Sunday Service: A Mutation Showcase

sundayservice00It’s Time For Something New.

Over the last year, Mid-Valley Mutations has evolved from a mere idea to a flourishing weekly radio program that features music and live performances you cannot (and will not) hear via other venues.  To that end, the program has featured a number of artists from all over Oregon, to highlight some of the incredible experimental acts that are right here in our own back yard, even if you don’t see them play very often.  Until now, that is.

To help further the cause, Mid-Valley Mutations is launching a monthly live showcase in conjunction with The Space Concert Club, to give you a chance to actually see these acts, in person.  Sunday Service will happen the last Sunday of every month, and offers a wide range of experimental artists that cover every kind of music: electronic, post-punk, noise, deconstructed folk, home-brewed and circuit-bent gear, and everything in-between.  “Experimental” can mean almost anything, and our hope is that we can offer small slices of this world, every month.

While the phrase “experimental” can conjure up wild (and often inaccessible) performances, Sunday Service will offer intimate shows with performers who are dedicated to their craft, create art that is personal and meaningful, and would like to share this work with the world around them.  While the music may be atypical, the intent is not to be obtuse or difficult.  These showcases are presented to feature the beauty and joy in creating music, and the freedom that comes with following your muse, where ever that might be. Sunday Service will not just feature music, but will offer a chance to meet these performers, and find out more about what they do in person.  These shows will be curated, organized and hosted by Mid-Valley Mutations mastermind Austin Rich

Our first gathering is March 26th, with the incomparable Guyve headlining the show, playing their first Salem gig in their 24 years as a group.  And in April, join us for a rare performance by traveler and recording artist Eric Hausmann, who has called Portland, Ipoh Malaysia and Pittsburgh his home in recent years, .  The spring and summer are full of surprises too, and we can’t wait to announce them once they are final.

Sunday Service Showcases are Free to the public, and are 21+.  The Space offers a full bar, vegan menu, and a positive, inviting atmosphere for discerning and excellent guests.

Join us for Sunday Service: A Mutation Showcase every month to hear the best in experimental artists you can’t hear anywhere else.

We’ve been waiting for you.  Join us.

 

Help Two ACRONYMS at Once: ACLU & KMUZ.

WTBC Getting Into The Act. It’s ACRONYMs all the way down…

Mid-Valley Mutations

a1373653999_10As many of you have probably heard, Bandcamp is donating 100% of their proceeds this Friday to the ACLU, which makes spending money on music that much easier to do. Additionally, KMUZ’s Pledge Drive is very soon, and with that in mind, 100% of the money I make on these same purchases will go to KMUZ’s Drive. Two great causes supported by your single purchase.

a1714948314_16You can get the entire bundle of all 21 of our releases at a discount for $16.25. Or, you can pick and choose what you’d like to purchase. Either way, there’s plenty of releases new and old that are worth investing in, and you can support both the ACLU and KMUZ, two acronyms that do a lot of good for our community.

We all love music, and we all love supporting good causes. Here’s a way to do both.

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A Review of The 10 Albums Stolen From My Studio in 2016

15242017_1323392491044751_4871179563205436913_nA Review of The 10 Albums Stolen From My Studio in 2016

At about 8 PM on Christmas Day 2016, my home was broken into.  My wife, cat and I were with family at the time, and most of the neighbors were, too.  Even worse, we were in the process of moving.  For a number of reasons that defy logic and explanation, we moved mostly on Christmas Eve.  We had left some things to move after Christmas, and thought that we could leave our house unattended until we were done celebrating.  But when we arrived at our old house on the 26th, we found that everything that wasn’t nailed down had been ransacked and overturned, while anything of actual value was loaded into a truck and moved.

Who would be suspicious?  We were doing just that the day before.

To make matters worse, both my wife and I had offices in the old house.  We were planning to continue working out of there until we had Internet service at our new place, which wouldn’t be connected until January 4th.  This means that in addition to our bicycles and lawnmower, they got our laptops, my desktop and studio recording gear, my wife’s collection of purses and her winter coat, and a stack of the last records I had not moved yet.  In total, it was about $6000 worth of stuff that was stolen.  Someone’s Christmas present to themselves, probably snorted  before the week was out.

One of the hardest things to do (at first) was come to terms with what was stolen.  It was hard to remember, at first.  With each new corner turned, we found something else that was gone, something else that they took.  And we still haven’t unpacked from the move.  Who knows what else we’ll find missing, when all is said and done, when we can no longer use that as an excuse.  How do you look for things that are missing?  How do you notice what isn’t there?

While we are not quite over what had happened, the immediate shock has faded.  And we’ve come to accept what is gone, in a way.  But when I think about what we lost, the thing that is most frustrating is the pile of records they stole.  It was an assortment of recently heard and recently acquired stuff, plus a few things that had not been filed when it came time to pack.  I had less than 20 records in that pile, maybe more, maybe less.  I was gonna use some for my radio show, but on the whole it was just stuff I was looking forward to, things on my mind just before the break-in.

This isn’t a complete list, nor is it the most valuable or the most precious.  These are just the things I remember that were in that pile, and stuff I wish I still had.  Much of this stuff came from Dimple Records, a place I visited just before we began to pack.  (Thanks Dad & Mernie!)  It seems important to Eulogize these albums.  It’s likely they never found a home, never got sold, and wound up in some dumpster somewhere.  They deserve a proper burial, a goodbye to music that will go unappreciated.

r-1714176-1371418561-6500-jpeg10.) Mink Deville & Coup de Grâce.

I really only knew “Spanish Stroll” by Mink DeVille, but for a steal, I decided to check them out.  My wife and I listened to these, and we actually enjoyed them a lot.  I was really looking forward to enjoying them, too.  Now some junky probably threw them away when it turned out that they weren’t particularly valuable.

r-3051333-1330157378-jpeg9.) The Essential Odetta

I picked this up based mostly on her reputation.  Odetta is a legend, and while I wasn’t familiar, I was looking forward to learning more.  This is probably typical for her career.  Overlooked and ignored, Odetta is tossed around by people who could not care, and when in the hands of a fan, is never given a chance to be appreciated.  Poor Odetta.  You didn’t deserve this, at all.

r-9410906-1480127249-9701-jpeg8.) Strung Out In Heaven – Amanda Palmer’s Prince / David Bowie Covers

Here’s the real tragedy: we had gone to the record store day sale, not only to get some stuff for me, but for my wife.  She specifically wanted this, and we got it, excited to support the cause, and hear the tracks that were getting a lot of play because of the recent losses to the music world.  These assholes don’t realize how much the music world is suffering.  Instead, they want a quick score, and even though I can hear this album anywhere online at any time, that is not the point.  This one was completely unopened.  Pristine.  And now, completely destroyed, ruined by nameless assholes who will never care.

r-426453-1345758734-2982-jpeg7.) Negativland

In the year 2000 I heard that my favorite band – Negativland – was running low on vinyl copies of their albums, and that they would be selling CDs after the LPs sold out.  I immediately ordered a copy of their first album, and got a nice hand-written letter back.  The album came with a custom made cover, a collage assembled by the band members.  I ordered another, but by then the LPs were gone, and got CDs for their remaining albums.  I loved that album, and listened to it often.  It sounds good anywhere, anytime, and I just wish the junkies had taken the time to listen, and get to know the album.  It is well worth it, no matter what your interests are.

r-2786259-1300986342-jpeg6.) The History of Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys

Bob Wills is great, but there isn’t anything special about this record.  It is older than me, and it has a lot of hits.  But I love it mostly because it belonged to my Grandmother, who has passed.  You will never love that album as much as I loved her.  What dicks.

r-4963807-1456357193-3964-jpeg5.) The Popeye Soundtrack

I already have an original copy of this record, but I decided to pick up the Record Store Day reissue because there is no other movie that can make me cry faster than Popeye, and the soundtrack is no exception.  I’m not as mad about this, because I’m sure even the bonus tracks are easy enough to find.  But this was unopened.  And, to be honest, this is probably the most personal attack of the bunch.  You don’t care about these songs like I do, like my family does.  How dare you.  That record is too good to be treated like that.

r-2104259-1397069851-4880-jpeg4.) Cast Your Fate To The Wind by The Vince Guaraldi Trio

I’m trying to imagine these junkies putting this album on.  Do they know who Vince Guaraldi is?  Could they connect with the music of Black Orpheus?  What would they get out of it?  Would they enjoy it?  Do they understand the journey into the underworld that they have taken?  Would I have enjoyed this album?  Do I enjoy the irony?  Who can say…

r-725536-1363189912-8068-jpeg3.) You Broke My Heart In 17 Places by Tracey Ulman.

They probably broke this album in 17 pieces.

r-5351726-1447962608-6617-png2.) 1947 – Helen Hume

I took a chance on this record because of the price and because it seemed like a good bet that it was good.  And it probably is, but that’s not the point.  I had entirely forgotten I’d bought this album until I saw a picture of it that I’d taken, just after I purchased it.  Part of me feels bad; I didn’t even remember that it was gone.  That’s awful of me.  How many albums do I have that I neglect in some way, that needs attention that I can’t even remember?  The dangers of collecting?  Perhaps.  But I would have at least given this album a chance.  And they never would have.

r-3385142-1328338335-jpeg1.) 2 by Neung Phak

Probably the rarest and least-known of the bunch, this is most likely out of print, and not something you would find in Salem, at least not very easily.  I bought this record from Mark Gergis, when I saw his band Porest play in Portland.  This was one of two US performances for this artist, and I traveled out of town with a friend at night to see this show.  Mark, who had never met me, was really nice, and had no idea how much this night meant to me, had no idea how much I was looking forward to hearing this album.  He didn’t have to be nice to me.  Who was I to him?  And yet, I never got to hear this album before it was ripped off.  Mark, who heard about this, send me a digital copy, and for that I am eternally thankful.  But what did they see in this album?  In any of these albums, for that matter?

* * * * * *

There were more.  There will be more.  Forever this event will haunt me.  Every sound is a window breaking, every movement someone stealing our stuff.  Who knows if this will go away?  Who knows if I will get over these being stolen from me.  I can only say that there is a part of me that wishes they would listen.  That they sat down, and by the end, found something meaningful in those albums.

Because I sure did.

 

NANOWRIMO Wrap-Up

untitledI first heard about NANOWRIMO in 2004, and in 2005 I decided that I was going to compete.  While I didn’t do it every year, it wasn’t until 2015 that I actually completed the expressed goal of writing 50,000 words toward one story in 30 days.  Let’s process that for a moment.  10 years.  Usually, when I fail at something for 10 years, I just stop trying entirely.  I guess that’s what Writing does to you; you become an addict, constantly looking for the next rush.

It is true that I have always loved writing personally, and that I usually opt to do that if I can.  But NANOWRIMO is a bigger challenge than writing a ‘zine, and much more demanding than knocking out a short story on the weekends, when there’s not much else going on and there’s no deadline.  For all of those wannabe writers who love to talk about the craft and how they are in love with the written word, there is something about having to produce that much material in that short a period of time, that really forces you to work close to the metal.  There are no do-overs.  On December 1st, you do a total word count, and hope that you got there with all that blubber you added at the last second.

In 2015, I had a number of factors working for me, and I started very strong with my novel, with the very-high expectation of writing 2000 words a day.  This worked great at first, but between technical challenges, a computer crash, and majorly loosing steam half-way through, I missed several days, where I couldn’t write a single word.  I caught up quickly, and when I limped across the finish line with a few days left to spare, I just quit completely, and didn’t write anything those last few days, in spite of trying.  While I technically finished, I felt a little lame about the way I finished, especially since I did this publicly; not only were chunks of the book being serialized on this very blog, but I was allowing people to read the Google Doc where the story lived at any time, and published that link all over.  (It might even still be available, buried somewhere in the avalanche of other stuff that’s online.)  Anyway, there was something about the public nature of the project last year that really made me feel bad about the way it ended.  I should have finished a little more gracefully, but so it goes.

I approached the process of writing a story like this very differently last year, too.  In the past, I would start at word one on page one, and would try to build the story from there.  It was sort of painstaking, as a friend of mine used to say, the “Ice Skating” approach to writing.  (Get it right in the first pass, and that’s it.)  If you don’t know what the next word is, well, you wait until you do.  And you hope that inspiration will guide you.  For my 2015 attempt, unlike all previous efforts at writing, I spent the first couple of days assembling a detailed outline.  All of these outline words counted toward the total 50,000, and as the month progressed, I would highlight a couple of words from the outline, and flesh it out into the scene that was described.

On the whole, it worked, and it allowed me to do something that I’d never done before: write something out-of-sequence.  Humorously enough, I almost never did.  Usually, I would look at the outline and work on the next section.  When I got stuck, I went back a couple of times to flesh out spots that seemed weak in hindsight.  But I rarely went forward.  I just had no idea how to do that.

For 2016, I more or less forgot that NANOWRIMO was coming, and really only decided to do it at the last minute.  There are a number of personal factors that informed this, but when it looked like I had time on November 1st, and an idea occurred to me, I ran with it.

Like last time, I decided to start with an outline.  Like last time, I set a goal of 2000 words a day.  And like last year – and in previous years – I ran with a detective story, too.

But, when it came to the actual writing and day-to-day aspect of it, this year felt very different.  There was a sort of confidence up front that I didn’t remember from last year.  Having completed it before, it now seemed manageable.  Like I’ve heard many people say about honing any skill, once they achieve something once, they know it is possible.  Doing it again is just a formality.  So even on days when I didn’t hit my goal, or even didn’t write anything, it never felt desperate.  I’d already had the worst happen to me: complete computer crash in the middle of a novel.  And in the end, we recovered.  It wasn’t even mildly awful.  If that’s the worst that can happen, then what did I have to fear this year?

Another first for me this time was that I wrote things well out of order.  This was quite practical at first; sometimes, I just didn’t know how to flesh out a scene, and it made sense to write some bantering dialog.  For a good part of the beginning, I wrote a ton of backstory, so I would have some reference material to inform the main plot.  It wasn’t until I’d spent almost five or six days on the backstory that key plot points started to come together in my mind.  Writing out of order also helped me realize that there were huge sections of my outline that were unnecessary when I reviewed everything, and now sections of the story have these weird dead-end sections that sort of go nowhere, because I realized that set-up was no longer necessary.

In fact, when I review the results of this year’s efforts, it is largely unreadable on December 1st, and this is very different from previous attempts.  I will not be serializing this anytime soon, and I’m not sharing the link, either.  But, there is a the seed of a story in there, somewhere.  I could imagine, given a long enough timeline, that I could whip this into shape.  But for now, the idea of returning to this monstrosity just seems inhumane.  It is a huge, sprawling, messy and largely nonsensical detective yarn, and even by that standard, would be hard to enjoy, offers little closure, and is not a good example of what I can at my best.

To make matters worse, I actually got a writing gig in November of this year, which meant that I had to crank our three non-fiction stories during the bulk of NANOWRIMO.  Not only did I have to put the brakes on my “novel” to do my newly-acquired job, but it sort of took over a lot of my brain-space, too.  You don’t realize how many processes are working in the background to come up with words, that it is only when you need to split that time across two project that you realize how exhausting that process is.  You are just wiped out.  In this respect, and in this respect alone, I cheated; the work I had to write for this new job was added to the total word count for November writing.  While I did come up with an in-story reason for this, and I don’t feel guilty in the slightest for doing it, I do feel like I need to mention this caveat.  I absolutely wrote a ton in November.  But not all of it was strictly for this novel.  (But, you never know, considering one of the characters is a journalist / zine writer, it fits, right?)

Another difference this year was location; I wrote this novel in a number of places throughout the month.  It’s sort of hard not to, what with the holidays and etc.  But technology makes stuff like this so incredibly easy, and by using a Google Doc, I never lost a word, no matter where I was writing.  However, this didn’t prevent me from experiencing writer’s block.  When I was not in my two primary writing environments – the office or my home – it was so much more difficult to put my butt in the chair and start churning out words, that there were many days I wrote nothing.  Never had the environmental factor become so apparent to me, and now I had evidence to back it up.  I write better in my natural environments.

Because I missed a lot of days this year, even my 2000 words a day goal couldn’t cover for the days I wrote nothing.  This led to something I had never done before, and turned out to the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done while writing: churning out 4000 words a day, or more, in order to catch up near the end.  On no less than six occasions I wrote well over 2000 words, and three of those were in the 4000+ range.  (One day was nearly 7000 words, even.)  Those six days were… terrible.  There’s just no way to sugar coat it.  Not only did the words get worse as the day progressed, but those were tiring days.  To my knowledge, I’ve never written that much in one day before, and to think that I did it this year still seems insane.  I should know better.  While I finished the projected goal by the end of the month, there were a few days where I felt physically exhausted, just from coming up with words.

On the whole, I had a great time this year, because I feel like I learned a lot of practical lessons about writing that, while perhaps obvious, are things I need to continue to keep in mind to continue this journey of becoming a writer.  Never have I felt that there was so much to learn, and at the same time, never have I felt I have made such progress.  While I’ve tried to condense this into a handful of tips to close out this reflection, I should preface this by saying that it has taken me 20 years of writing and 10 years of failing at NANOWRIMO to make these realizations about myself.  While useful to me now, please don’t assume this is across-the-board advice that will work for everyone.  Just a few observations about how I work when I’m writing.

Hopefully, this will help you find what works for you.

 

10 Writing Tips Learned From NANOWRIMO 2016

1.) It’s About Words; Nothing More.  There is a time for making every sentence unique, making every simile perfect, and having continuity between the entire body of work.  This is not that time.  Just write.  A lot.  Let the words flow.  Let your sentences be clunky.  Let it all out.  Much later, you can fix anything you don’t like.  But for now, just get words down.  Lots and lots of words.

2.) Set Very High Goals.  To beat NANOWRIMO, you need to write at least 1667 words a day.  Write 2000 a day.  If you can, write even more.  Over-shooting the goal early, when you’re just getting started and you’re excited, can save you when you have trouble later, and you need a cushion – for whatever reason.  If you can write for a week straight hitting that higher goal, you’ll have plenty of wiggle room when Thanksgiving hits and you are too full to write.

3.) You Are Over-Thinking It.  Usually, anyway.  All of the best moments of my story are unplanned, and all the parts I want to save in future revisions are the things that I just threw in suddenly, without thinking about it.  When I would agonize over something, it would get worse and worse, and the more I would work on it to get it “just right,” the more time I wasted not-writing, because I was “thinking.”  You will have plenty of time to think about the story when it is done, and you can revise the hell out of it later.  But right now, stop thinking.  Start writing.

4.) Stop Being Precious.  This is something we could all work on.  In the end, this writing is not important.  There is nothing special or unique about your ability to sit down and write for hours a day, except that it speaks to your privilege, in that you are able to do that.  It isn’t true that you write better in one take, or when drunk, or whatever it is that you think makes you a better writer.  What makes you a better writer is to write, a lot, and to take it as read that you will be revising it all in the future.  What you write isn’t a perfect snowflake the first try.  This is just a mess of words that could be something in the future, if you let it.  But it can’t be anything if you aren’t able to just sit down and start writing.  Stop making excuses.  If you are a writer, then, by all means, write.

5.) Location, Location, Location.  It has been said by people more well spoken than I, so I will merely repeat: it is worth it to spend some time creating an environment you want to write in BEFORE you have to start writing.  My office and home are perfectly established places, where I can work and feel good about it.  Unless you thrive in places that are unfamiliar to you, I suggest making sure you have a few places ready that are comfortable, inviting, and induce as much positive energy as you can muster.  You will need it.

6.) Start Early, Work Late.  If you can, start writing in the morning.  Write as much as you can, and keep adding to that number as the day progresses.  If you can, write as late into the day as you can.  Every minute you are not writing are words that you can’t get back, so the sooner you start, the sooner you will get done.

7.) Track Your Numbers As You Go.  Spend some time creating a document where you can track your progress, so you can see how much you have written, and how much more you have to go.  I found that using a Spreadsheet offers the largest number of ways you can manipulate your data, and you can fine-tune it to give you exactly the kind of information you are looking for.  Obviously you want the grand total, but I like being able to look at the work finished each day, and how much I have to write each remaining day to hit the goal.  I recommend learning the key commands that offer your total word count, so you don’t have to use menus or look it up each time.  Seeing your progress in real time can help motivate you to stay on top of your goals, and keep working when you are running out of steam.

8.) Learn To Accept Failure Early, And Often.  There will be days when you just don’t write well.  There will be days you don’t hit the goal.  You might not even finish at the end of the month.  Or, you might, but your story will be crap.  Going into NANOWRIMO is ultimately an experience in coping with failure, because even if you finish, the story you have written will not be the breakthrough success that will make you a star.  Most likely, you spent a lot of time on something that you will not be compensated for, in any way.  That is fine.  Like accepting criticism, or having to accept what you can’t do, writing is not always something you will succeed at, even if you are good.  Learn to sit with that.  Find a way to feel okay with it, and move on.  You will need to if you want to hit 50,000.

9.) Take Breaks. It seems strange, but when you are in the zone, and you are writing well, the last thing you want to do is take a break.  But after even an hour, writing can wear you out, and if you are hungry, or distracted, or tired, it will be harder and harder to write.  Take as many breaks as you need, go for a walk, or whatever.  You will find even a few minutes away will not only help you feel like you can write longer, but will often give you new ideas that don’t come to you while you are actively writing.  Breaks are like the rest in a musical performance; learn to value them as much as the parts where you are writing at full steam.

10.) Get Ready For Post-Novel Depression.  This sounds silly, but I absolutely get depressed when I finish a project.  Nothing dramatic or even dangerous, but completing something is almost like giving birth.  Afterward, you feel like you’ve lost something.  And you have, in a way; a huge story has been created from words you put down.  All of that is out of your head, and while it can be relieving to get things out, it can also make you feel a little empty, in a way.  Fortunately, NANOWRIMO ends with the holiday season in full swing, and hopefully there’s enough going on to help give you some focus and purpose as you cope.  (Or, conversely, this is the most depressing time of the year for you, and you might need some help staying upbeat as you enter it.)  Either way, get ready for it.  This is just a sign that you need to recharge your creative batteries, and do some non-writing things for a while.  You’ve put in a lot of work in a short period of time.  If you want to be able to do it again someday, you’ll need to give yourself the recovery necessary to get back to full strength.  In the meantime, I suggest picking a new TV Show, letting yourself gain a few pounds, and re-doubling your efforts to spend time with friends (or, if you aren’t depressed by the holidays, with your family).  Not only is it the right time of year for it, but you’ll find recovery is so much better with people you care about.

Looking In All The Right Places: White Shark Shivers, Porest & Sir Richard Bishop at Turn! Turn! Turn! (26 November 2016)

There is a long history of you and your friends piling into a car and driving well into the night in order to catch a show that is not coming to your home town.  While the traveling performer is a very old trope in our world, it is only with the advent of national radio – where audiences could get to know artists before they ever made it to the town they play in – that listeners were in a position to know what a show might be like before they went.  Of course, by then the lines of communication were open so you could promote shows like this, and suddenly, all the pieces were in place to develop a culture where not only space could prevent you from seeing something you want, provided you could get there in time.

A much more modern tradition revolves around the weekend after Thanksgiving.  As people are visiting family and friends for that holiday, they are usually casting around for something to do on the days leading back to that Monday, when you return to work.  Bars fill up and, if you’re lucky, a few bands will tune up in the corner to help pass the time.  The folks at Turn! Turn! Turn! certainly had that in mind this year, and to that end, a select handful of us found ourselves huddled around a brand new stage as we took in one of these shows, bolstered by booze and food and a sense that, for whatever reason, this was what we wanted to be doing instead of standing around the kitchen as we cast around for the last few things we’ll be saying to each other before we go home tomorrow.

hjmxi8y8ynsrqbebpjmkuconzyof883xusgvtawb4d9ic_soj7cclbn5wn6jsimjfofztuovpzjjq85rbn9qk-r1zhcoqmvjmq2jis635jut2l3it65_o7nrlrqlij1hk2aqgpfzzpckuttwvt4vx5p9dsxrlydb4yyg3syocfjahvuaiqfv3sa_yu6guikqe4b_wyvWhite Shark Shivers started the show, an ensemble born out of various Thinking Feller’s Union Local 282 projects, with a large horn section and two guitar players, delivering something that had some of the same spirit as that long lost band, while creating a much more specific tone and mood that is not only more appropriate for a gloomy, raining evening, but felt in line with the current national mood.  While this seems to be an extension of Mark Davies’ 1994 solo project The White Shark – and the set certainly included some of those songs amid some covers and originals – this seemed like a new ensemble made up of old friends that is capable of so much more.  If we can’t have the Feller’s back, White Shark Shivers is absolutely the next best thing.

yokvbx1pqfpq4emq9rd2astju8zol6y6gh0u8nxtp8b-lbmfyf7hxnhswlndex5nujynmoczn7yiblvj_wyrrwcxqvtwzzhrffm1cbqc4ndord56qkxgj2cy7l8dua4y10hvudkrfljjbibac_m6cdkhvu8jcsdj5lsd__zygwfvja1ibgwnpdz29gchnldjdxxoy-iCompared to the crowd on stage for the first act, Porest’s two members was certainly an interesting juxtaposition, to say the least.  Having not played in the US for almost 10 years, this was one of two shows that were happening on this continent, and when you listen to some of the songs Porest is known for, it actually makes sense.  While mining some of the collage / experimental territory that Negativland loves to explore, Porest takes their political tone and runs wild with it, intermixing comedy and collage with deconstructive lyrics that might explain why Mark Gergis has been living outside of the country in recent years.  “Soapbox Cutter” is a scathing indictment of US policy and politics, delivered from his “karaoke soapbox” that so conveniently is the form of his stage show, “Diplomat Smile” continues to explore these themes, in a way that pre-saged the recent election, and yet seems to be commenting upon it, too.  “Keep fighting the fight,” seems even more ironic, and yet hopeful, when delivered to a crowd of dancing, happy fans.  Mix this with some on-stage destruction, comedy, and slick dance moves that accompany a song against smoking, and it was most certainly worth it to catch this rare artist in his natural environment.

f8ol_hdpflgycidxcnnruhzycj4gmzcmcts8xpon8tsdfk2b_fgkf6gn4tmq5w0xafiypcifzqhwddupgccsiny0g4a2vuszpewk1nwlxbvr-7jxlofizzel9u3nbhml39ftzc3r_pptqijurhjpwd2dupdomuyhd7vd6wecp5f8x7_mj2rhwzufhkhvpoefdyxo9tuTo close the show, Sir Richard Bishop of The Sun City Girls took the stage, and amid protests that we’d already seen the best, and that he was far too wasted to play well, he continued to deliver acoustic originals and covers that felt celebratory in a way we all desperately needed.  While his improvisational sonic explorations are always contemplative, he wasn’t beneath throwing in a few jokey covers like “Fly By Night” and an incredibly earnest version of “If I Only Had A Brain.”  We swayed, we rocked, we laughed and we cajoled, but it was mostly because we didn’t want it to end.  We still had an hour drive home ahead of us, and the liquor soaked joy and pot-tinged celebrations seemed to be just starting as Richard insisted that we had already gotten our money’s worth.

