Friday, August 31, 2012

Happy Friday with Back-to-School Fashion

Happy Friday! I hereby dedicate Fridays on this blog to random posts that may or may not have anything to do with music, but that simply make me happy. Today, I'm going to pretend that this is a fashion blog. I realize I run the risk of alienating my non-fashion-oriented readers, so I apologize if that's you, but really, if you've stayed with me this long you've already listened to an emotional ballad about a Shakespearean character, looked at photos and drawings of my cats, and had me use the blog as a place for dissertation free-writing. If I have any readers right now, I'm impressed.

Some of you who may know me as a respectable phd-student/bohemian singer-songwriter might be surprised to learn that I'm addicted to fashion blogs. They've replaced fashion magazines for me, for several good reasons. First, fashion blogs are free; magazines are not. Second, fashion magazines are filled with ads and models -- neither very good representatives of fashion (or body types) for the average girl. Fashion blogs, by contrast, are written by ordinary, interesting women with real jobs who have to walk around in those heels and be seen in public in that potentially risky color -- that's a much better reason to trust them.

I've always been a fan of fashion -- not so much in general, but on a personal level. I like the way fashion expresses something about myself. (I wrote a bit about this here, last fall) Ever since becoming addicted to fashion blogs, I've also started fantasizing about starting my own fashion blog, but after trying to take pictures of myself in my back-to-school ensemble, I know that there's a good reason that I don't often blog about my own fashion choices: it's really hard to take good pictures of yourself!

My first solution to the problem was to take pictures of the clothes without me in them. I have worn this green skirt (which I bought on our trip to Italy in 2009) for every first day of teaching for the fall semester since I started at UTD (also in 2009). It's become a tradition -- maybe even lucky.

This features the old "camera in the mirror" trick. (This was after the self-timer trick failed miserably)

After I got home, I tried it again with a photographer. Let's just say that the light in our study is great for studying, but not so great for photography. Also, those fashion bloggers make wearing shoes like those in real life look easy, but by the time we took these pictures, I needed to lean on the bookshelf -- for support! Teaching in heels looks great on TV, but it's not so great in real life.

Finally, a real fashion blogger has her credits: Cardigan: Target; Top: thrifted and altered using this diy tutorial (and my mom's mad sewing skills); belt: H&M; skirt: United Colors of Benneton -- Italy; Shoes: Target. 

Really cool fashion bloggers have current links to the stuff they're wearing, but since all these pieces are old, I can't do that.

So, that's my feeble attempt at fashion blogging. Some time, I'll do a post on my favorite fashion blogs so you can see how the professional amateurs do it. In the meantime, Happy Friday! I hope you all enjoy a restful weekend after this busy back-to-school week!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Dylan Diaries

Now that I'm in full-out dissertation mode, and I'm writing about Bob Dylan, which should be of some interest to people who like folk music or singer-songwriters in general, I thought I'd share some of my musings here on the blog.

Dylan Diaries, part one: The Image Industry

He's smiling in this picture because he knows he's just making stuff up that will puzzle future academics like me.
I spent this summer listening to all of Dylan's studio albums, and the biggest thing I took away from the experience is that Dylan has more in common with himself than difference.

Now, that probably doesn't sound like it makes any sense, so let me explain.

Bob Dylan is known for being one of the most elusive, changeable figures in pop music history. All sorts of crazy stories abound about his big switch from folk to rock n' roll, and some fans are still fuming about his "born-again" days, saying he betrayed them by turning to Christianity. In the early 70s, he actually changed his singing voice to this sort of crooning, country sound instead of his usual gravelly-nasally-speech-singing. Go listen to "John Wesley Harding," then compare it with "Nashville Skyline" if you don't believe me.  Dylan is so well-known for his changes that it's common to talk about him in terms of his phases: his folk phase, his rock phase, his Americana/country phase, his gospel phase, etc. As I went into this summer project of listening to Dylan's albums, I was prepared to hear change.

But listening to all of his studio albums in so short a period of time alerted me to the things that don't change about his albums. Specifically, he always, always, always returns to folk or blues roots. Even when he's trying new things musically, he keeps one foot in folk and blues. Folk sources color everything he does -- the way he plays, the way he writes, the way he sounds. And, in the last couple of decades, he's returned even more overtly to a folk sound. As I listened to Dylan's albums, I was struck, most of all, by the way folk unifies his work from start to finish.

What all this leads me to conclude is that when people talk about Dylan's changes in music, they're really talking about changes in his image. This shouldn't surprise me. The music industry has been and continues to be more about image than music -- and Dylan is a master at manipulating, selling, and protecting his image. I wonder how many fans of certain types of music are really more interested in the image associated with that artist or band than the music itself. As an artist, myself, I wonder what I should be doing about my own image, or if it even matters to the true music fans. How much of my own musical tastes have been formed by image? And does it matter? With Dylan, it seems like his image is part of his artistry, as inseparable from his overall artistic work as music is from lyrics in a song.

