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Entries in music (86)

Monday
Jul222013

Years that End in "3"

It's now the middle of 2013 and I have barely blogged this year. This is one of the posts I've put off for months now, particularly since Buber Dog died and took the wind out of my sails. You see, the types of +20, +15+, and +10 posts that I have been writing since about 2009 are rather involved. But since 20 years on is a convenient time to have a glance back and measure the distance travelled, those coming of age years are starting in kind of fast and furious. I didn't plan to keep it going but it's sort of in my nature and things don't feel complete if I don't honor the urge.

Very practically speaking, I am also in circles trying to figure out what I want to do with blog platforms, either to move to Squarespace's new platform (a year old and getting better, but would be a LOT of work to make this site sing there) or to just get out of Squarespace altogether, and back to Wordpress. That would be a pain in the ass too. And then there is just staying here and bearing the frustration of how to present my posts to an audience I doubt even exists anymore. I digress.

The years that end in the number three have traditionally been transitional years. Of late, now that I have some language for it, I call them my death years. I was sort of dreading what might be in store for me in 2013, ascending to my 40th birthday in October. Entertaining writing such a sprawling post kind of depressed me if I were to write it before this May when I got the call from my new job, and a favorable interview, and then the position in June. But prior to that I was depressed out of my mind again. The Escondido move is something that is slow in reconciling though it's showing its benefits. The death of Buber Dog stressed both of us out, and in many ways we're grieving his loss and might be for a while still. So far, up till early May, 2013 was looking like it fit a pattern of those damned years ending in "3."

The summertime in those years seems to be particularly rich in some big changes. The summers fall in my "9" years, just on the eve of the decade years that bring something new eventually. But at the time, there can be a lot of uncertainty and confusion. Only in the space between 29 and 39 did I finally start to understand things in the language of spirituality, particularly Christian spirituality, in a way where these stark times could be seen not as the stuff of endings but as transformative experiences on the way to new beginnings. So this time around, even though there was some real downer time that could be said to be as bad as the times before, I could remain attentive and remember to wait for what comes next.

Lest you think I am just making this up, imagining a pattern, here is what I have in mind. Things come remarkably on time in these years.

1973

Nineteen seventy-three, the year of my birth, was both the ending and the beginning rolled into one trip from the womb into the cold world that probably could not give a rat's ass if I were to show up or not. Some people interpret the Exile from the Garden in Genesis to be symbolic of birth itself, separation from the only is-ness we ever knew, into the harsh world outside. Of course, we're all bornsomehow. Without really knowing it then, or for a decade or two more, that day of October 12 was when I was issued my pack for life, loaded up with all manner of ill feelings, conflicts and outright hostilities, broken relations, and more. Of course this pack has been mine to open up, often at this blog, in public, where the light might hit it and rob it of its power. So chalk 1973 up as the primordial death experience. (Actually, if you knew how much my mom probably smoked then, she was sort of giving me the stuff of death in utero!)

1983

A decade later, I was nearly unaware of who my mother was. There were faint ideas gleaned from extremely fragmentary tales about her. I think I knew I had siblings from her other family. For the longest time, the picture I had of her until I met her in 1986 was that she was tall, slender, with long blonde hair. If you knew what I knew about genetics then (nothing), you'd see my platinum blonde hair of my younger years and deduce that too! But in 1983 mom (Christina, aka Toni) basically did not exist. Eda did. Eda was my mom, for all intents and purposes. While I was aware she was not my own mom, she played the role willingly and with a good, compassionate heart that even my own mom is seemingly impossible to demonstrate toward me.

But life at Artesian Street was not as idyllic as my childhood stats might indicate. While my old man had a house that did provide a relatively good anchor to my existence, the fact is, the house has proven to be more important any anyone else who lives there with him. Eda, 22 years his senior, and having been married to a few men before, was growing apart from him as she found herself needing to develop her spirituality in her late 50s. For some time, she'd been in her own bedroom. I don't know how to indicate the distance that must have developed but I do recall arguments and being sent outside so they could hash it all out. And some time later, she told me of some threats of physical violence he had made that proved to be her last straw. She had to get out of there. Withsome sympathetic friends, and even the support of my grandmother, she left our house during this very week in 1983, thirty years ago now.

I wrote about Eda's comings and goings in a previous post.

The loss of Eda coincided with the fact that I had been expelled from my childhood school, Hawthorne, and had to find a new school. The search for a school during the first half of the summer (driving around town looking at magnet schools, chauffeured by my grandmother) was some of the last time spent with Eda during that era. Starting a new school made things more foreign than they needed to be. There was some of the usual harassment by other kids, especially once they found that my mom had just left, but I had a very understanding male teacher for the two years I went to Longfellow, and he helped deflect that.

The Longfellow experience introduced me to a wider demographic of kids than I'd have been among in my neighborhood school. It was a Spanish magnet program so there was a bit of an ethnic broadening to include Spanish speaking people (yes, Mexicans!) but also significantly more blacks than at Hawthorne. I suppose that has done me some good, though I was real lax with learning Spanish. I wish I had the presence of mind to know that would have done me good in the workplace 20-30 years later!)

The rebirth experience that moved me from the death experience of losing the only woman I'd called mom was one that took some years to piece together. Not to say it's complicated; I just didn't see it that way for a while. The autumn season around my birthday was when I was offered drum or guitar lessons. I opted for drums, having seen some young black kid come into the one room music store and do his lesson while I was at the store with grandmother Virginia. I suspect the lessons were something that were offered to help me get on with life after Eda left. Virginia drove me down there to the College area every couple weeks for a year and a half. Once she and my grandfather bought me my first drumset in early 1985, it wasn't too long before I lost interest. Then it took until 1989 before I found my own reasons to play.

1993

Two major endings happened in 1993, one of which was just on time during the summer. (The first was the breakup with Melissa, detailed out in an utterly brilliant 10,000 word journal earlier this year.) The other major breakup was perhaps more meaningful to me since it was one of those "artistic differences" that get us brooding muso types into so much trouble.

I've written about Rhythmic Catharsis some but sort of left the task of describing the end period to ...well, probably this year. I guess it's safe to say that at the time, RC felt more vital than having a girlfriend. There certainly was more friction in the "lovers quarrels" with Matt Zuniga, and if things went well, more reward. The task of RC was to give me some goal and purpose in my life when there wasn't much else going on. The fact that Matt rebelled so thoroughly made me more determined to make something happen. The project that defined the summer of 1993 was trying to get prepared to play a live show, like at a real place, not just in our usual parking garages or maybe at my house. Under the best of conditions, Matt was a thorn in my side, but the idea of playing in public made him completely obstinate, and any attempt to actually tighten up our drum-and-vocal songs was usually met with outrageously out of place vocal noises and other bits that just showed he wasn't going to try. I had to re-read journals from the era to recall how intolerable I got at his being that difficult. I had the yelling fits when we were out at the garages. I smashed my home phone. The whole thing with Matt and I arose because we could not play drums at home, so we went to garages. But that was just a way to blow off steam at first, and evolved into trying to play songs even withour limited means. Bashing those out could be fun but it seemed time to try to develop it so it would be stage ready. It's no stranger than some punk acts.

Because RC was really my baby, he could do whatever he wanted and not really feel too bad. RC gave me pride in accomplishment. At a time when the girlfriend broke up with me and I opted out of attending Mesa College (beginning the inadvertent ten year break), RC was something to challenge me to do better. For Matt to piss all over it was devastating. After some weeks of thinking we'd go to the Sprit club (across the street from the second Subway job I had), Matt utterly flaked on me as I went to pick him up. I was livid upon furious upon pissed. I recall getting to his place in the evening and he was watching Beavis and Butthead with his roommate. He just backed out entirely (maybe this is my karma for the Melissa ASB ball thing earlier in the year). I drove down to the club anyway, set up my stuff on stage and asked for a vocal mic, which of course had not been the plan. Then I proceeded to make my way through the set the best I could. It sucked donkey balls in every way except for the fact I did it under the conditions that day. The audience was just the club staff and maybe Bill Francis, who a short while earlier had moved into the trailer at our house when he fell on hard times.

The show was not the big thing. I had words with Matt later in the week and that started us into about a five month silent spell that only broke in January of 1994. What ended up happening though was that the Spirit club let me come back and do the same thing another couple times! Not sure I did any better considering I had never really tried to drum and sing at once. It was hard enough to even suck at one or the other! But both at once? Yeah. It turns out that the third show I did that way, in mid September was the start of a new era in my musical life. I did my solo RC show and another group, New Electron Symphony (NES) had no drummer and was instead using tapes and otherwise just grooving hard on their instruments. We shared the stage for their set and I played on two raucous jams. That launched me into a several month period jamming with them in their space—a geographic and psychic shift that needed to happen after all the Matt drama. Since the others were older, I was made the student and learned something about musicality that I would never have arrived at in the completely reckless non-tonal setting of Rhythmic Catharsis. When I later took on some new projects and further musical work later on, NES proved to be a key experience, even as short as it was. It's fair to say that the sonic atmosphere of some of my stuff like Receiving andAural Sects owes itself very much to NES.

An odd thing happened in the period though. It was definitely one of those death periods. RC was dead and never really came back in the same way despite an eventual reunion with Matt. But while playing with NES I had a sinking feeling that I was done with music. Done. Done. Done. Not so, said Ian McGehee, the mastermind of the group. He promised me lots of experiences lay ahead. It was kind of a liminal period in those days, feeling dead in one way but the future also not having taken a real shape yet. Interestingly, during the early part of 1994, the feeling kept on. And even though I later took out a couple ads in the local rag, and found some new playing opportunities, it was still surreal how I felt done with music. Odder still was that I was buying more drum gear—new pedal, a few cymbals, and other stuff—even as it seemed I was ready to pack it in. And then I totally shocked myself when I bought new drums almost exactly one year to the day after RC split up, and just at the time when the band at the time, Slaves by Trade, was making bigger plans by cutting a demo. Then we broke up. But that's next year's story.

2003

Now this is the part of this entry that I actually dread the most. Not because it's so painful or anything (though it was) but more that by 2003, the matters were more grave and nebulous and existential. It's a terribly hard year to unpack on a good day when I feel chatty. Since a lot of those things have been dissected in this blog since some of it was front page news (the blog started in 2002), there's no point in retelling it all now.

The year was spent as a 29 year old who was having a crisis of faith in life. Depression was the background noise but I had not really understood it as I later would once various teachers emerged to interpret those experiences for me in the light of the spiritual journey. By that point, the years of family strife, grief, stagnation in the work world, and frustration about not getting new music projects done all piled up on me. Throw in a bit of girl trouble as my ex called me out of nowhere and added to the general confusion. That year of 2003 happened in part because I realized sometime around the start of the year that I had grown separate from my inner life in recent years when I started to shut down in overwhelm after the deaths of two grandmothers, revelations of family misdeeds, and the restructuring of life at home (being ordered to have roommates now that grandmother was gone and the old man was able to throw a party as my new landlord). The matter of living at the house where I'd lived while grandmother Virginia was alive was something that frustrated my old man, who long had designs on that house. He didn't anticipate I'd live there. So he rearranged his plans to let me live there from 2001-2005 but acted out his frustration that I was there in a real passive aggressive way. He made two significant alterations to the house that were illegal (no permit and not even consulting code) and tasteless and not really needed. At the same time he ignored my requests for things that really needed to be done there. When I asserted that the quality of work needed to be better than what he was doing, he abandoned the project of a bathroom refinishing and let me do it myself. I had some fat and lazy roommates that trashed the place too, so as the year progressed, the reality was upon me that no one but me cared about that house. From landlord and tenants, the place was being sabotaged. I just lived—and thought I'd die there.

Musically, I was real frustrated. After almost a year of giving a good try at starting a band and providing space, instruments, and recording gear to the cause, the ever-changing cast of musicians that came by did not stick around. One guitarist, not really in the running for this band idea because he was too good, said that I had not really paid my dues and I wasn't ready to be some Frank Zappa or Mike Keneally or Ian Anderson. Even a decade later, the old Rhythmic Catharsis ghost visited me. Band leading was not my thing. I also had to face that all the year I bought and sold and traded in the wake of my grandmother's death was not really helping my creativity. The more elaborate two room studio arrangement made it next to impossible to do recording like I once did, but my heart was not in recording; it was in interacting with people, and that was crashing hard at times. (I had just enough glimpses of my ideas played by trios and a short lived quartet or two to be real excited.) It was a substitute for what I really wanted and needed. In July 2003 I packed my stuff up and left it in Hog Heaven Studio's original small room and tried to not enter the place. Certainly nothing got done.

