May 29, 2013

A reader responds.

Dear Ask A Punk -
I haven't read all of your posts but I've read enough of them to know that you usually do a pretty good job of approaching a question & answer from nearly every possible angle, sometimes too many angles, but as a woman I can tell you that you reeeaally missed the boat with today's post about online sexual relationships [note: She is referring to the post I put up 2 weeks ago: re: Online Relationships and virtual sex ] especially what you said to "Wholesome-ish."

I'm a 36 year old woman. I'm still pretty good-looking if I do say so myself, and still get flirted with sometimes. I'm also a single mother of two who is working a full-time job and taking classes.  You can only imagine how busy and tightly-scheduled every day of my life is. Every hour is accounted for. There isn't any time to really meet guys, or date and even if there is, "dating" and scheduling dates, ie: sex, is nearly impossible, and that is if I can even find a guy who won't run screaming at the mention of "I have kids." And you really have to then be even MORE leery of the guys who are too happy to know you have kids. You have no idea. Also, I don't live in a huge city, so that also limits the pool of possible suitors.

But I'm only 36. I get horny. Sometimes very horny. I'm supposed to be at my sexual peak after all, right? So what am I going to do? I'll tell you what I'm going to do, like generations of single mothers before me: after the kids are asleep and the kitchen is cleaned and I can finally do something about it, I'm going to masturbate. Alone. Which is sometimes sadder than not cumming at all. What can I do now though? I can go online, find some guy and have some cam-to-cam fun with him and for a few minutes feel appreciated, feel sexy and feel a little bit less alone. All from the safety of home. And the guy will never know even what state that home is in, or even that I have kids. Can there be a better definition of "safe sex"?  I know for a fact that I'm not the only person who does this, and not only because I see the 1000s of others online, but because my friends and I have talked about it.  Some of my friends like the boost of self-esteem, some like to look at the guys, but they all admit to doing it sometimes.

And because it is online, and long-distance, it is much safer way for some women to experiment sexually with things that might be too risky or experimental to bring up with a real-world partner. and you can decide if the guy you were just online, naked with, is someone you want to see again or not and then just call on his screen name any time YOU feel like it. Think about it, finally there is a sexual realm, the online world, where being able to actually COMMUNICATE with your partner is a major part of the turn-on, of course women are going to flock to it. - Single Punk Mom.

Dear Single Punk Mom -
...I did indeed miss that boat. Thanks.

May 22, 2013

...and all the other dinosaurs who got kicked outta the band.

Dear aap
I spent the past 2 years hating a person who, I just found out, isn't the person I should have been hating all this time after all. I was playing bass in a band with girls I thought were my best friends. We're all 20-22 and have known each other for years before we started the band together. Then one day I was told I had been replaced and was no longer in the band. I know it doesn't sound punk, but I cried for days because it was so unexpected and so cold. They didn't even sound mad or upset just like it was a business decision and we were a bunch of strangers. And it wasn't a business decision because we're just a small, little band in a fairly average-sized city scene. We don't have any records or anything, just a tumblr site and about 10 original songs. Really we're just all starting out - together I thought. So for the past 2 years I've been hating their new bass player because she replaced me, but I slowly realized I was really more angry at my friends because I thought we were friends first and bandmates second, and so now I don't trust myself as much as I did before about how I judge and accept people. I think it'll make it harder for me to make friends in the future. And I know I want to keep playing music, but I haven't found another group of people I want to really play with and get better with and stuff so my question is: Why did they throw me out and how do I get over this and move on? -- No Band Now.

Dear NBN -
The short answer is: You get over it and move on. Seriously. I can promise you that 20 years from now, it won't matter a rat's ass to you... unless of course your former band becomes huge, but I can promise you the odds of that happening are incredibly long. 

I know I'm being a bit flip... Yes, getting thrown out of a band always sucks, and it sucks even more when you thought your bandmates were your actual friends.  It is a simple and sad fact of life for musicians, and we all either have to get used to it, or become solo artists.

