The iCloud Music Library Different Version of a Song Thing

I’ve been having some odd problems with iCloud Music LIbrary and Apple Music. Here’s a description and walkthrough of the issue, partly so I won’t forget it in six months when something completely different doesn’t go sideways, and partly so there’s a record of it somewhere on google, because googling on stuff like “iTunes different version of song” only results in insane hyperbole having nothing to do with the issue.

(Also, take all of this with a grain of salt. This is my experience, and what I tested. Maybe I have the terms or usage screwed up. If so, please comment. Also a big warning: there are a bunch of edge cases that you can hit by screwing around with your settings, potentially destroying your entire music library. This isn’t a list of those. PLEASE do more reading and back up all your shit before you do anything.)

First – I subscribed to Apple Music. It’s like Apple’s version of Spotify; ten bucks a month, and you can stream a bunch of music without buying it, ad-free. It’s not the entire iTunes store’s contents; I don’t know if it’s a subset, or a different list, but it’s fairly comprehensive. There are also various curated playlists, which are neat, and I’ve found a lot of great new experimental music there. It’s all confusingly integrated into iTunes, and I have some complaints there (as does everyone else).

So at home, on the Mac, I’ve got 17,000-odd songs that I’ve either ripped from CD, bought from iTunes, or otherwise downloaded (cough). When I’m at home, I listen to those fine, and also have added some Apple Music playlists to “My Music” as it’s called in iTunes. I listen to the mix of those two when I have internet access, or just the ones on my physical machine when I don’t.

Second – the iPhone Situation. Back in the day, I kept no music on it at all, and carried around an 80GB iPod with a mirror of my collection on it. When the 64GB iPhone came out about five years ago, I started mirroring my entire collection to my phone. When that stopped fitting, I created a bunch of playlists and only synced those, to only sync stuff that was higher rated, recently played, recently added, etc. I also used to sync everything I purchased, but that got to be too much after a certain point. Right now, I sync about 2000 songs, 20GB of stuff. The partial collection sync works okay, although every once in a while, I’d get stuck without something I wanted to hear, but I’d live.

Now, about iCloud Music Library. The text next to this option is “Store your Apple Music songs and playlists in iCloud so you can access them from all of your devices.” The general idea is that you are pushing a master list of all tracks and playlists to the cloud. Then when you use the Music app on another device with that iCloud account login, you get a copy of those lists, and can then stream the songs from the cloud without having them on the device. In theory, I could sync no music to my phone, have zero bytes of music stored or synced, and just get everything from the sky.

There are really two things going on here, and it’s a very subtle difference that is not clearly explained. First case, let’s say I don’t have an album on my Mac. I never bought or ripped the Krokus album Headhunter. (Of course, this is a lie. I think I own 17 copies of this album.) But I found it in Apple Music, I liked it (who doesn’t) and I added it to My Music. What I’ve done is added a link to the album in Apple Music within the big list of songs and playlists in my library. I didn’t download it, though. But if iCloud Music Library is turned on in my Mac iTunes and on my iPhone, that link is added to my iCloud Music Library, and it’s synced to my phone. I can then stream the song “Eat the Rich” from my phone, and all is well (until I drive into a tunnel, or like 80% of Indiana.)

Second case: what also happens is that I am syncing the master list of all of my tracks and playlists to the cloud. So let’s say I ripped that copy of Headhunter from a CD back in 2002, and it’s been knocking around various music libraries on my computers since then. (Probably true.) And maybe I one-starred the song “White Din” because it’s a 90-second intro track of sound effects, and it’s stupid when it comes up when I’m driving around with my windows open stuck in traffic. So the file never gets synced to my iPhone, but it’s in my master list in iCloud. The song “Screaming In the Night” is synced and is physically on my iPhone, so that plays fine, even when I’m in a plane at 40,000 feet and don’t pay extortion prices for WiFi. But if I’m listening to the entire album (which is itself a list of the tracks, stored in this synced master list my phone got from iCloud) and it hits “White Din” it will stream that song for me.

(To also slightly complicate things: if you don’t have the physical song on your device, there is a way to download the Apple Music copy and have a cached version of a song you didn’t even buy on your phone, so you can play it without internet access. This is nifty, but it never ever works, because you will always forget to download that version, and the feature is half-buried and impossible to find or use, and you have to do it on a per-playlist basis.)

The second case is a nice-to-have. The first case, you have to turn the iCloud Music Library to see your Apple Music playlists. It appears to me that there’s some difference between Apple Music playlists and an iTunes playlist I’ve created by hand, because you can’t sync Apple Music playlists unless iCloud Music Library is turned on. I’d been adding all these neat playlists to my library, but couldn’t see them on my phone. So, I turned on iCloud Music Library, and that’s when my problems started.

