Author Archives: David Stahler Jr.

About David Stahler Jr.

David Stahler Jr. is the award-winning author of six novels, including the Truesight Trilogy, Doppelganger, and Spinning Out. He lives in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.

A Week of Rain

Welcome to another weekly installment of “Free Tune Friday.” To hear last week’s tune and other past entries, click HERE.

This tune was written in the aftermath of the “Great Ice Storm of ’98.” That January, the Northeast was hammered by an ice storm that ravaged New England, upstate New York, and the eastern provinces of Canada. For whatever reason, the storm spared the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, my homeland. I had just moved that fall back to Vermont from Boston and was living in The Willey House on the Lyndon Institute campus where I teach. For a solid week it rained and rained and rained, but for us…no ice. I don’t know if it was our location–sheltered between the Green Mountains of Vermont and the White Mountains of New Hampshire–that did it, but it was an incredible bit of good fortune considering the devastation inflicted on other areas around us.

The tune is a little different from my normal fare, featuring a drum track that has an almost Latin swing to it, with brushes replacing sticks, matched with a guitar solo that’s almost Santana-like, though when I listen to the song again now, I hear a little bit of mid-80’s U2. I use dual vocal lines a lot in recording–a little trick I stole from one of my musical idols, Elliott Smith–but until this song, I’d never tried applying it to a guitar solo before.

The lyrics speak to the kind of malaise that a week of stormy weather can bring, though it ends on an upbeat note. In the house I grew up in was an framed needlepoint, stitched with an old adage, “After the Rain Comes the Sunshine.” It was a relief to make it through that January week unscathed.

LYRICS

A Week of Rain

The water keeps on dripping off the eaves.
I wonder how long it will
Keep on falling against the sill.
It makes me lazy for another day.

I wander, seeking out from room to room,
Fearing what illness should attend.
Is it upstairs by the bed
Or in the basement, lurking by the stairs?

It moves me through new patterns of disdain
And will for some time still.
With this ending comes the past;
Roads are clearing for tomorrow’s drive.

Through windows I see brightness all around.
I think it’s time. Welcome home.

To listen to this tune, click HERE. To download, right-click on the link and select “Save Link As.” For best results, apply headphones. Thanks for listening! Be sure to come back for next Friday’s installment…

(Written, performed, and recorded by David Stahler Jr. All rights reserved.)

 

Major Duomo

Welcome to another weekly installment of “Free Tune Friday.” This week’s song comprises part two of our mini-sequence. To hear last week’s tune and other past entries, click HERE.

14628_2_orThis week, we continue our Euro tour, moving from Vondelpark in Amsterdam to Florence’s great cathedral. Three weeks on the continent brought us many incredible sights, but for some reason, the Duomo–the great cathedral in the heart of Florence–left more of an impression on me than other, more famous landmarks. In my memory, it dwarfs the city around it, and its exterior panels, a patchwork of pink and green marble, give it a character I hadn’t seen in other cathedrals. The inside is cool and vast, hushed with light gleaming down beneath the dome that gives the structure its name, gleaming between the columns, making me feel like I’m wandering through some ancient forest of stone.

Like the Duomo’s interior, the song is quiet and laid-back, while the commanding presence its exterior evokes is reflected in the song’s title–a bad pun (is there any other kind?) on majordomo. Lots of drippy guitar and two short verses capped by a dual guitar solo characterize the song. Like its companion, “Vondelpark”, the tune reminds me of Yo La Tengo a little, though its brevity and some of the guitar effects are inspired by GBV.

When I return to song-writing (hopefully this coming year), I think I’ll write more of these “place” songs. They make wonderful odes, little mental post-cards; whenever I listen to this tune, I find myself back there, in the square, in the cathedral, like a child, in awe of its majesty and grace.

LYRICS:

Major Duomo

She rises up and stares down at the stacks
That squirm below, strangled under shadow’s hold.
Nothing else competes, nothing else looks complete
Next to the dome that houses the soul.

She calls the shots, dressed up in colored blocks.
Gone with the fold, drawn in by distant stare,
I crawl inside and run on whispered air,
Grasping the bones that hold up the sky.

