My old friend John Bretzlaff visited two days in a row to record guitar on "I'm Gonna Be Like That," "Unstoppable Me," "Like Lightning" and "In Your Hands." I've played and recorded music with John since 1992, and he'll always be one of my very favorite musicians. He's a gifted player with world-class touch and has raised his natural skill to fine art through lifelong dedication. And he's also a complete goofball. He's a good influence on me.


I had the great pleasure of hosting friends from The Beatleleles today, who visited The Happy Club to record ukuleles and sing on "Unstoppable Me." TodayÕs session included Joe Pesce, David Causton, Chris McIntosh, Terry Fitzgerald, and Nina Gegenheimer. They were wonderful, of course! The song was written as a kind of cross between Tin Pan Alley fare and "Mr. Blue Sky" by ELO (from the first album I ever bought as a kid, "Out of the Blue"). I tried to make a tune that dear ol' George Harrison would like. The lyric is impossibly optimistic. The character doesn't see his comeuppance on the horizon, but the positive attitude ultimately helps him through rough waters.

Stacey Krejci's bass takes are edited for "Unstoppable Me," and darned if it doesn't sound like a real song now! Several of The Beatleleles will visit The Happy Club in a couple of weeks to record ukuleles and sing. That will be great fun. "Unstoppable Me" will be the second song on the album. In this episode, our hero is full of optimism (a good thing) and pride (frequently dangerous). He experiences a downfall in the following song, "Like Lightning." By the end of the album/story, the protagonist has gained perspective (and perhaps some wisdom) and is in a saner, positive headspace. I imagine the tune as a cross between Tin Pan Alley fare, bouncy Paul McCartney pop, and "Mr. Blue Sky" by ELO.


Wonderful musical things are afoot. Mike Choby has been working furiously on electric piano and organ tracks in his own studio. I just returned from Champaign, where I recorded Stacey KrejciÕs bass parts for ŅMoan,Ó ŅMr. Madarakkis,Ó ŅSecond Opinion,Ó and ŅSlowly But Surely.Ó


The Threefinger Opera update: IÕve been delinquent - more than three weeks have zoomed past since my last project diary entry. Things have been busy and eventful. For one thing, two visits to the neurosurgeon were postponed. My doctor is apparently in high demand. Good guy. It looks like a rescheduled date for next Thursday will stick. My freelance gig for the newspaper included big interviews with Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour and David Bowie producer Tony Visconti. Last Friday, I spent the day working for AmericaÕs Band, the Smithereens.

IÕve also done a lot of editing on John BlumÕs drum tracks. Drum editing is usually the most tedious task during a project when the entire band canÕt record together live. ThatÕs holding true for The Threefinger Opera, although John provided very strong material to work with. WeÕve done Ping shows together for many years, and itÕs fantastic to finally have an album featuring his musicality.

The next song to address is ŅIÕm Gonna Be Like That.Ó It will be the first song on the album, beginning the storyline in starry-eyed innocence. Through the lyric, I travel backward in time to childhood days when all of life was untapped potential. I was lucky to have the kind of life that allowed me to aspire to being like pop culture heroes including TV superhero the Six Million Dollar Man, the still-inspirational Beatles, and soft drink mascot the Kool-Aid Man Š a worthy role model, as it happens.

The tune for ŅIÕm Gonna Be Like ThatÓ was written back-to-back with ŅMoan.Ó The two songs were too similar, and I decided that ŅIÕm Gonna Be Like ThatÓ was lyric-driven while ŅMoanÓ was more dependent upon the tune. That resulted in the need to recast ŅIÕm Gonna Be Like ThatÓ musically. As wordy as it was (nothing new there), it started to remind me of pop poets like Rickie Lee Jones and Van Morrison. I tried to take it in that direction, using a simple progression borrowed from an imaginary song by Gladys Knight and the Pips that came to me in a dream.


John Blum finished his drum tracking tonight. In the process, we produced Ping's first glam-punk song, ŅRhyming Dictionary.Ó I think it's ridiculous, and I love it. The musical inspiration was drawn from bands old Ping favorites the Rolling Stones and Cake, but also from Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Elvis Costello, and a great Chicago-based band called The Handcuffs.

Playing it in a set with Ping's first close-harmony country song and Ping's first dance song should be a riot. It uses an unanswered rhyme to imply one naughty word, though, so it may not be family-friendly enough for our Audiofeed Festival set in July. IÕll go with the bandÕs decision. And meanwhile, I'll try to keep our prog-savvy bassist Stacey Krejci from jumping ship by mentioning that there are also a couple of things on The Threefinger Opera that are more Farewell to Juliet-like than Ping has ever done.

I like that the album will have a jukebox quality. The lyrics are unified in telling a story, but the musical styles run wild.

John Blum and I worked out the arrangement for ŅRhyming DictionaryÓ on the spot. I edited his drum takes when I should have gone to bed, because I was too thrilled by them to walk away. Then, I tracked the caveman guitar a couple of hours afterward, when I really, really should have gone to bed Š but IÕd have been awake thinking about it all night anyhow. The so-called choruses were written on the drive home from the airport yesterday. Special guest musical hero Christopher Taylor sings those, and he has also sent a version of his own lyrics. I canÕt wait to hear where he takes them. The intro and outro were edited slightly (making them not repeat internally) to make the song fit Maron Gaffron's under-three-minute playlist. I'm hoping there's ultimately a way for my vocal to sound more like Elvis Costello than Weird Al Yankovic, but I am what I am.


World's best problem ever: not enough guitar stands


John Blum came by yesterday to record the first drum tracks for the album. Today, IÕm in the studio preparing for him to come back for a couple more. IÕve also been tinkering with the song ŅLike Lightning,Ó a transitional chapter in the story. Some songs arrive very easily, just because you invite them. Others you have to lasso and drag into the corral. ŅLike LightningÓ has been like that, but I think itÕs going to be a fun one now. My usual trick is to try push a troubled song into a completely different style that had nothing to do with the original idea. ŅIÕm Gonna Be Like ThatÓ began as an alt-rock anthem and became a 70s FM-pop song along the lines of Rickie Lee Jones and Van Morrison. ŅLike LightningÓ is going in a blues-disco-rock direction. IÕve certainly never gone there before. One of the challenges of this project has been the need to compose and commit to ideas quickly. ThereÕs a deadline, so I canÕt refine for ages (something IÕm definitely prone to do).


The MRI tech asked what I wanted to hear on her Pandora station, so I asked her to seed it with "Marvin Gaye." The next 30 minutes were a mashup of Gaye, Al Green, Gladys Knight, The Temptations, and an overpowering portion of Einsturzende Neubauten. I think my old Sunny Day Roses bandmate David Pinkston would have approved. He was the one who introduced me to industrial music through the influence of his EN tattoo.

3/15/2016, too early in the morning

Stayed up way too late to retool a song. As they are prone to do, the idea arrived as I was shutting down for the night. I'm going to be a tired wreck in the morning, but I love the direction the song has gone. Big fun. The Threefinger Opera needed something upbeat and rowdy, and now it's got it with "Lazy Louie." Inspiration by Chuck E. Weiss and Chuck Berry. I just need this to happen for one more song, and I'll feel like I've nailed the set. Only hitch for "Lazy Louie": I can't actually play a Chuck Berry boogie right now, because the finger necessary to reach up to the 6 is the one that won't cooperate. But in a way, that's what the song itself is about.

