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Update #82

Weekly Update Delayed Due to Family Emergency


I'll be posting this week's update later on, as there are important things to tend to over here. 

Be well. Live well. Be good to the people in your life, and let them know it when you love them.

Take care, folks. I'll be back shortly. 


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Update #81

Weekly Update #28 - 7 Lists of 7 Items


Hello again!

This week's update features something I really want to include in the final book, but may wind up trimming for space consideration reasons: the set lists - sidebars filled with seven bullet-point suggestions each. These set lists cover various topics throughout the Living the Life chapter, and help sum up complicated ideas in short bursts of inspiration.

Currently, I have roughly a dozen set lists scattered throughout Chapter 5. Whether or not the following ones will make it into the final book depends on how things look when the entire text is finished.

For now, enjoy!

See ya later.


7 Ways to Score Gear

• Buy retail
• Borrow a friend’s
• Pawn shop shopping
• Craig’s List or other classified ads
• Swipe it (but don’t get caught…)
• Salvage, repair, craft or invent your own
• Play so well that manufacturers give you stuff for free

7 Ways to Score Gigs

• Play open-mic nights
• Set up your own gig(s)
• Make and circulate demo discs or tapes
• Ask around at clubs (but make a good impression)
• Sit in with established musicians (just don’t piss ‘em off)
• Set up a website with videos, pictures, sound files, and a press kit
• Play parties, living rooms, parking lots, or wherever else you can set up, play, and maybe run away from fast

7 Forms of Audience Hatred

• Booing, spitting & heckling
• Talking over you or walking out on you
• Thrown bottles, cans, food, or worse
• Beating you up
• Stealing your gear
• Wrecking your van
• Trashing you after the show, either to your face, behind your back, to other people, online, or a combination of them all

7 Ways to Make Fans

• Nurture potential fans among people whose interests, style & concerns match your own
• Greet folks who come to see you
• Hang out, be friendly, and treat fans graciously
• Have cool merch available, with a mailing list in plain sight
• Establish a simple yet intriguing website
• Post videos on YouTube (just make sure they’re GOOD)
• Don’t suck… and for God’s sake, BE COOL!

7 Ways to Avoid Being Fucked Over

• Never sell your identity and/ or publishing rights – EVER
• Avoid getting tangled up in temptations
• Keep your head on straight, and avoid spending money unless it’s already your money
• Trust only those who earned your trust before you got big… and be careful about even them
• Hire a professional management team you can trust… and be careful about them, too
• Learn as much about the business as you can, and never assume you know it all
• Keep clear-eyed friends in your inner circle, encourage them to speak freely, and pay attention to what they tell you

7 Common Band Roles

• Lead vocalist – typically the “face” of the band
• Lead instrumentalist – the band’s musical showpiece
• Rhythm section – provides the beat and musical foundation
• Core – drives the melody (typically with guitars, strings, horns or keyboards)
• Counterpoint – provides texture and additional leads through vocals or instruments (keyboards, turntables, horns, etc.)
• Instrumentalist – plays whatever might be needed
• Backing – fills out the sound and show

Hip-hop and vocal groups usually have a primary vocalist (MC), with one to three counterpoint MCs to bounce lyrics, harmonize melodies, add raps and rock the crowd, plus a backing crew to boost the sound and show by adding instruments, turntable mixes, dance moves, backing vocals or a combination of them all.

Though primarily lyric-driven, hi-hop has become increasingly instrumental within the last two decades. Certain artists, like Mira Ben-Ari, play instruments while backing a variety of artists, with deejays and producers like Danger Mouse, the Dust Brothers, and Dan “the Automator” Nakamura moving through the scene like ronin samurai.

7 Popular Sources for a Band Name

• Name of real (Jethro Tull) or invented (the Ramones) people who might (Van Halen) or might not (Hootie and the Blowfish) belong to the band, and who may (Stevie Wonder) or may not (Shakira) have changed their birth names

• Obscure reference to movies (the Wu Tang Clan), literary works (Steely Dan), religious texts (the Grateful Dead), or music from either someone else’s band (Lady Gaga) or your own (the Butthole Surfers)

• Allusion to some spiritual (Nirvana), occult (Coven), religious (Sweet Honey in the Rock), mystic (Dead Can Dance) or adversarial (Deicide) creed, belief or practice

• References to sex (the Genitorturers), drugs (Rush), disease (Anthrax), violence (the Killers), crime (Public Enemy), war (Joy Division), politics (Thievery Corporation), paradoxical mixtures of innocence and horror (Daisy Chainsaw), or maybe even sports (Yellowcard)

