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Entries in drumming (9)

Friday
Jan042013

Recording Artist +20

A couple weeks ago I told the story about how a season of depression mounted during the later part of 1992. This isn't really about that, but I think that when you consider a theme that was written about in that post, that of "keep turning those pages" and "what a difference a day makes," it makes this story all the more important. In 1992 though, there wasn't a YouTube and a campaign pushing the (hopefully) lifesaving message of "it gets better," but that post went into some detail about some folks who cared for me and helped bring me back to the fold. A good thing, because a significant part of my identity was about to be formed, starting just a couple weeks after that great day when Jerry and Judy helped turn me around. Here goes.

The Maggybox

My first CD player boombox was all that Matt Zuniga and I used when we recorded the first several months of our irreverent and rude drum and vocal "performances" in parking garages, under bridges, and even outside in the wide open of a local canyon/nature preserve. We'd pack the drums up into one of our cars (it tended to be his) and would haul off and make some racket. One day Matt put the boombox upon his car and we drove off down the road. About a mile down the road at a stoplight some driver came up and gestured to us to pull over to the gas station lot. He got out and brought us one mangled Magnavox boombox that had fallen off the car top just a few blocks from my house. Oops.

my drums down under a freeway overpass in flood prone Mission Valley in San DiegoOur own version of drummers' bridge, not too far from the better known one at Qualcomm Way in Mission Valley. We only went here a few times but it happened to be the place we first recorded our nonsense.

We had just the one drumset to work with, so our excursions were either going to force us to trade off and have the other sit around and wait for a 20 minute turn to finish, and then go at it, and then turn it over to the other again. Maybe three rotations that way? But with Matt, things always got interesting. He quickly turned those outings into screamfests and the juvenile obscenities flew every direction. Over some months, that approach turned to more scripted material in the form of my primitive songs that started turning up in the second half of 1992. Those songs were far from Dylan material, and in some cases, even Leonard Cohen might be said to be a better singer (and both certainly in the lyrical department!) But it helped us pass the time, and it helped us not be discouraged by the increasingly hostile attitudes about drums in the house; attitudes that each of us ran into in late 1991/early 1992. You can read about all that in another post.

For me, finding myself kind of rudderless during that troubled year of 1992, the matter of going out and drumming was literally rhythmic catharsis. So Rhythmic Catharsis became our name in May of that year. By the fall season, after my return from a summer in Germany, that was one of the few things that really helped me feel alive. And even that was plagued with the frequently impossible attitudes that Matt put forth. But increasingly, to go out and take drums and a growing notebook of lyrics out to the parking garage became a haven for me. 

The pencil and ink hand drawn cover to the tape we made in April 1992, the first to use the name Rhythmic CatharsisThe Drummers With Attitudes (DWA) produced a recording called Rhythmic Catharsis. It proved to be a more apt name, so we went with that instead.

The thing is, to do that much shouting and wailing on the skins is a lot of energy that might at least be documented. So my habit became to record each of those parking garage jams. For a while, we used a boombox that Matt's girlfriend was nice enough to let us use, but it was really horrible sounding on tape. It could not handle the drum sound pressure levels and was terribly distorted. But it did the job. The crude job of placing that boombox was among my earlier attempts at setting up recording sessions. It was kind of a silly task but the art of recording was beginning to capture my interest. There wasn't much that could be done; the drums are thunderous, and even though Matt might often be doing some of the most possessed sounding wailing and screaming, he's still quieter. Get him too far from the drums and he's inaudible to the me (or vice versa: we slowly started to settle into the roles of him singing and me playing kit); get him too close and the recording with that boombox would be more horrendous than if there were 20' distance.

The Panasonic

That's a lot of setup to tell you that on December 29, 1992 I got a new boombox that sort of ended up changing my life. It was some Panasonic that my grandfather bought me. It was a rainy day. The most distinguishing feature is that it had a 1/8th inch microphone input that allowed me a bit of flexibility to position a mic. Granted, the mic I bought was a $20 piece of crap Sony that was sold from the same home electronics shop. But at the time, it was like I was recording at Abbey Road. Far smoother sounding. But the thing that really changed history was that that mic in conjunction with the dual cassette decks gave me a first chance at combining sound from one tape with input and capturing it on the other tape.

It's funny, those things enable or those moments when your creativity to explode. For me, it was a rather ordinary boombox with a mic input. Big deal, eh? I'm sure it was intended for people to record conversations and the sounds of their kids's birthday parties. I used it to record drums and voice, each typically putting out as much sound pressure as possible, most of the time. 

The jam days prior to getting that boombox were already hinting at a bigger sound than a typical drum kit and voice. It was beyond my ability to play and sing at once but there were times when we both did our respective shouts and interjections. It might be more my role to have tried to add some extra percussion toys to the mix while I was shouting. Matt didn't care about that much but did bang on some stuff now and then. I can't kid you; this was noisy and rather crappy, and girlfriends only pretended to like it. It was always more my thing than Matt's. That's because he was barely on board himself. My songs were often quite silly, and since he was a bit more savage than I was, he tended to cut down my efforts a lot. But somehow, I kept on because I could tell something was happening.

Matt at the drums on a sunny day in the Volt parking lot.Matt, fall 1992 at Volt

On this day 20 years ago, we went to a place called Volt in Kearny Mesa, a giant commercial-industrial district of San Diego. Volt was itself a temp hiring agency so it was rather still on weekends when we played there. It had enough of a covered garage to be suitable for any season, out of the sun and rain, and best of all, it had AC power. That often separated a good enough space from one I loved to get back to. By the end of 1992, it was standard practice to record things, and my book of lyrics grew a lot and we kept on making first stabs at many songs. So it was that on January 4th, 1993, I brought the usual stuff and this new boombox and its mic. Among the songs we recorded that day were relatively new songs called Disco Fever and When the Elephants Fight. I doubt we did anything differently but when I got those tapes home and my ears were rested for a day, I was tickled!

Okay, maybe it wasn't Abbey Road material but it sure seemed like a giant leap. It was on that day when I set about doing what I call "proto-overdubbing" using the tape+mic method. It immediately captured my fascination. Elephants benefitted from a couple passes of percussion and extra effect voices. Disco did too. It felt like a band now. What that enabled me to do was to go out and capture the heart of the performance—drums and voice, no additional percussion—and then to bring things home and have a chance at adding things with more forethought and a chance to execute things better. Even that cursory experiment at overdubbing on a couple songs led me to feel like I was walking on air. I carried the walkman around for everyone to hear it. (For you kiddies out there, the Walkman was the iPod's pappy. It's from the EIGHTIES. LOL!)

Matt doing some cheeky dance in one of the parking garages we set up at. 1994Matt, 1994

What a difference a day makes. Indeed. That experience nearly exactly bisected the DWA/Rhythmic Catharsis period. There was "before" and "after." Over the rest of 1993 (at least until RC dissolved in August), Matt and I kept at our weekend or overnight jams. New songs kept coming. It was interesting trying to keep finding ways to play a drumset in a way that gave different songs their own shape and flavor. A few did better than others. Some became favorites. Recordings got better as I learned to work the proximity to the mic back at home, to help lower the volume naturally so incoming parts would not totally bury the source parts. Knowing that each tape bounce would cause generational loss and a darkening of the tone, my overdubs were kept to a minimum if possible, and what I'd do to avoid too many such dubs, I'd set up a small percussion rig that suited a given song. Maybe it was a shaker in one hand, a tambourine in another, and even a kick drum pedal striking a cowbell or a stacked set of cymbals turned sideways as if it were the kick drum. All that approach got refined by the time we broke up. Not wanting to let some of our best takes go to waste, I finished off another album project—the seventh under our name of Rhythmic Catharsis, and our ninth overall—and then sort of adopted RC as my own project.

It's Not Quite the Grammys...

I recall in those days I met every musician who ever made a bad recording with a 4-track tape recorder. I though then that their mixes were out of whack, or the overall sound was muffled and dark. I kept that belief for a while—two years, even—until I eventually got a 4-track myself and pushed it harder. See, the thing about one mic capturing things like a drum set in a hard-surfaced parking garage is that the sound is so much more balanced and present that way. I got a sound from those places that dudes could not get in their bedrooms or carpeted garages and rehearsal spaces. The drums became one instrument instead of six. With one mic, the sound is all coming in at once, and the space makes them all sit in realistic proportion to one another. Bad 4-track mixes skew all that. And of course, the tapes have an odd noise reduction scheme that seems to take more than it gives. My little rig was essentially suited well enough to record my rather jazzy sounding but physically slamming drum sounds.

Me goofing off at home with a whole stack of cassette decks behind me.At the peak of my cassette recording method, I had four different dual well cassette decks and a single too. The Panasonic boombox that made history is the gray thing behind me, and its speakers a bit lower. The stereo recorder RC used sits atop.

A few months into 1993 I came upon a steal of a deal on a Sony field recorder that let me get somewhat better mics into it and to record our basic sessions in stereo. I didn't know much about actual stereo placement but the two mics were situated next to each other at no angle, and Matt was told to not get too far into "one ear" lest his voice go annoyingly off to one side. The resulting tapes did sound far bigger and sweeter. The subsequent overdub/layering went on with a mono mic, but the overall sound got bigger and richer since the big kit was captured in some kind of stereo in a giant, booming garage most of the time.

Now I can listen to those old tapes and hear what garbage it was, but that's because I know what 24bit, 44k audio is now. But back then, it was just a huge thing to hear things played back that way. I don't bother with trying to be an audiophile, but I do appreciate that the tools have gotten insanely good since then. After refining my 1993 approach for much of that year, and then taking about a year off during 1994 while doing other band projects, in the very end of 1994, that whole approach was revisited when Matt and I once again went out and killed some time one night in December. I used that basic approach to do about two and a half of my first solo projects before I got a 4-track portastudio myself. What's amazing is not that it sounds good. It doesn't hold up at all now. But it was enough to get me excited, and to hear the world in a new way. For a lot of years, recording was a huge piece of my identity. Even my moniker now, TAPKAE—The Artist Presently Known As Ed—arose from a recording heyday in 1996. And great stories of meeting musicians can be told only because I geeked my way around shows with a walkman or a minidisk player and asked people to hear what I had just done. Hog Heaven Studio was a complete indulgence of my recording urge.

ReCyclED, Remixed?

1997 studio including some basic mixer and outboard electronics, 4 track tape and no drums.1997 during the recording of the Hog Heaven project, and shortly before ReCyclED got under way.

These days, starting just last week, in fact, I have had the good fortune of acquiring a VS-2480 that is helping my collect and export data from my VS-880 recordings during the Hog Heaven Studio era. All those recordings done on Roland machines were fun and games during the period when Roland was all I used. But now on the computer, WAV files are the most common format. All the data disks I've had since 1998 or so (and some DAT tapes that served as data archives for the 880) are now finally getting their chance to be converted into contemporary format.

Hog Heaven Studio at its peak, insanely packed with drums, several guitars and bass, keys, amps and studio racks.Hog Heaven Studio at its peak, mid-2000. All that stuff is mine.

My target project is to finally remix a number of tracks that have been languishing in obscurity for over a decade now. They include a handful of the songs Matt and I used to play, albeit in radically different form for the most part. I labored mightily during 1997-1999 on the songs on ReCyclED and have mixes that have been pretty solid considering the limits of the technology (which was stupendously amazing compared to what Matt and I used). But now that all this stuff is mostly recoverable, I think I'll finally mix it in Logic and be done with it. It also comes at a time that marks 20 years since Rhythmic Catharsis' most prolific period.

There is also an attitudiinal shift about recordings and distribution. These days, with sites like Soundcloud and YouTube making sharing and discovering media so easy, I've been having a feeling brew inside me, saying, "get those damned tunes done, tagged right, and uploaded. ReCyclED is the standout for me, having toiled on it so long (it was first conceived as a six month project of quick 4-track recordings to enhance what Matt and I used to do, but it would be all solo). So much of my music has been given away now that I am online, but without a good platform like Soundcloud, stuff might never get heard. It's my aim to get this done finally.

Parallels and Perspective

For a number of reasons not entirely unlike the ones that depressed me in 1992 (as I wrote about in December), I was pretty down for a while there. It isn't that the situation has changed since a couple weeks ago. No, I'd still like to know a job and my family might have me, and all that. Instead, I feel a bit brighter because of the hours of recent transfer work. Seeing so much of my creative product in one compressed period of time has given me some sense of how big all this has been to me. Again, it's not all good, and some of it is total garbage, but the hope for capturing some transcendent moments on tape or hard drive is something that persisted. While remixing and assembling ReCyclED is a goal, the thought has occurred to me that if all my recordings (digital ones anyway) are in one format, all ready to be worked with on the same machine, the opportunity is there to assemble some interesting stuff that draws on smaller bits that otherwise might be overlooked. It's got my creative juices flowing again. Studio craft has always excited me, and now after a lot of years of doing it with machines that now seem clumsy, I'm jazzed with the opportunity to see it all as one well of material. Better still, there are new songs starting to happen here too, and they're coming to me on guitar and voice.

What a difference a day makes. Indeed. Again, thanks to Jerry and Judy for keeping me on track. If I were to have snuffed out in late 1992, what story would there be to tell about all this?

Tuesday
Oct302012

Leaving Tracks: the Advent of the VS-880 +15

This post isn't particularly tied to a single date or event, but rather a season of 1997 that turned out to really reinvent my life for some years to come. A few times in this journal there have been tales of my small but mighty VS-880 recorder and how the Hog Heaven Studio era played out. It's almost easy to forget a period that preceded that, but one that sowed the seeds of a rather hot and heavy period of recording.

pretending to pick my nose in a goofy shot of me up near my cassette deck mountain, 1995My mountain of cassette decks, numbering up to nine individual wells in three double and three single deck devices! 1995

You see, the VS-880 was my first digital recorder that promised me the aural riches of nondestructive, nonlinear editing. In 1997, when I got it, that seemed unimagineably mind blowing to me. These days we can't imagine doing anything on the computer without levels of undo and the ability to constantly move text, video, audio, and images around freely. Because I was a rather late bloomer when it came to digital life and computers, such options were far out for me. All my recording thus far had been on cassette tapes, mostly on the garden variety stereo-in-two directions type that anyone could record with gear from a home electronics shop, and then for a period of just under two years, I used a TASCAM 424 four track recorder. The VS-880 was a stratospheric leap from all that.

Enter the VS

I spent the spring and summer of 1997 watching my pizza delivery earnings pile up, and a relative windfall of $1400 when I sold my extensively reworked Pearl knockoff set. A lot of days were spent in the musical gear porn magazines MIX! and Electronic Musician, fantasizing about either a four track minidisk recorder or the more complex and robust VS-880, recording to an internal hard disk of (wait for it) a whopping 540 megabytes!  The thought of shelling out $1,800 made me dizzy but this promised to be worth it. The editing options offered the means to do things I had barely yet even thought of, but was bound to do eventually. At the time, I had modest expectations of being able to silence empty parts of tracks, collage things, and generally have more mix control over the eight tracks, which was a fantastic doubling of capability. Such a thing as the 64 virtual tracks led to fanciful thoughts unimaginable on tape where I'd been able to bounce two or three tracks to an open track, or if needed, bounce all four to another cassette and then if needed, back into the four track to add more tracks, and so on. Those days seemed numbered and fading into irrelevance. If there was to be bouncing, it would be in glistening, (nearly) lossless digital quality.

The machine, once I brought it home in mid August, was bewildering. Even with all the manual booklets, there were so many new terms that I did not know and some that I'd still not know even as I retired it four years later (maybe because I did not need MIDI or other synchronization features). I found the easiest way to start in with the new machine was to take my TASCAM and hook up the line outs to the corresponding four channels into the VS. That way, I was able to capture my current recordings and set about having something to work with while not exactly losing ground if nothing panned out for me. But that was of little concern for the most part, since I found myself doing this transfer on a lot of material in progress, and then really not looking back. The TASCAM's days were numbered. If anything, the only reason for using it was that it did something to the sound because of the noise reduction scheme. I can't say it was "the" analog sound but there is a character that I found pleasing for the time when both machines were in use, prior to Hog Heaven Studio's opening in summer of 1998.

ReCyclED

As it was, the project I set for myself was something that is still unfinished even these 15 years later, a thing called ReCyclED. ReCyclED was a recreational re-doing of a list of goofy and irreverent songs that I did with Matt Zuniga in the Rhythmic Catharsis days of 1992-1993, and intermittently since. After the dark and angst-ridden Hog Heaven from earlier in 1997, something downright stupid was in order, especially with the prospect of the TASCAM's four tracks letting me develop things a bit more than what Matt and I had the ability to do with drums, voice, and some percussive toys all captured to a couple cassettes and added mic inputs. I'd spent some time during the summer knocking out drum tracks, trying to recreate the old magic on my own, and when possible, adding guitar or bass-sounding low end with the help of a pitch shifter or a keyboard on loan, or maybe even a bass on loan for a short while. It was fun but the real fun started once the 880 came onto the scene. ReCyclED was the perfect project to put it to the test. And my apartment was a fine place to have some of the effects and editing features because I was on a rather austere noise diet at that apartment, with a stodgy and fussy family on one wall and a rather fussy roommate down the hall.