To listen to this tune, click HERE. To download, right-click on the link and select “Save Link As.” For best results, apply headphones. Thanks for listening! Be sure to come back for next Friday’s installment…

(Written, performed, and recorded by David Stahler Jr. All rights reserved.)

Vondelpark

Welcome to week six of The Accidental Novelist’s “Free Tune Friday” feature! (You can check out previous entries HERE.) This week’s tune represents a little milestone from my recording days and the first of a two-parter…

When I first started writing and recording songs in the mid-90’s, I used a little Tascam “Portastudio” four-track cassette recorder. Those were heady days–I was living the Boston area and cranking out one song after another. I had very little recording skill–to match my meager guitar-playing skills–but it didn’t matter. All these great DIY bands were inspiring me to just cut loose and have fun.

Several years later, I decided to upgrade my equipment and go digital. So I plopped down a bunch of money for a ZOOM MRS-1044 multi-track recorder. Ten separate tracks that could be batched to create an infinite number of layers, a built-in programmable drum kit, built-in guitar effects and amplifier emulators–the gadget blew my mind. My recording possibilities increased exponentially. I did miss a little bit of the old four-track cassette sound–that slightly hissy, lo-fi AM radio quality–but I never seriously looked back. Of course, the “Zoom Box,” as I call it, is an antiquated relic in an age of Macbooks and recording software.

This week’s tune was the first song I recorded on the new multi-track. Having drums elevated my songs to a whole new level, and for a canned drum kit, the sound impressed me. I had great fun layering the guitar in this song–I basically recorded three separate lead guitar lines independent of each other against the rhythm guitar. The tracks intersected and separated back and forth, dancing in and out of each other, creating a wonderfully textured effect. As a long-time Sonic Youth fan (Daydream Nation was one of my first CD purchases as a teenager), it was so gratifying to have the opportunity to capture a little bit of that raw guitar sound against a rock-steady, simple drumbeat that I’ve always loved them for.

vondelbridgeLyrically, the song derives its inspiration from my first trip to Europe. My wife and I had just moved to Vermont. I was going to start teaching at my alma mater, Lyndon Institute, that fall. That July, Erica and I threw all our stuff into the on-campus house we were renting, grabbed our backpacks, and headed off for a three-week tour of the continent. The track’s title comes from our trip to Vondelpark in the heart of Amsterdam, a lush oasis of canals, flowing willows, and greenery in the midst of the beautiful Dutch capital. After five wonderful but exhausting days in Paris, it was a refreshing change of pace to spend a sunny afternoon along the grassy banks. Later that night, we went to see Yo La Tengo, one of my favorite bands who just happened to be on tour, perform at a club in the city–the perfect day!

Next week, it’s off to Florence…

LYRICS:

Vondelpark

He wandered out despite the embers in his eyes,
Smothering them beneath the darkened lens’ core.
Fighting back all the urges that rose up to bite him,
He still could smile just like them.

He slipped around the freaks still beating on their drums
And shied away from older couples wanting more.
Driven by the shield that always hungered for nobody,
That’s how he wanted things to be.

He finally found the place where no one ever goes
And slipped into the song that haunted him no more.
So caught up in the world he made he never noticed
Nobody wondered who he was.

Like some leftover Eden, a place that knows no seasons
And never needs a reason to make you stay.
Between the always Adams and ever Eves still laughing
Lies the tree that matters that no one needs,
They’ve all had enough to eat;
They can’t hear the apple weep.

To listen to this tune, click HERE. To download, right-click on the link and select “Save Link As.” For best results, apply headphones. Thanks for listening! Be sure to come back for next Friday’s installment…

(Written, performed, and recorded by David Stahler Jr. All rights reserved.)

