:: dreaming of schemes ::

The musings, politics, frustrations and triumphs of an extrovertedly introverted musician from Philadelphia, PA.

Next shows: Blue Scheme: Wed., November 12 (blue scheme on last), Grape Street Pub [Manayunk], w/Lazlo and Secret Society, 105 Grape St., Philadelphia, $5, 21+, Doors at 9:00 pm
Wed., November 19 (blue scheme on first) Malokai's/Club 218 South [Center City], w/TBA 218 South St., Philadelphia $6, 21+, Doors at 9:00 pm
Fri., November 21 (blue scheme on second) Tokio Ballroom [Center City], w/Wellstar and Heather G 122 Lombard St., Philadelphia $5, 21+. Doors at 8:00 pm
Yellow Brain: Saturday, December 27, Fergie's Pub, 1214 Sansom, Philadelphia, 9:30pm

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April 28, 2003

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:: Friday, May 02, 2003 ::

Here is something you can't understand—how I could just Kikkoman!

On a lighter note, take a look at this Flash movie that, to the best of my knowledge, is about a soy sauce superhero, courtesy Throwing Things. Make sure your sound is up or else you miss out on the best part.

The box of tissues is an interesting touch.

Addenda: With a little bit of poking around, I also discovered a version with English subtitles. This one is full size; this one is smaller. This is even trippier. Watch both of them--the cat suffers a different fate in each. In case you missed the half screen of words that barely gave you a chance to blink at them, they read as follows: "Let us explain. Kikko punch The power of the punch which comes form [sic] Kikkoman's unneccessarily-built body is far more than what you imagine. In addition,since [sic] Kikkoman is always using his gloves for brewingsoysauce,you'd [sic] be itchy when you get punched by him!"
:: Anam 9:42 PM [+] ::

Anyone for a game of Gin Rumsfeld? How about Iraqi Ratscrew?

Ever since Brigadier General Vincent Brooks introduced the deck of cards of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis, spammers have relentlessly assaulted my inbox with offers encouraging me to purchase a deck of my own. Most also warn me not to trust any other offers I might receive, lest I find that what I'm paying for is not the "real deal." Honestly, I'd bet that the quality of one is just as bad as any other, although I don't really care so much since I have no plans to buy one. But it's reminded me how conflicted I've always been with the idea of war as a consumer item, and to a lesser degree, the commodification of misery.

Before you disagree too heartily, I certainly understand and am aware that war has long been a consumer item, floating from the core to the periphery of style, but never completely out of it. The popularity of G.I. Joes—from the little green army men to the Reagan-era action figures with their own cartoon—is certainly testament to that (disclosure: I enjoyed the cartoon, although I still preferred Transformers), not to mention fiction, fashion, video games (remember Rush 'N Attack? Hmmm...I wonder what that was a secret code for.) and film. But with the onset and continued emergence of the Internet and further advances in communications and other technologies, I've started wondering if we'll ever reach a line that we may feel a little unsure about crossing. Certainly a deck of cards is benign, you say. And it may very well be. But I feel that there's something not quite right about mass-producing it—something about it seems to trivialize everything that has been happening with Iraq these days. What if—God forbid—there were 52 known serial killers terrorizing the United States? Would we feel that selling a deck of cards with their pictures is appropriate in order to familiarize the American public with their faces?

I'm not criticizing the original intent of the cards, provided the original intent was to provide them to the soldiers to familiarize themselves with these 55 people and not to start the hottest collectible fad since Beanie Babies. (Sidenote: There are 55 most-wanted people, but since a deck consists of 52 playing cards and two jokers, only the 52 playing cards have names and faces, the two jokers have common Arabic titles and terms, and I believe the other card has the names and titles of the other three individuals, but no faces). And using playing cards in this way does have historical precedent dating back to the Civil War. According to the Kansas City Star, "spotter cards" helped soldiers in the 20th century learn different kinds of enemy aircraft, tanks and other weapons as they sat playing card games. But in today's situation, considering only 200 decks were printed and passed out to unit commanders, it seems unlikely that soldiers will get a chance to study up on the villains du jour while they play Gin Rummy. They did, however, receive photocopies of the Ferocious Fifty-Five arranged like a most-wanted list.

