Okay, people have been asking me to hear a performance by the new line-up so I've uploaded a track from this past Sunday's practice. It's pretty rough but it's representative of where the band is as we continue to find our way and try to tighten ourselves up to the point where we can perform in public without embarrassing ourselves! Go here to listen. (And don't forget: I would be really really grateful if you would tell just one person about Book of Kills. We're growing...very slowly but we are growing! Thanks!)
Another good practice this past Sunday. To be honest, we still struggle to make it through an entire song without some sort of gaffe, but that's probably to be expected considering the modest amount of time we're able to devote each week to group practice. That said, I feel like we're getting a little better every week. I think we've more or less set our sights on playing a live show in August or September and it'll take that amount of time to get to where we want to be. Personally, I need to be much more diligent about practicing on my own. I'm not going to get better by only rehearsing once a week with the other guys.
On this day in 2001, Book of Kills (Casey and Jane Firkin, Bill Bird and me) played our first ever live show on the radio (WXJM in Harrisonburg, Virginia). I remember the sound set-up was rudimentary at best and we actually ended up using our P.A. and having a couple of microphones pointed at the whole band. We invited Randy Simpson and his wife (girlfriend at that time?) to watch while we played. Randy, of course, ended up joining the band a couple months later. I know there's a recording of that show somewhere, but I don't remember where it is anymore. The set list: Accidentally Naked, Cave In, Money, Gemini, To Dream a New Dream, Running, I Hang Heavy-->Up In Flames-->I Can't Stand It Anymore, Why Won't You?, Because Because, Caroline, Fat Woman, If I Asked You.
"I know you've heard it a thousand times before. But it's true--hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don't love something, then don't do it." -- Ray Bradbury
This past Sunday's practice, though short, was probably our best one thus far. We're still a ways from being tight enough to play in pubic, but we're certainly closer.
The new podcast is ready! You can listen to it now. It's a little rough around the edges, but I put a lot of time into it. I think it will be of genuine interest to folks who have always wondered how someone pieces a song together voice by voice and instrument by instrument. Let me know what you think!
On this day in 2001, BOK played their second and final gig at Charlottesville, Virginia's long since defunct Tokyo Rose. Though we only performed their twice, it was easily one of my favorite venues to play. We played really well both times. In fact, this particular show was one of the best this line-up (Randy Simpson, Jane Firkin, Bill Bird, Casey Firkin and Jim) ever played. The set list: Accidentally Naked, Cave In, Why Won't You, Money, Gemini, Rain, Because Because, If I Asked You, Caroline, If You Want It Take It, I Was Wrong, To Dream a New Dream, Running, I Hang Heavy-->Up in Flames-->I Can't Stand It Anymore, Killing Time Again, Don't Stop the Scream
Didn't practice last night. Rescheduled for this evening.
Practice tonight. Hope I haven't forgotten everything! I'm very bad about practicing on my own. I've always found it very difficult to sit around and run through songs over and over, although I understand that anyone who wants to truly be good as an instrumentalist has to practice regularly.
" If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it. And if I don’t practice for three days, the public knows it." -- Louis Armstrong
"Mistakes are . . . immensely useful. . . they show us . . . where we are right now and what we need to do next." -- William Westney
"You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail." -- Charlie Parker
I finished writing the third podcast a couple days ago, but I won't have the chance to record it till next Tuesday. Though recording podcasts are really labor intensive, unless something unforeseen happens I should have it uploaded to the Podcast page no later than Thursday. Of course, we know what happens every time I make a prediction as to when something like an album or a podcast will be done.
Jimi Hendrix's Are You Experienced?, one of the seminal rock and roll albums of the '60s, was released on this day in 1969.
"Rock is so much fun. That's what it's all about - filling up the chest cavities and empty kneecaps and elbows." -- Jimi Hendrix
No practice last evening. I don't know why I even thought (last week) that we'd be able to practice on Mother's Day. We were out of town most of the day and then went to see a grandkid's championship baseball game, then had family over that evening for dinner. Very busy time. May, June, July, August and September are invariably full of activities. Anyway, we'll get together this coming Sunday, I hope. Nothing new this week. We'll just try to get back on track and make what we have tighter. Then perhaps the week after that we'll add a song.