Prospero’s Song (Rounded With a Sleep)

Welcome to week five of The Accidental Novelist’s “Free Tune Friday” feature! (You can check out previous entries HERE.) This week’s tune taps into my literary background with a look at one of my favorite characters…

So after several weeks of pop-punk and rock-anthem intensity, I’m taking a break this Friday to introduce a somewhat mellower song with a literary bent. This tune comes from the tail-end of my collection, a time when I started placing a little more emphasis on my lyrics. For a long time, I saw vocals as just another instrument. Lyrics were verbal sounds meant to convey the melody and compliment all the other instruments in a song. Oddly enough, for being a writer and “language” person, I paid little attention to many of the lyrics I heard in songs (unless they were just plain bad–which many are), which is one of the reasons I suspect I was drawn to Guided By Voices, whose lyrics–while weird and wonderful–are often abstract, cryptic. You can get away with it more in a song because the words are coming at you and through you–they’re moving, rather than static like poems that lie passive on the page, at the mercy of our eyes.

Musically, there is little to say. Compared with most of my recordings, the song is spare and quiet, heavy on the bass and low tones, with verses that shift from discordant to harmonious. There is some guitar threading in the later verses, which I always liked, reminding me in some off-beat way of Archers of Loaf, one of the more underrated guitar bands of the last couple decades.

This song draws from one of my all-time favorites–Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Shakespeare’s last play captured me from the start with its magical themes, characters, and verses, with its comedic conversion of revenge into forgiveness, and with its wisdom in letting go of hatred and giving in to fate and time with a grace that’s so difficult for us to achieve as flawed human beings. The lyrics are sung in my voice, but the words are Prospero’s–a meditation on his daughter Miranda’s fate and his own as he prepares to take leave of his island. Call it my effort to crystallize what, for me, this play is really about.

I suppose it’s odd that I, a younger man at the time, would have been so drawn to Prospero, an aging father who willingly relinquishes everything he holds dear. (Like many, I’ve never been able to help not seeing him as an alter-ego for the retiring Shakespeare, taking his final leave from London and the stage.) Maybe it’s because, for better or for worse, I’ve got “an old soul,” as my friend Bill once told me. Regardless, when the time comes I hope I can accept my own eventual diminishment with as much poise and grace as Prospero does.

LYRICS

Prospero’s Song (Rounded With a Sleep )

Though the waves rule the shore,
They do because I sway them,
Wanting everything restored;
The moment is my making.
Men feel terror as the breaking
Shakes the ships, while beside me
My art trembles and mercy moves her lips.

She is tender, she is bright,
With the beauty of the pure:
Still a child, soon a wife.
I do not have the right
To contain her in my own
Sequestered world, desecrated
By the failures she doesn’t know are mine.

So I’m going home for her,
Where she’ll no longer need me,
Leaving golems, freeing sprites
Once held within my orbit.
Though I gain a loss, I’ll eat it
With a smile, and in returning
I will close the book and start to fade away.

To listen to this tune, click HERE. To download, right-click on the link and select “Save Link As.” For best results, apply headphones. Thanks for listening! Be sure to come back for next Friday’s installment…

(Written, performed, and recorded by David Stahler Jr. All rights reserved.)

 

The Breeze That Turns the World

Welcome to week four of The Accidental Novelist’s “Free Tune Friday” feature! (You can check out the first three entries HERE.) To celebrate the feature’s one month anniversary, I’m pulling out all the stops with a bang-up tune…

Everyone is allowed at least one “Rock Anthem,” so this one’s mine. For about ten years straight (from the mid-90’s through the mid-00’s) about 90% of the music I listened to was Guided by Voices. Considering Robert Pollard and company released a new album practically every other week, it wasn’t hard to find plenty of variety. To this day, some of my favorite GBV tunes are  Pollard’s off-beat-but-still-rocking anthems. (Check out “Don’t Stop Now” if you want a sense of what I’m talking about.) There’s nothing better than a balls-out, stand-on-your-chair, wave-your-lighter-in-the-air kind of tune to get your blood pumping and make you feel like you’re alive. That’s what this week’s entry aims for.