These days, the moment anything happens, we can create a product almost instantly. Well, not instantly, but the cunning entrepreneur could at least start marketing it and taking orders. What a blessing, what a curse. There's nothing wrong with making money, but sometimes it seems like it would be nice for people to step away from the moment and allow the situation to breathe a little.

I was a junior in high school during the first Gulf War, and I remember going with some friends to an army-navy surplus store. A few of them bought some t-shirts with slogans and designs that supported the war. I wasn't vehemently against it, although it still bothered me and I definitely wasn't all for it (although, in retrospect, you could make the argument that this was certainly more justified than the actions against Iraq today) so I found a shirt with a design I liked that seemed neither for nor against the war and I bought it. When I got home, I tried it on and looked in the mirror. I felt ridiculous. The shirt itself equated the war to a rock concert. That's when I started thinking that here I was treating this event—where the lives of many people were at stake—with the same attitude as something I would do on a weekend. I felt as though it didn't treat the situation with the seriousness it deserved. That's not to say that comedy and satire don't have a place in times like then and now. Or that art as a political statement—either for or against war—doesn't have a place. But this felt so flimsy and disposable. People were dying and the most profound thing I could do was get this lousy t-shirt.

More recently, I've felt conflicted about all the 9/11 memorabilia that emerged shortly after that terrible day. I wouldn't ever dare suggest that people shouldn't sell "Never forget 9/11/01" t-shirts, but something about that cheapens it, at least to me. I could certainly understand why someone would want one, especially if the vast majority of the profits went towards the victims' families. But at what point does it descend into the absurd? At what point is it exploitative? "Remember 9/11" buttons? Frisbees? Keychain flashlights? And is it making money at the expense of someone's misery, or is it just providing a service for people who want to express themselves? Is it both? Is it a bad thing?

As for the deck of cards again, The award for card game with the strangest name may go to Egyptian Ratscrew, a fast-paced game where certain situations call for slapping a pile of cards. (I've always wondered how the Egyptians felt about this name, and what sort of intimations the name assumes of Egyptians). I suppose those who want to take out their aggressions on Saddam and his cronies can sit down and play a game of Iraqi Ratscrew with the brand new most-wanted deck, waiting to get their chance to lay a good slap across the smirking mugs of Hussein and his inner circle. But ultimately that has to be cold comfort.

Just ask the Kurds.

:: Anam 5:56 PM [+] ::

:: Thursday, May 01, 2003 ::

Where everybody knows your name—or at least your songs after they've heard them week after week

For some, open mic nights are just ever so slightly higher in the food chain than karaoke nights. Many television shows and movies have done little to nothing to alter the stereotypes and preconceived notions we have of different cultures, ethnicities, religions, genders, sexual orientations—I could easily go on and on. But they've also done little to change the images we have of musical genres and the associations we make toward people involved in them.

If I say Rap, you might think of a black guy, or an entire group of black guys, dressed in whatever sports gear might currently be in vogue (the fact that retro jerseys are so hot in the media right now suggests that they're already, like, so five minutes ago); so much ice hanging from their ears, necks and hands (and Lord knows where else) that chiropractors and back specialists are chasing them down the street; surrounded by scantily clad women that would turn heads even if most of their clothes were still on.

Or if I say Jam Band, maybe you'll think of a bunch of white, greasy pseudo-hippies, hair matted into dreadlocks, who do nothing but get stoned and occasionally pick up instruments and play 58-minute songs to crowds of people who have aversions to soap and water.

Metal? Big or long hair, skin tight pants, silly gimmicks and theatrics, and writing songs that use two chords, one loud and the other louder.

Contemporary R&B? Insipid, synthesized rhythms and instruments providing the background for vocalists who believe that melismatic histrionics is an appropriate substitute to singing.

"Singer/Songwriter"? Vegan chicks with acoustic guitars singing whiny songs about boys, whiny songs about girls, whiny songs about boys and girls, whiny songs about girls and girls, and whiny songs about why her cat is better than any boy could ever be. And the obligatory vibrator reference.

Opera? Figaro, figaro figaro figaro!