(Yes, I’m a thousand words into this post, and just now getting to the problem.)

I noticed my playlists were getting weird. Like with this theoretical Krokus situation: I’d be syncing the entire album to my phone, from my own non-Apple Music playlist. Then I’d be out and about, and when the song “Headhunter” came up, instead of playing the studio version that’d I’d ripped from the 1983 album back in 2002, it would instead stream some shitty live version with only one original member recorded at a county fair in 2012.  Or it would stream a horrific EDM dance remix by a DJ from Ireland who also happens to use the name Krokus and has a 38-minute trance number he also called “Headhunter.”

(This is a theoretical example; I don’t know if Krokus was having an issue. Here’s one that really happened though: I had the entire Queensryche album Empire synced to my phone, in a playlist of songs rated above a 3. The album was originally ripped by me from a CD. When the last song “Anybody Listening?” played on my phone, instead of using the synced studio version, it would instead stream a live version of the same song.)

My first attempt at trying to fix this: I renamed the track on my Mac, adding an “(r)” to the filename, thinking that would break the match. It did not. I don’t know why, but it still played the same fucking live song.

My second attempt: I turned off iCloud Music Library. I then told it to delete everything from the phone (which is fine, it’s all copies there) and re-sync. It went back to the way it was. I can’t play Apple Music playlists anymore, but all of my music is fine.

I don’t know why this happens, and I don’t fully understand it, but I’ve got a trip later this week with limited internet, so I’m not screwing with it any more.

Freshly

I am lazy. I can cook, but given the choice, I don’t. That means either I eat sad microwave dinners, or I go out to eat, and eat too much. That has been catching up to me, and I had to do something out of desperation. I wanted to get those Zone delivery meals, where they  cook everything and measure it out and do it to a certain nutritional profile, and then deliver them every day. I think if I was given three pre-portioned meals a day and told to eat just that, I’d be fine.

The big problem with this is that most Zone delivery things cost roughly as much as my mortgage. They also usually use their own delivery people, which means they will 100% get lost or not be able to get in my building. (Case in point: Amazon Logistics always fucks up deliveries here.) And some of the food delivery things have some flexibility with getting less than 21 meals a week, but some don’t.

I thought about Blue Apron, since they advertise constantly, and a bunch of people won’t shut the fuck up about them. But those involve cooking, and they’re more for two people, and my wife doesn’t eat. So that was out.

I finally found Freshly, which seemed to fit the bill. They delivered with FedEx, packed in ice. They have meal plans of 6, 9, 12, or 21 meals a week, which you pick from their rotating menu. They list ingredients and nutritional information. And their web site did not look that impossible to use.

I tried this out with the 9-meal plan. I did not need breakfast, since I have oatmeal each day. I also left some dead space for weekends or going out for lunch once in the week. 9 meals, including shipping, was $99.

First, packaging was interesting. The meals came in a cardboard box, which was lined with some padded stuff which is actually recycled jean denim, wrapped in brown paper. Then inside that were alternating packs of white plastic containing a frozen gel, along with the individual meal trays. Each meal tray was in a cardboard sleeve with nutritional info, then was a standard black plastic bottom/clear plastic wrap sealed top.

The food was all made with minimal ingredients, no preservatives. I generally don’t care about that either way, but it was all fresh, not frozen. There was zero prep involved: poke holes in the top, nuke for two minutes, done. I plated them after cooking, but that’s it. No flavor packets or mixing or anything else. It’s just prepared food in a plastic tray.

The meals I had ranged from pretty decent to excellent. Each one was protein-centric, with mostly carbs from vegetables and no sugar or starches. The best meal was a Lebanese meatball dish with spinach, chickpeas, tahini, and raisins. I would have easily eaten nine of those. There was also a beef provencal with brussels sprouts, and I absolutely hate brussels sprouts and I ate all of them. The first meal I ate was the most meh, a paleo toasted almond chicken. I wasn’t entirely into the coating, but even there, the chicken was perfectly done inside and not dry or knuckly or weird.

As far as ordering, their web site lets you choose what you’re going to get a week in advance. You can skip a week or throttle up/down from your chosen plan if you need to. If you did nothing, you’d get the same stuff as last week. It looks like it would be fairly easy to cancel the account if I needed to bail completely. (There’s a link at the bottom of the subscription settings page, so it’s not completely buried, or one of those things where you have to sit on hold for an hour.)

