Layers of Earth

A George Zhen Narrowcast.

Perfect Sound + Vision

Bowie_svI only saw David Bowie in concert one time. Perhaps that was enough given the outrageous circumstances of that day and where I ended up.

It was 1990 and Bowie was kicking off his Sound + Vision Tour in Miami. Unlike the over-the-top overreach that was his Glass Spider tour a few years earlier, this tour was a return to roots of sorts, an opportunity for him to stretch his catalog for his new label, Rykodisc. They had put out this magnificent boxed set of Bowie classics and rarities and, as it happened, I worked at a  record store at the time. We were inundated with all the promotional materials, display contests and everything surrounding the release.

For those of us working at Sound Warehouse #1006 in Lauderhill, FL, this was a big deal. We all loved Bowie. We broke open one of those Sound + Vision boxed sets and seemingly played it all the time.

The show was billed as this very artistic, Bowiesque kind of thing, but far less gaudy as Glass Spider. Édouard Lock of La La La Human Steps co-conceived and was artistic director for this tour, and it featured this gauze-like screen on which visuals could be projected on as the band played behind it. Moreover, the tour hype was that this would be the last time Bowie would play his back catalog live.

Tickets went on sale and sold out quickly. But the record store crew knew how to work this. No no, we didn’t pull and stash tickets the day they went on sale. We were far more crafty than that! No, we instead waited until the day of the show. We learned that that was the best time to find great seats. I dunno what really caused this to happen, but it always seems that once they had loaded in the stage at the venue, the concert promoter would then add seats, usually up front. We had seen instances where entire sections were added close up near the stage on the day of the show, and those tickets would be released into the system on show day, around 2 pm. Read more

No comments

The Underdog of 199th Street

statgebandFerhat loved the trumpet. We played in Junior High band together and his passion was consuming him.

“Maynard Ferguson, man – have you ever heard him play? He is amazing!”

His excitement was infectious as he put on the record.

“Listen to those high notes – He is the best ever!”

Of course, I was just a trombone player. I really had no reference point for how high those notes were that Maynard was belting out. But I must have mentioned something to my dad, who told me that in fact, Maynard Ferguson was coming to town. Read more

No comments

A Bird in the Monkey House


To some, this won’t be anything new. Just a rant. On media in America. How special is that?

So I flip on my news feed today to discover an exploding rocket has grabbed top position amidst stories of Ebola, elections and Hawaiian lava flow. This isn’t surprising, except for the fact that the actual incident took place two days ago. A, unmanned private rocket, under contract from NASA, carrying supplies and experiments to the International Space Station had a major malfunction during liftoff. No one was hurt.

For those of us space geeks who follow these sorts of things, we’re not taken aback by this. It happens about 5 % of the time with unmanned vehicles, give or take. News editors probably felt the same sort of relative indifference to this event initially since there was a nominal amount of coverage of the accident yesterday.

But then, the bird flew into the monkey house.

Humans are spectacularly visual. I’ve come to realize this even more so after becoming visually impaired several years ago. Just watch the news and the stupidest, most inconsequential stories will make it on the air because there is actual video of the bear in the swimming pool. Over the course of the intervening 24 hours since said rocket exploded, the video of the accident went viral.

My kid at college is texting me about it.

Friends are posting it on my wall.

“Oooo, look honey! How pretty!”

*insert chimp noises here*

Now, news editors interested in say real news may be slow to react sometimes, but marketing heads burn with John Force-like reaction time. Keeping a keen eye on those web traffic stats and logs is what pays the bills, and by time the nightly news rolls around, my father-in-law is joining the chorus of monkeys oooing and ahhhing over the unplanned fireworks show on the Virginia coastline.

If it explodes it downloads, as they say.

So now we enter the predictable cycle of keeping this thing in the news for another 24 hours, because, well… it’s a damn exploding rocket after all and monkeys click on that shit. The insufferable side effect of this is the barrage of stupid, uninformed questions from television journalists whose knowledge of aerospace begins with George Clooney and ends with Sandra Bollock.

“Is this a setback for NASA?”

“Was ending the shuttle program a mistake?”

“Could this have been an act of terrorism?” (Guess which network. I dare ya.)

“Can someone get Ebola from a bowling ball?”

Ooops. Sorry. Different story. Exploding fear, not rockets. Works in the same primal way, though.

No comments

NEW SONG: (Morphallaxis) Stars Undersea


(Morphallaxis) Stars Undersea-George Zhen

“All the doubt that creeps in deep in the night
Is there to help us practice morphallaxis…”

Over last summer, I was tooling around with some ideas in electronic music, specifically the idea of blending the unison, group vocal sound of something like The Mouglies or even Of Monsters and Men together with what I saw as the upcoming disco reboot thanks to what was then the forthcoming Daft Punk. It was really just an experiment. But I liked it. A little Depeche Mode lick here, a little Nile Rogers there and the song was forming up.

