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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Why don't we just call ourselves, "The Band You're About To Hear?"

Fair's fair - since Mark went to the effort of making a quiz about me, I've compiled for your quiz-taking pleasure the Mark DeVries challenge. Check the scoreboard to see how your Markish knowledge compares with the masses at large.

And on with the musing...

A week and a half ago (sorry for the anachronistic post) was originally supposed to be a CST concert night, but the show was cancelled when the Uptown Bill's scheduler guy (who, for the record, is both an extremely friendly guy and a tireless champion of live music in Iowa City - I don't mean to say that what happened was anything other than a mistake) realized that he'd booked two acts for the same night. The other act had gotten their contract in before we got ours in, so we were bumped. Not a big deal, I guess - the Uptown Bill's shows are always fun but rarely very well-attended - but it's frustrating. We have enough trouble trying to find places to play without having shows disappear. We'll get rescheduled, I'm sure, and I understand that mistakes happen, but it still sort of eats.

On the upside, though, it left me with a free Saturday night for the first time in quite a while. I got to watch the Cubs get whipped by the Yankees, play through my Storyhill songbook (Mary on the Mountain, after umpteen playings, is starting to fall under the fingers), catch up on some reading, and spend a little time ruminating about CST-ish-ly things.

Matt had some interesting thoughts on his blog about the cancellation. I'll quote the pertinent bits here:

On a completely unrelated note, I was disappointed today to find out that Charlie's and my upcoming show this Saturday night had to be cancelled due to a scheduling conflict. It seems the venue was double-booked, so we were left out in the cold. Ah, well. That sort of thing has happened to us a few times now. It's not the best feeling when we're told, "Yeah, you were on the schedule, but someone else wanted to play that day, so what could we do?" Granted, one of the other times it happened we were bumped for a pretty big name act, so I really couldn't blame the venue. This time, though, not so much. Some band I've never heard of. To be fair, they've likely never heard of Central Standard Time (our band, I mean, not the time zone).

And so it goes with CST. One day we might feel poised to take the music world (or at least the local market) by storm, the next we might feel ready to put away the guitars and sound equipment and call it quits for CST. I don't think we'll do that anytime soon. We do so enjoy performing and playing together, and it's really a pretty easy hobby to keep up, so I guess there's no real reason for us to quit. I certainly don't want to quit. I hope Charlie doesn't want to quit. I hope there are a least a few people out there who would be disappointed if we ever quit.
Matt and I rarely discuss CST in any sort of where-are-we-going-with-this sense. We've exchanged hundreds of e-mails about how to get more shows and about how frustrated we often are with ourselves for not playing more but we very rarely have Where Are We Going With This Band Thing, Anyway? conversations. We both shy away from the tremendous amount of work that would be involved in moving up to the next level - which would be a locally-touring, concert-every-other-week-or-so band. And the level beyond that - a full-time-job, nationally touring band (which is still several steps down from a nationally-known, played-on-the-radio, making-the-band-members-fistfuls-of-cash level) - is basically unworkable. Neither of us can afford to quit our jobs and hope the band starts paying for itself and Matt has quite a bit tying him to the Iowa City area.

So where do we want CST to go? The model, of course, has always been Storyhill (which makes them laugh - "You want to do this?" John said to me when I expressed our dream of being Storyhill II to him. "Man, you seem brighter than that."). I can't speak for Matt - since, as noted above, we haven't really talked about this much - but I would be deliriously happy to be playing Storyhill-type concerts, even if they were only once a month and didn't take us to exotic locales. If people were as interested to hear what we have to say with our music as I am to hear them that would be so incredibly neat that I can't even find words for it. That seems like a lofty goal, though, since Storyhill (who are immensely more talented than we are to start off with) built their fan base with several years of full-time touring, with all the musical solidification and copious new material that comes along with it. CST being almost certain to never be a full-time touring act it's probably best to put thoughts of Storyhill-ic success out of mind.

