Category Archives: Stories

128 Thoughts On the Big Football Game

First of all, here’s a link to my latest release, a completely free-to-download 128 song EP:

http://johnnyunicorn.bandcamp.com/album/big-game-2014-128-song-ep

You may be asking yourself why someone like me, a person dedicated to a life of non-competition, would write a set of 128 songs based on the names of a bunch of people who play a competitive sport I don’t particularly care for. I’ve been asking myself that very question throughout the 5 days I’ve been working on this project. As far as I can tell, the story began just this month, in Seattle, where I live:

1. I found out that one of my favorite Seattle songwriters, Julia Massey, released an album of short, hastily recorded pieces (http://juliamassey.bandcamp.com/album/songs-from-the-nook). I liked the concept very much (and I liked when They Might Be Giants did it on multiple albums), and I wanted to do one of my own.

2. My friend linked me to an article about a guy who makes his living writing dozens of songs a day that are all terrible but there are so many of them that he’s able to survive off the small amount of dollars per song he gets from people craving a moment of novelty. I didn’t like where he was going with what music of his I heard, but it got me thinking about ways I could have a creative outlet without getting bogged down in details. I keep a very large amount of stray ideas in my mind because I have nowhere to put them. If I could just make them public in a perhaps unfinished state, maybe someone would find some use in them, but I could rest assured knowing that there would be no risk of losing the idea, and one day I could come back to it and use it for something else. And I mean “rest assured” literally: unproduced creative work actually keeps me up at night.

3. There’s a lot of talk in Seattle about football this month, for some reason. Everyone’s looking forward to this Big Game and I didn’t understand why. My whole life, I’ve been averse to the idea of engaging in crowd participation. With sports especially it’s like some cult-switch gets turned on in a surprising number of people. It seems to me that even the most avid Phish fan would have a hard time keeping up with the average football fan in terms of dedication. I don’t know what it is. Maybe the pure agression sets off some sort of primal instinct in a lot of people. For me, the main feeling I get when I am surrounded by any group of people who are all looking in the same direction and chanting is ANXIETY. I suppose that’s MY primal instinct welling up inside of me. In the back of my mind, I’m always thinking “what if I decide I want to support the OTHER team instead? Will all these people kill me?” Obviously, I don’t literally think football fans will murder me, but maybe my body does. As a result, I have always avoided football, and every other sport. (Also, I only reluctantly go to concerts, and I avoid protests at all costs, even if I think I’m on their side). But this year, I’ve been looking at my life and trying to get rid of bad habits — in particular the habit disliking things just because I don’t understand them — and when I made a snarky comment about not liking football, my sister pointed out my hypocrisy. And when she calls me out on something I take it very seriously. It was then that I decided I should watch the game.

That doesn’t mean I have to root for the home team. Usually in a skill-based situation, I’m rooting for whoever is in the process of trying to achieve an immediate goal. When everyone does well, it makes for a better experience in my opinion.
And it doesn’t mean I have to drink beer and hoot and holler with everyone. I could engage in the experience of a football game in a way that was more comfortable for me. I can expand my horizons without going so far out of my comfort zone that I become anxious. My hope is that I’ll become interested in the sport, because it can’t hurt to add something to the list of things I like and cross something off the list of things I don’t.

So I decided to live-Tweet the event. And if you’re reading this before The Event, it happens on February 2nd, 2014 1:00pm PST (I plan to Tweet the pregame all the way to the very end of The Event).

When I mentioned outloud that I would be live-Tweeting the game, Naomi’s mother suggested jokingly that I record songs about all the players. We all had a good laugh.

The next day, I started recording 128 songs. Less than a week later, I completed them, just in time for the game.

Here’s that link again:
http://johnnyunicorn.bandcamp.com/album/big-game-2014-128-song-ep

So when you’re at the Big Game party, do yourself a favor and open up a tab with my EP and another tab with your Twitter feed. Whenever some player does something worth calling attention to, play their jingle. It is guaranteed to liven up your game celebrations. And if you aren’t a sports person, listen to the songs anyway. I’m proud of a few of those pieces of music, and you might like them too.