• Plays on words based possibly upon pop culture (Bratmobile), homonyms (the Beatles), evocative terms (the Lunachicks), ethnicity (Skindred), insults (L7), creatures (Loop Guru), or the artist’s name (Eminem), nickname (Ice-T) or family history (Moby)

• Acronyms for evocative phrases (NWA, KMFDM, VNV Nation)

• Invented words (Hoobastank), sounds (Gwar), phrases (ZZ Top), organizations (the Human League), or even symbols (The Artist Formerly Known As Prince)

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Update #80

Weekly Update #27 - In League With Satan


And we're back with a tidbit about demonic doings in popular music.

There are several sections about this subject in the "extended play" version of Mythic Rhythmns, but that stuff's getting saved for another book. Still, it's essential that I broach the subject of infernal influence on popular music, if only to address the fact that it's such a prominant element in folklore. This section was originally written as part of the Living the Life section, but I've moved it to the magic chapter... at least for now. The final shapes of both chapters will determine where this part eventually goes in. As of now, it's simply suspended between both chapters - as is dramatically appropriate.

Once again, I've featured some links to enhance your enjoyment and understanding of the subject. they will not, of course, be part of the final text.

Enjoy... and don't let the Devil get your soul!

In League With Satan
According to evangelical lore, popular music in general and heavy metal in particular overflows with Satanic activity. Artists like KISS (Knights In Satan’s Service, according to popular misconception), Iron Maiden (home to several Christians), Black Sabbath (likewise) and even Madonna supposedly stage live sacrifices and unholy rituals during and after their concerts. Such soul-selling rumors aren’t new… and they’re not even always inaccurate. Though there’s probably nothing more demonic than kinky sex involved, bands like Cradle of Filth, Marilyn Mason and the Electric Hellfire Club actively embrace a Luciferian mystique.

For the most part, that lore is nonsense. Pink Floyd does not promote Black Masses. The Van Halen logo is not based on an inverted pyramid. Twisted Sister did not release an album whose cover featured a severed goat’s head on a naked girl’s body. This is crap. As a fan of metal, Gothic, industrial and hardcore punk rock, I’ve been to hundreds of concerts and own thousands of albums, and yet have never witnessed live sacrifice, attended a Black Mass, or torn bleeding dogs apart with my bare hands. I’ve even played in a few metal bands (one of them called Dark Cross), and yet have never made a soul-pact or whispered prayers to the Evil One. It’s all just theatrics – occasionally morbid but all in good fun.

As overstated as the hysteria has been, however, there are undeniably non-Satanic artists who have flirted with infernal themes. The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie don’t sacrifice virgins or sling devil-horn salutes, but all three artists (among others) dabbled with dark rituals before opting for respectability. AC-DC, Mötley Crüe, Alice Cooper and KISS probably aren’t devil-worshippers, but their choice of demonic imagery is pretty obvious. Although truly Satanic artists usually remain under the radar (occasionally, as unabashed Satanists Coven did in 1971, emerging with surprise hits like “One Tin Soldier”), it’s not paranoid to imagine that certain rockers tinker with the occult – it’s literally a matter of record.

Musical deviltry isn’t always so obvious. According to an old Carpe Noctem interview with Ronnie James Dio, the guitarist for the whitebread rock band Kansas was secretly Satanic – “the blackest of the black.” Was Dio pulling our chain? Probably… but ya never know. Beach Boy Brian Wilson was a friend of Charles Manson, and “Candy Man” Rat Packer Sammy Davis Jr. briefly belonged to Anton LaVay’s Church of Satan. Might there be demons signing up talentless youngsters for shots at mainstream stardom? If so, that would certainly explain volumes about the career of Britney Spears...  

By the reckoning of certain folks, all popular music is infernal by default. Preachers and esotericists alike complain that “the jungle beat” (as musicologist Dave Tame calls it in his book The Secret Power of Music) is inherently dissonant and perverse. Blues, jazz, rock, techno, soul, hip-hop, reggae, country, avant-garde and even certain strains of Classical music all have long associations with demonic influence – bartered souls, devilish trills, corrosive beats, Satanic masses, Pagan revels, nihilistic philosophies, carnal orgies and brutal murder are all established parts of such musical traditions. And so, some people argue, those types of music are not just corrupt but corrupting. Simply by listening to them, much less playing them, you open yourself to damnation.

