GallopAway Music CompanyGallopAway Stories

Blog Archive ~

April 25, 2009 – “Good Morning San Juan,” the GallopAway show coming July 17-18, 2009.
It has been like watching a pot of water warm slowly without a lot to see since last fall. Plans laid and reshaped, song lists and casting lists revised, people contacted and engaged, song scores written and printed, early rehearsals convened – most of all, our daydreams and night dreams run and rerun with bold and subtle variations, collaborated in conversations and emails … all about putting up a performance that answers the questions, “What kind of music do you play?” and “What kind of energy is behind it?” Now steam is rising from the kettle, the coffee beans have been ground and poured into the French press. But unlike brewing our ceremonial Java, the heavy lifting is in full swing: mastering the techniques and defining the interfaces. Who will carry the focus after each song? Will it be spoken or mimed, dramatic or comic, theatrical or intimate, non-existent in a segue, or completely improvised? The new organism is exciting, it wakes us up at 4:30 in the morning. Our ears are calibrated for the teapot’s whistle. The season is crouching to spring into a summertime gallop.
~ Tim

February 3, 2009 – Plagiarism Unintended.
We finished the demo of our new song “Give My Lips Something To Live For” the day before our trip to the ASCAP songwriters seminar in Hollywood. Steve and Pat didn’t choose our song to be critiqued but we learned about our songwriting bent and why we don’t quite fit into the popular song form by experiencing other writers’ songs coming under the microscope. * * * Skip a week to “Light Bulb” Tim. “This silly song keeps going around in my head. What is it?” He hums a tune, begins singing the words, trying to remember, “All of my love, all of my kissin’ / You don’t know what you been missin’, oh boy.” The second line is right out of “Give My Lips!” MY line. He Googles those words and instantly finds that it’s “Oh Boy” by Buddy Holly. I am an unintentional plagiarist. And we discover this on the 50th anniversary of his death in the tragic plane crash. Now we have to fix the bridge for our "Lips" song, minus Buddy. Oh Boy!
~ Frances

January 31, 2009 – On the eve of Valentine's month.
The songwriting seminar (see below) was superb, over-the-top, a small group with focus: popular-song-form principles clearly presented and backed by lots of examples. We listened to 26 more examples during the 5-hour drive home, on the fascinating double CD set Steve Seskin Live. We highly recommend it. We also had time to listen to 22 of our own recorded songs, and they still kept us spell-bound after too many listenings to count and too many "broken rules" to masquerade as popular-song-form examples. The following couple of days saw me (not Frances) slipping into depression. What ties Blue Tail Fly together so nicely and makes it easy for new generations of kids to learn? The repeating chorus, "Jimmy crack corn and I don't care ..." Even though Steve and Pat warned against rewriting our old songs in quest of a "correct" form, the questions arose unbidden and snarling. Was I hampering my good old stuff by denying it the repeated hooks that are required for broad appeal? What about the songs in-the-works for our next 3 CDs; would leaving them as-is hurt their chances? Would "Mushroom Soup" be a light forever hidden under a bushel because I could not figure out a way to "wrap it up" with a catchy chorus, or worse yet, couldn't even see the need? Finally my gyroscope regained its balance. Many of our favorite songs by other writers are "through composed." Maybe that's why we like Rebo Flordigan's CD "February" so much: sometimes she just tells the story in song. How about "Norwegian Wood" by the Beatles?
* * * The GallopAway Stories wing of the web site has been growing. Today Frances appears in the Poems department, with much more to come.
~ Tim

January 14, 2009 – What kind of music do we play?
The perennial question, difficult for us to answer, but here is an attempt I found in some old notes I discovered today:
"Jazz-ignited classical folk-rock with integral strings, world music rhythms, tunes you can sing (OK, with a stretch), and lyrics that put the story first, more micro-movie than stream of consciousness, and rarely a repeating chorus. Good news, highly directional even in the improv's, often humorous but never coarse, rendered with care, mildly compressed, with a university eclectic. A broad spectrum that tolerates repeated listenings, invites onion-layer discovery, and goes easy on your eardrums but isn't easy-listening predictable. Would seem to appeal best to young children and mature adults. Teenagers and young adults in the difficult years may find the material lacking in rage fuel and too happy to support a wrenching catharsis. On the other hand, some of our most vocal fans are in that very age group, so surprise thrives."
* * * If it takes 143 words to say what kind of music we play, we're still in the dark!
~ Tim