Drums in Exile, Redux

Not all the tracks could be done convincingly at home in that room. The entire founding story of Rhythmic Catharsis was one of being exiled from our suburban bedrooms into the underground or otherwise cavernous parking lots and garages in the commercial zones of town, playing drums and screaming on weekends and in the middle of the night, often as loud and indulgently as possible. Subtlety was not our thing. The godlike thunder of an untamed (unmuffled) acoustic drum set surrounded by concrete walls was our sonic calling card. It was a sound that is impossible to capture any other way, short of playing in an aircraft hangar. The nights spent outside doing this young men's ritual in the early 1990s were considered part fun and part therapy, hence the name we adopted as our moniker. There was something about the security of two sets of eyes out there during the middle of the night in places that were otherwise quiet and sometimes a bit creepy. I have done solo nights of this kind but I never liked to do so if I had to be extra vigilant about my surroundings. It wasn't too hard to imagine it being the perfect situation to be robbed of my stuff (my older drum set was sold in mid 1997, so I was now using my babies, my high end Premiers exclusively) by a few guys who could easily drive up with a truck while I was wailing away, unable to hear their approach, and years before I'd ever have a cell phone. So those nights were never so fun as when Matt and I were doing our duo stuff, even if he never really tried to do any of this with any true conviction.

The Road to Hog Heaven is not without Potholes

my drum set in a garage where I set up with my drums and recording gear to get some tracks for new materialDrums at Greg's place, with a bunch of percussion junk nearby, and the mixer rack off to my left

Art Pacheco, my roommate at the apartment, was a punk guitarist in a band called Frame 313 and his drummer Greg Benoit was nice enough to host my drums at his house not far away in Clairemont. (Coincidentally, it was right next door to a childhood foe of mine, Brad Tade, a tough Irish dude who once thought nothing of slogging me in the street on the way home from school and leaving me unconscious for several minutes. I later got an equally uneasy feeling around Brad when we both appeared at our 20th reunion last year. And also coincidentally, a neighbor about six houses up was recalled to be a drummer playing whatever garage rock his heart was set on back in 1983 while I was hot to trot for this cute girl named Christine Huggard who lived a few houses over. And now it was my turn, just down the road on the same cul-de-sac. I digress.) Greg let me in to play maybe a couple times per week for a few weeks that summer. I had my TASCAM there, fronted by my Mackie 1202 mixer, a few mics (a Radio Shack PZM for the kick, a cheap SM58 knockoff for the snare, and a couple authentic SM57s which I still use), my Alesis 3630 compressor, and a DigiTech Studio Quad multieffects processor. The rig was definitely on the low end but it did let me tailor my sound going in, and the degree of sonic precision available was high compared to the plain old cassette days with Matt Zuniga, even if there was no way to capture the godlike thunder of the drums in a concrete garage. At Greg's, I had the drums set up, miced, kick drum blanketed, mixer and small rack within reach, and I felt like a king.

I don't recall if I broke down the recording part of that each time, or if I just left it all up and ready, but eventually the Greg offer came to an end for some reason after a few weeks. Probably the usual noise complaints, or someone moving. Anyhow, all the gear eventually got absorbed back to my apartment, and with a few minor exceptions of my risking a very hushed drum recording in my room, or even taking the kit out to some parking garages and setting up my gear to play and record drums, I didn't really play drums again until the Hog Heaven days that kicked off in June 1998. I think I recall there being eight months or so that I didn't play drums. I just kept trying to use drum recordings in clever ways, using the delay hold function in the Studio Quad to appropriate up to 1.6 seconds of "loopable" drum material, or even playing in one noise or another and letting it build up. Of course, that was more desperate than just using jammed out recordings which were improvised with some feel for what I thought the lyrics required, and then using those two things as the basis for further work back home. As I was doing this, it was months before I even got the okay to start on Hog Heaven, and about four months more before it was ready to set up and use. Drumming was a luxury for that period. This in particular was a rich time for learning the VS-880 and messing with sounds.

Bad Cop, No Donut

One night in September 1997, about a month or so after I got the VS-880, I hauled the drums, mics, and small rack along with the new-and-still-largely unexplored VS out to one of the old garages where Matt and I often played during the second half of 1992. One song in particular, a tribal pounder called When The Elephants Fight, something that went back to the end of 1992 in its original form, was something there was no way to record except at full power. The vocal itself got into some loud, screamed passages. Since they were parts that were already more or less established from our earlier recordings, I set about recording each in a couple takes after getting a sound. (The early idea for ReCyclED was to do little more than current versions of old stuff, and maybe to spend six months on the project. All that went out the window when the digital options took over!) I thought that being out at this building in Kearny Mesa would be uneventful. It always had been. It had AC power, lighting in the garage, and enough cover to mask my location. What I didn't bargain for was that in the middle of the night on a Saturday, some clown would be upstairs at work. And that from his vantage point, he'd not hear the finer nuances of my vocal performance and my um, lyrical poeticism (ahem!). Instead, this joker called the cops and from nowhere came the cops in at least one car, maybe a second. They inquired of me about some complaints that I was screaming about raping children or something. I don't recall exactly what they said, but the caller just heard screaming and drums a-pounding and was scared and bothered. The thing is, it was more baffling to the cops because by that time the drums had been taken down and for no real reason but the messing with my new recorder and mics, I turned the overhead mics over to my open truck hood and I was recording the engine idling and revving up. This was just incongruous enough for the cops to wonder what the fuck was going on. I think I said I was just experimenting. From my upstairs apartment, I don't have any way to record my truck engine, et cetera. Dumb question, dumb answer. Of course, this was the end of the session for that night so I had to pack and go home. This might have been the end of the drumming for several months. Within a few months, the lyrics for Bad Cop No Donut took form, and in part chronicled the incident, and also another run in with the porcine patrol, the infamous Toss Panos/San Diego Streaker night from June, a few months earlier.

Bad Cop No Donut was one of the major productions done upon the VS-880, and was a project that had at least two primary versions with wholly different lineups and a lot of twiddling. It was emblematic of the VS era, but more so the digital era of always being able to dabble and fix and nip and tuck. A track like that was originally done around Bryan "Nucci" Cantrell's rather improvised drum part, done in a local rehearsal facility, and that I captured in stereo mix to DAT recorder in September 1997 with little more than a directive to play something disco like. So he delivered this loose and driving drum part that sounds exactly as it appears in the song. Then I took it home and eventually the song took some form as I added guitar parts, bass, even some keyboards, a lot of vocals, and then kept trying to find my balance. For the first time, I had to power to put too much in. The brilliance of the VS-880 for me was in those eight tracks there was enough space to get a lush mix and almost enough to get too much. A recording like Bad Cop No Donut, if spread out in full track count across a larger format tape (or moreso, across the nearly endless track capacity in computer based workstations), would have to reflect about six channels of Nucci's drums, my bass (with parts featuring a wah pedal), acoustic guitar, Todd Larowe's two rhythm guitars, and a few other guitar tracks for solos, effects like sirens, backwards stuff by Ron Sada, shredding and harmonized parts by Todd Larowe, and finally a shitload of my vocals—triple tracked lead for depth and fullness in the mix, quadruple tracked chorus backgrounds shouted repeatedly into one mic by Matt and I, and then some character voices too, done by Matt. If I had 24 tracks of 2" tape, I'd probably have filled it out. Instead, the arrangement cuts detailed parts in and out of tracks, bounces the more lush stuff to either a mono stem (all manner of guitar solo ideas cut a few bars at a time) a stereo mix of all vocals, and so on. The amount of stuff I wedged into the eight playback tracks makes me grin with marvel. Other similarly produced tracks done on the VS (and took a damned long time to record and re-record) include The Power of Disco (two very different versions exist and were done in this way, the first using a short segment of the Nucci track that ended up better serving Bad Cop), Zehdihm's Flight (with the Mike Keneally version ending up as a discard on account of tinny keyboard sounds that his one hour session did not allow us to work out), 8th Grade Report Card, Endless Cycle, Is God Trying to Make Me a Smoker?, etc.

New Tools, New Technique

The VS-880, in addition to providing lots of new track space to work with and to build out fuller mixes with more details, included some new tools to mess with audio. The nonlinear editing was huge to me. I originally got into editing so I could cut out some parts that were inherited from the TASCAM tapes, with bits that I'd mix out on that machine, but could precisely and permanently cut out on the 880. The ability to do the copying and pasting meant that I could use any source and draw something from it. Collaging things became easy since things could slide this way or that on the timeline with some great precision. The ability to set auto punch locations or to just use a bunch of virtual tracks prior to compiling the best parts of various takes meant that my ability to fix parts was greatly improved. This was important since it was during the 880 era when I gleefully bought, borrowed, or perhaps stole (not really) all sorts of instruments and devices and tried to wrangle sounds out of all of it, not always succeeding early on. Some tracks, like The Power of Disco (Compels You) or Bad Cop or The End of the Road for Missy the Cow, featuring cameos from a number of players and singers, afforded me the great chance to get some interestingly rich tracks together and to keep finding people who might work better for the track. Disco and Bad Cop took about a year each to nail down.

It took a bit less time to finish the tracks but no less a challenge to artfully develop an approach I used a few times: playing drum parts to establish a loop section, and then playing some live parts into the track, sometimes days or weeks later, trying to get a matched sound and feel that didn't sound weak (because looping drums automatically sets up a rather fixed dynamic for the song, and playing live will then not seem so consistent in volume and tone, even if done on the same kit, etc.) The two tracks that show off the approach best are The Power of Quim and Up a Dog is a Toy Experience. In each, I built the tracks off of looped material, then found I needed more drum activity and feel, so I had to set about playing in appropriate parts for a few bars at a time, and working hard to keep it sounding like they were single performances. You'll notice that the um, lyrical material on each is a bit peculiar. On The Power of Quim, I harnessed the Matt-isms that accumulated in the fall of 1998 when he'd come by and talk the oddest shit, and I later took snippets of it and kept morphing the details of what he was saying. Up a Dog is a bunch of random nonsense that turned out to sing well but was otherwise meant to sort of mock the San Diego poetry scene that Kelli was a part of then, as I witnessed it during a period when we hung out years before we became an item. I wrote it so I might go up and deliver it as a reading if ever prodded. Later on it turned into the loose and funky track once Todd Larowe left his JC-120 amp at my place for long enough that I put it to some use. Once I got my Mesa Tremoverb, the tinny JC was on its way back to Todd and I never used another amp at my studio except for single songs using someone else's gear if they brought it at all, or if I were to store it as part of my cartage/tech work.

Tom Griesgraber cutting the solo for a track on ReceivingTom Griesgraber at Hog Heaven in 1999, recording 8th Grade Report Card

A track like Farm Animals, a wacky thing that was only ever a drum/vocal screamer kind of thing in the old days with Matt, was one of the earlier things I did on the 880. I'd not yet been introduced to the word but the idea was known from listening to Frank Zappa: xenochronous recording. That is, combining unrelated musical parts done on different recorders at different times and places to achieve another piece of music. I had some drum bits that I'd recorded one day at one of the parking garages and had imported to the 880. Then, one day in late November 1997 and in a totally separate recording, a nice lad who answered my ad for Chapman Stick player came down and played some odd stuff in the name of a soundcheck or just some noodling. I kept recording the stuff then asked him to do some overdubs. It was all odd stuff and had nothing in common with the drums. But after he left, somehow I combined the drums and the various Stick parts, did a bit of copy editing to extend things to suit my lyrics, and then used the 880's absurdly wacky vocal transformer at the same time as I cut the track, the effect being printed as I went. Later on, the Stick player—a guy named Tom Griesgraber—and having only been using it for four months, progressed to be one of the leading Stick players, and a major promoter of the instrument, not to mention a peer among the Peter Gabriel/King Crimson players, having done albums and performances with Jerry Marotta, California Guitar Trio, and others. Tom appears in a slightly more serious player's role on 8th Grade Report Card, and again in the goofiest role as the bass player on Missy The Cow. There are a couple other tracks from the era that no one will hear anytime soon.

After getting a feel for the 880, another idea dawned on me. Earlier in 1997 I'd released Hog Heaven, a four-track sourced cassette release with me on nearly all sounds done at my apartment (except for a few odd bits where I used parts of a jam done elsewhere and with other people and either edited it or immersed it in a sea of effects). In those days, I always used digital editing as a way to assemble the final running order and flow. It was influenced by Mike Keneally and Frank Zappa. The thing is, I didn't realize that they were more likely than I to compose their songs with that in mind. So I did my version of it, assembling things that didn't always flow so well, and with studio time at $60 per hour, I could not afford to experiment much. And then a thing like Hog Heaven, which was rich in sonic texture and atmosphere and sound design, lent itself to the process. I did pay one guy to do it but had a hard time liking the result. The recordings were odd enough that I didn't need to feel that I missed my mark with the final collage work. So what I did was to go back to the four track tapes, import them into the 880, where useful, separate the parts that might have been punched into empty spaces on tracks, and other things that would help me control the sound more. I had the eight tracks, more effects, more EQ control, and some ability to re-compose things a bit to help the transitions. I ended up remixing much of the material and then using the 880 to then redo the entire running order with the tracks flowing far more appealingly. I used the opportunity to ditch one track that was filler and to put two others in. Then, once I had the entire thing remixed and playing as an album playing back as desired, I then took it to a new place for mastering. While it's never possible to totally disguise the relatively novice gear and performances, it was by far a nicer thing to hear in the second incarnation. It was also the first project I did that was released as a CD-R product, with all product being recorded at home. The cover art unfortunately was a dismal thing that probably moved four steps back for every step forward in the recorded part. The best part of that fiasco was that on the day I was printing it at Kinko's, a cute girl walked up and asked about it. Her name was Sarah. Oh, but that is a few other blogs' material...

Digital Heaven before Hog Heaven

That period of about a year from the time I got the VS-880, and into the new space at Hog Heaven Studio was the beginning of the magical period. It had its problems though. You see, it was the first computer device I ever had. I had to get my lessons in digital housekeeping the hard way. Did I know what "disk initialize" meant? Did I care? Well, I learned it pretty well when three tracks went to digital heaven in the days or so after Tom Griesgraber recorded our first attempts at Missy the Cow (with his guitar synth playing drums, I think), The Power of Disco (then named according to what I'd called it in 1993, "Disco Fever"), and another song. Well, that hurt. But Tom came down another time and we set about work on new versions or just other things. The 880, loaded only with a 540 megabyte drive, was not too dangerous, but the sting was felt when I lost those tracks. Around that time, I paid a whopping $375 for a new drive that would fit in there and serve my needs to the tune of ... THREE gigabytes! I got a backup drive, a 1.5 GB cartridge SyJet or something. One went bad. Oh, goody. Then I bought another, put the defective one into its box, and took it back to the store for a refund. That worked for the duration of my 880 era work but now does not work, so things on it are essentially lost unless I track down another drive like it. Less lost are the more incremental and hopefully mix ready CD-R session backups that must be brought to the 880 for mixing, and then if I ever wanted to bring them to a contemporary machine, I can play it out two tracks at a time with a MIDI machine synch. If I pick my work carefully, I could see doing it that way, but it's woefully inefficient. That's what I've come to hate about Roland. That was especially so when I got the VS-2480 in 2001 and found all sorts of proprietary issues that led me to sell that and get out of Roland's VS series (except that I still have my 880 and find that my fingers still know where to go pretty intuitively even years later). Anyhow, the 880 was my foray into digital audio, for better or for worse. I loved it until I had some kind of digital issue. Every now and then I found there'd be some corrupted file playback until I optimized the drive (defrag). Funnily, it took getting into actual computer based recording before I realized how good I had it on the VS series, at least in regards to how files were handled. That is to say, I had little control because they were behind the scenes except when it came time to do backups of whole projects.

Modest little room adorned in some goofy pig paraphernalia given to me by folks. Not a lot of gear yet, but it was growing...Hog Heaven, early 1999, with the VS 880 situated dead center

My complaints were generally few. By having a front end that fed mostly complete sounds into the 880, I found that I could use the onboard processing for getting a mix, rather than doing all the heavy tone-shaping. My analog front end evolved to include a nice and smooth Allen and Heath mixer, several channels of DBX or Alesis compression, a Behringer unit that widened my stereo spread and offered that kind of sweetening. I also had some evolving mix of effects processors. I'd mix my sounds (drums for example) on the way into the 880 where I'd almost never record anything but stereo mixes. A bass needing a flanger would be recorded with the effect. A guitar with an echo or lush chorus would get that before being recorded. Upon mixdown, I'd add more effects for the gluing effect, maybe to add stereo effects where the tracked ones had to be in mono to use track space wisely. The returns on the effects could be EQed and dialed in with the stereo widening device. All the high end on reverb would be rolled off on the mixer so the effect was more natural. That would be rolled back into the 880's returns. Listen to a track like Endless Cycle or Threads or Pearls Before the Swine from Receiving, and hear what a rich lush sound I got from my 8-track recorder with gear that anyone could buy from Guitar Center.