Is that true? That depends both on your personal beliefs and on your desires for the saga. It is true, though, that real or fictional devils are often associated with music. The majority of bands that wave around inverted pentacles and devil horns, however, are simply using shock tactics and horror-movie props, not actual black magic. Quite a few of the so-called “satanic” bands, like Rush, use mystical but not infernal imagery… and most of the reputed “signs of Satanic allegiance” have nothing whatsoever to do with Satanism, the occult, or mysticism in general. Many declared Satanists claim to actually be atheists, employing Satan as an archetype, not an entity. Even so, many religious people – not all of whom are Christians – assert that rock-n-roll is inherently infernal regardless of an artist’s beliefs or practices. If you, the Storyguide, want to make that contention true, then it will be true… which could make for a great plot element in your Powerchords saga.

And as for real life, who knows? As the Scandinavian black metal church burnings and murder-suicides of the 1990s proved, you don’t need to have a devil on your back to do atrocious things in Satan’s name… but if there is one there, would you recognize him in time, much less want to drive him away?

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Update #79

Weekly Update #26 - You've Got a Friend in Me


Welcome back, my friends, to the book that never ends!

I was hanging out yesterday with profesional band manager K Kevin Wiley and professional techie/ roadie Inky Grrl, and we were talking about the musical life and vocation. In honor of them both, this week's
POWERCHORDS update comes from the Living the Life section about choosing and working with a road crew - yet another subject that could easily have its own chapter if not its own book.

(As a continuity note, this section follows a much longer section about managers, agents and so forth, hence the "Beyond the suits" remark.)


You’ve Got a Friend in Me

Beyond the suits… hell, usually before the suits… there’s your crew: a pack of loyalists who help you set up, tear down, post fliers, post blogs, hump your gear, pimp your merch, watch your back, and generally provide whatever support you need at the time. In the beginning, these folks help you out because they love you, they like your music, they wanna be part of the action, or some combination of such motives; later on, if and when you get big, they usually do it for a paycheck plus maybe a few of the other reasons too.

Crew members are your strong right and left arms, your voice in the world, your backbone when things get tough and your salvation when stuff goes wrong… and yeah, it inevitably goes wrong somewhere. According to Duff McKagan, Guns N’ Roses’ first Seattle gig involved broken-down cars, hitched rides, living-room crashspace, and a dick promoter who stiffed the band but couldn’t keep them from gaining a foothold in the Seattle area. Without helpers, however, they could never even have left L.A. Long before there were record contracts and MTV videos, G N’ R relied upon friends and kind strangers. Even at the indie-core level, an artist who thinks he can do everything alone is mistaken.

If and when an artist gets famous, his crew grows exponentially. There are trucks to be loaded, stages to be set up and dismantled, fan clubs to be maintained, orders to be fulfilled, bookings to be organized, and buses and jets to be driven wherever he needs to be. At a certain level, professionals must be employed in order to satisfy union requirements and maintain a high level of expertise. Don’t get me wrong – professional roadies, teamsters and agents can be a pretty scruffy lot. Despite all the pranks, drugs and bullshit, though, these folks either know their jobs or lose their jobs. As revealed in the documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil, a pro crew, or the lack of one, can make the difference between success and disaster on the road.

The transition from a crew of friends to a crew of pros usually gets awkward, and explains a lot about the size of celebrity entourages. To soothe hurt feelings, rising stars often try to keep their friends close by, if not employed; soon, the star’s surrounded by old friends, new buddies, professional handlers and just plain parasites. And in many cases, those circles nurture the star’s needs, desires, addictions, and possibly energetic hungers. This, in turn, fuels the disconnection with “normal” life that stars experience, especially while on tour or in the studio… a disconnection that can leave both the artist and his old friends wondering what the hell happened to the people they used to be. (See the Legacies: Charisma Bomb, Entourage and Fame; the Wyrds: Addiction, Bad Rep, Beast, Lifethief and Party God; and the Agent, Band Buddy, Dr. Feelgood, Groupie, Handler, Manager, Roadie, Security and Techie motifs for in-game reflections of this phenomenon.)

In Powerchords, a crew might be driven by more sinister motivations, too. They could be ghouls feeding on your blood, demonic imps compelled to serve you, parasitic spirits drawn to the passions you stir up, zombies forced or created to be your slaves, bewitched fans, faerie servitors, bound elementals, devoted cultists or other similar entities. (They may also be fellow player-characters: one or two folks play musicians, while the others play roadies, managers and so forth.) Supernatural crew members are often less loyal than true friends might be; then again, they’re often more powerful than normal human beings. A flesh-crafted golem or undead servant can probably heft a Marshall stack easily, and pity the dick promoter who tries to stiff you for the gig when a pack of hellhounds shows up to back your claim!