But as we blasted back down I-5 to return home, it seemed the perfect endcap to an incredible evening.  If seeing them, as Richard insisted, was about getting our money’s worth, then he’s being incredibly disingenuous.  Porest didn’t come to this country just to play for a small crowd in Portland for the money, and it seems odd that Mark Davies would assemble a group like his because there was certainly money in it.  Rather, this was another one of his jokes.  When it comes to shows like this, none of us are getting together in a small club because it is “worth it.”  Rather, we’re coming for the comradery, we’re coming to get away from our families for a few minutes and enjoy ourselves.  We’re looking for something else in the night, in the rain, in the darkness, in this November at the end of a year that has beaten us down, insulted us, degraded us, and made us feel like there is no hope.

We’re looking, for a few hours, for some music.  And, fortunately, we found it.

 

 

 

A Sequel, And A New Beginning

untitledacronym.blogpress.too

A new publication, with a new story.

And a pseudo-sequel to our previous endeavor.

Film & music reviews.

A chapter from the latest Dexter Roland yarn.

Photography by Austin Rich.

All in monochromatic glory, available physically, or digitally.

Our first run of both digital and print editions come with our previous effort, free.

Free, or you can make a donation in the amount of your choice to austinrich@gmail.com, via PayPal.

Dot Too.  Something New.

 

“Gerald Roslie posed on September 26, 1968, casually leaning on his Vox Continental electronic organ. He was wearing a Nehru-styled jacket with brocade trim, coordinating brocade slacks, black ankle boots and a scorpion medallion. Billed as the “Gerry Roslie Riot,” in September of 1968 he was appearing nightly and on Saturday nights in the newly remodeled Mod Room in Scotty’s, 29 Tacoma Avenue North. Roslie had been a member of the local rock group, the Sonics, for a number of years in the early ’60s. Although the Sonics played classic songs by Little Richard and Chuck Berry, they were better known for originals “Strychnine,” “Witch,” and “Psycho,” performed at ear-shattering levels. Roslie was the lead singer and keyboardist for several of their biggest hits.”

 

 

 

23 Seconds

23sotv13_cover72I am thrilled and honored to have a piece I made be included on this incredible compilation, 23 Seconds ov Time – Volume 13.

I appear on the 16th track, and my piece is called “Rocket Summer.”  Mid-Valley Mutations fans may recognize the sample from The Martian Chronicles episode, but repurposed differently for this song.

There’s some choice experimental artists among the 53 who contributed to this collection, including friend of the show Uneasy Chairs, who kicks off this comp, and Blue Sabbath Black Cheer, who are incredible.  I’m very pleased that they used my submission and I’m very proud to be included with so many other great artists.

The album is free, and if you like experimental music, this is a must have.

And there are 12 other volumes available, too.  Collect them all.

WTBC New Releases

a1590049298_16We have been doing our best to provide as much quality entertainment as possible on the shoe-string budget that is best suited to these modern times, and with that in mind, we have completely updated our Bandcamp.com Store with new and exciting releases that are of interest to you.

In the period before I began at KMUZ, I was doing a show on an Internet station, Wanting To Be Cool In Beautiful Anywhere, Anywhen.  While they became a very comforting home to me and my work when I was not on broadcast radio, in the time since they have become dedicated to documenting the work we’re doing, and capturing some of the performances that happen on our program.

To that end, there are now downloadable versions of the live performances and interviews we have had on Mid-Valley Mutations, where you can enjoy bespoke digital albums of each act, without the clutter of the rest of the broadcast that you have come to know and love.  The albums contain full performances by the artist we’ve had on the show, and in a few cases, material you haven’t yet heard!

fiascoOur store now contains:

The collaboration between myself and devilsclub entitled “Beware of Tomorrow!

Two complete live sets by Guyve, including a lot of material that could not fit into the hour long show!

The Digital FM Split Tape!  (Featuring live performances by Entresol & Entrail, including 15 minutes of music between the two of them that did not air during the boradcast!)

msdA nearly 51 minute performance by Portland Improvisational Mavericks, Fiasco!

And a manic, Pledge Drive Performance by Manual Sex Drive.

All of these albums are free to enjoy and download, for the time being.  This is your chance to pick up a ton of excellent recordings that are unique to Mid-Valley Mutations.  However, if you are so inclined, please make a donation for all of this excellent entertainment.  Any purchases you do make will go to supporting KMUZ, and keeping that station on the air.

In addition to these, you can also pick up Interviews, which contains 13 different interviews with artists who have been on the program.  These are extended conversations with musicians about the work of creativity and music in the 21st Century, and offer a chance to get to know the people we play on the program.  You will not hear these conversations anywhere else, and it’s just another way we like to give back to the listeners at home.

There are also a number of other audio treasures over there, so poke around and see if you find something you like.  We hope that you won’t be sorry.

Halloween Spook-tacular, 2016!

img_20141025_110248While not the production it was last year, I wanted to quickly mention that we are celebrating Halloween the old fashioned way, and yes, that involves your podcast feed.

Mid-Valley Mutations is offering bonus episodes on Mondays and Wednesdays of October, for a total of 13 Holiday podcasts.  Four of these shows will air on KMUZ, as the shows do normally.  (10 PM, Friday nights.)  But there are nine gems, hand picked from our 13 years of producing Halloween Radio.  This is a chance to hear the many permutations our program has perpetrated, and gives you ample bonus material for that impending holiday party.

You can find all of our holiday entertainment using this handy link: midvalleymutations.com/category/halloween-spook-tacular

Or by enjoying the podcast feed, available in all your local podcatchers of choice.

Happy Holidays, from us, and Mid-Valley Mutations.

Be Seeing You.

#thankful4KMUZ: Here’s How You Can Show It

cropped-KMUZWebHeader_2015A#thankful4KMUZ: Here’s How You Can Show It

KMUZ, like many radio stations depends on listener contributions to continue generate excellent programming.  When you make a donation to our station, you are showing how #thankful4KMUZ you actually are, by contributing to a cause that is now been on the air for five years.  You can make a donation by going to kmuz.org and following the PayPal links, or by calling 503-990-6601 starting tomorrow – October 1st – and pledging your support to our station – all the way to October 7th.

As part of our usual Pledge Drive, anyone who donates $50 will receive a black KMUZ Mug.  Drink coffee in style, and show your support for your favorite community radio station.

temp-coverFor listeners of Mid-Valley Mutations, we like to sweeten the deal.  For anyone who makes a donation of any amount to KMUZ, we will give them a digital copy of our new album, Mid-Valley Mutations Vol. 1.  This is a collection of some of the live moments from our program since May of this year.  This includes live performances by Paco Jones, devils/club, Guyve, Entresol, Entrail & Fiasco, a fine gathering of artists that have all contributed to this program.  And all you have to do is make any kind of donation you KMUZ you can afford.  I will e-mail you your digital album as a thank you gift for listening to the show.

a1714948314_16For contributions of $25 or more, you will get to choose from one of three gifts, curtesy of Personal Archives, No Part Of It & WTBC: Wanting To Be Cool In Beautiful Anywhere, Anywhen, including albums by Thollem, Bob Bucko Jr.Sex Funeral, Illusion of SafetyArvo Zylo / Dental Work and physical copies of The Shindig Shakedown, a gift that was largely available at Austin’s 40th Birthday Party.

For a contribution of $35 or more, you will get a vinyl copy of the Blood Rhythms Assembly LP, with a hand-made cover.  There is a limited number of this LP, so please make your contribution soon.

I could go on and on about how important these Pledge Drives are, so let me just say a few more words.  Without listener donations, KMUZ may have trouble paying the rent in the future.  We would not only loose all the great shows, but the physical space we use to make all of this happen.  This is why we need your money.  Radio is loose ground every day, and for us to have made it five years is quite impressive.  But to make it much longer, we’ll need money, and we’ll need your support.

If everyone who listens to my program were to contribute even $5, that would be enough to keep Mid-Valley Mutations and KMUZ on the air.  Let’s hope that we can raise that much – and more.  Make your donation now, and mention that you would like to support Mid-Valley Mutations (and which perk you are interested in).  Let’s make radio in the mid-valley powerful again.

 

Felled By Illness.

imgresThere is no amount of technology or improvement in our culture or way of life that can erase how helpless and meaningless everything seems when we get sick.  There are moments, when we are awake at two AM, delirious, confused, feeling gross and insane, and your mind travels down a repetitive loop of nonsense that is both impossible to focus on and your entire reality – moments like that, where you suddenly remember how debilitating even the smallest illnesses can be, and how when someone says they aren’t feeling well, what, exactly, that can mean.

I felt it coming on Saturday morning, and while I wasn’t exactly sure at first, by the time we had decided what we wanted to do that day and were out in the world doing it, I was sure that the rest of my day would be awful.  We finished our errands, got home, and I went to bed, and have failed to get sleep ever since.  I’m sure I have dozed off for an hour or so, but nothing truly restful, or substantive.  I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the bathroom – and I will not give any detail as to why – and while I am often hungry, everything I put in my body does not seem to enjoy the experience.  But, if I had to say anything is really the worst part of all of this, it is not being able to sleep.

I am so bad at taking care of myself anyway that it is not at all surprising when I do get sick, but the fact I don’t spend more time sick is either a testament to the human body, or my own genetic mutation thereof.  But as I get older I have started to realize that all my terrible habits and non-considerations of things that are fairly worrisome should probably be reversed if I don’t want to experience an untimely departure.  Our days are numbered as it is, and it would be embarrassing if there were something I could do to keep that end day at bay, and I did nothing.

Of course I don’t think about these kinds of things except when I am sick, or not feeling well, or some other aspect of health comes knocking on my door.  Our minds are incredible tools, and allow us the ability to enjoy amazing leisure activities.  But it is terrible at reinforcing good habits, or breaking bad ones and forming new ones, too.  This largely has to do with how easy it is to find (and enjoy) things that are fun, and in doing so, ignore all things that we don’t think of that way.  You’ve probably heard this elsewhere, but the key is to “gamify” your own health in a way you enjoy.

But, of course, doing that is fairly difficult, too.  We are creatures of habit, and if you have any bad ones in particular, then you know how tough it is to change.  I smoked for years and years, so much so that I had to quit several times before I was able to fully give up cigarettes.  (And even that still hasn’t caused me to fully give up wanting to smoke.)  I took me a long time to give up drinking every day, and as I give up one bad habit, I see a huge foundation of others beneath me that I still need to give up, too.  How much self improvement is safe to undertake at any one time?

It is weird when you have to start guessing about what will and will not be good for you as you try to heal yourself.  Will this stay down if I eat it?  How far away from a toilet should I lie down?  Should I just take some aspirin, or a sleep aid, or should I just let nature run its ugly course?  And, is it okay to have just one cigarette, or glass of wine, too?

I think I’m on the other side of this particular illness, but the thing that was driving me crazy this time – and it is a concern I have struggled with my whole life – is not being able to sleep.  Since High School I have struggled with this, and while for many years I could blame staying up late and ingesting too much coffee / cigarettes / drugs / whatever as the primary culprit, even at this advanced middle age, where many of these things have been given up, I still suffer from not sleeping well.  Of course, this is largely because I’ve come to find that there is a bottomless well of sleep hygiene tactics that I should be employing if I really want to get to the bottom of all of this.  There is only room for improvement, but you will never get there entirely.

It won’t be long before this is in my rear view mirror.  My wife will be well again, and we’ll be back to our routine, and even the clean-up will be done.  It won’t take much, even.  By Friday the house will be clean, and we can joke about the gross parts, and make fun of those around us who are still suffering, the way family does when they genuinely love you, but want you to be in as much pain as they were, just so you understand what they went through, too.

Of course now that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, part of me wonders if getting sick and being reminded of our frailties is all part of the plan.  Perhaps we benefit from knowing we’re very close to being almost entirely incapacitated by a small germ, or some dishes we didn’t clean.  What kind of lesson does this weakness teach us?  Can we gain any kind of insight into ourselves, or our life, or the lives of those around us from the few moments we spend, hunched over a toilet, willing to say almost anything if it means we will feel better?

Last edited by Austin Rich on 24 February 2016 at 3:41 am

UntitledDo we ever really know ourselves?  Is it possible that we will surprise ourselves, up to the very end, only to have our expiring notion be something along the lines of, “I never imagined.”

Because you can’t.  You won’t.  You shouldn’t.  To really consider the variable I’s that you inhabit throughout your years is just too much to handle at any one moment.  We coalesce around a version of who we are saying we are, and project backwards and forwards in an effort to create continuity, and we are lucky to have this tool – language – that comes built in with narrativity, all used as a means of describing ourselves.  So much is stacked against us that we have to consider the self with a three-act narrative arc.

But the thing that is not discussed – this notion of identity, or being and self – are not described by a narrative arc.  More appropriately, there is a stuttering, stammering quality to the way identity is truly expressed.  Every moment we are reforming who I is, and who I will be in the next iteration, each time drawing on the versioned elements of our personas that stretch forward and backward in time.  There are so many things about ourselves that are difficult and complex to keep in our own consciousnesses, that in many ways it is easier to grab onto cliches and uniforms to help create visual and mental shortcuts.

I look at the me of today, and I wonder if I would be recognizable to any other me that I’ve identified with.  I don’t know what I thought my future would be like, and it is not something that I necessarily spent a lot of time concerning myself about when I was younger.  The work I wanted to do was more clearly defined, but the “me” that I thought about when the future occurred to me was once so ill-defined that in many ways I didn’t exist.  There was always a name attached to a novel, but who that name was supposed to represent was never clear to me.  I can only imagine what this ghostlike perception of self has led to as time has marched on.

I haven’t turned into a horrible person, or at least, I don’t think I have.  I can be difficult and neurotic and hard on myself, but I don’t think I’m particularly awful.  But I can see the compromises that this me doesn’t feel bad about, but I may have once taken issue with.  At 19, there are certainly things I never imagined I would ever do, in spite of not having a vivid impression of this future life I might live.  The problem with tomorrow is that it comes so quickly that you often don’t realize that you are there, and have even moved on to the thing after that, and that, and that, and that.

Firmly in middle age, it isn’t that hard to find where things went wrong.  It is the natural state of the middle aged man to find fault with everything – himself especially – and I can very easily look at the man I have been and lay out a dissertation on the missteps and failed calculations.  But this blurring of identity – this realization that we have dynamic mes that shift and chance from day to day – suggests that this person I remember is someone else completely.

A past me.  A me that cared deeply about keeping everything, a me that smoked cigarettes with a passion.  A me that worked for six years in a bookstore, who considered the hobby of “musician” to be an occupation at one point, in spite of the fact that it was anything but.  This person loved punk rock and chasing women and thinking deep thoughts and being self-righteous about half-formed bullshit.

An uneducated me.  An awkward me.  A scared and lonely me.

It isn’t that I have become someone I would hate.  Rather, it is that I wish I could be friends with who I once was, because he seems like someone I could relate to.

The path I’ve chosen is fine.  There are no great opportunities that I was offered that I virulently turned down.  If anything there were things I pursued that I soon realized I was never suited for, and I was better off, in the end, never becoming the person I briefly imagined I might have been.

The problem I have now is that I want so badly to find out who the person I am, now, actually is.  I can only look in the mirror so many times before the image looks foreign again.  We are, if anything, defined by what we do, and waiting for inspiration and pacing back and forth is not exactly something I want to be known for.

Nostalgia is powerful, and the me I once was has an allure and a charm that I am often very attracted to.  Who doesn’t want to believe that something you can’t have again was secretly better than anything you can have now?  At least that way, you never have to worry about happiness again.

But, just suppose, we had to be happy now.  Is is possible?  Could we find something in the present that isn’t backward or forward looking, but is content with the me of the present?  And, does my own future now look so ill-defined, so amorphous and dim?

More importantly, how will I reflect on this, years from now, when the person I’ve become looks back, and wonders, “What the fuck is this guys thinking?”

Or, perhaps, all of this is another mental exercise, a way of framing identity in an altogether different way, so I can continue to avoid addressing the underlying issue that is at the heart of all of this, the question that really wakes me up in the middle of the night, that sends me to the keyboard so I can hammer out something else, this urge that makes me anxious and confused most of the time:

Why is it so hard to be happy?

This Year, Give The Gift of Podcasts

ValentineRadioEmittingHeartsI am reminded of a comment made about (or, possibly, by?) Sarah Vowel, on the subject of They Might Be Giants, and how they had such a vast back catalog that there was a song for every occasion, that could be used in any episode of This American Life.  I’m sure, at this point, I’ve mangled the memory so badly that I’m quite a ways off my mark, but suffice it to say I often feel that there is a similar relationship to holidays and my own radio output.  Over what has almost been 20 years I’ve been on the radio a lot, and sooner or later, I will come across a situation where we have an appropriate show for this time of year.  And, for Valentine’s Day, this is no exception.

If you subscribe to our VD Feed – you’ll have to manually paste this one into your podcatcher of choice – you can check out a slew of old Valentine’s Days shows, going back to 2006.  This includes a handful of What’s This Called? episodes, and all of the old Blasphuphmus Radio holiday jams, too.  This will give you a chance to listen back to all the romantic radio you can fill your device with, and woo the radio nerd of your choosing.

In these fast paced times, you might be asking for a recommendation, on the off chance that you only have time for a small slice of the many offerings available.  If that is the case, then I would recommend that you pick either one of the two shows I have selected below, depending on your interests:

1.) The Future of Love.  In this Sci-Fi audio essay, I explore the story of Lulu, a spaceship that has some designs on one of the occupants of its very own hull.  This is largely built around an episode of the X-Minus One radio program from the 1950s, and some other experimental / jazz music that speaks to the theme of the show.

2.) Isosceles Diego’s Valentine’s Day Special.  In this episode from 2007, my old roommate Isosceles Diego – who first guested on the show in 1998 – drops by the show to deliver his favorite songs from around the world to help put us int he holiday spirit.  There is a lot of really great music by artists that you’ve probably never heard before – save for the brief excursion into ’90’s Olympia Indie Rock – and a ton of Eastern Block Rock.

There’s other great shows mixed in with those links, and I do suggest that you check them out.  While I never really enjoyed Valentine’s Day the way other’s have, I did some pretty decent radio here and there, and that is something of which I am proud.  Hopefully you can dig it, too.

Enjoy!

Metatextual Reflections On A Life Spent Creating Metatexual Reflections

Cartoons

imgres-1Most likely this interest stems from the well known (and well loved) Chuck Jones cartoon, Duck Amuck, where it becomes very clear as the cartoon progresses (spoilers for people who haven’t seen a cartoon from 1953) that Daffy is being tortured by the artist illustrating his cartoon.  The antagonistic relationship continues until the very end, where it is finally revealed that the cartoonist is none other than… (spoilers for the spoilers)… Bugs Bunny himself.  (An almost Lost-ian ending, if I ever saw one.)

This cartoon was so unlike anything else I had seen as a child that I couldn’t believe it, and I tried to imagine some huge force outside of me that was dictating the world in which I lived, changing it on me randomly.  (As a child raised by what you could ostensibly call atheist parents, I had no idea that most people were living in a world where this was true for them.)  And while Chuck Jones might have introduced me to this world, when I sat down to study the animated oeuvre every Saturday, I started to realize that there were other guys who tackled similar subjects, but in other ways.

porky in wackylandBob Clampett‘s Porky In Wackyland is a tour de force of animated spectacle, with plenty of moments where the characters are just crazy enough to address the audience (a schtick he would deploy as needed in many of his cartoons).  Tex Avery was also very good at throwing in gags that revealed the cartoon was being played in a theater where characters from the audience would stand up to offer advice or help.  Avery loved to break other aspects of the fourth wall whenever he could, and used these gags as much as any other.  As an avid cartoon fan, there were no other shows that did anything like this, and part of the genius of the Warner Bros. animated world was that, unlike Disney or other production companies, there was a manic insanity that was shared by the creators and the audience that you did not get from, say, a Pluto cartoon.  (As cute and inoffensive as they might have been.)

Over the years I have come to realize that the golden era of Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies were head and shoulder’s above the competition, and Happy Harmonies, Color Rhapsodies and even Disney’s own Silly Symphony’s could compete with the overall form of the Warner Bros. work.  The insanity and the brilliance of their shorts so completely synthesized “cartoon” as a visual format, and their sense of satire and caricature was leaps and bounds above the others.  And I largely point to their sense of metatext – of being able to jarringly draw attention to the artifice of the work at hand – that made them far superior.  They made jokes with tongue planted and cemented into cheek, and they felt that their own medium not only set them apart, but could be exploited to take audiences into places that other animation studios just couldn’t be bothered to visit.

 

Comics

It isn’t that I believed a child of the ’80’s could have been the first person to consider the meta-textual qualities of the media around him, and certainly I would have been a fool to consider that this kind of interplay didn’t exist in other mediums, either.  But I was shocked when I would mention that it was these moments that I longed for, it was the instant Yosemite Sam turned to me and made a comment that took us both out of the story for a second, that I thought were the funniest moments.  I didn’t have a name for it then, and most of my friends and family seemed to thing those scenes were usually boring.  (This is like when you meet people who don’t like Holodeck episodes of Star Trek: TNG, or who found the mythology episodes of X-Files to be boring.)

The underlying idea that the artist and the audience could wink at each other and share a joke or a moment between only the two of them was very clearly a powerful tool, considering how much it affected me as a kid.  Seeing the edges and peering through the reality that seeped through was always my favorite part of anything I saw around me, and it began to be the way in which I would look at TV and film, too.  But I also noticed how it did not seem to have the same kind of effect of other.  When most people were confronted with a meta-joke, they frown and shake their head.  It just isn’t for them, no matter how funny the joke might be.

Ambush_Bug_3When I discovered comics as a teen, I was immediately attracted to the “funnier” and more comedy-inflected writing styles that was big business in the late ’80’s.  DC was having a field day with style, largely influenced by Keith Giffen and his series, Ambush Bug.  A lead character that is aware he is in the DC Universe, and plays with dead (or forgotten) bits of continuity that blew my mind as a 13 years old kid, (who, at the time, hadn’t been lucky enough to find Steve Gerber‘s work yet, who Giffen seems influenced by).  Again, I seemed to be in the minority, but I would scan the racks at comics stores, looking for something that scratched that itch at a time when most comics had gotten very dark and “serious.”  This led me to finding Giffen’s run on Justice League, which is not only one of the funniest comics produced in the late ’80’s / early ’90’s, but to this day stands as a source for much of my sense of humor, if not references and jokes that no one else around me seems to get.

250px-BlastersdcuAnd then, there was The Blasters.  Where do you even begin with trying to tell that backstory?  In the late ’80’s, Giffen had been given a number of books to work on as one of DC’s rising stars, and with his Justice League book a hit, he was allowed to expand his influence to a number of titles.  This also led to him getting to write 1989’s annual all-company cross-over Invasion!  Giffen used this end product as a way to cause his various Sci-Fi / outer space story lines hinted at in Omega Men, Justice League International, and Legion of Super-Heroes to converge in this company-wide event.  DC’s goal (like it is for any event like this) was to launch some new titles, shake up some old titles, clean house elsewhere in the universe, and move some of the action that is usually contained entirely on Earth into outer space, thus opening up the DC Universe so that the word “universe” was actually on point these days.  This was Giffen’s attempt to not only ape Marvel’s Cosmic titles that were doing very well over there (with stuff like Guardians of The Galaxy and Silver Surfer selling like gangbusters), but to try and do a modern version of Kirby’s Fourth World books from the ’70’s.

It also helped that in the old Justice League comics, there was a tendency to have to fight off an alien menace every other issue, and the one thing that “dark” and “modern” comics of the late ’80’s had been lacking was a good alien invasion.  And with any good war story, you needed a band of mercenaries.  To this end, Giffen organized a group of new and old characters to work as the catalyst for the Invasion! storyline.  This group was loosely known as The Blasters for an actually terrifying reason (their powers all emerged when aliens lined them up and fired upon them, scaring the team senseless and causing their metagenes to activate).

In the wake of the Invasion! series, DC took chances on several new titles, one of which was a one-shot featuring this new team, to see if it might be a book they could add to their publishing roster.  Being a Giffen property not only meant that the book had to be funny, but helmed by someone who got Giffen’s take on comics.  He not only picked the team to write and draw it (Peter David and James Fry), but set the tone for the book with the comedy and meta-text that followed his particular interests.  It also so happened that Peter and James like to produce the same kind of stuff, too.

Since almost none of you have even heard of this title, I’ll spoil everything now and save you the trouble of Lycos-ing or tracking down this story: there has been only one Blasters comic book published since 1989, a special release in the Spring of that year (that was panned by critics and very quickly forgotten).  The story, typical of Peter David’s writing, is a mish-mash of Sci-Fi references (largely from Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy… yes, vogons appear in this comic), and meta-textual references and gags where the captions for the book are destroyed and flown through by various space ships.  (The lead character, Snapper Carr – have fun with that particular comics k-hole – finds out what to do next in the story by glancing at the panels that are ahead of him.)  If I haven’t done a good enough job of describing what The Blasters is like to read, just imagine something that was written for nerds, and narrow the focus so incredibly that within their own ranks, only a small sub-set will find it up their alley.  No matter how much I raved, and no matter who I loaned that book to, it always came back, largely unread, with a comment like, “I tried, but it just isn’t my thing.”

