Monthly Archives: August 2010

Adventures In Cake Songwriting

onight I saw my sister Katy and we watched an old X-Files episode while her cats acted like loonies and crawled around the apartment. The episode we watched involved a speeding train and a mysterious NSA agent (maybe) and a possible alien-human hybrid who also may have been a leper or some sort of unfortunate human experiment, while Scully was running around with a subcutaneous implant in her neck finding mass graveyards of big-skulled mutants and a whole colony of lepers underground. Really nice, friendly lepers with a terrible story to tell. What a great show – every time I watch an episode here and there I’m reminded of how well-made, funny, twisted, dark, and amazingly solid that show was. We used to watch it as a family on Sunday nights; my dad always claimed to dislike the episodes “with bugs crawling out of peoples’ eyes” (ie every episode), but I knew he secretly liked it. Which is why I once bought him an ugly X-Files t-shirt as a present.

As I drove home, I was listening to The Wolf (a local country station that plays the same 7 or 8 pop country hits twenty times a day each) fairly loudly, as I sometimes do when I wanna really feel the road beneath me, and I reached over to the radio to shut it off. I was hit with a sudden urge to try and write lyrics to the cake-cutting song, which is a tune I am considering writing for when it’s time for me and Jessica to cut the cake. I came out with a sort of chorus or possibly part of a verse:

we all want a slice
we all need a break
so not cuttin’ that cake
would be a giant mistake

we’re gonna cut that cake
cut it clean through
so go grab us a knife, baby
cut it straight and true

you’ll feed me a piece
and I’ll feed one to you
we’re gonna cut that cake
just me and you

As I sang it I imagined Jessica singing background vocals, echoing my words, panned left with some lovely reverb on her lovely voice. I imagined a smooth country drumbeat, some banjo, some twangy guitars, and as much Southern sass to my voice as I could muster.

When I got home I sat down immediately to get the lyrics down before they escaped from my head and then invited Jessica over to play it to her. I picked a basic chord progression and strummed it home. She began to dance a bit and snapped her fingers and got into a pretty good groove there for a second.

“You like it?” I asked.

“Yes!” she said. I then played it again, but with a quicker, rollicking, fingerpicking bluegrass lick this time. It took her a second, but she found the rhythm and soon our messy little hallway was a hoedown, for a few fleeting moments.

“Every song you write, baby, for the wedding,” she said, “we’ll do a test where you play it and then we’ll see if I can dance to it!”

“But baby,” I said, “this is the cake-cutting song!”

She gave me a look. You know, one of those looks. “Bret,” she said, “our wedding is going to be one long nonstop dance party. You better believe we’re dancing to the cake-cutting song.”

“Oh yeah!” I said, remembering.

I’m getting excited about writing a cake-cutting song, and perhaps even figuring out if there are any other opportunities to slip in a homemade tune. For some reason I can’t entirely wrap my mind around, it has become clear to me that the cake-cutting tune needs to be a country song, or at least a tune with some twang.

I’ll keep you updated on my progress, dear readers, as I know you await news with bated breath and wobbly knees.

Love,

Bret

Friday Lulz

It’s Friday, which means all I really have the energy to do is post a link to marriage cartoons (Part I) (Part II) from this 1955 compilation:

It was a simpler time, when women knew nothing about cars –

and yelling at your wife in public was hilarious –

and yawning hippos reminded wives of their wifely duties –

Enjoy, and happy weekend!

The Music, Man

I’ve decided I’m going to post more of my music on my blog. I mean, let’s be honest: I loves me the music. It’s in my veins, man. It flows deep within me. I had my blood surgically replaced with music some years back and I’ve generally been excellent health-wise since then. My heart pumps tunes through me, supplying my muscle fiber with musical nutrients. Music is the cream cheese on my bagel, the nicotine in the cigarettes I don’t smoke, and a three-run homer down by two in the 9th in a crucial late-season game with wild card implications.

Plus, I had to pay WordPress a premium so I could upload music files when I did Oh Greg. So I might as well take full advantage of all that space I purchased on the internet. By the way, Greg, you’re getting the bill for that one. Expect it shortly.

I’ve been in a drought, though, musically speaking. My creativity comes and goes, as I imagine it does for most mortals, but it has waxed and waned so reliably that I no longer have freakouts when the muses aren’t there. During dry spells I used to wonder, sometimes openly and dramatically, if the burning passion would ever return or if I was doomed to walk the remainder of my days inspiration-free.

