I’ve written another song. Not much backstory, except to remark on the obvious — that it’s one more examination of aging — and except that I had been struggling with the lyrics for months. At a certain point, I felt the need to say it’s done, and to move on. Even the video betrays evidence of that impatience: I didn’t want to deal with audio-video syncing problems I’ve been experiencing using Final Cut Express (Apple’s old video editing platform), and so there are some noticeable time lags between voice and image, especially in the final verse. You can find lyrics and production notes here along with a thank you to brother Kurt for helping with the final mix in his Brooklyn basement studio.
Well, I finally got my 15 minutes of fame, playing piano at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland on May 29, 2015.
Actually, the piano was a remnant of the “Play Me, I’m Yours” traveling piano art installation; and I had to perform one-handed, as my left hand was holding the low-resolution Flip camcorder with which I documented this short performance.
I went to see three sets at Bound for Glory yesterday, WVBR’s long-running live (and free) Sunday evening radio concert program at Anabel Taylor Hall at Cornell. Guy Davis performed, and also took this selfie.
The two of us were in the same class at New Rochelle High School, but our paths never really intersected there. Guy is an amazing singer, songwriter, musician, and performer — something I was not entirely aware of until I saw him play yesterday. You should definitely check out his web site and buy one or more of his CDs.
While we’re on this subject, it turns out that there were a number of other students from that same class from New Rochelle who went on to have professional careers as musicians. Amy Madden is a singer, songwriter, bassist, writer, and poet (recently inducted into the NYC Blues Hall of Fame). Andy Tuck “worked throughout the 70’s and 80’s as a professional jazz pianist and composer” (some of his amazing music can be heard here).
And then there were two other former friends who started out with me in the New Rochelle school system, but presumably finished their secondary education elsewhere:
I met Rob Kapilow in Junior High School where he impressed me, not necessarily with his piano playing, but with his impassioned interest and advocacy for entering into relationships with 15-year-old girls. But that was then. From his current web site, we read: “Kapilow’s range of activities is astonishingly broad, including his What Makes It Great?® presentations (now for over fifteen seasons in New York and Boston), his family compositions and Family Musik® events, his “Citypieces”, and residencies with institutions as diverse as the National Gallery of Canada and Stanford University.”
Bob Mintzer actually went to elementary school with me. I remember a “den” in his house — at that time, having grown up living only in apartments, I had been to very few actual single-family houses, and I’m pretty sure this was my first experience with a real den. Such things can make a big impression on a ten- or eleven-year-old boy. Bob is now “a twenty year member of the Grammy award winning Yellowjackets who also leads a Grammy winning Big Band, travels with his own Quartet, and plays with numerous bands globally.”
Am I leaving anyone out?
I allow myself the pleasure of recording one “cover”* only after writing an original song. So here’s my take on the Bee Gees from 1968:
* I’ve been recording these covers sequentially (i.e., one from each year), starting with 1963’s Surfer Girl. Each year features a different song and a different artist that were important to me in some way. Eventually, I hope to reach the current year, or at least the twenty-first century, but — with my somewhat arbitrary recording rules (see above) — I will need to write quite a few original songs, and I tend to struggle with those…
I’ve been working on this new song for a while. After struggling with both the words and music for months, I recorded the song at home in December 2014, then brought it to Brooklyn so that brother Kurt could help me with the mix (I tend to use Logic Pro’s default settings for everything, whereas Kurt actually knows what he’s doing), and finally tweaked the relative volumes of the vocal, background vocals, and guitar by myself at home just a few days ago.
I shot the video in about 15 minutes using my black background cloth and my low-resolution Flip camcorder, and edited it with Final Cut Express yesterday.
Between the Lines
Words and music © 2014 J. Ochshorn
verse 1. i thought i knew a lot about you
what you’re wishing and how you move in space
where your phone is when it’s missing
from its normal resting place
verse 2. i guess it’s really not that simple
the plot’s not unraveled and much remains unsaid
like a road that’s rarely traveled
like a story half unread
(no no no) don’t make me guess
(whoa whoa whoa) what’s on your mind
i can’t find the meaning in your symbols and your signs
don’t make me read between the lines
verse 3. what’s the point of this interrogation
when nothing’s been proven with your third degree
you just seem to keep on moving
in and out of misery [chorus]
please don’t make me jump to these conclusions
or search for sense in your allusions
it’s hard for me to deal with these confusions
verse 4. so i’m looking for a point of entry
unencumbered to a different mode
show me how your password’s numbered
tell me how to break the code [chorus]
Well, thirty years sure goes fast. This being the 30th anniversary of a song that I wrote in 1984 and recorded with the rock group, ROLLO, I figured a tribute of sorts was in order. So here is a new, acoustic, live version of Last Night.
“Crucified” was written by Dan Smullyan in 1980; our rock group, Rollo, used to perform it at various venues in New York City, and we recorded it in our basement studio in New Rochelle sometime in the early 1980s. I finally got around to creating this video for the song, which has never before been released in any form. I’m playing keyboards and doing the vocals; brother Kurt plays guitar. As I write in the YouTube description, the visual imagery in the video consists of an animated romp through “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” a triptych painted in oil on oak by Hieronymus Bosch around 1500.
Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (from 1967) is one of the great rock’n’roll classics of all time. Per Wikipedia: “As of 2009, it was the most played song in the last 75 years in public places in the United Kingdom, and the UK performing rights group Phonographic Performance Limited in 2004 recognised it as the most-played record by British broadcasting of the past 70 years. Also in 2004, Rolling Stone placed ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ No. 57 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” I recorded this “live” cover using Logic Pro 9, and simultaneously shot the low-resolution video with my Flip camcorder (I layered multiple copies of the low-resolution video, some of them enlarged up to 500% of their original resolution, to make the HD video in Final Cut Express). [Updated 5/19/14: this is a newer mix of the original recording done in Brooklyn by brother Kurt.]
I wrote this song after thinking about the advances in technology that have occurred since I was a kid, and how — or whether — these changes made a big difference in the quality of my life. Certainly, some things have become easier (like typing using an editable word processor instead of a manual typewriter) and some things have become newly possible (like distributing this blog post to the entire English-speaking world), but I concluded that, in the final analysis, not much has qualitatively changed. Things have gotten faster, but they’re largely the same old things.
Moore’s Law holds that processing power doubles every two years, while Marx wrote that technology (“machinery”), while mastering the forces of nature, makes man the slave of those forces when in the hands of capital.
So in this song, higher resolution (Moore’s Law) is contrasted with the reality of technological advances under capitalism. The advances are real and significant, as is the damage they inflict on both human and natural “factors” of production.
I use the term “freedom” in this song to describe a fundamental condition of capitalism — that one is free to use one’s own property and to exclude others from it — a condition enforced by state power. Instead of getting seduced by the speed and resolution of technological toys, and by the freedom to buy them and to use them (this is the “siren’s song” I sing about in the chorus), I note that the rich are still getting richer and the poor are still staying poor — that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Just a few more notes on the recording and video production:
I recorded the song using Logic Pro 9, playing the “electric piano” live on my midi keyboard. I added bass and drums, and just a bit of organ (also played live on the midi keyboard). Thanks to Kurt for help on the mix.
I shot the video myself, placing my low-resolution Flip camcorder on a tripod, or — for the close-ups — holding it in my outstretched hand. The Red5 Audio RV8 mic with the shockmount that I appear to be singing into is, alas, just an image layered above the video track, courtesy of Photoshop. The photo album I’m looking at at the start of the video is really my old album, with many of my b+w prints, shot with Kodak Verichrome Pan 127 film using a Kodak Hawkeye Flash Fun Camera that I purchased in the early 1960s for $4 with a coupon from the back of a box of Nestlé’s Quik chocolate powder.
The image of “New York Children,” asleep in the areaway of a tenement building, is from Jacob Riis’s How the Other half Lives, taken in 1888. Several video clips are captured (fair use) from the internet: Gloria Borger and Wolf Blitzer of CNN are our “talking heads on high-def screens,” debating the tea party’s impact on US public opinion; Trump and Romney pledge their mutual support in a February, 2012 Las Vegas press conference; and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer “goes crazy” in one of many such viral moments.
The entire video was shot after the audio recording was already complete (lip-synched), with one exception: since I wanted to capture the improvised and spontaneous piano instrumental solo and couldn’t adequately duplicate it after the fact, I re-recorded the solo while filming it “live.”
words and music by Jonathan Ochshorn (copyright 2013 Ochshorn)
verse 1. i used to take these photographs – twelve small prints per roll
every one felt special to me just like they were made of gold
no one uses film these days – images are cheap
i threw out my old camera – just one less piece of junk to keep
[chorus] higher resolution greater speed
wonder why you don’t get what you need
freedom’s just a siren’s song
the poor get played while the rich get strong
not so strange when you figure out its aim
the more things change the more they stay the same
verse 2. everyone can read the signs – nothing is dependable
leaps in productivity just make us more expendable
while talking heads on hi-def screens check out all their tv dimples
primped with cargo blu-ray powder for their pores and pimples [chorus]
[bridge] sycophants cry “human nature” when we fight against each other
as if, forced to act that way, we really could refuse
this is what your freedom’s good for: to compete against your brother
with every social interaction just a game of win or lose
[instrumental break] [bridge]
verse 3. billions struggle to survive while the rich revel in their vanity
businessmen compete within this organized insanity
there is no new paradigm – not even a change in mood
no revolution no revelation – everyone’s still getting screwed [chorus]
[chorus 2] higher resolution greater speed
no one’s ever getting what they need
freedom’s just the rich man’s tool
profit is the golden rule
rearrange the purpose of this game
or the more things change the more they’ll stay the same
arranged and produced by J. Ochshorn
recorded at home with Logic Pro software January, 2014
vocals: J. Ochshorn
software instruments played live on midi keyboard (electric piano, organ, drums, bass): J. Ochshorn
[Update: Nov. 25, 2014. I’ve just created an official KARAOKE version of the song!]
I recorded a new cover — The Rascals’ Good Lovin’ from 1966 (written by Rudy Clark and Arthur Resnick). All my musical recordings are linked from my music page; here is the YouTube video: