on Technology

The New Yorker: A Conversation on Technology

by Russ Masterson

From The New Yorker’s recent article, The Visionary, about leading technology creator and critic, Jaron Lanier:

Jaron Lanier

Lanier says social sites like Facebook and Twitter dehumanize people and create shallow interactions. He says we maintain an image of ourselves and give interest to other people’s image without real concern for true identity. “It’ll just create a more paranoid society with a fakey-fakey social life — much like what happened in Communist countries, where people had a fake social life that the Stasi could see, and then this underground life,” says Lanier.

Lanier is saying it will only become easier to have two lives: Our online life, one of veneer that creates shallowness and even fear, and our second life, the real one that we let few see. This sort of dichotomy in life and relationships will only create dishonesty and conflict. Yet freedom only comes when we are no longer fearful of being who we are all the time in every place with any person.

This is what I've been trying to articulate (only these guys are much smarter and well, articulate).

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Creating, Hiding, and A Plea for Error

Beginning in January, my band - the Warm Fuzzies - began releasing a song a month. We appropriately called this process "The Fuzz of the Month." 

I've thoroughly enjoyed it. Throughout, we've been recording essentially in real time (meaning that we're always dashing to finish the next month's track before its release date), and we're doing all the tracking in our practice space here in Athens with some mix magic afterwards from Mark Tulk and Joel Hatstat.

Nothing about our recording process is perfect - time, equipment, environment, and experience are not on our side - and there are certainly some moments here and there on these recordings that I wish I could do over. But for the most part, it's been a liberating creative experience simply because our deadline of releasing a new song on the second Tuesday of each month leaves precious little time to sit around and obsess over things too much. By necessity, our attitude is this:  If I didn't get it, well, we didn't get it. There's always next month.

Take last month's track, All Summer Long, for example. While trying to finish up the track in April, I was on deadline for three weeks with various work projects, sick for five days, and traveling around for the the Easter holiday. As such, we hit the first week of May with no vocals done and only one window on the calendar to make it happen. Naturally, that would be the same day that the doom metal band down the hall in a separate practice space would hold a marathon practice. At one point, Laura stood waiting at the mic while I sat perched at the board so that when we heard them stop, I'd hit record and Laura would try to get a take done before they turned up the doom once more. It was not ideal. I wish I could have that one back; we could do it better.

So do it better next time, I tell myself. And I think we did with this month's track

But more to the larger point, I've got to learn to embrace my errors, to let them exist out in the open for all to see. To quit pretending I'm not human. I think this is better than the alternative, which would be to sit at my computer and endlessly polish the tracks until all the errors have been eliminated and the surface becomes as smooth as a mirror. But what would this mirrored surface reflect? Certainly not myself, for I will have waxed all the humanity right off of it.  

Now, maybe I'm wrong (I feel that way any time I write down my opinions). Maybe I'm trying to justify to myself that my lesser-fi recordings are supposed to be this way. But then again, I'm not trying to make mistakes; I'm just attempting to document some sort of authenticity in an increasingly processed reality (setting aside any discussions of what terms like "authenticity" and "reality" mean). I'm also not against using the tools we have. In fact, I've tuned my own vocals here and there during this project, so I'm participating even as I'm railing against the practice. 

The kicker for me, though, is that my attempts to clean up my vocal tracks aren't really that much different to me than the ways we polish our lives online (whether we're talking about Facebook or Second Life or Worlds of Warcraft or whatever), and as creative people, we have to guard against this desire to do this with our art (at least if we want to make great art). 

Culturally, we have become self-aware to a point where we allow our creative process to be affected by our own perception of how our works-in-progress will be received by others at some point in the future. We're making bets on what we think people want from us, and we're trying our best to craft whatever we think that is. We're hedging, but with question marks on both sides. This is fine if you're reducing your work (and by some extension, yourself) to a product or commodity, but less so if your desire is really to make good art. The two aren't mutually exclusive, but nowadays it's easy to be both the artist and the Big Bad A&R man who comes to the studio and tells you to write more hits.

You are your worst critic and your worst enemy. You are trying to stop you from making something great.

And the battle for me is in the minutiae I mentioned earlier. It's the "busyness" problem he have these days where we feel that if we're busy, we must be doing something important. Therefore we must be important. If I never finish my record, then, I'll always have something to feel busy over, something to talk about. I can seem like a really great artist because I seem to care so much, and I never have to actually put something out and risk losing that status. But I am sabotaging myself, and it's really stupid.

