we keep our powder dry

can’t wait to get tongue-tied

sister lay down in the pig sty

because when we talk it’s dynamite.

I hope you're all well and that you had a good Thanksgiving. 

We haven't talked about music in a while, so that's where we're headed. But first, a little art talk and house cleaning...

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Quick update on Leda and the Swan: Thanks to each of you who suffered through my bifurcated navel-gaze (I saw them at Lollapalooza in '92) on artistic fear and process. Here's where the painting is currently:

I added some extra paper to break up the textured space, and also gave it a decent coat of wax and gel medium in the process. Then I dug up some of my favorite material; the sludge left over in the bottom of the brush cleaner can, and painted out all of the things that were driving me crazy. Which was most of it.

That left the figure and the chair, one good shoe and a bit of messy tape in the bottom corner that I left in order to make it all feel a bit off-kilter. There are still unresolved areas but I like it more now. At least the thing has regained some vitality and contrast and that is a good sight better than it was before. 

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I recently did a few sketches of Harley Davidson motors. A Panhead above, and a Knucklehead, to the left. (there's also a knucklehead writing this, HEY-O! I'm here all week.)

I've included these sketches for two reasons: It occurs to me that the songs below are riddled with mechanical or motor references. I also need a cool image for the thumbnail on the archive page.

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The uncomfortable segue-way to music: I've got two shows this week.

Sanguine and Shiny (AKA Tony and I) have a couple gigs this week, both at South Bay Customs. First is this Thursday, December 3rd.

Hear some music and plug away at that Christmas list by picking up some handcrafted work by a host of talented artists. This will be a great show and I'll probably be rushing in last minute from the city's Holiday Tree Lighting, where I will be handling the sound on the big stage. I hope to see you at both events that night!

And then, a few days later on Saturday December 5th, we'll be opening at Michele Ryan's album release show. Michele's record is a long time coming and was a great deal of hard work, even for a subdued and neurotic banjo player, who plays on a track.  We'll open the night and I believe we'll also sit in with Michele for a couple songs. She is a brilliant songwriter and performer, and it is a real treat for us to be allowed to share the stage with her for a little while. 

Enough shilling, let's listen to ugly little demos and talk poetry.

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The Hummingbirds are all growing feet.

In the last couple months, music has been upfront for me. Tony and I have been playing and writing, and I got up the gumption to try and complete some old songs that have been rattling around like the marble in a spray-paint can. I've also been very lucky to have found myself surrounded by some really fantastic people who are kind enough to collaborate with me and help move some of these things forward.

Most of these links go to my Soundcloud page: https://soundcloud.com/hummingbird-feet  and there are a few more songs than this archived there, if you're interested. 

So in no particular order, here is my last couple months in music:

Downright Dynamite: This is the most recent song, kinda poppy and a more upbeat tempo than I'm used to. Full lyrics are on the page, but I had something to say about heredity in conversation, or how we deal with each other. Falling into learned patterns of communication and maybe how easy we find it to slide into old shoes, even if we know they aren't good for our feet. The (admittedly gothy) opening verse is: 

When we talk
your sword is a dirty tongue
and each word 
has the opportunity of infection
When we talk
I knit a net
and set sail
fishing for your destruction

Perhaps humorously, the first version of that verse was "when we talk you smear your sword with dung, so each slash has the opportunity of infection"  and while it might have been more truthful, I couldn't sing it with a straight face so I ditched it. But not before I tried to fit "Punji Stick" into another verse in an attempt to balance it out. Surprisingly, I couldn't make that work either.

 

Cafe Muller: Written on banjo and my first song in minor tuning. It's a more classic mountain-banjo style where the vocal melody follows the banjo riff. From a lyrical standpoint it's an audio voodoo-doll or frankenstein of people (specifically women, I guess) that I've met in the last year or so. There's been a certain amount of freedom available to me that wasn't around for a couple decades, and I've been lucky enough to have that time to invest with some really fantastic and inspiring people. So I mashed that all together with a heaping dose of Pina Bausch and old war stories. There's lots of imagery in here but the lynchpin-verses to me are:

the borders will move on the maps of you and I
the edges will curl and the cinders will fly
the battlefield is won the bodies laying in the sun
on the map of me, the ink is never dry.

we’ll walk the road so wild and overgrown
all your angles stuffed with feathers and with chrome
fix the cracks with gold, wear my jacket if it's cold
i don’t ever want to go home.

 

Mona Lisa and the Highway Blues: One of the people that I send songs to as soon as I can get a rough scratch recording down, is my friend Steve Harrison. And often times when you throw down a recording of a song, things will move around even more because you have a chance to study how it's fitting together without getting caught up in performing it. So, long before I could settle in some of the lyrics and dynamics, Steve recorded a cover version and did it far better than I could. He made some really interesting phrasing choices (some of which I stole) and his banjo track blows me away with how much it changes the color and feel of the song.

Putting my apologies to Bob Dylan for spinning out a line from Visions of Johanna aside, this one seems a lot like an indictment, but I reckon it's just as much about me as anyone else:

you push through your life like a dull knife
and you spin like a dervish with someone else’s wife
this ugly little lie we tell to those that have ears
and the only way to bury it is to cover it with souvenirs.

because I thought the highway blues made Mona Lisa smile
but the fact is her face is versatile.

 

The Morning After the Night Before: This one sat around for years as an anemic attempt to write a pop country song. Recently I decided to dust it off and rework it a bit, and I started to think about it as a duet. Right around that same time I met Sarah, who I guess was looking for a song to sing. I sent it to her and, If I remember right, within a week she had written some new verses and a bridge, and thereby had fixed a great deal of the things that were wrong with it.

We recorded this version in the garage the other day, and it's not bad for a few hour's work. She's got a very lovely voice which I think legitimatizes my mumbling. 

now there’s a ticket in my pocket, a cool breeze blowing through
a cup of coffee from the machine and a sky slowly turning blue
I’ll cut a fetching silhouette as I walk right through those doors
Everything is different the morning after the night before.

And finally, widening the circle a bit...

Our friends Roses and Cigarettes have been doing a series of youtube cover videos, and they were kind enough to ask Tony and I to record one with them. We did a cover of the Civil Wars song "I've got this friend". Tony holds his own with the incomparable (and vocally intimidating) Jenny while Vic the percussionist holds down the center and Angela ties it all up in a gorgeous guitar-bow. My banjo and I float under the surface of all that like a bug-eyed koi fish. Man, I could listen to those two sing all day.

Monsters on Maple Street "Rising up": I love each of the guys in this project dearly and it's been great to work with Nich's songs again after our last band. This is a pretty rough rendition of this song from one of our early practices, where we're still fumbling around trying to find the shape. Unfortunately, each of us is kinda scattered into the wind right now, but listening to this song again over a cup of coffee on a chilly morning, really makes me want to finish what we started. There are other songs from these practices on his page, and I think you can hear the potential of these songs, like uncut diamonds.

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That's it and thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy missives like this as mush as essays on art and process. I have no idea what I'll write about next or when it may be done. I'll attempt to do something in the new year probably, so If I don't get an opportunity to say so before, Happy Holidays to you and yours and all the best in the New Year!

As always there is an archive for this newsletter at  nealvonflue.com/newsletter/newsletter-archive. And if you know someone who might enjoy these, please forward it along to them. Newsletters make great stocking-stuffers.

And I'm always interested in hearing your perspective, I think you just hit "reply" up there somewhere...