Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Dust Mote with a Mohawk

The lights glimmer in the distance, twinklings of civilization on the edge of the city. They're greenish in the fog of memories, while the interstate signs sternly fly by overhead with a cold reality of physics contrasting the What If thoughts, induced by the hum of the wheels and the empty passenger seat so quiet next to me.


  The old man danced with his wife earlier to Nat King Cole.  Three gigs deep and on the road all day, I hyped "Unforgettable", like it needed it, dropped the needle, and almost dropped my mic when I saw him move the oxygen tube out of the way so he could get a picture with her as they danced. "Oh wow, they've been married like fifty years" someone said.  I think it was a staff member of the assisted living facility.  Even my cynical heart was jolted out of it's track of snark.  The mask slipped, and there was a vacuum where there should have been a face, pulling me into vastness of concrete and steel, a night  vast lit by sodium vapor orange and a world so big.  There's the terror of never finding home, and the awe of the void.  

 It's Valentine's Day, and I've been on the mic in more ways than one. I'm telling my audiences what they're listening to, and myself what I'm doing.  I'm the pilot, the DJ, a cool guy with a trendy T shirt, panicked about the numbers, and ignoring the real questions. I'm a dust mote with a Mohawk, floating through the blackness.  I never realized how much that being cynical, lazy with some philosophical thoughts, and fond of  the simple answers was like building a little space ship that I could use to build a tiny world to claim to understand.  

I cannot stop listening to the Poets of the Fall song Rewind.  Dig this line:

If Life itself has a meaning, is it anything more than what we choose to call it.  Sweet words make appealing, but they only serve to mask the smell of what you buried.  

Try that on for size next time you're dreaming on the Interstate.  Who needs audiobooks?






  

The Morning Show: Valentine's Day

The Morning Show is a blog companion to today's podcast audio.

Goood morning, and HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!  Now, this is a complex holiday fo' sho'.  Let's talk about it.  Actually, to quote the crazy preacher in "Oh God" starring George Burns and John Denver..."LOVE!  Let's talk about LOVE!"  

V day, as I like to call it, is typically only good if you're in a happy relationship, which, as we know, is a tiny percentage of the population.  Seems like everyone else hates it, resents it, is inconvenienced by it, grumbles about how much it costs...If you fall into this camp, take solace in the fact that the original St. Valentine got what was coming to him for being so disruptive to the State.  Trouble maker!

However, here's a novel idea, taught to me by my mama.  It's a day to celebrate love of all kinds, be it romantic, platonic, or even just the love of life.  Just as Thanksgiving presents us with the golden-brown baked opportunity of the observance of gratitude, so too does V day with letting people know they matter.  


As one of those little candy hearts would say..."Nifty!"

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Morning Show: Start Today

The Morning Show is a transcript of today's podcast audio as a blog companion.

Welcome to the morning edition of the Signalman show, bringing you a cool idea each weekday!  This week's theme is disproving the Equation that Cool = Money.  That is, attacking the misconception that we need to spend lots to create marvel.  

It's Friday, and today let's talk about something a little different than spending money - let's talk about technique and qualification.  Yesterday we talked about how waiting for fancy gear wasn't required to write that hit song, and today let's continue that thought about how ideas and technique (and qualifications) aren't always related, either.  Technique lets us express an idea.  Qualifications allow us to speak with authority on a subject.  But they are not the idea itself.  Sure, you might have a musical idea after practicing an advanced technique, or an insight while studying for that fancy degree.  But you also might have it walking across the street.  When I was 20, I decided to record a demo CD.  I had been playing professionally, had 40 guitar students a week, and...couldn't write a darn thing.  The development of ideas was a separate skill, far more disconnected to my technique and qualifications than I had realized.  So, don't wait to start thinking up cool things.  Sure, practice, study, get as good as you can, but don't wait to start speaking your mind, and your heart.  Good luck!  I'll be in the front row, listening.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Morning Show: It's Not the Gear


The Morning Show is a transcript of today's podcast audio as a blog companion.

I've been fortunate enough to have been a musician for a little while, and along the way, I've been able to put together a modest collection of gear.  Nothing fancy, but lots of cool stuff to play with.  

 I remember being a teenager with one guitar...a black and white Squier Stratocaster that I treasure to this day. I would read the guitar magazines and catalogs, dreaming about how those fancy guitars on the pages would make me sound so cool, and how this gizmo or that gizmo would be tone heaven.  

 I learned an expensive lesson along the way.  They won't.  

