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Entries in slaves by trade (5)

Sunday
Jan172010

De Ja(nuary) Vu

The winter time, particularly in January, brings a slowdown to a lot of industries including mine. It certainly doesn't help that the economy is what it is, but I have seen that coming for years now. Kelli isn't working right now so I had to bite the bullet and reprise my schedule at work like I had last year at this time. Since the days kind of sputter out after 3-5 pm, my shifts have all had to struggle to even reach my eight hours, never mind surpassing that by much. I've been a squeaky wheel about needing to maintain 40 hours so fortunately that was granted but to do it, I had to take the 6 am shift again. Last year's spell doing that was recorded here—cold times on the bike in the pre-dawn hours. This year I hear we have storms that might press me to drive to work. In a highly unusual concession to my present need, I am working today, a Sunday. I will feel cheap and used. The last Sunday I did was in April and I had the indignity of having a parking incident with some guy who would not move his car though able to. I ended up tapping his bumper and he got all inflamed. Meh! All the commercial spots I routinely expect to find are open season for all. Easy work, nasty parking in downtown. No church for me today. That is the real bummer of all.

Monday
Jun082009

Exile And Return

Exile and return is a major theme in the Bible, and therefore in the lives of Jews and Christians. There is of course the Exile ("big E") of being carried off to Babylon for a couple generations, watching Jerusalem being laid waste and the agony of not knowing how or even if it would be possible to worship Yahweh while displaced from his favored city on earth. But more broadly speaking, the Bible as a whole tells of exile and return, starting with Genesis and being sent from Eden—the primeval state of undivided wholeness—into the world where division is a central fact of life. It seems we thought we knew better than our creator. From wholeness to being fragmented, we are exiled and through the bible, God does all sorts of tricks to get us back into one piece. None of them work too well or has much promise until a genius moment of presenting Jesus to the world, a figure who subverts all our typical understandings of what is required to live a faithful life. By the end of the bible story, the early believers and writers concluded that Jesus was the cure for this division in our lives. He was, for them, the end of spiritual exile. If we haven't forgotten it, even today he is the end of our spiritual exiles, as individuals (ah, I hate to say it: your "personal lord and savior") and also as all of humanity (through his commandment to love one's neighbor like oneself), offering the example of what we need to function as the community God envisions for us—the Kingdom of God.

My recent experience of joining a church by conscious decision has raised some questions for me. It is the first time I joined a church by intent, and not just by being confirmed into my existing congregation—an experience which does not seem to register clearly with me as a definitive moment in my life. Part of the reason for joining my new congregation has been that unlike the old one, there is a structure in place for actually doing some spiritual discernment and development work in a group setting, among many other ways to live a satisfying community life. My experience initially was a bit timid, but I was interested in being open with people. I actually didn't have plans to join as a member; that sort of grew on me over the last nine months or so. Suffice to say, having a setting in which to explore themes of how I experience the divine moving in my life has been an agent that helped me feel that this congregation was right for me.

If I do get any revelations from God, then they surely come in the "still small voice" variety such as Elijah experienced in Kings. I have to admit to being sort of dense in that regard. But revelations aren't always presentations of things not yet known; often it just takes a new insight to put together the pieces of many things already well known. Some write this off as coincidence. I have to wonder how it all works. But I am gaining in trust that it does, and that it happens for reasons we learn only on reflection.

So what compelled me to dig out a box of my journals and letters from the summer and first year after graduating high school (1991-92)? Especially since all that sort of stuff (filed neatly in annual collections in a series of boxes) now is garage filler, and no longer within reach in my closet like it tended to be for years before I began to move house every few months. For a long time, I did too much of this digging and I forgot to live in the moment, by hanging onto a detailed memory of all sorts of stuff that perhaps expired in usefulness before it was even written down! Having not had that opportunity in most of the Kelli years (since 2002), now it seems safer to periodically have a look. I draw some interesting revelations from this material.

This week I revisited the 1991-92 box featuring absurd amounts of pining for Shelby Duncan, a certain girl who never reciprocated my feelings (and with whom I kept that that dance going for another eight years or so—don't ask); stories about my early outside drumming under bridges and at other places because my home neighbors hated the noise; the news of an ever-growing drumset, with a few drawings indicating the changes; a few other minor tales of girls who never ended up being more than a fantasy or peck on the cheek; a considerable cache of letters from my first girlfriend Melissa; subversive correspondence from my stepmom who exited the family in 1983 but who wrote to me on the sly for some years before our early 1992 reunion; my early experiences and embarrassing writings at Mesa college...

But even more ink was given to how ridiculously bored I was, and how busy I was at work at Subway, and how I was often desperately lonely—enough to make a social life by going to work on my off hours!

