These are the posts for those of you wishing to read the road trip in its chronological order. By having this index of links it allows me to continue publishing other posts on creativity, art, music and writing along with the Priceless Magic posts. I hope you get some enjoyment out of them. I would like to hear from others, particularly regarding the following:
those who are currently traveling and what challenges you are facing.
those who traveled pre-Millenium and your experiences without the technology we have available today.
It was my strongly desired birthday wish to actually be left alone for my birthday.
Odd I know.
But my understanding family delivered. We have a very busy and noisy household. So on my birthday around lunchtime I ‘vanished’ into the corner of the office for two whole days. No family in the house. No visitors. No disturbance. The house darkened, locked up . . . and quiet.
It was raining outside. The neighbours pottered about in their garden just outside the window. Magpies caroled in beautiful melodies and the kookaburras heartily laughed each new day in. I know this, because I was awake with them. The sound of children playing in the park was a happy reminder of the day outside where despite the autumn drizzle here, families have enjoyed the park the whole weekend. Despite the numerous pillows, blankets and boxes I had used to barricade myself into the office, the Muse had appeared seated on the sofa as though wistfully bounced her leg on top of the other. Impatient. But ready.
I deeply desired time alone to revisit some old demos of songs and polish them up. The whole experience was broadly ranging in emotions. From the outset though, I was aware there was potential for me to feel pressured into ‘making the most of the time.’ So I happily dropped that and focused on just making and recording music. There were fleeting moments of utter and complete frustration and despair along with others of joyous elation. Other times I discovered some wonderful happy accidents when playing back tracks. The Muse was smiling.
So what of the time spent? Much of it really has been getting back up to speed. Learning the ropes again. Tinkering. Early tracks were revisited to be done again as the set-up was better after a day of fiddling. I also had no intention but to just make and record music. Probably an appropriate space to be in given the rather steep learning curve I had put myself on. It has been around ten years since I packed my things away.
I know the family are going to be curious, but there really isn’t much to ‘show’ for the whole experience – but a wealth of new knowledge. Some great new melodies captured in shimmering digital form, rather than bouncing around in my head. I’ve regained a new appreciation for music and for making what I’m bravely going to label ‘real music’ with real instruments and all their frustrating imperfections! To be clear it has largely been recording acoustic instruments and it has been very challenging for me.
Despite this, I am also revisiting the whole new world of MIDI. This is where I will be spending more time in the future given I am not a drummer or keyboardist.
I’ve also had the usual issues with timing and tempo and all the little niggly cadences and subtleties that live in the world of music. This is not a strength of mine, but I am aware of it and learning.
It only occurred to me later – when the family returned and I was talking to my wife about my time – that the importance of doing such a stint as this was not just in being un-disturbed by the usual day to day house things, but in allowing myself to engage with the inner artist and musician. To allow those traits and the spirit of such things to enter back into my life rather than get pushed to the side as they have for ten or so years. This is what I was really seeking I think. And it worked.
All this being said, I think I can sum up the whole experience best by saying that it was like sitting down with an old, well traveled notebook and then coming up with some new and awesome ideas and sketches. And for three nights and two mornings I fell asleep and woke up with a smile on my face.
The time ahead is for the making of the finished painting.
In refining my songwriting and getting songs ready for recording I have come up against some small challenges.
I am working off some old demos. These were originally done off tape and then converted to mp3’s over the years. Then they’ve been trapped in the digital world – either in my various laptops I’ve had over the years, or my ipod.
Some songs are fairly ingrained in the memory. Others I’ve almost forgotten the chords or the strumming technique that I used, so I have to do my best to emulate it until the muscle memory kicks in and hey presto, my fingers just move to the right chords. It’s an awesome kick when this happens. Not so, when it doesn’t.
There are still some chords I cannot for the life of me work out what I was playing or why I can’t pick the correct tempo. Or what key is it even in?
Thankfully in this day and age there are some awesome websites or apps that we can call upon to assist the process.
These are some of the helpful sites I have come across. No doubt there are countless others. Feel free to post a comment or link to others.
Determine the Beats Per Minute of a song – this site has lots of good stuff, but this particular page has been helpful for working out song tempo. Once you have a tempo you can get a drum beat to match . . .
Drumbit – an on-line drum machine. Helpful to obtain drum tracks in wav format for click tracks. Just record and beat and when you stop it automatically saves the wav file.
