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Good Enough Again

This is a newly edited version of a previously released post. It deals with the album/song process.

I am terrible at getting things done.  I have no problem coming up with ideas.  I have notebooks full of ideas.  There might even be one or two good ideas in there somewhere.  I am comfortable with hard work. Once I have selected the lucky good idea, I have no problem getting completely lost in the project.  However, I am terrible at finishing.

When we found out we were expecting our first child, I put two essential items on my to-do list.  It was imperative, before she was born, I clean out the garage and release the record I had been working on. Judgementcame out when she was two.  It was released on February 6, 2010. I still haven’t cleaned the garage.

I think I could have worked on Judgement for the rest of my life. Fortunately, I hit that critical moment that occurs for every project that makes it to completion. Eventually, we find the point where the nagging hauntings from the ghost of the unfinished project outweigh the constant fear that it will never be exactly right.  I begin each new project with a vision and a plan for every tiny detail.   I sometimes get vaguely close.  Good enough.


This is my all-time favorite love song. I was trying to write something creepy and scary and ended up with this weird romantic ditty. Although it is not autobiographical, it is the most personal song I have ever written.  Becasue it feels so awkward and personal, it has always been a tough song to perform for people. As much as I love this song, it also makes me crazy becasue I have never been happy with one line in the first verse.

“He Liked to spend his days with a little dog named Napoleon.”

jughandlehill

It’s my song, I can name the dog anything I like.  But seriously,  who would name a dog Napoleon? “Here Nappy.” “Sit Napoleon.”  This is the stupidest dog name, ever.

When I was writing the song, it just came out. The phrase has been a placeholder since 2012.  I have often come back to work on this song. I want to fix it but I have never been able to come up with anything better.  The line wouldn’t have to be about a dog, it could be anything.  Maybe I wrote the line because I have always wanted a dog. Sitting alone with a dog seems to fit this guy.  A little dog with a powerful name works.  It sets a tone. It is weird and awkward but it’s easy to picture the whole scene. I decided to record this song and put it out into the world because it is good enough.

My wife and I have frequent discussions revolving around this concept of good enough. At our current point in life, we are solely focused on things being good enough.  Being a perfectionist is not an option with twins.  Survival mode kicks in.  Cooking a nice dinner is out of the question.  Eating spoonfuls of peanut butter from the jar when no one is looking is typically the best we can do.  This may seem like a defeatist attitude but really it’s about priorities.  I never get to drink my coffee when it is still hot.  We have to efficiently decide what is the most important and plug away until it is good enough.

How does this fit with art?  Is good enough acceptable for art?  Spending time creating something is far more valuable to me than spending time trying to make something perfect.  Focusing on the minor details for hours is never time well spent.  Artistic integrity is important and art requires hard work.  I know that some amount of spit and polish can go a long way but you need to be able to find the right balance. In this life with limited time, creating something that is good enough far outweighs being stuck worrying about perfection.

The saying goes that the devil is in the details.  I don’t really know what that is supposed to mean. But for me, the details almost always slow me down and very often they keep me from finishing at all.  I am learning, to finish a project, I need to begin with the fewest necessary expectations. I must look at the big picture and just make stuff. That is the only way I can ever arrive at good enough.

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A rock in my pocket 

There was a time when I carried a small flat rock in my pocket.   We all have stuff that we carry with us everyday.  At that time, I always carried a lighter, knife, pencil, and this pinkish brown rock. My current everyday carry is not much different.  Swap the tiny rock for a package of baby butt wipes and I am good to go.  I carried this rock because it was supposed to be a reminder of someone important.  I don’t remember the details about who, why, or how this rock ended up in my pocket. Sorry, to whoever you are, the rock itself proved more memorable than you.

I still have the rock.  It’s in a little wooden box inside a bigger box in the attic. It is part of a collection that includes my employee ID from my first job, a car cigarette lighter from a wreck I walked away from, a special $2 bill, and a hospital bracelet that reminds me of a different event from which  I was able to walk away.

How do we determine what random things we should classify as sentimental? How does any detritus ever make the cut to become treasure? Why do I continue to keep a rock when I can’t remember for what it was a reminder?  I can remember specific conversations with friends when I explained why I carried a rock in my pocket.  I can remember a college professor who also carried a rock in his pocket.  Maybe there is a small club for people like us.  That would be a strange meeting.  Maybe my memories about carrying the rock make it more valuable than the reason why I had the rock in the first place.