[end of Dylan diaries, part one]

Monday, August 27, 2012

Open mic month recap

Open mic month turned out to be kind of a bust. I only successfully attended 2 out of the 6 open mics that I planned on. It turns out that the same procrastination that led me to attempt a whole month of open mics also left me with lots of other things to take care of before the start of school (which started, for me, this week). So I sacrificed the open mics to take care of other things.

The first open mic I attended was at the Half Price Books flagship store in Dallas. I’ve attended this open mic several times in the past, but since the last time I was there, the job of open mic host has changed hands a few times, and the current host is looking for someone new to fill the role soon. If I weren’t teaching at the same time as the open mic, I would volunteer, because what could be better than hanging out playing and listening to music in one of my favorite bookstores?

The Half Price Books open mic is always a good time, especially if you like to people-watch. I don’t know why, but every time I’ve been to this open mic, no matter who was hosting at the time, it was one of the most musically diverse open mics I’ve experienced.  The people are always friendly, and there’s an attitude of openness toward all kinds of artistic expression. That can lead to some strange experiences, but it also leads to some wonderful ones.

The next open mic I attended was at Opening Bell Coffee. Opening bell has a well-deserved reputation for a high-quality, well-run open mic. I got there early, at 6:30 to sign up. The sign-up sheet went out promptly at 6:45, and I was still last to sign up because I was already a little too comfortable in my seat and there were that many people in front of me. The point, of course, is that if you want to play at Opening Bell’s open mic (and I highly suggest it), you should arrive early and stay alert. 

Here we are at Opening Bell. We played  "Psalm 120," "Never Turn You Away," and "Wonderland."
As usual, the open mic at Opening Bell was a wonderful evening of very good music. There really is so much talent in Dallas, and a great way to hear some of it is to come to an open mic. The featured artist, Joel Megli, charmed us with beautiful self-penned songs and an Australian folk song. All the other artists were enjoyable, too, and with the atmosphere and crowd of familiar faces at Opening Bell, it felt very much like I was part of a community of like-minded artists and music-lovers. I'm very sad that my teaching schedule this fall keeps me from attending this Tuesday night event.

You might not be hearing about too many concerts from me now that school has begun. I’m in full-fledged dissertation-writing mode, so I have to keep my focus. I hope, though, that I will be able to check out some of the open mics that I missed this month. Also, we are already on board for "Dallas Does Carol King and James Taylor" -- more details on that to come.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Summer Love

Top row, L-R: The world's most comfortable summer wedges: Aerosoles "plush role" wedge, see similar here; Reading for fun -- this summer I read the Hunger Games series and George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones series; Middle:  Molly Jones, the fuzziest, most beautiful cat in the world; 4th of July canoeing trip with the family; Art House Dallas's Songwriter's Dinner; Bottom: Iced coffee -- we kept a big pitcher in the fridge all summer long (picture and recipe from A Beautiful Mess); 5th anniversary festivities in Fort Worth's Sundance Square: we stayed in a downtown hotel, rode Molly the Trolley, saw Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer, and enjoyed amazing music at Scat Jazz Lounge.

Top row, L-R: Some of the amazing artists we've shared the stage with this summer at Opening Bell Coffee; John Delancie and Sir Patrick Stewart with Adam and his mom at Dallas Comic Con. Patrick Stewart signed my copy of Shakespeare in the photo below; Middle: We made a summer tradition of Tuesday Taco nights at Del Taco, where you can get three tacos for $1 (picture here); Dallas Does the Eagles -- the experience of singing "Seven Bridges Road" to the cheers of Eagles fans is one of my top musical moments ever. Be sure to check out other "Dallas Does" shows, like Dallas Does James Taylor and Carol King this fall. (Photo by Stephen E. Potter); Did I mention that Captain Picard -- er, I mean -- Patrick Stewart signed this for me?; More summer clothes --  I lived in this sundress; Me enjoying the music at Opening Bell on a date night with the husband.

Goodbye, Summer. I'll miss you!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Life Investment

Our church recently finished up a series of sermons called "Life Investment Strategies," and one week while I was taking sermon notes, a separate list of my own began appearing in the margins of my page as I began to consider what sorts of "investments" in my own life have consistently given me good returns. Some of them might seem frivolous, but they've proven to be important for me. Some of them I don't do as well as I should, but I have seen that when I do, my life is much better. So, here's my own, in-no-way-exhaustive or in any particular order list of Life Investment Strategies:

Life Investment Strategies:

