TASM Lab - Penisgeek Chrestomathy Open Letter to the Director

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Penisgeek Chrestomathy: The Essential Cubicle Nosepicker

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  1. The Essential Cubicle Nosepicker (or Any Other Day This Year)
  2. Drawer of Knives
  3. Everything Seems Clear (or I will Sew Every Seed That Falls)
  4. The Dreams of Buried Children
  5. She Made A Simile (To Explain to The Drunks It Was Time To Leave)
  6. Demystified, Disenchanted, But Still Stirring Delusional (I'm Bigger Than Atmospheric Pressure, Larger Than Weather Could Be)
  7. Mom's Favorite Bum (or The Price of Money)
  8. America's Lear
  9. Failure for Dummies
  10. America's Lear (Reprise)
  11. Black Cloud Over Charlestown
  12. The Grain of Deity in Woman
  13. Beautiful Like Me

Jeff Till
P.O. Box 425351
Kendall Square
Cambridge, MA 02142
Reven RaValle
Director, Customer Experience Management
Boston, MA

July 16, 1998

Dear Reve,

I regret to inform you that I have to voluntarily terminate my employment with P W C effective immediately.

I have enjoyed working with you and your team over the last five years, but feel it is time that I changed my direction. Additionally, I am unable to support the rigorous travel schedule that my position at PwC requires. I wish you all the success you and your team deserve.

With some of my new-found free time I am going to pursuit my hobby of writing music. My new CD, entitled “Penisgeek Chrestomathy: The Essential Cubicle Nosepicker”, is a 54 minute concept album about dreading work, leaving love and running to the sea. I'll be sure to send you a copy when it is completed.

I only bring it up because I'm sure you will listen to it and then wonder why I felt so terrible during my stay at PwC. Let me reassure you, I'm a creative artist who makes up stories. This is merely a piece of fiction. My last CD, “Thing & Nothing”, was about the murder of an imaginary computer salesman and virtual sex. I certainly didn't live through that. “Penisgeek” is about a young man named “Dick” who has a problem going to work and being an adult. Not me. The similarities in character, atmosphere, occupation, environment and situation are just components I leveraged to give the piece a sense of reality.

I think this is further evidenced by my devotion to my wife, Jen. Jen and I are very happy together. I never ran to the sea and there was never a fight.

At any rate, I hope you can enjoy the music for what it is. I think Dick's outlook may be quite common. He's in his early thirties, so he's been able to move up the food chain a bit and really sustain a significant level of professional stature. The problem is when he realizes that although he's on a very positive path that many would envy, it may not be what he actually wants. On top of that, he yearns for the days when there wasn't quite so much responsibility.

Ruby seems to confound this sense. She seems perfectly content on the path the two are taking, which she probably assumes is marriage and a family. Dick may very well view Ruby's actions, although loving and supportive, cementing him into the path he's already unsure of. At the end of Dick's bender, Dick and Ruby have a fight, which is enough to send Dick on his way out the door. It gives him an excuse to leave Ruby, which he may or may not have wanted to do, but moreover it gives him reason to quit his job and, ultimately, adulthood.

I think that's what Dick is all about in “Penisgeek”, about quitting adulthood. Again, I didn't do this myself, nor is my resignation from big 5 consulting proof of this. I'm actually going to be a consultant somewhere else. Same stuff, just an easier workload and a better travel schedule.

Ruby, on the other hand, has no idea what she's going to do. She felt as if she behaved in a reasonable manner. She may have been insensitive to Dick's feelings. Then, Dick was grossly insensitive to hers. After Dick leaves, I think Ruby is more confused than anything. But her key difference from Dick is that she knows she can pull through in the environment she's in, whereas Dick has to flee. Ruby is the stronger of the two. The song “Grain of Deity in Woman” best evidences this. By the way, I didn't make up that title. I read it somewhere. I can't seem to find it's source anywhere, but I know I read it somewhere. Same goes for the title “America's Lear”.

On that point, there's a couple of other pieces which weren't sheer Till fabrication. Sam Shepherd wrote a famous play entitled “Buried Child”, where I no doubt remembered when writing “The Dreams of Buried Children”. “Everything Seems Clear” is an advanced version of a song I wrote and played in Overman, way back in 1990 (I actually wrote it two years before then). “She Made a Simile” was originally entitled “She made an Analogy”, but Brent Oberlin (the salesman) quickly unearthed that I was indeed speaking about a simile. Then he called me a “dummy”.

The story in the lyrics about “Mom's Favorite Bum” are somewhat true. There is a bum that sits across the street from my house in a bus stop with a blanket over her head. The blanket did indeed come from my family. We used to use it in our television room growing up. Now it sits on some old bum's head. Bully for her. My mom's favorite bum is actually this lady in Harvard Square who's really fat, yet holds a sign bitching about how hungry she is. My mother always feels sorry and gives her a twenty. I always thought that if she were so damn hungry then maybe she'd be a bit more trim. I'm not quite as sensitive as my mother is.