There are many symbols we use to remind us of special people and events. Accoring to Wikipedia, wedding rings have been used in some fashion since ancient Egypt and now they are the foundation for a huge jewelry business.  I have a dish on my dresser that houses an ever growing collection of jewelry that was made by my kids.  Every piece in the collection means something to me and I try to cycle through wearing all of these treasures.

Here’s a song about a locket that served it’s wearer by keeping someone close.  Spoiler alert: there is a surprise ending.

I wrote this song a really long time ago and had never been able to find a use for it. I was really glad to be able to include it on the Stomp Your Feet project.  We might include a new version of this song on another random collection of Brother Jack songs that will be coming out later this spring.

What are the odds and ends that you have hidden away in your trinket collection?  Where do you keep your treasure?  What is the weirdest thing that you consider sentimental?  Like Brother Jack, do you keep crap and you can’t remember why? Let me know all the juicy details about your most intimate, sentimental treasures.

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Kicking open the screen door

I got mad this morning.
It had been a while since I got mad in the morning. My oldest (age 10) and I used to fight almost every morning. I guess we are last minute kind of people. We haven’t had the slightest disagreement all school year, until today. She might not even realize we had a fight today (unless she is reading this). I will spare you the details but the overarching theme is that we were really late. I created a panic by pointing out that we were late and she ran out the door, headed for the bus. I was left with two squirming toddlers. I was trying to wrangle coats, shoes, and dirty faces while racing out the door after her. For the first time in her life, she actually closed a door behind her and I was stuck. I kicked it open because that’s how I roll. I then got tangled in some newly hung Christmas decorations. The only course of action was to violently throw them to the floor and stomp Santa’s silly face. The screen door became entangled in the rug that sits neatly in front of the door. Typically welcoming any potential visitors, on this occasion it was a snare trying to trip, maim, and otherwise make me late. Obviously, I had to kick the door again and curse the rug for existing. I dropped (gently secured) both babies into their designated stroller seats and realized I was not wearing shoes.
I roared up the hill behind the unsuspecting perpetrator intending to explain her infractions. By the time we caught up with her, I realized it was all my fault. Everything that had happened was because I was grumpy and had no patience. I was trying to do too many things in the limited time I had.
I was grumpy because I couldn’t fall asleep last night. I couldn’t fall asleep because my mind was racing. My mind was racing because I stayed up too late trying to cross off the last three things from my to-do list. I had to stay up late to get these things done because I hadn’t done them during my normal time. I hadn’t gotten them done during the normal time because I had spent all afternoon outside. It was a beautiful day.
It was a rare warm November day and I was barefoot in the garden. I did get a lot of stuff done that should have been done a month ago. I was so excited about the potential. I know all the cliches about the potential of springtime but fall has so much potential too. Things settle down and rest. But if you look close, you can see plants waiting, getting ready for spring. I love this time of year, especially on warm days when you can justify putting off the things that should be done. I need to practice gratitude more.
I am now going to head back outside because it is another surprisingly warm day. I will put off the things that should be done and probably stay up too late trying to get them done. However, I swear on the sanctity of the internet that tomorrow morning I will not get mad.

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Self Indulgent Song Selection Competition


 
 
During the snowy season of 2017 through the middle of the muddy season, I pursued a project where I posted one song per week on Sound Cloud.  I began this process with the notion that it would force me to write one new song per week.  I got sucked into my back catalog of material that I have never officially used, which led to very few new songs.  I finished 14 songs and took a break.  They were all new recordings of original songs and one traditional song.  It was great to hold myself accountable to some form of regular creative work.  I fully intend to restart this process in the fall.
 
Last week the rumors began to swirl about some issues with Sound Cloud.  It seems to be stereotypical leveraging that will probably result in very little change to the industry and definitely doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of my life.  However, if there is a possibility that all these songs could disappear, I decided I should do something with them.  So, we are putting together a quick and dirty record.  It’s totally old school, DIY, punk rock style.  It will probably be digital only for now.  We might print some CD’s if there is any interest.  DO people still listen to CD’s?
 
We are having a contest from now till the end of July.  The ten songs with the most plays will be on the record. The rest will be going away one way or another in the immediate future.  Let me know your favorite by listening on repeat, over and over until I have completly brainwashed you.
 
