Hurdy Gurdy, man.

Synchronicity. Not just the title of a hit-laden album by The Police, but a concept defined as “the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.”

In a recent session, Ronan asked about the hurdy gurdy. He’d heard about this instrument, but did not know what it was, or what it sounded like, or how long it might take to learn how to play, or what it might cost to buy one – all great questions – so we spent much of the lesson learning (together) about the hurdy gurdy, and listening to related music.

This led us to other “drone” sounds, including those produced by the sitar, Tuvan throat singing, and regional folk music of France (c. 1930) that often featured the hurdy gurdy, as well as the bombarde (an oboe-esque double-reed wind instrument) and biniou bagpipe.

We also listened to the Donovan song, “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” as recorded by guitarist Steve Hillage.

Just hours later, I was reading the October 2021 issue of MOJO, my favorite music magazine, in which Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant discusses the trajectory of his solo career:

“There was a turning point on 1993’s Fate of Nations, he says, when “I suddenly found I had enough cojones to approach Richard Thompson and [UK hurdy-gurdyist] Nigel Eaton, and start lifting the music and the intention, and actually get a grip, and grow up.”

Two references to the hurdy gurdy in one day? What are the chances? (Not only that, but Plant’s bandmate Jimmy Page famously played the guitar solo on Donovon’s original recording.)

Now, off to listen to some recordings by Nigel Eaton!

Lesson Plan

The “music business” is an extensive universe, and can provide a great many life lessons about what “moves” to make – or not make – in the course of a career. “Lesson Plan” posts [like this one] will identify specific topics or events that relate to Josephmooon’s development.

Exploitation is always top of mind. Ronan is autistic and a minor, and while our meetings are virtual, via Zoom, it is important for me to remain professional and communicate with his family regarding all activities and costs related to bringing the Josephmooon music to market.

At the moment, there is only red ink on the ledger, but we are 50/50 partners, profit and loss. It’s a constant lesson in economics. PLEASE pre-order our album!

Another story for us to discuss concerns the recent lawsuit filed by Spencer Elden, the infant model featured on the cover of Nirvana’s breakthrough album, “Nevermind.”

Pretty much everyone has seen this image, if not on the album itself, which has sold in excess of 30 million copies, then on bootlegged t-shirts in every country in the world. A naked baby, in a swimming pool, reaching for a U.S. dollar bill on a fish hook.

A collaged image. A work of commercial art. At the time, Elden’s parents accepted $200 in compensation from the photographer, Kirk Weddle. Without the album’s massive success, it would have remained a pool party photo shoot long faded to memory.

But of course, that’s not what happened. Everything changed once the parents saw their baby’s ding-a-ling on a giant painting on the wall outside of Hollywood’s Tower Records.

We won’t adjudicate the lawsuit here. Elden is seeking $150,000 in damages from each of 15 defendants including surviving band members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic; the managers of Kurt Cobain’s estate; Cobain’s former wife Courtney Love; and Weddle.

Lawyers for the defense will no doubt argue that nothing illegal has taken place, and that Elden, in fact, has for decades basked in his association with “Nevermind,” taking part in multiple anniversary re-creations of the iconic image.

Elder’s attorneys may plead that their client’s life was unfairly changed by events not under his control 30 years ago, and that the requested compensation is well within the bounds of reason, given the relative fortune realized by those named as defendants.

How should the judge rule in this case? Let’s talk about it.

and eat it too

Here in the Kingdom, it is mooncake season.

In Thai language, khanom yue bing, the confection represents abundance, wholeness, and fulfillment.

For three millennia, Chinese people have baked this traditional dessert to celebrate the autumn harvest. This year, September 21 marks the Full Moon of the eighth Chinese lunar month, or Harvest Moon.

From a Bangkok Post article by Karnjana Karnjanatawe [Sept. 8, 2021]:

“Chinese courtiers and commoners alike held . . . celebrations to admire the Moon and also made mooncakes in a round shape to represent the Harvest Moon. The circular shape is also a symbol of unity. The mooncake and its festival is a reminder for Chinese people to return home to share and eat with their families.”

Many of the major Bangkok hotels and restaurants have their own signature mooncake flavors and special packaging, sometimes quite elaborate. People give them as gifts, although from the Western standpoint, it appears to be a bit like exchanging fruitcakes at Christmas.