I'm about halfway finished with writing the podcast. I've never really tried to explain how I write and record a song in any sort of detail before, so this has really taken a lot of thought and planning. It's funny...it will take me a lot more time and effort to create a podcast about writing a song than it would to actually write and record a new song.
We won't be adding anything new this week to the band's repertoire. I'd rather just work on "perfecting" what we already have. I guess I'm sort of hard to satisfy when it comes to playing stuff live, but I can't bring myself to perform in front of people if I'm not satisfied that we'll do a really good job of playing each song. I remember having a long conversation with another singer/songwriter about recording and at one point he said that (in effect) sometimes you can be too focused on getting a song "just right". I told him (to his amazement, I think) that when I record I'll sometimes play a specific little part dozens of times until I get it just right. I've always possessed an inordinate amount of patience when it comes to recording music; otherwise, I don't know that I'd ever complete a song to my satisfaction.
"Occasionally we would butt heads over his [Prince’s] perfectionism. He was competitive and he challenged everyone. He was an insomniac and often drank coffee in order to stay up all night working. But he brought out the best in us." -- Appolonia
Very good practice last night. We played song after song until George's and my voices were ragged and we couldn't sing another note. No, we're not ready to play live, but we're certainly closer than ever. I'm pretty sure I want to add one more song to our current repertoire...either a really good cover or a BOK song that I've never done live before. We'll figure it out. I'm going to listen to the practice today or tomorrow (I record every practice), though I won't have much time to do so today. If there's anything that I figure is worth uploading, I'll let you all know.
I have written about a quarter of the latest podcast. I'm fairly certain I'll finish with the writing part this week and I might even have time to start recording it.
I watched some videos of live performances by the White Stripes last night. I am so sad that I never saw Meg and Jack live. I don't know how they did it, but those two made some absolutely great music together. I never did understand the criticism that so many leveled at Meg. She obviously had no interest in being some flashy Keith Moon type but she was so freaking rock steady. Did she ever miss a beat? Much like Ringo Starr, she was a human drum machine who always served the song. And Jack was just so into every performance. You knew he loved rock and roll and he was going to do everything he could to make sure you loved rock and roll as much as him, if that was even possible. The two of them were so different and yet were such perfect fits for one another.
"I came up from growing up with a lot of Catholic guilt, a lot of punk rock, hipster guilt in the later years where I think people have thrown a lot of things on me. Where I always felt like I'm not supposed to tell the horn section what to play or I don't want to come off egotistical." -- Jack White
"It's the emotion of it that hits me, more than anything technical." -- Meg White
Last night yielded another good practice. We even went a little longer than usual, running through each song as well as adding three additional ones. After we'd wrapped things up, I suggested throwing a little "private" concert for a few friends and any members of our families. (That would give us a good feel for how prepared we are to actually play a real show. Too, after not playing live since 2017, I'd like to do a "show" with little pressure, sort of as a way to get back in the saddle, to coin a phrase.) George then wondered if we could make it more than a concert...throw in a cookout as well. Rock'n' Roll and burgers and dogs! I already can't wait.
Tomorrow, if I have the time, I'll begin writing a new podcast episode. No predictions as to when it'll be done. When it's done, it's done.
We'll be practicing for the first time in two weeks tonight. Hope I haven't forgotten everything! This will be an extremely busy week for me and my wife, what with various family commitments just about every day into the weekend. I will have almost no time to devote to working on podcast #3 but I know what I want to do this time and that's to examine how I write and record a song. I haven't decided what song to do yet, but if you'd like to suggest one that you're particularly interested in learning more about, please let me know. I think something written by the end of the week and perhaps I can record it no later than by the end of next week.