The time I am speaking of is now approximately smack dab in the middle of my life. I graduated at 17 and started Subway and classes at Mesa a few months later, and turned 18 shortly after that. Now I am twice that age, nearly 36. One thing that I have always been aware of is how I spent roughly the last two years of high school as a pretty regular and committed churchgoing guy. I did a lot of things there. In fact, I did everything I could do there. It was my community. I wasn't really so connected to my peers; I was always more into adult conversations and concerns. (I went to study Martin Buber at an evening meeting when I was 16.) It was a good time on the whole. That is, until years later when I began to see them too as a family riddled with their own dysfunctions. Anyhow, let me not spoil what was perhaps a lifesaver on a number of occasions. At that time, ignorance was bliss. I felt cared for there, and put a lot of time into it for a while.

When I got the job at Subway, I was put on the closing shift, a shift that got me out of work at nearly one in the morning. I worked alone past 10 pm. My school schedule could accommodate that; class started at noon. But church started for me at 9 am, so for at least the first two months or so while the newly opened store got its bearings, it was closing at midnight. Eventually it changed to 11 pm and provided a partner, and things went better. But by then I had already made the critical decision: something in my schedule had to give, and the choice I made was one of economic benefit over community. I basically sent myself into exile from my community, for want of the sort of independence that having a first job seems to offer.

The journals for those eight months of Subway—and several months that followed—reflect an honest attempt to play by the rules and do a good job. If ever I played the part of the company man, this was it. I was the more senior of the closers after just two months. I really didn't know how to handle the task of delegating responsibility, even though I knew all the jobs well enough. I really put myself into it. Eventually, I took a day shift and got a bit closer to my boss, a delightfully sarcastic and funny guy named Chuck. I was third place after him and the manager Steve. In some ways, Chuck began to like me more than Steve and his complacency. But Chuck had plans to offload the store only about eight months after he opened it. I was apprehensive whether my hard work would amount to anything since new owners meant that I'd probably be reduced in rank or let go. Long story short, it didn't do me any good at all. In fact, it was really just rejected by the new owners, and sent me into a whole mess of drama that terminated in a court restraining order against me! Anyhow, I had internalized the values of the marketplace, and was living that story.

Meanwhile, I was desperately disconnected when away from work. I had Matt Zuniga as a new "friend" but he was way too weird for me. But we shared my drums when we went and did our outside noisemaking and from that effort to kill time came all my interest in recording music and making tapes and later CD's. My best friend from high school, Stephan, was an exchange student who had since gone back to Germany. I had gone to Europe that summer of 1991, and toiled mightily at Subway solely to pay for another trip to Steve's house in 1992, to more properly close up our in-person friendship before who knows what would take over as "real life." Matt, by comparison, was no one. (Of course I feel differently now, but he was quite a character then, unlike any I had known.)

Oh, what misery it all consisted of.

In my journals I noticed scarcely a mention of church. That's because I essentially dropped out as much as I had been in for a couple years. I don't suppose it actually had to be that way. I just had no sense of balance. After Subway began closing earlier in the evening, I guess there was no actual reason for not being able to go to church on Sunday mornings, or to do other activities. But for whatever reason, I stayed away, somehow feeling that this new world of work and school was more important. But wow! All the journals were quite miserable. Maybe it would have been better to stick around at church, to retain that community life. What I didn't know then was that my time off would last for about ten years, until I was 28. This Subway experience was just the beginning of a long dark period.

Fast forward to 2005 when I was developing enough of a sense of self to take a stand when employers threw me shifts that would intrude upon my life. Essentially, my firing from AV Concepts was based on my sticking to my guns for my own good. (They didn't seem to mind the request for Sunday off, but they chafed at my retention of my weeknights off so I could go to therapy to get my life in order after that disastrous summer.) That was one step in redeeming my 1991 decision to wander from church. And, early last year when I got my current job, I was in a dreadful way when it looked like I'd have no control over the hours I work because it seemed that they could get me just about any time from 4 am till 8 pm, seven days a week except for three Sundays I negotiated to have off each month. I did the math of the total hours they could draw from in a month and just about went into shock at how much of my life could be tapped for commercial work. This was quite upsetting since in 2006 after AVC, I was quite into learning about sabbath economics, and one central idea is that work should have limitations put around it so it doesn't take a person over. And that is just what it seemed might happen. Over several months, I played company man enough to negotiate a fixed schedule that has at least fluctuated within reason, and not by shocking daily jumps of five hours forward or back. I've been able to have Sundays off since September, and it has been good.