 

Film

I have often wondered why I heard this phrase so often when I tried to get at my interest in this subject.  “It just isn’t my thing.”  It seemed like such a ripe area for reflection and narrative complexity to my young mind, and yet it was the element in every story I read that others seemed to skip over.  The thing I learned from Warner Bros. cartoons growing up is that, unlike most schlock that is played straight and is absolutely saccharine with predicability and well-worn stories – ahem, Disney, coff coff – you can often get bigger reactions from something if it is unlike everything else around it.  Even at a young age, television brought home the idea that there are basically two kinds of stories, and they are each the reverse side of the other.  (Summarizing Jorge Borges, one is “A stranger came to town,” and the other, “Someone went off on a long journey.”)  Repetition absolutely bred familiarity with me, and the welcome intrusion of characters and references that pointed to the artificiality of this repetition became the attractive element that I looked for in art and culture.

220px-SpaceballsLet me pause my own story a brief moment to say a few words about Spaceballs, a film that spent many years on my list of favorite movies, and my very favorite by Mel Brooks (until I became more familiar with his other work as a teen and twenty-something years later).  While all of his films use metatext as a platform to layer joke after joke (see, for instance, the last third of Blazing Saddles), Spaceballs was very close to home for me.  I loved sci-fi (and Star Wars, of course), I loved comedy, and they had packaged both with a huge swath of self-awareness that I had not seen in a film before.  This movie had my sense of humor written all over it, so much so that there is a sort of chicken-or-the-egg quality regarding which came first.  If you had to distill an aspect of that film that moved me, pulled me aside and said, “kid, this is for you,” then I would have to point to Rick Moranis turning to the camera asking if, “Everybody got that?”  It went so directly to the core of my being as a kid that it still works on me, even as an adult, and I am sure I quote this movie accidentally without realizing I am.  It is possible, if one were so inclined, to make a Bowfinger-style recreation of Spaceballs without my knowledge, provided you followed me around long enough and waited for the appropriate scenes to play out.

As I got older and discovered a love of writing, my stories became full of characters that were my own in-narrative proxys.  (A Grant Morrison kind of move before I even knew who he was.  In fact, reading The Invisibles was painful for me only because periodically I would yell out, “That was my idea!” a problem that would recur when I started watching Lost.)  As my big literary influence in those days were comics, and to another degree the DC Heroes Roleplaying Game that I’d gotten for Christmas one year, most of my early writing is littered with a thinly-veiled versions of myself in some sort of elaborate conceit or costume that made me into a superhero.  I am fortunate enough that most of this material is still in either a hand-written form, or on typing paper (predating my first computer), and therefore I can’t share these stories with you as easily.  (You’re welcome.)  Suffice it to say, my Hitchcockian cameos in my own text began very early, and has continued ever since.

 

‘Zines

imagesMy first foray into my own fiction began with a story I wrote in High School, and was serialized in my zine A.C.R.O.N.Y.M., which was made and distributed between 1994 and 1995.  In issue #2, the first installment of naaaaaahhhhghahahhk!!!!!!!! (oR, tHE rEALLY wEIRD sTORY tHAT i cAN’T rEMEMBER wHAT tHE tITLE iS) sees print, and I wish I could say nicer things about it considering I know the author fairly well.  I made the decision to typeset the entire thing in what I called the “fIREHOSE” format, which made the story largely unreadable to most people save for myself and those with the highest constitutions when it comes to textual form.

The idea itself was fairly bland: I had written the story my neighbors appeared in, but they find out, get worried, and I have to stop them from learning more, and eventually give up and crumple the story, destroying their universe.  Corny, yes, but it illustrates where my mind was in High School.  Super heroes appear in this story, and I fight them, even.  Most of the writing groups I would attend in the early days had people hashing out their fantasy novels, creating cryptic and impenetrable poetry, or just wanted to turn their journals into creative prose so we could all experience their pain.  I was looking to do something that was sort of in-between all of these things, and would read stories like naaaaaahhhhghahahhk!!!!!!!! to puzzled audiences who didn’t know what to think.

ibtfa-3-coverWhen I settled into Eugene properly after High School, and started to immerse myself in the ’90s culture that surrounded us, I became the center of my own writing again.  Between 1996 and 2005, I wrote a ‘zine called I’d Buy That For A Dollar.  While this occasionally contained fiction, the bulk of it was an outlet for my incredibly solipsistic and emo ponderings, where I made my best efforts to made sense of life as a lonely young man.  While I will cop to have written it all – even the awful bits – with hindsight it is not only unseemly at times, but as my friend Cheryl once said to me, “this is a little too revealing.”

I don’t regret it, because it was so much a part of my psyche at the time that I needed to get that out of my head, even if it wasn’t exactly helping.  When I read it back, I don’t know if I feel the same way about the events this person was writing about, even though I am sure we are the same person.  Of course, it is easy to say that when almost 20 years separates the earliest issues from now, but I think I let my own misery drive my creative impulses a little too much then, and with hindsight, I wish I had let other motivations steer me toward other material.

tumblr_m599ccaUEa1rokdd5But even this reflectiveness was being shaped and molded by metatext.  My roommate at the time, a tall linguist we called Sierra, introduced me to Flann O’Brien, an author who plays with the boundaries between literature and reality for fun and sport, in both his novels and his newspaper columns (which blur the line between journalism and fiction).  Discovering Fight Club and Charlie Kaufman movies at this time did me no end of good when it came to plumbing the depths of this well.  The Princess Bride was an obsession that started harmlessly enough when I saw it, but led to multiple re-readings and viewings where the genius therein was full revealed.  And, let’s no forget re-reading Endgame over and over, which eventually led to a nice and comfortable interest in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, a film that not only rewards with multiple viewings, but might be the funniest thing that has ever been written.

While I’d Buy That For A Dollar was far from metatext in intent, it became an ongoing story about my own life, and one that I recognized less and less as the years went on and I started changing and evolving, personally.  Having been steeped in this world of reality and fiction blurring, my reality now read like fiction to me, not because the events hadn’t happened, but the lens through which I was seeing those same events was filtering for something entirely different.  Already, even in offering context for this interest of mine, I have to relate to my own life and past through the narrative text I wrote, a breadcrumb trail that offers clues as to what was happening when, and where I have been, but in a form that seemed strange and unfamiliar to the adult I had become.  Around 2005-ish this kind of personal writing migrated entirely to this blog – the one you’re reading now.  I had been a character in this printed story that now seemed foreign and made up, and if my own life was going to sound that way anyway, then I should probably become comfortable with just making things up from the start in the first place.

imgres-2It isn’t that my life changed or that things shifted dramatically in 2005.  I was going to college, yes, and outside of radio and writing fiction, my only other interest at the time was girls.  But something more subtle was going on that only made sense to me years later.  The “me” that I had been writing about for my whole life was gone.  I was an adult, interested in different things, talking about life in a different way, and looking for something that I could get excited about that wasn’t informed by my childhood.  In many ways, I had become a Sci-Fi trope, where I was living in the body of someone else, a body that carried memories of someone that seemed familiar to me, but also seemed unrelated to the life that I was living now.  The 30 year old I found myself being then was not only confused by the life I had led before, but it felt like a life I would have lived differently, had I known how most of it would turn out.

It was around 2005 that I started writing fiction again, much more of it than I had before.  Short stories, yes, and very inspired by Borges and Calvino and Brautigan and Flann O’Brien, and some other material I’d absorbed through being on a college campus and having access to the larger world of ideas.  And yet, in nearly all of these I insisted in making myself a character in the narrative, a gimmick that my influences were all very good at, true.  But for me it seemed motivated by a different impulse.  Since I had written the truth and it felt like fiction, inserting myself into fiction felt like a new way and defining truth for myself.  Why did I see this other life as someone else’s, when it was clearly my own?  Perhaps, if I wrote about another version of it enough, I could crack some of these puzzles that no amount of booze or girls or writing about it seemed to allow me to do.

naked-trees1Most of my work since 2005 has been centered around amplifying the idea that I could live comfortably within the stories that I write.  And, to be fair, these fictions have been quite enjoyable to try on and waltz around within.  I made a 2008 collection of these stories, Naked Trees Point To The North Star, and to this day, it remains the best collection of my written work that I have been able to get in print, and has re-defined who I was, both to myself and to the people who read it.  The idea had been gestating since those earliest days at PSU: DIY publications and ‘zines are the perfect form to create experimental pieces of prose, and I envisioned that Naked Trees would look and feel like a ‘zine, would have a personal / journal-like quality at times, but the entirety of the package was a work of fiction, written and made by a version of myself that is almost, but not at all remotely, like the me that had been writing previously.

The reaction to this was, of course, mixed.  Meta is just not for everyone, and while I felt that these stories really got at the heart of struggles that I was going through, I had a hard time talking about the work with anyone else, without resorting to the worst quality in every writer, making the statement, “So, did you ‘get it’?”  While it remains the best written work I have produced in any format to date, and I have come to terms with how, in spite of my best efforts, it is more journalistic than fictional, in that it marked a serious shift in my own view of the universe.  It was clear that once I imbued my text with any amount of reality from my world, the reality itself seemed further and further from the truth.  After publishing that collection all I had left of my former live was this written collection and half-trusted memories to guide me.  Something was about to give.

 

Reality

spaceballs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It isn’t that I decided to make my life reflect these vague and perplexing Sci-Fi and Fantasy tropes to add some spice or flavor to my own experiences.  In observing my own interactions with the world – and the interactions of others – it is clear to me that you cannot capture the complexity of this existence, and the strangeness of the mundane, in anything but fantastic language and conceptual thinking.  Is it possible to illustrate these kinds of experiences if you haven’t been through them yourself?  You’re sharing some wine with some friends, and you’re quickly gobbling every snack you can, because of the night ahead of you.

Gathering everything you can imagine needing, you trundle en mass, passing fellow travelers and enemies, until you arrive at the bar.  There is music and magic and libido and peacocking and every manner of horror and excitement on display, charging you, filling you with magic until you are casting conversational spells in every direction.  You are filled with an experience you can barely explain, as your friends are performing and watching and drinking and fucking and exploring all manner of joy and pain in one dramatic and perplexing night.  And, exhausted, wasted, with a kiss on your cheek and a song in your heart, you perform your last few tricks, produce a cigarette from somewhere, and zig zag through the alleys, to find yourself at home, the next day, perplexed and confused, but itching to do it all over again.

Is that not some sort of fantasy, full of the kind of strangeness and confusion that the best fiction fills us with as we turn pages?  At what point does our own life contain a kind of importance that we choose to add it to the cannon, so we can romp through uncharted waters side-by-side with Odysseus?  Are we all content to wallow in the banality of brushing our teeth and making lunch?

coverThree things happened in 2010 that had a huge effect on me.  First, I finished college, a banality that I had put off for too long, and was only causing me to spin my tires and was getting in the way of my next phase in life.  I moved in with a friend of mine (second thing), and when all of that was said and done, I had an experience that is difficult to explain, which I attempted to document in 2013’s acronyminc.blogpress.new.

Essentially, I lost 10 years of my life, and in processing that event, realized that not only was I living in a future that made little sense to me, but that the memories I did have were absolutely those of someone else I no longer connected with.  It wasn’t exactly a sudden experience, and it didn’t come on over-night.  But the span of time between the Millennium turning over and my own academic leveling-up had become dreamlike, and waking up on the other side of it created a world for me that was now actually full of technology and behavior that was ten years ahead of who I felt I was.  Without intending to, the world around me began to fully resemble something straight out of my own fiction, and now I was the character who was just enough aware to question what kind of Duck Amok world of which I was now a part.

The best part about living within your own fiction is that, on the whole, things tend to work out okay.  In spite of being a temporal mess, covered in magic and confusion, I managed to meet someone who has become so central to my own life, and we have found a place we can call our own.  My efforts to capture this reality I’ve been inhabiting and communicate it to others has become a steady routine, a rhythm that I can count on to keep me focused and aware of what may lie ahead.  And you get to enjoy these efforts, too, which is no small thing, I imagine.  And usually, the hardships we face are handled together, so that neither of us has to take on too much of the burden this world presents us with.

But this doesn’t ease the strangeness we encounter every day.  We look at TV, and it barely resembles the things we remember knowing.  These computers in our pockets are straight out of a novel I read as a kid, and the social changes our world has gone through not only seem unreal, but were absolutely unobtainable when I was a child.  (Open homosexuality?  Gluten free restaurants?  Reality TV Politics?  Legal weed?)

For better or for worse, this world reads as more fictional than anything I can have come up with, at any time in my life, and for that alone I will continue to define the borders of this made-up universe, flesh out the parts that I can see and understand, and hope that when I hand it over to you, trembling, nervous, that the things I see are like what John Nada’s sunglasses reveal, that, hopefully, you can look at it, take it for what it is, and remember that this can’t be any crazier than the religious world most everyone else lives in, too.

The only difference is: I know I made this one up, and I’m absolutely willing to admit it.

A Pledge Drive Request (That You Won’t Feel Bad About Fulfilling)

cropped-KMUZWebHeader_2015AFor many years now I have been urging friends and family to donate to the radio station I happened to be volunteering at when I made that year’s particular request.  And, it is easy enough to see this as yet another plea to add to the many I have made in the past.  Combine this with NPR’s regular pledge drive’s, your kid’s trying to raise money for band, the homeless guy that hits you up for change, and you are pretty consistently being asked to donate money to something where you are not getting a nice tasty treat or some new gadget that you can play with.

I understand.  You are strapped for cash, and we are thankful that you listen at all.  For those of you who are not doing that well, financially, this message is not for you.  We urge you to keep listening, and we promise to continue to deliver incredible programming the way we do normally.  And, during Pledge Drive, you can expect even more great radio than normal.  Everyone goes the extra mile to make great radio during the drive, and this is a great time to listen, no matter what.

But, for those of you with a little extra money, please, consider donating to KMUZ and keep Community Radio funded.

KMUZ’s Winter Pledge Drive is February 6th – 12th, and if you enjoy community radio made in the mid-valley here in Oregon, then we urgently need your help in keeping this station on the air.  Not only do I volunteer in the office at KMUZ, but I’m a regular panelist on their Geekly Update program, that airs every Sunday at 2 PM, where we talk about nerdy topics and a host of other subjects that appeal to the nerd and geek in us all.  KMUZ also offers a number of great music programs, as well as unique talk shows that you can’t find anywhere else.

Unlike most entertainment, community radio is entirely funded by listeners.  No one pays us to come in and do this.  No company is coming in every month to keep the lights on.  We don’t have wealthy donors to help us stay in business.  The only time we get any money is because people like you decide to offer your help directly and give us the financial support that keeps community radio going.  There is no well of money beneath our station, and no celebrity philanthropist offering to make our dreams come true.  Instead, we turn to the people who count on listening to community, and rely on us to give them shows that they can’t find anywhere else.

These days, between a Netflix subscription, the comic books you pick up weekly, the movie you see with your partner every so often, those expenses add up.  We realize that even a small donation is asking a lot.  But, consider putting us on your list of expenses, next to Gas and cable.  Not only will you be keeping community radio up and running in an area that gets no other funding, but you will be making a difference to the lives of us, our listeners, and the very idea of community radio as a whole.

If supporting KMUZ Radio sounds like something you’d like to do, please consider following this link and make a donation.  You can also call us at 503.990.6101 during the drive itself – February 6th – 12th – and support us directly in a way that means so much to those of us who give our time and energy to this kind of endeavor.

Radio has been an important part of my life, so much so that I’ve dedicated the better part of 20 years to it.  If you have been touched by any of it, and would like to help out, then this is the way you can do it, now.

Please, donate to KMUZ, and keep Community Radio in the mid-valley on the air.

Do it!

 

KZEL Memories

site-logoA Completely Subjective Discussion Of The Classic Rock Radio Format As Recollected By A Radio Nerd Who Did Some Online Research And Got Unnecessarily Nostalgic.   

As a kid, my parents listened to what has come to be referred to as, “Classic Rock” in the radio world.  Little did I know that, as I was growing up, this was a relatively new format on radio.  I had no knowledge of the history of formats at the time, and couldn’t tell you the difference between AM and FM back then.  All I knew was that my parents liked The Who and Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and stuff like that, and where we lived, the place to hear that kind of music all day, everyday, was on KZEL-FM, which you could hear just about everywhere in rural Oregon between 1980 and 2000, when I moved out of range of the station.

Not that I listened all the time.  I started to loose interest around 1992, when I discovered music that was outside of my parents influence.  To me, KZEL was the soundtrack to my childhood.  My mom would record her favorite songs off of KZEL broadcasts, and it was the station our cars were always tuned to.  Every time there was music on in the yard, or the stereo was blasting and wasn’t playing an LP, the sounds we heard were always KZEL.  No other station would do.  In fact, my mom won a listener contest when I was in High School, and she got to host a show with some of their DJs as part of the contest.  (This led to her interest in, and eventual minor career in radio.)  KZEL was where I learned to love listening radio, to ignore the songs and to listen for the DJs and the commercials and other produced bits.  It was, through osmosis, my first radio station.

But it played music that, while clearly my parents music, did not speak to me personally.  “Classic Rock” is an interesting format, because it was developed around the time that the “Oldies” format came to be (that is, Rock and Roll music from the early ’50s through the early ’60’s).  “Classic Rock” itself mostly defined itself as being of music from the late ’60’s through to the early ’80’s, and even then, focused on big acts, well known songs, and music that fell into a particular “70’s Rock” vein.  (I used to call it, “Music you can’t drive 55 to,” or, “Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock And Roll”.)  “Classic Rock,” by definition, was trying to plant a flag in the ground, staking out the territory for a generation of radio listeners who felt that a very narrow range of sounds and styles spoke to their lifestyle and their interests, and by labeling it “classic” on the radio was stating – for the record – that these songs and bands would last for generations, and would define rock music for the future.

But none of this music really spoke to me as a kid who was 10 in 1985.  While I came to know and even appreciate some of the music I heard, it always sounded as if it was out of place, out of time, and of someone else’s childhood.  I didn’t understand the excesses of the ’70’s, and in my own childhood, with ’80’s pop culture and my TRS-80 feeding my brain, I didn’t understand the bong-rattling importance of Grand Funk Railroad.  I never got to hear much current “popular” music in my house growing up, aside from my mom’s interest in ’80s hair metal and the occasional “new” B.B. King / Eric Clapton release.  (And even those are extensions of “classic rock” motifs, that of partying and rocking and finding a good woman that will treat you right, etc.)  We grew up with Classic Rock in our heads.  Songs like “Smoke On The Water” accidentally became associated with my childhood, in spite of the fact that I was at least 20 years too young to have any idea what that song was about, why it was important, or who the band even was.

 

Let’s Get Some Of The History Out Of The Way.

The first Classic Rock station was, of course, born out of Cleveland in 1980.  Radio had long since been dominant in Cleveland, and many big name DJs had made names for themselves there in the ’50’s and ’60’s, cementing on-air style and patter that was copied by other DJs across the nation.  But the fork in the road really happened in the early 1960s, when FM Radio hit the airwaves, leaving the monophonic and “tinny” AM Radio sounding like some archaic dinosaur from the Antique Radio era being tuned in on a crystal set.  Stations that had made their name on the AM found themselves competing with the improved fidelity and superior quality of FM, and many stations bought FM signals so they could simulcast their programs and stay competitive.

The FCC eventually mandated that FM stations couldn’t just re-air the same stuff that their AM counterparts were playing, to the distaste and frustration of radio station owners and programmers.  This left American with a huge swath of FM stations that had 24 hours a day to fill with new shows and DJs, and being locked out of their tired old AM formats, they had to innovate, fast.  In a rush to get programming on the air, DJs were given the chance to have “freeform” and “progressive” formats, something unheard of before 1964.  A DJ could play anything, even songs that were not hits, if you can imagine it.  The cut that takes up all of side b could finally be played on the radio, where old programming rules would forbid something that wasn’t a nice a peppy four minutes.  Freeform and Progressive radio of the mid ’60’s was a place where DJs could really cut loose, and with the improved sound of FM, listeners could really appreciate the music on these records that DJs were playing.  FM stations all over the country switched to this new format so they could keep on Rockin’ in the Freeform world.

Of course, station managers hated these changes in the cultural climate.  Radio was a very good way to make money in the old days, and the way stations made money was to sell ads against a show that listeners loved.  Station managers knew listeners loved the shows because of a consistent format, where the same set of personalities delivered the news at the same times, where hit songs were played in a more or less random order, and where every minute of every hour – including the ad that was being played – was micro-managed.  Sure, certain DJs would attract more listeners than others as they became engaging personalities, but that was largely because the DJ was well known over time, or their time-slot was ideal (like, drive-time, or early evening commute.)  Using the old way, station managers could guarantee that a show would be successful merely by packing their playlists with hits and guaranteed programming the sponsors could count on.  Sooner or later, the advertisers would start calling if they wanted to be associated with a hit show.

The switch to FM and Freeform radio was the first huge fragmentation of the way money was made in the music industry, a kind of disruption that is on par with home cassette recording, or the iPod.  Allowing DJs to do whatever they wanted made it difficult for stations for sell advertising they way they were used to it, and old-fashioned radio listeners found the new music that was popular on progressive radio stations to be too “wild” and “strange” for their tastes.  (FM comes on the air in the early ’60’s, just in time for the British Invasion and the Garage Rock / psychedelic explosion that followed in its wake, of which DJs loved.)  Genre was largely out the window on Freeform stations, yet another difficulty when trying to sell the station to advertisers.  While this led to a host of non-commercial, listener-supported stations that enjoyed being contrary to conventional radio standards, Freeform became an f-word in the radio world, especially when it came to money, and when the naiveté of the ’60’s developed into the cynicism of the ’70’s, something had to change again.

First, radio stations lost money.  A lot.  Most of them cut expenses by laying off staff, reducing the size of their studios, and selling off late-night or early morning broadcasts to run syndicated programs, not as popular or well loved, but at least consistent enough to generate a little dependable revenue.  When that wasn’t enough, stations switched to “Album-oriented rock” – or AOR, as it was known at the time.  It was clear that rock music was changing yet again, now that singles were no longer the dominant form of music and bands were getting louder, heavier, and raunchier.  As new technologies like computers began to take over marketing, Station managers and programmers became enamored with research-based approaches to what they would play on the air.

Taking cues from listener requests and the kinds of information they could gather in each region, stations began to make an effort to find out what music and artists were hits with their own specific listeners, and in some cases ignoring Top 40 trends.  Stations began to create playlists and structure their broadcasts around albums that were getting the most traction with their regional audience, which could now be tracked in ways it had never been in the past.  Whole albums were now allowed on station playlists, hence, the AOR name, and this generated a whole new generation of stations that each created a unique identity in the minds of listeners.  Some stations played lots of Beatles.  Some played a lot of Stones.  No two stations curated the same kinds of playlists, and station rivalries in competitive regions were common, the way sports rivalries developed between fans.

Of course, a side effect of all these white station managers and white DJs polling their white audiences about the white artists that they loved the most created a huge backlash against the AOR format – now referred to by opponents as MOR: Middle Of the Road.  As hard rock and psychedelic trends began to mellow out, you encountered a much “softer” kind of radio in the mid-’70’s, dominated by The Eagles & Fleetwood Mac clones, changing radio from the exciting and “loud” place it once was – hosting Summer of Love concerts and outdoor festivals – to a mellow, relaxing place where listeners could put it on in the afternoon and would barely notice the radio on.  It became clear, as black artists were being excluded from any of this, that other kinds of formats were just around the corner.

R&B has always had a rocky relationship with radio before the ’60’s came around, and while Motown and Stax helped improve the image of black music in white America, rarely would a black artist break on the white charts.  While some DJs would play black artists – often against station policies – smaller stations near large black populations where the places that played this kind of music, and sometimes, only in very large cities with diverse radio markets.  But as Funk music crept into the national consciousness in the ’70’s, it became clear that there was a world of popular music that was largely being ignored by commercial radio, and culture clashes between the old-fashioned radio racism and the changing formats found black artists as pawns in the chess game of radio programming.  Stations that were willing to incorporate “acceptable” funk acts that complemented their current sounds were often considered “edgy,” and gained younger audiences.

The ’80’s saw two big artists enter the popular culture that required radio to change.  When Michael Jackson and Prince made it clear that the kind of institutional racism radio had been guilty of could no longer be tolerated, radio formats were revolutionized.  AOR stations began to die off, as advertisers found the selections to be boring, and generated little business for them.  R&B stations were loud and bombastic and fun, began to fill the musical and advertising void that radio had been lacking during the “mellow” years.  What few stations were left that needed something new switched to either a talk or country format.  (Both talk and country had existed before, of course, but in the ’80’s radio had fractured so much that these became viable format that could actually compete on a scale as big as anything else at the time.)

In the old days, radio had largely been created at the station level, and perhaps some stations would package one of their popular shows as syndicated content, that they could send that to other stations if they wanted to expand their own programming  (in those days, the show was a scripted and recorded program).  Networks eventually popped up, and these independent stations became associated with a larger network.  For many stations, the network was just a different way to get syndicated content; they still created a number of local shows, but they ran some of the big-ticket shows from their parent company (either NBC, ABC, CBS, etc).

The ’80’s saw radio going national in a very big way, and other companies wanted to get into the act, too.  New businesses would buy up as many stations as they could, and would generate new syndicated content on a huge scale, making radio sound uniform across the country, but through music formats rather than through specific syndicated shows.  A company that excelled in one kind of music – soft rock, for example – would create a cookie cutter playlist format that they could teach to any station, and transfer this to the stations they bought up.

College Radio Stations took the country by storm in the ’80’s, clinging to the freeform idea in spite of the fact it had virtually disappeared nearly everywhere else.  And with punk rock and DIY music beginning to build a network of their own, the college stations became the backbone for keeping that music alive in the public’s mind.  NPR took of in a huge way in the ’80’s after getting improved funding and more national attention.  When all was said and done, it seemed as if the old fashioned rock and roll radio that had been derailed by AOR might come to an end in the ’80’s, and for a while, “Old Time Rock And Roll” seemed out of place in the modern era.

 

Bringing It All Back.  

