Thursday, January 31, 2008

Finally Made Some Money From Songwriting..

Been meaning to put up this link for a while now, but it keeps slipping my mind. I've a tendency to completely forget about something once I have moved onto pastures newer. Anyhow, late last year I posted a new song called "Say Say" and was susequently approached by the web designers for Portree Stables , asking if they could license the music from the song (no lyrics), for a video on their site. It would promote the stables and its owner, the famous horse trainer Tom Taaffe. It was an interesting process since I had to research and learn about the legalities surrounding music licensing. It's a very complex area, but a good learning experience. In the end, there is very little money in it since there are plenty of websites where canned music is available for licensing cheaply. Nevertheless, I was happy to do this, so I remixed it without vocals and, who knows, maybe I'll get some got tips about the ponies and make some cash that way...

You can check out the video here. The sound quality isn't as good as I would like, but it's streaming video, so it is as good as can be expected.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Irish Blog Awards

Jaysus, to my surprise I made the long list for the best personal blog. There are however some major heavy hitters on the long list (70 blogs, or so), so I ain't holding my breath. Thanks to anyone who nominated me!


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Ski Boundary Area

Friday, January 25, 2008

70 - It's Just a Number

The McDermott paterfamilias turned 70 today. My pop, a proud, contrary Limerick man (we all are, contrariness is our birth rite), born in Garryowen, deep in the heart of Limerick city, (conveniently close to the prison), the fourth child of a train driver and a seamstress, is in fine fettle and ready for another 70 years - at least. I hope I have his genes, or at least his scalp follicles. My mother's side all go bald by their mid twenties, but the auld fella is only starting to go grey, not to mind bald. He is a natural born story teller and passed a love of books, wine, food, late night westerns, whiskey, and American folk music on to his kids (all of us love the Kingston Trio). Actually my sister isn't too fond of the whiskey or late night westerns. But she lives in Dublin.

More than anything else, my dad introduced me to the guitar and taught me my first riff - the opening to The Kingston Trio's "500 miles." All four of his kids play music.

In his retirement, he has become a fine landscape painter, despite never having picked up a brush until a few years back, and to my mother's despair, an eBay devotee - she never knows what package might arrive next, whether it is a bundle of cellophane wrapped fifties comics, or a book on some arcane part of Irish-American history.

Sometime back, my dad and I considered making the following topics off limits while drinking whiskey: politics, religion, philosophy, the law, the Limerick city boundary, vegetarianism vs carnivorism, Micheal Collins, Eamon deValera, Charlie Haughey, Garret Fitzgerald, Bertie Ahern, Willie O'Dea, priests, nuns, sports, horse racing, immigration, emigration, capitalism, socialism, nationalism, communism, unionism, The James Last Orchestra (*shudder*), Nana Mouskouri, the Irish health system, who gets my granddad's Black and Tan war medal when he dies, Sean South, the correct way to grill a steak, who would win a fight between Batman and Spiderman, Elvis vs Buddy Holly, greyhound training, and ferret wrangling.

But it seemed that agreeing on various points like Staunton made a bollix of managing the Irish team, this whiskey tastes good let's have another, that George Bush is an awful langer altogether, didn't Munster have a great game, the Kingston Trio are fab, and that Robbie Keane is overrated, would really limit the topics of conversation. Anyhow polite conversation is boring.

His best birthday present arrives in a week or two, when my sister will deliver her first kid and his fourth grandchild.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Winter Surf

It is cold in Northern California in November. At least in the morning. It warms up later, but at 6:30am on Thanksgiving morning, I was wondering what I was doing as I turned on the defroster in the car to clear my rear window as I pulled out of the driveway. Coffee. Breakfast could wait until later, but I needed coffee right now.

”It’s 41 degrees*!” announced an older gentleman, as he noisily entered the coffee shop. “Winter has arrived!” he declared happily. I recognized him. I think he lives at the top of my street and is always wearing a trilby. Almost four years here, and I still don’t know everyone on the street.

