birthday, containers, books, cynic, etc

Birthday was okay last week. The superfloat went fine, but I couldn’t 100% lock into it for four hours. I think I’m about done with the whole sensory deprivation thing. I think the meditative part of it is good, and the isolation. But the process, especially with the salt water, is such a pain in the ass. Having to take a shower before and after, and then still having epsom salt stuck in your ears and elsewhere for the rest of the day is a hassle. And too many times, I end up in the tank and have an itch on my eyebrow or face, and I can’t scratch it, or I’ll instantly get salt-soaked water in my eye. I like the ritual I’ve done with it the last three birthdays, but as a general practice, I think it would be easier to just meditate in a dark room for a few hours. Also cheaper.


Still working on the stack of Christmas books, which now got hit with another round of birthday additions. I’ve been reading The Box by Marc Levinson, which is a history of the shipping container. Sounds like it would be boring, but it’s actually pretty fascinating, for some reason. Maybe part of the fascination is that I live within walking distance of the Port of Oakland, and always see the giant piles of metal boxes being loaded and unloaded with giant AT-AT-looking cranes. There’s also this timely connection between what’s talked about now with automation and the complete reinvention of the work economy, which is something that also happened in the fifties and sixties as Sea-Land and Matson completely disrupted the shipping industry.

I should be reading fiction, but I haven’t been. The only fiction I’ve read this year was Ben Lerner’s new one, and I was pretty meh on it. Most of the stack is nonfiction, but I imagine I’ll get back to it when I get back to it.


I did the usual free book giveaway on the day of my birthday, and gave away Help Me Find My Car Keys… for twenty-four hours. I think something’s gone on with KDP and Amazon is really throttling down these in their algorithm or something. I generally don’t agree with the way the giveaways work, and they’ve never really helped my rankings or sales or whatever. And the whole idea of gaming the algorithm and chasing numbers is part of the big race to the bottom that is destroying publishing. But I noticed a really large drop-off this time over last year, even though more people shared the giveaway. Yeah, my books suck and I’m horrible and I write unmarketable garbage, etc. But there’s something really up with it, and my conspiracy theory is that the numbers are being gamed because of Amazon’s paid placement ads, which I refuse to participate in. If they haven’t already, they are probably getting to the point where they will make more money on ads than on their cut of self-published books. Why mine for gold when you can get rich selling the shovels, right?

Another Kindle thing I did not know about, because I do not pay attention to this stuff at all: you used to be able to do a match thing where people who bought your paperback book got a free or discounted copy of the Kindle version. Looks like they took that away. I thought that was a great feature and I enabled it on all of my books, because I think charging people twice is sort of bullshit. But, no more. Sorry about that. Talk to Jeff.

Despite all of this, I quietly made the decision to stop publishing my books over on Smashwords. The ebook war is over and Amazon won. Having the books on Smashwords was a huge pain in the ass, produced a vastly inferior product, and almost nobody bought them there. I had a brief blip of Nook sales there a few years back, but not much else. If Amazon’s self-publishing completely implodes and they start charging a hundred bucks a book to publish to Kindle, I’ll ditch them and move to Smashwords, or whoever else. Or I’ll print out copies on my inkjet and staple them myself. Whatever.


Everyone’s talking about Kobe’s death today, but I’m still thinking about Sean Reinert, the drummer of Cynic, who died unexpectedly Friday. My memories of the band Cynic are how they were first a demo band in the late 80s and start of 90s, putting out these demo tapes that were absolutely brutal and technical and exact and powerful, probably better than most studio albums coming out, even at this apex area of the first wave of death metal and grindcore. They were signed by Roadrunner and recorded their fourth demo with them, and everyone was wildly awaiting their debut album.

There was a lot of delay after that, though. Reinert and guitarist Paul Masvidal played on the Death album Human, and were on tour with them when they ran into various financial/managerial/legal issues and ended up having their gear confiscated by a UK promoter for six months. The next year, the day they planned to go into the studio to record their debut, Hurricane Andrew hit Florida and destroyed their studio and equipment. They eventually recorded their first album Focus and released it in 1993, disbanding after that, with everyone going off to record 863 different solo/session projects after that.

