An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
31 January, 2022

“The two great mysteries of the universe,” I said to my brother the other day, “are women…and drums.”  Look, are there people who understand both?  Probably.  Am I one of them?  Nöpe.  We’ll leave the females to one side for now.  Drums, though.  Boy howdy.  (Warning: This post may get a bit technical).

On basically all of the tracks I’ve done so far – I’m talking about my own songs here – I’ve created drum tracks by programming pre-made grooves from a library.  Drums are way above my pay grade, you know?  And if I had to add learning how to create a drum track from scratch while at the same time learning my software and the general art of producing, I’d still be stuck on song number one.  So using grooves from a library seemed like the way to go.  And I’m more or less satisfied with what I’ve got in that regard.  For now.

But I’ve just written a new ditty.  In its bones, it’s more folk than rock, although obviously my instinct is to push it in as far a rock direction as it will reasonably allow.  But keep that in mind.  Now add to this that the song is not in standard 4/4 time.  Originally, I thought the song was in in 3/4.  But after a lengthy discussion with Justin, I’ve come to the understanding that it’s really in 6/8.  Now everything I’ve ever learned in a math classroom tells me that 3/4 and 6/8 are fundamentally the same.  But in music, apparently, they are not.  I’ve never properly understood that.  Only now, a month shy of my 41st birthday (what the ice cold fuck?!), am I beginning to grasp the difference.

Fine, so the song is in 6/8, which is a first for me.  But the point is, none of these pre-programmed grooves in my drum library seem to fit.  I don’t know if it’s strictly a question of time signature or just that my normal rock grooves aren’t right for this more folky piece.  But whatever the reason, I’m now in a position where I’m going to need to actually craft a drum track from scratch.  Boy howdy.

Back to that long conversation with my brother.  I sent him my first attempt, when I was still considering the song as being in 3/4, and it was kick-snare-snare, kick-snare-snare.  And he’s like, “I don’t want to be a dick, but it sounds like circus music.”  He wasn’t wrong either.  So what to do about it?  Well the first thing was just to set me straight on the time signature.  Just by shifting to 6/8, we straightened out the groove to something much more, uh, groovy.  (I’m an English teacher!).  The conversation then shifted into how to use various cymbals (mostly the high hat) and how adding an extra kick or offsetting the snare can add a bit more life.  I learned so much form that conversation.  Not the least of which, how fucking ignorant I am about drums specifically and rhythm generally.  OK, yes, we all knew that already.  But still.

Anyway, I’ve made some real improvements to the drum track since then.  And I continue to tweak it.  It’s still not there yet.  There’s still some stuff that’s not working, still some spots that don’t quite feel right.  But it’s definitely progress.  And I’m learning, which is huge.  It’s all very interesting.  Exciting, even, in the sense that I’m adding the very basics of a skill that, until now, has been entirely lacking from my toolbox.  Long way to go yet, on this song, and on drums in general.  But this is a good start.

I “finished” the track I was doing for the French people.   I put finished in quotes because there are still things I’d like to go back and tweak.  But it’s finished enough that I could send it to them and say, “Hey, this is your song.”  They were really happy with it, which makes me very happy.  But also, I’m very happy with it.  Like I said last time, it’s very minimalist in a way.  It’s just his guitar, her voice, and a couple of guitar fills that I added. 

But given that, I think I was able to do some really nice work.  I think I got a really good sound on the guy’s guitar.  And I think I was able to make her voice really shine.  Of course, with anything like this, the most important factor is your source material.  And this girl can really sing, which is the key to everything here.  So hats off to her for just kicking ass.  But in terms of my job as a producer (no quotes this time), I think I did right by her.

And here, I gotta tip my own hat to Rob.  One of the things we talked about when we chatted about my band’s song was side-chaining the reverb on the vocal track.  I’ll try to keep this simple, but I think it’s worth explaining in general terms.  Think of reverb as kind of an echo sound.  Why does it sound good when you sing in the shower?  Because your voice is all kinds of echoing off the tiled walls.  That’s reverb in simple terms.  The problem is, if you have too much reverb, it can obscure the actual vocals.  You just wind up with this echo-y mess, the vocal doesn’t cut through clearly.