But when I decided to compose and record the music for our first dance at our wedding, I got excited again. I had an actual project, rather than the vague self-imposed pressures of aimless creativity. The timing wasn’t all that great; Jessica and I are in the latter stages of a move in which we cleared out of our old place, stored everything in my parents’ garage for a few weeks, and have now moved (nearly) everything into our new place – and this new place, though fantastic, is not going to be the best place to record music for a little while.

No matter, though. For one, I’m excited to set up my new space, and for two, I’m not in a rush. I’m going to ease into it, like I’d ease into a new pair of pants, which by the way I now have. Two pairs, actually. Nice pants. Levis. And some shirts. A combination of Loehmann’s, H&M, and Target. Jessica says I look pretty good. But she always says that. That’s part of the reason I’m marrying her.

I have things I sometimes do to try and jump-start the creative process. If there’s one thing I can do reliably, it’s compose little instrumental tunes – I call them “ditties,” though it occurred to me that calling them that might belittle them a bit – that are invariably sentimental, flowy, perhaps a little sappy, heavy on the fingerpickin’ and the banjoin’, and usually the same tempo. For example (click to play):

♫ Harpy go lurky ♫

*[You like those little musical notes? I just learned how to do those. On a PC, it’s alt-14. Alt-13 gives you a single note like ♪.]

I feel like music of this type might find itself a nice home somewhere in our wedding; it may not be quite right for the first dance, since it’s a little quick, but perhaps something like it could work. I don’t think we have any recessional music yet, either, and so something of that ilk might fit there too.

This next one, for example, sounds like it could be ripe for a recessional – though don’t tell anyone that I originally wrote this for a commercial my film company made for a Berkeley-based, eco-friendly dishwasher & laundry detergent company. It’s pretty  jaunty, and I can envision nicely-dressed people scurrying off lightly towards the reception room with this playing:

♫ Handlebars ♫

I’ve got a lot of these. There was a time when I’d sit down in my “studio,” open up a naked Pro Tools file, grab my guitar, and swear to myself up and down that I was going to compose something new this time. Something different. Something un-Bret. Something dark, or poppy, or weird, or unusual. And then a few hours later, I’d sit back, hit Play, and realize I’d done it again: another sappy, flowy, sentimental ditty. And I’d be like: “Well, shit.”

But, I’m OK with that. It’s still my goal to try to create something new, and I know I can get there. I’ve even done it, to some degree, though those experiments remain hidden within the recesses on my hard drive. But I’ve found a lot of uses for these pieces, in videos, for events, and the like. And now maybe for my wedding.

The other thing I do when I need to get back into the fickle grooves of Mistress Creativity is to cover a favorite song – and thus I will leave you with this rendition of a classic Beatles tune that I did on my day off yesterday. Be gentle.

♫ Norwegian Wood ♫

Awesome Friend Watch 8/24/10 + Jessica’s 2nd Post!

I am so happy to be back for my second guest post on All Things ‘Zilla. Bret will probably tell you that again I was avoiding writing a guest post – but I just wanted to wait for the perfect post idea to pop in my head. And guess what – it did!

Bret and I are SUPER blessed to have some seriously amazing friends. I get overwhelmed sometimes thinking about the love and support that we get from them. For example, this weekend we were at Greg’s birthday party in the Santa Cruz Hills. We were chatting with our friends about how we are going to self-cater our wedding and immediately after I mentioned this our friends Josh and Mary Claire, without missing a beat, said, “Tell us what you want us to make and we’ll make it”. Of course, I knew this would happen because they are just that kind of people and also happen to be brilliant cooks, but I deeply respect and appreciate their willingness to help.

The fabulous Josh & MC

I had the same experience with my dear lady friends at dinner earlier in the week where they offered menu ideas and help and my friend Rachel said she would make her own pickles (and other pickled delights) for the wedding! Amazing!

Rachel will probably kill me for this photo but she just looks so damn good and apparently she pickles a mean cucumber.

I was considering this outpouring of love and help and so I had to ask Bret for special blog permission. I snuck up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. “Bret, my dearest, I have a serious question to ask you,” I said.

“Continue,” Bret replied.

“Well, I would really like to award an Awesome Friend Award. I have a specific person who has really done so much that I want to give her this most esteemed award. Can I? Can I? Can I?????”

Of course, Bret approved this slight breach of protocol in order to allow me to give out an Awesome Friend Award – commonly known as a “Friendie” – to one of the many friends who have become involved in our wedding in meaningful and influential ways.

Today’s Friendie goes to none other than the pulchritudinous and pliable, perceptive and positive, perfect and poised, Pamela!

Just look at Pam and try not to love her. Whoops! You couldn't do it!