During that death period of late July and August, I started watching movies with an intensity I'd never brought to that activity. For a long time, I'd barely watched movies. I had no real interest. I hated paying to go to theaters. I did not have a video rental card. Netflix was not even around. But something was calling me to watch movies like I was a madman. And these weren't just fluffy things to pass the time. No, I made a list of some dense and heavy shit to watch that maybe I'd heard about but never seen. Edgy, hard. Challenging. I needed an emotional jackhammering to crack into a place in me that needed to be let out to see the light of day again. I at least made some mental list and made my way through the following movies: The Deer HunterThe Last Temptation of ChristThreadsThe Day AfterSaving Private RyanSchindler's ListApocalypse Now. And probably more. It was hot and humid that season and for the first time ever, I had a TV and VCR set up in my room with the sole purpose of hitting myself so hard so that I might feel again. Watching gripping war movies or nuclear disaster films and other dystopic stuff takes you to a place that you don't naturally want to go to. The single most effective film that left an impression on me was The Last Temptation of Christ. When it first came out in 1989, my church youth group was taken to see it as a field trip. That is, everyone but me. My conservative family crew knew only enough about it to deny me the chance to see it with the group, and with two pastor figures who would be able to place it in a larger context. So that was on my list. When I watched it in 2003, I cried buckets because it was the first glimpse I got of Jesus as a man who understood the kind of internal torment and confusion that I knew. I could only wonder how I'd have turned out if I had a clue about that when I was 16, if I'd seen the movie then.

By far the biggest death of these years that end in "3" was what followed all that movie watching and studio closure. In 2008, on the fifth anniversary of the date when I bought a bottle of sleeping pills with the intent to down a bunch of them but ended up chickening out and spending a week and a half in a residential transitional home, I wrote a very detailed blog which I'll direct you to now. Back in the present moment, having skimmed that blog, I'm a bit surprised at how complete it was, even as it happened before I got into later men's work via the Center for Action and Contemplation, Richard Rohr, etc. The tenth anniversary of that date is coming up in a few weeks. If ever there was a time of rebirth into new life, it was during that period. It wasn't that everything was rosy after Halcyon; it wasn't. But periods like that reshuffle the pack and I emerged with new understanding that fueled me for the next leg of the journey.

2013

Seeing what a time it's been with those decades marked by 3's, this year was looking ominous. The fact it is also my 40th year also lent a bit of gravitas to it too for reasons that many already recognize from pop culture and its claims of 40 starting the over-the-hill era. Being the third year of my unemployed and sedentary life, I could certainly feel the shift in my physical being. Last year's departure from Jubilee Economics was not really as graceful as I'd envisioned. Looking for work and getting little or no response, or outright denied, certainly weighed on me. Losing Buber Dog really deflated me at just about the time I wanted to write about many things that might just end up as summaries in this post. Musically, things have generally been better than in years, since I am regularly playing cajon at the pub each week, and trying to write songs and collaborate with songwriters I meet in the San Diego Songwriters Meetup. Collectively, to some extent or another, those engagements have had me play most of my instruments (even appearing on fretless bass), making me thankful I did not do as I thought I'd do in 2003: sell all my stuff and get out of music.

The doom was on the horizon earlier on before I got my new job. Financially, over the years, Kelli and I have sort of been hanging by a thread as the prevailing trend has been for one of us to be working while the other is in a period of unemployment or school or something. Hardly in the 11.5 years we've been together has there been a time when both of us had jobs at the same time. The previous period that actually sustained us was in 2004-2005 when we both worked at senior centers, but were also living cheaper before the old man evicted us in mid 2005. All the time since, we've had a jumbled time of financial rises and falls with income from a mix of jobs, unemployment insurance, grants, stipends, found work, gear sales. We've lived on miracles. The new thing this time around is that she's been the full time, professionally credentialed earner and I've been unemployed. Last year's loss of my unemployment checks caused us a lot of rough times around rent time when she expected me to draw down savings and I thought it better to spend from income. In the end we did a mix of both, but I did hold off on spending savings on rent. The whole matter was real hard to cope with since there was no way to know when I could get a job. The search this time was real challenging since it drew on for so long and I was so hopeful that the time with Jubilee Economics would help me establish myself as capable in the Web field. I put out applications to places I hated myself for visiting. This time more than others, I was trying to apply to places where I felt I'd not sell myself out so grossly. A few things were food delivery jobs that threatened to take over life as I knew it. A few were name brand mega corporations that we love to hate. But the baffling ones were Costco, and some of the grocery stores that I thought would be a good fit: Trader Joe's, Sprouts, Jimbo's...all seeming the right size, close to home (all within a couple blocks of each other too), and dealing in food, which my resume tilts toward more and more now. 

Life got to feeling pretty pointless again with all that and with the fact that Kelli is pretty busy in her work and volunteer (national church level) life. Kelli and I paid a couple visits to a therapist and it was evident we'd need to keep going to address a host of things that have taken shape since we last went to a therapist in 2005 or so. A few months back I had tried to get a bit of solo therapy but realized that I'd be paying a lot of money just to tell the old stories again, and to not really be understood when I spoke of things that mean something to me, like how I choose to use a car or bike, or how to spend money or how I want to not have kids, etc.. The therapists have not one bit of control over the life I need to lead outside, and can't really make the real troublesome stuff go away (fixing families that don't think they're broken, global matters, etc.). What they'd tell me is to make better decisions: keep associated with good people and don't isolate, get exercise, eat better. The thing is, it helps if you have some money to do some things. Or the mental discipline to get into routines that are beneficial. I'm sure all that helps, but what had worked for me before during the Specialty Produce era was that I had a physically demanding job, biked to and from work, was in my church community as participant and leader, and ate better. But take away the job (for whatever reason) and the commute is gone, the better food is neither a work benefit (free produce) or something that is so easily afforded at the stores, and of course, the days are not filled with activity. Furthermore, moving to Escondido is still a thing that strains relationships with my life in San Diego. I barely get to church anymore and the distance and gas is a turn off to participating in non-worship activities unless I happen to have other reasons to be there. But gone are the days when it's a 15 minute bike ride for a meeting or a bible study. As an unemployed person, I had time but no money. Now I have money but the timing is awkward enough (I start work at 6 so the bedtime needs to be around 10) when factoring in the drive. And I still have not decided the round trip drive is something I want to do as often as something interesting comes up.

The Worst Laid Schemes of Mice and Men Often Go Awry

To be frank, this year was feeling mighty much like those earlier years. About all that saved me was the knowledge that those things were survived and something else lurked around whatever corner they turned out to be. Still, feeling as dreadful I did and feeling filled with futility as I was earlier in the spring is nothing enjoyable. Feeling cut off from people, even at home, is agonizing. Having become dependent on someone at the age of 38-39 is disheartening but can happen. Witnessing Buber's somewhat quick decline and seeing him transition into a lifeless husk of the beloved animal we knew was a totally new thing for me. I was real low this winter and spring. I just wanted out again.

One of the great things I've learned from the various teachers along the way in the last several years was that suicidal ideation is normal. Acting on it, not so. The soul does get weary and longs for a way out, for the drastic shift from this to that, from here to there. That much is unstoppable. But of course physical death isn't the answer that we're really looking for. That is more of a conditioned expectation that if we can't live life one way, then we must die. The spiritual traditions hedge against that by reminding us that the matter of change is something we must always cope with. Nothing dies without something being created anew. And nothing is created anew without something having died. It's not just spiritual fluff; it happens to the very matter of the Universe. The stars are born and ultimately die and are turned into something else. Having best learned from Christianity, this is the stuff of the death and resurrection. Neither can happen without the other. Something in my life has to die so something can be reborn. And then again. And again. The pattern is true as anything. But as you see from this glance back at some previous years, the lessons are slow to be learned.

In the month of May, I was able to do a number of days' work with a bandleader who has been working in town for a few decades. Funny, I had never met him even though some familiar faces have worked in his band over the years. He got me on some load ins and load outs, a couple operator gigs, and a little bit troubleshooting a church sound system. He paid me pretty well, but after months and months of no real income except for delivering jam, it was a princely sum! The fact most of that work was physical was handy since it helped prepare me for what was next.

It just so happened that after having sent in a third or fourth resume to the company I am now with, I got a call again like I had when I first got to Escondido in May 2012. This time I interviewed over the phone was a bit like the last time except there was a new position that seemed a better fit for me. Instead of moving beer, there was a kitchen commissary position that would let me deliver to the two restaurants that were being launched this summer. This was the beginning of seeing things anew once again. I was kind of incredulous at the prospect. My negative thoughts flooded in. But then I thought, Shit! I've been looking for almost two and a half years now and have sent my stuff in a few times to this place. Something can happen. I got an interview and prior to that, from emailed messages, found some info to do some research on LinkedIn. Found that the HR director used to work at a place I delivered to, as well as the kitchen manager, who also used to work at a kitchen I delivered to! When I got my interview, that small bit of info helped melt the ice early on. Even though I hate interviews and feel stuffy as fuck in that kind of clothing, it went well. My prospective manager recognized me from when I delivered to his old company. He asked me if I biked there. For him to say that was a trick of memory! I'd not talked to him since no later than the first week in January 2011, but he remembered I used to talk about biking and commuting. (Then later on he told me he hated his old company and had been stiffed for a couple tens of thousands of dollars.) The job offer came a couple weeks later when they decided to actually raise the wage based on my experience at Specialty. Nice. I could start in early June once the drug check and physical was done. And I did. Now it's about seven weeks I've been there.

So that was a rather big change from my earlier, worst laid plans to be depressed and shut down. Funny, I don't typically associate my full time work experiences with much positive, but it seems that the long gestation period between jobs (or even since wrapping up activity with Jubilee Economics) was helping me find a far better fit of a job. Finding that I'd already met the kitchen manager was a good start. I know from LinkedIn evidence he looked at my resume there a few times before I got the offer. And since. He just took me into his office the other day and said he wants me to be the lead driver there who sets the standard for two other guys and tends to driving/delivery related concerns. He said he'd back me up and get me whatever I need to do the job right. And get this... this is where it gets so amazing.

All the hang wringing about getting a job was agonizing until this one started to flow my way. Since September last year I have delivered jam for a tiny family operated business that is gaining currency in the area with their delicious homestyle jams. My work was to deliver the product to Whole Foods Markets in the greater LA area using their van. I'd go down to San Diego the day before to get the loaded van, then park at my house and leave at 4 am. I did a whirlwind trip up to Orange county once a month, and a two day trip to cover a number of more northerly destinations once a month. I did just three days' work for $375 cash and if nothing else, that was all I got for a wage that month. (They did have me do some other web work but much of that period was lean.) When I got to dancing with the new company, looking forward to a full time spot, I knew I'd need to jam on the jam. They recruited Tom, who they knew from their farmers market activity where he was selling cheeses in another stall. He rode along with me for a day after I was in negotiations and after my interview. Just as we got back to my house, I got a call that I'd be sent an offer letter. And so it was that my jam delivery days were done and Tom was in. Once I started, I was able to find that a second position was still open to do a part time version of what I'd be doing. The part timer would be the weekend relief for me (delivering to two spots in San Diego) and the other guy who does the local work. I texted Tom and said he should apply since he told me he'd been looking for something real for a year and more. I also mentioned to manager Larry and buyer Eric and one of the HR ladies that he was looking and would send in a resume. It took a month or so to get things together but he's actually starting tomorrow and I get to train him. Again! (I think the folks back at the jam company were a little puzzled when they heard from the same recruiter asking about the guy they just brought on a few weeks before!)

This puts me in the really odd place of saying that one never really knows the trajectory of life and death and life again. Is there anything in my past that would suggest that I had what it took to get not one but two jobs at the same company in the space of a couple months? I'm laughing as I even write that!

Somehow, a bit of mercy landed upon me this summer. Given my tendencies, I could be rehashing all the old stuff at great length on this blog. Could be absorbed in what a bummer year this year needs to be to complete some pattern that exists only in my mind. Could have endless unemployed time to do all that. But no. It seems that won't be how this year, and especially this summer, plays out. Just when it looked like a death was on the horizon, a resurrection appears.

Sunday
Jun092013

What's on my Plate, You Ask?

I have to admit that sitting down to write in the blog entry window here is a rather foreign thing to me these days. The last few months have been some of the lightest months since I started blogging in 2002. I've certainly sat down to try a few things but usually have closed out before long, knowing the time suck that was sure to follow. Sorry to leave you all on the edge of your seats.

I've had some rough times until recently. Most of this year has been in the midst of depression and then grief at the loss of Buber the Dog. Times have been challenging during the entire period since I lost my unemployment benefits in August 2012, but every month made it harder with the pittance of an income I got from doing some deliveries from a local handcrafted jam company and a small bit of other audio/recording work. Rent time got to be rather hellish as me and the wifey navigated the waters of how much I could contribute and how much I'd use of my savings to pay for such an expense, and how long that would last and what might happen if I bled that dry. That, on top of a lot of feeling of disconnection from my San Diego life, was utter hell sometimes. Being in Escondido feels hot and suffocating in real terms but feeling that the life I knew was in another town kept me frustrated. The job search is never really worthy of much enthusiasm anyway, as one job application/callback/interview or another turned up nothing. My level of physical activity dropped significantly, feeling too numb to move sometimes (because of the pointlessness I felt), or the real heat of the day. Some weight gain, and a clearly less fit physical frame has been a clear sign of something not right.

Buber's death in March hurt too. The house fell silent and still. Kelli found herself racked with grief and guilt about being so busy in the time preceding his death. Little daily domestic patterns went away for good because of Buber. Larger ones, like walking him at night, were also our family time, and ever since then we've not been too regular in walking the neighborhood. It's not good for our health to ignore the walks, and the days that were already long and shapeless for that period became worse when Kelli and I were having tough times relating, with the walks being brushed aside altogether most nights. It's one of those things that gets us away from all the rest of life's distractions and lets us have our relationship time and perhaps some new input as we stroll. We're working on it.