So one thing you can do, is to use a tool that will suppress the reverb when the vocal is present, but then, when the singer pauses, the reverb pops up to fill the empty space.  That’s essentially what side-chaining the reverb means.  And it’s a tool that I’ve read about and watched plenty of tutorials about, but which I’d never actually put into practice.  But then, when I asked Rob for his technical feedback, that was one thing that he pointed to.  So I figured it was time to get my shit together and learn how to do that. 

It took me a solid hour-plus to learn how to do it in my software, but now that I know how, it’s actually pretty easy.  And boy, does it ever make a difference.  And more so on a song like this.  On my heavier rock tracks, with drums and overdriven guitars and four-part backing vocals, I was able to skate by without it.  But here, on this tune, where it’s just the singer and the guitar, everything is magnified. 

And let me tell you what a difference it made!  I mean, I did a before and after comparison, and it’s just night and day.  With this new tool, the vocals are so much more alive, so much cleaner.  And then when the reverb kicks in, it’s such a lush after-effect.  Even if you don’t know anything about production, you can hear the difference; even if you can’t put your finger on what that difference is.  So Bobby, if you’re reading this, thanks for getting on me about that.  Tremendous.

I sent a copy of the song to Charlotte.  I think it’s fair to say she was quite impressed.  She’s like, “Can you make me sound that professional?!”  Well, I can’t make her sound like this girl, of course.  But I can make her sound like whatever ‘professional Charlotte’ would sound like.  I’m pretty confident of that at this point.  And that’s actually the plan.

Whenever she visits next (which won’t be during the winter, she made that abundantly clear), our plan is to record at least two songs.  Not songs that we or I have written, but songs that we always jam on whenever we get together.  And lemme tell you something.  I’m really looking forward to that.

Not just because it will be fun.  Which it bloody well will be.  But also because now I’m actually pretty excited to get my hands on her voice, if I can say that.  I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I’ve long felt she has a very nice singing voice.  Oh, for sure I’ve written about this.  How, at first, she would just listen to me sing.  And then, gradually, she started to sing along, mostly because she just wanted to participate.  Until it got to the point where, we have songs where she’s the singer, all on her own.  It was cool to watch that progression.  I’m proud of her for making that progression, and even a little proud of myself that she made that progression with me.  All this to say, I really enjoy her singing, enjoy listening back to the songs we recorded on our phones.  And now, I’m pretty psyched to get her in my studio and see what we can really do.

Well, I’ve got quite the workload now, music-wise.  I’ve finished the first of the three songs for the band, and I’ve finished this song for the Frenchies.  But now I’ve got this new folk-rock ditty, and the labor on the drums is…well, it’s a lot.  Once the drums are finished, though, it should move pretty quickly.  I’ve got two heavy rock songs that I’ve started, but which still need a lot of work.  One of them is quite demanding vocally; the other I’m struggling to find the right guitar solo.  But I think they’re both going to kick some serious ass when they’re finished.  I’ve got two more songs to do for the band.  And then I’ve got at least three or four more of my own songs to do.  Oh, and at some point, my French friends will presumably be coming back to me with more songs.  It’s a lot of work.  Like, a lot a lot.  But also?  I fucking love it.

I mentioned in the last post that I now have some level of involvement in the family business.  So another thing I needed to learn was how to read and understand basic financial documents.  In this case, we’re just talking about a Profit and Loss sheet (P&L) and a balance sheet.  These are words I’ve heard before in my life, but I’ve never known (nor cared) what they are, what their purpose is; nevermind how to actually read them.

So I asked Amanda, who does this professionally, if she’d walk me through the basics.  Of course she was only too happy to help.  But before we get to that, let me just say how great it was to catch up.  Just good laughs, you know?  And I got to see Sabine, her daughter. אוי, איז זי אַ שיינע פנים!  I mean, this kid is all of the cute.  Oh, and they’re coming to Paris in May.  So barring another Covid cluster-fuck, I’ll be meeting them there.  Can’t wait.