January 4, 2009 – New song.
Can a deadline be a motivator? It works for us. In late January we’ll be down in L.A. getting new angles on songwriting with Steve Seskin and Pat Pattison at an ASCAP-sponsored event. We might need to present a new song that is "in-the-works," for critical analysis and improvement, so we put together three little sketches that Frances had written years ago. They were just short lines of words set to little tunes with basic chords. But arranging them in order of increasing tempo and leading story-line, then against a piano accompaniment that morphs from spooky bluesy jazz verses to perkier bridges to sprightly quasi-country choruses – we gave the medley a unity that had been hard to imagine before. "Give My Lips Something To Live For." Now, having improved the lyrics that we throw to each other, having harmonized the chorus, and having made a rough demo … the song may be too far along to be called “in-the-works.” Funny how the birth process for songs and babies drives all the way to completion. We may need another song for L.A., like "Old Pete And The Big Cat." The new song demo is too rough to share now, but we’ll be producing it for your enjoyment before we put on our live show that is in-the-works for this summer.
~ Tim

January 4, 2009 – Kitty.
.. Seven years ago or so, three tiny kittens showed up on our back porch. We fed the feral momma cat and ran off the mean cat-food-thieving chickens. Feral cats up against feral chickens.
.. Today, the third day of 2009, I cooked three pieces of chicken (made in China) for the remaining cat, Kitty. The Daddy Cat went off to die a couple of months ago. He had stayed with the litter all those years after the momma left, after the litter was weaned. He had been somebody’s pet; he let me scratch his ears; I even picked him up, though he didn’t really like it. We paid attention to Daddy Cat, let him in for treats, bought him a little house; he moved right in.
.. But he got old. Toward the end Daddy Cat was bullied by those mean chickens. Kitty stayed by his side, followed him around, protected him. After he died Kitty came around meowing, motioning for me to follow her. She missed him. Now she’s our cat, lets me scratch her ears, gets under my feet. She’s a calico; they’re almost always female. When the cold weather started I made a shelter over our back porch, put a nice rug and a soft towel in the cat house. A week later, cold at night, rain, no Kitty. Tim rigged up a heat lamp to keep it warm and cozy. No dice. Two weeks later, still no dice.
.. One very dark, very cold, very wet night I peeked out the window. She looked right at me, out of her house. Sometimes she stays out in the neighborhood till about eleven, and sometimes she’s home as early as 6:30.
~ Frances

January 3, 2009 – Christmas show picture taken Dec. 19, 2008: Cast and crew of El Teatro Campesino's La Virgen Del Tepeyac in Old Mission San Juan Bautista, California.
This is a 2.5 megabyte file that could tie up a dial-up connection for a while. But the picture is a high-resolution glimpse into an amazing tradition that has been staged here for decades of holiday seasons. Click here to download.