For the lyrical theme, I took up the idea of morphallaxis. What the hell is that geekyness about, you ask? Morphallaxis is the ability of a creature to re-grow body parts, like the way a starfish can re-grow limbs. I drew up the parallel of us rebounding from the scars of childhood to become something great. You know, a geeks now rule the world kind of thing.

I liked where it was going so much that I even took up the idea of adding group vocals with a bunch of my son’s friends singing ion it. We recorded in early June, and while the tracks were fine, I discovered there is a fine line between group vocals and something sounding a little too Disneyesque. I started tweaking the vocals, but before I could get too far the Great Computer Crash of 2013 was in full swing and I lost much of the work on this song, including those takes. Well, they are buried somewhere, but by that point I had moved into performing live and forming The Mariana Trenchcoats, so the project was shelved.

Alas, here is the final version of this track, largely how I left it back in June with my original vocals on it. Maybe someday I’ll revisit it, but for now, this is what it is. Read more

No comments

NEW SONG: Tanwood Drive (What Forever Means)


Tanwood Drive (What Forever Means)-George Zhen

“There’s more to living than just bring alive
It’s the summer sun lighting up Tanwood Drive…”

I rarely do this kind of song. But I had too. See, my in-laws were reaching their 60th wedding anniversary and everyone in the family was writing these nice memory letters and such. Now, I wrote my letter of course, but I wanted to do something more. See, my mother-in-law Toby always makes this point about how there are no “nice songs about love” any more and how she doesn’t even understand half of the somgs she hears. So here’s a challenge – To write a Song for my in-laws that tells a nice love story that she would like and understand. Thus the forced creativity that produced “Tanwood Drive (What Forever Means)” was born.

Tanwood Drive itself is the street where my wife’s childhood was spent. To hear my mother-in-law Toby talk about those days usually means a verklempt moment or two. This is where life happened for them – the pinnicle. We all have a similar place, whether it is our childhood or us as parents, where some of the most potent memories in life happen. Our dreams are still set there sometimes. For them, it was Tanwood Drive in Massepequa, NY.

The song itself is straight forward. I built it in a couple of days, saving the vocals and lyrics for a last, mad dash session the night before their big party. I went with a kind of Latin percussion flavor because, A) I had a lot of loops in that style and, B) because my father-in-law Jerry said he liked that kind of thing once. I also pestered my trumpet-playing son Cameron to come in and play a bit of the melody as well, to give it  another texture. Some mandolin for good measure and I had the feel I was looking for.

This song is so out of my comfort zone as a writer though, I must admit. It is just plain too sappy and obvious, but I’m told I should do more obvious tunes from time to time anyway.. I know a lot of my friends and family willl love it, though. My other, more musically jaded friends will wonder if I have lost my mind, though. Truth is, if I could make money doing this kinda stuff, I would and could do it all day long. Read more

No comments

Home Keys (Pracrting Proper Typoing skills)



Give me a break,she said from the back of the room. If Jimmie Jphnson has any v;ue about how to correctly m ale jis eay through the fiwls on a restart without blowing his engine from overrevving, it would be one thing. But given the state of the sport at this point and time, I can see no way better than through repeated structures and hope we should over come this dark place in which we live. Believe me,there is no better way in which to conquer one’s own fear. Itter nonsense, i think.

Give me your eyes. It means “Look at me.” Admaral Adama used to say this a Bunch on Battlestar Galactica. i will always have to edit. I cannot beat the sustem the ways I used to. Better concentrartion beings out better skilss like this, Practice makes perfect. Foil fun foible. Utter nonsense Garggle as much as three times a day to completely rid yourself of the bacterias rotting your brain. I hopt that somehow I find as way to properly type. My biggest problem is my pinkys. I hate suseding them when typing. I find uif I don’t think about it, I do better. I don;t truse my pinky to so what it is supposed to do.

Ijwillalways need to proof mydrlf. No way around it.

But here I go on my own form of typing. I move my hands a lot more. But I know my way around. it is more natural to my hands. no pinkies, really. No don’t really rest on the home keys as much. I fumble sometimes on certain words.

but it is invorrect, I am taught. This is ok. I won’t do mu natural routine and rebel. It will take practice on all fronts. Didcipline not to fall inot old habits. It will take a while to adjust and not let the pinkies slip up and rest when they ahould work work work!

I must mind my p’s and q’s!

No comments

I Have To Write

flickr boy with flashlight2I have to write.

Why? Because my thoughts are complex and full. There are bits of motorsports, music and craft beer woven in there. Life is too short to keep these threads all to myself.

I have to write.