It has happened to nearly everyone, including me. I was in a band that included some friends I had known for years (pre-band) until one day I went down to the rehearsal room and found that the lock had been changed and my gear had been left outside of the room... no one stole it because it was pretty crappy gear, but still - who DOES that sort of thing to friends? I was plenty mad for a while. In their defense, I'll admit that I was clearly the worst musician in the band - so when they decided to get serious about the music, they needed a "better" guitarist. Even though I was a sucky guitarist, I had actually written about half of our original songs, which they continued to play after I was tossed out. That really pissed me off. ...but in the end, so what? They became local heros and I moved on to other places and got on with my life. I got better at guitar. I played in better bands (and worse bands, of course.) No one got rich or famous. 

People, male and female, do shitty things to each other, especially when they're in their early 20's. Whether we're talking about bands or about love relationships, many people just aren't grown up enough to be honest when their feelings have changed, or when they've made a difficult decision that should be followed with a difficult conversation, but isn't. 

Get on with your life. Don't let their shitty behavior make you down on yourself. Start another band if you want to -- but don't turn it into a "spite" band. Don't let your driving force be "I'll show them...."  - because that just leads to bad karma and (more importantly) bad music.  

I'm just realizing I haven't even addressed they "Why did they throw me out?" part of your question. From where I'm sitting, that is impossible to answer. I could give you some possible reasons, but I think what you're really wondering is why didn't they talk to you and tell you WHY they were throwing you out. Be honest... are you really sure you don't know the answer to that? As I said in my example - I knew I was a lousy guitarist. That is the main reason I was replaced. Were you the weakest player in the band? If yes, that might be your (simple) answer. If you weren't the weak link musically then it could have been any number of reasons - personality, ego, musical influences, taste in clothes, guys or drugs etc. Be honest with yourself about these things. 

Good Luck. 
ps: Special AAP bonus points to anyone who can correctly identify the quote that I referenced in the title of this post... 

May 15, 2013

re: Online relationships and virtual sex

Greetings. Today is Joey Ramone's Birthday. Act accordingly. 
Now on to this week's dual questions.

Dear Ask A Punk -
I've been with my girlfriend for about three years. We're pretty serious and moving in together soon. The thing is, when I'm with her, I still feel like I'm cheating on my online girlfriend of nearly six years. I'm not making this up. My online girlfriend is a real person. We skype  (sometimes naked, but not always), we're connected, but we've never met, and never really plan to. but I've never told either about the other and I don't know which would be more mad or have the right to be more mad. How do I handle this? - No 3sum.

Dear AAP
My current boyfriend would be shocked to know what I do online some nights. ok. alot of nights. We don't live together. I don't consider it cheating, but I know it is worse than just watching porn, which I'm sure he does. The truth is that some of the guys I'm with online just once but others I've been with for longer than most of my realworld boyfriends. I can not be the only person dealing with this. Who am I cheating on here? - Wholesome-ish.

Dear N3s & Wholesome-ish
I have gotten quite  a few letters/questions from people trying to figure out how to deal with either their partner's or their own "online activity" but these two letters approach it from a slightly different angle. I've actually been sitting on the question from 'No 3sum' for a while because I was hoping to eventually get a similar question from a female reader. Thank you 'Wholesome-ish' for finally coming through. 

Most people who write in about their own online activities are usually on the defensive for any one of several reasons. Some are trying to convince me (or really, themselves) that "it isn't really cheating" etc. because it is "just online" while others are defensive because they're trying to convince me that it IS a "real" relationship even though it is "only online."

So which is it? Sociologists, "Digital Media Experts" and divorce lawyers, all with a lot more training than I have, have been wrestling with this issue for a several years now. The facts, as I see them, are as follows:

The internet has created an entirely new class of human relationships that have never really existed (on a massive scale) in all of human history. Sure, there have been long-distance relationships, and random foreign flings/connections that linger... but those have always been the rare exception, not the rule. We can all now wander the main streets - and the darker back alleys - of the internet and bump into all sorts of people, no matter where their geographic location might be. 

