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.

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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Take Care of Scabbard Fish

This entry is a bit of a placeholder, in hopes that somebody will find it in a google search and maybe chip in more information. It’s very odd that searching on “Take Care of Scabbard Fish” brings up almost no results. Even more weird that it doesn’t come up on sites like discogs or allmusic.

Take Care of Scabbard Fish is a 1994 compilation released by Japanese record label Scabbard Fish (I think?)  Its claim to fame is that it contains the first track released by the band Boris.

Track listing (song title/band/time):

  • Children Of The Revolution – REAL BIRTHDAY 3:31
  • Access – Speeeedway Baby 5:31
  • 50 Times – Puka Puka Brians 8:34
  • Mother Drive Sky – Romeo 5:55
  • Golden Finger – 50’s Junk 5:29
  • Papillon – Jam-Jack 6:25
  • Spacetime – Hula 7:34
  • I Can’t Stop Laughing – Long Fish,But,Blue 2:16
  • Eventualy – 20.000 Dope Disk-Junkie 3:50
  • Maria – Love Sick Lovers 3:09
  • Water Porch – Boris 5:27
  • I Never need – Ja-Dow 9:05

A general description would be that this stuff is Japanese noise/rock from the mid-90s. Lots of feedback, lots of jangly guitar, some stuff bordering on surf rock. But not a lot of it is noise-noise, like beatless, screeching, experimental noise; a lot of it has a heavy groove to it, like basement alt-rock without commercial goals. It’s good stuff.

I haven’t googled through all the band names or songs, although a lot of these seem like dead ends. (How many bands named Romeo are out there?) I don’t have a physical copy of the album, but accidentally found the MP3s on a deep-dive for something else. (Of course, I immediately deleted them and called the police, because piracy is wrong.)

Anyone else have any info on this?

 

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KONCAST Episode 10: Ryan Werner

http://koncast.libsyn.com/episode-10-ryan-werner

In this episode, I talk to writer, publisher, musician, and lunch lady Ryan Werner. He is the author of Shake Away These Constant Days, Murmuration, If There’s Any Truth In a Northbound Train, and Soft. He plays guitar in Young Indian and numerous other bands. He also runs Passenger Side books.

Links from this episode:

http://www.ryanwernerwritesstuff.com

https://ryanwerner.bandcamp.com

http://koncast.libsyn.com/episode-10-ryan-werner

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Dü You Remember?

Quick link to a podcast about Hüsker Dü, called Dü You Remember:

https://www.thecurrent.org/collection/husker-du/

(It’s also on iTunes, etc. I just searched for it in the Podcast app, but I’m still on iOS 10, before Apple completely fucked it, so your mileage may vary.)

This was a great five-part audio documentary on the band, from Minneapolis public radio’s The Current. It’s mostly interviews with the band and others (both Rollins and Biafra drop in) and covers the rise and fall of the Hüskers.

I was very late on the scene with these guys, being stuck in heavy metal land and all. I heard a few songs on those SST compilations, which I didn’t discover until right around the time they broke up. By the time I got to college and was surrounded by “college rock,” and later “alternative,” the conversation was more about “have you heard Sugar?” and I had to go backward and hunt down all the old albums.

The whole podcast was apparently conceived before Grant Hart’s passing this year, so there’s a lot of footage of him. Definitely worth checking out.

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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: http://www.metalcurse.com

– Cursed Productions: http://www.cursedproductions.com

– Paragraph Line: http://www.paragraphline.com

– Jon Konrath: http://www.rumored.com

– Xenocide zine: http://rumored.com/xenocide/

– Rock Out Censorship: http://www.theroc.org

– Dave Marsh on John Woods: https://web.archive.org/web/20110614224956/http://www.starpolish.com/features/print.asp?ID=440

– Ed Finkler: https://osmihelp.org

(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

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KONCAST Episode 4: First Concerts, Last Concerts

In this episode, I talk to Jessica Anshutz about the first concerts we went to, as well as the last shows we attended.

