About Linda Heck

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How A Song Happens: “Today”

I’m still in awe of the Memphis trio K9 Arts.  I never missed a show.  In their heyday back in the 1980s, I showed up for the scene and the beer and everything else, but through the haze, I was studying every note.  My band the Trainwreck shared many a bill with K9, and for a few months in between apartments, I also shared living space with bass player Craig Schindler in the loft above Dent Cleaners (now home of 3 Angels Diner) on Broad Avenue.

Dent Cleaners afforded minimum privacy.  You could hear what everyone else was doing whether you wanted to or not.  Parties, jam sessions, and general mayhem irregularly and  spontaneously erupted.  I rented the room next to artist/musician Robert Fordyce, and Craig lived with his girlfriend Diane Green in the back.  Craig and I were each growing as musicians and songwriters during this time, but neither of us was very happy.  Craig and Diane had a rocky relationship, and I spent most of my time alone in my room working on songs, trying to invent something I couldn’t name by shaping unknown notes into chords, inspired and influenced by the gauntlet of Craig’s playing and singing in K9.

Craig’s lyrics were inscrutable, changing and evolving from performance to performance, with lots of animals.  A particular favorite, “OSS” (for “Ostrich Suicide Song- one of my favorite K9 conventions was the acronym song titles) contains an ostrich, a newt, a frog, a fly, a bird, and a dog.  I’m still caught up by the tentative vulnerability of the vocal part juxtaposed with the majestic sweep of Jim Duckworth’s guitarring.

Months later, after I’d moved out, I came up with a song to Craig.  “Today” was the long-missing 3rd piece of what I’d been calling the K9 Arts Trilogy- even when there were only 2 pieces, a Jim song (“LAFF”) and a Rich song (“After Talking”).  To keep the song from coming across as smugly preachy, I came up with an instrumental break that’s both a nod to K9’s wild heaviness and an attempted foil to the song’s hopeful sweet lyrics.

“Happiness is within you, and it can be Today.”

Billy Surprise

My friend Don Share Facebook-posted a link to a poem called Heart Attack Breath, which Matthew Lee Knowles constructed from the Stephen King novel Thinner.  I’d never even heard of Thinner; although about 20 years ago, I accidentally read The Shining all the way through in one sitting because it so thoroughly scared the living crap out of me that I couldn’t stop.

Never again with the Stephen King.

I liked this Matthew Lee Knowles game, and Couldn’t Not steal his rules and his poem to make another poem by taking the first and last words of every page of Matthew Lee Knowles’s Heart Attack Breath.  I picked the phrase “Billy surprise” from the body of the poem for the title, showing my hand.

Billy Surprise
Thinner trouble
Billy not
Only there
They could
See pie

Some people see God- I see pie.  I imagine Mr. Knowles won’t mind, if he ever gets wind, and Mr. King can bite me.

Un-ironically Kumbaya

I’m looking forward to my reading-or-whatever at IONA this Sunday at 2 pm  in Sewanee.  Whatever the weather, the outcome will be a lovely fall afternoon among friends new and old.

Host and artist Ed Carlos invited me to share song lyrics as part of “An Autumn Assembly of Authors: Poets, Short Story Writers, Novelists, and
Essayists”
.  I’ll accompany myself on acoustic guitar (and maybe also a Jimi Inc. recording or two) (and also I might have props), and also read from personal essays.  I’ll be appearing after my friends and neighbors April Alvarez and Buck Gorrell.

I’m feeling un-ironically kumbaya, excited about the prospect of drinking wine in the afternoon, and hoping it’s cool enough to wear leg-warmers.

Transatlantic Tracking “Transformed” with Jimi Inc.

Traveling transatlantically, arriving at unexpected times, guitar tracks recorded in South London come looking for a proper home- longing to be heard- but your logic board has failed and you are reduced to duct tape and Dixie cups.  What if someone calls during the performance, while you’re running the Jimi Inc. guitar track on your phone?  Is there internet access in the hall so that you can play the tracks live from e-mail?  Comstraints lead to Plan Q (the standby CD-player-to-volume-pedal-to-amplifier), and Plan R (the same set-up with the phone as player).  This Of Course entails re-recording the recordings to the phone, accidentally adding some texture and space by playing them through an old amplifier in the bathroom isolation booth.

Despite- because of- all this convolution, the recordings are air and ground at the same time.  Upon release, they cross paths and converge with the live sounds, becoming also animate, creating waves of offspring combinations, and adding a whole new dimension to rehearsing by one’s self.

Until tomorrow’s live debut, a phone voice memo recording completes this loop of technological whatchamacallit: Transformed 9-14-12

 

 

 

At Your Door, Sewanee

With Garry Collins on drums and Kevin Willis on bass, I’ll be performing the songs from my album Transformed on the McCrory stage this Saturday evening in Sewanee.  I’ve imagined being on the stage of McCrory for years- since my first time there as an audience member- so I’m honored, excited and READY!

This will be my first outing with a band in Sewanee, and I’ve enjoyed hearing things jell as we rehearse and find our way with each other.  It’s interesting how different players insert their own insight and experiences, adding personal histories and musical influences that expand or re-focus songs; and this along with my own process of learning and re-learning songs that I thought I knew like old friends has created new context and discoveries.  (Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t even know there WAS such a thing as a *9/6 time signature, or an F6th 9th chord.)

