Centerfield by John Fogerty

Sketched & Inked by Micah Green, Illustrated & Colored by Josiah Hazel

Sketched & Inked by Micah Green, Illustrated & Colored by Josiah Hazel

This is a series of stories inspired by background music. My clearest memories are often tied to the music playing nearby. Like mile markers or souvenirs from a road trip, there are songs that point directly to certain moments. Life is a highway and these are the loudest billboards.

This is a story about imaginary baseball.

He sat on the grass and opened a ragged notebook. Reaching out hesitantly he touched his bruised shin. It hurt. His pants were covered in dirt and grass stains. It felt good. He winced as he adjusted his angle, sending a sharp pain up his leg. It hurt. He looked at the now empty diamond and pitcher's mound where he had stood to throw the losing pitch. He picked up the pen and began writing.

"The crowd cheered, as he walked to the pitcher's mound." 

That's how the first chapter started. The first chapter in a notebook filled wholly with first chapters. With this level of subtlety, you might imagine the hero of the story to be wearing a name tag advertising, "Hello, I am a hero, how can I save you?" But that wasn't the case. In fact, the hero looked a lot like the boy sitting in the outfield with a black notebook.

He kept writing, each line of text bending farther off of the college rules as it reached the right margin. Symmetry had no place in the naive, spidery handwriting. Sometimes he would skip letters, so he would have to pause to cram a missed vowel in between a welded O and T. There was a clear goal, one that gave precision a day off. A goal that had no concern for the path, just as straight of a line to the end as could be managed.

"That was strike two! The count was now 3 and 2!"

Of course, nothing could come too easily for the hero. There needed to be mounting tension, a gasp from the crowd. They needed to be on his side, to love him. There needed to be no doubt.

His writing was even more feverish now, disobeying all guides on the note paper. He began to care less about those missing letters. There was only one thing to do. Finish the story. 

"The crowd was so loud! They cheered louder and louder!"

The crowd gasped. They were on his side now. They needed him to win.

Every sentence ended in an exclamation. The story kept building, ramping up to the explosion. The moment the hero succeeded. He had filled up two pages with scribbled, illegible writing and was now halfway through a third. 

"He threw the pitch! The batter swung! He missed!"

And the crowd went wild, of course they did, they loved him. The people loved him! He had won the game and the admiration of everyone in the stands. What a game. There was a release of bliss, and oh, oh, oh, the happiness! The success! They would remember that game for years.

He stood up slowly, the field was still empty. The screams of the crowd silently existing in the ruffled pages of the notebook in his hand. He thought about how he could have changed the outcome of the real game. How he could have been more like the hero in his story. He looked down at the small amount of blood soaking through his pinstriped socks and decided that it looked tough. Tough was good. He took his Walkman out of the backpack and hit play.

Pontoon by Little Big Town, Pt 2

This is a series of stories inspired by background music. My clearest memories are often tied to the music playing nearby. Like mile markers or souvenirs from a road trip, there are songs that point directly to certain moments. Life is a highway and these are the loudest billboards.

Pontoon by Little Big Town is a song that pop country music apologists apologize for. I remember watching an interview where the band even described the process of writing “an obnoxious song about a pontoon.” However, this very same song, one I would consider just simply a fountain of dull, However, this very same song, one I would consider just simply a fountain of dull, has an incomprehensible power to make me cry. Music is dumb like that. Click here to Read Pt. 1.

"The county fair's just about a half hour away from here." Steve said, his teeth ripping a scrap of steak off of his fork. "Think you'd probably like it. On your way back too."

"Yeah!" His girlfriend chimed in, "There's lots to do, we used to go all the time."

"Watch your wallet, though, there's a lot more black people there than there used to be." Steve offered this piece advice as he tore off another bite of the sinewy steak. "I seen you talking to them on the job though, so you'll be all right, yeah."

I nodded. "I'm not worried. What's at the fair?" I said, trying to brush past his crude oblivion. No heroic objection. Steve was one of the few guys on my crew that liked me. I needed him on my side. 

A couple hours later, I was pulling into the parking lot of the Danville-Pittsylvania County Fair. It had turned into a pleasant enough evening. The humidity had cut enough to lessen the effort for every breath. I felt listless, though. It had been a bizarre day and loneliness is only heightened in crowded areas. I wandered through the crowded fair, through a tunnel of people. The music fighting for attention over the children screaming.