So where does that leave us? I honestly don't know - like Matt said, sometimes it seems like we're on the verge of taking the local market by storm, sometimes it seems like we might as well stop pretending we deserve to be paid for performing. We've averaged a show a month for the last year and a half, and there's no reason we can't maintain that average pretty much indefinitely. I'd like to (and I'm pretty sure Matt would like to) push beyond that a little and set ourselves up in the local college act circuit and maybe travel out West at least a couple of times, but I've no idea how to take that next step. We experimented with having a friend be a booking agent for a while, and that was going very well until he got tired of it and moved on to things that interested him more (we'd be interested in trying again, if anyone would be interested). We went to NACA and so far haven't had any return on that investment. Once upon a time, we were sure that success was just a matter of waiting for people to start coming to find us. We're past that, but still not sure how to get to a point where venues will start calling or booking right away because they know people will come out to hear us.

You need to approach the task of self-promotion as a musician with a fair amount of hubris, and that's hard for Matt and me both. While still disciplining yourself to refine your product and continue producing new songs, you need to approach concerts and booking contacts projecting a "wait'll you hear this!" vibe. Not arrogant, necessarily (at least not in the folk music genre), but confident. As I once described the Storyhill experience, throw the music out at the audience and dare them not to like it. We're getting better at that (we don't apologize to audiences before songs anymore, generally) but it's sort of a Catch-22: confidence both comes from and leads to success.

So where will CST be in five more years? I'd guess probably where we are right now; playing a show a month or so and wishing we were playing more. Maybe (hopefully) that's pessimistic - certainly 'twould be divine to have the band be a significant source of income - but barring significant lifestyle and/or personality changes on Matt's and my part I think CST will probably stay more or less on the plan it's established. On the other hand, to answer your question, Hibsy-Wibsy, I've no plans to quit.

Not so much of a coherent or get-to-a-point-ish blog entry; that's largely because I don't have many clearly organized thoughts on this topic. Anyone with any thoughts and/or expertise on the subject please weigh in - I'd very much like to hear from you. And, again, if the idea of being a booking agent has always appealed, let us know.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


My skills at transitions are pretty anemic on the best of days and tonight I feel particularly mentally listless so I'll fall back on the time-honored Unassociated List Of Hopefully Somewhat Interesting But At The Very Least Space Filling snippets. Cheery-o and whatnot!

Snippets R Us. Coming soon - Meaningless Musings Quote Fun, Part III (or perhaps III)! Since I'm sure I won't post again before Sunday, Happy Father's Day to my dad and any other fathers (or you two fathers-soon-to-be) out there.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

"A kilogram of flesh" sort of breaks up the iambic pentameter, I guess

A couple of quick other-peoples'-blogs related notes before I carry on with the uninteresting substance of this post (this week, a rant!).

Last week I had the interesting new experience of having mine be someone's blog of the day. Bill found my blog searching for the Peanuts strip I used in last month's the comic strip nameaquote game and dropped me an e-mail. Fascinating, entertaining guy and his is a fascinating, entertaining blog (linked over on the bloglist on the right). He's a church musician (check out his website - I'd love to put together a group like Fly By Light someday), a fellow adult ADD-ian, and his kids must have scriptwriters working for them. Spend some time perusing the archives on his site - very much worth your time.

In other blog-ish news, tomorrow will mark the unveiling of Jesse Klosterboer's new blog, which will be focused on discussing the sort of fundamental life issues that his mind gravitates towards like no one else I've ever met. Sounds like it will be a very cool format - Jesse will lay out his thoughts and feelings about the issue du jour and then (in theory, at least) the comments will be a lively discussion and everyone will end up having learned something new and having been exposed to new thoughts and viewpoints and generally better people. I'll add a URL to my URList as soon as Jesse sends me one.

And on to the rambling nonsense - this week, Meaningless Musings takes on the metric system!