Friend and collaborator Jimi Inc. will join us on a few songs via recordings he made in London and e-mailed to me.  The constraints of technical difficulties (including my dead computer) have created a hypothetical process of my playing his recorded guitar loops on my iphone through an amplifier, which I imagine sounds very different from what his guitar  originally sounded like as he recorded it on his ipad in his South London flat.  I like the different points in time that will converge on the stage Saturday, the unknown outcome of this iteration of The Experiment- and of the future.

CD copies of Transformed will be for sale in the lobby at the show.  CDs are locally available in Sewanee at Mooney’s (on the way to Monteagle from Sewanee) and on the Tiger Pantry side of the University Bookstore.  CDs and downloads are also available here: http://linda-heck.com/?page_id=106

* It has come to my attention that there is no such thing as “9/6″, which makes sense, because reduced to the lowest common denominator (LCD), 9/6 would be “3”.  So, “3” it is- but, what I really meant was 9/8.  There, now- doesn’t that make you feel better?

“Today”

i.m. Craig Shindler

Linda Heck and the Trainwreck at Earnestine &  Hazel’s, Memphis, TN, 8-4-12.

When the night has said “good-bye”
The stars have bid adieu
Wipe the water from your eyes
Decide what you will do

Doesn’t matter what ails you
It will go away
Little things that you may do
Mean much more than what you say

And I know
that you’ll pull through
because I’ve seen
the strength in you

Pain will go before you know
Let it fall away
Happiness is within you
And it can be to today

copyright Linda Heck/Jagged Trajectory

How a Song Happens: “Transformed”

“In the creative act, the artist goes from intention to realization through a chain of totally subjective reactions. His struggle toward the realization is a series of efforts, pains, satisfaction, refusals, decisions, which also cannot and must not be fully self-conscious, at least on the esthetic plane.”  -Marcel Duchamp

Listen: “Transformed”

Emerging from a years-long spell of domesticity a little over 3 years ago, I hied myself to Memphis for what I like to call The Cameron Antenna Reunion.  Feeling like an inversion of Rip Van Winkle, I carved a path across the state of Tennessee through the leaves that had fallen in my absence, covering the way from Sewanee back to Memphis, my musical home.

Newly awakened as I was, the stirrings of my soul sometimes overwhelmed, and I sought solace with my field-notes journal in this or that restroom off of I-40 exits in towns including Bucksnort.  I’d undertaken an uncertain and nebulous journey back into the unknown, but I discovered that if I paid attention, there were signs showing the way.  Every time I stopped to breathe, I looked behind me and found confirmation in the straight knowing path I’d carved through the leaves.

It had been over 10 years since I’d last played music in Memphis, and I was shaking like a leaf on stage that August 14th of 2009 with John McClure and Kurt Ruleman, but the audience response confirmed my own feeling of re-ignition.  I remember Doug Easley saying, “Linda Heck’s on FIRE!”

I was still floating the next morning as I drove down Cooper to the coffee shop, allowing myself the fantasy that I’d get Jim Dickinson to produce my embryonic album, even though I hadn’t realized I was considering making an album until that thought quickened within me; and even though I knew that Jim Dickinson was gravely ill.  As soon as I entered Otherlands, I heard the news that he’d died that morning.

I’d only known the man well enough to nod hello in passing, but I was torn up along with everyone else.  It soothed my soul that I was among like-minded others, assembled for the joyful purpose of making and hearing music, and maybe dancing a little.  I felt more strongly than ever that I’d been standing on the shoulders of those who’d stood on the shoulders of those who’d paved the way for all of us in my dysfunctional Memphis music family.  There was revelation in hearing Neon Wheels throwing down songs I knew through the souls of my feet, had played bass on in the band Kings of the Western Bop, and these haptic memories stirred my soul and shook me more than a little.  Kinesthetic sense took over, thinking and speaking became unnecessary, and at some point in the afternoon, I was surprised to discover myself hugging a verklempt Harris Scheuner in broad daylight on Madison Avenue, comforting him…

But maybe it was I who needed comfort.

I decamped from the Antenna scene to the Hi-tone for Paul Taylor’s Share album release party later that evening.  I cherish the diagram Paul drew in my field-notes during our wordless conversation on the sidewalk out front, reminding me to look beneath reality’s blanket into the 3rd dimension.  There’s no documentation of my conversation with Jim Spake inside at the bar, but the interaction stayed with me and later started gurgling to the surface as I became possessed by the urge to write the song that would become “Transformed”.

The Song coming over you, coming upon you, feels closer to possession than anything else.  You’re aware that you’re not in your right mind, and that The Song has taken over, crowding out coherent thought.  The Song is tugging at your hem demanding attention, begging to be known.  You are sometimes aware that you are channeling an indefinable force, that your soul has been pressed into service without your permission, providing temporary residence for something that burns through you like a forest fire, consuming all available fuel and leaving you drained.