The Hog Heaven Sound Rules

When I listened to local recordings from San Diego studios, the ones known for being demo dens and other knock-em-out rooms where garage and clubbing bands would record, my mixes always sounded more cutting, more open, less chunky. I don't know whether it's that I love a good drum sound that isn't damped down with tape and pillows. Or that I spent more time dialing in complementary bass/drum sounds, or that I used a range of instruments that a guitar-slinging alt-rock band won't use. But I was very proud of my sound, all the more remarkable considering the VS-880 was never housed in anything more robust than an apartment room or a converted garage. The fact that Mike Keneally himself released some recordings that were done at Hog Heaven delights me, even though none of that is what I would have delivered if I knew he was going to use them. What still amazes me even today is that on that modest machine, I produced recordings of a kind of depth and completeness that even three subsequent digital platforms (VS-2480, Pro Tools LE, Logic) have not prompted me to learn and develop so fully. Granted, there has been a lot of other issues involved, but it's amazing to listen to the things I did on that "limited" machine, and to know I made stuff that amused me, or recorded for others, even getting an international recording credit.

Man, what button do I press in Logic to have that happen again?

Friday
Jun292012

So Ed, Didja Pork Her? +20

The Mysterious Matthew

...So said Matt Zuniga on the day when I admitted to having gone out with a girl. It was the first such instance in the seven months or so that we had been hanging out as co-workers and frustrated, exiled drummer wannabes. But really, it was more the first time in my nearly 19 years that I had gone out with a girl, with any hope of it turning into anything of a relationship.

Matt had a very unfiltered manner of speech. By the time I met him, he was already 20 and I was a newly minted 18 year old. He came on like a total character. Since I never saw him as a younger fellow who might have been tempered by the presence of his folks, he came out of nowhere and blindsided me with some of his outrageous comments and behavior. I think I've told some of those stories on this journal, and you might do a search for Matt Zuniga if your curiosity is so perverse.

Slippery Shelby

Being a pretty uptight kid myself, and being hopelessly optimistic about my um, prospects with Shelby Duncan starting on December 18th, 1988, I didn't really look long at other girls. She too exploded on the scene for me that evening and by the time of this date in 1992, the essential parts of our 12-year drama were written, rehearsed, and nearly mastered. We were never an item; rather she kept me at some distance and we never did so much as a kiss. That is, outside of my imagination. But make no mistake, I was as committed to her as anything, particularly during the period shortly after our graduation from high school in 1991. (She was at Mission Bay and I was at Madison. We were also peers separated by just nine days in October—me on the 12th and her on the inverse of those numbers, the 21st, so that lent some poetic air of closeness too, possibly in lieu of the real important stuff.)

Melissa, the Patient One

In the background, there was Melissa. She's the daughter of Mark, a younger friend of my old man's from the days before either Melissa or I were born. Mark and my old man worked in the same factory at Solar Turbines and the social times carried on for some years. They used to live in Clairemont and I do recall faintly some times when we were at their house. They moved to the suburban tract of Mira Mesa in 1984. At the time that was on the fringe of civilization, or so it seemed. Melissa, about two and a half years my junior, was a play pal on some occasions when our dads got together to kill time, nothing more. Because Mira Mesa, just nine miles away, but about a world away to those of us growing up in our little suburban zones, was so far out, I basically forgot about Melissa for years.

Then sometime in early 1991 she called me at home, apparently having raided her folks' address book (that piece of technology preceded such items as we now take for granted, like smart phones and iPads. It was made of paper.) I guess that as a 14 year old, she was just curious and excited when she recalled I was a sometimes playmate. At the time, I was about to play a talent show at school and I might have mentioned it. She might have come down. At any rate, she did manage to notify me of a time when her grandmother, a singer in the Sweet Adelines (a barbershop style singing group for women) was to be singing at some flag waving rah-rah fest at the school football field not long after the first Gulf War came to a close. It was one of those times when she wanted to sneak around the back side of the bungalow where no one was looking. I don't know if she really had an agenda. She was way too young and even a year or two later did not seem ready to act on that kind of impulse. But it was clear she wanted to get closer somehow. And that kind of weirded me out.

First off, there really wasn't anyone but Shelby on my mind at that time, and nothing was going to pry me away. Shelby was a contemporary of mine and a far deeper personality that even I was intimidated by. She was also impossible to get close to, even at half the distance of Melissa's place in Mira Mesa. I can't say I ran from this attention but I brushed it off as a little misguided. I guess she dropped it. I don't recall hearing from her for over a year.

The Dream

And then, one Sunday morning at the end of June 1992, I awoke to a thunderous earthquake timed in such a way as to interact with a rather stirring dream of Melissa beckoning me to join her. It was one of those odd dreams when external stimuli (the earthquake) gets integrated into the dream. I shot up bolt upright. It was something of a revelation. At the age of 18, not having closed any deals with the opposite sex—and really, not even dating, it must have been rumbling in the subconscious that something had to change. Was this some kind of advertisement for Melissa being easy? Or was it some message that I need to stop with the Shelby illusion, er, delusion? That day I had to think on what it meant. I guess there was just one thing to do since the message did not seem to leave me to my own devices. I called Melissa. I offered to pick her up and go to the University Town Center mall, a place about equidistant from both our places. I'd pick her up around 11 the next day. I gather she did some kind of happy dance finally.

Was I just acting because this was all available to me? Was I really interested in her? Was I just curious? Yeah, probably all that. Melissa was a slightly rounded girl-next-door type who was into all the girly stuff. She was into fantasy fluff. Endless Disney movies. Radio dedications on the soft rock station. Who knows. Aside from being B students with dads who worked in the same company, I don't feel there was all that much glue between us. Sometimes you have to just leap into the river and see where it takes you.

I had to ride my bike to my grandparents' place about three miles in the other direction so that I could borrow my grandfather's Ford Escort. Their cars were somewhat available, but because I had a car accident at the close of the first month after I got my license, they were a bit shy of letting me drive too much. Well, that was nearly two years before and the caution had faded. Good luck for me because I had a date with destiny. 

That week I had some interesting gastronomic issues. My journal is put away nice and good at the moment but it caused me some distress. Eating was not all that rewarding. So I went up to Melissa's place to pick her up, feeling queasy. Or was it just the anticipation for the experience about to unfold? We drove to UTC, about halfway back to my house, and I suppose we strolled the place, ducking in and out of shops like people are programmed to do. I do recall we got to Sears (the one errand I had to make so I could get some new ribbons for my word processing typewriter that was recently worked hard with the production of my first fanzine, the Rhythmic Catharsette.) We were looking about and in some rather unfortunate coincidence, she twirled around with her purse just as some kid went whizzing by. Her arm and purse put a pretty quick halt to his running around. She was profusely embarrassed and apologetic, no doubt because she was putting on her best face for the day, no doubt a long time in the making.

At some point we got to the food court and set about having lunch. Was it a gyro sandwich? A hot dog on a stick? A slice of pizza? Taco Hell? Probably a gyro since that was where I first learned to enjoy the spiced meat and fluffy pita and veggies and creamy tzatziki sauce. We were sitting across the table from one another, chatting the small talk. It was never very deep with Melissa. I mean, she was 16 at that time and still very much under the sway of her father, a rather stern guy who could be loving, but always in control. I suppose he let her go out with me because of our history and he felt he could keep me accountable somehow. But then in a moment, somewhere as we're finding our eyes locking up more, I reached out and grabbed her hands and spent a good while holding them. It was electric. I don't know that it was because I was enthralled with this one girl. It was just one of those threshold moments that would have to happen sooner or later. But it was happening now. It was happening at last. Of course, she was receptive to it all, and I guess the world did get all soft and blurry and slow motion around us. The moment did seem to distort time for a while.

Boys Might Be Boys

I never really obsessed about being in any competition with guy friends about who'd get with a girl first. I never really was part of a crew where that was talked about much. Not until I met Matt, and even then it was more of a one sided thing where he regaled me with his tall tales. I was too uptight to engage in that, even as a matter of fiction. Still am, I guess. But after high school sent me on my way, and after one year taking my community college courses, and having spent time at Subway for about eight months, the sense that time was forgetting that I might need some companionship was upon me. I mean, here I was, nearly 19 and nothing but a few casual times out with a girl or two during high school (that led no where else) was all I had to show for anything of a love life. I was quite aware of it all. That year after high school was one of great alienation. A loss of the barely existent social life I had in school was acute; the distance between me and Shelby (who was by then in Northern California attending school, hosted by her step dad) and Steve Rau (back at home in Germany, where I was set to visit in just about two weeks from this first day with Melissa) was all too much at times. Having Matt around was small comfort. We had no history. He was not even nice to me sometimes. He was so contrary to my sensibilities that I was sort of embarrassed to be seen with him but glad that we spent any time together, else it would be a pretty desolate existence. 

One thing that would have been on my mind that season was the insane anticipation leading up to my trip toe Europe on July 14th. It was to be my second trip, and this time around, it was the trip that was by far my own initiative. It drove me to slave away at Subway, and to put up with Matt. In fact, it was one of those things that could well have been the end of all history. I had no plans of what to do upon my return except the vague knowledge that I'd start another school semester, look for work, and go out and play drums with Matt. My trip to Germany was so big a deal that I could have died after that. (I'll have to tell that story in another entry soon.)

Maybe my gray void following the trip was something recognized by the universal powers that be and maybe I was rewarded with Melissa's arrival on the scene. Telling her about plans to fly on the 14th elicited a plea to not go. Ah... the drama mounts. My heart began to know conflicting desires. But really it was a no brainer. I had already paid for my trip. I had spent a year in agonizing anticipation, hurting at all the experiences on the path to Germany. Sorry, but no girl was going to talk me out of it. The ball was already in play. Melissa's arrival on my scene did of course create a cause to become homesick where for that dark year, all I wanted was to escape San Diego and to get on my big adventure, my first solo trip—to Germany! Of course, it was more important to connect with Steve Rau, who had become perhaps my best friend to that date, doubly notable because he was male. The six weeks that we could spend together on untold adventures had all the gravitational pull of Jupiter.

Eventually our little moment at the food court returned us to real time with crisp colors. But walking out of there, hand in hand, and with a heart racing, was surreal. Driving back in the Ford Escort, it was a good thing I did not have to drive stick, or else the hand holding would have to come to an end. I don't recall if the first day at the mall ended in what became one of our signature half hour goodbyes out by the car in front of her house, but that was soon enough to come. After I left, I went home, no doubt buzzing with adrenaline and hormones. I had a date with Matt and Shelby that evening.

Dangerous Mixing of the Elements

The day before, I took a small drumset out to a commercial area in town called Kearny Mesa. Light industry, warehouses, offices, and all that. I was making early explorations into finding a place to play drums. This building, the Volt building, was the first that held promise and set the standard for places we'd use for a couple years to come. Slightly hidden area to play; AC power outlets for plugging in music to play to; hidden from weather, and unoccupied at nights and weekends. Having found it to my liking on Sunday, I told Matt we should go there together and do some Rhythmic Catharsis jamming on Monday the 29th. I may have only mentioned to him—sheepishly so—that I was about to go out with Melissa.

It was the news of the day when Matt and Shelby and I convened on this Volt building, and before or during some break, in the long daylight of the post-solstice summer days, we were eating some of Shelby's weird vegetarian concoctions and I was expected to give a debrief on the day's events. Matt, ever Matt, decided that my coy answers were not cutting it. How could I kiss and tell anything when we'd not even kissed?  So Matt just barged in with the question, "So Ed, didja PORK her?"

Uhhh...

That might have been a bold enough question in the company of each other at work or playing drums together, but man...that was a loaded question for me, especially in front of Shelby. I mean, Melissa was just a diversion from my longing for Shelby. And I had not even had my desired experiences with Shelby yet. (Nor was I ever to have them.) Part of me wanted to run from the question. Part of me wanted to smack Matt pretty good. So I gave the only answer I could give: an embarrassed and squeamish "NOOOO." I guess now was not the time to bring up that I was saving myself for Shelby. Meanwhile, Shelby, who never wanted anything of the sort with me, probably saw this as the golden opportunity to offload me onto someone else. I'm pretty sure she encouraged me that way, asking the kinds of questions that would cause me to hear my own voice speaking words of praise and fondness for Melissa, even protecting her dignity in my response to Matt's stunning question. It was almost a trap.

Shelby stayed a while, pretending some interest in what Matt and I played on drums and screamed at the tops of our lungs. Then she left. At least it was guy time again. Time to smack the drums with a newfound energy and passion. Aside from the obvious drama of the day, it was also one of the last times I was to play drums before leaving on my trip and I was channeling that energy. But the thought started to dawn on me that day: there might be a life after Germany after all.

There will be more tales from that summer. Melissa certainly held down the fort in terms of correspondence. I don't know if it's of any value to me anymore but I still have a box of letters she sent me, and a journal she wrote during my trip. I guess I can't complain about having an utterly unambiguous awareness that someone was thinking of me, wanted me, and couldn't sleep at night while I was gone. Coming out of the depressing and alienating year preceding our new time together, that was like fresh air and sunshine in my dark cave. These days I can barely stand to look at the words within (out of some kind of embarrassment that someone's looking over my shoulder, even Matt), or even how they're presented to me in the pen of a 16 year old girl, but there's something so remarkably pure and innocent and renewing in the message. I suppose I could do as I have done with a number of other documents and artifacts of my life, that is to burn it all. The day might come. But maybe in the overall record that has many troubled parts to it, I deserve to maintain some counterbalancing evidence that I was worthy of someone's devotion, particularly at that age, and even if I didn't pork her.

You gotta start somewhere.

Thursday
May032012

Rhythmic Catharsis +20

I knew it. I knew 1992 would be a year demanding a quasi-nostalgic look. It was the first full calendar year after high school so it was certainly going to be a time of change and new insight and adventure. I guess it was that, but the story I am about to tell isn't nearly so captivating. It's about aimless young men biding their time in suburbia with the help of a drumset.

18 year old Ed with drums on a new homemade rack system. The shells are mismatched because two were add ons from another kit.My kit in transition before the refinishing, but after the add on toms were brought in. May 1992.

Tales from recent months have chronicled the exile from home once my drums and love for pounding the skins proved to be unwelcome. Enough of that story has been told by now and you just need to skim back to about November 2011 to get on track with those stories. Today's is a related development because it started a new concept in my creative history. I don't want to oversell the idea, but it did make a break point where things went on in a new way and in such a way that shaped a lot of history to come.

Drum set at the bridge. Seems lonely but there's a road just beyond a chainlink fence that provides a boundary so stalkers won't get to us and leave us for dead.At our favorite bridge in Mission Valley, spring 1992.

When Matt and I were out in the parking lots, parking tunnels, and wherever else we could take the drums and do guerilla percussive pounding, we didn't really have any plan but to go blow off steam and have nothing but a few hours to waste in our time away from Subway. After the middle of April 1992, I was on permanent time off from the Subway where we met. All I had going then was a semester of school that was coming to its end, and little else but a raging anticipation of my trip to Germany coming up in July and August.

May 3, 1992

I don't suppose May 3rd was any different from what we did on other such occasions down in Mission Valley. Matt played his takes on whatever metal and hardcore stuff he could emulate and I did my usual takes on Rush or whatever else I was doing then. Matt was probably banging on whatever else I brought along, probably not much more than a cowbell or three, or he was thumping on parts of the kit while I played. He might have been honking the car horn too. And he was probably screaming some really odd shit. I have since parted with the recording from that day. But my calendar shows that it was on that day when the name "Rhythmic Catharsis" was first used. Before the advent of digital editing and multitrack recording that, taken together, can make projects go on for weeks, months, years, it was good enough to slap a cassette (it's a form of recording media, for you young'uns out there!, and not a very good one) into the recorder, set it up, and play back the recording. In those early days almost everything was a kick to listen back to—even randomly implemented double drumming and screaming and smacking of found items in an underground concrete cave under a freeway!

The pen and pencil drawn cover of the third DWA recording, featuring the screaming, pounding stick figures at their respective percussive stations.The cover of DWA's third tape, Rhythmic Catharsis.

