Tag Archives: Music

Live Volume Two: Alone in a Basement

A lot is wrapped up in this album’s existence, not least of which is that it was recorded, yes, alone in a basement, with no other instruments to caffeinate the compositions, and with just one take to do, simple chords and melody to bring home the sentiment. The current and following reality of what was going on in my life before, during, and after recording this album is enough to fill up many volumes of text, music perhaps, and words always; enough fodder to confuse the deepest skeptic. 40 releases of self conscious personal growth and a thousand apologies. My history is an evolving trick of the mind, and I’m up for the challenge, this old stuff included. I really dig this collection.Six songs and a common thread throughout. I rewrite Imagine, for christ sake. Play it loud.

Thoughts in the Belfry: Essays on the Songs

Listen to the album here

Thoughts in the Belfry

Introduction

Welcome to the listening experience of a lifetime, of eight songs I wrote years ago that never got their fair shake in recording technique, arrangement, nor execution, as well as one new thirteen minute epic poem set to two chords and a classic folk melody line (full disclosure, I wrote the words to the tune of “Ring Them Bells” by Bob Dylan).

What follows in this document are the brief stories of the songs chosen for this retrospective, their origins and their writing and anything else I can think of today.

Please listen to the record at a high volume, preferably with a pair of decent headphones, or in your car.

Gloria

This was the first song I wrote after getting out of the hospital, March 2012. My first full blown manic episode resulted in psychosis and internment at a psychiatric facility in Cleveland, Ohio, where I met people who I thought were other people, and where I doodled and rambled all over my hardcover copy of The Prophet, being both convinced that I had written it – albeit in a different lifetime – and that it was the one true bible of existence. I still have the latter feeling, and have since bought a clean copy to read and peruse. I rarely look at that first, hospital copy.

Either way, I got out after a week of thinking the food was made of plastic, and demanding I be let outside to smoke a cigarette. A carton or so later, I was sitting in my sister’s attic – which had become my bedroom, thank god – and wrote this song. It is chock full of words and phrases that can be said in different accents and rhyme in different ways, or not rhyme at all sometimes. The scheme of those rhymes is ostensibly random, but which also were wrought with great care and precision.

The lyrics go a number of ways as it progresses, but the hook of the song – some variation on “Oh my god” – is a natural viewpoint of my mindset after those ill events of 2011-2012. I can’t speak much about it because one, I don’t remember those years too well, and two, I was at fault for just about everything bad that happened, though I can’t blame myself. Bipolar Disorder is a funny thing, and mine is very very bad unmedicated. Oh well.

The arrangement for this recording, as with all of the songs on this record, was generally improvised at the point of recording. A few takes here or there incurred, but without question I couldn’t do it again if I tried. It’d still be good. But it’d be different for sure.

At the End of the Day

I remember thinking of the line, “I’m just a magazine on the newsstand at the end of the day,” and it floored me. I immediately sat down at the piano and bam, a few minutes later had a finished song. I say it about a lot of my songs, but this is perhaps the best I’ve written. Oddly, I’m sure I’ll say that again before this essay is finished. So be it.

It’s a funny thing, songwriting. At both stages of the writing of this song, I thought that it was perfect. And both versions are indeed. The original I released as a single from a recording I made on Islesboro, Maine, on a piano with more dead keys than live. The video of that performance still exists– probably on my Facebook page somewhere. Either way, it can be heard on some or other single somewhere else on my bandcamp page, which is where you bought this. Bandcamp. Dig.

Obviously, this version of this song is not played on piano.

One day, as I was sitting in our New York apartment playing guitar, I stumbled upon this riff and immediately knew it was for this song. I added the intro from a melody that I’ve been whistling for over a decade. This is a fucking good song. Thanks goes to Allie for suggesting I delete the double tracked vocal. It’s better for it.

The lyrics, as mentioned with that first line I thought of, are all about being forgotten. And the end line, “God save the queen ‘cause I love her eyes,” is a summation of my feelings about revolution for the sake of it. Truly we need one, yes, the world over, but I can’t condone stabbing anyone in the heart, as it were. “Fit for kings, not a nod to the knights,” is me saying, “aren’t you soldiers just hired killers?” Protect me if you might, but the clearest purpose you serve is to rattle the world into oblivion with your bombs and your guns. Cold-hearted, brother. Makes me ill.