  1. Listen to 60s rock, often and intently.
  2. Go outside and daydream whenever you get the chance.
  3. Document dreams, thoughts,scribbles, memories, pictures.
  4. Pray in the shower; pray in the car; pray while cooking dinner; pray while reading poetry; pray in your head; pray out loud; pray alone; pray with close friends; pray without ceasing.
  5. Seek out and appreciate Beauty, not for the sake of that artifact of beauty, but for the sake of knowing the Truly Beautiful.
  6. Cultivate a sense of humor. Laugh often.
  7. Eat healthily, but don't sacrifice taste. Savor delicious foods without falling slave to them.
  8. Spend face-to-face time with the people that you love. 
  9. Go on adventures -- in your own town or around the world.
  10. Learn to do new things. Don't be afraid to figure it out by yourself or ask for help.
  11. Read -- The Bible, Shakespeare, Sci-fi, Philosophy, Poetry. Read for pleasure -- for the joy of being lost in another world and emerging to make this world better.
  12. Sing, Dance, and Play -- a lot.
What would you add to this list? What life-practices have yielded consistent returns (in joy, creativity, peace, fun, security, love, etc. -- or money) in your life?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

How to have a successful open mic experience

In honor of open mic month, here are a few tips based on my experiences with various open mic nights. (note: these tips are not based on any particular open mics, but represent some general guidelines applicable to most open mics).

1. Come early, and find out where the sign-up sheet is right away. This isn't done so that you can hog your favorite time slot, but so that you can be sure that there is room/time for you to play and so that whoever is hosting will have a sense at the beginning of the night of how many songs each artist should play. When a bunch of people show up late, it can throw off the flow of performances and become an awkward situation for the host and performers who are trying to accommodate newcomers.

2. Plan your set ahead of time. You only have, at most, three songs, so make the most of it. Pick your best songs or the songs that you most want feedback on and plan the songs beforehand so that you don't spend valuable time on stage figuring out your set list.

3. On a related note, while some open mics only have a few attendees or extra time and may, therefore, warrant some on-stage chatter, for the most part, it's best to save any talking for when you play your own show. There's not enough time to tell the story of every song at an open mic. Keeping your introductions very brief is the polite way to allow everyone time to perform.

Adam and I at one of our favorite, recently cancelled open mics at Lake Highlands Church

4. Tune your instrument beforehand and be ready to play when it's your turn. A good host will usually make sure that whoever's next knows when it's their turn with enough time to prepare, but, just in case, it's a good idea to pay attention to the name of the person before you on the sign-up sheet and to listen to the names of the people as they're introduced. I'm horrible at forgetting names and absentmindedly missing them when they're announced, so I have to work a little harder at this one.

5. Buy coffee/tea/food/drinks at the venue where the open mic is held. These events are usually free. The venue has to make money somehow. And tip your barista.

6. Stay to hear everyone if you possibly can. Sure, life sometimes gets in the way of this, so if it does, it's fine to apologize for not staying, but, if at all possible, stay for the whole night. No one likes playing to an empty room. Plus, you're bound to hear lots of incredible talent. I am continually blown away by the talent levels right here in Dallas whenever I come to an open mic.

7. Have fun! Relax! Enjoy meeting other people who love music. This isn't Carnegie Hall, so don't worry about being perfect -- just enjoy yourself and the experience of making and listening to music. Open mics are for beginners and experts alike, and everyone in the room has been a beginner at some point, so don't worry if you make a mistake or feel intimidated -- just have fun. And on that note,  if any of you readers are closet musicians who secretly want to play in front of people, I hope that you will start with your local open mic night.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

August is Open Mic Month

So, the title of this entry is a little misleading. There's no "official" open mic month, as far as I know. But for myself, I'm declaring August "open mic month." Why? Well, because every summer I tell myself that I'm going to take advantage of a freer schedule by attending lots of open mics, and every summer I procrastinate until school starts again and I'm unable to attend any. This coming semester, my Tuesday and Thursday evenings are especially busy, so there's not much of a chance that I'll be able to make it to any of the many open mics held on those evenings. So in an effort to maximize the remaining time before school starts, I am declaring August "open mic month."
Here's a list of the open mics I hope to attend in the coming weeks:

Thurs. 8/2: Half Price Books (Flagship store in Dallas on Northwest Highway)
Sun. 8/5: The Crown and Harp -- Dallas (oops! Already had to cancel one, but we'll catch this another night)
Wed. 8/8: Dunn Bros. Coffee, Addison (turns out they're only on the 1st Wed. of the month: ) 
Tues. 8/14:  Opening Bell Coffee (especially because the incredible Joel Megli is the featured artist)
Tues. 8/21: Buon Giorno -- Grapevine, TX
Sat. 8/25: America’s Best Coffee -- Arlington, TX

All these start at 7:00, except for The Crown and Harp, which is from 5-9. Sign-up usually starts about 30-minutes prior.

Open mics are a great way for beginners to test the waters of performing and for seasoned performers to try out new material. Plus, you'll meet lots of great, like-minded people, learn from each others' musical styles, and experience an evening of diverse music while enjoying the atmosphere, food, and drinks of a local coffeehouse or bar. I hope you'll join me!