Whatever their nature, your crew wants something in return – maybe just a smile or a hug, but probably more. The artist who forgets this fact soon finds himself stranded in Bumfuck Nowhere with no ride, no gear and a host of new enemies tearing him up behind his back. Famous or powerful artists can get away with a lot crap more than beginners can… but as the saying goes, what goes around comes around, especially in the age of the internet! Old-school stars used to treat their crews like shit and get away with it; these days, though, backstage revelations are just one disgruntled follower with a cell phone or an internet connection away.

Small indie artists and local heroes can manage with small crews – maybe as few as two or three people juggling a host of chores. Label-signed artists used to have pro crews supplied by the label – in exchange, of course, for massive deductions from that artist’s royalties! These days, though, a band may find itself hiring its own crew even after it’s been signed by the label… and in many ways, that’s a good thing. For while musicians rarely have the tens of thousands, perhaps even millions, of dollars on hand to hire and maintain a crew unless said musicians are already wealthy, a band-contract crew is under that band’s control. The band knows where its money is going, and the crew members know enough not to piss off the people who sign their checks. A major-label band, of course, needs dozens of people on its payroll: handlers, gofers, roadies, managers, legal reps, a doctor or two (and usually a drug dealer), instrument techs, lighting techs, FX specialists, riggers, security, crew bosses, publicists, personal assistants, make-up and wardrobe artists, union reps… the bigger the show, the more people it takes to manage it. Sure, a big-name “indie-cred” band can get along with a dozen people or so; Pearl Jam used to tour with a skeleton crew and as little gear as possible, and probably still does. Artists who want to bring a spectacle, however, need a crew big and trained enough to manage it – and that kind of crew takes very deep pockets to maintain!

When picking managers and crew members, it’s a good time to think about just what kind of artist you (and perhaps your bandmates) want to be: A local hero with minimal fuss and prospects? A rugged individual carving out a living town-by-town? A hardcore indie band living a DIY lifestyle? A gritty newcomer with your eyes on the prize? A budding superstar? A global superstar? A legend-in-training… perhaps even a megastar when the game begins? Your ambitions and status will drive the other considerations. The brighter your star, the more people it’ll take to hang it in place...  

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Update #78

Weekly Update #25 - Take on the World


Just got back from the FaerieWorlds festival, where Sandi got some AMAZING shots that will probably (assuming approval from the bands) find their way into POWERCHORDS. This year's music lineup was the best yet, with Niyaz, Soriah and Delhi 2 Dublin providing some of the most memorable shows I've attended in roughly 35 years of concert-going. (The photo below is one of my own, taken during the Delhi 2 Dublin set and not yet cleaned up with Photoshop.)

For folks not yet familiar with FaerieWorlds, it's an alternative culture festival dedicated to fae and magickal culture. Originally centered on the band Woodland and the artist Brian Froud, FaerieWorlds now spans several festivals and features dozens of musical artists. I met SJ Tucker there eight years ago, and she introduced me to Sandi Buskirk five years back. If you haven't yet had the pleasure - or even if you
HAVE - I highly recommend this festival.

Today's excerpt comes again from the Living the Life chapter, which I've been working on today after our return from FW. It features quotes from An Artist Who Prefers to Remain Anonymous - the catch-all name for people I have interviewed for the book under the promise of anonymity. This update also features links to the artists mentioned - a feature that, as I've mentioned earlier, I wish I could include in the book itself.


Take on the World

When you hit the road, especially in the beginning, that magic erupts between long stretches of tedium, sore butts, and endless hours in vehicles that may or may not be deathtraps. Unless you have deep pockets or generous sponsors, you’ll probably find yourself in a muffler-lacking rattletrap with broken heat and no AC, roaring through the night toward the next kindly stranger’s floor. Small bands usually cram themselves, their crew and their gear into a single van; really stark conditions, like those endured by Black Flag and the Minutemen on a shared tour, can find several bands, their crew and their gear shoehorned into that van. In either case, that close proximity can forge tight bonds and incite raging hatreds… often at the same time!