I'm thinking (I want to stress I'm thinking) about starting work on podcast #3 in the ADVENTURES OF AN INSPIRED AMATEUR series. It's much harder for me to put together one of these podcasts than it is to write and record a new song, so I guess the fact that there are only two podcasts so far in what was supposed to be a weekly thing (ha!) is testimony to the fact that either I'm lazy or...well, yeah...I'm lazy. A lot of people listened to #1 and 2, so I guess I should make the effort to at least put out 3-4 a year while I'm still able. While the recording past is relatively easy, coming up with 20-30 minutes of material for one episode is difficult to say the least. I'm hardly alone here. For instance, The Flaming Lips's Steven Drozd started a great podcast (SORCERER'S ORPHAN: A SONG BY SONG HISTORY OF THE FLAMING LIPS) about his band's music back in June of 2018. As of today, he's issued only eight episodes, and none since July of 2020.
In response to a recent query: I am still compiling the list of original songs that I've written, but when I'm done, I will create a page and post a list of all of them. Right now, I'm around 480. I don't think I'll get to 500, though, at least until I write a new album.
"We wish that we could take magic drugs, play around all day, read, and do nothing strenuous, and be the smartest, happiest people in the world. The truth is, it's all about sweat."
"Being around people who are happy and people who are creative, that's what you do if you're lucky in your life."
"All the great things that I get to be curious about, see and experience because I'm sensitive to the world, they also open up these areas where there's a lot of pain and suffering. You're just aware, aware, aware."
-- Wayne Coyne (The Flaming Lips)
The band will take tonight off. (Well, we pretty much take every night off except for most Sundays) But, with it being a pretty big holiday (at least here in the U.S.), and my wife and I having a pretty big crowd over this afternoon for lunch and With Dan and his family going elsewhere to dine with family, it seemed prudent to call off practice this week.
Next week we're going to begin learning the "Idiot Planet"->"This World Is Gonna Let You Down"->"Coda" medley that George, Garfield and I worked out back in 2017 (and only played live once) that I love to play so much. If you haven't heard this particular medley, you can head over to the Music Page and listen to the August 19, 2017 performance of it. We'll try our hardest to make the "new" version even more exciting and fun.
After that, we'll begin the work of making our fifteen song repertoire as tight and dynamic as possible with the goal of playing a few shows in the second half of 2022. There's a chance we might add one more (newer) song later, but for now it makes sense to focus on what we have down already.
On this day in 1967, Liz Phair was born. Very hard for me to believe that she's 55. In early 1992, before she got famous, I sent her $20 to her home in Chicago for a cassette copy of her legendary "Girly-Sound Tapes". She never sent me a tape. Guess she kept the $20. I don't know...maybe she never got the money. It's Easter. Let's be kind.
On this day in 1991, Nirvana played "Smells Like Teen Spirit" for the first time ever at the OK Hotel in Seattle.
On this day in 1998, Linda McCartney passed away after a long battle with breast cancer.
A long-running source of amusement for many who have followed Book of Kills for a long time is that the band has played several "last shows ever" since the very first last show back in 2002. There've been at least three or four other "last shows ever" since then. Of course, there will one day truly be a final BOK show and the likelihood is that it's going to be much sooner than later. That's why I'm trying to create with Dan (our drummer), George and Randy a sort of comprehensive song repertoire that represents the entire history of BOK from 1989 to the present.
Anyway, I'm hardly the first musician, amateur or professional, who has for one reason or another announced his retirement from performing. It's actually a fairly common thing. David Bowie, Jay-Z, Phil Collins, Nikki Minaj, Barbra Streisand, Tina Turner, Meatloaf, Trent Reznor, Robert Fripp, Frank Sinatra, Ozzy Osbourne, The Who, KISS, Judas Priest, Elton John, Motley Crue, The Band, and many others, have all at one time or another at least once (and in many cases, multiple times) announced their retirement from music.
"I've rocked my roll. It's a boring dead end. There will be no more rock 'n' roll records from me. The last thing I want to be is some useless fucking rock singer." -- David Bowie (1975 interview in Playboy magazine)
We had another solid practice last night. As I'd noted previously, we didn't add anything new. I'm still thinking about what additional songs I want to add to our repertoire. Nothing yet that I want to upload from the practices. We're still finding our way in several respects. Though I will say I haven't listened to the performances from last night. If there's something worth posting, I will.
I decided against adding anything new this week in practice. We have a dozen songs in our repertoire so far and I thought it would be more sensible to simply work on making what we already know better. Next week I think I want to add "The World Is Unchanged (Only More Naked)" off the latest BOK album, ARMY OF LOUD. As I told the other guys this week, I think it makes more sense now to add 3-4 more songs and then start working on securing some gigs during the summer.