During the months from October-May I had some opportunities while delivering jam to attempt to pay visits to family members in the greater LA area. That met with the usual rejections, even as I tried to keep on topic and not try to inflame anyone. Maybe even say some more compassionate things than I think they expect of me. In trying to wish my mom happy birthday, I ended up having a chance to meet up (a week or so later) with my nephew while returning from an LA route. It was the first time since 2001 that someone from that clan actually agreed to meet with me. I'm quite glad it happened and hope for some good things to happen as I slowly discover some of the cracks in the wall of a family system that has usually been an "all in or all out" thing for me. With some persistence, social media options, and some grace, I've found even a few friendly contacts that have not shut me out and that understand my struggle enough to be more open.

I worked at delivering jam for three days a month since the very end of September. There were three routes and I was paid a flat rate per day. Taken in consideration of how I had to pick up the van in San Diego a day before the route left my house in Escondido at 4:15 am, it was really not a great paying gig. To do a day's work took two days over about 14 hours and it ended up being something like minimum wage. But it was cash only, took only a couple days a month, and they gave me a per diem allowance to get lunch. And some super tasty jam, too! The three routes each got their own Monday until the holiday season when it made sense to stock up in time for the holiday food-buying spree preceding Thanksgiving and then Christmas. We combined two routes into one two-day run. For two months I found a private house to stay at and then the rest were at hotels in the LA area so I could do a lot of stops and then go "home" for the night and start early the next day with just a couple remaining stops and maybe some last minute trips to stores closer to San Diego. All that enlarged time and awareness of the region gave me the chance to try to be in contact with family. There were more misses than hits but the meeting with my nephew did in fact make the whole time worthwhile. I suppose what I did not earn in money, there was a bonus in the freedom to route myself and try to touch the family with some detours through their neighborhoods old and new.

Musically, I've been going to the pub here in Escondido fairly consistently since July and have been playing cajon since October when Kelli bought me a cheap cajon to help me have a more appropriate instrument to bring to the traditional Irish sessions. I've fashioned a bit of a style using brushes and rod sticks. It works well for the Irish/Celtic/Bluegrass and Country that turns up there. In the absence of any other social connections up in Escondido, that session and some things in its orbit have been key to feeling like life has any pleasure at times. Sometimes I pick up a guitar there and hack my way through some of the tunes. I've been intrigued by mandolin and picked that up a time or two. One day, I hope I can get in on bass.

The San Diego Songwriters meetup group is something I've taken part in with about 2/3 consistency since February 2012 before we moved. I have been getting to some meetings, collaborated on a few songs (either as writer or as musical support/recording). The group participates in a local songwriting challenge and showcase called The Game. I have not yet finished my own songs for that but just a week ago I played five songs on cajon for other writers who wanted some extra power behind their tunes at the showcase event. Only two of them sent me material in advance, so I winged it (wung it?) on the others.

Musically, back home, I have my drums set up and sounding pretty good. I have a neighborhood that can't really complain about the noise because most of them are louder than me! So I have spent some time trying to reconnect with that instrument that used to mean the world to me but has for almost a decade been a foreigner to me. I also spend time with bass, trying to pick out parts to pop songs and exposing myself to unfamiliar tunes, hoping to test my ears. A year and a half ago I got a bass that I converted to fretless, so it's a challenge to put that on and try playing on it, especially "cold." Guitar time is mostly acoustic and used to either noodle or perhaps get some basis for songs down. The electric could be cranked up some too. I've done small bits of recording in order to work out some of the SD Songwriters songs, but recording is not my focus now. I did try making a new recording of the drums to my song Tired from 1999. I find I need to shed on drums to recover my sense of time and feel that I think I once had. Maybe I didn't. Frankly, I find the fretless bass or even the mandolin a more invigorating challenge!

But really, this era has been the most musically active since 2005 or maybe even 2003. And the most positive and collaborative since I am allowing myself to realize I don't really know much after all. I do and I don't. I have a broad understanding but not a very great ability. So it can be in service of some things, and not others.

And then, the big news, towering rather high over everything else because of course it means I'm in a new age of life here: I got a job finally. You read right. After about two years and a third, it came. The whack part of it is that it took a year to finally fall into place. See, I submitted a resume to a certain brewery up in Escondido last year in May once we decided to move. I got a call back and talked to the HR recruiter for a good 20 minutes. I suppose I didn't have a clear resume and it was hard to form the words in answer to a question that was fairly direct: "is truck driving what you really want to do?" I recalled thinking and saying that I'd like to drive to get in and maybe get into a subsequent position elsewhere in the company, maybe in the media area. I suppose that showed a bit of non-commitment so I got passed over. But I sent the resume in another couple times, most recently in April, with a reminder we'd talked before. This time I got the callback and talked again at some length. There was another position open. Still a driver, but not for the beer distribution. Instead, there was a new position at the commissary, supplying the original restaurant and two new ones about to open. I had no idea that the commissary existed but it sounded more suitable to me than lugging beer kegs.

I got an interview in the week of the call. I did some LinkedIn research on who I'd be meeting with. The HR person and the kitchen manager were both at companies I used to deliver to at Specialty Produce. I felt a bit more comfortable. When I met the kitchen manager, Larry, he recognized me and asked me if I rode in. That was interesting because I had not seen him in about two and a half years and I while recall talking to him, I don't recall details. But he remembered I was an agreeable chap when delivering to his catering kitchen, and that I rode a bike for commuting. This was going well. I got a chance to meet with him in private and we found ourselves laughing off the last jobs we had, and he thought well of me, with compliments and a vision that I could be more responsible than the younger guys he sees coming through. He then led me to the HR office and from outside the door I could hear some smiling voices. On the way out, HR asked who I'd like to have contacted as references. One was back at Specialty, and coincidentally, a part time figure at the last place Larry worked. And folks who own the jam company. May 10 was a good antidote for the depression.

It took nearly two weeks before I heard back but they called back and said they would expand the wage on offer to meet me halfway or better between their original estimate and my old wage. I was told it would take a couple weeks to start after their offer letter was approved, sent to me, returned, and then a physical completed. Just two days after the physical, I was in. As of this writing, I've just completed the first week. This is the first time I feel maybe my resume worked for me, as did social media and some connections and prior contacts in the industry.

After all that time of not having a job, the lack of structure and the lack of money kept me in a small world, sedentary, and pretty down. The matter of losing my pup companion, struggling to eke out any identity in relation to family, and having limited resources to keep connected to life in San Diego (30 miles away for most purposes), has all stacked up against me and sort of driven me a little neurotic. Having a job again gives a good chunk of structure to the day and weeks. There are some notable similarities to the last job at Specialty. I'm still in the restaurant industry, and even more so since I am working in a kitchen. There are some food benefits in addition to the coveted FT health benefits. The commute is very short and bikeable. The mission of the company is very compatible with personal values I hold, especially after being shaped by forces such as Jubilee Economics. My workdays start and stop at predictable enough times; I'm not "on the job" around the clock with mental energy going to endlessly creative pursuits (such as when doing all sorts of IT work as a volunteer, not knowing when to finish a project, if that is even possible). There is a pendulum swing for me, wavering between the poles of punch-the-clock labor jobs that can become soul sucking if it's not in some alignment with who I see myself as, and then the explosive periods of freelancing work, marked by creative and exploratory energy during periods of unemployment from the clock jobs. Right now, the security of a clock job is appealing. Within the new company, there is some latitude to be creative and integral, either within the job I have now, or elsewhere in the company.

The economics of time shifts when for once, hours away from work become more valuable. With all the hours available during unemployment, it's hard to get anything done. There's little incentive to hurry or be efficient. Even a year after moving to Escondido, we have not really nested in the house with pictures on the walls. Part of that is the heat encountered last summer when we moved in. And then for months we've worried we made a decision worthy of regret even though the landlord has been hands down the best we've had and has honored many requests. But now that Kelli's office is literally on the other side of the hill from here, just a mile away, and my job is just a couple miles out, there's no practical reason to entertain moving again. It just took a year before we could feel better about that.

Surely I'm feeling rosier than I have for a while but as I watch the news about economics, environment, and all the other things that seem to be hitting the red, I try not to delude myself that this is the start of my ride off into the sunset of consumer bliss and a happy home. It seems every day there are plenty of articles and posts about the open trap door swallowing the middle class. Even making what Kelli makes is not enough when you consider how much she pays in academic debt. Adding half as much again helps but it's not really enough to hold fast against inflation and not much to save. Fortunately, aside from her car loan and student loans, we are quite in control over any garden variety consumer debt.

Sure, my new wage just added half of Kelli's wage into our household purse. There are things that I have been saying I'd fix or upgrade when the money was right. Actually, having a job after all this time brings with it a kind of fearful suspicion that what follows is a consumer streak after a lot of deferrals. I'd like to not wait till my computer is so out of date as my old G4 before I replace it. I want to convert one of my bikes to a geared bike. I got my first smartphone this year but it's a glitchy refurb model gotten at a steep discount that makes an iPhone look pretty appealing. My truck's steering alignment is a bit out after a trip to Death Valley that involved some uncharacteristic off roading. Kelli and I want to finally rid ourselves of cookware with teflon. I have long wanted to get a new acoustic guitar that is actually chosen to suit me after using a second hand axe for 19 years. At this very time in 2005, I had an order for a custom electric guitar build that was cut short with the eviction news that came eight years ago this week. I still have fancy thoughts of getting such a guitar but have shelved it during the years when my music activity went dormant. I've wanted to get a keyboard instrument again, but the most useful one would be a MIDI controller to play the virtual instruments on my computer. But I'd savor having an acoustic piano again, a full circle move if it ever happens. Thoughts of taking music lessons are always near me; I'd like most to start with vocal and guitar lessons to open up my options for songwriting and performance. Depending on how I feel from doing some physical work again, I may decide to do the unthinkable and pay for a gym membership for the first time. Sustaining my presence on the web also takes some money, and I'd like to get a Soundcloud account that has capacity enough to present all my featured recordings, with the idea of remixing older ones now that I've finally recovered all my VS-880 era recordings as WAV files which can be worked with today.

And yes, those are just the things for myself. When I was at Specialty I also was able to give about 6% of my income to church. I felt like someone for once, being about 35 and able to do that. Losing my job a couple years ago began a long period of feeling that I had not contributed a fair share. That was heightened by moving out of town and being far less able to even participate and donate time. Now I'm cresting into my 40s and I feel I should support my church, or even the in-transition MALEs movement as they create an identity outside of Richard Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation. Those are the two leading orgs I'd like to support because I've received a lot from each already, and there are certainly others that are worthy of some assistance.

According to those last two paragraphs, I've already spent my first year's wages!

Okay, so you can see that there is a lot of things of concern that I could easily have blogged about a little at a time. But since there are so many nebulous connections, it's hard to know where to start or stop. Such is the state of my mind and heart; so many options and demands to try to honor, the easier and perhaps more right response, is to brush it aside.

I've actually been thinking of retiring TAPKAE.com. I don't even know who reads it. I keep it for an online reference to things I want to share, but I doubt people actually come here because of anything I want to share. If anything, it's Googlebombed when people do some odd searches. It's not a resume/portfolio site. It's not really anything but my journal in words, sounds, and images. I have tried to use the new Squarespace (the service I use for this site) version 6 but have not found it ideal for all the kinds of content I have here. But even to sustain this version 5 is to pay a pretty chunk of money every year. I've wondered about my choice of content being so public, but the matter is, if I don't pay, it goes away. If I do pay, I want to keep it up and growing, but still have no real sense that anyone gives a shit. Staying on SS version 5 is clunky to say the least, and 6 is slick but lacks control. Part of me wants to just take it all down and make my blogs into PDFs for myself. I have no idea how to progress. Better to just brush it aside.

And that's what's on my plate these last months.

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?

Friday
Dec212012

Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music +12

Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music? Tech Background

A long time in coming. That's what it has been for me to bring you this recording. Oh, it's not new. It's not even unheard. It's been here on this site for years, and each year in December I do something to share it around as a gift to people around me, either in person or online. 

What is new is that after a dozen years of kicking around with a rather boring mix and with the hasty cover art, this year I finally was able to address that and get it all remixed and fixed up with some snappier visuals. I owe a debt of gratitude to one Brian Caldwell, a figure I've met while in Escondido. For many months since I got here, I've jammed with he and Paul Castellanos at the Irish pub. I found that Brian owns two Roland VS-2480 recorders and after hearing of this, I talked some shop with him. I used to own a 2480 myself but found it really difficult to work with, especially after becoming very fluent on my VS-880. This Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music project was done on the 880 in mid December of 2000, and has the distinction of being the last project that was done in a way that seemed album-like. It's only 15:35 long but it feels like an album, not just a one off track.

Recorded at the end of 2000, this was done fairly late in my 880 period. The 2480 came on the scene in late June 2001 and for all intents and purposes, buried the 880. It had the capability to bring 880 projects onto its hard drive, and while it was of nearly no use to me then, when Brian spoke of VS-2480s, my ears perked up. See, I have about 40 data CDs of 880 and some 2480 material. And since Roland machines have a proprietary audio encoding, my Mac can't even read the disks. So, for all these years I've hung on to the 880, expecting that if an opportunity like this were not to arise, I'd need to do a MIDI sync linking the iMac to the 880, and transfer tracks two or four at a time. It was pretty much a deal breaker to think of doing things that way. The good news is that with only eight tracks to mix with at once, anything that I mixed before with that many tracks was not that hard to recreate.