In classic rock anthem fashion, the song starts off with a thumping bass drum, followed by a short guitar line. Then, it’s all in. Two verses follow, set to a throbbing pulse of distorted bass, guitar, and cymbals that find their inspiration in Ciccone Youth’s cover of Madonna’s “Burnin’ Up.” The intensity builds before breaking through the clouds and out into an extended solo dominated first by a pair of complimentary vocal lines, then followed by dual (dueling?) guitar lines. I’ve never been much of a guitar virtuoso–bass is my thing–but I somehow stumbled onto something here that I probably couldn’t replicate now if I tried.

Cheesy? Hell, yeah! But it’s the kind of cheese I can embrace–an unabashed, in-your-face, melodic sort of glory. Ween is a master of the kind of uninhibited genre-stealing rock-out I’ve come to love them for, and if I’ve manage to capture even a tiny bit of their anthem magic, the tune is a success.

The lyrics are spare and somewhat cryptic, though I think you could call it a love song of sorts and stand on solid ground. What is “the breeze that turns the world”? It’s primal, like Whitman’s “original energy.” It’s futile and absurd, like the rock to Camus’ Sisyphus alluded to in the second verse. But it’s also necessary and useful, if only we can keep the proper perspective.

LYRICS:

The Breeze That Turns the World

The breeze that turns the world
Swept me up as I stepped off the edge.
We whirled around and turned,
Then it brought me up a girl;
She completed everything.
It’s the hardest thing to see
How easy life can be if you only try
Not to keep your eye on everything.

Chase meaning ’round the field,
Hold genius to appeal.
The boulder makes a seat
Much better than the hill
Which it eyes hungrily.
It’s the hardest thing to do,
Holding principles and truths
That could always die,
That can only die.

To download this tune, right-click HERE and select “Save Link As.” For best results, apply headphones. Thanks for listening! Come back next week for another tune…

(Written, performed, and recorded by David Stahler Jr. All rights reserved.)

 

The Gated Dream

Welcome to the third weekly installment of our free tune series. Scroll down to the bottom to listen to and/or download this week’s entry. To check out previous weeks’ selections, go here

NOTES:

I never considered myself a punk rocker (too happy and well-adjusted, I guess), but I spent enough time in my teens and twenties listening to the Violent Femmes, Fugazi, and Buzzcocks, among other bands, to consider myself a fan of the genre. At least a little bit of that sensibility is brought to bear in this week’s tune.

We start off with a languid little intro. No drum track, just a bit of manual tapping on the cymbal pads for accompaniment. Then the song opens up–a driving, discordant guitar line, naked and alone, after which the bass and drums join together in lockstep. I’ve always loved the contrast between the leisurely pace of the vocals against the frenetic tempo of the instrumentals. And I had great fun adding a few extra layers of guitar in the second half.

The song is short and sweet–two verses, no chorus. Almost two decades of listening to GBV have taught me the value of brevity. Lyrically, a little abstract and somewhat ambiguous–another trait I learned from Robert Pollard. So what is The Gated Dream? A reactionary commentary on the degradation of today’s youth at the hands of progressive educational policies or a populist condemnation of the growing concentration of wealth and social stratification? I sing, you decide.

LYRICS:

The Gated Dream

He does the kind of things
You’ll talk about tomorrow,
Then suddenly realize that
You were right the first time.
Wasn’t it fun?
Wasn’t it too much fun?

So put yourself into this scene,
Throw the blinders out, grasp the edge
Of what’s to come.
You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find:
Pretty brutes who always ask for more;
It’s all they know.

So maybe now’s the time to save
For that beautiful community,
The gated dream.
Sweet little things can stay outside
And go place to place, try to sell
Their self-esteem.

To download this tune, right-click here and select “Save Link As.” For best results, apply headphones. Thanks for listening! Be sure to come back for next Friday’s installment…

(Written, performed, and recorded by David Stahler Jr. All rights reserved.)

 

Barnacles and Props

A quick thanks to those of you who stopped by for last week’s inaugural entry to the “Tune of the Week” Club. (Or was it “Free Tune Friday”? Either way, somebody better come up with something better fast…) It was great hearing from some of you (My fellow Pocket Monster, Jesse! Dan D.! Cierra! Hallie!). If you dig what you hear, let me know. And if you know others who might enjoy these songs, pass the word! To download other weeks’ entries, go here.

