Monday, January 11, 2016

It's Okay to Like the Hits

When I was twenty, a friend asked me if I liked David Bowie. I said yes. He asked me what songs I liked.

I of course knew who David Bowie was when I was twenty. He was a musician. He was married to Iman (who was in my favorite Star Trek movie). He was Jareth in that movie Labyrinth that a girl I had a crush on in middle school loved (but that I, honestly, never really got into beyond a burgeoning celeb-crush on Jennifer Connelly). He had a brief cameo in Zoolander. So I pulled the song briefly clipped in his scene.

"Let's Dance," I said.

"No," this guy said, matter-of-factly.

I was flummoxed, briefly. I thought more. He sang that great song with Queen.

"'Under Pressure' is a great tune..." I posited.

"Let it die already," he responded.

I thought more. Of course, the one I absolutely loved because of my life-long desire to travel the stars (see that I, at twenty, still had and still do have at 33, a "favorite" Star Trek film).

"'Ground Control to Major Tom,'" I said.

"That's not even what it's called. You don't like Bowie. You don't even know Bowie."

I tried my last grasp.

"'Suffragette City,'" I proudly proclaimed.

"You only know that because The Get Up Kids covered it," he responded.

"You only like the hits."

I conceded. I had come up against a cultural goaltender, and he deflected all of my shots.

"You call yourself a music fan," he added. I let him have it.

This kind of cooler-than-thou attitude, this hipster behavior, this cultural goaltending; I'm guilty of it. Recently.

I feel bad, now, today of all days. I feel bad because after I got shut down for "only liking the hits," I didn't dig deeper. It would be five years or so before I delved into Ziggy Stardust. Longer before I felt safe telling people that I liked "Space Oddity" and "Under Pressure." I didn't go back because I thought I had missed it. Well, I had, hadn't I?

I'm thirty three years old. When I was born, Bowie had been around. He had been an innovator. He had invented and reinvented himself already before I came on the scene. He would do it again before I became culturally aware enough to listen to the music my parents were listening to, to understand and develop from that base my own tastes, to let friends and MTV and the cultural juggernaut of sort-of-but-not-really-legal payola radio to present what they had, and for me to either accept or reject it. When I came into my cultural awareness, David Bowie was cool. I was not.

But now, having delved into not just the music but the person behind it, I know that David Bowie was not cool. Not always. What he did was just make the music he wanted to make. He didn't care about being cool. You discover, growing up uncool, that it's those on the fringes that define what will become cool. That's what Bowie did, through his music and his attitude. And he never stopped.

I spoke earlier about listening to the music my parents listened to. I don't want to paint a picture that just because they weren't listening to Bowie, they were doing me a disservice. There's too much culture out there, not everybody can catch every single innovator and know what will happen. No, my parents didn't have any David Bowie records. But you know what they did have? Queen. Paul Simon. The Moody Blues. A record of live performances from the Apollo, covering years. Joe Byrd and the Field Hippies. The Beatles. Louis Prima. Elton John. Buddy Rich. What I'm trying to say is that my musical education wasn't empty, it wasn't lacking, it wasn't incomplete. It's impossible to be a completist. Not everybody has the cool uncle with the whole Dylan catalog, or the older sister who copied all of her Jethro Tull albums onto cassette. We do the best with what we have. With luck, we find somebody with similar taste. We share the things the other doesn't know. We act not as goaltenders, not even as gate keepers, but as guides to each other. For every person out there who loves David Bowie, there's somebody who will, but they just haven't heard enough yet. Maybe they just know the hits. There's no need to punish somebody for only knowing what has been played on Top 40 Radio. Let the hits be a gateway to the deeper cuts. If somebody you know only knows one or two songs they've heard here and there, lend them a copy of the full album. Let them explore. Let them get to know the artist in their own way.

And let them know; it's okay to like the hits. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On Turning 30, The Inexorable March of Time, Promises, and Seeing the Success in Failure

Today is my thirtieth birthday.