Because of the new indignity of having been fired from Subway weeks earlier and having had a restraining order put on me and the looming appearance in court to make an already-doomed attempt at defending against it, I guess that day was channeling even more youthful energy and rage. Something sparked in me to call it rhythmic catharsis. Once a tape is recorded, that's the end of the deal, so to call it a project, I gathered a few other bits that had accumulated in the few outings prior to that, and I made a sleeve using a word processing typewriter to type titles and other notes on the card that served as the album cover. I then drew a couple stick figures with super exaggerated gestures at a drumset and stand with a few cowbells, each screaming out. And so it was, Rhythmic Catharsis.

The thing is, that was just the "album" title. I was still referring to us as the name we adopted a couple months before, Drummers With Attitudes (DWA). In the first of two instances of an album title becoming the identity of the performer(s), this launched us as Rhythmic Catharsis. (The other time was in 1996 when I launched The Artist Presently Known As Ed with a tape I released that summer and later adopted the moniker as my persona. Obviously, sixteen years later, it's done well for me.)

Meta-Catharsis

Rhythmic Catharsis, the third tape from DWA, was really no different from the ones before it or the one after it, which was probably worse, if that is possible! But the new name gave me a bit of an excuse to play around with new ideas that included words that made some crude attempt at direction and phrasing. The song genie was let out with the rather crude and cynical Roly Poly Porky Boys tribute to my ex-bosses and their family.

Matt at the drums inside the warehouse we pirated. It has a bunch of random construction junk in it. Matt inside the warehouse we pirated a couple times that month of June 1992.

At the same time in the late May, I launched into a project of taking my Pearl Export knockoff drum kit completely apart down to wood shells and refinishing the now seven-piece kit with new pearloid wrap (from the very same material as used to adorn classic kits in the 60s, provided by some old codger named A.F. Blaemire who once made kits for Hal Blaine and others). The bearing edges were manually filed to a sharper edge using primitive means and the interior of the shells were smoothed out with repeated applications of wood filler, primer, and gloss black paint until they projected like cannons. The whole kit was also augmented with a custom rack my old man made for me. It looked and felt like new. It was like a rocketship, and far beyond what most Pearl Export kits ever looked or sounded like. I was beaming.

The Rhythmic Catharsette

With a new name, a new drum kit, a new approach to thinking about what we were doing, and stupidly much time on my hands, and moreso, fighting back depression, the next new thing was going to happen just before I headed out to Germany in July. You wanna know where the origins of TAPKAE.com reside? This whole chatty approach to the minutiae of my career as an artist like person really owes itself to a two issue fanzine from 1992 called The Rhythmic Catharsette. (It was actually a bit more newsletter like, taking up four sides of 8.5 x 11.) In the Catharsette, I detailed all this stuff in sickening detail. Since I had been on the school newspaper for one year, I had just enough knowledge to lay out the three columns of typed and printed copy, leaving space for images, and doing a few other bits to pretend it was a newspaper. It even had a masthead drawn by Matt, in one of his unusually cooperative moments. Of course it was done his way, and indicated another set of figures, this time one was playing drums upon the other's head. In the Catharsette, a fun little playground for my imagination, I turned our jams out in parking lots, warehouses, and even a trip to the local canyon/nature preserve into our "gigs" or even our "tour" and wrote reviews of those dates. In one weekend, we did four such stops and recorded much of it. Other Catharsette features included a survey question and "fan mail," preceded by the terms for publication of such missives:

Rhythmic Catharsette welcomes your letters. Please keep them brief, legible, interesting enough to want to be read, and polite, addressing us as "Sirs." Letters may be edited, censored, or banned at our discretion and we reserve and observe no rights so take your own risks.

A piece of fictional fan mail came was borrowed in form and narrative from the comedian Yakov Smirnoff. The bit about the radio being destroyed has to do with Matt carelessly placing my boombox recorder upon the car before we left home one day to go jam somewhere:

Dear Sirs: God bless you for the beautiful radio I won at the homeless persons' bridge on your last tour date here. I am 43 years old, homelss for 3 years and it's nice to know that there are people like you who came about the homeless. Bless you for your kindness to some forgotten homeless people under a bridge. One of the men I live near is 73 years old and always had his own radio but never let me use it. The other day he radio dropped into the river and washed away. It was awful and he asked me if he could use mine, and I said eat shit and die.

We were sufficiently cocky like young men tend to be, at least for the sake of shameless self promotion in a rag that hardly anyone would see anyway:

Rhythmic Catharsis, Inc., originally Drummers With Attitudes. Now we're San Diego's newest, hottest, coolest, baddest, loudest drum duo. Reservations or not, we can turn your residential or commercial are into a sonic dumping ground in minutes! So give us a call and we'll be there. Or don't call us, and we'll be there anyway. Our Motto: "No Rights Reserved or Observed."

Our respective drumming influences were named in groups that were supposed to number ten:

Matthew's gods:

Stewart Copeland; Dave Lombardo; Pete Sandoval; Ian Paice; Lars Ulrich; Chuck Biscuits; Mick Harris; Bill Ward; Nicko McBrain; Neil Peart.

Ed gods:

Mike Bedard (I forgot this was here); Mark Brzezicki; Larry Mullen; Tim Alexander; Manu Katche; the drummers of Dire Straits (Pick Withers, Terry Williams; Jeff Porcaro; Manu Katche); Stewart Copeland; the drummers of Jethro Tull (Doane Perry, Barriemore Barlow; Gerry Conway, et. al.); Neil Peart; Neil Peart (sic).

(You might see the common denominator. Sometimes I wonder if Neil Peart was all that held me and Pig together. There hasn't been much between us since NP started to lose it.)

The subscription information informed the reader of the terms:

Subscription Information: $100 for four issues, or $75 for two issues. Please send your request for a subscription with check or cash and the following: An essay of 500 words or less why you wish to join our fan club and receive our fanzine. Or write an essay telling how you feel on the topic of writing essays for people who don't really care about reading them. Or maybe I'll just send the next copy to you. How would that be? Easier on me.

Ed and Matt crouched at the front of the drums, new and glimmering with their slick shell wrap and the stainless steel rack.Matt and me with the just-completed reconditioned kit, just outside the door of the same warehouse. I wonder if we had yet tried the door to find we could actually get in and set up out of the sun?

And that's what I have on the page that's available to me right now. Later on in 1992, I wrote and mailed another complete issue of the Catharsette, but not because of high demand. In the early summer 1993 I typed out most of a third issue but shelved it. This Rhythmic Catharsis thing ended up being the first "band" I was in. It was far from mutual, but it did give me the chance to think in terms of doing songs, recording them somehow and then publishing. In the second half of 1992, after I returned from Germany, I pushed it farther along into song territory with some songs that had a bit more staying power, including one written in Germany, Is God Trying to Make Me a Smoker? (this recording is from 1999 with Todd Larowe on guitar and me on everything else, but the drums and basic vocal are about the same as Matt and I would have done), even though things were still really juvenile, the charm of just jamming with no particular focus began to fade when it made better sense to show up with some lyrics and hope that chaos would self organize into something decent on tape.

I never liked punk music. Still don't. But you have to admit that Rhythmic Catharsis was punk in its own way. Matt was closer to that more rebellious strain of music than ever was. I was into progressive rock and things that I had discovered along the way: Dire Straits' laid back country/folk rock, Fairport Convention's folk rock; Sting's fusion of world music and pop. My ambitions were always to make more refined music than I ever saw in the punk world. I just didn't have the knowledge or the ear or much of anything else. Always wanting to play stuff like Jethro Tull or Rush, I talked my way out of a lot of potential band options at a young age. So I got Matt. We put that drumset to some use though and in a way had fun pretending. I did, anyway. It was always my project. Matt was sometimes more clear about it. He was sort of embarassed because of the words I put before him. He brought some things but they were... too punk or hardcore or something. So part of our "sound" was really Matt acting out in rebellion against ME! I swear he threw me a few bones but then pissed all over the rest of what I was trying to accomplish. We never played real gigs though I did actually book a couple. He flaked out.

The drums a year later with a square tubing rack that was better proportioned for the job. This was the aesthetic peak of this drum kit.About a year later in 1993 I shed the homemade rack and bought the far nicer Pearl Jeff Porcaro rack. The drumhead featured a hand painted logo upon it. We had arrived. We broke up two months later.

As he showed his true colors in 1993, I found myself drawn to more legit musicking and away from him. By the time the book closed on Rhythmic Catharsis in August 1993, I had developed a sense of being accountable to recordings and a process that went beyond just the one take stuff. It was crude, crude, crude both in technology and implementation, but it was a start. I found in the course of the year following RC's demise that I had no drum style that would apply to anything of a real musical context. All that time wailing was one way to make "music" when playing solo drums and aspiring to be both a progressive rock drummer (known for being more complex) and to also be the sole instrumentalist in a duo. It's hardly conducive to developing a musical ear and technique. So that was what I had to learn while in the subsequent groups in 1993-94. But that is all a story yet to be told here.

Some heirs to the Rhythmic Catharsis material are still around in my more elaborate recordings done in the late 90s, a tribute to that stuff and a chance to make better versions of things that I thought had some promise if Matt's distractions were gone, and if I had some more musical sense. Taken as a bunch, the recordings that constitute my unreleased-but-nearly complete project, ReCyclED, represent my first attempts at making music in the crudest possible fashion, but in their present form, a number of the old tracks were done with a rather delightful array of cameos from local players on the working circuit. It's an odd mashup but there are some witty tracks done in that fashion.

As much as I've had a music career, I have to own my humble roots with DWA/RC.

Back in 1992 at the kit in a parking lot of a place we played. In the midst of office buildings, light industry, etc.December 1992, about the time of the second Rhythmic Catharsette, and just before the first crude attempts at "multitrack" recording. It was actually sound+sound recording, but it was what really launched my musical approach as a recording artist.

Tuesday
Mar272012

Sandwich Art Imitating Life Imitating Sandwich Art +20

You know you don't amount to much when your life feels like it is held together or drawn apart by a fast food job. For a young person who is starting to struggle with gaining independence and identity, a job of any sort glistens with a kind of promise, even with the pitfalls that accompany working for places that will alternately over- and underwork a person according to unseen forces, usually for as close to minimum wage as possible. So it was with me at my second job (and the first that happened after graduating high school). Around this season of 1992, 20 years ago now, it pretty much turned on a dime from day to day, or week to week. Working at Subway Sandwiches #10731 (the ability for the brain to retain such information is one of the natural wonders of the world) went from a blessing to a curse in a small way just like most jobs do, but in March 1992 it really got to be way more of a soap opera drama than any fast food joint should be allowed. For an 18 year old kid who didn't have but one goal in life at that point—saving to get to Germany for the summer—it was worth the indignities for a while, but then it got just over the top with the change in ownership at my store. The actual usefulness of the place drew to a close by mid April, but the whole experience during that era has continued to unfold in a fractal-like manner.

His Chuckness

If ever there was a risk of me becoming a "company man" it was at that Subway up until March 1992. But that came crashing down in the space of a few weeks, and was a totally exploded idea by the 12th of April. The owner I worked under until March 10th was Chuck Perricone, a delightfully salty but serious businessman of about 50, and a well-respected franchisee from what I could tell. (I profiled him and other experiences in other entries that can be found with a tag search of Subway.) He had a few other stores in Miramar and Mira Mesa, about 8-10 miles out. Maybe he bit off more than he could chew to start this store from scratch. I never got the story, but in February, employees started to get news that the store would be sold. Soon after, a Jewish couple (yes, that affects the story), Abe and Arlene Levy started working in the shop, as was required for new owners to gain experience before they could take over. I didn't like them much from the start but was advised by Chuck that maybe they'd keep some of the staff on for continuity's sake. And, by that point, I was the third in line after Chuck and manager Steve. And Steve was already making his exit by being careless and flip. It got to be annoying while he was still on Chuck's crew, but on the last day, March 10th, Steve became one like me and Matt Zuniga, and we cut up and had some fun, even in Chuck's presence! Chuck seemed inclined to put in a good word for me with the Levys since I had pretty much earned the reputation as a brownnoser by then. Whether he did or not, I persisted in my meticulous cleaning and was pretty good on the line after about seven months there. I thought that might earn me some grace with the Levys.

The Jew Crew

The next day, Abe and Arlene took over. And immediately their presence was felt. Hours were cut. Days were cut. Split shifts of about 10-2 and 6-11 (nine hours) were part of the scheduling strategy (more so after I left). One or the other of them worked a morning or evening shift each day, and so I worked with Abe mostly for closing shifts. They had three sons, ranging from about 12-21, and at least one of them were on the scene too. Adam, the oldest, was often on my shifts, apparently as "the" Levy for that shift. I guess it was easy for them to slash labor when they only retained three employees (Matt, Angela, and me), and then the rest is done with five family members who probably all lived in the same household. My records indicate that only two of the last days I worked there were shared with Matt. If I recall right, Matt and I alternated nights, and Angela worked days. Maybe Matt did days too, in a split shift arrangement. In about no time, it made a lot of sense.

A franchise like Subway has a regional compliance overseer fellow come by every few weeks to measure a store's compliance with the national standard. Are the onions cut the right way? Are there the right number of slices of each meat in each sandwich prep layout? Are the breads being cut with the Subway "U" channel? All that stuff is monitored and graded. I got to know enough about it all while Chuck was there, and right away, I saw the Levys deviating. Maybe it was a bit less meat here, or not offering condiments there. Corner cutting. Even coupons that were for national promotions, say, for any 6", were honored with an option to get the cheapest three sandwiches—a Cold Cut Combo or Veggie or Meatball, for example. Customers would come in and ask for the special and Abe flatly rejected it and offered his shoddy substitute instead. The customer might not want it. Maybe he was cowed into another, more expensive sandwich at list price. Or maybe he got the cheap stuff. Or maybe he left. Under Chuck this would be punishable by death, but here it was... the new owner himself was pulling this trick!

I said the Levys were Jewish. Unfortunately, Abe in particular, a late 40s looking guy probably from Israel with a thick accent to boot, rather rotund and bespectacled, was a spittin' image for the stereotypical money grubbing Jew. He made no bones about it. It was like he relished the act of raking in money. One day in full sight of customers during a lull in business, I asked him why he was gaming the offers like he was. Or why he didn't want me to spend so much time cleaning. Or whatever was done so differently from Chuck's method. He went to the register, opened it up, and with a stern voice possessed with capitalist fervor, exclaimed that all he cared about was if that thing was full each night. I think a couple customers turned their heads. The one day Matt and I worked together, just before the end, he caught us standing and talking a bit. He got all riled up, hollering across the work area and in plain earshot of all, "What is this booolshit? What does it mean? Am I paying you to stand around and boooolshit?" He issued me my check for the week and sent me out early. A customer asked me if I was fired, and I said I didn't know. He sounded genuinely concerned and said he'd register his own complaint about the matter. The very next day Abe was arguing with customers about their order and Abe decided the best solution was for them to be kicked out.

Arlene was a bit less demonstrative. She was a bit more level headed in general but after my naive attempt to narc out Abe's antics, I'm pretty sure she started to plot my demise there. Saying she was more level headed was relative; she seemed to hail from New York and had the thick accent you'd expect, and not a small bit of New Yawk attitude. But she wasn't so blatant as Abe to tell off a customer, or to almost hug and kiss the cash register. Since her kids were all there, she did seem a bit motherly, but let's not make too much of that. She was a mama bear.

Their sons were obviously not so annoying, but I had a hard time figuring out if Adam was a turncoat since he was the Levy-on-schedule many nights when I closed. In the end, I think he was kind of a double agent. He had a Z car that had a pretty bad assed stereo and speaker system in it, and one night he invited Matt and I to put on some CDs. It was pretty intense. I suppose he got some extra perspective on us that way. He was already cautioning me to not clean as much as I was inclined to. After all, Chuck used to intone, "if you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean." I kept a very, very clean shop. I thought that would be of use to them but they told me to just get the job done. Nothing special.

Maybe they thought they were running their own deli in New Yawk, and that the franchise rules didn't matter. Or maybe they were short timing it. I don't know. I just know they did everything just about the opposite as I had learned, and that seemed impossible if they wanted to carry on as franchisees.

Germany?

Steve Rau and I at senior breakfast before graduation, June 1991The entire reason I put up with Subway was to get to Germany. I can't say that earning a glorified minimum wage at a 20-30 hour job as a sandwich jock was worth much beyond this one goal of mine, except that it did help pay for the trip. The calendar bears this out in a pretty clear way: I bought my flight ticket (nearly $1000) at the Triple A office next door on April 7th and was fired from Subway on April 12th. Germany was like the promised land that year and all the ups and downs of Subway and everything else only strengthened my resolve. It's hard to communicate what a feeling it was to get back there after the all-too-short few days I spent in Garching in 1991 with school buddy Stephan Rau. Graduating from Madison the year before brought our in person relationship to an end, were it not for the trip I took there just weeks later. But it was just a taste, staying at his place for a few days at the end of a larger tour my old man put together. Not having a clue how, I told Steve I'd "come back next year." It was a bit audacious considering I had no job or too much more in savings when I said that. During the exactly one year between leaving in 1991 and arriving in 1992, the year of Subway and of starting in on college courses, the year of being exiled from the house to play drums, the year of being pretty depressed since my already small social circle from high school and church was turned into something unrecognizable, and that almost dangerously revolved around Subway itself... during that year, Germany was the white city on the hill for me. Nothing seemed right without it. Of course, I had no idea what would become of me after I got back, but that was so far in the future. How soon could July 13th arrive?