Let me say that again. It's really stupid. And why do I do this? So that no one will know the truth that I'm fallible? That sometimes (okay, most times) miss the correct pitch of a note? That I'm capable of sucking every now and then? Good grief.

So don't be stupid. Go make things, especially mistakes.

 Be human, dang it. 

(This was actually supposed to be a simple post about the Fuzz of the Month. I can't do it, people; I just can't do it.)

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"Yeah, but what does this have to do with anything?" Umm...

During lent, I tried to take a bit of a step back from the internet. Some reasons for this were in line with my great friend David's decision to drop social networking for a season; others were not nearly so conceptual (i.e., I'm was either working a lot or watching the NBA playoffs or just being lazy). So if you're one of the dedicated souls who follow this blog, please accept my humble apology. It's not you, it's me.

I've been thinking a lot about the Church, about how sometimes in the body of Christ I can be the "ass," and how I don't normally use such words on my blog. I've been thinking of the imperfect nature of being human, of how two people with hearts inhabited by Jesus can still hurt one another, and of how such hurt doesn't disappear with the stroke of a magic wand. We're all spinning gears in some respect, and when the gears don't mesh, things can get pretty nasty.

It seems that in realizing still more how deeply flawed I am there is a simultaneous realization of just how remarkable this Jesus is. That with every failure, every flaw, every bitter word that comes out of my mouth (not to mention the ones I only mutter in my heart), even moreso have I been made clean by the sacrifice of the Creator of the Universe. That when he thinks of me, he only sees the umblemished me. My head explodes when I think of that, and maybe being "successful" means coming to grips with this reality.

I've been thinking of how "prayer" is probably supposed to be my life's work (while hoping upon hope that setting business cards and invitations is not) and of how the Atlanta Hawks are always - and I mean always - a game of chance. There are no sure bets, save a few.

During these last few weeks, I've also been trying to articulate this thought that's been on the edge of my mind about the value of smallness. We have two existences these days - our actual selves and our constructed selves that we create online - and while one is limited by the constraints of geography and time and responsibilities, the constructed us is this ethereal, "anywhere" us. And I imagine our constructed selves to be a drop of ink in a big glass of water, that we dissipate and spread with the current inside the glass; that we have so little control over it. We think we do - after all, we created it - but do we, really? It is, after all, weightless. And if it carries no weight, then what strength does it possess? What does it matter?

So in music I keep wondering if there's much more weight in not trying to change the world at large, for it's always been a difficult proposition that's recently been made much, much more difficult in scope. How can you possibly reach everyone, everywhere? Is there room for an artist to write songs that are designed to impact the few rather than the masses? Should we, as Christians, be hell-bent on achieving a large audience for our art? Is there equal value in small audiences? What does God think? Does he care how many people heard a song I wrote or is he just happy that I was doing my best to be obedient to the gifts and talents he has given me, according the grace given me?

The constructed me can be anywhere, anytime. I can put my music online, and like ink in a glass pitcher, it can potentially go anywhere, anytime. I think that's great (especially now that I'm not really trying to sell any of it). But that's not the real me. The real me is going to go to one of my part-time jobs here in a couple of hours, and I'm going to set business cards and invitations and type people's resumes and things like that. But while I'm doing this, I will interact with this strange collection of interesting, ecclectic group of co-workers who are very much different from me. Does my online self matter there? Not really. This blog absolutely does not matter there. All my self-satisfying ruminations and attempts at being clever do not translate into the real world around me. They carry no weight. So how can I use the gifts and talents I have been given (and by now, I'm fairly certain the only things I've got are music and visual art. I can also still remember the code to Mike Tyson in Punch-Out, but I don't think that's a spiritual gift) in the real lives of the real people that I'm living my life with?

What the heck am I talking about?  I don't know!

I'm trying to figure that out. I guess I hope that there is a place for music in my life because I'm drifting farther and farther away from the stage lights but am finding that I am more and more inspired to create.

But what, and for whom?  And does it matter?

What do you think?




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Monday, March 07, 2011

Why I Never Get To Watch the PBS News Hour


This is what my house is like at 6pm each day. My wife would like you to know that the house was clean five minutes earlier.

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Friday, March 04, 2011

Just don't wait for a unicorn

While driving recently, Kid Ridiculous dove into one of her extended free-form jams in the back seat. Here's the little bit I was able to type on my phone:

"Just don't wait for a unicorn
If you see one, try to catch up
If you see one, try to catch up
If you see one, try to catch up
Put her in a pillow
Now she can't move"

Please don't tell PETA about this.