Anyway, she was a huge help.  Obviously, I didn’t share any of my actual documents with her.  I just had them in front of me.  But she knows this stuff inside and out.  So she was able to say, “OK, you’ll see a line called ‘x,’ that tells you this.”  That kind of stuff.  But she explained the purpose of the documents, how to read them, what I should look for, what the indicators of a healthy company are versus those of an unhealthy one.  (We are pretty healthy, apparently).  But I feel so much more informed now.  Something that, but two or three days ago, was just columns of unintelligible numbers has now become something that I’m entirely comfortable with; at least as far as my involvement requires.  So a huge shout-out to Amanda for that little crash course.

I sort of painted the picture in my last post, but I’ll be a touch more explicit here, at the risk of boring the 3.5 people who read this.  I love the fact that, at my age, I’m continuing to learn new things and develop new skills.  Learning about business, learning Torah, learning about drums and music production, learning about where my family comes from, and on and on.  What kind of life if is it if you stop learning?  I hope I never find out.

Finally got back to Greek with George this week.  Finally.  So that continues as it ever has, and it’s just a joy, you know?  But now, here’s a new interesting thing that’s come up.  For the past couple of years, George and Phil (my one-time prof and current pun-partner and Yankee fan) have been putting together a translation of a lesser known Greek epic poem, titled Frogs and Mice.  They’re going all out too.  Hardcore commentary, illustrations, the whole nine.

Given all my years with Daitz, I guess I have some cache with George and Phil when it comes to the poetic meter of Greek epic (Dactylic Hexameter, if you’re scoring at home).  So periodically, George would email me with a troublesome line and ask me how I would scan it.  I would say that in 99.9% of cases, I was able to solve it for them.  And look, I’m not going to lie, it’s a nice feeling when people you look up to and respect turn to you for your opinion and you’re able to solve a problem for them.  And if that’s all I could do for them, dayenu.  It would be enough.

But apparently there’s more I can do.  Here I need to backtrack for a moment, to the days when I was still reading with Daitz.  Every year, Columbia University would hold these reading competitions.  The idea was, people would recite a passage of Ancient Greek (or Latin; feh!) poetry.  And you would be judged not only on your artistic interpretation of the text, but also on your execution of the technical details: pitch, meter, pronunciation, etc.  I participated in those competitions twice.  The first year, I took first prize for Greek.  The second year, I split first prize. 

First of all, it was just plain fun, right?  That’s the most important thing.  But also, yeah, I was proud to have won, and twice at that.  But more than being proud of myself, I was proud to represent Daitz.  Forgive the analogy, but it was like the Karate Kid.  Of course Daniel was proud to win, but he was even more proud to represent and win for Mr. Miyagi.  It was kinda like that. 

Tangentially, I was also proud, in a way, to represent Mr. Connor, the teacher who led my high school drama club.  He gave me the confidence to go on stage and act.  And he also instilled in me a love for Shakespeare.  And for me, what I was doing with Greek was always connected to what I’d done with Shakespeare under Connor-man.  I mean, Shakespeare is to English what Homer is to Greek.  And I don’t think I could have participated in those Greek competitions if Connor hadn’t put me on stage to perform Shakespeare years before.  So I’ve always felt that, while everything about the Greek I owed to Daitz, everything about getting up in front of people and acting (and make no mistake, reciting the Greek was very much a kind of acting), I owed to Connor. 

What’s the point here?  Oh right.  I wanted to give that bit of background so that what I say next will have some context.  So when I got together with George, I asked him how their translation was coming along.  He said they were basically, finally, done.  And then he said, “David [he always calls me David], we want you to do a recording of the text.  And we’ll try to get you some money if we can, but that’s not definite.”  Who cares about the money?!  OK, I do; that would be great.  But wow, דאָס איז אַ גרויסער כבד, what an honor, you know?  I mean, these guys have spent years on this project, they’re both putting their names – and with that, their reputations – to it.  And they want me to do a recording of the text?  Yeah, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call that an honor. 