So join me as I join my friends and family to see what it is they do on this mysterious holiday, and let’s root for the ultimate home-team: Team Everybody!

November in Three Dimensions

Instructions for viewing the photographs:

1. You know how you can make things look doubled by doing that thing with your eyes? do that until an object in the left image lines up with its counterpart in the right image.

2. You will see in 3d. Now you can focus on any image in the photo as if you were really there.

if you have trouble doing this, try starting further away. Trust me, if you do it right, it will look like decent 3d.

Image

Today’s rain covers the city like damp soil over a coffin. I feel claustrophobic. Evidently, I am claustrophobic; I only notice it when I’m denied an open sky. Where does all the rain come from? Surely there is a limit to the amount of water vapor that can fit in the atmosphere. Maybe the book of Genesis was right, and there truly is water above the sky. I’d like to think the water will run out soon, but something tells me this is going to last for a while. The good news is there won’t be any annoying little league games across the street.

Image

The comforts of home: hot soup, the sweet scent of mulled wine filling the air, the soft tones of a gently mewing cat. The laughter of friends, the embrace of my lover, the sweet sounds of Tina Turner coming from the record player: these things remind me of how lucky I am…wait a second, Tina Turner? That was supposed to be a Roy Wood record. Aw, man, I was really excited about that album. Why does this stuff always happen to me?!!

A new album approaches rapidly

Image

First, open this song in a new tab and listen to it while you read:

http://soundcloud.com/johnnyunicorn/sadness-companionship-remix

I know I haven’t finished giving you a day by day account of my last tour (way back in February), which is one of the reasons I keep neglecting to blog. But that has long past, and though I cannot remember the events with enough clarity to describe them to you in detail here anymore, I can assure you, that second week was amazing. I’m sure a lot of stuff happened…I recall a lot of driving around at night and a lot of unhealthy eating that was sure to stop after returning home. I remember lots of colors…but the color blue not so much, despite the fact that, to replace the paisley pants a fan bought off me in the parking lot out side the Ruby Room in San Diego, I bought a pair of blue sky-pants. I think it was because of all the warm lighting. Also, most of the colors I remember were dark, even though we slept through most of the nights. I remember wishing the vehicle were roomier. I remember in L.A. the drums fell apart, but we kept playing while my friend Chris, another drummer, saved the kit. I remember a really cool jazz rock band.

I hope that satisfies any curiosity that someone might have.

Now, if I’m right, you’ve arrived at the keyboard solo (and of course, if I’m wrong, you haven’t). This remix you’re listening to was designed with a dual-purpose. Since the album I’m releasing is a thirty minute aerobic exercise album, I thought it would be nice to include some more material, for the sake of having more material (I may have felt less inclined to do this if my last album weren’t nearly 80 minutes long). The second purpose is because the “exercise album” constraint I gave myself didn’t allow me to explore certain musical elements I otherwise would have. Plus, I just really like doing remixes. I never do it because I never prioritize it. But it’s fun. If you are a musician and you have any raw tracks you’d like to send me, I’ll do a remix.

The only thing in this recording that’s the same as the album is the vocal track (which has been severely cut-up). Everything else was put together step by step, using bits of the vocal track and trying out different basslines and drum beats underneath it, until a basic song was constructed, and then I went back and added synthesizers and guitar.

I’m aiming to release the album before the end of the year. The album is entitled “Sadness And Companionship.” It has two songs: “Sadness” and “Companionship,” each a little under fifteen minutes long. The compact disc and downloadable release will contain the two remixes. I am also working out details of a cassette release (which was the reason I did this project in the first place).

So, enjoy this remix, and please imagine what the album might sound like. Thanks!