NOTES:

This week’s song is one of my personal favorites. I always start out writing tunes with just an acoustic guitar. During recording, things happen, and the songs can go in strange directions. I’ve always felt like I was channeling my inner Crazy Horse when I recorded this tune, though coming back to it now, I suspect my years of listening to Pavement ended up coming into play more. Can’t go wrong either way, I suppose.

There’s a pleasant sort of dreaminess to this tune, a laid-back groove with some nice scratchy guitar for texture. After the many layers in last week’s song, you’ll find a little more openness here, a few more empty spaces, particularly in the “bridge” after the second chorus–four ringing chords followed by the tiniest of solos a la Neil Young, who I idolize. But never fear–there’s still the big sound near the end, breaking loose in the final chorus, then capped with a quiet refrain. Ah!

Lyrically, my neuroticism is on full display. All the elements of life that seemed so simple when we were young turn out to be not so simple. Our psyches wear with age, and we grow more anxious the more we absorb time’s accumulation. It builds upon us like barnacles on a floating whale. The props hold us up, they keep us going. In all this, it’s hard to know what’s been lost and what’s been gained. And yet, we keep on trying.

LYRICS:

Barnacles and Props

What’s the price for being better? I don’t know.
Do you have to drop the treasure in the moat?
I was watching as you neared the edge;
I followed through the air the gold you threw.
And when you left, I saw it sink and thought that maybe
I could be a little more like you.

Do you feel lighter or more lonely now,
Free from all the old props that you used to know?
I still seem to carry two or three
Barnacles of vice that cling to me.
And if I could dissolve the glue then maybe
I could be a little more like you.

When will it be my time to rise? I don’t know.
Break out from the weeds that clutter up the moat,
Break out on the scene a whole new me,
A whole new me that no one’s ever seen.
And if I could dissolve the glue then maybe
I could be a little more like you.

Break out on the scene a whole new me,
A whole new me that no one’s ever seen.
And when we meet, you’ll call me prince, and then I’ll know
I’ve become a little more like you.

To download this tune, right-click here and select “Save Link As.” For best results, apply headphones. Thanks for listening! Be sure to come back for next Friday’s installment…

(Written, performed, and recorded by David Stahler Jr. All rights reserved.)

A Golden Age

Welcome to the first installment of “Free Tune Friday”! (Don’t think I’ll stick with that, but it’s the best I could come up with on short notice). To learn more about this project and check out other songs, go HERE. To learn more about this tune, read on…

NOTES:

My little homage–in an indirect way, at least–to the Britpop of my younger days. The tune starts off with a heavy back-beat that runs relentlessly through, nearly to the end, like a violently ticking clock. After years of dabbling on the old Tascam four-track, I was enamored by my new ZOOM “Multi-Trak” Digital Studio with its built-in programmable drum machine and wanted give my new rhythm slave some props. Beats, then bass, then a wall of sound–not terribly original, I suppose, but the only tune I’ve ever used that trick on, so I give myself a pass.

Going from four tracks to a conceivably infinite number was like setting a home-schooler loose in Disneyland with a liter of Jolt. Whee! I have no idea how many layers of guitar I wove together–each with its own sound–but it’s at least four. For good measure, I threw in a track banged out on the old family Casio keyboard from the ’80s that sort of still works. My favorite part comes after the final chorus–a full minute and a half of noise that builds to a lovely little crescendo. Then the drums cut out and the guitars linger before trickling to an end. (You can tell my years of listening to Husker Du paid off here.)

The song’s title speaks to an old archetype that I often come back to. Whether it’s Eden or the opening lines of Ovid’s Metamorphosis–the idea that the past was somehow better, somehow more virtuous, more innocent and pure is a seductive one, rarely true. The lyrics speak to feelings of regret, of feeling tainted by time, of hungering for some idyllic past. But freedom comes in seeing the Golden Age for the fallacy that it is.

LYRICS:

A Golden Age

The riddle stays; it hides amid the faces,
Still teasing me to look behind.
It should explain this constant change in new words;
This waiting is no good to me.

