bronchitis, editing, speakers, rumored

At the start of every year, I have the grand idea of writing every day for the next 365 (or in the case of this year 366) days. This year’s excuse is that I brought back acute bronchitis from Wisconsin, and I’ve been fighting that since Christmas. It’s the kind of thing where I can sit down for five seconds and be deep asleep, and even getting ten, twelve, fifteen hours a day doesn’t help. I went to the doc last week, got antibiotics and some garbage cough pills that didn’t work instead of Prometh, and I’m mostly okay now.

You probably can’t tell, but I’ve covertly been going back into old entries and cleaning things up, adding tags and fixing broken links and boneheaded spelling mistakes. I’m always surprised by the amount of writing on this site, and I always like when I stumble upon an old entry and read it and have totally forgotten about it or the events that transpired that caused me to write it. I never know what I should be writing here on a daily basis, and that critical thinking, obsession over what is my “brand” causes a horrible self-censorship that stops any writing. But I look back at various eras when I was writing every day about nothing, about killing time or various thoughts and obsessions, and that stuff is always gold to me.

(It opens the obvious questions about “why don’t you write books like that” or “why don’t you turn those posts into articles” or whatever the hell. I did an anthology of early posts from this site, and it sold close to zero copies. And what I do here is exercise, not writing. It’s like telling a person who jogs five miles a day that they should really look into being an NFL running back. No.)

I forgot to write about this, but when I was gone over Thanksgiving, the studio monitors on my desk died. They were an old M-Audio model that had a known issue with the amp, where it was a bit of a perishable item and the capacitors would eventually blow. I got six or seven years out of them, but I’d been looking to buy something else for a while. And that’s a huge wormhole, shopping for audio equipment. I get to the point where I can almost justify buying some expensive tube amp and bespoke speakers, then remember I have no room in this office. But I also don’t want to buy the $20 speakers you usually get for free when you fill out a credit card application at Best Buy.

Anyway, I bought a pair of Vanatoo Transparent Zero speakers. They’re actually slightly smaller than the old M-Audio ones, even though they have a bigger woofer (four versus three inches), and it’s made of aluminum. The case is wood instead of plastic, and has neat magnetic grilles that are easily removed to see the goods. There’s also this passive radiator which is supposed to add better bass response. It has its own DSP, so I can plug it straight into the computer via USB. It has a variety of neat options like a subwoofer output and various limiter and sleep and crossover options I will never figure out. It also has a bluetooth receiver in it, which I will probably never use. Same with the wireless remote. Nice to have them, though. The sound is very transparent and clear and nice at volume. They are near-field monitors, so not great for filling a room, but perfect for sitting at the computer. There’s no goofy “voicing” to them, just straight-up reproduction of what’s on the track. My only complaints are there’s no headphone pass-through jack (but I can just plug into the computer, I guess) and they could probably use a subwoofer. I actually have one sitting in the next room that’s not hooked up to anything, but I have no space in the office for it. Anyway, they are perfect for that price point, and a great solution between the cheapie $20 speakers and blowing a few grand on an audiophile set of bookshelf speakers and amp.

Not much else going on. I took some time off writing during the holidays, which I never do, and it took some effort to get back going. I have two big books that are on the vine and need some serious work to get going in the right direction. One of them is essentially a sequel to Rumored to Exist. It’s currently about 350 pages and totally directionless, with no real through line or “rails” to it. And based on the sales of December’s book, it’s hard to get enthused about packaging up a book that’s about four times as big and trying to get people to read it.

But it’s fun to dabble with it. The big secret is I enjoy the process of writing, the actual meditative action of getting lost for a few hours putting words on the page. I hate everything else, the sequencing, editing, packaging, marketing, production. I’ve been going back and trying to figure out how the original Rumored happened, what kept me going on it. It took almost seven years to write, and it was essentially completely rewritten seven times. I recently went back and skimmed the annotated version (which like only four people have read) and it has a lot about it was written. Always fun to look back at that, but my writing process is completely different now. And you can never reproduce how things like that happened.

Birthday in a week. It lands on a Monday, but we have the day off of work for MLK day. I’m doing another superfloat in the isolation tank. I’d go to Denny’s, but Denny’s is so horrible now. I vaguely thought about leaving town for a three-day, but prices are probably jacked up, and I just want a weekend without anything.

I’m still sitting on my reading list from last year. I rated everything, reviewed nothing, so I’m not sure if it’s worthwhile to share it, but maybe I will later this week.

