Friday, April 24, 2009

Novel Writing is to Songwriting As...

Get ready for Ghost Notes in Audio Book!!! It's coming your way June 15th!!!

This past week, I discovered a relationship between my novel writing and my songwriting.

This is pretty unusual for me. I've been writing songs for, oh, 20 years or something, and I've been writing novels for 12 or so. In general, I believe there's a time for learning and a time for doing, and when it comes to these two crafts, I do more than I learn these days.

But I learned something this past week.

I learned it as I was reading a finished draft of my novel manuscript. I thought I was closer to being done with this novel, but as I read it I realized I still have some drafts to go before I can call it finished.

No light at the end of the tunnel for now, but at least there's no train coming.

My biggest gripe with my manuscript is this: I feel like the language is flat. This is a problem I've battled with over the years, working not just to tell a story but to make the words come alive, to make my prose sound not so prosaic.

And it stuck me that the most important part of a novel, to me, is its language. This is more important than plot, or conflict, or character, or setting or anything else that goes into a novel.

Moreover, language is, for me, a novel's reason for existing. If you're not looking to tell a story with fresh language, there are plenty of other ways to tell it. You can write your story as a play and have it produced. You can draw cartoons, or compose a series of paintings, or tell the story orally, to name just a few possibilities.

But if you want to tell a story using only language, then by all means write a novel, or short story, or a narrative poem.

That was when it hit me.

I realized I felt similarly about an aspect of songs, especially pop songs. To me, a song's reason for existing is its melody.

I don't care so much about the words, or the chords, or the accompaniment, or the production as much as I do the melody line.

As a matter of fact, you can be some dork singing the song while prancing around in a silly costume and swinging from the ceiling and, if the melody line is great, I'll still like it.

So, that's my big revelation.

A song's raison d'etre is its melody line, and a novel's raison d'etre is its language. On either, we can forgive just about anything else.

Yours in laying down the law,


Buy Ghost Notes

Buy Songs from Memory

Buy Stuck Outside of Phoenix

Friday, April 17, 2009


Get ready for Ghost Notes in Audio Book!!! It's coming your way June 15th!!!

When I was kid, we drank lots of domestic beer.

Bud, Miller, Stroh's.

Remember Stroh's? They were the innovators of my era of bad beer consumption.

They had the Stroh's fifteen-pack.

They had the Stroh's Party Ball.

(Did anyone out there ever have a Party Ball? I seem to recall them getting deflated and looking sort of sad as the beer was drunk. That could be conjecture. Please feel free to straighten me out.)

But mostly we drank Budweiser, in the can.

A big Friday night with my friends usually meant a case of Bud in the trunk, Beastie Boys or the Cult or the Violent Femmes on the car stereo, cruising around town, looking for a party or for chicks.

Good times.

But in the event I had something more resembling a date, I'd go all out. I'd get gussied up, clean my car (or at least throw the garbage away), and buy a six-pack of Michelob.

(Don't ask me how I got my hands on this booze. I honestly don't remember. I know I wasn't old enough to buy it for myself. I suspect a friend's parents took our order and had the booze waiting for us when we got there on Friday night. Can you imagine that today? "What's that, son? You want a case of Budweiser so you and your underage friends can go driving around town drinking and looking for girls? No problem. You sure you don't want some tequila to go with that?")

Michelob was my standard date beer. It was more expensive (not as expensive as Heineken, which was sort of the holy grail of beer in our town; who would ever be rich enough to drink Heineken?), and more expensive always meant better. Michelob also came in these brown bottles with gold foil wrapped around its bottle cap.

Oh la la!

Once, I remember having some Michelob left over from a date night, so I took it for my normal Friday night romp with my friends. One friend saw me twist the cap off the bottle and throw the gold foil remnant away and said, working on his own can of Budweiser, "Ooooo, Michelob." It was clear I thought I was hot stuff, like I'd pulled up for our weekly cruise around town in a shiny new Mercedes.

And maybe that's what Michelob was for us.

The Mercedes of beer.

Or at least the Mustang.

What's the point of this story? Of my reminiscing about my Michelob past?

I don't know.

But maybe we can all make a point this week to think about Michelob just a little bit more than normal. I don't think it's too much to ask.

Yours in laying down the law,


Buy Ghost Notes

Buy Songs from Memory

Buy Stuck Outside of Phoenix

Sunday, April 12, 2009

My Reaction to Mr. Mellencamp

Get ready for Ghost Notes in Audio Book!!! It's coming your way June 15th!!!

I don't know who out there reads the Huffington Post, but John Mellencamp recently posted a blog there on the state of the music business. I recommend reading it. It's a very thoughtful and earnest plea for "fairness" and "compassion" in this time of music business unrest. Mr. Mellencamp has fond recollections of elements of a bygone era of the music business, and he explores where and why things got screwed up. There's a wistfulness to his writing, a sense of something precious lost, of a golden era sadly past.

I also happen to disagree with Mr. Mellencamp.

His fallacy, as I see it, is this: it's not tragic that the music business is retracting. It's AMAZING it ever did that well in the first place.