Good because I have the feeling of returning now that there is a niche of time carved for this purpose. Strictly speaking it is not a return to my old church life because that is history to me now. The return to feeling part of a community is running strong in me now. Having the time to take part helps, but having the will to do so is more satisfying. I mean, at any point in the dark years of exile, I could have chosen to drop by at church at least sometimes. I didn't. Somehow, I am taking back the decision to let the Market inform my value system. In 1991, it was an innocent and curious youthful enough move to see what another world is like. I didn't realize my age would nearly double before I found it in me to take my place in the body of Christ, with the conviction that that was a better choice to make. Some people, I suppose, never come back. And I suppose some don't get as far away as I feel I did.

I don't suppose people think that having a "real" job is an experience of exile. Much of the time it is deemed the only socially responsible thing to do, and the wise person makes all the time for what work requires. But consider the compromises that often accompany commercial work. And consider how things are torn asunder now in the "job market." The facade of the Market-as-deity is crumbling now. Maybe the crumbling of that—expressed by increasing layoffs in most sectors—will call people out of exile. Maybe it will call them out or even force them out of the individualistic pursuits of material gain over whatever community or family life they had to leave behind to accomplish that. What, but for the collapse of an economic system that is constructed on division of labor and division of relations, could be better? It sort of strikes dead the notion of "what's good for the corporation is good for America." Little by little, news reports and other anecdotes are indicating a shift away from the predominant story of the Market-god (upheld as it were by our sacrifices to it, in the form of our working hours and consumption that follows—giving back in money what we did not give in labor), and toward the types of community solidarity and togetherness that has been brushed aside, but that is the only thing that will save us and bring us back home from exile.

The urban life is a disconnected life based on consumption more than generation, a proposition which is inherently unsustainable. Our dilemma is a new one mainly because of our flight from the land to the city. It is no surprise we find so much alienation if we are fundamentally detached from the basis for our lives. The urban existence is literally an uprooting from the soil, from the ground people have traditionally been tied to, and where—for generations at a stretch—networks of relations have been constructed out of necessity. Some might argue that we have to embrace the new reality of urbanization and get on with it. But that is the way of death. We don't have that luxury. Just because we have a brave new world doesn't mean it's not foolish new world. No less a figure than Jesus spoke about the deadly trends in this type of lifestyle: his good news, his gospel, was that there is a life of vibrancy for those who reject such things as the world has created. I don't say this to be a Luddite-traditionalist, but the path of higher technology and more urbanization is the way of death so far, and we don't have time to mess it up anymore. You might think of it as "old is the new new." The ancient wisdom had it as right as we need it to be today. There seems to be a reawakening to this, and manifestations of it are turning up in various community efforts—in small scale agriculture, church community, arts, even online where things like Wikipedia restore the notion of the commons, where the world is seen as a place to be shared because of our common lot. It is a rejection of much of the centralized power and top-down order imposed by political and corporate structures of our time. People may think our present world situation is better off religion-free, but as I think theologian John Cobb would say, this is a profoundly religious matter. What we need is to get rid of the bad religion and bad myths that will destroy us if we live by them. Maybe what we need is the "religionless Christianity" that Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of.

The story of exile from Eden is a story of being separated from that which gives eternal (wholeness of) life, and it seems that it tells a story that narrates the move from decentralized roaming peoples who had what they needed for the taking from the common pot, into the world of cities and their inherent structure based on hierarchy, classification and division, not to mention scarcity from the not-natural notion of private ownership. Sure, for a while we've dabbled in our human knowledge and our economic orgies that glorify individual pursuits, but all that has been exile for us. Notice if you will that that system isn't doing too well now! The story of Jesus, by contrast, is the story of reinstatement to our whole humanity; by again living the life undivided from God and the divine plenty. Jesus didn't speak in terms of the modern corporate world, or of Adam Smith's economic theories. He spoke to us in terms of nature and its indiscriminate providence. No wonder we can't find our way. We've declared war on nature, and by doing so, we've declared war on ourselves. So a return from exile is needed. Repentance. Metanoia.

I've seen my little part in it in my microcosmic version of that struggle, and have decided to turn toward what promises the life I left behind for a decade and more. I feel like I got part of myself back when I got happened into community again—even though it is really not the same bunch as before. We are, after all, relational beings who gain our identity from our relations to others. Little surprise then that for a decade there, I really didn't know who in the world I was because I was cut out of so many life-giving connections. The last few weeks have had a remarkable feeling that I am coming home.