After discussing the merits of donkeys with the head of the petting zoo, I headed towards the Ferris Wheel. As I stood in line watching the creaking metal wheel protest every movement, there was a burst of confusion to my left. 

"You asshole!"

Everyone in line turned in unison like rubberneck machines, created to find best view of a car wreck. A black man barreled through the crowd after a white man. The white man clutched a backpack in front of him, weaving and ducking through the crowd. "Hey!" the other man yelled. "Come back here! That asshole took my backpack!" He screamed, jumping over a picnic table and just missing the top of thief's head. They quickly disappeared into the heaving masses. 

The brief opening they created in the crowd was quickly closed by the spectators, soon returning their attention to cotton candy and lights. I handed the irritable Ferris Wheel attendant some money and sat down in the seat. The wheel slowly rotated and the crowd grew quieter, eventually just a low din below the music playing out. I clumsily staggered toward the apex of the ride. The sun was setting, disappearing behind an explosion of pinks and blues. Below me, the music had changed. 

"On a pontoon!"

The words drifted up from the ground and into the air.

"Makin' waves and catchin' rays up on the roof"

I looked down at the demolition cars speeding through the muddy arena and the crowd milling about.

"Party in slow motion, out here in the open"

I laughed and made plans to tell Steve about who actually stole the wallet. 

"mmm, motorboatin'"

(A Field Guide To Pirating) Nine In The Afternoon by Panic! At The Disco

This is a series of stories inspired by background music. My clearest memories are often tied to the music playing nearby. Like mile markers or souvenirs from a road trip, there are songs that point directly to certain moments. Life is a highway and these are the loudest billboards.

Sometime after the years when home taping, LiveWire and Napster all killed music, recording to cassette was still the best free way I knew to find new music. Reasonable internet connection was still a legend to be told around campfires. Our TV was too close to my parent’s bedroom to be a sensible late-night entertainment option. But, the radio was something I could do in secret. No one would wake up if I kept my headphones on. I discovered music through late night Midwestern radio. 

This is a rural field guide to pirating Nine In The Afternoon by Panic! At the Disco in 2008.

 

Step One: The Right Set Up

They used to make cassette/radio combos that let you directly record to cassette. That ended pretty quickly once the industry saw that kids like me might take advantage of that. After that, I had to get creative. My personal pirating kit was a basic Walmart boom box and a Sony Pressman with the cover broken off. Both connected by a 20' aux cable; in case the weather made the signal weak that day. If you attempt this, you may have to place your radio closer to a window to achieve a clear signal. Be creative when building your own system, consider using a microphone and an 8-track. Supplementary material can be found in my companion field guide, “Unnecessarily Complex Solutions to Problems With Easy Answers”, available for only $12.99.

 

Step Two: Find The Right Station

It's hard work to sift through all available stations to find anything interesting, especially after ten. The trick is to find a station that occasionally dips a hesitant toe into alternative types of music. That’s where you can start to feel accomplished. A good place to start is channel surfing. Below you’ll find some examples of what to expect as you take your first steps into the world of cassette pirating:

First up is Delilah, a smooth voiced woman, with a killer intro song, who takes requests and dedications for a predominately melancholy fanbase. There is a serenity to that show, but the music selection is no good for pirating, pass this station. However,  I recommend it as a calm evening activity. 

Next, there is the late night conspiracy show. Primarily farmers discussing aliens and their effect on the crops. No music though, ROI is low, skip this station too.

After that there are around 10 country music stations in the upper 100s. Music for the bourgeois. Don’t waste time here either. Occasionally you’ll find a diamond up there between 106.3 and 107.1, but the cost of extended listening is too high.

When you swing back around between 88 and 90 Mhz, you’ll find some religious stations. A high ratio of talk to music combined with a target audience of 30+ makes these stations difficult targets. And, God might see you pirate his music. Forgiveness may be a sliding scale, who knows. It’s better to play it safe and focus on the devil's music.

Right around 92.4 and 96.5 is your best bet. NPR has World Café, which is a solid place to discover some safe avant-garde selections. This will feed your superiority complex, but also force you to expand your boundaries. And then there’s MIX 96, an accurate name. Bouncing from Van Halen to Adele, you’re bound to hear something good if you listen long enough. They even play Nirvana if you listen after midnight! 