Drummers With Attitudes/the Pig Thing 

At "the bridge" March 1992 where DWA was launched, at least on tapeWith my only option to play drums having been reduced to literally playing outside, requiring lugging the kit around in Matt's car most times, he and I spent time on weekends or afternoons before we reported to work. We found a quite acceptable location in Mission Valley, located in a rather secure and sheltered space that wasn't claustrophobic. What gave us a bit of sustained fun was the advent of recording and having something to document our youthful exploits. Of course, it was all really dumb shit. On March 8th, the recording that basically launched us as "Drummers With Attitudes" was done in this spot under a freeway bridge. Matt and I, being pretty bored with lives of apparent meaninglessness, were horsing around, breaking glass, yelling, and honking the car horn and whatever else we could do to blow off steam that accumulated as we worked at Subway during the good old days! That humble boom box recording turned out to be the cornerstone of a sustained effort pretending I was a musician with a band that I was responsible for, and making recordings and doing promo stuff, even including a joke fanzine a few months later—a prototype effort at a blog, essentially.

But on the evening of Abe Levy's big cash register outburst and his busting Matt and me for standing and talking after lunch rush, Matt and I retired to his studio apartment after work. Both of us were rather shocked with how the day went, what with working two shifts each, and all the Abeisms from that day, we were blowing off steam and somehow started to talk all sorts of shit that found its way onto paper in some joke "rap" that might be delivered over some drums one day out at the bridge. To read it now would be pretty dismal at many levels. A rant that smacks of antisemitism and um, a lack of sensitivity about body diversity? Check. A dreadful attempt at songwriting? Check. The anger of young men full of self-righteousness, and who know everything? Check. Yep, it's pretty lame and I'm pretty sure it is gone now. But you know what? It was essentially all true as far as our experience went. To us, or at least to me, it wasn't exaggeration to say we were dealing with fat, greedy Jews. The title itself was meant to be rather offensive too, in order to make every possible stab. "Roly Poly Porky Boys" was meant to condescend just as much. I might have to give myself more credit for being "punk" than I typically have, but even legit punk music was rather more refined and musical than this! If anything, the drums and vocal nature of things hinted a direction closer to rap or hip hop, which neither of us really liked, but gave us a couple references for naming ourselves and other bits along the way. Later in the year, one of our recordings was entitled Acoustic Rap or Acousti-Crap?

I didn't intend to launch my music career with such a wretched thing. I didn't intend to launch a band with songs at all. But such a thing slowly took shape as I drew inspiration from being disillusioned and angry at things. I put pen to paper and wrote some of the worst dreck ever using all cliches available to me. We made our first attempt at recording it just two days after I got canned. And then there was one unusual instance that emerged when Matt and I hauled up to some warehouse north of here and jammed with a guitarist and bassist I used to go to school with who made admirably meathead metal out of RPPB and recorded it the day after our first recording at my house. (On a clandestine basis, we set up at my house, but all the truly fun playing was done on the run.)

The pig fetish that people associate with I am associated grew out of this sordid mess. I assure you it didn't start with pink, fluffy toys. Hog Heaven did start with toys in 1996, but this is where the entire pig thing begins.

The Firing

Things might have been looking up that week at Subway. I worked five days in one calendar week which was notable considering the downward tendency of late. April 9 was the infamous Abe day. The 11th was unusually well staffed at night. Matt and I were let to work together. But in a break with the previous month's pattern, Arlene was in the office, and son Josh (the middle son, probably 16) was there too. With all that staffing, cleaning got done quickly. We were standing around, making our fun. We had no business so we got pretty casual and even ended up taking our little laugh session outside to the parking lot. There was probably some shit talking. No Arlene though. Still in the office. While I had the chance, I told her about Abe's antics the previous days and pronounced them wrongheaded. Apparently she and I got into some words. Yeah, all that crashed and burned like bacon wrapped shrimp at a yeshiva cafeteria! I don't recall what happened in what order, but the night was an odd mix, like the gathering of clouds before the storm. How could it be that I just argued with my boss yet was outside laughing it up with her son and my always troublemaking buddy coworker?

The answer came clearly enough the next morning when I was called by Arlene and told I was done there. It was Palm Sunday, which of course meant nothing to her, and really, probably nothing to me at that time. But if it was any concern to her, I guess she might as well fire the uppity kid before Passover.

Matt, not being one of much conviction in such matters, was retained and worked there so long he outlasted the Levys and ended up working some time for the family of Indian owners that took over after them. They didn't know or care about the Levy drama so in 1995-96 I started to hang out on Matt's shift which resulted in some amazing examples of Clerks-like use of business space that went far beyond anything that happened while I worked there! But in 1992, so much for the vague ideas of solidarity that if he or Angela or I got canned, we'd all walk out on the Levys. He and I kept on with bad attitudes about the whole thing, but he somehow managed to keep his head down and play their game. I never really liked it and I used to egg him on to challenge the split shift thing and other bits he regaled me with over time. In the days and weeks after getting fired, I carried on my usual trips there to get dinner, or to meet up with Matt after work. Of course this didn't meet Levy family favor, and they tried to dismiss me. At least, they kept me outside and wanted me gone.

The Law

On April 28th, I was in my driveway, probably talking to my old man as he worked in the garage. A car drove up and presented me with an envelope of documents. I didn't know what to make of this stranger walking up and passing this off on me, but inside was a restraining order from the court on behalf of the Levys. It contained a few bits of truth but mostly was trumped up with hyperbolic accounts of the threat I supposedly posed to them. Small things like kicking around a bit of wood bark in the parking lot while waiting for Matt to get out of work was transformed into throwing rocks at their windows. The order dictated that I'd stay 1000' from the store for one year. I had to go to court to say my two sentences in vain. But before doing that I was able to get a character witness letter from Chuck Perrecone, the previous owner, who reported me as an excellent employee. I got a letter from my pastor, who said that while diplomacy training might be of use, but a restraining order was overkill. Of course, when is the law going to take sides with an 18 year old over such a thing as this? Any business owner is going to be favored going in.

Since the restraining order came after our little song, the biting criticism already voiced in that bit of anti-Hallmark verse was validated and I seem to recall extending the lyrics or making a sequel. I was both bitter and self righteous. I wrote to Subway corporate in Connecticut and told them about the Levy debacle. I took to getting my dinner at another local Subway, making sure to report the Levy method just in case I could get another jab in. I was a pup on the pantleg for a few minutes there, but it was pretty pointless. I wasn't used to being rejected like this. Anyway, I had Germany coming up on the calendar, and while in a holding pattern for that, it was a big thing for me to set about refinishing my drum set and embracing the DWA activity as something more productive than staying immersed all the Subway crap going on.

The Law Taketh, the Law Giveth

Matt's ability to stay at that shop for about four years after all this astounded me. And then he only left because he joined the army. Now that didn't make any more sense to me than his Subway tenure. While I was on restraining order I pretty much kept my distance but flirted a bit. After all, my bank was across the parking lot! On the day when the order expired in May 1993, I sort of made an occasion to go in for a bit of nosh as if celebrating a birthday, accompanied with a girl, Jenn Cody, who was more than a school acquaintance but less than a date. That whole gesture of course carried a bit of a mocking air about it, and I don't remember if it was just Matt there who would have known, but I did do it. At about that same time in May 1993, I got a job at another Subway with a different owner, one who knew all about the Levys (from being in the same office as the local compliance monitors worked from) and shared my opinion of them. My time at that Subway came and went in about a year and a half and the Levys still owned 10731.

The fact that Matt worked there still led to a number of rather comic times, but one instance that vindicated my attitude that the Levys were up to no good was when Matt showed me some legal court documents relating an instance where Abe and his youngest son were in a CVS or Sav-On store or something like it, and were trying to shoplift some video tapes. Abe, being a chunky dude, maybe was hiding stuff under an oversized coat or something. As he and his son were leaving the store, the security team closed in on him and challenged him to stop and drop the goods. He put up some resistance and was wrestled to the ground and apparently got hurt. This lawsuit somehow was trying to accomplish the most ridiculous bit of table turning where Abe was suing for some compensation to help offset expenses associated with injuries from rough handling. Ahem?

Epilogue

Some months ago I got a blog response from Angela, who at the time was only about 16 or 17. She had searched for Matt on Google and found nothing much except the post I wrote last year that illustrated how Subway was at the intersection of so many parts of my life then. She was quite amused at my recollection, and we wrote some notes back and forth about the "good old days." To the extent that's true, it really should be limited to the Chuck months. Not much of it is inherently good, especially if you're a young guy yet to have scored with a girl yet, not really connected at your new school, or if you've faded from your once-vital church community, and also aware that the home and family picture is shifting too. It's not all that great when your "best friend" sends an envelope of your letters back to you because you misspeak about money. It's not too exceptional when you don't feel you're born to make sandwiches, not born to serve customers, not born to mop floors, and not born to give a shit about a company that could just as easily throw you under the bus—even for being "too" dedicated to your work.

Chronologically, this tale closes the book on the first Subway job from August 1991 to about May 1992. After this, there is the other store that in due time will be told about next year. Subway might have just been a job to work and walk away from if it wasn't the backdrop for such a period of life as it was. Or certainly if Matt had not been part of it not just during my time there, but for years later. Who knew in those sunny summer days in August 1991 how such a job would end, particularly in the way it spun off my "development" as an "artist"? Really, I'm still chiefly glad that it served the purpose that I most consciously articulated: to get to Germany. Later on this year, I anticipate I'll be telling that story. At least I hope to. I realize that I didn't even write anything about my first trip last summer! I was caught up in graduation memoirs and a bit later on with 20th reunion stuff. I should do better this year since that trip was so important to me.

Sunday
Nov272011

Stop Playin' Those Damned Drums!

You know how people talk about the seeds of opportunity packed within a crisis? This is a little like that. But you have to get into my 18 year old's mind to really get this bit of historical narrative. I suppose the word "crisis" is a bit much to describe the upset but there was an interesting opportunity that lurked in the experience and that it's fair to say, changed my life.

The first pic of my return to drumming, fall 1989I started taking drum lessons in the fall of 1983, though only half-willingly. In early 1985 I got a new drum set which was a prize for that effort. And not very long later, I fell out of interest with it all and was off to something that would get me more chicks—building plastic models of cars first, and then developing one of my first acute obsessive fixations on US naval aircraft, with a specialty in jet fighter planes, and ultimately moving to some armor kits. The thing about girls really never crossed my mind, actually. So I indulged the plastic model thing for about four years from 1985-1989 when I rediscovered the drums. I went from a damned quiet hobby that involved some filing and sanding and air compressor work for airbrushing, to the most obscenely loud hobby a 15 year old can engage in! And there was no hiding it from my neighbor, an old timer named Ray Merritt.

Prom dayThe room I played in was immediately adjacent to the driveway he parked his Econoline van in. He sat in that van for hours and hours. It was his mobile clubhouse. I think he had it decked out in some carpeted interior too. A good thing, because back in his house, his ultra-conservative Jehovah's Witness wife Fern ruled the roost. He'd sit out there in the driveway, listening to his radio, having his can of Coors, and blissing out. Oh, he did other work too, around the yard and garage, but this van time is a point of concern to this story.

Since my old man fancied my drumming as nothing more than a hobby (and seemed determined to keep it that way by not lending support to amount to much), there was really never any talk to find an appropriate way to contain the high sound pressure levels of the drums. No talk about how to seriously build anything to do the job. Willy himself was able to bear with it as he did his work or watched TV (he was known for making a ruckus too with his metalworking tools—all the grinders, drills, welding and cutting equipment was his life and he found happiness in industrial work that was pretty loud). But in either of the bedrooms I kept the drums in, both right next to Ray's yard, the most I could do to dampen the sound was to stuff giant thick pads of foam into the window spaces (single pane, wrong stuff for isolation) and to wrap towels around the large louvered windows, and to drape several blankets and comforters over the window. But drums are so loud anyway that no house walls really do much.

Within the first year of my playing, my old man already got sued by an upstairs tenant we rented to, but that was pretty clearly the case of my experimenting one day by setting up in the garage. This guy was whining because he was kept awake in the middle of the day. The old man donated a pair of earplugs, which the tenant found not so funny, and then decided to sue. Ray Merritt himself periodically could be heard at the end of some big cadential cymbal crashes, hollering "Stop playing those DAMNED drums!" Combined, they were the voices that started to change my old man's mind about whether I could play at the house. In 1990, as a 16 year old without a car, I tried the option of taking my kit down to a paid rehearsal facility but that was way more effort than I wanted to engage in. It required paying for the privilege of getting my family to drive me several miles, moving my gear so I could play in an empty room for two hours. It was doomed to failure. I think I've written this story a time or two here...

So by the end of 1991—in fact, this very day twenty years ago now—I was already getting to be a percussive pariah in my own house. And what emerged was almost a Candid Camera style joke played upon me. But as I said above, the crisis of this 18 year old did give way to something that resonates even today in some ways. Enter Matt Zuniga and the unlikely start of my recording artist career. (I'm gonna borrow what I wrote for the Subway, Center of the Universe entry earlier this year. References to work relate to our job at Subway, about equidistant from our houses. I was hired in late August and he in late October.)

One afternoon, October 20th or so, I was at the shop eating my Spicy Italian and this spikey haired, tattooed, earring-, torn jeans-, and Doc Marten wearing guy came in and asked for Steve. He looked a bit older than me, closer to Steve's ripe age of 27. He was actually 20, and was looking for work. Maybe he already had filled out his application. A week later I saw him donning a red Subway shirt and training behind Darius, a huge black dude who looked intimidating but was a pretty cool figure. His name was Matt Zuniga. I didn't know it then but I had just met the guy who helped shape my next several years and who was an unwitting impetus that led to my "recording career." I never would have guessed that his rather grungy looking self and my rather uptight and nerdy self would have interacted. But we found ourselves in our own respective states of exile with regards to family and society, and found that drums led us to help each other out.

It was quite well timed that I would meet him at the end of October. We worked together a couple times and eventually the topic of drums came up. He said he liked drums. And that he didn't have a set. The situation was becoming that my house was drying up as a viable place to play. Having heard about this, Matt promptly said I could set up at his house, and that he could keep them set up, all no problem if I'd go for it and let him play the kid. I was intrigued but really cagey about it. Who was this guy? He dressed like a punk or something. He was kinda unreliable at work. I barely met him a few weeks ago! 

Matt brought the drums over to his studio apartment on the day before Thanksgiving [20 years ago today]. With a lot of concern of my own and some urging from the old man, I wrote up a contract with a detailed list of the equipment and the terms involved if I were to do this. Matt kind of laughed it off but went with my uptight contract idea. He signed it the day after Thanksgiving. While I might have been to his place a time or three before that, this clearly made me interested in getting over there more so I could get the use of my own stuff. His apartment was a rather mediocre place that tended toward mid 70s decor and was made darker still by his inclination to cover the windows with heavy curtains (or maybe that was just to help dampen the drums). The drum arrangement brought us together to kill time and talk music. I found he was into some really extreme music. Grindcore? WTF did I know about that? I was just in my big Tull and Rush period, and at least he gave Tull a try. (He favored the harder stuff from the earlier albums. Anything that smacked of gritty Black Sabbath minor chord stuff, basically.) What we did find was a pretty immediate affinity for Rush. Matt was open about his love of porn so it was almost no time before he and I were hanging out and he decided to put some on while having dinner after work (which would have been about midnight or so). Hanging out with Matt was for a long time akin to eating forbidden fruit. Even working late was odd, so going to his place at midnight and coming home at almost 3 am was truly a new adventure. 

Matt's offer, scary as it was at the time, was just the thing that let me get drums out of my house, but also with access that didn't involve paying for studio space. He did more or less respect my gear, cobbled together as it was. It was his personality that was most jarring. 

The bridge in Mission Valley where DWA was bornOur little arrangement at his grandmother's house worked out for about five weeks before she responded the same way as I was already accustomed to. After that we found ourselves exiled together and in our frustrations, we settled for anything that didn't require payment for studio time. We took our show on the road. And that's no exaggeration. Sometimes we actually did set up roadside. Or in parking lots. Or parking garages (our favorites). The fact that we both wanted to play led us to do some odd stuff as we waited for the other to finish playing for 15 minutes or so at a time. The places we targeted suggested many opportunities for mischief. The random screaming and glass breakage eventually got recorded one day early in 1992 and, even considering how juvenile it all was, it was a fun record of our Sunday's "playing" and blowing off steam. I jokingly called our little project "Drummers With Attitudes" (DWA—yeah, after NWA, the irony was quite intentional that some suburban white guys were so worked up!) I created the first of a series of recordings with Matt that went on for the next year and a half or so, and which got me conditioned to think in terms of recording, which influenced an interest in songwriting along the way.