Tuesday
Apr142009

Slaves By Trade + 15

Back around March/April of 1994 I was making a first foray into advertising my services as a drummer. At the time there was no Craigslist where one could explain everything about their artistic vision and influences and all that in elaborate prose, or in txt msg spk. There was no MySpace or Facebook where you could network and allow someone to hear your stuff, and where you are able to change your public profile at will and at no particular expense. Nope. It was just free ads with up to 25 words in a print ad in the Reader, once a week (and with one word spoken for if you included your phone number). If someone called and was interested in a follow up, you either get together and jammed (akin to sex on the first date) or maybe you traded already-out-of-date demo tapes (akin to showing pictures of your old girlfriend to the new chick you're trying to get with). I don't really remember the ad, but there must be one kept for posterity in my stash of things from that period. I think I referred to myself as a "drumset player" for some reason. Some influences back then might have included Tull, Toto, Rush, Primus, and probably a few others that were representative enough to put on such a short ad. I got a few calls.

ed with his black and silver kit, the rhythmic catharsis-era kit, seven pieces strong, and always too much for anyone else's gig!I took this thing everywhere, even when it was a dumb idea!At that time, I was not yet a sensible player who took only the needed gear to any given playing situation. I was sporting my heavily modded kit that was quite refined by that time—but crafted for something totally unlike any of the responses I got from my ad, or any of the ads I called. It was built around a Pearl rack and had seven drums, at least six or seven cymbals, and a couple of cowbells. Yeah, I was still in my Neil Peart phase, or more recently, my Tim Alexander phase, which was a new twist on Neil's formula anyway, replete with oversized kit with all manner of toys, and too many notes per measure! I was still moving deeper into prog rock territory around then. By then I was yet to hit my Yes period (it was about to happen this same year) but I was over a year from diving into King Crimson, and months from discovering Keneally and all that arose from that circle of players. I had some knowledge of Frank Zappa's more comical work but had little discipline to try to play it. I had seen Terry Bozzio do a clinic on his massive drum kit and he was a hero for a bit, showing the power of the drum set as a viable musical instrument. All my playing had been in my quite ridiculous drum/vocal duo Rhythmic Catharsis and with an odd, sort of avant garde improvisational group called New Electron Symphony. I was the least avant garde in NES but I was unconventional and at least not tamed yet. In more clear terms, I didn't really know what the fuck I was doing. At least some playing with NES tamed me a bit in the fall of 1993. In that setting, I learned something about grooving a bit more in odd meters, laying off cymbals some, choosing better notes and when to use them. But after the start of 1994, I wanted something different.

So the ad campaign began at the suggestion of Bonnie Hanika, a mentoring friend from church who was giving me some pep talk to fight the depression that had set in when Rhythmic Catharsis fell apart, followed by the often ego-destroying lessons that arose from playing with NES. Even at that point, I was about to pack it in, or so I thought. What silliness it seems now that I would have exhausted any creative potential when I had barely tapped into any yet, but my heart was broken at that point. Still, the ads went out and I phoned a few. I went on a handful of auditions and first jams with my seven piece kit. Oh, it looked good, but it was wayyyy too much to be hauling around on these first dates, and I just know I caved into all the stupid things you can play when you have too many drums and no idea what to do to musically compliment things.

the late jim pupplo shredding on the guitar onstage.Jim PupploOn the morning of the 14th of April—15 years ago today—I got awakened by a call from a guy named Jim Pupplo. He and his band Slaves By Trade needed someone to play drums for their gig that night since their drummer was MIA. I had no idea what I was getting into and how this would begin to change my life for years to come. He asked me to come up to Miramar where their rehearsal studio was in one of those modified warehouses that cater to musicians who can't play at home. So I filled the Ford Escort with the kit, and got up there and set up and played for a couple hours in the early afternoon. Their show was later on at the notorious Spirit club. I guess there must have been about ten songs to learn. I remember the usual stuff now but forgot the songs just a few hours later; dark room with fans raging to cope with the gym locker heat and man-stench, a few breather breaks to get some questions answered, earsplitting volume, overplaying to make up for not knowing what to play (!), posing as a guy who could play metal when in fact I really never had nor wanted to. Shit, I was a prog rock guy, and maybe a guy with a tad bit of fusion exposure too, but never metal or what was that G word? Grunge? Slaves were playing something more shaped by Alice In Chains, Stone Temple Pilots and Dio than Primus and Toto. I was totally posing, but I did have the volume thing down. I just didn't know how to play straight and hard, even though I am essentially a backbeat kinda guy.