Brian lives just a couple miles away and let me come over to reacquaint myself with the 2480. I found it as difficult as before but the optimism was there that this time something might actually come of my time fiddling with it. My goal was first to grab the multitrack sources of this recording so I could give it a proper mix with richer effects and more clarity. I got pretty frustrated relearning the 2480 interface in just an hour but got my CDs with the WAV files I needed to get things into the iMac where I'd mix in Logic Pro. (He was nice enough to offer the use of the machine as I needed it. Then he let me borrow it. What a guy! That's giving me ideas to remix and finish such a thing as ReCyclED, toiled on for years and then sort of set aside when Receiving took center stage.)

The original recording was done in two main sessions, and each had eight tracks. When I got back home, I had 16 WAV files there, ready to... well, wait a minute! Actually, they could be mixed that way but you see, the initial recording process was really scattershot. I started off on what you now hear as the middle of the recording (track 5 if it were to be indexed). That started the entire project but there were five "songs" from that point to the end. Each had just a few tracks—never more than six at once—and when there were open spaces at the end of one "song" I'd use them to start a new idea. Maybe two tracks launched it, but as things ended on a previous "song" I'd have new track space to put in more ideas. The idea of sensible track layout (drums, bass, guitar, keys, fx) progressing from left to right was just not of any service here. Nope. If you looked at the tracks as lanes on a freeway, it would appear rather like the various color cars and trucks on such a road: at different places, sometimes traveling together, others out front, some longer or shorter, etc. In musical terms, it meant that in the lane of track 1, it might start as a tambourine and then become a keyboard, and then become a different keyboard later on. And tracks 2-8 would have equally odd instances of musical bits cutting in and out. The task was to get that into order so I could progress. This is just the preparatory work so the creative job of mixing can flow.

With those 16 audio files in one session at last, I cut all the separate regions (instrumental parts arrayed across the audio files) so they could be arranged next to each other with their "song" peers. I found there were 37 parts to work with. I got them grouped into the constituent "songs" and color coded the groups of tracks that were meant to perform together. Then, for the next song on the timeline, those tracks would receive like treatment. As the whole project progressed, a group of pink tracks ended and some green ones started, and then blue, and purple, and orange, etc.

Those 37 tracks gave way when I further divided a few that I missed, and when I deleted a couple instances and replayed just a few parts on drums and cymbals to improve feel and timing, and then added just a bit of cymbals for more texture. Other than that, the whole project was the same as before. What could be done now was to use ample plugins to do the detailed EQ and compression that I never could do, and to mix with far more variety in effects and also to do automation for tricky bits that I could never do with my fingers on just a few faders. I took the opportunity to time align a few things for improved feel. Things were done quite hastily in 2000. Because the parts were put down and then the mix happened no more than a week or two later, the idea of what the mix might sound like was not yet lost. But to recover such ideas a dozen years later? Um... better to just wipe the slate clean and put stuff into logical groups!

Mixing was a joy. One effect I found to be real useful and transformative was a subsonic bass treatment that does some amazing hocus pocus on drums and gives them a richer bottom end by synthesizing some lower octave information based on the extant material. It worked wonders on a relatively small headed tambourine that was played at real low level originally (and close to the mic for a natural bass boosting effect), but did not have the deep fundamental like the bass drum it emulated. This plugin took that calfskin headed tambourine and added some real balls to it, in effect turning it into a tribal bass drum sounding like it was being hit pretty hard. Further processing was done to separate the jingle from the drum part of the tambourine. Detailed filtering on cloned tracks let me cut the drum out of one track and the jingles out of the other, in effect creating two instruments from one instrument. I did that a couple places for the more rirualistic and festive sounding parts.

Creating some stereo spread without reverb was handy on some tracks, but since the aural model I had in mind when I worked in 2000 was that of the Paul Winter Consort playing their Solstice Live concerts in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, I was cool with massive reverb. This is meant to be a powerful and atmospheric sounding recording, and so it gave itself to such processing. Some rich delays too.

With all the muckity muck of the 45 tracks that I mixed (the biggest project I ever mixed, but really only from 2-8 tracks at once), I was still keen to keep natural sounding dynamics intact. I mixed and remixed several times, reviewing in mono, small speakers, out of my room, and on headphones. I kept compression to a minimum on the whole mix, and used a bit of widening to make it even richer.

The art from 2000 was really basic and rushed. Remember, it was just to give away as a Christmas present. All I did then was to use a picture from a calendar I had a year before—one with a slightly iconic Ron Kimball portrait (porktrait?) of a giant hog towing a sleigh with a piglet at the helm. Then I used label maker tape to mark it up as from TAPKAE, and to call it Y2k Holiday Theme Music. The words "Hog! Hog! Hog!" were meant to be read as "Ho Ho Ho!" but I don't think anyone got it. It was innocent and cute but it was someone else's work and done stupidly cheap. So this time I put a bit more work into the design. I still used someone else's work but made it look a lot nicer. These days, since nothing is released on a CD-R anymore (at least not for free), a bit of humor got lost. Originally there was a CD with a paper label applied, with one side of the spindle hole showing "Side A" and the other, "Side B."

These days the prospect of creating some audio and turning it loose on the world is finally starting to appeal to me. In the old days I gave so much of it away anyway. With Soundcloud now proving to be a great sharing option, allowing ready downloads, links, and embedding, I have decided that I should properly post stuff with full tagging and notes, and set it out there. This tune is on YouTube as you see, and also on Soundcloud. While the mixes I've had around for years have been online, it's not much use to just have them hosted on my site. That's been kind of a shift of paradigm too. After blowing out the last of the copies of Receiving, I decided to get it on Soundcloud as a high quality download. Now this. I plan to work my way backward and remix things and get my more established stuff together that way.

Personal Background

A bigger story lurks behind the timing of both the original recording and this remix. Indulge me, and you might appreciate the layers of meaning to its creator.

In 2000, I was 27 and at that time of life when it was time to address the various broken relationships and other troubling aspects of life. Seeking to reconnect with my mom and the extended family constellated around her after the better part of six years estrangement (not even the first of its kind), I sought their numbers in phone books at 7/11 stores around their known neighborhoods. That turned up a successful connection and I went to a reunion two days before Thanksgiving that year. The occasion was not just to welcome me though. I was at least "second fiddle" that day; the larger cause was that my grandmother there had died the week before, literally the morning after I got a call back from my sister. I hadn't seen my grandmother in years.

Despite the mixed emotional content of that day, I entered the holidays with a great deal of optimism. It was made all the more interesting because it was just then that I found my young niece Kaitlin to be a delightful inspiration. I had three other nephews from my older sister, but I'd never connected with them at any significant level. But with my niece, I got that feeling that I could be someone for her. This time, my resolve was there.

Back at home in San Diego, that spark continued when I went into the studio and spent about a week and a half leaping from one instrument to another and back again, having all sorts of ideas come to me, fortunately at a time when I had some cool keyboards and percussion toys on loan, and lots of time to indulge the muse's calling.

Yes, it's spontaneous and rather unfinished and gets from one idea to another without returning to any one theme, but the joy of recording it comes through clearly. I've always found it interesting to note that this project has a lot more melody and charm than anything I'd done thus far. It wasn't so dark, or so goofy. Maybe it reflects some of the consonance I felt for a few weeks at the end of 2000. The world was a safer place. A little girl melted my heart and made it safe to be vulnerable again. Who knows.

Now, in 2012, the sad fact is the family relations continue to be unbearable most of the time, not unlike the situation that launched this whole story. It has been an incredibly challenging part of life to deal with all this, trying to live with either their presence OR their absence. The prolonged estrangement periods take everyone out of the picture for the most part, and the short punctuations to that are usually heated and savage. I did get to see my niece briefly as I paid my mom a visit in November (half-coincidentally just a few days before Thanksgiving once again). Unlike the occasions 12 years ago, I left there realizing there would never be a relationship, and because of my sister's intransigence, all those years have passed and I've not ever been given a chance to be in any relationship with my niece. It's not that there is no hope, but essentially, the book has been written by now. (To further indicate the measure of dysfunction, no one actually told me my own half brother had died until I happened to drop in at mom's place over six months after the fact!)

So while the optimism of 2000 has had stumbling blocks put before it, and the recent remix project was laboring under the cloud of a new dose of defeat for my spirit, this year, rather than limiting the dedication to niece Kaitlin, this year's work is dedicated to the people who have sustained me on the outside of the rather disappointing family I was born to.

The solstice happens in the darkest time but signifies the coming of the light.

Santa and the Kingdom of Childhood: a Bit of a Troubled Place

A related project that uses a bit of the 2000 version of HHHTM is this short video that I put together this year. The reading is from a book called The Dance of Time by author Michael Judge. I loved the reading so much that in 2010, I decided to do a few takes. The whole thing is explained in more detail in another post. Shortly after getting that video posted, I got a call from my sister Nikki, chewing me out big time for posting pictures of her minor child (Katie's 15 now). Oh? Well, she's my niece too. She tried to tell me she wasn't so I dared her to prove it with DNA testing. And four of seven pictures are mine. She tried to tell me they weren't when I hold the negatives in my box just in the other room. She threatened legal/law enforcement action. I know what she means, but her fiat declaration that Katie is not my niece is kinda flimsy. I mean, at one point, I was welcomed into their house, took pictures of my family member, and a dozen years later I posted them online? If my sister is worried about all that kind of stuff, maybe she ought tell Katie she can't have a Facebook account, or she ought not post pictures herself where people like me (she calls me a "stalker," or "pedophile" or "child molester") might find them. I offered to take out the three pictures I didn't take myself.

So enjoy the show. Merry Christmas to all. Even those family members who like to pretend they're not.

Sunday
Oct072012

Life in the Hidden Valley

Eventually, there would be a first time. It never happened in my younger years when these decisions were made for me and never during the years when I could have done so myself (and probably should have, if I were to have listened to my various adult and peer counsel). Most exceptionally, I never did it when it made the most sense and probably would have settled the domestic strife in 2005 associated with getting evicted at my intended long term home. (2005 would have been the chance to move to Kelli's seminary town, Claremont, CA but we stayed in San Diego and she commuted weekly for seven semesters.)

I never moved house to a location outside of San Diego. Until this year, about five months ago.

Now that I have, I'm deep in that worried spot, wondering if it was the right thing to do. The problem isn't so much how far I've moved, but more a matter perhaps of moving not far enough. Y'see, Escondido is just 30 miles from where I was earlier in the year. Same county. Only a half hour and I'm back in my default life in San Diego—all the social networks. Church life for both of us (at different but not distant churches). Job opportunities. Dental, medical, and even pet services that we have not yet decided to change to Escondido area ones. All that stuff was left to be conducted in our hometown while the primary benefit is that since Kelli is the bread (and butter, with her second job) winner, with her office located up here, it made sense finally to accommodate her, unlike in 2005 and the Claremont debacle.

Since 2002 or so, in the wake of 9/11, I've been more gasoline conscious. And of course in 2004-2005 I was particularly concerned with peak oil and the implications it would have in daily life. (My thoughts from that period in particular were the stuff that essentially launched this blog, and those two years have voluminous posts, many about the constellation of topics around peak oil.) Years later now, not so interested in the topic at that level, the fact is, I still make decisions with it in mind. No one really wanted to listen but I have kept watch and monitor my driving pretty strictly much of the time. And that means of course that to live 30 miles away from a life that used to wrap around me in about a four-mile radius demands some judicious planning. With gas prices now at the highest I've ever seen, a simple trip down there and back will cost about $10 or more.

Clearly, the move to be nearer to Kelli's work has been a success, and would be more so if her territory as hospice chaplain didn't drift a time or two since we got here. But barring that, it's still good that she doesn't have to plan to do a daily camping trip, carrying everything she'd need to spend a day in her car, out in the field or at the office. She barely gets to the office anymore, instead doing a lot of work in her room. Phone calls, charting, and other bits that she used to do at the office or in the field are now done before leaving for the day. Nice. It's good to see more of her. On the whole, she tends to get home earlier, but believe it or not, even the shorter distances are troubled with the fact that she has to use the CA-78, which gets to be a nightmare at rush hour. But mostly, the move was good. Her San Diego position is mostly a contingency-based, on call kind of position that only happens four days a month. Some days her job is to call in and wait for further word, and to get paid in the process. Nice. Others are the expected patient visits and pay handsomely. She'd like to quit the job but every couple weeks the paycheck is found to be useful for powering through credit card debt (both of us paid off now) and now a car loan and the ever-present and painful student loans at nearly a grand per month. Keeping a good connection with that second office might be handy if there is a time when she might apply for an internal transfer, and maybe drop the job up here.