These sets range from under 300 baht (around $10) to a whopping 2,200 baht (approx. $68), and include traditional ingredients such as salted egg yolk and white lotus seed, as well as more exotic creations involving Monthong durian, organic egg custard, malted chocolate, and purple sweet potato. I tried one from the 7-11 that cost 20 baht. Did not finish it. A little dry. Like a fruitcake.

What would be the flavors of a Josephmoooncake? Just wondering.

Not ready for a closeup

As the two principals of Josephmooon live roughly 15,000 km or 9,300 miles, apart from one another, certain logistical dynamics must be addressed. For the moment, our interactions are strictly via email and weekly Zoom sessions that typically go on for at least 90 minutes. There is no prospect of forming a live band to perform the songs anywhere on the horizon, which would be a logical next step.

So Josephmooon remains a band without a face.

That could be a problem in the world of music marketing, according to one of our professional advisors, Tim Devine, whose Devlin House hosts dozens of high-profile print and video productions, from interview specials to fashion photo shoots.

Tim and I have known each other for more than 45 years, meeting in 1975 as fellow “college reps” for one of the most successful independent labels in history, A&M Records, where we literally had a hand in building the careers of Supertramp, Peter Frampton, Nils Lofgren, the Brothers Johnson, and many others. He was working in northern California while I held down the fort in Illinois and few other Midwestern states. He went on to an amazing career with major record labels and worked behind many artists including Paul McCartney, Bonnie Raitt, and U2.

Of course, I wanted to hear his thoughts on the Josephmooon music, but also on what next steps we might encounter. His immediate and first comment was, “Let’s see some pictures. Who’s the front man? What’s he look like?”

Image was the first thing on his mind.

Funny, as I had just seen this Bangkok Post ed-op page headline, an article about the machinations of the brain that dovetails with a book I’m currently reading, Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Nobel prize winner David Kahneman. The book originally was recommended to me by Mr. Devine, who at one point was on a pace of reading 500+ books annually. Not sure where he’s at these days. There is a good chance it came to his mind because its cover shares the “yellow pencil” imagery of “So Far So Good.”

At the end of our conversation, we agreed that putting “So Far So Good” out into the world without the advertising budget of a major label or a live show that could play festivals or tour in support of a major act will be an act of love and faith that it might find an audience.

As for an image, I thought since they’ve “retired,” maybe we can adopt Daft Punk’s shtick.

Mooonmemories

When we first started working together, Ronan was nine years old. At our first meeting he said he wanted to write a three-part song called “Snakes Versus the Earth,” which we did.

Wanna hear it? Maybe we’ll make it a music NFT down the road. 555

[To explain “555,” the “LOL” of Thailand, “ha” is the Thai word for the numeral five. Learning how to count in Thai has been quite useful to me these last few years. Thai language also has words that change the multiples to 1M and beyond, but because I have little occasion to use them in everyday language, they’ve not yet stuck to my brain.]

We also wrote some other songs, “Elliot Brand (Order of the Time),” and “Fake Tornado” come to mind. The predictably juvenile “EAF” concerned a near-disaster involving an airline pilot that was “extremely allergic to farts.” There is an unfinished sequel to that as well.

Our creative process was a little different back then. Ronan would come to the music school for his regular session, and always have some kind of story or drama to unfold, excitedly or matter-of-factly, it did not matter. I took notes, and the next week came back with a recap of the story he’d told in more or less song or verse form. That’s usually about as far as it went. I recorded a few things on my mobile. We performed a couple of times at the monthly student showcase.

At that time, I also hosted “Exceptional Saturdays,” a music circle for special needs youth. Ro was a bit too shy to put himself in the midst of that group, which is why we began private lessons. He may or may not get over his reluctance to perform. Time will tell, I suppose.

It seems more likely to happen as the Josephmooon songs become a bigger part of his life. I know he practices them because he sings the finished versions word for word. They are his words, after all, despite the editing and song-ifying that happens after he sends them my way.

Now, of course, he is able to use his iPad to write lyrics himself, and email them to me. I put each one in a folder and review them for song potential. There are four WIPs (works in progress) on my music stand at the moment, and it’s probably not sharing too much to offer up the titles – “Her Smile,” “Just Do It,” “Why Did We,” and “Can’t Be Beat.” Looking forward to hearing how they turn out!

