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California Dreaming

January 24, 2013
Wendy at NAMM 2012

This week is the annual National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) convention in Anaheim, California. Last year I attended the convention and had a really great time (here’s my video journal of it). I’m sitting this year out, but Mike’s there right now, so hopefully he is having adventures enough for all of us!

This week’s been a cold one. Nothing unusual for Wisconsin in January, but due to a series of very mild recent Winters, the sub-zero thermometer readings this week were more shocking than usual. The cold snap and Mike’s pilgrimage to NAMM have me thinking about the connection between Wisconsin and California.

No, I’m not talking about the unending flow of cars making a bee-line from our icy cold state to the land of palm trees and suntan oil. It’s no surprise that people would migrate toward an environment where one can enjoy the outdoors year-round without the discomfort of eight layers of clothing. In the music world, for as long as I can remember, we’d hear of bands “moving to L.A. to make a go of it”. So many more clubs, music industry people, bigger audiences, and opportunities galore. Best of all? No snow banks from which to excavate your band van and trailer! Wait, why are we still in Wisconsin?

I digress. In Madison, there’s a delightful miniature golf course with two different tracks to choose from: Wisconsin, decorated with great fiberglass cheese wedges, an enormous Packers helmet and a Bucky Badger to rival any tyrannosaurus. Or, California: with a great smiling redwood tree, Disney-esque castle, beachside scene, etc. It’s almost as if the question plagues us from childhood, “which road will you take? Wisconsin, or California?” I always wondered, why California? I mean… Couldn’t it have been a Washington mini-golf course? Or how about we give the other coast some love and go for Maine? Do other states, like Idaho, pay homage to Wisconsin in this manner? I don’t know, but I suspect the WI-CA connection is deep at the heart of the matter.

How many songs have California as a theme? There are hundreds, probably thousands of them. And I appreciate that, because in the depths of a bitter cold week like this has been, it’s a nice little mini vacation to close my eyes and let the Beach Boys or Red Hot Chili Peppers carry me right to that nice, sunny place. Ahhhhhh, I can practically feel the ocean breeze.

But, before I leave Wisconsin behind in the dust, let’s not forget that Justin Vernon wrote the highly acclaimed Bon Iver album while on a three month retreat in the Northern woods of Wisconsin. There’s something here for us and it may not be obvious as a sun-drenched beach full of hot bodied coeds. We all know that these cold months and the cabin fever that inevitably settles in can be downright depressing, but I like to look at it differently. Nature is, in a way, forcing us to be creative with how we use our time. Rather than seducing us outside with beautiful sunshine and endless ways to spend the day, we are forced to ask ourselves: WHAT CAN I DO TO STAY SANE?

As an artist, I enjoy the opportunity to hunker down and really focus on creating new things. No need to worry about distractions here! If I’m not mistaken, the February Album Writing Month (FAWM) movement was born out of this itch to make good use of CUT (Cooped-Up-Time). Thousands of songs have grown out of that notion alone. Now, granted, it may seem a little more challenging to find the uplifting material that is abundant in the sunnier climes, but take one snowshoe hike through the woods and you’ll know that there is no lack of inspiration in these Midwest surroundings. Besides, as we all know, some of the really great songs are NOT uplifting in content!

So, while I do dream of and look forward to hopefully MANY upcoming California vacations, tonight I’m reminding myself that the Wisconsin winter offers more than just the opportunity to build character. Now, please excuse me while I go to work on some new ideas for Sunspot songs… 🙂