WWWM 105.7 in the Cleveland was the first station that decided it was time to bring back “Classic Rock” music in early 1980, and that is the year that ’70’s nostalgia officially began.  (Sorry Dick Vaughn.)  Classic Rock as a format was fairly straightforward: use the lessons of Top 40 and research-based radio, but narrow the focus to albums and artists that encompass music that would appeal to people who had been in High School during the last years of the ’70’s, to some, when “the best” rock music was being made.  At the times, this usually included music from the mid to late ’60’s through to the late ’70s, and pretty much nothing else.  The emphasis on Rock and Roll of that era served a two-fold function: teenagers who lived through this music were now adults making radio-listening decisions, and this music spoke to nostalgia and adolescent desires that wasn’t being tapped into elsewhere.  Secondly, the Classic Rock format was intentionally exclusive; there were no black artists included in this original incarnation of the format.  There was no country.  There was no talk.  There was none of this modern college radio bullshit or that lame jazz crap you hear in cities, just loud guitars and a healthy disrespect for authority.  Yes, Classic Rock comes from Cleveland, but it wasn’t that many years later that the format swept the country.

In the ’80s, for the most part, you could tune into a Classic Rock station almost anywhere in the US, and while you would think that the years Classic Rock covered could uncover a huge number of songs to play, usually listeners would hear the same 50 songs being rotated through all day, every day.  This was, in many ways, the McDonald’s-ification of radio, where you could go anywhere and hear the same things you were used to hearing back home.  This was great for people who traveled a lot, like truck drivers, but left little to the imagination if you wanted to hear a cut from side two, or a song that wasn’t necessarily a classic “hit” in your area.  (For example: try finding a single Classic Rock station that will play anything from Led Zeppelin III.  Unless that station is doing a “Zeppelin Weekend”, you will never hear any of those songs on the air.)

Need I drive the point home any more, Classic Rock was a coded form of racism on radio in an era that was supposed to be post-racism.  It was a way for people who grew up in a sheltered white childhood to pretend that black artists and country music was not part of their musical landscape, and even the lack of news, sports or weather – save for occasional, 15 second updates near the top of the hour – makes a Classic Rock station a perfect way to isolate their listeners in a world that is not difficult or complicated.  Here’s another rock song, another twofer-tuesday, another chance for the production manager to edit “I Love Rock And Roll” or “We Built This City” into their station ID.  When you listen to Classic Rock, the passage of time is irrelevant.

 

Now, Let’s Tune In to 96.1 FM in Eugene, OR

This brings us around to the Classic Rock station in question – and the one of which I have the most first-hand knowledge – KZEL.  The station that became KZEL was first known as KWFS, which went on the air by the end of the ’40’s.  (There had been plenty of radio stations in Oregon going back to the ’20s, but there was a huge surge of new stations in the Eugene area just after WWII.) KWFS continued until the ’60’s, when an FM signal was launched at 96.1.  (KWFS almost immediately abandoned AM in favor of the 96.1 signal.)  However, the owners of KWFS found managing a station to be too much work, and sold the station in 1967.  The new owners changed the call letters to KZEL, and the KWFS call letters were adopted by a new station in Wichita Falls, TX.

KZEL – in its new form – first hit the air that same year, but again, was a bit much to handle as the freeform format wars began to change the landscape of radio.  The big competition in those days was Wolfman Jack, which you could hear almost anywhere in the US, and unless local stations got hip, kids would flip over to him at night.  By 1971 KZEL changed hands (and formats) again, where the new owners were happy to adopt a progressive format to stay competitive with Wolfman.  But the ’70s and early ’80s made it difficult for any station to turn a profit, and many advertisers pointed to the progressive format as part of the problem.  (“We like some of the music you guys play, but not all the time.”)  In danger of changing hands yet again, in the early ’80’s the station managers at KZEL began to take notice of the Classic Rock sounds coming out of Cleveland.  Most of the KZEL staff already loved that kind of music anyway, so almost overnight, KZEL switched to “Oregon’s Classic Rock.”

By the time I was growing up and listening to the station with my parents in the ’80s, they were just like any other station you could hear anywhere that played “Classic Rock”: the same 50 songs, every day, every week, keeping listeners suspended in their High School and College days, just the way the late-Baby Boomers liked it.  Of course, I had no understanding of this history, or how the radio I was listening to got to be the way it was.  I was just some kid being raised by hippies, and this was the music we listened to in our house.

I received a cassette deck / radio with a built in microphone for my 10th Birthday in 1985, and using that I began recording my favorite songs from the radio onto tapes.  Pretty soon I found myself more interested in the commercials, and I began editing together my own voice overs (impersonating my favorite DJs) with my own songs and commercials recorded from KZEL.  There were nights when I would have the radio on, quietly in my room, letting the sounds wash over my childhood mind.  I would surf stations often too, and listen for a while, but I would always return to 96.1, just like everyone else in my family.

As a regular listener, I started to get familiar with when the hosts would take calls and requests, and once I broke through that barrier, I became a regular on the air.  Usually in the afternoon and evenings, and soon I was pretty proud of the fact that I could get my name on a show almost any time I wanted.  (I would regularly ask the DJs to give birthday shoutouts to my friends and family, and if nothing else was going on, make a request for my song de jour that day.)  Of course, radio stations are notorious for contests, and I was consistently able to win new tapes from these giveaways because I was quick on the phone, and knew their habits well.  This is how I discovered Tesla (the band), .38 Special, both of the Use Your Illusion Guns ‘n’ Roses albums, and got my very own Led Zeppelin tapes.  But I didn’t listen to the tapes as much as I thought I would, and why not?  I could just turn on the radio.

I remember vividly the first time my mom drove me to the station, to pick up an album I had won.  There was a well-known commercial for KZEL on TV, where the DJ was running through a maze of LPs to get the next record to the booth in time for the next song, and I absolutely believed that the station must be like that.  My mom has thousands of LPs, so it made sense that they would have even more.  But arriving at the front counter was a very disappointing experience.  All these voices I was familiar with, reduced to flesh-and-blood bodies that were just like everyone else I knew, looking at this gawky kid, they sort of rolled their eyes.  A cheap cardboard box was produced, and inside were a ton of cassettes, some mangled from typical radio station neglect.  Even though I had specifically won the live Tesla album, the girl at the counter said, “Just take any one you want.  There’s plenty in the back.”  The fun and mystery of listening at home ruined by the bland reality of fluorescent lights and the work-a-day lives of these people who were just punching a clock.  It was a revelation, in a way.

As the years wore on my relationship to this station changed.  When I got to High School I started meeting people who listened to modern music, stuff I’d never heard on KZEL, ever, and this music was absolutely fascinating.  But this was the early ’90’s, and I wasn’t the only one going through this identity crisis.  I remember listening to KZEL one night when one of the DJs mentioned a band that everyone was talking about – Nirvana.  The DJ was convinced the song couldn’t be as good as the hype, but decided to play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” anyway.  I remember being non-plussed at the time, until I heard the song again, and later, saw the video.  By the fourth time I’d heard it, I was hooked, and suddenly anything else KZEL played seemed tame and boring.

I won Nevermind on KZEL in a listener contest, but even when I showed up to get the album, I could tell that my time as a KZEL fan was limited.  The girl at the counter laughed when I asked for it, and I could tell they didn’t like the album as much as I did.  They would dabble a bit in new music in that year, but the Classic Rock format always dominated in the end.  Sooner or later, they would return to a block of The Who songs, and back to their old format.  And by then, friends had hooked me up with Ministry and Nine Inch Nails, and my interest in Classic Rock and KZEL was on the way out.  I pretty much stopped turning on the radio at all by the time High School was over, and I never heard the station once in the six years I lived there.

 

Coda

In 1997 the Cumulus Media group was formed, and made an effort to buy up as many stations as they could, KZEL being one of them.  By this time, I was living on my own, and hadn’t tuned in for years.  The Cumulus Group began to popularize the AAA format (adult album alternative), a new iteration of Classic Rock that included all the old “heavy” albums, with “new rock” hits from the “alternative” era.  (A lot of stations call this format “New Rock.”)  This made sense; as demographic groups age out of listening to their father’s rock and roll radio, the younger groups have different tastes that need accommodation, too.  And let’s face it, “alternative” music is absolutely the Classic Rock of Generation X.  Essentially, the same kinds of people are listening to KZEL now than they did then, just with a slightly different 50 song playlist and a bigger chance of having a Soundgarden tattoo.

And why not?  Radio has often been for the middle class, and there is a who swath of bros who are looking for something to get pumped up for as they try to remain comfortable with being in their 40s.  They want the music that spoke to them in High School to insulate them in a place where they understand what “cool” and “hip” is.  New music is scary and hard to find, and it is much easier to ignore the culture and the world around you when it doesn’t make sense to you.  Coded in two levels removed from the racism it once was, Gex X Gym Rats can listen to very while music in their small towns and never have to question the way they fell about it, ever.

It isn’t that The Cumulus Media Group is trying to be horrible.  They’re trying to make money, and that is largely the motivation behind any tired old ineffectual dinosaur clinging to the radio dial like some monster from a bygone age.  But even the remotest scent of that kind of radio turns me off, instantly, and these days I’m looking to the generation after mine to hopefully clue me into something that doesn’t feel old fashioned and too “white.”  But even I fall into this trap; I listen to music with guitars and live drums and it is hard to think of Black Flag or Bad Brains as anything other than “quaint” when you think of the brutal music that kids like these days, or the electronic harsh noise that is also available.  And I’m still trying to break the color barrier in my own collection, as I have noticed an abundance of while men among my 12 Inches.

But at least I’m aware of the problems inherent in my playlists.

When I was a kid, I never thought that the music I was immersed in was boring.  It was the music I was immersed in.  It WAS music.  But now that I can see it from outside, and see it for what it is, I’m glad I moved on.

I’m just wondering how much longer the vestiges of Classic Rock Radio will need before they move on, too.

Groundhog Day Special! (Retrocast)

52122944-jpg-crop-rectangle3-largeGroundhog Day Special! (Retrocast)
(Featuring a Groundhog Day themed show from 2009!)

Here’s a radio special from six years ago, addressing the rarely-discussed subject of Groundhog’s Day, or in some cases, music about Hogs, the ground, and shadows.  In this show, we ask the question: where have all the Groundhog songs gone?  This one won’t pop up in the podcast feed, but as always, you can either stream or download this one to your heart’s content.

I was absolutely shocked at how little Groundhog music there was to play for this show.  Any musicians out there looking for something to write about, now’s your chance!  This holiday is largely unclaimed, and you could be the one to release the very first Groundhog Day Rock Record.

About halfway through the program I offer a rambling and disjointed history of Groundhog Day. Most of the information was culled from several passes over the Inter-Web-A-Tron, so it’s as reliable as anyone else is these days.

I have always had a fascination with holidays like this, and when I was growing up I really felt the need to celebrate as best as I could in whatever way relevant.  I was the kid who was planting a tree on Arbor Day, coloring images or our President’s on President’s Day, and reading about the various ceremonies surrounding Flag Day.  But with control over the weather, Groundhog Day seemed absolutely magical as a kid.

The irony of Groundhog Day is that it is intentionally set six weeks before the official start of Spring, a sort of joke played on kids who really think the groundhog is special.  But there is something nice about being forward thinking in that respect anyway.  After a long winter, we sometimes need a little prognostication regarding what is ahead of us, if for no other reason than to feel that we at least know when we’ll see the sun again.  Given our atypical weather this year in Oregon, and the drought last year followed by a mind winter, I can only imagine that the next six weeks will actually be cold anyway, to finally deliver the winter we deserve.

But I’ll be happy just to know the little guy popped out of his hole for a moment or two.

[Insert weather report.] If you want to know how things turned out in your area, here’s a very handy website.

Anyway, enjoy this program from the past, and hopefully you are excited about your particular weather report this year.

Enjoy!

*

Post-Groundhog Day Special!

Piercings

IMG_4069If you look carefully, you can see the scars where my ears used to be pierced.  At one point, I had metal jammed through my conch and parts of my lobes, and the scar from the hole in my tongue is still there, though I doubt I could get a barbell through it anymore.  While I was happy to shove metal into my face as a younger man, when I stumbled upon these piercings the other day I almost didn’t recognize them.  I was never very good at being a pierced member of society, and the ones that I paid for seem like poor choices now, considering how little money I had back then.  While it certainly hasn’t disappeared from the world as a whole, it is clear with hindsight that I got caught up in the piercing craze of the ’90’s.  The fact that I don’t have saggy earlobes and tribal scarring on my arms is a testament to how much of a temporary dalliance it actually was for me.

Growing up in the ’80’s was complicated for everyone in a number of ways, but by the time I was in school one topic that came up often was that of piercings.  Nearly all women were expected to have tasteful piercings of one kind or another, and there is often a rite of passage that young girls go through with their mothers when they are old enough.  I remember my mom taking my sister to the mall, who returned in pain and with new holes in both of her ears.  I was older than my sister by five years, and while it had never occurred to me that I wanted my ears pierced in a similar fashion, once I saw my peers all wearing them, I wanted it too.

However, once I made a comment about this out loud, the trouble started.  “Boys don’t get their ears pierced,” I was told by my family, but I knew that this wasn’t true.  I had seen men on TV and in public wearing piercings, and as much as I knew that men could do it, the subtext of the conversation was two-fold then: wanting pierced ears made me gay, and my parents would have nothing to do with it regardless.

It wasn’t until I started talking to my friends about it in Jr. High that I started to hear the, “Left ear, buccaneer; right ear, queer,” rhetoric  Prior to this, I had no understanding of sexuality, or even that there was something other than the binary that my parents represented.  All I knew is that I wasn’t yet over reading comics and playing with imaginary friends, and that girls were mysterious and not for me, yet.  But as my friends started to show up to school with a single piercing on the left and budding facial hair in patches, they usually accounted for it with some sort of phrase like, “Left is right, and right is wrong.”  I made a few attempts to ask my parents about this, and the awkward silences and shared glances between them meant that this likely fell into the territory of, “The Talk,” and I wasn’t about to let me dad load me into his truck again so he could drive for hours trying to explain to me something that he was very clearly not entirely comfortable with himself.

I dropped the idea until High School, that time when the venn diagram of self-destruction, boundary pushing and poor impulse control overlap into a fun-filled four-year period where everything sucks.  Not only did I see a slight up-tick in the number of piercings I saw my fellow students – on men, no less – but the more I talked to people about it, I discovered that you didn’t really have to pay someone to do it for you.  A collection of heshers on our campus accidentally taught me that if you sterilized a safety pin (aka, “burned the end with fire”), you could shove it through any fleshy part you liked, and it only hurt for a few days.  I also discovered that, if you do this on your own without telling your mom, she’ll be a little horrified and surprised to see random scraps of metal hanging from you ears.  While I was never asked to take them out, I could tell that this wasn’t exactly the best way to win her over as we became strangers to each other through the sheer act of growing up.

Boredom usually motivates much of what teenagers do, and by the end of High School I had removed all the safety pins, and more or less let them heal over.  It wasn’t until I moved to Eugene, and more importantly met a dude named Ocean at an IHOP one night, that this began to change.

If you were of a certain age range in the ’90’s – and you were not the kind of person who had discovered alcohol as a wonderful way to enjoy your evening – then your destination when the sun went down was the nearest 24 Hour establishment that served coffee.  On any given night, across the country, teens and 20 year olds would wander the streets in packs, looking for a booth to set up camp in and write your crappy poetry, or draw your unpublishable comics, or talk about the bands you would never actually start.  I had several circles of friends that all did this, and one night as we were mocking up stuff for the newest issue of my ‘zine, we ran into Ocean, head to toe in piercings and tattoos, with his girlfriend Yannica, who had both just gotten to Eugene and thought John’s Skinny Puppy shirt meant we should all get to know each other.  This not only inaugurated Ocean into our circle, but when we found out that he’d gotten a job at High Priestess – the first local shop in Eugene entirely dedicated to piercings – this soon became the place that we hung out at when the staff were between clients.

In those days, piercing shops were not at all common, and while you certainly met people covered in them, I was often left to wonder where this stuff was done.  High Priestess was interesting in that it was below a tattoo parlor, and near a convenience store.  A parade of weirdos and like-minded folks came into that building every hour, and hanging out there meant a good chance to meet people you knew, listen to music, and in some cases when the clients were into it, you could watch people get undressed as different parts of their bodies were being lanced.  Between the watching various tattoos and piercings be administered, I saw a fair and steady string of naked men and women.

I ordered the two small hoops in the picture above, and against Ocean’s recommendation, used a safety pin and made a pair of mostly centered holes for them.  One day, while bored and out of clients, gave me a $10 deal on my conch, and I put various items in it over the years.  When I would go shopping for new albums, I usually dropped by so Ocean and I could check them out.  We would regularly gather at the shop to plan our evening afterward, which sometimes involved dropping acid, or getting coffee, or hitting a party as a group.  For a brief period of time, it was the center of our social group.

I had a job that I hated working in a factory at the time, which I got in the wake of being dumped and evicted from the place I was living.  I piled everything into a storage locker and started staying with the aforementioned John, but working 12 hour shifts at night only separated me from my friends further, and made be a little bitter about the way it had all worked out.  In a fit of anger, I walked out during a shift, quit the job, and cashed out every check and pending income I could find.  I made one last stop by High Priestess and asked Ocean to pierce my tongue.  Then I left town for a week to sort things out.

The tongue piercing was legendary among many people I knew, largely because it was supposed to improve your oral sex skills through the aid of this studded implement.  I can’t really speak to that as someone who had the piercing.  What I remember was the pain; it hurt.  And continued to for days.  Eating was a bitch, and as I tried to each noodles the day after I felt betrayed and horrified by the act that I’d been through.  I almost took it out, but let it heal, hating the experience, and when all was said and done, found it to be in the way more than the sexy and alluring accoutrement that I hoped it would be.

As the years wore on, I found it to be in the way more than a bonus to my lifestyle.  It would accidentally clack against my teeth, or would get chomped on by mistake.  Occasionally it would feel a little sore, and the piercing required regular cleaning that I did not account for.  I moved out of John’s place, and eventually moved away from Eugene entirely, and when it had been years, after I’d already removed all the other piercings and decided that was no longer for me, I still had this barbell in my tongue, impressing no one, occasionally causing me pain and getting in the way.

One day I took it out, and set it in a dish near my bed.  And I never put it back in again.

I suffered in the long run.  One of my front teeth on the bottom – where the piercing would regularly “clack” into by accident – is now gone, it causing incredibly paid one day from the damage it sustained over the years.  Instead of the piercing, I get to wear a denture, a fitting end to a bad idea.  I occasionally notice the scars these left behind, like memories from a friend you no longer see, lodged in there, waiting to be found by accident.

But so far, I have yet to want to get pierced again.

Our own past is the most challenging to deal with, because it has so many dead ends and so many unanswered questions.  Like fads and trends, people and things and hobbies and habits move through our lives and disappear one day, and it can take years to notice what happened to they, or where they might have gone.  I don’t think of myself as being pierced, and my own dalliance with the hobby was poorly formed, badly planned, and left me with real scars that I will have for my entire life.  But I also don’t notice that I was one a pierced man either.  The scars are small, barely noticeable, and wouldn’t even be visible if you didn’t know where to look.

Like all lost friends, these parts of the past might slip away like Ocean did, but the impact will last forever.

Sleep, Little One, Sleep

IMG_3965As part of our ongoing effort to perform Spring Cleaning out-of-season, my wife and I have been harassing each other in and effort to open up boxes and look into closets, and reassess our belongings with regard to 2016.  In a box beneath our bed that we had not opened in over a year I found this blanket, and for a brief moment I launched into all the reasons why I should keep it.  However – and I’m very proud of this, I might add – I shook my head, added it to the Goodwill pile, and since then that pile has remained stagnant in our house, waiting for the day when one of us turns to the other and says, “Seriously, we need to take that shit to Goodwill.”

Well, at least it is a start.

Even in High School, I was referred to as a pack rat, and this was brought into sharp relief when I was first thrown out in my Senior Year of High School.  Not only was it impossible for me to move by myself – I had no car, no truck, no friends with a car or truck, no license to drive, and more stuff than I could fit in a single vehicle anyway, even at 18.  While I have had tenures in homes that lasted a decent amount of time – I managed to clock only three years at The Blitzhäus, and kept an apartment in Portland for about the same length of time – between 1993 and 2010, I was never in the same house for very long.  Most of my stuff resided in boxes that I would open periodically, remove or add to it, then close it up to store it somewhere again.  To this day, in spite of being married and living in a house with a full basement and garage, I still have several of these boxes in storage at my old roommate’s house, and why he hasn’t had them all thrown out yet is a testament to our friendship and my own laziness.

Part of the impulse to keep things came from a collector’s mentality.  As a young child, I collected CocaCola paraphernalia, and I still have a few relics from that collection in my toy trunk in the basement.  But once I found comics – a hobby that can have pack-ratted-ness at its core – I started to see the value of keeping things to be read and looked back on later.  This only amplified when I started making ‘zines; almost anything could be potentially photographed, xeroxed, or re-typed for a future issue, and it was easy enough to say, “I’ll use this someday,” toss it into a box, and never look at it again.

How exactly I came into possession of this blanket is a little lost to the ages.  I believe – and I could be very wrong about this – that is was left behind at The Blitzhäus by Captain Morgan, a drinking buddy and carnie who used to make a lot more appearances in our lives, until he fully embraced the carnie life, and hasn’t been seen much since.  The Blitzhäus was a huge four bedroom apartment in Eugene that became our party pad between the beginning of 1997 and the Spring of 2000, located above a fancy bar that closed early and never complained about the filth or noise.  In the time I managed that apartment, nearly 17 people paid rent, and ever more slept on our floors and couches, staying with us for a few days or weeks or months, depending.  The turnover was very high, but the memories were great, and while I would never choose to live in a “punk house” again, I often think fondly of those days.

When I set out to make a life for myself on my own, one of the hardest problems to solve what finding a place to consistently sleep.  I had never slept well, even as a kid, but my late teens were full of meeting friends for coffee, and staying up all night to write, so not only was sleep more and more elusive, but the places I would end up sleeping were becoming more and more random.  At one point I had a twin mattress (nothing else) that I lugged around when I had a place to put it, and then traded up to a futon which I used for a bit longer.  I was gifted two different queen sized mattresses over the years (each of which had seen better days), and then finally, in 2007, I used part of a financial aid check to pick up a bed frame at Ikea.

Blankets and pillows were often a problem.  Being a cheapskate and largely poor, I never even bought used stuff, but would occasionally find myself in positions where I had been gifted this or that.  Between High School and The Blitzhäus, my bedding was always in flux, but once I found this blanket (and, more importantly, the owner no longer seemed interested in it), I took it to the laundromat, cleaned it, brought it home, and used it until I met my wife.  It became the only source of warmth and comfort at night during a period of my life that was at my most lonely.

There is nothing special about this blanket, to be sure.  It is thin, and there isn’t much material within it to insulate you.  It is just big enough to spread over the area of a queen sized mattress, but isn’t really big enough if you would like to cover both you and a guest.  And while I never gave it any thought when it was just the only blanket that I owned, when I see it now, all I can think about is the years that I spent carrying it with me, like some adult version of Linus’ blanket, sometimes the only thing that could keep me warm.

There is no reason for me to keep this; we have a full complement of bedclothes in our house, with extras to spare for when we have guests, and other lap-blankets and warming devices that makes this old and somewhat useless piece of material completely irrelevant.  And it is definitely not valuable.  If it was, indeed, once something that belonged to Captain Morgan, he never wanted it back, and it can’t be any older than the ’90’s in terms of its “vintage.”  And the period of time in which it got the most use was a desolate time, where I was single and miserable, drunk and unhappy about most everything, and would come home from whatever I’d been up to, ragged, beaten, confused, and would crawl beneath that green thing to try and find some sleep – that most elusive of experiences – for a few hours, anyway.

So yes, it goes on the Goodwill pile.  I don’t need it.  I don’t want it.  And I hope that, someday, the memories that flood into me from seeing it will slowly get thinner and thinner from overuse, until I no longer feel the nostalgic warmth they once brought to me.  It is time to move on, into a world with heated mattress pads and thick comforters that I can share with my wife.

Yes, I don’t need that blanket anymore.  So why is it still in a pile in my house?

Sufian Abdullah

a1071247913_16Komodo Fried Chicken Blues * Sufian Abdullah * Music To Break Out of Jail By

From Peru we move to Ipoh, Malaysia, and the work of instrumentalist Sufian Abdullah.  While the location may change, the story of a lone musician honing his craft for years is universal, and Sufian spent his spare time in Ipoh playing guitar, over and over again, practicing riffs endlessly, perfecting chord changes, mastering solos.  Sufian’s story could have happened in any city in the world.  The only difference is that modern technology allows us to discover artists like this when, even 10 years ago, we would have never heard of a rock musician from Malaysia.  And, in a way, he is merely a voice in a sea of digital albums available across the web, one of hundreds that are all vying for attention and your appreciation.  Without having a friend clue me into this record, I probably would never have found it.  

Fortunately for me, I did.  

Music To Break Out of Jail By is a collection of tunes that are all born out of blues-based rock music.  Everything is in that Black Sabbath style vein, with a trace of eastern musicality and form.  This western influence on the guitar playing of Sufian is clearly his attempt to break out of the expectation that someone from Malaysia would carry in their musical work.  Stuff like the Nirvana cover, “School,” – a droney, extended jam on the riff that veers into doomy territory – illustrates that Sufian is not only skilled, but a connoisseur of guitar, and that includes music from home as well as from all over the world, too.  For western audiences, an album like this embodies a similar kind of transition: I recognize the blues progressions, but the format is helping me see this music in a new way that I would have never imagined.  

As the story goes, Sufian Abdullah practiced guitar for years at home, playing along to all his favorite punk and metal records.  This was mostly a hobby to him, and he took to it like some kids take to video games, relentlessly practicing until he had a huge repertoire of songs he could play upon request.  However, it wasn’t until home recording was as easy as getting a laptop with GarageBand on it that Sufian even considered making an album.  Made almost entirely by himself, this is a fantastic first effort, and even if this is Abdullah’s only release, it’s a great statement about music in general.  

I also enjoy the fact that “Komodo Fried Chicken Blues” contains every imaginable rock and roll cliche in a new and intimidating form, and thus, is perfectly suited for Chickenman.     

Walking The Bridges of Siracusa County

john-siracusa-maskedWalking The Bridges of Siracusa County.  

(or, “How I Became A Fan of The Internet Nerd of All Time Without Really Trying, And How You Can, Too.”)