We discuss The Dead Milkmen, Alabama, Rush, New Kids on the Block, Metallica, Billy Joel, The Grand Ol’ Opry, Taylor Swift, Nashville, The Bluebird Cafe, The Hold Steady, Wilco, Jason Isbell, and Ozzy Osbourne.

Links from this episode:

– Jessica Anshutz is at Flannelkimono.com

– Jon Konrath is at Rumored.com

– Starvation Army: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shSnWf6eQk0

– The 1988 Rush show at Rosemont Horizon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4CO-fWihR4

– The Tiffany documentary: http://www.ithinkwerealonenow.com

– Jon’s review of the Peter Gabriel concert mentioned: http://rumored.com/2002/11/22/645/

– Jessica’s review of the Wilco/Jeff Tweedy concert mentioned: http://www.flannelkimono.com/2017/07/late-to-game-wilcojeff-tweedy.html

 

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

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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.

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Sleep Research Facility and ambient music

I’m always searching for music to listen to while I’m writing, because I can’t think and fall into the right kind of trance to dump my subconscious onto pages when extreme death metal is screaming away in the foreground. Classical music puts me to sleep, and jazz is jazz, so it’s hard to precisely nail it. I do like ambient music, as long as it isn’t too passive, and doesn’t veer off into the Yanni-esque new age shlock. All points south of classic Eno can be good, but that specific sound doesn’t imprint my brand of writing exactly the way I need it, so I’ve been looking for more.

Dark ambient, for better or worse, is closer to what I like. It contains a texture that provides a good underlying current for my work, and blocks out everything around me, yet doesn’t invade my mind in a way that would turn it in the wrong direction. Dark ambient removes from the equation the type of music a hippy-dippy acupuncturist would play in his office, which is good. The main problem with dark ambient is that it’s impossible to find a straight answer as to what it is. Ask ten people what ten bands constitute death metal, and you will get twelve highly contested answers. Dark ambient is the same. It shares distant borders with Krautrock and experimental music, and I don’t know enough about it to give you a defined answer as to who the main players are. (Maybe you should tell me.) I can tell you about a specific band I like, though.

Sleep Research Facility, the working name of Glasgow musician Kevin Doherty, has released five albums of essentially beatless dark ambient music, along different themes. The one thing in common is a dark, textured soundscape, usually without musical elements, or maybe with long, sustained chords. The name of the band relates to the work’s lack of any elements that would disturb sleep. That’s a slight peeve of mine, because it’s difficult for me to listen to dark ambient that contains extreme screeching, loud noise, and distorted shrieking voices. It’s hard to get in a trance state to work when interrupted with those elements. I’m not saying they don’t have artistic merit within a composition, and I can enjoy listening to them for the sake of listening to them, but when looking for functional music, it’s an issue.

Another challenge with creating any ambient music is having a central theme or “gimmick” or some set of tracks for the train to roll down. SRF seems to do this well, in the choice of conceptual framework. The prime example, and a good starting point, is the album Nostromo. This is a nearly 70-minute album that was inspired by the ship from the movie Alien. The album details a walkthrough of the ship from Ridley Scott’s scifi/horror movie, starting in the A-Deck, while the crew is in suspended animation, hurtling through space back to Earth. Scott meticulously detailed the ship, not as a sterile, futuristic vessel, but as a beaten, worn, working man’s craft, like a battle-damaged oil platform in the middle of the ocean. But when the crew is in stasis, prior to the computer waking them, there’s a certain calm, or anticipation in the vessel.