For the most part I think this is a good thing, perhaps even a very good thing. When I was younger, so much fuss was made about "Finding your Tribe" - especially if you were someone who felt most comfortable outside of what was generally mainstream and "acceptable" -- and that quest often required a geographical move to wherever "people like you" tended to congregate. Which was swell if you had the opportunity, time, money and confidence to move etc, but being in any way unusual in your hometown often made for a lonely llfe. Enter the internet - where you can always find many people who share your interests, no matter how unusual or obscure those interests might be and - voila! You have your tribe. This is a good thing. Any connection based on mutual interests is better than being lonely. It is a pretty safe bet that every person reading this post has at least one or two people they consider real friends who they only know online. Put another way: What percentage of your Facebook "friends" have ever actually ridden in your car with you? Online-only relationshiops really are part of the new normal in our 2013 digital world (and have been for awhile) - to say otherwise is to be in denial.

This is all pretty vague & generalized stuff I'm talking about and, let's face it, not exactly what these two letter-writers were hinting at. Their online friends are more than "friends." They are real connections that, from the sound of it, also include (online) sex acts and other intimacies. In most of the letters I've gotten people have asked if their online activities "really" counted as cheating on their real-time significant others - and my standard/short answer for that has always been: Yes, it is cheating. If you really thought it was harmless and "no big deal" then you wouldn't be wrestling with the question, you would just tell your realtime SO about what you're doing.

...but these two questions interested me because they both seemed to be saying: "I know I'm being unfaithful, but I'm not sure which person I'm being unfaithful to."   So which factor counts more? The amount of time two people have been together? ... or geographic proximity? 

Of the two, I think "No 3sum" is really wrestling with this issue the most. He is caught between an online "girlfriend" of 6 years and a real-time girlfriend of 3 years, neither of whom know about the other. My direct answer to your question is this: Obviously your conscience is telling you a truth you don't want to hear - that you are actually cheating on someone. Your choices, as I see them, are as folllows: 1) Keep everything status quo - maintain both relationships and don't tell either about the other... this isn't likely to end well and it sure isn't a good option Karmically speaking... Take this easy test: How thrilled would you be if either of them kept this same secret from you?  2) Break up with one of them and commit 100% to the other - which would really make you have to decide, once and for all, which relationship is more "real" to you than the other. or 3) Tell both of them about the other, and then accept whatever consequences follow. 

I think Wholesome-ish is in a slightly different place with all this. She doesn't sound all that into her real-time boyfriend, nor does she sound all that attached to her online partner(s.) She just says that some of them have lasted longer than her real-time beaus. Even though she doesn't give me much to go on, I'm going to go ahead and say that this sounds more like intimacy issues. You have to admit that online "relationships" are easier to establish, easier to maintain and, much much easier to terminate than real-time relationships (all you have to do to break-up with someone online is block their emails & messages.)  ...I think the question for Wholesome-ish is: What is it you REALLY want here? It sounds like you're still keeping ANY real connection at arm's length - online or otherwise. Know what I mean? ...but the Karmic question is the same: How would you feel if your real-time boyfriend was doing the same things you are? ...if you think you would be fine with it, why not just tell him? Either he'll break up with you, or maybe he'll join you, and then you two can take your real-time connection to new levels with your online friends.

May 8, 2013

Southpaw Guitars for everyone.

Dear Ask A Punk - 
You said somewhere that you're left-handed. I just started wanting to play guitar even though I'm not a kid and I'm pretty sure I'm lefty too. Where do you get lefty guitars? - Left Behind

Dear LB -
You're right. I do play guitar left-handed and all I can say is welcome to the guitar ghetto. Even if you're just starting out on your guitar/music journey, I'm sure you've already walked in to at least one guitar store. I'm sure what you saw was pretty disheartening. Hundreds upon hundreds of right-handed guitars and maybe, just maaaaaybe two or three generic-looking, off-brand lefties. It is an outrage... and if you've made the mistake of talking to the salesman, after he tried and failed to sell you one of those 2 or 3 ratty specimens, he uttered lie #1, "Well, anything we have here in righty, we can order lefty." LIES ! I tell you  LIES! .... Most guitar-makers offer lefty models in only a limited number of styles & colors. Did I mention that it is an outrage? As a result, lefties tend to get very attached to the few guitars they do manage to find. I know I do.