It’s hard to say what I should mention by way of an introduction, to really give you the right kind of background to appreciate his character.  Certainly, I would be remiss to leave out his Twitter handle – @siracusa – as that is a primary source of where he communicates with the world and with fans, for sure.  Not mentioning his association with the well-loved OS X reviews that used to get nerds in a fervor would be glossing over a huge part of his career, and the fact that he’s hung up his hat as a reviewer is a loss that the Mac Community is still coming to terms with.  And, of course he is a programmer by trade, and one of great skill, too.  For years now he has supported himself and his family through his work writing code, writing about technology, and podcasting.

Largely, though, John is a geek, and is proud of this fact.  He has immersed himself in the world of computers (Macs specifically), and has found a home where he is comfortable, not always easy for the geeky inclined.  And yet, while the world of geeks is defined by the technology and the way it is designed and presented to us, Siracusa finds that his immersion within this world makes him the perfect candidate to analyze and define of the problems that nerds go through in a world where software, hardware, and our experiences that go with these things could be so much better designed if someone just took the time to do it.

broadcast_artwork_rd_artworkJohn Siracusa is about as far off the path from my own life as you can get without being a scientist or an astronaut.  An East Coaster and fan of TV and Sports, he is the father of two, and by all accounts, a fairly “normal” nerd in a number of ways.  Following the show he does with Merlin MannReconcilable Differences, which is a great way to gain insight into both of their lives – you can tell that he is a family man in many ways, who has to deal with the problems of dinner and raising children and getting to work on time.  For him, clothing and fashion, music and film must follow very narrow guidelines if they are to make it on his radar, as it is for any other self-respecting nerd.  A lover of gangster movies and anime, a gamer and New Yorker by birth, there are only a handful of areas where our mutual interests come into play.

My childless lifestyle, focused on loosing sleep and collecting LPs, seems light-years away from his own, and his confusion about what drugs are and how they work is so cute as to sound like it is a line from a Disney Kids Movie.  (And, he’s a U2 fan, for fuck’s sake!)  John’s accent, even, spells a very unique venn diagram of Boston and Nerdy that makes my laid-back, West Coast drawl sound absolutely hillbilly by comparison.  And, while I understand what computers are and can use them, I can only just barely follow him when it goes on a rant about programming, or game controllers.

This is a long way of saying that I am none of the things that he is.  While my own experience with technology goes back to writing in BASIC on a TRS-80, I learned long ago that my interest in the keyboard really ended with the stringing together of English Text, and I didn’t put my time or energy into learning programming and coding, but rather, how to construct a sentence and a paragraph that read well.  I could wack at code for hours and get something that might work for a little while (largely by copying and pasting someone elses work), but in spite of that aptitude, I was more interested in building stories.  The last thing I made any effort to learn was HTML, and while I’m okay in Visual Basic for writing Macros, I fare much better when the subject is who played in what band.  Once I found that calling, I have rarely looked back except to make sure that I’m not such a grandpa that I can’t use modern remote controls or a wireless router.

So what, then, if not a common background or a similarity in interests, draws me to listen to his podcasts?  Particularly, the wealth of back-episodes that exists in the form of Hypercritical, a show where he gets into detail about the things wrong with Apple and related topics?  It certainly isn’t the current nature of the conversations.  While Dan Benjamin – the co-host of Hypercritical with John – makes a fairly good argument that John’s commentary stands up as something worth reviewing at any time, there is something particularly funny about listening to them speculate about what might be in Lion when it is released, then discuss it after it is released, then wonder what the next Pixar movie will be, then discuss it after it is released… there is a rhythm to it that becomes funnier as the years pass, and the specifics are less and less relevant.  But that certainly wasn’t what Dan was talking about, when he suggested that there is something to the archival nature of John Siracusa’s work, and there certainly is.  There is some other quality to John’s conversations and observations that seems current, even four years after the fact.

 

logo-theincomparable-1xThe Incomparable w/ John Siracusa

It’s probably not that surprising that I discovered all of this through Merlin Mann, and to a second degree, The Incomparable podcast.  While I wasn’t really a mover and shaker in the world of the early Interweb, there was a core group of nerds who all got online in the early ’90’s, who have stuck with it for the last 25 years, to see it develop and blossom into the racisim-laced comment threads that we see so much of on YouTube.  A lot of those same nerds have helped build the digital media landscape into what it is today, through writing, blogging, and building websites of every variety.  Many of those early nerds joined forces over at Jason Snell’s The Incomparable, something that began as a book-club and evolved into the media empire it is.  Nearly every guest on The Incomparable is part of this core family of early web icons, and Merlin Mann – who I was already a fan of – led me to them.

(How exactly I found Back To Work is sort of lost to the ages, but it was one of those shows that, when I found it almost two years or so ago, I instantly over-dosed on it, and began to trace all the threads that it sent out into other areas of the web.  If Merlin wanted to be a guest on The Incomparable, and played in their world too, I reasoned – correctly – that I should be checking out that show, too.)

John’s role on The Incomparable is not much different than on his own show.  He’s finds flaws and pokes holes in the world of pop culture as much as he does with Apple and their mixed bag of products and apps.  He is the grumpy old man who sits in on these conversations and waits for a chance to offload his argument, his observations, and his criticisms to a group of nerds who just wanted to say how much they loved Real Genius.  For him, it is important to use reason and the clues in the works at hand to find the real meaning and value of a work – be it in software, film, or books – and his willingness to make the unpopular point, and to say things that lay bare the design flaws of things we all love, is not only important, but necessary in our culture.

Too often we get caught up in the enthusiasm machine of marketing and rumor.  We are often left to consider that we should always accept the things we encounter as having some value in our lives, merely because they are the overwhelmingly popular thing at the time.  Apple is a perfect example; the devotees will devour anything as early as possible, but to criticism the design at any level would sound like you’re being a dick.

But there is a value to looking at culture and being critical, and not just because it is easier to distrust and to poke holes in things.  Both John and I want culture to be great.  We want to enjoy art and music and digital media and have it presented to us in a way that is good, and good for us.  John’s desire to find the flaws, to point them out, and to offer insight into why they worked and why they did not, is a lesson we can all learn in life.  It is easy to accept everything, and a tiny bit harder to be critical of all things equally.  But to take it a step further, and to be critical while offering helpful advice and insight into why that aspect of the work is not functioning properly, that is a skill that takes all of us further in life, and not just at work or in public.

 

cover_quarterA Look Back At The Recent Past

While I’m enjoying the chance to relive 2011 and 2012 through the magic of podcasts that will live forever on the web, I will warn people that it can be trying to listen to five-year-old stale tech news programs if you are not there for something other than the timeliness.  And he does cover a lot of topics on Hypercritical that were valuable then and seem irrelevant now.  (Do people care about iBooks anymore?  El Capitan more or less makes much of the previous OS X conversations seem antiquated and silly, certainly.  And his deconstruction and analysis of programming languages then could probably use an update.)

But even when the topics are not on point, listening to him lay out an argument is a joy to listen to.  At several points in the series he gets preachy about Star Wars preservation, and lays out arguments for Fair Use and curating cultural materials for future generations that is simply incredible, and in many ways, still ahead of its time.  His ability to looks at software and provide a meta-analysis of its merits and weaknesses is something that is straight out of a literary criticism course, and his no-nonsense attitude (and his absolute, self-admitted lack of cool) makes him willing to say things that others simply won’t.  And that, in many ways, is absolutely charming.

He is not offensive.  As a father is is looking for culture that uplifts boys and girls too, and he really does want the world to be as well designed as possible for those of us who have to use it.  But his eye for films like Goodfellas and Ghost In The Shell gives me pause to consider watching something that I had decided long ago was not for me.  While I don’t always agree with him – and, how can anyone always agree with anyone, to be perfectly honest? – his willingness to look at our culture, and to champion where we can make improvements, is absolutely inspirational, and keeps me glued to my podcasts so I can hear another one of his in-depth deconstructions of a book he absolutely hated.  (Ready Player One, anyone?)

He is not for everyone.  He is certainly an acquired taste, and might not ever be exactly for you.  And I even tune out when the tech talk gets a little over my head.  (And it does often.)  But this kind of show is a challenge to my preconceived notions of what entertainment is, and what it can be, and what perspectives I should be considering when I see something new.  I’m getting to view parts of culture through his eyes that I would never look at – and a few things that we both find entertaining, too – and that is giving me pause to re-evaluate my own relationship with parts of culture that I usually never consider.  That alone is enough to recommend him for someone who is looking to challenge your own perspectives, and to consider that the world around us is made up of people that thinking differently than I do.

 

So… Where Do I Start?

So often with these kinds of recommendations, it is hard to give someone a jumping on point.  The Incomparable is still running strong, several years and hundreds of episodes deep, and he appears in many of them.  Obviously, his current show with Merlin is great, and not only get into the elements that make geeks geeks, but the struggles they have in their own lives with travel, with buying things, witch child rearing, etc.  It is exactly what middle aged men love to do – talk about the minutia of life as if it were something of great academic import – and it makes for great listening if you happen to be self-reflective (and middle aged).

However, to get a sense of what I’m really talking about, and to offer something to dig into that is current, I recommend checking out Incomparable #277: Stormtroopers Are People.  (You can stream or download it form that link.)  This is a THREE HOUR AND TWENTY MINUTE podcast (yes, that is not a typeo) about The Force Awakens, and in it you can hear Siracusa get so excited about this film that even that amount of time seems short for both him and the listener.  (John, Jason Snell, Serenity Caldwell & Dan Moren also appear on the panel discussion, all equally excited about this movie.)

I know, I know.  I am recommending a three hour commitment so that you can decide if you like a guy who makes a lot of podcasts, and this isn’t even his primary piece of work.  But in this three hours you will hear real people who love real things, talk about the way that they love it, and explicate on a story that – hopefully – you also happen to love.  (And who doesn’t?  I mean, The Force Awakens was fantastic, wasn’t it?)  And in this show, you will hear John talk passionately, as a Star Wars fan from childhood, as a person who felt abused and robbed by the CGI Special Editions, as a person who felt betrayed and ripped off  by the prequels – and, most importantly, as a human being who was so touched by a movie that he was willing to talk well into the night – for hours – and was still excited to keep talking when everyone else is ready to hang up and get some sleep.

If this does not win you over as a fan of John Siracusa, then I don’t know what will.  But I have a feeling you might start listening to The Incomparable now.  And that is how all things like this begin.

Let me know when you get a chance to check out his other work, too.  And when you are a converted fan like I am, hit me up on Skype.  I have a feeling we have a few things that we could talk about, too.

Even Older

adviceTime
Is marching on
And time
Is still marching on

*

The old adage that you become wiser as you get older has, so far, proved to be absolute crap as I have watched my own odometer turn over.  I have met a wide range of people in my life, many of which were older than I, and most of which were no more skilled or able to make sense of this world (or any other) than I have been able to on my own.  More pointedly, the desire to gain wisdom needs to be present first, before anyone of any age can make heads or tails of it.  Like with self-help, religion, exercise, or really anything worth a crap, you have to want it to get there first, you have to want to take action in order make it happen, and when you stop moving in that direction, you stop making any kind of progress toward wisdom.  You can’t get there without trying.

I remember as a child thinking that people older than me had insight or knowledge that could be useful to me, and for many years that was true.  But by the time High School rolled around, I started to notice my teachers began to make stuff up if they didn’t actually know, and would stutter and fumble with ideas and thoughts almost as often as I did.  They were capable of as much pettiness and poor judgement as any teenager I had every met, and I started to suspect that they had no insight that I didn’t have myself.  My theory was that they had all stopped trying to make sense of the world, assuming they had as much as they already needed.  In the years that followed High School, I distrusted anyone who acted older, and made a point of illustrating that they are no different or more informed than I could be after a trip to the library.

Now that I have passed 40, I not only feel certain that I was right then, but the evidence at hand points to the same kind of self-help axiom I’ve always struggled with: you have to want something to get something.  Because, essentially, that is the case for anyone who hasn’t tried to pick a direction for themselves and pursue it.  That component of reaching out for something that you want – again: personal improvement, a new faith or belief in something, a goal or desire that you will not let yourself live without – if you can’t be bothered to even want it or find out if you do want it badly enough, then you will have no idea what you are doing and why you are doing it.  This happens to be the case with most people – young or old – and is the state of being most people prefer to adopt because it is easy.

But what do I do with this revelation?  This is the problem that I have encountered in the mental exercise of working out how you communicate this information downstream.  At 17, what would have resonated with me that would have opened my eyes?  How could anyone have taught me that I need to chase my desires with confidence, that I need to outline what I want and take physical actions to achieve my goals.  How do you make that clear to a teenager who is convinced that everything is unfair, and stacked against him?  It’s a hard nut to crack.  My natural state as a youth was to feel put-upon, to feel abused, to feel distrust toward the world around me, and to feel that the only place I was understood was in music and books of my choosing.  Short of taking me to a $5 show where all the bands I like had written ‘zines about how you need to set desire-based goals and pursue them, how would I have ever made this observation at that age?  Is is even possible?

A lot of this has to do with confidence, something that I have never been good at and felt little reason to carry as a defining trait.  I was not confident.  Until I met my wife, I was pretty sure I would be doomed to having short and largely meaningless relationships, and only in the years since we have met, fell in love, and got married do I feel the kind of confidence that I longed for a needed as a teen.  But how do you imbue confidence to the awkward and uncomfortable, without the years of experience that created it in me?  I still feel this overwhelming panic that my wife will leave me at any moment, and for any reason, and this hyper-vigilance regarding this thought tends to color my every action, even when I know in my heart that this won’t happen.  I want her in my life, but the nearly 25 years of experience prior to meeting her has trained me to think that everyone leaves.  Even at 40, I don’t have the confidence I’d like to have.

If learning confidence is complicated, developing sophistication is even more challenging.  I value my ability to think critically, to hold two thoughts in my mind at once, to consider new ideas and to abandon old ones that no longer work.  This is something I wish I had at my disposal as a teen, because in those days, I clung to the one idea I liked with a virulent fervency that bordered on being unhinged.  I was convinced that everyone’s ideals never wavered their entire life, that you would always cling to these powerful thoughts of “right” and “wrong,” and that these notions would guide you as you move forward in life.  But as you move out into the world, and meet more and more people who challenge you and your ideas, your own level of sophistication begins to increase dramatically.  Punk Rock is not the only kind of interesting (or valid) music being made (in spite of a comment to that effect that I might have made as a teen), and the greatest movie of all time is not Pump Up The Volume.  (Though that movie is quite excellent, nonetheless, there are much more interesting movies that I’ve come to love more.)

Sophistication allows us to recognize when something is of high quality, even if we don’t like it ourselves.  Sophistication suggests that there are more ideas in the world than our own, and that the exploration of them – and the discarding of things that are insane or poorly developed – is a healthy part of interacting with the world around us.  We need confidence, to become fully realized people who feel they have purpose and direction, and we need sophistication so we can make sense of other people who are different from us without resorting to racist, sexist, or other exclusionist kinds of behaviors when we meet them.

So: how do you teach a teenager, who is still more excited about video games and exploring their own body and ignoring the entirety of the world that is outside of their peer group, how do you convey the value of analytical thought and personal self-worth?  To a teenager, everything is emotion and frenzied thought, barreling through life with a pulsing pleasure center between their legs, an uncomfortable body still growing into maturity, and a huge set of social rules and axioms that dictate how you should be acting.  Even the idea of embodying confidence and sophistication is outside of everything a teenager experiences, save for the few that have extreme skill in one area or who have been forced to grow up quickly.

I’ve wrestled with this for a while, but I have no real insight into how to help out my past-self, or even the current crop of youth that are coming to terms with unfairness and adolescence here and now.  Being young is hard, and only as I am starting to consider the second half of my life do I feel as if I’m starting to get a sense of how I should have gone about things then.  It isn’t that I have a secret that I can share with kids that will even be helpful, any really they must experience this for themselves for it to really hit home.  But if anyone younger (or, perhaps, older who still isn’t sure) happens across this and might want to distill my thoughts into something they can use in a practical sense, here are a few thoughts to consider as you try and deal with the universe around you:

*

1.) Nobody Else Knows What You Need.  Only you can make that call.  Only you know what your dreams and goals are, what your hopes and desires might look like, and what will keep you motivated to live the way you want to.  Describe what you want to yourself, make it as clear as possible, and be willing to do this as many times as you need until you think you’re on the right path.  You don’t have to share it with anyone unless you want to, but you should ask yourself regularly, “What do I need?  What do I want?  Can I define it?”

2.) Most Everyone Else Doesn’t Know What’s Going On.  They may say they are adults, they may point to more education or experience, they may think they are genuine authority figures, and they may claim that they know better.  But they don’t.  They never did, and they are faking it if they say they do.  They don’t know what your life is like, they don’t know what you’re after and what is important to you, and they probably never will if they haven’t defined what they want in their own lives, too.  Be patient with them.  Try to understand that they are clueless, and don’t take the things they say as “truth” or “valid” unless you happen to agree.  When they are ready to see the world from your eyes, then you will be able to have a valuable conversation (for both of you).  Until then: be patient.  They mean well, but they don’t know any better.

3.) Try Not To Be A Dick.  This is really the only rule in life that I have to say is 100% worth following, even if you don’t believe it or see the value in it at first.  This won’t stop others from being a dick.  You might even be a dick occasionally, and that is okay too.  We all make mistakes.  But try not to be.  Imagine someone else acting the way you are acting, and see how that feels for a while before you do it yourself.  None of us are always successful, and that’s okay.  We can forgive you if you are trying.  But please try.  It is easy to be a dick, and you might even get somewhere at first by being one.  But once you start acting like that often, you will find that it becomes a lot harder to stop.  Act the way you want to be remembered, not the way you think will yield the biggest result immediately.

4.) Be Willing To Be Wrong.  We learn from our mistakes, honestly.  It seems counter-intuitive, but as I get older I see it in action every single day.  A mistake might seem bad at first, and can be awful depending on the kind of mistake.  (And I’ve made plenty of them, for sure.)  But you will not be the first person to make a mistake, and you will not be the last, either.  I have changed my mind hundreds of times, I have been wrong more times than I can count, and I will continue to make mistakes and be wrong for most of my life, not because I’m trying to make mistakes, but because I only learn the right way after I have exhausted all the wrong ways around me.  Be willing to fuck up.  But also be willing to learn from that experience.

5.) Don’t Be Afraid To Be Childish If You Want To Be.  There is a race in this world to grow up, to put away the interests of your youth and to “embrace” the world of adulthood as soon as possible.  This is absolutely insane, because these same people eventually get older and insist that adults should, “never grow up,” and that the way kids see things is precious and valuable.  Clearly, they want kids to act like adults, so the old people can act like kids.  Don’t listen to them, and pursue your interests, even if they are childish.  If you like cartoons, watch cartoons.  I do, and I love them.  If you want to color, color every day.  My wife has coloring books that she loves and uses often.  My passions as a kid – computers, comics, writing – these are things that have been lifetime companions for me, both as a child and as an adult, and they have made me happy throughout my life, in spite of what adults told me when I was younger.  There is no “one time” when you should act a certain way, and when people start telling you otherwise, you don’t have to listen.

*

And, it is also likely that I don’t know what I’m talking about, so you don’t really have to listen to this advice at all.  Maybe you shouldn’t, at first.  Maybe you need to learn these on your own.  But maybe it is helpful.  Maybe you already know it, and maybe you think I’m full of shit and will never understand you.  All three are probably true, for some of you anyway.  But these are the things I wish I had heard in High School, and more importantly, things I wish I had believed then, too.

Getting older can be awful.  There are times when you want to give up being responsible, give up acting the way everyone says you need to, and you will long to give up adulthood and move on to something more fulfilling.

What I’m saying is: you can do this at any age.  But only if you want to.

A Day In Aleph

Dirty_dishesA Day In Aleph [1]

Jordan finally pulled himself out of his reverie, and went to the back of his house, where his kitchen was. There was a sizable pile of dirty dishes in the sink, and the quality of the plates and mugs seemed to extend to the kitchen as a whole, creating an oppressive atmosphere. Jordan sighed and turned on the radio, and slowly began to busy himself as sound filled the air around him.

He found the largest pot he owned, and used the spray hose to fill it with warm water. Jordan had to grab and squeeze two empty bottles before he was successfully able to add some soap, and then let the pot continue to fill. In the air, a caller asked if there were warning signs that a parent could use to diagnose mental illness. Four experts all gave different answers.

Jordan hated doing dishes. He used to claim it was genetic, but his friends knew differently having met his brother and sister. Not that it changed anything for him; as far back as he could remember, he hated doing dishes, and had assumed that his parents did too, since he was often given the chore. Jordan turned off the hose and began to rearrange the contents of the sink, trying to make a plan of attack. Even though he lived alone, he briefly wondered if anyone would get on his case, or try to step in and show him how to do it correctly.

This rarely happened anymore.

A new caller asked about how We can promote green practices, not just in our homes, but our communities. Jordan laughed to himself, imagining the dialog to be about dope instead.

There was a particular case he remembered, perhaps one of the first times he ever had to wash the dishes. Even he had been surprised at how quickly the chore was finished, and before long he was back in the living room, wondering if Duncan & Orko were going to make another appearance.

Then: “Jordan, come here.”

Where had he heard that before? It sounded so incredibly familiar.

Jordan came into his parents’ kitchen, all of eight years old. The cabinets towered over him. His stuffed bear, Buffalo, nearly dwarfed him as he trundled along. The smooth, vinyl floor stretched out in front of him like a football field, expansive and grid-like, where any number of games could be entertained, provided the adults weren’t around. In front of the sink, next to the Formica counter, stood his father and the stool that he’d left behind.

“Get up here, you’re not done yet.” Déjà vu.

As he began to work on his own sink, he could picture his childhood kitchen perfectly. As he would run a sponge through the handle of a mug, his own father, years ago, repeated the exact same motions, teaching, explaining. No matter how differently he tried to clean his dishes in the present, his father in the past matches his every movement.

“Jordan, come here.”

Jordan turned around, with a spatula in one hand, a young man in a uniform, to see his boss – or was it his father again? – standing next to the industrial sized sink that loomed against the entire back wall of the kitchen. In comparison, his boss looked miniscule, pathetic. The enormous mat on the ground, pock-marked with the remains of food within it’s mesh, enveloped him with an oppressive sensation that seemed much more current than the job he once held, 15 years ago.

“Get over here, you’re not done yet.”

As he approached the sink, the kitchen seemed to grow, making each step toward it seem like a mile as the work ahead of him seemed to instantly fill up the rest of his shift, his week, his life. The murky water swirled in his father’s, his boss’, and now his own sink, a dark whirlpool of soap and filth, past and future, water and air, pulling Jordan in like a hole in space and time.

Uncanny. As Jordan gathered the silverware from his own sink, he vividly saw himself do the same from his father’s sink, from his boss’ sink, from sinks familiar and unfamiliar. “Jordan, come here.” Was that his friend Devin, who needed some help in the kitchen after a party? Maybe Martha, who was tired of him playing Civilization, and wanted him to clean up in their first apartment. The callers disappeared from the air, to be replaced by a physicist talking about string theory.

He began to cry silently. “You’re not done yet.” He looked at his own sink, and no, he wasn’t. Tears began to splash onto the food still stained on his plates and spoons.

How many times had he been shown how to wash dishes? How many times has he stared at the water, and felt overwhelmed by the work ahead of him? How many times have people that loomed so large in his life made him feel useless in front of a sink? His apartment was only big enough for himself, but his kitchen seemed crowded now with ghosts of the past and present.

Jordan, come here. Who said that? Or rather, why is it always being said at all? Being alone was supposed to be the ultimate reprieve from the daily chores that fill up our lives. When you only have to impress yourself, there’s no reason to make the bed, sweep the floor, or scrub the windows if you don’t want to. And yet the impression that’s been made over time fills him with constant guilt. You’re not done yet. He cannot escape it, no matter what town he moves to, or how many years pass between then and now. There will always be one more load of laundry, one more box of recycling to sort, and more dishes to wash. The drying rack will always be ready to receive the next communion saucer.

Jordan continued to wash his dishes with his own tears, and began to pull taught the thread that ran through his entire life. It connects his past to his future, and ran through him completely, filling him with the anxiety that there will always be another load to finish, and someone else not completely happy with his work. Every point along the thread came into focus as he moved through the contents of his own sink and as he sat there, overwhelmed by the cumulative effect flooding through him at that moment, as the air around him filled with abstract explanations that did nothing for him spiritually, he let out a long, sputtering exhalation, punctuated by the fury of his eyes and nose that were now working overtime to make sense of his inner turmoil.

He moved, imperceptibly forward along the thread, and soon 20 minutes had passed, and he was finished. He turned the radio off, left the room, and went to his bathroom to clean himself up. He reached for a towel, wiped off the water now on his face, and locked eyes with himself.

“You’re not done yet,” he said.

[1] Suds & Scrubs, Dishwasher Pete!

I’ve Been to the Bemsha Mountaintop (Retrocast)

(This podcast and essay was originally posted on 21 January 2013.  At the time, I worked for Portland State University, and got MLK Day paid off.)

This Was The Last Speech He Gave Before His Assassination The Following Day.
This Was The Last Speech He Gave Before His Assassination The Following Day.

I’ve Been to the Bemsha Mountaintop
(Featuring an audio-essay cut-up of Martin Luther King Jr.‘s last speech delivered to an audience, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” from 3 April 1968.)

I have always taken for granted the holiday that we take in January to honor Martin Luther King Jr.  It was not that I didn’t care, but that the day usually came when papers were due, or when I worked a job that already required me to work that day.  But in light of my new job, getting the day off – paid – felt a little weird.  I had to be honest with myself that I had never really listened to any of MLK’s speeches all the way through, and that I knew very little about the work he did other than the most general, basic sense.

So today’s radio blast is a bunch of stuff culled from my collection of audio that relates to MLK Jr.  I have an edited cut-up of his last speech, and a radio broadcast from just after his assassination, as a way of presenting some of what I discovered in actually doing some research of this amazing and incredible man.

I do not have any great epiphanies to share with you, and there is no great revelation at work in this show.  It seems very clear that, as he delivered this speech, he knew his days were numbered, but this seems to be the case leading up to his assassination.  I think the arrangement in this little mini-cast works to reveal why he was considered to be one of the best orators of our day, but also to illuminate much of what his work was about in the most basic and general sense possible.

For those who stay to the end: there’s a little joke to ease the tension of such a serious subject.

I urge all of you to listen to his speeches, read up on this man, and let yourself actually understand the value of this holiday.  So much of what happens to us seems so passive, and we let days pass without reflecting on them too often.  This time, stop for a moment to consider who this man was, and what effect he had on the world around us.