The sadness of the October image
Pulls all the red out of the sky.
All growing pains converge from different stages;
Old habits are no good for me.

The would-be king has squandered all his greatness;
His treasures are no good to him.
The reducing years have formed a blurry instant;
You can never be what you were.

Chorus:

Running through the tall grass, hiding in the fields,
Smiling at the old hills golden with the trees,
Looking for the younger self — it was never here.
Finding out set you free.

To download this tune, right-click here and select “Save Link As.” For best results, apply headphones. Thanks for listening! Come back next week for another tune…

(Written, performed, and recorded by David Stahler Jr. All rights reserved.)

Getting Koi

Afternoon VisitIn a recent post for The Vermont Bookshelf, I gave readers a little peek at my writing digs. In the piece, I mentioned an owl had been coming for a weekly visit, and sure enough–a few days after I posted the article–it returned, closer this time, on the near side of the pond, swooping around the corner between the garage and the woodshed and up into the birches about twelve yards away from my window. I managed to snap a quick pic for my Facebook page. It was a huge hit. There’s something alien and ethereal about these shy creatures.

IMG_3333I still see my friend winging about the neighborhood from time to time, but lately I have had another frequent visitor: what I assume to be a mink (or are there two of them?) has been coming to the pond to catch fish. The mink have been coming for several years now, often around this time of year when the pond ice is just starting to open up along the edges. The fish are still in their winter sleep, easy pickings–like shopping in a supermarket, I imagine–and a good reward for lasting through the long winter. The giant small-mouth bass I once had in the pond got cleaned out a few years ago by this mink (or his parents) and the rest were lost when I had the pond drained and scraped out that summer. But several koi from a larger pond up above, introduced years ago by the family that once lived in the house next door, wash down from time to time, often growing to great size. I’ve watched blue herons spear them along the edges in summer, but it seems the mink has a taste for them, as well. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the koi–giant versions of the goldfish I used to keep as a boy–must stand out like golden flames in the water’s dark.

IMG_3331I’ve tried to grab a few photos over the last couple days from my desk, but the clever mink are too quick and too far away to get much beyond these grainy shots. Still, it’s been a nice distraction watching the inky curls bound through the March snow, and even more entertaining watching them drag the stunned orange carp nearly as big as themselves. Another little reminder that winter’s hold will soon be letting go.

(Click on any of the pictures for a bigger image.)

IMG_3332

Where I Write

My friend, writer Beth Kanell, solicited this entry for The Vermont Bookshelf. Thought I’d post it here, as well, for those interested in knowing “where the magic happens”:

stahlerwritingroom3My office is a sun-porch off the back of our house that we winterized a few years ago. Six windows fill it with light. It looks out across the backyard toward the pond–a beautiful setting that sometimes distracts with its little dramas: the deer, turkeys, foxes, moose, and bear that come wandering through; the owl that’s taken to paying weekly afternoon visits; the herons, kingfishers, mink, and even osprey that are drawn to the pond’s fish; five different species of ducks and so many more varieties of songbirds–all welcome distractions.

stahlerwritingroom2My writing desk is a small oak table from quite a few generations back–nothing fancy. I have a file cabinet to my left and another small table to the right for the jatoba chest that holds my Scottish smallpipes. I take them out to play from time to time when I need a break. A collection of knickknacks lines the window sill above my laptop–a green beer bottle, a statue of the Greek muse of poetry my mother brought me from the Getty, a ceramic jar a friend made me, spent cartridges from deer I’ve taken in hunting season, a smooth stone, two statues of Shakespeare, figurines of an elephant and a frog reading a book–little totems that found a place at one time, then settled in to stay.

Bookshelves line the opposite wall. Guitars, a mandolin, Irish whistles, amplifiers, stacks of boardgames fill the rest of the space. I love my office, my refuge. I keep it tidy. I don’t listen to music when I write–I need silence to think. I don’t know if I could work without a room to myself. Perhaps I could write perfectly well somewhere else, but I’m perfectly content not to find out.

stahlerwritingroom1