Johnny Unicorn 2011 Summer Tour Part Four Part Two

Michigan, U.S.A. – In the muggy mists of Michigan’s musty west I take a rest. With family, friends and foes from distant pasts I reunite. Mosquitoes thirstily drink my blood. Growls and tiny bleeps in the blackness of the nightwoods betray either terrible animal murder, or something much nicer; I never find out. The lake never has waves; I am forced to wade in still water so cold my feet freeze and returning to shore becomes difficult. Deadly solar heat only breaks for a horrifying storm: rain that sounds like a million frogs falling onto a lake of maple syrup and lightning that is as bright as the sun and almost as frequent. A small pool of swamp water builds on the floor of my car.

Tour: Eastern leg:

GTG Fest part two: Lansing, MI’s GTG throws their second of three shows. It’s Josh David and the Dream Jeans (check out “Aware of the Riverman”), Cavalcade and me. The audience is so good that it’s overwhelming, and I’m not even sure what to do. I fear that I could have done better for them. But they get to see part of the Universe music band. Naomi plays synth for half the set. The Plurals’ Hattie Plural sits in for a couple of the songs also!

Next I go to Lawton, Michigan’s Old Hat Brewery, where I play a long solo show. The audience is the best first-time audience ever. The show puts the whole tour in the black.

Bozart’s (a really cool gallery) in Toledo allows me to perform for unwitting art-lover’s during the city’s artwalk. Some of them enjoy the show. Some seem indifferent. All stay to watch the entire show, which is more than I ever hope for.

Jamestown, New York’s Labyrinth Press Company let’s me play a show at their coffeehouse, opening for progressive metal band Exemption. A great show, but a small audience. Afterward I go to a dance party and regret not dressing up.

Next, I backtrack to Erie, PA and the Crooked I. A bigger music venue / bar. It is their open mic, and they have given me a special slightly longer slot. I perform for a room full of people who have no idea what to expect. And as far as I can tell, a decent amount of them are impressed. The next 8 hours are the weirdest of tour! For legal reasons I will not talk about it publicly.

The next day, I go back to Jamestown to retrieve a cable I left there. Then it’s off to Buffalo, to host “Monday Night Inventory,” an open mic that takes place at Allen Street Hardware…this place has nothing to do with Hardware. There is not even a hardware theme or anything. It’s a restaurant. I spend most of my time being confused about this fact. The open mic allows me to just talk, without having to think about a big set of music. I meet some interesting people and hear some very interesting music. The artist who particularly stands out in my mind is Forevra Evra. just click on the link and listen. You’ll know what I’m talking about.

That leg of the tour complete, I drive through Canada and up to Alpena, MI to spend some quality time with my friend and fellow artist, Jamie Grefe.

More soon.

Johnny Unicorn Tour 2011 Summer Tour Part Four

U.S.A. – My tour from Minot to Michigan.

The “scheduling gods” had me going from the submerged Minot to the distant Fargo/Moorhead megalopolis. Standing floodwater in the roadway nearly aborted one preferred route, but trust in the truth of the sun’s shining light and a trust in my own sense of sight was enough motivation to drive very carefully through. The drive after that was uneventful at its most exciting.

The blistering sun of Fargo had me running for the shade. At the Red Raven I put on a fun show and lost some important equipment. Saw the act entitled Jesus or Genome, which I very much liked.

In the Twin Cities I swiftly procured the replacement equipment, which immediately and irrevocably broke. The only person who could fix it now is a master welder. Fittingly for the Twin Cities, I had twin shows. One at the Acadia Cafe with the wonder-band Drug Budget, and the one-piece punk outfit Frederickson. The crowd was large and friendly. Then, at the secret Psychic School, I played another show for a smaller, but more packed crowd with a lot of other bands whose names I cannot recall at the moment. One person laughed hysterically throughout the show. For that, I gave her merchandise.

