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Entries in rootlessness (4)

Wednesday
Feb282007

Aqualung My Friend

Today the stock market took a dive in the worst fall it has taken since the day of September 11, 2001. This news doesn't look to be an isolated instance of the market's fickleness in the age of globalization. My anticipation is that this is only a taste of things, and that sooner or later things have to reset somehow, in a big way as the market hiccups and shudders in what James Kunstler calls the Long Emergency.

homeless man petitioning for cash or help from the side of the road near mission valley mall.Today was just another day of driving wastefully about the city and county as I deliver technical documents to architects and engineers who build places I deplore. While out and about, it is impossible to not see the growing number of panhandlers on the street corners and intersections. Maybe it is just that I do so much driving now that I see it this much, but I am certain this subculture has to be growing in population. Almost invariably, they are white people. A work buddy of mine said in December 2005 that they were all white, and since then, I have paid attention to the validity of that claim, and just by my observation, he was nearly 100% correct. I honestly believe that in the year and more that has passed since then, no more than two men in such situations were something other than white. He claimed that the latinos would not be seen doing such things if they could stand in a work line and get something of a day gig in construction or whatever they specialize in, for it would be an insult to their machismo breadwinner role to be seen begging. So far, my buddy's Wyoming-lensed observation has held out remarkably well.

It is the season of Lent, which usually is the time when people of Christian faith reflect on the sacrifices required to honestly live the faith. As for me, I just feel very disconnected from all that this year because instead of the last week being one to pause and take stock of personal allegiances, it has been 100% "GO!" between my day job and doing some significant domestically demanding work as of late—namely moving house! (So far Kelli and I have made 22 truck and car trips to the new place in Bay Park.) So I have unwittingly and grudgingly taken on the mantle of the workaday schmoe who puts the blinders on and has to "look out for number one." I'm concerned about my job just because the place has fired three drivers in the four weeks I have been there. It doesn't seem to be a very stable place to try to remain, even though I am seemingly doing well and taking on a bit of dispatch duty as needed. It scares me that all my eggs are in that basket. I listen to NPR and public radio all day long, so today I was able to hear the market hemorrhage during the course of the day. And then I looked out to the street corners and saw the broken spirits of the ruthless market economy. I carry no money but for a few bucks each day. I have just my lunch with me. I am not driving to be charitable. But they are there asking for help, just as I sit in the car, stuck as it were, even in a device that usually is associated with ideas of freedom. So I have to meet eyes with these people, knowing full well that I could offer something, and probably would, but being a slave to peer pressure nonetheless, worrying either about how fragile my job is, or what the people in other cars will think, or that maybe the guy I give to is a professional panhandler who makes more than I do in any given day. So I go cynical and drum my fingers till the light changes, and that discomfort will pass until the next major intersection or the next time I pass by that same intersection.

It makes me feel like a great hypocrite and sorry excuse for a human being. But in my culture, what can I say? We are so conditioned to think that there is a scheme, even behind a guy who is panhandling. We are so conditioned to fear that he might do something irresponsible with "our" money. Or maybe it's that if you give to a guy once, and he is there the next day, do you give again? Or do you give to the guy on the other corner opposite where the first is standing?

I spent most of 2006 working on developing some spiritual sensitivity to the world around me, but this year is so different. Different work, different house, different everything it seems. I've been moving away from my church because of a political and time management problem that has not resolved. I have not been able to attend my (usually twice monthly) therapy sessions because my work schedule is what it is. So I feel oddly detached from something that enveloped me last year. Yet, I don't kid myself and think that I am on the right track. More and more the economic storm clouds are coming in, just as I have feared for a couple years now. I guess the panhandler guys on the streets are scary more than anything. They are scary because the look like me or some people I know. They are scary because they might have had what an earlier economy considered a "good job" in some manufacturing or something meaningful, but now they haven't. Then I consider what it means that my job is essentially disposable on the drop of a hat, and that as my costs rise, and as I age, and as the economic-social-political world is transformed into one with a dying middle class, I have a visceral fear that it is not impossible for things to fall that far, even for me.