As for my part, I get myself in knots about this. I've been trying to build a life up here. Job applications and resumes sent out to places within about a ten mile space. I've been giving more attention to my musical pursuits since departing my post at JEM in August (freeing up vast amounts of time). The city library is nearby so I've dropped in a couple times, even meeting up with their "Library You" program manager, talking about helping their effort to record local folks to help build up a local body of work with video and audio. A couple cash gigs have been gotten in the region (audio book editing, a website, housesitting), and other options might turn up some work: more audio book work, maybe a percussion gig, maybe live audio too. I got close to getting a cheesy gig driving premium cheese to Los Angeles area destinations but I think if I ever get to work for that place, it might be because I was overselling myself and I think the guy realized that it'd be a waste to have me on the road, and instead doing something more creative and supportive. I got a referral from a fellow at church who turned me on to a local jam company, which also needed an LA driver, so I am preparing to start with them next week. Tiny operation. More later...

I've gotten to the local pub and tried to absorb Irish music on guitar (not happening so far) and percussion (all that Jethro Tull and Fairport Convention is starting to pay off), and hope eventually to let that turn into new opportunities. I haven't biked much because for all the time so far, up until the last few days, it has been so damned hot and/or humid. I mostly stay home during the days unless there is reason to go somewhere, and I have to say that I've driven more than I'd like. At night, we're able to walk the dog into town if we want. The pub is just under a mile. I bike over with guitar and some small percussion and maybe Kelli comes by later with Buber Dog and we walk back after a beer. We walk to explore the hood and to get some basics done. It's neat having services nearby. An amazing old school donut shop is all too tempting. We're not totally central in town but it's not far out either. The city is a bit spread out, with newer areas being deployed farther out into the hinterlands. We're essentially in the barrio here, something I anticipated but did not realize would be so true. We're off the main drag in a way that is quiet as regards city traffic, but we're in a neighborhood that tends to be loud: radios, industrial traffic, dogs, chatter en Espanol.

All that noise on my street started a chain reaction that ended with my resignation from JEM, first finding it hard to produce a recording without noise, and without burning up in my office room with closed windows. The last episode I produced featured what amounted to an audio tour of the various noises, and narration of how that was already changing things. I didn't expect my whole volunteer position would be found to be so tenuous after that. Anyhow, during July and August it got very hard to justify the time spent doing that, particularly when I lost my unemployment benefits after a year and a half, and needed to spend more time patching up that damage. The handoff to the others was not without its problems, even as I was tutoring them. The fact is, I held the key to the JEM digital kingdom and it would be hard to hand it over in any way since no one else really had been so acquainted with it all.

The fact of JEM's podcasting and all my volunteer work with them seems to remain that it was successful while I was in the neighborhood near the office. Notice the bookended period: I moved to North Park in October 2009 and announced that I could do volunteer work starting in December. Then the opposite happened once I moved here: got here in May 2012 and was separating three months later after finding the geographic challenge was frustrating, holding so many conversations and tutorials over the web with people who really need to see stuff in person. Recording sessions could be done any of a number of ways but the best way would be up here where it was hot and miserable and it would be hard to get a guest to come up. It just all fell on its face. But for this telling, you need to know that seeing it all evaporate in a month or two was disorienting, especially as the season here was swelling in temperature, and there seemed to be no relief from the heat unless I drove to San Diego or hit the mall or library (the latter two not my usual choices).

The summer was a hell of a time in terms of heat (it would be hotter here by default but I'm convinced now we're getting some stranger weather from world level issues). But it was also a handwringer about the job situation, especially when, in August, that changed and my UI payments came to an end. Feeling that all my time at JEM was still a thing that didn't particularly qualify me to do other work I see listed, I was pretty crushed at the lack of responses to my more computer related queries. Yet I hated the idea of just driving trucks or doing warehouse work. My landlord was nice enough to smile upon my musical pursuits, even drums, but I kept that aside until about a month ago when I set up and wailed with real drumsticks (not whip sticks or rods) for the first time in years. The urge to make music has been growing in me, and something is demanding that attention of me, so I've been spending time each week on guitar, bass, songwriting, a bit of drums, or generally getting some musical knowledge and trying to (gasp!) learn some things I should have learned long ago. Getting to the pub has given me a real carefree opportunity to absorb some material and to meet folks.

But still, the feeling of incompleteness when I consider that there is a life I am missing down in my hometown... It seems Wednesday is a day to pile up several things in San Diego and go see some people. I don't get to church much anymore because for me it was not particularly about the Sunday worship but more about the things during the week, the things that form the community I enjoyed. Not being able to do that with a 15 minute bike ride, or to carpool with a fellow member has been isolating. Kelli and I might head down to San Diego on a Sunday morning, and maybe go to two churches. But since I don't like worship and feel like things are different, it's like going through the motions. Even while at church, I am not in church. I tend to wander off to another room, either to read or to seize the solitary time. That kind of thing was something that took hold especially after returning from my two great desert times in Arizona and New Mexico in 2010 and 2011, respectively. As many churches as there are in Escondido, none are of our denomination (I lie, one is but it's more independent and whacky), and the others nearby are far by my standard. It's easier to just keep getting to San Diego with Kelli, who doesn't want to leave her church. And that's the one I don't want to go to. It's odd. We even drove up to Murrieta to try a small UCC/DOC church there. I'm just not feelin' the church life now.

But the good news is that on the musical front, I've given more time to do some aspect of musical development most days. It's not as aggressive a schedule as I'd like to engage in but it's more than I've done in years. A few Craigslist ad responses have given me a couple more options to explore. I've been able to justify trips to San Diego that include a songwriter Meetup group that I've enjoyed several times this year. I've spent more time with guitar/bass/theory websites and just trying to develop my hands and ears to more quickly acquire new repertoire. It comes rather easier than it used to but man, it's an uphill battle. The big challenge for me, trying to pursue music now, is to realize I'm 39 and can't keep living with the echoes of all the negative voices, all the "reasonable" voices telling me about "music should just be a hobby" and other such limiting talk. It's taken a lot of wrestling to push past that and to start to develop again. I just know that a number of musical experiences in the last couple years have been nudging me in the direction of more music. And yes, I'm glad I still have enough tools to work with and can still jump to another instrument at a moment's notice. I'm looking forward to being able to play drums and hopefully return to recording sometime while I'm here. I'd like to get some work so I could afford lessons on one or two instruments.

I hate to say it but we already talk about whether we should leave this town. If we waited for our lease to expire, we'd go in May or June. Or I suppose we could pay absurd money to break contract. But as long as Kelli anchors it up here with her job, it's hard to justify leaving back to San Diego. For me, seeking a job as I am, I fear getting a job in San Diego. It could be pretty expensive just in commuting costs. There's no way in hell I could get a job that pays as well as hers so if I did get such a job, driving my truck, it would cost more in real terms and as a percentage of my wage to do such a thing as commuting from here to San Diego (central). We moved up here because we'd save five trips a week or more, about about $300 in gas per week. For me to take a job in San Diego while living in Escondido is not too different than Kelli taking a job in Escondido while living in San Diego. But that's not our concern yet. It's just a measure of how crazy things are.

Aside from the economics of it, of course we're feeling cut off from our people. And aside from that too, it's harder to ask people to come up here. All summer, with the heat raging like it has, we've not even entertained having the house warming party for the folks who helped us move up here. (A house cooling party would be better.) My cooking interests have all but dried up since getting here since the kitchen is hot by nature and of course ridiculous with any appliances on. The fans have run continuously until last week when it finally got to feeling like a comfortable day in my hometown. The bills, shared in part with a fellow in the flat behind us, are absurdly expensive in part because we're in a smaller city with a whole other utility scheme, and in part because our co-tenant has AC and we don't. We just got approval from our landlord to put in fans. He's pretty cool and tried earlier in the summer to get fans but it was too late to even find them. He's such a good landlord (unlike the various parties who have taken our money for the last five places we've been in) that we have mixed feelings about letting him accommodate us only to turn around and move before the summer kicks in, just one year after we got here.

All I know is that for the entire summer, I barely left the house on my own except to do job interviews, a few trips to San Diego, and some local spots in the evening. Or when Kelli was going down there, I'd just hitch a ride even if I didn't need to go for anything. Just getting out was good. Being with my wife is good. My room is relatively large and home to a lot of things for me but it's hot and miserable with just those two windows and a door. The patterns of a life lived without willy-nilly use of gasoline are a bit rough at times. I was depressed for much of the summer, particularly after leaving JEM and realizing that there was so much time to fill, either doing a lame job search, or feeling bad from being caught in a mind with many creative urges but a body that is well taxed by the summer heat and humidity, and a soul troubled by so many options. It all conspired to get not much done. The smallest things like doing dishes or laundry or putting things away was taxing. Venturing to the garage (out back in the alley behind the back house, and insanely fucking hot in there) during the day, or even the mailbox, required mental effort and usually didn't get done until evening. There are so many things to do that conflict and vie for my time that I can only go in circles some day. And frankly it's easier to get nothing done. Job search, musical practice, chores, process trip pictures for wall hangings and gifts, do some blogging, get to San Diego, spend time with Kelli, fight with printer, beat back the idiocy with communications companies. The list goes on.

So that's most of what you need to know about our lives in Escondido. After that, it's just details.

Thursday
Jun072012

Proto-Blogging at TAPKAE.com +10

While my monthly archive might reflect a longer history than what I am about to write about here, the real beginning of this blog was on June 7th, 2002—still in the days before the actual blog technology existed (for me anyway). A small few entries have been added into the chronology to tell a story. Since I am just telling my own story anyway, they serve to fill in the historical record and it doesn't really matter if I play fast and loose with the entry dates, posting things into their proper place after the fact.

In the days before I discovered B2 blogger and later on, Wordpress, or still later on, Squarespace (which I now use as of 2011), there was no word "blogging." I just made a new HTML entry on the index page, and when it came time for a new one, I copied that entry over to the "archive" page and entered another on the index page. It was a bit lame but without a dynamic, PHP/database-driven site it was all I had. I didn't do it long enough to really get ridiculous. I've seen some sites that kept on that way and had to create archive pages that each carried oh, several months or a year's worth of entries, and then on to a new archive page. Only about two years of monthly posts accumulated that way and it wasn't too hard to manage the entries prior to discovering "real" blogging. I then started bringing stuff into the new formats in 2004 when my new hosting plan at Startlogic included something called B2 Blogger as part of the package. If I recall right, Startlogic offered a whopping 1 GB of space which dwarfed the 100 mb that my prior host Mavweb offered. I suppose Mavweb was state of the art a few years before when Mike Thaxton selected it and got me started in 2001.

But aside from all that, this blog got fired up in earnest on this day ten years ago. In many ways it was a simpler time and I didn't have all that much on my mind. Only a couple months before I had finished my year of school at Art Institute of California, so I was anticipating becoming a brilliant and high paid web designer (ahem!). Strike that. I was trying to get a couple crappy web design gigs with friends or friends of friends, and hoping my still-novice skills were up to the task if anything but pretty basic Dreamweaver-assisted HTML sites were needed. (Rockola's Mark Decerbo was one of the first to ever take me up on my work. Surprisingly, his site is still up, though a bit outdated as of 2007.) AIC turned out to be a rather disappointing place with regard to the proportioning of the subjects relative to the goal of a web design certificate program. The entirety of the web design courses included summaries of the Macromedia suite within 12 weeks. The other 36 weeks were broken into three 12 week blocks of Photoshop, Illustrator, and a CD-ROM production that included Macromedia Director and Adobe Premier primarily. But the web stuff was but one quarter of it all, and seemingly an afterthought. And above all, it was just a "design" emphasis. Never really learned coding there, and never anything with any real functionality. I recall being a bit miffed that I never was really showed stuff like Javascript or how to build CGI email forms and other stuff that really was, well... useful.

Getting out of school put me back into an unstructured world after a year. It had been a year of change, and not just because of schooling. In that one year from the start of April 2001 to that time a year later, my grandmother had died; I was in solo therapy for several months into the fall of 2001 in response to the family crisis around my older sister's big revelations earlier in 2001; I had entered kicking and screaming into the new age following my grandmother's death because my old man took over the house I lived in already for three years and ordered that I get two roommates; I got my first computer as just one way of blowing the inheritance I got (the rest was blown with an even larger display of gear acquisition for the studio); the notorious terrorist attacks of 9/11 happened and changed the work prospects for my industry of event audio; I finally finished Receiving; Kelli and I had gotten together during the winter and she had her car accident not long later; I was playing bass for a few months in an exciting trio with Dom Piscopo and Whit Harrington, and sometimes with the mighty Todd Larowe (listen: All Things Frippy and Return to Zero). Oh, those are the high points. Or low points. But in the midst of all that, I got the first drafts of TAPKAE.com done and then finally cut the first settled version loose on the world in May or June, and the first "blog" was posted. It is relatively brief because I had not yet embraced the long, detailed, and boring voice I have since attained here!