Oh, and also, that’s going to be fun.  I mean, it’s going to be hard work.  I’m going to have go over that text the same way an actor goes over a script.  Word by word, line by line, phrase by phrase.  I’m going to have bring it to life.  And not just a narration, but characters too.  This is real work we’re talking about here.  But fun work.  To have a chance to put all my Greek training to some practical use, that’s exciting.  And not for nothing, another opportunity to honor Daitz.  Which of course will never be far from my mind.  I wish I could tell him that I’ve even been asked to do this.  And once I start, I know I’m going to wish he was still around to give me feedback. 

I’ve always said that it saddens me that I’m not teaching this stuff to anybody, that I don’t have an opportunity to pass on what he’s taught me.  Well, this isn’t the same as teaching new students.  But at least it’s a chance to put it into some kind of limited circulation, to share it with a wider audience.  I just hope that whatever I produce would meet with his approval, that he’d be proud of my work in the end.  I’m sure this isn’t the last time I’ll say that either.

Update.  George emailed me the other day to let me know that he and Phil would like me to review their work.  They don’t need me to check their translation or critique their English, but they would like me to review the commentary and check the the text overall for obvious errors.  Once again, I’m honored that they’ve asked me and a bit proud that think highly enough of me entrust me with this.  Not that I’ll be the only one.  I guess the plan is, once I’ve gone over it, the publisher will sent it first to three “friendly scholars,” they will make changes and then the publisher will send it to “two or three unfriendly scholars,” followed by more changes.

But they want me to go over it before it goes out the door at all.  So that’s really nice.  And it’s a paying gig, assuming I can finish by the end of February, which is also nice.  It shouldn’t be a problem to get this done in a month.  It’s a fair bit of work, but nothing I can’t handle.  I’m actually kind of looking forward to it.  So tomorrow, I’ll have it printed and then get to work.

And I guess that’s about it.  It’s enough, no?  Busy, busy, busy, as always.  But busy with good stuff.  As always. 

One language thing to catch you guys up on.  I talk a lot about Greek and Yiddish and Hebrew and (to a lesser extent these days) French.  But I haven’t spoken much about German lately.  I’ve mentioned before that I Zoom once a week with a former student.  One week we’ll do two hours English, the next, two hours German.  It’s a nice thing we have going.  He’s a really cool guy, good sense of humor, fun to work with.

Anyway, last week I asked him to read Aschenputtel with me.  Aschenputtel is the German name for Cinderella, and the version we read is the original Brothers Grimm version.  That was a lot fun.  The language is a bit archaic, but I was able to handle it pretty well.  Some new vocab, of course, and he was very helpful with that.  But it was fun.  And dark.  You guys, so dark.  The stepsisters, to try and get their feet into the slipper, one has to cut off her big toe, the other has to cut off part of her heel.  And the evil stepmother makes them do it!  In the end, they get their eyes pecked out by birds.  Really fucking dark.  All that to say, we had a good time with it.  And it’s good not only for my German in general, but for my confidence with the language as well.  He does a nice job of building me up.  So that’s another good thing that’s going on these days.

Oh, and one last thing.  For like the first time ever, I’m making a concerted effort to drink less.  Primarily in the evenings, more specifically approaching bed time.  Reason being, I haven’t been sleeping well for quite some time.  Part of that is just that I eat too late, which I’ve also been trying to fix.  Part of it is my night-owl-ness, which there’s only so much I can do about.  But then, just the other day, there was an article in the Times about how drinking before going to sleep can really fuck up your sleep patterns.  You might fall asleep easier, but you’ll wake up more, and the sleep itself won’t be as restorative. 