I mean, SURE, my rig today sounds better than it did, but Eddie Van Halen was right - tone comes from your brain and your fingers, not your gear.  It's a lousy feeling to realize that new gear you just bought isn't the answer in itself, just like a new hammer won't make you a brilliant carpenter.  SURE it lets certain things happen, but you need the idea in the first place.  Far better to have the idea without fancy gear than the other way around.  So, while this is aimed at musicians, it applies to any field that you're in.  It's the ideas that are cool, man.  Not just the gear.  So, start rockin' today!  That hit song will sound a hit no matter what you play it on!  

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Morning Show: Broom Guitars

The Morning Show is a transcript of today's podcast audio as a blog companion

I have a lot of guitars, man.  None of them are outrageously priced when compared to other guitars, but compared to a block of wood with strings on it, well…..

Did I ever tell you the story of my broom guitar, though?  We might be friends because of it, actually.  I went to NYC on  my first street music tour with my fancy acoustic guitar, and...nobody noticed me.  There's a million acoustic guitarists in the world, and put next to the statue of liberty on stilts in Times Square, well, BORING!  I went back next year with a cigar box guitar that I had built, and people started to talk to me in the subway, on the street...everywhere.  THEN I made a broomstick into a guitar.  Props to my brothers for making sure it was pure broom, and not a weird guitar hybrid.  I put a guitar string on a broomstick, along with a a tin can, and an electric guitar pickup, and plugged that bad boy in.  Girls even talked to me, man.  I'm such a fan of innovation!  And I think it cost me a whopping nine dollars.  


(And the first broom guitar music video is HERE.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Morning Show: Stomp Fiddles and Building Frogs

Happy Tuesday, and welcome to the morning edition of the Signalman show, bringing you a cool idea each weekday!  Wait...what?  Ladies 'n gents, I've started a podcast!  I do an interview each Monday, and a thought Tuesday through Friday.  Seems cool to have the idea in blog form, too.  So, here goes!

  This week's theme is disproving the Equation that Cool = Money.  That is, debunking the idea that you need to shell out in order to climb up.    I just did a workshop with some 4th graders yesterday.  I stopped by Mrs. Fisher's music class at Matula Elementary in La Plata, MD, and showed the kids how to build stomp fiddles - boards with nails in them, AND WASHERS - nobody was making weapons, I promise.  When you slam the board into the ground, it jingles.  We had a blast.  I bored them on purpose at first, saying "I should like to teach you an economics lesson."  Oh you should have SEEN their faces.  It got better from there.  I asked them how much they thought my guitar rig was that was sitting in front of the class.  A little girl nailed it.  "A thousand dollars!"   "Yes!  We have a winner!"  Then I wrote the equation that cool equals money, and then I crossed out the equals sign.  "A musician needs to get NOTICED, and here's one of the ways I've done that."  I then showed them how to design one, passed out the materials, and went around the room, hammering the nails in for them.  I felt like God must have felt like building frogs...the jingling and stomping grew and grew, until the whole room was armed and dangerous with these things.  Then we sang "Jump around" by House of Pain.  EPIC!  Don't way for a fancy guitar!  Here's the podcast audio:  https://soundcloud.com/thesignalman/the-signalman-show-morning-edition-s1-e7-disproving-the-equationAnd a video of us jamming!  https://www.instagram.com/p/BQOaeQDFo3k/?taken-by=joshurban

Monday, January 9, 2017

In Praise of Here

"THUD."  The ax bounces off the frozen tulip poplar log, sending me off to hunt for a wedge to be a little more persuasive.

  It's a cold, dark January night, and I'm running low on firewood.  "I really should have hustled and ordered those furnace parts already" I think to myself.    It snowed on Saturday, just a magical sugar powder dusting, but it's quite a contrast from the beach pictures on Facebook and Instagram.  Brine coats the cars, and the freeway is salty white here in the DC area.

  I think there's a perception among us "YUCCIES" (Young Urban Creatives as opposed to Young Urban Professionals) that if it gets cold, be it the air or your heart, you pick up and head for the tropics.  Sure, that's awesome, and if you can swing it, take me with you!  For the rest of us splitting firewood in the dark, I'd like to propose a bold new idea, without sounding like a bro country song (again, I'd love to be on a beach right now, so I ain't knocking that, dude!)  Here's the idea:  It's actually pretty cool to be chopping firewood.  It's great to be at work.  The gold can mined in the mire, not just the glamour.

  One time as the train hurtled through a New Jersey evening,  a fascinating gentleman told me that he thinks that there's a lot of joy in the grind, and a "good clean life."  This seems especially relevant at the start of a new year.   Where you are, right now, is where you can begin to build your castle (or simple hut.)  Let that cold air wash over your face, splashing the awareness of life into your startled breath.  Taste the salt that drifts through the wind of the ordinary parking lot, and smirk at the ruffled seagulls as they huff away on indigent yellow feet.  What will you build right here?

Timber!

- Josh