So, 30 days before the official release of “So Far So Good,” we’re already thinking about what music critics love to call the “sophomore effort.”

In the meanwhile, there is still a lot of promotional work to do. Like asking you to pre-order. 555

# # #

“All Good Things Come To An End”

(a Shuffle Playlist)

Family Affair – Sly and the Family Stone  

Let It Be Me – Laura Nyro

Stage Door – Peter James

Falling – Roy Orbison

If Only You Were Lonely – Replacements, with Tom Waits

If You Ever – Bobby Whitlock

Open Up The Red Sea – Little Richard

Snoopy Waves – Deerhoof

Night – Bruce Springsteen

It’s About Time – Nick Gravenites

I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight – Jeff Tweedy

The Only Thing I Have To Do – Craig Marshall

Love and Hate – Joan Osborne

Ezra Pound and the Big Wood River – Funeral Bonsai Wedding

The Ultimate Crime – Todd Rundgren

Black Country Woman – Led Zeppelin

Girls Can Tell – The Crystals

Let’s Live For Today – The Grass Roots

# # #

i•Tunes pre•order, yay!

Pretty excited to see “So Far So Good” offered for pre-sale on iTunes. Go on, sample a few tracks and invest eight bucks in our modest musical project. Josephmooon thanks you.

The CD version of the album, comprised of a cardboard wallet with two pockets, one for the CD and one for the “lyrics poster,” is in production and should be available soon. We tried to keep the use of plastic to a minimum, although I believe the CDs will be shrink-wrapped.

It’s kind of interesting to see the different font types we looked at before deciding on the final version. Feel free to second-guess our choice. It isn’t an exact science. Or is it?

# # #

3:07 w t h?

Typically, I listen to music from my iTunes library on “shuffle” mode. That’s my default, which varies depending on the goal at hand (not that listening to music is always attached to a goal).

The songs, however, also can be lined up according their timed lengths, which can alter the way one passes time. “OK, I’ll go down to the pool and listen to 15, four-minute songs to get in an hour of sun.”

When recording the songs for “So Far So Good,” Ronnie Nice and I became conscious of a particular song’s length only if it seemed too short or too long in the demo versions. But for the most part, thanks to the fine example of “lean and mean” set over decades by the Ramones, to name just one of a million bands, we didn’t stress lengthening the songs that happened to clock in at under 3:00.

(And I do single out the Ramones if only to tell the story of how one time I stepped off a bus in some small town on the Argentine and Paraguayan borders – chaperone to a dozen teenagers on a church-sponsored “mission trip” – to encounter a street vendor whose cardboard boxes were full of CDs. Yes, 20 years ago, I still collected CDs.

The arpa (a type of South American guitar) music discs I picked up that day remain among my favorites.

But I also spied a bootlegged Ramones CD. A double-disc, “greatest hits” set, well worth whatever I paid, despite the cheap copy machine artwork and sleeve. Good memory.)

So today I noticed that the first two songs on “So Far So Good” are 3:07 in length. Which made me wonder how many other 3:07 songs I might find in my personal library.

The answer blew me away.

There are 90 songs in my digital music collection that time out at 3:07.

So, the Josephmooon songs, “Floats Boat” and “One Word,” are in good company, along with appropriately great tracks like “Brain Salad Surgery,” by Emerson, Lake and Palmer; Ava Max’s “Sweet But Psycho,” “The Kids Are Alright,” by The Who, “Go With The Flow,” by Queens of the Stone Age, and Nadine Shah’s “Washed Up.”

It’s a four-and-a-half-hour plus playlist.

So, the moral of this story is, don’t worry about listening to a song you might not like very much. It’ll be over in a few minutes. And try to not complain about it, because maybe it’s a song that someone else really enjoys.

Don’t be a bummer.

# # #

not even almost a little bit ‘famous’

My young songwriting partner in Josephmooon, Ronan, is consistently interested in how we can get more “famous.”

“Is so- and-so famous?” he will ask about almost anyone. Sometimes the answer is easy, but there’s a lot of grey area. If I bring up Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy as an example of a songwriter who is known and respected by a large group of music fans, Ro will ask, “Is Jeff Tweedy famous?” So, yes, to a large group of people he is well-known for making a lot of good music over the last 30 years. But does having 10,000, or 20,000, or even 1,000,000 people hanging on your every word make you “famous,” in a land of nearly EIGHT BILLION deserving souls?