What Key is a song in? – this site has some excellent stuff too and I’ve used various charts for determining the key of a song but this site has a downloadable chart which is handy.
On-Line Metronome – a handy tool for playing along to or also working out the best tempo for songs. I like this one because it allows for a few modifications and you can stress the first beat which is handy for playing along to. It also gives the various tempos in Italian and beats per minute. The whole imusic site is a handy tool box in itself.
I’ve been researching laptops and computers for months now in order to upgrade my music recording capabilities. I’ve had to come up to speed with not only some new terminology but also the frustrating realisation that there is rapid momentum when it comes to keeping up to date with changing compatibilities and pricing.
I’ve jumped all over the place. Originally I was looking at Apple laptops like Macbook Pro 13 then to Dell XPS, then to the concept of mini pcs simply to ramp up the speed of my current desktop. If I opted for more memory the price jumped, which is fine in and of itself, but it also introduced other limitations which I then had to consider.
Or if it came with the memory configuration I was after it didn’t have the USB inputs I required. Or it didn’t have the number of inputs I wanted. I jumped about trying to find not just a happy medium, but something that was going to just do the job – now, and for a couple of years to come at least.
Then my Audient audio interface arrived and I discovered that there is no USB C input on the current desktop I have. Not exactly an oversight, its a few years old, but try as I may with other cables or adaptors, I wasn’t able to get the software engaging.
Further research and flipping about as to what to choose to upgrade to.
I was about to half heartedly settle on a Dell Inspiron that had all the necessary specifications that I was after at a reasonable price, when I read some pretty disenchanting reviews relating to over-heating issues or problems with latency. Apparently, given these are quite thin laptops and with their processing power may get too heated when running high data applications such as music production plugins or gaming software.
I was at an apparent dead end when I decided to remain determined to find an adequate solution. The current desktop had a few issues but when I delved into its specifications I discovered that we had done well when we purchased it some 6 years ago. The basics are all still there. So instead of purchasing new, and probably still not being 100% satisfied, our current desktop is booked in for an upgrade of its own. The plan is to install USB C inputs, modify its casing to allow for easier memory upgrades in the future and get it cleaned up, ready for the creative workload ahead.
That for many, many years I never even contemplated traveling to the USA. It just never entered my mind as a travel destination. It never interested me. There were too many exotic places out there waiting for my footprints on their shoreline. Too many hidden paradises. You may even have thought the same thing right?
But I think it was the culture. It started niggling at me. I met travelling Americans. Something inside me stirred with curiosity. It grew into a kind of enigmatic attraction, loitering somewhere between the delightful ambiguity of a Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich and the carnival-like sound of a half crushed Coke can rolling higgledy-piggledy down an empty city street at one in the morning, filtering into my restless dreams.
For me and Alex, and our jar of Vegemite, it was our first time in the United States. Pre-landing the fragrant stewardess handed us our Visa Waiver forms.
No. I haven’t got a communicable disease. I’m not an addict and I don’t abuse drugs of any kind. If there’d been a little square box for pistachio nut addiction I’d have contemplated a tick.
At the risk of sounding boring I have never been convicted of an offence or crime involving moral turpitude. Nor was I seeking entry to engage in criminal or immoral activities. No, I haven’t been involved in espionage, sabotage, terrorist activities or genocide, and I wasn’t even born before 1945 to be in any way involved in persecutions associated with Nazi Germany or its allies. Actually, if I had been somehow related to any of these activities, unsavoury as they may be, did the diligent people of US Immigration really expect me to tick the little box?
I was however a smuggler, and in exile from a hurting relationship. But they didn’t really have a box specific enough for that, so my 455 gram jar of Vegemite would go undeclared and I would put on a brave face. For a two month trip in the US, we were going to need a supply of Vegemite and they never have big enough jars, so I bought my own from home. My only real concern was that I didn’t quite match my passport photo. Maybe then, I had changed.
Alex certainly thought I’d changed over the years he’d known me. He handed back my passport after rifling through it on the plane.
“You’re a little more relaxed, but you still have that daggy quality about you. Nothing over the top. Just a comfortable, easy going, amicable nice guy. Typical boy next door material.”
My mate Alex.