R.E.M. played their first ever live gig at a friend's birthday party on this day back in 1980. It is very nearly mind-blowing to me to think that their first show was 42 years ago. They appeared at the abandoned St Mary's Episcopal Church, in Athens, Georgia. I believe there's actually a recording of that performance, but I haven't been able to find it online. Bill Berry: "We were scared shitless."
We had a very productive practice Sunday evening. I think we're slowly starting to gel as a band as we become comfortable musically with one another. I don't think it's entirely out of the realm of possibility that we will play a show some time in mid to late summer. It's entirely dependent upon how tight we can get by then, of course. Right now I simply wouldn't think to schedule a show. In another couple months, that could change. As Dan (our drummer) said last evening on the ride home, I know how I want the songs to sound and I know the level of proficiency that we need to exhibit before we play in front of others. Until we reach that level we'll keep practicing. We added "Different Story" last night and it came together pretty quickly. I haven't decided if I'll add another song next week or not. I would like to initially have a bank of 20 songs or so to pull sets from. Again, I'm trying to incorporate songs from every era of the BOK story from 1989's BLOOM OR DIE? to 2021's ARMY OF LOUD in an effort to pay homage to every iteration of the band over the past 28 years of live performances.
On this day in 1964, The Beatles held the top five spots on the U.S. singles chart, at No. 5, "Please Please Me", No.4, "I Want To Hold Your Hand", No.3, "Roll Over Beethoven", No.2, "Love Me Do", and at No.1, "Can't Buy Me Love." In addition to the top five, the band had another nine songs in the top 100 making it fourteen singles in the top 100 at the same time. Amazing!
We had a good practice Sunday evening. Added another song. Up to nine now! We've also decided to do an occasional second practice during the week which should help a lot in tightening up the arrangements. Right now I feel like we're getting a good grasp on the material but no one song is as tight as it needs to be. But we're making solid progress.
This is kind of a "big day" in Book of Kills history. On this day in 1997, the line-up of Dave and Brian Buracker, Brock Beatty and I played the Little Grill in Harrisonburg, Virginia. It was probably our best show. Unfortunately, it would also prove to be our final show. The band broke up, rather unexpectedly, the next morning. This line-up would reunite briefly for a charity gig in 1998, then fade away for good. Too bad; this band was a rather adventurous one musically! The set list: Before and Ever After, She's the Kind of Girl, Because Because, Placebo, Get My Gun Allison, March of the Lima Beans, Don't Stop the Scream, Heaven, Cara Anne, My World Turned to Black, I Start to Fall, Killing Time Again, Fade, I Hang Heavy, Paperback Writer, Abandoned, Wonder Twin, Lost, Fade (again!)
I only today learned that Rob Christensen had passed. He was a great friend, a true inspiration, a fun collaborator, and a super musician. I am forever in his debt in so many ways. I knew Rob since the late '90s. He even lived a very short while with my wife and me in Bridgewater in the early 2000s and we had an absolute blast hanging out together. For years, he and I would periodically meet up at our favorite restaurants in Harrisonburg and Bridgewater and spend hours talking about music--our own and, of course, the music created by the numerous musicians we both loved. Rob and I both enjoyed what he always called "rock docs" and we spent more than a few hours watching them together. In 2001, I lost my dad, a beloved aunt, and two close friends, and even my dog Maggie, over the course of a few months. I'd subsequently lost the desire to make music myself anymore and in fact, I actually sold some of my musical equipment intending never to write another song or play another note live. Rob was there for me, helping me deal with the pain of loss and encouraging me to somehow turn that pain into music. His optimism and encouragement were of incalculable importance to me. I hadn't spoken with him in a while and had no idea he was as ill as he'd evidently become in the past few months. The news of his death from the same disease that claimed my father has been devastating to me. I will never forget what a wonderful, good man and supportive personal friend Rob was.
You can check out "These Days" which is a song written by Rob that I recorded back in the summer of 2004.