Then it was off to Wisconsin, where I performed for a handful of very nice people, and some children, at a place called the Latte Cafe. For them, I took out the swears.

My car continued to not fall apart, so I moved on to the White City, where I performed at Reggie’s for a group of people who had just come from a baseball game. Some of the crowd got my act, and some of them looked at my act the way I look at baseball: questioningly. It was an early show, so I was able to make it to the very end of Mark and Reyna’s “Music in Widescreen” where they gave me a brief interview and played a track off my new album. The next day I performed an acoustic show at the Elbo Room’s upstairs lounge with Rich, Rob and Nan, and a metal group called Skinwalker (which for that night had wonderfully gone acoustic). Musically a happy time for everyone. Also present were the “Miller Lite Girls” who actually appeared to be adult women.

After that, it was up to Michigan, the South of the North, to rest and relax with friends and family. More about that in part three!

Johnny Unicorn Summer 2011 Tour part three – North Dakota

Minot, ND – The town is built around the Souris River. Little shops and houses line the streets. Some lay at the river’s edge, while others still lay up the shallow hill. A few days into my tour, I got the warning that large sections of the city of Minot had been evacuated due to flooding, and that I might consider contacting someone up there to see if the two shows I had scheduled were still happening. The Pangea House was not flooded, and the show was quickly retooled into a benefit show. The second show, at the Blue Rider, was sadly cancelled. But they were up and running shortly after that, thankfully.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Souris_River_flood

The flood waters had creeped into a large section of the downtown area, halting a number of local businesses, and flooding the water treatment plant, which resulted in some possible contamination of the water supply. I have never had to fear tap water before. I have become so accustomed to the running water being clean. To suddenly have to worry about the water getting in my mouth or eyes is quite a shock. On close examination of the flood water itself, it was not the beautiful river water I have come to expect from a river. It was brown, and a little foamy, and it smelled worse than it looked. I noticed city silt on the city streets. Deposits of dirt and rock and small objects on the dry street where flood water had been. I had missed the worst of the flood. The waters were receding. Now I took notice of the flood lines along the edges of the buildings. A much larger portion of downtown had been flooded than I had thought. Some of these businesses could be permanently shut down as a result of this disaster. Frustrating to say the least. This was on the southside of the river.

The northside of the river suffered the larger portion of the flooding, or at least that’s what it looked like on the map. We (I was traveling with a group of friends) arrived at a ballpark, which now looked like a lake. Behind us were park benches that had been deposited on the street. Across the ballpark-lake we could see hundreds of roofs peaking over the surface of the water. I knew some of the people in those houses. Hopefully they got their most important stuff out. I know they did not have that much warning. They told me that four thousand houses were underwater. 11,000 people were refugees. All but a couple hundred of those people were able to find a place to stay among friends and family.

We saw someone’s porch that had ended up under a bridge, washed up by the fast-moving river.

For Independence Day, I traveled with some other people to a house far out in the countryside. A family of absolutely insane people shot giant fireworks directly at each other, and I spent a majority of the night hiding behind a couch to escape the blasts. Between explosions, I noticed the stars, brighter than I had ever seen them, exploding in their own way, light years distant. I became lost staring into the center of our galaxy, wondering what my place was in this seemingly infinite universe. Then, a horrifying explosion, and I was back behind the couch. The night continued like that until we left at three in the morning.

I left Minot with an incredible respect and fear of nature, and some other kind of feeling for those who arrive in the wake of disaster and make money off of those who were affected by it. Indiscriminate nature, and bloodthirsty predators. It never changes.

Johnny Unicorn Summer Tour 2011 – part one million

EXT. CITY STREET – NIGHT

Johnny sits in his parallel-parked car, carefully putting together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on his lap by the orange light of the streetlamps. A group of youths pass by on the sidewalk. One hesitates and peers into the car in which Johnny is sitting. Johnny looks over to see the young man bending over, looking into the window from just a few feet away. Seeing that the youth is smiling, Johnny politely waves.