The one bummer about the whole experience is that the food expires fast. I got my meals on Thursday, and they were all marked best by Monday, and the weekend of eating out was in the middle of that. Their web site says you can freeze meals, but is really dodgy about it, saying some freeze better than others, but no specifics, and no instructions on the best way to thaw them. I froze two of the meals (a chili, and an asian steak) and they were not as on point as the rest of them, but were as decent as an average TV dinner. There’s no real way around this, other than maybe two deliveries a week, or knowing what freezes well and planning on that.

Other super minor gripe is there was no FedEx tracking number. That’s a big deal for me because every delivery person fucks things up, even though I am home all day, and it’s nice to feed the number into a delivery status app.

I ended up losing 3.3 pounds last week. I generally only lose weight from diet. I don’t subscribe to any belief on fad stuff like paleo or gluten-free or no-GMO or any of that. You eat more than you burn, you gain weight. That said, I also walked 36 miles last week, so there’s that. But I think having controlled portions to prevent me from gorging, and not having any bread or empty carbs helped most.

And the Amway part of the post: If you’re interested in trying this, go here: http://refer.freshly.com/s/7xqc7. Like I said, it’s not exactly cheap, and it’s not available coast-to-coast, either. But it’s been good for me so far.

 

Recent k-holes: maps

I’ve been falling down some horrible nostalgia k-holes as of late. Here’s an exercise you should never do: go find the toys and games and things that completely obsessed you at the age of about twelve, find the addresses of the corporate headquarters offices of their makers, and plug them into Google Maps. The total disconnect between what you envisioned as a child and what these places look like now are phenomenal.

I think there are a few reasons this fascinates me. One is, I never travelled much as a kid. Any preconceptions about any area outside of northern Indiana/southern Michigan or Chicago was either based on TV, or just a guess. I never had any spatial awareness for any other geographical areas of the country. When I was playing with Star Wars toys and somehow found out they were made in Cincinnati, in my head, that meant WKRP, and Les Nesmond’s domain was the same as where my Han Solo was injection-molded. Never mind that the show was a loose montage of stock footage for the establishing credits, and then some sets at CBS Television City in Los Angeles. (If you’re curious on this one, btw: http://www.kennercollector.com/2013/12/kenner-tour-of-cincinnati-kenner-street/)

Another thing that informed these thoughts is that these toys and things were everywhere, so I envisioned massive operations, Detroit-sized city-factories, pumping out GI Joes and Milton Bradley board games. In reality, most of these were small operations, with a few dozen people working on a couple of machines. I probably should have known this, given that my dad worked in a factory, except instead of Hot Wheels, it was pumping out PVC pipe fittings. But they could have just as easily swapped out the molds in their machines and injection-molded Atari joystick pieces or whatever else.

Here’s a couple of examples of these rabbit holes. One, I was into model railroads as a kid. It was a passing phase, somewhere between Legos and model airplanes. I was never that interested in the train aspect, more the scale model stuff, but I also enjoyed the electronics, and the track layouts. One of the big names back then was Atlas Model Railroad. When you got the pre-packaged oval-track train set on Christmas, it was a Tyco. (Or Lionel, if you were O-scale.) But when you went to Kay-Bee Toys or a local hobby shop, Atlas was the big ubiquitous brand of cheap add-on track, running gear, and other accessories. If you read the train magazines, they worshipped the expensive imported German trains, or scratch-built stuff, and eschewed the Atlas stuff because it was cheap or not as detailed. But I wasn’t a retired dentist and didn’t have the cash, so Atlas it was.

And although I bought a lot of their track, the big infatuation back then was their layout books. They published these paperback 8.5×11 blueprint books with a bunch of different track designs in them, things that would fit on various table sizes. The books were well-illustrated, lots of details, and most importantly, had parts lists of everything you needed to build and wire the setups. Of course, these were all intended to get you to go buy more Atlas stuff, and it worked, because I would make endless lists of part numbers and pieces I needed to buy with my allowance. I would get so lost in those books, even though I never fully built any of those layouts. I just enjoyed reading the blueprints for hours, dreaming about what I could build if I had an unlimited budget and way more space.

So, in my twelve-year-old head, I always thought about the Atlas headquarters when I saw the address in the corner of a package or book. They were in Hillside, New Jersey. New Jersey was right there by New York. And I’d seen Ghostbusters, so of course I knew exactly what that looked like. I envisioned the Atlas empire as being something like the Chrysler Building, a hundred or so floors of people packing up HO scale snap-track in yellow envelopes and shipping them off to the sixteen billion stores that sold the stuff. Well, not quite. First, I didn’t know back then that New Jersey wasn’t New York. It’s not twenty square miles of bedrock with massive skyscrapers; it’s thousands and thousands of square miles of warehouses and single-story homes and suburbs sprawled out in every direction.