Nostromo starts in the A-Deck of the ship, presenting a deep-bass flow of sound, with slight electrical static and drifting sounds of machinery. It’s not like the harsh industrial sounds of the cyberpunk-influenced electronic genres of the mid-90s (I’m thinking the mechanical sounds of, say, the interstitial tracks of early Fear Factory, or even the earlier sounds of something like Front 242. (and sorry for the horrible reference points. This is very far outside my wheelhouse of musical knowledge, trying to learn here.)) Anyway, the dozen-minute tracks drift deeper into the ship, as the sounds and textures become more refined. The entire album is very dream-like and drifts seamlessly through the ship. The 2007 release contains a bonus track named “Narcissus,” which was the lifeboat escape pod of the Nostromo, which contains similar elements, although it is texturally different. You could imagine Ripley putting herself in stasis and drifting back to earth during the final track.

I listened to Nostromo constantly when I was writing He. I’d sit down to write every day, start the album on repeat, and keep it as a constant soundscape. I do this a lot when writing; for Atmospheres, I listened to the Sleep album Dopesmoker every day for at least a year. It’s not exactly ambient, but it’s an easy album to fall into.

So what album do I use for the next book? More importantly, what is the next book? Still working on that.

Anyway, check out more about SRF at their home page: http://www.resonance-net.com

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10 things I learned from the Lemmy documentary

I’ve been a fan of the band Motörhead for over 25 years now.  When I was a freshman in high school, I used to watch the British comedy show The Young Ones on MTV, when they used to show it late Sunday nights, and one week, this weird metal band came on that sounded cool as hell.  I asked my friend Ray about it, and he told me their lead singer Lemmy was god, and then proceeded to make me a dub of the No Remorse double album collection, which I promptly burned into my brain with roughly 40,000 repeat listens over the next few months.  Over the years, I’ve collected their albums, and although I’m not as militant about it as Ray, they’ve been one of the bands in a constant rotation in the player.

I heard about this documentary, simply called Lemmy, also the stage name of one Ian Kilmister.  He’s been the one constant member of the band since 1975, singing, playing bass, and writing songs.  I didn’t rush to the theater to see it, but I filed away a mental note to look for it when it came through on NetFlix or whatever, and it popped up on cable recently, so I DVRed it and got a chance to watch it last night.

I had mixed feelings about the movie.  It was executed well, and wasn’t just a typical rehash of everything I already knew about the guy, which was a huge plus.  But it was also somewhat depressing, because it showed this human side of the legend, and it was a somewhat sad scene of this guy who’s instantly recognizable, but ultimately alone.  I could write more about that, but I’d rather summarize the movie by mentioning the new things I learned that were shown by Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski’s work.  Here goes.

1) Lemmy lives in a shithole

This is the most popular takeaway from the movie.  Most people think rock stars live in giant mansions, and that is reinforced by all of the reality TV showing guys like Ozzy in giant 29-bedroom castles with indoor basketball courts and gold-plated crappers.  In reality, Lemmy’s lived in this completely shitty two-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood for over twenty years, apparently never cleaning it during that time period.

Now, I’m not expecting him to rent some huge penthouse like P. Diddy would hang out in, with chrome-plated everything and an indoor swimming pool.  But seriously, when I lived in LA, my apartment was at least seven orders of magnitude nicer than this place.  It’s like a scene from a Bukowski book, with the two-burner range from 1947 and a metal sink that’s been painted white a thousand times since World War II.  The outside courtyard is not bad looking, but it’s that generic two-story apartment building you see all over Los Angeles, the kind that looks like a motel built in the 1950s and never renovated.

All of you who have lived in New York City are probably a step ahead of me on this one, by asking, “well, how much is he paying, though?”  LA is rent-controlled, meaning his rent can only go up 6% a year.  He mentioned he’s paying about $900 a month in rent for a two-bedroom, which isn’t bad for LA.  (A quick google shows that the average 2011 rent for an apartment that size is around $1700.  I paid more than that in 2008, but my old apartment compared to Lemmy’s is about like comparing the Bellagio to one of those downtown Vegas motels where you shoot a snuff film.)  Of course, if the stories are true that he drinks a fifth of Jack Daniel’s a day, he’s probably spending a grand a month on booze.