YOUTH (to his friends)
Hey, this guy’s making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!

EVERYBODY (dancing away into the night)
Peanut Butter Jelly! Peanut Butter Jelly!
Peanut Butter Jelly! Peanut Butter Jelly!
etc.

THE END

This actually happened to me in Erie, PA on July 24th, 2011. This entry is typed in the default font. I do not know how to change it to the proper font, so until someone can figure out how to explain that process in clear language, you will have to look at this scene in THIS font.

Johnny Unicorn Summer Tour 2011 – part two


Saturday, June 25th, Seattle – in the morning, Horace Pickett and I performed on the Viaduct for an audience of hundreds (only one at a time) at the Seattle Rock and Roll Marathon. All our hopes come true as the day turns out not to be the day of “The Big One.” How ironic would it have been if the Viaduct collapsed and killed only runners? Before the show, I had trouble getting up to the performance area because I was being hassled by a police officer at the entrance ramp for not having a “pass.” Even though I explained that I had to be there to play a show, he would not let me up to the stage. I don’t respond well to authority, so I did an impressive kick in his face, sending bits of sweat and blood into the morning wind. He quickly recovered and drew his gun. I could not match such a weapon with only my hand-to-hand combat skills this early in the morning, so I ran for the edge of the bridge and jumped off, did a flip, and landed in the back of a hay truck. The cop got on his motorcycle and crashed through the cement barrier and flew through the air, but before landing on the street below, he jumped off the motorcycle and almost missed the hay truck, but managed to grab onto the metal pipe that served as the truck’s bumper. It was a good thing for him he was wearing all that leather. His bike crashed to the ground and slid into a fruit stand in a flurry of sparks, wood, and melon bits. The officer climbed up onto the back of the truck and drew his weapon once again. What had I gotten myself into? I dove off the side of the truck and rolled onto the street below. I ran into the nearest building and went into the stairwell. The cop followed me. I ran as quickly as I could up the stairs, periodically looking over the railing to see trailing me about three floors below. He stopped occasionally to shoot aimlessly up into the space between the stairs. This guy was relentless. I wouldn’t be in this mess if I only would have controlled my anger. I finally reached the top of the stairwell and the exit to the fifteenth floor roof. I pushed open the door to confront the hot stink of the tar rooftop. It was dangerous up there because he’d be able to get a clear shot, but i stood a better chance out there than going back down the stairs. I ran across the roof, and jumped to the next building. I looked back to see him swing open the door, scan the rooftops for me and shoot. He missed, fortunately, then he took off after me. We spent a few minutes jumping from roof to roof. He was pretty fast for an old guy, but it seemed as though I was keeping a good distance from him. But then I came to a gap between buildings that was too large to jump. I teetered on the edge for a few seconds, and then finally caught my balance. The officer caught up to me, and stopped to catch his breath. He told me that I was cornered, and indeed it seemed I was. We stared at each other for what seemed like hours. I could see the folds of the skin around his eyes glistening with sweat as he squinted into the sun. He came across as an old tiger, savoring the fear of his prey; not wanting to end the hunt right away. I took another look at the building across the gap. Perhaps I could make it. At least I stood a chance of surviving if I could escape the rooftop. A pigeon cooed, and his eyes very briefly moved toward the sound. Without another thought, I broke into a run, and with all my strength, hurled myself across the gap toward the other building. It seemed to take forever. I screamed as I tried to move my muscles in such a way that they the momentum would pull me through the air faster. I thought back to footage I’d seen of flying snakes. If I could become the snake…but how? Hopefully instinct would take over. Perhaps it did, I’ll never know. But I made it to the other side. I looked back to see the cop attempt the same jump. He could not quite make the jump, but he did grab onto the building ledge. I was still on my side, catching my breath from the jump. I crawled over to where the cop was struggling on the edge, and looked down into his eyes. He did not say a word, but his eyes said everything. He wasn’t ready to die. Not yet. I looked into his eyes and I could see a lifetime of pain and love. What a shame it would be for this man to die so needlessly. Perhaps he had family waiting for him. Maybe he was about to retire. I would not be able to live with myself if I just walked away. I reached out my arm and asked him to grab on. Still looking into each others eyes, we shared a moment. Without words, we communicated the truth: we were not pursuer and pursuee anymore, we were humans, and we were in this together. Still without speaking, he reached for my hand and grabbed it. But he was running out of strength, and I could feel the sweat-covered fingers slipping out of my hand. He opened his mouth to speak. His moustache fluttered in the breeze. He said “break a leg” and before I could think about it, he slipped out of my hand and fell to his death in the alley below. I said a silent prayer, and then I went to the show.

