March twenty-three, two thousand and eight in the year of The Dojo. That's today.
On March twenty-three of two thousand and seven, The Autopilot Dojo left hiding, offering itself to the semi-public. That means today is The Dojo's birthday. It also means that our birthday falls on Easter this year. And it will again should The Dojo last another 150 or so years... I suppose that's doubtful. Even with serious advances in medicine, the arc of a folky band and/or legendary dojo is rarely broad and sweeping.
I guess – being Easter – I have to describe it as this: it's hardly the ecliptic sweep of the sun from end to end of the celestial sphere during the vernal equinox. It's hardly that.
Nonetheless, the career of The Dojo - as of today - has officially circled the sun. And in wrapping up our first solar circle, I've decided it an appropriate celebration to post the first Dojo Bulletin (a.k.a. The Virgin Bulletin).
It comes in the form of a Q and A. As follows:
WHERE DID THE NAME 'THE AUTOPILOT DOJO' COME FROM?
It came from an inside joke between Girl Fingers and Appetite. A good one... from our littlest childhoods. But if I were to expose any more than that, it would be compromising to Girl Fingers.
WHO ARE YOU?
Rorik Seehorn, Lum and me. Rorik Seehorn hates cow's milk, loves goat's milk, lukewarm about sheep's milk.
WHY IS THERE NO PHOTOGRAPHY?
One time somebody tried to take a picture of us in the grasses of the fens and it resulted in milk theft, milkcow.
But even if this wasn't terrible, we're in an underground band. And famous people aren't in underground bands. And nobody wants to see pictures of non-famous people because it's not interesting to look at. It just looks like undeserved conceit. And you can see that anywhere. Especially on MySpace, as every MySpace band does this: "look at these pictures of us trying to look cool and famous!"
WHAT IS THE DOJO ALL ABOUT?
The Dojo is all about sharing awesome high-fives. We're talking like the cover of Pearl Jam's first CD awesome where there are six guys all high-fiving at the same time. The Dojo does not endorse low-fives.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Sometimes Lum inspires me. Other times Rorik Seehorn inspires me. Mostly because Rorik Seehorn is the very conjurer of song. He doesn't use things like harps and cymbals to write them. No. He churns his songs out of a cauldron with a stick. He wears a cape at the time. Sometimes his shoulders, chest and hips get sore because he's churning so hard. And sometimes what he conjures has a bulging out grape. These are accidents. He puts them back. Then he conjures another.
Different stuff inspires Rorik Seehorn and Lum.
WHAT KIND OF SONGS SHOULD I EXPECT?
You should not expect The Dojo to be a jukebox, churning out radio-friendly pop songs. Sometimes we'll release such a song, but not often. And we don't often write good songs either. A lot of them will sound like they were banged out in ten minutes on the Casio. But even our better, more produced tunes won't necessarily adhere to the standard radio structure.
"Why? This strikes me as a terrible idea. Terrible."
Thank you for that reader. It makes me feel good all the way up in my insides.
The reason we don't cling to the standard pop structure is because it's a bit tedious. The basic radio format being this: verse-chorus-verse-chorus-chorus, etc, and maybe a bridge and/or solo. It's just really repetitive (and in turn, tedious).
Outside of music, repetition is marginally less offensive. Like let's say I'm looking at an Andy Warhol print. After five seconds, I can just look away. Problem solved. But if I had to look at it for any real length of time, like for the duration of a song, I'd be pissed.
I guess the musical equivalent of an Andy Warhol print is that Partridge in a Pear Tree song. This is easily the worst song ever written. It's actually probably the single worst thing ever invented in the history of the world, including AIDS. Listening to it is a painful experience (not unlike AIDS). It wouldn't be nearly as bad (and in fact might even be good) if it just told you what the twelve things are. Start with twelve, work down to one, done. That's what it should have done. Instead it tells me what the third one is literally ten times. This is unbearable (like AIDS).
And unfortunately most other music isn't appreciably better. Verse-chorus-verse-chorus-chorus-chorus-etc usually bores me to death. But because people think "this is the format a song must be", I'm constantly subjected to radio singers with their tiny cliches that they sing over and over for four minutes at a time.
Once I've heard the second verse, no new words will be introduced to me. Just the same ones over and over for the remainder of the song. And, as a human being, my appreciation is going to progressively wane every single time the lyric is reiterated. I'm bored to death by the second chorus. Four minutes into the song, I feel as though I've listened to it in its entirety half a dozen times. And this is when it begins to end. While repeating, it just slowly starts to fade out. No closure; it just keeps repeating that clump of words while growing quieter and quieter until you can't hear it anymore. Next song.
Imagine if a book tried to do this. Chapter one. Chapter two. Chapter three. Chapter two. Chapter two. Chapter one. Chapter two. Chapter two. And then the print begins to get lighter and lighter until you just can't read it anymore. The end.
Would you read that?
Assuming the answer is "no, of course not", how can you tolerate it in music? Do you just have lower expectations? Writers of books are supposed to be smart; songwriters can be idiots?
"But writing songs and writing books... these are two totally different things."
No. No they're not. They're exactly the same thing. Songs just have to adhere to metrical patterns more. That's the only difference. But at some point in history, songwriters apparently decided to differentiate the two further by making it so lyrics are nothing more than metrical patterns.
Take Kurt Cobain for example. He had fantastic vocal melodies, but his lyrics were beyond awful. He was just using his mouth to make sounds that would work as melodies to accompany the guitar parts. And then whatever words those sounds sounded like became the lyrics.
"That's not true! Kurt Cobain was a genius!"