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Head Injuries and Old Hymns

During the summer of 2013, I was in a car accident.  Don’t worry, I survived.  If an event that involves two cars slamming together can be considered minor, it was a minor accident.  However, my head bounced off the door frame and my jaw got smashed by the seatbelt mount.  For the next 4 months I dealt with severe concussion symptoms and mild symptoms persisted for probably close to a year.
It was a weird time in my life and a lot of the details are still pretty fuzzy for me. I had some memory issues, mostly short term.  I had headaches and everything else that you would assume to be part of a concussion.  The worst part was the extremely low threshold for sensory stimulation.  If listening was required (I.e. conversation, etc.), I had to shut my eyes.  I couldn’t read, watch TV or listen to music.  I wore dark, old-lady sunglasses inside during the day; I didn’t go outside at all for a while.  I wore earplugs just to tolerate the sound of a reasonably quiet house.  I could go on but you get the idea.  It was a weird summer.
By default I quit playing guitar for 6-8 weeks.  It took a while to be able to tolerate the sound pressure on my ears.  Then I had to figure out how to get my hands to work together again.  It was like they couldn’t do anything automatically, I had to think them into action for basic tasks.  This worked fine for brushing my teeth but to get one hand to make a chord and the other to strum, was not happening.
My first tangible memory from that time period occurred in our dinning room, after dinner.  I was frustrated with the guitar and my hands.  I began playing slow single notes on the lowest string.  All rehab must begin with tiny increments.  Those slow notes gradually turned into the melody of the old hymn “Nothing But the Blood.” Although familiar, this song was never one of my favorites.  I am not sure why I gravitated to this tune.  I guess it’s what I heard in between those low fumbled notes.   It was a slow, even pace so my strum hand didn’t have to do much and the melody was easy to reach with two fingers on my chord hand.
I grew up in church and for a lot of my childhood, old hymns were the only songs I knew.  I love old church music for many reasons.  I think I can remember my Grandpap Jack singing this song.  If its not an actual memory, its the kind of song I remember him singing.
Whenever I get stuck, I can always fall back to this slow, simple melody.  This song taught me to play guitar all over again and now it is one of my favorites.
 

 
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Good Enough

I am terrible at getting things done.  I have no problem coming up with ideas.  I have notebooks full of ideas.  A couple of them might even be good ideas.  I can easily determine the best idea and quickly focus all my energies in this new direction.  I am truly great at hard work.  I am terrible at getting things finished.
When we found out we were expecting our first child, I had a to-do list with only two items on it.  Before she was born, I would clean out the garage and release the collection of songs I had just started working on.  My project, Judgment, came out when she was three.  She will be ten in April and I still haven’t cleaned the garage.
I was only able to finish Judgment when the incessant haunting by the ghost of the unfinished project outweighed the nagging fear that it would never sound exactly how I wanted.  I begin a new project with a great vision for every minute detail.   I sometimes get vaguely close.  Most often the details become overwhelming.  I keep chasing it until a squirrel runs by and I start chasing a new project that I know I will never finish.  At least I am aware of my neurosis.

This song is not autobiographical but it is one of the most personal songs I’ve ever written.  I am not sure why but this is an emotional song for me to perform.  I have only played it twice in front of people since I wrote it in 2012.  Playing this song feels like I am bearing my soul or like it’s the first day of third grade and I forgot my pants.  Or maybe I don’t play it because I have never been happy with that one line in the first verse.
“He Liked to spend his days with a little dog named Napoleon.”
jughandlehill
It’s my art, I can name the dog anything I like.  But seriously,  who would name a dog Napoleon? “Here Nappy.”  “Sit Nappy.”  At the risk of ostracizing any potential fans who have dogs named Napoleon (I am sure this is a large cross-section of my readership) I think this is the stupidest dog name ever.
I know that I wrote it.  It just sort of came out and has been a “placeholder” since 2012.  I often come back to work on this song and I have never been able to come up with anything better.  If you have any ideas, I am open for suggestions. The line wouldn’t have to be about a dog, it could be anything.  I guess subconsciously I always wanted a dog and nobody will let me get one…
Sitting alone with a dog seems to fit the character.  It could be a cat but that seems cliché.  A little dog with a powerful name seems to fit fine.  It sets a tone, it’s weird and awkward but you don’t quite know why.
I decided to record this song and put it out into the world because it’s good enough.
My wife and I had a discussion recently about how at our current point in life, we are solely focused on “good enough.”  Being a perfectionist is not an option with twins.  Survival mode kicks in.  Cooking nice dinners is out of the question.  Eating spoonfuls of peanut butter from a jar is often the best option.  Unless an action has a clear measurable result, it isn’t worth doing.  This may sound rather defeatist but really it’s about priorities.  I never get to drink my coffee when it’s hot.  I am learning how to determine what is most important and concentrate on it (even if it takes multiple attempts) until it is finished or “good enough.”
How does this fit with art?  Is there room for art to be “good enough?”  Creating art, (i.e. recording a song, writing a blog post, working on a new song) is far more important to me than making something perfect.  Time spent perfecting one thing is equal to time I am not able to spend creating something new.  Spending hours on minor details is rarely time well spent.  Artistic integrity is important and art requires hard work.  Some amount of spit and polish is necessary to achieve “good enough.”  With limited time, creation of something that is “good enough” is far more important than trying to fine tune something or getting stuck which leads to doing nothing at all.
We artist types spend a lot of time pondering and fumbling in our own heads.  When pen hits paper, chisel hits stone, and brush hits canvas it is time to churn out what has been stewing. When the brain dump is over, move on.  Our current digital system makes it cheap and efficient to share everything we create, this is both good and bad (that is a topic for another day).
The saying goes that the devil is in the details.  I don’t really know what that is supposed to mean but for me I think it is true.  The details almost always hinder me from finishing.  I am learning that to finish a project, I need to begin with the fewest details required. This is the only way I can ever arrive at “good enough.”
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St. Valentine's Day Massacre