Later that night, I had a show in Yakima, WA at the Rec Room Bar and Grill. This was the first show of my solo tour. A few people showed up and we had a very good time. The other act was a guy named Navid Elliot, who is a very good acoustic performer, who plays locally in Yakima as his main job. I met some very nice people and had a very nice time. I hope to come back. From there I went to La Grande, OR and performed without a PA system at White House Coffee. it was an actual house, and it was an intimate show, and the audience was very attentive and pleasant. I think I played pretty well for not having a microphone or a keyboard. The next show I did was by myself for a crowd of rowdy drunks at a bar called the Haufbrau in Bozeman, MT. People were in and out, and I think more would have stayed if I had played more dance tunes. So I made a pact with myself to prepare more dance numbers for those sorts of occasions. I have a lot of different versions of my show, but I never thought to have a version of the show that was just dance music most of the way through. In this situation, I was the dj, and instead of giving them what they wanted, I could only give them what I had. Next time I will be more prepared. But it was still a great night, and the people I met there were awesome. In Dickinson, ND, I played a show at a local restaurant called Samson’s, which kind of had the vibe of a TGI-Friday’s. Again, I was not equipped for this sort of “background music” performance, so I did my best. Luckily, I had Mike Swenson there to play half the show, and not leave me fumbling to try to figure out what to play next. Also, he brought the PA. If it had not been for him, it would have been a boring show, indeed. We ended up joining an ancient wizard on a journey to the top of a nearby mountain, where we searched for a magical crystal and had to battle a talking statue. Mike does a very good acoustic version of “Poparazzi.” The next day, I went to Minot. I’ll talk about that in the next post.

Thanks for listening,
Please tip your barista
-Johnny U

My Trip to Los Angeles

This is the hallway to the baggage claim at LAX.

I had left the office early so that I might catch the 3:30 bus downtown. I walked from my house the ten minutes to the bus stop. The Seattle sky was misty and grey and smelled of slime and worms, but the air was not too cold. It was just cool enough to be refreshing, but not cold enough for muttering obscenities to myself under my breath. I reached the bus stop one minute past the bus’s scheduled departure time, and was overcome with a wave of fear: the fear of being late. However, a bus showed up within a few minutes and I was on it. I paid $2.25 to get on, and found my way to a seat next to a man who pretended I wasn’t there. Even with just a few belongings, including the all-important saxophone, I felt like I was on my way to a place from which I would never return; a prison, or a space colony.

The bus stopped, not surprisingly, downtown. I got off at my stop and proceeded to the tunnel, where I was to catch the light-rail to the airport. As I made my way into the underground tunnels, the moist, cool, blue-grey of the city street was replaced by the sickly green-yellow light of the catacombs, and the smell of the rainy day was replaced by that pungent, offensive odor that only seems to accompany underground transit tunnels. I purchased the $2.50 one-way train ticket; which was difficult, because the ticket machines are located about a half a mile from the train stop on a different level from the train. I am not sure why the city chose this confusing way of doing things…perhaps for the same reason that social networking and webmail sites make it difficult to find the “sign out” button. Maybe if we are confused enough we’ll end up accidentally paying money for something we don’t need. Perhaps an overall feeling of confusion in society is good for generating revenue, or perhaps the overall feeling of confusion in society is exactly what causes these types of ridiculous decisions to be made. In any case, it was a miracle that I even made it to the platform with a ticket.

Like most underground transit platforms, this one was warm from exhaust and humanity, and sticky with the filth of ages. It seems as though things age more quickly underground. Perhaps it’s being hidden from the watchful eye of above-ground society, or perhaps it’s the fact that the underground is slightly closer to the center of Earth’s gravity, thus time moves with a bit more speed. The concrete ground was covered in a layer of not-dried-up-enough sludge that made it difficult to walk, and even more difficult to imagine walking into my clean house a couple days later. Lost in thoughts of timeless grime and hot subterranean stenches, I was startled by the appearance of my next mode of transport: the train! King County’s light rail is actually quite heavy despite the name, but then it occurred to me that it might be called the “light rail” because of the unforgiving and harsh florescent bulbs inside the train cars. The train came to an eerily silent stop right in front of me, the doors slid open futuristically, and I boarded with the confidence of a five-year-old entering a courtroom.

The inside was as sterile as a hospital, except, of course, for the floor. I made my way to a seat that looked comfortable and I attempted to relax. It would be my only relaxing time until late that night when I went to bed. The train exited the station with a subtle lurch, and the soothing sound of the mysterious rising electrical tones lulled me to sleep.

But only for a moment.

I was awoken two stops later by the entrance of a small group of sweaty teenagers. They sat in the seats directly behind me, and had a ridiculous conversation that was too loud to block out. Unfortunately, I could not remember the exact details of the conversation. All I could remember was that Kaitlyn is a b-word, one of them absolutely loves “Robotripping,” Kaitlyn should know better than to “pull that shit” (attempt suicide), gangsters are hot, and that the evening’s party was going to be wild. Eventually, these future eligible voters left the train and released themselves onto the unsuspecting outside world. The sudden departure of these oily adolescents and the accompanying fadeout of their klaxon-rusty-nail-parrot voices came like the wave of euphoria one feels when the pain finally disappears from a badly stubbed toe. I was happy to be rid of them. The next few stops flew by as I pondered this, and more quickly than I could have imagined, we were at the airport.

Well, not at the airport.

The Seattle/Tacoma International Airport resides neither in Seattle, nor Tacoma, but in the mystical in-between city of Seatac. The train stop nearest the airport seemed to be in a different city altogether. Perhaps Tukwila…perhaps some other city. It was not relevant, I suppose. But it was a long, long walk down the platform, down the stairs, through the “turnstiles,” across the sky bridge, through the parking lot, across another sky bridge, into the airport, through security, and down the long hall to the gate. I probably walked about two miles. I was very thankful that I was relatively young and relatively healthy. But even if my physical health was intact at the end of that journey, my mental health was thoroughly tested by the difficulty of having forgotten my ticket and also by having to deal with the increasingly ridiculous security procedure. In case you didn’t know, they now put everyone through an x-ray. Since I do not like being x-rayed by anyone but a doctor, I opted out of the x-ray, and was instead given the hilarious and annoyingly slow opt-out pat-down. Years ago, I was patted down in an airport, and it was cold and sterile and quick. This was cold, sterile, slow, and overcompensatingly fake-compassionate. And it appeared to be how “everyone’s doing it” now. I could tell that the unfortunate TSA agents who get stuck with the pat-down job say the same speech a hundred times a day, each time trying, and failing, to muster up a tone of concern. “I’m now going to place the back of my hand on your leg and move up your inner thigh.” And they have to say that for every body part. Talk about foreplay! But, like so many unsatisfied lovers, I too was left without satisfaction, and asked to move along to make room for the next affair.

The flight was uneventful. The plane took off on time and flew at 38,000 feet and about 600 miles per hour. I wondered how much time would be added onto the flight as a result of time dilation, and if they took that into account when estimating arrival times.