Just the fella to add a pinch of school ground humour and refinement to the trip. A bit artsy, a fellow musician and just as much a guy dedicated to the fine art of bloke-ism without getting too involved in its many tragic and unhygienic tendencies. He also shared a mutual interest with me of people watching. We agreed to a trip across the States as we sat on the verandah of his fibro house in rural Western Australia. In recollection it was St Patrick’s Day and over a couple of cans of Guinness and Beamish and a big pot of hot Irish Stew, we agreed to ‘do America’ while sitting on the front porch and watching road trains rattle and thunder past. Alex is the kind of character that, as the reader of this road trip, you may wish to sink a bit of emotional investment into. If you wish.
So there we were, eventually making progress towards our American adventure. I was looking forward to it. To the new adventures and the big distraction I was hoping it would provide. I was ready to enjoy America and what it had to offer. Use the time and opportunity to investigate the person I was. Ever mindful of the Zen understanding that first a person needs to awaken on their own and see their own light before they can begin to see and appreciate someone else’s. I figured it was a good place to begin. Back to basics.
Then there was the sound of rubber on American tarmac. And Alex and me were there.
Bessie Smith had left her mark on a hostel bunk in Dublin. Neatly scribed in tiny, accurate lettering with what I figured would have been a simple ballpoint pen. It stood out, next to all the permanent marker trash and the carved, burnt or blood written graffiti surrounding it. And next to all the other words it didn’t seem so Neolithic. Her words had some sort of meaning. Some emotive substance. It was sincere and intimate.
‘When my bed get empty, make me feel awful mean and blue,
My springs is getting rusty, sleeping single like I do.’
At the time I had no idea just who Bessie Smith was. The sound of the words and her name simply led me to assume she was an American woman. The rhyme and the way it licked around lyrically like it did appealed to me. I could empathise. In that grotty little hostel room in Dublin where the train line rattled past our window, there was my travelling companion Alex and a couple of guys neither of us saw. Aside from in the morning when they wriggled their toes from under the blankets. Each morning there’d be empty bottles on the floor and the disturbing presence of a bowie knife on the windowsill with filthy underpants strewn around. Alex would roll around on his top bunk fighting nightmares about the job he’d just left back home and cursing the odour situation, which was apparently much worse at his particular altitude.
I had a bit of time to think in Dublin. About Her. Just like Bessie Smith, I too was sleeping single. And it seemed I would do for many, many more days.
Alex and I had returned to the UK for a couple of weeks to do a bit of in-depth sightseeing and soul searching. I was on a half-quest to find the romantic love I had lost and was hoping to win it back. It had been nearly eight months since I had seen the Princess that had taken my heart.
Serina had been my first serious relationship. Everything went well. I thought I was ‘The Man with all the Answers’. We were happy. Life was good. Then I left to fulfil my travel dreams and everything kind of went pear shaped and distorted. Eventually the bottom fell out.
When Alex and I found Serina within her castle in Edinburgh things still didn’t seem right. The fears of love and of love lost came storming in like billowing black clouds over a summer picnic. I wanted to be understood. To understand. I wanted to return to our original Garden of Eden relationship and forget about all the not-so-cool stuff that had come between us.
But it wasn’t going to be easy and I was determined and optimistic enough not to let it rust up and retire. But it wanted too. It wanted too. So there I was. A torn man. And my new-age sensitive mate Alex was there beside me to save me from loitering with lost love. Ever present with gentle, subtle words of wisdom to, “be tough. Take it like a man. Let it sort itself out.”
“Get some arse into ya’ man!”
“You think I’m too weak?”
“You’re too f*ckin’ soft!” he scorned, “You’re making me feel ill. Don’t be so nice.”
Always there were the words of my Alex-Conscience speaking to me, and he was the one, ever-ready to remind me that the Glasgow curries were the best ever, and to his mind that was as good a reason as any to skip the Old Town and the Old Love.
In mad moments I used to believe him. He was seldom wrong.
The last touching scene with Serina had been yet another drawn out and uncomfortable ‘hello-goodbye’ near Covent Garden in London. It was a near empty, emotionless goodbye. I was told not to talk. It was soul numbing. If I could have stood back and looked at it, I would have said it was the final goodbye. Such a fish-bowl relationship. It wasn’t going anywhere. It had four eyes and two hearts and it didn’t know where to go. Somehow the two heads got in the way.
So I was a little mixed up about love and relationships. I was trying to play it cool in my world of love gone wrong.