Okay, I understand that you really like his music. So do I. But no matter how great his melodies were, that doesn't mean his words were also great. Because they weren't. They were terrible.
And if I'm going to invest myself into something that has words, I would prefer it if those words were saying something coherent. I want them to tell me a story. And storytelling doesn't happen automatically by making mouth sounds. Granted, I'm not always going to be able to figure out everything that's being said. Take Dylan for example. Half his songs drag on and on with totally incomprehensible metaphors (which is exactly what songs like Amadeus Eyeliner do... so I'm certainly not excusing The Dojo from appropriate criticism).
But if what's being said is exactly nothing - if it's just mouth sounds - there's no way I'm going to get anything out of it. And if that's the case, why am I listening to it at all? If I want to be confused, I would much rather ingest some impossible-to-understand heap by Faulkner or Joyce or the like. In their defense, they were actually saying something real. Whether or not I could figure it out, they were always adding something to the narrative. Nobody ever caught them repeating some cliche over and over to get the page length up. Dickens maybe, but only because he was paid per word. Though even Dickens had more respect for language than that.
As far as I'm concerned, this practice is strictly reserved for the sect of writers most devoid of all literary prowess... Obviously I'm talking about songwriters, who rarely even have the fortitude to write a complete set of lyrics to dictate their non-story. Instead they copy and paste around the small amount of meaningless sentences they do have in such a way as to blanket the full duration of the music, thereafter able to call it a song.
You'll never see Fitzgerald doing this. With most of the greatest writers in history - be it novels, poetry, songs, etc - you can often go paragraph by paragraph, verse by verse, and isolate a beginning, middle, and an end. Every little part can be dissected and still reveal the rules of brilliant writing, most inspiring when puzzle-pieced together.
Compare that to what songwriters are doing. Shy of old resurfaced cover songs (like Last Kiss, or an off-peak Harry Chapin number) the literary component of music is totally lost.
There's a famous line from Capote (brilliant writer) to Kerouac (terrible writer, though "Great American novelist") about Kerouac's writing of On The Road (which is perhaps the worst Great American Novel yet published). Anyway, this is what Capote said about it: "that's not writing, that's typing."
And that criticism applies perfectly to almost every lyricist that's ever lived. Certainly every lyricist with a MySpace url. None of those people are writing songs; they're just typing words to sing over their chords.
It's like when "artists" decide to do abstract art at age fifteen. The only reason they do this is because they can't do actual art and they're too lazy to work at it. Abstract is genre reserved for adults who have already mastered realism. Skipping the mastery of realism and jumping the gun to abstract is a total cop out of spending the time it takes to actually render the craft. Thus the fifteen year old's "abstract art" will inevitably be worthless, hideous squiggles on paper.
When it comes to the craft (which is everything), musicians tend to be lazy. And language is the fundamental craft. Writers of books have an appreciation for this craft and often work at it (at least to a passable level).
Writers of songs don't. They skip the craft. They skip the years - perhaps decades - it takes to render it with practice and drills. Instead, they just move onto the finished product, which ends up being the musical equivalent of the lazy fifteen year old with acrylics and a fan brush.
So while The Dojo catalog may largely sound like a collection of living room Casio recordings, there's a certain dose of care in every structure and set of lyrics and the like.
WHERE DOES THE DOJO PLAY SHOWS?
The Dojo does not play shows. We're an underground band. And I've watched a lot of underground shows. And after having done this, I've decided that underground bands shouldn't play shows.
Next time you're at one, look around at the "audience" while the band is playing. Exactly half of them have their backs turned. This is because 100% of the people there are trying to have conversations with the people they came with and it's really hard to overpower the volume of the band if they aren't facing each other. Sometimes these "fans" are eating, usually drinking. It is a bar after all. And nowhere in this bar does it smell like something other than urine unless you're smelling your alcohol up close.
And then rarely is the band on a real stage. Unless you regard the tiny elevated platform in the corner as a "stage."
In one hour, the three of us are going to The Triangle to watch our friend play a set on an elevated platform in the corner. Each of us will leave with skin that smells like a combination of cigarettes and urine (a really potent retirement community if only a little more stale). And this scent will last for approximately three days because we'll be there for approximately three hours due to there being exactly three other bands playing with him (and we don't know what order they'll play in).
And each of these bands is going to be appalling... which raises another point: you're not going to score new fans by playing for people who came to see another band.
Even if you land a good opening slot for a show where you're on a real stage and people are there to watch, nobody's going to become a fan of yours. People don't appreciate the acts they didn't come to see. Unless you're a cover band of someone they love. But you're not. Maybe you are. The Autopilot Dojo certainly isn't.
One time I watched a show at Mandalay Bay and The Village People were the oddly out of place opening act. Before they were booed off the stage, I was enjoying myself. I was the only one. And the friend I was there with was the only one in the crowd who thought "oh... well this is kind of good. I could see getting into this." That's not a normal thought that people think. Slayer fans don't see Woody Guthrie and regard him as "kind of good." If fans of other bands can't overpower you with their conversation, they're going to be pissed. Of all people, Ellen DeGeneres describes this phenomenon best in her first book (assuming she has more than one; I only read the first).
The ultimate point is this: playing shows like this does profoundly little to massage the musicians' dignity. The only people who maintain any self esteem in the process are the oblivious ones.
So if we ever do play shows, we'll probably do so campfire style. We’ll sell a dozen tickets to log seats around a fire pit. Or driftwood seats around a fire at a beach. Something like that. That's appealing. Standard venues aren't appealing.
And thus concludes The Virgin Bulletin.