And: let’s hope you MLK Day was full of the promise and wonder that every new days brings us.

Be seeing you

*

I’ve Been to the Bemsha Mountaintop

01.) (What Did I Do To Be So) Black & Blue [Excerpt] * Louis Armstrong * Say It Loud: Celebrate Black History Month & Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
02.) “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” [Excerpts] * Martin Luther King Jr. * 3 April 1968
02.) Bemsha Swing * Thelonious Monk * Say It Loud: Celebrate Black History Month & Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
03.) Martin Luther King Jr. Assassinated * Bill Kurtis * We Interrupt This Broadcast * 4 April 1968

It’s Time For A Geekly Update

geekly6Every Sunday at 2 PM on KMUZ.

One of the first things I searched for when my wife and I hit upon the idea of moving to Salem was local radio, and I remember in those early days when I found KMUZ online.  It took a while for us to get our marriage and our life in Salem sorted out, and thus my involvement with KMUZ has been only a recent development.  I haven’t done a whole lot of mentioning of it (save for a passing reference in the last NewsZine), as I’m still the low guy on the totem pole, but I have been recently adopted by the team at Geekly Update, and have appeared on two recent episodes.

For those who haven’t listened yet, Geekly Update is a panel / talk show format program where guests and hosts talk about all of the topics-de-jour that are of interest to the nerdy and nerdy-adjacent.  Comics, novels, movies, TV, music, and anything that comes close to something you would find in your comic collecting friend’s house is covered on the show, and they’ve been going strong for a while.  Jason Ramey David Duncan are the primary hosts, and run the show on alternating weeks.  The guests vary from week to week, but some recurring characters appear every week.

I will be archiving my appearances on this program over at AnywhereAnywhen.com, using my newly minted Geekly Update Feed.  In an episode from 27 December 2015, we gave an overview of the things we enjoyed from 2015.  In an episode from 3 January 2016, we talked about various pieces of culture and whatnot that we are looking forward to in the coming year.  (I had to phone in for the second show, as the roads were too icy for us to drive in for the show that day.)  I should mention that there was no show on the 10th due to host illness, but I will be back on the 17th, certainly, and hopefully Jason won’t still be sick.

I have been wanting to launch a talk show of my own for some time, and some out there may remember the original incarnation of A Momentary Lapse of Reason was focused on talk.  (That is, until Miss Rikki & I turned the show into a collage-based sort of dadaist presentation.)  But even that show was not going to have the kind of spirited conversation that we’ve had on these shows.  Plus, the subject matter is something that I’m passionate about, but don’t really have an outlet for at the time.  As someone with thousands of comics in my basement, I feel bad that I never address that part of my life.  Hopefully now I can.

So, make sure to tune in on Sundays, at 2 PM.  It’s a good time to listen live, and there will be a podcast either later that day, or by Monday at the latest.  Geekly Update.  It’s something new I’m involved in, and I’d love it if you listen.

Bowie & Lemmy & Hundreds of Other People Who Weren’t Famous (Oh My)

lemmy-kilmister-tumor-cancerIt isn’t that I want to be the flea on a house cat, or just to be contrary, but there’s always such a mixed bag of emotions when someone well-known passes away.  I was absolutely broken the day Leonard Nimoy passed away, but found myself at peace when Lemmy’s death was announced.  (Probably because I had seen Motorhead live four times, and felt lucky to have done so.)  I remember spending hours watching Nirvana videos the day Cobain killed himself, crying and maudlin over someone I never met, but was almost filled with glee when I heard about Jerry Garcia passing, and actually celebrated when Ronald Regan finally died.  We all have our own group of myth-makers that we respond to, and my love of Captain Beefheart can’t measure up to that of Robin Williams, no matter what the Inter-Web-A-Tron thinks I should feel that particular day.

1976: David Bowie poses for an RCA publicity shot in 1976. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

It isn’t that I don’t like David Bowie.  I have a few albums, and there’s some songs of which I’m certainly a fan.  He was interesting, too, a character that was looking to create a certain kind of art, not necessarily art that was popular at the time, either.  He looked how he wanted to, acted how he wanted to, made music that reached and affected a lot of people, and made a huge impact.  I don’t want to deny any of that, or talk shit about him.  He was who he was.  He just wasn’t my favorite artist in the world.

And, even worse, not even the first well-known person to have died on January 10th of 2016.  A well known mathematician, two well known dutch sculptors (the other one is here), a well known writer, two additional musicians (American & Venezuelan), a LGBT activist, a footballer, a journalist, a politician, a businessman & an Australian yachtsman all died on the same day, and a few of them also went to cancer, too.  And that doesn’t even account for the scores of others that have already died in 2016.  Wikipedia’s Lists of deaths by year is quite eye-opening, and while that doesn’t mean that Bowie’s death isn’t a loss, or isn’t tragic, it is strange to consider all the other’s that are not being remembered as part of this event.

Humanity has never really done well when we try to cope with death.  The best we can do is invent an afterlife of some kind, speak to them as if they are still alive, and postpone the actual grieving until we are faced with the fact that this person really is lost, that they really are gone, that they are never coming back.  Sometimes we can process these kinds of events in real time.  But death is almost always sudden.  I didn’t go to bed on the 9th with any kind of preparation that I would wake up in a world without Bowie.  None of us did.  But it has happened, and we must learn to find a way to deal.

In a way, celebrity deaths are how we come to cope with the fact that humanity is dying.  The thought that there will never be any more Motorhead shows is a big thing to process, and it stands in for the fact that everything ends, eventually.  There was a time when there were never going to be any more Beatles, or Elvis, or Django Reinhardt, or Mozart.  But life continues.  Bowie has now been relegated to “old” culture status, and we will only now be able to live in a world that has lost that, and hundred and thousands of those who came before us.  Learning to live without new music is a bit like having to come to terms with Grandma dying, or the city we grew up in changing dramatically.

Yes, it is sad we lost him.  It is sad we lost everyone.  We should be mourning the loss of people, of those who were not famous but touched our lives anyway.  We should be learning to come to terms with everything that we might not ever see again, and not just new albums buy a guy who had done the bulk of his best work a few decades ago.  This should be an example of the amazing things that we have in front of us, and not a chance to dwell on the great things we used to have, that are completely gone now.

Nostalgia is great.  But it is too easy to feel steeped in it, to let it overwhelm us as we realize the thing we love is gone now, or different.  But celebrities will live on in our memory longer than our friends, or neighbors will, and rarely do we celebrate them with the same kind of grandiosity of a passed superstar.

No one will ever forget Bowie.  Who will remember everyone else that died that day?

Shaking Things Up

My First Polaroid Developing
“Shake it up.”

In the spirit of newness and change, I’ve decided that it is time to shake up the presentation here on the blog.  There are have been a number of ways this interface has taken shape over the years, and when I first started making websites and posting material to the Inter-Web-A-Tron in the ’90’s, I had a number of ideas about what I wanted to post.  The frequency of those posts, and the presentation of them has changed dramatically since then, but I’ve done my best to hit upon themes that I’ve always felt strongly about.  Often those themes involve art and girls, but that’s true of almost every person who has ever been attracted to either.

The most recent incarnation of this blog – and within that, the most recent reboot of it last year – has been an excellent place to post things that are in-progress, or half-formed, as a means of chewing over ideas that I know I want to see go further.  When I first launched a proper blog, just after moving to Portland in 2000-ish (which I’m trying to unearth for the anthropological exercise of it all), my first thought was that the Inter-Web made it possible to have more immediate discourse, or at least, more immediate than the letters I was getting from ‘zines.  I still stand by that idea, and I post to the web largely with the notion that all of this is a draft, that it might be revised and re-written before it finds a final home.  Text, as any writer knows, is always a living document, and even after they are printed, there is an urge to revise.

The idea to go to five days a week was, of course, fairly bold.  That’s a lot of writing, especially if I don’t want most of it to be filler, and especially considering the unforgiving environment that a large part of the web has become.  Fortunately for me, I have gone largely un-harassed during my tenure as a denizen of this electronic republic, which either means that I am so uncontroversial as to be worth little regard, or that the offensive things I have said have been met with an eerie kind of agreement by the public at large.  It would be ridiculous for me to assume that I have enough notoriety to warrant an enemy or two, but having been online since the ’90’s, I’m shocked that I haven’t found some truly horrible examples of humanity who have wanted to fuck with me for the fun of it.

The idea to have one day a week dedicated to video posts seemed like a cheat that could easily be forgiven, so long as the videos were actually good.  (And I’ve been largely successful in that area, I believe.)  Giving over another day a week to index cards was certainly a bit of a gamble, as I hadn’t really seen that being done anywhere else, and I wasn’t sure if it was even something people liked.  It was a new way of approaching writing, and seemed like something that could be a huge flop if not done right.  But like Twitter, the restriction is actually a nice way to force yourself to try new things, and hitting the right length to perfectly fill an index card is a bit of an artform.  I’m glad that I’ve gotten some positive responses on them, because I’ve come to really enjoy making them.

(I would like to make a small digression here, and mention that I entirely owe my interest in index cards – and the idea to use it as a springboard for my own writing – was at the suggestion and inspiration offered by Merlin Mann on his show Back To Work.  I sort of used index cards in College, to keep track of assignments, but never used them as a way to stimulate writing, or as a means of capture.  But Merlin’s observation of the index card as ultimately disposable was something that really stuck with me.  Often, we are too precious about our own writing, and we treat each new notebook as a place where treasured and important ideas will live.  But there is a need for a place to put ideas that just need to get out, and might not really need to live beyond that.  Incorporating index cards into the way that I collect ideas and focus my own writing has been a huge breakthrough for me, and I owe that to Merlin and his suggestions on that program.  He does a wide range of other work – including a fair amount of comedy that is priceless – and I recommend checking him out if you are remotely interested in writing, art, comedy, and enjoying life.)

Having accounted for two of the five days each week, I was confident that I could continue to post three new written items every week, and have them not be a rip off.  But for some reason, I structured the week in a way where Monday led with a video & Friday closed with an index card, and the good stuff was in the middle.  While that idea wasn’t bad, a lot of people pointed out that Fridays are low-traffic for all sites, and Monday is always the strongest.  When I started looking at user engagement with our site’s built in tracking tools, this confirmed that observation.  Monday was our biggest day, and it had the least to offer readers, every week.

So, we’re going to move the videos to Fridays.  This makes more sense to me.  You’re only putting in a half-day on Fridays anyway, you already ducked out early with the guys in the other quad for a “lunch” around ten, and you’re just killing time until your boss leaves so you can get out of there.  So a video is closer to the amount of time you have at your disposal, and we get it.  To accommodate this, we’re sliding everything up a day, putting our index cards out on Thursdays now.

We’re going to try this for a bit and see where it goes.  Again, I’m not entirely sure if it’ll stay like this, but if history has taught me anything, it’s that we can change the way we structure this site at least four more times this year and it still will not account for the total number of changes that I will not be able to predict coming.  So, we’ll try it this way for a while.

And we’ll see what happens.  I invite your feedback, please.

Bait & Switch 78s

12.) The Down Home Boys / Original Stack O’ Lee Blues * Little Harvey Hull / Long “Cleve” Reed * The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

hull1Along with lone mavericks like Lee de Forest and his friends were collectors, people who spent their time reading about and purchasing rare records.  For these folks, a unknown 78 was just as important as the legendary statue that Bogart was talking about when he uttered the phrase that became title of this compilation. But there’s an irony to its use in the movie that the people behind this compilation probably shouldn’t have allowed to be associated with their album: the falcon, of course, was a fake, and Sam Spade delivered the line ironically when a cop asked what the fake statue was all about.

The plot thickens, as The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of claims to contain “previously unissued” recordings of music from the 20s and 30s, an allegation that ironically didn’t pan out too well for Yazoo Records in the long run, though in the wake of O Brother Where Art Thou? becoming a global phenomenon, netted them a few dollars. While the pairing of R. Crumb artwork with Richard Nevins liner notes is supposed to drive home the authenticity of these songs, among collectors it is clear that a few of these cuts have made their way to the public before, and perhaps only a handful were “unissued” in any meaningful sense of that word. The claim that some are mastered from unheard test pressings seems, at this late date, to be incredibly unlikely, but nonetheless, The Stuff that Dreams Are Made Of persists as a collection for beginners.

Keep in mind, this was 2006, and the Inter-Web-A-Tron wasn’t as comprehensive as it has become. Old Timey Music was starting to become incredibly popular among the NPR crowd, no longer the realm of people who lived and breathed these recordings. But for new fans, you couldn’t just Lycos “Little Harvey Hull” any easier than you can now, and even still, the information is spotty. Without the deep knowledge of these collectors helping guide you in this largely forgotten world, it is easy enough to end up like Kasper Gutman and Wilmer, tricked by something that looks and sounds like the original, but is not. This does not mean that the fake has no value; in the case of The Maltese Falcon, prop collectors now shell out insane amounts of cash to own a replica that was meant to represent a fake. In the case of this collection, at least there is some great music on it, and the value of a good song – even one you’ve heard before – cannot be underestimated.

Starting here I begin my run of Lee de Forest songs, one of the bit-players in the story of Radio. This original tune has origins that lie in the deep forgotten past, but the “Stack ‘o’ Lee Blues” has taken a number of forms, contemporaneously to the release of this recording, as well as in the misheard forms of “Stagger Lee” in the years since. The beauty of these tunes is that they are reinterpreted by artists endlessly, creating a sort of ‘Song For Any Occasion.’ Considering that both the Lee of this song and Lee de Forest himself shared some of the same qualities, it not only seemed appropriate, but essential.

Electricity Runs Through It

tumblr_my4w4oi4w51qbggpuo2_128002.) Tremens * Sonic Youth * SYR 1

The incidental music for this episode is “Tremens.”  Not only are Sonic Youth the musical heirs to the Captain’s throne of art-rock aspirations, they heartily acknowledge this indebtedness in their own rendition of “Electricity” on a fantastic Beefheart tribute record.  “Tremens” holds quite a bit of significance for me, personally.  I began my stint on radio when the SYR series began, and I listened to them as I was learning the ropes.  This track is featured in an early episode of my program, too.  But the title gets at the thesis statement problem too: in order to get us to a place where we can understand the transformative effects electricity has had on music, we may suffer the the aural DTs as we travel back to the acoustic era of recording.   

41RTQQZQ8VL03.) Two Golden Microphones * Nurse With Wound * Second Pirate Session

I also use a chunk of “Two Golden Microphones” not only because microphones themselves are such a large part of the narrative, and were the innovation that allowed music to evolve out of the acoustic era of recording, and into the electric era of recordings, but to further acknowledge that Nurse With Wound are the true pioneers of the cut-and-paste music aesthetic.  In fact, between them and Negativland – the DNA of which should be apparently audible in nearly everything I’ve done – I would have no other schtick to stand on.  So for that, thank you.

Annex - Crosby, Bing_0804.) The Very Thought Of You * Bing Crosby & Georgie Stoll

From here on the musical selections are slightly less symbolic and much more literal, though I do hope that these can work on at least two levels as well.  Bing Crosby was chosen only because he is a perfect example of the kind of artist that could only have a career post-microphone.  His voice is very well suited for an intimate performance, where we is really singing at a quiet and personal way, something that couldn’t be done in the era of acoustic recording.

amberol05.) Menuett G flat major & Valse bleat * Beethoven (Kathllen Parlow – violin; George Falkensten – piano) * Edison Amberol 4M-28026 (1912)

There is something incredibly charming about being able to listen to Beethoven while you wash dishes, but for this I decided that I should find an actual Edison Cylinder recording, because I knew I could actually take the extra step.  As this song is in mono, it adds another level of simplicity to the program.  There are a number of places online that you can find wax cylinders, and I do very much love listening to these .mp3 transfers of a 100+ year old record for the disjoinedness of it.  Therefore, I encourage you to go to The Thomas Edison section of The National Parks website, and download some archived recordings of Edison Cylinders.  It’s a lot of fun, and they are all really weird.

9757348_106.) Aria from Massanet’s “Le Cid”: O Souverain, O Juge, O Pere * Enrico Caruso * 1916

Something that is lost on audiences 100 years later is the absolute star power of an artist with a name of which you have never heard.  Enrico Caruso released more records in his lifetime than most tenors could ever imagine being featured on, and was the opera singer of his time.  He packed houses across two continents, and critics have spoken so passionately about the sound of his voice that there are some schools who have annual competitions by students who eager to take a shot at describing Caruso’s vocal performances.  If you don’t go that deep into opera, then there’s no reason you would be able to recognize the caliber of his performances, and since the last time Caruso was popular in the US was 100 years ago (and I’m not kidding, it has been that long, precisely), I’m not surprised you don’t know who he is.  I only came across his music when I started listening to The Ragged Antique Phonograph Music Program, and even then I can only really say I know of him.

Plus, opera ain’t really my bag.  But, as a key player in the early days of recording music, Caruso is a perfect example – unlike Bing – of being able to perform for the acoustic era.  It is said that his voice loved the horn, and he could belt out a tune the way no one else could.  It is no wonder he recorded over 250 times in his career; the dude could sing.

top-pic207.) After Dinner Toast at Little Menlo * Arthur Sullivan * ENHS E-2439-7 (5 October 1888)
08.) The Lost Chord * (performers unknown) / composted by Arthur Sulivan * ENHS E-2440-3 (August 1888)

Various corners of the Inter-Web-A-Tron can reveal some incredible things, so here’s something fun I turned up as I was researching this episode: a recording of Arthur Sullivan from 1888 talking about being “thrilled and terrified” by Edison’s invention.  Hopefully you have the kind of ear that can dig through the grooves on this one and really “grok” what he’s saying, but the gist of it is something that I think is at the heart of the central conversation about recorded music: the old generation is excited and annoyed by the next generation all at once.  It was just too perfect, not only as an artifact, but as a way of framing how long this generation to generation conversation has been going since the beginning.  Edison’s later resistance to electric recording technology, then finally giving in and embracing it far too late, is entirely foreshadowed, symbolically.

images-artists-Billy_Murray_-_2009113014512480.w_290.h_290.m_crop.a_center.v_top09.) Alexander’s Ragtime Band * Billy Murray * EDIS 36065 (1911)

Caruso might have been the opera equivalent of a rock star, but Billy Murray has often been referred to as the Elvis of his time, mostly in the sense that Murray was known by everyone.  Unfortunately, he was considered a novelty for most of his career, which spanned almost 45 years across two centuries.  Unquestioningly the biggest household name of the 1900s and 1910s, he sang vaudevillian ballads and novelty songs, and for nearly 20 years made a living touring and singing to people all across the country.  His singing style is considered “conversational,” and people really connected with his everyman style, unconventional compared to other artists working the similar circuit.  While he continued to get work into the early ’40s, as electric recording techniques and jazz began to dominate the record industry, Murray had less and less star power.  In the acoustic era of recording, Billy was the biggest star America had ever known in popular music, and it wasn’t until Louis Armstrong or Frank Sinatra that someone as huge grabbed the American consciousness.  While his name is largely forgotten today, this is a sample of American Popular music at the beginning of the 20th Century.  Hopefully, as we continue with more History Lessons, we can see this style and format evolve.

 

The Lighthouse Beacon

electridonations beefheart01.) Electricity * Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band * Safe As Milk

For a story like this, how can you NOT pick Beefheart’s “Electricity” to kick-start this mother, huh?  If the thesis statement runs along the lines of: electricity is to music as punk rock is to pop — then you really have to put your cards on the table up front, dig? And truly, “Electricity” was the lighthouse beacon straight ahead across black seas, a song that laid bare a new path that rock and roll could forge through the saccharine formula that was prevalent across the musical landscape in 1967.

Already in the years between the early and late 1950s the world has seen an incredible revolution in the form of rock ‘n’ roll, and the ’60s see a massive array of miniature musical revolutions to match, each setting the course for a wide number of new interpretations.  For Beefheart, it was the dirtiness of rock ‘n’ roll, it was the strangeness of The Blues (with a capital T & B) all mixed with this country shuffle, that really turned him on.  But Beefheart wanted to distort both the recording of his vocals specifically and the artform as a whole intellectually, to return the music to its raunchy & rebellious origins.  Ambitious?  Absolutely.  No small feat for any band of any era.  Beefheart’s deconstruction of the blues/rock jam is so perverted it just oozes with the grime that is unmistakably punk in spirit and form.  “Oh, they do it that way?  Well, we do it this way.”  There’s a sort of Troggs-y quality to the forward momentum and chord-progressions, true, but even that comparison only highlights the weirdness of the bass-line, a direct ancestor of the first Clash album, or some Ramones tunes.  This, in many ways, is the source of the infection, patient zero, at least of this particular strain.

The myths surrounding this number are, themselves, larger than life, and the most appropriate pieces of foreshadowing if ever there were any.  As it goes, Jerry Moss (the co-owner of Beefheart’s label) claimed the song was “too negative” for him to allow his daughter to hear it, leading to A&M Records dropping Beefheart.  It is also said that in an effort to get the gritty vocals, The Captain shattered a microphone during one take.  But the strangest legend of “Electricity” comes from one account of a legendary performance on 11 June 1967.  The Magic Band was slated to play on Day Two of The Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival, by all accounts the first true rock festival as they exist in the modern form.

By way of an all too appropriate tangent within a tangent within an annotation, it is interesting to note that the promoters (Tom Rounds and the staff at KFRC 610) were inspired by the success of The Renaissance Pleasure Faire of Southern California, who were putting together these multi-stage, two-day events with music and artists and food and drinks, packaged together as a weekend of renaissance style fun.  They wanted to do a rock & roll / freeform radio version of their event, and out of this was born The Fantasy Fair, a less documented affair that happened a full week previous to The Monterey Pop Festival, and really kicked off The Summer of Love.

The Fantasy Fair was, for lack of a glamours way of putting it, trying to capitalize on the rise of Psychedelic Rock.  Sgt. Peppers had just come out, and everybody was talking about the San Francisco scene, which was already a few years old by then, and was was already being considered old news by the hipsters who were moving on to the slightly “harder” stuff that was happening in the underground “garage rock” scene of the late ’60’s.  KFRC figured they could squeeze a few dollars from these hippies and make a mark in a big way for freeform AM radio by covering the event.  Everybody wins.

They were, of course, 100% right.  While there were absolutely financial motivations, KFRC was also looking to reclaim rock and roll from the awful version that America was living with in those days.  The early ’60’s had seen the rise of the disdainfully named “bubble gum” craze, called such not only for the association that the music was for children, but for the added insult that the music was also quickly flavorless, and ultimately disposable.  The Pat Boone-ification of these baby-faced teen idols led to a very bland format, which at the time was parading as “rock and roll.”  A lot of people remembered how exciting it was to hear Little Richard on the radio, and were not getting the same vibe from Paul Anka.  At least with the scene at The Fillmore, it could be said to be about, and for, adults who liked to rock, and who remembered that rock and roll used to be fierce and seedy, and fun.  The Rock Festival, as an artistic statement, was to draw a line in the sand and say, “over here, we try to expand our minds like real adults.”

Were we ever so naive?

The line-up at The Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Festival is a veritable who’s who of late ’60’s rock bands: The Doors, Canned Heat, Chocolate Watch Band, Jefferson Airplane, The Byrds, Tim Buckley, The Fifth Dimension.  It is in this insane time and place where Captain Beefheart performed his greatest version of “Electricity.”  Here’s the scoop: The Seeds has just laid waist to the audience, themselves already declaring so-called “psychedelic” rock to be bullshit they produced their own hard-driving sound that was pretty formidable for audiences who were there to see Tim Buckley, or had heard that, “Mr. Tambourine Man” cover and thought it was “pretty.”  The Doors had already begun to walk the darker side of rock music, and there was a small but dedicated group of folks who were exploring things that were new and different.  The Magic Band sets up, trying to find a way to follow the propulsive set The Seeds had just offered.  The crowd is ravenous.  They are ready to rock.  Time freezes.  You can hear the sound of a pin dropping amplified through stage speakers.

The Magic Band winds up, rears back, and lurches forward.  “Electricity” issues forth to a slightly perplexed crowd.  They don’t know what to make of it.  A few are just loaded, so they start to dance.  Others just watch.  Several wander off.  One person is turned away slightly, eating.  But most are trying to get into it, trying to figure it out.  This whole weekend has been about something new, and they are eager.  This song is a little shaky on the landing.  Perhaps not the best song to open with, but Beefheart insisted.  If they could just get to their next tune, “Diddy Wah Diddy,” which has been a bit of a hit when it came out and got a ton of radio play, perhaps they could win–

Beefheart signals, and the band lurches to a halt.  They’re confused.  What happened?  The audience is stunned.  They really don’t know what to make of the situation.  Beefheart silently straightened his tie, and pointed to a girl in the crowd.  Off mic he says, “she has turned into a goldfish.”  Silence, quieter than before.  Beefheart walks toward the girl, right off the front of the stage, pitching up face first in the mud and grass below.  “That’s it!” yells Ry Cooder.  “I have had it with your pretentious unpredictable bullshit, Don!”  Cooder walks off stage, and out of The Magic Band forever.  As Cooder leaves The Captain – still face down – signals again, and the band picks up the song (as best they could, sans one guitar), as if nothing had happened.  As the show went on, you could see Beefheart smiling through the grass stains on his face.

The Seeds claimed it was the best performance they had every seen anywhere, and they should know, as they caught the whole thing from the side as they shared a joint.

Fuck the Summer of Love.  This festival was the beginning of Punk Rock.

Earnest New Year’s Resolutions.

Earnest New Year’s Resolutions.calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutions

1.) Improve Daily Diet & Exercise Regime.  (Will stick with this for the first week.  Will go to free gym attached to office and get into cycling for a few days.  Will tell everyone how are now exercising over salad lunch.  Will feel superior to everyone for those days.  Will wake up one day and feel awful.  Will not work out that day, and will return to binge watching Rockford Files for entire weekends.  Will not exercise again until Summer.)

2.) Loose 10 Pounds.  (Will begin to loose weight, will start to feel good about self, will start making plans about all the things will do when you are finally healthy, then will find the last few pounds to be too difficult to shake without actually working out.  Will dwell on the fact that resolution one failed so spectacularly, and will have gruesome images of impending death flash before eyes until Spring.)