Having not recorded the rehearsal I promptly forgot the songs by the time the show began, recalling only bits of starts as they were thrown at me. No matter though; no one expected perfection, and the guys had a group of friends from their Navy workshop who were happy to have beers and get rowdy and frankly were quite cool with the fact I just blew in off the wind that day. They were always good support for us. Each show had a good rent-a-crowd, so we were spared the usual empty venue embarrassment that plagues a lot of bands at that early point in their careers.

the first attempt at a band photo, taken at the sunset cliffs. josh, ed, jim, and singer allan who got nixed not long after.SBT shortly after joining, before Allan (right) left the bandFor months after I sat in with them, SBT carried on as a foursome with a singer who didn't play an instrument. Alan was okay but he always had it out for me and was waiting for their former drummer to figure out if he was going to come back or not. After Alan was canned in June, things improved but it never really was going to be my band. I had no real experience in song writing or in playing any instrument but a bit of piano and that was certainly out of place. I had written lyrics to my own shit with Rhythmic Catharsis, but none of that was right for a rock band, and it was barely right for RC anyway since Matt refused to sing half of what I wrote. But on one occasion—all the more exceptional because it was during the Allan period— I got a lyric into SBT that reflected a certain part of my own self, and yet one that could also be delivered with some conviction within a hard rock band. Pull My String was about being teased and taunted, manipulated to explosive anger. About half my time in the band was with Alan fronting. Most of our setlist was formed during his time in the band. There were a small number of songs which came about once Alan got canned and we were able to function more freely as a trio. By far the better part was after he left and after I had a chance to settle in with Jim and bassist Josh. We tried out a few vocalists but Jim was finding his confidence and just decided to assume that role himself. And he was seemingly better at it than Alan. I began to streamline my kit some for the more straight ahead parts, turning to a Bonham five piece setup. It seemed like it might work out with these guys.

We played at the warehouse rehearsal site for a while but since Jim was living in the Old Town area and I was in Clairemont, it made sense to ditch the space and just meet at Jim's house. His roommates were Navy buddies anyway so they didn't care about the sound and were totally into live entertainment. I was also working close by at the Subway across the street from the Spirit Club which itself was less than a mile from Jim's house. We jammed in his bedroom, and I left my kit at the house—a huge leap of faith for me—ready to set up on the way out of work. But even this wasn't established enough for them. Despite being Navy guys, they still had that classic idea of rock bands everywhere—that we were gonna work together for something great. I never really felt that way toward them and couldn't see myself playing such music for long. I had no idea how they planned to tour while in the Navy. So I was jamming concurrently with another band that had called me a few days before SBT had. One time they put it to me that it was "SBT or the gig with Greg" (doing a more jazzy and jammy So-Cal oriented thing that I may have liked more even if I was just as much a fish out of water with them.) SBT were a lot more uptight and until I gave them a clear answer, they sort of dismissed me for a few days, but they had some form and discipline, so I went with them for the rest of the time, and dabbled with Greg and his loose collective of folks when I had time. But for a while in the spring and early summer, I rehearsed and gigged a few times with both.

ed with his brand new set of drums, the green premiers. got them just in time for slaves by trade to break up two months later.My new kit, late 1994, bought in time for SBT to break up!Recall how in the early part of the year, I was depressed and feeling quite the loser. I even had a long spell of feeling that I should just quit music and sell my stuff. But a different thing happened that spring and summer. Instead of winding down, I dug deeper into the craft and bought more gear. Concurrent with the SBT period, I bought a bunch of new cymbals, including one that could only serve Slaves By Trade or something even heavier. It was a massive 22" manhole cover of a ride cymbal that did one thing and one thing only— "PING!" That's it on the recording of Pull My String. I replaced my hi hats and other cymbals too, favoring the bright and cutting sound that would be ideal for a metal band. I was not yet into more subtle and delicate sounds, nor did I have the sense to add sounds without ditching my old gear if it still served me well. So there I was, getting all this new metal while simultaneously thinking I am quitting music. Then comes the big one—getting a brand new maple Premier Signia kit in August! That was timely; we had just planned to go to a studio where I had done one demo with Steve Woodham, yet another of the April ad connections. SBT had nine songs we planned to record, and I was all beaming since I got new drums for the occasion. It almost started to seem like things would go somewhere.

The recording of Pull My String is from that session. It was the first time I had been in a studio setting that sought to capture a live feel from all of us playing at once. And that is essentially what it is, but for a few guitar solo and vocal overdubs. For my part, each song went down in a take or two, scarcely more. We recorded in one night and mixed the next. It was only a week later when I took my drums to my drum guru Roger Friend and had him show me how to tune my first professional grade kit. (Too bad I didn't think of that before the session—the toms sound a bit boxy. In many cases though I prefer the sounds I got at Hog Heaven after more chance to establish my tastes and abilities at my leisure.) I ended up leaving the studio with the master multitrack tapes, the DATs and other such stuff. No one ever asked me for them but no one really knew how we'd get things copied for the demo tape either. So, in September, I happened upon a digital studio that would be able to transfer DAT to CD. This was good news, because they I could dupe the CD to tapes (this was heady stuff then)! The CD blanks at the time were 650 MB and cost bleepin' $15 apiece! So I got two copies. All told, the bill was just about $200 for real time transfer to computer, real time burn x 2, and digital editing too. That was all so I could hear our work on a format that I had at home.

