by Head Above Music

By John Common


These are all metaphors I’ve used to describe what inevitably happens during any large scale creative undertaking–the making a record, for instance. It’s that barren, dusty, treacherous middle expanse filled with nagging depression and gnawing self-doubt that the Muse or God or Whomever places in our path to test our faith.

It forces us to answer the question, “How badly do I want this?”

As with all of my metaphors, this is just an ineffectual way of trying to convey something that feels complex and nuanced. And it’s also a great way to avoid working on my record. But the best metaphor I’ve found yet for this horrific middle expanse is THE HORSE LATITUDES.

Yes. The Horse Latitudes is a better metaphor–a bettaphor:

Horse Latitudes

Two belts of latitude where winds are light and the weather is hot and dry. They are located mostly over the oceans, at about 30° lat. in each hemisphere, and have a north-south range of about 5° as they follow the seasonal migration of the sun. The horse latitudes are associated with the subtropical anticycline and the large-scale descent of air from high-altitude currents moving toward the poles.

The belt in the Northern Hemisphere is sometimes called the “calms of Cancer” and that in the Southern Hemisphere the “calms of Capricorn.” The term horse latitudes supposedly originates from the days when Spanish sailing vessels transported horses to the West Indies. Ships would often become becalmed in mid-ocean in this latitude, thus severely prolonging the voyage; the resulting water shortages would make it necessary for crews to throw their horses overboard. –The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed

My Horse Latitudes: Vocals

Ahh… the myth of tracking vocals live. Every new recording project seems to hold out the hope of nailing a brilliant, live vocal while you’re simultaneously nailing a brilliant guitar part or whatever. The theory is a good one: you do this at gigs all the time, so just do it in the studio.


I’ll record live keeper vocals on my record… Right after I win an Oscar for my documentary about a flock of flying unicorns who save a young robot child from a narco-terrorist group in the techno-ghettos of South Boulder.

So yes. I tend to slam into The Horse Latitudes when I’m recording vocals, which usually occurs somewhere between the thrilling flurry of tracking the rhythm section parts and the glorious dilly-dallying of mixing, mastering and designing your cover.

I have been in my Horse Latitudes for the past… several weeks.

The Horse Latitudes: Symptoms

I’ll skip the painful and embarassing psychological self-examination (for once) and just describe the symptoms of The Horse Latitudes. Perhaps you’ve observed them, either personally or with a friend:

A dry wheezing cough

Nausea at the sound of one’s own voice or/and instrument

Insomnia and/or sleeping too much

Loss of appetite and/or eating too much

Becoming easily irritated or even becoming enraged at small things such as when your drummer innocently asks, “How’s the record coming?”

Constant, bitter cynicism

Laughing out loud at phrases such as “release date”, “mixing” and “when the record’s finished…”

Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, listlessness, abandonment and ennui

Inability to concentrate

Increased drinking

Increased smoking

Finding empty bottles of Jameson in your bed

Blurry vision

Lying about your progress… “I got 8 songs done today. Yup. Totally done.”

Extensive, pervasive procrastination — i.e. multi-slacking

Persistent negative thoughts

Inability to sit still

Harboring thoughts that music is not worth making, or even making elaborate mental plans for how you would quit music (Seek help immediately if this is the case)

Day dreaming about moving to a tiny coastal town in Maine

An irrational fear of microphones, preamps, cables and headphones

Lower back pain, headaches, muscle aches, joint pain, chest pain, digestive problems, exhaustion and fatigue, change in appetite or weight, dizziness, lightheadedness, inordinate Facebookery

Restless leg syndrome

Restless arm syndrome

Restless songwriting syndrome

Starting a new record to avoid finishing the current record

If you or a friend of yours is experiencing 3 or more of these symptoms during the making of a record or some other large creative endeavor, please know that there is hope. (I’m just saying this because I’m a basically positive person. It’s just an assumption at this point.)

In my next entry, I will offer some practical tips for how to extricate oneself from The Horse Latitudes. In the meantime, go throw another horse overboard and stay away from windows.


John Common & Blinding Flashes of Light are releasing a new record in 2010.  Beautiful Empty is a stunning collection of cinematic songs, lush orchestrations and gorgeous harmonies. Written and directed by Common, the new record comes from those stories and films that play in our head when we’re finally quiet and empty enough to pay attention.  Beautiful Empty was born in Prague, written in front of a piano, and recorded in a wooden room.  Hope you like it.


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