“What you need Big J is a distraction. And I think that going to the USA is going to be just that. An ideal distraction.” said Alex, as though he was a Doctor of Love handing out dosage advice to someone going cold turkey on the stuff. And that’s what we had on our agenda. We had ourselves a couple of return tickets from London to LA. Just what the doctor ordered.
Alex bought me an orange juice at Heathrow while we waited for our flight to LA.
“You know Big J. It’s a very simple thing really. When you boil off all the fat. All the hurt. The good times and the bad. All the optimism and the pessimism and you run it through the Big Sieve,-“
“Cut to the chase Alex.”
“Well mate. You’re idling at the stop lights. You can only go forward.”
“It’s just how to go forward I’m not sure about.”
“Okay then. Look at it this way. Are you in love with her, or the idea of her?”
It was a poignant question. Alex seemed to have a grip on simplicity at the most opportune times.
We sat quietly. Drowned out by the buzz of the airport. Drowned out in turn by inner thoughts.
I was, at that point, in love with the idea of her. Of whom she had been to me. Not who she had become. But she had also been someone to someone else. Several someone else. I didn’t have a problem with that. It’s just that people can change that way. People do change that way. People can change other ways too. But she wasn’t the person that I had known. I looked into myself to see how I had changed. I couldn’t really see much change at all. Maybe that was a reason in itself. But I was happy with who I was. I was Jules. No great demand or need to change. I was comfortable with the character I wore.
So when Alex had asked me if I was in love with her, or the idea of her, I could only see it as being the idea of her. It made me sad to think she’d changed. It made me sad to think I might have to keep thinking of who she had been to me, just so I could still like her. Just the realisation of that had me starting the long trek out of Lost Loves Big Wasteland.
I have to say, I’ve not had so much interest in a post before as I have had from posting a poem. How awesome to have a poem generate interest. How reassuring that poetry still moves people in this day and age.
In celebration of the fact, I have another to share. I once had a singing teacher who perused my song lyrics and told me rather matter of factly as she sat behind her piano that they were not songs, they were poems. She was a wonderful teacher. Strict and lovely and encouraging. I know exactly what she meant.
I have since realised that I work better putting music to poetry. 🙂 Though it also works just as well the other way too I think. If it works . . . I don’t think it matters.
So there will be things presented here that I’m not exactly prepared to spell out in simple language for you or specifically interpret.
Having said that . . . I think you’ll be fine.
What I mean is, if we’re both looking at a painting, we might possibly have a different perception or interpretation of what it is about. This should neither be right or wrong. Likewise with writing, take from it what you will.
Now, with that said, here is a poem to get things rolling. You’re licensed to make up your own mind of what the subject matter is. Regards, J.
Priceless Magic moves its way through the corridors; We’re waiting to find out what it claims to be. Something either you or I know we couldn’t do without. Something we all like to receive.
It winds its way out past the lines of shops in casual attire. It stops to sniff the scent of the street. Adrenalin and fumes. The Take-away and public phone booths. The things that stick to people’s feet.
Moving on now, down town, down towards the heady night of bright lights, street fights and late night taxi stands . . . Behind the façade of everything that stirs the blood of youth, it finds a place of its own and waits it all out.
It looks upon itself as it parades up and down the city streets. It watches as it walks in pairs, hand in hand, or stands solitary on the corner, smiling and winking at the traffic. Sees itself under city lights and down by the old car park where its doing its thing there.
People watch it. People mock it. Shed a tear and try to hock it. You’d be a fool to try and sell it out. Priceless Magic is free and walks the streets pumping through the veins of every living thing. It exists in its own right. Longing, only, for a home.
I’m about to start posting a travel adventure. But there are some things I just need to get off my chest before I do.
This is not a new thought to me, posting what is virtually a book, over a blog. But the last time I looked at doing this I got disheartened by a few other posts I read on the subject and I really wondered whether people would get anything out of it.
So I did nothing.
But its probably better suited to blog posts anyway. You’ll see.
Before we set off on our road trip of sorts, it is rather imperative that I deliver to you the context for the trip. And also the reason for doing this, which you can find here. Please read do read it. It will make sense of what is to follow – and why.
Picture this. It’s 1999. Two Australian males, mid twenties. Pre mobile phones and internet. I know mobiles were around, but they weren’t common. We used email to send news home. So instantly you have two of life’s big ticket distractions out of the equation really. Picture that!
