Connection

No, this post is not about Elastica stealing the opening riff of Wire’s “Three Girl Rhumba” from Pink Flag.  I’ve already made my peace with that.

This is about social connection.  I was just thinking about this earlier this morning…I’ve had this nagging feeling for ages that there was an actual reason behind my wasting so much time refreshing my Twitter feed.  The obvious answer is that I like staying in touch with all my friends, especially now that they’re all on the east coast and I’m on the opposite side of the country.  But there’s got to be more than that.  I’m usually on top of my stupid occasional timewasting addictions — playing with my mp3 collection, watching YouTube videos, looking up what’s playing on the station I’m currently listening to — and I know that my threshold is about fifteen to twenty minutes before I automatically start guilting myself into getting some actual work done.

But what is it with Twitter that I keep wanting to update the feed so frequently?

I think I figured it out, and I wrote it down in my personal journal: Twitter today is lunch period back in high school.

It’s definitely got to do with staying in touch with my friends back east, there’s no denying that.  A lot of these friends are connected to my circle of friends from my junior year in high school, either directly or indirectly.  And back then, back when I was a spotty nerd weirdo wearing Cure and PiL tee shirts and having given up on trying to fit in with the popular cliques, the lunch period was the primary time I could hang out with said friends when we were in school.  I really looked forward to hanging with them, even if it was just for twenty minutes a day.

Sure, we’d cross paths in the hallway, or meet up during a study hall.  The occasional after-school get together and the weekend trips down to Amherst were a bonus.  Back then we didn’t have the instant gratification of social media on the internet — hell, my family didn’t have DSL until 2000 or so — so we made do with the moments we were given.

We never quite lost touch in those pre-social media days, even when we were no longer nearby and some of us were too broke to stay with AOL, let alone make a phone call.  We emailed, even snail-mailed each other occasionally, and I would even make a few roadtrips out their way on my vacations.

Live Journal changed that, when I reconnected with a large number of them on a social media level.  Then, a few years later, Twitter and Facebook made the contact more immediate, and it’s been like that ever since.

This social evolution took so many slow and deliberate steps that it’s just like anything else I do over a long period of time.  I don’t always notice the subtle changes and the current level I’m at.  So it’s not as if I’m stalking all my friends or have no IRL of my own…we’ve just been connected at a consistent level for so long, I don’t always notice why I keep refreshing the feed.  Passive addiction.

This lends itself to the ‘stupid timewasting addictions’ I spoke of earlier…I get into a habit of doing certain things that I don’t immediately notice if I’m overdoing them.  This is why I’ll also speak of ‘unplugging’, where I’ll just back away cold turkey for a while.  It’s not always due to the occasionally frustrating online conversations that pop up, or what have you; it’s just that it’s the only way I know that I’ll break those addictions and reset my life.  Plus, it’ll give me more free time for contemplation and working on the projects I need to work on.

I do find it interesting how, in this age of instant and continuous connection, the lesson we should really take out of it is moderation.

Musical Moments: Meeting a Favorite Band

So I found out the other day that one of my favorite bands of the late 80s, The Church, is going to be doing an in-store appearance at Amoeba here in San Francisco.  Most of you already know that their 1988 song “Under the Milky Way” is my favorite song of all time, so this little meet and greet is somewhat of a big thing for me.  If they play it live (I’d be surprised if they didn’t, considering it’s one of their signature songs), I’ll be absolutely over the moon.  I already have their new album, Further Deeper, which I downloaded straight from their site late last year, but I may just buy it again to get it signed.  I’m that much of a fan.

Meeting a favorite band or music is always an interesting experience.  I went to one or two in-stores back in my college days, but it wasn’t until I started working at HMV that I was able to get on the list, stick around and meet the band after local shows. I’ve gone to a few signings here in SF as well.  The guys from Travis are all wonderful, very friendly Glaswegians, and I had a really good long chat about recording and bass playing with their bassist Dougie.  The guys from the Verve Pipe were reserved but very nice guys (and Brian Van der Ark really is that tall!).  Karl Wallinger of World Party is a lovely guy and was absolutely tickled to see people there.  Then there’s the George Harrison moment, of course–the one time I was actually shaking afterwards.  There were a few others I’ve met, where they hid behind a bottle or a few beers, or where they felt just as uncomfortable as I did at that moment…those sometimes happen as well.

One of my favorite things about meeting my favorite musicians, especially once I got over being starstruck, is that they’re all the same as us fans.  They’re just regular people who are amused, maybe even a little bemused, that they have this kind of following.  Sometimes you can talk to them on Twitter or Facebook like you do your buddies, sometimes you’ll get to know them well.  Maybe not as close friends, but as acquaintances.  Your job is pushing paper, their job is writing songs and touring.  But the human interaction is the same.