I was first introduced to the idea that the metric system is fundamentally better than the Old English system (the one we generally use now - feet and ounces and quarts and miles and whatnot (it's also commonly called just the English system, but to avoid sounding like I'm talking about how they measure things in Britain (which, to make things more confusing, I sort of am - but they have their own super-quirky system with stone and crumpets and things) I'll use the longer name)) in sixth grade. Miss Koshatka was talking to our science class (I don't believe it was anything fancier than just "science." Maybe General Science or Really, Really Basic Science or something. We were just sixth graders, after all, and not sixth graders in a world-class school district by any means) and she explained to us how horribly backwards and wrong the U.S. was to not yet have switched over to the metric system. All of Europe uses the metric system! she told us. It's so much better! It's easier! It's more fun! It goes with any color pants! We must must MUST all start using the metric system and we must do so NOW or we might as well just let the Enemy march right in!

Obviously I exaggerate a little, but the basic idea that we were somehow functionally lacking as a nation because of our choice of measuring systems really hit me. Wow, I thought, I hadn't realized I was doing anything wrong. So for the next few weeks I dutifully learned about grams and kilograms and meters and liters and corrected my parents when they used Old English units and generally tried to be a good little 11-year-old citizen.

Over the rest of my academic life I've heard the same spiel again and again, albeit never again with nearly as much political rhetoric: the Old English system is fundamentally inferior to the metric system. The U.S. is doing itself a disservice by stubbornly resisting change, but certainly the day is just around the corner when we'll open our collective eyes and beat our yardsticks into plowshares and join the global community. I really don't think I've ever had a science teacher since Miss Koshatka fail to make some variant on that speech, and every time I hear it I think it's more ridiculous than the time before. Let's examine some of the arguments for metricizing, what say?

The main argument (indeed, I don't think I've ever heard the "We suck 'cause we're not with the times, measuring-stuff-wise" argument made without this point being front and center) is that unit conversion is very easy with the metric system. 1000 meters in a kilometer makes it very easy to determine that there are 3879.24 meters in 3.87924 kilometers, or - if you really want to have some fun - 387,924 centimeters! 30 milliliters is 0.03 liters - or 30 cubic centimeters! One minute is... well, still 60 seconds. They didn't mess with that.

Being the good little sheep (na-na na-na na-na-na-na - Leader!) that I was, it took me years to question the intrinsic value of those easy conversions, but once I started thinking about it, I realized that I was often having a strong "who cares?" reaction. 1.7 kilometers is 1700 meters? Who cares? I can't think of a single thing that I would ordinarily measure in kilometers but need to also know in meters, or vice-versa. The two units are used in totally different reference frames - it's 160 kilometers to Waverly, she's 1.8 meters tall. Easy though it is to convert in my head and say it's 160,000 meters to Waverly and she's .0018 kilometers tall, those numbers are meaningless unless they're converted back. In fact, I think the metric system suffers from not having a sub-meter unit bigger than the centimeter (indeed, I wonder why the decimeter isn't ever used for just that reason). Feet and yards are both in that convenient Gets Used Every Day range where even though the conversion is a mentally taxing three feet to a yard they're still both useful. More so than, say, the easily-converted-betwixt nano- and micrometer.

Same thing with weights. 1000 grams in a kilogram? Great! Who cares? Things are either grams or kilograms; it's nifty but not useful that the conversion's easy. Liquid measure is sort of muddled since the soda companies have familiarized us with liters (trying, no doubt, to save us from intellectual Purgatory. Bless them), but again I'm not convinced that the cup-pint-quart-gallon system is worse than the milliter-liter one. Just like with feet and yards, allowing a measure to be twice another instead of a thousand times more than another creates several units all within a practical, useable range. I am sort of surprised that gasoline companies haven't figured out yet that people would probably think gas at 90 cents a liter was a steal, though.