But somewhere, hidden in between 88 to 108 MHz, if you position the radio just right and the sky isn’t cloudy, is a frequency that broadcasts the audio from NBC. This is hardly the place you’ll find music. It’s all talk shows at this hour. You can listen to Conan, while the rest of the family is asleep. You can hear Jay Leno read off Headlines, and then scour your local newspaper for your own the next morning. But, on the weekends, you can hear Saturday Night Live. It’s nearly impossible to follow. And sometimes, they have really cool music. Like Spoon and My Morning Jacket. 

 

Step Three: Improve Response Time.

The key to smooth cassette pirating is knowing when a good song is about to start. With a couple years of practice you should see a considerable advancement in your response time. (You can purchase my second companion guide, “Skills No One Could Need" for an additional $19.99.) But that’s what made finding music so special. For every stray Radiohead song you manage to record, there are hours and hours of Avril Lavigne. When you manage to capture that special song, you want listen to it again and again. You feel like you earned it, you fought for this music and won.

That’s what happened on April 6th, 2008. Panic! At the Disco was the musical guest on SNL. I started recording around 7 seconds into Nine in the Afternoon. A wonderfully weird pop song. All trumpets and nonsense. For some people, it’s an simply an OK song. And they’re right. But so are the Beatles and the Stones. Music decides who and when it wants to move. You can hear a song a million times before it clicks and you get it, you love it. 7 seconds into Nine in the Afternoon is already the start of the second line. But it didn’t matter, I had found a great new song. I replayed the part of the song I had recorded over and over until I knew every inch of it. 

This could have been the story of how I first discovered Bowie, or heard Prince for the first time. But I’d be lying if this isn’t the moment I remember the most. My greatest victory was a pop song by a band with ! interrupting their name. Music is weird like that.  

Nothing Matters When We're Dancing by The Magnetic Fields

This is a series of stories inspired by background music. My clearest memories are often tied to the music playing nearby. Like mile markers or souvenirs from a road trip, there are songs that point directly to certain moments. Life is a highway and these are the loudest billboards.

This is a story about the first time my wife heard Nothing Matters When We're Dancing by The Magnetic Fields, the last song we danced to at our wedding.


"Do you think we'll ever leave Illinois?"

"I think so."

I take a bite of the liquefying $3.89 Blizzard perched on the armrest between us.

She nods and sighs, "Growing up is different than I expected. It's a lot more waiting around than I wanted." 

She takes a bite of the same mushy $3.89 Blizzard and turns to watch the rain pummel the parking lot. 

"I like this song."

She doesn't usually like songs the first time they're played. Always needs to hear them more than once before she can say that.

I whip my head around, clumsily finishing the chorus in a weak baritone that sounds like Tom Waits with his mouth full, "Nothing matters when we're dancing"

I hold the note out long enough to be funny, but not long enough to get old. I know when to stop, my comedic intuition is strong.

I check my email for a response about a possible job. It's 3:45 on a Sunday. I know this too.

"I'm glad I met you." She says.

"I'm glad I met you too" I reply, impressed by my own words.

I turn the key in the ignition, the car shudders to life. The wipers start their frenzied dance across the windshield.

"We can do this. Whatever the next step ends up being, we'll take it, even if it's a small step. Like a curb or something." I say as I pull out of the parking lot, "There's better ways to say that, but you know what I mean."

She picks up the 12-ounce cup of Blizzard soup and puts it to her lips. She smiles, puts her head back and finishes the last of the ice cream like a shot. 

And I know I'll never love anyone as much as I do now.

 

 

Pontoon by Little Big Town, Pt 1

Sketched & Inked by Micah Green, Illustrated & Colored by Josiah Hazel

Sketched & Inked by Micah Green, Illustrated & Colored by Josiah Hazel

This is a series of stories inspired by background music. My clearest memories are often tied to the music playing nearby. Like mile markers or souvenirs from a road trip, there are songs that point directly to certain moments. Life is a highway and these are the loudest billboards.

Pontoon by Little Big Town is a song that pop country music apologists apologize for. I remember watching an interview where the band even described the process of writing “an obnoxious song about a pontoon.” However, this very same song, one I would consider just simply a fountain of dull, has an incomprehensible power to make me cry. Music is dumb like that.

After 3 months of working on a construction crew in South Boston, Virginia I had convinced two or three people that I was tolerable. One in particular, a welder named Steve, had taken me under his smelly, hairy, and thoroughly kind wing. He invited me to visit his home about 45 minutes south of the worksite where he and his girlfriend lived.