Postcard invitation to DVD screening of a Jeff Tweedy Living Room Show.

Compared to Albert Einstein (Ronan’s benchmark example of someone who definitely is “famous”), however, “no so much fans,” as Tweedy’s young nephew once observed in a school report on his not-famous-enough uncle Jeff. That’s trivia for fans of the music that has nothing to do with the music. I guess that’s one definition of being “famous” – other people become interested in EVERYTHING you do, not just the talent that originally drew attention.

And always, I will try to impress upon Ronan that “being famous” should not be a goal. Writing interesting songs, and making interesting music, should be the goals. Then, if the music does attract an audience, you’ll keep writing songs, and as the years go by, more and more people will discover Josephmooon.

That is when you sell ‘em the t-shirts, coffee mugs, and mouse pads,” I jokingly tell Ronan. “After they’re hooked on the music.” It’s a nuanced concept for someone who only knows a world where all of the music ever created is available for listening with a few keystrokes. Where the music, sadly IMO, has become commodified and perhaps indistinguishable from the all of the other merchandising spewed out by the Corporate Music Machine.

Ronan obviously has invested a lot of time identifying products and services that could be attached to the Josephmooon “brand.” Over the last year I’ve created this list of things he has suggested could be affixed with the “Josephmooon” logo [in no particular order]:

Toilet paper

Men’s and women’s underwear

Face masks (Ronan actually did have these made!)  

All apparel (jackets, pants, hats, socks, etc.)

Calendars

Cars (delusions of DeLorean and Musk)

Planes  

Fake tattoos (great idea! resources?)

Eyewear

Neckwear

Footwear / sandals

Jewelry

Water bottles

Bathroom fixtures

Cookware

Personal beauty / makeup

Flags

Bicycle

Air pods / headphones (if Dre can have his Beats . . . )

Beds, sheets, pillowcases

Toothpaste (cheese-flavored, of course)

Dog collars and pet accessories

Watches

Hotels

That’s not even the whole list, but hey, PG-13 blog here! Hahaha. But we take the time to discuss each of these items seriously as they come up, and I think it is a good lesson to learn and to be repeated – what and why do you want to associate your BRAND with THAT? I mean, I don’t really want someone using Josephmooon toilet paper. It sends the wrong message.

The same goes with the housewares and appliances – those are bulky to ship, too. And it always returns to the meta-lesson: Without FANS who enjoy the MUSIC, there never can be a DEMAND for all of the other Josephmooon products you might have in mind.

So, go write another song.

# # #

stamina, accuracy

The 2020 Summer Olympic Games offered a delightful distraction to the day’s overarching situation – especially the spellbinding visuals displayed at the opening and closing ceremonies. To this viewer, the combined effect of lighting, projection, pyrotechnics, drones, and music, appeared magical and mystical.

I know, technology, but still, heart and soul always must exist in any creative team endeavor.

Sadly, not all hearts and souls are to be admired. Enjoyment of these spectacles almost certainly is marred by two controversies: the ceremonies’ creative director resigned after suggesting a plus-size female comedian appear as a pig, and a composer for the ceremony exited after old interviews revealed his abuse of disabled schoolmates. Tragic for all involved.

Twitter revealed that one segment of our culture – video gamers – were thrilled that “THEIR MUSIC” comprised a great deal of the opening and closing ceremonies’ soundtracks. It all sounded perfectly global and modern to these ears, an Olympic-sized mixtape, if you will.

How amazing would it be for one of the songs on “So Far So Good” to connect with an Olympian athlete, to inspire a transcendent performance, or simply get them through another routine workout? “High hopes,” indeed, calling to mind the ant and his rubber tree plant.

This week, Josephmooon takes one more small step on its imaginary march to immortality, releasing the song “High In The Sky,” and embarking on a limited strategic campaign that is unlike any I’ve ever done in my long career. It’s all digital, for one thing. Presumably no trees will be harmed in getting the Josephmooon story out to a select group of music journalists, playlist compilers, and other social media influencers, bless ’em all.

However, I can’t guarantee that fossil fuels won’t be burned to generate the electricity necessary to impact those people, to say nothing of the millions we hope to eventually download and stream the songs from “So Far So Good.” Tricky business, being green.