Even still, for the guy that I don't give a buck to, or the guy I don't give some food to, I am the same privileged asshole in a car that avoids eye contact and is keen to get the hell out of that uncomfortable captive situation as soon as the light goes green. What difference does it make if I spent the last year trying to deepen my spiritual sense if in the most critical moment, I throw it all out as I "look out for number one"? I suppose for my lenten reflection, I have to write this to at least acknowledge that I know that I'm as hypocritical as any other most of the time, operating out of fear of something, and not knowing what button exactly I must push to activate that part of me that knows what is right and good, and to act on it. Empathy I have, but sympathy (the will to act on the empathic response) is still lacking.

Thursday
Jun012006

Percussile Dysfunction

the drums set up and mic'ed at Calabrese West studio space.I played my drums today. I had to put part of the kit together to do even that much. I took it all down in early April and left it so for maybe four weeks, then a few weeks ago put part of it together, and abandoned that project like it was no more important than folding laundry I didn't want to fold. I come into the garage here and sit at the computer for hours on end every day, and the kit just sat there in its partially set up state, day after day. Today, for whatever reason, I finally finished the setup and at least tried to go through the classic motions that got me interested in playing almost 17 years ago. I put on the cans and blasted some 80s Yes and some classic Sting material that admittedly used to be the stuff that I conquered back in 1991-94 or so. Well, it is a little less conquered now, and the feeling that sweeps over me for not being able to even keep up with stuff that once was my favorite stuff to play (because I did a pretty good job of faking it back in the day) is just overwhelming. It's saddening for me to feel that it's all gone for me now. My carpal tunnel troubled right arm dealt with it fine except for the ages old feeling of numbness in my fingers that visited me over a decade ago long before any sign of CTS. I chose the stuff I played to today because it was generally regarded to be more straightforward but still exciting enough to play and not go to sleep over. But I still blow it—entrances, exits, fills. I think, 'why try? Who am I trying to kid with this charade?'

A day like today only serves to remind me that I only ever faked my way through whatever music I did. I mostly relied on luck to do things that I did, and without the drive to play often (I don't call it practice—that is exactly what I never really did), it just gets further and further away from me. Once in a while I have a hot fuck with it that evokes the glory days for all of about 20 minutes to an hour, but now getting to be this sad, drawn out falling out of love with music. I've sold some stuff that has been deemed as surplus, and I barely notice it gone. I didn't feel the sting that other sales have had. No, my will to hang on to all these material items is fading, and each frustrated attempt to musically "get it up" is leading me down that path toward selling it all, or maybe even heaping it into a blazing bonfire, or maybe just driving over it with my truck. I think I've proven now that the inspiration isn't in the gear. I waited patiently for some years to see if it was in me, but it doesn't seem to be so. I don't think lyrically like once before. I don't write goofy songs like before. I don't dream of being more mathematical than Fripp like before. I don't just experiment with sounds like before. I don't even turn on my recorder like before. I don't relate to anything like before. And yet, time after time, I have been thwarted in finding any suitable playing partners who make me want to play for fun, and time after time, any good idea has been heaved into the digital dustbin because it didn't measure up to the best of my work on Receiving [info]. I had this nagging feeling while finishing that CD that it would be my last. In effect, it did really make the last real statement on my abilities and drive to complete large statements in music, but the real honor goes to my Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music [mp3] CD from a few months later. After that, it was on to endless experimentation and incremental failure to do anything that captured my attention for more than a few ideas at a time.

Friday
Feb102006

Calabrese West

Despite being a working fool for the last few weeks, I've been able to carve out a few minutes or hours here and there to start to put my studio together at the garage in the new house. It's mind boggling how many times I've moved all of the stuff in this room in the month or so since I've been here. It's been a game of musical chairs without music or chairs. Mostly musical desks. Or musical mic stand bases. Anyhow, everything in this room gets bounced from one side of the room to the other as I've tried to get things to the essentials and into place.

my drums set up in Calabrese West studio, the garage at the calabrese compound, western annexI am now getting the drums put together, which is a pretty clear sign of progress. I don't really consider stacking guitar heads on cabinets as getting things together, but the drums are a major thing to get done, and a good thing to indicate that it's coming together. I don't even worry about acoustics; the acoustics are always shitty in places like this. For me, it's more like this: are the drums in the right place for me to play if I just spin around in my desk chair and get on the drum throne? The lesson I learned from the days of the REALLY BLOATED studio of about 2002-2003 was that I really stopped recording my own drum parts if I couldn't operate the recorder from the drum chair. So it's been a point to make it so I could do that while still being situated well enough to let a trio configuration play and see each other.