You can’t tell The Song to go away, to take the cup from your lips and go bother someone else.  The Song will not be denied, and you- the host- are at its mercy.

You learn to let The Song simmer on the back burner while you go about your petty existence.  You learn to put a lid on The Song’s becoming fully fledged, knowing that pure solitude will coax The Song into becoming.  You learn that you are a director, a guide, a midwife, and that you can parse The Song into chunks recognizable as verses and choruses and bridges.  You learn where to put the lines on the page, how much space to leave for the lines that you’ve learned will follow, how to fill in the blanks with categories of words: action verb, concrete noun, textured adjective.  You learn that sometimes, the page will have more blank spaces than words; and you learn to leave the spaces until you’ve lived more life, to stay in motion until some unfelt remnant becomes animate and allows itself to escape into notes and melodies and chords and words and singing.  You learn that sometimes, spaces are best left unfilled.

You’re a bystander at the mercy of The Song, watching yourself sobbing, thinking of your friends in mourning, wishing you could comfort them, powerless to do so.  It’s easy to let yourself sing “I was thinking of my friends”, and obvious to adjoin “and how they’re missing you today”; now you’ve dropped into the pocket, and The Song reveals that its title is “Transformed”.  Your fingers find places to rest on the fret-board, and you trust that your mind will catch up with learning to play the song.  The sets stack up, your conscious mind starts to guide and steer, making tiny corrections, nudging feelings into noun/verb agreement, and “Transformed” unfurls.

You sing about your friends, and you sing about the space between the yes and no, and then you want to expand and connect this to something greater- some unknown Out There, some Beyond- and you start looking with random intention outside of yourself- your notes from 8/18/09 state you read Sigmund Freud, Ernest Becker, and Spinoza; and you really can’t say now whether any of this shows in “Transformed”, whether anyone else can taste these elements, these slight hints of nutmeg and cinnamon in your casserole.  Although you can’t explain it, you know that somehow, your furrowed soul received and grew these elements outside of your awareness.

You keep chasing the elusive recipe, distilling the emotions and urges into even more ephemeral lyrics, and the word “alchemy” occurs to you.  Although you more or less know what alchemy is, you are drawn to look it up in the OED, where you discover a quote from Shakespeare’s sonnet #33 that you decide to steal, and suddenly everything coalesces and makes sense, and you feel like a minor deity with the power of collaborating with Shakespeare, twisting his words, now a forceps helping to midwife “Transformed”.

You sing and play “Transformed” alone in your room, over and over, until it is carved into the tablet of your soul, and then you play it some more- you can’t stop playing it.  “Transformed” is alive, containing all that you encountered in Memphis and in yourself- all that, and beyond.

In hindsight, the song “Transformed” was a harbinger, announcing in advance the outcome of the process I would experience in producing my own album, auguring that I, myself, would be ever transformed.  Knowing it is too much to ask, I dare hope that “Transformed”- both the song and the album- has the power to similarly touch and transform others.  I am just the messenger.

(Recording notes and lyrics for “Transformed”, scroll down to #14, second-to-last song )

Ghost In the Machine

“You’re fine”, said the doctor.  “Just a little hole in the acromion where I took some bone out.”

Well, all right… if you say so.  Fine.  Of course.

“Does it hurt?”

“Yes, and it’s also numb.  May I take a picture of the x-ray?”

The picture you take of the x-ray hanging on the light-box shows horizontal slats of light.  The doctor says the photo shows something that’s not there, that the light tubes illuminating the box are vertical.  Curious, he starts taking the light box apart and trying to unfurl the mystery, much like he did with your shoulder.

The panels of the light box are easily replaced, the slatted pattern of non-existent light unsolved, ghost in the machine.

You’re fine.

Memphis in August, 2012: What I Learned, Installment the Second

You advertise “door prizes and surprises” on the flyers for your Memphis album release event, thinking you could unload some flotsam and/or jetsam from your Back In the Day hoardings.  You forget all of this in the home-leaving flurry, remembering only upon finding yourself in Memphis surprisingly door prize-free.

During the ritualistic visit to Burke’s Books, you decide to buy some books from the cheap shelves and use THOSE for door prizes.  You’ve given away countless cds- you’re sick, actually, of giving away cds- so giving away books and talking about the hard times and dark nights of the soul the books and their authors saw you through, or about the songs they inspired, makes sense.

As much sense as the expansion of this aleatoric acquisition episode to include Burke’s owner and author Corey Mesler donating a signed copy of one of his own books, and although you are not asked to choose, you request Following Richard Brautigan.  You’d somehow missed reading Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing In America until preparing to read this book of Cory’s; and if not for Corey and his Searching, you might have never felt the home-coming of reading Brautigan’s Trout Fishing.

What really happened at the show: You were in sort of a trance for the entire evening, amazed to be playing such beautiful music with lovely old friends for the generous audience in this haunted former brothel across from the train station.  People were reduced to snatching their own damn books, which worked out pretty well.  You took the Woody Allen one for yourself, since you’re in charge of this un-randomized random experiment.  Corey’s book, having been set aside still sealed in its bag for someone really special, went to saxophonist über alles Jim Spake at the end of the night.

I love it when everything goes according to plan.