“It’s 41 degrees,” I muttered to Thomas, a work colleague and sometime surf buddy as he hauled his board onto the roof rack. He shrugged. “It’ll warm up when the sun comes up. At this time of year the water is the same temperature all day anyhow.” I shuddered; up to yesterday, it had been almost a year since I braved the chilly NorCal breakers where even in the summer you need a wetsuit. Thomas was wearing a tee shirt. Only on the coldest days have I ever seen him in anything heavier. His tanned face betrays how regularly he surfs, though given how early he hits the beach, it was hard to understand how he got so brown. Dawn Patrol, he calls it. He often hits Lindamar beach in Pacifica pre-dawn and surfs before work. I was once this committed. But kids, work, a torn meniscus, and a million other little things have seen to it that the taste of saltwater is no longer a constant in my life. From the minute I tried surfing, I was bitten. Every weekend, I was the bane of friends, rousing them from Saturday sleep-ins to drive down the coast and paddle into the water. I was the only one who sustained over the long term. Surfing is hard, the learning curve is steep, and most of the surf breaks around San Francisco are not suited to beginners. And the beaches that are suited are crowded. There are few point breaks around here, so before you can catch a wave, you have to be strong enough to paddle through a maelstrom of white water, trying to avoid being washed back to shore by incoming waves, and on occasion having to suffer through the scare of a big wave hold down. That is never pleasant. Did I mention the water is cold? Ireland cold. It’s hard as an adult to keep the kind of focus necessary to learn how to surf. Despite all that, it’s worth it. In the parking lot where I work, there is an old beat up Jeep with a peeling sticker proclaiming, “Surfers Walk on Water.” Silly maybe, but true never the less, and most of us will do what it takes to repeat the experience. A side benefit is the deep relaxation you get after a few hours in the water. The laid back surfer/stoner cliché lives.

The car dips down the steep hill on Highway One just above Pacifica and the ocean stretches before us. The sun is rising and there are no clouds to block the bright orange light, as we squint, palms on forehead, at the Pacific swells, rolling in from the horizon, lining up to break on the pier at Sharp Park. We don’t surf there, no one does. The break is thick and nasty, and the pier makes it too dangerous. We drive past, up over two more hills to Lindamar, a sheltered beach at the end of a long narrow valley, surrounded by a steep, sharp hillside. Pacifica is often shrouded in dense fog, gray and gloomy despite its pretty location, but in Lindamar, the airflow down the mountains can hold the fog at bay and you can often surf in a circle of sunshine surrounded on all sides by fog. It’s a strange place, a mix of red necks, Silicon Valley worker bees, idle beach bums, trailer park denizens, and San Francisco hipsters drawn by the close proximity to the city. People might also prefer Lindamar since Ocean Beach, a break on San Francisco’s western edge, is a wide open, heavy, experts-only beach break, not to be attempted by the faint hearted. Lindamar is less taxing, and over the past few years has attracted a lot of beginners. Much of the growth in surfing is driven by women in their late 20’s and early 30’s – this is not lost on Thomas. Single, he has dated a bevy of surfer chicks, and maintains that Lindamar is the new bar scene, and certainly far better than

The parking lot is almost full. Everyone is getting in a surf before the gluttony that is Thanksgiving. We quickly change, shivering despite the bright sunshine. A quick stretch and it’s into the water. I paddle into the first wave as it breaks, sending freezing water rushing over me and straight down the back of my wetsuit. Ok, I’m awake now. The white water isn’t that heavy, so after a few duck dives, I find myself on the outside. It’s a gorgeous morning, I gaze back briefly at the beach and the surrounding mountains, the sun seems warm after the cold paddle out, and I spend a few minutes resting and soaking up the warmth, listening to the cackle of a few seagulls arguing nearby. A seal breaks water, and swims curiously past. You can feel the surfers tense up. Seals are cute, but they are also shark food, and we are in the middle of what is delightfully known as “The Red Triangle" (aka a Great White breeding ground).

Quickly, I catch a small ripping wave, a short few thrilling seconds, but enough to give a boost to my confidence. I had surfed yesterday for the first time in a year, and didn’t catch anything, I was rusty, my timing a half second off. I kept having to yield to another surfer on every wave I went for (basic surfing etiquette, when more than one persons goes for a wave, the first one up, nearest the wave’s breaking shoulder, owns it).

The waves aren’t big, hip high, with a shoulder high swell hitting every so often. However, they are breaking steeply on the sandbars and I have a long board, so it is going to be hard to catch the bigger ones. Suddenly, I’m further outside, with a sizable swell rolling toward me, and I’m alone, no competition. I turn towards the beach and paddle hard. The swell catches me just as it hits the sandbar and jacks up into a steep wave. Too late, I realize, it may drop out from underneath me, sending me free falling, head over arse, into the maw of the wave before it crashes, pummeling me into the ocean floor. But, I am committed at this stage, and as it catches me, I jump into a squatting position, grab the outside of my board to stabilize it, and turn hard right. My timing is perfect and I am right on the breaking shoulder. I straighten up and dash down the wave, while other surfers paddle furiously, both to get out of my way, and to avoid a hammering. I bottom turn in the shadow of a wall of water and swoop back up the wave face; hitting the lip before turning back down. Pushing my weight onto my front foot, I make the next section, and turn sharply left rushing towards the beach. It seems like an eternity, but for the next few seconds, I am caught perfectly in the curl of the wave, weightless, walking on water, even watching the sun glint off the emerald water and soaking the hillsides in an early morning glow. A few more short turns and the energy that probably started with wind thousands of miles away in the open ocean peters out, and I am left standing in the white water, exhilarated. I haven’t caught a wave that big in a long time. “Woo hoo” yells a neoprene hooded surfer nearby. “Dude, that was steep. I was sure you were going to get creamed, well done!” This is unusual. Surfers are a taciturn bunch, concentrating on incoming swells, adjusting position to catch a wave, or to avoid a pounding or a collision with some beginner, all of which doesn’t leave time for much conversation.