On the lyric sheet, “Mom's Favorite Bum” has a second title: “The Price of Money”. If I were to pick an emotional or “philosophical” attachment to this music, it would have to be here. At some point it became apparent what tremendous weight I had given to the metric of “money”. It seemed to come down to sacrificing things that were meaningful in my life, such as seeing my wife, being able to play music, paint pictures and get drunk with my friends, for the sake Ý or in my case “the hope”, of being able to generate huge amounts of cash. As soon as I dissected the drive for cash, I began to wonder what the cash was for. The obvious conclusion is that the cash is to enable me to do the things I want to do. These are things like see my wife, play music, paint pictures, etc., Now, coming full circle, I realize that in my case the “price of money” was the “money” itself. If you get my drift.

Not that I'm on some righteous hippie crusade against our modern economic structure. I'm still going to work now. I just get a little more of taste of the things that are important to me. I'm getting more money, too. Ain't that a kick in the balls?

The last song “Beautiful Like Me” has melody fragments I ripped from Danny Elfman's soundtrack to “Edward Scissorhands”. I don't think it's a big deal, because they're fairly common patterns. Actually, the majority of the music is written using fairly common, simple patterns. On top of this, each song was written in major key and only a handful of unnaturals pop up through the record. This is much different than “Thing & Nothing” which had a significant amount of minor keys and dissonance.

Another key musical difference between “Thing and Nothing” and “Penisgeek” is that “Thing's” structure was built from the story, with reappearing themes and music that surrounded the text and “Penisgeek” seems to be more of collection of songs. This is because I wrote “Penisgeek” from the bottoms up, writing songs as they came and then later trying to string them together into a story.

I originally choose to use piano as the sole instrumentation and only use one voice. This discipline, I imagined, would force me to concentrate on the melodies over the arrangements. I believe it worked, in general, and I was able to carry the discipline through when extra voices and instruments were finally added. Another reason piano was the primary instrumentation was because of the piece's sad and adult subject matter. Again, to reinforce Dick's journey into adulthood vs his longing for his more “rock” college days.

Natalie Beversluis played the violin parts which I had originally written on the keyboard. Colin's guitar parts were developed independently by Colin in Chicago, where he and I would share MIDI files over the email. Brent recorded his bass lines remotely, needing neither instruction nor input. Natalie was fortunate to come on the first day of recording before everyone was fucked up all the time. At that point only Jared was fucked up and Mike and I were just on our way. Over the course of the one week recording period, TASM performers consumed over 12 cases of Labatt's Blue (approximately 280 cans). That's one great thing about recording at Mike Roche's studio is that you can drink all that beer and still get stuff done.

Another great reason to record at Broadside is because Mike is such a tuned and acute producer. Mike genuinely contributes as an artist as opposed to merely a technician. It should be noted that Mike's good guy, you know, if you like him.

Of the 280 cans of Labatt's Blue that were consumed, over 50% were consumed by David Grant, who played Dick. Dave can really drink some beer. This was my first time doing anything with Dave. I had been looking forward to this since Overman had played with his band Rollinghead at Kcolleges' Kclub back in '90. Dave came to the studio moderately prepared and very eager to sing on “Penisgeek”. His wife is nice, too. During the recording, we all suffered a power outage due to the extreme heat. Then we all sat around and got wasted on wine and beer and sweated like pigs. It ruled.

Dave, who has no academic understanding of musical concepts such as “pitch” or “rhythm”, is enormously adept at wrenching every last bit of emotion out of each and every note he plays. You may be able to hear a transformation in his voice from some of the earlier songs, such as “Dreams” and “Clear”, to when he really lets in rip like in “Black Cloud Over Charlestown”. I feel this transformation helps the development of the story and the surrounding mood.

Charles Bradford came down one day to help with some of the male chorus parts. Chuck nailed his quick. Jared, who was feeling ill at the time, was required to fulfill his line over the telephone. This is Jared's second recorded telephone performance, his first being on Thought Industry's “Recruited to do good deeds for the devil”. Brent finished his part without even taking off his coat. Craig Verity nailed his part in his first take. Craig only had to say “how?”, and he may have had an unfair advantage because of his experience asking questions in other TASM Lab-related performances.

Michelle blew me away. The first time I worked with her, in “Thing & Nothing”, she came studied, professional and efficient. On “Penisgeek”, she took the initiative to reconstruct major portions of the melody and phrasing based on how she believed Ruby would have sang it. The results were far superior to the middling melodies I had written, and in some ways are the highlights of the record. Michelle and I should think about collaborating earlier in the process some time in the future.

Although I am a marketing consultant now by profession, I'm not going to execute a substantial marketing effort for “Penisgeek”. Most promotion will be over the Internet, a few mailings to radio stations and that will be about it. I find that my happiness is better served right now by sharing this with friends, other artists, and the few, stray souls who happen to discover it. So, chances are that I'm not going to be making money hand over fist on “Penisgeek”. Chances are, I'll stay a marketing consultant for a while.

Chances are, I'll be the essential cubicle nosepicker. Except now I have my own office. I'll be the quintessential office butt-scratcher. Or something like that.

Take care. Give my love to Mary and your daughter.

Warm regards,

Jeff Till

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