So, plug in 378 Florence Ave, Hillside, NJ 07205 and you get an unassuming two-story brick building, about the size of a bowling alley. At first glance, it almost looks like a junior high school, and resembles half of the factories near where I grew up, with a single semi bay and a parking lot for a dozen and a half employees. It’s right off the I-78, around a bunch of postwar cape cod houses wrapped in vinyl siding, maybe two miles west of Newark Airport. I haven’t even thought about model railroading in decades; I’m sure they still do great stuff. But the reality of the company is such a disconnect from what I thought of as a kid.

Seeing this building and the surrounding neighborhood is such a strange look inside something hallowed from childhood, something I could never see in the pre-internet days. Sure, looking at a Google Maps photo sphere of Pyongyang, North Korea is astonishing and bizarre (another k-hole to fall down…) but slicing open a childhood memory like that and attaching a completely different context to it is oddly mind-blowing. I mean, I flew in and out of Newark many times; I took the PATH over to Jersey and walked around, drove a car through the suburbs and probably ate at the Taco Bell just around the block from that place. But it’s a weird words-colliding thing to think about that now.

Here’s another big one: D&D. Like most geeks, I was stuck on Dungeons and Dragons back in the day. (Unlike many people who now say they are geeks, this was when geeks were geeks and you’d get the shit beat out of you for being into stuff like D&D.) From maybe fifth to seventh grade, I was infatuated with all things TSR, and I was sure that Gary Gygax and crew hid out in some Tolkein-esque castle surrounded by thousands of acres of meadows and caves. Even the name Lake Geneva, the city in Wisconsin from which they hailed, sounded palatial, like its namesake in Switzerland. I remember once when we drove to the Wisconsin Dells from Chicago, and passed a sign for Lake Geneva on the 94, and I freaked out at the thought of being right there, near where my Monster Manual was originally penned.

TSR had a more rocky history past those days in the early 80s: the ousting of Gygax (see this), the ups and downs of board gaming (and the video game crash), and the eventual purchase of the failed company by Wizards of the Coast. I have no interest in WotC’s corporate offices in Renton, because that was way after my dreams ended. (In fact, I lived in Seattle at the same time they bought TSR. And plugging their Renton, WA address into maps shows me a building that looks almost exactly like every other software company in the 90s in Seattle.) So I had to do a little more digging, but I found more.

I won’t write you a whole history about TSR, because a lot of other people have. But from this article, I found that one of the headquarters was a building on Main and Broad that used to be called the Hotel Clair. The first floor had a game/hobby store run by Gygax, and the top two floors had creatives, designing away games and modules and books. This three-story brick building looks almost identical to most of the storefronts in downtown Elkhart where I grew up, or any other small city-square town in the Midwest. My mom worked as an interior decorator in a building like this; the other buildings had insurance salesmen and stationery stores and banks and dry cleaners. They did not seem like a place that would hold the mecca of all role-playing games of the 1980s.

TSR outgrew this space, and found a warehouse at 201 E Sheridan Springs Road. This looks even more like the factories I knew from growing up, two connected, low-slung buildings with a large parking lot in the front. The building next door’s current occupant is Wisconsin Precision Casting Company, which seems like it could be in either building. TSR wasn’t in some huge Disney-esque building in the shape of a dragon, but in an anonymous warehouse that could have held a plumbing supply company or a place that did fiberglass extrusions for the mobile home industry.

The TSR thing is odd to me, because the worlds created in each of these games and books and modules were, in my mind, as big as the world I was in sometimes. And to think about a bunch of people creating these things, one after another, was mind-blowing to my twelve-year-old self. There’s already the time distortion of youth that causes these things to be so much bigger. But these huge and infinite worlds were created by a few dozen people in hundreds of square feet of below-average commercial real estate in small town America. I felt like companies like TSR, or Commodore, or Coleco were on another planet, a thing much bigger than my small town. But in reality, it was pretty much the same place.

Not that much else to say about this, except that it’s a bottomless rabbit-hole. I don’t even want to start looking at where the original Atari 2600s were built. I’ll leave that as a homework assignment to the reader. (Hint: start reading here.)