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Neil

When I was a kid, I was a fan of pop music, mostly because of the insular community where I grew up. We had one pop FM station out of Notre Dame University, which wasn’t a “college rock” station, but played the standard hits. (There were two stations if you had a really good antenna and could pick up WAOR out of Michigan.) When I got my own stereo and started taping things off the radio and buying 45 records, it was all top 40 music. The early eighties wasn’t a bad time for this, hence the “hey, remember the 80s” nostalgia that has pretty much become a genre. I spent a lot of time listening to bands like Men at Work, The Police, Def Leppard, Van Halen, Journey, and whatever else crossed the airwaves. I didn’t have any specific favorites, but I prided myself in being able to identify whatever songs popped up on this AOR FM station, or this brand new thing called MTV.

When I was about 14, I started hanging out with this guy Derik who lived nearby. He had an older brother who was a drummer, and while he was in the Air Force, Derik had also become an accomplished drummer. We were into a lot of the same music, but he also knew of a lot of other bands from his brother Keith, things that were either slightly older, or weren’t in heavy rotation on WNDU. Derik played along on these albums with his drum set, and I started to get enticed by the weirdness and heaviness of it all.

One of the bands was called Rush, this weird little trio of Canadians that sang about wizards and talking trees and nuclear war and had impossibly complicated songs that sometimes spanned an entire album. They also had like a dozen albums at that point, and wouldn’t stop putting out more. I didn’t really know where to jump in on this, so Derik dubbed up a C-90 for me with two of their albums: Moving Pictures and Grace Under Pressure.

That summer, the one between junior high and high school, was like Rush summer for me. I memorized that tape. I was amazed by the complexity and virtuosity of it all. For a kid who was obsessed with computers and Dungeons and Dragons and was a social outcast, this stuff scratched a serious itch for me, and I scraped together every penny I could to buy more of their tapes, and begged Derik to dub copies of more of their albums. In those pre-employment, pre-social life days of summer, I listened to the stuff constantly.

Rush was also almost like a secret club to me. Other than Derik, I don’t know anyone who was a big fan. They never played the music on the radio. Even though MTV only had like twenty videos in rotation, they did have maybe two Rush videos, but they never, ever played them. Cyndi Lauper and Michael Jackson were on every hour, but that one Rush video for the song “Countdown” about the Space Shuttle only came on like twice all summer. The people who did know about Rush were the record store cashiers. When I’d go in with my hard-earned ten bucks of lawn-mowing money and approach the register with a copy of Caress of Steel, the long-haired dude at the till would give me a nod, like “yeah, this kid knows what’s up.” Never mind that my mom thought they were Satanic, and everyone else at school was obsessed with Johnny Cougar or whatever. To this narrow audience of people who were the gatekeepers of cool (and who could tolerate Geddy Lee’s singing), I was part of that club.

I don’t know how I pulled this off, but I somehow convinced my parents at that time that it would be a good idea for me to spend an entire summer of babysitting wages to buy Derik’s old drum set. Derik now had a “real” drum set and sold me this mish-mash of various Sears and Ludwig student-level drums with rusty hardware and tarnished cymbals. I quickly learned I have absolutely no rhythm or musical skill whatsoever, and that experiment lasted about a year, until I sold the kit and bought a ten-speed with the proceeds. But trying to learn drums made me listen to the music much more, made me separate the parts and focus on the rhythm and the parts of songs. Before I listened to Rush, music was just something that started when I pressed a play button or turned on a radio. But after examining it, I learned the roles of the drums, could tell the difference between the bass and the guitar, and could appreciate the skill level between something like “My Sharona” and “Tom Sawyer.”

Another thing that Rush did was serve as a gateway to an entirely different foundation of music for me. I read every interview or magazine article I could find about them (there were very few) and I went back to try to find every influence of theirs. So through Rush, I discovered Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Cream. Then I tried to research all of Rush’s prog-rock peers (although they are peerless) and discovered Yes, Genesis, Saga, and Triumph. Each of those bands led to other bands. There was a strong teenaged urge to chase that high, to find things more and more extreme. There wasn’t much more complicated than Rush at that time (although later, this lead to Dream Theater, and guitar virtuosos like Satriani, Vai, Malmsteen, etc.) So I fell down the wormhole of finding things more heavy, more loud, and more extreme, which led to Metallica, then thrash metal, then death metal, and so on.

And I’ve told the story before on The Koncast so I won’t repeat it, but my first concert was Rush, on the Hold Your Fire tour. Me and Derik went, and it was mind-blowing to see the band a few hundred feet away, but also to be in an arena full of people who geeked out to the same kind of music, the stuff nobody in my small town seemed to appreciate. It was like the first Star Trek convention for a lifelong Trek fan. It showed me there was much more out there in the world of music, and life was much bigger than what was going on in rural Indiana.