The closeness doesn’t end when you leave the van. This author found himself trying to sleep in a bathtub one night to escape a snoring bandmate (it didn’t work). Ace Frehley describes sharing hotel rooms with Gene Simmons in the early days of KISS, where his fire-breathing bandmate spit endless ropes of pryrotechnic phlegm all over the carpeting. That same account reveals how the band shared a single suitcase for its smelly stage garb; each time a bandmate picked up a case of groupie crabs, everyone got the lice. Inevitably, bandmates wind up sharing beds, floors, food, drinks, clothes, drugs, cigarettes, needles, groupies, air, arguments, and wayyyyyy too much time together on the road. The absurd battles that rip bands apart are easy to understand once you realize just how close those folks live for weeks, months or even years on end.

The grind of boredom and road-fatigue inspires mad behavior. Hotel-trashing, drug-binging, groupie-defiling insanity ignites when the Molotov cocktail of road fatigue hits the open flame of live performance, smashes against a wall of self-absorption, and then explodes. Whipsawed between confined isolation and sudden overload, even the most stable people soon tend to go crazy; musicians, God love ‘em, don’t tend to be terribly stable to begin with, and so the earliest days of a band’s career – especially if they achieve sudden stardom – are often marked by wild excess and shocking debauchery. As one Anonymous Artist puts it, “Pretty much everything you’ve heard is true. When you blow your top, everyone in your hotel knows it.” The shit I’ve done,” adds another, “would get me fired from any other profession.” A third Artist, though, has a more generous explanation: “It really is an adventure of a lifetime. A chance to see the world, do stuff you wouldn’t ordinarily do… for a time, you’re living outside of society’s constraints. And every night, you get to soak in the excitement and magick that has happened between band and audience. There really is a kind of larger-than-life epicness… where audience and musicians share in this alternate world that is created by the music… It can leave you feeling immortal. I think all these things together combine to make conditions ripe for cutting loose and letting yourself go wild. It’s like an alternate universe of self-exploration. For some [people], that means taking acid and falling in love, and for some that means getting shitfaced drunk and jumping off buildings with your pants down.”

That wild intensity also breeds fanatical camaraderie. Touring artists become like soldiers in a musical warzone. The trials they experience forge a “band of brothers” mentality, regardless of their gender. Mixed-gender (or similarly-oriented) bandmates sometimes become lovers, united by passions no one else could possibly understand; others, like the members of Judas Priest, accept a bandmate’s lifestyle at a time when the general public (even the fans) would find it appalling. This battlefield bond conceals secrets, cements alliances, soothes disagreements, encourages risk, inspires magic, promotes devotion, fuels addiction (but can also break it), and generally creates solidarity. Certain bands – especially rock, punk and hip-hop acts – essentially become gangs, able, ready and willing to throw down together even if they hate each other as individuals. “I can punch the bass player,” said one Artist, “but if anyone else takes a swing at him, I’ll fucking kill them.”

If the closeness doesn’t destroy you, it helps you survive damn near anything. Artists who manage to survive the grind with their friendship and creativity intact find the tightest bonds of their lives. “I LOVE sharing this musical adventure with my mate,” says one Anonymous Artist: “I know this would be many folks’ version of hell, but for us – we feel like we’re on a mission from God, or so we joke. But more seriously, we feel we share a common vision… we’re working toward the same things, [we] get to create together, and it’s really great for us.” Where many bands cycle through members at an astonishing clip, certain ones – like the Rolling Stones – retain the same essential membership for years or even decades on the road.

For artists who craft literal magic with their music, the band can be a mystic fellowship as well as a musical ensemble. United by common goals of transcendence, power or corruption, such artists share magical beliefs, traditions and tools. They might worship the same gods or demons, owe a group debt to a patron, aspire to change the world toward the same ideals, and probably share a fan base (perhaps even a cult) devoted to their work. The band Acid Washed from the comic series Hack/ Slash travels in a bunch of crates, reanimated by their hell-sold leader when he intones lyrics from “great wizards” like AC-DC and Twisted Sister. Real-life enchanter SJ Tucker invokes deep magic with a variety of collaborators as she pursues a mystic odyssey of ”Rootless” spiritual communion. With or without supernatural powers, a working band shares transcendent intentions. “The thing that kept everyone living this pretty torturous lifestyle,” says Henry Rollins in the book Our Band Could be Your Life, “is the music was THAT GOOD, and we knew it. At the end of the day, we had no money, we were scruffy, we stunk, the van stunk, everyone was against us. But you’d hear that music and know, oh yeah, we fuckin’ RULE.”

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