 

New Camera

I finally upgraded DSLRs last week. This was a nagging thing with a convoluted thought process, something like this:

  • I should save a ton of money and get a full-frame DSLR / that’s too much money to blow on someone who doesn’t take a thousand pictures a day.
  • I should upgrade to the newer version of the Rebel camera / that’s not that much of an upgrade, and I don’t use my DSLR that much, because of weight/size/fear of getting it damaged or stolen.
  • I should look into these mirrorless cameras like the Fuji or Sony, because so many people are ditching DSLRs for these / I can’t deal with an LCD screen viewfinder in the sun and with my eyesight, and I have a lot of Canon lenses I’d be junking.
  • I could buy the Canon EOS-M3 mirrorless with an eyepiece viewfinder, and it can use my lenses with an adaptor / I bought an EOS-M1 and it’s a huge regret.
  • I should just use my fucking iPhone and realize I’m not a photographer and nobody looks at this shit anyway.
  • Maybe I’d be a photographer if I bought a full-frame DSLR.
  • etc.

Pressing the issue: a bunch of amazon credit card points, an upcoming trip to London. So I gave up and bought the Canon Rebel T6i. My previous DSLR was the Canon Rebel XS, which I got on my birthday in 2010, and took about 11,000 pictures with in six years, which either seems insanely high or pretty low, depending your experience level. I got in at exactly the wrong time with the Rebel, right before they got high megapixel counts, fold-out screens, really good autofocus, and video. So the new camera is a pretty big step up.

Interesting things about this one: the new STM kit lens seems much faster autofocusing, and is way quieter. There is a flip-out video screen, which makes live-view shooting much easier. The screen is a capacitive-touch, so you can swipe and touch focus points, which is neat. There is built-in wifi, which I will never use. And there’s video, which is actually pretty decent, especially the autofocus.

Minor nits: the battery is a new, proprietary Canon one, with a chip in it, so third-party clone batteries don’t work properly. It will complain, and then the battery level gauge won’t work. This would be less of an issue if Canon batteries were not sixty bucks each.

I think the biggest thing is that despite the wiz-bang features, this feels like an incremental upgrade, like the pictures aren’t astounding; they’re just pictures of whatever I point it at. A new camera doesn’t change what’s around me, or my skill level. It’s still collecting light through the same lenses (and one new one) and aside from the various future-proofing stuff, it’s still my responsibility to put something interesting in front of the lens.

I brought the new gear to the Rockies-Giants game last week, shot a few hundred snaps, but wasn’t happy with any of it. I’ve taken so many pictures at AT&T that I’m bored of it, and although I had suite tickets and could get down to the dugout area, I was too late for batting practice. Weather was too cloudy too. I did like the game (Rockies won, ate a lot) but not a good photo op. I’m hoping to get some good work in while I’m in the UK, though.

So many blogs are shutting down. I just heard The Toast is shuttering on July 1. Bookslut has published their last issue. And it seems like I have a hundred blogs all added on my feedly account that haven’t done anything in months, years. It seems like every “blogging is back” article is matched with a dozen soft closings, the authors moving on to whatever the next scheme is.

We’re five and a half months in, and I’ve only posted a dozen times here. I did the back-of-envelope math, and based on number of published posts (1175) divided by number of years (19) divided by 52 times weeks in 2016, I should have like double that. But average in the dead weeks and months of the past, and whatever whatever (shut up about the math Larry, this isn’t a deposition) I should be posting much more.

The reason for all the high-profile shutterings is those are businesses, with a business model and ads and serious attempts at engagement and community and all of the bullshit I do not care about. I was blogging before there was blogging, and in the early/mid 00s when blogging was Serious Business and every single-focus blog was getting book deals, I was still posting about what I ate or read or wanted to write. And most of those blogs died when the ad revenue died, and all of these “veterans” who started in 2010 are now falling away, and I’m still here. Except I haven’t been here. What’s my reason?

I hate blogging now because when I sit down at the wp-admin console and look at the blank screen, I always feel a need to write an “article,” like a full-on Esquire piece. I feel like writing a hundred words about the Lebanese meatballs I had for lunch is somehow “off-brand” or not becoming enough to be a blog post. But when I go back through posts from 2004 or 1996, I realize that’s all I did, and I enjoy going back to see them. I have this feeling that when it’s 2025 and I go back and look at 2016′s entries, I’ll wonder what the hell happened to me.

Is it because of WordPress? I wonder if it is the tool. It’s not the best writing experience anymore; I really dislike the little text editor window on the web page. I bought a copy of Desk and it was interesting, but kept fucking up formatting and could not sync correctly. But aside from authoring tools themselves, there was something different in how doing this by hand in emacs framed things. Like I never had to enter titles before, and I loved that. Just that little difference made spontaneous blogging easier.

I’ve thought about either opening some microblog or switching tools here. That launches me into a spiral of indecision. I don’t like the idea of moving to Tumblr and getting sucked into the politics of the teenage SJWs there; I don’t feel like going to Medium and competing with the New Yorker-wannabe writers there. I want to own my content, and not have to deal with an insane migration path when whatever hosted service gets acquired by Google and then shut down.