Aside from the exaggerations (I doubt you'll find chiropractors chasing rappers, but how about those ambulance-chasing lawyers?), I can't say outright that you'll never find a black rapper wearing platinum chains or that you'll never find a stoned Phish-head who plays to smelly audiences. But it's dangerous and arrogant to take those assumptions and brand them as truth. If we let those associations close our minds and allow us to dismiss certain genres outright, it makes us less able to accept others and their endeavors. Certainly we all have preferences. If one could step into a listening booth outside of time and space just to listen to the entire body of recorded rap music, they may still find nothing that they like. It could be jazz. Or classical. Or industrial. And that's all right. The point is that we should at least make the effort. If you decide that you still don't like it, that's fine. But at least understand that there are others that do and try to be respectful of that.

As a musician, one of my guiding philosophies that I've always maintained is that there are no good or bad genres, just songs within each genre that I either like or don't like. All music, whether we think it's amazing or just amazingly awful, is worthy of respect, or at the very least some minimum level of acknowledgement. Writing music is intensely personal, and putting it out there for the world to do whatever they will with it takes a lot of courage, something that, unfortunately, many people seem unable or unwilling to understand.

This all brings me back to open mic nights. I imagine that there's a strong association in many minds that open mics are nothing but havens for "washed-up" musicians, wannabe rock stars, and tentative singer/songwriters playing for the first time that wouldn't know how to get their voice into the microphone even if it sprouted lips and told them. Maybe some open mics are. But not Fergie's.

Fergie's Pub is a charmingly unassuming Irish pub on Sansom Street between 12th and 13th Streets, in Center City Philadelphia ("Center City" is what we call downtown Philly). When Blue Scheme lost its original bassist and drummer, my friend Darren from Pale Blue, a very cool band that I like, suggested that I go to their Monday night open mic to find possible replacements. He told me that a lot of musicians hung out there on a regular basis and that I'd probably have a lot of luck there.

We eventually found a new bassist and drummer by placing a few ads, as we didn't have much luck finding the musicians we needed at Fergie's. There were a number of people there who were capable, but for the most part, they were either already in bands and didn't have enough time for another. But what we discovered was much better—a wonderful community of musicians who respect and support each other, have fun hanging out together, and are into all types of music. Fergie's gave me a safe space to try out new ways of singing, to debut new songs and works in progress, to work on my stage presence and on how to be a better frontman (of course, I'm still working the hardest on that—when you play keys for over 20 years, you're not really used to being the one everyone looks at).

Going to Fergie's is one of the best things I ever did. More than a year later, Noah and I still go there. It's part of my social life, and I don't feel weird admitting or acknowledging that. There are few feelings better than coming somewhere with your instrument slung over your shoulder and seeing your friends' eyes light up when you arrive. It's a place where all of those unfortunate stereotypes come to take their last breath, and a place where it's not about how good you are—just how goodhearted and willing you are to allow others to share themselves with you. On any given Monday, you can hear just about anything: opera, rap, metal, groove, funk, r&b, jazz, classical and electronica.
Oh, and of course, "singer/songwriter."

Here's to Fergie's. Cheers.

:: Anam 2:12 PM [+] ::

:: Tuesday, April 29, 2003 ::

I can dream up schemes when I'm sitting in my seat

I'm a huge fan of The Police. The band, of course. I don't have anything particularly against the regular police, but chances are you won't find me chasing after any officers for their autograph, which I can easily obtain by driving 73 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour zone, or by passing through any one of Philly's red lights, conveniently timed for traveling two miles an hour so everybody sees you.

Anyway, I love The Police and Sting. Some years ago, Josh, one of my best friends, gave me their box set, Message in a Box. I will love him forever, even if he tries to shank me one day. I had one of their albums, Ghost in the Machine, on tape and I listened to it religiously. I guess that must have been a good clue for a gift.

I always thought Ghost in the Machine never got the respect it deserved, as most people then and now only seem to associate it with "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic," a song that I think was added to the album at the label's request so that it would have a radio-friendly single. As much as I love Sting, one of my favorite Police songs is Darkness, written by Stewart Copeland. Its themes of feeling insignificant and presumably suffering through an inferiority complex to the point of longing for ennui reached at something in me and held on. It resonated with me to the point that I made my high school yearbook quote a line from the song.