Now, this isn’t exactly news.  I mean, I’ve known this forever.  But to have it spelled out in The Paper of Record?  Kind of a wake up call.  Or a go to sleep call, if you will.  And since actually falling asleep is not usually a problem for me, I’m not really in need of the one marginal benefit that comes with drinking before bed anyway.  So we’ll see what kind of difference this makes.  The article said you need to do it for at least two weeks before you start to notice a change.  But I’m tired of being…tired…all the time.  (Did I mention I’m an English teacher?).  I guess it’s time to do something about that…

זײַט זשע מיר אַלע געזונד

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
22 January, 2022

Let’s try this again.  Happy New Year?  I mean, it’s late for that already.  But I haven’t written posted since last year.  I’d actually written a couple of posts since then, but for various reasons I decided not publish them.  Time to try again.

Music continues to be interesting.  Over the past few months I’ve taken some steps which have brought me from ‘guy who records his own songs in his homemade studio and dicks around with production’ to ‘(extremely) amateur producer.’  What?  How?  Let’s recap a bit.

Towards the end of last year, I talked Ralf and Bibi into making a demo at my place.  No, let me make that sound more official.  I talked them into making a demo at my Razzle Dazzle Studios.  Yes, I’ve named my studio.  I’m very close to finishing the first of three songs.

I have to say, personally, I’m pretty proud of my work.  I’ve taken a song which, when played live, is two guitars, three singers and a bit of percussion and turned it into a real studio piece with layered guitar overdubs and all kinds of backup vocals.  I also think I’ve given it some nice atmosphere, a good vibe. 

Here are two measures of where I’m at with this.  I played a not-quite-finished version for my dad in the car, and all I said was, “This is a song I’m doing with the band.”  And he says, “This is a Leonard Cohen song, no?”  Yes, I says.  Then he asks, “And whose version is this?”  That’s us, I say.  “Really?  I thought this was a professional recording.”  Now, granted, my car is kinda noisy.  But still, if you can play it for someone without them knowing what it is, and they think it’s a “real” recording, you must be doing something right.

I also sent a more polished version to Rob and asked for some technical feedback.  Which he ably provided.  I mean, some really useful notes and tips which I will definitely be implementing.  But I took two things away from that.  One, he started his notes with “I’m just nitpicking.”  Which is good, because presumably it means there are no glaring deficiencies.  And also, when we were chatting about it, I never felt like he was talking to me like a person who didn’t know what they were doing.  Like, he clearly has more training and experience than I do, but I never felt like I was in over my head during that conversation.  Also a good sign.  Now, I’d already told him I was generally pleased with the mix, so maybe he didn’t want to rain on my parade and saw now value beating up on it.  In any case, I came away from that tête-à-tête feeling pretty good about my work product and the progress I’ve made to get to this point.  There’s still a long way to go.  But I’m going to allow myself to feel good about things for the time being.

So that’s one project.  But there’s another.  Remember at the end of last year, I mentioned this friend of Deb’s?  A French guy who by profession is a playwright, but who writes a bit of music.  Rock, he said, citing the Stones.  And we discussed him coming down to record over a few glasses of wine.  But as with so many things discussed over glasses of wine, I wasn’t sure if anything would actually come of it. 

Anyway, shortly before New Year’s, he gets in touch and asks if I’d still be interested.  Bien sûr, motherfucker!  (I didn’t actually call him ‘mutherfucker’).  So I asked him to send me a rough recording from his phone, just so I could get an idea of what we’d be doing.  It’s a catchy little tune, but I was surprised to hear a girl singing.  Turns out it was his daughter.  Nice voice, from what I was able to tell.

So they came down one day and we did some basic tracks.  It was a good start, but you could tell they hadn’t really found the heart of the song yet.  What I mean is, the guy had written a nice vocal line, but the girl was singing it the same way every verse, every chorus.  She wasn’t yet putting much of herself into it, as a vocalist.

That’s where I got to put on my ‘producer’ hat for a bit.  I started asking her to try some different things.  In some cases, I asked for some very specific things with regard to phrasing or harmony.  But in a lot of places, I simply asked her to ‘just try some different shit.’  You know, just go in the booth and fool around, see what comes out.  And man, that was fun.

I think she has a really pretty voice.  She also sings in a certain style.  It’s this very breathy style that you hear in a lot of modern stuff nowadays.  Wow, I sound old.  So it’s a style, it’s a choice, but it works for her, and I think she does it pretty well. 

