Music Monday: Charlie’s Unpredictable Rhythms

My Dance Background & Unpredictability

(the darkest blue legs in the middle of the stage are mine. Freshman year. 1980’s dancewear scariness)

I got lucky when my family moved to Michigan. There was a middle school that was part of the Michigan “Magnet” program. Abbot Middle School had a music-dance-theatre emphasis and even though my local school sat just down the street from where I lived, I took a bus to Abbot Middle School so I could get dance and vocal training and experience.

I had been choreographing dance pieces for fun since I was a young kid, but it was at this school that I got to choreograph on assignment and perform my numbers for other people. I also got to see other the other kids’ pieces. That is where I realized I had an intuitive sense for dance choreography, at least in one aspect — an aspect I realized was not a natural instinct for everyone: predictability. Or, rather, being unpredictable.

The other dancers in my class always repeated each 1-2 count movement on the other side of their body for counts 3-4, and then repeated the sequence a second time.

Right then left — again — right then left. (snore).

I preferred to keep the audience on constant alert so they would never know what I was doing next. Sometimes I would repeat a movement for three counts, but then do something totally unexpected on count four. I would often run a sequence beyond or just short of the standard 1-4 count or 1-8 count rhythm.

Red Hot Chili Peppers

I like the unpredictable and it’s the unpredictable, constantly changing guitar of John Frusciante that most stirs me in the song, Especially in Michigan, on the Stadium Arcadium album, which I blogged about a while back. I also mentioned the song, Charlie, in that original blog post. Charlie — a song about imagination and anything that happens to be your own personal inspiration — has the most unusual, unpredictable, tricky and complicated rhythm.

the Tricky and Complicated Rhythms of Charlie

First off, a disclaimer: I learned to count music for piano, singing, and dance. It’s been years, though, since I’ve had to count music and I’ll be honest — I don’t remember how it all works anymore. In the last fifteen years, the only motivation I’ve had to count music is to figure out how to count the musical timing of this song, Charlie, because it’s so unconventional.

To start with, there seems to be a regular 4-count rhythm for Anthony Kiedis’s lyrics, for the bridge and the chorus, and for the end of the song. As far as I can tell, Flea’s bass timing seems to be a 4-count, as well.

But Frusciante’s guitar goes nuts, playing its own rhythm. And somehow, while his guitar rhythm is totally different from every other part in the song during the verses and the beginning (I can’t even count his guitar parts because the rhythm seems to change mid-sequence), the song is somehow cohesive.

At the same time, Chad’s drum beat, while more conventional than Frusciante’s guitar, sparks its own surprise on every other fourth count. He drums a beat on the 2nd count, plus every other 4th. What about that missing 4th count interval? Chad hits it an eighth of a count later, every other time. Basically, he uses an even-note syncopated rhythm except for every other 4th beat, where he switches to an off-beat syncopation.

Unlike a lot of experimental or unusual songs, Charlie still has a great hook, so it’s unique qualities don’t sacrifice its ability to implant its melody into your psyche, or to capture a wide audience. It’s an absolutely captivating song from a band that, I still insist, is one of the most talented bands of all time. And totally unpredictable in the most endearing way.

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Ella Publishing Co. has nominated me as one of the nine Most Influential Scrapbookers of 2010. You can learn more about this award, the nominees, and the blog tour at or

Please help me honor my fellow nominees by visiting their blogs throughout the week. You could win one of 100 cool prizes! Click below to say hello to today’s spotlighted bloggers.

First to the Ella website…

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Music Monday: Can’t Stop — Addicted to the Shindig

Photo by Mohsen Masoumi

Do you have any songs that define your personality or the way you view and live life? I’m sure some of us have a few, but Can’t Stop by the Chili Peppers — or at least my interpretation of it — is the big one for me.