Rebecca Vaughan of Loaf, with Matt Zuniga's handiwork in the backgroundIt was around that time when I found that Hog Heaven Studio was bursting at the seams. The crazy influx of new gear during the summer before saw to that. With my grandmother gone, I took over the two rooms she called her own, clearing them out and painting them for the first time in perhaps all the years she and my grandfather had been there. One room was a bedroom with a bathroom attached, and the remodeling of that was one of the projects that was alluded to in the first blog. The other room, a rather generous 15'x17' space, was the room immediately adjacent Hog Heaven Studio. Together, they were two spaces carved from what was once a garage. Hog Heaven extended the garage street side wall some 6' more and so was split down the middle by a space that was on the flat part of the garage, and also on the sloped part of the driveway. Inside, I had leveled the floor but the beam through the middle indicated the old garage face. In the great room, I set up my living quarters in 2001 after the new rental arrangement was established. I got the entire wing of the house to do as I wanted, so I cut a mouse hole from Hog Heaven into the great room and went about using the band Loaf as my guinea pigs to try out the studio options that would result. I did two sessions spaced out by a year or so, but that first session with the whole band, I had the bass and drums in the studio with me (an odd thing that later was resolved with moving the control room into the great room later in the year), and then I used the great room for the guitars, keys, and Rebecca's lead vocal and percussion. I used upturned love seats and mattresses to provide guitar amp baffles. The Roland VS-2480, my then-new recorder, able to capture 16 inputs at once with no compromise, was relatively mind blowing after years of using the VS-880 and the four inputs it provided. At any rate, the new opportunities for using up to three rooms to record in was exciting. It was a whole new age for Hog Heaven Studio.

Kelli, later on in 2002One thing that is conspicuously absent from the site for some time (even into 2003) is any mention of Kelli and the fact we'd entered into a new relationship at the start of 2002. By the time we did that, we'd known each other for over 11 years anyway. I recall much of 2002 was a time when it felt like I was floating, particularly in that new relationship. However, it wasn't a feeling of being totally lovestruck. It's hard to say what it was, but perhaps because Kelli's presence put to an end the five year dry spell that preceded this new era, or perhaps that Kelli and I were old friends in a new role that seemed too good to be true and could have dissolved, or perhaps that her presence also brought with it a new feeling that I should get to church and start the process of grounding myself in something different than the years before. Hard to say. I didn't want to try to capture lightning in a bottle by writing about it. Kelli was talked around on the blog, usually mentioning "my girlfriend" during 2002-2003. If her name is in the entries from that period, it's because I redacted those entries to right that wrong in 2011.

I'm glad I have these few entries from 2002 because there is precious little digital evidence of my life from that first year or so of computer ownership. I had some problems with my data going off to digital heaven, particularly so with the folder that contained my Microsoft Entourage data. In one shot in the late summer of 2002, I erased about a year of my life's notes, calendar dates, emails. Bad move. Worse yet, I had not kept a parallel record in a paper calendar like I had for all years prior. So there's a big blackout during that period. And maybe things are as they are supposed to be, even with that giant flub. The period was one of transition at a deep level. Losing data was perhaps part of the exercise of getting lost in more ways than one, this time a way of losing control over things. And, since I have tended to be a keen historian and curator of my own life, a lesson might be gleaned that to overmanage things is of no use.

 

Tuesday
Mar062012

Getting in Tune with the Music

Ed mugging behind the StratocasterNovember 2000I suppose maybe I should have done it 17 years ago, but I waited until February 23rd. I mean, I started when I was just about to turn 21, and now I'm 38! But I didn't ever do it right. I just did it my way. And then things got distracted and even the attention I used to pay it was cut down noticeably. But something inside me keeps nagging for things to be reawakened, but this time it has to be done a different way. Of course, everything could have been different if last Friday happened anytime in the last 17 years. But it didn't happen that way. But it did happen.

I had my first proper guitar lesson.

You read right, folks. First paid guitar lesson ever. It wasn't for lack of opportunity; there are quite a number of teachers in this town, and there were several teachers among the various bands I used to work for. It wasn't that I didn't know anything about guitar, either, or about music. I did have a basic musicianship class (and a concurrent piano class) at Mesa College in 1993. So, by the time I picked up a guitar in late summer 1994, I was already introduced to chords and scales and intervals. My second instrument, the piano, made some sense to me since one key makes one sound. But after playing in bands that used guitars rather than keyboards, it began to be apparent guitar and bass would be more useful as auxiliary instruments to know. (I mean, I had a piano at home but I wasn't about to go to a rehearsal with it!) 

It just so happened that Bill Francis, the curious fellow who lived at our house in 1994 had two guitars and he wanted to shed one to make a few bucks. For me to say he lived "at" our house is more descriptive than to say he lived "in" our house. He was afforded a trailer or a shed to live in, courtesy of my old man, who was willing to help just enough to keep Bill from being totally homeless. Bill let me borrow one guitar—the Fender F-210 I still use today (about 25-30 years after its manufacture)—and that the old man subsequently bought for my birthday just a month or so later.

I had a chord book but had no idea what to do with it, really. It was more of a traditional jazz-blues kind of book from Mel Bay and I was kind of sour on it because I didn't hear the chords I saw in the rock bands I played in. I didn't really have vocabulary for it, but I was essentially missing the various power chords, partial barre chords with an A or E string left to drone, or certainly, open tunings or altered tunings. Not long after messing with all that, I sought some time with Jim Pupplo from Slaves By Trade. SBT was just in the process of breaking up, not by some big artistic differences, but that Jim was leaving to play with another band. As a parting gift, he showed me some power chords and other bits one day at his place. The thing is, I wasn't really sold on guitar as something to get passionately into. Chords never fell well under my fingers, and even to this day, I am slow to get certain forms, lest my fingers get into a tangle.

The battle-damaged F-210I never took a lesson since then. I've had a few more chord books and a couple books that, if actually used as intended, might have done me some good. Instead, I was keen on experimenting with sound. In early 1995, I was in an interesting spot to receive two guitars from a girlfriend who was keeping her convict friend's possessions. For a while, I had an acoustic guitar (don't remember if it was electro or not) and the very same Strat as I now play. (Sort of. Almost everything on it has been replaced and renewed over time.) I recall that quite early on in my guitar era, I took to using alternate tunings. I think the first ones must have been to tune to what would be a minor barre chord, or maybe a major if desired. One of my early tracks, Earl, was simply me strumming open chords at a couple positions as a drone effect. I was rather far from actually making music. Another odd tuning I used was EBEebe and perhaps a more extreme form, EEeebe. Somewhere there lurks a recording from mid 1995 using that tuning on the F-210, with an amazing stack of octaves and unisons but no real chords. It pretty much is a heavy attack minor key kind of theme that has an interesting buzz about it. That Fender acoustic could be called on to do some odd tunings. I've used it to play Robert Fripp's CGDAEG tuning, and even a variant of that, tuned a half step down! And of course I've done DADGAD and DADF#BD type things. It's versatile.

Some of that was to avoid having to learn real music on the guitar. Almost as soon as I picked up guitar, I found my two leading inspirations to diversify away from my drums-only identity. In December 1994 I saw Mike Keneally for the first time, and in the spring of the next year, the newly re-formed King Crimson threatened to explode my brain. There was nothing I could do to emulate Keneally's guitar or keyboard playing, but I could make jokey recordings with copious amounts of tape editing. And over in Crim-land, I could go for a highly processed tone, ambient effects, noise, and unusual tunings. It was fortuitous that just a month after seeing the Crimson King, I began working for Rockola. By the end of the summer, I was beginning to work for Bob Tedde. He let me borrow all sorts of things that made my experiments fruitful: pedals, 12 string Rickenbacker, effects boxes, Mustang bass (the short thing), and over time, various synths. Doug and Marty of the band also let me use bass and drums if I was responsible for getting them to the next gig. Various other guys I jammed with let me use instruments for various periods: 6 string bass (the one I played with an air compressor), electronic drum kit, and more. It was handy to have access to things, but because I wanted to record more than I wanted to practice, I set about my early practices that became my standard approach until maybe 2001: the recording was the artistic focal point for me and instruments were the brushes that let me paint the sound onto tape or disk. Learning musical vocabulary and repertoire was secondary, and often ignored.

Receiving coverI worked around cover bands playing a lot of classic rock, funk, disco, fusion, and even some blues and country. Some of what I missed in lessons was supplemented by watching bands so much of the time, and at least taking some stabs at things I saw over and over. But I never really learned songs or parts on guitar or bass in the way that I did on drums. Major disadvantage that I am now trying to put right. Receiving was recorded at the peak of my activity in the music/tech world, but you will barely hear anything directly attributable to my having watched so many bands play those styles named above. On Receiving, like all my recordings, there is really no knowledge of conventional harmony. I doubt there is even one tonic-dominant progression to be found. Or maybe only one! And yet, there is some adventure in the tension and release on certain tracks. It just isn't anything you'll find "in the book."

Over time, there were a few players that were on my scene for a few months or a year or so, and who graced me with better musicianship than I ever brought to things. In order, I'd name Michael Kropp (bass/guitar 1995), Tom Griesgraber (bass/guitar/Stick 1997-99), and Todd Larowe (guitar/bass/keys 1999-2002). Each of these guys gave me access to better playing on those instruments, but each also left me with something to think about as I watched their method or as they helped me unpack other things about music. My understanding was pretty decent, but my application of any of that to the instrument was always lacking. Knowing some things was half the battle, but I never won the other battle on any of the instruments I played: working the sticks and picks with any discipline. I've tended to regret that.

In the years since 2005, most bets have been off the table anyway, particularly with regard to space to set up and do thing as I used to. That was a bruising time that took a lot of wrestling. Despite selling off pieces that I sort of wish I had kept, I did retain enough to maintain a guitar/bass/drum/recording capability. And in the absence of actually playing much guitar or bass, I've been soaking up music just as a listener and allowing it to reach me in a way that I don't think it did when I was trying to create stuff myself. In the background I've been trying to push myself to develop some familiarity with pop music of various eras, either on bass or guitar, or just in trying to map out chords and get a feel for things at a new level. Part of the challenge has been to develop my ear and intuition on an instrument.

Church in the parkIn the fall I briefly played drums and a bit of bass for a budding worship band at church. I don't like the music and I didn't like the structure, but I gave it a shot for a while to at least put myself to some use. In all the years of doing church and playing music, I had never played for any liturgical purpose. The band leader was driven enough to buy a drum set and so I used that at rehearsals, making it quite easy to show up and play, only needing to add a few personal bits to the kit.

Fender bass wall with 5 string jazz bass and the bastard Fenderless fretless modJazz bass on the left; Fretless on rightIn October I bought my first instrument in years. It wasn't a huge step, but it warmed me up some. I found a rather used and very cheap ($100) Indonesian Squier P-Bass at a pawn shop, and as soon as I got it home, ripped the frets out in gleeful abandon, using toenail clippers! Then I took it to a luthier and paid 2.4 times as much ($240 more) to have the fingerboard properly finished with inlay lines and dots, and smoothed out. I was just aching to have a fretless again. It's no Warwick, but it soothes me to find my own notes again. Maybe it's part of my ear training method, but it's good to have a fretless bass once again.

Since the late summer, I've been joining in on a monthly acoustic/folk kind of meetup that lets me come in to learn some pretty basic songs on guitar. Again, not all of it strikes me as my kind of music, but since I did such a job of not learning the basics, now it's like I am building the foundation underneath the second floor! Just a couple days ago I went to the monthly meetup and the theme was "no guitars." I was able to come in with the fretless and hamfist my way through the tunes. It was quite a different group with no guitars. I think I was more able to participate on bass than on guitar.

Heartbreaker amp/cabinet looks pretty lean and sporty.I hope to make the Heartbreaker screamAll this has helped draw me back into spending time with music. Over the past few years, there have been a trickle of song fragments and chords that I have not finished. Part of the hold up is not really feeling I have a singing voice yet, but knowing that can be worked on. And I think maybe that should be made a co-incident priority with guitar related tutoring. I've mostly resisted the urge to set up a recording environment. It's hard, but I've sat many times in the past decade, staring at a rather complete recording rig, fully aware that I am more beholden to the gear than any stroke of brilliance and passion in my fingers. And that got old. I've stormed out of the studio plenty of times knowing that that approach was disingenuous, and that I should tap into whatever feeling lurks, and to work at developing some technical readiness to deliver the goods when the muse arrives. Eventually complicated recording setups can be put together, but for now, I need to trust that me and the guitar have something to say, and that has been the trouble. 

Another meetup group I just tried last week was a songwriters' meetup. I got a good feeling off of it, and since the people are dedicated to song craft, with a chance to be reviewed by others, and a feeling of collaboration, it might lead to other opportunities that get me out of my rut.

Unfortunately, the jobless situation means funds are a bit tight, but the choice to get music lessons is a worthy use of funds. I've been of the mind that the time has come to seek personal growth with some combination of music lessons, a gym membership, or with a shrink. I can't really afford all three. Two of them are things I've never done. One will just tell me to do the other two. In the few days between the first lesson and the songwriter meetup, I felt distinctly more alive—damn the therapists! I've been of the mind that it's time to make some more space for music, even if it comes at some cost to a life at, say, church. I've already cut back on that for various reasons. With the meetups and a new sense of empowerment, I might be able to meet some new people and do things that I've been setting aside and dreaming about.

Wednesday
Feb012012

Neil Peart Drives Me Nuts Sometimes

He was godlike to the drummers, particularly of the age close to 16-20. Maybe not so much now, but when I was passing through that age range in the early 90s, Neil Peart, drummer for Rush, was a god among men. Or at least a man among boys. Or a boy among girls. Or something like that. Worshiping at the altar of Neil Peart was a musician's rite of passage (or a drummer's rite of passage anyway). You were no one at high school if you played the drums but had not somehow tackled YYZ, La Villa Strangiato, 2112, Tom Sawyer, and others of their hit songs. By the time I was listening, all that was deemed "classic rock" but Neil's name still loomed large and I still had to be initated in the cult of Peart. 