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

This is where I came from.

I'm glad my dad took my mom to her prom. I'm glad they fell in love. I'm glad they're still together. I'm really glad they decided to have kids. 

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

So, um, what have you been up to?

I seem to always have a backlog of blog posts on my desktop. Typically, I'll have some thought that I feel needs to be expounded upon and then sent out into the online abyss, some little message in a bottle that I hope at the very least becomes a smallish good thing in someone's day or week or year or life or whatever. But after plowing through 500 words or so, I'm usually convinced that whatever I'm writing is meaningless, that all the post would accomplish would a portrait of a guy who isn't aware of the fact that he's only writing 500 words to himself. Maybe so.

At any rate, I came across this one from this summer, and after reading through it, I thought maybe it wasn't the worst thing ever written. My wife says that we have the same conversation all the time, and while I think she's completely offbase, we've probably had this one (or one very similar) enough times to provide some very convincing evidence should that question ever go to court.

So here's a bunch of words... enjoy!


This evening, someone asked me what I'd been up to; this is a question I dread for a multiple reasons. For one, I never developed the social skill to know whether I'm supposed to actually answer this question (and thus recount the various things I've experienced recently) or shrug and say something like, "Oh, nothing much. You?" After initially going with the the former, over the years I've been groomed to choose the latter for my own emotional safety. But secondly, even if someone genuinely wants to know about my specific comings and goings, I actually have to figure out how to distill all of the little bits and pieces of life into a quick, one-breath answer.

And even on the occasions I have boiled it all down to a sentence or two, I'm never satisfied with my answer.

What have I been up to, you ask?

This morning I hung out with my kids. Before I could even take my first sip of coffee, my daughter began filling me in on my activities for the next few hours. She used phrases like "playing restaurant in the sunroom," "see, I've already got the table set," and "you have to be the teacher when we play school because the teacher needs to be a grown-up."

Later, I dropped the kids off at the Young Life office with their lovely mom, and I went to work at one of my jobs. Today is Monday, so that means I went to Bel-Jean, a locally owned and operated copy shop downtown. I am a typesetter, which means I lay out various things - invitations, business cards, graduation announcements, menus, etc. - but I prefer the term "visual problem solver." It's a more accurate descriptor.

After work, I went home, changed clothes, loaded the rest of the Harwells into the car, and drove to my parents' home a couple of towns over. We left the kids there while Jana and I went to a wonderful engagement party for some wonderful people. I got to see my parents for a second, but that second never seems long enough.

And right now I'm sitting on my living room couch typing this and occasionally glancing up at the preseason football game on television.

Now you see why I hate the "what have you been up to?" question. So much of what I do now is completely ordinary and mundane. But it's not ordinary and mundane. Being a father and spending time with my kids is one of the most exciting things I've ever done. I literally have no idea what will come out of my daughter's mouth at any given moment, but there is at least an 85% chance that it will be absolutely hilarious or mind-blowing.

And while I hope that my typesetting days will one day give way to some work that I find a bit more meaningful, I have absolutely no idea what waits for me when I walk through those Bel-Jean doors. For example, the other day I was asked to add a man to his church's membership directory. This man was listed as "deceased." I added a dead man's contact info to a church directory. A few days later I was asked to remove him from the same directory. I can't even begin to understand this.

Furthermore, in between all of the highlights are all the random thoughts I have about God, music, art, culture, people, love, pride, hope, failure, hopelessness, inadequacy, frustration, and joy. I wonder sometimes why my plans haven't worked out, and I wonder all the more when I consider that in those defeats and shortfalls I have become a much clearer picture of the man I was intended to be. In my three-block walk from Bel-Jean to my car, I often flip-flop seven or eight times on my feelings about the importance of art in culture, art as a cultural influencer, the role of art in the church, and whether or not any of it ever adds up to anything more than chasing the wind.

I think about friends of mine who are trying to have children but can't. I think about friends who are trying to adopt children. I think about one particular friend with cancer and whether he and his wife will get to be parents. I also wonder if the Dawgs have a shot at Florida this year, why Superdrag didn't have more commercial success, and whether or not I would pay to see Weezer play the Blue Album & Pinkerton without Matt playing bass.

What have I been up to? Nothing. And also everything at all. And you?

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Monday, January 31, 2011