Giants are diving.

The Diving Board

Most of this blog’s followers are people with whom I share an interest in reading or writing poems, and poetry is incredibly important to me, but I am also a songwriter with an online music project called Giants of Diving. I write, record, and produce all of the music alone in a modest (but powerful) home studio.

The benefits of working alone will be familiar to poets: the joy of solitude, total creative control, and with lyric writing as with poetry, the sense of a communion with language; on the best days, it’s just you and the words, and the feeling that this is exactly where you want — or need — to be.

Making music is different, at least the way I do it. I try to create a full band sound on my own, which means recording each instrument one track at a time. Writing the songs is the easy part, relatively. It’s something I’ve been doing, and getting steadily better at I think, since I was seventeen. The other relatively easy part is the playing. Recording the tracks doesn’t actually take much time. The real challenge comes in the mixing and production phases. These are hard things to do alone. They require a lot of repeated listening, experimentation, and tremendous patience. You try one reverb setting on a vocal – you listen – you try another setting – you listen – you try another setting… you get the picture. It’s not a process for the faint of heart, especially when it is YOUR OWN VOICE you’re listening to — again and again. Remember the first time you heard a taped playback of yourself and you couldn’t believe how strange you sounded? Multiply that experience by 100.

Despite the differences in process, I suppose I make music and poetry for essentially the same reasons. I love following the spark of an idea to its conclusion and being surprised by where it ends up. I love funneling big ideas through my unique filter and then releasing them into the world. I love looking back at something I created and knowing that I worked hard to bring it to life.  Whether I’m re-recording a guitar solo just one more time after working on it all night or I’m revising a poem through its fifteenth draft, the motivations are the same.

So I’m glad to have both poetry and music, and I’m grateful that they are so different in the making. When my passion for one ebbs, the other creative outlet is there for me — offering inspiration.

To give my music a try, visit Giants of Diving on Soundcloud or go to giantsofdiving.com.

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Recitation in Six

brace yourself for morning
peer out between the blinds
could be a plague of frogs
or snow falling sideways
more likely it’s stillness
and a chance to observe

today I’ll rise early
and turn on some music
the New World Symphony
a long time favorite
so familiar and yet
still so full of secrets

Paul chastises my taste
calling it commonplace
no point in arguing
he’s been impossible
since that last publisher
passed on his manuscript

Brahms envied Dvorak
his melodic gift for
spinning variations
like symphonic snowflakes
what’s good enough for Brahms
is good enough for me

and the last thing I need
as I savor each note
like California wine
is Paul disrupting my
search for meaning in the
silent spaces between

What’s Your Favorite Colour?

I imagine our long-term memories as being like small art galleries with limited wall space reserved for life’s most mind-altering moments.  These memories stay with us because we’ve stored them in a prominent place. They continually reshape who we are because they are always available to be viewed, recontextualized and reconsidered.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard Living Colour’s Cult of Personality.
I was riding the bus home from a high school baseball game.  It was 1990 – my senior year.  I rode a lot of buses home from games that year, but this is the only one I can recall.  I have no idea what team we played that day or who won the game, but the music blaring out of the bus’s ceiling speaker made an indelible impression.
The song was equal parts catchy and confusing.  It made my brain work.  The riff was unmistakably heavy metal, but the vocals were full-throated soul.  The drums hit hard but laid back off the beat just enough to feel funky.  I had never heard anything approaching such a combination before.  To a child raised on Motown with a burgeoning interest in heavy rock, this felt like revolution.  What made it all the more special was my sense that no one around me was experiencing this new music in quite the same way that I was.  This revolution felt personal.
And the guitar solo.  It opened my mind.  I can’t make out all of the notes, and I don’t care.  Vernon Reid plays the guitar like he’s wrestling an alligator, and to this day when the solo crescendos (at the 3:45 mark), I experience a nearly overpowering urge to break stuff – in the best possible way.
It’s no exaggeration to say that hearing Cult of Personality for the first time was a transformational experience.  It permanently altered my appreciation of music.