Alright, crisis was bit strong a word, but when you're used to playing drums "in private" in your bedroom, the thought of not doing so did loom frightfully. And I guess the answers come in the oddest packages. Who knew that such a thing would ultimately lead me to all the things I've done since? Even my JEM podcast work now is pretty much an heir to all this. I still record things and still package and create the supporting notes and information. 

Additional notes on this period (for the gluttonous or masochistic among you) can be found with images in the Sundry Music gallery.

Monday
Aug222011

Subway, Center of the Universe + 20

My second job was a rather unintentional change in my life. It came about as an unintended side effect of visiting the Subway sandwich shop in Clairemont Square on the way to one of the last church picnics of the year. It was newly opened earlier in the summer, just about the time I was in Europe in July (something I know was worthy of writing about this summer but that is a pretty big story to tell, and therefore, haven't). On the way to the picnic sometime about late in the afternoon on August 14th, I stopped in for a sammich and there was a pretty empty shop with manager Steve chillin' at the counter (he'd later be heard to say, "if you got time to lean, you got time to clean"). The essential banter, preserved in my journal from the period, went as follows:

Me: "I'd like a Cold Cut Combo please."

Steve: "Here, have a cookie."

"What? For free?

"Yeah. I need to get rid of the older ones. So... do you need a job?"

"No."

"You financially secure or something?"

"No, that's not a problem."

"So you're saying you need a job..."

"I guess I am."

I got an application on the spot, brought it back and was told to come back in the morning. I did, and in five minutes, I was a Subway employee. I started a week later on this day, August 22nd. Just days before, my grandfather bought me a pretty nice bike, a Hard Rock from Specialized in a lovely pearlized white. The fact that he spent a whopping $300 and more for it was huge then. That fact put my bike ownership into a new era; it was the nicest bike thus far, and one that wasn't a heavy steel Huffy or whatever else was available then. I rode down the sidewalks for the mile and a half to Subway, and at about midnight, rode back the same way. It got a good bit of use on my Mesa College commute which was either rather longer a ride or was too hilly to enjoy much. I mixed it up over time. The bike served me well for about two years, later being replaced by the Escort given to me officially on my 20th birthday in 1993, but having already been mine to use much of the year before that, at least on weekends. 

I only had vague plans to be in Mesa College for the new school year. Starting at Subway was a rather surprising development but one that gave me the funds to fulfill my stated idea of getting back to Europe the next summer. I worked at Subway for eight months until mid April 1992. I had no idea how that job would shape my life, or how it functioned as a hub for so much else that happened.

I started as a closer and remained so almost exclusively. What changed it was in the last month when the store was sold to an oddball and cranky Jewish family from New York. When I started, the store was open until midnight, and it took a while to close after that. I had a coworker there until about 10 pm, and then I was on my own. That arrangement lasted about two months for me. The store was new and bit off more than it could chew and on later review, they saw that I was overwhelmed at the end, and frankly, a bit vulnerable. The video camera recorded me there some nights after 1 am, and I was interrogated about why I was so late in getting out. They changed the hours back to 11pm with two closers and things flowed a lot better. I found it a bit more social that way. Being new at working and life in general, I was given to be a bit of a fame seeker in the way I shared (or didn't share) duties at dinner rush time. I was dared one day by Chuck, the rather salty-mouthed but sometimes hilariously funny perv of an owner-operator, to lose the name "Slugger." It was a measure of my line speed. So I took it to another extreme and often accepted no help out front, instructing my even-newer-than-I coworkers to stay back in prep land even during dinner. I hated prep, so I was willing to take on the entire dinner line to avoid it. That made me fast but sometimes drew some attention when it backfired and the customers narced me out to Chuck or Steve, asking why the prep person was not coming out to help. Based on the fact that I was quickly becoming the longest tenured closer there even at my few weeks or months, I sort of had the unofficial role of being the shift manager, and really not being able to do that too well. That broke down after several weeks and I ended up finding it was rather nicer dealing with prep, dirty dishes, and other behind the scenes stuff, and letting someone else do the line.

Work vs. Life

I might have been on a wandering schedule prior to Subway, on account of being a recently graduated guy with no plans but for community college (classes starting at noon). But it was Subway that was the first structural piece of my life that kept me on a late schedule. Places like that typically will schedule a young and easily put-upon worker at any old time. No different with me. My work schedule changed each week but often included Saturday nights. It wasn't too long before I was skipping church life on Sunday because I was going to bed at almost 3 am and found it a drag to get up at eight in the morning to get ready. At the time it was a worthy exchange largely because working as much as I could was what was going to pay for a much longed for second trip to Europe. I basically sold my soul to get back to Europe in 1992, and the Subway adventure was filled with new experiences, characters, and some indignities that culminated in a big way with the Levy family taking the store over in March 1992 and ultimately firing me and subsequently getting a restraining order placed on me. 

That whole period after graduating from high school and for a good long year afterward was rather a depressing time. My school schedule could tolerate the work schedule. My classes pretty much were limited to a noon to 2:30 schedule. I typically was scheduled to work at 5-12 or later on 4-11. I was getting to bed at three in the morning after wedging homework into the time between. I was probably waking up at 10 am with time to do last minute homework and to do the half hour ride to school. I was taking just a couple classes each semester at Mesa, and working about 20-35 hours at Subway. I was happily eating Subway food almost exclusively for my dinners, it being sooooo vastly better than the stuff my old man served. In fact, it was with this job that I was emancipated from eating his creations or his selections, so I was delighted with being able to escape that and to eat something that tasted better and might have been better for me.

The culinary possibilities were a step up but the social ones were not so. Even in high school, I wasn't surrounded by any great friends who helped me fill the time on a daily basis. I was in touch at a rather minimal level with people from Madison. Steve and Shelby were gone. I missed them both a great deal. I never made any friends at Mesa. I had church friends who helped in this period, and after some months away from church early in 1991, I returned to things, but not quite as completely as a couple years before. Essentially, my new social circle was at Subway, though it was quite an acquired taste. And it was far from mutual. Really, I found myself there on my days off, just to get my dinner and to hang out for a while some nights. Or to get there a bit early and do the same. 

Fellow Workers

The owner, Chuck Perricone, was a 50ish businessman with some expertise who owned two other Subways prior to this one. He was plenty aware of the franchise compliance requirements and generally was an ace at complying, as long as us riff-raff were on board. He was a pretty precise guy and could dish out enough venom to be clear and motivating, but he was also a likeable guy who would spend lull times telling stories that kept a couple of us in stitches. Pardon the misogyny for a moment.

All the girls at the place were pretty young. Even relative to me, it seemed. High school girls almost exclusively. For a while, Marne, Steve Rau's prom date, worked there. A couple other young girls were there, looking almost too angelic to be true. Most were shimmering blondes. It couldn't have been a mistake on Chuck's part. He and manager Steve, the guy with the cookies, were obviously going for a young and good looking theme in those early days. One time Chuck was telling Steve and I, or maybe Matt too, how he was reminded by his wife (co-operator) that girls were supposed to wear slacks, not the yoga style stretch pants that they all seemed to wear and from which he turned a blind eye. His wife said they were out of compliance. "Oh?" he said, "not with those butts in them, they aren't!!!"

Steve, no less inclined to be a testosterone-filled man than Chuck, was not above his reptile brain during the times when he would lay eyes on an incoming female customer that inspired something in him, and he'd call one of us out to make her sandwich while he retreated to the prep area, out of sight of the customer but in clear view of us on the line. He'd be back there making outrageously exaggerated sexual pumping gestures, or maybe doing the tongue in cheek "fellatio" thing in an equally over the top way. It was sometimes impossible to keep a straight face out on the line! Another of Steve's gimmicks was to shout out a number, a code for us guys, that graded these incoming women in about the same way as a judge at a sporting event would hold up a card with a number from one to ten. Even these one word utterances of Steve's were enough to send us into hysterics as his outrageous gestures behind the counter! The party wound to a close eventually as Steve got into some trouble and enough of us were arrayed against him. That was subsumed IIRC, when the news of the sale to the Levy family was announced. They he just gave up caring and became like a passive-aggressive acting dead weight till it was his time to go.

There was a generic school notebook left for all of us to write in, to make requests of Chuck or Steve, or to trash the performance of the previous shift, and to make excuses for our own bad work (which usually involved trashing the previous shift). It was a place of many a snarky comment, some goofiness, condescension, passive aggressive talk, name calling, and occasionally something useful! It was commented upon by the most recent shift and again by the one that followed. In the Perricone-Levy transfer I took it for myself as a souvenir of the good old days with Chuck. It was in that book that we felt close enough that we might even take swipes at Chuck himself. Matt took to calling him "Chucken" and later on, "Super Chucken." One time he drew a likeness of Chuck with a superhero cape and hat, Chuck's glasses and four chicken feet.

Matt

One afternoon, October 20th or so, I was at the shop eating my Spicy Italian and this spikey haired, tattooed, earring-, torn jeans-, and Doc Marten wearing guy came in and asked for Steve. He looked a bit older than me, closer to Steve's ripe age of 27. He was actually 20, and was looking for work. Maybe he already had filled out his application. A week later I saw him donning a red Subway shirt and training behind Darius, a huge black dude who looked intimidating but was a pretty cool figure. His name was Matt Zuniga. I didn't know it then but I had just met the guy who helped shape my next several years and who was an unwitting impetus that led to my "recording career." I never would have guessed that his rather grungy looking self and my rather uptight and nerdy self would have interacted. But we found ourselves in our own respective states of exile with regards to family and society, and found that drums led us to help each other out.

It was quite well timed that I would meet him at the end of October. We worked together a couple times and eventually the topic of drums came up. He said he liked drums. And that he didn't have a set. The situation was becoming that my house was drying up as a viable place to play. Having heard about this, Matt promptly said I could set up at his house, and that he could keep them set up, all no problem if I'd go for it and let him play the kit. I was intrigued but really cagey about it. Who was this guy? He dressed like a punk or something. He was kinda unreliable at work. I barely met him a few weeks before! 

Matt brought the drums over to his upstairs studio apartment on the day before Thanksgiving. With a lot of concern of my own and some urging from the old man, I wrote up a contract with a detailed list of the equipment and the terms involved if I were to do this. Matt kind of laughed it off but went with my uptight contract idea. He signed it the day after Thanksgiving. While I might have been to his place a time or three before that, this clearly made me interested in getting over there more so I could get the use of my own stuff. His apartment was a rather mediocre place that tended toward mid 70s decor and was made darker still by his inclination to cover the windows with heavy curtains (or maybe that was just to help dampen the drums). The drum arrangement brought us together to kill time and talk music. I found he was into some really extreme music. Grindcore? WTF did I know about that? I was in my big Tull and Rush period (I even wrote a paper for English class about those bands!), and at least he gave Tull a try. (He favored the harder stuff from the earlier albums. Anything that smacked of gritty Black Sabbath minor chord stuff, basically.) What we did find was a pretty immediate affinity for Rush. Matt was open about his love of porn so it was almost no time before he and I were hanging out and he decided to put some on while having dinner after work (which would have been about midnight or so). Hanging out with Matt was for a long time akin to eating forbidden fruit. Even working late was odd, so going to his place at midnight and coming home at almost 3 am was truly a new adventure. 

It took me a long time to figure him out. I recall one night at his place I saw on his dining room table a paper with a list titled "how to fill out a job application." He had methodically written out all the types of things he'd need to put down on such a document. It was neatly written, as was all his writing. It struck me as odd considering he was otherwise a character that was seemingly so at odds with regular social norms. I had thoughts for a while there was some kind of mental illness or lower intellectual capacity at work. Over time I abandoned that but held on to what seemed obvious even in exchanges closer to the present day: he was risk averse and rather slothful, favoring a pretty easy way out whereever he could take one. I get the feeling that even his job at Subway was something that he was pressed into, and favoring the path of less resistance, he stayed at that Subway or another for about five years.

Matt was rather bold with some of his antisocial rants and occasional gestures. It was rather shocking for a guy who was recently going to church a lot and from a setting that was pretty conservative. Some of it seemed just so over the top that it could only be a show, but sometimes I was taken rather aback. There were times when he'd snarl openly at an old woman, or do this almost demonic scowling voice concealed with a cough or not concealed at all, with bug eyes, saying "HAGGGGGHHHH!" He called old women "old bags" probably due to a pretty frustrated relationship with his grandmother. I seem to recall he had some troubles sneaking his girl friends to his studio and had to resort to more clever tricks to do so under the aegis of his aging grandmother. I was half fascinated and half horrified at some of the stuff he did and said.

Some of the stuff he said could be hurtful or alienating. I often think I ended up with him in the picture as a low point originally. For almost a year we were more a pair of isolated and alienated individuals that found each other's company and were able to tolerate each other enough as long as the drums were set up and ready to play so we could both blow off steam and kill time. It took until my return from my second trip to Europe—nearly a year into our "friendship" before we got to a place where we talked at any personal depth. Prior to that, he'd tell me to shut up about such stuff. Over time though, he has said that I've been a loyal friend and that he's apologetic for distance between us. He usually says such stuff after some great breakdown of his life. There were times when I had to defend friendship with him as a priority compared to the other characters at the time. At the moment, it has been a year and more since we talked by email, and upon my dare to step up with his kid and conduct himself in a way that wouldn't so closely echo the stuff he experienced, he dropped out promptly. One day he'll come around. 

Sarah

I still don't know how to count this one in but another character on the scene just about that time was Sarah MacBeck Swineherd [not her actual name, by request]. She was a flirtatious one who wasn't afraid to go around grabbing the ass cheeks of some of us male coworkers. Matt spoke a bit disparigingly of her but still wasn't above being a 20 year old male and proclaiming he'd "do her." (He could be heard making frequent statements of this sort. Not all were too discreet. What else should I expect of the guy who introduced me to porn?) Matt had the uncanny position of living in a room addition above his grandmother's garage, with a window facing into a property just catty-corner from there—Sarah's house! He regaled me with tales about his monitoring her, though I think he was often full of fiction or at least hyperbole. It was his brazen ability to tell such tales that made me think for a long time they might be real. I hope my political discernment ability is a bit keener these days.

Anyhow, the time came when Sarah and I worked some shifts together and while she had been a bit more flirtatious while among a few of us guys at once, she was not so in person, alone. She was a bit more real in that setting and sometime early in November we found ourselves closing the store together and talking outside for some time, walking her home one night and getting a peck on the cheek (which by my records seems to have been the "first kiss," though I always attribute that to having happened with Melissa the next year), and even doing a midnight call stunt that required calling "time" and using her call waiting phone so it wouldn't ring out loud.  Eventually we went on a sorta-date by meeting up at Subway in a "coincidental" appearance at the Subway for our respective dinners. We dropped in to the Hungry Stick, a billiards hall/sports bar that apparently wasn't closed to us teenagers at the time. Then we went to the Clairemont theater and saw Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Of course, a bit of dark space didn't hurt, but even then I was way too uptight and controlled to go for it. Even rubbing her back and trading heads and shoulders was pushing me into new territory! My journal says it was a nice time though, that I just about forgot who I was with—in a good way, not so subject to the ticker of comments that Matt might have made about her.

On exiting the theater, there was some guy named Brett who I guess we both knew, but that had gone to my school earlier in the year (Sarah went to the "other school" at Clairemont High), and that I, in a position as TA in an English class, had positively narced out as a drug dealer. This dude was expelled and arrested. Running into him months later on what might be one of my first dates ever was cause to break things off a bit sooner than planned. Sarah and I were walking toward her place, in a direction opposite my place, and we were found again by this drug dude who shouted threats from a ways away. Sarah basically gave me the "Run! Forrest! Run!" line and I gave her a kiss, and that was about all of the Sarah McBeck Swineherd story. Not long afterward, she was gone from Subway and at least said she was moving from the area altogether (though I think that was temporary if at all). Calling her house in vain to at least close up that date night was agonizing. Matt told me he had something similarly dead end happen with her and tried to get me to leave it alone. Sarah was subject of many a young man's conversation and even some phone pranks for years to come. I now recall one of those pranks, a "pizza party" thrown for her on April Fools' Day 1994, where from our Subway store (two whole years after I was canned), I called three delivery orders in to competing pizza shops, with her address as the target. Me and another Subway guy, Marc Shanahan (worthy of his own few blog stories), went over to her street to watch as the pizza guys arrived at her house.