2) Lemmy is a hoarder

The shocking part of the footage of Lemmy’s apartment is that every square inch is filled with Stuff.  There’s the usual rock start stuff, like gold records, trophies, and plaques, but there are also tons of Motörhead items, like records, posters, license plates, stickers, action figures, and pretty much any other thing carrying his personal brand.  There’s also wall-to-wall randomness, video tapes and albums that are completely unrelated to him.  And this isn’t one of those OCD collections where everything is perfectly lined up on identical racks, in dust-proof, airtight mylar bags.  There’s stuff strewn around like a crime scene, things stacked on top of other things, shit everywhere.

One complication is that Lemmy’s not being whisked to gigs in hermetically sealed limousines with a team of bodyguards and handlers; he’ll talk to pretty much anyone who comes up to him, sign anything, and is infinitely approachable.  And he has legions of loyal fans.  That means he’s got people at every show giving him paintings and figurines and demo tapes and macrame Ace of Spades murals.  And he seems to hang onto all of this stuff, which is somewhat endearing, although at some point, I would have either rented a storage unit or opened a Motörhead-themed bar with all of the stuff in glass cases.  The man is in serious need of an archivist.

3) Lemmy is into a lot of non-metal music

The movie starts with Lemmy going to Amoeba Records (I used to go there!) in search of the mono version of the Beatles box set.  (And he’s correct: fuck the stereo mix; get the real deal.)  He talks about seeing the Beatles back when he was a teen in Liverpool, and also discusses his love of Little Richard during a couple of different conversations.  (Billy Bob Thornton and Dave Grohl, in two different bits, talk about meeting LR, and Lemmy enjoys those stories immensely.)

He also plays in a band called The Head Cat, which is a rockabilly supergroup with Slim Jim Phantom of the Stray Cats.  It is seriously surreal to see Lemmy, the guy usually belting out songs like “Killed by Death” and “Deaf Forever” knocking out the Carl Perkins song “Matchbox” while a bunch of old people dance at some random casino in upstate Wisconsin.  (Go here to listen to some of this.)

Henry Rollins (seriously, there are so many god damn appearances by people in this movie!) sums up the whole thing by mentioning that Lemmy was around before there was rock and roll; he grew up listening to Rosemary Clooney records, and then one day, these four kids from Liverpool and this hip-swaying dude from Memphis blew the doors wide open.  And it’s true that the best music ever is the first music you hear, the stuff you lock into when you’re a teenager, and for him, that isn’t the Sex Pistols or Elvis Costello or Velvet Underground; it’s Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran and Johnny Cash.  I really dug the hell out of Lemmy being so into the classics like that; it shows that he loves music, and he’s not just into this to be another SKU number in a database.

4) Lemmy has diabetes

The movie shows Lemmy drinking, smoking, and eating fried foods.  It starts with a scene of him meticulously slicing potatoes into fries (he probably calls them chips) and deep frying them in a pan.  It doesn’t show him doing drugs, but implies that he does.  And then in a later scene, he’s taking some pills in a recording studio, and when the producer asks if they’re drugs or vitamins, he says they are medications for diabetes and blood pressure.

This shows the odd paradox that he’s like Keith Richards and Ozzy in the sense that he’s spent the last 50 years shoveling down all things bad for your body, with almost no tangible effect on his longevity or ability to churn out a new album every year and play in 200-some odd cities.  But it shows the twist to this, the human side, of a guy who’s well past the halfway mark and will someday soon be staring down the grim reaper.

This also conjures up strange images of Lemmy at a doctor’s office, paging through a years-old People magazine, waiting for an internist, who then asks him all of the typical questions about diet and exercise.  My health is not at Charles Atlas levels,  and I can’t go to a foot doctor about a hangnail without getting a prescription for Lipitor and a scathing 40-minute lecture about how I’m supposed to exercise 9 hours a day and eat less than 9 grams of fat a month.  I can’t imagine the dressing-down he must get every time he comes in to get his scripts refilled.