It’s one of the many joys of being a music fan for me.  I don’t demand anything of them, though I may ask for an autograph if they’re willing. But I truly enjoy meeting them face to face, and thanking them for doing what they do, letting them know I love their art.

My Own Worst Enemy

I’ve been feeling frustrated lately and I know it’s my own damn fault.  I keep falling into my own trap of wasting time when I could be using it for creative endeavors.  Granted, I don’t always have the free time in between my Day Job responsibilities to sneak in some daily words, but it’s mid-February and I already see that I’m falling back into timewasting habits.

Mind you, I haven’t completely turned into a lazy-ass who dreams of being a writer but never quite gets there, never putting word to paper or screen.  I’m delivering some decent word count on the Walk in Silence project as of late.  I’ve also been having a lot of fun with my art, playing around with a comic version of A Division of Souls for my weekly art exercise (this isn’t top priority at this point, as my art still needs a hell of a lot of work).  And I’ve been doing a lot of guitar playing.

Boiling it down:  I have a lot of Best Laid Plans coming up against an easily-distracted mind.  There’s a reason I have multiple calendars and a whiteboard schedule…if I didn’t, my output would be much lower.  But it’s also a matter of finding the willingness to make good on those plans: I can’t just be “in the mood” or “inspired by the music I’m listening to” or whatever else puts me in the correct mindset.  I have to make myself want to achieve these goals, or else they’ll just remain Best Laid Plans.

We’re all our own worst enemy at times.  How do you combat it?  What do you do to clear those hurdles?

Music for a Busy Day

Oof–nothing like an ongoing heavy workload at the Day Job to keep me from actually getting any real writing done.  I’m of two minds on it:  there are days when I just want to forget my writing for a day, relax and regain my energy…and then there are days (usually the very same ones, an hour or so later) when I call BS on that complaint and force myself to get that writing done out of sheer New England stubbornness.  Unless I’m dead tired by the end of my shift, the latter usually (and thankfully) wins out.

As always, listening to music gets me through the day.  I’ve been listening to a lot of Radio BDC lately, switching over to KSCU or Sirius XM when I need a change of playlist.  Since I work at home, I can get away with something with a little stronger than your okay but spineless Listen At Work station.  It never hurts to stop what you’re doing for The Man and sing along to Violent Femmes’ “Kiss Off” with wild abandon. :)

So what are you listening to today?

We’re s-h-o-pp-i-n-g, we’re shopping

I was doing really great with my writing schedule over the last three weeks.  So what happened?  Why did I miss a music blog yesterday?

Well, simple: it was my birthday.  I’m now the grand old age of 44.  In New Englandese, I’m an old faht.  A. said her present to me is letting me spend even more money at Amoeba today with no strings or guilt trip attached.  Heh.

We spent most of the day going to a restaurant on Divisadero called Brenda’s Meat & Three, where I had a ridiculously large breakfast po-boy with a side of cheddar grits.  We drove over to the Mission where we hung out at ImagiKnit, Borderlands and Dog Eared Books, and took pictures of the local scenery.  On the way back we stopped at the Bi-Rite on Divisadero for my cake (after a brief one-block walk up Hayes to Alamo Square, where, after 9 years of living in the city, we finally saw the famous Painted Ladies houses).  And ended the day watching nine consecutive episodes of Azumanga Daioh and having sushi for dinner.  And cake, of course.

Anyhoo!  This means that I don’t have too much have to say musically today.  At least not at the moment, as I am being the Biggest Slacker in Town, considering I so rarely take personal days off.  I didn’t even shower until after 8am!  The shock and horror!  Well…all this is due to the fact that Amoeba doesn’t open until 11am, so I have a bit of time to kill.  I have a few more cds and dvds I can gather to sell to the store so I can get credit.

And A. is supplying me with WetNaps, as I will likely be spending most of my time in the dirty and dusty dollar bins.  Once I return I will report on my purchases and any other silliness that goes on in the Haight.

See you on the flipside, kids!

New Release Reviews: January 6 & 13, 2015

[Hi there, and welcome to what will hopefully be an ongoing series here at Walk in Silence! My aim here is mainly to give a bit of an overview of albums that cross my path–some will be new releases, some may be ‘why didn’t I buy this earlier’ albums, some will be ‘where did this come from’ albums. It’ll be a mix. They may be short blurbs, they may be dissertations. I’m also aiming not to be *that* music journo who only likes Pavement and anything sounding remotely like them, or what have you. My tastes vary wildly, and I’m really not one to hate-listen to something, because I’d only be wasting my time and yours. I like what I like, and what I like I want to foist upon everyone as Really Cool Stuff to listen to. Hope you enjoy!]