The good news is that you live in the internet age, so you  DO have some options. Here they are: 

It would probably shock a lot of people to learn that, near the top of my list of "Places to visit before I die" is the city of Houston, Texas. Why? Because it is the location of a one-of-a-kind store (as far as I know, anyway.) called the Southpaw Guitar Store. For those of you who have already clicked the link, I can assure you that they sell more than Fenders - They're in the middle of transitioning from an old website to the new one, so just click on the 'old website' tab to see more stuff. I have never purchased anything from them (yet) but have heard nothing but good things, and yes, I often entertain this fantasy where I come across a big pile of money and I just show up at The Southpaw with a U-Haul and load it up with one of nearly everything. I don't know what your budget is, but you're very likely to find something here.

There is always Ebay. I've had mixed results here. I bought a very inexpensive bass a while back, and it turned out to have a pick-up that no longer worked. Took it to a local repair shop I frequent and, after they got it working, I ended up with a decent enough (for home & jamming) bass for about $160 all in. Also, last year when I flew home, I wanted to jam with my niece & nephew, who've both just started playing, but the airline wanted to charge me nearly $250 to bring my guitar into the cabin (never trust a good guitar to 'baggage') I found the cheapest electric guitar I could find with free shipping, and bought that for $107 AND had them ship it to my destination - I was/am pretty proud of myself for thinking up that plan. As always with Ebay, you're safer with a highly-rated reputable seller.

I know, I know, both options 1 & 2 have one big problem: How on earth do you buy something like a guitar without seeing/touching/playing it first? You're right. It is weird. ...and not just because you might get a bad/crappy guitar. You might get a good/awesome/expensive guitar and STILL not like it for all sorts of reasons - the sound, the color or more importantly and intangibly: the "feel." There's no getting around it, and it sucks. As far as 'sound' goes you can educate yourself a little bit before you buy. Check out the songs and artists you like: what kinds of guitars do they use? Bluesy Fender's with single coil pickups? or loud, ballsy Les Pauls with twin humbuckers? - knowing that much might help you narrow down likely "sound" candidates, but "feel" is impossible to predict.  I tend to really like Fender guitars, especially Telecasters,  but there are even some Teles that I can tell, the moment I pick them up, just don't feel right to me. You've gotta hope for a little luck on this. 

Moving on.

I know some people are saying: "Hey, this is supposed to be a punk/diy site, why not get a pawnshop guitar or something?"   ...ok, ok. IF you have pawn shops in your area you can/should start prowling around them, hoping you get lucky and see a lefty hanging behind the counter. If you're going to go to all that trouble, do yourself a favor: Tell the guy at the pawn shop that you're looking for lefty guitars - even leave him your email or phone number... because they'll want to make a sale if they do get stuck with a lefty guitar. 

While at the pawnshop or yard sale, you'll see a cheap, good-looking right-handed guitar and ask yourself "Why don't I just buy that and 'flip the strings' you know, Hendrix-style?"   Not a terrible idea, but it is trickier than it sounds. The good news is that you'll have a wide range of cheap guitars to choose from. The bad news is the following: First of all, when you "flip the strings" you also have to flip the "nut" at the top of the fretboard (near the tuners) because the grooves cut into that have to match the string going into them. So SOMEone has to then chisel off the nut, and then flip it, re-sand it and reglue it (at the exact same height it was) oh, and if the nut is beveled, you'll have to just replace it completely. I assume we're talking electric guitars here, so you'll have to choose a righty-body style that still allows access to the strings all the way up/down the neck. Also you'll have to drill a new hole in the body for the strap, and it is likely that the balance of the guitar won't be right, so you'll always be holding it up with your fret-hand. oh, and when you go for a big downstroke with your pick-hand, you'll bash your wrists on the volume and tone knobs because they're now ABOVE the strings, not below them. I tell you all this because MY first guitar was a righty pawn-shop special. I loved it, but I still have scars on the inside of my left wrist from those damm knobs. 