Anyway, I got to college, and my relationship with Rush “normalized” a bit. I was into so many other bands, and I guess it just fell out of style a little bit, just like D&D and model airplanes and video games. It was uncool to be into Rush, especially after their late 80s synth-dominated albums, and after “college rock” became “alternative” and Nirvana exploded, and anything related to metal was tragically uncool with the mainstream. The cold war was over, and instead of worrying about Reaganomics and tribalism, Generation X became the me generation, and we were all supposed to worry about ourselves, our Prozac, our go-nowhere futures. (Ugh.)

My interest in Rush waxed and waned, because they still put out an album every year or two. A new one would drop, and I’d buy Roll the Bones or whatever, and think “eh,” but still end up spending a week rolling 2112 and Moving Pictures again, before I moved on to Queensrÿche or Morbid Angel or whatever the hell I was into at that point.

Anyway, as far as my personal relationship to the members, guitarist Alex Lifeson was a non-entity to me. No offense to him, but he wasn’t the spokesman, and he didn’t sing, and on those late 80s albums, he damn near didn’t even play guitar. Geddy Lee was the frontman, and because he sang, in my head, it was he who communicated the lyrics to me. He’s also a hell of a bassist, and does that and keyboards at the same time. But the singing was, well, a bit of an acquired taste, and although he seemed like a cool guy and all, he wasn’t who I really related to.

But, Neil. Like I said, I tried to play the drums, and I had that connection. I knew how hard it was to do something like “YYZ” or his marathon drum solos. (Or the song “Marathon”… Jesus Christ, all that weird off-meter stuff – I had no idea how a human being can remember all of that in order, let alone perform it.) And he was indirectly, through Derik’s playing and obsession, the reason I got pulled into all of this. Neil was also the lyricist, the person who actually wrote the words that Geddy sang. So he was the one reading Tolkein and Jack London books on the tour bus, like I did in study hall, except he distilled them into songs instead of Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. Neil was the quiet, intelligent guy in the band, and that is why I identified with him.

Later, in the Nineties, Peart started writing books. He had a book called The Masked Rider, which was a travel journal of his bicycling adventures in Africa. This was particularly resonant to me, because I spent a long period in high school cycling everywhere, doing every 25K race I could find in northern Indiana, even doing a 100K race once. And every day after school for a year of so, when I first got that ten-speed in exchange for the drum set, I would ride twenty miles in the cornfields of Elkhart county, usually listening to a Rush album. So when I read this book, it felt as if he was speaking directly to me in some way.

Neil had a series of tragedies in his life in the late Nineties. First, his nineteen-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident. Then, ten months later, his wife died of lung cancer. After this, he pretty much called everything quits, and took off on his touring motorcycle, on a crazy multi-year trip that wound across the continent from end to end both ways. After recovering, remarrying, and rejoining the band, he wrote a book about this journey called Ghost Rider. This book is absolutely essential reading for people into travel and road trips.

One of the most striking coincidences as I read this is that he was crossing the US at the same time as I was. In 1999, I went on this two-week ramble from West to East, driving everywhere and seeing everything I could. I very distinctly remember an afternoon in remote Utah, sitting on the bench seat of this giant sedan I’d rented, everything I owned in the back seat and trunk, flipping through disc after disc in my collection, going on a twelve-hour jag of listening to old Rush albums in the middle of nowhere. It’s strange for me to think he was out there at the same time.

Some Rush fans lock into it for life, go to every date on every tour, only listen to Rush, get custom license plates and tattoos and teach their kids and grandkids all the words to Moving Pictures and the whole thing. That wasn’t me; I moved on to other things, I guess. All of the albums, every note and word, were still locked into my head, though. And I would still go back to them, a guilty pleasure, a way to immediately teleport myself back to the summer of 1985. But Rush meant a lot to me. When I met a Rush fan, we’d trade our stories like two people who both came from the same small town, both fought in the same war, both knew the same people. It was and is still a big part of my life.

Anyway, you probably already know where this is going. I heard the news today that Neil Peart died of brain cancer this week. He was 67, far too young. It’s hard to process this, because he was such an icon, yet such a close voice in my head from all those albums. He was the root of my musical tree, and an example of how to strive for perfection. Not only that, but he was the perfect example of doing what you want to do, doing what is you, even if it flies in the face of convention. Nobody was doing full-album conceptual science fiction songs, and he was penning these things in motel rooms while broke, facing a record company about to drop the band for dismal sales, touring the country in a car, and opening for Ted Nugent or whoever the hell would take them. He did what he did, and people learned to appreciate the genius behind it, instead of trying to follow whatever formula for success everyone else said to take.