The band didn't practice last night (Tuesday had become sort of the de facto practice day) but we'll get together this coming Sunday. Some have asked if I'd post some recordings from practices on occasion. I certainly will do so once I get a few technical kinks worked out as far as where to best position the Zoom recorder and once we get a better handle on the balance between instruments.
I'll be chopping off some entries on this page soon, so check out whatever old ones you might want to go back and read soon!
“I [should] never have joined a band! Even though I am quite a good gang member and a good trooper on the road, I am bad at creative collaboration. I would have made a much more effective solo performer and producer working the way Brian Eno has worked.” -- Pete Townshend
On this day in 2008, George Nipe III's band The Plague Dogs, for whom I was playing bass and singing several BOK songs, played a lengthy show at a house in Harrisonburg, Virginia. I don't remember much about the gig other than I think we were in a basement. A few of the songs from that gig were recorded, though I'm not really sure where they are right now! The set list: (Set One) Lost, River Of Blood, Glass Turns To Sand, Song 2, 311 Girl, Roulette, My Friend, Release, Mexican Buzzsaw (Set Two) Salvation, You Don't Know Me, The Flow, Sunrise, Fly, Paint It Black, Different, I Hang Heavy, Fat Woman Lying In The Street, Little Metal Toys.
A momentous day in Beatles history: On this day in 1961, The Beatles played the Cavern Club for the very first time.
This week we'll just add another old one, in this case "I Hang Heavy". Funny how that little throwaway song became such an important part of the BOK repertoire. I wrote that one and recorded it in a couple hours back in 1989. It refuses to die. Next week we'll be adding "Different Story" (the 2013-14 live version which includes the little instrumental bridge).
On this day in 1969, John Lennon married Yoko Ono. The rest is history.
Good, brief practice last night. I was in particular surprised at how quickly "Marzipan Day" came together. A few songs are close to being ready for live performance. Most still need work. But we're getting there. I would project that perhaps we could be ready to play a show in mid to late summer. I do think that we'll have to practice a bit more intensively than we are right now if we're going to be a good band. That means perhaps the occasional two practices in a week. It's tough to be in a band that mainly does original material and it's tough to find the time needed to work on being really really good. And, of course, if you're in a band, if you don't want to be really really good, then you're wasting your time and the time of everyone else in the group.
"Band members have a special bond. A great band is more than just some people working together. It's like a highly specialized army unit, or a winning sports team. A unique combination of elements that becomes stronger together than apart." -- Steven Van Zandt
We'll probably try out two old BOK songs this week: "Bad Person" and "Marzipan Day". Both are songs I've always really enjoyed playing live and both are relatively easy to learn, though the drumming on "Marzipan Day" can be quite involved. Every drummer that I've worked with on "Marzipan" did it differently. That's certainly one of the cool music things about working with different people.
"Good music comes out of people playing together, knowing what they want to do and going for it." -- Keith Richards.
This past Tuesday's practice (our fifth? sixth?) was certainly our best thus far. It has taken a while to get instrument levels right and to grow together as a new line-up. I'm still kind of uncertain as to what songs, both "old" and "new", that I want to try out. I say "try out" because I'm well aware that some things we attempt to play simply won't fit who we are as a group. For instance, we gave "The Danger That Can Drive You Home" a couple week's worth of work but it just didn't catch fire, so we're dropping it. I'm always cognizant of what I know will go over well with an audience and I think I can tell after the band runs through a song four or five times whether or not it will really connect with people. So, now I have to figure out something else that we can try out this coming Tuesday. I've had lots of suggestions from lots of people and I appreciate the interest in what we're doing.
I don't feel as though we are on a time line. That said, of course no one knows what tomorrow will bring, but I do believe that we can take our time in readying ourselves for eventual shows....somewhere. I certainly won't try to schedule anything until we're tight as we can be.
"Some people don't know this, but before they came in they rehearsed every day for six months, like, 10 hours a day. Kurt--contrary to the slacker attitude--he wanted to have a hit record. He wanted to make a really good-sounding album. They were tight and I didn't have to do a lot of editing on NEVERMIND." -- Butch Vig
Interesting take on what Beatles albums would've sounded like after 1970's LET IT BE. Of course, if the band had stayed together, they would've written songs that we'll never hear in this world. Perhaps in an alternate universe, the boys stayed the course and created several more masterpieces together. Alas, we live in this universe and all we have is all we have. This writer took it upon himself to create thirteen post-LET IT BE "Beatles albums" using the material they released as solo artists. Definitely a fun read if you're a Beatles fan.