My favorite, though, is the Old English vs. metric temperature comparison. With temperature the metric system loses its ace - there aren't kiloCentigrade degrees (I guess those'd be 1000 degrees, though) - and so to maintain the moral high ground the boiling and freezing points of water ("Boiling and freezing points at STP," it was once explained to me by a high school science teacher, which made me sad for us as a society but was pretty funny) were set at zero and 100 degrees. This, of course, is the only logical way to set those numbers. Two of my science professors (one at Wartburg, one at Kirkwood) have waxed rhapsodic on this emminently logical choice. How Herr Fahrenheit must be rolling in his grave to think that his temperature system has random numbers like 32 and 212 as the state-changing points for water!

Good grief. And also who cares?

The freezing point of water is absolutely an important temperature in daily life - at least in daily winter life up here in the Midwest. But I don't know of anyone who had trouble as a child remembering that 32 degrees is where water freezes. I'd wager that anyone who did would probably have trouble remembering zero as a freezing point, too. The boiling point of water is important in various culinary arts like making raman noodles or macaroni and cheese, to be sure, but it certainly isn't something one needs to know the temperature for. I've never used a cooking thermometer when boiling water; I put some water in a pot and put the pot on a stove and when it's no longer Not Boiling Yet then I assume that it's boiling. Couldn't care less whether that happens at 100 degrees or 212 degrees. I think there is logic in the Kelvin system - setting absolute zero as the zero point - but absolute-zero-like temperatures being pretty much exclusively the realm of research facilities and Eau Claire, Wisconsin it's an impractical system for most of us.

I'll concede that zero and 100 are handy reference point temperatures, but I think that's just another argument for the Fahrenheit system. Zero degrees Fahrenheit is a reasonable cutoff temperature between tolerable and really freaking cold. Zero degrees Centigrade is just freezing - chilly, to be sure, but not necessarily even heavy coat weather (at least here in Iowa). Zero degrees Fahrenheit and temperatures below are temperatures not to be trifled with. On the other end, 100 degrees Centigrade is far past lethally warm; it's a useless number for daily use. 100 Fahrenheit is the high-end cutoff between tolerable and intolerable. So without meaning disrepect to my learned professors, I'd argue that setting zero and 100 at the endpoints of tolerable functioning temperatures makes more sense than setting them at the freezing and boiling points of water. Let the water molecules use Centigrade in their little water molecule communities.

Obviously, I don't want to hold us back from achieving intellectual glory, but I'm unconvinced that being able to quickly calculate how many dimes could be laid on end between here and Chicago is the key to clearing the path. Next time you hear the We're Hopelessly Behind The Rest Of The World speech, roll your eyes at the speaker for me, okay?

I hope I didn't steal Jesse's first idea for a significant concept for discussion with this post...

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Last night I got to hear my mother sing again

(Apologies to Janis Ian for the post title.)

Last night at S.T. Morrison Park in Coralville Dave and Bette Rod performed in concert for the first time in five years. 'Twas a wonderful show; they played music by artists ranging from Gershwin to Storyhill and played it with the polish and relaxed ease that 34 years of singing together brings. The crowd - which was just Laurel and me at first - steadily grew and it was great fun for me to watch people who knew them from work stunned at this new side of them. A great show on its own merits, no question about it.

For me, personally, though, it was even more - it took me back to listening to those songs ring through the house when I was a little kid, to the times I saw them play at church and at coffeehouses, to how exciting it was for me when I was finally able to sit and play along with them. And therefore it took me back to the sandbox in the backyard at 960 Sowell and riding on the tractor with cousin Dwight and croquet in the backyard on S. Kentucky Court and the pool at Heatherwood Valley Apartments and racing up and down the stairs in Chippewa Falls and painting flats on the stage in Wupperman Theater and recording radio shows in the basement on Keswick Drive and the exciting ambulance ride to the hospital in Des Moines and that weird little pretend oil derrick and a thousand other memories that are so fundamentally part of who I am that I never consciously remember them unless something triggers them. I could barely open my eyes, the air was so thick with memories - but I could surely hear just fine.

On Sunday Matt and I will be sharing the stage with them and that will be fun, too, but what a blessing and treasure it was to spend a couple of hours just listening. Joel, I wish you could have been there, but I'll bet you can still pretty easily close your eyes and call the sounds to mind.

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