Reading my journal from the period suggested I was really grappling with seeing a girl who seemed genuine but who seemed to have a reputation for some stuff I didn't subscribe to. You gotta remember, I was preserving myself for Shelby for years, and this Sarah experience was starting to press me into questioning things at the tender age of 18—that birthday being just three weeks before. I wrote that my love life options were maddening—on one hand, Shelby was seemingly not interested in guys and not interested in me in particular, and Sarah was not able to count the guys she'd been with. I even admitted to wanting to give up on Shelby for her emotional distance. I didn't, and so I hung on for another nine years till the end of 2000! (I just got to thinking this Sarah story is an underexamined piece of things. I forgot how she was sort of a first, and what was in my head at the time.)

The Levy Jew Crew Sale

Getting into the late part of things here, the story really should be told elsewhere next year. But the essentials are that during the Chuck Perricone era, I was a loyal and determined employee. The store changed hands on March 11th, and up to that point he was grooming me for success at Subway. He struck me as a decent guy who knew business, and in the absence of my 21st century understanding of and relationship to business, I was ready to try for whatever I could at that level. So I paid good attention to him. Eventually the crew shifted so much that by the changeover, I was third in the place after Chuck and Steve. I'm sure Chuck put in a word for me with the Levys—Abe, a cranky and stereotypical Israeli Jewish businessman who brazenly told customers off and changed deals as he saw fit, and his wife who was the same in the business regard but was more of a New Yorker. Their kids, ages spanning 13-21, were brought in to augment the crew, andeveryone but for Matt, Angela, and me were cut out—and then I was cut a month later for my trouble, trying to save Subway from these wayward franchisees. The landscape changed in a big way. One or the other Levy worked the store from opening to closing, and had at least one kid on the scene most days. Matt and I were not allowed to work together. The three of us who did carry over had our hours cut notably. They had Matt and I doing split shifts over lunch and then closing. Over a longer period of time, they weasled out of paying Matt overtime, and often had him do split shifts or 12 hour shifts with no overtime. I watched as Abe did one offensive thing after another that went exactly against the grain of what Chuck had taught me. I took on a Subway apologist position and wrote to the national office about it.

Arlene, not inclined to suffer complaints from some disposable kid like me, especially when directed at her husband, pretended to care until one night a month after takeover. It was really out of character for her to be there for closing, but she was there. So were her sons Adam and Josh, the oldest two, and Matt was there too. There was a kind of sense that the night was slow, but it was that so many people were there getting it all done. There was even time for screwing off outside. I think Adam was kind of a double agent who didn't want to work for his parents and did some things to befriend Matt and I with the help of his fancy Nissan Z car with an insanely cool stereo in it. But then I recall that Adam watched me clean the cabinets with utmost precision and told me not to worry about it. I said that was the only way I knew how to do it, and that is how I did it all the time for the first seven months and that's why the store was so clean and attractive. He didn't care and thought it was a waste of time. I think this was about the final straw.

After that unusual night, the following morning of April 12th I was told I was no longer employed there. I guess they thought that was the end and I'd just disappear. Maybe they didn't bargain that I'd drop in on Matt on his shifts and get some food. Or at least I'd meet up with him after work. They found that out and told me I couldn't come by, and just a couple weeks later, I received a restraining order legally declaring that for a period of a year. I had to go to court to pretend to defend myself. I got letters from Chuck himself and my pastor Jerry at church saying I was not as they described me. I was pretty devastated that it came to that, and more so because they just wrote down all sorts of trumped up charges like that I was throwing rocks at their windows, or that I defaced their cars or some such crap. I liked Subway, worked as hard as I ever did at a job (even at "sub"sequent positions). These people brought out a righteous indignation in me. It was just days after getting fired that Matt and I were at his place after work and we were writing a pretty scathing and kinda anti-semitic rant in song form that ultimately kicked off a new period for us—Drummers With Attitudes (DWA) that not long afterward became Rhythmic Catharsis. I called it "Roly Poly Porky Boys" partly to describe their physical shape (Abe and Arlene were fat, and Adam was getting there), and to include the offensive use of a pig product, just to jab a little more. As scathing as it was, I don't recall it being fictional. If I saw it now, there are still big parts of it I'd defend just as a person who still thinks they were crooked and unfair businesspeople.

Epilogue

It was clear that Subway was in my life to serve a purpose in that first 1991-92 period: to get to Europe to see Steve Rau once more. It was something that I knew and was focused on achieving. In the end, it was quite clear. I bought my flight ticket for a thousand dollars or more on April 7th and got fired on April 12th. The fact that Matt stayed at that store through the entire Levy era was remarkable. He lasted into the era of its next owners, a family of Indians who had equally odd practices but were generally better Subway franchisees. After the year of my restraining order, on the very day it expired, I ritually went to Matt's store with a girl I thought I was seeing at the time (Jen Cody, probably the only "older woman" I ever went out with, at two years my senior) and got some food, and began a period of hanging out all over again, getting free food whenever I could. The Levys were known to be the rogues in this town. I worked at another store starting about a year after all this went down and found from that experience no one liked the Levys. (Their screwy antics were confirmed a few years later when they tried to sue a Walgreen's store for injury from a security guard's actions as he tried to prevent papa Abe from stealing some video games for his son. That took some 'splainin'.) My trip to Europe was great for my soul after all that time. (I actually did kiss the ground upon getting to the Frankfurt Airport one year and one day after I got home from my prior trip.) I felt vindicated for putting up with it all.

Matt and I were defined by Subway for years to come, hanging out at each other's stores until sometime in late 1996. Subway outlasted our drumming efforts and the recordings that we made as Rhythmic Catharis. His step dad did my taxes for years. His grandmother's old dining table is now mine. (I had some other pieces too when they cleared out the house his grandmother was in.) Over time, it seems like girls got the better of him though I still get the feeling he is glad I've been a friend. 

Saturday
Aug062011

Green Lights on Memory Lane: OTISAB

Yesterday someone created a Facebook group site that is named "You know you're from Clairemont if..." It was started in the morning. I heard about it at the late afternoon. There were already about 950 posts and reponses. I got away for a bit and came back around midnight when there were 1,700 posts! I could not even get to the bottom of the page to keep clicking on "more posts" because the stuff was flowing in so fast. 

It was fun naming a place or telling a short tale about places and seeing what people remember. There were quite a few I recognized from school, but since this was a general interest group, it attracted many more people of all ages, some being far more old school Clairemonsters than even me.

This morning, I see someone responded to my response about the Walker Scott store that sits where the Vons is now in an anchoring spot in Clairemont Square. The thread took a decided left turn when a guy I forgot about recalled my first barely-listenable attempt at a solo album in 1995:

btw- Ed, I loved your ED cassette I got from you when I rented your kit for a record I was making a Marty's House. Just wanted to give you props! Dig all those crazy edits you did! And ALL on TAPE!! 'Kurt Cobain' was sick but, very funny!! —Ronny Jones 

The tape he references is called One Twisted Individual, Separated At Birth (OTISAB—one that I don't yet have up here on TAPKAE.com). I'm sort of at a loss of how to describe it but it involved a lot of humor, sarcastic wit, tape tricks, layered drum rhythms, my first incorporation with any guitar or bass at all, and perhaps most definitively, I paid to have it digitally edited at Anza Studio, same as where Mike Keneally edited his work around that time, and I sought to have (perhaps needlessly so in places) to have the tracks collaged into a nearly gapless album. The song Ronny refers to, Kurt Cobain, is called "A Man and his Gun" and is a piano ditty about KC killing himself with excellent aim. (I was never into Nirvana and thought rather coldly that that was the best thing for him. I was far from appreciating the pathos of life.) 

The manner of assembling the tracks was interesting. It was almost as developed as I'd ever get with my cassette-plus-input bounce method that started with Rhythmic Catharsis a couple years before, and had just one more project that started off using it but ended up being done largely on four-track. OTISAB relied on that method exclusively, and I used several tape decks for various purposes, like one did a great job of giving me levels for capturing full drumset parts using a limiter; and other could do pitch control; another had the ability to add another mic into the mix; various of them let me shape the noise using Dolby. I had no mixer. All the recording was literally done by moving to or from the mic and playing dynamically. I had just a couple crappy Radio Shack vocal mics. It was only after OTISAB that I got into PZM types that were far better suited for drums and voice in particular. I recall that once I literally duct taped one of the crappy mics to the blue Strat's body (the guitar was on loan to me and it was already chipping paint) and made a cheap attempt at a pickup. Hey, it captured the open tuned strum on an otherwise unamplified solidbody electric guitar! The tape editing that Ronny refers to was not in actually cutting tape, but in a lot of starting and stopping bits and almost randomly recording over bits in subsequent passes and bounces that it sounds far more chaotic.

The recording session Ronny mentions is one for which they rented my new drums. It was about May 1995. I was approached by Marty Eldridge after seeing my little drum tech business card posters. I just got the kit in August of the previous year and had barely used it since Slaves By Trade broke up. This was the first time I was to let it out of my possession. I was rather intimidated but I knew that Marty was working as a pro and I could see he had a house full of his own gear. I had met him across the street when I worked at Subway in 1991 and a time or two while I did my short stint at Music Mart earlier in 1995. Aside from that, he was a new acquaintance. I took the drums over and was probably not aware that they'd come back tuned differently or a little beat on the heads. I was of the mind that they sounded quite good but was not used to tuning for different vibes, especially the "drop one lug" technique where you take an otherwise well tuned tom and take one lug screw out altogether for a detuning effect that some like. I saw that and got a bit panicked. Otherwise, they paid me my $300 for three weeks' use (oh, I was so cheap then!) and until mid July, that was it with Marty and Ronny. Marty kept me in mind and later turned out to be the one guy who actually did get me involved in being a working tech assistant in the music world. July 15, 1995 at the Sheraton Harbor Island. Clear as day... That led to Rockola which led to other local work and of course, the Keneally tour.

Funny, I was peddling my OTISAB cassettes to whoever might give me $5 for them, and some for free. Another notable holder of that tape is Keneally himself. For a while there, I was known as the guy who hates the blues, as one track was a rant on it, mocking a basic blues walking bass with my voice: "rahr, rahr, RAHR, rahr, RAHR, rahr, rahr, rahr!" Keneally and Joe Travers probably still remember that. Getting that tape into their hands (back when they both lived in Hollywood and needed something to listen to on the ride back) was a huge victory. So was having them quote it at the next show!

Sunday
Dec311989

Ed's 1989 Summary...ish

The following is a kinda-faithful transcription of the journal I wrote summing up what impressed me as the first year filled with coming-of-age events and transitions. I have dated it here so that it falls at the very end of 1989, but there is a part of it that was written as late as February 1990. The year 1989 was the transition between 10th and 11th grades, sure, but it was also a year when I took up music, plunged into church life, had my first heartaches, and grappled with how to hold it all together. The original is typewritten on paper, so it is just a stream of consciousness flow with no effort at editing. I was far from becoming fond of typing, and the original has dreadful use of punctuation, sentence structure, and flow. There are extensive handwritten notes and yellow highlighted sections that help explain or call attention to particulars. The last couple pages are written equally badly in manuscript. In other words, it is a mess. Of course I never intended for it to be seen online! This is not a verbatim transcription though. I straightened out some of the gnarly sentences but tried to retain the message. I decided to leave the flow intact, even though there are points where I thought I was ending it, only to find I had forgotten bits that sent me off on other tangents. It is very much the diary of a 16 year old who has his head and heart exploding with possibility, even while in a rather conservative setting. A number of things are a bit embarrassing, but in the interest of presenting a minimally varnished picture of how I progressed, here it is. Transcribed July 2011. [Additional contemporary comments are in brackets.] Earlier handwritten ones were worked into the text if possible, and sometimes appear in parentheses. You also might want to read a more recent attempt at telling the 1989 story.

Nine-teen-hundred-eighty-nine.

I'm not too sure WHY I'm doing this—perhaps a "follow up" to the school year one. DISCLAIMER: this is purely improvised, however, true. [That means it is really bleepin' scatterbrained.]

This year has been surprisingly good. It never stood still. Always moving. Quite a few changes have taken place—most of which for the better. Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

In December 1988, a week before Christmas, I met Shelby Duncan at one of my play rehearsals for the church. Just another guest of someone, I supposed. That's probably what I had in mind and until the next week, that was true. Funny thing was, the evening of the play itself, she came to me for conversation. (That usually wouldn't happen, and I still don't know why, but I won't argue.) After the play, everyone went to the Snyder's for their party where Shelby and I continued our conversation. What we talked about I forget, but I wish I could remember. We exchanged phone calls and saw each other at church. About then I suggested we go see my model in the Aerospace Museum. [A winner in the junior model contest there. I won two consecutive years with different entries. It was a rather notable thing for the 14-15 year old I was then.] I'd treat. It didn't materialize. Neither did the next attempt. Certain events occurred and her attitude (toward me at least—many others of our age didn't like her) seemed to worsen. In addition to that, the problem of what to wear to church toward the end of January didn't get better—the Salt [father, I called him the "Old Salt" around this time] had to have his way here. So, between not having "proper dress clothes" and feeling slightly rejected, I decided not to go to church. As it turned out, both Shelby and church would not see hide nor hair of me for seven and five months, respectively.

About that time a series of events took place in February: I lost almost all interest in things academic (but my grades didn't show this), and I switched to KGB-101 FM for rock and roll instead of the Top 40. I was also told by the orthodontist to wear six rubber bands in some most awkward places. After trying them on once, I refused to wear them for six weeks (which was exactly the prescribed period). I can only say that I said "NO!" What I did have to say is too wretched for words, even if "NO!" is a gross understatement. [This kind of language dots journals for years to come, almost as if I was writing for my grandmother and withholding the real punchy stuff I wanted to say. You can imagine the veiled tellings of my early girl experiences in 1992!]

My algebra class, my wonderful algebra class, was no more. I was set back. It seemed that I never really worked in a math class that year, allowing more time for high school's finer pleasures: goofing off. Aaron Summerville played a part in this mess called 1989.

When I started listening to KGB-FM I thought it might last a few weeks, maybe less. When I was still on B-100 or whatever [Y-95, probably], the DJ said about the Grammy awards the night before, "Guess who won best heavy metal? JETHRO TULL!" I didn't have a clue what was so special, and if was heavy metal, I really didn't care. I found out when I heard Bungle in the Jungle on KGB. I ironically thought, oh this sure is heavy metal! As it turned out, I liked Tull (which again is an understatement). I only have all of their albums! (Actually, at the time of writing, I have 70% of their albums and don't plan on stopping yet.) I like them genuinely. I like them for the simple fact that for the most part no one my age likes the group. The trouble with that is I can't get anyone my age to try Tull, except Aaron and some others. Do you think they might something against a 20 year old rock band that uses flutes and mandolins? Funny thing is, I didn't buy any albums for a long time, and when I did, it was a 65 song compilation set for $5 instead of $45ish. (Someone made a copy for me.) I could write all day on the creative aspects of why I like Tull. Once I had the compilation set in hand I wanted to get a regular album so I got their newest album [Rock Island]. It wasn't in stores a week before I had mine. After that, my collection took off, getting about one tape a week or so. [For a few months till Christmas when I got a CD player then had to decide which of the Tull albums to get on CD, even if I already had them on tape.]

I forgot to say that some months before I started to collect Tull I had already collected some Def Leppard. In fact, I got all four of their albums. That went fast—the only two that I wanted to have I had in two weeks. The other two are terrible [On Through the Night, Hi 'n' Dry]. Def Leppard is another BAND that caught my ear with a characteristic sound that can't be duplicated. While the sound was nice, I had other reasons for liking Def Leppard.

I had been hearing some stories about one armed drummers in some rock band. At the Command Post, spending nine hours a weekend there, Ross Shekleton would joke about and do cheap impersonations of Rick Allen (hand behind his back, drumming like Rick would appear). I wanted to find out more. So I finished off the collection and later ordered their book.

Drum Revival. It was about time.

Early in the summer, Adam Calabrese approached me asking to buy my drum kit. I said I'd sell, gave him a price, etc. He couldn't pay that much so down it went. Still too much for him to pay, even at $300. The folks told me to make my best effort to sell my drums (which I didn't), and now they probably wish I had. [I did end up selling the kit about the time the original journal was completed in February 1990. Then I bought a kit more to my liking.]

I lived at the G-parents' during the summer and sometimes I just wanted to be alone at my house to kill time. One day, not too long after Adam asked to buy the drums, I picked up the sticks and tried to play out of the book. (Earlier on, I used the kit for comic effect after a joke like on TV or radio.) When I had this down, I played to music. Sometimes I brought the stereo to the drums, and other times, the drums to the stereo—either parts of the kit or the whole thing. I did all this while the Salt was away. When I got a new bike I did this more often since I could transport myself. First, I began playing Def Leppard but as my collection of Tull got bigger, with more selections, that's what I played. Soon I quit using any book as my confidence and endurance increased so that I could play longer, faster, and smoother and not care who was listening. After I started to use earplugs I'd go through two hours if homework would allow. (All too often in the first quarter of 11th grade I paid for drumming with my grades.) The reason I got back into drumming, I think, is because of what Rick Allen did for himself; going back to playing after his accident that left him without a left arm. While his situation and mine have no similarities, I still thought it brave to do what he did. It set me thinking, what's my excuse?