Devil Driven

“Devil Driven” was written on guitar, but there’s a piano version floating around that I like a lot. This version is an attempt to combine the two, and I like how it turned out.

It was the first song I remember writing and thinking, “I’m pretty good at this.” There’s little structure to the words beyond their rhythmic nature, but the song I think flows nicely and without hiccup. The “devil” in the lyrics, putting his hands out to play on the baby grand, I do believe has taught me how to live and love…rock and roll as a product of Earth means it inherently holds a sort of evil, though amidst a sort of heavenly abode as well.

However, it should be said that throughout the song, I’m writing about my Dad, straight up. “Dry your eyes, my son, and lift your head to sing. Anywhere you are contains most everything,” is exactly what I would have expected my Dad to want to say to me after he died. “I’ll swear by you for my eternal life” are his words to me somewhere outside of space and time.

No Ship For Sailing

I was 19 years old, had just dropped out of college and moved to Asheville, North Carolina. I had played a house gig and a very talented local songwriter, and friend to my sister, et al, saw me and asked if I would open for her. So I did.

About halfway through my set of slow, sad songs – and one in particular with the hook “whose bodies are these?” …yikes! – a man from the back of the bar screamed, “The world is fine. Play something happy.” It goes without saying I took issue with it, and went home that night and wrote this song. It’s one of the first times I thought to myself, “how can I make this just really really catchy?” And I did. In some alternate universe, this is a hit single.

The nautical references ar a clear copy of Okkervil River, The Decemberists, and whatever else I was listening to back then (that’s about it, you could say) but I still like it because it takes the idea of sailing on a vast ocean and flipping it on its side, willing you to believe that all I want to do is sail, but I can’t figure out how. A later song on this collection, “And I’m No Boat” acts in a similar way, and to some degree is the slow, more plaintive version of “No Ship.”

Just FYI, the last lines of the song are, “I would send my patterns, thoughts and doubts as far to sea as I could shout. And you would do the same until it all ended up miles away. And by the way, it really shouldn’t end up miles away.” That’s important.

Fumblin’ Still

“Fumblin’ Still” was a strange song to write. For such an early song in my repertoire, it’s pretty complicated and it jumps around key signatures, strumming patterns, riffs, and melodies. It’s almost some kind of psychedelic rock, without the rock. All acoustic guitars, as was my custom throughout this record.

Using the opposite of the boat metaphor: the house metaphor. Originally meant for the Such a Sinister… album, I cut it because that album was too long as it was. It’s too long as it is, too. Nevertheless, it’s a really cool song. And the line “a gentleman in a three-piece suit is a fool. Unless it suits him well” is just great. I dig pretty much all of these lyrics. There’s good couplets everywhere. And the end, “it’s the grey skies that make me blue” is a lyric I know you wish you’d written.

Tricks of the Mind

Another manic episode song. This one was written in Portland, Oregon right in late winter, 2013.

It had been only a year since my first breakdown, and this time proved to be sooooooo much worse. After about six months of pretty constant decline, I erupted into oblivion (again around Valentine’s Day, my god) and ended up on the street, where I walked around for the next six weeks. And say “walked around” instead of “slept” or “lived” because neither of those words bring across the fact that I didn’t sleep and I almost died.

Sometime right before I hit the street, I wrote this song. The whole thing is me freaking out that my Dad didn’t want to be dead and buried in a coffin. I’ve always kind of had a thing about coffins, in a way. From my very real fear of vampires, to the idea that bodies aren’t at rest when boxed up…I dunno, but I know I don’t want one. That should be known. I also would prefer to die outside at night. Just so you know.

The recording of this version was really fun and it sounds just about perfect to me. That’s a clarinet (it’s a clarinet on a good few of these songs) and then the brass comes in, and my goodness. Terrific. Again, all these parts were effectively improvised, one after the other.

And I’m No Boat

A sweet little love song. The first one I wrote for Allie when we first met. I even include the line “…something I have written down in code,” like I wanted to make clear I thought she was aces, but I didn’t want to make it too obvious I was already writing songs about her. Goodness.

It isn’t really about her though. Really it isn’t. It’s that nautical theme flipped over on its head again. I’m the boat. Or no boat, actually. And I gotta wait for the wind, and even when there is wind, I’m being turned this way and that, but not really even this way and that because I’m following the stars, so God’s In Charge. Who knows.