I should just get in the habit of coming here, posting something short, and not giving a fuck about the blogosphere or the business of the web, because ultimately, I don’t. But I guess at some level I do, and that’s the rub.

I have a new zine out

I have a new zine out.

It is called Mandatory Laxative #14. It is about lunchables and satanism.

It is 20 pages long. It is printed on an inkjet printer. It is as lo-fi as possible. I didn’t even spell-check it.

It contains the following “stories”:

  • Pain Is Only Temporary (Unless It Is Chronic)
  • A Scene Where A Guy Goes To A Colonics Clinic, Falls In Love With The Cashier, And Almost Ends Up Shooting A Fountain Of Coffee From His Ass
  • Sleep Letter Zero
  • Letter to Freddy
  • I Am A Satanist And I Like Toast Because It Is Cult And Evil
  • Someday This Could Be You
  • I Love Lunchables
  • Late At Night With Dwight Dingleson
  • Remember the Alamo, Motherfucker
  • Two Men Discuss Low Calorie Pizza Before A Ritual Satanism Killing
  • This Knife Means Fucking Business
  • Chili Sweats at Aerie #666
  • The Inevitability of an Accidental Saline Enema

It is listed on Goodreads here.

It is not available on Amazon. It is not available as an ebook or a PDF. It’s barely available at all. It is a limited edition of about 30 copies. If you really want a copy, and you are in the US, paypal me $4 and your postal address. jkonrath at rumored.com.

 

 

Dead Mall: Vallco Mall Cupertino

I had to go to Cupertino last week for a work bowling party thing. I followed the GPS to a Bowlmor, parked in a garage, and realized it was actually an anchor to a large mall. I had a few minutes to do a quick lap, and suddenly realized I’d chanced upon the most elusive dead mall situation: a huge mall that was in it’s final moment of end-stage death.

I’m fascinated by malls. It’s always bugged the hell out of friends that I travel a thousand miles to some new place and want to go to a mall and not buy anything, but it’s an unfortunate illness of mine, and I can’t escape it. I grew up going to malls, then I worked in one as a teenager, and spent all my time in a Montgomery Ward, or wandering the concourses during breaks. Even on days off, I’d go to work just to hang out. Or I’d drive to any of the other malls, to see the competition, and people-watch. It was the 80s, and malls were the biggest part of our cultural zeitgeist. Even in the 90s, I would find it almost meditative to go to College Mall in Bloomington or Northgate in Seattle and walk the loop, look at consumerism in action, and maybe get a pretzel or a book.

This all slowed down in the 00s. First, my default mall in New York was destroyed back in 2001, when a combined 220 stories of skyscraper fell on it. But aside from that, malls across the country crumbled. People shopped online; commerce went to big box stores; and the mighty anchor tenants all started to die. It became a quicksand situation where people stopped going to malls because there were fewer stores, and more stores closed because fewer people were going to malls. The massive indoor palaces were no longer updated, and when the seventies and eighties decor got too aged and the land underneath became too valuable, they were all “de-malled” and bulldozed under, usually to build a series of disconnected big-box stores or strip malls lacking the character or presence of a singular building with common areas.

I’d never been to Vallco Mall in Cupertino, but its history is similar to most. The mall was built in 1976, then expanded during the big boom in 1988. At its peak, it had about 200 stores, including five anchors: JC Penney, Macy’s, Sears, AMC, and Bowlmor. At one time, it also had an ice skating rink, and there are/were a variety of food options, hotels, and condos around the complex. I don’t have the full chronology, other than scattered news articles and a poorly-written Wikipedia article, but it appears it went through the standard lifecycle of a mall, including a long slide in the 00s, owner bankruptcy and buyout in the late 00s, more additions and seismic refitting, and various legal battles about expansion and condo-ing.

And now, the de-malling will begin. After much complicated legal wrangling, the plan is to destroy everything and build The Hills at Vallco, a two-billion dollar fake city square mixed-use monstrosity, with a huge green roof, expensive condos, an organic farmer’s market, upscale retailers, vegan yoga classes, green energy, and whatever catch phrase you can throw in to pull a more affluent demo. The interesting thing about all of this is that Vallco is in an incredibly prime location. It’s right next to the Apple corporate campus, in the heart of the 11th-wealthiest city in the country. In the past, Vallco was one of the only malls in the South Bay. Now, there are several, plus malls are a dying thing. I rag on the new plans, but the renderings do look nice, and it probably fits in better with the character of the town.