I took Adam's Mesa 4x12 cabinet out of storage and put my 2x12 on it with my Heartbreaker head on top of that. They are all finished in the same black leather and grillecloth style, and the stack of them looks formidable! I might mic the two cabs and just try to see how they work together maybe with hard panned tracks even on the same performance.

the new studio space at calabrese west, in a garage at the calabrese house. Another couple days or so and I will put the recording stuff together. My rack has been put together for a few weeks now but stands waiting to be hooked up to the computer, which itself was waiting for some modifications to the massive steel desk I got from Ikea. The desk had a good deal of configuration possibilities, some of which lent themselves to studio work, so I spent a few hours making it ready for the job. After a few weeks of twiddling with networking and other possibilities across all the three computers Kelli and I have, the computer is situated and ready. All I need is time.

But I am still moving stuff, now for our incoming roommate Suzanne (a friend of Kelli's). For a person with disabilities, she is a pretty active but still, the work of moving desks falls to guys like me. Actually, we wanted her to move in so we sweetened the deal by offering to do her moving. It really means that all my studio stuff gets put on hold while I do that, or do laundry, or fix some of my furniture that got damaged in the move, or do some crazy mixed shifts at work. But Glenn and me are licking our chops at the idea of having a place to play once again after over half a year of studiolessness. I hope I still remember how to do any of this!

Friday
Sep102004

The End of American Beauty

I just got my copy of American Beauty on DVD. It is one of about five or fewer movies I actually own. I'd seen it a few times before. Today I watched it and found myself verklempt! By the end, I was nearly sobbing.

I guess it has hit a nerve with me. Suburban decay and the illusion that suburbia is a neat way of life has been a favorite, albeit depressing topic for me. And this movie somehow taps into that for me. Suburbia. The land of the walking dead. Nearly everyone in that movie was emotionally dead. I guess it hits me in a deep place, because sometimes I feel that way too. Or I feel that I am surrounded by people in this movie.

Suburbia is not just a place. It's a way of life. It's an institution. It is not just buildings and freeways. It is the death of our society, because it is the most celebrated way ever to effectively kill human contact, which of course makes true community impossible. Suburbia is the ultimate in disposable society. Everything in suburbia is meant to be a quick and nasty solution to a problem, but is no such thing. James Howard Kunstler is adamant about declaring suburbia is "a living arrangement that has no future." And I agree. Community isn't just a collection of houses. A house is not a home. A cul de sac is a dead end in every sense of the term. A collection of Wal-marts, ARCOs and KFCs is not a local economy. A car is not a form of independence. The latest computer, gas grill, mountain bike, DVD player, or car stereo is not a sign of superiority over anyone. All this stuff is just stuff. None of it makes any of us happier. Some of it delays agony and disappointment. These are things we fill our lives with to make ourselves feel we have something in life. Nonsense.

My grandmother died in April 2001, and within about four months of that, I had spent most of my inheritance from her on recording gear and my computer. The thing was, I had thousands of dollars of gear already, and as time passed, much of the stuff I bought that summer I have since sold off in my slow wind down of musical activity, and a great deal of frustration along the way. Before she died, her bedroom was immediately adjacent to the studio room. The computer I now type from is exactly where her bed was, and exactly on the other side of the wall from here is where my drum set was. And around there was several thousands of dollars of recording gear. And I never used a bit of it to record anything she ever said. Shit, I could have used a scratchy old cassette deck to get conversations. I was using DAT, minidisk, VS-880, and other stuff, but never did I do anything like record conversations with her in her last few years. But as soon as she died, I went and bought more of the stuff, and in that time, have not really used it. I felt something was profoundly wrong. I have gear, but not my grandmother. I have no recordings of her at all. Kinda stupid if you ask me. I don't have a good enough excuse. I can only say what happened, not why it happened. Though we lived in the same house for nearly three years, we were distant. We didn't talk much. We lead separate lives in our suburban abode. I could kick myself for not recording things she said. But at the time, I had nothing, not even a lame excuse.