I like this song a lot. Just guitar and vocals here. Nothing else fit.

Unwinding

“I don’t like this one. It sounds like you’re on an acid trip.”
-My Mom

It kind of is. Another song I wrote right after my first hospital stay. Originally, it was a beat Cory Maidens made, hence the writing credit. I ended up recording it not long after, full of noisy electric guitars and bad keyboard drums. This version is a simple kick drum, and “heavy metal organ” and I think it’s cool as shit. It doesn’t fit on this album at all, which is why it fits on this album so well, in my opinion.

The lyrics are just wordplay. They mean as much as you want them to mean, which means they don’t really mean that much. I mean, they mean something…you get it. It’s mostly just practicing internal rhyming and rapping instead of singing. This would prove to be the last song I decided was an okay variation on hip hop.

Thoughts in the Belfry

We’ve made it to the namesake, “Thoughts in the Belfry.” This is a long and complicated lyric on the guilt of living well in the time of suffering. It’s about recognizing the bullshit around you, especially those on the so-called “Christian Right.” More like Reich. Fuck them all, indeed. Neo-facism is no excuse for failing to live by God. Eat the rich.

It’s also about the passage of time, and the willingness to change amidst a changing society. But again, it’s about the bullshit entrenched in the thinking behind the movement. Sometimes people are dumb and don’t notice. And on the other side of the spectrum, so corrupt they don’t notice. “To steal is fine as long as you’re a company man” is just about the summation of it all for me. We have Socialism for the Rich and the Powerful. Bail out the banks, bail out big business. Don’t take me on my word that I need your help…but again, not Me. I’m living well. And there again is the guilt.

This song turns into a song about family, acceptance, forgiveness, and love. I call my Mother royalty. I call my stepdad father. I remind my sisters to be original and regal, because they are.

And then the end comes, after thirteen minutes, and the album is over.

Thanks for purchasing. Thanks for listening. Thanks for reading.

Toodles.

Thoughts In the Belfry (a folk song)

What follows was written in chunks from beginning to end one morning yesterday. The melody followed, and my notes are included here. Song to come shortly.

Thoughts in the Belfry

part one

Oh to con society and figure on sleep.
Oh to be a weary man who can’t very well see
what is rush houred now,
what is lost in the clouds
And he can’t seem to shine his soles to be better off now.

Wing my lids and shattered tongue and teeth in my mouth.
Resist my mind and open lungs to be ran out of town.
‘Cause it’s breathless and bold,
it is both new and old,
and the seams are ripping past the point of out of control.

Sleep inside a martyrdom and wish on the stars.
Weep for lies, corruption, shadows, and the cycles of Mars.
For the planets align
and their signatures signed
as the past is washing, dried and hung on the lines outside.

There is wanting on the corner store to a shelter in place.
And the people screaming wash and fold in the center of space
are all asleep at the wheel
and delivered from steel
as their shadows slip and gauge the light of all that is real.

(intensify)
(rising melody)
Please beget no singing birds at the crack of all dawns.
And don’t regret your slinging heart, it is found and it’s pawned.
‘Cause the sleep in your eyes
is forgotten with pride
and the circle of the day is just the passing of time.

(ooo)
(ooo)
(ooooooo)
(ooo)

Wear no hat, St Peter, you are withered and freaked.
Your cap and gown don’t graduate from their weathered antique.
And the eagles on poles
were never kept in their role
and the songs you sung were always just a way to console.

(ole…4x)

(intensify)

My oh my, young woman, you are pretty and sleek.
And after wine your face turns red and you cower in sleep.
From the depths of your mind
comes a series of rhymes
and the smoke it coils ’round and ’round you every damn time.

(F#m)
Sing for children wiping out on roller skates.
(F#m)
(melody above the previous)
Cry for minutes so divine, yet coupled with snakes.
‘Cause the evil is tried
and the world’s on its side
as jolts of electricity have my skin fried.

Come with me, St Peter, St Geronimo too.
Come with me, we’ll travel far in the weight of our shoes.
As the books are described,
with their words all inscribed,
’cause the end is growing nearer–at least the stillness of night.