Our culture puts a lot of emphasis on certain milestones, and some of them do make sense. At eighteen, you are almost completely legally an adult. You can participate in our Democracy by casting your vote. You can purchase pornography and tobacco products. You can have sex with anybody you want (who is also over the age of eighteen) and nobody can tell you otherwise (except, of course, for the other person involved, and if they say "no thank you" it's best to listen). It's the age that most Americans graduate from high school, the age at which many of them set off on their own for the first time ever. Now, sure, you can't drink yet, so, you're not fully an adult. But still.

At twenty, nothing really happens except that you're now in your 20's, which is supposed to involve some amount of maturity? Maybe? I don't know. There's really nothing special about twenty when you get right down to it. It's just a number with a zero in it. A year later, you can finally have a drink.

At twenty-five, you're a quarter of a century old, which was alarming to me at the time. Something about being able to easily quantify my age in terms of a century, albeit in terms that were fractions thereof. Also, your car insurance rates drop because apparently that maturity you're supposed to start acquiring in your twenties has kicked in notably in your driving skills. Or something.

Then what? Sure, thirty. Three-oh. Now you're really and truly a grown-up. I fell victim to this same fallacy. Now that I'm thirty, I'm a grown-up. A grown-up who is wearing a T-shirt with the name of a band I have liked since I was fifteen. Half a lifetime ago.

Thirty year olds can wear flies, right?
And I'm listening to records. Grown-ups, in all their practicality, should not own records. They take up so much space. And they're expensive. And they require archaic equipment to enjoy. Equipment that has pretty specific space requirements. I'm looking across the room at my record player, and I can see a guitar I have had since I was thirteen. It's covered in stickers. I still play this thing. Grown-ups who have guitars keep them in their cases. Grown-ups with guitars do not have stickers on their guitars. They're embarrassed by this sort of thing being leftover from their youth.
So many things about this picture scream "I'm an adult!"

But I also see pictures of my family; my wife, our daughter. A daughter who is growing up so fast. These pictures are over  a year old, and she barely looks the same now. She's a little girl, not a baby. She's currently napping. I am awake mostly through sheer force of will. In a little while, she'll wake up and come downstairs and she'll want to dance to the records I'm playing. Because I'm cultivating in her an appreciation for real music, not just music specifically marketed towards children. Side bar: why is this a thing? Music exists in the world, yes? I understand the idea that some music is not appropriate for kids. I get it. I can make that decision, I think, right? Like, if she came down here right now, I'd keep this Arcade Fire record on. Next, I'd play Broken Bells, or Simon & Garfunkel, or Fleet Foxes. I would not play AC/DC or Childish Gambino or 10cc. Not that there's anything wrong with the 10cc record I have, it just seems a little crazy for a two year old, no? I mean, I'm not sure I'd play any of the Dixieland or Hot Jazz I've got, just because she might dance too fast for me to keep up.

But Alice Cooper is perfectly fine for Jules. Right?

I guess what I'm saying is that, thirty is just an arbitrary number. Twenty-eight years separate myself from my daughter, and then thirty-one years exist in the space between me and my father. The three of us could groove to the same record at once. And we have. And we will again. Why should it matter, these designations? Now, talk to me on my 42nd birthday. That will be a whole other story. But for now, hey. So I'm thirty. Yesterday I was twenty-nine. I don't feel all that different. Okay, so at twenty I was able to spend hours at the City Museum in St. Louis, crawling around and running, and feel fine the next day. And now, having spent two hours there this past Saturday, my right shoulder could fall off at any moment. But that's fine. It happens. So I'm thirty. And a year from now, I'll be thirty-one. I'll still be long-winded, I'll still be listening to records, I'll still be writing.

Oh yeah, writing. I made a silly promise about writing and turning thirty. That silly promise was a hard deadline on completing my novel. Silly because I'm afraid of completing anything for fear of it being a failure. Silly because I would rather sleep in than get up early and work on it. Silly because I have a family whose company I enjoy far more than the self-inflicted torture of writing for hours on end. Silly because a good novel takes a good long while to complete. Silly because numbers are arbitrary (see above).