Each time I enter LAX, whether arriving or departing, I am struck by its unassuming grandeur; its humble flamboyance. Its architecture, within and without, is a triumph in aesthetic failure. Much like the artworks that the city of Los Angeles is famous for, the airport gives its patrons only what is necessary to get the job done, without any of the pretentious attention to craft that keeps so much art from being successful financially (and keep sso many other airports running inefficiently). But they try. The result is a tragedy of colors and shapes that prepares you for the addictive ugliness of the city’s various skylines, and the horrifying yet pleasant web of culture that ties it all together. Even the sign that greets visitors outside the airport is an exercise in over-the-top obviousness. Three twelve foot high letters, L-A-X, in the most boring font possible — a fitting metaphor for the Hollywood screenplay. Further in, a series of luminescent columns that hold up nothing: a beautiful representation of the Hollywood film plot. The mile-long hallway that leads from the terminal gate to the baggage claim looks like an insane asylum in paradise. The entire wall is a mosaic of all the colors that weren’t pretty enough to make it into the rainbow; a monument to the sub-sublime; each color adding very little to the spectrum of colors that makes up the tiled mural that  that seems to be less than the sum of its parts. But, like the unnecessarily dramatic Hollywood, this hallway carried us from one end to the other, and before long, I was on the curb to meet my ride and venture into the heart of Hollywood, where I would help to make beautiful music all weekend long.

Horace Pickett at the Comet Tavern

Ryan in the front and Nick in the back.

I always love performing with Horace Pickett.

I met them on a dark, slimy night in West Seattle at the Skylark. I wandered into the club for their weekly open mic and purchased a root beer (I do not possess enough money to buy beer, nor can my stomach or tongue handle the stuff). I signed up for the open mic and awaited my turn. There weren’t that many performers, nor was there much of an audience. I felt cold and scared. Then these three audacious weirdos climbed onto the stage carrying way too much gear. I remember thinking “who do these guys think they are carrying all that stuff in here? I bet they think they’re real hot stuff playing those cool looking instruments and wearing those ridiculous shirts. I’ll show them…” and so on. My expectations set, Horace Pickett (the three piece group) began to play their songs, and to my great surprise, they exceeded my expectations more than I ever could have expected! It was songwriting like I hadn’t heard in ages. The Kinks, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, They Might Be Giants, Scott Joplin, Beck, and the best showtunes came to mind. They blew my mind that night. Later, after they saw my set, we met, and found out we were from the same area of Michigan. We knew a bunch of the same people. We had been to the same shows. But we had never met. It was the kind of coincidence you read about in blog posts.

Later, we began to attend open mics together, and book shows together, because we thought each could make the other’s show a better one if we were playing on the same stage. Then we got a practice/recording space together. Now we were in the same room and I got to see them write and rehearse. Soon I was playing saxophone on a couple of their songs. It wasn’t long before I was playing on most of their songs. Then I went on tour for three months. When I got back, I moved in with Horace Pickett and now we’re doing all kinds of great music work at the house.

As I stood on the stage I reflected on all of this, as I often do. I asked myself the usual questions: “How did I get here? Who are these people? How is it possible for me to be on this stage, in this outfit, with this instrument in my hands, looking out at these people, with these people from my home town standing next to me playing their hearts out and letting me do my thing?” And the first part of this post is sort of the answer to that.

The show was amazing. Lots of people were there and they danced their hearts out. The band played its heart out. Almost no wrong notes. The other bands did equally well to the applause of a hundred screaming fans. Abraham opened the show and were amazing. They are one of my favorites. This was the second time I’d seen them, and the sound in the Comet was a little better for their sound (it was roomy and made everything sound intense). Ryan Purcell’s band put on a great show of country rock, and Gun Street Glory closed the night beautifully with their mysterious brand of haunting surf-noir.

It was a good night.