This is a rough draft of some fiction based on a weird love song.
 
It was Thursday, February 12, 1981.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  I met her at the bus stop down on East Dead End Alley.  It’s the stop where the bus has to turn around in the old liquor store parking lot to start the route the other way.  I was staying with a friend who had a third floor apartment overlooking that bus stop.
I remember it was a Thursday because I was going across town for my class on the History of Watching Paint Dry.  I was putting myself through college one course at a time.  I guess I was inspired by Mr. Kotter and I thought that by teaching history to all the ignorant sweat hogs, I could change the world.  The truth was I had no direction and I had no idea why I was taking college classes.
There was a blue postal box next to the liquor store and the only other person waiting at the stop was hunkered down behind it.  He was holding onto it like he was afraid he would be blown off the earth.  There was a broken Night Train bottle under the mailbox and a faint smell of urine wafting over on the frigid February breeze.
She appeared from around the corner wearing  a bright red wool coat and a blue knit hat that was starting to unravel a little near the top where the big puffy yarn ball was blowing back and forth in the wind. She walked up and took immediate inventory of her potential bus mates.  Mailbox hugger was busy in conversation with himself, which left me as the safe option.  She walked up to me and said hello.  She bet me the price of bus fare that our mutual friend would be passed out by the time the bus finally showed up.  The bus was famous for being late at this end of the route.  I took that bet and I won.  Shortly after her arrival he began singing “bicycle built for two” in the style of 100 bottles of beer on the wall.  The bus hissed to a stop in front of him around the time he was mumbling “a bicycle built for seven hundred and thirty-six.”
When the driver called my stop, I pretended not to hear and rode along enthralled by the beautiful tinkling of her voice.  (Another version of the story is that her unceasing chatter distracted me and I completely missed my stop.) Then there was that moment.  She smiled at me just right and I was instantly convinced that I could spend the rest of my life listening to her prattle on about absolutely nothing.  I conveniently got off with her on 30th street.  I had a 3 mile walk back to the history building.  I missed my class but didn’t care because she had agreed to meet me that night for drinks down at Joe’s.
We had chemistry. We both loved all the same songs on the jukebox.  And we both hated the Kenny Rogers song that the rhinestone cowboy kept playing all night long.  We both drank our coffee black with tons of sugar.  We both had overbearing mothers who dictated most of our life choices with their soul crushing guilt trips.  The bartender kicked us out so he could sweep up.
We were both too awake to sleep.  We went down to the 24 hour diner and had some coffee.  Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” was playing.  Even though we had just met that day, I felt like we had known each other for a long time.  We met for breakfast at the diner every morning that week.  Three weeks later, I moved my meager worldly possessions into her apartment.
We lived in her apartment on 4th Ave for the next five years.  I finally finished college and got a job teaching high school.  Eventually we got married and had kids.  The excitement died out quick after that first date, as it always does.  Things were never bad, just real consistent.
Last week, I sat contemplating my life. I was trying to figure out how I had gotten to this point.  All the movies show love as being flashy and romantic.  But the truth of the matter is that our relationship is based solely on calm, consistent everyday routines.  It is just comfortable and we are both good with that.
It reminds me of  a history lesson I teach every year.  Back in 1929, the Italians were at war with the Irish in Chicago.  One side dressed up like cops and gunned down seven men from the other team.  The victims thought it was a standard raid and they just lined up for the disguised firing squad.
How is our relationship like that massacre?  There was some initial excitement but for the most part I thought it was a stereotypical police encounter. I lined up and got mowed down without ever seeing it coming.  Love has a way of sneaking up on us.
 