Mr. Mellencamp existed during an unbelievable boom in the music and entertainment industry. This boom was fueled by the selling of LPs in the forms of albums, cassette, CDs;

the widespread use of amplification equipment, which fueled the great boom in record production, instrument tone innovation and live concert attendance;

and the widespread use of television, radio, movies and magazines to market recording artists.

I know little about the music business before these developments, but I'm fairly certain Bon Jovi wouldn't have stood a chance without them.

So, a perfect storm, right? These mysterious things called albums which somehow yielded music; these amps and speakers making loud, cool sounds; television, radio and magazines bringing Elvis right into our living rooms.


Now, as all of these elements become passe, we're experiencing something that might resemble the way things used to be in the music business. For the most part, pop musicians in 2009 aren't these magical beings brought to us by these amazing new technologies. They're by and large people who travel around the country--or hoof it to the local bar--and make music for you. They stay in contact with fans through MySpace, Facebook and email, but don't necessarily make new fans that way. They often give away their LPs and mp3s for free, hoping to get you hooked enough to come to a show, or buy their new LP or mp3 at a later date. These people aren't entitled millionaires. They survive on (Internet) marketing screwdness and probably barely scrape by, or supplement their music income with another job.

The Internet is, of course, a relatively new technology, but it's a double-edged sword to the pop music artist; not only is it unprecedented as a marketing tool--making it possible to reach just about anyone across the globe--it's also the means to get music for free through pirating, emailing, etc.

And that other new technology, computers, with its CD burners, makes duplication a snap!

In other words, unlike the era of LPs, amps and television, the Internet era doesn't seem to be helping musicians become millionaires.

Through all of this upheavel, I think we've learned something about being a pop musician. With all of those folks out there in Mr. Mellencamp's and my era loving rock music, buying guitars and other instruments, learning to play them, learning to write and sing, and helpful technology cheap and at their disposal, the art and craft of creating pop music has actually become a fairly common skill. There are degrees of skill, of course, but there are a few people in just about any demographic who sing, write songs, and play an instrument well enough to entertain you for a spell.

Don't believe me? I challenge you to go to any decent open mic in your town on any night of the week. You don't even have to sit there all night. Sit there for an hour and listen to each participant. Sure, there are some people who haven't put in the time for rehearsal, or who don't play or sing well, or who are just starting out. Then, you'll hear a song by someone who's really good, or even blows you away. This has happened to me on many occasions.

I bet you'll hear a song you like better than the last John Mellencamp song you heard.

Still, there's competent, and there's great. I think that, if a performer, band or songwriter has something vital--not competent, but vital--to give his audience, and he works hard for it, eventually he will be able to somehow carve out a semblance of a living in music, maybe something equivalent to a working-class salary (minus benefits, of course).

And isn't that kind of the way things ought to be? Does writing a good song, recorded and produced well, merit a million listeners and as many dollars? Of course not. It's a gift to get to play original music for people. You're lucky to get paid at all.

So, unlike Mr. Mellencamp, I don't pine for the good old days of the music business, when entitled megalomaniacs could so easily drown out equivalent or better talent with the use of fat marketing budgets and technological bells and whistles. In 2009, if you rise, you will rise on talent, or Internet shrewdness, or some combination thereof. Perfect? No. But no one can argue that the technology is beyond our grasp, and there is some beauty in that.

Yours in laying down the law,


Buy Ghost Notes

Buy Songs from Memory

Buy Stuck Outside of Phoenix

Friday, April 3, 2009

Ghost Notes Audio Book!!!

First of all, here's this wonderful little nugget:

You like rock 'n' roll, right?

(Who doesn't.)

You like the Beatles.

You like the Rolling Stones.

And you like a good story about rock 'n' roll too.

You liked The Commitments.

You liked High Fidelity.

But reading novels can be kind of a chore, right?

Who has the time? There are so many things to do in a day, and novel reading often gets excised before anything else.

Still, you'd take a good rock 'n' roll story if you came by one, wouldn't you?

Get ready for June 15th!!!

That's the day I will release the audio book version of my second novel, Ghost Notes.

I've teamed up with voice artist James Lorenz to bring you Ghost Notes, unabridged, for your listening pleasure. Now, you'll be able to enjoy it on your iPod, or in your car, or in your studio, or wherever you enjoy audio books. James and I are about halfway through this mammoth undertaking, and it will be ready for your commute to work, or for that long vacation drive, before the first official day of summer.

And we're not cheating, either. James is making an effort to mimic the voices of all dozen narrators of the novel. I've been having a ball listening to what he's been sending me, and you will love it, too.

So, keep some room on your iPod for a new audio book! This will be an electronic-only release--just like iTunes, you'll download it straight to your computer--and I promise you it will be affordable. (Nothing should come out in 2009 that isn't affordable.)

So, whether you've read Ghost Notes before or not, get ready for June 15th. I will announce it here when it's ready.

Yours in laying down the law,


Buy Ghost Notes

Buy Songs from Memory

Buy Stuck Outside of Phoenix