1990-91?When I was just getting caught up in the cult of Peart-son-ality, I had three posters on my wall, all featuring Neil's kits from a few tours in the mid 80s. My friend Shelby used to give me absolute hell about that. She was listening to the Beatles, to Michelle Shocked, to other, more minimal and less pretentious stuff. So she was unsparing in her mockery! I laugh now, but it was a bit of a test hearing that from her since not too long before, she seemed to be the one who let me be me when no one else did. Years later, when she wanted to get a good jab in, she could just mention Neil Peart and the posters. With friends like that...

Neil is a consumate practitioner of every damned thing he does. Drumming? He's stupendously meticulous in his preparation and execution. Prose writing? He's extremely well read and is able to subtly amuse with wit and an erudite tone that isn't afraid to quote old cartoons if needed. Lyric writing? He's masterfully keen at turning big concepts into concise and vivid mini-movies or documentaries or epics. More recently I've read his stuff that suggests his passion for motorcycling has also been one of impeccable preparation and presence, and even he astounded himself at his newfound love of cooking. All well and fine. He meets every challenge with conviction. 

About a decade and a half ago, his life got turned upside down when his only daughter was killed in a car wreck at the age of 19, and his wife died of cancer less than a year later. Whoever this could happen to surely knows the feeling of woe and every conflicting feeling under the sun. No one deserves such a thing, and hardly anyone could know what to do in the face of a dual tragedy like that. For Neil, he basically did a Forrest Gump-by-BMW motorcycle tour of all of North America. He rode 55,000 miles to do all he could do to process the grief. He was ready to quit Rush, the only band he was ever really known for. About a decade ago I read his autobiographical account of that era, Ghost Rider. I liked it—in part.

What irks me is his dogged and just about childish athiestic/secular humanist streak. It made sense in the old days when the band was needing to pump up on Ayn Rand and other free-mind kinds of lit and philosophy, just so they could soldier on against some fierce rejections. It helped them bond and create their world, their thing to look after. Okay, that shit works when you're less than 30. Now he's 60 and there's still some jabs in his writings that just seem juvenile now. Sometimes I think he seems like a real uptight character, at least visually speaking. Maybe it's the stick up his ass when it comes to this topic. It's as if he's promised himself he's not going to breathe until God is ushered out of his life.

In the realm of male sprituality where I find myself able to interpret and learn from and integrate the harsh and painful things in life, there is plenty of language of descent, into helplessness, into darkness. It isn't so that one stays there; it's so one owns it as part of a complete life and its power to shape a man for better or for worse. In this world of looking at male spirituality there is more talk about archetypes and mythology that help narrate the path in life. Even something as venerable and great as Christianity still has the archetypes as its basis, and the story of all the biblical figures draw on those archetypes to greater or lesser extent. The story about Jesus has a good deal of that, and the story (mythology) narrates how one must live a human life. It's a great story. Not the only one out there, but a great one that obviously has some power, else who would now be living within it, calling themselves a Christian?

Neil loves to avoid goopy sentimentality. The first thing that even resembled a love song within Rush's canon was done in 1991, a good decade and a half after he joined. And it wasn't even mushy. A bit mystical, maybe. It still smacked of an incredulity about such ideas as fate and coincidence. On the next album in 1993 he tried a bit more, but again it was at arm's length. While he seems to be able to quote just about anything that has ever been written, he's rather hard on the "Judeo-Christian sky god" (something he said in a recent post on his site). That's a rather narrow understanding of God, even for practicing Jews and Christians. The whole "old man in the sky" thing is not really language that holds too well these days. Theology is far more advanced than that. I would think he's maybe read something along those lines. Whatever God image he was raised with in the 50s surely has been supplanted since then.

But the hitch here is that Neil, while being a bit cagey about his private life (he did write the song Limelight, after all—a song about the boundaries the band needed to erect to stay sane after they finally hit the big time), has been increasingly open. It's been refreshing for the most part to see the humanity of this man who was known for his machine-perfect and quite powerful drumming style and his keen lyrics that could take on any of a number of topics. He has lived an interesting life, not just because he's a famous rock star, but because he's well traveled, super literate, has had some utterly tragic times, and perhaps best of all, has been renewed with a remarriage, a new passion for playing drums, a new baby, learning to cook, even more extensive travels up and down and across all the backroads of North America and beyond, and all that. He won't say it, but that's death and resurrection there. That's being swallowed by the great fish, kept in darkness for some time, and being coughed up on a different shore with renewed purpose. Whether he wants to admit it or not, but that is quite what the Christian path is. But moreso, the Christian path is the human path. Jesus just happened to be the first teacher in the tradition. 

Neil himself makes nods to spiritual language. It isn't fluffy language. But it shows he's not treating these parts of his life as pedestrian events. But he goes out of his way to not let them be described in terms that smack of traditional expressions of the spiritual paths known to the Western world. I sort of just want to smack him some for just being so damned difficult. But at the same time, I wish I could head out for a ride with him too. Never mind the drums or the band or the lyrics. I'd like the chance to trade stories about family loss. Or to bask in nature. Or to shoot the shit about why lower/appropriate technology is better. Maybe I could learn something about cooking from him. One of the biggest breakthroughs I've read of his was when he was processing why certain folks he knew (Alex in the band among them) would cook a huge meal for the band or family and friends. Careful Neil! —you used the "L word"! Love. He wrote about how it was just apparent that they felt (and he did too when he went along the same path) the love flowing when cooking for others, when supporting other humans at such a fundamental level. He wrote that the first times he had to cook was for his wife, when he was the caretaker in that time before she died. So much for Ayn Rand objectivism, eh? (Reading that charming, domestic story reminded me of a decade ago when Kelli's accident started to draw me in a similar direction of needing to take care of someone for the first time.)

But in more religious terms, that was God remolding him. Preparing him for another life that he neither wanted nor saw coming. It isn't that his wife deserved to die. No such thing. But another life awaited Neil, you might reason. One that perhaps was built on other things. One that might put the challenge to all the shit in his head, and that might drive him to a place of living from his heart. It happens in life. But as I read his post-crisis material, it's apparent he's reborn. He gushes about his new wife (as of 2000 or so), his baby daughter, his love for nature and travel, cooking, friends, and all this other stuff that shows a lot more passion and soul than anything prior to his "conversion." It's clear he's been remade into something that is more alive. Good for him. Now could he just shut up about some of the inane anti-religious type stuff? It's not like anyone's asking him to become a bible thumping Evangelical. Just fess up that you're living the life that the sages and prophets have talked about, eh Neil

In some ways, even without the overtly religious language, Neil's life has some of the makings of a great religious story of life, death, and resurrection into something greater than what came before. Read the Bible and there are plenty of stories of ordinary people who became extraordinary when their former "false" selves were taken down a notch, and they were refashioned into something else by something outside their own power and resources, outside of their own ability to self-design. It's in losing control that all the great stuff happens. And since people don't do that willingly, sometimes it seems the ante is upped and one's hands get pried off the controls. It never seems a good thing going in. It's mysterious. It comes in the form of painful disappointment, humiliation, and tragedy. In Richard Rohr's literature, you might read that about the age of 30 these types of things happen. It did for me. Or, it's like Parker Palmer's example where God is a quiet figure following you on the street, trying to get your attention by whispering your name, then tossing pebbles at you, then shouting, then throwing rocks, and then finally bludgeoning you if you don't turn around. Some people come willingly at the tug to a new life. Others not so willingly. What does it take to get one's attention? Job loss? Relationship failure? Death? 

It's not my place to say Neil deserved any of that because no one does. The problem, if there was any at all, isn't that he's a perfectionist. But maybe he's a perfectionist for reasons that don't really matter. Maybe there is a purpose for his perfectionism, and it is to serve others somehow, and more joyfully? Who knows? But one can never estimate what is ahead. One could only look back at these transforming experiences and reflect on what new insights turn up, and how one gets drawn deeper and deeper into life. The value of the spiritual mythologies and their associated archetypes is to help people know that their struggle is not theirs alone; that it's all been done, and the great teachers have mapped the way in broad terms. They've also shown how the universal pattern is death and rebirth into new life, and the wise human doesn't fight it, but lets that endless flow go to work in life. 

Anyway, it's good to read his post-tragedy stuff, and whatever he might say, it's filled with more spirit and life passion than I remember from before. More like he's in the drama rather than observing it.

Sunday
Jan152012

Drummers With Attitudes: the Second Exile +20

In recent months I've told the tale of meeting Matt Zuniga at Subway in late 1991 and finding he had an affinity for drums just as I was being pressured to not play my drums at the house any more. Meeting Matt was one of the oddest shapers of my destiny, for sure. I mean, at that point, I'd not played in any real bands, and the one stage performance on drums to date was with a one-off group from high school, playing Walk This Way. Until Matt and I met, all the rest of my drum activity was at home in my bedroom, where I guess I imagined myself seated at the throne behind Rush or Jethro Tull. Playing material from either band was a staple of my musical diet.

bedroom set up with the stuffy window dressing to try to dampen the soundBedroom set up, c. April 1992. You can see the blankets and towels that tried to reduce the sound to the outside, but it was more effective in making the place stuffy. This is more or less the kit we used, though the rack and the smallest toms were new then.

After the first exile in November, I moved my drums over to his studio apartment where he let me bike over and play, and I let him use my kit in our little exchange of conveniences. I used to impress Matt with my attempts at YYZ or La Villa Strangiato or Tom Sawyer. To egg me on, he'd always try to get me to try to play Natural Science, a driving and particularly challenging Rush track that featured all manner of meter changes. Tull material wasn't so interesting to him though when I let him listen to Stand Up, he liked the harder, more driving stuff that evoked anything close to Black Sabbath's riffing. (Apparently late 60s English minor key rock was acceptable to him, otherwise he was mainly into grindcore and other extreme metal that shocked the living hell out of me then. We really connected over Rush. I recall he'd play Grace Under Pressure and other Rush tapes on his car stereo, at earsplitting levels.) That little arrangement at his apartment came to an end just about this time in January, barely six weeks or so after it started. His studio was upon the garage at his grandmother's place in Clairemont. Being raised up and not very well primed for drum sound pressure levels, it radiated sound over the neighborhood even more than if it were at ground level. So this arrangement, barely negotiated between he and his grandmother, I'm sure, was doomed to fail since she got the brunt of it. I don't know what kind of discussion they had but he told me he couldn't host the drums anymore.

(As an aside, there was one weekend when my old man took his girlfriend on a weekend tour and I had Matt bring the drums back to my house where I could wail in the old fashioned way on familiar turf. Clandestine stuff of teenage rebellion, this!)

I'd used paid rehearsal rooms on a couple of occasions, mostly to know what they were and what to expect. There wasn't much to like about hauling in the drums to set up in a florescent-lit, smelly, carpeted room with other gear in the room, play solo for a couple hours, and then haul out on time, shedding maybe $10/hour to do it all. That was doomed too. Totally uninspiring. And, since I didn't have a car of my own, or even regular access to one, there was really no way I'd go for that. Matt had a car his dad gave him. It would fit the drums just fine. At that time, the kit was just a five piece anyway, so we somehow got an idea to pile things in and go scout out a place to play outside, or under a bridge like we'd heard of others doing. In fact, at that time, I knew of stories of a drummer who set up in Mission Valley but never actually saw anyone doing so for years to come. Armed with some vague idea of there being places remote enough within the city that we could do such a thing, we started locally.

First stop on the evening of the 15th was near the old Balboa Hospital which had closed up and was generally an empty space. We drove there, scouted it out, whacked a snare drum a couple times and decided it was way too close to houses considering the delightfully echoing and boomy space we were in. Onward.

I can't remember if we tried still other places but we did settle on one place that was far enough away from housing, and in a commercial zone, and also just in the shadow of the I-5 freeway. As we entered into Pacific Beach on Garnet, there was an empty driveway that services a self storage place. It was a dingy enough space to play drums at full volume without attracting attention for the most part. There was just the Gold's Gym parking lot, but since we were out there after 9 pm, there wasn't traffic in that lot, but traffic was zooming by on Garnet and Mission Bay Drive. There isn't much to remember about the night itself but for the breakthrough it provided me/us. In fact, a great deal of playing to come during 1992-1993 was to be done outside or in these odd places. This location in Pacific Beach was good for several afternoons or nights for about the next month. The background noise was a welcome mask. For a first place, it gave us a feeling of freedom that even a closed up house could not offer. Of course, it was insecure and in the open, exposed to sun and rain. One night I was down there solo, and since it was winter time, a great rainstorm came and did a number on my plans for the evening. I was out there with no shelter at all. I can't remember how it was worked out but my old man picked me up in his truck and got me home where I had to scramble to dry the drums before any water damage set in.

the drums partially set up at Volt. the escort car is behind the drums, showing our first 'tour bus'A standard day's setup, any time after about late June 1992. Here we're at Volt, a place with AC power and some shelter but not underground. It was an office building we could use over the weekend for a while.