 
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something old

I used to be romantic.  We were young, in love, and full of unrealistic expectations.  My muse didn’t require grandiose gestures, but she deserved them.  I headed to the laboratory where I concocted an 18 track album detailing in fictional format my imagined notion of our very real relationship.  It was a manipulative -make her love me or else-  fairytale version of the story of us.  The corresponding live performance would culminate with a public declaration of love.  I bought a ring and planned every detail of this epic proposal.    By the way, she said yes.
 
oldervinyl
 
Our most recent date night included Grandma watching the kids so we could get our taxes done.
Originally released in 2003, Princess and the Hero, has become a definitive part of our story.  Our favorite song is “Old Vinyl,” it’s about dancing in the living room.  You can check out the old version here.
Here is the new recording updated for our current life situation.

 
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Woodshop, Tinydesk, and repetitive noises

Due to being both a musician and completely obsessive, I sometimes get rhythms stuck in my head for weeks.  It’s a little different from hearing a catchy song on the radio and having it stuck there all day.  This is far more consuming.  It starts with humming or tapping and eventually affects my breathing patterns and the way I walk.  It rarely effects my sleep but sometimes the way I chew my food.  I didn’t realize how crazy this was going to sound typed out.
Prior to beginning my second stint as a stay at home dad, I was working in a woodshop. I really enjoyed working with the different woods and coming home everyday smelling like sawdust.  We milled a lot of different lumber but primarily we made custom door parts and veneers.  I don’t know if it was the sound of a specific saw, a combination of machines, or just a random event, but I do remember the precise second that “boom boom tick-a tick-a boom boom” got stuck in my head.
My wife is beautiful, patient, and tolerant of most of my crazy.  However, repetitive noises drive her nuts.  After gentle conditioning for the first three days of incessant “booming,” she finally boiled over and outlawed all “tick-a booms” and other related sounds.
I had to wait until she went back to work. Left alone to my own devices, I was able to determine a purpose for this all-consuming rhythm.
 

 
All of my kids love this song. I used this video of my babies rocking out to enter NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest.

 
Be careful, this song might get stuck in your head for days.  I think I even caught my wife humming “boom boom tick-a tick-a boom boom” over and over and over.
 
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stomp some ground and fake it

This is a failure story. This is the first week of American Idol. Everybody loves a good failure.
I bought my first real banjo in the fall of 2013.  Up to that point, I had a poor excuse for a tenor banjo. I spent enough time with it to know that I wanted a better instrument.  I went to the banjo store and picked out one I liked.  It’s nothing fancy but it suits me just fine.
I promptly went home, learned three chords, and wrote this song:

 
This was a fun song to play despite my clunky, heavy handed guitar strumming on the banjo.  When I started playing with the Lost Cause, the fiddle gave this song the life that it had been missing.  For clarification, the version above does not include banjo or fiddle.  Stay tuned for the “real” version coming at the end of March.
To coincide with a benefit the Lost Cause was scheduled to play, we had a spot on a local TV show to help promote the charity.  I’ve been performing for so many years that I never get nervous anymore.  However,  the idea of live television failure gave me the old fashioned nervy poos.
We showed up, did our sound check and anxiously retreated to the green room. I had been having some recurring trouble with the bridge on my banjo. At that time, I had been playing the banjo about six months.  This was long enough to have changed the strings but not long enough to know how to do it right. We proceeded to perform some necessary MASH surgery, nothing invasive, just a patch job.
The intern came in and told us it was time.  We followed her to the studio, relatively confident that we had everything under control.  We passed the weather man getting his maps ready for his upcoming report. Single file, we high stepped over cords and gracefully pirouetted our instruments around all invasive cameras.  We stepped onto the set. They introduced us on live television, the red light came on, and we began to play. “Bands on the back porch….POP, Twang,….”
The bridge collapsed flat, there was no physical way to play the banjo. Like any true professional, I stomped some ground and faked it.  Afterward, everyone said how great we sounded which makes me wonder if I should give up the banjo.
The moral of the story is to make sure you are fully prepared.  It’s completely cliche, but no matter what your discipline, do your reps.  I was so completely familiar with the song, my muscle memory was able to carry me through.  I knew what it should look like if I had been playing.  There was no thought, just another repetition. The expression “fake it till you make it” is crap.  Practice enough so that if you have to fake it, no one will notice.
 
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