3.) Read More Books.  (Will go to the library.  Will find that there is an overdue charge on your account from that Fantastic Four collection forgot to return last year.  Will pay the fee.  Will pace around the classics until grudgingly pick up Gulliver’s Travels.  Will look longingly at DVDs and Comics as checking out.  Will try to read book seven times.  Will return the book to library to avoid charge.  Will go home and have Max Headroom marathon, then re-read an old Conan comic.)

4.) Limit Alcohol Consumption.  (Will have made this resolution while drunk the night of New Year’s Eve.  Will wake up with incredible hangover and a sense of impending death.  Will have a beer that afternoon to take the edge off.  Will go to another party that weekend and get wasted.  Will have forgotten the resolution by the second week of January.)

5.) Limit Time Spent on MyFacester+ & TwInstablr.  (Will install a time tracking app on your phone.  Will make public posts about how you are limiting your time on Social Media.  Will set a date for your “last day” that is fairly soon, but not tomorrow.  Will spend a lot of time pimping out profiles to tell your friends how little you use these sites anymore.  Will promise yourself to only use e-mail, and to call when missing a friend.)

6.) Spend More Time With Friends.  (Before the end of Social Media hiatus, will reach out to friends requesting to arrange times to actually get together, irl, lol.  Will use Social Media embedded chats for communication to set up these meeting.  Will keep using Social Media to set up in person meetings.  Will not successfully arrange to see anyone new until Summer.)

7.) Pursue More Creative Projects.  (Will go to Target and buy four notebooks, pens, dividers, storage bins, paperclips, printer cartridges, scissors, index cards, colored paper and paint.  Will take these supplies home.  Will realize you don’t actually have that printer anymore.  Will find that you have many of these supplies already, in various states and forms.  Will open up the first notebook.  Will write on the first page: “Project #1:”  Will tap pen on notebook for a few seconds.  Will pull out phone to see if any friends messaged you yet.)

8.) Go On More Dates With Partner.  (Will go online and make lists of places to go in your area.  Will drop hints, asking where partner might like to do x or y.  Measure responses, then will return to interweb to refine results.  Will look at calendar and find day that works best.  Will find self feeling unmotivated the week of the date.  Will find partner having shitty week at work.  Will look at each other that afternoon and agree to put on pajamas early and watch Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade again instead.  Will promise to go on more dates next month.  Will try again in July.)

9.) Get More Organized. (Will make a list.  Will look at the list.  Will wonder what to do first on the list.  Will tap list with pen.  Will make new list in order of priority.  Will congratulate self for clever idea with a beer.  Will look at list again.  Will pick randomly the easiest thing on the list that you added at the last minute anyway.  Will do that thing.  Will cross off the item on the list.  Will look at list.  Will think list looks gross with that scrawl in it.  Repeat several times a day.)

10.) Reduce Stress.  (Will take up yoga.  Will listen to relaxation tapes.  Will make mind placid with serenity.  Will wonder why it isn’t working.  Will start to worry about not being able to reduce stress.  Will start to worry about not being able to keep any resolutions.  Will consider seeing a therapist again.  Will go for a walk to clear head.  Will feel better for some reason but will fail to make any connection to why that may be.  Will try harder to keep resolutions tomorrow.  Will make note on list to try harder.  Will feel anxious about self improvement.  Will wonder if that kind of stress is bad, too.  Will get drunk with friends later to forget stress.  Will eat fried foods & will forget everything for a while.)

The Spirit of The Radio

History Lesson Part I$T2eC16NHJIQE9qUHsFi4BR,J(PNk!!--60_35

The incredible thing about living in the 21st Century is that we have access to information and media of which our early 20th Century counterparts could never dream.  Not only taking into account monoliths like Apple who entirely changed how everyone consumes information in the modern era, but just the access to factoids that would be difficult to source even 10 years ago.  We now live in the future, as difficult as that may be to fully process.  Case in point: at any given moment I can listen to digital transfers of Edison Wax Cylinders, watch The Avengers on a massive screen, text a friend of mine in Istanbul, and take 1000 pictures of a cat sitting next to me, all through devices that are middle class mundanities in this modern world.  The future, indeed.

As a media junkie, I’m always looking for new things to absorb, and with my mind on the very problem of and created by modernity, I stumbled across a CBC Radio broadcast of a program called “The Wire,” and the seeds of this show were first sewn.  Our relationship with music today is entirely born out of music’s relationship with electricity, something that goes back to the end of the 1800s.  As early pioneers discovered ways to capture music – an experience that, previously, required the listener to be in the same room with the performer – music entered a new kind of simulacrum, where mechanical objects were standing in for the real performance and “playing back” these sounds.  Obviously, Edison is one of the movers and shakers in this revolution, but that is not to say that he was the only person fixing sounds to some object in space.  However, his work set the template for the record industry that was to come, and in that sense, he is very relevant. Electricity is now married to music in a way that seems inseparable to the modern ear, and yet is in no way apparent when you are turning on a streaming service to help pass the time.

The idea for my particular punny spin goes back to 2011, when I first began to flirt with the “History Lesson” concept.  I had done a number of shows where I was getting more and more experimental with the editing thanks to my interest in Negativland and Over The Edge, and in some ways my show from the very beginning was about de-contextualizing recordings against music and other forms of audio, but with a “radio” sensibility to the presentation.  (I was, of course, still on the air.)

In 2011 I expanded the scope of these audio essays to a four-hour, two-part broadcast called “Before ’75,” briefly covering as much material as I could about the earliest days of the pre-punk music scene.  However, I always felt as if that show was not enough.  Four hours covered a ton of music, a number of artists, and included a lot of really good interviews and samples that drove the point home.  But the beginning felt lacking.  I always thought that, if you logically extend the story back further, punk rock only really has context if you tell the story that came before it.  Act I of punk rock is the merger of electricity with music; distorted guitars and DIY cassette releases need the first 70+ years of music history to make their revolution son incredible.  I immediately envisioned a new, bigger and grander idea for “History Lesson.”  Let’s really take the listeners back to the beginning.

As we roll back the tape to the end of the 19th Century, the state of music was merely that of being in the same room as a music source: a performer.  From there, we move forward through acoustic recording techniques with Edison, the major difference microphones had on the sounds you could record, and along the way present music that complements the story while driving the narrative from time to time.  Later, we discuss the impact recorded music had on the film industry, and enter a discussion about how these factors lead to the birth of radio itself, a pastime so near and dear to my heart.

At this stage in the program we switch our audio samples over to another very different documentary, “The Empire of The Air.”  This Ken Burns documentary of PBS covers the story of Radio through three men, interestingly enough glossing over Marconi, and omitting Tesla entirely.  (For shame.)  However, it does a good job of drawing a parallel to Edison and his relationship with recorded music: not only do the pioneers of radio develop amazing technology, they are setting the course for how radio would act in the public for generations to come.

And, along the way, there is music to help tell the story.  And what a story it is.

 

On & On & WAY UP.

01.) Turn It On * The Flaming Lips * Transmissions From The Satellite Heart
02.) Excerpt Part I * Ben Brooks * The First 50 Years of Radio Part One
03.) Edited Excerpts * Mike Staff * How To Become A Radio DJ

flaming-lipsIt’s easy to defend The Flaming Lips when they put out a great album, and have a hit song like, “Do You Realize?” and everyone is excited about festival concerts and the extreme production value they bring to their shows. But the cruel eye of hindsight is not so kind to them at times.  While their output is treasured by hardcore fans, they become increasingly panned as the flops start to add up.  This particular era of the band – we’ll call it the “Don’t Use Jelly” years – was not their strongest, to be perfectly frank. They had not yet written Clouds Taste Metallic, and where quite a long way off from The Soft Bulletin. In many ways they have become a bit of a cut-out-bin band, a novelty act that puts out Zaireeka (an album where you listen to all four discs simultaneously), or their absurd “7 Skies H3” (a 24 Hour Long Song), not to mention the song-for-song cover of Dark Side of The Moon, and “Christmas On Mars,” a holiday movie that is as inscrutable as it is terrifying. I can see why some people find them a problematic start to any story.

I don’t want to argue about their relevance or importance; I don’t want to claim that they are essential or a must for any smart psychedelic music fan; I don’t even want to convince you that you need to own or listen to anything else by them.

I just want to ask: have you ever heard anything as uplifting and strangely funny as “Turn It On” with these Mike Staff samples?

I gotta say, it’s better than it should be.

Now that you’re reconsidering The Flaming Lips, let’s get into it for a bit. I can’t change your mind, but they began to click for me when I had a better understanding when I considered the time and place.  Mid-West in the early ’80’s, where the rules of punk rock were trying to set fire to the entire pre-history before The Ramones. Punk insisted that the bullshit excess of rock music from the ’60’s was completely valueless, and that only when we get loud and fast do we break out of the norms that had become “standard practice”. The past had nothing to teach us, and in the name of punk, we could only look forward to getting drunk and fucking shit up. The loudfastfuckyounow of punk awoke in their fans a rigidity of thought and uniform, behavior and musical ethos. Its narrowmindedness is often better summarized as a rejection of everything else rather than an articulate analysis of what they didn’t like about… well, anything.

The Flaming Lips understood that punk rock was due for an infusion of something new to save it: psychedelic rock. The story of punk had, ironically, been paved when rock & roll discovered psychedelia, spinning out of it a million permutations on a similar three-chord idea. Punk was a revolution, to be sure, but was insular and defined by negation, following a narrow aesthetic ideology. It had stagnated without anything new to expand it, and the fascistic denouement of all other things became a hinderance. The Flaming Lips never planned to create psychedelic punk per se, and even still, The Butthole Surfers beat them to the punch. But the Lips were such students of psychedelic rock and punk that their ideology was equally in those two worlds. In essence, the heart of the Flaming Lips is their curiosity about music in these varied forms and structures, and they have dedicated their lives to it.

Their early work borders on avant guarde, as the band is clearly still learning how to be a band. But after a handful of albums like this, a thread starts to emerge, and they get good at playing and writing songs. As the ’80’s closed, The Lips were a fairly strong band that could get a crowd, keep ’em, and put on a fun show the whole time. As the ’90’s began, they released records when everyone was watching for the next big alternative act. In the wake of this, Transmissions From The Satellite Heart hit stores, an album that not only summarized their sci-fi / earnest aesthetic in a nutshell, but wove a radio metaphor into the very fabric of their music, specifically the album opener, “Turn It On.”

If a mainstream band wore their heart on their sleeve more in the ’90s than The Lips, I’m hard pressed to name them at this time. “Put your life into a bubble / we can pick you up on radar / hit a satellite with feeling / Give the people what they paid for.” They have chosen this life, have dedicated themselves to being artists on display for us. We, as listeners, have a chance to pick up the signal they are sending, and fortunately for us they are the kind of band who will “hit” us with a feeling that is as real as possible. For the Lips, there is no better experience than that of celebration, or raising your voice to sing along to a song you hear on the radio, to Turn It On and On and WAY UP, and share that moment across the country at the same time and moment connecting us all in a positive expression of loving a simple rock and roll song.

How cool is that?

You can see that thread throughout all their work: this idea of sharing a celebratory feeling with a large number of people to create a magical moment, even a sad one, or a mundane one, and share that feeling through these transmissions, these records and songs The Lips have been making for almost 40 years now. Their perspective is so much a radio metaphor that, while it might seem crazy at first, they are the perfect band to kick off any story about radio.

This particular mix – with the Mike Staff Samples – comes from another audio essay I made in 2009, “A Sound Salvation.” I was rummaging through the library and came across this self-help tape by a NuRock style DJ, Mike Staff, who was going to reveal his tips for those who wanted to become successful professional DJs. This tape was perfect to mix with songs about radio and DJs, and the show wrote itself. While I don’t usually like to listen to individual songs from a show like this one (as I think the show works great as a whole), there is something about the way the mix during “Turn It On” worked that really sounds good to me. Mike Staff is over the top and full of himself, but his voice has that tone that makes you want to believe what he’s saying. And, for all his cheese, he makes a good point: Your Dream is Important to you, and can guide you if you will let it.

Our Holiday Letter

 Happy Holidays From The Capital Couple!

It’s that time of year again around the 1Capital Couple Hideout, and we’ve had an incredibly strange and wonderful year that we’d like to tell you all about. We began 2015 in the city of Salem, OR, where we had lived for much of 2014, and has become our new home. Not only does Marla’s family live here, but we both found new jobs that not only fit our new lives, but were working out quite well for us. Feyd, of course, has yet to find a job, and continues to take advantage of us, in spite of our best efforts.

We had some very big changes around the homestead, the first of which is that Marla & I now have a podcast. The Capital Couple (thecapitalcouple.wordpress.com). We’ve done seven episodes so far, and we talk about the things we do for fun, what it’s like here in Salem, and anything else that comes to mind. We have quite a bit of fun doing it, and we would love to urge all of you to check it out. On top of that, I celebrated my 40th Birthday in a fairly dramatic way, with a two-day show in Portland at Plew’s Brews and The Kenton Club, with music and friends. It was one of the most fun things I’ve had the pleasure of arranging, and you can see some highlights using this link: bit.ly/40thPlewsKenton. It was awesome.

As if turning 40 wasn’t enough, Marla and 2I also got married! Yeah, that was sort of a big deal, as we had been waiting for over a year to officially tie the knot. But the wait was worth it, as we had friends and family there to help us celebrate, and it was, without a doubt, the best day of my life. I want to thank everyone who was there and helped, as both of us had an incredible time, and I can honestly say I have never looked better, ever. You can find lots of unsorted photos at bit.ly/MarlaCodyWedding. (And, if you took photos that we don’t have yet, please send them along. We would love to see them!) I never imagined that I would ever be married, and I am finding that this life is not only worth the wait, but is something I didn’t know I would enjoy this much. All thanks to my amazing and beautiful wife, who said yes.

3As if that were not enough (and, in a way, it wasn’t), our Honeymoon involved a two-week trip around the American Southwest, something Marla named, “The Great American Road Trip Colon Southwest Edition.” We drove over 3500 miles, saw The Grand Canyon, Disneyland, Monument Valley and the Zion National State Park, and it was as good as advertised. We had an incredible time, and realized that it was the longest trip we’d ever taken together, and the most time we’d ever spent together, continuously. It was amazing, and I am STILL going through all the photos and video I shot. You can see some of the highlights using this link: bit.ly/MarlaCodyHoneymoon. It was one of those trips that proved that I made the right decision with Marla.

2015 had some other ups and downs, but strangely enough, things seem to have worked out pretty well. I made a decision to stop working in jobs that I don’t like, and have been pursuing writing and podcasting full time recently. (acronyminc.org; anywhereanywhen.com). I can’t say that I know exactly in what direction this will all go, but I can’t wait to find out. I enjoy writing and radio almost as much as my wife, and I’m looking forward to seeing where they take me, too.

That’s it from our house this year. We are looking forward to seeing what 2016 had to offer, as this year worked out quite nicely for us. Until then,

– Cody & Marla “Rocket Danger” Rich

Holiday Decorations 2015

IMG_3707It’s pretty hard to sit in a room with a lit Christmas Tree, a fire on the TV, and vintage holiday songs playing in the background soothingly, and while all of that is going on, frown and say, “man, fuck this holiday.”  Because, and this is something I can’t believe I’m saying as an adult male, this time of year can have a soothing effect on you if you let it.

It’s funny how Christmas has, embedded within it, a narrative that goes on about how it has become too commercial in the current form, and must revert to that of some pure form that probably never was.  There’s some form of that in the story of Christ himself, and nearly every iteration of it retains some piece of the over-commercialization of the way the holiday is celebrated.  (The Peanuts Christmas special – arguably one of the first and best holiday specials to date, is about that very subject from the get-go.)  There is something about Christmas that has come to embody everything that is both bad and good about the spirit of spending money during the season, and the true meaning of the holiday is to find a way to embrace the contradictory ideas, and that there is intrinsic value in the experience of the season.  It just so happens that you must also buy and spend like Wilma & Betty on The Flintstones.

Christmas as a child is always so incredibly simple, and you have fewer years under your belt to really begin weighing the strangeness of this arrangement.  Good behavior throughout the year usually led to a boatload of presents being magically delivered to your home in December, and even with those draconian rules in place, you could often undo quite a bit of poor sportsmanship on your part through a hand-wavey explanation that it was in the spirit of the season, so long as you were good when your parents asked you to be.

But as the complexity of these experiences develops over the years, and layered meanings begin to create loaded holiday symbols that can cause even the strongest person to burst into tears.  It is one thing to love the tree that shows up when your parents return with it, and for presents to appear beneath it after a lot of build-up and waiting.  But when you remember all the holiday fights, the times spent alone, how you never really get what you really want anyway, and the overhanging threat that Santa is watching you at all times (with the surprise ending when it is revealed what is really happening as you get older), well… this time of year can take on a very different meaning.  Especially if you have lost a family member that played a roll in all of this.

IMG_3706When I began to live on my own, I made a few deconstructed efforts to participate in the holiday, and they were all met with equal parts derision and head-scratching.  As a kid, I had made a habit of finding a decorating very small trees in my bedroom with a more home-spun and Comic Book aesthetic, and this tradition for me continued through to High School.  On my own, my trees grew full sized, and soon accumulated beer cans and cigarettes as a sort of upraised middle finger to the spirit of the holiday.

Even this grew tedious for me after a few years, and soon Christmas was just became another day where I had to pay special attention to the bus schedule, had to get to the liquor store around this new schedule, but at least I might be able to earn an extra fat paycheck if I worked certain days in November and December.  Aside from a few random occasions, the time between my early 20s and my late 30s were often spent Christmas-less, tree-less, and only occasionally did I celebrate with family, when it was convenient for both of us.  I just couldn’t quite bring myself to get into the holiday spirit on my own, unless that spirit was bourbon.

While I have had girlfriends in the past who liked Christmas, right from the very first year we were together, my wife felt strongly about the holiday.  Before I could protest much, she had arranged for me to spend the holiday with her family, and it has been the way we have celebrated every year since.  Her dedication to the cool parts of the holiday, mixed with our mutual understanding that we prefer to leach out all of the religious elements of the holiday, has led to us developing a very nice collection of holiday decorations, and traditions that we both enjoy and love.

Included here is a photoset of our Holiday Photos going back to the first year that we were together, and it includes some of my favorite trees and decorations that we use every year.  We got a little ambitious this year, and wanted to set up more stuff than we were able to get to, but this often happens because of the hustle and bustle of the year, and we inevitably fall behind on this or that.  Obviously, we enjoy having a good tree, but there are some other decorations that we love putting up every year, too.  Here’s a few of them:

Blowmolds: IMG_3577Be it Halloween or Christmas, a good blowmold will attract our attention if we are out shopping.  When I first met my wife, she had one of the candles, but since then we have acquired the other three pieces.  Frosty is the most recent addition to the family.  However, the exceptional wind and rain this year made it a little difficult to keep these guys upright and in place.  Next year we’re going to use some loose gravel to weigh them down, along with ties to keep them from blowing over.

IMG_3710Stockings: If you look at the enlarged version of this photo, you can see that we have five stockings up on the mantel this year.  In the early days, we used the small red stockings, and added the small green one for our cat.  But I had the larger green and white Santa Claus stocking (on the right) from when I was a kid, and would bring it out occasionally as an extra decoration for the house.  This year, my wife surprised me by finding a matching stocking in the same style online (the white and green Santa Claus stocking on the left), and had it shipped to us for the holiday.  It was a very sweet thing for her to do, and now we have two sets of stockings.

IMG_3772Danish Paper Craft Decorations: I may have mentioned before, but both my wife and I are thrift store aficionados, and a surprising amount of holiday schwag will show up in stores, often at rock-bottom prices, to help the items move, quickly.

To that end, for a dollar each my wife found both of these Santa & Frosty Paper-Craft items.  Both of them came with these super-funky paperclips that not only spoke to their foreign nature, but how strange these
items are.

It is hard to cIMG_3773onvey how
strange these are in photos and text, but let me describe: in Frosty, the hathead, and body are interlocked folded constructions that rotate independent of each other, but also work together.  in Santa, the beard is a weird cardboard overhang that wraps around the face, folding out of the way when you collapse him.  They’re both incredibly neat and very weird at the same time, and they are excellent additions to our collection.

 

IMG_3738-ANIMATIONTiffany Glass Candle Holders: We see these at thrift stores fairly often, occasionally in their original packaging, and we now have five of them in our collection.  We struggled with how to light them at first, as burning actual candles was costly and didn’t quite work well.  (You would have to either buy short stubby candles, which were hard to find and did not burn long, or tall narrow candles, and let them burn down until they were the right hight, at which point they, again, don’t last long.  This year, my wife found electric candles that were the right height and diameter to fit into the candle holder in the back, and they now look great.  They not only light up very well, but they are much safer than when we had fires burning behind each ofthem.

IMG_3708Late ’50’s Paper Print Wall Hangings: As estate sale junkies, another place to find excellent holiday decor is in a place where someone old has passed on.  It is part of the natural life-cycle of material goods: the young pilfer cool shit from the elder folks that pass away, and we horde it until we pass away, and let some other young person pilfer all our cool shit at some far point in the future.  My wife is much more tuned into that part of the resale market than I, but this hasn’t stopped me from being impressed with the stuff she comes home with.

These two prints were together IMG_3709when she found them, and while we don’t know the exact
provenance of where they came from, we know that they have been around at least since the late ’50’s.  On the back of the prints, one of the previous owners has carefully written out the years that these were hung in their house.  It’s not only a great added feature to these images, but it tells an entire story of a family in a few scrawled years and dates on the back of these prints.  I have become obsessed with these ever since my wife found them, and I’m very happy to have them in my home.

IMG_3681Ralphie RadioMy wife and I have very different tastes in music, but one thing we can agree on is that older is often better.  And to that end we like to listen to Ralphie Radio when this time of year comes around.  I discovered this several years ago, and found that this is the perfect kind of holiday music because it is from the 1940’s (or, in some cases, older), and that helps when you are listening to the same pop pap that is often circulated this time of year.  The premise is that the music is appropriate for the time period in A Christmas Story, a detail that not only makes it more appealing, but sort of preps you for that movie, anyway, which everyone will see at least once this year.  While I would hope that you are listening to my Holiday Podcast Feed in iTunes, it would make sense that if you are not listening to that, you would want to listen to Ralphie Radio instead.  While I find the commercials on Live365 to be very annoying, and the interface for most programming in not ideal, the quality of the music on this station is well worth tuning in for, even for a little while.

Screenshot.46410.1000000A Digital Fireplace: When my wife and I bought our first TV (and a Roku to go with it in 2011), we discovered that Roku had created a holiday Yule Log, a digital fire with Christmas Music that played along with it.  (You could also just turn off the music and have the fire.)  We loved it so much that we’ve been trying to recreate it ever since Roku discontinued their version of the Yule Log a couple years ago, and in the place of it, they introduced other, much less impressive holiday programming.  Fortunately, nearly all streaming devices now have YouTube embedded within them, and finding a digital fireplace is easier than ever.  (Netflix also has a pretty decent one, too, but I find the YouTube ones last longer.)  Just play your favorite holiday tunes while you watch this, and you have the ideal environment for celebrating Christmas, without having to add logs or stoke the fire.

* * * * * *

The two things we did not get to this year was our Christmas Village – which we got started on, but just could not finish – and our outdoor lights, which were hindered by the rain and wind, making it difficult to get them up at a time when we were free to spend a lot of time outside anyway.  But there is always next year, and I look forward to trying again then, too.

I never appreciated how enjoyable the holidays can be when you get to celebrate it exactly the way you want to, and with the people that you care about most.  Now that I have someone like that in my life, this time of year means more to me than it ever used to.  Hopefully, however you prefer to celebrate, make sure that you do it with someone who you actually want to spend time with.

And, if you can, hang up a stocking or two.  It’ll help you get in the right mood.

Jury Duty: The Short Version. Really.

shutterstock_94093495I Mean This When I Say: Sometimes Democracy Needs More Upraised Middle Fingers That Clean Up Nice.

I often like to argue that I am more of a patriot than most, because I am the first person to jump at the possibility that the entire system is broken, and needs to be rebuilt in a decentralized way, run by women and minorities, preferably.  The right combination of influences, friends, drugs, music, and intellectual journeys I made as a late teen / 20 something bred in me this notion that most systems are flawed by default, and to tear them down in favor of something else – sometime, anything else – is always preferable in the end.  As time went on, I started to see the folly in much of that thinking, and more pointedly, exposure to other ideas and systems of thought – filtered through this hypercritical bullshit punk rock perspective – only led to me to having a much more well rounded point of view by the time I graduated from college.

That being said, I have come to believe that most systems are still flawed, yes, but that by asking questions, and trying to understand these broken systems, you can interject into them the kind of meta-analysis that might cause others to think.  This does not mean that I have often been successful or right when I’ve had to navigate local government or bureaucracies.  At least I feel as if I’m not compromising my own principles when I behave that way, as artificial and arbitrary as my ever-evolving principles might be.

All of this is a long was of saying that I’m absolutely in support of attending and participating in Jury Duty when you get called.  I would only hope that there would be a skeptical ex-weirdo who can put on a shirt and tie on my own jury if, for whatever reason, I wound up in some sort of trial. That’s not to suggest that I’m the kind of guy who would end up in a trial on a regular basis, just that I would want someone to be “of my peers” if I were in their shoes, so it only stands to reason the opposite would be true.  I feel it is my responsibility to be the agent of question-asking and curious weirdos in public, and that applies to Jury Duty, too.

 

Flashback.  Portland.  2002.  

I was called for Jury Duty one other time in life, over 10 years ago.  What I remember most was a lot of waiting and reading, an eventually I was sent home, and I never heard from Multnomah County again.  I was single at the time, and my job paid for me to go, so why not participate in the world of law in a meaningful way?  And, so what if I wasn’t called for a case?  It would all happen again, and I was happy to be a cog in that wheel.  Eventually I would actually participate, the next time I was called, and that would be fine.

As the years went on, it became clear that not only was I not going to get called again, I just got sadder about how this vestige of democracy was within my reach, and yet so far away.  I was convinced that I was a perfect candidate, but I was just never called into action, and never given a chance to give my particular assets a chance to shine.  Another case of the super-hero who could have saved the day, save for the world’s inability to recognize the power he could wield, if they would only let him.  This seemed to be so symbolic of my relationship with so many things, and it just made me feel bad to think about what that might mean for how broken the system really might be.  Or legal fate is not through carefully reasoned measurements of truth, but given over to random chance.