That downpour set me looking for another place with some shelter about it. Apparently I had occasional access to one of my grandparents' cars and I went to my high school one Sunday in February and tried things out there, just between classrooms, and in about the most isolated spot I could find. Not so great. Less than a month into our little exiled drumming life, we happened upon a great remote spot in Mission Valley directly under the CA-163 freeway, right next to the river. That was a hoot. It was easy to see but fenced on that side, and on the entry side there was a rather serpentine path to our spot. Such a spot offered a massive sounding space where the drums sounded godlike, and it was sheltered from weather (a good thing; it rained some of the times we were there), and it also gave us a rather secure location where people could see us but only a couple were curious enough to bother tracking us down.

 drums at the bridge in Mission Valley.Mission Valley, March 8, 1992

It was in this one location, on March 8, 1992 when it's fair to say my real recording era started. Being winter, and often being at night, it made better sense to fight the cold by moving around more than sitting in the car. So we'd be out doing the oddest shit to stave off boredom as the other of us actually drummed. Maybe it was breaking glass. Maybe throwing stuff around. Maybe making faces at traffic. Whatever it was, it was rather dumb, but it's not like we had smart phones to make the time pass while the other was playing Rush or Napalm Death and Black Sabbath. Matt in particular liked to do some odd screaming and to do other shit to annoy me while I was perfecting my from-memory performances of my favorite Tull and Rush tracks. Sometimes he'd come over and double drum or do a randomly placed cymbal crash. The stupider and ruder, the better for his entertainment. Eventually, on that day in March we brought my boombox tape recorder and set to to capture whatever nonsense we were engaged in that day. (I caution you to not set out looking for it. It is pretty damned stupid shit.)

That tape amused me enough that I made a little sleeve for it with the liner notes to explain who played what, and on what track; where we recorded it; and to include some drum catalog clip art for the cover. I called it Stop Playing Those Damned Drums, Vol. 1, named in honor of the protestations my geezer neighbor Ray Merritt used to make while I played at home. We were billed as Drummers With Attitudes. Despite some earlier nonsense that was on tapes that I lovingly crafted into "albums," because this was done with Matt, the first of any "collaborator" who was around long enough to develop any ideas, it was the real start of my recording career. Yep. It was sort of punker than punk (though I was never using such language then, being proudly into prog rock, thankyouverymuch). No guitars or bass. Just drums and the stupidest vocals, and young men being even younger men!

Matt in San Clemente Canyon, June 1992, with the drums appearing in their new wrap, with the new rack that my old man made for us. On the black clamps for the upper toms, there are stickers that spell out D W A.Matt in San Clemente Canyon, June 1992, with the drums appearing in their new wrap, with the new rack that my old man made for us. On the black clamps for the upper toms, there are stickers that spell out D W A.

I'd be fooling you to say Matt was ever really into this. Amused, maybe. But never really a collaborator except in the fact that we'd want to go out and make noise. But what happened was that during 1992, the roles settled in where, over time, as I was intentionally writing stupid lyrics about people with mental and behavioral issues and other songs about farm animals, it tended to be that he "sang" and I drummed. The first "song" we did was an ode to and a trashing of our new Subway owner-operators, a Jewish couple and their kids who really had no interest in being a compliant Subway franchise, and where I was fired a month after they took over. Their acquisition of the store where Matt and I worked was just three days after that first Mission Valley recording was made, so for me, the DWA/Subway/songwriting thing are all of a set, and the flux of events very much shaped things to come as I had more time to play drums after getting fired, and more emotion about their legal action on me (restraining order on trumped up charges). Since I was paid up and ready to fly to Europe in a few months, I didn't worry myself about finding a job before I was to leave. Aside from my classes at school, it was just a matter of doing stupid shit with DWA and refinishing my drumset, which had grown a couple pieces along the way.

During the first half of 1992, I called our little "thing" Drummers With Attitudes. In my universe, the early days of DWA was just our thrashing out whatever drumming and oddness came to mind, and little else. The "song" era of what we were doing was worthy of a different name: Rhythmic Catharsis. I used that name in May 1992 for the final Drummers With Attitudes tape. It also had the image of the stickman drummers that for me was the image of RC. The tape sleeves and a damned goofy and self indulgent "fanzine" for our four "fans," the Rhythmic Catharsette, were far more premeditated and interesting than anything we did on drums! After six weeks in Europe though, the image, the lyrical ideas, the Catharsette, the whole thing had helped me see it more as if it was a band to actually cultivate with some effort. It was in the second half of 1992 when I made more conscious efforts to write lyrics that either of us would try to "sing," and by early 1993, it was basically that Matt vocalized and I hit things. I can't say Matt sang, because he didn't. He was into his extreme metal primarily, but he was also rather goofy too. He also had a sufficient disrespect for my stupid lyrics that he often took out his frustration about the words I handed him in the performance itself. He'd do the oddest stuff. Growls, shrieks, demonic laughing. Maybe he's no Mike Patton, but you might use him as a reference for the odd vocabulary of vocalizations that emanated from Matt's throat.

For a while there, the outdoors playing was what allowed me to keep playing drums on a semi-regular basis, several times a month. Eventually I did get use of the Escort and drove things most of the time, probably because the drum set had grown, and because the grandparents who had made the initial investment in my musical endeavors back in the mid 80s were now able to see this might be one way to pursue any of that. I kept the drums at home once again and it was Matt who joined in, carting things out to the car and then setting up out under whatever bridge or parking garage or warehouse park we could find. The matter of recording started to make more sense, otherwise we ran the risk of being quite aimless in doing all this. Recording kept us accountable to ourselves, and I had no way to know how far I'd take it. We used a boom box. Then another. Then a field recorder I got from Mesa College. It was the first steps on the recording technology treadmill. Hearing ourselves back gave us some idea of how to improve, and after Europe, we didn't really consider what we were doing just as a chance to play drums to the music of our favorite bands. It turned into much more than that.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves here. There is enough to tell many stories about what Matt and I were doing in those years. 

Here I'm emulating the Rhythmic Catharsis stick man logo

Thursday
Oct272011

The Show I Waited A Decade To See

In 1995-2000, Mike Keneally's music was not unlike the air I breathed. The hottest period was during late 1996 and then again during much of 1998, but for several years, my Keneally fascination was parallel and maybe even the spark for a creative spell of my own. In some ways, I feel that I patterned my own efforts on some vicarious fanboy imagination of some of the aspects of his life and career. It seems silly to say so, but that's pretty much what I decided was going on with me.

I came into Keneallydom by a few different doors during 1993/94. In some ways, that makes me rather old school Keneally (at least as far as his solo work is concerned). In some ways, I was a bit late. I never saw Drop Control, and he had started and ended his Frank Zappa career years before I arrived at a Boil That Dust Speck CD release party (or an early show following that album) in late 1994. But I go back some way, and over time, our paths have been intertwined at a few points. I've been a drooling fan boy listener. I've provided him studio space. I've worked on one of his tours. I've done other local work for him. I've been a rather savage critic of his product and lifestyle. I've gone into musical hiding for much of a decade now. Long story.

I used to get to most of the San Diego shows he put on, and when that wasn't enough, some LA/Hollywood/Orange County shows too, including most of the shows during the 1999 Baked Potato summer series. About 2002/3, I fell out of love and probably didn't see any shows till mid 2007 when I somehow got into the Birch Theater to see his trio with Doug Lunn and Marco Minnemann. I enjoyed that show and got a chance to talk to Mike and in a subsequent email, to apologize for some bad behavior. He's always been gracious to me. I wish things had never gotten that way. I was in a bad place of sorting out life in a big way, and somehow it seemed okay to trash him in public. It was sort of like a love gone bad for me. 

I check in on things now and then. See the stuff on his site, but never really bought anything. Odd, but you realize that I've paid to see probably no more than four shows in the years I've followed him. Either I've been part of the official crew, or have had a sustained "bro deal" in the aftermath of that work, or was somehow of some assistance, or just downright patient and persistent to get my "miracle" entry. But I can only think of a couple shows where I was a paying audience member. I've bought some albums, but others have been comped for being an assistant (or, like Nonkertompf, a credited recording location), or for swaps with fellow fans who wanted to trade to get some of my DAT recordings from some memorable shows. It may come as no coincidence, but while on tour, Toss called me "Eddie Freeloader" (named after a famous Miles Davis track, "Freddie Freeloader"). At that point, it was for other reasons than my paying or not at a box office or record store, but there it was, even in 1996!

My main beef that set off so many people was that I longed for a time when the MK band would play some of the composed stuff with some integrity: rehearsed and refined. This was coming after watching the band do more jam band sounding stuff that was neat at first but tired me out. I wanted the good stuff. Similar complaint about the album Dancing. I said it would be a kick ass 55 minute album so why did it have to be 80 minutes with what I called filler? Why not just release a steamroller of an album at about an hour? It certainly had that much material that kicked ass. I said he should have a producer with a more objective opinion. That got me in trouble. Sure, MK is good, but seriously...does every album have to be packed to the gills and turned into a double album, and then have another disk featuring alt mixes and stuff?

It has been over four years since I saw the band last. Time flies, I swear. Then this summer I found that he has a five piece band with two dedicated guitar players and MK on guitar and keys. One video was all it took for me to get that shit-eating grin from the old days. The song Kedgeree benefits greatly from a rich arrangement of sounds. When the band came to town during their west coast tour, I was sure to go, even though Todd Larowe was not able to go, and no one else seemed interested. I got to Winston's just in time to say hi to Mike (which he enhanced with a big bear hug), and a couple others, including Merrily, a quite devoted young lady who was around back in the Dancing days, once as a girlfriend of Brandon Arnieri's. (We had met some times around 2001-2002 when Brandon was playing guitar at Hog Heaven. Probably the last time I saw Merrily was at the end of 2002 when Brandon got to be incredibly difficult at one of our rehearsal/jams with Paul Horn. I wrote this post about that disaster of a session and my rather regrettable way of dealing with that fact.) Merrily pulled me out of the crowd and offered that she knew me. At this time, with her short blonde hair, I didn't recognize her till she named herself and then it was no matter recalling she had the long dark hair and had been to my 29th birthday party, a couple shows or parties, and other interactions back in the day.

For the duration of the show, I didn't really see anyone else that I knew, or that I felt close enough to want to talk to, but at the bar, I found that I took a liking to a Karl Strauss Red Trolley ale (even at $6/pint!). It was silky smooth and pleasant. The band went on and with that, the stress of the week before started to melt away. Merrily and I kept swapping comments as we sat at the bar and had our ears pressed back plenty even at that distance. From the start, the band sounded fuller and richer than I have heard except in the case of the 8-piece band or maybe the one-off sextet with Bob Tedde and Mark DeCerbo in 1998. Three guitars is truly an impressive thing for this music because so much of MK's sound is layered and harmonized. It's a no brainer that three guitars is what should be up there at all times.

I delighted in air drumming. Merrily wasn't too bad herself, considering she's more of a guitarist if anything. It isn't quite like being at a Rush show where everyone drums in unison, but with MK's music being so rich in shifting meters and feels, it has its own kind of air drumming identity. Considering some of this material I have not heard in years, or certainly not on stage, it was like I had never left. I found the first beer was done in no time. Time for another, this time a Yellowtail. Some favorite songs played in a way that totally delivered the goods: Cause of Breakfast, Kedgeree, Tranquillado, Skunk, Own, Click. Some others that aren't quite faves but delighted in a big way with their powerful attack: Of Knife and Drum, Top of Stove Melting, Frozen Beef, Life's Too Small. Funny, with as much volume as there was, I didn't mind air drumming and giving it my best at belting out the words too. I recall getting some harmony part right enough that a guy sitting on the table some several feet away, looked back with an approving grin and brighter eyes, as if to say I nailed it. Time for a third beer, this time a return to the Red Trolley. Who knew that Eddie Freeloader would drop $18 on three beers after sinking $20 into admission???

It was a couple hours of pure living again. Not only had I not seen Keneally in a few years, the times when I am at live concerts now has dropped off in a huge way. I barely see anything if it isn't at church or related settings. So this had some visceral power for me. The beer didn't hurt. Finding one friendly face to talk to, not just as a fellow fan, but as someone who also had some knowledge of the conflicted state of things, and was willing to hear how I'd come around to seeing things another way. (We also talked Kevin Gilbert, which was good for the soul too. She sent me a couple KG albums I did not have, and has triggered a huge week of listening to his stuff.)

After the show, I got a chance to say hi to Joe Travers—drummer in the band, but also the main Zappa Vaultmeister, but even more so, the first Keneally bandmember I gave my tape One Twisted Individual to, back when it was new in 1995! (That was rather brazen but well received since it was also a gift upon a gift of racing back home to get my hi hat cymbals so Joe could play the show at the gallery that August 1995 day. Joe has always been a delight to chat with at shows since then.) I talked to Bryan Beller for a bit, and after several years, it was more graceful. We had our differences before, some related to the tour, and some for, well I really don't know why. But I told him that I really enjoyed the show in a way I hadn't in a decade or so. After scoping out the last of the people in the room, I walked Merrily to her car and traded some more stories about things that have gone down since we met up last. Then I walked clear the other direction for a few blocks and sat in my truck for a bit near the pier and the pounding surf at the end of Newport. With all the cops around, there was no sense in risking drawing attention, and beside, the night was one worth reflecting on before going home.