5) Lemmy practically lives at the Rainbow

One of the other reasons Lemmy’s got the shithole apartment is that it’s stumbling distance from the Rainbow Bar on the Sunset Strip.  And apparently, he’s always there, sitting at the bar playing one of those video trivia machines.  The Rainbow is a big rock hangout, and has been forever.  And you always hear about how back in the day, it was stylish for these non-music Hollywood types to make their token “I’m a bad boy” appearance there.  But you know how some dive bars always have that one creepy old guy that sits at the bar and stares at the wall for dozens of hours at a time, eating peanuts and nursing beer after beer?  Well, at the Rainbow, that guy is Lemmy.

6) Lemmy has a kid

He’s probably got more than one kid, but the movie features Paul Inder, who is his adult son.  He mentions that Paul’s mom Patricia was some kind of groupie who had dated John Lennon before she knew Lemmy, which is a pretty odd connection.

What’s strange is how close Lemmy appears to his son.  When he’s asked what his most valued thing in the apartment is, he says it’s Paul.  Although Lemmy apparently had never seen the kid for the first six years of his life, the two seem like the best of friends now.

7) Lemmy is obsessed with gambling

There’s a scene showing Lemmy parked at a slot machine, and someone talking about how he’d sit in front of the one-armed bandit all day, compulsively pulling the lever, over and over.  In fact, it’s rumored that he got the name Lemmy because he was always asking people “Lemme have a fiver” to pay off his gambling debts.

It’s a bit of a recurring theme; he’s either hunched over a gambling machine or a trivia game or a video game system at several points in the film.  It makes me think he’s got one of those OCD personalities where he gets locked into stuff like this and can’t put it down.  I sure hope he doesn’t get an iPhone with Angry Birds installed, or we may never see another new Motörhead album again.

8) Lemmy’s stepdad was a football player

I don’t think this was mentioned in the movie, but I was cruising wikipedia as I was watching and saw this.  His dad was an RAF chaplain and split when he was three months old, and he was largely raised by his mom and grandparents.  But when he was ten, his mom remarried to George Willis, who played soccer (football) for a decade or so in the 40s and 50s.

9) Lemmy roadied for Jimi Hendrix

He actually used to live with bassist Noel Redding, and roadied for the Experience back when they were London-based, in 1967-1968.  He tells a story about how he used to score drugs for Jimi, and he would take acid daily.

The story of him being a roadie also shows how much he loved music back as a teen.  When he couldn’t be the one making or playing the music, he was just has happy lugging gear for the people who did.

(Also not mentioned: Lemmy was also a roadie for The Nice, which was Keith Emerson’s band that was the forerunner to ELP.)

10) Lemmy is obsessed with Axe body spray

Maybe obsessed is a strong word, but there are multiple times that show him dousing himself with the stuff.  And it’s not just any cologne spray — the film is careful to display that it is specifically Axe body spray, the spray of the douches.  I’d expect the guys in Maroon 5 or Nickelback or something to be frequent users, but not Lemmy. He seems like the kind of guy who maybe uses some Old Spice (one of the original scents, not the new trendy crap), or just goes around reeking to high hell.  I’d expect him to smell like stale Marlboros, burned motor oil, and old leather, not Intense Phoenix or some shit.

Overall, this was an interesting movie.  I mean, the day-to-day stuff was a good look at the man’s life; the endless line of celebrities fawning over him got a little old, but emphasized the point of his importance in the metal world.  But like I said, it ultimately saddened me to some degree.  It made me hope he’s happy with what he does, because he’s not reaping huge financial or material rewards, and although he’s got a certain amount of respect and admiration, it’s not like he’s going to cross over and become known for anything other than being what he is.

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Tape imports

I’ve been back since Thursday, but I’ve been busy with a few different projects, some worthwhile, some asinine.