So it's been a while since I started writing it, I guess. The full history reaches back to the spring of 2008. I wrote a short story called "North for Salvation." The following autumn, I took the same characters and general situation, and changed the name to "Before Rock Attained Perfection." Then I stretched that concept out over the next two  and a half years, changing the name to What Place to Rest the Search, a nod to a Led Zeppelin lyric from the song "Achilles' Last Stand," which figured prominently in the narrative. Then, about a year ago, I threw out what I had written in first person and changed it to third person because, as I discovered, I had one main character and a whole lot of action taking place in the past. I wanted to tell a more present story and get into the heads of the other characters (who, in the first-person narrative, were flat and boring). First person worked for the short story versions. Not, it seems, for the novel, for which I have yet to find a good title.

Then I set an arbitrary goal, to have the whole thing completed by the time I turned thirty. Today.

Woops. I guess I failed.

Or...maybe not?

I could have easily finished...the original first person version. But then it wouldn't have been as good, in my opinion. You know what I mean?

So, I'm inclined to call this "failure" a "success." But, how? Well, that's a very good question, disembodied authorial stand-in for the audience! And I'll tell you how!

Writing is a process of discovery. Discovery of the author's limitations. Discovery of the author's strengths. Discovery of those in the life of the author who are supportive, and the subsequent partial or complete fare-thee-well to those discovered to be unsupportive. It is also about the discovery of the story. Sure, I sat down with an outline and a basic idea of where this story was going to go. And for the most part, I've followed it. But it's grown, and changed, and I've had to make adjustments along the way. And though in some ways I am farther from finishing a novel than I was when I threw out the first-person version, I am also much farther along in developing a real story that might have some teeth, legs, arms, and a torso as opposed to just some very misguided feet. That's a very strange metaphor, I'm sorry, but it makes sense to me, and I had that metaphor rattling around in my head and, trust me, it did not need to ever find its way into the book. Ever.

Sure, I missed my goal. But as the goal approached and I started to panic, I felt I should take a step back and look at what I had accomplished. The fact is, pushing myself toward the goal was more important than reaching the goal. Pushing and pushing got me off my lazy ass. I don't care if it's not perfect, now. I will finish it, and if it fails to sell or whatever, that's fine. I'll just write another one. Or a play. Something else. One failure doesn't mean an end to an endeavor, or exclude success from the future (see also my first attempt at college).

I even think I could have finished the third-person version of the book by today if I had been slightly less meticulous. Though, had I been more meticulous, I'd be about half-way through the second chapter. The point is, if I had rushed to get it done, I'd have a complete novel that I was only thirty-fifty percent happy with. Right now, I've got about forty percent of a novel that I am almost completely satisfied with. That's a fantastic feeling, believe it or not. A feeling that far outweighs any frustration I may have felt at not completing it.

As Wayne Gretzky once said, "You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don't take." And we all know how awesome Wayne Gretzky was.
Wayne Gretzky was one of the 19th Century Russian Romanticists, right?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day

Leap Day. A day I wish I could have utilized better. Instead, I worked all day, came home, and cleaned the house. Perhaps I'll take my leap day later this year.

Yesterday, I wrote one page.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Empty promises are being made yet again, by me to my .3 remaining loyal readers.

I am currently reading The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. It's kind of awesome.

New feature: I will try, every day, to yell you how many pages I wrote the day before. For reference, one page is considered one full side of a page plus at least one line onto the next page, 12 point Times New Roman, double-spaced with one inch margins all around. Admitting the days when I write zero pages, and forcing myself to admit it to anybody who is still visiting this blog (or who hasn't yet deleted it from their reader) will be good for me.

I plan on finishing my novel by the time I turn 30. I have 267 days, as of today, to finish it.

I have disabled NetworkedBlogs from posting to Facebook. I don't know that it was generating a whole lot of traffic anyway.