I paddle back out, and pull up beside Thomas. “Killer wave”, he says. “Biggest of the day, and no one fighting you for it. Nice Thanksgiving present!”

My arms are pleasantly tired as I drive home, and my mind is clear and relaxed. I am looking forward to the day’s festivities. We have a large group of friends coming over, and I need to get home to do some cooking. “Daddy, did you catch any waves?” my eldest shouts, as I open the door. “Oh yes I did,” I declare.

* 5 Degrees Centigrade


Monday, January 14, 2008

It's Not Like I Have A Lot Of Free Time But....

For some time now I have wanted to do a triathlon. Having a job, three kids, and a part time gig as a completely unknown musician has largely prevented that particular piece of self realisation. However, my fortieth year on this planet is looming, in fact it passed looming some time back. "Bearing down on me rapidly" might be a more apt description. 40 is now tanked up on speed, driving a fast car, and has just popped over the horizon, accelerator depressed to the max, while laughing maniacally.Therefore, I just signed up for the Wildflower Triathlon in Monterey in early May. A mere three weeks before my inevitable meeting with the onset of middle age. I can't afford a red Porsche, so my midlife crisis will be something I should have tried 10 years ago.

Not that anyone out there should really give a toss, but I figure if I put it up here publicly, I may be more likely to actually train and compete in the event. I should be fine for the swim (I swam competitively for years and I did the Alcatraz swim a few years back), so I know I can go the distance easily. Biking's not a problem as I've done, and do, lots of that. However, here's the rub: I'm not so sure about the run. I tore my meniscus last spring, and the good doctor thought it worthwhile, based on the position of the tear, to avoid surgery and see how/if it mended itself. So far, it seems to be progressing nicely. It still twinges, but I can walk up a stairs or chase my kids without stabbing pain, or my knee popping. However, I won't really won't know how it holds up until I begin running. My plan is to forestall running for as long as possible, and get myself in shape biking to and from work, and swimming at lunch time (there's a pool close to work).

For anyone interested, I am doing the Olympic distance, 0.9 mile open water swim, 40k bike ride, and 10k run.

Advice anyone?

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

1000 Albums To Hear Before You Die

While on the subject of best of lists and the like, The Guardian has compiled a list of the best 1000 albums, with a short blurb on why each one deserves it's place on the list. They did an excellent job. I found little to disagree with, and much I haven't listened too. A trip to Amoeba Records is in my future to fill in some of the gaps.

1000, albums to hear before you die

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Favourite Albums of 2007

These are in no particular order, and not necessarily released on 2007. The only criteria are that I listened to, and enjoyed them, for the first time last year.

Modest Mouse – We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank.
I bought this, and didn’t really listen to it for a while, despite Johnny Marr being involved. When I finally took the time absorb it, it was well worth the effort. I’ve been a fan of the band since The Moon and Antartica. They show a Beatles like glee in using the recording studio, and those super catchy jangly guitar hooks, nicely balance the more arty side of the band. I can’t really say that Johnny Marr changed their sound much, but this is a great album, gorgeously recorded.

Built To Spill – You In Reverse
Dough Martsch and his band can’t put a foot wrong in my world. On this album, the band sounds they sat in the room together and played as a group. There’s a lovely live feel to the recording. BTS have inherited Television’s, (Marquee Moon is a top 10 of all time album to me), arty angular catchy guitar rock mantle. The music feels painted with guitar tone and texture as colors.

Bruce Springsteen – Magic
Warrants a mention for the songs, “Radio Nowhere”, and “Girls In Their Summer Clothes” alone. “Radio Nowhere” is the first song in a long time that I have repeatedly listened to several times in a row. Also, the Boss who will never be mistaken for a Paul McCartney when it comes to catchy melodies, seems to have found a few hummable tunes here. Unfortunately this is also one of the worst mixes I have heard in a while, the album is muddy and over compressed. On headphones not such a bad thing, but on my home system the flaws are very apparent.