(Meanwhile, as I was doing this on my own dime, studio engineer Joe Statt told of a certain Mike Keneally who came in earlier in the year with a box of DATs and who compiled his CD Boil That Dust Speck by digitally editing a zillion bits together. I had heard of Mike and met him shortly before Frank Zappa died, but this really got me interested in him. A few months later, I went to see a show of his and I found religion!)

I guess I would be remiss to not tell the girl part of the story. I swear I didn't join a rock band to get girls, but it was a practical inevitability, I guess. There was this girl who was a bit um, rounded but who had the face of an angel and was quite the high end in the audience cheering section. I think her name was Tracy. I was sort of holding out for a chance with her, but never really moved on it because she was friends with a few of the Navy people. There were various occasions where the entire crew was present doing what sailors do best on their off time—consume mass quantities of their favorite libations. Despite never moving in on Tracy, it happened that on the day when I bought my drums, I ended up at a party at the band house and there was this one girl who did have enough beer in her to think I was worth a diversionary walk in the park at the bay. Well, that led to a string of events that changed things primarily for the next couple years and beyond! But that was the only time when my membership in a rock band ever led to nookie, engagement, abortion, and the requisite heartache that follows.

Anyhow, after the new drums, the new girlfriend, the new demo (a sure sign your garage band is about to break up!), it was time for it all to fall apart! There were a few "third wave" songs (the second wave after Alan left) that were ready to play out by early September when I took my new drums to the stage at the Spirit club. Somehow I lost my place while we were trying to segue some couple things together, and the whole thing crashed and burned. That took some arguing over since the segue was my idea. We played a pretty good show a few days before Halloween but that wasn't enough to save it. Already it seemed Jim had found some other people he was going to play with. By the end of the year I saw him singing with Typhoid Mary. And he moved house with his new fiancee, so we were out of the Navy buddy bachelor pad. So now what? I had a bad ass kit and no gig, and a demo recording of a band that didn't exist anymore. WTF?

Not much more passed between me and Jim, but he was gracious enough to show me some guitar chords and to explain some things about guitars and theory. It was enough to pique my interest since I had just weeks before gotten a used acoustic guitar for my 21st birthday, and would want to know something about it. There never was any SBT closure or anything. It fizzed out. I saw Typhoid Mary and their reformed alter ego Pincushion a few times and at least once after one of his gigs at the Spirit (or maybe Brick By Brick as it has been for years since SBT closed up shop) he offered to play on a recording of mine, but nothing I was doing particularly required his style. (Jim died in a plane crash in 2004 in Japan. Read my blog from then.) But discovering a new outlet for musical dabbling on guitar was useful in years to come. The prolonged search for a replacement band led me to turn toward my own means and method and after eight months of auditions and jams, I launched into the five year period of recording and experimenting that culminated in Receiving in 2000. I guess you never can predict the twists and turns that result from the spark of creative tension.

The irony for me now is that in all practical senses, I actually have put down the music like I thought I was going to in 1993-4, but still want to play something if I find the time or people to share in making it happen because I don't at all feel that I have tapped the creative well like I could. But my mentor Bonnie was right about never knowing what could happen if I placed an ad.

As an epilogue, I have to report a new bit of surprising trivia. I wrote a blog about Jim after he died in the plane crash, but didn't realize something else about the whole incident. It turns out that the pilot of the doomed plane over Okinawa was the same guy who flew George Dubya onto the aircraft carrier in order to announce Mission Accomplished in Iraq. The snarky left-leaning part of me laments that the artist-musician that tried to bring a bit of creative good into the world was the one who had to die at the hands of this pilot who also flew the worst president ever to one of the most notorious and ill-conceived photo ops ever, to celebrate the faux-ending of a "war" that should never have been launched. Life just aint fair, is it?

Monday
Feb212005

The Problems Associated With Being A Cassandra

It's not easy believing in the immenent crash (within my lifetime) of the industrialized society of which I am a part. Between bouts of depression induced by reading about the clusterfuck that is the modern human condition, I like to take pleasure in the simple things of life. My wife (not particularly simple, I know, but her company is nice), my puppy, my piggies, and my music.

Reading about the end of the oil-based industrial age has not been all bad. It has been quite an education to read through all manner of things across the historical, psychological, philosophical, artistic, and scientific disciplines. I don't hold a degree from any college, but sometimes I get mistaken for someone who does. I was never a reader for fun, but now I finally came to terms with the book and do so for fun, and maybe one day, for survival. The end of the oil age is only going to be the end of life as we know it, and that could be gut-wrenching as we end up moving away from reliance on an ancient substance that has now been used up for good, and has taken a lot of the quality of life from us, either in the pollution that results or the overdevelopment of the land with its disastrous effects on humans, who have (in my culture at least) lost touch with the land that they once revered, and that once sustained them naturally. Getting past the historically anomalous period of oil usage might be a time for humans to get back to what really matters: living.