Correlated to the novel, if I finish and send it out to publishers before I turn 30, I will be getting a tattoo. My wife has designed it. I will not be getting any tattoos past the age of 30. Despite being a college graduate, a husband, and a father with a steady full time job, I still feel like I don't have to be a full grown-up ever, but there are certain times when you have to draw a line. For me, 30 is a good cut-off for no longer doing something like getting a tattoo or buying an incredibly impractical sports car (at least, until after Juliette and any other as-yet-unborn offspring are off to college). No, my wife is not having another baby any time soon, so don't think that was just a clever way of not telling you something. Besides, we have to give some other bands time to put together a life-altering album which I will then listen to on every single major milestone in the second child's life (like I do with Arcade Fire's The Suburbs for the major events in Juliette's life), and those sorts of things don't happen all that often.

Yesterday, I wrote a total of zero pages.

Sunday, February 05, 2012


I guess it's been a while, huh?


Monday, August 01, 2011

Click A Link, Win a Prize!

The prize you win is a brand spankin' new story I wrote and submitted to an online literary magazine called Forty Ounce Bachelors.

Actually, you win the entire online literary magazine. Poke around the August 2011 issue (Volume 1, Issue 3) and read the other offerings. But when you get to the fiction section, there I am!


For those of you who don't have time to poke around, here's the direct link to my story.


If you listen close, you can hear "Me and Julio Down by the School Yard"

Monday, July 11, 2011

A St. Louis Institution You've Probably Never Heard of Is Dead

Imagine, if you will, a bright-eyed and innocent eleven year old boy, awkwardly tall and skinny, with longish brown hair and a style one would equate with a person who was trying their best to be a hippie even though they didn't quite know what a hippie was or what they really looked like. That boy you are imagining is me, and I want you to imagine me as this boy on an unseasonably warm mid-February morning in 1994. Got it? Good.

I was in fifth grade at the time, a student in Mrs. Sach's class on the third floor of Avery Elementary, and Miss Payne, our music instructor, had just given us the information we needed to be ready to take our music placement tests for our pending transfer to Steger Sixth Grade Center, where we would either choose choir or band. For those of us making the smart decision to choose band, the placement test would determine whether or not we got our first, second or third choice of instrument or, failing that, if we would be assigned the flute. I knew that I wanted to play Trumpet. My older sister played saxophone and, being that as I understood brass players to be the rivals of woodwinds, and being that I wanted to remain my sister's rival because, at the time, I was eleven and she was 14 and we were required by the laws of nature to hate each other[citation needed], I knew I was making the right choice.

My father, a percussionist, drummer and high school band director in his own right, was heavily involved in my decision making process, in that he asked me which instrument I wanted to play and told me exactly what kind of trumpet I should rent to start out with and what kind he hoped he could buy me when I was older and could play really well. So before the placement test even happened, Dad announced he would take me to Mel Bay Music Center to rent me a trumpet, so I could get a jump start on the other kids. "But first," he told me on this particularly warm Saturday in February of 1994, "I have to run to the drum shop."

I had probably been in the drum shop before, I'm sure. My father used to go there all the time for drum heads, new sticks, marimba mallets, etc. I am almost positive that I'd been in there with him a few times. But something happened this time.

We walked into Drum Headquarters on Manchester Road and I stood stock still. Everywhere I looked, light glinted off of finished woods painted in the full spectrum of colors. To my right, cymbals shimmered golden under overhead spotlights. Men and boys were banging on drums and cymbals everywhere. Banging on them with sticks. I knew my dad played drums; I'd seen them in the basement. I'd seen him play dozens if not hundreds of concerts with a myriad of bands across every style of music conceivable. I had sat at my father's drum set, picked up sticks, and hit everything in sight with a fury unmatched by primal man in his day. I knew of this world, but when I walked into it that day, I discovered that I wanted to belong. My father found me hours later salivating under a Zildjian Paper Thin Crash. "Come on, we're picking you up a trumpet," he said, recognizing with fear the gleam in my eye. "How about," I said, "instead, I just get...a pair of...drumsticks...?" We never made it to the other store and I never learned how to play trumpet.