The thing I remember most about Focus and Reinert’s work is that he really wasn’t a metal drummer. He obviously was the drummer in many metal bands, but his playing was very jazz/fusion-influenced, more prog-rock than the straightforward blast beat/double-bass stuff on almost every band that came out after Morbid Angel. I listened to that first Cynic album constantly in 1993, right on the tail end of my involvement in death metal, around the time I eventually decided to stop publishing my zine and go on to other stuff. But I always remember being mesmerized by that album, even as I was getting bored with mainstream metal.

Anyway, this is another one of those things where a guy who is actually younger than me dropped dead, with no cancers or medical problems, no drug use, no helicopter crash, and nothing else that would make one launch into the usual “better place” speech. Ugh.


Not much else going on. I still feel sick from the break, and can’t believe it hasn’t 100% gone away. It’s starting to almost get nice enough to walk outside now, so I’ll hopefully stop mall-walking soon. Writing’s writing. More on that later, maybe.


KONCAST Episode 6: Ray Miller

Click here to for more details on this new episode of The Koncast

In this episode, I talk to Ray Miller, creator of Metal Curse zine, the record label Cursed Productions, and bassist and vocalist of the band Adversary.

We discuss: How we first met 32 years ago, going from Metallica to Death Metal, finding new music in the analog days, how Ray started Metal Curse zine in 1990, Richard C and Wild Rags, John Woods and Rock out Censorship, the 1993 Milwaukee Metalfest, seeing Ice T’s dick, falling asleep while driving on the toll road, how Ray started the Cursed Productions record label, Ed Finkler and Open Sourcing Mental Illness, and making music in the computer age.
Links from this episode:

– Metal Curse zine:

– Cursed Productions:

– Paragraph Line:

– Jon Konrath:

– Xenocide zine:

– Rock Out Censorship:

– Dave Marsh on John Woods:

– Ed Finkler:

(Minor correction: the first Poison album wasn’t on Combat Records. The LP was on Enigma, who released bands like Death Angel, Slayer, Voivod, and so on, but the tape was released on Capitol. So, Mandala Effect, brown acid, not sure what happened here.)
Click here to for more details on this new episode of The Koncast


The Curse of Ancient Writing

Something like 87 years ago, my friend Ray Miller had a zine.  A zine is like a tumblr account, except it’s on dead trees, and instead of pictures you take of yourself with a cell phone camera, it has words on it.  His zine was called Metal Curse, and it was essentially a way to get to meet bands and get free crap from record labels before it got into stores.  And in Indiana, it was a way to get things that never showed up in stores, because the absolute best music store within 50 miles of my house was a 45-minute drive away, and was only marginally better than buying CDs at Wal-Mart.  Also, at this point in time, most of my peers were extolling the virtues of an artist that largely advised us to stop and observe an occasion known as “hammertime,” and the only way you could talk to anyone interested in any music not designed in a government laboratory for sale at malls was to write a letter to some dude in Sweden or Japan, and the only way to get in touch with these people was to read a poorly-photocopied publication ordered through the mail.

In my second year of college, I went to IUSB, a commuter college that was mostly parking lot, and I hung out with Ray a lot, mostly driving around, skipping classes, and listening to thrash metal bands like Helloween and Napalm Death.  He did three issues of his zine and was starting to pick up steam with it, getting more self-produced demo tapes in the mail to review.  Back then, zines had reviews of albums or demo tapes, interviews with bands, and news updates about bands, usually a giant bulleted list of who was releasing what or where they were touring or who broke up or whatever.  But there wasn’t much else as far as content.  You couldn’t really have cool pictures, because they didn’t photocopy well, and every picture turned out looking like a black and white thermal map of Uganda taken from a plane window. Outside of NASA, digital photography didn’t exist, and even if you had a decent camera, good luck getting it into a show.  Most of the zines out there were also not well-crafted literary journals honed by intellectuals either, and sometimes the writing was funny, but 90% of the interviews out there asked the same exact ten questions.  Zines weren’t known for their in-depth editorial content.

I wasn’t a writer back then.  I helped teach a writing class in the English department, oddly enough.  But that mostly involved telling people they had to press Shift-F7 to print, and walking distressed students through the procedure involved when underlining words in Norton Textra, this horrible WordPerfect clone we used.  I studied computer science, and spent all of my free time trying to learn C and write games and whatever you did to waste time before the web was invented.  (Tetris, I think.  And downloading crap from anonymous FTP sites.)  I took one writing class, and the teaching assistant either liked my stories a lot or wanted to sleep with me; looking back at what I wrote then, it must not have been the stories, but you should have seen the glasses I used to wear back then.  But I didn’t consider myself a writer, and certainly didn’t do it in my spare time for fun.

