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Entries in rhythmic catharsis (8)

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.

Friday
Jan042013

Recording Artist +20

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

The Maggybox

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Panasonic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's Not Quite the Grammys...

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

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

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

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

ReCyclED, Remixed?

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

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

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

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

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

Parallels and Perspective

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

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

Tuesday
Oct302012

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

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

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

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

Enter the VS

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

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

ReCyclED

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

Drums in Exile, Redux

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

The Road to Hog Heaven is not without Potholes

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

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

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

Bad Cop, No Donut

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

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

New Tools, New Technique

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

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

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

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

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

Digital Heaven before Hog Heaven

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

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

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

The Hog Heaven Sound Rules

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

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

Thursday
May032012

Rhythmic Catharsis +20

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

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

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

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

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

May 3, 1992

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

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

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

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

Meta-Catharsis

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

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

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

The Rhythmic Catharsette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew's gods:

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

Ed gods:

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

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

The subscription information informed the reader of the terms:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday
Mar272012

Sandwich Art Imitating Life Imitating Sandwich Art +20

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

His Chuckness

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

The Jew Crew

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

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

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

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

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

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

Germany?

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

Drummers With Attitudes/the Pig Thing 

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

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

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

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

The Firing

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

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

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

The Law

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

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

The Law Taketh, the Law Giveth

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

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

Epilogue

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

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

Sunday
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

Wednesday
Mar282007

Fresh Ears

Fresh ears after all these years...

ed and matt zuniga posing before the newly modified drums, with big wide homemade rack and lots of chrome and silver and gray tonesEd and Matt outside in an industrial park, June 1992In 1992-1993 I was an exiled drummer who had to go out and play under bridges, in parking lots, parking garages, and other places in order to practice my craft. This persisted on an occasional basis until maybe 1997, but for a couple years my best bet, if I wanted to wail on the drums, was to go out and do some midnight or weekend drumming in isolated business parks. My buddy Matt Zuniga, a friend from our job at Subway, would come along because he too wanted to wail on a kit and had none of his own. Since we could not both play at once, we would do nonsense singing and other tomfoolery to amuse ourselves between turns at the kit. Almost immediately, I began to record this stuff regularly and to collect the most memorable stuff. Hey, tape was cheap.

From these humble beginnings in underground lots, and other places that offered shelter and massive reverb from concrete walls, and some AC power, I began my recording career, if you can call it that. I have a box of tapes that I made during those years with Matt, and about midway through, I took this nonsense seriously enough to collect things into "albums" with cover art and liner notes, and to hassle my "friends" to have a listen. I even went to the ridiculous extreme to write up some way overblown fanzine/newsletter on my word processing typewriter, and to send out two volumes of that. Oh, what silliness, but it was my life for a while. After Matt and I stopped doing Rhythmic Catharsis, I made a "box set" of all this stuff to capitalize on the exploding trend of such collections. But my box set was actually just for me—the repository of my recordings and silly lyrics all fit into a retired bologna box from Subway. For my listening pleasure, I kept the seven "albums" we recorded in my regular tape collection.

I used Rhythmic Catharsis material as a basis for a slightly more legit effort to make music in the later 90s, as I worked very hard on a bunch of my reckless and irreverent and humorous sounding stuff, but this time on my own, or with others, and Matt's occasional cameo. Some of the kernels for songs from the RC era turned into some favorites of mine from this period which I dubbed "ReCyclED" (recycling Rhythmic Catharsis and ED, get it?). The old RC stuff was not heard for a long time as I created these new recordings, and as the years passed since then. Maybe I played a tape once in a while, but it has been a few years, and as my disaffection with my muse has grown, my objectivity has grown too.

ed in front of a newer rack for the same kit. this time square instead of round tubing, and more compactEd, June 1993 with the new rack and the RC logoSo it was inevitable that I'd hear Rhythmic Catharsis and discover what a horrid piece of work it was! Of course, I'd just be catching up with all the people who knew that and told me so, even back in the day!

I got rid of my tape machines in 2005 or before, and have not heard a lick of RC in that time. All the RC stuff predates legit multitrack recording though it was RC that received the "benefit" of my first quasi-overdubbed performances by using a "tape+mic" bounce technique to overdub additional percussion (with a hyperactive tamborine and cowbell usually) and voice. It was some of this work that helped shock me today because there was no level or editing control, and I had not yet done enough of it to actually be good at it! These additional bits, when added, were added to a "mix" of Matt doing his screaming bits (on songs he liked enough to get into) or his unenthusiastic readings on the songs he didn't like so well. And almost always, he was buried in the "mix" because we used one single cheap mic situated in front of him, and the drum set some 10-15 feet behind him. Such was our level setting for that period, and the drums were always too fucking loud, so sometimes he slips below the drums, to be heard, but not understood.

As I listened to some RC in the company car, I was almost aghast at how bad it really was. I still reveled in some of the wordplay and in-jokes that passed between us, but God! was it amazingly bad! After the years of Hog Heaven era recording (my own recording space filled with all I need to do somewhat complete and polished recordings, 1998-2005), the RC stuff was beyond edgy. It was savage. It was amazing to hear the originals of the songs that I eventually made into ReCyclED material. Only one song retained its overall edgy RC quality and basic performance in that process (a pounding and desperate track called "Is God Trying To Make Me A Smoker?" —among my very first songs from 1992), but all the others soared beyond their beginnings and turned into some interestingly varied recorded works and colorful bits of humor and social commentary.

I guess I used Rhythmic Catharsis to keep off drugs as a teenager and early 20-something. Maybe that's why I was so lonely then. Should have been hanging out and playing with the druggies. At least they get together and hang out and try to make "real" music.

Monday
Feb242003

Anniversary, of Sorts

It's the beginning of 2003. It's been on my mind that a few critical things happened that changed the course of my musical pursuits at this time ten years ago. The earlier of the two main ones was that in the first week of January, 1993, I did my first sound on sound recordings. I got a little boombox that allowed me to add a microphone to an existing tape and bounce it all to another tape. That of course the the first foray into my interest in recording layered parts. It wasn't quite genuine multitrack, but it was making more than I could with one single pass. My buddy Matt and I recorded a bunch of stuff as Rhythmic Catharsis in that period. We played in garages, parking lots, under bridges and all that. But I recorded a lot of stuff and then maybe did additional stuff with the tapes when at home.

The second thing of note from the start of '93 was that I began to simultaneously take some music classes—basic musicianship (scales, chords, rhythms, etc.) and a piano class as well. Piano became my second instrument. While I'm nobody's Beethoven or Lizst, or even Elton John (!), I really like playing it and its something that I am glad I learned, even to the extent that I did. Having those two classes paved the way for a vastly wider appreciation of music, both as listener and as player.