That was the magic of Drum Headquarters. Every time I entered the store, somebody was trying out a new snare drum or whacking a cymbal. Somewhere in the back a drum lesson was going on. A television mounted above the display models of top-of-the-line sets was always playing a video of Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Papa Jo Jones, Max Roach. The place was staffed by drummers who played out, who knew about the latest technological advances in bass drum pedal technology. It was noisy and colorful and wonderful every time you stepped in.

Throughout my teenage years, I was in the store at least once a week, picking up new sticks or new drum heads or scoping out a new hi-hat set. Birthdays and Christmases always provided DHQ gift certificates. I drooled over the Yamaha Stage Custom until I saw the Tama Swingstar, which I drooled over until the Rockstar came in, and then I couldn't decide and drooled over all three. I ended up with the Stage Custom but got to play a Swingstar in my high school Jazz Band. I only ever bought one piece of equipment from a store other than DHQ, and the experience made me never want to shop anywhere else but DHQ for my percussion needs.

Sadly, as I grew up and abandoned serious playing in favor of more casual musicianship, my visits became increasingly infrequent. In fact, the last time I was in there was probably two years ago, buying a new pair of drum sticks. I still felt that tingle, that excitement running through me. Being able not only to see the newest drums, but to feel them, run my fingers over the finish, give them each a good thwack if I feel like it; there's nothing like it.

This message was posted on the Drum Headquarters website last week:

Customers, friends and colleagues,

I regret to inform you that effective Thursday, July 7, Drum Headquarters is closed for business. These are difficult times for specialized retailers and of course, Drum Headquarters is no exception. Since purchasing the business in 2005, a perfect storm of events including epic negative economic conditions and the accelerating changes brought on by technology have produced a wave of challenges bigger than I could withstand. I've been a part of Drum Headquarters since 1983, so this is not an easy announcement to make. But, I've done everything in my power to keep the doors of Drum Headquarters open and it is no longer possible.

Customers with unfinished business will be contacted directly.

The Lesson program will continue through the month of July. You will be contacted with instructions by your teacher.

THERE IS NO LIQUIDATION SALE SCHEDULED AT THIS TIME. Please continue to monitor for updates.

You can communicate with us via email at

Thank you for 30 years of support, fun and friendship.

Jim Uding

We all know the economy is bad, but there are other factors alluded to. The growing technology changes, for instance, refer to the Internet. Look, I love the Internet. I am no Luddite when it comes to eCommerce. I get it; it's easier to purchase some things online. I will even admit, though I hate to, that buying books and music and movies online is not only cheaper but is often easier than going to a brick and mortar store, especially an independent one like the ones I frequent. But there are some things that just should NOT be purchased online. Like musical instruments. Even five hundred identical snare drums rolling off an assembly line will each sound slightly different. And without going to a store, how do you know what a certain drum (cymbal/guitar/trumpet/saxophone/violin/flute/oboe/mandolin etc) is supposed to sound like (this is something booksellers are complaining about, too, in that customers come to a brick and mortar store to look at a book and then purchase it online from Amazon, sometimes right there in the store with an iPhone)?

Since DHQ is now closed, there are only three or four places drummers can go to pick up a new set in the area: Fred Pierce's Drum Studio, a shop much like DHQ; Mozingo's Music, a more general shop that doesn't just specialize in drums; Guitar Center (a place I only have bad things to say about); and a Best Buy with the instrument shop (meh). Only a few years ago, we also had McMurray Music Center, which was the kind of independent shop Guitar Center is modeled on and which, sadly, became a Guitar Center. As these specialty shops disappear, they get replaced with stores who deal in volume sales. Sure, they're cheaper, but the staff are less knowledgeable, less helpful and less permanent. The guy behind the counter that day in 1994 was Jim, the man who purchased the shop six years ago and who had to shut down last week. Other staff members may have come and gone over the years, but they did so slowly, and almost always left for jobs in the music industry. These specialty shops are staffed by passionate professionals who really know what they're doing. And they're disappearing faster than we can blog about them.

Thank you, Drum Headquarters, for changing my life and helping me share one of my passions for many years. You will be missed.