But it was really cool watching her take some creative license.  Because up to that point, I think she’d basically just been singing what her father had written, without really bringing much of herself to it.  But with a bit of prodding, she started make it more her own. 

And this is something that I really enjoy about ‘producing.’  Like, I give her a suggestion, a bit of a push, and then off she goes.  And she starts creating, on the spot, out of her own being.  Did all of it work?  Of course not.  But that’s part of the process, right?  And that’s what I told her.  We’re just gonna set this on a loop, and just go in there and try stuff out.  Some of it won’t work.  But you might hit on something really cool.  And she hit on a lot of really cool stuff, I think.

What the fuck do I know about being a parent, but I think it’s almost like parenting in a way.  You’re there to give support, to offer suggestions, to give honest feedback, even to give a kick in the pants when needed.  But in the end, the artist – or child – has to do it on their own.  And when they go in there and do something that you never expected, you’re proud, מע קוועלט אַ ביסל.

That was day one.  But we had agreed to do two days.  So after they left, I sent them four or five different versions with all her various vocal experiments.  My instructions: live with this for a few days.  Find what you like, get some new ideas, and when you come back, we’ll do some new takes and then put it all together.

Before getting to day two, I’ll say that if I had one concern, it was that maybe we were taking the song in a direction which the guy – the writer – didn’t intend.  This isn’t my music.  This is somebody else’s work and you have to respect their vision.  What if the girl’s freestyling wasn’t what he wanted for his song?  I needn’t have worried.  He absolutely loved it.  Maybe because it was his daughter, I don’t know.  But it was nice to see his reaction.  To see him smile as his song started to take on a life of its own. 

Day two was mostly like day one.  I got plenty of good vocal takes from the singer, more than enough to work with.  But I still felt like something was missing.  I wanted something bigger, more powerful for the final chorus. 

So I asked her, “Do you ever sing in the car?”  Yeah, I guess so, she says.  “And when you sing in the car, do you every sing, like, really loud?”  Yeah, sometimes I guess, she says.  “OK, so that’s what I want you to do with the last chorus.  Sing loud like you sing in the car.  Really let it rip.”  And I explained to her that I was going to turn the volume way up in her headphones, so she’d have to sing loud just to hear herself properly.  Anyway, she goes in there and really lets it rip.  Now we were cooking with gas! 

Let me take a moment to explain the layout of my apartment and studio.  The studio is in the kitchen, and the kitchen has a door with a glass window.  When I record vocals or live instruments, I always close the door to limit as much outside noise as possible.  (I’ve also hooked my fridge up to a switch, so I can turn it off when I do vocals so as to cut out that nasty electric hum).  Anyway, when we’d done all the previous vocal work, her dad (and mom, who was also there) would be in the living room.  And when you’re in the living room, you normally can’t hear anything.  Anyway, we’re doing this final chorus, and she’s going all out.  And next thing I know, her parents have their faces pressed up against the kitchen door window, like, “What’s going on in there?”  But in a good way.  They were all smiles.  So that was pretty cool.

Another thing we had to figure out was this little guitar fill that the guy had written in between each verse and chorus.  What we had to figure out was the timing.  See, when he’s just jamming, it’s this little lick he plays between verse and chorus.  But it’s not really ‘in time,’ so to speak.  Not in a bad way.  It doesn’t sound off or anything when you’re just listening to them play it live.  But it wasn’t working in the recording context, because we were having trouble matching up the other tracks with it.  So I grabbed my guitar and played along with him, and in the end we figured it out.  That was fun though.  Me and the dad, with our guitars and his daughter singing along, and me being like, “OK, let’s try this, let’s try that,” until we got it sorted.  But I was like, “Hey, this is what producers do!  Cool.”