A few of the lyrics that stick out are…

“Choose not a life of imitation”

“This life is more than just a read thru”

“Complete the motion if you stumble”

“Knock out but boy you better come to
Don’t die you know the truth is some do
Go write your message on the pavement
Burnin’ so bright I wonder what the wave meant”

“The world I love
The tears I drop
To be part of
The wave can’t stop
Ever wonder if it’s all for you
The world I love
The trains I hop
To be part of
The wave can’t stop
Come and tell me when it’s time to”

I’m not a huge fan of music videos because of the way they replace my own mental images for a song. But I love the Can’t Stop video by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a display of who they are to the core: passionate people who dive into life but don’t take it too seriously. At all.

The visuals — the use of light, color, contrast, and movement — are amazing. They are all based on the One Minute Sculptures by Erwin Wurm.

What song resonates with the way you feel about life in general, or your life specifically?

Music Monday: Word Play Through Metaphor & Imagery

I’m diving back into novel-writing mode again. I was there between August and November of last year, especially the entire month of November. After that I resurfaced to focus on some other things and to walk away from my November novel so that when I returned, I would be able to evaluate its first draft with more objectivity.

Having read it through a week ago, I am happy to say that this novel’s first draft is more complete than I thought it would be and I think it has some decent potential. Now my job is to whistle the details into line so they’re consistent throughout, to tie up a couple ends that I left loose, and to flesh out the story, especially so the reader can believe the motivation driving the characters’ actions, words, and choices. I also need to do some research on a number of subjects that turn the story.
One thing that surprised me when I started writing fiction is that I can often listen to music while writing. And I’m talking about music with lyrics. It turns out good lyrics move me to write. There are two lines from two songs in particular that stick with me because the imagery and the metaphorical verbs and nouns are so potent they communicate an entire story with just a handful of words. Check it out:

From The Killers — When You Were Young:

We’re burning down the highway skyline
On the back of a hurricane that started turning
When you were young

From Red Hot Chili Peppers — Scar Tissue:

(Right now my very favorite song lyric)

Falling all over myself
To lick your heart
And taste your health

The verb choices and the imagery of this one . . . it’s so desperate. It’s physical, intimate, even sensual.
Both sets of lyrics are intense. Both share a story of their lovers’ histories. So much story there from three short lines.

I’m not at the point of laboring over the exact words in my novel yet. I’m still working the plot and the character development, and carving the pieces so they fit together. But the complicated layers of music from bands like the Chili Peppers stirs my emotions into the frenzy that I need for novel-writing. And catching the brilliant word play during my sit-back-and-breathe moments motivates me to work toward that stage where I’ll get to fiddle with the words.

Music Monday: Love Songs, The Non-Cheesy Kind

On Valentine’s Day my guy got all sweet on me and started a Love Songs station on Pandora for the drive to our Ethiopian vegan dinner at Cafe Lalibela. I swooned at the first song by Journey, until I accidentally hit the skip button — a fatal move for that station because the songs that followed were of the abhorrently cheesy Boyz II Men style. I couldn’t handle that.

Here are a handful of the non-cheesy and non-traditional love songs that I would want on my romantic play list:

I Will Follow You Into The Dark
by Death Cab For Cutie
Let’s start with a buck-the-system, non-traditional, but very sweet song with a beautiful acoustic beginning…

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by Guster
What happens when love outrun its initial fascination phase? The reality — the reality of life and the reality of the imperfect partners — is digging its claws into the relationship that Guster sings about In Careful. The singer reaches for his imperfect, struggling lover with his stable, secure, and accepting love, hoping to bring her “Back where I can find you, to crawl inside you…”

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by Regina Spektor
I know you know the next song, but how can I leave it off the list when it so successfully communicates the drama and the passion of every unacknowledged love that has to end before its time?

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Hard To Concentrate
by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Sweet tastes sweeter when you don’t expect it. Here’s a band of musicians who are reckless and wild but when one of them is ready to settle down and start a family with his girl, the Chili Peppers can be very, very sweet…

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by Red Hot Chili Peppers
As far as I’ve read, Anthony Kiedis has never divulged the exact meaning for and the story behind this song, but I think sometimes the mystery behind the sorrow is better than knowing the story…

Why My Favorite Band Is Better Than Your Favorite Band

I won’t lie. It’s been torture for me to blog three different Music Monday posts without referring to my musical soul-mates, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I could devote every single Monday to sharing the aspects of their music that throw me to the sky and send me flying. But I won’t. Promise.