We surround ourselves with things and call it life, but we are living a lie. I like to think I can exist slightly outside that realm, if only in my daydreams. People like me suffer for that sort of thinking. I don't have big career aspirations, I don't own a new car, I don't drive more than I need to. I don't have many friends who are ready to engage me in a conversation that means something to me. To many, I speak a foreign language because I ache for the sort of life that people could live if we departed from the mindset that our lives be measured in dollars, which I reject wholeheartedly.

Many are surprised to find I am a Christian. I don't talk about it much, and haven't always been in league with the church, but I do believe. But I do not come from the so-called Christian church that you may be hearing about in the news. I reject that brand of Christianity, and even bristle at it being referred to as such. My Christian upbringing is one of justice, humility, peace, and (comm)unity at all costs. Sadly, that is not really in great abundance by the people who are making their presence known today in our national scene. You will not find a fish decal, or a scripture quote or any other such nonsense on my car. You will not hear me rallying against abortion, gay marriage, or evolution taught in school. I may not even rally for the Ten Commandments to be in display in public places. To many, those are the prerequisites to being a Christian. To me, it's nonsense, and a distraction as some of those very same people support war of any sort, and generally are pushing for a more divided society, ridden with all the "us and them" that generations of Americans have fought so hard to eliminate.

Being a Christian these days, and one who seeks to liberate people from suffering and division (the only type of Christian that really matters, from what I have learned), is rough. I believe Mahatma Gandhi was one of the finest Christ-like people ever, despite being a Hindu. A non Christian who lives the Christian message is a great man indeed. Most of us may never be Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr., or any other great men of their kind, but any step in that direction must desperately be made to combat the suffering and grief that humans know these days. It's a need that never goes out of style.

In February 2005, I lost my job as a delivery driver for a senior home delivered meals program. It was the only job I ever got paid for that I actually liked. The one I got up for in the morning, and didn't curse. It was the one in which I didn't feel used like a cheap whore, despite being paid a wage that kept me in a state of poverty (in San Diego, thats easy to achieve). All the work I ever liked, I usually did for free or for not much cash. I've been taken advantage of because I am not a businessman. I've done a range of jobs but don't feel like I have a skill set that someone wants to buy. But then I have to tell myself that I am not a cheap whore to be bought for the highest bidder, or for $9 an hour, or whatever is higher. I reveled in my delivery job for seniors because I made a difference to people. Seven years earlier, I worked at pizza delivery and made almost twice as much money and hated life because it was meaningless work that would throw me away because I didn't follow company policy, or because I might have a car accident and they won't allow people to drive with marred records.

My point, if you are wondering, is this: we go on for most of our lives being mental slaves to a system that would throw us out in a flash. If you go to a job interview, you don't meet with a person, you meet with "human resources." Humanity is reduced to a commodity that can be bought and sold, quantified, and treated the same as iron ore, a forest of pines, or a freshwater lake. Life is not precious anymore. The ground on which we walk has been defiled. The air has been poisoned. The water is transformed into chemical and biological soup. Humanity is like a bunch of lemmings about to run for the cliff in the name of the good life.

The good life has been a timeless attraction, but for about a century, the good life actually came within reach for the proletariat. is good life. We are on the lucky end of the deal now. It may not always be so. But we suffer here too. We suffer because we are only delaying the task ahead which will be a grueling thing to face after decades of entitlements and promises and convenience: eventually, we will have to return to the work of our own survival and recreation, and I could hope that in doing so, people will find that their lives have meaning once again. I've written before that convenience has made us weak. Epidemics of physical and mental ill health have to be related to a society so bent on growing and producing instead of taking care of its own. People aren't made to work this way. Hard work is inevitable in life, and good in many regards, but not hard work in the name of nothing but greed. People have willingly embraced a system that allows their souls to be valued and devalued like currency and the cost of a bushel of wheat or a barrel of oil. I don't find it much of a surprise that we have the family crises that we have in this country. The drive to get out and make a buck has replaced the genuine need to work together to meet needs and keep suffering at bay. Hardly anyone needs to work together anymore, so community and family life has withered in so many regards.