(ooo)
(ooo)
(ooo)

part 2

(quiter)
Sit with me a while and I will tell you a tale
of a worried man who can’t pretend that there’s beer in his pale.
He is drunk and disturbed.
And he is perfectly sure
that his country’s on fire and it surely will burn.

Have a drink, St Katherine, your baby is fine.
Smoke with me I wanna know all that’s on your mind.
Or just be on the way
to wherever you stay.
Yea, it seems to me the roads are froze, they shatter and shake.

(A)
Pick me up, St Martha, oh I believe in you.
Take me out for supper, man, there’s nothing to do
but be quick on the draw
as Jesus twice falls.
Your dogma is a strangle on the city of Paul.

(quietly now)
Find me in the cedar, Michael. Find me on high.
I will count my blessings as you figure me trite.
‘Cause you banish alright,
and your sword’s at your side,
’til finally there’s nothing but the stillness of night.

(intensify)
So God becomes escapable and the water is black.
The springs and pools polluted will be drained and sold back
to divinity’s hands.
It was a well-devised plan.
To steal is fine as long as you’re a company man.

part three

(quiter)
Teach me how to rattle off a series of sleek.
Help me learn how flowers grow as we lay in our sleep.
We belong to the trees,
to the rivers and streams.
For all along the city was a weight on our dreams.

Play with piano, cello, and be joyous and sing.
Play like you were meant to when your mother said, “Please
will you get your guitar?
You’ll be famous, a star.
I’m so proud of the way you keep on playing all the parts.
Oh yeah.”

Mother, I miss seeing you in purple and gold.
Royalty drips off you and it is written in stone.
And the tricks of the mind
were just insanity’s chimes
waking me from the depths of my insidious mind.

(A)
Father, please be careful as pandemics increase.
Curve your speech to match the spike in patterns and pleats.
Yes, your blue jeans are dry
and God’s on your side.
I say bury me in a Beatles shirt with pennies on my eyes.
With pennies on my eyes.
With pennies on my eyes.

Sisters be original in finding your peace.
Watch as angels flutter by on the flashing TVs
with a major insight
to a world on its downside.
Don’t fall off where the sidewalk ends, St Francis will cry.

(quietly now)
So it’s over in the evening when the weather subsides.
It’s over in the morning when the hunger resides.
I am over and done.
I have played and have won.
And the beginning’s just a story of the end that comes.
And the end is the beginning for the newness of love.

(riff)

What Belongs in the Future Runs Off With the Past

Hi, hello. This is Michael. The Supposed So. M.C. Guire. I’ve got too many names. Regardless, I’m coming at you in a different sort of way, because I don’t usually write in this manner, sort of conversationally, or whatever, unless I’m writing long-form fiction, and I haven’t been doing that so this part of my brain hasn’t gotten exercise, and needs exercise, so here we are.

I have an album out on Bandcamp today. It’s a good little 6-song EP entitled What Belongs in the Future Runs Off With the Past. Themes of home and memory, the fictional world, and the representative. Each song works as an essay on the past, on my musical influences and hangups; my body of work, and the process of creating art with semantical figments of rhetorical pondering, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, synths, and a drum pad played by hand through a midi keyboard. Indeed, a lot of the atmosphere you experience was made with that midi keyboard, which I bought at a garage sale in Oakland, NJ for the right sum of $10. Never been used. Almost stole it.

My life during the time of this EP (written and recorded all in the past 3-5 weeks) was fine. Nothing ridiculous. School. Papers, essays, reading, class. The Fall. Allie. Things afoot. Moves to be made. I think the record tells the story. Enjoy.

Listen at thesupposedso.bandcamp.com and on your favorite streaming services December 13th.

Caulk

It’s in the space between the notes that you go caulking up. I fear it is the only thing you truly know to do. You fill in every nook and cranny. The air is trapped inside. Be careful as you do your thing. The whole thing could implode. And yet, there is a fire in your work. There is a tremendous amount of valor to your gallery. There is a serendipitous gathering of factual matter, and your timbre pleases me. But your shapelessness in those strict notes will be the death of me. Will be the end of melody. Will be the harmonious easement of a Mozart-like tremble. You’ll die penniless but not alone. Your masterpiece remains unknown. And the feeling in the beat goes out the door and down the street. Fleeting but neat. And she nods her head along and crashes, lashes fluttering at me.

The music ends. The silence envelops.