When I walked around last week though, the mall was absolutely heartbreaking. Of the 200-some stores, there were maybe a dozen still operational. It looked as if the mall was not renewing old leases, and letting them time out as they ended, so most of the residents were now gone, but there were a few stragglers remaining. Bowlmor was still alive, and the JC Penney was still fully operational, but both Macy’s and Sears had bugged out, and were completely stripped and boarded shut. There was a huge food court with maybe three dozen stalls, all empty except for a single taco place. A role-playing game place and a comic store were still fully operational, but completely devoid of customers. There was an indoor slot car racing place going, which is an oddity in 2016. But there wasn’t much else.

The mall had such an eerie, haunting feeling to it, though. The bones of the mall, the concourses and hallways and escalators, were all completely normal, running, clean, and decorated. But the style of the mall was very much 1993. Most malls got some injection of life around that time, expansion and facelifting, and it looks like they did this here, and it was frozen at time in the early Clinton years. Nobody was there when I visited at lunch time; I think I saw two geriatric mall walkers, and nobody else. It reminded me of being in a mall when I worked there, at 6AM before even the security guards were present, when everything was shut and locked and powered down. It very much gave me the feeling I wasn’t supposed to be there as a civilian, that I’d accidentally stumbled through a locked door and at any moment, a security guard would show up and usher me out. But everything was completely open for business, lights on, main doors unlocked.

The stores were another matter. Some were completely gone, the interiors torn out, bare to studs, the fronts taped shut, wrapped in plastic. Others were cleared out of all merchandise, but signage and racks still remained abandoned. And others looked like they closed for the evening a year ago, the night gates padlocked, but the store collecting dust, like something out of Chernobyl.

The whole thing was nostalgic and bittersweet and horrible. I’ve had a terrible problem with nostalgia recently, spending far too much time thinking about my own past in the 80s and 90s – not wanting to go back to that, but wanting to somehow explore it or write about it. It’s a terrible waste of time and bandwidth, and it’s honestly very emotionally painful. It’s a symptom of The Crisis, which I keep hinting at but haven’t been fully able to write about or wrap my head around. I almost mourn the feeling of having these communal things in my life, now that they are gone and we’re forever compartmentalized into our web browsers and tightly isolated social networking communities. I saw these monstrous commercial communities run from the inside out, and then they all suddenly vanished.

And it was so strange to stumble across one, trapped in amber like this. It wasn’t like when I go to a random midwestern mall that’s been beaten and fucked, all the prime retailers gone and the places left to cash-for-gold and dollar stores that bring in nothing, because the entire town has shifted in location and moved to far suburbs, leaving the mall to go to seed. Those have a feeling of desperation and real deer-in-headlights failure. This was much more surreal. I mean, this was a mall where a 16-screen AMC multiplex was just built in 2009 – like since I’ve arrived here – and it’s about to get torn down. It was like looking at a very late model car that had been totaled, like when you see pictures of a Lamborghini Aventador that has been flipped eight times. Parts of it were trapped in time at that high point of mall culture, and parts were already gone. It was a really hard thing to reconcile.

Anyway, more photos here. If you’re a local and want to check it out, do it immediately, because the place probably only has a few weeks left.

 

2015

I hate January 1.

It’s a double-barreled hate. First, I have an overwhelming urge to look at what happened in the last 365 days, and that sends me down a horrible nostalgia spiral. That makes me think of what I missed, who is gone, what I screwed up, what I didn’t do, and imposes a thick layer of shame and regret that’s difficult to escape.

But also, the whole “new year, new me” thing cripples me. I feel like I can’t do the same thing I did on December 31, because I need to reinvent myself, do great things, set lofty goals, become healthy. I need to learn new things, start new projects, and instantly become a better person. And just thinking about all of this overwhelms me.

2015 was a shit year, for a lot of reasons I can’t even list here. I seriously had about five years’ worth of bad things happen this year. Health stuff, relationships, work, writing – it all went south in a big way. I managed to almost get out of the deep hole I dug myself into, but in many ways, I feel like 2015 was a wasted year. There’s more pressure for me to not do this with 2016, and find some relief and balance.

I did publish a book. It wasn’t that well received, and my book sales as a whole have completely dried up. But it was a long struggle to get anything done this year, so I’m glad that came out of it. I had a lot of fun making stupid memes on facebook, which was probably my biggest source of joy this year. I walked almost a thousand miles this year. So some stuff happened.

But yeah. Fuck 2015. Looking forward to getting more done in the next year.