… Life was easy when it was boring …

That line could easily be appropriated for use by too-cool-for-the-world slackers (disclosure: though I'm not too-cool-for-the-world, I certainly have slacker tendencies and traits you might call passively procrastinatory), dressed in knowingly sub-hip gear (which makes it hip, of course). But for me, part of it represented the fear of the unknown moving from one stage of life into the next. High school to college. Some may argue that that doesn't really count, but let's face it: the rules do change—for some more than others perhaps, but they change. With every stage, there are more things we're supposed to know, more things we're supposed to do, more things we're accountable for, more people we're accountable to, and just more and more responsibilities.

Sheesh—I can barely take care of myself as it is.

Back then, in spite of the uncertainty, I certainly didn't want to stay in high school any longer than I had to, or go back to childhood. I'd had quite enough of that shit, thank you very much. Not that it was bad, because honestly it wasn't—but it wasn't good in the ways that I'd always wanted it to be. There were things that I wanted to make a part of myself, but couldn't. Things I wanted to get done, but didn't. Yes, that's life, and you make peace with it, but "that's life" is a cop out, similar to "suck it up." Neither of them really add anything to a conversation, nor do they encourage anything other than bitter acceptance (much like when my grandmother would make me take Milk of Magnesia—I always insisted on an orange juice chaser). Nowadays, I prefer to live my life according to "que sera sera," because for one thing, it's politer, but also it doesn't end the discussion—it encourages you to accept things as they are, but to use the past as a springboard to change things for the better in the future. Or perhaps I'm reaching a bit too far on this one. Well, if I am, suck it up.

College got better and it didn't. I'm thankful more for what I learned about people than what I learned in class, although I'm grateful for the damn degree. A year and a half ago, I wrote a song called "American Cliché" (written before the Filter song of the same name, although we both seemed to latch upon the theme of conformity). The first few lines:

High school was the lowest of the low/College an extension in the same dimension/I'll never understand why I didn't know much sooner
At work I was the slowest of the slow/The phone would ring and ring, I couldn't sell a thing/I'll never understand why I didn't quit much sooner

The song mostly concerns itself with the expectation that things will get worse and worse throughout life. But the narrator knows that where he is just isn't the place to be, and realizes that there are an infinite number of Bridges Over the River Bullshit. Call it music therapy, if you want.

But I digress. This entry had a point, believe it or not. "dreaming of schemes," the name of my blog, is inspired by a line from Darkness, a line that also doubles as this entry's title. Though the actual wording is "dream up schemes," I think "dreaming of schemes" implies more thinking than doing, for better or for worse. Remember when you were a kid and when someone, usually a parent, kept you from doing something you really wanted to do, you'd cry and sit in your room and imagine situations that would make them regret whatever they'd done? Maybe you'd run away to the sea (one of my favorites). Or get rich overnight and not give them a cent. Or push a kid out of the way of a moving car, only to get hit yourself, and your parents would find a note one day saying how much you wanted to [fill in the blank] before you grew up. That'll show 'em!

Anyway, those are schemes that I'd dream of, but I wouldn't dream them up. Yes, dreaming of schemes and dreaming up schemes are so similar that they might as well be the same thing. But I always felt that the little hidden kicker in dreaming up a scheme is that you just might do it one day. And the downside is that every time you don't, you get a little bitterer. And who wants to be bitter, full of stress, and misanthropic? Granted, I might be all of those things, but beyond the tepid gems of satisfaction that you can mine out of melancholy, the returns are truly diminished. Besides, stress takes years off your life.

So I prefer to dream of schemes. That way, I live long enough to talk about them.

:: Anam 10:19 PM [+] ::

:: Sunday, April 27, 2003 ::

Hooray for introductions after the introduction, or How I Put The Cart Before the Horse

Before I get ahead of myself, let me introduce myself. My name is Anam (pronounced uh-NAHM, accented syllable in CAPS) and I'm an aspiring musician in Philadelphia, PA.

Yes, I put 'aspiring musician' and 'Philadelphia, PA' in the same sentence.

I'm in a couple of bands. The first one, Blue Scheme, is my main project and the one I'll probably end up talking about most of the time, when I'm not complaining about women. I'm the main songwriter, singer and also play keys every now and again. The other band is either called Sugar Culture or doesn't have a name, depending on whom you ask. (I'll call it Sugar Culture just so I don't have to keep calling it 'the other band' or 'the band without a name.') In this band, I'm strictly a keyboardist.