They were over for like three or four hours, and you could tell that by the end of it, everybody was pretty beat.  But when we were done, I asked if they’d be up for just jamming on the song together, for fun.  They were totally into it.  So we went into the living room and I plugged in my bass.  The dad had his guitar and his girl had her lyrics.  And we just jammed it out.  Man, that was fun!  I mean, it’s a rockin’ little tune, for starters.  And they’re fun, easygoing people.  Also, when is jamming ever not fun?  But yeah, I dug that for sure.  And I’ll tellya something.  I don’t know how, when or where we’d ever be able to do it, but I’d love to get enough songs together with them and actually play a gig.  Could that happen?  Maybe.  I dunno.  But damn it would be great if we could pull it off. 

So they’ve done all their work and now I’ve got to do mine.  And it’s going to be a challenge.  I’ve never ‘produced’ a song like this, music like this.  Minimalist, singer-songwriter kind of stuff.  This is not a song that is going to be dressed up in layered harmonies and guitar overdubs.  It’s going to have to be more with less.  I have enough confidence in what I’m doing at this point to believe that I’ll ultimately produce a nice product.  But even as I’m writing this, I still don’t know how.  I still don’t have my own complete vision for what this recording should be.  And since it’s so outside my wheelhouse, I don’t even know where to turn for comparison or inspiration. 

But these are good things.  It will force me to grow as a ‘producer’ – which for all how far I’ve come, I’m still putting in quotes – and it will force me to be creative.  But I’ve been down this road before.  Just not with music.  When I was doing lighting design in college, I had all the tools that a well endowed university theatre could offer.  And then, when I got my first professional gig, it was, “You have twelve instruments and a manual two-preset board.  Go.”  It forced me to be creative in ways I never needed to be at school.  But I like to think I did some rather nice work in those days.  And I like to think I’ll do some rather nice work here too.  I just haven’t quite figured out how yet.  All in good time…

Oh, and not for nothing, it was fun working with French people.  I don’t get much of that these days.  Anne is gone.  And Charlotte has been gallivanting around the world for gods know how long.  So just a chance to speak some French was great.  And while we were working, it was this cool constant shifting back and forth between languages.  Just kind of a fun added bonus, you know?

Anyway, all this leads to a new question.  Namely, could I ever do this for money?  Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching English; I truly do.  But it gets repetitive.  And working from home has sapped it of some of its joy.  It’s fun when you’re in the same room with people.  It’s pleasant now, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s fun.  So lately I’ve been asking myself, is there something else I could be doing? 

And I’ve been thinking, what if these projects go well?  What if I put together a really nice demo for my band?  What if I do a nice job on this track with the French peeps and it leads to more songs well done with them?  What if I can put together something of a portfolio of music, music that I didn’t write, music that I’ve produced for other people?  Who knows?  Maybe I can get people whom I don’t know down to record and actually charge money for my work.

Certainly there’s a long way to go between here and there.  I still have a lot to learn.  I also need to get better at what I’ve already learned.  Not only that, I need to improve my workflow, I need to be faster, more efficient.  And as I discussed in my last post, I need to get better at hearing things in the moment, getting the most and best out of an artist while they’re with me in the studio.  So no, I’m nowhere near ready to charge strangers money for my services.  But is it impossible, somewhere down the line?  I honestly don’t think so. 

Would I give up teaching English to produce music full time?  On the one hand, I don’t think so.  As I said, I genuinely love teaching English.  On the other hand, teaching English is not a well-paying gig.  I have no idea what the going rate is for even the most inexperienced producers, but I have to imagine it’s a helluva lot more than freelance English teaching.  What just happened?  All of a sudden, my head is in the clouds.  If I ever make a dime off this shit, it won’t be anytime soon.  But it’s interesting to think about, all the same.

What else is going on?  First of all, the usual shit.  Yiddish with Bartek, which is only ever a joy.  George and I have been on a bit of a break, but we’ll be getting back to Greek shortly; Sophokles’ Ajax, to be specific.  I try to do a few lines of Homer most nights before bed, because ABRH: Always be reading Homer.  And of course, Torah Torah Torah.  And no, I don’t mean the attack Pearl Harbor.