Killed by Death

Hard to believe the news I heard last night: Lemmy is dead. I knew it was coming, but I expected a long, slow decline, and not the sudden shutdown from a cancer just found a few days ago. I knew he had health problems, and I’d heard he was moving a bit slower, using a cane, not able to make some recent tour dates. He also didn’t sound great on Maron’s podcast recently. But shit, it’s easy to think of that medical decline as the same calculated swagger a rode-hard-put-away-wet aging rock start like Keith Richards also sports. It seemed like Lemmy would plow on forever.

Like many, my first memory of Motörhead is seeing them on the show The Young Ones, back when MTV showed the reruns late Sunday night. This must have been like my freshman year of high school, so it was years after the first era of the band, right before Lemmy moved to LA to start the second round. There were a lot of great bands on that show (The Damned were another standout for me) but “Ace of Spades” was the one that hooked me. My metal diet at the time consisted of a lot of Metallica and Iron Maiden, so it made sense that Motörhead would click with me.

I asked my buddy Ray about the band, since he was the only one of my friends into anything cool metal-wise at that point. He immediately loaned me his two-tape copy of No Remorse, and I dubbed them onto a C-90, which I memorized over the course of a few thousand listens. I admit I didn’t do much exploration of their back catalog (not that it would have been easy in that pre-internet era) but I did listen to both sides of that tape constantly. I remember many a time walking across the IU campus with that thing in my walkman, wearing my leather jacket, wishing I had a Harley (even though Lemmy didn’t really ride motorcycles.)

The one album that really burned in for me was 1916. I bought it when it came out in 1991, and listened to it constantly. It was a year I was commuting to the IUSB campus from Elkhart, and would fit in a complete listen each day, for months. I also hung out with Ray a lot in that spring semester, and it was permanently stuck in his tape player, too. I got my VW Rabbit that spring, and I think 1916 was the only tape I listened to for the first six months I had the car.

I was dating someone in Bloomington while I worked in Elkhart in the summer of 1991. Every other weekend or so, I’d finish my second-shift duties at midnight on Friday night, take a quick shower, then hit the road for the four-hour drive down the middle of the state, that tape blaring in the little VW. “Nightmare/The Dreamtime” is the eerie song that still reminds me of driving wide-open-throttle through the darkness on the way down there.

Another big memory of Motörhead was when internet commerce and my collection fetish really geared up in the late 90s. Right around then, Castle reissued all the old Motörhead albums on CD, all remastered with new bonus tracks and b-sides and whatnot. And of course, I immediately had to have all of them. I bought a lot at Silver Platter records in Seattle, but also used to shop online at I think CD Connection, or one of the other early online sites (which have all long since died.) But searching the used bins and scouring all the new CD stores in the greater Seattle area was a constant process I remember well.

I haven’t followed the band as much as of late. It’s no fault of theirs; just that I haven’t been following music as much as I drift into the great Midlife and become much less enthused about anything new coming out. It feels much better to put on No Remorse and think about tooling around in my beat-up Camaro back in high school than it does clicking the Buy button on iTunes and making the somehow unsatisfying purchase — actually “lease” — of some songs out in the cloud I will only listen to twice because, life. I think the last physical purchase I made of theirs was 2004’s Inferno, and I couldn’t name a single song on it. But, I could tell you exactly what points drop out of that original C-90 tape I played a million times in the last 30 years. Funny how that works.

I didn’t know much about Lemmy in the early days of no wikipedia and shitty J-cards with no text inside them in the old releases of tapes. I only knew him from his image, his swagger, and the way he talked in Decline of Western Civilization 2 (which he apparently hated). I found out more about him later, from the internet and his book White Line Fever. It always amazed me that Lemmy seemed like the ultimate persona someone would invent, especially in the era of guys like Alice Cooper or Gwar or King Diamond creating an outward appearance as a representation of their work. No offense to any of those acts, but no “act” could ever keep up the the act 24/7 for decades, especially as times changed over the years. Kiss dropped the makeup; the big hair bands lost the hair and turned to “unplugged” shows and ballads. But Lemmy was always Lemmy. When music was about punk and speed metal in the early 80s, he was Lemmy; it moved to heavy metal, and he was Lemmy. When grunge killed everything, he was still Lemmy. You could never group Lemmy into another category – he was always just Lemmy. A lot has been said in the last day about how much of a badass he was, how much he drank, how loud the music was, and all that is true. But the biggest takeaway for me was that he did what he wanted, even when that was something that the popular trend didn’t want, and he was what he did. That amazes me.

There was some Lemmy quote that I can’t find about not eulogizing the dead, so I won’t. I think he’ll always be alive as long as we still have his music, so that’s where I’ll leave it.