One thing is this ongoing saga of storing my CDs. I went to Fry’s this weekend and bought three no-name binders that allegedly hold 320 CDs each on sleeves. That’s actually 160 per book, because I’m using one pouch for a CD, one for its booklet. I already had 200 CDs in loose sheets, too. Yesterday, I got all of my CDs from A-M ripped, bound, and in books. Not only am I getting a lot of new/old music into iTunes, I’m purging myself of jewel cases and I’m also pitching some CDs that are taking up space. I know this goes against what my personal philosophy was at one time, but I’ve moved enough and dragged around pieces of plastic and metal that I will never, ever listen to again, so less is more.

I also pulled my old JVC tape deck from 1993 out of storage, and wired it into my Mac. I then downloaded a copy of Audacity and started digitizing stuff. Actually, I first started by sorting through tapes and pitching things I had on CD already, or that were entirely useless. My tape collection is down to two shoeboxes and one of those plastic cases you keep in the car, and I think I will get it down by one shoebox when this is over.

After a huge pain-in-the-ass in setting it up, Audacity is actually working well. It’s free, which is good. It also lets you trim audio after you input it. You can also look at the waveforms and drop in a named bookmark when you find the start of a song. Then you click and export everything, and it splits up the songs by bookmark and dumps them to MP3 for you. Very nice. There are some additional functions for cleaning up sound and reducing noise, but I haven’t messed with them. These are mostly 15-20 year old tapes, so there’s not a lot of super high end sound I can squeeze out of them.

The whole procedeure is a huge throwback to 1993. First, that’s when I got this tape deck. Before that, I would plug a walkman into my receiver to listen to tapes. When I worked at Wards that summer, I used my employee discount to buy this tape deck, which had a record deck with the kind of auto-reverse that spun the heads, instead of just moving them over and reversing the tape direction. There was some advantage to this, and I don’t remember what – something about magnetic particles or something. Anyway, it has been a long time since I’ve seen this deck’s little amber display staring back at me, and it’s a weird little flashback to me. Hell, it’s a huge thing just to play tapes anymore. I rarely even touch CDs these days.

The other big flashback is that I’m pulling in a lot of the demos and other odd tapes I could never find on CD. I’m listening to a band called Oliver Magnum, which are a prog-rock-esque metal band from Oklahoma. This self-released tape, Drive-By, spent a hell of a lot of time in my walkman back in the day. I think if I made a top-ten list of the most-played tapes I listened to while trudging across the IU campus back in 1993, this would be in the top 5. And I haven’t listened to it in years and years, so it’s good to see it flashing by on the VU meters in Audacity. Last night, I pulled in an old Germ Attack demo that I loved back in ’93. So this is all a fun little time-waster for me. At least it is delaying me from going on iTunes and buying a bunch of new music.

The iPod is up to 9182 songs; the goal is 10,000. Maybe by Wednesday.

As of yesterday, I have lost 18.2 pounds since 4/27; I managed to lose 3.6 pounds in the week we were in Vegas. (I was 100% sure I gained, but walking a dozen miles a day does something, I guess.) That puts me under 200 pounds for the first time in, well, a while. I think I was in the 190s back in 1997. Before that, it was probably in 1993, when I was walking everywhere (and listening the the aforementioned tapes.) When I get to my 10% goal, I am supposed to pick what my ultimate goal will be, and I don’t know what to use. this page has a calculator that shows results from a bunch of different standards, but it seems like I remember a BMI calculator that took into account your frame size by measuring your wrist, and I can’t find one of those. I think I would be happy if I could get below 180 (184 is officially the low edge of the “overweight” category,) but a harder goal would be somewhere in the 170-175 range.

One of our DVD players exploded on Friday. I went to turn it on, and it flashed orange and shot smoke out of the front. I had to move my player in the bedroom (I never watch movies in here, anyway) and now I need to take apart the old one to extricate the DVD in there.

Gotta go fill up my car. The absolute, absolute best price I can find is $4.54/gal, at Costco. Yeah, I know it’s *only* $4.14 in Elkhart. But to get that price, you have to live in Elkhart. I’ll pay the extra $250 a year for actual paved roads.

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