One day we won't be able to "produce" much because of a failed national economy that bet its future on a substance that would only deplete the more we used it, yet foolishly came up with ever more ways to use it, most needlessly. One day we will all be back to work doing what our great grandparents did to get by, instead of the fashionable form of slavery we now labor under. A lot of people will be in for a shock when they find that the good job failed them and that money itself is meaningless if the promise it represents is broken, and all that mattered were the solid networks of humans interacting in mutually beneficial ways. Most jobs today are more or less superfluous to real living. Most of what we surround ourselves with was made by people in those jobs. What a shame. Most people don't realize it, and most people think these things have always been this way. Most people will find out otherwise. I just hope I got a running head start to confront it. Knowing is half the battle.

I never "produced" anything at my senior meals program. Day after day, you would not know I was there except for the notes I left as part of my minor bookkeeping. The truck was parked in the same place, the routes were the same. There was not much evidence that I really did anything there. But at the end of the day, I could know that some of my clients saw no one else that day but me, and that even that fleeting five minute encounter mattered to them more than I could imagine. Or maybe some days I got a history lesson that won't ever be in a book unless I put it there. I never produced anything of worth that could be bought and sold while at this job, but for a while, someone thought it was worth the money to have me there. Then someone else at a higher position saw the numbers and decided otherwise. I'm sure they have produced nothing of worth either, except to show how they can pinch people like me out of jobs. But I assert my untold and probably untapped value to society. I would like to think that my other unproductive job is to relate to you people some vision of an alternative to the status quo. I might die penniless and sick, but someone who reads what I write may go off and do great things. It happens to artists all the time. Totally devalued in life, but hugely influential and revered in death. Such will probably be my fate. (At least the devalued in life part.) Simply put, one can never estimate the trajectory of influence. One day maybe my songs or blogs will take on a resonance I can't imagine. Or maybe they will only ever be a footnote. In the mean time, I will enjoy the company of my wife, dog, and piggies while some brand me as a Cassandra and tell me to go get a "real job."

Saturday
Aug142004

RIP Jim Pupplo

jim pupplo. tall and lanky and buff, shredding on his guitar with Slaves by Trade, 1994.Jim Pupplo in 1994I just found out that a guitarist I used to play with back in 1994 was killed in a Navy plane crash over near Iwo Jima. In the extremely rare instance of my watching TV, tonight I happened to be right there when the story came on the local news. There can't be many Jim Pupplos who were in the Navy, so I went to see about it on the net. Sure enough, he was from New York, was once an enlisted sailor on a sub, still stationed in Coronado, and was 34.

I met Jim on April 14, 1994—exactly ten years and four months ago today. He called me in the morning from an ad I placed, advertising myself as a drummer. He told me he had a gig that night with his band Slaves By Trade and his drummer had flaked, and could I fill in, with just one rehearsal? I was not particularly interested in the music, but it wasn't hard to play and had some punch. The show went okay, but was technically a disaster. The band and the crowd were nearly all associated with the Navy, and specifically a department most of them worked in. The friends of the band got together a lot and were really supportive, so I felt good about being in their midst. Jim started the band as a guitarist, but while I was in there, he assumed the vocals too. He had a strong voice early on, and later on went to another band as vocalist only, then eventually reformed that band again around himself on guitar and vocals. I'm not sure I got into his music or lyrics, but I had fun playing, and once we became a trio in SBT, we got a lot better. I don't recall seeing him since early 1998 or so.

Ten years ago yesterday, I bought a new set of drums—my first "real" set, and the set I still use. Later on that night, at a band related party, I met Robin Williams (no, that's her real maiden name!) who became my short-lived fiancee, and partner of over two years. (I just wrote about some of this in my blog yesterday, in some sort of ten year reflection. Needless to say, August 13 is etched into my mind as a day when a lot of things changed in my life.) Two weeks later, the band recorded a nine song demo at a local studio, which still is probably the best recording of me as a drummer. Two weeks before SBT broke up in the end of October, I got my first guitar for my 21st birthday, and it was Jim who showed me some meat and potatoes chords and scales. Most of our relationship was done by the end of that year, but in the absence of work with SBT, I got interested in playing drums more, auditioning for bands, and once I got fed up with that, I finally hit my stride, choosing to record my own stuff, using any instrument I had available to me, with guitar being the newest. That of course, led me to all of my music history since then.

I didn't know Jim too well, but I did get the idea he was good at whatever he decided to do. He was a solid guitarist who could play extremely well. He took on the vocalist duty with aplomb, and he apparently made the jump from being an enlisted sailor to being an officer. He was friendly but New York at once. Even from my outsider's perspective, it was easy to see he could be counted on to be a good friend. All the SBT and submarine shop buddies got along famously, particularly when the booze flowed. He gave me a shot at being a better musician, among other things that changed my life.

Listen to a song I wrote lyrics for and that Slaves By Trade recorded in August 1994. Pull My String.