I am blinded, but I see things you don’t. My ears are augmented receptors of grace. In the words of Roger Waters, I have amazing powers of observation. And I’m not afraid to clue you in on that fact.

I need to write.

I’ve watched motorsports for 35 years. Today I saw perhaps the most outrageous finish I have ever seen. Ever. Seen. How is that possible? Because there is always something waiting around the bend that is new, unforeseen and remarkable. Today was one of those days. I so love Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

I need to write.

I am working on a song that is about returning home to a small town. I am fixated on the idea of one blinking red traffic light, like a place I know called Pearson in Central Florida. The song is so disco, Modest Mouse and New Order wrapped into one. Man I wish I could play the bass. The one openly gay dude in Pearson would appreciate that.

I must write.

The latest batch of Dogfish Head beers, on the IPA side specifically, have some nasty hops. Nasty, as in bad. They taste like burnt shit. I couldn’t make it through a 4-pack oof 90 without gettinga headache. Perhaps they had to harvest from somewhere else this season. I am not buying their beers for a while. This sucks, because they are my favorite.

I will write.


No comments

Birth of an Echo


So there has been a lot of interesting developments in my musical world lately, a lot of good energy and focus. First, I have been playing at lot with my friends in Blue Sky Drive, which has been wonderful and motivating. Nothing quite like playing in an original band, which I have discovered I truly missed. Rehearsals, gigs, good times…. it has been real enjoyable to say the least. It is really good not only to be musically engaged like this again, but to be lucky enough to have fallen in with such a fine group of good people is just the icing on the cake. The universe works in wonderful ways sometimes..

Last Autumn was a really productive writing period for me. I was composing primarily on piano creating songs that were pretty inwardly directed. This is a sharp departure from how I have been writing for most of the past decade, which has been a sort of disembodied experience. I’ve been conjuring fictional characters and circumstances that I thought were interesting – well, at least more interesting than my real life. I mean, I am still in love with a lot of those songs, but this most recent burst of creativity has been entirely different for me. Maybe it has taken ten years for me to get comfortable writing about the things in my life again. Maybe it took my oldest leaving the house and heading off to college to stir those deeper, personal emotions of self-evaluation, joy and longing. Whatever it was, it was a nice burst that came from a powerful place and I tried my best to harness it and commit it to song. The result is a full-length album’s worth of material that needs to be brought to life. Read more

No comments

The 12th of Never – “Something Dragonfly”

TWELFTHofNEVER 1 – Child In Me (download / play)

2 – The Doorway (download/play)

3 – Halfway to Forever (download/play)

4 –  Carried Away (download/play)

Time feels like a fortress moving in and around me.
Moving with a grace that can only be evil….

It’s been over 20 years since I first broke out an acoustic guitar and wrote these songs. The intervening years span so much in my life that I can’t help but wonder who that kid is on the other end of these recordings. His voice has so much more anger than I remember. He’s simultaneously in the shadow of his father’s death and on the cusp of a new life. It is so bittersweet to hear this stuff again.

The 12th of Never started as a fluke thing because I had been toying with the idea of doing something altogether different than the electronic/synth orientated stuff that had framed my early days in bands like Some People’s Children. I had been strumming on an Ovation 6-string for a year maybe, influenced by artists like Mary My Hope, Sinead O’Connor and the usual old Roger Waters colorings that still remain in my musical palette to this day. I had cobbled together these four songs and hassled my friend from SPC, Tip Ledgard, to play some limited percussion on it. I saw an ad in the old Rag magazine for a demo recording studio in Boca run by Bob Gaffney, who happened to be the brother of a childhood friend of mine. So i called him up and arranged recording time starting in the summer of 1991.

I remember this because there were fireworks going off in the background as we were trying to track vocals in his converted townhouse studio. I even think a bottle rocket or two made the final recording.

I was playing with Black Janet at the time and somewhere along the line I got to talking will Kelly Christy from Vesper Sparrow, another local perennial favorite, and she offered to lend her voice to the recordings. At first, I wasn’t sure how it would work but in the end, her voice really completed the recording. Her harmonies on “Halfway to Forever” and “The Doorway” still chill me.

Read more

No comments

I Am Living Proof

caneAs we know by now, back in late 2001 I lost much of my eyesight. I was 35 and doing all the things a middle-class white guy should do. I was married, had two kids and had a mortgage in a house in suburbia. I was a web developer, graphic designer working freelance in a post tech-bubble busted world. It wasn’t so bad, being freelance. I was getting work and leaning on new Flash skills (LOL!) and kept the ship afloat. But then BAM! There are spots in front of my left eye. Not a big deal, really, except I was born with a shitty condition in my RIGHT eye which left it rather weak and useless. You just can’t imagine. Read more

No comments

Next Page »