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general

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.

Categories
general reviews

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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general

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

Categories
general reviews

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.

Categories
general

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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general

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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general

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.

Categories
general reviews

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

Categories
general

RIP, Oderus

I woke up this morning and found the start of a flood of Facebook posts that I thought had to be a hoax, but they were true:  Dave Brockie, also known to many as Oderus Urungus of Gwar, had been found dead last night.  He was only 50.

I must have first heard about Gwar back in 1990 or 1991. I remember hanging out with Sid Sowder and Matt Reece over at their dorm room in Wright Quad, and them playing the Live from Antarctica videotape, while telling me the story of an infamous show in Indianapolis, where they played at an old Howard Johnson’s and completely destroyed their ballroom. They took on the role of the most extreme band in my head, this melding of Troma shock-horror movies and extreme metal, demonic costumes and fake blood. The lyrics were campy and meant to be offensive, and yet the music was nuanced and more sophisticated than most typical metal bands could belt out.

I didn’t really start listening to them until America Must Be Destroyed came out in 1992.  When I DJed at WQAX that summer, the station had it on CD, and I dubbed a copy and listened to it constantly.  The concept album told a story about censorship, blind patriotism, the gulf war, and predicted the dubya-ization of the country that would uncannily happen a decade later.  I loved the CD, and played the title track almost every week on my show.

I was never a loyal Gwar fan, and they were more of a thing I’d forget about and then fall into every few years, going down the rabbit hole and watching and rewatching the Phallus in Wonderland tape. But then five years would go by until I’d pick up another album.  The horror-metal category was always filled better for me by the band Haunted Garage, but they’d only released a single album on Metal Blade before completely vanishing from the scene.  (They’ve since reformed and have done local shows in LA, though.  Check them out over on Facebook.)

But Gwar still helped define that era for me, the early 90s.  I started listening to that album constantly when I was writing Summer Rain, and mentioned it a few times in there.  And one of the distinct memories I have of my cross-country trip in 1999 was this long and boring drive from St. Louis to Bloomington.  I had already listened to everything I owned 19 times in the last week or two of driving across the southwest, and was going through entire albums from this Summer Rain playlist, playing that game where you force yourself to not skip songs and go through the entire album from first to last track in order.  I was somewhere on I-70 and very clearly remember listening to “Rock N Roll Never Felt So Good” and thinking how amazing the authorship of the song was, how it wasn’t just some speed metal collection of noise, but had such a carefully crafted structure that showed a decent musical knowledge, even though the song was about fucking a 13-year-old quadriplegic with a piece of frozen shit.

John Sheppard just saw Gwar last year, which made me go back and buy their newest album, and we planned on going to see them again when they came back to the US for the next leg of their tour.  It was like a religious experience for him, and I really wanted to check it out, even if it involved flying to Alabama or something.  Unfortunately, that won’t happen, which really sucks.

Oh well.  I guess the lesson to be learned though is how you really need to chase down your creative extremes and beat them to the ground.  Gwar started out of a freaky group of artists who wanted to shock people and do weird out-of-this-world shit, and that’s exactly what they did.  They didn’t set out to win Grammies or sell albums, but instead decided to marry together extreme horror movies and the performance of loud music, and they did it balls-out for thirty years.  Given the choice of doing the ridiculous and pointless that you really want to do or doing the expected and formulaic, they chose the former, and it gave them unprecedented loyalty from their fan base.  There’s something to be said for that, and it’s something to keep in mind as I try to figure out what the hell I’m doing next.

Long live Oderus!  Antarctica will miss you.

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general

Noncompliance to ASTM F 899-12 Standard

I am now 58,000 words into a book that has absolutely no structure, no plot, and for the most part, no characters.  It is basically 226 nightmares and dream sequences back-to-back in no real order.  (In comparison, Thunderbird was 38,844 words.)  Part of me wants to come up with an overarching story that links these pieces together.  Or maybe I should not use this structure and stitch together the pieces into longer stories.  A big part of me just wants to publish it as-is and Captain Beefheart it, and people can either like it or hate it.  I think it would be awesome to just do that three times a year for the next twenty years, but it might get old fast.

(Dream last night:  I was in London for an extended vacation of some sort.  I found a loophole in the unemployment law that would enable anyone who spoke English, even if just on vacation, to collect unemployment.  The problem was that the unemployment office was in a basement, and legislators had removed the door, so you had to climb through the window.  While looking for a way to spend my Dole money, I went to a huge department store and really wanted to buy a bass guitar.  I kept seeing people carrying them or playing them, but could not find them in the store.  Then I started wondering if the bass guitars in the UK were the same as the US, or if the strings would be upside-down.)