Louis Stewart – Overdrive
Louis Stewart, as far as I can tell, is Ireland's only world class jazz musician. The Dublin born guitarist should be a lot more famous than he his, but apparently his desire to live in Ireland short circuited any chances of this. I saw him in NIHE, (now University Of Limerick), when I was in secondary school, and there were less than twenty people at the show. It was my first introduction to jazz, and I was gob smacked by the sheer virtuosity if his playing. I guess he would be considered Be-bop, although I am not very knowledgeable in Jazz subgenres. On this 2006 live album, (the first time I found anything by him on iTunes), He combines technical virtuosity, fast blues lines and complicated, (to my ears), harmonic structures, with a lot of soul. This is when having a good sound system really pays off.

LCD Sound System - Sound Of Silver
I bought this because so many critics raved about it. Although I like electronic music, I haven’t a large collection. What I loved about his was that it was song based. It references 80’s bands like the Human League, New Order, even Talking Heads but is it’s own thing. One of the best albums on this list,

Radiohead-In Rainbows
Given that this has topped every critics end of year poll, there is nothing I can really add, except that Radiohead rediscovered melodies, and discovered a playfulness that they never really had before. Some of the songs sound like the Go Team, who my kids love, that says a lot about the direction Radiohead took on this album.

Joe Pass – Meditation, Solo Guitar
Another Be-bop jazzer, this is an old album from the early 90’s. I had arranged a solo guitar version of the old Jazz chestnut “Autumn Leaves” for a friend’s wedding, upon hearing it my guitar teacher mentioned it sounded Joe Pass like, and played me some of this album. While flattered by the comparison, I am a ham fisted guitarist compared to this legend. This again is a live album, just Pass and his guitar; it is mind blowing how a single instrumentalist can play like a full band. Moving bass lines, melody like chord progressions and tasty single line melodies all seem to be played at once.

Robert Plant and Alison Kraus – Raising Sand.
This has deservedly received a lot of attention. Two great singers on an inspired collaboration. Robert Plant proves yet again that he is one of the greatest vocalists in the history of modern music while Alison Krauss’s harmonies blend clearly and perfectly without ever taking second place. T-Bone Burnett’s production is subtle and ghostly, an autumnal soundscape perfectly suited to these songs of longing and desire.

Tinariwen – Aman Iman: Water Is Life
I blogged about this earlier in the year. Tuarag rebels with guitars. Joyous and Hypnotic. Nothing like any of the other albums on the list.

Honorable Mentions

Grinderman – Grinderman
Nick Cave and a bunch of his mates. The funniest song this year - "No Pussy Blues".

Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
Not as good as Funeral but still very good. Best concert of the year also.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Winter Birthday

 Cute Maya Hood_20071209_0007
This morning on the way to preschool, she hopped out of the car, stopped the first stranger she saw, and proudly proclaimed," My name is Maya, and I'm FOUR!" Not shy, our daughter. At all. I can't believe it's four years since we were shopping for a dining room table and I had to convince my wife that she was going into labor (she was really dead set on getting that table that day). I had to gently explain that despite her fervent wishes, our second baby was coming early. Tash, being experienced at this, said one thing when we got to the hospital: "Epidural. NOW!" My grasp of the written word is not sufficient to describe the look on her face when the doctor told her that the anesthesiologist was two floors down and things were too advanced, so the baby would be well on its way into this mortal coil by the time pain relief arrived. So, Maya said no to drugs and came happily into the world - and has remained that way since.

She's a clever little girl, but a space cadet. You can repeat yourself a million times, but if she's distracted, you might as well be an invisible mute. You could also grow old waiting for her to get dressed in the morning, and there are already mommy-daughter tussles over choice of clothing. Maya is quite happy to kick a soccer ball, or climb a tree, or beat up her younger brother, as long as she is wearing a dress, or skirt, in either pink or purple with matching tights and top. Her favorite item is a pair of pale pink Ugg boots my mother bought her. No matter the weather, the very idea of wearing pants is repugnant to her. And she will stand her ground on that matter. Her teenage years will be interesting. She already has to get the last word in.

My parents own a huge Alsatian (really huge), and he is like a little puppy around her. He took a total shine to her and is quite happy to follow her around. They make quite a pair.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Brandon Bay

Brandon Bay

I've been as sick as a dog the last few weeks. Sinus infection. After I got sick of sleeping, TV and reading, I began playing around with Photoshop, (as you do). This is a photo I took in Brandon, Co Kerry, this time last year, while home on vacation. I wanted to make it look like a painting, as I intend have a Giclee print made of it. I am pleased with it, but I am a Photoshop novice, so any Photoshop gurus out there, feel free to make any suggestions.

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