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I became one of those people who buys things on the drop date around 1996 when I started working at HMV. Before that, I did have my moments of “Ooh! I need to have that album!” but due to my funds or lack thereof, I rarely picked up titles on their release day. That all changed when I got that job at the record store. My position was the lone shipper/receiver in the back room, so every single bit of stock that came into the store went through me first, where I would enter it into the system, slap a price sticker on it, and send it on its merry way to the sales floor. The register jockeys were the ones with the job of slapping the security clamshells on them, where many a finger was pinched in the process.  And if I could in get a sneak preview listen, I would most definitely do so.

I got into the habit of checking out the new releases as they came into the store (we’d get them on Monday so we’d have them ready for sale on Tuesday). It was partly so I’d be knowledgeable for when customers asked, but also because I liked checking out new bands. By the time I left that job in the autumn of 2000, I realized two things: I was deep into the drop-date habit, and I now had to quickly find a new fix. That was soon found in the Newbury Comics store down in Amherst, where I soon became quite the regular. And now in the age of the internets? I read multiple music blogs and magazines, and frequent various new album stream sites to check out what I want to purchase.

It’s actually kind of fun to preview new albums, and I get where the excitement come from. Nowadays bands can go up to three or four years or more between albums, so you’re eager and curious to find out what their new stuff sounds like. Or you’ve heard all the hype from the magazines and the blogs about This Awesome New Album and want to see what it’s all about. Or just that your favorite band in the world just dropped a new platter and you can’t wait to get your mitts all over it. It’s fun, and it’s entertainment. Naught wrong with that.

Let’s go over a few new releases:

Catfish & the Bottlemen, The Balcony.
Rel. 1/6/15 (US)

This Welsh band was one of maybe a dozen or so groups I found via the NoiseTrade free music website, where they released a four song sampler around the same time the single “Kathleen” was released in the UK. It finally dropped last week here in the States, and it’s worth the wait. It kind of reminds me of the jangly guitar bands like Gaslight Anthem, tight and crunchy and maybe even with a tiny touch of country to it. [Props for using the word ‘sympatico’ in the first line of “Kathleen”. Always a good sign when songwriters get nerdy with their lyrics!] I’ll have to listen a little closer to this one to let some of the songs stick, but I don’t think that’ll be a worry–these are catchy, well-written and well-played tracks that are worth checking out.

Guster, Evermotion.
Rel. 1/13/15

I’ve always liked Guster…they’re your favorite quirky band that doesn’t quite fit into any specific description–the weirdness of “Airport Song” is different from the poppy-but-offkilter “Barrel of a Gun”, and so on. With Evermotion they’ve maintained the oddness, but they’ve also become less acoustic and organic and more electronic. The new single “Simple Machine” is damn addictive; it’s got that OK Go-style bounciness and fun. They still retain some of their acoustic sound here, but the music feels more wired, maybe a bit twitchier and full of nervous energy. It’s a new direction for them, but it fits them quite nicely.

Panda Bear, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper.
Rel. 1/13/15

I admit there’s a stretch there between 2006 and 2009 where I actually didn’t pay that much attention to new music. Part of it was that we were too busy settling in to completely new surroundings (having moved from the northeast to California), and another part was that a lot of the sounds from that time just weren’t quite jiving with me. They weren’t bad…they just didn’t sing to me. The latter could probably date further back to maybe 2001 or 2002, when I started seeing the next wave of indie bands going against the commercial grain. Some worked for me, some didn’t. Animal Collective was one of them. I totally admit that I didn’t quite grok Panda Bear (AC’s singer) until he guested on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. By then I was making up for lost time and catching up on those bands I missed out on. That said…Panda Bear’s newest contains the usual oddness in sound and melody, but I now get what he’s trying to do with the songs. I’m fascinated by what he’s doing with the vocals on these songs, sort of a layered one-man overdubbed chorus that treats itself like another instrument. This’ll definitely take some time for it to cement itself in my brain, but I definitely like what I’ve heard so far.