There’s still that part of my brain that is begging for the release of dopamine from the completion of some amount of straight fiction.  I just finished reading that Junot Diaz book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and I really loved how he described Washington Heights.  I mean, the book was much deeper than just a novella about Dominicans running around and screwing each other, but the language of it made me think about writing something other than a guy taking a dump on a roulette wheel at Circus Circus, or whatever it is I’ve been writing lately.

There are two things that have happened that have made me think about the past in a strange and opaque way, and that’s what itches me about this straight writing thing.

One, I got a leak of the new Carcass album, Surgical Steel.  (Thanks to Ray for the hookup on this.)  I don’t really listen to death metal anymore, and certainly don’t keep up with news on it, but for whatever reason, I was curious about his, and it turns out my suspicions were correct on it.  It’s an excellent album, and sounds like they went into the studio in 1993 and recorded another album as perfect as their Tools of the Trade EP.  It’s amazing that they didn’t fuck this up and insert all kinds of nu metal or have a dubstep remix or, even worse, do what metal bands usually do after a twenty year hiatus and release a SSDD polished turd of exactly what they used to do in the 80s or 90s. It’s a perfect progression from what they did before, unique, and yet with a slightly haunting and familiar sound to some of the melodies.

I was a huge fan of their 1991 album Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious and probably mentioned it a thousand times within Summer Rain, because I listened to it ten thousand times in the summer of 1992, and then constantly put it in the player when I needed to teleport back to that time during the book’s writing.  I have so many memories of that summer that are directly tied to that 48 minutes of music, because I used to open my radio show with it every week, and kept it in my CD deck constantly.

So when I hear a new album that still invokes some ghost of that album, in the tone or the melodies or whatever it is that makes the two similar, it pulls me back to that time and to my old book and makes me wonder if there’s some other writing left in that era.  There’s a part of me that wants to do some Summer Rain 2 that either takes place right before or right after that book, or maybe takes place twenty years later when the protagonist goes back to a 2012 Indiana that’s not doing very rosy and the state of the economy and the world and the experience of hitting 40 and being at that fork in the road somehow echoes what happened in 1992 when I (and/or that character) was at a different fork in the road.  I know SR was rough, and I got unending shit because the book was “long” but it’s something that sometimes pulls me back in that direction.  And it’s not helpful that I have an almost complete but nowhere near finished book of stories that take place around the same time that’s sitting on the hard drive that will probably never see the light of day.

Here’s the other thing.  My allergies are bad now.  We’re talking attack-bad, give-me-more-steroids-than-ARod bad.  And so I went to the hardware store and bought a respirator mask, like you’d wear when you’re tearing down mold-infected drywall, and I started wearing that in the house today, just to see if it would help.  (It did, but it was so goddamn hot, I had to take it back off.)

There is something in those masks, some smell in the filter that is so distinct.  I haven’t thought about it in 25 years, but pulling air through that N95 filter and into my nose gave it such a distinct odor, the smell of surgical gauze and sterile supplies, it immediately teleported me back to the last time I wore respiratory equipment regularly, which was when I was 16 and working on my first car all the time.  I’ve talked about it too much before, but I had this old beaten Camaro, and even before I could drive, I spent all of my time and money sanding away rust and beating on metal with hammers and painting it back up with krylon rattle-cans.

I spent so much time back then wrenching on that car, and it was a piece of shit, but it was my piece of shit and it symbolized this additional freedom that gave me the ability to leave my house and branch out of my limited social strata and just point it in any random direction and feel the rumble of a V-8 for a twenty-minute side of a tape, until it auto-reversed and flipped sides and I changed directions and drove back.

I spent summers and weekends wearing this dust filter, a blue rubberized plastic thing that cupped over my nose and mouth and contained some kind of treated cotton or fiber inside of it that got replaced every time it became caked with paint and plastic dust.  The smell of that filter is the same as the smell of this filter, and it immediately reminds me of sanding down body filler and mixing together more bondo to squeegee into cracks and paint with more primer.  Everyone else in my high school turned 16 and magically had a car appear in their driveway, usually a brand new 5.0 Mustang.  I didn’t, and that’s why I spent time in junkyards looking for new sheet metal on the cheap, and trying to break rusted bolts and sand compound curves in my garage while listening to Grim Reaper and Megadeth on a jambox.

So that makes me think of that time in the 80s, the struggle of being a nerd when being a nerd wasn’t cool, being poor in a school where being poor wasn’t cool, driving a Chevy when driving a Ford was cool.  I wrote a book about that too, sitting on the virtual shelf, probably not to be released.  I always think about jumping back into that one, but the writing in it makes me cringe.  When I was in Mexico in 2009, I was sitting in a hammock every morning, staring at the ocean and busting my ass trying to turn out that book.  It’s hurried writing and painful to read now, but if I had infinite time, I’d beat it into shape.

Of course, I don’t have infinite time.  This is why I never post here – I need to be writing.  Gotta get back to it.