Listen With Headphones, Between The Notes

Out July 12, 2019

This album was born on the streets of Queens. I’ve been in New York for only two and a half years, and already I am a changed person. Am I a New Yorker? I dunno. Probably not. But this is a New York record.

It’s about aging, I guess. But aging in the sort of, still growing up, still coming of age way. I’m thirty, going on thirty-one. I have more life experience than most of my peers. I’ve been in and out of sanity, in and out of hospitals. To four different states in the union, seeing bits and pieces of what each can offer. I was never interested in a place quite like I am in New York.

But I misspeak, truly. My interest in New York is surface level. But I fall in love with certain parts of the city for strange reasons. Especially because I never know where I am in New York unless I knew where I was going. But I can get around on the urine-soaked, rat-infested death traps we humbly call the train. And whatever. I’ve never known where I am, not even in Cleveland. Almost never ever have. It’s never seemed all too important. I float around. I boggle.

This record is also about being raised Catholic. Through the years, I have grown a romance for being Catholic, confirmed and all, even though I resisted at the time, as a sixteen year old told to place himself in the arms of the Lord. And how. I like it now, to a certain extent. There’s a poetry in true Christianity. And I connect with it a great deal.

That’s not to say there isn’t just as much to love about Islam, or Judaism, etc. It just doesn’t matter in my context, ’cause I’m a Catholic. This record explores what that might mean.

Musically, this is a focused affair. Call it what you will, this is folk music. This is protest music. This is music with a point, I think. Regardless of what you pronounce to be a songwriter’s duty to himself and to music, it is to an over-arching theme that I tend to draw from my own music, at least, that some situations are inherently problematic.

Even still, this record is also about Donald Trump. How could it not be? But it isn’t overt, not in the naming of names, though I do have a lyric which goes “Oh my Donald, you’re a clown / Unwillin’ to paint his face frowned.” That’s about the sort of thing you’ll get from me. It’s tough to write a pop song – because this is also pop music – about the United States having concentration camps. That sort of bullshit is reserved for normal life. And fuck that shit, to be true. I just can’t think of how to do what I know needs done. So I vote. I write songs on my guitar.

These are also very much guitar songs. I explore my love of guitar in the layers you hear on each track. Some tunes have five or six guitars on them, each performing their own little roll. There’s also a piano song near the end of the album. And interesting percussion throughout.

Nine songs. Here’s the tracklist:

1. One More Pack of Smokes
2. In Heaven’s Light ‘Til Sunset
3. Dig a Porchlamp
4. Have My Cigarette Lit
5. To Paint His Face Frowned
6. Alright In Queens
7. Still I Don’t Shiver
8. Rags To Riches
9. It Isn’t Very Difficult

To Havens Racked

Oh, with fantastic shivers, run
Beside a candle dripping upon
The table ‘neath the shelf above
A chair you sit, too dear
It’s backward, yet sincere

And for the forgotten, it’s been said
There’s nothing more to distinguish in it
A portion of reconciled air
Of putrid soil and debonair
Stares
You whittle off a casual glare
For serpents drifting
Shifting fair
For tabernacles filled with blood
And priests aligned with death
I don’t believe they’re worth their breath

So find a clasp and shudder out
To gross indifference to your shouting
Loud beneath a cavernous room
Ceilings drifting
Dregs in doom

The Greatest Album of All Time: The Stage Names by Okkervil River

Our life is not a movie or maybe. Beyond what contrives to be able to be a cold wreck of dawn when the cities were towns. Just forget what’s begotten aloft and brought down.Unless it’s kicks you gave me. Unless it’s tricks you played me. Unless it’s patter with the crowds. Unless it’s mixed to shame me. My goodness. Is there a hand to take hold of the scene? Or are we wilting on the screen? Or are we tilted on a dream? It’s always complicated. Never orchestrated.

But I find myself in Georgia or Carolina in my mind. Savannah smiles either way, and pulls the veil of night over my canopy drifting, and shifting all the time. Plus ones would fade the mystery, and then knowingly move on. And a girl in port could use no sorely advocated mile, but a shortening of choruses belie a frightened pornographic panic, yeah you can’t hold the hand of a rock and roll manic. With the stage names all embarassing, you dribbled for the chords. To title track John Allyn Smith would have him raise the sails forever off to other shores in some form or another, I’m sure.