At some point, I suggested to Ray that I should write an advice column for his zine.  I don’t know if I asked him to do it, or if I just wrote it first, but I had this idea of a fake Dear Abby sort of thing.  I think I subconsciously ripped off this idea from a free newspaper I used to read in Bloomington.  Or maybe it was because one of my parents gave me a copy of Dear Abby’s Guide to Sex for Teenagers, and I thought this was the funniest damn thing I’d ever read, and wanted to write something just as humorous.  One night I fired up that cyan-on-blue screen of WordPerfect 5.1, and cracked out a handful of fictional questions mailed in from readers.  I don’t know what inspired me to come up with the name, especially because now it takes me years to name anything, but I called the column “Dear Death.”  It probably had to do with listening to that Metallica song “The Four Horsemen” 58,000 times a week.

I gave Ray a laserprinted copy of the column, and he put it in issue #4.  At the time, he used this GEOS program instead of Windows, and did the whole zine in its word processor, then printed it out on his dot matrix printer, so that one page looked an order of magnitude better, and he rushed out and bought his first laser printer.   If you were born before 1990 and have no idea what a dot matrix printer is, I wouldn’t even recommend going to a museum and looking at one, they are such huge pieces of shit.  I spent most of my tenure as an IUSB computer consultant un-fucking these Epsons where the tractor feed wheels would get jammed, and the ribbons would gum up or get unspooled, and some deranged bored housewife type would keep jamming it worse and worse until it involved stripping the whole thing into tiny pieces and realigning every little piece.

Anyway, #4 turned out great.  I didn’t do a column for #5, but then wrote one for the next seven issues.  Luckily, those seven issues took like a decade to put out, so I had plenty of time to come up with new ideas.  I did five issues of my own zine during the timeframe of Metal Curse #6 and #7 (although mine was way shorter and had less stuff in it) and some time after #7, I started calling myself a writer and chipping away at my first book. But these columns pretty much mark the start of my writing career.

Metal Curse had 13 issues as a print zine.  Ray recently resurrected it as an online site, and has started with a lot of new reviews, plus he’s slowly bringing online the back archive of old stuff.  And part of that is the Dear Death columns, which means you can go read all of them online.  The writing is much different than what I do now, and I don’t really listen to that much death metal anymore, so it’s both embarrassing and interesting to look back at this stuff. Anyway, you can check out my columns at


Screams and whispers

First of all, I’ll get all of the zine stuff out of the way:

I am waiting for a proof to arrive (early next week?) and then it will be live and you will be seeing much more spamification here telling you why you’re an idiot if you don’t buy a copy. I have the first proof (no ISBN) sitting on my desk and it is easily the best issue yet. It looks incredible, and has more good stuff from more new people and more published writers. Anyway, go here for more info.

The weather’s shifting fast, and it’s doing weird things to my head. First, it’s literally doing weird things, because I have some allergy or allergy-like headaches and congestion. I took an Allegra today, which means I trade the headaches for this feverish, mindless jittery feeling all day. But the weather’s been odd; it was cracking the 90s one day, and the next is was barely at 50. It’s been hot for a while, so the sudden warp in the weather is pretty weird. And I swear there is some correlation in these pressure changes or temp snaps that force my brain to dial up memories from some point in the past when the same thing happened. And it’s not memories, like I’m reminiscing about a long-lost restaurant or a girlfriend that never was. It’s like I just feel the essence of that time, and then in order to somehow quantify that, a few brief memories slip in.

Case in point: on Friday, it was lunchtime, and Sarah had the car, and all of the lunchmeat in the house was green. I hit F12 to see the weather on my Mac Dashboard, and it was 59, so I grabbed a light jacket, an iPod, and started walking south. For whatever reason, the temperature or change in barometic pressure or something reminded me of the band Anacrusis, so I dialed up their album Screams and Whispers on my little white music box.

Anacrusis is either a minor historical footnote or an inside joke to most of the metal community. And I don’t even consider myself a member of the metal community anymore. But back in the early 90s, as thrash metal gave way to Death Metal and then the industry or the bands or the fans (or all three, since usually the same people had bands, zines, and basement record labels) suddenly realized that every band out there continuing to release the same exact Sepultura record was not a sustainable plan, so labels tried to branch out with all of these fusion ideas: death/industrial, death/hardcore, rap/metal, thrash/gothic, whatever. And Anacrusis fell into that slot on the Metal Blade lineup for two albums. The St. Louis-based four-piece took a thrash approach and tried to mix in some prog-rock influence, like Fate’s Warning or Queensryche or whatever. The good news is that all of the fans into this album thought it was completely over-the-top. The bad news was that there were about eight fans of the album, and after their 1993 album, they fell off the face of the earth.