Monday, 3/14/2016 Yesterday, I recorded rhythm guitar for ŅMr. Madarakkis,Ó an acoustic folk-blues-metal tune for The Threefinger Opera. The first surgeon I visited treated my nerve damage case as cookie-cutter, and was ready to throw me straight under the knife. My concern over the reasonable likelihood of a complication was dismissed as basically tough luck. He told me that he didnÕt work on many people who shared my vocation, so it wasnÕt a typical concern of his. I recoiled. The name ŅMr. MadarakkisÓ is a semi-homophone. I changed the doctorÕs name so as not to cast direct aspersions upon a professional who is more sufficiently lawyered than I am. Lyrics below. Mr. Madarakkis

You can put me in ice, you can bury me down
You can turn up the heat with a sizzling sound
You can stretch my neck Ōtil IÕm tall as a tree
But donÕt let Mr. Madarakkis put the screws to me

You can find where it hurts, and then give it a twist
You can sell me a smile, and deliver a fist
HereÕs my guitar, you can have it for free
But donÕt let Mr. Madarakkis put the screws to me

Well, I can be the big man
I can take the pain
I will take the medicine
Like fire in my veins
But itÕs too close to the jugular
ItÕs too much of my life
He seems a bit too willing
To put me to the knife

You can stripe my back and pour salt in the wound
You can burn my record if you donÕt like the tune
You can take my car and drive it into the sea
But donÕt let Mr. Madarakkis put the screws to me

You can take my money, you can give it away
You can steal my umbrella on the rainiest day
You can slander my name, what good could it be
DonÕt let Mr. Madarakkis put the screws to me

I have seen such devilry
Splinter masonry and stone
I can almost smell the powder
As it drills into my bones
If what IÕve lost is gone for good
ItÕs long gone either way
But I think about old Django
Who found another way

DonÕt let Mr. Madarakkis put the screws to me
But donÕt let Mr. Madarakkis get his hooks in me
DonÕt let Mr. Madarakkis put the screws to me
DonÕt let Mr. Madarakkis put the screws to me

[spoken] Sir, would you please step back through the metal detector?

Written by Jeff Elbel. © 2016 Marathon Records. Published by Zimbalon (ASCAP).

I was able to visit a second guy who looked at all of the parameters differently and tailored his approach. I may wind up with the same procedure, but doctor number two gave me a lot more confidence that the right thing would be done. This was reflected in the song ŅSecond Opinion.Ó

Sunday, March 6, 2016

This weekendÕs new song for ŅThe Threefinger OperaÓ is ŅWaiting Room.Ó I pack too many things into a day, every day. Who doesnÕt? Being pathologically goal-oriented, I get pretty flustered when my own plan is upended. As anyone whoÕs ever been in a fender-bender knows, thereÕs never a good time for an accident. My nerve damage issue has made pretty much every day seem like being pulled from my comfortable routine for attending to something unsavory. IÕve never minded long waits in an airport lobby, but nothing feels like spinning my wheels more than sitting in a doctorÕs waiting room when the appointed time has come and gone. ThereÕs not much metaphor in this one. IÕll add, however, that I do appreciate being able pursue health care. Many others cannot. I developed this one on my old PRS, and it feels more like a Farewell to Juliet song than anything IÕve written in 20 years Š except itÕs only three minutes long. I dedicate my restraint in avoiding my usual Dylan-esque mass of stanzas to Maron Gaffron and Brant Hansen.

Waiting Room by Jeff Elbel

Never liked the hospital
Never liked the clinic
Even in my worst malaise
You wouldnÕt find me in it

Funny how things turn around
My, how things have changed
Now I'm in the doctorÕs queue
Nearly every day

This waiting room is stuck on hold
This corner is my second home
Clock ticks by as I grow old
Check my phone, check my pulse

Monday I will take my chair
IÕll take the same on Tuesday
Wednesday, Thursday find me there
Making plans for Friday

This waiting room is stuck on hold
This corner is my second home
Clock ticks by as I grow old
Check my phone, check my pulse

Nurses are like family
Physicians are my friends
Reading old Time magazines
Until they call me in

© 2016 Marathon Records. Published by Zimbalon (ASCAP).