We didn’t have GPS either. We used our wits, locals, Lonely Planet Guides and a Rand McNally Road Atlas to find our way to cities, hostels, out of the way towns, tourist locations and the delivery or pick-up locations for our vehicles.
My mate Alex traveled with an Apple eMate 300 which he describes as “The weirdest little machine ever made”. I had a notepad (like . . a notepad . . . pen and paper), an SLR camera (with film) and a sketchbook – like a notepad, but missing the lines :). This was twenty years ago, so you can see that a lot has occurred in these past twenty years. Very quickly.
Today, I am hopeful that someone, somewhere, will get something out of reading it. Please read this initial post regarding the catalyst that kicked off this project.
The world has changed in a short time.
Alex and I hit the road at a time before 9/11 and the Bali Bombings. We didn’t have a heap of technology. We used phone cards for goodness sake – to call home on public phone booths. There are kids these days that don’t even know how to use a public phone booth! Mobile phones were really only just becoming commonplace. Can you even buy phone cards today? I really don’t know . . .
And this whole virus thing. That wasn’t around either. In fact I vividly remember thinking to myself when it was blitzing the world around April/May 2020 – “My God, what would I do if I was overseas traveling and had to hunker down?”
The answer was, I would probably hunker down. As a traveler I learnt to adapt to change even further. You can plan so much, you can actively do so much, but sometimes . . . sometimes you have no choice but to let go and allow life to go on automatic for a while. You have to go with the flow. It can be a mental game. But its one you have to play. I’ve also fought for change because I didn’t like the way things were going, but that’s another story in itself. When you can’t fight, you gotta go with the flow. That’s when you really feel like your living. That’s when you can learn some stuff. Keep on swimming.
Anyway, I’m getting a little philosophical.
I’ll make it snappy. Point form. Follow me . . . this won’t hurt a bit.
I’m going to add some Author’s Note’s to the posts to add to the story or point out other things of interest. I’m also going to add to the digital soup by putting in links to things and places that may assist with your understanding of some of the situations, places or terminology. Links and pictures are dead easy for a blog post, so it’ll add to the adventure.
I’m likely to post other topics too so those posts marked (PM) in the title relate to the Priceless Magic trip. eg.. LoveCURRY (PM)
Generally, in my own life, I don’t swear much. My Great Grandmother used to say that if your using swear words its a sign that your too lazy to think of a better word. But I have also found that in writing from life, people swear. Its a mark of their character or their attitude on the situation. So there is going to be some naughty words used, but I promise I’ll only do it to make a f*ckin’ point.
There is a soundtrack to this trip. Every good trip would and should have one. I’ve put in links to some of the music. Enjoy.
We traveled the US doing Drive-Away trips. I’m still not sure we have the service here in Australia, although you can hire Camper vans, Motor homes and cars for one-way trips (delivery).
At the beginning of this year I hit a personal low. Actually, two.
Unusually, it lasted just a couple of hours and on two separate occasions exactly a week apart.
In a moment of what I can only describe as a melange of sheer anger, frustration, annoyance and desperation I made a statement to my wife. It probably sounded more like a seething, personal threat come to think of it, but it was a statement and one I made to myself really, but it was voiced at her. And I think we both GOT IT.
This year I am going to be creative and I’m NOT going to feel guilty doing it.
That’s the guts of it really. Pretty succinct, huh?
For too long I have shelved projects, watered them down or just plain given up on them because the dishes needed doing, the house was untidy or family had to come first. There is always something else. I know this. But it always got in the way.
2021 is not going to stop for no one. So I’m getting after some things that I’ve let slip. And also after some others that have just haunted me for years. Those are the projects that just won’t let up and I simply have to get them done, completed and move on.
Because they JUST WON’T LET UP !!!!!
One of these projects is to record a bunch of songs that I really am feeling driven to get down in a decent state. They have played through my mind as rough demos for a long time and have bloomed into more mature songs that only I can hear in my head when I play the demos to myself. It’s all those extra ‘imagined’ sounds and melodies that I want to get down into finished songs.
So I’m starting the process. I have some equipment I need to update and I’ve bought a new guitar. So it has started and as a result other things are starting to flow. Thoughts on artwork and creative processes to chase after. This time, it will be fun.