That day, I got to be a part of a working tobacco farm in the deepest part of the south I’d ever seen. The air was thick and the day felt as slow as the one thousand slugs lazily climbing the walls of the drying barn. Pontoon was staggering out of a Ford F-150 full of freshly picked tobacco. The sound was muffled and murky, like you were listening to a concert down the street.

When I hear that majestically absent song start playing, I remember being 1000 miles away from my girlfriend, living on a couch and worried about paying for it. I remember standing inside the barn, while Steve discussed the finer points of tobacco farming. I’m not sure I can recall even one, fine as all the points were. I remember the muddy sounds of Karen Fairchild crooning “you can climb the ladder, just don’t rock the boat” as I pretended I’d smoked before. I remember, while the words, “party in slow motion” filled the air like cigarette smoke, I decided I was going back to Illinois.

 

How We Made Spaceship

We recorded and produced an album. It’s not perfect. It’s a little messy. it was built in a million tiny segments over 6 months. There were weeks where progress didn’t seem to happen. There were late nights where we sang quietly so we didn't make the neighbors angry. There were times when it seemed stupid to keep trying, but we eventually created an album. My colleagues, complements & patriots to the Settling Houses flag, helped me turn it into something. They were my wife, Jenna and good friend, Lincoln helped wherever they could, they sang and played along with me. We made an album. Here’s how it happened:

How We Made Spaceship:

I want to avoid diagnosing too much of the songs' meanings and just talk about how they were made. Quickly: I believe the initial concept for Spaceship came from reading Buckminster Fuller’s Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. Spaceship is a song about two people who are unclear on how to escape. 

Writing: 

The first time I played the chorus for my wife, she was in school and the first iteration of the lyrics looked like this:

I’ve been up all night building a spaceship
I’ve been up all night building a spaceship

let’s start a colony
on the moon
and maybe later move on to mars
let’s invent jetpacks
we’ll have great big graveyards
full of our old cars

They’re a bit clunky, but I don’t hate them. No matter how long I worked with them they never went anywhere & seemed to always be trying a little too hard.

 

The next day Jenna messaged me and said: 

After that, the other sections of the verse were written while I was a work. Fiction is a reinvention of real life. 

Arranging:

The first recording I made of Spaceship was written inside a gutted camper, while I waited for my friend to pick me up before work. It uses some Apple Loops, type-keyboard synth and a hell of a lot of autotune. You can hear that attempt below:

I tried to write a second verse and chorus to the song, but again, nothing ever felt like it went anywhere. I thought the character's development was carried enough in the just the 1 chorus and 1 verse. I don’t seem to have a recording, but one point I remember the characters successfully reaching Mars & dealing with the lack of oxygen. (I would define this as a Quality Narrative)

Here are a couple cut lyrics and takes:

Jenna’s observations would prove to be precise & accurate.

The Final Version (technical stuff):

Drums:
To record the drums on the version that appears on the album, I used a beat maker and cut out everything but the kick and snare. I then used my MIDI keyboard to fill out the rest of the beat and used an old DTXpress drum pad to map the cymbals.

Synth:

I copied the synth from the very first demo, extended the notes out and switched the vst. The other synth parts at the end were recorded at my desk during my lunch breaks (I promise, Steven).

The office had emptied for lunch and I was using the type-keyboard, I was frustrated with how a project had gone and how long it was taking to finish the album. After I had finished the noodle-y synth that closes out the song, I finally felt good about it. I felt fantastic about it. So, like John ascending into heaven to receive his visions I got up and bought myself a danish from the vending machine to celebrate.

Vocals:

Our first vocal take was recorded in an empty room at my office after hours. With permission, we snuck in on a Sunday and did a run through for about an hour. Eventually we rerecorded all of the vocals, because it feels a little odd (Disrespectful to the American Work Ethic? Or, more likely, it felt like breaking and entering), so vocals felt pretty restrained. I think the vocals still feel held back, but we managed to feel a little more comfortable and a little stronger as well.

Jenna actually recorded a floating segment after the 2nd chorus, but it felt like there was too much going on with it. All of my vocals were recorded in our car, while we finished her vocals in our apartment living room. This song had the fewest amount of vocals takes out of all.

Bass:
The bass was recorded by my good friend Lincoln, alone in his apartment with no one to consult but his pet ferret. You can hear the ferret’s influence very distinctly.

Mixing:
The final mix was brought to you by Dalton Attig, alone in his dorm room with no one to consult but his pet rock. The rock gave some pretty terrible advice.

And that is how we made Spaceship.

Stay punk,
Josiah