That's about it. As I said: you're lucky we lefties have the internet now. You can find a left-handed guitar in almost any price range fairly easily - no need to do the righty/flip at all. 

...and again: Welcome! 

May 1, 2013

Future Rock Gods get Impatient

Thanks for the kind words and suggestions after last week's "200th Post" post. A few suggestions were potentially very useful ( note: I have moved the 'subscribe' button closer to the top of the sidebar to the right )  ...but I don't think I'll be starting a line of "T-shirts and mugs and stuff to help defray costs" just yet because I don't think the time and effort required to design them and create an online 'store' page somewhere - yes I know they can be had for free - would be a productive use of my time at this point... I mean come on, people are "afraid" to leave comments, they're sure as hell not going to plunk down $$ for a mug or T-shirt. If I'm wrong about this dear readers, please let me know... but I doubt I am.

And so we come to this week's question about ambition(s.) 

Dear Ask A Punk - 
I'm in a pretty good band. We can headline any club in our semi-large town and we've been featured in the local music blogs and press and stuff like that. We've van-toured a little bit just in the surrounding states and have gotten a decent response. We're not assholes, we're just a good band and I think people can tell when you're legit and sincere. We all enjoy the same kind of parties, meaning no one is a junkie and stuff and we all get along reasonably well. At band meetings, my only question I have is "How big can we get?" ...but some of the other people in the band ask "How small should we stay?"  Do you know what I'm saying? I'm all for keeping our "cred" or whatever, but name me any decent band that doesn't always want new and more people to hear their songs and pay to come to gigs and all of that. The whole "don't sell out" thing is a cliche anyway. Rappers are only considered legit when they finally become rich and famous. My wanting to be, ok I'll say it - more of a 'rock star' whatever that may mean nowadays, does NOT make my love of the music any less sincere. It means I really want this to be my LIFE not some art project or something I can say I did "when I was younger" or something. 

I think my bandmates are lying to themselves. Why would they build out such a big-ass website and pose for pictures and put stuff on soundcloud etc if they  don't want to become more well-known and in-demand. I mean at some point you have to call bullshit on it, right?  They bitch about my being too "mercenary" but I'm sure if or when somebody hands us a big record deal, they sure as fuck won't turn down their share of the big check. Know what I mean? So why is there so much I don't know, shame, attached to wanting  to rock bigger and bigger venues? 

I know I'm sounding like a douchebag writing this stuff, like I'm full of myself. I swear I'm not. I just know I've worked hard at getting good at this stuff and I am. Like when a jock gets to be star quarterback at the high school, of course he then dreams of playing in college and then the pros, right? so why is that a bad thing for a punk rock musician?  I guess the big thing I'm trying to decide is: Should I just find or start another band where everybody knows, from day 1, that we're going to be going as big as possible? Or should I ride it out with this band, which I DO really like, and just wait for the rest of 'em to come around? -- Lady tired of being in waiting.

Dear Lady - 
You don't sound a like a douchebag. You sound like someone who has been paying some dues and is expecting a pay-off for all that hard work. That is perfectly normal. The tricky part is that you're involved in a creative endeavor which means that success and happiness are NEVER guaranteed, no matter how much hard work & effort is put in. On top of that, you're involved in a group creative endeavor - which means you're not only dealing with different personalities, strengths and weaknesses but also differing levels of ambition and different definitions of "success."

As usual, I'm really sort of vamping here while I figure out how to answer a question without some key and useful pieces of information. I wish you had included your age and what your role in the band is (singer? drummer? etc.) ...heck, you didn't even hint at the fact that you're female until you signed off. ...and yes, that kind of information would have some effect on my answer.

I'm assuming you are on the youngish side, because you're so full of balls-out ambition, and because I don't think you have a clear understanding of the music business - neither as it was or as it is now. The truth is the vast majority of musicians never get "the big record deal" the further truth is that the vast majority of musicians who DO land "the big record deal" still end up broke, screwed and decidedly not "Rock Stars." Courtney Love actually did a good job of explaining it all on Salon.