Now back when I was doing Xenocide, I was getting a lot of record label demos and advance copies. (I was also getting record reviews from a future Al-Quaeda member, but that’s another story.) Marco at Metal Blade fed me a lot of tapes, and for whatever reason, this tape ended up in the walkman quite a bit. In the spring of ’93, I was carless, and walked everywhere. And for whatever reason, I have this really distinct fragment of a memory of walking to the grocery store or mall or laundromat, and I was listening to this tape. Every day, I walked at least a mile to work, to shop, to get out of my tiny cell and clear my head. And that album, that music brings me right back there. The album itself is not that memorable; I couldn’t name a single song on it, and there were no big breakthrough hits or whatever. It’s not the kind of album that you buy because it’s got that “Hm Hm Hiiim” song on it. It’s very ambient in that aspect, very background to me. Maybe that’s why it stuck with me.

And what’s weird is that when this happens, I don’t think about the girl I was dating then, or my job that I was working day-and-night, or the classes I skipped, or anything else. It’s just that walk, just south of 3rd Street, cutting through the yards and church parking lot to get to the Eastgate Plaza.

Anyway. My typing ability is rapidly declining. I was going to mention that I took a tour of Coors field last Wednesday. I was the only one there, so my $7 got me a personal tour. Photos are here. It was interesting, especially when I actually got to walk across the field on the warning track, a dozen feet from home plate, and then into the dugout. It’s a lot less glamorous than I’d thought; I mean, every single one of these guys make at least five times as much as I do, a few of them a hundred times as much, and they’ve got a wooden bench to sit on that’s about as nice as one a bum sleeps on in a public park. I don’t know why, but I thought they’d at least get some kind of Herman Miller shit in there, or air-conditioned ass pads. Still, very interesting.

OK, time for lunch.


Death metal and blind accordions

I can’t really write about what’s on my mind right now, except to say that I’m not feeling great today. I still don’t know who reads this or why, so I’m forced to tiptoe around assorted facts about my current mental well-being. While I agree that this is stupid, it’s probably best that I don’t drag other people’s lives into a public forum.

I can tell you that I’m listening to a lot of death metal these days. As I work on the book, it’s become essential to listen to the same stuff I had in the player back in 1992, so I’ve been burning CD-R’s of stuff as a sort of soundtrack. And it’s the only kind of music I like when I’m in this weird, mixed mood – half-depressed, half-pissed. Why would I want to listen to Tori Amos whine incessantly about how her boyfriend doesn’t love her anymore, further driving me to the edge, when I can put in the Satanic deathfuck of Blood Coven or something similar? It combines the power and hatred I wish I had with the nostalgia and memory of a distant time where I probably didn’t feel any better, but I was in much more comfortable surroundings. And it’s slightly less embarassing to getting caught with Yes – Big Generator in your walkman.

The album of the day is Dismember – Death Metal. I like a few things about these guys; one is that they’ve managed to put out new albums each year that are innovative yet still stick to the basic, thick, detuned Swedish death metal sound without drifting into pseudo-industrial, electronic, sampled bullshit like so many death metal bands that ruled in 1992 and are now working at a 7-Eleven. Their production is also phenomenal – the mastering, the way the whole CD comes out sounding ten times louder and heavier than the average CD. And their albums start off completely kicking ass, and push at this level of intensity all the way through. Although I’m not into Death Metal as much as I’m into their first or second album, it’s consistent.

On the train home last night, there was this blind guy with an accordion. I’ve seen him before, mostly causing a clusterfuck of congestion on the stairs at the train platform. Last night, he started playing on the ride home. It was a real disaster, only because the car was swaying back and forth and slowing and speeding up, and here’s this guy with a huge metal box strapped to his chest, both hands busy pressing the keys, and at every movement, I was certain he was going to plummet across the whole length of the car and take out four people with his needle-sharp blind cane. Luckily, nobody was hurt, and he got to play, and he even made a couple of bucks for his efforts.

I’m feeling less pissed now, but I have a bunch of work to do on the book before the end of lunch, so I better get to it.