Anyway. Fuck. I have no good way to end this, except to say I really appreciate everything Neil did in his lifetime. A legend.

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One second every day, 2019

You’ve probably already seen this if you follow me on some of the other dumb social media sites, but one of my projects this year was to take a second of video every day, to make one big video of the whole mess.

Here’s the link on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iURF0m4MEQg

I did this with the app 1 Second Everyday (sic, that should be “every day”) which enables you to shoot the video on your phone and mash them all together. More about the history of the app is here. I saw someone else use the app back in 2018, and started late in the year. I also posted my results monthly, but then did one giant nine-minute video on the last day of 2019.

The name is a bit of a misnomer. The app actually allows you to use two videos per day, and they can be a second and a half long. I may have missed a day or two, but I often did two videos a day.

A few observations about this project:

  • I spend a lot of time in malls.
  • A lot of my video was shot on my daily walks. I tend to walk in the same half-dozen places, so there’s some repetition there.
  • You do see some slight change in season in the app, but we don’t really have seasons in California, so there’s that.
  • One of the things I noticed is a lot of things in the video are already gone or changed. One of the most striking is that the new townhouses across the street from my condo were roughly framed in at the start of the video, and by October, they were done and people are moved in.
  • There’s also a lot of retail in the background that has already died.
  • If you watch really closely, you can tell the point where I replaced my phone, because the video quality improves. I got a replacement of the same exact phone, but you can really tell the difference. Maybe reinstalling the app changed something.
  • Vacations and trips are over very quick in the video. Like I spent a week in Vegas, and it’s only a few seconds in this trip. You have to choose wisely to represent the entire vacation in the video, and I probably could have given this more thought.
  • I didn’t shoot people in general, and did more landscape and nature stuff. (And malls.)
  • Lots of cats, though.
  • The sudden volume changes are a bit of an issue. I think you can buy an in-app purchase to add your own music, but that would be silly.
  • I think my favorite non-cat shot is the ice cream truck driving by on the abandoned military base.

Anyway, I don’t expect many people to sit through the whole thing, and I probably don’t have the patience to do this in 2020, but it’s there if you’re curious. There’s some other junk on my YouTube channel that might be fun (like the December 2018 video), although I don’t do much other video stuff. Maybe I should at some point.

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2019 Summary

I just did a post yesterday about the summary of my decade, so I don’t really know what to say about my 2019, except it was pretty anticlimactic, and all metrics were low, and that’s all depressing, so maybe this is all stuff I need to work on next year.

Here’s the list:

  • I published Ranch: The Musical in December. It’s a short little collection, more of a placeholder than a big book, but it’s fun, and it’s cheap, so check that out.
  • I did not write a big book, despite struggling with it all year.
  • I did write just a hair under 200,000 words over the year. All but 20,000 of them are sitting in a giant document that is going nowhere. Maybe I will get some wise idea to use some of it in a book, but I have no idea at this point.
  • I posted 25 times here, for 19,663 words, which isn’t great and I need to work on that.
  • No stories published. No podcasts. No interviews.
  • I took 2546 photos, which is exactly 54 fewer than last year.
  • Walked 2,391,744 steps, 3453 floors, 1,128.14 miles. This is slightly lower than last year. My weight ended up being exactly 0.1 pound more. I did work out every day of the year. I also meditated every day of the year.
  • I finished my “one second every day” video project. More on that later.
  • I went to Las Vegas. Trip report: Vegas 2019
  • We remodeled our kitchen, which is great now that it’s done, but caused about two months of throwing off everything with my routine.
  • Looking back at my personal journals, the main theme was that my day job (which I’m not talking about here) was not great and caused an extreme amount of day-to-day stress.

So looking at all of this, it’s more of a list of what I need to fix in the immediate future, which is wonderful.

Another big thing last year is that 2019 is a big round number in the sense that it was exactly 30 years from a lot of eventful events, being the thirty-year anniversary of when I graduated high school and started college. There were also many thirty-year anniversaries of various events related to relationships, love, sex, and betrayal. I thought I would end up dwelling on this greatly, or writing about it. (I’ve tried and failed multiple times to write a book about the summer of 1989, because a lot happened. I still think about it, but I’m sure nobody would read it.) Anyway, I didn’t end up thinking much about this, because I had like 768 product releases last year and I couldn’t think at all. So I guess that’s good.

So pretty much the same resolutions as last year. Write more, write more here, write more on concrete projects. Exercise, eat right, don’t read the news, try to find a way to get and stay sane. You?

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