Blue Scheme is sort of jazzy but not a jazz band, sort of funky but not a funk band, a little rockish but nowhere near enough to even qualify as modern rock, sort of soulful but not a straight soul band, and sort of r&b-ish (more contemporary than traditional) but not really an r&b band either. Our sound is different, I think, but still familiar enough for people to get into. I think it's quite good, but of course, that's my own humble opinion. Our lineup consists of a singer/keyboardist (me), another keyboardist named Noah, G. Posey on tenor saxophone, Tim on electric and upright bass, and Tom on drums. (We're working on a demo right now, and I'll share those tracks as soon as they're done. Normally, I'd link to our web site, but honestly, it's not very exciting right now. So I'll do that later. Although if you really want to find it, it's not hard.)

My friend Ethan, who I mentioned at the end of the previous post, was Blue Scheme's original drummer.

Sugar Culture is a fusion of groove, drum & bass, hip hop, ambient, and whatever the hell else we feel like throwing in, most of which is collectively improvised. Pete plays drums, Keith plays electric upright (yes, electric upright) bass, and Rob plays guitar, and of course, me on the keys. I think it also sounds quite good. We had a female rapper/vocalist who recently parted ways with us. (No bad blood, just strictly different musical directions. She's very talented, and will probably do pretty well for herself.) This band satisfies the side of me which misses being a pianist. I've played piano for over 20 years, although I should probably be better than I am. I'm classically trained, but I focused most of my energies on jazz. Anyway, this band lets me keep my keyboard chops up. Granted, I play every day anyway, but playing in a group is different from practicing by yourself in a hot apartment.

My apartment is hotter than sharing an electric blanket with Caligula's horse in the summertime. Without the charming Old World smell of Horse. Of course.

In deference to some of my brethren, I should mention that I don't make the majority of my income—well, any of my money—from music. Strictly a labor of love. I hold down a 9 to 5 at a downtown financial services company, Delaware Investments, as a features writer/photographer in their public relations department. Never in my life did I think I'd end up at a place like this, in a corner cubicle on the 36th floor overlooking the city. Just not really my style. Granted, it pays the bills for the most part, but I'd rather do music full time. Of course, it's pretty hard to do that, especially in a place like Philly where most people seem to prefer hanging out at lounges with DJs instead of going to hear live music. I don't have anything against DJs—hell, I go to lounges and hang out, too—but the ratio of bars and clubs with DJs to those that host live music is huge. And people don't really go to the live music venues to hang out, at least not as many as you'd hope, if you're a musician who wants to gain new fans and more exposure. But then again, most cities not named New York, Los Angeles, Austin and Seattle are likely the same way.

As mentioned above, I'm something of an extroverted introvert, meaning that I'm generally shy and reserved with occasional flashes of showiness. It never ceases to amaze me how many people seem to assume a quiet nature is synonymous with a detachment from the world that borders on idiocy.

So for those people, let me explain.

Did you ever stop to listen to the world around you? To the sharp winter wind? To the sound of your heart beating in your head? To reflect upon that tight, stressful feeling in your stomach when you make a mistake for all to see? To think about how amazing it is to think?

Probably not, because you're too busy talking! So shut up!

I'm convinced that self-reflection is one of the pillars of world peace.

I ought to distinguish between Conversationalists, Babblers and Talkers. A Conversationalist can talk just as much as a Talker, but you can actually get something out of a conversation. There's exchange, give and take, mutual satisfaction.

Babblers ramble on and on, but, well, Babblers are just so goshdarned cute. They're usually very endearing, at least to me.

Talkers, however, suffer from diarrhea of the mouth, have inflated egos, and generally have no conception of the complete bullshit that ushers forth from their pieholes. I do my best to minimize my contact with Talkers. I also blame them for the hole in the ozone layer.

Before I get too far off-topic, let's end here. Normally, I won't end so abruptly, but give me a break. I'm new to this.

Next time: High school yearbook quotes; open mic nights; and Iraqi Ratscrew.
:: Anam 7:38 PM [+] ::

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