Pigpen died on this day in 1973. I don't think the Grateful Dead ever quite recovered from his loss. From 1967-1971, they had a punk-ish fire to them that infused even their most out-there jams. After Pig died, the band just didn't have that same blues-y exuberance they possessed for the first seven years of their existence. That's not to say, of course, that the Dead weren't any good after 1971. One could argue that their most accomplished years as a live attraction were 1972-1977.
Sir George Martin died on this day in 2016. He remains probably one of the two or three greatest producers of popular music of all time.
“They did flower, they blossomed, and they astonished me with their ideas. Each song they brought to me was a gem, and I said to myself, ‘It can’t last.’ I’d say to them, ‘That’s great, now give me a better one.’ And they did. I was so thrilled with what they gave me.” -- George Martin
I decided not to add anything new to the band's repertoire this coming week. Rather it seems prudent to work on what we've already got better. We have struggled a little on a couple of songs and I want to either get them up and running satisfactorily or drop them if it looks as though they just aren't going to come together. This is probably the last-ever version of Book of Kills. I want it to be a really good one.
It has been a while since I recommended an "under-appreciated" BOK track so now seems like as good a. time as any to call your attention to something I'll bet most of you haven't listened to much, if at all. This time I want to point you to a song off the album JIM SHELLEY LIVE, VOLUME 1. You can find it under Jim Shelley, not Jim Shelley & Book of Kills or Book of Kills. The track is actually a medley of songs--"Idiot Planet", "Blue Man" and "Coda"--from a practice session in 2017 with me, George Nipe III and Garfield Banks. There's some really high quality jamming on this one, particularly during "Blue Man" and "Coda". In fact, after listening to it last evening again, I'm considering doing some variation of that performance with this current band. Check it out! It's long but rocks like a mofo.
Something I'm sure some of you might occasionally wonder about is the labeling of the band name on streaming Book of Kills albums. I'm not sure myself why some BOK records can only be found under either "Jim Shelley & Book of Kills" or "Jim Shelley" or "Book of Kills", rather than all of them coming under the umbrella of "Book of Kills". I suppose it's some weird thing CBBaby does that I don't understand when it submits BOK music to streaming sites. I do know that CDBaby insisted that I label the artist as Jim Shelley & Book of Kills, rather than the simple Book of Kills I preferred, and made me change the artist name on the cover art for several different records including for instance ROCKIN' THE CHEETAH'S ASS and the above mentioned JIM SHELLEY LIVE, VOLUME 1. Apparently not doing so would "confuse" listeners. I had a running battle with CDBaby for several days a couple years back where they insisted I label the Fear + Whiskey anthology as "Jim Shelley", which was of course absurd. I won that battle. Anyway, just be advised that by attempting to avoid confusion when it comes to the music of Book of Kills, The Karl Rove or Fear + Whiskey, CDBaby actually created more confusion.
On this day in 1966, The London Evening Standard published an interview in which John Lennon claimed The Beatles were "more popular than Jesus" and that rock music might well outlast Christianity. The interview caused not a ripple of controversy in Great Britain, but when the same interview was published in the U.S. in July, much of the Christian community reacted angrily, going so far as to have public burnings of Beatles records. Lennon was murdered, as you probably know, by a Christian Beatles "fan" in 1980, partially because of the Lennon quotation.
I remember this day in 1994 well. Kurt Cobain was rushed to a hospital in Italy after overdosing on alcohol and drugs. I recall hearing initially that he was dead. Word later filtered out, of course, that he was still alive.
Had a good practice last evening after a week "off". Added "Glass Turns To Sand". It came together fairly quickly considering the relative difficulty of the song. We'll probably add one more song next week.
It is important to note that Lou Reed was born on this day in 1942.
" I think life is far too short to concentrate on your past. I'd rather look into the future." -- Lou Reed