Like Lester in American Beauty, I was dead for a few years. What does it mean when two people can share a house, and don't even need to bump into each other, but still create even more space between them by ignoring each other, and sniping when the opportunity arises? And why is it that I can hear about people from other countries and societies that live three generations to a small house, but they all somehow work together? I got a four bedroom house here, and that wasn't enough space for two of us. Classic suburbia. We all want to live with our own little "me zone" but it's an empty gesture. Part of the charm in the early days of suburbia was that people didn't need to live in close proximity to one another. Coming from dense cities, that must have been appealing, but here we are, about three generations into all this, and now our civilization is hanging on by a thread. Suburbia has destroyed our country, even as it was the supposed savior for a people who were trying to escape a multitude of problems.

People need to live in proximity to one another, and to other organic elements like water, trees, open space, farm land. It worked for thousands of years. The cradle of civilization sits on two major rivers. London has a river through it. New York is on the coast. Geneva is next to a lake. San Diego has a lovely natural harbor. Suburbia pays no heed to all that. Suburbia is utterly canned living that can be set up anywhere, in places humans have no business in. Phoenix is a lovely hell hole, as is Las Vegas. All of suburbia answers to a few common design types, and all are built with cars and freeways in mind, not people. People are a lower level design consideration. Suburbs are designed by engineers, not citizens. Suburbs are built by contractors, not residents. Suburbs are occupied by people from other places (because any suburb can be no older than a century at the very most). Suburbia has no history. Suburbs are total lies. Or as Kunstler says, they are cartoon environments with cartoons of houses. Suburbs have no history. EVERYTHING about suburbia is just WRONG.

But we are sold a package. We call it the American Dream. It is a neat little package including cars, houses, and all sorts of accoutrements that go with. The thing is, all that stuff is just a cover for what modern life has become—a void. People without cars are effectively second class citizens now. People who use a five year old computer are backwards. People who don't watch TV (like me) are wierd. Pedestrians are a nuisance. There are all sorts of ways that suburbia measures people and categorizes them and puts them in little boxes. People now feel like losers if they can't keep up with the Joneses. Our whole economy is built on consumers feeling they need to buy stuff—the latest model of everything. And, with that, there is no incentive to make things that actually have lasting value. Really! Our economy is based on making everything disposable. Even so-called "durable goods" like refrigerators and washing machines are meant to be replaced in a few years (if you are doing your job as a good customer/American). But look at furniture, furnishings, small appliances, and all sorts of other things. They are made cheaper and cheaper so that you will be able to afford next year's model, and the industry is advertising that you will cease to be a valid individual if you don't keep up.

Our economy, our national identity is literally based in insecurity. And a lot of people are insecure. Marilyn Manson said it best in Bowling for Columbine: keep people afraid and they will keep buying. Well, suburbia is a great place to make people insecure. It is tailor made. All of suburbia is disposable. Maybe that's why people are so damned depressed! They all know there is nothing to look forward to. Home is nothing. Home will be nothing. Homes are disposable as much as cars and buildings. Homes are a consumer commodity as much as cars and refrigerators. Use it for a while, then go get a new one. People have no real stake in the place they call home now. None of us actually built our houses. Nor did we do what the Amish do—raise a barn and the whole community is a part of it. See, THAT is how you make community. That is where people feel connected to their land, their property, their people. We have just thrown that sort of life into the trash here in America. People are all worried about homeland security. Well, you tell me. What the FUCK is there to defend, anyway? Defend KFC and Taco Bell? Wal Mart? Freeways that never clear up? Stoplights? Parking lots and garages? Gated communities? Liquor stores? Empty strip malls? Gas stations? Toxic waste dumps? Oil change shops? Failed inner cities? Rude drivers in cars with absurdly loud stereos?

What the hell is there to be happy about? What is there to protect? How is this community? Why fight for this shit? Oh, terrorism is a threat now, but no one noticed that the last fifty years have seen the true destruction of our nation, one car, one house, one fridge, and one piece of particle board furniture at a time. We've replaced real life with a plastic version made in China meant to emulate real life. Our people are more rude, our families are more broken, our towns are more dead, and our worth is measured in terms of dollars, not character or virtue. No wonder people use drugs. They just want to forget all this. And a fine thing it is to forget! Maybe I should start using drugs. All this talk gets me really fucking pissed off sometimes.