December 25, 2008 – Follow-up to the Caspar Inn story of Dec. 6, 2008.
Our Christmas trip up to Mendocino county, California, was going to span four days, from Tuesday to Friday. Frances only booked lodging for Tuesday and Wednesday nights though, keeping the plan loose. Then she cancelled the first night, on the hope that we could meet with Bruce Anderson, editor and publisher of the Anderson Valley Advertiser newspaper in Boonville on Christmas Eve, saving the expense of a night’s lodging. So we packed Tuesday night, set the alarm for 5 o’clock, and got out of the house by 6:30 AM. We drove slowly, and five hours later we were swapping stories with Bruce and major contributor Mark Scaramella. Bruce traded a copy of his new book, The Mendocino Papers, Vol. 1, for a copy of our new CD, Good Morning San Juan. By 12:30 we were on the road again, ticking off our list of people to call and see.
Frances: Caspar Inn. 3:30 PM. We pull up and park on the side of the building to be out of the way of the Christmas Eve revelers who might show up. The place is dark, drizzled in rain. 4 o’clock, a pickup stops in front, a man gets out, goes into the building, leaves it locked. We knock. No answer, no sign of life. We drive off, visit a friend, come back at 6 o’clock, the place is deserted. We go north through Fort Bragg, out Pudding Creek, to see our old friends, a French family á la vaudeville troupe of interacting performers as a way of life. 8 o’clock we’re back at the Caspar Inn. It’s still closed up tight.
Tim: "Let’s get a motel."
Frances: "Let’s go home."
Tim: We leave the Mendocino area about 8:15, drive in the rainy dark, cozy in the warm car, down the coast to Highway 128. Water hitting the windshield and bouncing off the road, local apples to munch and tangerines, the surprise compression of our visit from 4 days down to 7 hours … we marvel aloud at the shared sense of timing we discovered 28 years ago when we were married in Mendocino, the excitement of "galloping away". We’ll be back, one of these bright days. But now we’re in our favorite little spot on the planet, San Juan Bautista, writing more words and music: for the web site, for the next recording release, and for the live show we're planning for 2009.

December 20, 2008 – My dad was a Republican...
...and vocal around the dinner table about the critical importance of individual freedom and responsibility … until (decades ago) it seemed to him that Republicans had strayed from their core ideology and now differed from Democrats only on “feel-good” issues like curtailing abortion and promoting a Christian state religion, which had nothing to do with freedom nor survival of the union. That’s when he switched parties to Libertarian. He hated the idea of the government going into debt "on his behalf," which he saw as an oxymoron. He hated the invasion of privacy that was legalized under the 16th Amendment to support the Income Tax. Corporate welfare and personal welfare were repugnant to him. Government’s primary domestic function should be protection of the individual from oppression by the majority; he described himself as Jeffersonian. He supported Civil Rights, religious rights, abortion rights, gay rights, suicide rights, the right to bear arms and use fireworks and drugs (which he never took.) But all this came with the provisos that (1) one person’s rights do not authorize behavior that infringes upon the rights of others, and (2) individual rights trump corporate rights. It sounded reasonable to my young ears, with no experience as to the way a person’s behavior impinges on others increasingly as the group becomes larger and more crowded. It was a pioneer’s ideology, a personal keel for steering a straight course in the wilderness, but increasingly out of touch with the shoulder-to-shoulder interdependency of city life, global life. I was kept in the dark about salaries (how much did he make in the business-machines business?) and about our mortgage payments and household budgeting, and about how to stand up and confidently address a group of people who may disagree with you? These were things he dealt with more or less routinely and figured I’d learn when the time came, just as he had learned. But he learned much earlier in life, having grown up as a plumber’s son during the Great Depression, when a little butter on your bread was a big treat. And delivering papers in the snow at three in the morning was a precious job for an eleven-year-old, contributing to his family's survival, not cruelty. (The Big Chill story is coming soon to this site.) And preaching a gospel of divine mercy to a congregation of Calvinists was a valuable trial by fire. I had an easy childhood, and felt pretty useless right up until I jumped into the US Air Force in a flight from adolescence into adulthood. On this subject, I highly recommend a recent article [click below] by a man with whom I disagreed mightily during the 1990’s, but who claimed my respect for (dare I say it?) a certain integrity. Like my Dad. (By the way, I think an idea can help you leap over obstacles and empower behavior contrary to expediency for achieving the nearly-impossible. An idea can help you lose weight or can launch a new song. But taken to extremes of abstraction, ideas can empower beastly behavior and worse. Beauty and survival are in the balance.) Opinion by Newt Gingrich
~ Tim