 

49af8f8eb7c25f21cdb0bb12caf942a5Now, In Present Day Salem, OR.

My wife got a jury summons a while back, and I was immediately jealous, until I got my own summons a couple weeks later, in late November.  It made sense.  We moved to a new county, then got married, and our names were now in the system, anew.  We have heard, through the grapevine, that Marion County has a system that usually turns over every two years, without fail.  My wife went in for her chance to serve, and was not picked, and came home quickly.  It did not bode well for my own chances.

As instructed in my letter, I checked in for duty online, and as further instructed, returned to check on the website if I would be needed for the summons in the morning of the day I was supposed to attend.  I didn’t think much of anything, as I was kind of excited about going, and skimmed the site.  I didn’t see anything that overtly read “don’t come in,” so I took it as read that I was to do as instructed in the letter, and show up before 8 AM.

So, prepped with a lunch and fortified with a few cups of coffee, I arrived on time, filled out the paperwork, and was happy to go to the front desk only to find that, as part of the trial jury, since it was so close to the holiday, my services would not be needed.  “Unless you want to volunteer to be a part of the Grand Jury,” he said.

I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but I eagerly jumped at the chance to do it, having already gotten myself down to the courthouse dressed in respectable clothing before 8 AM.  (No easy feat, mind you.)  He explained that it was a two week commitment if I was selected, and I could be in the courtroom for up to six days during that period.  The more he explained, the more I got excited about it.  While never seen in the movies or on Perry Mason, a Grand Jury gets to decide if there’s even a reason for the case to go to trial, which is itself a very important function that is unglamorous and little known, on top of all of that.

While I won’t drag out the climax for too much longer, in less than two hours I was sent home, being thanked for my service in spite on not getting selected to do anything.  While I did see that it was absolutely random that I was not selected, I was disappointed to get to a courtroom finally only to be sent home because they were not going to need my help.  (The bailiff and Judge chose jurors from a fanned-out set of papers that represented all of us.)  Fortunately, the city of Salem provides you with a bus ticket good for the day that you are serving Jury Duty, so I was home so early that I didn’t even get a chance to want to snack on my lunch early, as I could have prepared myself an entire meal at home and still have time to spare, considering how early I was out.  It was such a whirlwind, I barely even noticed the inconvenience it might have been.

 

Some Quick Observations

Everyone I met at the courthouse was not only friendly and kind, but seemed a little desperate for levity and a smile.  It was a Monday morning, and it was close to Christmas, so I’m sure there was a little lightness in the air that was not there normally.  But whatever the case, I had positive interactions with everyone, and a smile really went a long way in terms of getting a nice laugh or exchange out of them.  On the other side of this, the people who had all been called for Grand Jury seemed like a huge group of sourpusses.  No one looked like they wanted to be there, and I could understand, in a way.  I have no idea what their personal lives are like, and I don’t know what they are leaving behind at home.  But no one looked happy to be there.

The process is pretty quick.  There is certainly some down time, but I’ve waited longer for instructors to show up for appointments, so I felt pretty good about those intervals.  The Judge was nice a friendly, and once he got started, the courtroom ran efficiently while I was there.  I was sort of shocked, but then again, they do this five days a week, every week, so they have it down.  Even the security check at the entrance of the building seemed far too simple and easy to get through to be that much of a problem or hassle.  As with a lot of public places like this, they ask you to turn off your phone, and remove your hats, which I thought was an interest request.  (Probably to avoid having hidden recording devices.

jury-dutyI did find it a bit weird that most of the people I was in Jury Duty with were women.  The men were outnumbered by a factor of three.  While not completely hard to explain – that’s just the way the random number thingy worked that day – I did find it odd.  There was one other guy who was in his 20s, but I was still the second youngest man in the room.

I should also add, while I’m at it: I’m surprised at how understanding The Judge is with regard to people who just don’t feel like doing it.  Now, I’m not here to be judgmental about the way other people spend their time.  I probably don’t have the greatest management of my own time.  But I barely believe in systems of any kind, and would rather see bullshit from the past be burned down than reinforced by bureaucracy at this late date, Twenty Fifteen.  But I was a little astounded at how bad the excuses could be for people to be let off the hook for serving.  I understand that missing even a day of work can be a hardship for a lot of people, and it is not my place to judge anyone who is in that situation.  It just seemed strange to hear excuses like, “I would be tired to try and fit it in,” and, “It’s hard to get here,” as legitimate excuses that the Judge will accept.  Yes, I’m tired early in the morning too, and now that you mention it, compared to my bathroom, this was very hard for me to get to.  Where’s my parade?

Regardless, I don’t believe anyone was really trying to take advantage of a gullible system, but again, they did not need all of us, and I guess the system is designed to include a padding that will account for lazy jurors.  They could easily afford let a few people go because they don’t “feel like it,” and still have plenty of people leftover.  I just want it on record that I did not try to pull out any kind of excuse, but instead, decided to throw my lot in with chance, and was randomly not picked.  So much for taking a shower and putting on shoes.

 

Conclusions

Having only devoted six hours total to the task of Jury Duty over the last 40 years, I can only say that I have yet to have an experience other than feeling like I wasted everyone’s time, since most of those six hours were spent waiting, filling out forms, and being told that I wasn’t needed (somehow being rejected three times in the two I’ve been called).  However, I’m probably being a little dramatic to think that this system must be broken in some way, only because I haven’t had a chance to be involved in a Murder 1 Trial.

It makes total sense that the people who want nothing to do with it are all sighing and making excuses, and the guy who wants to people involved can’t get a sideways look to save his life.  But, who am I to Judge?  This must be the system in place because it works, right?

I Have A Computer Problem That No One Seems To Be Able To Solve. Maybe You Can?

imgresI Did This To Myself.

The problem goes back to 2007 or so, in the final days of my dedication to file sharing and downloading, but even my history with that goes back to 2000, when I started having a continuous Inter-Web-A-Tron connection.  As soon a it was possible, I got into Audiogalaxy, and spent ages collecting albums and tunes that I could not find anywhere else.  This continued through Limewire and, finally, Soulseek, but when school began to ramp up and I needed to focus more on other projects, the time spent downloading was not worth the time trade-off.  Before long I had given up, and had moved on to actually listening to my music, which was quite nice.  Without an external drive to help me out, I burned off everything I had collected up to that point, put the discs in the basement, and forgot about them entirely.

Flash-forward, and I’m getting rid of the rotting discs in my basement.  These days, I do have a few external drives offloading files, and I decide it is better to consolidate these CDRs into a massive, digital archive, and toss the discs.  And the process has been fun.  I’m rediscovering music I’d forgotten about.  But I finally came across my .mp3 discs, and therein lies the problem.

When I was collecting music via downloading, I got very systematic about things I was searching for, and largely pursued things I couldn’t find in stores.  (I was at the tail end of my $200 a month record store habit in these days, so spending money on music was never the problem.)  To that end, I went after the Killed By Death series, which follows in the Nuggets tradition, and collects rare punk 45s of every variety.  Some of the Killed By Death records are really amazing, and it was incredible to hear this music that I had only read about.  Of course, getting these songs from various users, a number of files came from a variety of sources, too.  A few files contained the “␀” character, as the source of these files was from a Windows machine.  In 2007, iTunes seemed to have no issue reading those, playing them for me, and letting me load them on various devices.  I was even able to burn all the .mp3s to a disc.

Now, the state of Mac products in 2015 is fairly stable, and fairly high-end.  I rarely run into a problem I can’t easily troubleshoot, and furthermore, anything that is really complicated is easily Google-able.  And, Mac systems are pretty intuitive, for me.  So, imagine my confusion when I tried to load the files on this .mp3 disc into iTunes, only to find that they wouldn’t copy.  I opened the disc in Finder, and could not only preview the files, but could copy them to the Desktop.  But they still wouldn’t load into iTunes.  I did notice that I could open the files in Audacity, and decided that I would attempt to convert the files to another audio format that iTunes could also read.  And, while I was at it, I’ll save these new files with a better name.

So far, so good.  These newly converted files read and load just fine, and iTunes likes them great.  So, I put everything where it goes, and get ready to delete the files I had copied to my Desktop, the ones with the “␀” character at the end of each name.  These, for some reason, would not delete.  As a consequence, this has sent me down a rabbit hole of problems that I still have not resolved.  And not being able to delete things is only the beginning.

 

9599059_75eb70edf3_bWhat I Think Is Happening.

Let me be clear: I have no real idea why these files won’t delete.  I’m not an expert, I didn’t get a CS Degree, and I have focused my energies into other areas outside of computing.  I just don’t have the background to full understand exactly what is happening.  As I have pieced together from random Googling is:

There is a different range of characters that are available for use in many Windows-based file systems, and because of that, Mac OS systems have trouble interpreting those characters, and rendering them in a way that makes sense.  This results in a problem with the way the file is created: the “␀” isn’t really there in the eyes of a Mac, and yet because it can’t render that character, it can’t sufficiently name the problem in order to get rid of it.

This makes sense to me in a sort of 19th Century Psychiatry sort of way, but it is merely speculation on my part when it comes to what the real problem might actually be.  I would love to understand why this is happening on a more granular level, and what causes this, but now I would also just like it to be solved so I can move on.  If there is anyone with a more technical background who knows why a file like this won’t delete, please contact me.  I would love to chat.

 

The Thick Plottens

If you have stuck with me this far, then you must really want the gory details, and for that I thank you for going on what is has to be a techno-slog through a music hoarding problem.  Here’s what keeps happening:

I am running El Capitan.  (Perhaps this is relevant?)  I put the files in the Trash.  These files are originally located on the Desktop, having originated from an .mp3 CDR I made on my Mac laptop in 2007.  I empty the trash.  And I get the following message:

“The operation can’t be completed because an unexpected error occurred (error code -50).”  

Being a diligent user, I Googled the error code, and found a lot of message board posts that relate to errors involving saving to (or deleting from) an External Hard Drive.  I guess that might track – perhaps the system thinks the files are still “on” the disc, and not the Desktop?  Regardless, I had such a hard time finding a single other user who experienced a similar error code when the files went from the Desktop to the Trash.

At this point I decided it was time to use the Terminal, which I’m quite rusty at, but again, can use Google fairly well.  I found a number of pages that suggested I try to use “sudo rm -f” to force the file to delete, which was unsuccessful, returning “invalid argument” in response.  I found a number of people online who did encounter files that would not delete because of a character out of place, and in all the cases I found online, using the Terminal and this command worked.  However, after trying a number of variants and hitting dead ends on forums, I only ever got “invalid argument.”  Just to make sure I wasn’t going crazy, I decided to test other files, to make sure it wasn’t my entire system.  But I could easily remove, delete and copy other files with normal characters in their name.  Just not these “␀” files.

I found a few pages (like that one) that were dedicated to utilities that claimed they could rename files, and force documents to remove these characters that are causing the error.  However, none of them have worked for me yet.  Name Mangler and OnyX were ineffective.  I’m sure there are others I can try, but I’m starting to think that I have a fairly unique problem that 3rd party apps might not be able to fix.  I suspect it may take something bespoke.  Using the Terminal, and using some basic commands to force the Trash to empty, should work.  And yet it does not on my machine.

 

As If That Weren’t Enough.broken_computer

The problem has also developed in Audacity, in another way.  I have been a strong supporter of Audacity since the early 2000s, and it is an incredible audio editing / mixing / producing utility that continues to impress me with how simple it is.  One feature that has saved my ass a number of times is the Project Recovery utility.  If Audacity crashes, it captures everything as best as it could from the temp files, and keeps them until you try to load the program again, when it will ask you if you would like to restore the Project.  Much of the time Audacity can save almost everything, and most things are not lost when using that program.

Since I used Audacity (ver. 2.1.1) to load the pernicious .mp3s (to convert them), Audacity has developed a hiccup whenever I try to load the program.  Because of this “␀” character, Audacity was unable to close properly when I was done converting those files, and crashed.  I didn’t think of it at the time, but now when I try to reload Audacity, I get the Recovery Screen, asking to recover all these files with “␀” characters.  And, of course, I can’t.  So it churns through all eight of these non-existent files, trying to load them, and failing, before it finally gives up, and sputters to life.  There eight open files with no recovered data, all of which need to be closed.  And, when I’m done using Audacity, it cannot “close,” but merely “crashes,” causing this recovery screen to pop up again every time I load Audacity.  This adds at least 60 seconds to the loading process, as it cycles through these eight files that can’t be recovered.

At first I thought I could just delete, reboot, and reinstall Audacity to fix the problem, but even after that, Audacity would go through the same cycle.  Naively, I thought I could navigate to a temp directory and find a file that Audacity was trying to restore, but there was no such file, anywhere that I could find.  (I did have to use the Terminal to turn on hidden files to do this, and even then, I imagine I’m not seeing everything.  But I gave up after an hour of searching directories and trying to Spotlight something.)  As a last resort, I rolled back a few versions of Audacity, hoping that an older one would point to a different tempt folder, and not try to restore these files.  But every version I can get successfully loaded onto this machine keeps trying to restore.

When Audacity is loaded onto a computer, it is clearly putting meta-data somewhere, that it then refers to with nearly every version of the software, that contains the information about restoring projects during a crash scenario.  But how I can clear that cache, and where that meta-data is stored, is beyond this user to figure out at this stage in the game.  I should add that Audacity is not entirely useless to me.  If I am willing to wait through the process of it trying to recover everything, a cycle that takes a good minute, I can use Audacity – eventually – provided I’m willing to put up with it being more unstable and crash-prone while using it.

In other words: I can’t get attached to my editing on this machine anymore.  Half the time, I don’t get very far.

 

Now.  Deep Breath.  

I have not yet exhausted the possibilities.  There is, very likely, a solution out there somewhere, and with enough patience and Googling I could get to the bottom of that.  Part of the problem is how to define it.  Searching for the error code brings up problems that are like mine, but not the same.  Searching for “␀” characters issues gets at some of the problem, but not entirely.  Searching for files that won’t delete gets me part of the way there again, but these “invalid arguments” that I keep encountering are driving me up the wall.  There is a taxonomy to this problem I have yet to learn, and because of that, I have a “␀” character in my own understanding of the issue.  I can’t even get at it until I learn what that is, and that is not going to come with a few minutes Googling here and there when I have free time, but with a deep-dive into how these things work on a very granular level.

I’m not computer illiterate.  If I have a set of instructions I can follow them, and I usually have no problems fixing basic problems with easily understood symptoms.  But this problem very quickly escalated to well outside of my expertise.  I would love to be able to spend a few years learning this stuff in and out, and I have some ideas for Apps and software that I could make if I were to ever go down that road, and I could leverage that into an item I could offer in conjunction with my writing and radio projects.  But that’s not the hobby I signed up for.  I want to write, not learn computer science, as interesting as it is.

My hope is that someone out there reads this, knows the solution, and would be able to get in touch with me.  I would like to have Audacity back, and I’d like to be rid of these files (short of a Nuke & Repave, which I am considering).  I don’t have much to offer as a way of saying thanks, but I would gladly send you some home made granola if you could fix my problem, and I would immortalize you in a blog post as a means of thanks.

Yma Súmac

enlargementChicken Talk * Yma Súmac * Mambo!

After a while, all the stories people tell about the music world start to sound the same.  This white guy started working at this studio and the artists they found were great.  This guy started writing songs with his friends and they became famous.  It’s all so formulaic that it starts to get a little boring, and you start to mix all those white guys into one amorphous nerd who is hunched over some guitar or studio for way too long.  So even the existence of Yma Súmac, the Peruvian Princess descended from the last sovereign ruler of the Incan Empire, Atahualpa, is a joy to discover in a world of white sameness.  

Born in 1922, when she was 20, Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chávarri del Castillo took the name Yma Súmac, and began performing with her incredible five octave range to stunned audiences.  Recording a grip of songs in Argentina at a radio station in 1942, she parlayed these recordings into a deal with a local label, which garnered her popularity locally, making her the most in-demand act around.  But Yma had bigger plans: America.  

She married a composer, and together they set out for NYC in 1946, performing around town in local clubs as a trio, with her cousin rounding out the group.  Four years of gigging started to build their reputation, and the reputation of her incredible range was enough to make Yma an important act to be seen in the early ’50’s for anyone hip.  Capitol Records finally came calling and signed her, thinking that she would make a good pair with this other kook they had, Les Baxter.  And, in a rare turn of events, someone at a Record Label was right.  Together they made her first album, Voice of the Xtabay, which not only introduced America to a new form of music, referred to as Exotica, but introduced the World to her incredible talents.  

yma-460_1106885aHer fame was instantaneous.  She performed at incredible venues: The Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, The Royal Albert Hall, The Roxy Theater, Las Vegas nightclubs, The Mikado Theater in Japan.  She landed roles in film and on broadway.  She toured South America, Europe and Africa, performed for The Queen of England, and did shows with Frank Sinatra, Danny Kaye and Marlene Dietrich, where they opened for her.  

She was, after all, an Incan Princess, a fact that was supported by the Peruvian government in press releases, no less!  Her record contract was immediately lengthened, and she continued to belt out records that spoke to the Tiki zeitgeist that was moving through the country at the time, during the golden age of velvet paintings and mixology.  She was the perfect combination of sex and chanteuse, a beautiful and delicate bird that would sing songs that were so fantastic that it would send chills down your spine, and make you couldn’t help but dance.  

While her husband was always there for her, initially Capital didn’t want him composing the work Yma released, which was a pity because when he was finally given that chance in 1954, it was clear that the resulting record – Mambo! – was one of the high water marks of her career.  It was the perfect balance of traditional music with a US perspective, and embraced the current fads of mambo and exotica in a way other, whiter artists were unable to grasp.  “Chicken Talk,” while not being particularly about chickens, is like much of the music on that album: Yma sings using her incredible range, with incredibly hip and danceable music backing her along the way.  

This lifestyle worked perfectly for Yma, and straight through to 1961 she toured extensively, and released seven fantastic records.  The years were not great to her career in the end.  As the sixties began to be dominated by rock music, exotica lost sway among music fans, and she spent much of the rest of her life in and out of vogue, depending on the trend of the moment.  She would perform here and there, and even put out a couple of albums when nostalgia began to grip the culture, but it was clear that The Princess was ready to retire, letting new divas take the stage and the throne, for better or for worse.  

In a way, she had conquered the world for a brief period of time, had traveled through most of it and had surveyed her people and their customs, and having ruled it as well as she could, it was time for her to retire to her mansion in LA, always a princess, and to this day, the woman with the biggest range in history.  

When’s THAT movie coming out? 

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Chicken Grabber

scan0002Chicken Grabber * Nite Hawks * Lost Treasures! Rarities From the Vaults of Del-Fi Records.

Upon first listen, it is easy to say that this song is only known for its appearance in the 1997 cut of Pink Flamingos, and leave it at that, but the nature of the “rarities” on this collection is that these were songs that fell between the cracks of popular music in the late ’50’s and early ’60’s.  Each of the singles featured hear are prized among collectors for their weirdness, the performances, and the incredibly precise recording techniques, something that few studios in LA were able to achieve as bands became more sophisticated.  The glue that holds this compilation together is the exotica and surf undertones, and Bob Keane knew that when he assembled the disc.  

Getting “Chicken Grabber” in the new cut of a John Waters flic sent that message from the get-go, and while the disc does not contain a single song by any of the artists on Del-Fi that did have hits, that is the genius of the collection.  Most of the hits Del-Fi had were over-comped even contemporaneously.  But these tunes are rarely heard, not only because the discs retail for $150 on the open market, but because the bands were never popular enough to demand their inclusion on previous compilations.  Like Del-Fi records itself, this compilation was trying to bring other bands to the masses, and not just the Ritchie Valens‘ of the world.  

A-481455-1264705750.jpegDel-Fi Records got its start in 1958, but the man behind Del-Fi – Bob Keane – was an entertainment business figure going back to the late ’30’s, when he put together a big band that he led via the clarinet at the age of 16.  In yet another example of radio playing a major roll, when KFWB in Los Angeles broadcast one of his band’s performances, he got an offer from MCA, the first of many deals that would never seem to last for very long.  MCA promoted him as “The World’s Youngest Bandleader” for exactly three years, when the dropped him out of fear that he would get drafted for the war.  

Bob took this in stride, and decided to beat fate to the punch, and offered his services to the Army Air Force.  I like to imagine that, in some obscure way, Bob and Vyacheslav somehow crossed paths, and where completely unaware.   Bob was eventually let go from the Air Force due to a lung infection, so he returned to LA to heal.  When he was well enough, he returned to music, and worked as a clarinet for hire until 1955.  Occasionally he got work in radio, but they asked him to change his last name – Kuhn – out of fear that audiences would think that Bob was black when he was introduced as Bob Coon.  From 1950 on, he used the name Bob Keane.  


There are several versions of how Bob Keane & John Siamas met, but one thing is absolutely clear: in 1955 they discussed the idea of getting all the talent that they run into on the club circuit, and putting out their records.  They would each tell the other that they see people who are 100 times better than the records you could buy in stores.  If only the people they played with had a record label where they could come and cut a session, they would be in business.  Sometime after these conversations, they shook hands, pooled their resources with Siamas’ brother, Alex, and decided that they would release a record by an artist that mattered.  They immediately turned to an artist that Bob had been raving about, in spite of the Siamas brothers having never heard of him: Sam Cooke

R-2409978-1282484799.jpegThe first release on Keen Records was “Summertime” b/w “You Send Me” in 1957, part of Sam’s three-year contract with Keen.  It got decent enough airplay, but when DJs discovered the b-side, the single began to really move in stores, and on 25 November 1957, the record hit #1 on The Billboard.  Keen Records was raking in the dough.  

Like any smart businessman, Bob when to John and asked how he wanted to structure the business of Keen Records.  John pretended he had no idea what Bob was talking about.  John offered a session musician’s paycheck for finding Sam, and countered with another offer to let Bob buy into Keen Records with a $5K investment, which Bob could not afford.  The label was named after him, but Bob walked away, and before John was done laughing with his brother, founded had Del-Fi Records later  that same month.  

While Bob was litigating the Siamas’ over their assholedness, he turned to the next artist he hand gotten to know on the club circuit, Henri Rose, and rushed a recording of “Caravan” b/w “September Song” on 45 under the Del-Fi label in early 1958.  Bob had intentionally picked Henri because they were friends, and gave Henri the most flexible contract he could devise, on purpose.  He knew that someone would come calling in an effort to buy-out Henri Rose once anyone with half-a-brain heard what Henri could do, and Bob only had to wait for the call to come in.  

By Spring, Warner Brother’s Records waved an $8000 check in front of Bob for Henri, just as a settlement check was already deposited into his account.  Bob considered that revenge enough and moved on to his next trick: Making Del-Fi the epicenter of LA cool.  

200px-Del_Fi_4110There are two distinct periods in Del-Fi’s catalog: the early rock ‘n’ roll period, and the later surf period, but in the roughly 10 years Del-Fi existed, they alway managed to have a very agreeable policy when it came to checking out new bands.  Bob knew from experience that the guys that were best on the club circuit worked hard every day, no matter how little money was on the line, and often those were the best artists.  But it would often take a little while to find this out about these incredible artists, and it was better to let everyone have a chance rather than hold out for a guarantee.  

With that philosophy at his disposal, Bob Keane did the unthinkable and assembled an incredible line-up of artists that he discovered in that 10 years: Ritchie Valens, Chan Romero, Little Ceasar and the Romans, Ron Holden, Johnny Crawford, Brenda Holloway, Frank Zappa (in his Doo Wop phase), The Bobby Fuller Four, The Surfarias, The Lively Ones, The Centurions and, Barry White.  (Barry was actually made the A&R / Producer for a subsidiary of Del-Fi, and Barry handled all the artists on the Bronco label, under Bob’s Guidance.  In fact, Bob was one of the few people who instantly got both surf music and R&B, and would listen to virtually any band that came through his office.  

Around 1967 things began to fall apart for the music industry.  It was clear that 45s were now “singles” off of LPs, which was the real product, and with psychedelic starting to really take over, Bob’s “dinosaur” perspective on the music industry didn’t seem to gel with modern bands.  When The Bobby Fuller Four broke up, Bob knew that Del-Fi was over.  He banked what he could, and decided to merely manage his own songs as The Keane Brothers, while selling burglar alarms to the people of LA.  

257400_oriThe story would probably end there, but curiously enough the time between 1967 and 1987 did wonders for Bob’s status as a legend.  Since he couldn’t afford to release any new records, the collectability of Del-Fi releases went through the roof, and artists in his roster began to get relegated to the “classic oldies” status.  While this had no way of affecting Bob’s income, when the La Bamba film came out in 1987, it was clear that interest in what Bob had done was back in the public consciousness.  

Bob began to assemble collections and compilations of Del-Fi classics, repackaged for public consumption.  This was only helped by the success of Pulp Fiction, which not only came at a time when surf was coming back as a genre, but when interest in the original bands of Keane’s era was in high demand.  Keane released collections of his records (with a few new bits here and there) for several more years, but in 2003 he realized that he could not sustain the work on his own.  Again, Warner Brothers came to his aid, and in a very cool turn of events, they relegated the work of managing Del-Fi’s catalog to Rhino Records, who has the rights to “Lost Treasures,” along with everything else Bob Keane did in his career.  

The Night Hawks were also a group that Bob met on the touring circuit, and their story is also fascinating.  The group was let by Nesbert Hooper Jr., also known as “Stix” Hooper, and The Night Hawks evolved quite a bit, into the Jazz Crusaders, and the just The Crusaders, taking the exotica / R&B sound of this tune and becoming a very accomplished Jazz group that lasted until 2003.  They did not last long as The Night Hawks, but there is something very cool and Del-Fi about this recording.  

tiki-11-1024x768The thing that Bob Keane was, perhaps, best at was finding artists that complimented the Tiki culture of the late ’50’s, and Del-Fi is, in many ways, a document of that early music scene in LA.  in addition to all of that, Bob Keane best represents the kind of producer that they do not make anymore.  His openness to artists, desire to be honest in all his business dealings, and his focus on fostering an environment where the music came first was rare in the music industry, and almost everyone he worked with spoke highly of him as a person.  As the digital age creates new kinds of hassles that artists and businesses are constantly negotiating, reading about Bob Keane reminds us of an earlier time, where people made records because they, too, loved listening to them.