Models

I had been planning to win "Best Jr." award since the day I laid eyes on it. By the time all those things were happening in February I had a project going nicely that I was planning to take to the local IPMS (International Plastic Modelers Society) contest in April. That was all fine. My boredom with school and a contest that I was set on winning fit together beautifully. Part of the contest's success was due to the fact that I started to do armor kits after a semi-serious pact with myself and others to never do armor kits. So, as you might predict, school was put on the back burner for a few weeks. As it turned out I never had a return of interest in school like I thought I might. When I figured out that I had lotsa time left I started work on other projects. Soon I had three, four, five models completed in about equal numbers of armor and aircraft. Just then did I realize the rules of the contest—three constitutes a category. Hey, I could win this. Fill a category of armor, a category of aircraft… So that's what I did. Three of each so the category would be split in my favor.

I invited my friend Traci Flint to join me at the contest that night since I felt I could win. So I did! I didn't want to let anybody down! And brother did I win! I only swept two categories and too the darn plaque I wanted for such a long time. After that night, the local club added a new rule to their list: no sweeps. I wonder why.

That wasn't the only contest. I still had a national contest [hosted in San Diego] to think about. While the hype for the national was not as much as for April's, I did keep it in mind even though I thought I couldn't stand a chance. The events there were boring and killed the feet but I suppose it was worth it. The results were okay. I got four plaques for Best Junior/Out of the Box; Best Junior/Sci Fi; Best Junior/Armor; Best Junior/Miscellaneous. My armor entry, an M-1 Abrams tank, wasn't even finished! The paint still smelled from being painted the day before. Traci wasn't there that time but she brought good luck at the next quarterly local contest. And that was the last I saw of the contests. I might go back after some time but I think I killed the hobby with all the model madness in the spring and all the winning in April. In February I warned my leading competitor Jeff (who built armor kits mainly), that I was going to beat him at his own game someday. It's nice to keep your promises sometimes.

Church

This is another that took me by storm. The storm came early in the summer. The first thing that kicked it off was a high school youth group trip to see the movie Dead Poets Society. I learned a new term with that movie: carpe diem. Seize the day. It pretty much sums up this year. The movie was great but I wonder what the others thought of my super slurred speech. [I was just minutes from receiving my orthodontic retainer, and had not been seen at church for five months.]

I found out the vacation bible school was to be a lot earlier in the summer than I thought. It was then that I began to think again about returning after so many months off the scene there. I'm glad I went. I really had fun there. Made some new friends or reinforced some older ones. That experience was more important than the movie, and if it wasn't so good, things would be different now. Along with bay picnics I got into other things like bible study. Sometimes Jerry [pastor] or Judy [associate pastor/youth group leader] and I went to lunch to know each other better. On a couple of occasions we planned for our retreat in the Cuyamaca mountains where we started a new group for the high school age kids. At the first full group meeting in the mountains we talked about possible names and rules and topics that could be discussed. The official name is "Shalom Community" and it has a pretty binding covenant. Not contract. Covenant. The retreat was so, so fun for all of us that we found it hard to go start school the very day after we got home. I personally related it to coming off a high of sorts.

The thought of returning to school was rough enough, but there was also a stupid skirmish at home that threatened my next trip [to the annual church camp in the mountains] with the group a month later. I wasn't too sure if I could go, right up to the last week. The Old Salt kept changing his mind up until then. It was important to me to be able to go. Many had asked me to do so, and I said I would. Over all, the trip was fun but I know some things about people I partially wish I didn't. [It was really heartbreaking to find that church kids are no better with sneaking alcohol than any I might have dodged in my school environment. I had to retreat after seeing them nabbing their beer from the adults and going to the cabin bathroom to drink it. I went to my bunk and listened to Tull's album Crest of a Knave on my Walkman, one of the early experiences of an emotional connection to music as a disillusioned teen.]

In the mean time, the fall season was filled with as much church activity as I could take on. You can imagine the pride I felt when we got a group of seven together to see my model in the Aerospace Museum, and they all liked it too.

In September we finally put on a project that had been in the works for a month. Judy had arranged for the youth to do the entire church service on the 17th of that month. Some of those lunch dates were to assist in the progress of certain parts of the service. I had prayers; Jenny, Christine, and Shelby had the sermon. Believe me—this task is not like writing an average term report. It's not stating facts but reacher leading people in worship. Anyhow, that same day, some of us (Shelby and me among them) were presented bibles and officially recognized into the Adventure Group, etc.

The bible study group that I go to (where the younger members are in their 40s) decided to read a book by Martin Buber, a Jewish philosophical anthropologist. I wasn't denied the chance to come along. Buber is one of those guys that someone my age usually would not touch with a ten foot pole (and maybe longer), but since I took a different course with a lot of things this year, seizing the day, this seemed to fit right in with the rest of the stuff I'd been doing. About that time our Christmas play was being rehearsed. The play this year was a bit more serious but that's not to say it wasn't funny. It was done better with people who had tougher roles. It went well considering we performed a week before usual and I hadn't been onstage for six months. One day at rehearsal I took a break between my parts to go see Jerry dig a hole for a tree at a work party right outside. As I watched and talked to him (that much was fine), I suddenly saw something rush toward me from the ground. Then I sensed I was all wet. But the water wasn't all that hit me. The pipe that Jerry hit was under about six inches or so of dirt. So in the middle of rehearsal I stood there wet and muddy, wondering and laughing about it all. Even funnier was when I went to Judy's up the hill to see if I could get cleaned up and have my shirt dried. I heard voiced inside as I waited patiently outside for someone to open the door (while I had my soaked shirt on). OPEN UP if you're here! No reply. So I left. It took a little bit of explaining. Once Judy came to the rehearsal that day I calmly explained that I'd been waiting outside her door for five minutes, all wet. She told me she'd been in the yard and Jenny was asleep. So we laughed it off. I still wonder what the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting thought when they got some rain on their outdoor meeting!

School

A pointless narrative…

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth… And school. The Ed came along and saw that it was bad (school, that is). Ed said, "let there be music." So he called it hard rock and saw that it was good. Def Leppard was good but he needed a degree of refinement so he said, "let there be creative rock! and lots of it!" So he called it Jethro Tull and Ed saw that it was good and went out and bought as much as he could.

There's no doubt that in my book Tull is good enough to get in the way. That was part of the reason for my drop in grades in early 11th grade. A few other reasons include the sudden complexity of having six academic classes laid on me at once, and two of which are advanced credit classes that are linked as a single item (American history and literature). In those classes we started out reading The Scarlet Letter which I got hopelessly lost in by the first chapter. About then I gave up. Like I said, I'd put the drums in the living room, but a lesser known fact is that for a couple of weeks I even did my homework on the drum itself with a pair of sticks close by. And what about the wonderful summer followed up by this bunch of factors? And the church event schedule that got slightly out of hand? I'm gaining control over things now but I'm still finding what it's like to have to work to earn my keep. The grades are improving and I have all my tapes and disks to use and the use of my drums is not threatened like my models were in '85-'86. [My old man had a draconian disciplinary style those years. Upon getting a first progress report those years, he took all my toys and models away for much of the school year. He locked them into the trailer on our driveway. I used to sneak the keys so I could at least connect with stuff once in a while. But otherwise, I was rid of some of my childhood joys with this gesture.]

In the chemistry class I got lost in the mass of math—the same math I should have now (geometry) but don't have because of last year's mess. It only took the teacher until midway through the second quarter to discover that math was a minor problem for me! It wasn't just me. The teacher (that's the title of her job but that's not exactly what she does) couldn't teach. Her presentations were awful (awful confusing, anyway) but I did get a chance to catch some Zzz. Finally it was suggested that I get a new class to benefit my grades. I ended up in marine biology (not the study of the few and the proud, though). I'm attentive and the first test yielded an A—better than the Fs I was getting in chemistry.

About seven weeks into the first quarter, I decided to do something to fix the algebra situation. I was in it for the second time and thought it better to avoid it the next year too because I'd be losing possible credits if I had to stay in it, which I wouldn't allow. The grades were okay except for homework. I did little things to help get back some credit to get a C. Once I proved to my teacher (who taught the same class last year) that I could get a grade higher than a D. Then he went and dumped the whole class for his first love, basketball coaching. The teacher we got after Jim Thompson was a tutor. Before we switched I asked if our new teacher is as BS-able as he was. No comment from JT. The class is pretty good but I enjoy something different. Maybe a week before the Tull concert came to town I wanted to stir up some conversation with something that would draw fire—hopefully. So I came up with this to put on the desk: "JETHRO TULL RULES HEAVY METAL: Go see the concert at Sports Arena December 8 at 8." To make a long story short, I got a hold of a persistent person who responds each time if my message hasn't been erased. I've only met this luck in math class. In some other classes, I get really negative responses of none at all. I'm really careful about which class I do this in, except for math.

First Attempt to End This Thing

I really don't have a lot more to say so let's wrap it up. [Careful. It's not true.] I owe many thanks to good friends like Jerry, Judy, and Dee & Ells Snyder. In fact, I presented thank you plaques to Jerry and Judy on behalf of the youth of the church. These are some of the people who did some of the things that made 1989 one of my most successful years. But I found out that their concern for me went back into 1989 when they met me, though my attitude was not so acceptable then, I guess. They told themselves that I'd be welcomed into the congregation if they had anything to do with it. Well, give yourselves a pat on the back. I think you've done it. Also, Jerry has been set on making me feel good about myself and needed by someone. The time he needed someone to look over Matthew and Adam he called me first. I had to say no at first but I thought of all he's given me so I called back and said I had some favors to pay back so I'd do it for him. I made $15 but that's not what I was after.

And to the whole bunch of other people out there—at church; IPMS; Command Post; school; Shalom; CIA; FBI; BMW; CD; SD; CA; USA; USSR; UK; and those that are semi-unsung: Rick Allen; Corey Carrol; Larry "Sarge/The Mad Marine" Bishop; Traci Flint; Aaron Summerville; Ms. Sulzbach; Spence Milne; Kathy Buss; Ross "Loser!" Shekleton; Ian Anderson; Darrel "Big Salame" Killingsworth; Bill "Billman" Travis; Salt; Doane Perry; Tim Latham; Shelby Duncan; Malia Beatty; Larry Halett; G-parents; Joe Elliott; Robin Williams [the actor of course, not my girlfriend from the mid 90s].

Now for the post scripts and perhaps some explanations or theories about how this year was so good. Also, the things that slipped my memory in the script itself. [I told you it wasn't the end.]

Somehow I forgot all about my birthday. It was probably the best so far. I invited Jerry and Judy and their families to have pizza and to come over for a party. Simple? Yes, but just having them all there made it good (which is more than can be said about recent years). I also convinced Shelby to come with us. That was a small victory for me because she was making a move (pretty successfully) to avoid church related groups or individuals. However, she's shown an interest in keeping in touch with me. She hasn't set foot in the church since that day in September when we held the youth service. She is always welcome by me to come and I always try to get her to if she wants.

Part of the reason I got back into church associated doings is as follows. In 10th grade, I sat at lunch with brothers Corey & Christian Carroll, Traci, and several others by the big tree in the lunch court. A bunch of them were church going people [pretty conservative-evangelical Assembly of God types] and so the conversation often involved talk about church and all the things they had going in their church world. [Of course I was far from being able to make any theological arguments then but I knew that my church was different. None of us went around wearing the Christian themed T-shirts that some of the others at the tree wore. All that seemed rather smarmy to me, and still does.] It set me thinking about the group that I already had but had not thrown myself into. I thought, I have a group. I could do that. My life could use a little fun in it. Why not? And the rest is history.

[The following paragraph required some surgery. It was a complete mess in the original. The essentials are communicated as intended.]

I also noticed in the summer that two years before when I was confronted with the problem of having braces and ugly headgear, or I could have two teeth extracted. I originally chose to lose a couple teeth but a talk with Jerry, long in the making, helped settle that. My own worries were obviously about braces and what they would mean for the couple years that were ahead. But at that talk with him on the park green, he was asked to talk to me about reckless bike riding around the picnic area and some of the kids. The conversation became about much more than either bike riding or even headgear. He told me about his own spell of having braces for six years. He put some of my concerns to rest, saying headgear might only need to be worn at night. We covered a host of other things from the weather to other matters of home and family dynamics.

Now that I have some perspective on that August day, I decided to thank him for it. After all, that talk only changed the history of the world since 1987! Looking back, I see how that day's talk actually changed things a lot and laid the groundwork for this year's successes—more carpe diem. It goes something like this: the reassurance that was given me that day changed my attitude. Changed toward what, I am not exactly sure. I do know that my grades after that have never been anywhere near where they were, and for once it was safe to say that 9th grade was very good. In 1987, I met Traci and joined IPMS—two things that got me through 1989. When I showed my own confidence in myself people left me alone and I could make friends easier. People like Aaron, Traci, Shelby, and many of the people listed that I know personally don't know the old me. In fact, Shelby doesn't know me without the church group except what I tell her. Aaron augmented me being me and that shows up in the type of music I listen to, the type of humor I use, etc. (Some still have their problems with that.) Like anyone else, I have inside jokes and expressions that no one would understand. But what people dislike the most is my purely improvised one liners if I get fed a good line (maybe too intellectual for them?). Or maybe it is abstract analogies. Tough luck.

[This next paragraph was partially typed and partially hand written in two parts at the top and bottom of the page. Not sure what I really wanted to say, or how it followed anything.]

People are just starting to recognize me. I wonder, do you think it has something to do with me being in the second highest grade in the school? Some saw what grades I am getting now and if they knew what I was getting before high school they might have seen a big change and maybe got to know me better. Others got to know me more recently, and to them I appear to be alright. They don't have the old references to cloud their thoughts of me. For example, Traci saw that after she left from Public Speaking class my grade went up so she saw that I wasn't an F student and she wasn't wasting her time talking to me.

As I probably mentioned earlier, the major events and changes happened quickly. All that stuff in February was spontaneous, and was part of the carpe diem lesson. The church involvement was started rather abruptly in July. The drumming really started on the very day the new bike was ready to ride. Of course I had to practice a lot to get better. As for the bit about the models, usually I take a long break after summer to allow my school grades to get to an acceptable point, then I could resume work. But this time there were too many distractions from models, and later on, schoolwork caused the demise of my model building interest this year. Church, drums, and Tull were of course more exciting than sitting behind a messy table and straining my eyes. Not only that, I didn't have time. Funny, in March I didn't have time for school and now, no time for models. Something was wrong. So I quit and took up other pursuits. That was great, but as I said above, I had too much fun. Then, mixing school into it all didn't work well. We all know about that. Not terribly long after I got back on my feet school wise I found a good time for everything. And then something I thought would never happen, did. I put all the models away, but what's more I put all the building materials away too. Now an onlooker doesn't know that I built models (except for maybe a few clues). A change of priorities. I moved my drums into my room, etc.

For Christmas I added to my music resources by getting a few CDs. Of course I have a new CD player. This is a new way to spend money (which is an additional reason for shifting to music and drums). The tapes and CDs aren't so hard on my eyes. I still go to Command Post now and then at their new store to keep in touch and to talk music. (They created this monster called Ed.) They probably haven't taken a dime from me since September. CDs are expensive at $14, $15. I used to get music within my $13 allowance. Expensive, but I don't need to worry about satisfying some [IPMS contest] judge.

Back to desk writing. I obviously irritate people, which is nice. I make them think. However I ran into some jerk who has missed the entire point. Sometimes I write down lyrics or an entire song that I'd been practicing and he'd erase part of it and insert his opinion. On the positive side, I was progressing with my math class pen pal and have been really successful with writing to her. No negative remarks but I'll bet the teacher wishes we'd quit, which is what I'll do when I meet Erika someday.

Com-Post at the new store

The reason I quit going there all the time is because of their move. I helped them move, thinking there might be something in it for me later. I hung around too long with all the managers and Ross notified me that under one roof all the bosses might converge and see Ed there wasting time. At the old location (with three distinct stores), maybe only one boss at a time would see me hanging around. The early part of the "divorce" was messy but I got used to being there maybe one hour on occasional Saturdays rather than nine hours over two weekend days. And after dropping model building, I really didn't miss it once drumming and church took up all my time. It was fun while it lasted but that chapter is closing to start a new one. I might return. Who knows. Same thing with IMPS activity.

This has gone on too long already and I am writing this part in February 1990, and I also am seeing that my time (6-7 hours, hardcore) has paid off and it shows when the church voted unanimously for me to serve on the Board of Deacons. I'm very thankful for that and I couldn't have done it without them and God and everyone listed above. Thanks a lot, guys! I love you!

Carpe diem.
I love Shelby.