December 13, 2008 – Tim takes on the Economy.
The surprise is that in my lifetime the Federal Government ran billions of dollars in the black, and congress did not jump to reduce taxes fast enough to eliminate that nasty surplus before it took a nibble out of our lovely national debt. What makes America attractive? I asked my Vietnamese friend why he risked his life in 1975 and got caught trying to escape Saigon, went to jail for nine months, and then risked his life again the following year, this time in a tortuous but ultimately successful effort to get to the USA. Without hesitation he said, “America is where you can get rich.” No mention of purple mountains majesty or amber waves of grain or jazz and rock-and-roll music or liberty-and-justice-for-all. It's pretty clear that paying off debt has never been a national priority and never will be. NOT paying for Uncle Sam's goods and services is what being rich and living the high life is all about. The Democrats spend first, then try to figure out how to pay for it, against Republican opposition. The Republicans reduce taxes first, and then try to figure out how to reduce spending, against Democratic opposition. They both fail of course. So Federal debt only goes up, except for brief unforeseen up-sets. When (not “if”) global investors get worried enough about USA solvency that they flee in droves from the dollar, there is a time-honored solution. Painful but quick, like a punch in the stomach: Devaluation. Then you can either fork over 100,000 old dollars for a little compact car or 15,000 “new” dollars; either way you will run through your savings faster and live lower on the hog. How would you prepare for devaluation, if you were so inclined? Own something of perpetual value that you can sell at the new exchange rate. It's highly un-American to hold value, of course; isn't this supposed to be a consumer economy? It’s a very old story, a centuries-old snoozer. That must be why I don't see this idea in the news these days.
~ Tim

December 6, 2008 – Booking a room at the Caspar Inn.
The day before yesterday I tried to book lodging at the Caspar Inn, Caspar, California, for December 23 and 24th. The youngish-sounding man said, “Are you sure you wanna stay here? It’s pretty loud, we have reggae bands and stuff like that.”
“I’m sure.”
He looks at the books. “Sorry but the 23rd is taken. You can have the 24th.”
“What kind of music will be there on the 24th?”
He looks it up. “Acoustic.”
“That’s great. Do you want my credit card information?”
“I can’t take it. Give me your phone number and somebody will call you.”
No call.
Today I called again, message machine full. Neither email address worked.
I called again later and told the story to a different man. “We don’t take credit cards.”
“Should I send you a check?”
“No, just show up.”
“How can we be guaranteed the room?”
He looks at the book. “Your name’s right here.”
“Who am I speaking to?”
“I’m the owner.”
“It’s great that you still do things the old way. I can’t wait to get there.”
~ Frances

November 27, 2008 – Thanksgiving thoughts.
Dress rehearsal went well last night in the old San Juan mission church for the Christmas show "La Virgen del Tepeyac" that opens for a ~20 show run tomorrow night. A few missteps but no big bloopers, and the inspiration underpinning the tradition (decades with this theater company in this space, but hundreds of years on this continent and far longer in the broader sense of human celebration with story, music and dance for a higher cause) is very much alive and well. The flagging world economy is not the big story after all, it will be forgotten in a few lifetimes or less. The big story is the miraculous little people we call kids (there are many in this show) and the way they keep learning to offer their hopeful, innovative energy through refined behaviors, arts and sciences to the community of people and the whole living planet. Renewal. Kudos to all parents, teachers and sponsors who guide children into the means of constructive self-expression, especially in resonance with the grand thrust of history that seeks to perfect the social balance of values for survival of the tribe and full realization of the individual's potential. (Thanks for the piano and cello lessons, Mom.)
~ Tim

November 16, 2008 – Post-Taxi Road Rally convention boost.
A big hotel overtaken by songwriters, performers, industry people and instructors ... a red-letter 3-day weekend on the path of GallopAway's canter into relevance ... and a ton of fun. Now a week later, it's follow-up email's, to-do lists, and all-day rehearsals for the big annual Christmas show in San Juan Bautista which involves more than 60 performers this year. Venue: the old 1797 mission church; it will be our 9th season. Back to GallopAway - Songwriting in a country vein, for Pete's sake: Frances working on "Give My Lips Something To Live For" and Tim finishing "Old Pete And The Big Cat." She needs his help in a contrasting "B" part; he needs her help in the heart-line between the Pete and Veronica characters ... it's story-telling with attractive tension and humor ... recording productions to begin early in 2009. On yet another front, Frances will be posting more stories on our GallopAway Memories page before Christmas. Stay tuned!
~ Tim