I had dinner with Akiva last week, my buddy from Yiddish Summer Weimar.  He’s doing an internship in Berlin and it’s just great to have him here.  After dinner, we ‘learned Torah’ for an hour or so.  That basically just means we read a bit of that week’s parshah and discussed it with regards to grammar, meaning, various commentaries, etc. 

But I love the phrase ‘learn Torah.’  In any other context, you would expect ‘study Torah.’  This is a difference that I often have to explain to my students, the difference between ‘learn’ and ‘study.’  See, German students will often respond to the question “What did you do last night” with the answer “I learned English.”  No, you learn English in school.  Learning is the acquisition of new information and knowledge.  At home, you do your homework, your review your notes, you go over the day’s vocabulary.  At home, you study.

So naturally, you’d think that one studies Torah.  After all, it’s a text we’ve all read before, more than once.  And we’ve read the commentaries too.  So you’d think what we do is the reinforcement of what we’ve already learned.  But that’s not the idea.  It’s not the spirit of it.  The idea, the spirit of it all, is that every single time you sit down with The Book, you learn something new.  Every time you discuss even the most well-worn passages with somebody else, you get something new out of it.  You never stop learning Torah. 

For all that, it is nevertheless, quite idiomatic, quite Jewish, if I can say that.  And yet, I’d like to take that approach with Homer.  After all, Homer was being read before the Torah was ever written.  We continue to read Homer to this day.  And you can find something new in Homer every single time you sit down to read.  So maybe instead of saying that I try to read a bit of Homer most nights before bed, I’ll try to say that I try to learn a bit of Homer most nights before bed.  Yes, I think I like that.

As to the Homer I’m currently reading learning, it’s Iliad Book V.  It’s OK.  I mean, it’s mostly just Diomedes slaughtering the shit out of any Trojan that gets in his way and Aeneas being a total puss.  And a bit of whinging from Aphrodite.  I mean, it’s fine.  But what I’m really excited for is Book VI.  That’s where Hektor (the real hero of the story, btw) says his last goodbye to his wife Andromakhe (#bossbitch) and his infant son Astyanax, predicting what will befall them after he is killed.  It’s beautiful.  And, uh, literally epic.

I suppose there’s one other major thing of interest going on at the moment, and that’s the family business.  Yes, there’s a family business.  There didn’t use to be.  But there is now.  It’s like this.  My Great Uncle Art – whom I’ve written plenty about before – had been pretty successful in building up his father’s business.  Essentially the manufacture of electrical conduits and fittings.  He was the sole proprietor.  Only thing is, when he died, he didn’t leave any plan of succession in place.

So the plan, in settling the estate, was simply to sell the business.  I suppose that’s what usually happens in these situations.  Only problem was, we couldn’t find anybody who was offering what we deemed to be a fair price.  So my cousin, who has a head for these things, decided to take a closer look.  And he determined that, while Uncle Art might have let things slip a little bit in his twilight years, nevertheless, the business had some real potential.  I won’t get into the details, but the short version is, the family has essentially decided to try and make a go of things.

And I’ve gotten myself involved in a small way.  Nothing major, certainly not a job or anything like a paid position.  But I’m involved, and I’ll just leave it at that for now.  But that’s really cool.  I think it’s cool, anyway.  Just a chance to learn more about the business, to maybe learn something about business in general.

But then sometimes I take a long view, and it’s bananas.  Think about this.  Over a hundred years ago, some guy leaves his home in Eastern Europe and makes his way to America, the Land of Opportunity.  There, he starts a family.  Over a hundred years later, this guy’s descendant – born long after his death – moves back to Europe, learns the language of the old country and is at work translating a book about where it all started.  And in the middle of all that is this little business, tying together now four generations.  Tell me that shit ain’t bananas.

Well.  I suppose that’s more than enough.  2022, should we mirtsashem survive it, promises to be an interesting year.  I dare say a year of growth.  Growth as a music producer, growth as a student of Torah, of Yiddish, of Homer.  And now, apparently, growth as a – gasp – businessman?  Well, perhaps that’s a touch hyperbolic.  But if nothing else, it ought to be an interesting ride…

זײַ געזונט