Now go back an read the DATE of that story. ...she wrote that 13 years ago. Look at all that has happened since. The "record business" as it was then doesn't even exist now. It. Is. All. Gone.   ...but the good news is: This is a GOOD thing.

The whole idea of "The Music Business" was a fairly new, and thankfully, short-lived thing. For most of mankind's history, music could only be experienced "Live" and musicians made their living by playing gigs. Period. ...but then, about 100 years ago, recording technology was invented and that led to: Middle-men,people and companies that controlled WHAT got recorded, and how it got distributed. They controlled the recording equipment and the cash, so they controlled the music and the musicians. No matter how young you might be, certainly you're aware that "The Record Lablels" all have a pretty-much non-stop history of lying to and exploiting the musicians, keeping nearly all of the money and basically screwing everyone, right? 

...and screw them.

I hate sentences from older people that start like this, but... It used to be that, if a band or a band really wanted to "make it" they often HAD to move from wherever they lived to the nearest "Music Mecca." ...some of these meccas are more-or-less eternal, and which one you went to was determined by what kind of music you played/loved. Cities like Nashville, New York, Chicago, Kansas City (yes, Kansas City), Chicago. Other cities had their mecca moments where, for whatever cosmic reasons, a ton of great music started happening at the same time: Athens, Seattle San Francisco etc. A lot of bands and musicians still take this route. They escape their personal podunk for the big city with their instrument and their dreams. Some of them get what they wanted, most of them don't, but ALL of them have the satisfaction of not having to lead a "what if...?" kind of life. 
But today that isn't the only option. 

Back when I was playing in bands in Western Massachusetts (about 4 Presidents ago.) You could have THE biggest band around... but that meant your fanbase would still top out at about 300 people. Travel 20 miles in ANY direction and you'd discover that no one has every heard of you or your band. ... IF you wanted to develop a bigger following you had to go where there were more people. HAD to. ...and that led to the demise of countless great bands. This is the point where a lot of bands would break up and a lot of musicians would hang up their gear - hearts broken that their kickass band had fallen apart. The bands that DID make the move to the new city often broke up too... A lot of growing up and changing gets done the first time you live away from home, and that pressure exploded plenty of great bands.

You don't have to go through all that. You already know you don't. As everyone tells you, and as cliche' as it sounds - with the Internet, you have an almost limitless potential audience just a few clicks away. I won't now go on for six or seven paragraphs on how to do all that because I have to assume these are all things you kids already know how to do (ie: use Pro Tools, Photoshop, Tumblr, Twitter etc.) 

So if we now know that your idea to drag your bandmates to a bigger market isn't necessarily the best thing for ANY band to do anymore, if staying in your current town is what everyone else in the band wants to do now, then the question is: Would you/Should you leave anyway?

And this makes it more about YOU and less about them. You said yourself it is a good band that you're happy to be in, so it just seemed odd that you would be so willing to casually abandon it because I'll tell ya - being in a good band, with everyone more-or-less on the same page, is a RARE thing. Haven't you been in any bad bands yet? How is that possible?

If the music is good, the chemistry is decent and everyone is fairly polite, why would you want to leave? As we've already covered: You must already know that you can get plenty-ass famous without leaving your backyard these days... so why, when you're part of such a potentially great band, are you agitating to leave town? I'm not use it is 100% for "career ambition" reasons. Are you really not getting along all that well? Are you feeling creatively stifled? Are your opinions not being respected?  -- This is why I wish you had told me what you do in the band. Are you writing the songs etc? This stuff is important.

If you're a drummer you can feel pretty safe quitting any gig at any time, because you know you'll be in demand - the world always needs more drummers. The same goes for bass players (in most cities) but if say, you're like I was:  a half-assed and not very good guitarist/fake-ass singer with ill-defined songwriting ambitions.... well, you're lucky to be in any band that'll have you, and a fool to drop out of a good one. Know what I mean?

What is your real ambition: To make it big with this band?  ...or is it just to get out of town yourself? Answer that.