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Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Every year at about this time my asthma starts acting up, my head becomes congested and my nose starts running, and I have to walk faster to keep up with it. At first I thought it was allergies, or maybe I caught a cold. With me it’s hard to tell, since I am allergic to people with colds. But then I realized the real cause: the onset of the Tourist Season. My symptoms were psychosomatic, my way of processing the misery and frustration of dealing with millions of foreigners clogging up the streets of New York City. It’s bad enough in the winter, when millions of foreigners clog up the streets of New York City- they are the ones that live here; in a month or so they’ll be gone for the summer, either to the Hamptons or upstate New York where there is an inpatient rehab facility. But for the meantime we are all here together, struggling to co-exist in a barren, post-apocalyptic world (in case you haven’t noticed I am thinking of pitching this as a movie treatment).

By the way, aren’t all head colds psychosomatic since the symptoms are all in your head?

There are several ways to recognize which people are tourists. First, they are always travelling in the opposite direction than the rest of civilized society. People say that firefighters are heroic because they are the ones rushing into a burning building when everyone else is rushing out. Well tourists are just as heroic; if a building is on fire it’s the best time to go- there will hardly be any crowds.

Secondly, they are holding an expensive camera. No native New Yorker would ever own a camera that only takes pictures and can’t call anybody. I see a dad taking a photo of the Empire State Building, but unfortunately his family is cluttering up the frame. He is struggling to get everyone in plus all 102 storeys of the skyscraper. I decide to help by telling him that he can compose the shot better if he takes the picture from Hoboken.

Sometimes I see a group that has to take five separate photos, each one missing the member that is snapping the portrait. I offer to take the photo so that they can all be in it, but they are worried that I will run off with their Nikon, so I offer to let them hold my driver’s license, which they notice is suspended. They ask if I have any outstanding warrants. Of course I am flattered, but I modestly insist that they are just run-of-the-mill.

If I am left to take their photo with an iphone, ipad or ipod, that’s where I start to worry. I can never find the ibutton that takes the ipicture, and then the iflash never goes off and i get an ilook from the wife, who is rolling her i’s at me. I heard something click- it was either me snapping the image or dialing 911. I tell them to check and see if the photo is there- if it’s not, start pretending you’re having a heart attack- I don’t have time to explain.

Thirdly, they are usually consulting a map, and often the map is upside down. The husband is pointing vigorously, and the woman is shaking her head in an exasperated fashion, the international symbol for, “That’s where we JUST WERE, you nut. I never should have married an Azerbaijan, but that’s all they have in Azerbaijania or whatever the hell it’s called.” When I see a scene like this I seize the opportunity for help, and I walk over and grab the map. I have never figured out where the subway entrance is on 57th Street, so I thank them and give them their map back.

Last and most importantly, their clothes. For instance, I see a man wearing tight blue jeans with the cuffs rolled up, carrying a purse. I ask him if he is gay or straight. He looks at me closely, assessing my appearance, attractiveness and motivation, and says, “Straight.” Then I know he is a tourist, or someone with only average taste in men.
Incidentally, the man who founded the taxi company that is responsible for the yellow cars that Manhattan has become famous for was none other than John D. Hertz, who went on to rental car fame. He called his yellow cab company, not surprisingly, the Yellow Cab Company. Started in Chicago in 1915, the franchise became iconic in New York City. The rumor is that Hertz, a Hungarian immigrant born Sandor Herz, read that yellow was the easiest color for the eye to see. I would have found more information on the study, had it been written in yellow.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


Sometimes people ask me if I’m in a band or doing anything musically. The answer is that I’ve been holed up in my basement recording my music. Apparently I am the only one in their basement who hasn’t killed or kidnapped anyone, but that’s mostly due to lack of space. So here is a four-song EP from the Rickster & the Nefarians basement tapes, and this is a self-indulgent blog about it. If you check them out please listen with headphones and NOT on laptop speakers, you have to promise me. My production values will suffer irretrievably otherwise.

Two of these I finally just finished; I always joke that I write the melody and arrangement of the song in about 20 minutes, then finishing the lyrics takes 2 1/2 years. I always think my lyrics are horrible, and I beat myself over the head with a two-by-four, then I hear a song by Steve Miller or Neil Diamond, with those ULTRA horrible lyrics, and I think of how much money they made, and I have to go look for the two-by-four again.

But I finally finished the lyrics, and I'll tell you a little secret: I have a new theory about writing them and it's much faster. I call it the Donald Fagen method. Lyrics in Steely Dan songs I most admire. I know them all by heart, even though I can't remember ANY words to ANY songs by anyone else, even my own. I listen to The Royal Scam, all nine minutes or whatever it is and at the end of the song I go, "Wow- that was a hell of a story. What was it again?" So my new approach is to think of a good tale to tell, then don't tell it. Let the listener figure it out. If you asked me what the song was about (I doubt you would) I would tell you, but it would probably change every time I told it.

Another thing is that I always notice that I can't sing AFTER the damn song is recorded, when it’s too late. At the time it sounds fine, usually because I have been drinking before just about every vocal track. My voice needs to be loose, like the rubber band that holds your asparagus together. Once it's loose, I realize that something like my voice should not be running around loose. On some songs I sound actually pretty good, but that is almost always in the shower, where it is dangerous to record.

The notes give me trouble are never the ones I thought would be difficult. The high note on Play it Again was the easiest one to sing on key, and a random stinking little note in the middle gave me fits and it's still not quite right.

I always thought I could sing on key, but I double my vocal tracks in who Needs Love, and I found that I couldn't sing it twice exactly the same. I ended up leaving it alone because I liked the detuned effect, kind of like a flanger.

I understand the production values are quite unprofessional. They say that only a poor craftsman blames his tools. That is only for craftsmen, not musicians of course. I blame my poor equipment for my poor sound.

The drums are the hardest to mike well; aside from the wide dynamic range, the tonal spectrum is difficult, from the bass drum to the high frequency of the cymbal's overtones. And because it's the first one you record, you have to have the whole song in your imagination before it has been recorded. Usually I play a guitar track to a metronome, then record the drums while I listen to that in my headphones.

The process of putting all the layers of the tracks together is my favorite part, and the satisfying thing is that they usually come out exactly as I have them in my head. Whatever it is in my head may be good or bad, but it's pretty cool to have something in mind and realize it to its fruition. I wish I could do the same thing with fruit.

I like the songs themselves, and the arrangements, once I get past the vocals and the non-professional sound. I include Real Life from my Real Life television cable access show from the 90's as a contrast. That was recorded in my friend Doug's studio, and mastered very well I thought. By the way I like my lead break in that one, I think it's the best one I ever did. I have to play the lead break exactly as I have it in my head, or I could never learn it- I am not a deft enough guitarist.

I do believe that in another lifetime I may have made a good producer. If I was a cat I would spend four of my lives as a producer. The first two I would spend as a tightrope walker and an explosives detonation squad member. I might as well, since I have seven other lives in the bank. People would say, "He is a damned good producer, for a cat, even though he can only communicate by taking a dump in different parts of the room and leaving us to figure out what he meant. But you can't argue with the sound."

Incidentally, the videos are silly, but you need to have something on Youtube these days to link to everything else (Blogspot does not link to MP3s for example). I wanted to do a video that would be quick and easy (they were neither). I did not show my face for obvious reasons if you have seen my face. Most of the photos in the backgrounds are pretty landscapes that my wife photographed. I would love to hear a comment if you care to leave one here or at Youtube. I understand if you cannot be reached for comment at this time.