Mark Ronson, Uptown Special.
Rel. 1/13/15

Yup, got this one simply because of the buzz that’s been generating. Threw it on with barely a pre-purchase sampling, and was instantly transported to my preteen youth. Right now it’s 1977 and I’m wearing brown corduroys and an Ernie-like stripey shirt, hearing “Summer Breaking” on the crackly AM car radio on the way up to Keene. “Uptown Funk” and it’s now 1981 and I’m hearing Prince for the first time. “Daffodils” and I’m watching one of those pre-Solid Gold variety TV shows, watching the band play in all their bellbottomed glory. “In Case of Fire” and I’m hearing Wings on the family stereo. In short: I love it when an album that’s meant to evoke a retro feel, does so flawlessly. Well worth the buzz.

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As always, January’s releases are often few and far between, but already we have a few strong contenders, so I’m happy. There promises to be a lot of excellent new titles coming out in the near future (The Decemberists, Steven Wilson, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and Black Rivers to name a few), so this promises to be an interesting first quarter!

Collecting: The Black Hole of the Dollar Bins

 

This past weekend A. and I headed over to the Haight to stop at Amoeba Records.  Her motive for going there has been to search for older Doctor Who serials and other BBC television series, while mine (as always) has been to scour the bins for music.

This time out I was looking for albums by Sinéad O’Connor and Saint Etienne to bulk up my collection, and I knew I’d find both in the dusty dollar bins hidden way in the back western quadrant of the giant store.  I wasn’t let down, either–I found three of O’Connor’s albums I needed (a fourth was found used in her regular bin for $7), and I found a lot more Saint Etienne than expected (plus grabbed two further albums for $4 each in their regular bin).  Further browsing in the store brought up a few more ‘why do I not have this yet?’ albums.  All told, I must have spent about $30 on 14 cds, which is not bad at all.

I have two days off surrounding my birthday in a few weeks.  There’s a good chance I may head there for a second round.

I’m a sucker for dollar bins, I’ll be the first to admit it.  I don’t mind if the jewel case is scuffed up or slightly cracked, or if the cd is a bit worn–as long as it sounds good.  It’s about the music for me.  I’m well-versed in digging for gold in these bins, and I have no problem with spending a good two or three hours getting dirty and dusty doing it.  Back in my nearly-broke days in early 90s Boston, I was a regular at Nuggets, Planet, In Your Ear and Looney Tunes, and back then my finds were all cassettes and albums.  I could buy a dozen full length albums for less than twenty dollars.  And in the late 90s and early 00s, I’d continue to make monthly runs to Boston to find sweet deals.  My record collection was age-worn and scratchy, but it was also damned huge and well-rounded.

Here’s the trick:  the dollar bins are often full of albums that are at least ten to twenty years old, so if you’re in need of that classic album from 1993 that you never got around to buying, chances are it’s in there, the original versions given away now that their former owner ripped them to their computer or bought the remastered-with-extra-tracks editions.  This was the same when I used to do the Boston runs:  in the early 90s, I could easily build up my 70s classic rock collection; in the late 90s it was the 80s pop; in the 00s it was all the Britpop I was too broke to buy first time out.

At this point I’m realizing things have come full circle, as I’m now finding all the albums from my tenure at HMV in the late 90s.  I see titles I once owned either as promo copies or bought at a discount, but I also see many that I’d completely forgotten existed.  On multiple occasions I’ve pulled out a cd and stared at it for a second, that memory connection suddenly refreshed and clear.  And they’d get dropped into my basket.

Yeah, I’m well aware that dollar bin diving is pretty much a lost art now, considering the current state of music downloading, streaming and sharing, but think of it this way–that copy of Boston that you used to have on vinyl and never got around to picking up on cd?  You could either download it from Amazon or iTunes for the midline price it usually goes for (as of this writing it’s one of Amazon’s monthly $5 titles)…or you could buy the dollar bin copy for $1.99.  If you’re a compulsive music collector like I am, this was, is, and shall always be one of your favorite sections in the store.

[Okay, I’ll add this as well: I’m not out to cheat the musician, far from it.  I know they don’t get diddly from used sales, obviously.  My point here is Buying On a Budget, whether you’re a completist and buy in bulk like me, or have limited cash flow.  By all means, if you have the funds to pay the bands, please do so, and they will thank you.  And they’ll be able to stay together and record more neat stuff for your waiting ears.]

So this April, when you’re heading to whatever shop for Record Store Day, spend a little more time than that ten minutes grabbing your RSD Collectible goodies and that hour waiting in line to pay for them.  Spend more time in the regular bins, reacquainting yourself with your favorite bands and others you’ve never quite gotten around to listening to.  And spend a good three or four hours in those dusty dollar bins (and provide your own Wet-Naps).  You’ll be surprised what you might find.