Here’s the thing. You’ve got these four guys who each play their parts in ways beyond what most band members do. Yet they’ve found this symbiotic place with each other where their separate musical strands, all bold and outrageous, braid together into a beautiful whole.

Co-dependency Instead of Competition

You can probably point to the Chili Peppers‘ unusual writing style as one of the reasons for the unity of such intricate musical parts. To write music, the band usually jams together until they slide into something that’s working. Then Anthony, the leading vocalist and lyric writer, will sit to the side to find meaning and lyrics that work with the music while the rest of the band continues to flesh the piece out. They have a communal song-writing method while other bands usually spend more time writing their parts individually.

Especially In Michigan

The song below is the kind of music that pulls you away from your everyday and makes you feel as if the universe is swimming around you. So if you can, plug into some good speakers (or headphones) and let it fill the room. Below I share some of the reasons the musical quality of this band is so unique . . .

You really should listen to the Chili Peppers songs a number of times, with an ear for the different parts if you want hear all the layers. After getting the overall feel of the song, as well as Anthony’s vocals with all his genuine and uninhibited personality, I like to listen with a focus on individual parts . . .

  • To take in John Frusciante’s legendary lead guitar. He’s up there with Jimi Hendrix in terms of skill and passion, in my opinion.
  • To put your ear to Flea’s bass line. He does more than just provide an underlying anchor to the harmonies and the beat. Flea has often been called one of the world’s greatest bassists.
  • To understand Anthony’s brilliant and poetic lyrics.

The Chili Peppers’ intricacy is the only reason I’m able to listen to this band so often and not get tired of them like I do with other bands. Every listen can be a new experience, depending on what I decide to focus on. Below are a few of the things that amaze me about the song above . . .

John Frusciante’s Guitar

During a recent listen to John’s guitar in this song, I realized he plays differently for each set of verses and each run with the chorus. Seriously — who does that? Just John. In most music you get a slight change or an additional layer to build toward a climax. But in this song, John gave each round of verse and chorus its own sound. That’s love for the music, right there.

I should mention, the guitar solo is actually Omar Rodriguez-Lopez from The Mars Volta.

Anthony Kiedis’s Lyrics

Anthony’s lyrics are deeply personal and autobiographical, often symbolic, and usually infused with multiple meanings. Especially in Michigan may not be as much about the state as it is about Anthony’s sanctuary there from his drug addiction. He grew up with his mother in Michigan until he went to live with his Dad in L.A. at age eleven. His dad immediately introduced the young Anthony to drugs and a crazy wild life. Eventually he stopped using but Michigan is where Anthony returned a number of times to the care of his mother and her rural home in order to detox and come clean again after some bad relapses.

Knowing this, the line means much . . . “Out on the farm we’ll be swimming with the mother duck,” as well as, “Land is full of medicine, I find it when I’m slipping in . . . into Michigan.”

Residents from Michigan will identify with the many references that are particular to the culture and state of Michigan. The oz-like “lions and tigers” most likely came to Anthony because of the Detroit Lions football and the Detroit Tigers baseball teams.

Michigan is shaped like a mittened hand and residents commonly point to a spot on their hand to identify approximately where in the state their hometown is on the mitten. Anthony refers to the mitten and its many lakes when he sings of “a mitten full of fishermen,” and how they’ll be “swimming with the mother duck, deep in the mitten.”

This kind of back-story helps you understand why the Chili Peppers music always feels so intensely soulful, passionate, and human.

Flea’s Bass

Since it’s a little harder to hear Flea’s bass in the song above, I have to share another one with you. I could (and eventually will) write an entire post pointing out the insanely unique musical qualities of this song, Charlie. But for now, please take a little time to enjoy Flea’s bass line, most prominent in the intro and outro, but surfacing throughout, as well . . .

Flea is known for his funk-style slapping technique, which he’s toned down over the years for music with the Chili Peppers in order to not pull too much attention from the other parts. You can watch him play a bass solo in the video below. Pay attention to his hands . . .