Pam and I have been friends since our year together in Korea where the bonds of friendship and bulgogi were formed. We have lived together in three different locations in San Francisco and have traveled throughout South East Asia and Puerto Rico together. (Shout out to my guuurl Lauren, our officiant and previous Friendie recipient, for being vital to these adventures as well.)

Lauren, Pam, and Jessica in Puerto Rico

Pam and I have been through many challenging periods in our lives together and I am always grateful for her wisdom, insight, and continual encouragement during these times. Lately, I have been very lucky because I have been able to spend a bit more time with her than usual and this has led to some seriously incredible wedding preparation. Let me tell you what she has done to deserve the incredible Frendie Award:

She has played a crucial role in what the maidens will wear by researching online options and sending ideas to me; she and I spent a few hours discussing a fantastic “family tree” that we are going to build and which will be gorgeous; and finally, the most incredible of feats, she built us a wedding website! Let me be clear: she built us the most amazing wedding website of all time, in like, three hours. I don’t know how she did it, but as soon I suggested that she build it she dove in and was furiously working at her computer while I cooked chili (and the chili was delish, btw). It is really great, thorough, has tons of pics, and is infused with our personalities throughout. Both Bret and I were incredibly impressed.*  This is Pam’s first nomination and first Friendie Award – it’s a little-known fact that every nominee wins – and perhaps never in the history of awards has one been so richly deserved.

*Note from Bret: SO impressed.

I speak (or write?) for both Bret and myself when I say that we are thrilled to have such a great friend and such an active wedding planner by our side. How did we get so lucky?

Love to all our friends, blog friends, in person friends, old and new friends. We could not make this wedding happen without you.

Poem For A Forthcoming Weekend

My fiancée is nappin’ nearby
And I’m baking a deep dish-style pie;
I am planning an evening of play
As the Jokemakers meet up today.

After doing nothing but grovel,
I alphabetized all our novels;
It was nothing if not slightly fun,
And my comics are sim’larly done.

Tomorrow’s a big fancy function
I’m attending with no real compunction;
And on Sunday, my energy sapped,
It’s quite likely that I’ll lay for a nap.

See you all on Monday,
Love,
Bret

Dance First, Ask Questions Later, Then Dance More

I write and record music. I suppose you could call me a musician if you felt so inclined. In fact, you could even lean on something if you felt so inclined. Get it? You do get it. You’re sharp. It’s why I like you so.

As it happens, the fact of creating music – and recording it on my own – has fundamentally altered my relationship with it. I listen for the bassline, for the little guitar riffs, I pay close attention to production, to melody lines, to harmony, to mistakes. I recognize that Taylor Swift is a legitimately talented songwriter even as she irritates me sometimes with her cutesiness, for instance. I see songs as a complex tapestry of moving parts, of all the little pieces that need to fit together to make a great tune.

Well then – that was pretentious. I apologize for that. My intention was just to elucidate my experience with music, and I ended up gettin’ all snitty on you.

I recently upgraded my home recording situation, going from the free Garageband that comes on every Mac to Pro Tools, a lighter version of the program that is used in many (most?) recording studios. For, like, real musicians. It’s vastly more complex and powerful than Garageband, and my learning curve has been steep; for the first couple weeks, I’d often find myself in a situation where I’d click on one little thing, then everything would stop working, and I’d spend an entire day trying to figure out just what I clicked. It was deeply frustrating, as anyone who’s ever tried to learn a complicated computer program can attest. I’d troll all the gear messageboards, call my friend John, and pray to Gods I don’t believe in just to alleviate my mounting anger. “BRET ANGRY!” I would say in a deep voice, pretending to rip off my shirt, Hulk-style. Jessica pretends not to like it when I do that but I know she loves it. Don’t you baby.

Me, in the throes of a hott jam

Now, I’ve gotten to the point where I feel like a kid in a candy store – a store filled with very complicated candy that seems overwhelming to try and figure out how to eat. Weird, unintuitive candy that looks beautiful but tastes foul; candy on the higher shelves that will only be attainable once I can fashion a structure of footstools and boxes.  Candy with strange Asian hieroglyphics, beautiful saturated colors, intoxicating aromas but a deadly poison center.

Um… what?

Continue reading

Reverse Guest Post Alert!

Today I have a guest post to tell you about – on someone else’s blog. Whoa. That’s right, I have a post up elsewhere! Head on over to One Cat Per Person where Angie waxes weddings on a near-daily basis, and in fact just tied the knot herself last weekend. She flatteringly asked me to write an entry while she’s off on her honeymoon, and I obliged. It’s about wedding blogs and stuff. How very meta.

So, go! Now!

– Bret